In the New York Review of Books, John Gray’s review of Slavoj Zizek’s career and most recent book, Less Than Nothing, is damning. At bottom, Gray pegs Zizek as an armchair revolutionary lending intellectual and moral support to terrorism and violence, irrationalism, and left-totalitarianism (even as he enjoys the cosmopolitan capitalist fruits of global celebrity). Here’ Gray slamming Zizek in a manner I find rather impressive (and convincing):
Žižek’s vision . . . is well adapted to an economy based on the continuous production of novel commodities and experiences, each supposed to be different from any that has gone before. With the prevailing capitalist order aware that it is in trouble but unable to conceive of practicable alternatives, Žižek’s formless radicalism is ideally suited to a culture transfixed by the spectacle of its own fragility. That there should be this isomorphism between Žižek’s thinking and contemporary capitalism is not surprising. After all, it is only an economy of the kind that exists today that could produce a thinker such as Žižek. The role of global public intellectual Žižek performs has emerged along with a media apparatus and a culture of celebrity that are integral to the current model of capitalist expansion.
You would think that this is as accurate a summation of Zizek as you are likely to get, and little more need be said. But Gray is equally perceptive in his concluding paragraph:
In a stupendous feat of intellectual overproduction Žižek has created a fantasmatic critique of the present order, a critique that claims to repudiate practically everything that currently exists and in some sense actually does, but that at the same time reproduces the compulsive, purposeless dynamism that he perceives in the operations of capitalism. Achieving a deceptive substance by endlessly reiterating an essentially empty vision, Žižek’s work—nicely illustrating the principles of paraconsistent logic—amounts in the end to less than nothing.
Ouch. This is quite a take-down. Zizek, being a celebrity radical, can happily ignore Gray and keep doing “that thing he does” (write theory books filled with hermetic and entertaining postmodern play). And I admit I like his books. Wherever they focus on films and culture, they’re invariably thought-provoking and fun. He’s got his market.
Here’s Zizek talking in London. For all his flaws, there’s still something about Zizek.