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March 12, 2006


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What are your thoughts on this article?


I am saddened and alienated after reading this editorial. Zizek seems to have gone the way of Anthony Padgen and Tzvetan Todorov – writers who have done much to illuminate the history and theory of relations with others but who, when given a chance to claim the “uniqueness” of Europe, cannot help but trumpet their Kipling derived “White Man’s Pedagogical Burden.” I feel challenged to determine how someone who otherwise might be one of the smartest people on the planet can so easily ignore the structural distribution of power on the global grid. Nor do I fathom how Zizek blinds himself to the possibility that the global dominance of liberal “atheism” might be precisely what provokes fundamentalist responses.

The only bright side that I can see in all this that it allows me a kind of clarity about the European self’s depth of investment in the principles of hierarchy and dominance. If much violence has been done in the name of God, how much has been done in the guise of teaching others the virtues of liberalism, capitalism, democracy, and civilization? Onward European soldier.

josef k.

It seems to me the following: as is so often the case with his journalism, Zizek is on a fine rhetorical line here. Anxious to defend the secular universalism correlative to all authentic materialism, but pressed by editorial limitations of form and ideology, he ends up here sounding extremely patronizing - and far too close for comfort to a eurocentric liberal.

I am beginning to wonder: why is Zizek still responding to these briefs? What goal does he believe he is achieving? Is it a sham sacrifice? Someone who has read Zizek at his best will read this stuff and see a grotesque distortion, so from that direction it is not so much a problem, but by itself, and this stuff just comes across as crude.

josef k.

Although...perhaps it should be remembered - this is a NYT piece, and in the current American political climate, at the moment, atheism might be regarded as subversive, and Europe somewhat foreign.

Adam Kotsko

I don't understand what's particularly objectionable or patronizing about this article.


I think josef k.'s remark is important--and here's why: my dad just called and told me that his Sunday School class (Episcopalian, in San Antonio, Texas) talked about the editorial this am and that his men's study group will discuss it tomorrow evening. For these Southern Christians, the possibility that something like atheism is moral, and a way to protect religious difference, is extremely radical.

I had thought Hume was an atheist and so found the remark that he was a believer puzzling. Maybe I'm just wrong.

Naeem--it's interesting to me that you read this essay in terms of a European uniqueness and dominance view. I think Welcome to the Desert of the Real leans in that direction more than this piece (where he presents Europe as virtually the only force capable of countering the US). And, this piece seems to me an effort to counter current American 'common sense' (read the changed situation of the country since the triumph of the Christian right) about religion, one, and a way to address increasing racism and anti-Muslim voices in Europe.

Also, Zizek would say that the problem is not at all liberal atheism around the planet but neoliberal capital and that fundamentalism across the globe are responses to the changes brought about by neoliberal capital.

Ultimately, I don't see where you see the dominance and hierarchy in this editorial.


From wikipedia on Hume:

So masterful was Hume in disguising his own views that debate continues to this day over whether Hume was actually a deist or an atheist. Regardless, in his own time Hume's alleged atheism caused him to be passed over for many positions.

There is an old (and probably false) story about David Hume and his supposed atheism. In the story, Hume falls off his horse into a pool of mud and is slipping in it, when an old and pious lady walks past. When she sees the renowned atheist flapping about for his life, she walks to the edge and looks at him. Hume urges the lady to pass him a stick to pull him out, but she refuses unless he declare his devotion to God Almighty. Hume accedes and the lady helps him out.

McKenzie Wark

Zizek seems to hint at Kierkegaard's fine discussion of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. The onus ought to be on theists to prove that they can have an ethics, rather than answering to an absurd and irrational calling (pace Kierkegaard). The ethical is a secular invention.

Has atheism ever been a dominant value in the 'west'. (What ever that is) Since when did this 'west' have a monopoly on atheism? One could quibble, but if one must speak the cartoon language of the NYT, at least its fun to see it turned on its head.


This editorial was surprising to me - enough for a lengthly post. I looked for some others that might have blogged on it, and it was very fun to find your blog. I'd be interested in any comments you might have.

I got his main point, but I'm not really sure why he would think atheism was the solution - there seemed to be a couple of different arguments going on, and they didn't quite meet.

I wondered if you had the sense that I did - that perhaps this article was chopped up a bit by editorial?


Less than a year ago Zizek described Buddhism as "the perfect ideological supplement to virtual capitalism".
"It is against such a temptation that we should remain faithful to the Christian legacy of separation, of elevating some principles above others."
Now we're to submit
"Islam — together with all other religions — to a respectful, but for that reason no less ruthless, critical analysis. This, and only this, is the way to show a true respect for Muslims..."
Christianity has of course given us some very useful aphorisms, among them:
"...why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"
I'd suggest a more immediate way of showing "true respect" for Muslims would be to stop killing them.


Jodi: Perhaps rollo's (much longed for) comment clears up the European commitment to hierarchy and dominance? Thank you rollo.

Kenneth Rufo

Rollo, why do you hate America?

I'm with Jodi: I don't see how this article embraces hierarchy and dominaton. That a European intellectual argues for positions fundamentally tied to his historical subject-position doesn't seem to equate to a system of dominance. Now there are places elsewhere in which I find Z being more than a little euro-centric, just not here.

Overall, as someone who cares not a bit for Z's political editorials, I thought this a fine, interesting piece.


I still don't see the hierarchy and dominance factor in this editorial. Rollo's comment, which I consider part of an interesting discussion of Eurocentricism in Zizek's work overall, don't tell me what's wrong with the editorial.

Amish Lovelock

"Respect for other's beliefs as the highest value can mean only one of two things: either we treat the other in a patronizing way and avoid hurting him in order not to ruin his illusions, or we adopt the relativist stance of multiple "regimes of truth," disqualifying as violent imposition any clear insistence on truth."

Where is the dominance in this??? Surely the question of dominance emerges when "the Rest" takes up what should perhaps be the White Man's Burden
of self-criticism of the West, no?

On Europe: I think the opening section of The Fragile Absolute provides an interesting counterpoint to Welcome to the Real. Let's just say that Zizek's Eurocentrism is not just that.

Furthermore, in my opinion the man has given us the best analysis of contemporary nationalism and racism around at the moment (Lebanese-Australian anthropologist Ghassan Hage's Zizek-inspired work is a case in point).

josef k.

The problem is: who exactly is this reasonable abstract Muslim with whom we are conversing, and furthermore, why is it exactly that our conversation has shifted onto the subject of which specific aspects of their beliefs we, as atheists, find particularly objectionable?

To my mind, this problem is actually a real one: it relates to the question of coalition building. How can we, as atheists negotiate a coalition with political Islam? To my mind, such an coalition is necessary, but it is not immediately clear how we can suspend our obvious and real difference in belief-structures which we need to do to make this coalition feasible. Zizek says: well, accept that they are real ones and do not give up on your desire.

Rollo & Naeem - I see your point, but as far as I (and also, I suspect most of Zizek's readers) are concerned that case has already been made and won. We are now thinking about the organization of the opposition, and no longer about the reason as to why it is necessary for there to be an opposition in the first place.


I very much see naeem's point. It simply is the case that European and American antagonistic atheism was critical in producing the fundamentalism that racks us here in North America. And positions like Josef K's that the 'case has already been made and won' are precisely the type of ignorant or willful arrogance that sustain the matter. Zizek is being read by a hell of a lot of people that don't call themselves atheist at all. A large part of the reason is that he at one point called for Christianity and Marxism to get on the same side of the barricades. Crap like this NYT's piece is exactly why that call will continue to go unheeded. If you are an atheist, fine. If you are an atheist who wants to stick a hot poker in the eye of any believer naively zealous enough to engage you on rhetorical and apologetic grounds, fine. If you are an atheist who wishes to make common cause with those who disagree with your atheism, fine. Just don't go spouting off tired old saws about religions causing war (while noble atheists do the good work of gulags, urban purges, and warmaking simply because they are good works). And don't go pandering to the liberal humanist capitalist democrats in this country who want nothing more than to hear that our mess would all be cleaned up if those hot damn muslims and religious righters gave up their belief in an oedipal daddy in the sky. While the end of the article does pull a quintessentially Zizekian move to avoid Eurocentrism, the concepts of serious adults, responsibility, and the overwhelming importance of belief/disbelief on full display in the closing sentences are a part of a long tradition of bullshit liberal protestantism that pretends to subject everything including Christianity to ruthless criticism, all the while playing with a stacked deck of blah, blah capitalist, secularized Lutheran skunk crap that consistently pretends to a brand of universalism only available to those who would reject all traditions in favor of what? A cosmopolitan economy of bourgeoise efete europeanism that prides itself on disbelief and its ability to compete with the American economy. Wonderful.

Ken Jackson

It strikes me that this is another -- and somewhat surprisingly clumsy -- attempt by Zizek to twist free from the Levinasian/Derridean respect for alterity he mocks in other less popular forms of print. Note: "Respect for other's beliefs as the highest value can mean only one of two things: either we treat the other in a patronizing way and avoid hurting him in order not to ruin his illusions, or we adopt the relativist stance of multiple "regimes of truth," disqualifying as violent imposition any clear insistence on truth." This is precisely the trap Levinas and Derrida wrestled with for years. Here Zizek poses the problem as his own. Rather than push through to the Badiouean position on truth he has been championing of late, he falls back on very, very strange and disappointing language: "What, however, about submitting Islam — together with all other religions — to a respectful, but for that reason no less ruthless, critical analysis? This, and only this, is the way to show a true respect for Muslims: to treat them as serious adults responsible for their beliefs." There is no distinction from "respect" for alterity to be had here at all. Two possible reasons for this, I think. Zizek is still very, very new to the "public intellectual" game -- at least in NYTimes form -- or he really can't separate himself from Levinas/Derrida. The only engaging intellectual gesture available is Badiou's emphasis on the "Truth-Event," but, politically, and Zizek must know or intuit this, there just aren't many takers.


SZ says that atheism "creates a safe public space for believers." I think this was one of the more striking comments, as it seems:

(a) to presuppose the idea of a neutral, pre-existing space, prior to belief (whether it be european atheist, muslim, or christian);

(b) to imagine that the relation between atheism and europe can be thought apart from the relation between capitalism and europe, or apart from the relation between (state-bound and/or liberal protestant) christianity and islam. (I couldn't agree more with old's insistence on the liberal protestant inheritance in this editorial.)

On the question of Kierkegaard, I think it's absolutely right to see a Zizekian insistence on the religious suspension of the ethical, but he also seems then to underwrite a suspended ethical (morality for its own sake), which appears to be quite precisely the sort of ethics that religion suspends.


Sorry, clarifications:

In that last sentence, "he" = Zizek.

And, by "the sort of ethics that religion suspends", I mean to say that while Zizek follows Kierkegaard in demanding that religion be delinked from being ethical, Z does not follow K in another sense: K refuses religion the privilege of providing a general ethics, but K reserves for religion the capacity to subvert the ethical (whereas Z seems to want to talk about an ethics prior to and critiquing religion, making it "adult").


Ken--good to hear from you, and I look forward to seeing you on Friday (pity that it's at 8:30 in the am).

I'm not sure whether I agree with your reading of the article, but I find it intriguing. Where I may not agree is with your mapping of the Z's discussion of respect here onto his disagreements with Levinas/Derrida. I think this primarily because the priority of the absolute ethical call, in Levinas, as well as because of the argument about the face. Neither of these seem implicated in the discussion in the editorial, which can be read in rather simple, flat terms of liberal and identity politics or of popular arguments about multiculturalism of the form that, well, I don't believe, but I think we should respect those who do (so as not to upset them) or there are different beliefs, each is valid. Neither of these engages the 'other' whom one is ostensibly respecting. They either imagine the other as some kind authentic believer or treat the other as symbolically identical to oneself. And, this lack of engagement seems the actual problem.

I do agree with your point that his conclusion seems quite odd--and that he should be taking the Badiou position here. In failing to do so, he sounds like a belligerent Habermasian.

I also think that he is really quite unclear about 'reducing' the caricatures to a question of respect for belief (the move necessary for him to stage the opposition he wants in so way to overcome). He should say positively what he has in mind as an alternative here.

Old--your intervention clarifed a lot for me. I didn't understand your rejection of the 'case is made and one' remark from Josef K. (because I didn't read it as involving atheism, but that's just my confusion). Anyway, I disagree with your point about atheism producing fundamentalism in the US. The US has long been very religious, with lots of periods of religious intensity. I blame current fundamentalist fervor on well organized churches meeting needs left open by the retreat of the social welfare state and the damages of neoliberalism. And, it strikes me as quite sensical to point out the role of religions in causing wars. Do you really disagree with this?

David Daratony

Wow. What a conflicting op-ed! Full of anger and despair! He seems to be saying that a liberal must accept that protected under "free speech" even though it contradicts the open society a liberal attitude welcomes. Though the op-ed has the transparency that most of Zizek's writing lacks, it also seems to reveal more about Zizek as a person. There is a stark difference between how a religion is practiced and what a religion as an ideology represents. A critique on the latter is nothing more than essentializing.

I think a lot of theorists today have been remiss in considering their predecessors. When one breaks the law, they are charged anyway. Ignorance of the law doesn't excuse the transgression. Theory should work in a similar way. For example, Michel de Certeau, who says in _The Practice of Everyday Life_: "A Cartesian attitude, if you wish: it is an effort to delimit one's place in a world bewitched by the invisible powers of the Other. It is also the typical attitude of modern science, politics, and military strategy" (p.36).

De Certeau, for me, comes closer than Derrida or Levinas in formulating an opposition to Cartesian thinking (which is to say a critique of Western values). It seems that a parallax view must call all into doubt before proceeding to observe.

Take again Certeau on "the establishment of a break between a place appropriated as one's own": "It is also a mastery of places through sight. The division of space makes possible a panoptic practice proceeding from a place whence the eye can transform foreign forces into objects that can be observed and measured, and thus control and 'include' them within its scope of vision."

Let me say lastly that speed has become a force in theory that cannot compete with the slowness of integrity. If we take into consideration the simplicity of how a single life is play out, then we realize that a totalizing account of ideology becomes ideologically rigid in itself. This was Sartre mistake in _Critique of Dialectical Reason_.

This is what I call the critical mind against itself.


Discard--why do you say that the space must be prior to belief rather than adjacent to or independent of belief?

Stepping back, your comments and the discussion overall has been quite interesting and helpful. What they suggest to me is that this editorial is (at worst) Zizek the liberal or (somewhat better) Zizek the Kantian, a Zizek who posits a separation between church and state, a terrain of reason into which arguments and beliefs are introduced but that have to be defended to others.

Not this isn't a new or radical notion, but it is one that has been lost in mediatized political discussion and mainstream politics.

What I would have liked to have seen (and this goes back to Ken's point) is a line that says something like a religious state is no state at all.


I was just noting the way that the public is provided by atheism, such that religion would find its place within the provided public. This may be a misreading.

Of course, I don't want to say that religion ought to provide the public space for the atheists, etc.

The formulation you propose, that the space provided by atheism be adjacent or independent of religion -- this is interesting, i think. But then the space which is produced would be through some interplay between the independent or adjacent vantages. There wouldn't be a priority, which is what I'm seeing in Zizek's way of putting it. A conflict, dialogue, negotiation, coalition, antagonism, whatever -- these seem better ways of talking about space than those making the public space derivable from one side.

josef k.

Jodi - "A religious state is no state at all." - Do you really think it would have been a good idea for Zizek to have written this in Christian America?


People, do you really think NYT editors would allow references to Derrida and Levinas, or that Zizek would write something like "Consider the debate that raged in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, my home country...." If certain points in his op-ed sound uncharacteristic or even baseless, refer to your own dog-eared copies of his books that explain his position(s) in much greater depth. The op-ed clearly wasn't meant to spark a discussion about, for example, Critique of Dialectical Reason--it appeared in a popular liberal American newspaper whose readership is mostly (presumably) outside the ivory tower. Not to say this discussion here has no value, but it doesn't make too much sense to critically engage with a thin and obviously highly edited Zizek piece that probably appeared next to an awful David Brooks editorial.


I laughed out loud at old’s tirade. old: I am envious of your ability to turn your anger into such precise, insightful, and productive energy.

Jodi: I am a bit alarmed at your response to old. Perhaps its too much to say that ‘atheism produces fundamentalism.’ Nevertheless, its hard to ignore atheism’s practical monopoly on dogma/ideology/material force for the last five hundred years. Its inability to share as well as its inability to consider that it too is based upon a leap of faith might have been enough to trigger a revival of fundamentalisms.

I think it pays to take a global and comparative perspective on this issue. For example, just when Iran was trying to strike in a direction that was both traditional and modernist, both particularist and universal, the British and the US overthrew Mossadegh and installed the Shah. Installed and imposed, that is, the modernist, developmentalist, liberal, atheistic, and Western (a particular posing as a universal) model. When the Iranian population eventually rejected this, they did so in part because they sought something more closely connected to their historical, geographical, and cultural sense of self. But the Mossadegh theme had already been purged, while simultaneously the ayatullah’s had been strengthened by the British and the US. So, we cannot be surprised that the conditions were opportune for some type of fundamentalism. I think that this theocratic revolution is the most important event of the second half of the twentieth century. It showed the world that a theocratic state was possible. A lesson learned by all kinds of religiously minded peoples – not just muslims.

To insist, as you do, on pointing to the role of religions in causing wars, is to make the same move that Zizek makes at the end of his editorial. To use Josef K’s words, it is to think “about the organization of the opposition, and no longer about the reason as to why it is necessary for there to be an opposition in the first place.” We know full well that religious zeal inflames violence; this is the fear that produces modernity. What skills, however, do we bring in ascertaining how that zeal was and is provoked today? Are we willing to shine some critical light on violence and wars done by the zeal of atheists?

It is sensical to point to point out the role of religions in causing wars. But this pointing misses the point. Do we not need to aim first and foremost at the ideology that currently thoroughly dominates (and by a long, long shot) the capacity, the willingness, and the actual making of war? When rollo says that “a more immediate way of showing "true respect" for Muslims would be to stop killing them,” I think rollo has an accurate understanding of who controls the weapons, the universities, and the presses.


I think J's comments are largely on the mark. Clearly Zizek must be writing with the "typical" NY Times reader in mind. The more esoteric moves would probably not get published in the paper of record. So I am left wondering what the point was for the piece to be written at all? Is Zizek really just a more belligerant Habermasian, as Jodi has suggested? Or is he trying to intervene in the US discussion of fundamentalism to remind readers that atheism is not equivalent to moral nihilism. Perhaps. But I still question why he chooses to focus on Islamic fundamentalism as a "problem" to be "ruthlessly critiqued." Isn't the larger problem, one far more destructive than Islamic fundamentalism, that the US is killing muslims (fundamentalists or otherwise) all over the world? Why not address that issue in a forum like the NY times?


I want to echo the comments others have made about Z's choice of object to criticize. I suspect folks'd respond very differently to the same piece if it was signed by someone from Ayn Rand Institute or other right wing body. Given the current 'clash of civilizations' type fervor in the US cultural climate, particularly among the folks with access to policy decisions, this strikes me as poor judgement on Z's part, at the minimum. It's like an NYT op-ed railing against totalitarianism at the height of the Cold War: one may be right, but by providing a non-nuanced treatment end up aiding one's enemies. It'd much more interesting if Z were trumpeting the history of radical Christianity.

I also think there's a weird sort of "if you think X you must do Y" kind of thing, as if people are machines that follow propositions like lines of code. Respect for others' beliefs, while not a value I would vote for as #1, does not have to mean only the options Z puts forward, anymore than any other belief leaves only 2 options. Given enough additional theorizing, one can make any proposition link to any action, and in a way that seems consistent to oneself.
Josef's remark on coalitions is a succinct synopsis of this - basically "how can we talk to the other with whom we need so desperate to talk and yet with whom we have so little in common?". (Is that also a problem for Z? I don't know his work, as I've said ad nauseum.) Getting hung up on this problem strikes me as a mistake. How can we? We simply do, (and there are cases one could find, I suspect, to prove that this does actually happen) and then later do
the math, to show what this means and what must be the case in theory etc.

Amish Lovelock

Zizek is not an American.

Ken Jackson

I certainly agree that the NYTimes OpEd Pages are no place for nuanced philosophical disputes and that allusions to Badiou, Derrida, Levinas would be bizarre in such a context. Right. My point is really, really simple: Zizek is struggling in various more "scholarly" or scholarly/pop pieces -- Fragile Absolute, Puppet and the Dwarf, the Lacanian Ink piece on idolatry (which ends with a "suspension of the ethical), and in The Parallax View where he threatens the "democracy-to-come crowd" with traps, etc. (I didn't notice any) -- to distinguish his philosophical position relative to the "other" from the Levinas/Derrida conversation he now continously mocks. Indeed, rhetorically speaking, his habitual opening jokes in these works about a Levinasian/Derridean respect for alterity are starting to draw attention to his very inability to distinguish himself from them. If he can't distinguish himself in that kind of writing -- where he has the time and pages and audience to work through this distinction -- he won't be able to do it in the NYTimes or any similar venue. And he is clearly engaging that debate in the last paragraphs of the NYTimes piece (that and trying to sell The Parallax View). It is a tic with him now, an obsession. For those sincerely interested and supportive of the positions he stakes out -- and for those hopeful that his ability through humor/pop culture analysis, etc. to reach a broader audience in staking out these positions -- I should think this is disturbing. Frankly, as Levinasian/Derridean I hope for more just to keep the ideas churning. As several have remarked, he comes off in some sense as simply anti-Muslim when he is really interested in a different and larger problematic altogether...and certainly not anti-Muslim in the way he has been read here. The question -- it seems to me -- and this why the NYTimes piece IS more important than any comparable NYTimes piece -- is whether this failing is stylistic/rhetorical -- he just doesn't yet know how to make his case in this genre -- or philosophical/substantive -- that is, when it comes down to it he really doesn't (without Badiou) have a distinction to make. As Jodi puts aptly puts it, he comes off as a "belligerent Habermasian." (nifty label that...maybe ultimately he is...good book or article title at least)...
Of course, I could be just one of those "resolute democrat -to-come" types who has "managed to slip in" and gotten himself caught in one of the "cruel traps" set (Parallax 11). And, yes, see you, Jodi, at 830AM (ouch).


Naeem--I guess I don't think that atheism has had this monopoly. There have been laws preventing atheists from testifying. Good old Lockeian toleration specifically excludes atheists and catholics. There have been laws prohibiting atheists from holding office (because their vows don't matter). It seems that every elected official in the US has to testify to belief in God. So, I don't find the claim for a monopoly of atheism persuasive.

I do find the notion that the US has pushed its on version of Christianity in the guise of freedom on the world. I also see colonialism and notions of civilization and civilizing deeply caught up in a Christian message.

In fact, it seems to me contesting this Christianizing impulse is what is off the table--atheism has long been excoriated in the US, taking on a very specific role as a wedge point against communism--the evil empire of the cold war was godless communism. This is a religious fight, a religious issue, one that is now waged against Islam.

In sum, the war making in the US is animated by Christian dogmatism. And, this is (at least in part) what I see Zizek attacking in his article. And this is what should be attacked.


Ken--I think you are right when you pose the problem in terms of whether the failure is in the writing (constraints of editorial or popular form) or in the thinking (philosophical argument). If the problem is in the former, one wonders why bother, why write this way, why make these choices. Given these questions, it makes sense to turn to the thinking and find it lacking.

For now, I see the problem in the writing--as I suggest above, I think that he has plausible arguments against Levinas/Derrida--especially when he uses Badiou. (I also didn't see any traps at all for the democracy to come crowd. That seemed a rather silly statement on his part. I did see a convergence with Derrida on difference, formulated now by Zizek in terms of the minimal difference or parallax gap. Before this book, I had thought that the difference from Derrida was in enjoyment as an extra stain disrupting signification that cannot be account for striking within the terms of language. It now seems that Zizek wants to add to that difference an additional one, namely, the antinomic structure of the gap or split. And this seems interesting insofar as someone like Agamben wants to minimize the difference (one that only appears in repetition) while Zizek wants to make it completely incommensurable.

But, back to this: maybe I am wrong: maybe Z can't postulate an alternative to respect for alterity that doesn't collapse right back into it. In Parallax we have the inhuman, which seems a version of the monstrous Real, that has to be acknowledged and that seems to subvert respect (respect seems not to be able to account for it). In, I think, Iraq: the Borrowed Kettle and a bit in Parallax, we have Z's use of the Muselmann as unthinkable within the terms of respect.

What these points get to, I think, is the way that a logic of respect retains the subject (the one doing the recognizing) in his place, in his subjectivity. And, any 'respect' worth its salt would ultimately destroy this place, would entail complete and total subjective destitution--and this is what the respect view can't theorize.



My last post on this I promise. On the whole invocation of the Muselmann: the gesture strangely recalls for me very much Foucault's work on the mad and the direction he was heading before the Derridean critique and those great debates about the cogito. On the "respect view" can't theorize the "destitution" of the subject: this, of course, is where we disagree. And this, of course, is the part of Zizek I find most disappointing. He tends to write as if Levinas/Derrida were not aware of this threat to the subject implied in their engagement with alterity. But Levinas and Derrida wrestled ceaselessly with this paradox, reworking countless ways to address it without crashing through it or ignoring it (as Levinas initially tended to do in Totality and Infinity). One could say their work was about nothing else at the end. Badiou makes his disagreements with their work clear -- but he has to reframe an entire ontological system in terms of set theory to do so; I simply wish Zizek -- as a wonderful explicator of Badiou on this -- would follow suit in his descriptions of Levinas and Derrida. Unfortunately, too much of his commentary suggests old Marxist/Deconstructionist debates, two sides talking askance, without addressing the other's concerns (again, this could be simply a rhetorical habit he is dropping as he reworks the complexities in a new frame). I like very much, for example, some of his recent nods toward differance in PV and other places -- but even in these are offered in the spirit of a eulogy. Better still: his reading of Kierkegaard and Hegel in Parallax which puts him very close to Derrida indeed. (Mark Dooley has a very good book on Kierkegaard as a political thinker for today that anticipates Zizeks' moves). Speaking of eulogies: I note that Badiou is doing or has done an "homage" to Derrida at Irvine. Curious if anyone knows anything about that? I am also curious about the coincidental timing of the Zizek op/ed piece and The Chronicle of Higher Education's story -- with Simon Critchley as moderator -- of Badiou as the "new" French thinker for America? I wonder if Badiou screamed or laughed or even cared. Both pieces of print -- at best -- tended to water down the firepower of Zizek and Badiou at exactly the same "publishing" moment.



To add to Ken's thoughts . . .

You write:

"What these points get to, I think, is the way that a logic of respect retains the subject (the one doing the recognizing) in his place, in his subjectivity. And, any 'respect' worth its salt would ultimately destroy this place, would entail complete and total subjective destitution--and this is what the respect view can't theorize."

Is this supposed to be the thought that Levinas and Derrida can't seem to grasp or theorize? If so, I would simply point to Levinas's 1967 essay "Substitution" (and this is just the obvious example--Levinas's thought from beginning to end is concerned with this paradox and its implications). That this essay is written largely in response to Derrida's 1964 "Violence and Metaphysics" essay is no secret. These guys have been obsessed with this very thought for many, many years. Whenever I read Zizek and Badiou on Levinas/Derrida (as if the two are identical! at least Badiou, in comparison to Zizek, isn't careless enough to conflate them), all I ever see is a total misreading (Zizek) or an incomplete analysis (Badiou).

Where, precisely, do you find plausible arguments against Levinas and Derrida in Zizek? And why do you find them plausible? The overly-quick dismissal of Derrida and Levinas strikes me as similar to the hatchet job that Z has done to Deleuze and Heidegger . . . but maybe I'm wrong!


Matt--I don't think Zizek treats Levinas and Derrida as identical; I think he equates them when he is writing against an ethical position that he sees Derrida as taking (inspired by Levinas). He distinguishes them, for example, when he writes about differance (in Parallax View) and in an earlier book (pre-Tick Subj but I forget which one) where he criticizes Derrida on Hegel.

Also, I don't think of Zizek's discussion of Heidegger in Parallax View as a hatchet job, but I should say two things, one, I'm not well-versed in Heidegger, and, two, I was trained as a Habermasian wherein Heidegger was completely dismissed. I raise these two points to indicate why am I a poor judge on this.

So, anyway, I find the discussion of Levinas in Parallax View and in the book The Neighbor plausible. In his essay in The Neighbor, Zizek cites a number of different Levinas texts, but not specific essays within them, so I don't know if he ignores the one you refer to or not. I find it plausible because I never found the idea of the absolute call of the Other compelling in the first place, and the more I read, the less convinced I was. But, I never endeavored to read Levinas systematically.

At any rate, what you see as a too quick dismissal, I see as an effort to get out of all this talk of ethics and emphasize politics. And this is what I find useful and compelling in Zizek's discussion of these matters. I find current ethics talk to be badly depoliticizing and to participate within a much larger general cultural emphasis on values over political decision, division, and antagonism.

And, so to Ken's point, it could be that this is a replay of old discussions between Marxists and deconstructions. But I think of it as more like a 'cover' (cover song) in a different key, different accompaniment, new producers, and a few raps thrown in. So, the marxists have learned from the deconstructionists and the deconstructionists from the marxists.

Also, what I don't know is how Derrida and Levinas take something like subjective destitution into account; no one has told me why Zizek is wrong here. In the next few days, I'll go back to the Neighbor essay and see if I can present matters in a more convincing way. It may be, however, that he simply doesn't provide an engagement full enough to be even plausible to those really well versed in Levinas.

Ken--I don't get the chronicle (so I don't have a password)do you know if there is another way I could read that piece? And, your point on this watering down moments is really crucial--are these guys getting watered down (with Zizek's seemingly enthusiastic participation) at precisely that moment when they could make a difference? That Simon moderated this doesn't surprise me--a friend who is teaching with him said that he recently gave an eloquent defense of Habermas and, well, you saw Z's critique of Simon's 'gradualism' and acceptance of the status quo in PV.


Ken--I'm an idiot a friend sent me the Chronicle article. I gotta say, though, that if Badiou is the 'it' thinker then I will be 'out of it'--the set theory of Being and Event is too much for me.

josef k.

One issue with the atheism Zizek proposes in the NYT piece - is he not talking here about basically a kind of Christian atheism? Whereby one does not believe in God, but it is basically the Christian God that one does not believe in. There is a real issue here - basically, it is the following: a Church of Atheism as such is unthinkable and incoherent - one needs communism for such a project to have any meaning. Marx makes this point in "On the Jewish Question" and I know that Zizek understands it - this is what his whole diversion into theology has been all about - with its "holy spirit" defined along the lines of a community of believers deprived of any substantial support in the big Other.

I wonder: does this argument emerge coherently from the NYT piece? I am not sure that it does. But, then again: would the NYT have let him make it emerge? It seems to me that it would have required almost superhuman rhetorical ability.

josef k.

Ken - if Badiou delivers the same homage to Derrida at Irvine that he delivered at Birkbeck in the Adieu Derrida series in 2005 then it will be an talk entitled "The Passion for Inexistence" - it is an extremely impressive and sensistive piece, revolving around the concept of the vanishing point.



Fair enough. I think the Zizek-Levinas/Derrida thing is just a mis-meeting. When I read the Neighbor essay, I laughed out loud. Zizek doesn't seem to realize that the move he makes at the end of the essay is vintage Levinas!

Also, you wrote:

"what you see as a too quick dismissal, I see as an effort to get out of all this talk of ethics and emphasize politics. And this is what I find useful and compelling in Zizek's discussion of these matters. I find current ethics talk to be badly depoliticizing and to participate within a much larger general cultural emphasis on values over political decision, division, and antagonism."

To my mind, ethics talk today does just this--you are absolutely right! But one could ask: What does this have to do with Levinas and/or Derrida? They are not doing ethics nor do they talk about it (both Derrida and Levinas distinguish between ethics/morality and the ethical, the latter being their primary area of interest). If anything, they are engaged in a radicalizing of *politics*. Both thinkers are straightaway political and engaged in explicitly political problematics. The turn to the ethical is nothing more than an attempt to question and reorient dominant forms of political practice. In other words, both have been treading Zizek's terrain for a much longer time than he, and, arguably, in a much more insightful and promising manner. It's the latter point that I'd like to see Zizek engage.

Amish Lovelock

Ones and Twos. Ones and Twos.

Amish Lovelock

Interesting talk:



I'm glad to hear that others have been suspicious of Z's "readings" (if that's what they are) of Levinas and Derrida.

On Levinas, Derrida and politics, I strongly recommend Alex Thompson's "Deconstruction and Democracy" which takes a position somewhat in contrast with Critchley's view in "Ethics of Deconstruction." Thompson also helps separate L and D here, which helps a lot (Critchley has also moved in that direction in more recent writing).

It strikes me that what is at stake on this issue, especially as it appears in "Did Someone Say Totalitarianism," is what counts as an "event." Levinas and Derrida have a sense that, in my reading, traces back to Rosenzweig on Miracles. As Thompson writes, "Derrida is concerned with the possibility of a quasi-revolutionary politics which bypasses the moment of the sovereign and exceptional decision – war or revolutionary violence – in order to think something like a revolutionary politics of the everyday." I think Z wanted a stronger sense of the Event (I see him as deeply Catholic here, in the comparisons of messianisms) but he seems to be softening that in the Parallax View - to the extent that I can make sense of it.

Tim Kanwar

What Zizek neglected to mention is that atheists, in addition to being more moral, are also more violent. Much, much more violent.

According to Mr. Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, we are now witnessing an increasingly "militant attempt to surgically remove religion from the public square and turn us into an atheistic society." And those atheists, not content with having excised God from biology and the evolution of life (the Thomas More Center made a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to save him by defending the Dover, PA school board in the Kitzmiller intelligent design case), are going after Christians, God's helpless and pious adherents, as well. As Thompson points out, "It’s almost like a genocide. It’s a sophisticated genocide."



Oh please. This is complete nonsense. How can one refer to Christians God's helpless and pious adherents in any good faith at all? The entire Republican Party is controlled by Christian fundamentalists and right wing Christians are some of the organized people around with their own publishing industry, speakers, mega churches, missionaries, etc.


I found this article one of the most coherent and passionate writings of Zizek yet to appear online, even if he de-theorized it or dumbed it down for schtoopid Amerikanische. And tho some leftists think he's moved to the center, it is, rather, the "defend the muslims at any cost", PC liberals who are the real vacillators and compromisers.

Amish Lovelock

Just a thought on Eurocentrism:

One of the major examples often cited as an example of 19th Century intellectual Eurocentrism is Hegel's Philosophy of History because of the "denial" of Oriental subjects of free will and individual consciousness. They do not obey the despot because of the threat of cruel punishment for disobeying his will, nor because of a belief that it is prudent and right to obey. Rather, law, morality and obedience are all matters of external regulation. There is no possibility for them to form moral judgement because this is precisely decided from the outside.

Has Zizek written at all on the Philosophy of History? Would this external regulation of consciousness relate to the Lacanian Real in any way? How might this, if at all, relate to the question of assymetry in Zizek's critique of Levinas (a point that is fixed on the notion of a priveledged subject and which also resonates with his general critique of democracy) and a potential gap for exploring the issue of Eurocentrism in Zizek at large?

I'd be really interested to hear what you think.


Who says "defend the muslims at any cost?" Any examples or is this PC liberal vacilating compromisers a phantom straw person (and is the problem the 'at any cost' or the vacilating and compromising? 'At any cost' doesn't tend to lend itself to vacilation and compromise.) From where I live in the midwest US saying that radical Islam is the problem would be laughable in how out of touch it is if it wasn't also directly in line with the "be afraid!" line pushed by the gov't and the linked racist speech and practices happening in policy and in some cases mass practice. Christian fundamentalism is a much bigger problem, but Z soft pedals that in this piece (and really it's not the fundamentalism that's the problem it's the fact that it's a deeply reactionary fundamentalism).


The "Colonel" (currently featured on LS) takes that tactic, as do others; Chomsky seems to hold to that as well.

Z. did mention Xtians. While I agree that Xtians, whether dixie fundamentalists or catholics are problematic, they are generally not arguing that infidels, jews, Xtians shall be put to the sword. And ot only the shiite radicals have called for that, but some saudi Imams have themselves issued fatwas to that purpose. The obvious absurdity: a multicultural, marxist and "libertine" such as Colonel Du Alphonse penning her usual vehement, bitter polemics in support of men who would most likely have her executed.

But I think the real criticism of Zizek's atheism would be on pragmatic grounds. The catholic church, however corrupt, possess a rich tradition and has an infrastructure in place and does do some good. For poor people in South America, Mexico, even LA, La Iglesia provides some comfort and indeed some sublimity; state agencies generally do not provide that sort of support.

(Some of the most pious humans I have met are old, and even illiterate hispanic and mexican women. Zizek's grand denunciation, typical of philosophers, whether marxist or analytical, misses a lot of what authentic religion is, and how it functions).


Jake--Zizek isn't rejecting Christianity (or any religion); rather he is making all religions private matters and emphasizing a secular 'public sphere' or state, that is, one regulated by 'reason'; it's liberalism 101. So, all the grannies can still have their religion. Will this be even slightly persuasive to any fundamentalist? No. Will it make people who've been slowly caving to the religiosity of the American right rub their eyes for a second? Maybe?

Nate--I agree with your point on the shift to Muslims. From where I sit, the problems are with the Christian fundamentalists. It could be because Zizek is putting the matter in a European frame that Muslims are the issue. It could also be that he is pandering or something in the US context. Or it could be that any fundamentalism would work just as well here.

Amish--those are great questions. I can't think of any place where Zizek has discussed Hegel's philosophy of History. But that doesn't mean that he hasn't. I myself wouldn't see 'the regulation of consciousness' as a matter of the Real. I like, though, your use of the 'privileged subject' idea as a way into thinking about Eurocentricism. I would probably consider supplementing it with a kind of privileged object (this ties in with your reference to the discussion of the Balkans in Fragile Absolute--also related, in an article, I think the one on rights from South Atlantic Quarterly, Zizek talks about the multiculturalism of the Ottoman Empire (I think!) as different from that of Europe, and (if I rightly recall) better.) Balkans seems important as a challenge to any notion of a unified category of what is Europe, a nice symptomal point (and I always read anything Zizek says about Europe with this in mind). Also, you know his criticisms of speaking from identity: why is it that white men can't speak from theirs? to do so is properly obscene, an assertion of privilege etc. But, this tells us that this identity remains privileged, the currency for (the form of) the other identities. It's possible then that speaking from the position of Europe is also a way of diminishing the privilege of Europe (or that there is this element to it).


I don't think that rational secularism = liberalism; liberalism is the creed of tolerance, inclusion, etc. The Clintons attending/promoting the Baptist church, Kerry's catholicism: that is liberal compromise. Zizek is I think holding to a view similar to early Marxism (the German IDeology) where theology and ideology (Christian, Jewish and certainly Islam) are viewed as deception, if not actual instruments of, well, Oppression. He may be overly reductionist or too confident in secularism, but the argument is not in favor of tolerance, but of subjecting all religions to rational inquiry. That's more akin to Enlightenment leftism, the Encyclopedists, Voltaire, as well as early marx, who has that encyclopedist aspect as well.

Though you might disapprove of his politics, Christopher Hitchens does this sort of thing much more effectively and with a touch of swiftian wit which is rather lacking in Herr Zizek's prose.

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