Culture Machine, Reviews

Slavoj Žižek (2005) Interrogating
the Real. Edited by Rex
Butler and Scott Stephens
London and
New York: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-7110-2
Žižek is intellectually orgiastic. He
jumps from one paradigm to another: from Lacanian psychoanalysis to
Marxism; from Heidegger to Hegel to hegemony.
'Eclectic' is how Ernesto Laclau characterizes
Žižek's approach in general

(Laclau, 2005). Laclau uses this term as a criticism, because to
his mind, Žižek's lack of
fidelity to one rigorously conceived
approach produces
inconsistencies and incoherence. Given Laclau's famous insistence
on the importance of 'logic' and 'rigour',

Žižek's promiscuity would
'logically' seem to mean that
Žižek's position is incoherent
and must fall apart. Judith Butler agrees
with Laclau on this (see
Butler, Laclau and Žižek, 2000).
But Ian Parker has suggested that there is no real inconsistency,

because Žižek's apparently
inconsistent approach to any and every topic is an effect of his
strategy of lining up and applying
different and discrete paradigms
to his subject matter, one at a time and one after another (Parker,
2004). In other words,
'position' isn't necessarily incoherent because it isn't 'one'
position. Moreover, because
Žižek deliberately doesn't look

for coherence or consistency, there may be little point expecting
him to be coherent or consistent himself. Consistently

inconsistent, he looks for any unique insight that can be garnered
through one of several old friends: the theoretical
perspectives he
finds in Hegel, Marx, and Lacan. Does this mean there is no
coherent Žižek, or no coherence
in Žižek -- or

indeed, no Žižekian coherence?
There is certainly always a question mark when it comes to
working out where Žižek is
'coming from', or indeed 'going', and
this is not helped by the
fact that Žižek's frenetic and
eclectic manner has been growing in pace and has become more and

more pronounced recently. But this new book, Interrogating the
Real, which is a selection of some of
Žižek's older to more
works, edited by Rex Butler and Scott Stephens, will certainly
prove valuable for anyone wishing to work out
trajectory. Many of the
texts have appeared before, but this is unremarkable when it comes
to Žižek, given his tendency to

reproduce entire sections of essays and books in different
contexts. So, much of the content will be more or less familiar to
seasoned traveller. However, what will be of particular
interest to the genealogist of
Žižek's thought is the fact that
quite a few
of the essays contained here are earlier conference
paper versions of essays that were later refined and published. So
development of Žižek's
arguments will be explicitly traceable through this excellent
selection of well-chosen texts.
With this book, Rex Butler and Scott Stephens have certainly
gathered an exemplary and excellent collection of
Žižek's works.
the Real moves broadly chronologically, but in three discrete
thematic sections -- 'Lacanian Orientations',

'Philosophy Traversed by Psychoanalysis' and 'The Fantasy of
Ideology'. Each section contains several very good samples of
to more recent work. The editors have done a remarkable job of
choosing and organising the pieces -- so much so that

Interrogating the Real could almost pass as a coherent
monograph. Indeed, it is arguably much more coherent than many of

Žižek's actual
monographs, which tend to ramble and jump about like a
psychoanalytic session. But thanks to the editors'
and dexterity, the reader can discern clear connections and
developments from chapter to chapter, section to
section, and gain
a strong sense of the interconnections and developments of
Žižek's wildly proliferating
The basis of Žižekian
interconnections and the logic of his thought, as is well known,
hinges around Hegel, Marx and Lacan.
These three perspectives
provide three matrices or 'machines' of his thought. What is
idiosyncratic to Žižek is, as
the early
essays in Interrogating the Real explain, his
perhaps indefensible tendency to regard these otherwise distinct
approaches as
reciprocally consolidating: to
Žižek's mind, Hegel provides the
philosophical justification for Marx and Lacan, and vice versa.

Each is linked by analogy or 'homology', and what each says in
their respective realm (philosophy, political economy and

psychoanalysis) is held to be equivalent to what the others say in
theirs. In other words, according to
Žižek, the Hegelian
dialectic makes sense and can be translated directly into Marxian
(class antagonism) and Lacanian (sexuation
antagonism) terms, and
back again. Needless to say, this kind of perspective is
controversial. What's more, for the uninitiated
reader, one finds a
torrent of dense and diverse philosophical, political and
psychoanalytic argument which can seem
overwhelming. For other
readers, however, Žižek's
approach can seem so crude as to be crass.
This is the 'Žižek-effect': a
torrent of diversely ranging points, arguments, claims and
insights, from different angles, but as
quickly becomes apparent,
with a high degree of repetition. Repetition appears to be
everything and everywhere: repetition of
the same examples (derived
mainly from film, but also from 'high-culture' and considerations
of totalitarian power), the same
problematics (the decline of
'radical thought' in the west), the same interpretations (the
'need' for radical anticapitalist
revolution). In other words, you
could say: if you've read any
Žižek then you've heard it
all before. You can start just about
anywhere with
Žižek, dive straight in, and you
will find the same things, the same themes, the same questions and
the same
conclusions, over and over and over again: 'Is [insert
example] not precisely an exemplary example of the Real/return
of the
repressed in its inverted true form/universal class
antagonism/sexual difference/barred subject/ working of the Big
petit a/[delete as applicable]?'[29-12-2016 11:19:46]

or in more technical language a kind of enunciation without enunciated. a 'dogmatic philosopher'. as problematic as all of this is. [his work] is also a kind of impersonal "machine". he shifts from desire to drive' (10). Ironically. as a very culturally-specific.we observe a tremendous consistency of approach in Žižek. In fact. with that characteristic flourish much beloved of politicians. Žižek is without a doubt the current world champion of formalising and systematising. But. from whom he has never wavered. one could point to both the ingenuity and the polemical zeal of their argument. Žižek distinguishes between 'desire' and 'drive' like this: 'let us imagine an individual trying to perform some simple manual task -.culturemachine. no matter what Žižek writes about. the editors have generously included a Žižek Glossary. Hegel and Marx is formalising and systematising their 'insights'. each other. perhaps in the future. strangely enough. In this however far-fetched his examples. He writes. what is more. and their effort deserves some comment. This is because his work functions a bit like a kind of Lacan. He always ends up saying the same things (impossibility of: sexual relation and/or identity and/or reality-of-change-within-capitalism and/or all-of-the-above). who has remained strictly faithful to his great loves. and throughout his work as a whole. in his own words. the reason why he writes at all. despite obstacles or contingencies. again. He is. for the simple reason that reading is one not entirely 'academic' casualty of today's intensification of exploitation. and Miscellaneous Clever Stuff for Dummies. of keeping political and philosophical radicalism on the agenda. starts to find pleasure in just repeating the failed task (squeezing the object. Žižek does not always end up saying the same thing. and so on . pets.say. if this is what Žižek wants us to see. one can find Žižek reversing his position many times. its enunciation'. mere drive. Žižek is more of a re-structuralist. we have this exemplification or enunciation in the form it takes in Žižek's essays https://www. as has been noted. For they argue: In the texts selected here. perhaps it would be legitimate to redirect and redeploy one of Žižek's own favourite Hegelian aphorisms about 'science' so as to suggest . (2-3) To be generous. then he doesn't appear to be trying particularly hard.. This would make Žižek's claims about politics and revolution mere empty chatter. This function is not quite the same as his intended function of 'holding the place' (Žižek. consisting of faits divers or 'related matters' added on. a form of objective. More than this.Bowman The editors acknowledge Žižek's repetition and try to account for it. externalized knowledge embodied in a neutral medium that repeats itself endlessly' (3) -. parents.precisely because. this account doesn't even get Žižek off the theoretical hook anyway. about the status of this glossary as exemplification or enunciation. and work of. One need not be Immanuel Kant to doubt the legitimacy of this 'fidelity'. For. the function that I am suggesting Žižek may serve today would equal the abomination and monstrous double of his intended function (except to the extent that it would allow him to 'hegemonise' the university scene -. personal events in his life or world-historical upheavals. that perhaps Žižek's approach does not allow for thinking as such. Let us call it his theoretical drive. It is as though the activity of writing itself is Žižek's chief motivation. The editors get closer to the point when they concede: On the other hand. In fact. For in Žižek's cold machinic yet cackling formalism lies his brilliance. Hegel. This is reflected in the very form of his texts. shall I put it? -- finished reading yet.that Žižek's approach does not think. Being generous. This is particularly amusing because one of the editors' arguments in the Introduction is that 'Žižek's real point is that no philosophical Truth can ever exist apart from its exemplification. It basically works by claiming profundity and disparaging all of the so-called 'wrong' readings of Žižek (3-4). one could take this attempt to justify Žižek's eccentricities and academic abuses as the harshest criticism of so explicitly ostensibly politicised a writer as Žižek. One wonders immediately. mere repetition compulsion. (Publishers always want reassurances that books they contract will sell to first year undergraduates. It is that if 'Žižek's real point is that no philosophical Truth can ever exist apart from its exemplification. as has been noted -.and Žižek certainly regards academia as a battle for hegemony in the realm of ideas). 2000). his work will turn out to have functioned as a kind of 'vanishing mediator' of all of that clever stuff that academics were still expected to know in the nineties of the old and the 'noughties' of the new millennium. could simply call their account deeply symptomatic. In fact. But none come close to Butler and Stephens' argument. (2) Well. for any who may already be so exploited and rushed off their feet that they haven't even got the time to read Žižek.but rather more Žižekian -. this 'nothing-to-say' or 'empty speech' that underlies his texts.and. 2002). 'as Žižek himself says. high school kids. in advance (Walsh. where there is inevitably an unnecessary final chapter. or at least his utility. grabbing an object that repeatedly eludes him: the moment he changes his attitude. . advanced-level refresher. he always ends up saying the same thing. Marx. because it already thinks it knows. For. after the main theoretical work of the book has been completed. His exclusive mode of 'fidelity to' Lacan. rather. grandparents. Nevertheless. But. as one reads these texts -. I've read quite a few arguments about Žižek's penchant for 'copy and paste' -. which again and again eludes him). Žižekians: 'what so-and-so fails to see is this!' Being rather less generous -. polemicists and. what Žižek actually wants us to see is this very nothingness. . mythical 'interested general readers'. its presence seems so contradictory that I'd like to believe that the glossary was added to this collection under extreme duress and solely at the demand of the publishers. It is almost as though his is a predetermined system that follows its own course. its enunciation' (4). we get the uncanny impression that.php/cm/rt/printerFriendly/175/156[29-12-2016 11:19:46] .) It is not just that the collection of essays and the supplementary glossary reciprocally obviate the need for. For.or crash-course in 'All That Stuff' that contemporary academics are still expected to know about but probably haven't -. it has to be said. steeped in denial and the delusions of overinvestment. in his Author's Preface to Interrogating the Real. prolifically and seemingly with little concern for which he always indulges with gay abandon.the more the better. then. Lacan and Hegel. then. but that they didn't actually have enough time to read. Not really a post-structuralist. their friends. it is no simple criticism. Or.

It is a response to Laclau and Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy and an engagement with political theory and contemporary academic intellectual and political concerns. the point of Žižek -. rather than the conspicuously suspect limited selection that we keep finding. between the 'critique of political economy' with its logic of commodities and the political struggle with its logic of antagonism? Both logics are 'transcendental'. his much-remarked political investments and orientations and his rejection of 'postmodern resignation'. https://www. of an argument about whether and the extent to which one might ever be able to develop an ultimately Lacanian approach to ideological social and political studies. this argument contains a significant degree of virement. this can all just be referred back to the Žižekian response to the Laclauian and Butlerian types of criticism about Žižek's apparent lack of consistency. That is to say. impossibility itself -. Yet. yet has effects in the Real of bodily symptoms' (303). first of all. and to affirm an ultimately Lacanian approach to ideological social and political studies. why do this? For. one might expect something of an excess of examples and conclusions. truths that are only ever present in their distorted exemplifications. the argument that tries to justify Žižek's endless repetition of the same examples and the same conclusions rests on a claim that Žižek does this because of the allegedly inevitable. One might ask how to make sense of this apparent mismatch. however. I suspect. if you do not already have the Laclau volume. This essay. my contention is that the nuts and bolts of the socially-inflected Lacanian criticism that Žižek has spent so much of his efforts enumerating are ultimately of less significance -. on the other hand. that we can "undo things (symptoms) with words". or conceptual drift and. so that its argument might more easily make sense.than such seminal critical works on political theory as 'Beyond Discourse Analysis'. when it comes to Žižek's point -so to speak. it has increasingly come to appear that the 'Beyond' referred to in the title 'Beyond Discourse Analysis' may well be a bit of a dead-end. But it is one which has defined the entire subsequent development of Laclau and Žižek's relationship. For. 'Beyond Discourse Analysis' is hard to beat. . which was first presented as a response to Laclau and Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (Laclau and Mouffe. and they are both irreducible to each other. it is in Žižek's articulation of the psychoanalytic to the political field as a way to think about 'radicalising' political projects that his project does try to add something. I think.namely. coherence and eclecticism with which we began. However. Now this. Vis-à-vis different approaches.both theoretically/academically and practically/politically -.the question arising in the face of Interrogating the Real becomes: but why would you want to interrogate that. perpetual distortion of truth in examples. of all (non)things? What would be the point of it? It could be read as an empty exercise of 'drive' in a way that takes us back to the editors' arguments about Žižek having '“nothing-tosay” or [the] “empty speech” that underlies [Žižek's] texts'. Indeed. as an account of the theoretical significance of Laclau and Mouffe's 'post-Marxist' discourse theory.php/cm/rt/printerFriendly/175/156[29-12-2016 11:19:46] . arbitrary or inconsequential matter.culturemachine. 1985). Žižek wants to refute the post-structuralist readings of Laclau and Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Admittedly. . It has taken the form. Basically. This is a deeply problematic move. particularly to those less than familiar with Laclau and Mouffe's work (but also to those quite familiar with it). But. Its presence there makes the book worth acquiring for this essay alone. As he argues in 'Revisioning "Lacanian" Social Criticism': 'The fundamental wager of psychoanalysis is that there exists such a knowledge which produces effects in the Real. once one has any concept of what Žižek means by 'the Real' -. any who read 'Beyond Discourse Analysis' for the first time are likely to find it relentlessly fast and theoretically formidable. The whole point of psychoanalytic treatment is that is operates exclusively at the level of "knowledge" (words). As we see in the first sentences of 'Beyond Discourse Analysis'. . this short text is perhaps Žižek's finest. apparently trump his enjoyment of 'empty' psychobabble. They have done so by including essays that can be read as 'primers' that prepare one for 'Beyond Discourse Analysis'. . closely followed by the different. 1990). then one might expect Žižek's examples and conclusions to Nevertheless. on the other! Which is the right one? Which is which? What does the fact that both do actually exist mean? So. putatively example/enunciation-free form it takes in the glossary. or indeed how to make sense of 'Beyond Discourse Analysis' per se. As regards the latter question. the editors' argument that tries to justify Žižek's relentless repetition of the same examples and conclusions over and over again seems to suffer from a kind of 'kettlelogic'. remains thoroughly interesting. not merely ontico-empirical. there are different notions of coherence and consistency at play here.they do things differently there. this still suggests a further critical question: When it comes to 'doing'. And on the other hand. Namely. the editors of Interrogating the Real have very helpfully prepared the ground and set the scene for any first reading of it.Bowman themselves on the one hand. As Žižek puts it in one of these preceding pieces: Is .the ultimate Marxian parallax not the one between economy and politics. 'function-creep'. this would. and first printed in one of Laclau's following books (Laclau. But surely.basically. the real value of Laclau and Mouffe consists in the extent to which their approach can be taken in Lacanian and not their own 'post-Marxist' terms. Unfortunately. on the one hand. This may seem on the one hand to be an obscure. Perhaps this 'emptiness' says more about Žižek's Lacan than it does about Žižek's point. taken at face value. doubtless not only to me but also to Žižek's many readers. to my mind. one that remains valid and important today. For. If this is so. every different approach is a foreign country -. to 'change it'. at least when it comes to politics if not to scholarship. for Žižek. the glossary of terms about truth free-from/only-in-and-as-its very moment of exemplification seems problematic in relation to the collection of essays themselves. is rightly present in Interrogating the Real.

In other words. E. Wolfreys. It may initially seem trivial.with you. it is Žižek's argument with me and. London. It is an antagonism that is all about the theoretical status of 'antagonism'. 2003).culturemachine.). Laclau. 2007).php/cm/rt/printerFriendly/175/156[29-12-2016 11:19:46] . 2007) and co-editor of The Truth of Žižek (Continuum. author of Post-Marxism versus Cultural Studies: Politics. London: Verso. S. & Mouffe. J. but it is actually the argument between Žižek and post-structuralism or postMarxism in general. Politics. But. M. E. (2000) Contingency. it is not to be understood as a localised dispute. E. Formerly an editor of the journal Parallax. Parallax and Contemporary Politics. London: Verso. Laclau. the dispute between Žižek and what he pejoratively construes as the entire 'postmodernist/ poststructuralist/ deconstructionist/ cultural studies/ discourse analysis' tendencies in the contemporary university.Bowman The 'political' critique of Marxism (the claim that. he has also published widely in books and such journals as Culture Machine. I.this level of the form of economy (of economy as the determining form of the social) is what French 'political post-Marxists' miss when they reduce economy to one of the positive social spheres. He is editor of Interrogating Cultural Studies: Theory. London: Verso. like the question of 'Lacanian' versus 'post-Marxist' approaches.if you have managed to read this far through this review -. in a nutshell. Walsh.. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. This is because it is. one loses the openness and contingency constitutive of the political field proper) should thus be supplemented by its obverse: the field of the economy is in its very form irreducible to politics -. (2004) Slavoj Žižek: A Critical Introduction. The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia of Modern Criticism and Theory. https://www. Parker. more than likely -. C. Theory and Intervention (Edinburgh University Press. London: Verso. J. in fact. The significance of it may seem secondary. Paul Bowman is Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Roehampton University. (2005) On Populist Reason. Laclau. (242. (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. References Butler. E. & Žižek. London: Pluto Press. Hegemony. (ed. Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. (1990) New Reflections on The Revolution of Our Time. 243) This is the other key dimension of the argument between Žižek and Laclau. Practice (Pluto Press. Strategies.. Laclau. when one reduces politics for a 'formal' expression of some underlying 'objective' socio-economic process. (2002) 'Slavoj Žižek (1949 -)'.