Thursday, May 24, 2007

Zizek respects Deleuze only when he’s on his own Lacanian - Hegelian terms

Who’s Afraid of the Out-of-Context? Foucault Is Dead May 23rd, 2007 · 2 Comments Today I picked-up a copy of Gregg Lambert’s new book Who’s Afraid of Deleuze and Guattari? whilst browsing new philosophy titles in my local library. Lambert situates this text as a defence of Deleuze and Guattari from the now-familiar Badiouian/Zizekian critique, but also a rejection of the appropriation of Deleuze and Guattari by certain trends within cultural studies. As one of my fellow graduate students noted, a quick scan of the book’s index reveals the weakness of Lambert’s study: Badiou is mentioned on only two pages, whilst an entire chapter is devoted to Zizek’s Organs Without Bodies. Surely, my colleague declared, if one wants to engage with that particular critique of Deleuze, then Badiou (or, I would suggest, Hallward) is the one to look at, not Zizek.
However, upon reading the chapter on Zizek in Lambert’s book, I was shocked to discover that he actually manages to miss this all-too-easy target! The chapter has an extraordinary weak opening, with Lambert describing how, when he was a graduate student at Berkley in the mid-1980s, he and his colleagues were shocked by a paper delivered by the, then unknown, Slovenian with his smutty jokes and Lacanian interventions in popular culture. On the basis of Zizek’s current reputation, Lambert says this was a little like seeing The Beatles on their first trip to the US. Okay, nice story, kind of… But what exactly is the point of Lambert telling us all this? Does he really think there is a kind of kudos in having seen Zizek ‘play live’ before he hit the big time? Bloody Hell, dude, that’s pretty adolescent - a bit like when one my friends used to brag about having seen Nirvana play live before the release of Nevermind. What I find amazing about Lambert’s telling of this story is that he doesn’t relegate it to a footnote but, rather, he actually opens the chapter with it. Now, no one is saying that there exists an absolute rule which states that the first paragraph of (what is supposed to be) a philosophical argument must kick off by asserting the thesis to be defended or the problem to be addressed. But I think, as far as professional academic publishing is concerned, it’s pretty good advice. C’mon man, leave the grad school anecdotes for the smoking room!
Now you’d think that would be it as far as the lack of attention to context was concerned, but the standards slip even lower, the further you delve into the chapter. For instance, Lambert suggests that Zizek’s friends and colleagues probably advised him against publishing Organs Without Bodies, but he obviously decided against taking this “advice” and went ahead and published it anyway. So this is clearly a gesture intended to invoke the popular perception (which is perhaps even tacitly encouraged by Zizek himself) that Zizek is recklessly out-of-control. But Lambert even, apparently without any justification, dares to add another dimension to this image: Zizek is so completely out-of-control that he won’t even take advice from his friends and colleagues. (Incidentally, I wonder if Lambert occasionally does this - advise his friends and colleagues against publishing their books, that is… With colleagues like that, who needs critics?)
What’s sad about this sort of thing is that Lambert does manage to say some interesting things about Zizek, despite the fact that he claims that he and other Deleuzians literally cannot understand Organs Without Bodies at all because it is, in his view, so totally incoherent. (Okay, it’s not the most perfectly realised of Zizek’s books, but is it, as Lambert claims, literally incoherent?) The interesting aspect of Lambert’s engagement with Zizek is his suggestion that Zizek uses the existence of cyberspace (with its alleged absence of symbolic authority) in the same way that Lacan used the decline of symbolic authority in American capitalist ideology. The thrust of Lambert’s argument is that Zizek and Lacan reify these domains, whereas the social reality of cyberspace, for instance, changes in ways which Zizek fails to reflect in his writings on the topic. Okay, so I hope this wasn’t too much of a rant. And I hope I didn’t take Lambert’s ad hominems out of, well, context. Tags: zizek 2 responses so far ↓
Robert Jackson // May 23rd 2007 at 7:56 pm Organs Without Bodies is for me Zizek’s weakest book I agree, but it is in no way completey incoherent, Zizek missed a trick by not critiqueing Deleuze from a Deleuzian point of view.
Zizek respects Deleuze as a philosopher for sure, but he seems to only like him when he’s on his own Lacanian - Hegelian terms, which is why he loves Logic of Sense and Anti Oedipus is his Worst book precisely because he became “Guattari-fied”. And trying to attack Deleuze from a Hegelian perspective is like a long sighted person trying to see with short sighted glasses.
The feud between D&G and B&Z comes down to Lacan, and Lacan only. Whether you believe in repression and lack or not. If you do then subject and object exist and theres a gap, if you don’t then there is only social desire, the individual and the law are one and the same.
One interesting thing D&G have to say about that which I re-read the other day
“We fully believe that the Oedipus and repression model exists, we simply just don’t endorse it.”
Keith // May 24th 2007 at 12:49 am Interestingly enough I’m sitting with that very Zizek book at my side on account of having browsed over it again last night to find a passage I had wanted to write down having to do with, well, context…
It may be notorious for being the book aboutDeleuze that Z didn’t write, but it is certainly not incoherent. If anything is incoherent, it would be an author opening a chapther with an I-saw-him-before-you-knew-who-he-was story as a part of his argument. Obviously.

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