Žižek: A (Very) Critical Introduction

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Zizek: A (Very) Critical Introduction

Be the first to write a review About this product. Assuming little prior knowledge of this controversial atheist, communist philosopher, Marcus Pound provides the first comprehensive, systematic account of Zizek's work as it relates specifically to theology and religious studies. Additional Product Features Dewey Edition. Gerard Loughlin -- Durham University "With clarity and humor, and in wonderfully short compass, Marcus Pound introduces the thought of not only Slavoj zizek but also his guru, Jacques Lacan.

Pound finds in these masters of inversion a profound anti-theology that only needs to become more theological -- more orthodox -- in order to work, to rid us of complacency. This is a book for those new to zizek and for those who, knowing him already, want to know him newly -- as the theologian he might almost be. Navigation menu Personal tools Create account Log in. Namespaces Page Discussion. Views Read View source View history.

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Sigmund Freud Biography Bibliography Links. Links TheoryLeaks ZizekUpdates. This page was last edited on 7 June , at The critical responses to his work will show us something of the field of debate before we move in to pin him down. His just desserts As Zizek swerves backwards and forwards between political, psychoanalytic and philosophical reference points, his critics within each of these domains have tried to fix him by exposing inadequacies in his readings of Marx, Hegel or Lacan, and the main critiques have been staged exactly where Zizek himself performs so well, in the domain of cultural analysis.

It is in the difficult-to-define realm of 'culture' that we can see limits to his use of theory and some deeper problems emerge in the interweaving of different theoretical frameworks which are designed to interpret, intervene and transform the symbolic coordinates of any given system of meaning.

When we try to follow Zizek's attempt to combine the different theoretical frameworks, the real stakes of his work are ideological subjectivity, cultural analysis and political transformation. Ideological subjectivity The question of subjectivity is formulated by Zizek primarily with reference to the production of the divided subject of Lacanian theory held in thrall to the object petit a.

The fundamental fantasy of the subject precisely specifies that relationship and also, for Zizek, reveals the work of the 'sublime object' of ideology in pulling us back to something that feels deeper and earlier and more authentic to us. But subjectivity is also thematised and problematised in his work through the Marxist motif of 'false consciousness' and genuine 'class consciousness', an opposition that Zizek wants to avoid. Instead, the lure of any true full consciousness is treated as itself an ideological motif.

Zizek's Hegel is the one who shows us how we are always already broken, and this is the baseline of Lacanian accounts of the subject and a reminder to Marxists not to hope for too much. Russell Grigg notes that Zizek's rendition of Lacan is focused on the late Lacan interpreted and formalised by Jacques-Alain Miller after Lacan's death, 13 but he also points out that what remains at work in Zizek's political analysis are themes from Hegel; 'this Hegelianism is pre-Oedipal in the true Lacanian sense'.

As we have seen so far, even when Zizek is writing about Lacan, it is actually Hegel who is in command. We will be examining the implications of that privileging of Hegel later in this chapter. For Braidotti there is a more serious problem, which is that Zizek's work 'represents an anti-feminist regression that reiterates the whole array of symbolic invisibility and specularity which feminists have been arguing against since the early days of Lacan's work'.

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Butler argues that his work 'tends to rely on an unproblematized sexual antagonism that unwittingly installs a heterosexual matrix as a permanent and incontestable structure of culture in which women operate as a "stain" in discourse'. For Butler, 'the very theoretical postulation of the originary trauma presupposes the structuralist theory of kinship and sociality', 20 and such theories of kinship and sociality are freighted with heteronormative assumptions assumptions that Zizek does adhere to, and here Butler is quite right ; 'What he's doing is consolidating these binaries as absolutely necessary.

He's rendering a whole domain of social life that does not fully conform to prevalent gender norms as psychotic and unlivable'. A different tack on the role of 'trauma' in Zizek's work is taken by John Mowitt, who argues that 'Zizek's appeal to trauma is not really driven by a theoretical need to clarify the concept of the Real, but instead by a political need to forge a link between the Real and trauma'; this is so that psychoanalysis will have 'the last word about trauma'.

The issue for Mowitt, then, is about the way an account of subjectivity is always implicated in the politics of theory. Ebert is right on track, then, when she claims that 'Zizek mimes Marx in an effort to turn a materialist ideology critique upside down into a Hegelian idealism and dissolves class struggle into the symbolic surplus of the Lacanian Real'.

But even then, his use of Hegel to produce analyses that insist on contradiction does make him a good deal more radical than someone who is content with merely identifying and describing structures in literary and cultural texts. This means that any interpretation of Hegel here is already even more contested than the other various readings of his work. These different interpretations also carry their own strange political baggage, as Dews points out in his critique of Zizek's reading of Hegel.

Dews targets Zizek's argument that 'the identity of the subject consists in nothing other than the continual failure of self-reflection'.

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In the course of his critique, Dews tries to recover some notion of 'intersubjectivity' from Hegel, and he objects to Zizek's insistence that this is always subject to fracture and disintegration by negativity, something evoked by Hegel's brief comments on 'the night of the world' that haunts reason. This is fair and right enough as critique. Her point is that 'we cannot identify such [formal] structures first and then apply them to their examples, for in the instance of their "application" they become something other than what they were'.

The question that drives Butler's writing, and which it now becomes relevant to ask of Zizek, is how certain assumptions about formal structure are themselves a function of a particular historical conjuncture.

Commenting on Zizek's example of Jaws as point de capiton for free floating inconsistent fears in which there is 'the return of the thing to itself', 31 Butler asks 'what is the place and time' of this 'performative operation', and she goes on to suggest that it may be 'restricted to the powers of nominalism within modernity'. The issue here is not so much that Lacan is historically located, but that Lacan is used as a kind of grid to read all political phenomena; Zizek's 'discourse is schizophrenically split between a highly sophisticated Lacanian analysis and an insufficiently deconstructed traditional Marxism'.

As Zizek has argued himself on many occasions, the Lacanian real is that which resists symbolization, and Laclau's critique is useful insofar as it does draw attention to the problematic way that Lacanian discourse is mobilised by Zizek to read culture. As we shall see, what Zizek actually does is to use Lacan as a kind of machine to read Hegel, and then the Lacan-reading-Hegel-machine is applied to culture.

That then gives rise to exactly the kind of disastrous conceptual errors that Laclau identifies and opposes in Zizek's work. It has been claimed that Zizek has 'a somewhat idealized view of desire'. Instead, it is more often the case that, taking his lead from Lacan after Seminar XI, 39 he idealises the drive instead. This is a problem that becomes more apparent when the psychoanalytic 'act' is used as a model of political change. Political transformation When Zizek refers to Marxism it is often in order to show the insufficiency of utopian socialist 'metapolitics' to a 'politics proper' that would be able to interpret if not to change global virtual capitalism, and so when he speaks as a Marxist, we cannot take this self-characterisation for granted.

However, as critics have pointed out when they tackle Zizek on his supposed Marxism and on his relation to feminism and anti-racism, things are a little more complicated than this. It could be said that Marxism 'has always been much more to the fore of Zizek's work than many of his commentators have cared to acknowledge', 40 and Sean Homer makes this point as a useful corrective to those who would prefer to overlook the Marxism. The problem, as Homer shows, is that Zizek's supposed shift from the earlier apparent 'post-Marxism' during the time of his engagement with Laclau and Mouffe to a more orthodox Marxism is itself rather illusory, and seems to be more of a performance for different kinds of audience than anything else; 'his thoroughgoing Lacanianism appears to rule out the possibility of any orthodox "understanding" of Marxism, or, indeed, the formulation of a clearly identifiable political project'.

All the same, McLaren neatly turns around Zizek's scornful dismissal of Western liberal romanticising of Native American culture, to question the formulation that they are 'as bad as we'; McLaren remarks that 'there is a danger that Zizek will disappear into the liberal multiculturalism that he so trenchantly contests'. As we have already seen, Grigg draws attention to the problematic role of the Hegelian motif of 'absolute negativity' lying in the background of Zizek's reading of Lacan, and this motif comes to the fore in a somewhat romanticised reading of Lacan on the 'act'.

Antigone, for example, 'presents as the epitome of manic hysterical behaviour [and] has become a hero of, a martyr to, the father's desire'. Asymmetry: machine, object, application The critical responses to Zizek we have reviewed so far draw attention to his partisan readings of canonical texts and to some of the disturbing political consequences of the peculiar way he weaves his reading of Marx, Hegel, and Lacan.

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Slavoj Zizek: A Critical Introduction

But those critiques do not yet go far enough, on two counts, and these two outstanding issues provoke two questions. Taking Zizek at his word, twice Zizek does not pretend to provide an empirically correct reading of any text, and his warnings about the deadlock of representation that sabotages any political project aiming at consensus and shared debate applies equally well to his own work. Every attempt to capture what he is really doing, as if it would be possible for someone else to be a 'Zizekian', will fail. The point he makes time and again from within each different framework is about the nature of the real and the impossibility of sealing it over.

Whether by a standpoint that is not inflected by class position, a position that is not reflexively implicated in the presuppositions it makes about its object or a metalanguage that pretends to escape the contours of the symbolic, this impossibility marks something of the truth of what it is to be a human subject.

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That is, there is no harmonious resolution of political conflict, no clear view of world history and no unassailable position from which to declaim and educate other benighted souls. We need to take Zizek at his word here in order to tackle the supposition that sometimes appears among his readers, if it is not deliberately produced in the texts themselves, that there is a system of thought being elaborated, an overarching theoretical framework into which each of the other three and more 56 systems he discusses and utilises can be absorbed.

That is, the too-easy counterpart to the charge that he is opportunistically misreading a theory or cultural phenomenon without any consistent rationale for distorting it is the charge that he must really have a master-plan which, were we to be able to discover it through constructing an accurate picture of his idiosyncratic pathological engagement with Western European culture, his intellectual development from Heideggerian phenomenology or the project of the 'Slovene Lacanian School', we could discover and map each of the apparently accidental but actually deeply-motivated mistakes he seems to make.

As if.


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  8. This leads us to the first question. There is no theoretical system as such in Zizek's work, but it often seems as if there is one. How do we account for that? The second reason the existing critiques do not go far enough is that they do not account satisfactorily for the dynamic interplay between the different theoretical frameworks he uses and his rapid movement between these frameworks. An all-too tempting way of accounting for the rush we get when we are whirled along in a Zizek text is to imagine the speed of the journey is simply an expression of the speed of writing, to say he just writes too much too fast and that perhaps that is why it does not always make sense.

    The point he makes about the illusory consistency of the subject and the work of the unconscious, in disrupting as well as reproducing the symbolic networks in which a subject speaks, leads us to some different ways to think about what we imagine him to be as the author of the texts that bear his name. We need to take Zizek at his word again here when he tells us that in his work nothing is as it seems.

    There is indeed a performance for different kinds of audience that introduces an element of motivated inconsistency, and so we need to take seriously the rapid transitions from one theoretical frame to another in Zizek's writing, and the sometimes jerky movement from theory to its exemplification in culture or politics and back again, as well as Zizek's own scornful refusal to be pinned down.

    So, to take him at his word we also need to treat every explanation he gives as untrustworthy as a guide to his work. And we need to do this in a way that grasps something of the movement of his work over time rather than treating the shifts as yet more evidence that there are flaws in the theoretical architecture of his work that are being repaired as it undergoes renovation. There is an impression of chaotic movement in his writing which belies the lucid elaboration of a theoretical argument.

    But you should treat this as only one grid, and as riddled by exceptions. The grid includes the supposition that there is a theoretical system and the supposition that there is an erratic author. Treat those suppositions as stepping stones, not as sedimented 'truths', as if they could really be seen lying underneath the surface of the text or as somehow embodied in the figure of Slavoj Zizek within whom we could diagnose a certain pathological condition which would explain our confusion. For these purposes, and only these, I will try to account for how the shape of Zizek's theoretical 'system' has developed through its publication and dissemination in the English language.