A few years ago I had a first encounter with Slavoj Zizek through through his appearance on a Dutch TV show*. He is funny, provocative and interesting. I’m sure there is no need to introduce him. Sometimes he’s a bit silly. But at other times I’m surprised by his knowledge of various debates in contemporary philosophy. Unfortuantely, some of his writings are working on my nerves. I just read a short article in The Guardian by his hand* about the Mandela memorial and the fake sign language interpreter. Urrgg…

The conclusion is quite alright:

“[…] what he confronted us with was the truth about sign language translations for the deaf – it doesn’t really matter if there are any deaf people among the public who need the translation; the translator is there to make us, who do not understand sign language, feel good.

And was this also not the truth about the whole of the Mandela memorial ceremony? All the crocodile tears of the dignitaries were a self-congratulatory exercise, and Jangtjie translated them into what they effectively were: nonsense. What the world leaders were celebrating was the successful postponement of the true crisis which will explode when poor, black South Africans effectively become a collective political agent. They were the Absent One to whom Jantjie was signalling, and his message was: the dignitaries really don’t care about you. “

Everything before this is unnecessary blabla. He wants to express a political point. In order to do so, he picks a highly mediatized aspect of the event and interprets it so that it becomes useful for his point. It’s fun to read, but I don’t see any value in it at all. You can write about how former Western politicians were in favor of jailing Mandela, about the ideas  of Mandela and how they conflict with contemporary politicians who were present at the funeral, you can write about a variety of topics to support one point Zizek is trying to make here. You can even keep the exact same conclusion! But at least the article would have some valuable information and a line of reasoning that is not just witty, but also sensible.

* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw8LPn4irao


  1. R. Coogan says:

    The Guardian added a note at the tail of the Zizek article, stating that the piece was edited to conform to the publication’s guidelines. What I imagine we didn’t get to read (or skip over) was another ten thousand words of meandering blabla, possibly trotting out Lacan, Batman, or more Slovenia.

    We cannot know how long Zizek’s cardboard-and-glitter star will stay suspended over the leftoid text-o-sphere.

    But, Zizek’s game is up. Sadly, unlike sports figures, those who carry the title “intellectual” never face the reality or review of career or seasonal stats. Their batting, fielding, or earned runs cannot be calculated. Merely by being played (published) they further their legitimacy, rather like a wind-up toy.

    And what’s worse, once he is found out, a true charlatan will only talk more. This is because charlatans totally disprespect and despise their audience, their benefactors, those who comprise their elevating apparatus: the prestige-hungry, the fan, the pseudo-intellectual and the culture-vulture. (Jeff Koons knows this well. So did Jacques Lacan.)

    Compounding jargon and fashinable gibberish where comunicable ideas would normally suffice is indeed an act of contempt.

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