Slavoj Žižek has published a response to John Gray, taking him to task for his recent review (that I wrote about favorably) of two of Žižek’s books.
Žižek focuses almost entirely on Gray’s suggestion that Žižek has a Jewish problem or a Holocaust problem or both. He is “repelled” by the review and by the “ridiculously-monstrous obscenity” that Gray ascribes to him because Gray has misunderstood him (or, perhaps, purposely misread him). In making plain that anti-Semitism cannot exist without the very Jews that anti-Semites seek to anihiliate, Žižek is certain that he is perfectly clear that these are not actual Jews but merely the fictional Jews who inhabit the minds of anti-Semites. Thus, Gray idiotically misunderstands or intentionally misreads him like a scoundrel when he claims that ridding the world of anti-Semites would, in Žižekian terms, also necessitate ridding the world of Jews.
Obviously not, says Žižek. Only of the fictional Jews who inhabit the minds of anti-Semites would be destroyed when the anti-Semites are destroyed. Žižek clarifies by providing what he thinks is a very helpful passage from his book:
Here we can again locate the difference between Kantian transcendentalism and Hegel: what they both see is, of course, that the anti-Semitic figure of the Jew is not to be reified (to put it naïvely, it does not fit “‘real Jews”), but is an ideological fantasy (“projection”), it is “in my eye.” What Hegel adds is that the subject who fantasizes the Jew is itself “in the picture,” that its very existence hinges on the fantasy of the Jew as the “little bit of the Real” which sustains the consistency of its identity: take away the anti-Semitic fantasy, and the subject whose fantasy it is itself disintegrates. What matters is not the location of the Self in objective reality, the impossible-real of “what I am objectively,” but how I am located in my own fantasy, how my own fantasy sustains my being as subject.
And then, emphasizing how foolish Gray must be, he literally asks the reader of his response to Gray: “Are these lines not perfectly clear?”
I’m afraid they are not. And we know they are not because he then writes another six lines of text to further explain them.
In other words, Žižek is engaged here in the familiar method of explaining any possible shortcomings with his philosophy that his acolytes have perfected: Anyone who doesn’t think that Žižek is right must not understand Žižek. But Žižek is almost certainly difficult to understand on purpose.
And what makes me think so?
Let me take one example. Here is what I’m certain he believes to be a perfectly clear and obvious explanation for his controversial argument that Gandhi was more violent than Hitler:
Instead of killing millions of Jews, a regime “less reactive and powerless than he judges Hitler’s to have been” would, for example, transform social relations of production so that they would lose their antagonistic character. This is the “violence” I am preaching, the violence in which no blood has to be shed. It is the utterly destructive violence of Hitler, Stalin, and the Khmer Rouge, which is for me “reactive and powerless.” It is in this simple sense that I consider Gandhi more violent that [sic] Hitler
So, in other words, Gandhi is more violent than Hitler in the “simple sense” of not using violence.
Or, to put this another way, Žižek is here using language in a way that is designed to be provocative and to confuse people. He doesn’t actually mean that Gandhi was more violent than Hitler; he doesn’t even mean the exact sentence that he writes, which explicitly states that he considers Gandhi to be more violent than Hitler.
What he means to do instead is to alter the typical understanding of the word “violent” so that Gandhi’s nonviolent means of protest against the British will be considered more violent than Hitler’s incredibly violent attempts at world domination and genocide. Violence, for Žižek in this particular instance, actually means that which causes massive social upheaval. In that way, he consider Gandhi to be more violent than Hitler.
But this, like so much of what Žižek writes, is actual nothing new or interesting or surprising. And that’s why he writes it in the provocative, confusing, and bizarre manner that he chooses instead of a straightforward manner. If he would have written that Gandhi accomplished more through non-violence that aimed at systemic change than Hitler accomplished through violent means, we would all agree … but we would also all know that there is nothing profound in such a statement.
Instead, Žižek attempts to shock us and, in doing so, he covers up the completely humdrum conclusion about Gandhi and Hitler that everyone already believed to be true before they read Žižek.
The same is true of Žižek’s controversial point about Jews and anti-Semites. There is nothing remarkable about the argument that in the mind of every Nazi who hates Jews there must also be a fictional Jew for that Nazi to hate. And thus any attempt to rid Nazis of the Jews within themselves, as Žižek tells us Hitler once said, would result in the destruction of the Nazis themselves (since the anti-Semites in themselves require the continued existence of the Jews within themselves).
In other words, Žižek is once again simply making a muddled word salad in an attempt to dress up commonplaces as profundity. Gandhi’s method of changing things worked because he went after the system itself. The anti-Semite can never kill the object of his hatred because his worldview necessitates the fictional Jew. These are rather obvious concepts and Žižek has made himself into a global celebrity by confusing people into thinking they’ve dawned on him after hard decades spent plumbing the depths of human consciousness.
As I wrote at the end of a recent post on Žižek, ”[T]he more I read, the more convinced I am that — whatever reasons someone might allege are behind his various “philosophical” hijinx — it’s all just a lot of flash and very little substance.” He’s not our lovable, impish philosopher-clown; he’s just another in a long line of sophists who profit at the expense of those who can’t see through their trickery.