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."