People who are not too familiar with contemporary philosophy sometimes get the impression that Slavoj Zizek is widely respected among philosophers. This isn’t the case. The comments underneath this Crooked Timber post contain some of the reasons why not. Zizek’s style of philosophy — if “philosophy” is the right name for what Zizek does — is pretty far from the mainstream, and I believe that even those who like the kind of thing Zizek does will admit that Zizek is mainly known as a provocateur, not a particularly careful or serious thinker. Which isn’t to say that he can’t be entertaining and thought-provoking. His Pervert’s Guide to Cinema is fun.
Anyway, what I really want to do in this post is nitpick something John Holbo says in the comments to that CT post:
My point about contrarianism is just that, in general, it’s a bit odd to defend Zizek by intimating the need for a sort of intellectual fastidiousness from critics that Zizek himself does not exhibit – very much by design. Of course if the critics claim they are being very scrupulous and careful and rational, that’s a different matter. But just taking as read that it is inappropriate to attack Zizek in fast, loose, out-of-control fashion seems odd. Why shouldn’t it be appropriate? Doesn’t Zizek invite it?
The thought here seems to be that Zizek is fast and loose in his arguments — so Zizek’s critics aren’t criticizable when they are fast and loose in their criticisms of his arguments. Why would anyone believe this? Here’s an argument:
1. Zizek is fast and loose in his arguments.
2. So, Zizek would be inconsistent if he were to criticize anyone for being fast and loose in their arguments.
3. So, Zizek cannot justifiably criticize his fast-and-loose critics.
4. If Zizek cannot justifiably criticize his fast-and-loose critics, then no one can justifiably criticize his fast-and-loose critics.
5. So, Zizek’s fast-and-loose critics cannot be justifiably criticized.
I’m not attributing this argument to Holbo, but it does seem to capture the kind of thinking that would lead to the position Holbo seems to be endorsing. I’m with the argument as far as premise 2. I think the move from 2 to 3 is a mistake. And I think 4 is pretty obviously wrong. In fact, it seems to me that it’s often precisely when some thinker X has gone all fast-and-loose that we most urgently need sharp, meticulous, non-fast-and-loose criticism of X’s argumentation.
What is Phenomenology? By Simon Glendinning, London School of Economics (Nov 2007) Philosophy Compass
Emotions in Continental Philosophy By Robert C Solomon, UT-Austin (2006) Philosophy Compass