Zizek and Critics

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat May 17 06:43:54 MDT 2003


Mason:
>Obviously, Zizek’s writings aren’t directed towards you.  An earlier 
>criticism of Zizek on this list was the journals he publishes 
>in.  Journals on art, literary study, and culture may not be the place 
>where revolution occurs, but it was one of the main components in my 
>interest regarding Marxism.

I can't remember where Zizek publishes being much of an issue. My 
criticisms of Zizek are over matters of substance, such as his total 
misunderstanding of Bukharin's "confession", his failure to recognize the 
importance of Chomsky, etc.

>Zizek’s commitment, by the way, is to (post-)Lacanian psychoanalysis (in 
>which Freud is reexamined in structural terms).  An allegory to the 
>Lacan—Freud relationship would be that of Lenin—Marx (Zizek argues).  They 
>each represented a movement to formalize philosophy.  In the 50s and 60s, 
>structuralism dominated much academic thought, especially Continental 
>philosophy.  Zizek, as a Continental psychoanalyst and philosopher, has 
>been greatly influenced by the structural school of thought and is a 
>post-structuralist.  His interpretations of discourse and history are 
>directed at post-structuralist and post-analytic philosophers who are 
>abandoning Marxism, and especially Leninism.  Instead of seeing Zizek as 
>abandoning the revolution by taking a less hostile (sadly academic) role, 
>perhaps we should see him as a sadly academic revolutionary.  Combining 
>philosophy and revolutionary theory ­ and ending with something usable ­ 
>is a rather difficult task that even Lenin complained about.

I don't doubt that Zizek has honorable intentions, but in general he sows 
confusion, especially over the all-important question of Lenin's legacy. 
For Zizek, Lenin is a figure that can be invoked to 'epater le bourgeoisie' 
in the fashion of the New Yorker Magazine profile which is characterized by 
Daniel Lazare
in the Nation as a an "amusing profile of a colorful character like the 
Slovenian social theorist".

>Post-structuralism (influenced a great deal by Nietzsche, currently 
>defended by icons like Derrida) and post-analytic philosophy (defended by 
>bourgeois-liberal Richard Rorty, founded by pragmatists like Dewey and 
>Pierce) question the value of truth.  Before understanding, let alone 
>accepting, Zizek’s position, one must understand the conceptualization of 
>“Truth” in contemporary philosophy.  It is very difficult for the modern 
>intellectual to accept Marxism when Rorty espouses the claim “There is no 
>such thing as an historical fact.”  Derrida’s work, Spectres of Marx, has 
>been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, but I’ve read a number of 
>reviews.  He uses the history of “justice” to defend aspects of Marx, but 
>he lacks the revolutionary enthusiasm that “in-the-field” Marxists would 
>want.

I am afraid that Derrida's interest in Marx is like Zizek's in Lenin. It is 
a way to affect some kind of "street cred". Generally speaking, these 
philosophical debates exist in a parallel universe to revolutionary 
Marxism. It is only when they begin to have an impact on the organized 
movement that it is useful to intervene, as Lenin did with respect to 
Bogdanov. What seems to characterize all of the philosophical challenges to 
Marxism (either openly or in the name of 'defending' it) is an escalation 
of the role of the individual--which is called 'the subject'--or an embrace 
of idealism. Figures as various as Spinoza, Hegel, Kant and Nietzsche all 
get a new lease on life.

>To individuals like Rorty, all truth statements are value 
>statements.  Everything that one projects to be true reflects the values 
>of the speaker, not Truth or Reality at all.  In Rorty’s “Death of 
>Leninism” (or “End of Leninism”
I have a copy, but it is loaned 
>out.  Contact me personally for an exact reference), he states that 
>Lenin’s doctrine sacrificed other truths, other interpretations, and 
>therefore shows how progressive measures, such as abolishing private 
>property, are inherently unjust.  He makes claims along the lines of 
>primitive accumulation, that capitalism is inherently “fair” and market 
>economy is “right.”

What's worse is that Rorty told a big gathering on the "new labor movement" 
(he spoke along with John Sweeny) at Columbia University that the Vietnam 
antiwar movement was too strident and turned off the working class.

>Zizek’s articles are directed towards young academics who are torn between 
>imposing characters like Rorty ­ who’s philosophy looks so tempting.

That's right. We had one of them on the list briefly, a chap named Jeff 
Kinkle who has since departed.

>By becoming interested in philosophy, I’ve already forsaken much of the 
>importance bestowed upon dialectical materialism.  Once this fundamental 
>component to Marxism is questioned, young intellectuals face some pretty 
>bleak alternatives, as far as revolution goes.  They know they aren’t the 
>revolutionary class, yet many at one point, or even still do, support 
>revolution.  Zizek is an icon that can entertain youths from various 
>disciplines, advocating from at least a Marxist premise (though, perhaps 
>not radical enough for this list).  Perhaps he should be criticized for 
>his opinions on movies, but not all of his work is lacking in content.

For list members who want to read what I have to say about Zizek, go to:

http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/modernism/Henwood_Zizek.htm

http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/modernism/Zizek.htm


>Post Script: Proyect states that (Freudian) psychoanalysis has no 
>scientific base.  If you think Marx’s discourse and use of “the scientific 
>method” makes it a “more truthful” Truth, then so be it.  But, I think 
>Zizek would not bother responding ­ though I suppose I would.

Marx never claimed that historical materialism could cure autism, Freudian 
psychoanalysts did--and caused a lot of grief in the process.



Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org




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