Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly Jester

Full review here. (updated)

American political thought is often suspicious of European leftist intellectuals like Zizek (wikipedia) and Bernard Henri-Levy.  There are some good reasons to be suspicious, of course, of the effect such deep thinkers potentially have on the many social, intellectual and philosophical British-American traditions they sometimes comically fail to understand.  Perhaps Kirsch is a little too suspicious, though.  In fact, it seems that in Europe it’s often as easy to tap into anti-American sentiment as it is to tap into anti-communist and socialist sentiment here in America.

Kirsch wants to point out that behind much of Zizek’s thought is…well…communism, socialism and Marxism.

“When Zizek turns up speaking the classical language of Marxism-Leninism, he profits from the assumption that the return of ideas that were once the cause of tragedy can now occur only in the form of farce.”

And perhaps Zizek’s delivering them with the hyperbole that a public intellectual trapped in and suspicious of his role as a public intellectual (you never understand my depths, but I have my moral duties!) does.  Perhaps not, though.  He goes a little further:

“This ontology of revolution raises some questions. On several occasions, Zizek describes the “utopian” moment of revolution as “divine.” In support of this notion he adduces Walter Benjamin on “divine violence.” “The most obvious candidate for ‘divine violence,'” he writes in Violence, “is the violent explosion of resentment which finds expression in a spectrum that ranges from mob lynchings to revolutionary terror.”

Kirsch wants to point out the dangerous possibility of violent revolution that Marx advocated (always worth pointing out I think) mixed with Benjamin’s Marxism/Jewish and religious mysticism.   A nod to terrorists (and terrorism…?)

I might add that perhaps from Hegel, and to Marx’s understanding of Hegel in The Communist Manifesto, there is a lot of transposed Christian metaphysics…a metaphysics re-arranged with somewhat secular aims for the industrial world, but also a metaphysics harboring a similar pursuit of the transcendant.

Have Zizek’s and Bernhard Henri-Levy’s depths been sufficiently addresssed?  Is it good enough for you?

Possibly Related On This Site: Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksFrom Guernica: Bernard Henri Levy Interview On Anti-Semitism And Fascism

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One thought on “Adam Kirsch In The New Republic On Slavoj Zizek: The Deadly Jester

  1. Adam Kirsch does a wonderful job at stating the obvious, but with the nice peppering of liberal-democratic outrage (an outrage that looks quite like good-old twentieth-century red-bating). In short, he is knocking on a door that is wide open. Anyone who has read Zizek’s work–even in a cursory manner–can discern his Marxian project. Ever since the _Sublime Object’s_ (1989) awkward embrace of democracy, a position Zizek has subsequently denounced, Zizek has developed a concerted and much-needed re-conception of political ontology—one that not only re-formulates the Lacanian notion of the Real (as the “parallax real”), but also the notion of violence and utopian possibilities. But what is even more troubling about Kirsch’s piece is the way he brazenly (one hopes it’s intentional) misreads Zizek’s work. I invite anyone to revisit Zizek’s writing on the film _the Matrix_ or his comments on 9/11 in _Welcome to the Desert_ . For such texts undoubtedly complicate Kirsch’s claim that Zizek is a purveyor of “the old Marxist concept of false consciousness.” Such simplified and grossly de-contextualized assessments plague Kirsch’s reading in almost every section of his diatribe. Indeed, this is no laughing matter. But the motley may be on your head, Mr. Kirsch.

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