If I am repelled by John Gray’s review of my two last books (“The Violent Visions of Slavoj Žižek,” New York Review of Books, 12 July 2012), it is not because the review is highly critical of my work, but because its arguments are based on such a crude misreading of my position that, if I were to answer it in detail, I would have to spend way too much time just answering insinuations and setting straight the misunderstandings of my position, not to mention direct false statements — which is, for an author, one of the most boring exercises imaginable. So I will limit myself to one paradigmatic example which mixes theoretical dismissal with moral indignation; it concerns anti-Semitism and is worth quoting in detail:

Žižek says little regarding the nature of the form of life that might have come into being had Germany been governed by a regime less reactive and powerless than he judges Hitler’s to have been. He does make plain that there would be no room in this new life for one particular form of human identity:

“The fantasmatic status of anti-Semitism is clearly revealed by a statement attributed to Hitler: “We have to kill the Jew within us.” . . . Hitler’s statement says more than it wants to say: against his intentions, it confirms that the Gentiles need the anti-Semitic figure of the “Jew” in order to maintain their identity. It is thus not only that ”the Jew is within us“ — what Hitler fatefully forgot to add is that he, the anti-Semite, is also in the Jew. What does this paradoxical entwinement mean for the destiny of anti-Semitism?”

Žižek is explicit in censuring “certain elements of the radical Left” for “their uneasiness when it comes to unambiguously condemning anti-Semitism.” But it is difficult to understand the claim that the identities of anti-Semites and Jewish people are in some way mutually reinforcing — which is repeated, word for word, in Less Than Nothing — except as suggesting that the only world in which anti-Semitism can cease to exist is one in which there are no longer any Jews.

What is going on here?

[Extract. Appeared in Jacobin on July 3rd 2012.]


Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books; his latest are Against the Double Blackmail and Disparities.

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