Der Spiegel on a Stalinist "Rock Star"

Der Spiegel publishes, in English translation, a fawning portrait of the ridiculous Slovenian Stalinist philosopher Slavoj Zizek. I cannot improve upon Adam Kirsch’s brilliant attack in The New Republic (which is referenced in the Der Spiegel piece three times), but in my essay in this book I offered a little context of how Zizek, called an “academic rock star” by the New York Times and the subject of two obsequious documentary films, affects the mainstream debate on post-communist Europe.

Zizek, a frequent contributor to the New York Times opinion page, also grounds his anticapitalism in Soviet totalitarianism. “Better the worst Stalinist terror,” he declares, “than the most liberal capitalist democracy.” If Stalinism was indeed a negative development, it was because it was too capitalistic: “Stalinist ‘totalitarianism’ was the capitalist logic of self-propelling productivity liberated from its capitalist form, which is why it failed: Stalinism was the symptom of capitalism.” On the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Times selected Zizek to deliver its opinion page commemeration, an opportunity he used to denounce the “new anti-Communist scare” in Eastern Europe and to argue, without corroborating evidence, that “the large majority” of those liberated from Soviet tyranny “did not ask for capitalism.”

So how does Der Spiegel treat a Soviet nostalgic, whose books were (stupidly) censored in Germany for (stupidly) arguing that “Nazism wasn’t radical enough”? With extreme deference, of course! Zizek is a an exceedingly clever “pop star” in the world of cultural studies, whose books are translated into dozens of languages, who has inspired “Zizek T-shirts and Zizek records…a Zizek club and an international Zizek journal.” He is a communist—nothing wrong with that!—who is sorting through the wreckage of those “catastrophes that occurred in the name of communism (emphasis added).”

Zizek has created an artificial character. His appearances are performances, something between art and comedy. He says that he wants to get away from these standup comedy appearances, and that he wants to give a serious lecture in Berlin, mostly about Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the subject of his new book. He says that he has already written 700 pages. It would take a normal person 10 years to write 700 pages about the man who may have been the most difficult thinker in the history of philosophy. Zizek wrote his 700 pages on airplanes in the last few months.

All of it incoherent. But Zizek is sensitive to such criticism, telling Der Spiegel that he is aware "that people often think I'm an idiot, that nostalgic Leninist. But I'm not crazy. I'm much more modest and much more pessimistic."

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  • J_L_B||

    It sucks that he was born in Slovenia, the progressives thought they had found a more progressive challenger to Obama for the 2012 nomination.

  • TB||

    Since when has being born in a different country stopped them? ;)

  • Contemplationist||

    Im getting sooooo sick of this blowhard being fawned over and given exposure by so many mainstream publications. Everyday I feel that McCarthy didnt go far enough. Society needs to be thoroughly de-commified like germany was de-nazified. The Cold war victory was hollow and without substance because of this.
    EFF THE COMMIES AAHHHHHHHHHH

  • ||

    No.

  • Baukerman||

    Or like how the Nazis de-commified Germany?

    Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you but it seems you're saying that once the USSR was out of the way the US should have rounded up everyone who was communist and thrown them in jail or worse. Who decides what's communist? Jail everyone to the left of your political position? I don't know, sounds Stalinist.

    Contemplationist? Oh, I get it, irony!

  • Contemplationist||

    I dont reply to morons normally..but here s an exception...the clue is already in my post. "de-nazification" how was that done, mr idiot? Right, by social stigma, firing people from PRIVATE positions and government positions. Read up on de-nazification.
    Idiot.
    did i say you were a blithering idiot? yeah, idiot.
    Its clear that the commies in academia mostly, media etc still exist. No societal wide massive flush happened. There should be extreme social stigma attached to being a commie or socialist just like it is for being a nazi. The cold war, being an ideological war, required de-socialization to be counted as a "success." Idiot

  • ||

    So, is this guy for real, or is he the Sacha Baron Cohen of academia?

  • DBN||

    Both. He spews clever ideas without any concern for coherence.

  • Federal Dog||

    What "clever idea" -- coherent or incoherent -- has he expressed?

  • Joe||

    He's for real. Read the article from Dec. 2008 in The New Republic that is linked. I had to look up a few words but it accurately portrays him and the difference between his public persona and his writings.

    He was invited to the University where I work (Loyola New Orleans) this past year. A number of the lefties (including a dozen humanities faculty and administrators) on campus fawned over him. Some had a reading group about him before he came but apparently they did not find anything objectionable in his writings. They made hundreds of huge, expensive, posters to plaster all over, not just the standard paper flyers. In his public appearances, he does exhibit a kind of charm by mixing in funny things (like saying that reading the Marquis de Sade was boring after awhile because it was just do this, and then do this with a goat and that with etc.) and references to popular culture and saying "daring" things. But as these articles point out, he believes that contradictions are not only allowed but necessary to get at the truth. But at heart I believe he is a fascist and is essentially egging others on to commit (senseless) violence in protest of the fact that everything wrong in the world past, present and future is due to the existing class struggle and is "capitalisms" fault. He does not even care if it is successful, just kill and maim as an act of protest. What a sick fuck!

    I had put Ayn Rand's fiction behind me as childish and exaggerated until the recent economic mess and then my university inviting in a guy and treating him like a celebrity when he is essentially saying things that one of Rand's villains said like Toohey or Mouch.

  • ||

    I'm sorry, but it's not Zizek's fault your anus is bleeding after Ron Paul tore it apart.

  • -||

    Troll fellatio. Step right up. 5 cents to blow the troll.

  • ||

    Since you gave Ron Paul a million dollar money bomb to rape your assholes with a frozen vomit fuck stick, I'm going to have to insist on a higher amount for you to have the privilege of blowing me.

    How does 10 bars of gold pressed latinum sound?

  • ||

    No.

  • GivesARip||

    Brandeis? For fuck real?

    LOL! LOL! Oh, man!

    Are you a student, or faculty?

    Son of a bitch that is some hilarious shit.

  • Bob||

    Zizek would put you in a camp for having anal sex. Even though it is ultimately capitalism that causes "homos" to appear.

  • ||

    Zizek needs the Universal New Yorker Cartoon Caption: Christ, what an asshole.

  • ||

    Okay so he is a hump. But his book about Lacan and Hitchcock, "Looking Awry" was wonderful and charming. Sadly he really showed what a moron he is by running for president.

  • ||

    I have never heard of the guy.

  • ||

    Torture, which appears to be un-American, is pronounced to be the thing that is most American. It follows that the legalization of torture, far from barbarizing the United States, is actually a step toward humanizing it. According to the old Marxist logic, it heightens the contradictions, bringing us closer to the day when we realize, as Žižek writes, that "universal human rights" are an ideological sham, "effectively the rights of white male property owners to exchange freely on the market and exploit workers and women."

    male property owners have exploited workers and women all over the world since the beginning of time....It was the white ones who actually got around to inventing "human rights".

    It seems to be inevitable that the ones who actually invented human rights get the blame. No matter how quick the change it will never be quick enough...and those who get the rights first will be the closest to their former masters.

    It is no coincidence that western culture invented and established liberalism and then invented communism in only a few generations.

  • Max||

    Zizek is there for posting about when you can't find a new Cato study on the global warming nonsense.

  • hth||

    “So how does Der Spiegel treat a Soviet nostalgic, whose books were (stupidly) censored in Germany for (stupidly) arguing that ‘Nazism wasn’t radical enough‘?” — The publishing house removed those passages. Stupid, yes, but not censorship.

  • Abdul||

    inspired “Zizek T-shirts and Zizek records…a Zizek club and an international Zizek journal.”

    Shit, if I could that rich doing it, I'd critique capitalism too.

  • ||

    I'm thinking of getting into the textile business...just until the revolution, mind you.

  • Jeffersonian||

    So how long before this surreal gibberish is front and center at Kos?

  • JB||

    The NYT is still a Stalin apologist organ.

    What a piece of shit organization.

    You want to make the world an actual better place? Legally or otherwise do your part to flush the NYT down the drain.

  • Baukerman||

    You sound ignorant. NYT is Stalinist? Hahaha.

    They're pro-free market in the slightly more regulated European sense of the phrase.

    Except for in a few editorials, they bad-mouth unions (air traffic controllers & GM), social security, medicare, the public option, the stimulus package, and any sort of plan for leaving Afghanistan and Iraq. They love capitalism, it just needs some tinkering to get it perfect. They're liberals.

  • JB||

    You silly Leftist twat.

    The NYT is an organ run by "useful idiots". They even tried to white-wash Stalin's purges in the past.

    A sick organization.

  • ||

    I wonder what would happen if libertarians started running around talking about the socially cathartic usefullness of violence and revolutions as ends in themselves.

    Probably the academic press would divide into two camps, those calling us racists, and those calling us facists.

  • juris imprudent||

    The only Slovenian worth taking note of is Sasha Vujacic.

  • affenkopf||

    And the Laibach members.

  • ||

    Goran Dragic begs to differ.

  • PR||

    Slavoj Zizek and The Life Communistic. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go on an overnight drunk, and in 10 days I'm going to set out to find the free market that ate my friend and destroy it. Anyone who wants to tag along is more than welcome.

  • Bramblyspam||

    Somehow I can't help but be reminded of Elektronik Supersonik.

  • Baukerman||

    "All of it incoherent."

    Mr. Moynihan, you have an advanced copy of Zizek's Hegel book? Immediately after that sentence you write, "But Zizek is sensitive to such criticism..." I'd be sensitive to people criticizing books of mine they've never read too.

    Here's a lecture Zizek recently delivered at the London Literature Festival. He specifically addresses Stalinist and democratic terror and totalitarianism near the end. For those who won't watch it, I'll sum the parts that relate to this post: he encourages a terrifying amount of whistle-blowing. Also, he admits he'd rather live in a multi-party capitalist democracy than Stalinist Russia.

    Personally, I find his assessment of the public and private uses of reason the most serviceable points of his critique of capitalism.

    http://richmedia.lse.ac.uk/pub.....dTimes.mp3

  • Don||

    Thanks for the link. I'll read it when I get a chance. But what does it mean when someone continually contradicts themself? They say they'd rather live under Stalin one minute and then the next they say the opposite? Why would you ever listen to such a fool? Particularly when his idols are Hegel, Marx, and Lacan who believe in polylogism and are themselves full of contradictions?

  • Random Dude||

    "But what does it mean when someone continually contradicts themself?"

    It means that they follow in the long, horrific footsteps of academicians like Russell, Keynes, and Chomsky.

    In other words, they're intellectual exhibitionists too "nuanced" to communicate their thoughts to anyone but their circle of groupies.

  • Baukerman||

    "It means that they follow in the long, horrific footsteps of academicians like Russell, Keynes, and Chomsky."

    Horrific? Really? I mean, really? C'mon.

    Keynes, Russell and Chomsky are easy reads! Not a lot of jargon, simple frameworks, easily-explained ideas. Chomsky is so not an exhibitionist that he's kind of boring to read.

    Don't you agree?

  • Contemplationist||

    ROFLLL. Keynes is an easy read? Sorry but even when Tyler Cowen finds him a "hard read sometimes," we know you're a commie troll. go away, troll. oh yeah, IDIOT.

  • Baukerman||

    It's audio, so download it and put it on your MP3 player. It's well-suited for the RED U2 iPod. Harty-har-har.

    The answer to your question...I don't know. There's two sides to every story? I mean the gospels contradict themselves, but people still believe in them. Physics contradicts itself but we still use it to get lots of shit done. Capitalism contains contradictions, but some of us still live decently within it.

    I think for Zizek, and I could be misreading him, his shit is kind of wordy, everything (friendship, political systems, art movements, sexuality, etc.) contains contradictions because of the nature of human subjectivity. Even if there is an objective reality everyone relates to it a little differently and therefore acts differently causing the appearance of a non-objective reality. Because there are no objective observers of objective reality, objective reality, as viewed by us, appears to be subjective. What's important is how this and other contradictions are covered up and how they emerge from beneath the surface. Essentially, the contradictions caused by multiple subjects viewing an objective reality is the closest we can get to knowing that objective reality. Does that sound right? I'm pretty democratic when it comes to reality so let me know if it doesn't, maybe we can come up with some sort of consensus?

    As far as Hegel, Marx and Lacan are concerned, Zizek has critiqued each one of them in significant ways while still allowing them to define his general framework. I haven't detected an affinity for polylogism in his work. In my opinion quite the opposite is true, particularly in his work on multiculturalism (the liberal word for polylogism?), truth, and tolerance.

    As far as how one can say they want to live one place one second and another the next well... I'm not Zizek so this is a guess but it's like...it's like saying I really want marijuana to be legalized. So badly in fact, I often say I want to live in Amsterdam. Really I don't. I only speak english, my friends are here, i'd waste money on prostitutes etc. But concerning the topic of marijuana I wish the US was more Amsterdam-ish. So in that way perhaps Zizek is saying I want some features of Stalinist Russia. That's not TOO surprising. Lots of people from ex-socialist countries feel ambiguous about switching to capitalist democracy. They enjoy the extra political freedoms and the diversity of goods but are weary of the economic insecurity.

    So why would I listen? I'm a political science major and I find it boring as hell because everything is basically decided; representative democracy is the least bad government that we can ever come up with, tinker with the content, but the form is correct. Free market capitalism is the least bad economic system we can come up with, tinker with the content, but the form is correct. It's limits our thinking. It's like there's a dogmatic religious faith in the economic and political system we've created. Zizek points this out as do a few others.

    In grade school I saw a faux-documentary about how the founding fathers invented our government; sitting around drinking beers, deciding on a bicameral legislature, implementing federalism, etc. They were inventing something new based on previous governments. They weren't reforming monarchy, they were creating a new amalgam of republicanism and democracy. I think we need to put ourselves in the same mindset. Hopefully, we can learn from capitalism/representative democracy and socialism/the party-state, think beyond them, and come up with something new.

    Wow, look at that. I must like listening to him because I'm a rambling idiot too!

  • Federal Dog||

    "Even if there is an objective reality everyone relates to it a little differently and therefore acts differently causing the appearance of a non-objective reality. Because there are no objective observers of objective reality, objective reality, as viewed by us, appears to be subjective."

    So fucking what? All of this falls squarely under the rubric NO FUCKING KIDDING. If the guy wants to run around stating the obvious, who cares? Just don't try to pass obvious shit off as some great intellectual insight.

  • notforlack||

    "I think for Zizek, and I could be misreading him, his shit is kind of wordy, everything (friendship, political systems, art movements, sexuality, etc.) contains contradictions because of the nature of human subjectivity."

    This is true. But, his theory of subjectivity is more than merely perspectival or relativistic. Based primarily on Lacan, Zizek's subject is constituted by a constitutive and irreducible gap between our symbolic (read: linguistic [Lacan drew heavily on post-structuralism]) representation of the world and the excessive Real of imminent experience that cannot be reduced to language (the "I" of the enunciated). experience as lived (the "I" of enunciation). In practical terms, we experience this gap anytime we experience something which we can't quite convey in words, or Zizek gives the example of the not-quite-identifiable X-factor that many says draws them to their loves.

    Zizek is not defining the subject in relation or opposition to some truly objective world of the Real - because, to say that the Real is simply excluded from symbolization is, in fact, a symbolic determination. Instead, the Real marks the failure of symbolization itself - meaning that distortions in reality don't result from relative perspectives, but from an imminent distortion inherent to the nature of reality itself.

    The purported contradiction between his endorsement of Stalinism or liberal-democracy truly reveals the depths of these relative misreadings.

    In response to the initial blog: Kirsch's "attack" on Zizek was laughable at best. Even a cursory amount of fact-checking would reveal that Kirsch often used Zizek's summary of other theories which he planned to oppose as evidence of Zizek's actual positions.
    Moreover, throughout reading the entire article I was burdened by a sense that Kirsch simply didn't "get it" - didn't comprehend that one of the greatest effects of Zizekian scholarship is its ability to make the reader uncomfortable; to force the reader to consider fundamental ideological contradictions, such as why violence in the name of revolutionary politics is to be opposed, but the violence made inevitable by capital should only be "mediated". Or, perhaps more importantly, demonstrate to the reader that political events are not reducible to their effects, but contain within themselves some kernal, beyond the symbolic, that is to be appreciated.

    This elucidates your misreading of his arguments regarding Stalinism (which is an egregious representation given Zizek's history as a dissident) - the violence of Stalinist terror is precisely what demonstrates its insufficient radicalism. The Purges were based on a paranoid extermination of perceived threats in pursuit of a fantasmatic ideology.

  • PoMo Slayer||

    Lacan was a fraud and psychoanlaysis is bullshit, and Derrida called - he wants his pea-brained, obscuratnist hog swill passed off as high-brow critical thought back.

    Douche.

  • Mark Noonan||

    The man knows his target audiences - liberals who still can't figure out how the "progressive" USSR lost the Cold War; conservatives who believe he really wants to live under a Stalinist regime.

    He's a con artists - and a very clever one.

  • Baukerman||

    The USSR was progressive?

    This is the classic straw man fallacy. Say something liberals don't believe then knock it down. That said, liberals suck. They talk about freedom and equality then lose their nerve when it really matters. Now that's classic polemics.

  • enowning||

    You'd think libertarians would find their own angle on a "Stalinist" who was a dissident in the days when there were real communists about, and who today quotes Hayek and Ayn Rand to the leftists, but no, Reason just regurgitates whatever some apparachik at the New Republic invented.

  • ||

    Writing about Hegel, all of it incoherent? Quelle surprise!

    It's much easier to be incoherent than not when discussing the incoherent.

  • ||

    Another example of explaining the failure of communism/socialism as "They just didn't implement it the right way. If they did it MY way it would work". The Soviet Union failed because Stalin was too much of a softie! Who would have guessed?

    Why anyone would waste their time paying any attention to the drivel this dolt is peddling is beyond me.

  • Baukerman||

    I know! I hate the excuse that an "-ism" failed because it wasn't pure enough.

    But apologists for free market capitalism perform the same maneuver when faced with a crisis, don't you think? I may be mistaken but I thought most libertarians believe the cause of the financial crisis was free markets weren't being implemented in a free or pure enough way. Like most ideas when taken from theory and put into practice, capitalism and communism fall short of their pure imagined forms.

    If they were done OUR way they would work.

  • Contemplationist||

    I don't see the symmetry though of course I could be biased. There's obviously blithering idiots blaming every ill of markets on the government. However, leaving aside the "blame" and "cause" part, one can see how many distortions the government has created in the financial and housing sectors.

    But I think most libertarians do believe that even with full laissez-faire minarchism, recessions WILL happen because no human system is perfect, but only that recessions wont be so bad and will end shortly even if they are deep (i think 1920-21 depression is their favorite example of this).

  • TallDave||

    Zizek/Greene 2012!!

  • ||

    Zizek is not a Stalinist. One ought to actually read (or understand) his writings, rather than reflexively screech at the nomenclature of Communism.
    In this interview he actually makes the argument that Stalinism was worse than Nazism: http://www.believermag.com/iss.....view_zizek

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