In the December 19th edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education there was a Critical Mass column (annoyingly, full text is not online, you have to be a subscriber, but thanks Rowan for sending me the text of the article) on "cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek" which brought together a number of quotes from critics and bloggers "about the nature of Žižek's intellectual project".

The bloggers were responding to an article by Adam Kirsch in The New Republic:

The cover of its December 3 issue pronounces Žižek The Most Despicable Philosopher in the West. The inside essay is equally scathing. In what is ostensibly a review of two recent books by Žižek — Violence: Six Sideways Reflections and In Defense of Lost Causes — Adam Kirsch, a senior editor at the magazine, accuses Žižek of, among other things, being a fascist and flirting with anti-Semitism.

Kirsch said:

There is a name for the politics that glorifies risk, decision, and will; that yearns for the hero, the master, and the leader; that prefers death and the infinite to democracy and the pragmatic; that finds the only true freedom in the terror of violence. Its name is not communism. Its name is fascism, and in his most recent work Žižek has inarguably revealed himself as some sort of fascist...

My favourite response to Kirsch is this from Mark Scroggins (I'll respond myself later in the week):

An astonishing farrago of out-of-context quotations, superficial misreadings, and ad hominem attacks. Kirsch makes David Lehman on Paul de Man seem subtle.

Readers Comments

  1. Don't you mean "Adam Kirsch: enfant terrible or fascist?"?

    He's young after all :)

  2. I'm still amazed that people bothered to respond seriously to Kirsch's patently unserious piece. The only purpose for such a piece, appearing in the New Republic no less, is to yet again demonize the Left.

  3. I have been reading and enjoying Zizek for a long time. Indeed I took a class with him.
    Being a fan, however, should not preclude being willing to discern some disturbing directions in his thought. A thoughtful essay by Assaf Sagiv on "The Magician of Ljubljana" in Azure a while back also made some similar points to Kirsch. There is an aggrieved tone of "Don't mess with our idol" to some of the responses. When a critic is considered not worth responding to it is usually just lazy; a way of avoiding having to produce a cogent counter-argument. As for "demonizing the left"; Zizek does that all the time!!

  4. "When a critic is considered not worth responding to it is usually just lazy; a way of avoiding having to produce a cogent counter-argument."

    I wouldn't say this is "usually" the case, though it is certainly often the case. Generally speaking, The New Republic is not worth responding to (and, for example, the National Review is never worth responding to). I should say that I have barely read any Zizek. I am not invested in him or his project at all, at least not yet.

    "As for "demonizing the left"; Zizek does that all the time!!"

    No doubt! I still stand by my point. (Kirsch might be worth responding to, in this case, if only to undermine the overall project of "demonizing the left", but it seems to me that a useful response should incorporate an awareness of that project.)

  5. Zizek has responded to Kirsch here:

    And Kirsch is given the last word here:

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