Frames /sing


Slavoj Žižek: A “Human” Example

If any are unfamiliar (and we must assume that some are not swept up in the Academio-acculturation of a protesting Self) or simply have lost track of him under some characterization, I encourage those who have a love of philosophy to consider the “human” example of Slavoj Zizek, a Lacanian philosopher and sociologist.

A wonderful documentary that focuses not only on his ideas, but his extraordinary personage.

A recent, September 9th lecture given in Oregon, on the nature of politeness.

Or, this prospective examination of the film Children of Men.

Zizeks early books definitely made an impression on me, opening the door to Lacanian thinking and cultural analysis, the melding of philosophy to the matters of social concern. I remember attending one of his lectures a decade ago and asking a question on Israel whose premise horrified him. What I suggest is that more than the ultimate validity of his synthesis of Hegel, Kant and Lacan, which can be of interest, it is his lived experience of the significance of philosophy that perhaps gives its most compelling argument for its relevance. As much as Zizek is at pains to not be “human” just like all of “us”, subsumed in the ideology of normalcy, it really is the affective example of his experience of alienation and his thought-out articulation in response to it which allows us to embrace his very sincerity of project, if not his conclusions.

If there were any intellectual I would like to sit down to dinner with, it would be this man.




5 responses to “Slavoj Žižek: A “Human” Example

  1. James September 26, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    Zizek gives the game away when he mentions Socrates, in the documentary. I suspect Gadamer would have recognized him as a fellow Platonist, since that seems to be the meaning of ‘sincerity’ in philosophy. [I am leery, however, towards Zizek’s claim that this is equivalent to exchanging the ‘search for solutions’ for the ‘clarification of meanings’. The solutions are taking place elsewhere, i.e. in science. They take place in mathematics and in logic. Why not also (occasionally) in philosophy?]

    As to whether Zizek is ‘human’ or not, well, the process of ‘de-reification’ (‘dialogue’, ‘radical interpretation’, etc) is abnormal. More accurately, perhaps, it problematizes the idea of normalcy. It is like when you ask the Zen master a ‘deep’ question, and he wacks you on the head, or remarks on the beauty of the daylight, just now.

    But there is something else in the vicinity, which complicates the matter. If I remember correctly, Negri’s characterization of Spinoza had, as a prominent component, this idea – i.e. the idea of the self-problematization of the law, of its (so to speak) metaphysical silver lining. But I can’t determine whether Zizek would like this idea, or whether he would find it ultimately indistinguishable from the inherent ‘perennialism’ of the logic of capital. I sense the problem losing traction here, and my intuition is that it needs to be posed elsewhere.

    Thanks for pointing out the link. I had forgotten all about this documentary.


  2. kvond September 26, 2008 at 8:38 pm


    Interesting comments. Hmmm. I don’t know if Zizek is hiding in the “game” in the way that you suggest in regards to his Socrates reference, for I believe in the documentary he comes right out and declares himself a champion of Enlightenment values. He is out and out a Lacanian in this “game”, as he hilariously and rightfully tells the Derridian at Columbia.

    As for sincerity, I suppose there are several levels at which to read a contemporary thinker’s sincerity. One might be her or his theoretical position as to Irony, and in this sense Zizek loves, just loves, the double-back: you thought that was Ironic (?), this is even more so!, much as the Zen master you mention doubles back on sense: First there is only a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is only a mountain. But then there is a different sense of sincerity I think, the affective ability to read the ursprung of a project. Zizek’s “performance” (and I just love how he distances himself from Lacan’s eccentricities) betrays his humanity in a very interesting ideological double-play, reminiscent of the scripting Zizek uncodes in the Sound of Music:

    Zizek argues forcibly how inhuman he must be, while his performance commands what is most human.

    I think there is a danger of, once you have uncovered Zizek’s trick, dismissing him. His theoretical writings stunned me when I first read them so many years ago, but when I have circled back after much time I have been disappointed to find the same themes turning over and over (he is like the Kantian Sadist perhaps, in this, circulating in his own effects). I believe K-punk characterized this problem with Zizek as being like a D.J. mixing and remixing the same track. This recursivity of a truth (the Truth), it seems, is only relieved by a new cultural phenomena (movies, theorists, etc.) to be submitted as grist to Zizek’s brilliant reversal mill. I think what is missing from this algebra of Zizek’s worth (much to the chagrin of the content of Zizek’s plea) is the authenticity of project, something that can be established (but not justified) only at the perceived, affective level. The circulations of Zizek’s interpretive tricks gain their footing only within the connective ground of a shared human universe and struggle. Zizek becomes a knot in the fabric of our shared consanguinity, and not just a sidewalk performer. He tells us over and over again that he is not here to give us the formula as he repeats the formula of reversals. Only in a communal sense of effort do his circulations take on remarkable significance. At leas that is what I have come to realize for myself. He wants at times to play the village monster, the village idiot, the one that prophetically utters the “secret” of the village. The secret is not in his mouth, but as he would be forced to admit, in the link between our mouths and his. This to me is fundamentally an affective attachment.

    By my memory Zizek is not thrilled with Spinoza for Spinoza identifies with the Big Other without Exception for him. He seems to have gone along with Hegel’s correction of Spinoza, the ultimate and revealing reality of the negation. I think the key to unraveling this is to differentiate projects of construction from projects of criticism, not to say that they are necessarily mutually exclusive from each other.


  3. James September 26, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    That is a thoughtful response.

    I agree that Zizek is transparent. But equally, perhaps – from the way he presents his ideas in general – I gather that he believes a degree of occlusion is necessary, to properly orient and prepare his intended audience for his message. Having said this, I guess the main thrust of my observation was personal: I only explicitly recognized the Platonist in Zizek at that point (in the documentary).

    What I said about Spinoza was intended to be general enough to apply to Negri (and perhaps Deleuze and even Davidson) as well. Is creativity an internal property of a system, and if not, how should we (e.g. in the case of Zizek) understand the coincidence of the two terms (of the ‘human’ and the ‘inhuman’)? Again: the everyday and the extraordinary seem to come together, like the two ends of the pole of de-reification. But if this coincidence is itself understood as internal to the over-arching system (say, the system of capital), then would Zizek accept this?


  4. kvond September 26, 2008 at 10:01 pm


    “Is creativity an internal property of a system, and if not, how should we (e.g. in the case of Zizek) understand the coincidence of the two terms (of the ‘human’ and the ‘inhuman’)?”

    I’m not sure that I follow what “system” you are referring to, the totality of Substance/Nature? If this, what would it mean for it to be a “property”? Would this not mean that one could imagine such a system as both creative and uncreative? I think the play of creativity exists within Spinoza through the great proportion, if not entire human proportion of Inadequate Ideas, and the imaginary construction of the social. When Spinoza’s is seen as a project of construction within an imaginary realm the creativity is not so much a property of the system, but rather an imaginary vector of clarity, in the sense that Negri (and Balibar and Gatens and Lloyd) seem to understand it.

    Perhaps I have misunderstood your question here.

    As far as Zizek’s coincidence of the human and inhuman, it seems to me that he is satisfied with a kind of psychoanalytic stalemate, one in which one can only take an uncomfortable yet informed distance from the petite object a. It is said the closest a prisoner can come to freedom is to stand equidistant to the four walls of his cell. Zizek seems to like this because it promotes a “utopia” that is genuinely eruptive, a rich emancipation that is violently forced to imagine itself free from its previous historic constraints. I have some sympathy for this impulse on his part, but not enough to committedly make it a form of necessary social Logic.

    Spinoza’s view, or at least on that is allowed in the grammar of his analysis, is a constructive body-building mode of freedom assessed along vectors of power and affect, one that does not rely upon the necessary phantasy of “revolution” as a benchmark of progress or gain. Spinoza’s treatment of body, affect and power strike me as more productive, no matter how close they appear to fit Capitalist forms. It seems to me that Spinoza is newly relevant today particularly because of this homology between present social constructions and the early Dutch Republic republic experimentations (as Negri and Deleuze I think put forth). The freedom imaginable though in the grammar of such thinking is not necessarily in the service of those who hegemonically dominate the social forms themselves. It is possible, but not necessary.

    As far as the human and inhuman, it strikes me, in fact it has always struck me that the primary difference between Hegel and Spinoza is the attempted abstract rescue of the human “subject” (thoroughly Christianized) Hegel attempts in his embrace of the negation. Spinoza’s Substance is distinctly inhuman, and paths to it necessarily inhuman as well (inviting for instance a cybernetic view of constructive powers with technology). The disparity between the human and the inhuman in Spinoza is one of degree and not category. This strikes me as more helpful for our very imagination of methods of constructed release.

    Good Comments and thoughts.

  5. Pingback: A Touch More On Žižek « Frames /sing

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