Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Slavoj Žižek, "The Magician of Ljubljana," Responds To His Critics

Here. I canvassed the criticisms here, and the uproar is especially relevant to the intellectual squalor abroad in Canada these days, which the "true left," as Žižek calls it, should not fail to notice. Context:

". . .I claim that jihadis are really motivated neither by religion nor by a Leftist sense of justice, but by resentment, which in no way puts them on the Left, neither "objectively" nor "subjectively." I simply never wrote that Islamic fundamentalists are in any sense on the Left--the whole point of my writing on this topic is that the "antagonism" between liberal tolerance and ethnic or religious fundamentalism is inherent to the universe of global capitalism: in their very opposition, they are the two faces of the same system. The true Left starts with the insight into this complicity. A good example of how religious fundamentalism is to be located "in the context of the antagonisms of global capitalism" is Afghanistan. Today, when Afghanistan is portrayed as the utmost Islamic fundamentalist country, who still remembers that, 30 years ago, it was a country with strong secular tradition, up to a strong Communist party which first took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Afghanistan became fundamentalist when it was drawn into global politics (first through the Soviet intervention)."

Of immediate relevance:


Anonymous brian platt said...

I'm skeptical of the claim that communism took power in Afghanistan independently of the Soviet Union. Barnett Rubin and Steve Coll have both written on the concerted efforts by the Soviets in the 1960s to infiltrate Kabul campuses with their own brand of ideology. Surely there WAS a home-grown brand of Marxism, but Soviets were hardly uninvolved.

Kabul University and Kabul Polytechnic Institute were the focus of the competition between communists supported from Moscow and Islamists supported from Cairo. Page 39 in Ghost Wars: "For nearly two decades the KGB had secretly funded and nurtured communist leadership networks at Kabul University and in the Afghan Army." See also page 107 and 109 for info on KPI.

The Fragmentation of Afghanistan gives a detailed account of this as well, but I don't have it handy...

But I certainly take Zizek's point that theocratic fundamentalism in Afghanistan rose up as a competing and reactionary ideology to that of communism.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

brian platt: Well said. Reflects what I learned in Kabul 1975-77. If there had been no Communist coup in 1978 (even if it was undertaken by Afghans without Soviet direction) there would have been no Soviet invasion in 1979, no Mujahedin organized in greater and greater strength with US, Saudi, Pak, and other support, and no eventual Taliban.


2:15 PM  
Blogger Will said...

You have some really ignorant tossers commenting at you blog TG.

PS. I am not one of them.

7:26 PM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

In his rebuttal, Zizek was saying this: "Jews were expelled from Slovene territory back in 1516, by the order of the mighty Habsburg Emperor Maximilian in Vienna, endorsing the demand of local estates (who saw the opportunity to be thus rid of their debts following the model of the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492)."

It's one of things about him which makes me extremely wary of his analyses. He pronounces on subjects about which he knows very little and pulls out the one fact, or thread that sits well with his general theory. In this case it is his knowledge of the 1492 Expulsion of the Jews of Spain. The reason for it was not monetary gain, though it may have been used as a lubricant for the royals who signed the edict of expulsion. The root cause was the Inquisition which blamed what they suspected was the continued crypto-Judaising by hundreds of thousands of conversos on the physical presence of their erstwhile co-religionists. With Jews gone, so the rationale went, the New Christians would no longer be vulnerable to Jewish influence and interference in their assimilation.

Zizek exhibited the same type of selective ignorance in his "Democracy Now" interview when he said that Palestinian farmers are allowed to drill only "three inches"(!) for water. Since Amy Goodman did not even ask if he meant perhaps to say "Three meters", I assumed she took him at his word. As probably do most readers. In this example he meant to suggest the sadistic measures by which Israel keeps Palestinians in misery. Somehow the "three inches" makes sense, in the context of Israel and Palestinians!

Another thing: Zizek seems to admire Spinoza for having broken from his Jewish heritage. He gets it wrong. Spinoza offered the most incisive critique of the Bible and the Jewish people and came to the conclusion that Judaism makes sense only when it is connected to its territory, Zion. He is considered the first Zionist, actually. But let's leave that aside. What matters most about Spinoza is that he rejected baptism, and chose to live his life on the outskirts of the Jewish quarter in Amsterdam. Not exactly the total rejection that Zizek is hoping for.

And I was surprised to see such a brilliant and super-intelligent thinker falling so easily into the classical self-exculpation used by people who feel they are unjustly accused of being antisemitic: Some, or many, or most, of my friends are Jews.

Until I read that, I didn't really think he might be...

6:34 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"Until I read that, I didn't really think he might be. . ."

That reduces your comment to the level of a smear, which I'm sure you didn't intend (the trailing-off ellipsis at the end didn't help, either). But neither does it help to commit the same error of argument that Kirsch does.

Zizek in fact does not resort to the "some of my best friends are" defence against an insinuation of bigotry, as you suggest. He writes that most of his friends and theoretical collaborators are Jews, in order to refute Kirsch's allegation that Jews are to him merely an "object of fantasy and speculation." He raises the expressions of solidarity from American Jews that came his way following the Kirsch essay as evidence that "the U.S. is basically a decent country," in the course of pointing out that there are enough real antisemites in the world without having to imagine non-existing ones - a point that cannot be made often enough.

9:41 AM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

"He writes that most of his friends and theoretical collaborators are Jews, in order to refute Kirsch's allegation that Jews are to him merely an "object of fantasy and speculation."

How is this any different? And what if American Jews did not express solidarity with his views, would that have made America an indecent country?

I don't get the logic of it.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"And what if American Jews did not express solidarity with his views, would that have made America an indecent country?"

No. That is illogical, because it simply does not follow; just as it does not unavoidably follow that the outpouring of support for Zizek from American Jews proves anything about American decency at all.

This I think betrays the mistake of reading too much meaning into stuff Zizek says in the first place, which was my initial criticism of Kirsch.

But to follow your logic: Let's say that I wanted to make the point that I don't regard Jews as mere "objects of fantasy and speculation" either, and I too had said that many if not most of my theoretical collaborators were Jews. Would this cause you to insinuate that I am an antisemite? I doubt that it would, Noga. I just don't think you'd say that.

It is also possible that I could even say that "some of my best friends are." This would actually be true, but it would not necessarily be evidence of either antisemitism or philosemitism - as I would hope you'd agree.

Sometimes, things are just statements of fact.

Taking things out of the realm of merely hypothetical, here's something I can say: I have noticed, in recent years, that the overwhelming majority of writers and thinkers who have influenced my worldview are Jews. Or they have Jewish names, anyway.

Does this mean anything? I don't know what it means, or if it means anything. But I do that it doesn't have to mean anything, and that it doesn't necessarily mean anything at all.

Which is to say, let's not read too much meaning into stuff.

4:18 PM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

"This I think betrays the mistake of reading too much meaning into stuff Zizek says in the first place, which was my initial criticism of Kirsch."

I had a similar thought.

Zizek is a word generator, often expresses verbally and profusely just associations and random thoughts fleeting in and out of his mind as he speaks. I would suggest it is hard to pin him down to any idea or sentiment. He doesn't even seem to understand himself at times.

I only once found his thinking useful and that is when he suggested that the flaw in multiculturalism flows from the difference in difference. The way a minority views difference is not the same as a majority views it. That was an interesting view which made me see things in a slightly different way. Which is why I remember it, I suppose.

The too many errors he relies on when he makes his loquacious and extravagant arguments prevent me from giving him serious consideration. They don't even let me enjoy the sheer spectacle of him, because he does influence people who listen to him and quote him, possibly religiously.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Balter said...

I watched this debate in which Zizek handed out a well deserved conceptual ass kicking to BHL. I have heard Zizek speak about the Middle East and Israel before, and I get the sense that Zizek is situated quite closely to the "anti war" view which seems to rile Terry to no end

3:25 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...


The only thing you got right was the punctuation.

As in, "anti-war," as opposed to anti-war.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Will said...

The Contentious Centrist is a Stalinist

8:11 PM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

"George: You know, all these years, I've always wanted to see the
two of you get back together.

Elaine: Well, that's because you're an idiot"

4:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would it be too much of a stretch to suggest that Zizek, a follower of Hegel, believes in History as inevitable process? And therefore he's simply having endless fun, secure in his sense that things will unfold as they should regardless?

6:47 PM  
Blogger darkprose said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:57 PM  

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