Zizek and Pop Culture in Philosophy Today

The Big Z courtesy of Guardian UK

PEL's last episode focused on Karl Marx via The German Ideology. Possibly one of the most famous/infamous Marxists of our time is Slavoj Zizek. Some have called him too extreme to be taken seriously, while others have praised him for his brilliance.  A recent article in U.K. based paper The Guardian sheds some light on this interesting character and also discusses an upcoming opera based on Zizek's ideology.

An opera? Seriously? Controversy is no stranger to Lacanian/Marxist Slavoj Zizek. The intellectual prowess of this philosopher is only sometimes outshadowed by his prankish invocations and outspoken stances on politics and religion. Although this article doesn't expand on the concept of an upcoming opera about Zizek, it does allow for a background approach at this interesting figure. For instance, not only does it cover the work he is known for, the article makes many pop culture references, something Zizek has been known to do, which allow him to have a somewhat accessible reference point. Considered one of the greater minds of the last 20 years, he has  brought a lot of attention to political philosophy and psychoanalysis. The big question, then, is does the philosophical world need more figures like this? Does Zizek and his antics give a culture devoid of intellectualism a chance at salvation, or should the philosophical world be red in the face?

This article not only does a good job of providing information about Zizek himself, it stirs up some insight into the world of philosophy today. Zizek is a good example of the present state of philosophy, trying to branch out to the mass public and invite others to think independently. He states in the article,"I should not be this man who talks about The Dark Knight and Hegel, about the value of WikiLeaks and Lady Gaga. I should be a mediocre philosophy professor in Ljubljana." Is he forced to use pop culture links to get others to appreciate his intellectualism? Does this statement sum up the future of philosophy professionals, or is this just another example of Zizek's extremity?

Another legitimate question, to tie it back to his Marxist roots, is whether he is indeed 'changing the world or simply interpreting it.'  It is certainly the case that he has created an audience and platform for his criticisms of capitalism, political systems and pop culture.  Whether he will incite revolution to match the fervor of his admirers and detractors remains to be seen.

Rian Mitch


  1. Profile photo of Wayne Schroeder says

    Nice post Rian.
    You stated, “does the philosophical world need more figures like this? Does Zizek and his antics give a culture devoid of intellectualism a chance at salvation, or should the philosophical world be red in the face?”

    I would love PEL to do an episode on Zizek and his recent “Less than Nothing,” his reinscription of Hegel (and the shadow of dialectical materialism).

    Far from being red in the face (except for his stance on Stalin, although that is a judgment problem equivalent to Heidegger’s sell out to Hitler/ not a philosophical issue–although perhaps those without real world character may have an affinity to abstract thinking?)

    I think Zizek is as brilliant a mind as many or most. As opposed to Deluze (or even Heidegger), you certainly know how Zizek thinks we should live our lives, and is a direct product of his philosophy. So if we bracket out his commitment to violence, he is otherwise a fresh, creative and bold thinker and speaker who is also socially hyperkinetic, unlike most philosophers. Add his extroverted, hyperactive, impulsive energy to his brilliant thinking, and you have a Robbin Williams as philosopher. I doubt if such a combination of mind and personality are likely to come along soon, but he is definitely contributing to philosophy and to the awareness of using the media to communicate ideas–not a bad idea.

    His incorporation of Lacan into philosophy is very powerful.

      • Ove Lundberg says

        I have read around 7-8 Zizek books (including Less Than Nothing) and watched many of his lectures/talks online. I don’t find his views on Stalin to be odd (that Stalin was a ruthless maniac responsible of millions of deaths). Zizek likes to use Soviet era jokes, many that include Stalin.

        As for finding truth by googling. As if everything you find through google is a fact. That is a joke!

    • Ryan says

      I agree we need a Zizek episode but Sublime Object of Ideology and Parallax View would be better places to start than a 1500 page text probing the depths in his very specific reading of Hegel through Lacan. You could say that everything he does is a reading of Hegel through Lacan but not so much that it is worth slogging through Less Than Nothing merely for an introductory excursion into Zizek’s thought.

      • Profile photo of Wayne Schroeder says

        Yeah, I think Less Than Nothing might lose a few, but might help me finish it. John Caputo confirms Zizek’s stance in favor of Stalin, and you can see actual video of what he says, but John likes him anyway. Parallax View sounds good.

        • Ryan says

          The main point Zizek will raise about Stalin is that you can do all the moralizing you want but the problem worth addressing for leftists who take themselves seriously is to think through how we might have a collective that will not become circumvented by men who seek power for themselves as we all can banally acknowledge has happened time and time again historically and regardless of the associated political ideologies. He also wants to raise a rhetorical point that Caputo will only hold Stalin in contempt for genocidal warmongering exactly as could be held against pretty much every person in power right now today, politicians and businessman and ethicist philosophers alike. It just so happens that you can acquire much more political clout by openly despising certain people and not others. And if at the end of every day we are all fine with allowing the conditions of capitalism to persist in order that we might at least be able to live and try again tomorrow, maybe it is likely we will always become taken care of by a madman who does not presume himself to have the time to wait.

          I think Caputo is more willing to adopt a liberal stance toward western crimes against humanity that they must necessarily be pragmatically excused so long as they are painted as being pro-democratic, pro-bourgeois “universal” human rights.

          • Profile photo of Wayne Schroeder says

            Sorry, I spoke ambiguously about Caputo. In one of his lectures John said that Zizek’s position on Stalin was outrageous, but that in his dealings with Zizek, he liked him personally.

          • jp says

            for some of us ‘the conditions of capitalism” allow us ‘to persist in order that we might at least be able to live and try again tomorrow;’ for some of us the conditions of capitalism (the slaughter of war, ongoing starvation, imperial subjugation, torture, exploitation of the many for the few, the general degradation of humanity unfulfilled) means that the overthrow of that system is part of what the ‘living’ and ‘trying’ is all about.

            that capitalism [successfully] pretends it is not an ideology, and with this pretends to have not produced the horrific results staring at us [without the recognition of a return gaze], requires all the thinking we can muster to demystify its qualities.

  2. Glen says

    I guess I’ll be in the minority here, but please do NOT do a Zizek episode. I try to be charitable and read philosophers that are often accused of obscurantism seriously. Generally I am always surprised by what insight I can derive from thinkers like Heidegger. However, Zizek I will unequivocally say genuinely deserves to be shunned. Even after you get past the babble you see that is consists of off the wall readings and syntheses. In my opinion he’s just a singularity of shit.

    Am I the only one who can’t stand Zizek?

    I would much rather PEL have a fun episode dissecting a bunch of songs of a band (I’m listening to Supertramp as I write this so that’s what I have in mind) than descend into the Zizek cesspool.

    Frankly, it’s not so much Zizek that infuriates me so much as his ability to attract acolytes who simply do not turn a critical eye to his work. He’s like Ron Paul. It sucks.

    Okay, I am prepared to be smashed.

  3. Profile photo of Will Yate says

    Hi Glen,

    I’m ambivalent about Zizek and partially understand where you’re coming from (there’s certainly much to what you say about the Ron Paul/svengali aspect of the question), but I think you do him an injustice when you charge him with obscurantism (or at least say that he is thusly charged by others). My feeling is that whatever ill you can speak of Zizek, you can’t say his language is elusive (which, funnily enough, is also true of Ron Paul and his foul progeny). In all of Being and Time Heidegger uses maybe two dozen examples, but a single page of Zizek picked at random is bound to have about twenty. So I feel like obscurantism is perhaps the sole thing in the world you CAN’T accuse Zizek of.


    • Glen says

      I’ll take your word for it. Zizek for me is probably like what Wes describes sometimes in his readings of Lacan. It’s not so much the ideas themselves as the style which for whatever reason infuriates me. Also I am beginning to find that certain prose is just damn hard to read for me whereas others are not. I remember I surprised one of my professors by being able to tear through the whole Critique of Practical Reason and the Groundwork very fast and understand it. For some strange reason Kant is actually quite easy to read for me. Something about his thought patterns meshes with my own quite well and I can soak it up. At the opposite end of the spectrum there’s Zizek and Husserl and some others. Some thinkers are not exactly hard to understand if given time but are hard to read. Aristotle fits in this last category.

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