Slavoj Žižek

***

From the European Graduate School faculty page:

Slavoj Zizek is a senior researcher, Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and visiting professor at American universities (Columbia, Princeton, New School for Social Research, New York, University of Michigan). Ph.D. (Philosophy, Ljubljana; Psychoanalysis, University of Paris). A cultural critic and philosopher who is internationally known for his use of Jacques Lacan in a new reading of popular culture and is admired as a true ‘manic excessive’. Author of The Invisible Reminder; The Sublime Object of Ideology; The Metastases of Enjoyment; Looking Awry: Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture; The Plague of Fantasies; The Ticklish Subject.

Slavoj Zizek has cast a very long shadow in what can only be termed ‘cultural studies’ (though he would despise the characterization). He is an effective purveyor of Lacanian mischief, and, as a follower of the French ‘liberator’ of Sigmund Freud, Slavoj Zizek’s Lacan is almost exclusively transcribed in mesmerizing language games or intellectual parables. That he has an encyclopedic grasp of political, philosophical, literary, artistic, cinematic, and pop cultural currents – and that he has no qualms about throwing all of them into the stockpot of his imagination – is the prime reason he has dazzled his peers and confounded his critics for over ten years.

Primarily the goal appears to be to demolish the coordinates of the liberal hegemony that permit excess and aberration insofar as it does not threaten the true coordinates. He suggests as well that the true coordinates are much better hidden than we realize. The production of cultural difference is to Slavoj Zizek the production of the inoperative dream – a dream that recalls perhaps George Orwell’s 1984 or even Terry Gilliam’s Brazil where a kind of generic pastoralism or a sexualized nature substitutes for authentic freedom – the flip side of this is film noir. Slavoj Zizek has determined that late-modern capitalism has engendered a whole range of alternative seductions to keep the eye and brain off of the Real. The Real only exists as a fragment, fast receding on the horizon as fantasy and often phantasm intercede. These dreams and nightmares are systemic, structural neuroses, and they are part of the coordinates of the hegemonic. The hegemony – the prevailing set of coordinates – always seeks to ‘take over’ the Real, and, therefore, this contaminated Real must be periodically purged.

In his essay ‘Repeating Lenin’ (1997) – ever the trickster, he convened a symposium on Lenin in Germany in part to see what the reaction would be – Slavoj Zizek sets up a deconstruction of the idea of form to effectively liberate the idea of radical form:

‘One should not confuse this properly dialectical notion of Form with the liberal-multiculturalist notion of Form as the neutral framework of the multitude of “narratives” –not only literature, but also politics, religion, science, they are all different narratives, stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves, and the ultimate goal of ethics is to guarantee the neutral space in which this multitude of narratives can peacefully coexist, in which everyone, from ethnic to sexual minorities, will have the right and possibility to tell his story. The properly dialectical notion of Form signals precisely the impossibilty of this liberal notion of Form: Form has nothing to do with “formalism,” with the idea of a neutral Form. Independent of its contingent particular content; it rather stands for the traumatic kernel of the Real, for the antagonism, which “colors” the entire field in question.’

He is interested in discerning the Lacanian Real amid the propaganda of systems. In appropriating ‘Lenin’ he is also looking for the moment when Lenin realized that politics could one day be dissolved for a technocratic and agronomic utopia, ‘the [pure] management of things’. That Lenin failed is immaterial, since Slavoj Zizek is extracting the signifier ‘Lenin’ from the historical continuum, which includes that failure – or the onslaught of Stalinism. The version of Lenin that Slavoj Zizek often chooses to re-enscribe into radical political discourse is ostensibly (by his own admission) the Lenin of the October Revolution, or the Lenin that had the epiphany that in order to have a revolution ‘you have to have a revolution’.

In his critique of contemporary capitalism Slavoj Zizek finds not simply the conditions that Karl Marx anathematized but those same conditions reified and made nearly intangible:

‘A certain excess which was as it were kept under check in previous history, perceived as a localizable perversion, as an excess, a deviation, is in capitalism elevated into the very principle of social life, in the speculative movement of money begetting more money, of a system which can survive only by constantly revolutionizing its own conditions, that is to say, in which the thing can only survive as its own excess, constantly exceeding its own “normal” constraints […] Marx located the elementary capitalist antagonism in the opposition between use- and exchange-value: in capitalism, the potentials of this opposition are fully realized, the domain of exchange-values acquires autonomy, is transformed into the specter of self-propelling speculative capital which needs the productive capacities and needs of actual people only as its dispensable temporal embodiment.’

In the era of globalization, then, the main question is: ‘Does today’s virtual capitalist not function in a homologous way – his “net value” is zero, he directly operates just with the surplus, borrowing from the future?’

‘In a proper revolutionary breakthrough, the utopian future is neither simply fully realized, present, nor simply evoked as a distant promise which justified present violence –it is rather as if, in a unique suspension of temporality, in the short-circuit between the present and the future, we are – as if by Grace – for a brief time allowed to act AS IF the utopian future is (not yet fully here, but) already at hand, just there to be grabbed. Revolution is not experienced as a present hardship we have to endure for the happiness and freedom of the future generations, but as the present hardship over which this future happiness and freedom already cast their shadow – in it, we already are free while fighting for freedom, we already are happy while fighting for happiness, no matter how difficult the circumstances. Revolution is not a Merleau-Pontian wager, an act suspended in the futur anterieur, to be legitimized or delegitimized by the long term outcome of the present acts; it is as it were its own ontological proof, an immediate index of its own truth.’

Slavoj Zizek’s agenda is to foster and engender a withering critique of the structural chains that enslave late-modern man. His nostalgia is for very large gestures: the meta-Real, the Universal, and the Formal. ‘This resistance is the answer to the question “Why Lenin?”: it is the signifier “Lenin” which formalizes this content found elsewhere, transforming a series of common notions into a truly subversive theoretical formation.’

Slavoj Zizek was a visiting professor at the Department of Psychoanalysis, Universite Paris-VIII in 1982–83 and 1985–86, at the Centre for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Art, SUNY Buffalo, 1991–92, at the Department of Comparative Literature, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1992, at the Tulane University, New Orleans, 1993, at the Cardozo Law School, New York, 1994, at the Columbia University, New York, 1995, at the Princeton University (1996), at the New School for Social Research, New York, 1997, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1998, and at the Georgetown University, Washington, 1999. He is a returning faculty member of the European Graduate School. In the last 20 years Slavoj Zizek has participated in over 350 international philosophical, psychoanalytical and cultural-criticism symposiums in USA, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Netherland, Island, Austria, Australia, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Brasil, Mexico, Israel, Romania, Hungary and Japan. He is the founder and president of the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis, Ljubljana.

About Okla Elliott

I am currently an assistant professor at Misericordia University in northeast Pennsylvania. I hold a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Illinois, an MFA in creative writing from Ohio State University, and a legal studies certificate from Purdue University. My work has appeared in Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, The Hill, Huffington Post, Indiana Review, The Literary Review, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, and Subtropics, as well as being listed as a "notable essay" in Best American Essays 2015. My books include From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a coauthored novel), Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker (translation), and Bernie Sanders: The Essential Guide (nonfiction).
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