A Short Note on Zizek

Been rereading The Ticklish Subject by Slavoj Zizek of late and realize I like the early works better than the later. Later Zizek is bloated, untidy, full of long repetitions, along with copy and paste jokes and assays from his earlier works. He’s sloppy and needs an editor. His arguments with himself have become habit rather than a staging for some new concept. Why do philosophers think they need to repeat what they’ve done better in earlier works? Why repeat yourself over and over and over again?

One of the great differences between Zizek and his friend Badiou is this sense of total command on the part of the Frenchman, a fastidiousness; even a certain fussiness over each sentence: structure, word, meaning. Badiou’s works never overstep or overreach, every word has its place in the systematic format of his books. It’s as if he’d read and reread certain passages, honing them down to perfection; to the point that one could not replace, excise, or change the wording without losing the conceptual thought altogether. With Zizek it’s just the opposite, one is given page after page of repetitious monologue, as if the philosopher we’re happily engaged in argument with himself at the total expense of any future reader.  As if it would be too much bother to go back and revise, edit, or change anything…. anything at all.

Does he ever allow someone to read his works early on? Are his editors disciples afraid to say the truth: ah, Zizek maybe you could tidy up this or that passage; your locutions seem to go on and on without really giving us clarity, but rather confusion. To read later Zizek is to know in advanced that one is condemned to reread certain passages over and over because his affectation for dialectical materialism is in the scale of rhetoric lacking that polish and precision one expects from such a touted pop icon. No if one wants a philosopher’s philosopher, one reads Deleuze and Badiou, not Zizek. Zizek is a street philosopher, a speaker who can reach the mass mind but rarely reaches the pitch one expects from such a giant intellect.

But one says just the opposite of his early works. Here the mind of the philosopher is sharp, witty, controlled; he speaks what he measures, nothing more, nothing less; he offers apt examples, and displays an acumen and reserve that one expects and demands of such writing. His style is still verbose, but it seems compact and to the point, rather than obtuse and sprawling like his Less Than Nothing is. The several works of The Essential Zizek Series I would recommend without reserve. Here one listens in on a mind inquisitive, challenging, probing; tracing a concept into its dialectical interplays among various philosophers without getting bogged down in details. Maybe he had better editors in the early days? Either way these works and essays – and, above all, Zizek is an essayist of the first order – have that refined eloquence of the obvious, yet reach into an abyss that few have traveled to develop and explicate concepts that instruct and delight those who know.

10 thoughts on “A Short Note on Zizek

  1. I have not read the earlier works so maybe I should take a look … I have read ‘Violence’ which is probably one of the most pointless books I have ever read, or am I missing some kind of irony? I read ‘The Parallax View’ up to a point at which the depravity of the sexual analogies became cringeworthy … again I may be missing the point?

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    • Yea, if you’re not a fan of Lacan then Zizek will most assuredly not be your cup of tea. Zizek is more of an anti-philosopher like his mentor. He’s definitely on the provocateur edge of popular philosophy. So yea he’s not for everyone… reading him one should have a long acquaintance with philosophical idealism, communist thought, and psychoanalytical literature. It goes with the territory. Some think he’s overblown… I think he tried experimental thought forms that tried to provoke reactions, disturb peoples minds to think either for or against him.

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  2. I, too, have always thought that Zizek shouldn’t have written at least more than half of the books he did… That said, he himself admits in Less Than Nothing, among many other works of his, that doing nothing requires more energy than doing something, that for him not saying anything is more difficult than saying something…

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    • Oh, true… I sometimes wish he’d just take up blogging and get his steam out daily 🙂 I know I agree whole-heartedly with what he says “doing nothing requires more energy than doing something, that for him not saying anything is more difficult than saying something…” I have get my thoughts down… if I don’t I become a monster.

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  3. Totally agree with all this. I am currently reading LTN, but there are so many asides and digressions, leaving aside the footnotes, that I often loose track of the main argument in the thicket of his meanderings. The same lack of editing is apparent in his opinion pieces for the New Statesman etc, where basic journalistic errors like failing to check citations detract from the main thrust of the article.

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    • I’ve read the Parmenides section twice now and am still unclear as to his allegiance. Because his dialectical style is so circumlocutional one is never sure if he is in favor of Plato and his forbear (i.e., of Idealism – the realism of thought and being in unity) or the Sophists. He gets lost in his own parodies. He is the abyss he seeks, a grotesque Sublime succumbing to its own monstrosity. Yet, I like the guy, there’s gold even in the ruins.

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      • Yeah, same here – something keeps me reading anyway, although it remains to be seen whether I will make to the end. Reading it on the Kindle as bedside reading and just letting it wash over me without trying too hard to grasp the big picture. That Parmenides section was particularly long-winded and dense – I decided not to linger there for too long, but may return.

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  4. He’s like that in his lectures too. I can’t stand hearing him say the same anecdotes over and over again. I know he’s a mind to take seriously, but I can’t if I hear him make that same story again about the postmodern father who says his son should visit his grandmother.

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    • Yea, like a bad comic that can’t keep his jokes fresh, leaves a bitter taste on the tongue. I hear you… What bothers me is such impudence and intellectual laziness goes against the very dialectical materialist stance he seems to stand for: as if his disregard for the audiences intellect were such that, oh – you’ll forgive me, I just can’t be bothered to find fresh examples for you, so you’ll just get the same old stupid jokes I give my friends. Like he doesn’t really give a shit one way or another what you think or don’t think about the quality of his thought and speech. Sad. You know he’s better than that, but has for whatever reason decided to take the easy route. And, of course, this has gotten him in trouble over plagiarism, etc. with such cut and paste from other sources, emails, friends, etc. Forgetting attribution and copyright etc. As if : Hey I’m a philosopher, you should forgive me of such infringements, it’s all passé and infrangible.

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