What do you do with a slovenly Slavoj?

zizek2Stuart Klawens, the film critic for The Nation, is the butt of a lot of jokes in our household. Even though I like his work, I have to recognize the justness of ALK’s everlasting pique with Klawens for his inaccurate review of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. When I start to tell ALK about a Klawens review, ALK likes to imagine herself Klawens and reinvent its plot: I’d give an example, but today she’s at the Transit Museum with a train-obsessed houseguest. Lately, we’ve acquired another, er, jokebutt: Zizek. Zizek! We’re convinced he meets Klawens at the movies weekly.

But that’s giving too much credit to Zizek. Klawens might, at least so far as ALK is concerned, miss some nuance, but he never matches Zizek’s dementia. It’s as if his filmic memory is a tribute to Travesties (with Lacan filling the structural position provided by Wilde in the original). Some examples. Enjoy Your Symptom! (second edition!) on Now, Voyager: Charlotte (Bette Davis) does not relapse “soon after” (17) returning home from her sea voyage; she relapses after about 20 minutes of film and months of narrative time, and then only after she takes on responsibility for her mother’s death, a motivation that should have produced something for Zizek; Charlotte does not have to make a choice between the sanity of Tina, her surrogate daughter, and her love for Tina’s father, Jerry: she sacrifices marriage, and that perhaps only for a time: she doesn’t sacrifice love or companionship. Plague of Fantasies offers the example of Spielberg’s Star Wars (75). The Parallax View silently corrects the error, but refers to The Phantom Menace as “Stars Wars III” (arguably correct) and, in the same paragraph, The Return of the Jedi as “Part III of the Saga” (103; not that I’m a Star Wars fan, but Jedi is part VI: and even we call it Part III because it’s the third movie made, we can’t have two different films be III). On 411 n1, he writes of Kill Bill 2 that “in the final confrontation between the Uma Thurman character [KTS: er, “The Bride” or “Beatrix Kiddo”] and her father (“Bill”)”: nope, oh god nope.

Here’s what finally set me off. On The Valve, John Holbo cites a 2002 interview with Zizek in which Z calls Microsoft Word a “language” (“The paradigmatic example here is probably Microsoft. Microsoft word [sic] has more or less established itself as the predominant computer language, but this has nothing to do with normal market logic. Why do the vast majority of people use Microsoft? Not because it’s the best. Almost every hacker will tell you that other languages are better.”). Series of Tubes anyone?

As has probably happened hundreds of times with Zizek’s readers, I’m on the verge of giving up, and not because of his philosophy or politics, but because of his sloppiness. Can’t the man hire a fact-checker? Surely there are grad students who would do this for free?

Now, I don’t deny Zizek’s brilliance. Of course not. Nor do I deny his clarity. Maybe I’m missing something in Agamben, but I tend to find Zizek explains Agamben much better than Agamben explains himself. For example.

So, with all this in mind, I’m asking a boring (to use one of Zizek’s favorite words) question for the weekend: what do we do with Zizek’s sloppiness? How should it affect our reading? Am I missing the point by focusing on mere facts? Is brilliance better than accuracy (of course it is, but accuracy has to count for something: how would we grade a student who made these errors?)? Could someone else (someone not white or male?) get away with this? Is Zizek’s sloppiness symptomatic and is it worth thinking about in itself? Surely one or ten of you have a standard answer to what I perhaps mistakenly think is a problem. I’m wondering if we can do this without the standard repudiations of Zizek or professions of weariness, but perhaps that’s impossible. Or, given this post, hypocritical.

(if you’d prefer, a side discussion on the question of time and the now and its problems, particularly for a philosopher from the Balkans, which we might say was an emblematic mixture of modern and medieval during the 90s: in The Parallax View:

The clearest sign of the reign of biopolitics is the obsession with the topic of ‘stress’: how to avoid stressful situations, how to ‘cope’ with them. ‘Stress’ is our name for the excessive dimension of life, for the ‘too-muchness’ that must be kept under control. (For this reason, today, more than ever, the gap that separates psychoanalysis from therapy imposes itself in all its brutality: if you want therapeutic improvement, you will in fact get help much more quickly and efficiently from a combination of behavioral-cognitivist therapies and chemical treatment [pills].) (310)

Fair enough: psychoanalysis as a mode of critique rather than a medical regime. We preserve its utility by sloughing off what might be thought its primary utility. But wait, who’s Zizek’s “our”? When’s “today”? Where are we?)

UPDATE: eerily, at the very moment I was writing this, Adam Roberts was writing this. The Corsican Brothers? Or Dead Ringers?


 

The short version here is that Zizek often gets the things wrong that I know; by doing so, he doesn’t exactly convince me that he knows the things well that I don’t know. It’s not that hard to get these things right. It might mean writing a bit more slowly; it might be correcting matters in second editions, in one’s cut and pasting, and so forth. And this isn’t a matter of confusing Odo for Odilo of Cluny (as Goldhammer did in one of his translations, iirc: sloppy, and perhaps a niggling mistake, but here an indication that perhaps a medievalist should have gone over his work); with Zizek, it’s a matter of getting things wrong that are very, very easy to get right. As for the comment on Microsoft word as a “language,” well, that’s the sort of error that’s not niggling: any way I try to make sense of it, it’s gibberish.

I should say, however, that it would be boring (natch) to demand Zizek watch the movies he talks about. I don’t want to assume that watching a film necessarily would give Zizek a less mediated, more authentic, more honest experience than just working with what he’s picked up here and there.

ultimately I don’t want to see this conversation proceed as ‘sure, SZ’s slovenly, but he ‘moves the ball’/he’s a trickster/he is my secret sharer in wanting épater l’académie.’ Let’s lose the but to think through his errors as something other than errors, something other than symptoms of haste/expansiveness/unwillingness to hire a copy editor (after all, the careful, correct English of the our professional writing is a second language to all of us). Is it possible to get us past the ‘attack’ v. ‘defense’ mode?

We’re smart enough to do something more interesting. And I’d like to think we can respect SZ enough to damn him if he’s a fuckup, but to first expect that he’s doing something interesting with his own fuckupedness.

Parallax View, 219, “like a Magrittean hand drawing the hand, that, in its turn draws the first hand.”

Escher.

“Why are cinema-lovers so obsessed with gaffes, small mistakes….Is not our pleasure in discovering gaffes a kind of revenge of the ego against our unconscious beliefs?” TPV 425 n37. – See more at: http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2007/07/what-do-you-do-with-slovenly-slavoj.html#sthash.GikrLXhf.dpuf

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