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Zizek's "bullshit"

by Ted Welch Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 11:18:06 AM EST

In a recent Eurotrib discussion a couple of people commented on Zizek in a fairly positive way while suggesting that they weren't quite clear about what he was saying. They are not alone. I indicated my reservations about Zizek. Melo suggested that I provide "the pro breakdown". Here is a general critique of Zizek, largely based on his own comments on himself and his work.


First a confession, I haven't read any of Zizek's books. I have criticised people  for unfairly dismissing others. I don't think I'm being unfair in this case, despite not having read his books.

As I show, there are some good reasons for not reading his books:

  1. He is notorious for contradicting himself, sometimes in one conversation, and, as even a supporter admits, from one book to another.

  2.  He himself has described whole sections of at least one book as "bluff" and "bullshit" and, from his general record of changes of opinion, hoaxes, lies,  etc. there's no reason to suppose that this is an isolated example.

I have read several articles by Zizek and watched him in a long interview on TV, that was enough. One doesn't have to wade through "bullshit" to be able to detect it. I have also read a range of critiques of Zizek by people whose work I respect, e.g. David Bordwell, who writes about films and film theory and reveals Zizek's carelessness with evidence (we'll see that he is a habitual liar).  

Some Zizek fans will insist that you can't have a valid opinion about him unless you've read not just one, but a whole series of his many books, and in the right order in order to understand his "trajectory":

 Part of the problem, it seems to me, has been your approach - from what I can tell, you are not reading Zizek in a systematic way. If and when you get around to reading things in more or less chronological order, I think they will make a lot more sense.
...
Zizek has a trajectory, his project develops over time - Sublime Object and Parallax View are fundamentally different and even contradictory works.

Adam Kotsko

http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/nobody_expects_the_anti_ms_word_revolution/

But then there's not a lot of point in actually reading the earlier books if they're contradicted by later ones, unless one just wants to be an expert on his "trajectory". Thus, even with assiduous reading of his oeuvre, it would be hard to know what Zizek's views really are, as with conversations with him:


For ZIZEK, a conversation - whatever the topic- is an exercise in self-contradiction. When he thinks you are beginning to get a handle on his motives or desires, he pulls an about-face, insists he doesn't mean anything he has just said, that his own views are the exact opposite.

http://ethicalpolitics.org/seminars/enjoy.htm

Cf.:


 James Miller, of the New School, says of Zizek's lectures: "You would sit through these torrents of verbiage, and you had this post-structuralist and relativist aura on the one hand, and then he would be defending something like democratic socialism. The first time I talked with him, I said, 'But Slavoj, this is inconsistent' He listened to my criticism and ignored it. When he talks, he has such a good time that he just keeps going."

http://www.lacan.com/ziny.htm

In fact he says that he keeps going in public talks in order to avoid the "boring" (a word he uses often) business of dealing with questions:


I hate these civilised debates followed by the questions from the audience," he tells me the next morning. "So I keep going to subvert this boring ritual ...

You could say, in a vulgar Freudian way, that I am the unhappy child who escapes into books. Even as a child, I was most happy being alone. This has not changed.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/jun/27/slavoj-zizek-living-end-times

Another major reason for not reading his books is that apart from some books  contradicting others, he himself has admitted that whole sections of at least one of his major books are "bluff" and "bullshit". But I doubt if many of his fans  have made such clear identifications of the relevant sections.


I ask him if he is surprised at his popularity, particularly among the young.

"My God, I am the last person to know the answer to these questions," he says, looking genuinely dismayed. "But, really, I am now thinking there is so much pressure on me to perform. I am getting really bored with it. I am a thinker, but people all the time want this kind of shitty political interventions: the books, the talks, the discussions and so forth." He sighs and closes his eyes and seems to deflate before my eyes. "I will tell you my problem openly and for this my publisher will hate me. All the talk and the writing about politics, this is not where my heart is. No. I have been sidetracked. I really mean this."

He opens a copy of Living in the End Times, and finds the contents page. "I will tell you the truth now," he says, pointing to the first chapter, then the second. "Bullshit. Some more bullshit. Blah, blah, blah." He flicks furiously through the pages. "Chapter 3, where I try to read Marx anew, is maybe OK. I like this part where I analyse Kafka's last story and here where I use the community of outcasts in the TV series Heroes as a model for the communist collective. But, this section, the Architectural Parallax, this is pure bluff. Also the part where I analyse Avatar, the movie, that is also pure bluff. When I wrote it, I had not even seen the film, but I am a good Hegelian. If you have a good theory, forget about the reality."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/jun/27/slavoj-zizek-living-end-times

So Zizek would, presumably, have some sympathy for this view:


Today I was wondering whether it was worth buying Slavoj Zizek's new book, "The Parallax View" and reading it, even in a spirit of ironic detachment or what have you. Reasons to Buy: 1. Some smart people I know like him. Selected Reason Not to Buy: 1. Life's too short to deal with bullshit, even if it's high-quality, triple-sifted, quintessence of ironic Lacanian crunchy-frog bullshit ...

http://crookedtimber.org/2006/03/10/zizek-and-badiou-where-are-you

Apart from confessing that whole sections of at least one of his books are "bullshit", he also admits that, despite his reputation as a political radical,  in fact it's merely a "boring" chore: "this kind of shitty political interventions". He also makes clear (as a number of critics have pointed out), that he is less interested in reality than theory: "If you have a good theory, forget about the reality."

Cf. (with another admission of how he lies/contradicts himself:


"For me, life exists only insofar as I can theorize it," he confesses. "I can be bored to death by a movie, but if you give me a good theory, I will gladly erase the past in an Orwellian fashion and claim that I have always enjoyed it!"

http://linguafranca.mirror.theinfo.org/9810/zizek.html

His lack of interest in reality (matching his boredom with politics) explains why he touches on so many things lightly - they're just examples of Theory, and explains why he often gets things wrong - revealed when people who know something about a particular example look at what he says.

You couldn't make it up

But he learnt early on, in his native Slovenia, that people will swallow almost any old junk - so why bother with serious, time-consuming study and fact-checking ?

Zizek once wrote a pseudonymous review attacking one of his own books on Lacan. On another occasion, (the Slovenian magazine) Problemi published a fictional roundtable discussion of feminism in which Zizek played the boorish interlocutor, posing provocative questions to nonexistent participants. (Later, in "Enjoy Your Symptom!", Zizek continued to engage in literary hoaxes with an essay on the films of Roberto Rossellini - none of which he had seen.)

http://ethicalpolitics.org/seminars/enjoy.htm

Despite basing much of his work on the ideas of Lacan,  he had no compunction about lying even to his Lacanian analyst in Paris, the son-in-law of Lacan, and, more importantly, in charge of a publishing company which Zizek hoped might publish his own dissertation on Lacan. He lied because he feared analysis might "cure" him of his "theoretical desire" and turn him into "a common person." As we shall see he has an obvious craving for attention, hence the "obscene jokes" and  wilfully adopting views to shock liberals and attacking other leftist academics because, for example, they do not really understand Lacan:

"It was my strict rule, my sole ethical principle, to lie consistently (to his Lacanian analyst, TW): to invent all symptoms, fabricate all dreams," he reports of his treatment. "It was obsessional neurosis in its absolute purest form. Because you never knew how long it would last, I was always prepared for at least two sessions. I have this incredible fear of what I might discover if I really went into analysis. What if I lost my frenetic theoretical desire? What if I turned into a common person?"

http://ethicalpolitics.org/seminars/enjoy.htm

He avoids not only becoming "a common person", but also being taken for a  liberal, or even ordinary leftist, so he defends what he claims is Lenin's ruthlessness (exaggerated for effect):


The latest New Left Review has an article by the Lacanian theorist Slavoj Žižek that returns to one of his favorite topics, Lenin.

... It incorporates his by now familiar embrace of Lenin's supposed ruthlessness, a stance that is calculated to annoy liberals in the academy rather than appeal to auto workers angry over getting screwed by the Obama administration. They call it épater le bourgeois, or shock the bourgeoisie.

http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2009/05/11/zizek-lenin-and-firing-squads/

Cf.:


In Zizek's case, of course, since he clearly has no intent of acting towards Leninist revolution, nor do his fans, it becomes part of the buy-in technique.  Anyone who once took him seriously, who is considering not doing so, now has to confront the fact that they somehow thought that Leninist revolution preached to humanities academics was not risible.

Rich Puchalsky

http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/nobody_expects_the_anti_ms_word_revolution/

Cf.:


Zizek has declared his latest work, The Parallax View, (review from 2006) to be his "magnum opus" and his most philosophically ambitious work to date. As always with Zizek, it is a dizzying mixture of highbrow philosophy and lowbrow cultural analysis, all peppered with psychoanalytic insights, idiosyncratic asides and the odd dirty joke.
...
Whether Zizek succeeds in reinventing dialectical materialism is open to question. For my money his approach is a little too overidentified with Stalinism, one gets the impression that the primary reason for Zizek choosing this terminology is to shock the liberal academy. His contrarian audacity in this regard is always charming, but it often acts to paper over his own complicity with the capitalist ideology he so ruthlessly criticises.

http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=9748

Yet for all this verbiage about Lenin and Stalin, he has expressed cynicism about politics and says: "I just play at this subversive stuff". What he REALLY wanted to do, he said, was to write a major theoretical treatise on Lacan:


"Do not forget that with me everything is the opposite of what it seems," he says. "Deep down I am very conservative; I just play at this subversive stuff. My most secret dream is to write an old-fashioned, multivolume theological tract on Lacanian theory in the style of Aquinas. I would examine each of Lacan's theories in a completely dogmatic way, considering the arguments for and against each statement and then offering a commentary. I would be happiest if I could be a monk in my cell, with nothing to do but write my Summa Lacaniana."

http://ethicalpolitics.org/seminars/enjoy.htm

But later he admits that even Lacan is just a tool, and all his fulminations about politics are a playful diversion from his desire to devote himself to Hegel and Theory:


Why, then, given that he does not like most of his books and does not have any enthusiasm for the lecture circuit, does he not call a stop to the Žižek show? "I am doing that right now!" he shouts. "I am writing a mega-book about Hegel with regard to Plato, Kant and maybe Heidegger. Already, this Hegel book is 700 pages. It is a true work of love. This is my true life's work. Even Lacan is just a tool for me to read Hegel. For me, always it is Hegel, Hegel, Hegel," he says, sighing again. "But people just want the shitty politics."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/jun/27/slavoj-zizek-living-end-times

The politics of confusion

Despite his dismissal of "shitty" politics, he does continue to write about it, but it's not clear what Zizek's political views are, as even someone who defends him says:


The fact of the matter is that he does not currently have a positive, overarching political program. He does not seem to think that overthrowing capitalism is possible right now. He is not,pace Rich, calling for Leninist revolution. He rejected liberalism pretty violently in the wake of the wars in the Balkans, but he does not yet have anything to put in its place - and he's certainly not turning to anything ready-made like Soviet communism.

Kotsko

http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/nobody_expects_the_anti_ms_word_revolution/

But then he's just "playing at this subversive stuff".

Another defender tries to make sense of Zizek's political views and suggests that, despite all the stuff on Lenin and scorn for liberals, Zizek is proposing some quite modest "Acts":


In such ideas, one finds a bridge between his inescapable moral imperative to break with a destructive fantasy-world through a decisive Act, and his recognition that the conditions for action, for the shaping of the site événementiel must be created through a long history of much less dramatic but no less decisive Acts. In a sense, this is a shift from revolutionary gesture to revolutionary gestation. It is possible that a social order does not finally perish until not only the material conditions for new relations but, to a certain degree, those new relations themselves have grown up within the womb of the old society.

http://newhumanist.org.uk/1677/acting-up

So where does that leave us?

"we are each faced with the imperative to make our own judgment. And to act." Ibid.

We have to read a whole set of his big books, in the correct order, to arrive at insights like this ? !

Bluffing himself - or a " 'deep cover' Zokal" ?

It's not surprising that Zizek sometimes expresses contempt for those who pay attention to him and is "really sad" that his bluffs are taken seriously. But, as this example makes clear, he sometimes seems to be taken in by his own "bluff", or maybe it provides a hint that his work is all a Sokal-type hoax:


(Zizek) Some months before writing this, at an art round table, I was asked to comment on a painting I had seen there for the first time. I did not have any idea about it, so I engaged in a total bluff, which went something like this: the frame of the painting in front of us is not its true frame; there is another, invisible, frame, implied by the structure of the painting, which frames our perception of the painting, and these two frames do not overlap -there is an invisible gap separating the two. The pivotal content of the painting is not rendered in its visible part, but is located in this dislocation of the two frames, in the gap that separates them. Are we, today, in our post-modern madness, still able to discern the traces of this gap? Perhaps more than the reading of a painting hinges on it; perhaps the decisive dimension of humanity will be lost when we lose the capacity to discern this gap...

To my surprise, this brief intervention was a huge success, and many following participants referred to the dimension in-between-the-two-frames, elevating it into a term. This very success made me sad, really sad. What I encountered here was not only the efficiency of a bluff, but a much more radical apathy at the very heart of today's cultural studies (pg. 5-6).

The misfiring (or, one could say, depressingly ironic success) of Zizek's joking bluff underscores a problem notoriously brought to light by Alan Sokal's Social Text hoax (Zizek himself mentions Sokal in the introduction) ...

http://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=book&id=720

One might think, well, at least he's honest about this and he's right that it's "really sad" that there is this "radical apathy at the very heart of today's cultural studies." But then, hasn't this bluffer and purveyor of "bullshit" been central to such a development ? In fact the article goes on to show that later in the book Zizek uses this very "bluff" in an apparently serious way!:


And yet, much later in The Fright of Real Tears, something disturbing occurs.
...
 After tipping the reader off to the essentially "fake" nature of this notion of "the dimension in-between-the-two-frames," this very same material reappears later in the text, ostensibly being offered as part of a "serious" theoretical discussion. Is he parodying himself?
...
the much more entertaining paranoid fantasy, is to venture speculating that Zizek is really a "deep cover" version of Alan Sokal.
...
 Maybe, many years ago, Zizek made a bet with some of his Slovenian colleagues about how much post-modern sounding gibberish he could get contemporary academics to swallow - keep in mind that, recently, he's been trying to persuade people to embrace as unproblematic the juxtaposition of Stalinist dialectical materialism and Christian theology.

ibid

The fright of real errors

But the review by Johnston doesn't even mention a main role of the book, it's an attack on "post-theory" in film studies, which was a return to jargon-free clarity after the theoretical excesses of Screen Magazine. David Bordwell is a representative of this "post-theory" and, because he knows the field, he is able to quickly deflate Zizek's gas-filled attack, which involves allegations of a  supposed "will to obliterate the trauma of the failed leftist involvement in Theory",  and even "a form of fetishistic disavowal reminiscent of a reluctance to look at feminine genitals":


Žižek begins his book (The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-Theory) by saying that the Post-Theory trend is "often sustained by a stance of profound political resignation, by a will to obliterate the traces and disappointments of political engagement".

The one piece of evidence he supplies for this is startlingly shaky. Žižek takes the scholar Ben Brewster as "emblematic of the present-day state of cinema theory". Why? Because Brewster shifted from being a proponent of "Screen" theory (which applied ideas from Marx, Freud, Althusser, etc. to the study of film, TW) to becoming a film historian displaying an "exclusive preoccupation with pre-1917 cinema".

Why does this matter? Because Brewster focuses on a period "prior to the October Revolution, as if to emphasise the will to obliterate the trauma of the failed leftist involvement in Theory". About Žižek's diagnosis that Brewster's research constitutes a form of fetishistic disavowal reminiscent of a reluctance to look at feminine genitals, I shall say nothing. I just want to point out that Brewster has NOT restricted his research to cinema before 1917, not even in the book Žižek mentions in a footnote, so the tenuous thread of association fails even as a literary conceit. On its first page, FRT presents a strained reach for cleverness at the expense of nuance and accuracy. We'll encounter this strategy again.

http://www.davidbordwell.com/essays/zizek.php#_ednref15

Others also find his scholarship lacking, hardly surprising given the vast range of topics and examples he serves up, without clarifying their function in relation to his general arguments; instead the authority of Lacan is constantly invoked, as Bordwell's colleague, O'Neill points out:


In the absence of any detectable method, a dizzying array of wildly entertaining and often quite maddening rhetorical strategies are deployed in order to beguile, browbeat, dumbfound, dazzle, confuse, mislead, overwhelm, and generally subdue the reader into acceptance. Example after example is supplied, but the principle that makes them examples is not itself given. Appeals are implicitly made to Lacan's authority but the source of that authority is never mentioned.

http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol5-2001/n17oneill

Like ONeill,  Jarvis criticises this superficial approach of using many examples without clarifying why they are examples. Jarvis also notes the authoritarian use of Lacan and again, where the critic knows something about the example, in this case Hegel, he is able to point out where Zizek gets it wrong:


The cultural examples, whether mass-cultural, literary, art-filmic, or (even) musical, are expendable. Žižek moves in, Hegel-Lacanises them in a flash of admittedly often brilliant illumination, and then moves on to another one. The examples never disturb the conceptual framework, they just exemplify it. And, in turn, this means that the concepts cannot fully illuminate the examples, because they are not interested enough in what the examples are like. Paragraph after paragraph will begin with the imperative "Take...". At one point, Žižek quotes Kafka's `Odradek'. Even a hardened reader will be taken aback at the rapidity with which he then moves straight into his Lacanian patter about it. There isn't even a pause for breath, and so the impression given is that it is a matter of indifference to Žižek whether he is considering Kafka or Krazy Kat.
...
 Žižek's usual mode of address to rival schools is to point out that they just don't get some Lacanian twist or other which he himself has understood. His praise, conversely, takes the form of indicating that the admired thinker is Lacanian without knowing it. For Žižek, a great deal, in the end (or "again and again", as he tellingly puts it in the prose for the series Short Circuits, of which this book is a part) hangs on having the right opinions, whereas for Hegel nothing at all depends on this. And this means that nothing can be less Hegelian than continually to give a "Hegelian" reading of everything.

http://www.theliberal.co.uk/issue_9/reviews/nf_jarvis_9.html

Cheating students

What I find really despicable is his dishonest and contemptuous attitude towards students and his incredible arrogance in telling the interviewer about his various deceptions:


"When people ask me why I don't teach permanently in the United States, I tell them that it is because American universities have this very strange, eccentric idea that you must work for your salary," Zizek says. "I prefer to do the opposite and not work for my salary!"

Zizek has developed an elaborate set of psychological tricks to manipulate his American students and enable him to have as little contact with them as possible.

... "And I get away with this because they attribute it to my `European eccentricity.'"
...
Zizek reserves what he calls "the nasty strategy" for large lecture classes in which the students often don't know one another. "I divide the time into six twenty-minute periods and then fill in the slots with invented names. That way the students think that all the hours are full and I can disappear," he explains.

http://linguafranca.mirror.theinfo.org/9810/zizek.html

But then one compensation is that at least they're not forced to sit through his monologues and aren't misled by his opinions:

The problem with Zizek is not just that he's careless in interviews. It's that on every issue, whenever someone who actually knows something about what he's talking about looks at, he's making some elementary mistake. It's certainly true for all of his bogus physics references.

Rich Puchalsky

http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/nobody_expects_the_anti_ms_word_revolution/

The tide turns ?

Even former fans see through him when they know about the topic he's currently using to attack liberals and thus draw attention to his own supposed radicalism:


Perhaps it's transference, but I used to think that Zizek had all the answers. Even when he was wrong, I assumed he knew it and was being contrarian, using the cunning of reason to provoke thought and all that rubbish. Even now when he's writing absolute pig shit like this, (apparently a re-mix of this and this), I feel the urge to say "well, he didn't mean that". But he did, and does. To clarify, practically everything in Zizek's latest is a regurgitation of increasingly common Eurocentric - well, actually, Christian supremacist - platitudes about Islam and secularism.
...

Zizek scampers on, whingeing about the liberal "propensity to self-blaming", a mytheme directly lifted from the lexicon of the hard right and the racists, and now a favourite weapon of liberals against other liberals (mainly liberals who support imperialism against liberals who oppose it).
...
it is not a particular problem for me that Zizek flatters his audiences, manipulates their desire in order to achieve acquiescence and what have you. The problem is to what end he puts his courtiers' skills: if it is in order to repoliticise cultural studies, to break with a certain kind of facile "postmodernism", to get people to read Lenin, to oppose US imperialism and so on, wonderful; if it is to indulge in narcissistic liberal preening (which is actually so narcissistic as to revel in its own capacity for limited self-critique), reflate Eurocentrism and slip ugly, lazy, racist nonsense past the bullshit-detectors of his readers, then it is nothing short of pernicious.

http://leninology.blogspot.com/2006/03/zizek-goes-to-atheist-heaven.html

http://leninology.blogspot.com/2010/12/courageous-assault-on-hegemonic.html

So we have a hoaxer, self-contradictory liar, who cheats students and admits to writing "bluffs" and "bullshit" and, while part of his reputation depends on his supposed political radicalism, he says he finds politics "shitty" and "boring" and that he only "plays at being subversive" in ways that a former fan now finds "pernicious".  Would YOU read a book by this man ?

Display:
Good de-construction. But if he's such a sloppy theorist why has anyone taken him seriously up till now ?

And who is he ? I know I'm ignorant about philosphy and philosophers, but for someone to be held in the regard he seems to be, I would have supposed he'd have come up with a significant idea. Yet he seems to have eluded this fate. so I'm baffled

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 12:17:30 PM EST
"Good de-construction."

Thanks.

"But if he's such a sloppy theorist why has anyone taken him seriously up till now ?"

Part of his appeal is that you can take him seriously AND enjoy the jokes and feel a bit superior because one feels one understands that where he does seem to go too far he's just being "contrarian", cf someone's comment and this from the final quotation (from Richard Seymour and his "Lenin's Tomb" blog):

Even when he was wrong, I assumed he knew it and was being contrarian, using the cunning of reason to provoke thought and all that rubbish. Even now when he's writing absolute pig shit like this, (apparently a re-mix of this and this), I feel the urge to say "well, he didn't mean that".

He's clearly a very bright guy:

Žižek is a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and a professor at the European Graduate School.[1] He has been a visiting professor at, among others, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, London Consortium, Princeton, New York University, The New School, the University of Minnesota, the University of California, Irvine and the University of Michigan. He is currently the International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London and president of the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis, Ljubljana.[2]

wikipedia

This makes it all the more regrettable that he misuses his ability in this way. Again Seymour clarifies what seemed positive in his work:

The problem is to what end he puts his courtiers' skills: if it is in order to repoliticise cultural studies, to break with a certain kind of facile "postmodernism", to get people to read Lenin, to oppose US imperialism and so on, wonderful.

But when it comes to what he has to contribute which is really significant - well - see my diary.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 04:53:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You quoted "shitty" politics about a hundred times.

I think you're trying to make a point... ;)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 12:23:03 PM EST
 OK, 5 times was too much - I now look forward to your more considered comments :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 04:57:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have only read a couple of articles by Zizek. From which it seemed to me he was enjoying the stance of the hardline revolutionary who can pour ridicule on anyone who thinks it possible that change might come by more gradual means. Having come across this advantageous attitude a number of times in my life, on the part of people who didn't go on to lead a revolution, I don't give a fart for it.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 05:04:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I indicated, he tries to have it both ways, to sound really radical and revolutionary, but then (more contradiction) he also argues for reasonable, gradual change, as i quoted from a defender :

... In a sense, this is a shift from revolutionary gesture to revolutionary gestation. It is possible that a social order does not finally perish until not only the material conditions for new relations but, to a certain degree, those new relations themselves have grown up within the womb of the old society.

http://newhumanist.org.uk/1677/acting-up

Thus he argues for voting for Obama, but uses that to take a side-swipe at Chomsky (his usual need to attack rivals) for being too cynical. More about this in a follow-up too (there was a lot of bloody research  :-) ).

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 05:27:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed, even in "Violence" he criticizes leftish urgency to do something, citing Marx privately pleading European revolutionaries to wait a couple of years until he finishes his "Capital".

But what if a real class war is going on since say Reagan-Thatcher, stealthy amorphous but still with a grand strategy, progressively intensifying and satisfying most cannons of warfare art? How are the neo-liberal bulldozer reforms to be opposed, resisted or merely challenged? Or is there no chance but to give up reasonably?

by das monde on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 11:30:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a class war going on. That doesn't make Zizek automatically right when scorns all other action than "revolutionary" (when he isn't saying something else). How about not giving up, but fighting "reasonably"?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 01:39:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, the practical suggestion of his "Violence" is...:
But, in a final twist, Zizek counsels us to do nothing in the face of the objective, systemic violence of the world. We should "just sit and wait" and have the courage to do nothing: "Sometimes, doing nothing is the most violent thing to do".

[...] the only authentic stance to take in dark times is to do nothing, to refuse all commitment, to be paralysed like Melville's Bartleby, the true hero of this book and others by Zizek. On the other hand, Zizek dreams of a divine violence, a cataclysmic, purifying violence of the sovereign ethical deed, something like that of Sophocles' Antigone.

I actually have read only the first chapters, but this is apparently indeed his serious point. Who are true revolutionaries these days?

The beginning of the same review is good:

The philosopher Slavoj Zizek enjoys a good joke. Here's one of my favourites: two men, having had a drink or two, go to the theatre, where they become thoroughly bored with the play. One feels a pressing need to urinate, so he tells his friend to mind his seat while he goes to find a toilet. "I think I saw one down the corridor outside," says his friend. The man wanders down the corridor, but finds no WC. Wandering further, he walks through a door and sees a plant pot. After copiously urinating into it, he returns to his seat. His friend says, "What a pity! You missed the best part. Some fellow just came on the stage and pissed in that plant pot."
by das monde on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 09:41:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
das monde:
Zizek dreams of a divine violence, a cataclysmic, purifying violence of the sovereign ethical deed

Instant Kharma's gonna get you...

Meanwhile, be violent by doing nothing.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 02:22:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So in the "final twist", he is just a revolutionary conformist?! Wait and let some divine violence do the justice?!
by das monde on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 03:09:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Awaiting the Rapture?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 04:48:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Okay, now we start understanding Christian theology?! Or is it just Zizek being not terribly original?
by das monde on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 05:00:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Would YOU read a book by this man ?

Oh, totally. I find him very funny. A bizarre spectacle. Impossible to tell if and when he is serious. The perfect successor of Lacan who also managed to maintain a decades long intellectual hoax. Amazing stuff! (If you want a real brilliant WTF, check out the graphs of desire.)

Would I recommend others to read his books? No, probably not. Or maybe, as a kinda mean joke to play on someone deserving. Because before you can find him funny you have to take him seriously for a while. And before you are used to his writing it is mostly unreadable. (Or, at least unreadable to those of us without a background in critical theory, or similar.)

I will now tell you my dirty secret of how to read his bullshit. Adderall. All his books should be sold with a small quantity of quality stimulants, anything else is unnecessarily cruel to the user. Only drug induced hyper-focus allows one to plough right through this stuff while not worrying too much about whether it actually means anything. And then do a repeat reading, this time after smoking some weed. Giggle copiously. Under no circumstance approach his work sober!

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 12:43:32 PM EST
someone is a funny nick. Who are you anyway?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 02:06:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The difference with Lacan is that Lacan and his disciples were so desperately frighteningly serious.

But can't we just smoke some weed and giggle about just anything, without needing to read Zizek twice?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 02:08:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's certainly an option!
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 04:09:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I found what little I have seen of Zizek to be hilarious, and it has been sadly too long since my last toke.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 11:15:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps he is a useful antidote to the current state of academia. It seems frightfully similar to the state of scholasticism in the 18th century. Anyone who tries to provide synthesis or integration of existing knowledge is in for a hard road in the present academy. It seems that it exists to justify the careers of its members, and at an increasingly unaffordable cost at that.

On the bright side, if our cultures are required to undergo a significant decrease in complexity, there is a lot to cut before we cease to be able to transmit knowledge effectively to the next generation and train the next generation of instructors. A University de Paris 2.0?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 11:24:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]

No their "seriousness" isn't "frightening" (sadly they're still around), unless you have an unwarranted respect for intellectual fashions.

I'll be dealing with them in a follow-up :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 05:01:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no respect for intellectual fashions, which is why I haven't read any of Zizek's books.

But I did find some Lacanians frightening in a TV documentary I once saw: definitely a cultlike feeling to their dogmatism and refusal to accept any other prophet.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 05:10:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Why didn't you find that just rather sad, as I found him to be when I saw him in some programmes the BBC did years ago ? What is frightening is not so much their dogmatism, but the way they, like Freudians, have been taken seriously by the wider culture in France - see my diary on Onfray's critique of Freud.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 05:16:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, their influence is certainly dismaying, and perhaps frightening in that there was (is?) a certain amount at least of intellectual bullying going on.

But, though I can find sects or cults sad, I also find them frightening in their (conscious or unconscious) control mechanisms and in their treatment of those they choose to consider as enemies.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 05:34:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Lacan etc seem to be a result of the academic Left deciding that if political power is no longer possible, academic dominance is a decent-enough consolation prize.

So I don't find it surprising that there are cultish elements - the intellectual content (such as it is) is an excuse for the power plays, which are a convenient compensation for lack of real influence. (See also big fish, very small pond.)

Zizek makes heads explode because he's undermining that mythical ideal of heroic academic authority that the Left has wanted to claim since Marx, and which it almost claimed after Marx - but then lost to the competition and the mass media.

Where the pomo-ists deconstructed the text, Zizek is deconstructing the role of academic authority through self-mockery and performance art.

I suppose Zizek's self-immolation is quite clever and original. And it may even be deliberate.

But in practice it's just another distraction. It's also a refusal to deal with the fact that most people's philosophical and political reality continues to be defined by Fox News and the Daily Mail (etc), and not by intellectual critiques of same.

The academic Left seems to have a bizarre belief that deconstructing or analysing something gives you power over it.

Unfortunately, it really doesn't.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 07:15:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:

The academic Left seems to have a bizarre belief that deconstructing or analysing something gives you power over it.

Name its true name and thou shall control it.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 07:26:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Like magic! :-)

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 11:12:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sokal's hoax had a serious point to make: a supposedly reputable academic journal was publishing intellectual drivel.  Soon after his article was published he exposed the hoax and went on to substantive discussion.

To the rest, I can't comment.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 01:54:07 PM EST
By comparision, Zizek appears to make a point about academia in general. In particular by making a career of it.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 04:03:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]

No, it's not a point about academia in general, but rather of some major strands of "cultural studies", cf. Zizek on his "bluff" about paintings:

"This very success made me sad, really sad. What I encountered here was not only the efficiency of a bluff, but a much more radical apathy at the very heart of today's cultural studies".

The same kind of area Sokal's hoax was directed at:

"A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies" Alan D. Sokal
Department of Physics

http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/lingua_franca_v4/lingua_franca_v4.html

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 05:11:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Read Berube's reply to Soakal.

It's not what you portray.

In the entire discussion that came afterward, Soakal showed that his enmity toward the journal (which was NOT a peer-reviewed journal by the way) came from his dislike of Derrida. Why did he dislike Derrida? Because he didn't read him and cherry-picked Derrida.

I don't think Soakal's contributions were substantive. they were anything but.

by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 10:03:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What's important is what Sokal's hoax demonstrated and his subsequent arguments, not his supposed motivation. What's required is a "substantive" critique. There were some, and substantive replies by Sokal and others, links on his site:

http://www.physics.nyu.edu/sokal/

Berube doesn't help you very much as he's revised his views recently and concludes:

But what of Sokal's chief post-hoax claim that the academic left's critiques of science were potentially damaging to the left? That one, alas, has held up very well, for it turns out that the critique of scientific "objectivity" and the insistence on the inevitable "partiality" of knowledge can serve the purposes of climate-change deniers and young-Earth creationists quite nicely. That's not because there was something fundamentally rotten at the core of philosophical anti-foundationalism (whose leading American exponent, Richard Rorty, remained a progressive Democrat all his life), but it might very well have had something to do with the cloistered nature of the academic left. It was as if we had tacitly assumed, all along, that we were speaking only to one another, so that whenever we championed Jean-François Lyotard's defense of the "hetereogeneity of language games" and spat on Jürgen Habermas's ideal of a conversation oriented toward "consensus," we assumed a strong consensus among us that anyone on the side of heterogeneity was on the side of the angels.

But now the climate-change deniers and the young-Earth creationists are coming after the natural scientists, just as I predicted-and they're using some of the very arguments developed by an academic left that thought it was speaking only to people of like mind. Some standard left arguments, combined with the left-populist distrust of "experts" and "professionals" and assorted high-and-mighty muckety-mucks who think they're the boss of us, were fashioned by the right into a powerful device for delegitimating scientific research.
...

Fifteen years ago, it seemed to me that the Sokal Hoax was making that kind of deal impossible, deepening the "two cultures" divide and further estranging humanists from scientists. Now, I think it may have helped set the terms for an eventual rapprochement, leading both humanists and scientists to realize that the shared enemies of their enterprises are the religious fundamentalists who reject all knowledge that challenges their faith and the free-market fundamentalists whose policies will surely scorch the earth. On my side, perhaps humanists are beginning to realize that there is a project even more vital than that of the relentless critique of everything existing, a project to which they can contribute as much as any scientist-the project of making the world a more humane and livable place. Is it still possible?

http://michaeljfaris.com/blog/2010/12/berube-on-the-sokal-affair/




Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 12:02:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ted, you're better than that. First off, the lead-in was worded incorrectly. You're attributing the writer's characterization as Berube's. Berube has not backed off one bit from his critique of Sokal. Not one bit.

The quoted segment says that a critique of science may have fostered some anti-science rhetoric from the right, but Berube is quite clear in recent writings that he believes the blame falls mostly on Scientists who disavow the cultural contexts in which their work is placed.

He redid the whole Sokal affair just recently and exposed the flawed underpinnings of Sokal's thinking.

I think it's quite telling that the whole Sokal hoax happened 16 years ago, and here we are, still using it as a bugaboo against the Humanities left in America. This is just a favorite punching bag of the right who hate academia in general, and in fact, the people who most often use Sokal are people PAID to do so, like David Horowitz. Even though Sokal's entire attempt has been debunked.

As with Zizek (who I disagree with on critical grounds) you have to read Berube to critique them. otherwise, we're just discussing practically nothing.

by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 12:46:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I may misunderstand you when you say "You're attributing the writer's characterization as Berube's", but Ted's quote is from Bérubé:

Michael Bérubé for Democracy Journal: The Science Wars Redux

But what of Sokal's chief post-hoax claim that the academic left's critiques of science were potentially damaging to the left? That one, alas... (etc)

Michael Bérubé for Democracy Journal: The Science Wars Redux

...Fifteen years ago, it seemed to me that the Sokal Hoax was making that kind of deal impossible, deepening the "two cultures" divide and further estranging humanists from scientists... (etc)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 01:33:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was referring to this quote from Michael J Faris:

"He revisits the affair in which Sokal published a hoax essay in Social Text, attempting to show that postmodern leftist academic writing was, in short, lazy and harmful to the left."

Bad writing, since "attempting" refers back to Berube. Berube is not obviously attempting that. As a lead in to Berube's piece, I thought it was unfortunate, even if it was badly written. The actual text from Berube seemed to me exactly what I purported it to be, and not at all divergent from his critique of Sokal. The only divergence I read in that quotation was in Faris purporting to characterize Berube. That's why I objected to it.

The larger point I am making is that Berube is saying the rightwing has misused and mischaracterized poststructural arguments, and then he further goes on to say that the same thing has happened with  Sokal's own arguments in the whole affair:

For instance, this piece, a .pdf: http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/berube_AmerSci_Jan-Feb_09.pdf

Read especially Berube's critique of Sokal's reading of scientist Sam Harris's pimping for Intelligent Design. There, Berube makes the case that the right's anti-scientific bent is as much a product of science's empiricism as it is on poststructualism's semiotic rhetoric.

Sokal replies to Berube's critique: "But I think the last part of your review is a bit off the mark, because (unlike Harris) I most definitely do not advocate a realist view of ethics in my book. Quite simply, I do not feel I know enough about the philosophy of ethics to adopt any position on the foundations of ethics. I therefore explicitly limit my philosophical discussion to cognitive questions (i.e. questions of fact) and avoid any discussion of ethics or aesthetics."

An odd position, since science studies is based in ethics, and he has embroiled himself in the question with the Hoax in the first place. If he is indeed "limiting" himself to questions of fact, all that he has demonstrated is that the editor of the journal is not very aware of scientific studies and principles. And yet the Hoax has been deemed an attack on these very questions of poststructural philosophy and ethics, which Sokal says he tries to delimit. Very odd.

In the Berube article posted on Democracy, it's pretty evident that Berube is addressing the RECEPTION of the Hoax, and not the Hoax itself. I would draw a distinction between the two. After all, Hitler loved Nietzsche--which to me seems a bastardization of enormous proportions.

Finally, you can see in the comments to that article the degree to which some scientists absolutely abhor any social critique of science. It's as though Oppenheimer really didn't say, "Behold, I am become death."

by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 02:15:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Upstate NY:
He revisits the affair in which Sokal published a hoax essay in Social Text, attempting to show that postmodern leftist academic writing was, in short, lazy and harmful to the left

It's a purely formal point, but that is indeed Faris in the blog Ted links to. I understood your comment to point to something Ted had said.

Secondly, I read that, not as Bérubé "attempting to show...", but Sokal. While you read:

Upstate NY:

"attempting" refers back to Berube. Berube is not obviously attempting that.

Purely formal, as I say, but it doesn't help discussion.

To your main point: I'm reading Bérubé with the pleasure that always gives me, and will attempt to report back.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 03:45:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Right, about what Faris was trying to say, and that's why I called it bad writing, but on a grammatical level, the characterization was attributed to Berube. I thought that's what ted was referring to because the actual quote inside the box does not show Berube flipping on his original stance.

The only thing "new" about the Berube and Sokal engagement is in considering the Hoax's reception 15 years later especially in light of the rightwing's anti-science/anti-Humanities crusade. Berube is saying that both have become useful dupes.

by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 04:22:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Upstate NY:
on a grammatical level, the characterization was attributed to Berube

Not to PN this to death, but there is no sound grammatical reason why "attempting" should refer to "He" (Bérubé) or to "Sokal", or to "essay". And sense is only made when it refers to Sokal and his essay, not to Bérubé.

But it's just quick bloggy writing, of course.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 05:59:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, let's not get on a grammar police kick, but yes I was taught to watch my participial phrases. The modifier is dangling right there, but it's not essential to this. I only mentioned it because I thought it was the only part of the entire page that made it seem as though Berube had recanted.
by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 06:17:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Again on a niggling point of fact: Sam Harris doesn't "pimp" for Intelligent Design.

Post Hoax, Ergo Propter Hoax » American Scientist

But I [Bérubé] am convinced that theories of social justice are qualitatively different things than, say, neutrinos or Neptune. I'm therefore inclined to accept John Searle's distinction between the worlds of "brute fact" and "social fact," and to insist that in the world of social fact, things like "theories of social justice" are indeed socially constructed.

This position puts me at odds with people such as Sam Harris, whom Sokal discusses at length in his chapter on religion. Harris writes, in The End of Faith,

In philosophical terms, pragmatism can be directly opposed to realism. For the realist, our statements about the world will be "true" or "false" not merely in virtue of how they function amid the welter of our other beliefs, or with reference to any culture-bound criteria, but because reality simply is a certain way, independent of our thoughts. Realists believe that there are truths about the world that may exceed our capacity to know them; there are facts of the matter whether or not we can bring such facts into view. To be an ethical realist is to believe that in ethics, as in physics, there are truths waiting to be discovered--and thus we can be right or wrong in our beliefs about them.

"Postmodern" pragmatists such as Rorty and myself [Bérubé] think this is a truly unfortunate way of thinking about truths in human affairs.

My own view is close to Bérubé's - who goes on honestly to point out loopy postmodern behaviour (and this is the "pimping for ID"):

Post Hoax, Ergo Propter Hoax » American Scientist

Case in point on the opposite side: Unwittingly bolstering Sokal's argument, one prominent science-studies scholar has recently weighed in on the side of people who believe in angels: Not long after enthusiastically blurbing Meera Nanda's book, saying "this first detailed examination of postmodernism's politically reactionary consequences should serve as a wake-up call for all conscientious leftists," sociologist of science Steve Fuller arrived in Dover, Pennsylvania, to testify in favor of the teaching of "intelligent design" in that school district's seventh-grade science curriculum. And he did so, tellingly, by deliberately confusing the context of discovery with the context of justification, arguing that intelligent design is worth pursuing partly because great scientists of the past--such as Newton--believed in God.

So we have a science-studies scholar criticizing postmodernism and stumping for creationism, religious fundamentalists calling on God to smite the infidels, and "ethical realists" arguing for a moral absolutism. Sokal is appropriately alarmed by the first two of these phenomena, but, unfortunately, his book's closing argument--which, again, echoes that of Harris--is that all human beliefs should be judged by the degree to which they are supported by verifiable empirical evidence. That rationalist dog just won't hunt;

This leaves me a touch mystified by your reference to Harris and ID (a Google search for some other place where Bérubé discussed this has your comment above in first place among the search results..!).

Overall, here and in the longer and more recent The Science Wars Redux, (which is dated Winter 2011 and is perhaps the recent revisit you mentioned), I find Bérubé's attitude towards Sokal balanced, even conciliatory:

Michael Bérubé for Democracy Journal: The Science Wars Redux

But what of Sokal's chief post-hoax claim that the academic left's critiques of science were potentially damaging to the left? That one, alas, has held up very well, for it turns out that the critique of scientific "objectivity" and the insistence on the inevitable "partiality" of knowledge can serve the purposes of climate-change deniers and young-Earth creationists quite nicely. That's not because there was something fundamentally rotten at the core of philosophical anti-foundationalism (whose leading American exponent, Richard Rorty, remained a progressive Democrat all his life), but it might very well have had something to do with the cloistered nature of the academic left.

What he's interested in, it seems to me, is getting out of a sterile face-off between a "hard-science" left and a "social-relativist" left (my approximate terms) and into something more positive, like making the world a better place, that science twinned with socio-cultural understanding may address. And:

Michael Bérubé for Democracy Journal: The Science Wars Redux

the world really is divvied up into "brute fact" and "social fact," just as philosopher John Searle says it is, but the distinction between brute fact and social fact is itself a social fact, not a brute fact, which is why the history of science is so interesting.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 05:55:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We're both wrong on another niggling point.

One, I was wrong about Harris. I meant the other guy, Fuller is the ID pimp.

But Berube uses Fuller as an example of empiricist craziness, not Postmodern craziness. That's why he brought him up in the first place.

This is what he says:

So we have a science-studies scholar criticizing postmodernism and pimping for creationism ... and ethical realists calling for moral absolutism.

Read your longer quote again. Berube is saying that Fuller (the loopy one) believes postmodernism's politically reactionary consequences should concern leftists. In other words, he critiques postmodernity. Berube characterizes him as an ethical realist, a group he situates within the realms of scientific empiricism. The passage is a bit confusing because he writes that Fuller unwittingly bolsters Sokal's argument. Unwittingly why? Well, in the first place, he's a science-studies scholar who--according to Berube--gets it wrong. But Berube continues and wonders why scientists such as Sokal are not dismissive of ethical realists such as Fuller. It's only reserved for poststructuralists.

As for the last bit, I'll emphasize again that he is referring to the REACTION to the hoax, and not the essence of the hoax. I seriously doubt his critique of the essence of the hoax has changed. It couldn't have since Sokal misrepresented the people he was reading in the same manner that he argued science-studies people were misreading science. It was the blind talking to the blind. The reaction to the hoax is interesting. I can't say it isn't. But Berube is saying that not only has science-studies been co-opted, butt hat so has Sokal. He has. I mentioned David Horowitz. People trot out Sokal all the time.

We live in an insipid media-dominated culture in which anyone with anything complex to say is drowned out instantly. I would say that it all becomes reducible, science-studies and science itself. If you read the American Right's "rigorous" rationale's for almost any position--whether we should be shooting immigrants like pigs, or whether rape is a young girl's fault, or whatever flavor of the week they are bloviating against--well clearly this is a problem of something other than insular academia. The levels of philosophical discussion in this debate do have an impact on the culture, but not an immediate one and certainly one that can be extrapolated and distorted. But to say it can be is not to say that it should be. My Hitler and Nietzsche analogy was meant to convey this idea.

Now I'll be forced to go into Zizek in depth here, but maybe not until later on.

by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 06:39:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
well clearly this is a problem of something other than insular academia

Which no one here has claimed, and the depravity of the right has nothing to do with Zizek's bullshit, lack thereof, or relevance in general.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 06:49:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're saying people aren't claiming academia is a hoax?
by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 10:20:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, the fallout from the Sokal Hoax is about the right's co-optation of leftist critique.
by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 10:23:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, you're right about Fuller, the nonsense there exploded my head!

Upstate NY:

he is referring to the REACTION to the hoax, and not the essence of the hoax.

Well, that's what matters, imo. The hoax was carried out with an intention, and how it was received/perceived is arguably the most important thing about it. From that angle, Bérubé is arguing for a necessary end to hostilities of the kind ThatBritGuy alludes to:

ThatBritGuy:

I remain mystified why both sides are attacking each other while academic economics continues to drive the world over a cliff.

Bérubé (again!):

Michael Bérubé for Democracy Journal: The Science Wars Redux

it [the hoax] may have helped set the terms for an eventual rapprochement, leading both humanists and scientists to realize that the shared enemies of their enterprises are the religious fundamentalists who reject all knowledge that challenges their faith and the free-market fundamentalists whose policies will surely scorch the earth

A fitting conclusion on Bérubé, for me. On Zizek, if you want to write on him, great. I won't promise to read his books, though...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 05:10:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
it [the hoax] may have helped set the terms for an eventual rapprochement, leading both humanists and scientists to realize that the shared enemies of their enterprises are the religious fundamentalists who reject all knowledge that challenges their faith and the free-market fundamentalists whose policies will surely scorch the earth

I'd disagree to the extent that it's not the free-market and religious fundies who are the problem, but the processes by which their ideas become influential.

See earlier comments about Dawkins, etc. I think attacking the ideas on their own terms is tangential, because the ideas are disposable and can be replaced by other idiocies at short notice.

The underlying power relationships - the means by which the ideas can influence populations and eventually direct policy choices - are far more relevant to a social critique, because it's the processes themselves that create conformity and leverage.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 07:06:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The hoax was carried out with an intention, and how it was received/perceived is arguably the most important thing about it.

There is a well organized anti-academic attack in the USA funded by corporate and ideological interests. My younger brother has a friend who makes attack dog propaganda films, and for some reason he sends me an email of his latest release. He accidentally includes ccs and an email list. The names of some very prominent people, including the funders of the attack on academia are on it. In the USA, there are student groups dedicated to taping their professors' lectures waiting for a gotcha moment. In 99% of the cases, the moments are edited for maximum propaganda value.

I think the kinds of distortions that occur AFTER an event cannot be the responsibility of those who set it into motion, so I disagree with Berube there. The distortions serve a political purpose which exists prior to the event. Here, I find myself defending Sokal because I think his hoax has been used as a tool by rightwingers to bludgeon leftwingers. The actual hoax itself was a tempest in a teapot. You get much more vociferous banter in a quarterly journal. In this case, the scandal of a hoax is what got people interested. If Sokal had taken on the science studies people head-on, no one would have ever heard about it. The hoax itself was really easy pickings for a non-peer reviewed journal.

The rightwing will say anything. In order to prevent your words from being misused, you shouldn't say anything.

by Upstate NY on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 09:10:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, Upstate NY, I expected better of YOU and it woud help if you actually gave a specific link to the material you claim supports your view instead of asserting what you think Berube's views are. So that we're not left "just discussing practically nothing" I give the links to what Berube actually says now.

Actually I meant to link directly to Berube, but the link I gave provided a link to Berube's recent article.

"Berube has not backed off one bit from his critique of Sokal. Not one bit."

This is just utter rubbish, I had assumed you could read. But I'll quote Berube himself once again, you might have checked what HE said via the link given at mchaeljfaris.com:


Berube: "But what of Sokal's chief post-hoax claim that the academic left's critiques of science were potentially damaging to the left? That one, alas, has held up very well, for it turns out that the critique of scientific "objectivity" and the insistence on the inevitable "partiality" of knowledge can serve the purposes of climate-change deniers and young-Earth creationists quite nicely. That's not because there was something fundamentally rotten at the core of philosophical anti-foundationalism (whose leading American exponent, Richard Rorty, remained a progressive Democrat all his life), but it might very well have had something to do with the cloistered nature of the academic left. It was as if we had tacitly assumed, all along, that we were speaking only to one another, so that whenever we championed Jean-François Lyotard's defense of the "hetereogeneity of language games" and spat on Jürgen Habermas's ideal of a conversation oriented toward "consensus," we assumed a strong consensus among us that anyone on the side of heterogeneity was on the side of the angels.

http://www.democracyjournal.org/19/6789.php?page=5

And, just to be absolutely clear, HE says that he has indeed changed his views from 15 years before:

Fifteen years ago, it seemed to me that the Sokal Hoax was making that kind of deal impossible, deepening the "two cultures" divide and further estranging humanists from scientists. Now, I think it may have helped set the terms for an eventual rapprochement, leading both humanists and scientists to realize that the shared enemies of their enterprises are the religious fundamentalists who reject all knowledge that challenges their faith and the free-market fundamentalists whose policies will surely scorch the earth. On my side, perhaps humanists are beginning to realize that there is a project even more vital than that of the relentless critique of everything existing, a project to which they can contribute as much as any scientist-the project of making the world a more humane and livable place.

http://www.democracyjournal.org/19/6789.php?page=6



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 05:03:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was referring to your link. Your link was about the reception of the hoax. Berube has not changed his critique of the hoax. You're quoting about a claim Sokal made after the hoax.

There are two different things at play here. That is, the ACTUAL hoax and Sokal's arguments in Longua Franca which had to do with the legitimacy of the field. Berube has NEVER changed his critique of that, and the other link I gave to his essay in American Scientist shows that. Indeed, your link shows that too.

As for the reaction to the hoax, and Sokal's contention that a critique of science could be potentially utilized by nefarious interests, that's what Berube is agreeing with here. But Berube also thinks that scientists themselves are similarly ripe for that kind of misuse. In fact, he believes the insistence that ethics and culture are somehow not relevant to scientific inquiry presents Creationists with the kind of wide-open trojan horse that inserts itself into science and distorts it.

To lament that poststructural critique was somehow a tool in the anti-science arsenal is not to say that poststructural critique was ineffectual, wrong or useless. Quite evidently it was not useless.

by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 06:46:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]

There are two different things at play here. That is, the ACTUAL hoax and Sokal's arguments in Longua Franca which had to do with the legitimacy of the field. Berube has NEVER changed his critique of that, and the other link I gave to his essay in American Scientist shows that. Indeed, your link shows that too.

It shows exactly the opposite.

 Berube says that Sokal's main claim after the hoax has been justified AND - referring to the HOAX ITSELF - he clearly HAS changed his mind, and hopes that those on his side can change their emphasis, as he says, to quote it again - maybe you'll get it this time:

Fifteen years ago, it seemed to me that the Sokal Hoax was making that kind of deal impossible, deepening the "two cultures" divide and further estranging humanists from scientists. Now, I think it may have helped set the terms for an eventual rapprochement, leading both humanists and scientists to realize that the shared enemies of their enterprises are the religious fundamentalists who reject all knowledge that challenges their faith and the free-market fundamentalists whose policies will surely scorch the earth. On my side, perhaps humanists are beginning to realize that there is a project even more vital than that of the relentless critique of everything existing, a project to which they can contribute as much as any scientist-the project of making the world a more humane and livable place.

http://www.democracyjournal.org/19/6789.php?page=6



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 07:49:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm done on Berube and this.

Those on his side? Uh, BERUBE is the foremost Poststructuralist in the USA outside Jonathan Culler, and what's more, the foremost Cultural Studies person with a Poststructuralist background.

In his critique of Sokal's Hoax, he proved that Sokal was a hypocrite for deliberately misrepresenting and misreading his interlocutors. It's a fact that he misread it. No ambiguity whatsoever.

You're misreading this attempt by Berube to say, we've both been misused and we'd be smart of pool our efforts here. You think Berube has actually disavowed the cultural critique of science? To the contrary, he has not. Read the recent article in American Scientist that I just linked to.

by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 08:08:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I remain mystified why both sides are attacking each other while academic economics continues to drive the world over a cliff.

It's almost as if academic economics - and the extremes of the Randian left - have become immune to humanist critique.

Science may be ambiguous, but attempting to analyse it politically is an insane thing to do when the centre of political gravity is somewhere else entirely.

I'd be far more interested in poststructural critiques of the the ethical sterility of economics from the social left, and of the lack of practical and theoretical rigour from the scientific left.

Instead the two sides who have spent more than twenty years sniping at each other, with no lasting benefit or conclusion more practical than cocktail party chatter - while an evil lizard has been rampaging around them, picking their pockets, stealing their lunch, and jumping up and down on their cars.

This is odd behaviour.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 08:49:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think i stated earlier that Sokal was 16 years ago and is only trotted out now as a rightwing attack on academia. There are people who do science studies, and a whole host of other studies, etc.

By the way, the subject of this particular diary is Zizek, a man who believes--as any good Marxist would--economics is a privileged discipline. So, it's fitting here that you made your point in a diary on Zizek, because all he wants to talk about is economics.

In short, there is no war of the kind that is imagined in this Sokal exchange. I was just pointing out that the exchange in the first place was distorted, and then used as a cudgel by the right. There are no people arguing between Sokal and Berube today (and the link shows that's the case because Sokal salutes Berube and says, "It's been a long time since we exchanged pleasantries," and then Berube says maybe we should band together to blast the anti-science people.

As for me, I reject the idea that economics is at the root of misery now. There is no privileged discourse for discussing our current situation. We have resource problems, science problems, we still have nuclear weapons, etc.

by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 10:28:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ive not read his books either, but having seen an interview or two, he bends the needle of my bullshit detector.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 05:56:33 PM EST

Well I think that you can now feel even more justifiably confident that it is functioning correctly :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 06:01:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmmm as I said I havent read any of his books, but from the videos ive seen  I've always thought he was one of those philosophers who fits the definition of smug asshole entirely too satisfied with the sound of their own voice. Ive run into too many of them and its never gone well. after all, if you're going to spend your time writing things you know are bulshit and make no logical sense, why should I waste my time reading it? and having a cheering squad around who act as if you're the second coming amkes me want to avoid buying a book im likely to only find use in throwing at things.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 06:37:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for handling what amounts to a genital rash during a monsoon. I find Zizek irritating and boring. I've only read a few articles and seen some of his performances. It's enough.

Basically, anyone who throws a "Lacan" into the discourse (I won't give it the dignity of an argument)sets off my Thallis bullshit detector. I recall in the 70's the various French luminaries- the various Deleuzes, Guattaris and Lacans-  would fill university halls with most everyone sitting on the floor in stoned reverence. I figured there must be something to that herd effect of deference that was beyond my frail mental tools. Fortunately I wasn't terribly interested and could only note that Lacan often has no more than the charming depth of a contrepeterie.

In Italy Lacan was the rage thanks to the tuttologist Armando Verdiglione who combined dandyism, nihilism, showbiz and craxismo to market a brand of chic psycho-culture. He was eventually arrested on charges of bilking his very rich patient-clients: extortion, delinquent association, fraudulent bankruptcy, circumvention of the incapable. He was definitively condemned to 4 and a half years for extortion and circumvention. He plea bargained a second trial on remaining charges. And what a martyr's bazaar with French and Italian intellighenzia on the barricades. Verdiglione did come back after his legal travails to usher in the Second Renaissance by publishing an interminable slough of Russian-neocon gruel.

Zizek is a rural American Verdiglione. Chic nihilism. Imposture to the core. And proud of it.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 06:45:16 PM EST
What's really weird is that Zizek's formulation isn't even new. I refer to the Neo-American Church, formed partly as reaction to Timothy Leary's "High Priest" role, by Art Kleps, then living at Millbrook. With his triumphant slogan

Victory Over Horseshit


The Boo Hoo Bible.

Kleps, Art. (1971).
San Cristobal, NM: Toad Books
Contents: Essays, drawings, press clippings, cartoons.

Note: This excerpt gives a good sense of The Boo Hoo Bible; it comes from In the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, United States of America v. Judith H. Kuch, Criminal No. 1473-67: Reading the so-called " Catechism and Handbook" of the Church containing the pronouncements of the Chief Boo Hoo, one gains the inescapable impression that the membership is mocking established institutions, playing with words and totally irreverent in any sense of the term. Each member carries a "martyrdom record" to reflect his arrests. The church symbol is a three-eyed toad. Its bulletin is the " Divine Toad Sweat." The Church key is, of course, the bottle opener. The official songs are "Puff, the Magic Dragon" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." In short, the "Catechism and Handbook" is full of goofy nonsense, contradictions, and irreverent expressions. There is a conscious effort to assert in passing the attributes of religion but obviously only for tactical purposes. Constitutional principles are embraced wherever helpful to the cause but the effect of the "Catechism and Handbook" and other evidence as a whole is agnostic, showing no regard for a supreme being, Gerhard A Gesell, United States District Judge. (page 89)

Excerpt(s): The Neo-American Church is one of the four major religious organizations in the United States to use psychedelic substances as sacraments. We maintain that the psychedelic substances are sacraments, that is, divine substances, no matter who uses them, in whatever spirit, with whatever intentions; it is not just a question of terminology. The other three groups are the Church of the Awakening, the Native American Church, and the League for Spiritual Discovery.

Our church might be considered "to the left" of these other three, as we do not employ set rituals, make conditions for membership other than agreement with our principles, or regulate the frequency or intensity of the sacramental experience. Many of our members are damned fools and miserable sinners; membership in the church is no guarantee of intellectuality or of spiritual wisdom; it may even be possible that one or two of our Boo Hoos are opportunistic charlatans, but we are not dismayed by these conditions; it has never been our objective to add one more swollen institutional substitute for individual virtue to the already crowded lists. We are, however, somewhat dismayed by the prevailing habit of "doing" (really not doing) things through institutional identification, and have, accordingly, injected massive doses of absurdity into our embryonic social fantasy [footnote: This was written in '64. What was then merely a gleam in the mad scientist 's eye has now become a monstrous growth, pulsating in every tentacle] hoping that it may grow up to be an instructive puzzle rather than the usual collection of dead-letter laws. (page 3)

he attempted to take over the world. And of course, as history shows, did.

Kleps took on academia by proclaiming the true knowledge was found through "Divine Toad Sweat." Decades later, we know it's true.

why look, how the Yurpeens have responded with Laconian sub-toads.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 08:38:02 PM EST
I share DeGondi's and Someone's disdain for Lacanism in all its forms, however I think Zizek's books are not what Zizek is really about.

I think that Zizek is a cultural performer, a stand-up philosopher with occasional flashes of acute political and social observations etc, mixed with sokalian outbursts of vapid meaninglessness. All that to me is high entertainment value. I was reading (actually translating, which is a nightmare I assure you) a Zizek piece on islam and there was this constant jumping around between clear, if rather iffy, statements of political and historical fact and utter balderdash, concealed usually, but not exclusively in some Lacanian envelope. And then you have this which is more or less coherent, contains insights, and is wrong about its general point, but wrong in a conceivably productive way I think.

Zizek was involved early on, when Yugoslavia still existed, with a Slovenian band I'm a fan of called Laibach, a band immersed in totalitarian imagery and very serious about its irony (examples 1, 2, 3). Here he talks about them. I think somehow he, as an act, is still part of that same collective that produced the Laibach weirdness. Zizek is performance art, that uses philosophy and politics as material for a meta-point, perhaps not even consciously....

A con artist, is still an artist...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 10:26:15 PM EST
Wouldn't it be fun to have Slavoj Zizek on Glenn Beck's show?
by das monde on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 10:08:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You have not read even one of his books ? I have read one, "Living in the End Times", and seen a couple of his documentaries, and read a couple of his articles, but I would not presume to comment on his "philosophy".  I would, however, presume to comment upon your diary.  

  1. He is notorious for contradicting himself.  Who doesn't ?  IF you still think the world can be reduced to a logically coherent uncontradicted whole, I do not share your religion. I thought it was clearly known that the world is full of contradictions. Kant called them "antinomies". This is not a new problem.

  2. He admits to "bullshit".  Are you familiar with Harry Frankfort's book "On Bullshit" ?  I don't think Zizek means the same thing by "bullshit"  as you do.  Most of law, and all of advertising, is "bullshit".
A lot of serious political thought is bullshit.  Many of our most cherished beliefs...

I found his book an interesting visit with a very well-read thinker, who does not make the mistake so many intellectuals do, of taking himself too seriously.  I think he says just what he thinks, honestly and openly and with full acknowledgement that much of  what he says is bullshit. Most Philosophers try very hard to conceal what he reveals.

If you prefer a nice consistent philosopher who denies the obvious bullshit he is spouting, you have many to choose from.

And as one of my philosophy professors once said. "The hunting of canaries with howitzers is not usually productive of trophies"

Or, as that great philosopher Yogi Bear said, "If you're looking for something that isn't there, you are unlikely to find it, but you never know. "

by greatferm (greatferm-at-email.com) on Tue Mar 22nd, 2011 at 10:29:57 PM EST

You have not read even one of his books ? I have read one, "Living in the End Times", and seen a couple of his documentaries, and read a couple of his articles, but I would not presume to comment on his "philosophy".

Actually I don't really comment on his "philosophy", I focus more on what he says about himself and some of his work, what those who know and defend him say, what critics with some specialist knowledge of particular fields to touches on say, including an ex-fan.


 I would, however, presume to comment upon your diary.  

1. He is notorious for contradicting himself.  Who doesn't ?  IF you still think the world can be reduced to a logically coherent uncontradicted whole, I do not share your religion. I thought it was clearly known that the world is full of contradictions. Kant called them "antinomies". This is not a new problem.

To complain that he contradicts himself constantly (as I quote others doing and as he himself says) does not entail that I think, in some supposedly theological way, that  the world can be reduced to "a logically coherent uncontradicted whole". One can note  contradictions without contradicting oneself, as Kant, a pretty consistent thinker, did. He was talking about some rather particular problems of the relationship between thought and such things as the universe, time, etc. Kant would not have thought that these were a licence for a philosopher to constantly contradict himself about a wide range of lesser issues.

"He admits to "bullshit". Are you familiar with Harry Frankfort's book 'On Bullshit'?"

Re Frankfurt:


"Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7929.html


This relates to the way Zizek so often contradicts himself and his carelessness with evidence (see diary).


I don't think Zizek means the same thing by "bullshit" as you do."


A rather standard type of defence, cf. the final quotation in the diary, from Seymour (who used to defend him):


"Even when he was wrong, I assumed he knew it and was being contrarian, using the cunning of reason to provoke thought and all that rubbish. Even now when he's writing absolute pig shit like this, (apparently a re-mix of this and this), I feel the urge to say "well, he didn't mean that". But he did, and does."

Did you actually read the diary ? It's quite clear from what he says that he is using "bullshit" in a quite standard way, implying something of no worth, something which deserves to be dismissed. If he didn't "really" mean it in this way he ought to be more careful in his choice of words about such important matters as the quality of some of his published work. He contrasts what he calls "bullshit" with sections that are "maybe OK":

"I will tell you my problem openly and for this my publisher will hate me. All the talk and the writing about politics, this is not where my heart is. No. I have been sidetracked. I really mean this."
He opens a copy of Living in the End Times, and finds the contents page. "I will tell you the truth now," he says, pointing to the first chapter, then the second. "Bullshit. Some more bullshit. Blah, blah, blah." He flicks furiously through the pages. "Chapter 3, where I try to read Marx anew, is maybe OK. I like this part where I analyse Kafka's last story and here where I use the community of outcasts in the TV series Heroes as a model for the communist collective. But, this section, the Architectural Parallax, this is pure bluff. Also the part where I analyse Avatar, the movie, that is also pure bluff. When I wrote it, I had not even seen the film, but I am a good Hegelian. If you have a good theory, forget about the reality."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/jun/27/slavoj-zizek-living-end-times

"A lot of serious political thought is bullshit. Many of our most cherished beliefs..."

Yes, we can be mistaken, this is a rather different matter.

"I found his book an interesting visit with a very well-read thinker"

Till you start to check what he says about what he's read, see for example Bordwell on Zizek on Brewster in the diary.

 "who does not make the mistake so many intellectuals do, of taking himself too seriously."

This does seem to be one of his redeeming minor qualities, but I'm not sure if even that is really true:

Why, then, given that he does not like most of his books and does not have any enthusiasm for the lecture circuit, does he not call a stop to the Žižek show? "I am doing that right now!" he shouts. "I am writing a mega-book about Hegel with regard to Plato, Kant and maybe Heidegger. Already, this Hegel book is 700 pages. It is a true work of love. This is my true life's work. Even Lacan is just a tool for me to read Hegel. For me, always it is Hegel, Hegel, Hegel," he says, sighing again. "But people just want the shitty politics."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2010/jun/27/slavoj-zizek-living-end-times


 I think he says just what he thinks, honestly and openly and with full acknowledgement that much of  what he says is bullshit. Most Philosophers try very hard to conceal what he reveals.

If you prefer a nice consistent philosopher who denies the obvious bullshit he is spouting, you have many to choose from.


Obviously mere consistency alone is of little interest. I think most philosophers just try to avoid writing bullshit, as ordinarily understood, or try to avoid being bullshitters in Frankfurt's sense. Zizek doesn't seem to care, but is sometimes he is "really sad" that his "bluffs" are taken seriously - but then seems to do so himself - see diary.

"And as one of my philosophy professors once said. 'The hunting of canaries with howitzers is not usually productive of trophies' "

In the areas of philosophy and cultural studies, Zizek is hardly regarded as a canary, sadly.

"Or, as that great philosopher Yogi Bear said, 'If you're looking for something that isn't there, you are unlikely to find it, but you never know.' "

Ah, but maybe he was using "know" in a special way :-)

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 11:10:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am frankly amazed that regular posters here are saying that they have only taken a cursory look at Lacan, Deleuze and poststructuralists and rendered them, bullshit!
by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 10:05:31 AM EST
Go on, convince me: why should I read Lacan?

Seriously interested - all the names flung around are new to me, I admit.

by Nomad on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 08:47:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You should read Lacan because he's a central figure in the history of psychoanalysis. What most people deriding him are referring to is that he had some batshit crazy adherents who soiled his reputation. Remember, psychoanalysis is something that is actually practiced--on people. Things tend to go awry--obviously--and the irony is that this is a central Lacanian tenet.

Like a good Lacanian, Zizek sees the world in terms of the psyche, the work of the psyche in consumerism, for instance, and also sees the world's decisionmakers in terms of their psychological proclivities. I'm sure that he might find George W. Bush a prototype of the sociopath. The nitty gritty is that they think of psychological behaviors in terms of symptoms related to some fundamental lack in one's identity (instead of relating it to trauma, as Freud did). They also take freud a step further because Freud could never quite square fetisihists into his theories simply because most of the fetishists he treated were referred by family members, and the fetishists themselves seemed quite happy and normal. That threw Freud because he couldn't find the trauma to treat. Whereas Lacanians simply see fetishists as addressing the lack through the substitution of material objects.

Judging Lacan by his adherents is odd. We can do that to almost any thinker.

by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 10:35:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You should read Lacan because he's a central figure in the history of psychoanalysis. What most people deriding him are referring to is that he had some batshit crazy adherents who soiled his reputation. Remember, psychoanalysis is something that is actually practiced--on people. Things tend to go awry--obviously--and the irony is that this is a central Lacanian tenet.

I'm not sure irony is the correct word, exactly.

Shrink from Hell - Raymond Tallis

Faced with loss of income, he established his own French School of Psychoanalysis, over which he had absolute power. Its work, Roudinesco says, `concentrated on desire, transference and love, and all of these came to be focused on the person of Lacan himself'. Now he could make his sessions as short, and as expensive, as he liked.

Even when they had contracted to a minute or two, he would often see his tailor, his pedicurist and his barber while conducting his analyses. In the final years, the process of shortening reached its natural conclusion in the `non-session', in which `the patient was not allowed either to speak or not to speak' as Lacan `had no time to waste on silence'.

With the help of non-sessions he averaged 80 patients a day in the penultimate year of his life. Non-sessions were perhaps an improvement on sessions, in which, disinhibited through dementia, he would indulge his bad temper, raging at patients and occasionally punching them or pulling their hair.

The calamitous consequences of his style of doctoring were entirely predictable: his clients committed suicide at a rate that would have alarmed a man armed with less robust self-confidence. He claimed that it was due to the severity of the cases he took on but it may also have had something to do with the way he would start and stop analysis at whim and would sometimes cast aside, at very short notice, people who had been under his `care' for years.

The brilliant ethnologist Lucien Sebag killed himself at 32 after having been discharged abruptly from treatment--because Lacan wanted to sleep with Sebag’s teenage daughter. Not that Dr Lacan was always so constrained by such exquisite moral scruples. He frequently chose his mistresses from his training analysts (who were additionally vulnerable because they relied on him for the pass necessary for them to practise as Lacanian analysts) and also from his ordinary analysands.

This man should not be lionised - he should be regarded as a classic, textbook, example of substance-less cultish self-aggrandisement. These kinds of behaviours are (literally) nakedly abusive, and utterly inexcusable in anyone who claims to be a mental health professional, of any kind.

Interestingly, he has some slightly less well-known modern equivalents who run the same shtick, perhaps with rather less success. I'm not sure how many ET regulars have heard of Ken Wilber or Andrew Cohen, but the pattern of relationship - which is always key, while intellectual content is typically used as a convenient noisy distraction - might seem oddly resonant in this story.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 11:51:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure we have a right word. Failure is built-in. Reichian psychoanalysis is even more dire.

The point is, Lacan is hardly lionized for his psychoanalysis. Freud wasn't, nor Wilhelm Reich!

Lacan's contributions to critical theory however are totally different than his late-age psychoanalytic snake oil.

The fact is, we have all sorts of strange behavior from our philosophers and critical theorists late in life in the last century or so. From Vico, to Nietzsche, to Heidegger, Lacan, and many others. Doesn't mean they shouldn't be read.

By the way--I am not at all an admirer of Lacanian critical theory.

by Upstate NY on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 12:29:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well - your point was that Lacan was a practical psychoanalyst.

Now it seems that as far psychoanalysis is concerned, he was - at best - an utter kook, and may quite possibly have been disordered himself.

So what's to read? A kook is a kook is a kook. A kook with an academic reputation is still a kook - just as a president or emperor with political authority can still be a kook.

Does an ability to use big words and confuse people put someone outside the scope of moral criticism?

It seems that's the argument - he was clever, and therefore his ideas are interesting, even though personally he proved they were utterly useless and impractical.

What's the point of a psychoanalytic theory if can't be used successfully for psychoanalysis? Is being interesting enough?

It seems we're back to Zizek, gullibility, and performance art. This is no longer about philosophy, but about authority and reputation as expedient social processes that can be manipulated for personal gain.

Lacan has stature, not because he was right, or insightful, or relevant, but he was persuasive and a shrewd political operator.

And persuasiveness is a process that's orthogonal to content.

If you want irony, consider the possibility that an analysis of persuasive power relations would be far more useful as a political and psychological theory than anything produced by the Critical Theorists.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 06:34:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A lot of our influential people are kooks, scientists, philosophers, critics, etc. From all disciplines. They are kooks. But they are brilliant kooks.

I'm not afraid of big words. if someone's confused, that's their problem.

FYI, there are practicing Lacanians to this day all over the world. A good number of them run very successful practices.

So it is USED for psychoanalysis.

Now, I myself have never been in therapy, so I can only speak to the usefulness of psychoanalytic critique in other spheres. In literary and film analysis, we have characters. Characters have psyches. Psychoanalsysis is one way to examine the psyche. Beyond that, Zizek elaborates a psychoanalytic analysis of pop and consumer culture. I'm not sure what you're saying about what's the usefulness of psychoanalysis beyond therapy. Obviously, since it's founding, psychoanalysis has been used as an analytical tool beyond therapy. We use it everyday, all the time. It's in the groundwater.

Your last statement ... uh, what are you referring to specifically? I'm not getting you.

by Upstate NY on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 09:29:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think you understand what psychoanalysis is.

Also, if you're defining "successful" as "people keep turning up and paying" - that's not a successful practice. Or rather - it's not a successful practice for the patients.

Psychoanalysis is a small and largely discredited school of psychotherapy and counselling. It overlaps to some extent with psychiatry.  

The latter fields have developed a good repertory of models and techniques, some of which actually do work - at least as reliably as it's possible for a treatment modality to work when you're working with people who are psychologically and emotionally damaged.

Psychoanalysis has been proven not to work. Psychoanalysts avoid patient outcome studies like vampires avoid daylight - because whenever anyone checks outcomes honestly, psychoanalysis is either ineffective or harmful. At best it can do some good because a few talented individuals have good insights, emotional stability and empathic skills.

Unfortunately none of these qualities are considered essential for analysts. Being able to parrot jargon is. E.g.

Within language, the subject vainly tries to represent itself. The subject is an effect of the signifier, put into language. Language becomes a mask to disguise the impossibility of desire. The unconscious is less something inside the person as an 'intersubjective' space between people. According to Lacan, 'the unconscious is structured like language.' [No it isn't - Ed.]

Lacan sees the child not as the agent of symbolization but as the recipient of desire from an Other (the Mother). When the child plays with things disappearing and finding them again, they are recreating the missing mother. [Huh? - Ed.]

There are no sexual relations: [What? - Ed] there is just the individual's relation to the Law and to language, which allow for the continuance of social relationships.

Lacanian psychoanalysis thus focuses on deconstructing the narcissistic illusions of the self, allowing the childhood fragmentation and lack of unity of the self to resurface.[Uh oh... Ed]

Now - anyone familiar with cults is going to notice something immediately, in that last sentence: all cult leaders use the same MO, which is a deliberate attempt to regress and fragment their victims' sense of self.

It's possible with skill to do this and put people back together again. But unless I've missed something, this isn't considered a valid goal in Lacanian "psychoanalysis."

In practice this kind of abuse creates dependency on therapist, and keeps victims returning. I doubt Lacan was sophisticated enough to understand this, or empathic enough to care about it if he did.

But it's clear to anyone who does know something about therapy that the only possible effect of this kind of "analysis" is further breakage.

So of course his patients suicided. This shouldn't be a surprise. It is a surprise that it's possible for adults to pretend that this is somehow irrelevant, and like, oh well, whatever.

So - psychoanalysis does not mean character analysis. Any good writer, and even a few bad writers, can tell you more about real character psychology than psychoanalysis can.

The kind of cultural analysis that you're talking about uses the language of psychoanalysis, but really it seems to be a ritualistic mashup of certain key ideas and phrases, some of which are Freudian, some of which are post-Freudian, but none of which have been peer reviewed or tested objectively.

It's a kind of philosophical Tourette's where everyone repeats the same just-so stories over and over, because knowing the words and the jargon is the badge of admission needed to join the club of special people.

But it's a useless hobby. As a form of political engagement, it's been an utter failure. As effective therapy, it's been an utter failure. It's even questionable how influential it's been creatively.

So - what is it for, except for academic egotism and self-importance? It's noisy and dense but doesn't really explain or predict anything. It doesn't help people - it actually harms them. And with the rest of Critical Theory, it has seduced the academic left into a mindless half-century of mooing wordy digression while the right has run rings around it, politically and economically.

It makes for the odd interesting film review, but that seems to be about the extent of it.

Really - why should anyone who isn't planning to join the club care about it?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 10:34:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think you understand what psychoanalysis is.

Oh, I know it quite well.

Also, if you're defining "successful" as "people keep turning up and paying" - that's not a successful practice. Or rather - it's not a successful practice for the patients.

I'm not.

Psychoanalysis is a small and largely discredited school of psychotherapy and counselling. It overlaps to some extent with psychiatry.

Small but large? There are a lot of therapists using psychoanalysis. so, you're essentially against psychoanalysis? That's what this is about?

Psychoanalysis has been proven not to work.

Except for the cases in which it does work.

I'm not sure what you're doing with the Lacan analysis. It's mind-boggling if you ask me. What are you doing?

So - psychoanalysis does not mean character analysis. Any good writer, and even a few bad writers, can tell you more about real character psychology than psychoanalysis can.

No, actually, they can't. Most good writers stay as far away from analysis as they possibly can, and do their utmost to avoid it, because they know when they do, the author's intentions diverge so far from the reception of their work, that they look like fools. Read Nabokov's GOGOL for a good explanation of this dynamic.

The kind of cultural analysis that you're talking about uses the language of psychoanalysis, but really it seems to be a ritualistic mashup of certain key ideas and phrases, some of which are Freudian, some of which are post-Freudian, but none of which have been peer reviewed or tested objectively.

Seriously, what does this even mean? Peer reviewed by who? Are you denying the totality of psychoanalysis? Really?

As a form of political engagement, it's been an utter failure. As effective therapy, it's been an utter failure. It's even questionable how influential it's been creatively.

A curious failure. We live in a culture in which people very well understand anal obsessiveness, hell my students come to class and can talk about the tendency toward degradation and defilement in certain men, with absolutely no prompting. Not because they took university classes, but because they are familiar with sadomasochism. To pretend psychopathologies explicable through psychoanalysis are not somehow already in the culture is to be blind.

And with the rest of Critical Theory, it has seduced the academic left into a mindless half-century of mooing wordy digression while the right has run rings around it, politically and economically.

I'll be frank, and I am doing all I can not to insult here, but the level of discourse in this diary has convinced me that you don't know the first thing about critical theory. I mean, if I denigrated something without reading it, I'd be totally embarrassed at myself. It's preposterous. It's like a cranky old man telling kids to get off his lawn.

by Upstate NY on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 11:06:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ken Wilber was introduced here as early as 2006 in this comment by a friend of emilmoller's, and featured in an epic 2008 woo-woo debate here. (The illustrations I complained about are no longer available: they were barely legible diagrams representing Wilberian theory).

Andrew Cohen hasn't made a splash here.

In a thread here not long ago, we discussed abusive gurudom wrt Carlos Castaneda.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 05:48:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
afew:
and featured in an epic 2008 woo-woo debate here. (The illustrations I complained about are no longer available: they were barely legible diagrams representing Wilberian theory).

The link goes to the diary the first comment resides in.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 02:05:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Whoops you're right. The epic woo-woo diary is this one.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 02:59:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting and useful criticism of Zizek. But I'm not sure that your criteria for judging whether or not Zizek's writing should be taken seriously by thinking people supports your basic argument that it shouldn't be. (That's how I interpret you thesis here anyway.)

Essentially, when a writer is a self-critical prick and contradicts oneself in the works, it makes the job of a serious reading of those works much harder, but it doesn't invalidate the value of the work itself.  In a way it might actually filter out superficial readers, which may be his intention.  The criticism you've applied also have been given for other people who have had the label "social theorist that you must read" label attached to them, as well as to many of the most important philosophers.  

For example, by all accounts Martin Heidegger was not a nice man at all.  He was an unrepentant nazi, a cheating spouse and selfish lover (the whole, long Hannah Arendt affair) and otherwise a complete jerk to be around,  and he also wrote famously incomprehensible and contradictory works. Nevertheless he founded the school of thought called Existentialism and is a frequently listed along with Ludwig Wittgensten (another thinker whose later work contradicted his earlier one) as one of the two most influential philosophers of the 20th century. Furthermore, the whole field of critical theory, starting with people like Michel Foucault, can be honestly accused of many of the same criticisms you're leveling at Zizik, here.

Basically, the question of importance when considering investing time in any written work is whether the author is honest and serious or whether he or she is a fraud and is trying to deceive readers merely for personal gain instead of for honest inquiry. Do you really think that is the case regarding Zizek?

by santiago on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 02:46:08 PM EST

I wasn't simply saying Zizek isn't a nice man, or that he has supported some bad things, though he has; I was saying that he has himself admitted that at least some of his published work is "bullshit", "bluff", etc. that he has a record of lying and contradicting himself in order to be provocative and that when people know about some of the many areas he tries to "bullshit" about they are able to show very clearly that he has got it wrong.  

Basically, the question of importance when considering investing time in any written work is whether the author is honest and serious or whether he or she is a fraud and is trying to deceive readers merely for personal gain instead of for honest inquiry. Do you really think that is the case regarding Zizek?

Yes, for the reasons given in the diary.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 04:39:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was going to write about my dislike of Zizek's theories (and not his persona). I take him seriously. But only because I don't situate him in the same line of critique that many have in the diary. He is pre-postmodern, poststructural, an old-time Marxist throwback, of psychoanalytic bent. My problems with him rest in his privileging of economic and psychoanalytic concerns, but I'm not going to focus on that aspect.

There's a grand irony at work in this diary in that Zizek is being blasted for his complexity and "bullshitting" and insularity, when the fact is, of all cultural theorists, Zizek is the one who despises acts of rhetoric and aesthetic discourse. He's the one who wants to give a "Cliff Notes" version of theory, who believes theory is not necessary, "an argumentative kernel of content free from rhetoric," and for him--believe it or not--even analogies or anecdotes are considered frosting on the cake, or bullshit. Not essential. Why is his writing bullshit? Because it resorts to analogy. This isn't just some hokey stance on his part because it's ingrained in his psychoanalytic approach where he insists that we don't go into complex theoretical depth but instead only discuss the surface. The immanence of the present day.  Does he contradict? The guy revels in paradox, which is one of his main forms of critique. He's a Hegelian. asking whether he contradicts himself is like asking whether he breathes. He believes that any mode of critique relies on paradox. This is theorizing from 100 years ago.

He's notorious precisely because of his interest in politics and economics. He simply comes at it through psychoanalytic cultural critique. He likely believes that a Behavioral Economist could more easily explain the current economic meltdown than any other type of economist would.

I would also say that most people here seem estranged to psychoanalytic critiques, and they much prefer a factually based analysis. This is precisely why psychoanalysis doesn't even exist as a discipline in universities. Instead, cognitivism rules the day. But the insistence on empiricism sometimes yields efforts such as this:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2011/03/why-is-the-us-government-interested-in-storytell ing.html#ixzz1HScgQUfH

by Upstate NY on Wed Mar 23rd, 2011 at 10:46:42 PM EST
I was going to write about my dislike of Zizek's theories (and not his persona). I take him seriously. But only because I don't situate him in the same line of critique that many have in the diary. He is pre-postmodern, poststructural, an old-time Marxist throwback, of psychoanalytic bent. My problems with him rest in his privileging of economic and psychoanalytic concerns, but I'm not going to focus on that aspect.

Yes,  "an old-time Marxist throwback" in some ways, but critical of the approach you obviously represent, so it's not surprising you use such a put-down and have "problems" with him.
There's a grand irony at work in this diary in that Zizek is being blasted for his complexity

Misrepresentation or careless reading, I have nothing against "complexity", but that tends to follow from developing an argument, not constantly contradicting oneself.

"and 'bullshitting' "

It's clearly a rather important matter when a writer describes sections of one of his books as "bullshit" - and, from the context, he's not using the word in any special way, as I noted in another response to a comment.

and insularity, when the fact is, of all cultural theorists, Zizek is the one who despises acts of rhetoric and aesthetic discourse. He's the one who wants to give a "Cliff Notes" version of theory,

Oh really, that will come as news to many, e.g. from someone sympathetic to his work in general:


Although I am convinced of the importance of Zizek's intellectual project, I believe that his style of argumentation holds him back. The fundamental lack of organization of nearly all of his writings is of course a huge problem -- the man cannot resist an aside or digression, even if it's literally in the middle of a sentence already underway and interrupts the syntax in a weird way. A deeper issue in my view is the fact that he so seldom seems to argue for his position in any straightforward way. I don't want to do the analytic fetishization of argument, but my recent reading of Gabriel and Meillassoux has convinced me that it is underused -- and it's clearly better than the two primary ways Zizek tends to support his claims, namely:
  1. "This is what [Lacan or an German Idealist philosopher] really said, which is of course a radicalization of [previous German Idealist philosopher, or Descartes]."
  2. Relying on the appeal of the counter-intuitive: "IS NOT this position, which absolutely flies in the face of common sense, precisely the most obvious thing in the world?!"
Again, I don't think that straightforward chains of logical deductions are the only way to present ideas -- I have basically never written anything that procedes in that way, for instance. I also understand how a dialectical thinker might push at the boundaries of comprehensibility, focus on contradictions and stunning reversals, etc. But still.

http://itself.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/a-remark-on-zizeks-style/

"who believes theory is not necessary"

Try reading the diary, and note his obvious devotion to Theory, as expressed by himself.

"Why is his writing bullshit? Because it resorts to analogy. "

Why does that make it "bullshit" ? - and again that wasn't how he was using the word about his own work in the quoted passage.


This isn't just some hokey stance on his part because it's ingrained in his psychoanalytic approach where he insists that we don't go into complex theoretical depth but instead only discuss the surface. The immanence of the present day.

But of course he constantly goes into complex theoretical depth, e.g. via Hegel, his real interest, according to him.


 Does he contradict? The guy revels in paradox, which is one of his main forms of critique. He's a Hegelian. asking whether he contradicts himself is like asking whether he breathes. He believes that any mode of critique relies on paradox. This is theorizing from 100 years ago.

You make the same mistake as another commentator who referred to Kant, that Hegel  is concerned with contradiction does not mean that in doing so he constantly contradicts himself.

"He's notorious precisely because of his interest in politics and economics."

If you'd read the diary, or were at all seriously concerned with argument rather than your existing opinions, you'd note where he is quoted more than once saying that he is not really interested in politics and just "plays at this subversive stuff".

He simply comes at it through psychoanalytic cultural critique. He likely believes that a Behavioral Economist could more easily explain the current economic meltdown than any other type of economist would.

Who cares what you think it "likely" he "believes" - at least I quoted what he actually says.


I would also say that most people here seem estranged to psychoanalytic critiques, and they much prefer a factually based analysis. This is precisely why psychoanalysis doesn't even exist as a discipline in universities.


Check your logic - "This is precisely why"  ? !

It doesn't exist in US universities for very good reasons,  see my diary on Onfray's book on Freud, which includes this:

"One tip off to the pseudoscientific nature of psychoanalysis is to describe its institutional structure ... As Crews notes, psychoanalysis 'conducted itself less like a scientific-medical enterprise than like a politburo bent upon snuffing out deviationism' (Crews, 1995, p. 110).

Perhaps the first person to notice and be repelled by this aspect of psychoanalysis was the famous Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler. Bleuler briefly flirted with psychoanalysis. But when he left the psychoanalytic movement in 1911, he said to Freud "this `who is not for us is against us,' this `all or nothing,' is necessary for religious communities and useful for political parties. I can therefore understand the principle as such, but for science I consider it harmful." (in Gay 1987, pp. 144-145). The quotation is telling. To become a psychoanalyst was like joining a religious or political movement and not at all like becoming a scientist.

The apex of the authoritarian, anti-scientific institutional structure of psychoanalysis was the Secret Committee of hand-picked loyalists sworn to uphold psychoanalytic orthodoxy, described by Phyllis Grosskurth in The Secret Ring: Freud's Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis: By insisting the Committee must be absolutely secret, Freud enshrined the principle of confidentiality.

http://www.ety.com/HRP/fakirs/freud.htm




Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Mar 24th, 2011 at 07:14:17 PM EST
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