Swimming in the toilet bowl of the proletarian apocalypse

Adam Kirsch at the New Republic has given us a damning 7,000-word critique of the scatty sociologist, philosopher, psychoanalyst and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek.

Why Kirsch has gone to all this trouble I have no idea. It is after all a very inefficient way of presenting an argument in the age of Internet-induced attention deficit disorder.

Unless I’m faced with a piece of particularly exquisite writing, I tend to get irritated after around 3,000 words of dense text on a non-narrative theme. This can leave me ill-disposed toward the author, however high the quality of the argument. Call me an anti-intellectual if you will, but if Žižek can present an entire thesis in a five minute YouTube video, then he has a definite advantage over his detractors.

What of Kirsch’s critique? We are told that the flamboyant Slovenian is a dangerous proto-totalitarian and apologist for the worst excesses of revolutionary violence. Žižek’s “allegedly progressive thought leads directly into a pit of moral and intellectual squalor.” In that case I have failed to acknowledge the depth of my depravity, and just how far I have strayed from civilised, liberal norms. But I must say how cosy it is here in the gutter.

As Terry Glavin says, Kirsch takes Žižek far too seriously, and his argument relies on some outrageous cherry-picking from the writer’s œuvre.

Žižek says some pretty way out things, and is often deliberately out to shock. But he is no more a fascist than was the late Frank Zappa. Žižek is a mirror of our dark, damp, mouldy corners; a man happy to give voice to his many neuroses when the rest of us are too squeamish to do likewise with our own. If Žižek is a fascist, then so too are all of us who challenge the existing order, even where this is from a so-called ‘liberal’ perspective (whatever that means).

Kirsch’s critique is too silly to take seriously, just as Žižek is himself in so many of his public pronouncements. Žižek is, as Josh Strawn so aptly puts it, the Willy Wonka of cultural theory. Or perhaps the Armitage Shanks. The world would be a far poorer place without him.