Žižek’s Hypocrisy

By Timothy Bewes and Thangam Ravindranathan
October 19, 2015

slavoj-zizek-tshirt-zoomMany of us here at Brown have read and admired philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s work through the years. Žižek’s critique of ideology — notably his elucidation of the paradoxes through which ideology may do its work (in “The Sublime Object of Ideology,” “Welcome to the Desert of the Real” and other works) — has a clarity and a much-needed political force. We have learned from it and have introduced our students to it; it is more necessary now than ever. For these reasons, we rejoiced at the opportunity to hear Žižek deliver this year’s Roger Henkle memorial lecture at Brown last Tuesday, Oct. 13.There were elements that were thought-provoking in Žižek’s lecture. As always he warned against self-congratulatory, bad-faith celebrations of “difference” and the assumption that we know how to tell ideological violence from its subversion. The opening section of his talk offered a usefully counterintuitive theorization of ideological repression as produced precisely through its encouragement of instances of apparent transgression. Far from being a site of “resistance,” the violation of the rules, Žižek cautioned, may be immanent to the operation of repressive authority.How dismaying, then, to see Žižek illustrate in his talk the very logic he alerted us to. The asides, jokes and illustrations that punctuated his lecture and finally overwhelmed it traded repeatedly in the trivialization of political projects and the objectification of women’s bodies. Has the rollicking archive entirely forgotten the heuristic and critical mission that once underpinned it?

Without the careful work of analysis and argumentation, the performance could no longer be distinguished from mere ribaldry and schoolboy violence.Another interesting stray proposition in Žižek’s lecture was that the real point of psychoanalysis (standing here as an exemplary form of critique of late capitalism) is to teach us that there are things in the world that are more important than our own pleasures and sufferings, than knowing ourselves. How could one not agree with the insight and value of this? But one had reason to wonder what unseemly and asymmetrical liberties this....more here