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Slavoj Zizek was born on March 21, 1949 in Ljubljana, Slovenia which was at the time a part of Communist Yugoslavia. Zikek had a middle class up bringing with both of his parents being professionals and atheists.  In 1968, Zizek was in Czechoslovakia and witnessed the “Prague Spring,” a reform movement in which the Czechs fought against repression but were held back by the Soviet Union. That moment had a profound influence on Zizek and his later academic career. As an undergraduate student in Slovenia, Zizek engrossed himself in the philosophic works of Lacan and other French philosophers. After earning his Bachelors degree in Philosophy and Sociology, Zizek went on to pursue his Masters but faced a hurdle on the way. His thesis on his favorite French philosophers garnered him much attention by the faculty both by its profoundness but also by its controversial ideology. As a result he had to add an appendix to his thesis stating that he strayed away from the accepted Marxist ideas. Due to this controversy, Zizek had a difficult time finding a job and he ultimately joined the communist party as a result and was able to land a job in government speech writing. In 1971, Zizek was hired as an assistant researcher at the University of Ljubljana but lost his position in 1973 after being accused by the new reformist Slovenian regime that his Master’s thesis as being “non-Marxist.” He then worked for the Yugoslav Army in Karlovac, until he found a position as a clerk for the Slovenian Marxist Center where he became acquainted with Lacanian scholars Mladen Dolar and Rastko Močnik. In 1979, Zizek was hired as a researcher at the Institute of Sociology for the University of Ljubljana. In the 1980′s, he began to publish books that examined Hegelian and Marxist theories from the point of view of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. In the late 1980s, Zizek came under public attention for his work in Maldina, a magazine that was critical of the Titoist regime. Slavoj Zizek was involved with the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights a social movement fighting for democracy in Slovenia and when the first free elections were held in 1990, he unsuccessfully ran for president aligned with the Liberal Democratic Party.
With the 1989 publication of his first book written in English, The Sublime Object of Ideology, Slavoj Zizek became widely recognized as an important contemporary social theorist. Slavoj Zizek has since then published numerous books in English through the publishing house Verso.

Influences

G.W.F. Hegel, Jacques Lacan, and Karl Marx are the three main influences on Slavoj Zizek’s work.  Zizek’s inspiration for his works and political thought is Karl Marx, while his methodology is greatly influenced by Hegelian dialectical thinking.  However, in Zizek’s reading of Hegel, the dialectic is never fully resolved.  Zizek employs Lacan’s framework and terminology, especially Lacan’s three registers of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real.

Key Ideas

Slavoj Zizek combines the German Idealism of Hegel and Lacanian psychoanalysis towards a critique of current political issues and ideology.  Zizek is known for using popular culture, jokes, and colorful anecdotes to illustrate his concepts.

The Subject

Zizek employs the Cartesian Subject in a radical way. Whereas the traditional reading of Descartes’ cogito is that of a substantial, fully self-conscious, and autonomous “I”, Zizek follows Lacan’s view that subjectivity corresponds to a lack (manque). Zizek argues that hegemonic regimes interpellate individuals into roles and mandates. For Zizek, the cogito is the space that resists full inscription into ideological mandates, that is, the space that is not interpellated.

The big Other

The “big Other” is the communal system of institutions, laws, and customs that regulate our behavior.  Zizek argues that the “big Other” is not material, but rather a purely symbolic order. This means that we engage in a degree of idealization, favoring to a certain degree the symbolic over the Real. Zizek puts this disavowal in terms of an “as if.” We act “as if” our neighbors do not smell bad or look ridiculous in order to coexist with them. The big Other is a kind of collective lie which we all individually participate in. When Zizek state that today the big Other no longer exists, he means that the postmodern subject is cynical towards official institutions, yet at the same time believe in conspiracies. The demise of the big Other is manifest in the coexistence of cynicism and belief.

Ideology

Zizek calls for a new way of thinking about ideology today, one that is located in what we do and not in what we know. He argues that we are not so much living in a post-ideological era as in an era dominated by the ideology of cynicism. Adapting from Reformulating Marx’s concept of ideology with Peter Sloterdijk’s, he sums up the cynical attitude as “they know that, in their activity, they are following an illusion, but still, they are doing it.”

Criticism

Zizek has been widely read by many scholars and has thus been recognized as one of the greatest intellectuals of our time. His work is still nonetheless not free from criticism. Critics of Zizek claim that his ideas are not new and that he takes them from Hegel and Marx without adding anything new. Others claim that he actually misinterprets his major influences, and that he is in fact anti-Marxist.  Some of his opponents have called him a “political opportunist”. They claim that he preaches a radical ideology to the public but when it comes down to real politics he aligns himself with the side that actually hurts the working class and the true socialists. Zizek has said that he is a supporter of Communism, but his opponents think that his point of view is actually not in agreement with the struggles of the 20th century and that all he really preaches is social harmony. His presentation style is extremely unique and grabs the attention of a crowd, but some say that his antics are actually distracting. He appears to be obsessive compulsive, and speaks as though he is telling jokes at a comedy club. Zizek’s appearance and delivery make it difficult to take him seriously according to his critics. It has also been said that Zizek’s ideas are vague. In other words they have no substance or real arguments but are actually attitudes. He tries so hard to be provocative that he does not thoroughly think through his claims.

Works Cited

Bordwell, David. “Slovaj Zizek: Say Anything.” Apr 2005                 http://www.davidbordwell.com/essays/zizek.php#_ednref15.

“Chronology”. JL. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. < http://www.lacan.com/zizekchro1.htm&gt;.

Haig, Adam. Van Auken , Bill. “Zizek in Manhattan: An intellectual charlatan masquerading as “left.”  12   Nov 2010 http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/nov2010/zize-n12.shtml.

“Slavoj Zizek – Biography”. The European Graduate School. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. < http://www.egs.edu/faculty/slavoj-zizek/biography/&gt;.

Sharpe, Matthew.  “Slavoj Zizek (1949-)”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 25 June 2005.  Web. 22 Nov. 2012. < http://www.iep.utm.edu/lacweb/&gt;.

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