“AM I A PHILOSOPHER?” (2): Decaffeinated Philosophy and the Art of Conceptual Enjoyment

In examining the initial question of whether Zizek is a philosopher, we are confronted with two seemingly plausible possible responses, a veritable parallax:

1) Zizek the hysterical cultural studies guy, the neurotic failed philosopher

2) Zizek the proponent of a new image of thought, of a different sort of philosophy, Zizek the quasi-ontologist

I have based my discussion so far on the first six pages of the pdf version of Zizek’s talk. Suddenly, on page seven, Zizek changes the subject and begins talking about Lacan and surplus-enjoyment, and we are left perplexed as to the relation of the first discussion on the nature of philosophy with the rest of the text.

Zizek has given several talks recently covering much of the same ground (for example here), only without the reflexive preamble on thz subject “am I a philosopher?” Each talk seems to be composed of disjoint “blocks” in various combinations, some including passages not found elsewhere, while omitting other passages. This would seem to corroborate the stereotype of Zizek the neurotic failed philosopher, unable to put things together into a coherent whole, indulging in disjointed ramblings on his recent reading, his enthusiasms and repulsions. This is the hysterical Zizek forever fixated on the lack of  legitimation of his pretention to the status of philosopher by the discourse of the University.

Another reading of the text would be in terms of Zizek the quasi-ontologist.On this vision we are left to our own resources to find the conceptual problematic tying together the various blocks. This is sometimes hard work, and we will not spend time and effort on reconstructing the underlying philosophy if we are convinced that there isn’t one, that Zizek is not a philosopher. However, another reaction is possible.

Zizek’s exposition  of surplus-enjoyment leads in to a discussion of the vain postulation of a separate “hardcore” Real, performativity, identity politics, and the fabrication of a false universal identity by the denial of specific privilege. My interpretative hypothesis is that the link between the heterogeneous blocks is not so much discursive (in the sense of the “university discourse”) as performative.

Zizek’s response to the question is not to give a hard and fast identitarian answer, but to entertain us with a performance. To “entertain” is a parallax concept: as the post-Jungian analyst James Hillman reminds us, it means to hold in the space between two possibilities:

That word “entertain“ means to hold in between. What you do with an idea is hold it between — between your two hands (PHILOSOPHICAL INTIMATIONS, 28).

The “performance” of philosophy, in Zizek’s sense, means holding the idea between the two alternatives of hysterical practical application and academic theoretical reflexion. Thus underlying the question that Zizek begins with, am I a philosopher?, Zizek diagnoses a fixation on identities, the presupposition of an identitarian ontology that inscribes social identities in a putative hardcore Real. Philosophy for Zizek belongs to performance and enjoyment. The status of philosopher is something else: the retrospective reconstruction of an identity and of its exclusions.

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One Response to “AM I A PHILOSOPHER?” (2): Decaffeinated Philosophy and the Art of Conceptual Enjoyment

  1. Pingback: ZIZEK AND LARUELLE: scientism and non-standard philosophy | AGENT SWARM

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