Do I really want to see Žižek (especially on buddhism)?

He’s coming to my university with great fanfare but…

Here’s the thing. Though it gives me philistine, unhip status amongst a lot of people, I have yet to understand what is so special about the guy. Admittedly, I don’t know his work well. Have not read The Parallax View, in fact have read only one book of his (the slim Welcome to the Desert of the Real), which did not impress me. Beyond this I’ve read a number of shorter pieces of his and interviews with him, watched a bunch of videos, and eventually … gave up. Not permanently, but I don’t leap to read anything from him at this point.

What I find is that his style tires me, especially the obvious glee he takes in inverting language to create provocation and shock. (And I’m guessing he also relishes the moniker that now follows him wherever he goes: “the most dangerous philosopher in the West.”) Here is a now-well-known example from an India Times interview with Shobhan Saxena (but he does this kind of thing constantly):

Žižek: …what people perceive as violence is the direct subjective violence. It’s crucial to see violence which has to be done repeatedly to keep the things the way they are. I am not just talking about structural violence, symbolic violence, violence in language, etc. In that sense Gandhi was more violent than Hitler. Hitler killed millions of people. It was more reactive killing. Hitler was active all the time not to change things but to prevent change.

Saxena: A lot of people will find it ridiculous to even imagine that Gandhi was more violent than Hitler? Are you serious when you say that…

Žižek: Yes he was, although Gandhi didn’t support killing. With his actions — boycott and all that — he helped the British imperialists to stay in India longer. This is something Hitler never wanted. Gandhi didn’t do anything to stop the functioning of the British empire or the way it functioned here. You have to think why was India called the jewel of the empire? That for me is a problem. Let us locate violence properly.

I hardly know where to begin to respond to something like this. And the trouble is that he engages in this tactic all the time. Here’s another example, from the film Zizek!. The first minute or so of this clip I follow what he is saying but then here is how he ends:

I was always disgusted with this notion of “I love the world,” “universal love.” I don’t like the world. I don’t know how I — basically I’m somewhere in-between “I hate the world” or “I’m indifferent towards it.” But the whole of reality: it’s just it, it’s stupid. It’s out there, I don’t care about it. Love for me is an extremely violent act. Love is not “I love you all.” Love means: I pick out something and I, and it’s, you know it’s again this structure of imbalance. Even if this something is just a small detail, a fragile individual person, I say “I love you more than anything else.” In this quite formal sense, love is evil.

So, I look at this and begin to respond but end up just kind of internally spluttering… I’m not even sure it’s worth it. What I sense in him, perhaps unfairly (and I remain open to seeing it in a different way), is someone really in love with the play of conceptualization for its own sake, so in love that I’m not sure he knows when to stop. And doesn’t seem to understand that now more than ever, when the entire world can read your thoughts via a mere tap on a screen, the philosopher bears even greater responsibility for how they express things, in addition to what is being expressed.

More later.

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