Facts are Facts

New Statesman – “I am a Leninist. Lenin wasn’t afraid to dirty his hands. If you can get power, grab it”

And it is the job of philosophers and intellectuals to engage in that ideological struggle. In other words, theory matters. Žižek tells me a story about a friend of his going to meet Noam Chomsky, the “most influential public intellectual” in America. “My friend told me Chomsky said something very sad. He said that today we don’t need theory. All we need to do is tell people, empirically, what is going on. Here, I violently disagree: facts are facts, and they are precious, but they can work in this way or that. Facts alone are not enough. You have to change the ideological background.
“I’m sorry,” Žižek says, ending the anecdote with a cackle. “I’m an old-fashioned continental European. Theory is sacred and we need it more than ever.”

Žižek comes out with an awful load of claptrap. I should know, I’ve read about 14 of his books. This is not to say that he’s entirely incapable of delivering useful insights, but they are mostly commonsensical, and I have often found myself wondering why, beyond the delight of stumbling across the odd good and often dirty joke, I have patiently traversed so much Hegelian-Lacanian bric-a-brac. I got into reading his books through an interest in Marxism and psychoanalysis, but I am not sure if he has anything really interesting to say about either. To be fair, he really has no truck with facts, and his references to anything that might actually have happened are processed in Hegelese. His latest work, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, proudly boasts a footnote that his account of the “Qarmatian republic” and the Zanj revolt ‘relies heavily upon the relevant Wikipedia entries; see in particular the entries on the “Quarmatians” and the “Zanj Rebellion”‘. Hamid Dabashi described Žižek’s recent intervention on Iran as ‘entirely spontaneous and impressionistic, predicated on as much knowledge about Iran as I have about the mineral composition of the planet Jupiter‘. In a recent interview I heard him say that his book Welcome To The Desert of The Real had managed to raise the ire of both Zionists and Arabs, the Socratic irony of which he seemed to enjoy, but did not seem to have taken into account the possibility that the book was racist toward both Jews and Arabs. Joseph Massad referred to Žižek’s ‘Zionist-inspired propagandistic claims that have no bearing on reality, namely that “Hitler is still considered a hero” in “most” Arab countries, and that The Elders of the Protocols of Zion and other anti-Semitic myths are found in Arab primary school textbooks’ and his ‘own anti-Semitism which manifests in reducing Judaism to the anti-Semitic notion of a “Judeo-Christian” tradition, and which identifies Jews anti-Semitically as “cosmopolitan”, is never clear to Žižek who projects it onto the Palestinians’. Chomsky, for whom Žižek regularly proclaims reserved admiration, does not escape Žižek’s ability to develop characterisations that bear no actual relation to reality, attributing to Chomsky the ‘biting remark that Obama is a white man blackened by a couple of hours of sun-tanning‘. Perhaps there is an elegant theoretical framework that serves to explicate this sort of thing and I am too thick to grasp it, but I have yet to come across it in Žižek’s work.

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October 2009

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