Kultur, Zoologi og metafysisk spekulasjon

Zizek caught in language(s)

In Filosofi, Kultur, Litteratur on mars 13, 2011 at 11:35 pm

It is not necessary to introduce Slavoj Zizek in a context like this – his name gets mentioned in various contexts these days. Zizek thinks about everything, and he states publicly everything he thinks. And this he does everywhere, in books, articles, television, even films. In Zizek (2005), he explicitly states that he is quite critical to the international reputation he has gained, especially as being an “intellectual rockstar”. Now what could be the reason for this labeling?

According to the Wikipedia site on Slavoj Zizek, he is a philosopher working in the tradition of Hegel, Marx, and Lacanian psychoanalysis. In this respect, his contributions should make him a continental philosopher, which is true in the sense of his focus on Hegel, but which is not true in the sense that he has “forgotten” or “failed to mention” the other philosophers who make up the continental tradition. Although this description may be a simplification, it does make it easier to understand his reputation. Partly because his popular works, for instance the films Zizek (2005) and The Perverts Guide to Cinema (2006), does not show any explicit reference to Hegel, but is rooted in psychoanalytic theory. And no matter how Zizek defends Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, he cannot cover the fact that a psychoanalytic subject such as penis envy is – in the eyes of the young – hilarious and absurdly funny. But another reason which is far more important is, as mentioned, his failure in taking into account other and important philosophers. When speaking of Hegel, it could be wise to include all the others who have spoken of Hegel.

The reason why Zizek succeeds in being popular, but at the same time failing in being taken seriously (according to him, that is. We are after all in this situation giving him attention in a somewhat serious manner), is his figure of speaks which is entangled in Lacanian psychoanalyses. It is tempting, in this situation, to call this a specific language game. To elicit this, a concrete example should be part of the performance.

The case of political ecology

As usual, a lot of what Zizek says is controversial. His reasoning and logical points are often ethically disturbing, but for some reason they all seem to make sense. The problem is that Zizek does not help us understand why he is correct. Withn science in general, this is a seldom case. One feels that whatever Zizek says is correct – that he knows something we do not, but which is not connected to the things he is talking about. He has a way of connecting phenomena together that are usually being kept separated. For instance, while pointing his fingers at a gigantic pile of trash, he states that “True ecologists love all this!”.

Intuitively we all know that this sounds wrong. Ecologists, in the vulgar sense, do not want trash, for all they want to rid the world of trash! Ecologists love the opposite of trash! We want a clean environment where people can live in harmony, balanced with nature. The reason why we must also agree with Zizek is that right before making this statement; he defines what love is;

Love means that you accept a person with all its failures, stupidities, ugly points… And nonetheless the other person is absolute for you, everything that makes life worth living, but… you see perfection in imperfection itself, and that’s how we should learn to love the world.

Zizek succeeds, apparently, in moving the word love into a new setting. Love is transferred from one language game (about human relationships) into another (about relations between humans and things). Usually, in our daily life language game, love is used in a similar fashion (“I simply love my iPhone!”), but when Zizek perform this transfer, he is purporting to say something with an actual truth value. What Zizek does is more than mere chatting; he is (apparently) performing cultural analysis. But can this mixing of language games be tolerated? Yes and no, judging from the committees.

To create another dimension of this grammatical analysis we can turn our attention to another continental philosopher. Among the cannons of the continental tradition was the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Heidegger was actually dealing with similar issues as Zizek. But Heidegger used another strategy, which is also part of the tradition. He created a new concept – or at least made an effort of changing the meaning of already existing words. His reasoning went something like this: The fact that we care for both humans and non-humans in the world (both our neighbor and her iPhone), has its origin in the general feeling of care that humans possess. Heidegger used the word care, besorgen in German, to explain how both things and humans should be taken care of. Besorgen transgresses the boundaries of life form; rather it is connected to the entirety of the world, and only later focused onto specific life forms. This focusing is performance of the intellect, not the care itself. His point was that the modern world had forgotten about the things; all we see and care for are humans, everything else is objects. Heidegger famously saw a clear difference between objects and things, things being the stuff around us ready to be lived with, while objects are stuff being thought of intellectually. For instance, the iPhone is a thing for me, but an object for the commercial branch.  It is not legitimate to love your iPhone – but Heidegger might have objected at this.

It seems that the difference between Zizek and Heidegger on the matter of relations between humans and things (e.g. political ecology) is surprisingly insignificant. Their languages, on the other hand, are almost incomparable. Heidegger struggled through etymological interpretations to create new meanings in old and well known words, and in the context of these concepts, he could write philosophy.  In comparison, Zizek’s strategy is very often much less complex. Instead of defining and using concepts, he turns to the presupposed ordinary language game of folk psychology. The result is a large audience that nonetheless risks falling short in the interpretation.

Do we understand what Zizek is talking about in the clip? Surely we do, and we do not need Heidegger for this. But is he really in position to expect some other response from his audience(s)? Despite his own claims, I think Zizek has a lot to learn from a poststructuralist such as Jacque Derrida, in that when we engage in communicating with others, it all depends on the performance.

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