Friday, 27 July 2007

Slavoj Žižek as theologian

In my struggle to make sense of the entertaining but baffling thinker, Slavoj Žižek, I’ve been reading several articles in the new International Journal of Žižek Studies.

One of the essays by my friend Scott Stephens offers a helpful account of the central theme of Žižek’s work. In this essay, “Žižek, My Neighbour: Regarding Jodi Dean’s Žižek's Politics,” International Journal of Žižek Studies 1:1 (2007), Scott characterises Žižek as the quintessential theologian of global capitalism.

“[T]he theological dimension of Capital is the fundamental determinant of Žižek’s work, the inert mass around which his entire conceptual apparatus orbits. The planetary metaphor here is not, in fact, entirely inappropriate. For as Jacques Lacan put it, the Real – the immutable is-ness of reality as such – is, like the stars, always-in-the-same-position (toujours à la même place). When Žižek states unequivocally that Capital is Real, he is making a serious claim about the ontology of our global situation: the specific nature of Capital demands an appropriate form of philosophico-political activity. Direct intervention inevitably gets folded back into the existing economic order, such that even the harbinger of the demise of global Capital – the threat of ecological cataclysm – can be transubstantiated into an expression of Capital itself. The only proper activity now is to think Capital, not as it actually exists, but theologically, at the level of its substance” (p. 3).

Scott thus insists that Žižek is not at all concerned with proposing an alternative political system to global capitalism. Rather, “the one question that matters” for Žižek is: “What do thinking and writing, as opposed to prescription and action, mean…?” The endless act of writing is thus itself Žižek’s politics, i.e., his theology. “If Marx was the one to analyze (indeed, to theologize) industrial capitalism, then Žižek is the theologian of late- or virtual-capitalism” (p. 4).

And speaking of Žižek and theology, you might like to check out this excellent online lecture by Žižek: “Why Only an Atheist Can Believe: Politics on the Edge of Fear and Trembling.”

6 Comments:

Anonymous said...

How can one possibly be a "theologian" is one is not a practising member of any religious tradition?

Why not just call him an interesting and provocative philosopher. He has some interesting and necessary things to say no doubt but he so unnecessarily complex in his exclusive left-brained verbal gymnastics. And besides which no amount of complex thinking ever changed anything.
How much information does one really need as to how terrible the current world situation is?

This spiritually informed website
1. www.coteda.com
gives essentially the same critique of the system via a few carefully crafted key essays---all the complex descriptions by Zizek and others are just self-important struttings---look at me, look at me! It (this site) also offers a way whereby the system may be changed---but only if enough people choose to live differently. Rather than endlessly analysing the system via left brained "theory" websites and academic philosophy courses, seminars,degrees etc etc.

Otherwise the system will inevitably grind everything to rubble in its ever quickening rush to its unspeakably dreadful destiny/conclusion.
Have you read the news!

Ben Myers said...

Hi Anon -- thanks for your point of view. Your suggestion that "no amount of complex thinking ever changed anything" is truly amazing -- especially if you're currently using a computer or surfing the web!

dan said...

Like you, Ben, I have been both exhilarated and exasperated by Zizek. I have found his reflections on Lacan to be very helpful (especially since they lead me to actually read Lacan!), his thoughts on Christianity to be intriguing, and the flow of his arguments (if they all do flow, that is) to be puzzling.

As for "Why Only an Atheist Can Believe", it is worth noting that Ernst Bloch was saying essentially that some time before Zizek (Moltmann likely made this aspect of Bloch's "philosophy of hope" famous in Christian cirles when, in response to Bloch's assertion that "only an atheist makes a good Christian," he argued that "only a Christian makes a good atheist").

Anonymous said...

Ben,It is really true. No amount of thinking, however sophisticated and accurate in its description of the state of the world ever changes anything at any fundamental level---and it cant--never will in fact.
That is one of the primary delusions that we westerners with our left brained abstract objectifying thinking, and so called "understanding" suffer from.

Basically the internet is a phoney cyber-space "community". People sitting at their computers (like I am now) passing around copious bits of brain created language. Thats all.

Richard said...

I'm with you on the baffling aspect. When I did my contributions to the confessions meme i mentioned that Zizek's "The metastases of enjoyment" is the only recent book I have picked up but had to put down because i was lost.

I have his book "The Puppet and the Dwarf" so hopefully second time round I may get to finish a Zizek book.

Halden said...

My knowledge of Zizek is limited, the only book of his I have is the Fragile Abolute. However, based on what you've said Ben, if Zizek is a "theologian", he would seem to be the most immanent theologian since Hegel!

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