Is Slavoj Zizek a Fashionable Bullshitter?

When I saw videos of Slavoj Zizek a few years ago, I could not discern any clear message from what he was saying. But I do remember being fascinated by what he said about the connection of ideology to toilets. I knew about the French hole in the ground, and, of course, the American toilet, but the German shelf-toilet was a revelation. This made me look for other types — and I found the Japanese “sled.” Below is an animation conjoined to Zizek’s descriptions.

I have also recently discovered that there is going to be a debate between Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Zizek in Canada, at Toronto’s Sony Center on April 19, 2019. Apparently, this resulted from some remarks Zizek made at the Cambridge Union Forum. I watched the presentation below:

I must confess that I could make little sense of what he was talking about. And if you note the attitude of the audience and the moderator, they too seem to be mentally paralyzed. Based on this lecture, I think that Noam Chomsky’s evaluation below (2012) of Zizek is very plausible. Here is the transcript:

Question: Now in one of our previous conversations you mentioned that theory is not really of an interest to you, nor do you think that it’s useful at times for practical application and attempting to combat and change these systems of power. However one of the more wide-ranging left intellectuals of our time, Slavoj Zizek, takes almost the exact opposite approach to his work. He draws on the work of Derrida, Lacan, and various others to illuminate his critique of global capitalism, Empire ideology, and so forth. Can you talk about why you personally haven’t written more books on say political or economic or social theory, and then, what are your thoughts on Slavoj Zizek’s work as with regards to how much of it you’re aware of, or have read, or engage with, and then his use of French psychoanalyst Lacan’s work and then of course any words on Derrida’s work deconstructionism in that legacy?

Chomsky: What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And the reason, when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever. So there’s no theory in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, that yield empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying. Jacques Lacan I actually knew. I kind of liked him. We had meetings every once in awhile. But quite frankly I thought he was a total charlatan. He was just posturing for the television cameras in the way many Paris intellectuals do. Why this is influential, I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t see anything there that should be influential; so, maybe you can tell me why you think that there’s something significant. I’m not interested in that kind of theoretical posturing which has no content.

Question: And would you — I mean I think it would be interesting for a lot of folks particularly because this work has become more and more popular. I remember just hearing Zizek’s name a few years ago and then now when I go into different organizing circles or if I go to different events or protests or rallies or so forth, assemblies, I hear his name and his work being brought up often. It seems you just recently had a conversation with Angela Davis. Vijay Prashad, of course, moderated the conversation in Boston, and I would like to see more of those conversations take place even from — say folks coming from different angles — people such as yourself and say someone as Slavoj Zizek whose work is becoming more influential. Do you think that’s helpful to have those maybe not even debates but at least conversations with people on the Left who are providing work for people who do find it influential, I mean do you think this is something we should think about?

Chomsky: Well, you say his work is becoming influential. I wouldn’t question that. But I think his posturing is becoming influential. Can you tell me what the work is? I can’t find it. He’s a good actor. He makes things sound exciting. But can you find any content? I can’t. I would have no interest in having a conversation with him, and, I suppose, the converse is true as well, I imagine. A discussion with Angela Davis is fine. She’s an interesting person. I expect she has important things to say. She’s done interesting things.

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