When talking about Slavoj Žižek, people’s attitude don’t negotiate between love and hate. This Slovenian philosopher has thousands of devoted fans, receives even more global criticism.
People who like Žižek deem him as “the Elvis of cultural theory”, the “Foucault of Our Time” (Wallace 1998) and Žižek indeed has an exuberant personality, which is stylish and expressive, should be better described as tumultuous. Scholars have described Žižek as “iconoclastic”. Maybe that’s exactly the spotlight of Žižek that made him a celebrity intellectual. His fans will call themselves “Žižekians”, just like Lucan’s “Lacanians”, because he has turned high theory into performance art and developed a “trademark” identity in a fully affectionate fashion.
But there are also people who hate him. They think “what Žižek writes, is actually nothing new or interesting or surprising”. And that’s why he writes it “in the provocative, confusing, and bizarre manner that he chooses instead of a straightforward manner.”
What does Žižek want to express? In suspicion of almost every authority, Žižek possesses the prescribed attitudes of the post-modernists. His screeds against politics, capitalism and most “political correct” issues. He never discusses poverty, inequality, war, finance, intolerance, famine, nationalism, medicine, or climate change, yet he takes himself to be grappling with the most pressing social issues of our time.
He is anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism. He eagerly displays those distastes in vulgar jokes or low class stories because he wants to “shake, shock, jolt or move the way we see the things and acts around us that are taken for granted”. And when doing this, Žižek has no classic mind.
Žižek critiques are wide-ranging. First, he understands the politics as a rare and splendid thing: no actions are genuinely political unless they are revolutionary. Second, according to Žižek, all the problems in modern society are built on the intractable problems of capitalism. Žižek alerts us to how this symbolic system infects our unconscious motivations to create images of ourselves, thereby shaping how we think and extending the logic of market competition to all areas of social life. So to his cynical eyesight, even human conscious is a false existence. There is no such thing as “natural desire”. They are all man-made. Like he has said, “Desire, is the wound of reality.” And lastly, Žižek divides the world between liberal capitalism and fundamentalism — in other words, between those who believe too little and those who believe too much. And he himself, is above this pigeonhole.
Except hating hypocrisy, mendacity, and idiocy in our politics life, Žižek has faith in “the unity of philosophy”. He spends tens of thousands of words explaining “authentically Hegelian” with a dash of Marx and Lacan, makes light of the these difficulties face of philosophy. Someone compared Žižek as a cocktail with a kick: a Marxist liquid base, mixed with a dash of Lacan and Hegel on the rocks.
Still, Žižek can hardly be categorized into the Western scholars as he was born in communist Yugoslavia in 1949 and received a well-armed knowledge in Marxism afterwards. He even had his early career experiences of Communist bureaucracy in the former Yugoslavia. But Žižek’s enormous momentum always comes from his non-identity, rather than a simplified definition of Western scholar or Communist scholar.
In 1971 he got a job in philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, then he made him an “un-Marxist” and was fired. In the 80s he adopted English as his working language, and the publication of The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989) finally brought him to fame and Western media attention. He even was listed as one of Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, and has been a prolific writer with book of a stunning range from cultural to political topics ever since.
Compared to the average chalkface scholar, Žižek is an inspirational figure. His scholarly existence launched on him a career as an international theorist, but much more interest has attracted through his exotic application of scholarship and his authentic intellectual inquiry.
Popular, Why not?
With an ambition to provoke us into considering how contemporary capitalism works, Žižek borrows from both popular culture and literary excerpts to break the barrier separating theoretical languages from everyday life. “We do know what we do, and still do it,” Žižek wrote in one of his book. His success is largely built upon a consistent examination of ideology. To beat a monstrosity you have to be a one, even though it means to be unnecessary eye-catching. That’s why he excessively relies upon stories and jokes to illuminate his ideas.
Slavoj speculates “I’m almost tempted to say that making me popular is a resistance against taking me seriously”. He writes books leap erratically from topic to topic, offers Žižekian gaze on vexing troubles in our times and challenges people trying to sum him up, but he still thinks “the task of people like me is not to provide answers but to ask the right questions”. As we live in a post-ideological era, big personalities like Žižek may not be an immediate expression of truth or answer, but all that matters is that in their actual behaviors we start to question.