Slavoj Zizek: A Primer

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Abstract

Slavoj Zizek was born in Slovenia, 1949. At the University of Ljubljana he studied philosophy and was later offered a position to study psychoanalysis with Lacan's disciple, J.-A. Miller, at Paris VIII. On returning to Ljubljana he took up a research post and founded the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis. Zizek was very active in the Alternative Movement in Slovenia and in, 1990, stood for the presidency in the first multi-party elections. Often described as a postmodern thinker (e.g. Miklitsch, 1998), Zizek's interventions have been numerous - from cinema to cyberspace, cognitivism, theology, music and opera as well as social theory. Zizek, however, rejects postmodernism's preoccupation with differentia specifica in favour of philosophical transcendentalism and an ongoing commitment to political universalism. Various works by the Essex School of discourse theory (e.g. Torfing, 1999; Stavrakakis, 1999) have tended to link Zizek with the postmarxist thought of Laclau and Mouffe and as an implicit supporter of radical democracy. In reality, Zizek gives only partial support for postmarxist theory and has criticised the project of radical democracy on the grounds that, despite its emphasis on antagonism, it does not place enough stress on the fundamentals of economic power (Zizek in Butler et al, 2000: 319). Kay (2003), by contrast, characterises Zizek as a philosopher of the Real. While this is reasonable, the temptation to be avoided is that Zizek is limited to analysing the "unreadable kernel" of the Real in our social existence and/or the way in which we attempt to resolve the radical inconsistencies of reality. In many respects we could say virtually the opposite: Zizek does not elevate the Real into an absolute horizon of impossibility about which we can do nothing. His position is rather one that may be said to reflect an explicit ethical commitment the power of the miracle. Zizek's central point is that fundamental change can and does occur but that this means crucially assuming (rather than avoiding) the traumatic encounter with the Real itself (Zizek, 2001b: 84). For Zizek it is one of the great tragedies of our age that the miracle, and especially the political miracle, is not presently part of our (Western) imagination. Moreover this has created the very space in which today's forms of ideological cynicism and its more recent cousin, new age obscurantism, continue to thrive.
Original languageEnglish
JournalLacanian Ink
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2004

Keywords

  • Zizek, the Real, Ideology, Politics

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