Monday, September 08, 2014

Slavoj Žižek Repeats Himself!

Slavoj Žižek

Upon reading Slavoj Žižek's recent essay in the NYT, I had the sense that it was not quite apposite in being titled "ISIS Is a Disgrace to True Fundamentalism" (September 3, 2014) - as if that 'disgrace' were the worst thing about the Islamic State! When I finished reading the essay and looked carefully at the Editors' Note (September 5, 2014), however, I saw why Žižek's essay failed to fit expectations:
After this essay was published, a reader pointed out that several sections had originally appeared, in identical or substantially similar form, in Slavoj Zizek's 2008 book, "Violence: Six Sideways Reflections." The New York Times does not ordinarily reprint material that has been previously published; Op-Ed contributors are asked to affirm that their work is original, and exclusive to The Times. Had The Times known that portions of the essay were copied from an earlier work, it would not have accepted the essay for publication.
That likely already speaks volumes about Žižek's 'integrity,' assuming he knew of this policy (which he did) - and also explains why 'disgrace' is not a proper term with which to critique the Islamic State - but I'd like to dig a bit deeper into Žižek's failure of analysis, for the worst this continental philosopher can say about the Islamic State is that it lacks self-confidence:
The problem with terrorist fundamentalists is not that we consider them inferior to us, but, rather, that they themselves secretly consider themselves inferior. This is why our condescending, politically correct assurances that we feel no superiority toward them only makes them more furious and feeds their resentment. The problem is not cultural difference (their effort to preserve their identity), but the opposite fact that they already like us, that, secretly, they have already internalized our standards and measure themselves by them. Paradoxically, what the fundamentalists of ISIS and those like them really lack is precisely a dose of that true conviction of one’s own superiority.
In Žižek's world, the Islamic State is barbaric because the Muslims fighting for it are "terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists . . . deeply bothered, intrigued and fascinated by the sinful life of the nonbelievers," such that, "in fighting the sinful other, they are fighting their own temptation." I wouldn't entirely reject this point - the 'Western' Muslims fighting for the Islamic State likely have experienced such temptation - but this can't explain the entire movement. Nor does this:
[T]hese ultra-modern practices [of the Islamic State] are used to propagate and enforce an ideologico-political vision that is not so much conservative as a desperate move to fix clear hierarchic delimitations.
Žižek never takes the time to specify what these "hierarchic delimitations" are. Does he mean the rejection of equal rights for all? Muslim women as second-class citizens, Jews and Christians as third-class, pagans as no-class? He never clarifies. Most of all, he fails to recognize the arrogance and lack of self-doubt evinced by the Islamic State, so his analysis is therefore entirely unhelpful for the circumstances we currently find ourselves in.

I suspect that many readers would consider Žižek himself the disgrace.

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