Slavoj Zizek: The Subtle Art

Only Slavoj Zizek could compare Jane Austen to Hegel and get away with it. A smile comes to our lips, we want to laugh, and, yet, we wonder to ourselves: “How could he compare this dialectical monstrosity to this subtle ironist, this comic novelist of manners?” Yet, one realizes that is just the point, it was Austen’s inwardness, her subjective individuation, her consciousness of those subtle misrecognitions that slip between fault lines of conversation and observation, those subtle ironies that raise an eyebrow, cause a smirk, bring a quiet recognition of that true wit that is both her power and her art that aligns her with the master of dialectical persuasion.

It is Jane Austen who is perhaps the only counterpart to Hegel in literature: Pride and Prejudice is the literary Phenomenology of Spirit; Mansfield Park the Science of Logic and Emma the Encyclopedia… No wonder, then that we find in Pride and Prejudice the perfect case of this dialectic of truth arising from misrecognition. (66)1

What’s interesting in Zizek’s bringing together Hegel and Austen to discuss the subtle art of misrecognition is not that it neatly ties together the strands of his Hegelian argument, but that like any true didactic scholar he teaches us through the power of delight and elucidation rather than through abstract verbalism. This is why it is usually fun to read Zizek even if you disagree with him at time, he entertains and delights, instructs and illustrates without bludgeoning one with the truth of his argument. He is didactic and dialectical at the same time. There is a subtle rhythm to his method, repetitions of word and tone that intersperse the abstract truth of his argument with layers of empirical wit and illustrations from other authors to make his points.

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