Zizek: A Name for a Time

It is hard to describe one’s own formation, & the most decisive factors often remain the most opaque, the most elusive.
—Saidiya Hartman

I have been thinking about how “Zizek” is, for me, the name for a time when several things came together for me cognitively. I have claimed elsewhere that “Zizek” may even be the name for when I really started thinking—as lofty and pretentious as that sounds, and as funny, because those who know me well know I am so lazy as to often refuse the rigorous work of thinking.

As Hartman notes, it is very difficult to delineate one’s own formation. One not only runs right smack into the problem of periodization—it is not easy cutting off chunks of time in clean breaks from “other” times—but one also realizes, quickly, that the name one has picked is a misnomer, at best a catachresis.

For me, “Zizek” is not and has never been a name for rigor. There are other more rigorous scholars who can write with charity, in ways that breathe life into ideas, and who can also produce works that inspire or provoke great thought. Works that keep on giving. I am afraid Zizek is not one of those scholars for me. I want to believe that neither “then” nor “now” have I ever bought into the ethnocentrism under which Zizek traffics, the erasures, the violences, the racisms, even as I always wonder what it is to claim we knew “then” what we know “now.”

And yet this precisely, this assertion that “then” is not “now,” is my “Zizek.”

2 thoughts on “Zizek: A Name for a Time

  1. when i saw New York magazine did a piece on Zizek that was mentioned on the cover, i had a feeling that you put so beautifully into words. Zizek has become a certain shorthand for ‘ironic’ not-quite-self-aware liberalism read for fashion sake. It is a moment, not quite an event but a culmination of nullifying intensities that can both be consumed with little indigestion, unless like you said you read through him. prolific writing is not always rigorous, and his is not careful enough, though sometimes he catches a good idea and runs with it. he’s a little like a pop artist that you want to invest in emotionally, but always keep at an arms distance.

    i am resisting the urge to collapse the figure or assemblage of ‘zizek’ into a shorthand for the hipster. his name and books provide more cultural capital to white gentrifiers in brooklyn than the seeds of self-criticism. i was in the philosophy section of a large independent bookstore in nyc recently and heard a 20-something year old guy start talking to this 20-something year old girl and quickly moved to “oh have you heard of this guy slovoage zizek? yea he’s like from hungary and really interesting”… intellectual pick-up lines?

    and i think many people who eventually think critically in whichever genre have those starting “then” authors (mine were the popular interpretation of Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus in high school; i don’t know what that says about my “now”).

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