Zizek mostly relies on cheap gimmicks. I can’t imagine he would be so famous without them. He references pop culture, wears casual clothing, uses blue humour, touches his face a lot, etc. It’s all pretty transparent. In an interview with Vice, there’s a moment where Zizek asks if the journalist would like some “fucking fruit juice” and it’s painfully obvious that this was something he had rehearsed in his head. A philosopher who cusses in casual conversation? Let me clutch at my pearls.
In general, I don’t care for over-confident types who feel the need to put on a show, but if you’re going to be that way, at least make it more convincing. Diogenes was a fool, but at least he walked the walk. Zizek isn’t blessed with feral wisdom, despite what the memes may say. He does eat from the bin of ideology, but that’s not a good thing.
Despite being praised as an entertaining speaker, his whole act seems joyless. I’ve had lecturers in university who could tell a funny aside or inject some levity into their classes, either because of their enthusiasm or just from being decent people. I’ve also had lecturers whose classes could be pretty boring, but I appreciated them more than the show-offs who felt the need to act eccentric in front of undergrads.
Even when Zizek has his gimmicks to fall back on, it’s clear how shallow his way of thinking is. Take his review of The Dark Knight Rises. Most of the article is plot summary. The rest is surface-level observations. Granted, the subject matter isn’t that deep. The Dark Knight Rises is a silly blockbuster with zero subtext; there’s only so much you can say about a movie that wears its ideas on its sleeve. But you should be able to find something interesting to say. The fun thing about analysing pop culture is looking at it from a perspective you normally wouldn’t; focusing on the patterns formed by buildings in the background of a scene or the way a character’s eyes move.
At least that article is legible. Like most philosophers, Zizek is a bad writer. I could forgive his prose for being convoluted if it was poetic or something, but it’s just cluttered and ugly. (And not even ugly in a pretty way.) You might think it’s shallow of me to judge a philosopher’s writing style on how clear, pretty or emotionally affecting it is, but to me, his bad prose reveals a lot about his worldview and its limitations.
Zizek’s affectations remind me of a stroppy teenager. He likes the idea of being provocative more than the idea of actually challenging the way we think. In the Vice interview, we see that he has a portrait of Stalin in his apartment, to shock “idiots.” I doubt anyone who visits him is ever shocked and appalled by this image. Maybe some visitors would be puzzled about why he’d want to decorate his home with the picture of a tyrant (and they wouldn’t be idiots for reacting this way), but I doubt most people would give it a second glance. People decorate their homes with all sorts of tacky kitsch, sometimes ironically and other times because they like the way it looks. Is Zizek really so insecure that he needs to hang up a portrait in his private space as a statement to any outsiders who pop in? Even on an aesthetic level, this portrait makes no sense to me. Stalin was an ugly man.
Whenever he tries to get a rise out of people, he only shows his own shortcomings. For example, his thoughts on LGBT people. I don’t think he’s a hateful person, but his remarks can get pretty snide. He shows an unwillingness to understand people on a personal level, or to see things from another point of view. (Even when praising LGBT people, he can only do so ideologically.)
In this interview, he claims LGBT people are “out of touch” with the way ordinary people think; the hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness is impressive. I appreciate the interviewer for pushing back on his claims with a far more grounded, common-sense perspective on things. He tries to make a mountain out of a molehill and she isn’t buying it. He normally isn’t challenged like this and I think that’s part of why he feels so confident in making sweeping statements about things he knows little about.
I took a film studies module for my MA and in one of the classes we had to watch Zizek’s guide to cinema. I was unimpressed. What makes Zizek an authority on film? Or rather, what makes him more of an authority than anyone else? If I want movie expertise, I’ll look to Gregg Turkington.
What makes Zizek an authority on anything, really? He’s studied Lacan, but that doesn’t make him a psychologist. Would he be so confident talking about the human body if Hippocrates was his frame of reference? Theory is all well and good, but where is the research? If I were to write a paper on, say, the psychology of Through the Looking-Glass, I would back myself up with references to contemporary research and reach out to those actually working in the field. I’d still include my own speculation, but I wouldn’t pretend it was anything more than that. Zizek’s approach seems careless, just taking the easy way out.
Ultimately Zizek is harmless. His ideas are not dangerous and I doubt they’ll ever have any significant affect on the world. He’s too wrapped up in his own head to look past his nose. He is obsessed with ideology to the point that he can’t conceive of ways of thinking, perceiving or even existing that are outside of ideology.
(Sometimes people tell me that my dislike of ideology is itself an ideology. My answer to that is: no, it isn’t, because I say so.)