chapter  32
13 Pages

Slavoj Žižek


Slavoj Žižek is a Lacanian Marxist philosopher from Slovenia who put all of these improbable terms together on the theoretical map with his groundbreaking The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989). This book announced three ambitious aims: to introduce Lacanian fundamental concepts while presenting Lacan as an Enlightenment (and not as a post-structuralist) figure; to return to and reposition Hegel as a theorist of difference; and last, to contribute to a theory of ideology by reading canonical Marxist concepts (such as commodity fetishism) in the context of Lacanian ones (such as surplus enjoyment) that have an oblique or little relation to them. It was Žižek’s provocative wager that these three goals were interrelated: ‘the only way to “save Hegel” is through Lacan and this Lacanian reading of Hegel … opens up a new approach to ideology, allowing us to grasp contemporary ideological phenomena’ (Žižek 1989: 7). Žižek’s ascendancy on the theoretical scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s could not have been a more untimely reminder (against those such as Francis Fukuyama) that the post-Cold War era was not a post ideological one. Indeed, the impact of his work has left little of the political or cultural field unanalyzed – whether it is a question of the films of Hitchcock or Spielberg, resurgent ethnic nationalism, human rights or multicultural tolerance. Žižek’s influence has been especially pronounced in contrast to other

Lacanian theorists due to his engagement with both popular culture and contemporary politics. This has made psychoanalytic concepts more accessible to a broader community of readers. Yet there are many challenges in presenting his work. Unlike many of the other authors in this volume such as Levinas, Žižek does not present his arguments in a systematic or progressive way (as would a traditional philosopher or formal theorist) but as a reiterative process. A thesis is re-presented in different discursive contexts that highlight other aspects of it. As Ernesto Laclau states, texts reach ‘points of interruption rather than conclusion, thus inviting the reader to continue for him or herself the discursive proliferation in which the author has been engaged’ (Žižek 1989: xii). The open-endedness of his writing does not lead to the easy refinement of concepts. Nor is conceptual cogency facilitated by the sheer enormity of how much Žižek publishes. Rex Butler comments on

the outpouring of material: in 2000, three books; in 2001, four; in 2002, four books. ‘One of the paradoxes of this is that it seems that as his work becomes more and more explicitly anti-capitalist, it is also becoming more commodified’ (Butler 2005: 12). Moreover his archive is vast and arduous, drawing on contemporary and classical thinkers such as Giorgio Agamben, Louis Althusser, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, René Descartes, Martin Heidegger, Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Blaise Pascal, Saint Paul, Jacques Rancière, and F.W.J. Schelling. The final difficulty resides in the blurring of the boundaries between Žižek as a critic of popular culture and as a pop-cultural phenomenon (Dean 2006: xv). For Žižek is a celebrity icon, subject of a 2005 documentary, home to a myspace page (see the URL = user. viewprofile&friendid = 16287877), so omnipresent as to warrant a regular column in the Chronicle of Higher Education called ‘Žižek Watch’ by Scott McLee. Žižek is an out-sized and excessive persona and, not surprisingly, his critical

contributions, (such as the Real, object a, master signifier) have all circled around notions of excess as constitutive of subjectivity and the symbolic order. While Žižek’s importance for the social sciences has been in the theory of ideology, his use of Lacanian psychoanalysis offers significant reframings of debates central to international relations concerning sovereignty, racism and ethnic violence, human rights and humanitarian intervention.