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A Fetish For Zizek

3:55 PM, Jul 30, 2014 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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 According to the classic Althusserian criticism of the Marxist problematic of commodity fetishism, this notion relies on the humanist ideological opposition of "human persons" versus "things." Is it not one of Marx's standard determinations of fetishism that, in it, we are dealing with "relations between things (commodities)" instead of direct "relations between people," i.e. that, in the fetishist universe, people (mis)perceive their social relations in the guise of relations between things? Althusserians are fully justified in emphasizing how, beneath this "ideological" problematic, there is another, entirely different—structural—concept of fetishism already at work in Marx: at this level, "fetishism" designates the short-circuit between the formal/differential structure (which is by definition "absent," i.e. it is never given "as such" in our experiential reality) and a positive element of this structure. When we are victims of the "fetishist" illusion, we (mis)perceive as the immediate/"natural" property of the object-fetish that which is conferred upon this object on account of its place within the structure.

 

Uh, what? Not surprisingly, Zizek’s critics—and there are many of them—have accused the master of deliberate obscurantism and misinterpretation of his sources—if not outright leg-pulling.

This leads to Sailer. In a tongue-in-cheek July 8 blog post for the Unz Review, an eclectic online collection of far-left and far-right commentary published by California businessman and sometime political activist Ron Unz, Sailer noted that in a 2006 article for a postmodernist journal, Critical Inquiry, Zizek had uncharacteristically deviated from his usual jargon-laden unreadability into a clear and lucid description of a 1998 book by Kevin MacDonald titled The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements. MacDonald, a retired psychology professor at California State University Long Beach, is a hero among the American Renaissance set because of his beliefs, expressed in a never-ending series of books and articles, that Jews, consciously or unconsciously, have engaged in a centuries-long project to undermine Western civilization. (Blaming Jews for everything that has gone wrong in the modern world is a preoccupation of many paleocons, including readers of the Unz Review.)

Zizek’s article was titled “A Plea for a Return to Différance (with a Minor Pro Domo Sua.)” (Note to non-postmodernists: the word différance is not a French misspelling; it’s a word invented by Derrida.) In a denunciatory summary of the ideas of MacDonald, whom he called “[t]he main academic proponent of this new barbarism,” Zizek wrote (or “wrote”): 

 One of the most consistent ways in which Jews have advanced their interests has been to promote pluralism and diversity—but only for others. Ever since the 19th century, they have led movements that tried to discredit the traditional foundations of gentile society: patriotism, racial loyalty, the Christian basis for morality, social homogeneity, and sexual restraint.

Sailer commented: “[T]he superstar professor achieves a higher degree of clarity while expounding MacDonald’s message than in any other passage I’ve read by Zizek.”

The next day, July 9, a blogger who called himself “Deogolwulf” (“deogol” means “secret” in Old English) connected Sailer’s dots. He pointed out that the Zizek passage had been lifted nearly word for word from a laudatory 1999 review of MacDonald’s book in American Renaissance written by a regular there named Stanley Hornbeck. Deogolwulf lined up in parallel fashion several passages from Zizek and Hornbeck that matched nearly exactly. Deogolwulf also pointed out that a quotation that both Hornbeck and Zizek attributed to Derrida actually came from John D. Caputo, a now-retired religion professor at Syracuse University who specializes in looking for religious themes in postmodernist theory.

It all makes one wonder how much Zizek actually knows about Derrida.

In a July 12 email to Critical Theory, a go-to website for all things postmodernist, Zizek issued what he called a “clarification”—written in a style so characteristically Zizekian that no one could accuse him of lifting it from anywhere:

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