Friday, March 30, 2007

Zizek has little more than a passing familiarity with Levinas

Passing Irritations March 30, 2007 • 2 Comments In his essay “Robespierre, Or, the ‘Divine Violence’ of Terror”, Zizek writes, In today’s ‘post-deconstructionist’ thought…, the term ‘inhuman’ has gained new weight, especially in the work of Agamben and Badiou....
While I’m not great enthusiast of Levinas, passages such as this, scattered throughout his work, irritate the hell out of me. Am I alone in suspecting that he’s never read a single word of Levinas? Certainly the above remarks suggest that this is the case. ~ by larvalsubjects on March 30, 2007.
Kyle said this on March 30th, 2007 at 2:39 am Well, it’s very cool to bash Levinas nowadays. I think you’re right to suspect that Zizek has little more than a passing familiarity with Levinas. Theorists seem to think they are challenging Levinas’s project when they attack the dialogical tradition of Rosenzweig and Buber or the notion of “responsibility.” For instance, Agamben (and this is one of only two major problems I have with Agamben) in Remnants of Auschwitz assigns the category of responsibility to the realm of the juridical and thereby denounces it as irrelevant, impotent, etc. And it would seem (given other allusions in the same work) that this is directed toward Levinasian responsibility-for-the-other; however, the latter concept is anything but juridical - it is a theory of individuation (Levinas makes this blindingly explicit in the lecture series God, Death, and Time, in case it wasn’t already obvious in Otherwise than Being). So Agamben (in this case) and Zizek (just about everywhere) are merely constructing and defeating a straw-Levinas. Zizek’s statement, that Levinas “fails to take into account… the radically ‘inhuman’ Otherness itself,” is patently ludicrous, and I’m not sure that even one of the many Zizekian zombies could fail to wince at that statement.

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