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Book Reviews

Slavoj Zizek: A Critical Introduction by Ian Parker London: Pluto, 2004 Reviewed by Neil Turnbull
In this book, Ian Parker, a leading gure in British Critical Psychology, introduces some of the key theoretical motifs in the work of Slavoj Zizek, post-Marxist luminary, philosophical iconoclast and entertainer. Before reading Parkers book, I was convinced that his book was going to be a critical but broadly judicious interpretation of the Zizekian oeuvre (as I was under the impression that Parker, as an activist within the Psychology, Politics, Resistance group in the UK, was, like Zizek, someone prepared to think outside the suffocating strictures of contemporary academic professional culture). However, the book offers a slightly less than judicious interpretation of Zizek and, at times, the discussion veers towards a psycho-biographical character assassination of a thinker who really deserves a more sensitive and sympathetic treatment. Parkers discussion begins with an attempt to historicize and geographize Zizeks work. In Parkers view, if we want to get to grips with what, prima facie, seems a manifestly philosophically inconsistent body of work, we rst need to position Zizek as in a specic context: the bureaucratic corruption of socialism in Eastern Europe. More specically, Parker argues that Zizek is a thoroughly Slovene thinker, because the conditions of possibility for the emergence of Slovenia as a nation-state conditions that were at the same time the conditions of impossibility of the former Yugoslavia are also, in his view, the cultural conditions of possi bility for Zizeks combination of Hegel, Lacan and Marx as an effective mode of critique (p. 27). Thus, in Parkers view, both Zizekian theory and psychoanalytic subjectivity are symptomatic in the Lacanian sense of the conict that tore the former Yugoslavia apart. In later chapters, Parker goes on to assess the validity of the tripartite theor etical underpinning of Zizeks work in Hegel, Lacan and Marx. Taking each in turn, Parker very lucidly demonstrates Zizeks Hegelian commitment to negativity as opening a way to truth; insightfully teases out the way in which Zizeks problematic Lacanian reading of this aspect of Hegelian philosophy is seen as laying the philosophical groundwork for a psychoanalytic project for truth; and goes on to provide a very useful discussion of how Zizek tries to position this project within contemporary Marxist debates about the need for a re-invention of the political in the age of global virtual capitalism (a project that, in Parkers view, must in the end lead to something other than Marxism).

Theory, Culture & Society 2007 (SAGE, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, and Singapore), Vol. 24(4): 139156 DOI: 10.1177/0263276407080100

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Parker doesnt really buy any of this at all however, and he criticizes the way that Lacan is deployed as a machine for reading Hegel and Marx reduced to a frantic attempt to make something happen. And, in Parkers view, the political coordinates that Zizek uses to guide his use of philosophy and psychoanalysis are quite opportunist as far as his politics of truth is concerned (p. 82). But it is Zizeks crypto-conservatism that is Parkers main target and source of philosophical oppro brium. Here, Zizek is dismissed as someone whose ideas simply dont meet the required grade for inclusion in the progressive theoretical canon. More speci cally, Zizeks recent attempt to lend his weight to a Christian reading of Marxism in books like The Puppet and the Dwarf where he claims that to be an authentic dialectical materialist one must rst pass through the Christian experience leads Parker to make some damning remarks about the disturbing political conse quences of Zizeks thinking (at one point he comes close to accusing Zizek of being a closet Mitteleuropean Catholic anti-Semite, especially when he notes that Zizeks excursions into theology merely repeat the stories that Catholic children are told over and over again about Jews in Sunday school). Additionally, and perhaps even more signicantly, Parker lines up with a series of leading feminist scholars and chides Zizek for his self-installation within a heterosexist matrix of culture, which consigns whole domains of social life that do not fully conform to prevalent gender norms to the psychotic and the unliveable. All this is fair enough I suppose, and for those familiar with the details of Parkers work, probably not very surprising. For Parkers avowed aim is to unmask mainstream psychologys basic cultural and political presuppositions (see Parker, 1990). Thus psychoanalysis, according to Parker, must be understood not as a disinterested body of ideas and practices, but as a culture immersed in, and shaped by, wider intellectual trends that stand as its historical conditions possibility (see Parker, 1997). In Parkers quasi-Foucauldian view, psychoanalysis effectively constructs its own object, such that psychoanalytic discourse is capable of illuminating phenomena only because it already structures those phenomena (Parker, 1997: vii). Zizeks work is thus seen as the latest manifestation of this psychoanalytic culture an Eastern European mutation of Western psychoanalytic culture and thus amenable to the same kind of deconstructive assault. Of course, in Zizeks view, it is just this quest to unmask rather than assert that is the fundamental problem with both philosophy and critical social theory today. And this book to some extent veries Zizeks claim, because Parkers unmasking of Zizek doesnt really amount to much of a critical argument at all in the end. In fact I was rather saddened to see Zizeks work dismissed in an overtly ad hominem way. At times this is done in a supplementary manner Zizeks work often being dismissed in asides as, at best, not really making much sense sometimes and at worst, crazy (p. 107). But more frequent, and even more problem atic, is Parkers attempt to unmask Zizek by turning the psychoanalytic tables on izek himself. Parker seems to suggest, on the basis of very imsy biographical Z evidence it must be said, that Zizek is a hysteric, who acts out his psychic contradictions which Parker implies are the result of being an only child of Communist parents in an emerging post-Marxist Catholic country in order to accuse and refuse, as all hysterics do, and ultimately to tell us lies that we treat as truth (p. 123). Clearly much more in the way of specic biographical information about traumatic events in Zizeks childhood is needed in order to justify a claim like this (and even then, would it provide any reason to dismiss Zizeks arguments? I think not).

Book Reviews


In Parkers view, we need this kind of psychobiographical reading of Zizek because we need to understand what he terms the motivated inconsistency at the core of Zizeks thinking. It is this inconsistency that, in Parkers view, shows that there can be no theoretical system as such in Zizeks work (to the extent that, in izekian to the extent that only Zizek could paint his view, it is impossible to be Z a Zizek, thus perpetuating the myth of Zizek as a mad genius). However, we can read Zizek rather differently by situating his thought nearer to home, within the Western academy itself. When his ideas are recontextualized in this way, Zizek appears as a rather different kind of thinker: satirical and thus, yes, conservative but a satirist who combines high theory with casual cultural observation in order to provoke Western intellectuals; to stir them from their theological slumbers and heavy-eyed, often pointless, glass bead games. When repositioned in this way it strikes us that Zizek might not really be a theorist at all, but someone who presents himself as strangely but resolutely post-theoretical; that is, as someone who is striving to keep the spirit of critique and more generally of Western philosophy itself alive in an age when the movement that spawned the age of theory, the new left of the 1960s, is in his view at least in the grip of a thanatic urge to commit collective conceptual suicide. Consider the following quote, from one of Zizeks less recognized works:
At an art roundtable I was asked to comment on a painting that I had seen for the rst 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. . . . Are we today, in our postmodern madness, still able to discern the traces of this gap? Perhaps more than a reading of 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 of the in-between-the-twoframes elevating it to a term. This very success made me sad, really sad. What I encountered here was not the efciency of a bluff, but a much more radical apathy at the very heart of todays cultural studies. (Zizek, 2001: 6)

For Zizek, it is political apathy and conceptual timidity that are the main problems of Western intellectual life today. As such, Zizek is thus really more of a gady than a hysteric a kind of post-Marxist Socrates, whose very theoretical excess is deployed as a playful and satirical method of elenchus forcefully directed at the political and intellectual akrasia currently endemic in Western academia. His work thus stands as a Brechtian shock to the academic system, and an obligatory passage point for all those who crave another mode of theorizing and thinking (one more willing to assert its truths and more resolutely engaged with the Western critical intellectuals many and various others). There is no doubt that Parker knows his theoretical onions and has a point to make. But, as he states, with theoretical work, just one little knock of the lens will change the view we have of the whole social eld. Would it be too hysterical of me to hope that this review might knock Parkers lens a little, so that he can see that Zizek really does have something quite important to say to us; a truth, if you like, that exposes many of our vanities?

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References Parker, I. (1990) The Abstraction and Representation of Social Psychology, in Deconstructing Social Psychology. London: Routledge. Parker, I. (1997) Psychoanalytic Culture: Psychoanalytic Discourse in Western Society. London: Sage. Zizek, S. (2001) The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski Between Theory and Post-theory. London: BFI Publishing. Zizek, S. (2003) The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Neil Turnbull is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Social Theory at Nottingham Trent University. His current research interests address the question of the nature and signicance of philosophy and its relationship to everyday life.

Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences by Slavoj Zizek New York: Routledge, 2003 Reviewed by Omar Lizardo
After Foucault, if there is one French intellectual whose discourse pervades todays academy it is Gilles Deleuze. Deleuzian terms abound in contemporary intellectual circles: from talk about the constant dialectic of the territorialization and deterritorialization of capital, to the rise of acephalous, desiring machines, to Hardt and Negris anonymous counter-hegemonic force of the multitude. It thus seems timely that Slavoj Zizek, one of the most imposing contemporary intellectual gures, who, apparently able to anamorphically refract most fashionable isms through his own chaotic collage of neo-Hegelian philosophy and Lacanian Marxism, nally takes on Deleuze or (as we discover later [p. 45] rather takes him from behind). Zizek divides the booklet into two parts: the rst On Deleuze and the second dealing with Consequences. Zizek explores the consequences of his own Hegelian buggery of Deleuze in three registers: that of Science (genomics, evolutionary theory, cognitive science and the philosophy of mind), Art (lm theory) and Politics (the state of radical resistance in late capitalism). The rst part of the book, by far the strongest, is concerned with resolving the Deleuzian tension related to the onto logical status of the Sense-Event. It is Zizeks wager that Hegel is the ultimate truth of Deleuze, and that through a Hegelian reinterpretation, a new Deleuze can speak, one whose discourse can be used for the work of revolution and change. But why do we need an alternative Deleuze? Is not the extant Deleuzian corpus precisely aimed at producing radical change and liberation from the paternal law of lack? Is not Deleuzianism one of the primary weapons against the transformation of the constant ow of becoming into the limited structures of being? While Zizek has been critical of the neo-Spinozist (especially Spinozian Marxism) turn in contemporary critical discourse in previous work (i.e. The Fragile Absolute),