Noam Chomsky has issued a statement in reaction to our July 17 post, “Slavoj Žižek Responds to Noam Chomsky: ‘I Don’t Know a Guy Who Was So Often Empirically Wrong.’ In an article posted yesterday on ZNet titled “Fantasies,” Chomsky says Žižek’s criticism of him is completely ungrounded. “Žižek finds nothing, literally nothing, that is empirically wrong,” writes Chomsky. “That’s hardly a surprise.”
The rift between the two high-profile intellectuals began, as you may recall, when Chomsky criticized Žižek and other continental philosophers for essentially talking nonsense — for cloaking trivialities in fancy language and using the scientific-sounding term “theory” to describe propositions that could never be tested empirically. Žižek lashed back, saying of Chomsky, “I don’t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong.” He went on to criticize Chomsky’s controversial early position on American assessments of the Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia. (To read Žižek’s comments, click here to open the earlier post in a new window.) In response yesterday, Chomsky said he had received numerous requests to comment on our post:
I had read it, with some interest, hoping to learn something from it, and given the title, to find some errors that should be corrected — of course they exist in virtually anything that reaches print, even technical scholarly monographs, as one can see by reading reviews in professional journals. And when I find them or am informed about them I correct them.
But not here. Žižek finds nothing, literally nothing, that is empirically wrong. That’s hardly a surprise. Anyone who claims to find empirical errors, and is minimally serious, will at the very least provide a few particles of evidence — some quotes, references, at least something. But there is nothing here — which, I’m afraid, doesn’t surprise me either. I’ve come across instances of Žižek’s concept of empirical fact and reasoned argument.
Chomsky goes on to recount an instance when he says Žižek misattributed a “racist comment on Obama” to Chomsky, only to explain it away later and say that he had discussed the issue with Chomsky on the telephone. “Of course,” writes Chomsky, “sheer fantasy.” Chomsky then moves on to Žižek’s comments reported by Open Culture, which he says are typical of Žižek’s methods. “According to him,” writes Chomsky, “I claim that ‘we don’t need any critique of ideology’ — that is, we don’t need what I’ve devoted enormous efforts to for many years. His evidence? He heard that from some people who talked to me. Sheer fantasy again, but another indication of his concept of empirical fact and rational discussion.”
Chomsky devotes the rest of his article to defending his work with Edward Herman on the Khmer Rouge atrocities. He claims that no factual errors have been found in their work on the subject, and he draws attention to a passage in their book After the Cataclysm, quoted last week by Open Culture reader Poyâ Pâkzâd, in which they write, “our primary concern here is not to establish the facts with regard to postwar Indochina, but rather to investigate their refraction through the prism of Western ideology, a very different task.”