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  • Žižek Now! or, a (Not So) Modest Plea for a Return to the Political
  • Russell Sbriglia (bio)
A review of Jamil Khader and Molly Anne Rothenberg, eds., Žižek Now: Current Perspectives in Žižek Studies. Malden: Polity, 2013.

At the precise midpoint of Slavoj Žižek’s The Ticklish Subject stands a trenchant critique of the contemporary “post-political” landscape. According to Žižek, postmodern post-politics doesn’t so much “merely‘repress[ ]’ the political, trying to contain it and pacify the ‘returns of the repressed,’ but much more effectively ‘forecloses’ it” by “emphasiz[ing] the need to leave old ideological divisions behind and confront new issues, armed with the necessary expert knowledge and free deliberation that takes people’s concrete needs and demands into account” (198). Under this model, the State, claims Žižek, is “reduc[ed] … to a mere police-agent servicing the (consensually established) needs of market forces and multiculturalist tolerant humanism,” the result being that “[i]nstead of the political subject ‘working class’ demanding its universal rights, we get, on the one hand, the multiplicity of particular social strata or groups, each with its problems … and, on the other, the immigrant, ever more prevented from politicizing his predicament of exclusion” (199-200). Such a state of affairs, Žižek concludes, speaks precisely to “the gap that separates a political act proper from the ‘administration of social matters’ which remains within the framework of existing sociopolitical relations,” for “the political act (intervention) proper is not simply something that works well within the framework of the existing relations, but something that changes the very framework that determines how things work.” Indeed, “authentic politics,” Žižek insists, is “the art of the impossible—it changes the very parameters of what is considered ‘possible’ in the existing constellation” (199).

As one of the most recent installments in Polity’s ever-expanding “Theory Now” series, Jamil Khader and Molly Anne Rothenberg’s Žižek Now makes good on its promise to offer the latest perspectives in Žižek studies across multiple disciplines, from German idealism, materialism, and religion to ecology and (surprisingly enough) quantum physics. Much like its subject, whose work, as Khader emphasizes in the book’s introduction, spans “a dizzying array of topics,” rubbing seemingly disparate disciplines against one another in a way that “does not produce a totalizing synthesis of opposites but rather allows for articulating the gaps within and between these fields through the Hegelian method of negative dialectics” (3), Žižek Now is eclectic to the core—a testament to both Žižek’s incredibly wide range as a thinker and his incredibly broad appeal throughout academia (and beyond). Yet despite this disciplinary eclecticism, the strongest essays in Khader and Rothenberg’s collection are united by a common thread: a focus on, and furtherance of, Žižek’s aforementioned plea for a return to the political.

Exemplary in this regard are the contributions of Todd McGowan, Verena Andermatt Conley, Erik Vogt, and Khader. McGowan’s essay, “Hegel as Marxist: Žižek’s Revision of German Idealism,” constitutes the best treatment to date of Žižek’s call for a Hegelian critique of Marx as opposed to the standard Marxian critique of Hegel.1 At the heart of McGowan’s chapter is the irreducibility of antagonism for Hegel. As McGowan points out, for Žižek, the fundamental difference between Hegel and Marx is that whereas the latter based his entire political project on the belief in a future overcoming of antagonism, the former posited antagonism as the very “ground of social relations” (47) and “the foundation of politics” (48). This, claims McGowan, is why the more unabashedly Marxist/communist Žižek has become in recent years, the more Hegel has come to displace Lacan as the figure most crucial to his thinking (47), for, according to Žižek, it is only by “confront[ing] the inescapability of antagonism” that subjects can “free themselves from the power of authority and from corresponding relations of domination” (48). Hegel is thus for Žižek “the political thinker par excellence,” for he “tear[s] down all the false avenues of escape that promise freedom from the alienation that accompanies...

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