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January 05, 2007


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Adam Kotsko

Do any other major papers so often publish columns by academics? Aside from Zizek, we hear fairly regularly from Stanley Fish, plus I remember columns by Judith Butler, Mark C. Taylor, etc. -- perhaps someday we will hear from Jodi Dean as well.


This is a great example of why the criticism of Z repeating himself rings hollow.

What an incredible editorial (in the NYT no less)!!

Yet, here are the same jokes, old references and repetitions, with a just a few twists that create such power.

"One can imagine how, if President Bush were to be court-martialed by a Stalinist judge, he would be instantly condemned as an 'Iranian agent.''

I guess Pelosi definitely won't impeach Bush now - who wants to be a known as a Stalinist judge?

Kenneth Rufo

"This is a great example of why the criticism of Z repeating himself rings hollow."

Good point - I think this one example totally disproves the so-called problems that caused complaints in all those other instances.

Bob Allen

Even the language we use to describe these situations is rife with simulation: "I Will Always Love You" appeared before me on a Hee Haw seventies rerun (that show a quintessential simulacra of Americana contrived by Canadians) sung by platinum coiffed Dolly Parton. Whitney as Dolly's double, Hussein stands in for Stalin, Bush as a new Reagan...it's all very Baudrillardian...


PE Bird--I agree with you (and can't get the sense of Ken's tone). There is always something that doesn't ring true for me in dismissals of Zizek that focus on style, whether they emphasize repetition, pop culture, exaggeration, or his examples. Not only do such dismissals fail to undertake the hard task of engaging the arguments, but they also fail to consider the ways the examples etc function in a given context. Putting the same story, example, in different contexts brings out different meanings.

Adam Kotsko

One could also note the practical aspect -- sure, there's the circle of readers who read everything, but I'm sure there are plenty of people who will only ever read one or two Zizek articles.

I do find the strident defense of his repetition somewhat odd, though.

Amish Lovelock

Then there is the practical aspect of the Zizek who cannot write everything and who can only ever write a certain number of articles and books.


It seems to me -- especially after seeing the recent NYTimes essay on Iraq -- that Zizek's style is precisely what merits observation, study, celebration, and even hope. That is, he has nothing new or particularly interesting to say about the Iraq horror here (hence its appearance in the NYTimes which likes recirculation of themes as long the themes are their own). And, frankly, I doubt Zizek's ability ever to tell me anything about Iraq in particular that better informed and better experienced people could. But I can't help be fascinated and drawn into his style. And I think it would be great if he draw others into his style -- the wild funny juxtapositions of high and low, the (still) foreign "Stalinist" insights, etc. Style matters. Many if not most of my friends rely in their everyday thinking in what could be called Lettermanesque irony, a way of thought established over years of being saturated with this version of American satire -- at best an utlimately quietist form of satire. And this is their core response to almost anything -- even the most horrific event. In other words, "style" seeps into the head and becomes thought. If Zizek's style alone could seep into more head that in itself would be promisingly disruptive. The Daily Show is doing this in part -- moving from the comic to the serious. Zizek does this from the serious to the comic.

Kenneth Rufo

I was bing sarcastic, only because while I liked the NYT piece, I find the claim that this good essay provides grounds for dismissing the critiques of his self-plagiarism/repetition en masse to be silly. It's a good piece, well-written, and persuasive, if not particularly novel. I thought pebird was making a bit more of it than waranted, that's all.

As for the old stories in new wineskins, it's perfectly legit to argue that he's making different claims given the different contexts. But for a guy who makes contradictory claims in different contexts, I'm not so compelled by that. And considering the man's sustained critique of capitalism, I find the critique of his repetition as an enabler of his own profit to be at least plausible. At the end of the day, I don't really care one way or the other - if he wants to repeat, great, if not, splediferous, I just think that this NYT piece doesn't provide evidence for pebird's assertion, hence my somewhat parodic affirmation.

Kenneth Rufo

Oh, and my apologies if I derailed the thread.

I do think it's a good piece, though I still wonder about the impeachment argument, as I can never tell what level it's supposed to be operating - the affirmation of the rule of law, ethics/morality, political comity, political partisanship, utopian imaginary, etc...

Adam Kotsko

I must confess that I'm not convinced that his repetition of stories in different contexts *actually does* bring out different meanings, in practice. I can see how it *could*, but I'm not sure it actually *does.*


I received The Borrowed Kettle from my daughter for a Christmas present, and I started reading it last night. I started laughing as I realized that I had re-read most of the preface in the NYT article posted by Jodi. It does make for fast reading, since you've read of it before (and before and ...).

I started thinking about art - pictures and pieces I like - I look at them over and over again - the same picture, different context (web, museum, magazine) and I starting thinking about the impact of repetition.

Now the repetition I engage in is consumptive - I choose to reinscribe the object over and over again, trying to get that elusive piece somewhere in my mind for whatever reason is motivating me/my unconscious.

The artist does the same thing - going over and over a theme trying to figure out what rings true and when that is exhausted moves on.

Maybe I don't get it as quickly as others do, but I need the repetition to drill into me a different way of seeing the world. I was (sorry to say) in advertising/branding at one time - there is no better example of how to use repetition to motivate and influence.

I think of the necessity of ritual, ceremony and sacrament - in our culture those are profane at best and destructive most of the time. So when a philosopher/politcal writer doesn't care when academics call him a xerox machine and continually repurposes his work to make a point, I think that calls for some respect.

Dr X

"'style' seeps into the head and becomes thought. If Zizek's style alone could seep into more heads that in itself would be promisingly disruptive."

Great observation.

Patrick J. Mullins

'The artist does the same thing - going over and over a theme trying to figure out what rings true and when that is exhausted moves on.'

The artist sometimes does this, but this hasn't been the tendency as such for decades.

'So when a philosopher/politcal writer doesn't care when academics call him a xerox machine and continually repurposes his work to make a point, I think that calls for some respect.'

People who don't care about public opinion always deserve respect. Maybe Zizek doesn't care if academics call him a 'xerox machine', but there's plenty of other public opinion he does care about. In any case, even if he's a philosopher, he's no artist.

Adam Kotsko

In the Middle Ages, opinion columnists often simply quoted well-known authorities, keeping their own statements to a minimum. It's only in the period of German Romanticism that political pundits were really evaluated according to the singular irruptions of their originality.....

Another route we could go is to claim that it's some kind of cultural thing from Slovenia that's making him repeat himself so much.

This could backfire, however, if Zizek's notoriety starts making people seek out information about Slovenian culture (which I am not familiar with -- so maybe it actually does include a penchant for repeating things).


I agree with PE Bird--we are surrounded by repetition in advertising and what passes for politics in the msm. Zizek's repetitions can have an insighting/inciting motivating effect.

McKenzie Wark

On Zizek's style, see Fred Jameson's review in the London Review of Books. Maybe its not so much the repetition of actual passages of which one tires (a kind of auto-detournement) as the repetition of the same hegelese three-step as the form of every argument.

john buell

I am interested in Adam's comment about other papers besides the NY Times publishing pieces by academic writers like Zizek. I am struck by how few academic writers, especially those who might loosely be labeled "postmodern" or "deconstructionist" (not my preferred term) are published in such traditional left publicatikons as The Nation, The Progressive, Mother Jones, or The American Propsect. I remember on Judith Butler piece in The Nation, but the range and depth of critical thought in these left publications is pretty discouraging. My friend and mentor Bill Connolly was once asked to do a piece for them on the limits of secular liberalism. In my admittedly biased estimation, he did an excellent and provocative piece, only to see the editors then reject it. I have been told, second hand, that Wendy Brown had a similar experience. What a commentary if the NY Times is more intellectually venturesome than some of the most hallowed left publications.


John--good point. I didn't know about Bill and Wendy. Unfortunately, it isn't surprising. The Nation has a long history of hostility toward anything that smacks of postmodernism.


The antipathy toward the "theoretical" left in the NYC left-journo world is terrifyingly strong. Actually steps over the line into yuckiness, dragging the politics itself away from sanity, from time to time. Not that they've read a single line of any of it. Or, when they do, the outcome is often worse than if they hadn't at all.

They are a dispiriting group, the Nation-type folk. By and large, anyway...

(And what I really wonder about - or wondered about when I used to peripherially and only spousally move about in some of these circuits - was whether the true allergy wasn't so much to "difficult" writing, which is what they always said of course, as toward marxism/socialism - even left political idealism in general... Seriously!)

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