The rightward drift of Slavoj Žižek

I’ve picked up a Slavoj Žižek book for the first time in a while and found the characteristics which led me to take a break from his writing have only grown over time. He links Me Too to victimhood early in Like A Thief In Broad Daylight: Power in the Era of Post-Humanity. From pg 6:

As in every revolutionary upheaval, there will be numerous ‘injustices’, ironies, and so on. (For example, I doubt that the American comedian Louis CK’s acts, deplorable and lewd as they are, could be put on the same level as direct sexual violence.) But, again, none of this should distract us; rather, we should focus on the problems that lie ahead. Although some countries are already experiencing a new post-patriarchal sexual culture (look at Iceland, where two thirds of children are born out of a wedlock, and where women occupy more posts in public institutions than men), one of the most urgent tasks is to explore what we are gaining and losing in the upheaval of traditional courtship procedures. New rules will have to be established in order to avoid a sterile culture of fear and uncertainty –plus, of course, we must make sure that this awakening does not turn into just another case where political legitimization is based on the subject’s victimhood status.

He reads victimhood in terms of the “weird combination of the free subject who experiences himself as being ultimately responsible for his fate, and the subject who grounds the authority of his speech on his status as a victim of circumstances beyond his control” (pg 6). It reflects an “extreme narcissistic perspective in which every encounter with the Other appears as a potential threat to the subject’s precarious imaginary balance; as such, it is not the opposite of, but rather the inherent supplement to, the liberal free subject” (pg 7). I don’t think there’s anything inherently rightward about exploring this thesis, though it being offered as the truth of any social movement or cultural moment is self-evidently absurd.

If we read him charitably though it is clear this is not what he is doing, rather his point is one of collective agency. How do we ensure a “post-patriarchal sexual culture’ can be built? Will trading narratives of victimisation contribute to this project or make it more difficult? But even this most charitable reading seems spectacularly tone deaf, as does his need to qualify the status of Louis CK’s acts. It’s difficult not to perceive a slide here, as a contrarian objection to ‘political correctness’ (something which he clearly misreads to begin with, failing to recognise the profoundly agentive character of it: far from being a diffuse culture of self-censorship, it begins with people making demands) leads to something darker. It’s a more thought provoking read than I expected but there a distinctly alt-light (not alt-right) themes prominent amongst the familiar features of a Žižek text. It remains to be seen where he is going in the longer term.

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3 Comments

  1. I feel like Z it’s actually pretty neutral on his assessment of things. But that it is the wave and motions And that particular moment manifestations of political identity that Z as moving.

    Kind of like a calculus of view: from what stationary point are we gaging movements and how are we describing that movement for prediction of trajectory?

    I see him as always reflecting a neutral point: It is psychoanalytical, Analysis of things from a very open standpoint. But because people often are rather limited in their ability to view things openly, which is to say that if someone expresses a view that is too open they are often viewed as having a sort of psychopathology, of being ‘un-human’ so to speak.

    I think he does a really good job considering how neutral he could really put things. I think he knows that he will be judged as to his sanity and a questioning what is relevant to being a political human being, so he walks the line.

    Because one of the biggest theological problems is when a person argues themselves as an exception. That is offensive to most people and they don’t consider any of that argument as valid to their own humanity.

    Psychoanalysis rides that line to still remain relevant while challenging the human as to its real being.

  2. An important addition (and the reason I strongly disagree with the above poster that Zizek is “neutral” here) is to interrogate of whom exactly Zizek is speaking when he says “we”. When he writes, “…one of the most urgent tasks is to explore what we are gaining and losing in the upheaval of traditional courtship procedures.” Who is “we”?

    And who is he to judge whether Louis CK’s actions count as “sexual violence”? He is thinking from HIS perspective rather than that of the women who experienced Louis CK’s assaults. This is fairly hilarious in the context of a discussion about encountering the “Other”.

    Look Zizek, it’s not hard, imagine being locked in a room with a really big guy who it is obvious can physically overpower you, and who is masturbating in front of you, and who you fear may escalate to raping you, then come back and discuss the encounter as lacking “sexual violence”.

    Zizek is talking about heterosexual relations (and as a Lacanian he already believes they are “impossible” lol) and clearly a gendered analysis is essential. An uninterrogated “we” just sounds like an unacknowledged masculine viewpoint, particularly given all the populist alt-light screeching about how men are now “scared” to date women in case they are accused of rape (uh, again, how hard can it be – don’t be rapey!), the rise and rise of Jordan Peterson etc.

    If heterosexual relations are fundamentally broken (and let’s note that straight women are less orgasmic in sexual encounters than any other group – lesbians and gay men and straight men all have a better time) then Zizek is definitely not going to be the one to fix them.

    1. Agree very much with what you’re saying. His experienced need to add that qualification, on behalf of ‘we’ as you say, should itself be psychoanalysed but Zizek so rarely turns his gaze towards himself.

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