It’s surely the most hilarious academic story so far this year: Slavoj Zizek, the most Marxist-chic of all Marxist-chic philosophers, has been caught plagiarizing an article from American Renaissance, a paleoconservative magazine-turned-website with an obsessive focus on what it calls “racial realism.” Left meets right—in spades! The story made Newsweek, which in a July 11 story called Zizek a “big scalp” for the conservatives who caught him in the act.
What is funniest of all are the labored efforts of mainstream left-of-centrists to raise more questions about Zizek’s exposers than about the 65-year-old Slovenian postmodernist and hot scholarly property who has garnered professorships of various kinds at prestige universities—ranging from the University of London’s Birbeck Institute for the Humanities (where he’s director), to the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland (where he teaches not just philosophy but “psychoanalysis”), to Princeton, Columbia, NYU, the New School for Social Research, and the University of Michigan here in the U.S.A. That’s probably because, well, Zizek is, for left-of-centrists, one of us, more or less, whereas his chief outer, Los Angles blogger and columnist Steve Sailer, is well on the right ideologically, although not so far right as American Renaissance, which can boast a coveted “hate group” designation from the winger-witch-hunting Southern Poverty Law Center.
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, Jackson Doughart of the Canadian National Post, in a July 21 article titled “The Fetish of Plagiarism-Outing,” sniffed that efforts such as Sailer’s were the “product of ‘gotcha’ journalism, made ever easier by Google, which can be as easily employed by the hack investigator as it is by the principled critic.”
But first, a few words about Zizek himself. Born in Ljubljana, Slovenia—then part of Communist Yugoslavia—in 1949, Zizek had a ho-hum decades-long career teaching at the University of Ljubljana (still one of his many faculty appointments), until he burst into international fame in 1989 with a book in English, obscurely titled (how could it not be?) The Sublime Object of Ideology. It was one of around 70 books, plus innumerable journal articles, that Zizek has published over the years that weave together the theories of French postmodernist celebrities such as Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan with classical Marxist analysis (although he claims to be a critic of Marx), the ideas of such Marxist acolytes as Theodor Adorno and Louis Althusser, warmed-over Freudian psychology (Lacan was the pioneer in that department), blasts at “neoliberalism” (the leftist sobriquet for free-market capitalism), and an ultra-intellectualized brand of film criticism immensely appealing to ultra-intellectuals although perhaps to few others.
These exploits of the mind have won Zizek a huge following, especially among impressionable graduate students and younger faculty at Western universities. There is now an International Journal of Zizek Studies, a 2005 movie, Zizek!, starring guess who, plus The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006) and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012), each featuring a hirsute Zizek clad in rumpled and impressively proletarian-looking T-shirts and talking nonstop. (Zizek also contributes regularly to the Guardian, the London Review of Books, and other must-read periodicals for Britons with aspirations to the higher realms of thought. And Zizek’s status as an intellectual celebrity has given him at least three, possibly four beautiful wives, including an Argentine fashion model some 30 years his junior in 2009, and, most recently, in 2013, Slovenian journalist Jela Krecic, also a good 30 years younger and notable for her exclusive interview with Wikileaks titan Julian Assange, another leftist hero.
Zizek is famous for his convoluted and nearly impenetrable prose style—even by the bombast-tolerant standards of postmodernist discourse—in which “being difficult” is deemed a virtue, not a vice. Here is a Zizek sample, from an essay titled “The Interpassive Subject”: