Slavoj Žižek Publishes a Very Clearly Written Essay-Length Response to Chomsky’s “Brutal” Criticisms

zizek sitting

Fur has flown, claws and teeth were bared, and fold­ing chairs were thrown! But of course I refer to the bristly exchange between those two stars of the aca­d­e­m­ic left, Slavoj Žižek and Noam Chom­sky. And yes, I’m pok­ing fun at the way we—and the blo­gos­phere du jour—have turned their shots at one anoth­er into some kind of celebri­ty slap­fight or epic rap bat­tle grudge match. We aim to enter­tain as well as inform, it’s true, and it’s hard to take any of this too seri­ous­ly, since par­ti­sans of either thinker will tend to walk away with their pre­vi­ous assump­tions con­firmed once every­one goes back to their cor­ners.

But despite the seem­ing cat­ti­ness of Chom­sky and Žižek’s high­ly medi­at­ed exchanges (per­haps we’re drum­ming it up because a sim­ple face-to-face debate has yet to occur, and prob­a­bly won’t), there is a great deal of sub­stance to their vol­leys and ripostes, as they butt up against crit­i­cal ques­tions about what phi­los­o­phy is and what role it can and should play in polit­i­cal strug­gle. As to the for­mer, must all phi­los­o­phy emu­late the sci­ences? Must it be empir­i­cal and con­sis­tent­ly make trans­par­ent truth claims? Might not “the­o­ry,” for exam­ple (a word Chom­sky dis­miss­es in this con­text), use the forms of literature—elaborate metaphor, play­ful sys­tems of ref­er­ence, sym­bol­ism and anal­o­gy? Or make use of psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic and Marx­i­an ter­mi­nol­o­gy in evoca­tive and nov­el ways in seri­ous attempts to engage with ide­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tions that do not reveal them­selves in sim­ple terms?

Anoth­er issue raised by Chomsky’s cri­tiques: should the work of philoso­phers who iden­ti­fy with the polit­i­cal left endeav­or for a clar­i­ty of expres­sion and a direct util­i­ty for those who labor under sys­tems of oppres­sion, lest obscu­ran­tist and jar­gon-laden writ­ing become itself an oppres­sive tool and self-ref­er­en­tial game played for elit­ist intel­lec­tu­als? These are all impor­tant ques­tions that nei­ther Žižek nor Chom­sky has yet tak­en on direct­ly, but that both have oblique­ly addressed in testy off-the-cuff ver­bal inter­views, and that might be pur­sued by more dis­in­ter­est­ed par­ties who could use their exchange as an exem­plar of a cur­rent method­olog­i­cal rift that needs to be more ful­ly explored, if nev­er, per­haps, ful­ly resolved. As Žižek makes quite clear in his most recent—and very clearly-written—essay-length reply to Chomsky’s lat­est com­ment on his work (pub­lished in full on the Ver­so Books blog), this is a very old con­flict.

Žižek spends the bulk of his reply exon­er­at­ing him­self of the charges Chom­sky levies against him, and find­ing much com­mon ground with Chom­sky along the way, while ulti­mate­ly defend­ing his so-called con­ti­nen­tal approach. He pro­vides ample cita­tions of his own work and oth­ers to sup­port his claims, and he is detailed and spe­cif­ic in his his­tor­i­cal analy­sis. Žižek is skep­ti­cal of Chomsky’s claims to stand up for “vic­tims of Third World suf­fer­ing,” and he makes it plain where the two dis­agree, not­ing, how­ev­er, that their antag­o­nism is most­ly a ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­pute over ques­tions of style (with Chom­sky as a slight­ly morose guardian of seri­ous, sci­en­tif­ic thought and Žižek as a some­times buf­foon­ish prac­ti­tion­er of a much more lit­er­ary tra­di­tion). He ends with a dig that is sure to keep fan­ning the flames:

To avoid a mis­un­der­stand­ing, I am not advo­cat­ing here the “post­mod­ern” idea that our the­o­ries are just sto­ries we are telling each oth­er, sto­ries which can­not be ground­ed in facts; I am also not advo­cat­ing a pure­ly neu­tral unbi­ased view. My point is that the plu­ral­i­ty of sto­ries and bias­es is itself ground­ed in our real strug­gles. With regard to Chom­sky, I claim that his bias some­times leads him to selec­tions of facts and con­clu­sions which obfus­cate the com­plex real­i­ty he is try­ing to ana­lyze.


Con­se­quent­ly, what today, in the pre­dom­i­nant West­ern pub­lic speech, the “Human Rights of the Third World suf­fer­ing vic­tims” effec­tive­ly mean is the right of the West­ern pow­ers them­selves to intervene—politically, eco­nom­i­cal­ly, cul­tur­al­ly, militarily—in the Third World coun­tries of their choice on behalf of the defense of Human Rights. My dis­agree­ment with Chomsky’s polit­i­cal analy­ses lies else­where: his neglect of how ide­ol­o­gy works, as well as the prob­lem­at­ic nature of his biased deal­ing with facts which often leads him to do what he accus­es his oppo­nents of doing.

But I think that the dif­fer­ences in our polit­i­cal posi­tions are so min­i­mal that they can­not real­ly account for the thor­ough­ly dis­mis­sive tone of Chomsky’s attack on me. Our con­flict is real­ly about some­thing else—it is sim­ply a new chap­ter in the end­less gigan­tomachy between so-called con­ti­nen­tal phi­los­o­phy and the Anglo-Sax­on empiri­cist tra­di­tion. There is noth­ing spe­cif­ic in Chomsky’s critique—the same accu­sa­tions of irra­tional­i­ty, of emp­ty pos­tur­ing, of play­ing with fan­cy words, were heard hun­dreds of times against Hegel, against Hei­deg­ger, against Der­ri­da, etc. What stands out is only the blind bru­tal­i­ty of his dis­missal

I think one can con­vinc­ing­ly show that the con­ti­nen­tal tra­di­tion in phi­los­o­phy, although often dif­fi­cult to decode, and sometimes—I am the first to admit this—defiled by fan­cy jar­gon, remains in its core a mode of think­ing which has its own ratio­nal­i­ty, inclu­sive of respect for empir­i­cal data. And I fur­ther­more think that, in order to grasp the dif­fi­cult predica­ment we are in today, to get an ade­quate cog­ni­tive map­ping of our sit­u­a­tion, one should not shirk the resorts of the con­ti­nen­tal tra­di­tion in all its guis­es, from the Hegelian dialec­tics to the French “decon­struc­tion.” Chom­sky obvi­ous­ly doesn’t agree with me here. So what if—just anoth­er fan­cy idea of mine—what if Chom­sky can­not find any­thing in my work that goes “beyond the lev­el of some­thing you can explain in five min­utes to a twelve-year-old” because, when he deals with con­ti­nen­tal thought, it is his mind which func­tions as the mind of a twelve-year-old, the mind which is unable to dis­tin­guish seri­ous philo­soph­i­cal reflec­tion from emp­ty pos­tur­ing and play­ing with emp­ty words?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Noam Chom­sky Slams Žižek and Lacan: Emp­ty ‘Pos­tur­ing’

Slavoj Žižek Responds to Noam Chom­sky: ‘I Don’t Know a Guy Who Was So Often Empir­i­cal­ly Wrong’

The Feud Con­tin­ues: Noam Chom­sky Responds to Žižek, Describes Remarks as ‘Sheer Fan­ta­sy’

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (35)
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  • Blake Zimring says:

    Hahah­hah — that punch line was exact­ly my reac­tion to Chom­sky’s cri­tique. I remem­ber Von­negut writ­ing some­thing like this in Cat’s Cra­dle — and I reject­ed the, “explain it to a twelve year old,” cri­te­ri­on then, too.

  • arlyndab says:

    I’m with the line attrib­uted to Ein­stein: “If you can’t explain it sim­ply, you don’t under­stand it well enough.” And my response to read­ing Lacan and Zizek was the same as Chom­sky’s, that under­neath all the rhetoric, the ideas were pret­ty obvi­ous and unimpressive–sound and fury signifying–if not noth­ing, then less than the hype promised.

    Zizek’s defen­sive respons­es sug­gest that Chom­sky struck a nerve…and only an attack with a grain of truth in it can do that.

  • Ross carruthers says:

    They are both great minds and both make valid points. Zizeks ten­dan­cy to ver­bal flour­ish­ing ges­tures vs noams obses­sion with empir­i­cal fac­tu­al details. It would be great if they had a head to head inter­view but it would need a good host to keep the peace. Noam was harsh­ly dis­mis­sive imho but at least he pro­vides a coun­ter­point and coun­ter­weight to zizek.

  • Dan says:

    You write “These are all impor­tant ques­tions that nei­ther Žižek nor Chom­sky has yet tak­en on direct­ly, but that both have oblique­ly addressed in testy off-the-cuff ver­bal inter­views…” refer­ring to whether or not thinkers on the left should aim for clar­i­ty ” lest obscu­ran­tist and jar­gon-laden writ­ing become itself an oppres­sive tool.”

    Zizek self-evi­dent­ly does­n’t care about clar­i­ty or the con­se­quences of his obscu­ran­tism, but Chom­sky deals with these issues very thor­ough­ly (spelling out the con­se­quences) in a 9 minute 2011 video very easy to find on YouTube: “Chom­sky on Sci­ence and Post­mod­ernism” at

  • Vince says:

    I think the point Zizek is try­ing to state is sim­ply that one can­not sub­tract itself from ide­ol­o­gy; since Kant we know there is no such thing as pure unbi­ased objec­tiv­i­ty. In these line of thought, Chom­sky reveals him­self as much more ‘dis­hon­est’ than Zizek, since he does not admit the under­ly­ing cri­te­ria (ide­ol­o­gy) that sus­tains his the­o­ry. In fact, it is a real­ly naive approach to rely on ’empir­i­cal data’, not acknowl­edg­ing the vio­lence exer­cised onto real­i­ty (object or noume­na if you pre­fer) when ques­tion­ing and inter­pret­ing facts. On the oth­er hand, Zizek trans­lates the dis­cus­sion onto a much more polit­i­cal lev­el, since there is more of a polit­i­cal –in all sens­es of the word–context or sub­text in the essence of philo­soph­i­cal inquiry (regard­ing the innu­mer­able amount of assump­tions that guide philo­soph­i­cal thought or reflec­tion).

  • Josh Jones says:

    Dan, you may be inter­est­ed in this post we did on that very inter­view (which has noth­ing to do with Zizek):

    Also, note that Zizek, in the text above, rejects the label “post­mod­ernism” and claims to respect the empir­i­cal sci­ences, not reject them.

  • Ding Dong says:

    Dan says: “Zizek self-evi­dent­ly doesn’t care about clar­i­ty or the con­se­quences of his obscu­ran­tism”

    1) “self-evi­dent­ly,” as used in this sen­tence, is a text­book exam­ple of “obscu­ran­tism” that attempts to add rhetor­i­cal weight to a state­ment, while actu­al­ly detract­ing from clar­i­ty.

    2) Zizek’s work in quite clear to any­one with a back­ground in the fields he is writ­ing in. Some­one unfa­mil­iar with the vocab­u­lary of 20th cen­tu­ry physics will have dif­fi­cult with Ein­stein as well. Did you also dis­miss Niet­zsche when you did­n’t com­pre­hend his mean­ing in the first 20 pages you put your­self through? Sor­ry, but dif­fi­cult ideas will be dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend for peo­ple who aren’t capa­ble or not will­ing to put in the effort.

    3) The nar­cis­sism of blam­ing a writer’s “obscu­ran­tism” is such a bla­tant trans­fer­ence of the read­er’s own intel­lec­tu­al fail­ure to com­pre­hend. Sad­ly, the trend seems to be explod­ing in the last decade.

  • Olson says:

    So sad and pathet­ic. Just notice what Zizek wrote: “…how could I have done it [give evi­dence] in an impro­vised reply to an unex­pect­ed ques­tion?” He’s say­ing, how could I give evi­dence for my claim, since I did­n’t expect the ques­tion. That’s what he wrote in his essay. So unless he expects the ques­tion in advance, his­bril­liant genius can’t back up a sim­ple claim. This poor man is so irra­tional it real­ly makes me won­der.

    Zizek, you’re a sad and pathet­ic los­er. You’re not even worth a crit­i­cism.

  • CMAC says:

    Zizek is right about one thing, but every­one else on this thread is wrong… Very wrong.

  • jkop says:

    @Vince: your ref­er­ence to the author­i­ty of Kant is iron­ic, for Kant is a hard core emir­i­cal real­ist, not a rel­a­tivist. Although his tran­scen­den­tal ide­al­ism sug­gests a lim­it for pos­si­ble knowl­edge it is a lim­it beyond which there is noth­ing more to know. It is part of his argu­ment (CPR) for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of “pure unbi­ased objec­tiv­i­ty” regard­ing empir­i­cal facts.

  • J P Roos says:

    But where is the very detailed response by Zizek? Not that it real­ly would inter­est me, con­sid­er­ing the sil­ly quo­ta­tions (I am not say­ing that every­thing is just dif­fer­ent sto­ries, but there are dif­fer­ent stories…)from it, but any­way…

  • Helvitus Jonsson says:

    I fas­ten pieces of wood togeth­er for a liv­ing, and can­not use terms like “con­ti­nen­tal phi­los­o­phy” or “obscu­ran­tist” in a sen­tence (Oh no- I just did; should I have a cup of cof­fee or kill myself?).

    That said, I would pre­fer Mr. Chom­sky as my tax pre­par­er, and Mr. Zizek as my hos­pice coun­selor. If Felix and Oscar aren’t already steal­ing furtive gropes behind the boil­er, then they clear­ly must be fused togeth­er. The hip. This would avoid the head vs. tail con­flict in a human cen­tipede-type assem­bly.

    I’m sure each would cheer­ful­ly replace/modify their pants to be 50 per­cent of a per­fect­ly log­i­cal yet emo­tion­al­ly intel­li­gent being. A per­pet­u­al­ly bick­er­ing bicam­er­al Janus super-genius to explain democ­ra­cy to the world.

    Or absent that, a dance off.

  • Josean Figueroa says:

    I dis­like Zizek. I agree with Chom­sky’s crit­i­cism. His claim that he rep­re­sents ‘con­ti­nen­tal phi­los­o­phy’ and thus the crit­i­cism against him, is vain — both as in rep­re­sent­ing his van­i­ty and in being emp­ty of con­tent.

  • Russell Dale says:

    Very sad on Zizek’s part that he does­n’t care enough about the empir­i­cal to get things right about Rwan­da in his most recent com­ments (“Some Bewil­dered Clar­i­fi­ca­tions”). He speaks of “the mass slaugh­ter of Hutus by Tut­sis in Ruan­da in 1999. Indeed, the US-backed Kagame regime has been slaugh­ter­ing his oppo­nents, often, but not exclu­sive­ly Hutus, since Octo­ber 1990. And espe­cial­ly since, again with US-back­ing, Kagame and Musev­eni (US-backed dic­ta­tor of Ugan­da just to the north of Rwan­da) attacked Kivu Province, in the Dem Rep of Con­go in 1996, launch­ing the mas­sive geno­cide that con­tin­ues to this day in Kivu. But, Zizek seems to want to be refer­ring to the (false) main­stream sto­ry in his remark where­in the Hutus alleged­ly slaugh­tered the Tut­sis for 100 days fol­low­ing April 6, 1994, when the plane car­ry­ing then-pres­i­dent of Rwan­da Juve­nal Hab­ya­ri­mana and then-pres­i­dent of Burun­di Cyprien Ntaryami­ra was shot down by Kagame’s RPF.

    It’s amaz­ing that Zizek does­n’t care about the facts enough to get such things straight.

  • Telo Schizflux says:

    I recall read­ing Chom­sky’s Syn­tac­tic Struc­tures. Could not make much sense of it. A reduc­tion of his the­sis – its philo­soph­i­cal impli­ca­tions – found in the ency­clo­pe­dia of Lin­guis­tics was more elu­ci­dat­ing. Almost to the point of banal­i­ty. And I remem­ber read­ing Zizek who was expound­ing on garbage. The piece was at least fun­ny. The author con­clud­ed that we should some­how love the junk we pro­duce. I can trace and explain his train of thought to a 12 years old – from start to fin­ish, no prob­lem. Syn­tac­tic Struc­tures? No so sure about this one with­out a ref­er­ence to the ency­clo­pe­dia. As far as this debate is con­cerned, it’s weird how Chom­sky appoints him­self a judge in what appears to be the ques­tion of per­son­al cog­ni­tion. Peo­ple do read Zizek – not that they are forced to do so. Which means they do under­stand some­thing in his writ­ing at start and can relate to top­i­cal­ly. Dif­fi­cult as it may be to some and impen­e­tra­ble to many oth­ers, his writ­ing speaks to them. It means at least some­thing, I pre­sume. But Chom­sky says it should not.

  • jack the ace student says:

    O my did I see ter­ence blake weigh­ing in on this? O jeez, this might get interesting,except that his work is real­ly an over­done elab­o­rate copy­cat of that oth­er french ‘penseur’ of the obscure left.. Der­ri­da? Blake is going to try to make this all very ‘indi­vid­u­at­ed’ and very Deleuz­ian who by the way, Zizek, took the piss out of in his book Organs with­out Bod­ies. I think what’s his name at Znet start­ed this whole thing, Michael Albert . He was the one that asked Chom­sky what he thought. But who cares real­ly? Chom­sky thinks he is a prophet but for­gets all the things that make up the day to day lives of mil­lions who don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly agree with him. Its refresh­ing to see him get his own. He can’t take on Zizek, he’s out of his depth. He’s already lost, and I bet ten to one he won’t even both­er reply­ing to Zizek’s excel­lent response at Ver­so Books.

  • Mario Savioni says:

    From my response at:

    Chom­sky v. Zizek

    Post­ed on July 27, 2013
    Var­i­ous arti­cles, blogs have cov­ered an alleged debate that has sprung up in response to Noam Chomsky’s insult of writ­ers like Slavoj Zizek, who Chom­sky believes pos­ture, by using fan­cy terms like poly­syl­la­bles and pre­tend to have a the­o­ry when they have no the­o­ry what­so­ev­er, see:, any­way, here is my take on the event(s):

    See also:



    C.; and

    D., for exam­ple.


    1. Zizek pro­vides no the­o­ry.


    1. Test­ed gen­er­al propo­si­tions

    2. Regard­ed as cor­rect

    3. That can be used to explain

    4. That can be used to pre­dict

    5. Expla­na­tions of which sta­tus still unproven and sub­ject to exper­i­ment.

    A. In Zizek’s book The Par­al­lax View, he pro­posed that anec­dotes he pro­vid­ed share an expressed “Occur­rence of an insur­mount­able par­al­lax gap, the con­fronta­tion of two close­ly linked per­spec­tives between which no neu­tral com­mon ground is pos­si­ble.”

    B. In Chomsky’s book On Lan­guage, Chom­sky said, “There is no very direct con­nec­tion between my polit­i­cal activ­i­ties, writ­ing and oth­ers, and the work bear­ing on lan­guage struc­ture, though in some mea­sure they per­haps derive from cer­tain com­mon assump­tions and atti­tudes with regard to basic aspects of human natures. Crit­i­cal analy­sis in the ide­o­log­i­cal are­na seems to be a fair­ly straight­for­ward mat­ter as com­pared to an approach that requires a degree of con­cep­tu­al abstrac­tion. For the analy­sis of ide­ol­o­gy, which occu­pies me very much, a bit of open-mind­ed­ness, nor­mal intel­li­gence, and healthy skep­ti­cism will gen­er­al­ly suf­fice.”

    C. Zizek likes the­o­ret­i­cal think­ing.

    D. Chomsky’s “Gen­er­a­tive grammar…attempts to give a set of rules that will cor­rect­ly pre­dict which com­bi­na­tions of words will form gram­mat­i­cal sen­tences.” As a poet, I find this propo­si­tion ridicu­lous or at least mechan­i­cal and emp­ty, but of course I under­stand it. It seems at times words come to me in an arbi­trary fash­ion. I can work with mag­ne­tized words and arrange them in such as way as to adhere to the sur­prise com­bi­na­tions that can be afford­ed after a lit­tle atten­tion. One day, I expect a poet will be made to con­test a com­put­er in the act of writ­ing a poem based on Chomsky’s the­o­ry. And the poet will know at the out­set that giv­en any num­ber of pos­si­ble sequences, a line will be formed that will serve the same func­tion that a line in a good poem might. Because the process of writ­ing poet­ry is about writ­ing words that make us think about ideas and in so doing we think with­in our­selves about things that were once out­side of us. They become mean­ing­ful and impor­tant because they catch our aes­thet­ic eye, our love of lan­guage and ideas.

    F. Zizek is a philoso­pher. He likes to study the nature and ori­gin of ideas. He likes the­o­riz­ing of a vision­ary or imprac­ti­cal nature.

    G. Chom­sky becomes a philoso­pher when he says Zizek has no the­o­ry. And Chom­sky admits that “There is no very direct con­nec­tion between [his] polit­i­cal activ­i­ties, writ­ing and oth­ers, and the work bear­ing on lan­guage struc­ture, though in some mea­sure they per­haps derive from cer­tain com­mon assump­tions and atti­tudes with regard to basic aspects of human natures” and “Crit­i­cal analy­sis in the ide­o­log­i­cal are­na seems to be a fair­ly straight­for­ward mat­ter as com­pared to an approach that requires a degree of con­cep­tu­al abstrac­tion. For the analy­sis of ide­ol­o­gy, which occu­pies me very much, a bit of open-mind­ed­ness, nor­mal intel­li­gence, and healthy skep­ti­cism will gen­er­al­ly suf­fice.”

    H. Chom­sky said we don’t need cri­tiques of ide­ol­o­gy we just need the facts because there is already a cyn­i­cism of those in pow­er. He exem­pli­fies this with the fact: ‘This com­pa­ny is prof­it­ing in Iraq.’

    I. Zizek said dai­ly life is ide­ol­o­gy. He said that Krug­man said that the idea of aus­ter­i­ty is not good the­o­ry. It was just a con­clu­sion drawn by those in pow­er to fix the econ­o­my, Krug­man said.

    J. Zizek in effect calls Chom­sky a cyn­ic when he says that cyn­ics don’t see things as they real­ly are. He cites Chomsky’s inabil­i­ty to see that the Khmer Rouge or Stal­in­ist Rus­sia were hor­ri­ble, since Chom­sky did not con­sult pri­ma­ry sources, i.e. pub­lic dis­course.

    K. Zizek is com­fort­able with the effi­cien­cy of the­o­ret­i­cal think­ing.

    L. Even Chom­sky men­tioned that he has been asked to speak on math­e­mat­i­cal lin­guis­tics and yet he is not cre­den­tialed there­in. He is self-taught. He said the math­e­mati­cians could care less. “What they want to know is what I have to say…whether I am right or wrong, whether the sub­ject is interesting…whether bet­ter approach­es are pos­si­ble — the dis­cus­sion dealt with the sub­ject, not with my right to dis­cuss it, p. 6.”

    M. Zizek pro­vides the­o­ry. In the act of speaking/writing, his ideas as words in the Eng­lish lan­guage are pro­pos­als, often gen­er­al, and they are test­ed as they hit the air or even in his mind they are being heard. We often know what sounds cor­rect. Our beliefs, atti­tudes, and val­ues are shared giv­en the gen­er­al con­sen­sus inher­ent in expe­ri­ence. There­by, they are regard­ed as cor­rect or incor­rect. These propo­si­tions of his are used to explain and pre­dict, and at times they are expla­na­tions that are unproven and sub­ject to con­tem­pla­tion and the rig­ors of exper­i­men­ta­tion, but Zizek in his asser­tions, no mat­ter the weight and com­plex­i­ty of his words, is legit­i­mate­ly explain­ing what we may wish to ignore or feign the desire to deci­pher, define, or con­note.

    N. The fact that Chom­sky said that gram­mar con­tains a rudi­men­ta­ry gen­er­a­tive syn­tax implies a uni­ver­sal­i­ty of lan­guage. And Lakoff has said this and I believe Mer­leau-Pon­ty did too. But, this com­mon­al­i­ty of the capac­i­ty to think in words in com­ple­ment to Chomsky’s desire that sim­plic­i­ty be used relates to the metaphor­i­cal world. And whether we deduce or empir­i­cal­ly test, we remain bound to lan­guage to express. Thomas Kuhn said our bias­es are always there. An insect would roll his eyes at our con­clu­sions. We are stuck in this world self-enter­tain­ing. And for Chom­sky to attack a man cer­tain­ly as enter­tain­ing as he is in bad form. Empiri­cism and deduc­tion are no greater than the­o­riz­ing and espous­ing, like the math­e­mati­cians, we all just want to know what Zizek has to say…whether he is right or wrong, whether the sub­ject is interesting…whether bet­ter approach­es are pos­si­ble and the dis­cus­sion dealt with the sub­ject, not with Zizek’s right to dis­cuss it. — Mario Savioni

  • Simon Collery says:

    “[M]ust all phi­los­o­phy emu­late the sci­ences? Must it be empir­i­cal and con­sis­tent­ly make trans­par­ent truth claims?”

    To the first ques­tion, per­haps not; per­haps not empir­i­cal either. But if con­sis­ten­cy, trans­paren­cy and truth are all absent, would there be any phi­los­o­phy left? It is hard to know what you would end up with.

  • jkop says:

    It is triv­ial­ly true that obscure expres­sions can nei­ther share nor pro­duce deter­mi­nate mean­ings. Yet some “the­o­rists” or their sup­port­ers seem to believe in hid­den mean­ings, e.g. that a play with obscure expres­sions, or a ‘dis­course’ on their appro­pri­ate inter­pre­ta­tions, would mag­i­cal­ly reveal what is hid­den for those who mere­ly read with ‘logo­cen­tric’ eyes..

    But with­out log­ic or facts “the­o­ries” are mere­ly dif­fered com­pared by the psy­cho­log­i­cal or soci­o­log­i­cal effects of their use of “advanced” or the­o­ret­i­cal look­ing lan­guage, intend­ed to con­vince or per­suade with­out rea­son.

    The late Denis Dut­ton described one of Judith But­ler’s infa­mous­ly obscure expres­sions like this:

    “To ask what this means is to miss the point. This sen­tence beats read­ers into sub­mis­sion and instructs them that they are in the pres­ence of a great and deep mind. Actu­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion has noth­ing to do with it.”

  • Vince says:

    @Jkop: I said since Kant because is from his rev­o­lu­tion­ary tran­scen­den­tal ide­al­ism that the naive empir­i­cal approach col­laps­es, lead­ing thinkers like Fichte, Schelling and Hegel into ide­al­ism (which I’m sure Kant would­n’t sub­scribe, although one can argue that the core of ide­al­ism is in the KRV). You are deeply wrong when you state that Kant was a “hard core empir­i­cal real­ist”, when he active­ly presents argu­ments to refute empiri­cism (in the fig­ure of Hume for exam­ple). In order to be hon­est with your­self, you should acknowl­edge that since XVIII cen­tu­ry, there is no cer­tain­ty regard­ing objec­tiv­i­ty, at least not with­out rely­ing on a huge amount of dog­mat­ic assump­tions.

  • jkop says:

    @Vince: Indeed, Kant active­ly presents argu­ments to refute empiri­cism. You’re cer­tain­ly right about that :) But he also refutes ratio­nal­ism, sub­jec­tivism, mys­ti­cism, and, above all, scep­ti­cism, i.e. the belief that knowl­edge would be uncer­tain. You claim the con­trary, which is iron­ic.

    For if Hume would be right about the lack of neces­si­ty, then scep­ti­cism would fol­low regard­ing cer­tain knowl­edge of empir­i­cal facts. Kan­t’s counter-argu­ment is that the neces­si­ty comes from us, hence tran­scen­den­tal ide­al­ism to jus­ti­fy empir­i­cal real­ism

    This is as close as one can get to cer­tain pos­si­ble knowl­edge of empir­i­cal facts. Yet Kant is wide­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed, part­ly because of his com­pli­cat­ed style of writ­ing. But Kant is the oppo­site of a scep­tic.

  • John says:

    Chom­sky dis­agreed with Fou­cault, but seemed to believe it was a dis­agree­ment of sub­stance. With Zizek, there’s not enough sub­stance to war­rant a dis­agree­ment, just a dis­missal.

  • Mario Savioni says:

    Hav­ing read Chom­sky’s book On Lan­guage and Zizek’s book The Par­al­lax View, I found Chom­sky to be less intel­lec­tu­al­ly enter­tain­ing. Chom­sky talked about a Uni­ver­sal gram­mar, while Zizek blew me away on a num­ber of top­ics, most inter­est­ing of which was a dis­cus­sion of Hen­ry James’ book The Wings of the Dove as well as the con­cept of anti-anti Semi­tism. Chom­sky clear­ly defeat­ed Alan Der­showitz in a debate about Israel (See:… but he did not defeat Fou­cault in the sense that as was stat­ed in the debate by Elders that Fou­cault was “work­ing on a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent lev­el and with a total­ly oppo­site aim and goal,” which Fou­cault agrees to when he says: “There­fore I have, in appear­ance at least, a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent atti­tude to Mr. Chom­sky apro­pos cre­ativ­i­ty, because for me it is a mat­ter of effac­ing the dilem­ma of the know­ing sub­ject, while for him it is a mat­ter of allow­ing the dilem­ma of the speak­ing sub­ject to reap­pear.”

    I think Chom­sky has an agen­da, where he states, for exam­ple: “What I’m argu­ing is this: if we have the choice between trust­ing in cen­tral­ized pow­er to make the right deci­sion in that mat­ter, or trust­ing in free asso­ci­a­tions of lib­er­tar­i­an com­mu­ni­ties to make that deci­sion, I would rather trust the lat­ter. And the rea­son is that I think that they can serve to max­i­mize decent human instincts, where­as a sys­tem of cen­tral­ized pow­er will tend in a gen­er­al way to max­i­mize one of the worst of human instincts, name­ly the instinct of rapa­cious­ness, of destruc­tive­ness, of accu­mu­lat­ing pow­er to one­self and destroy­ing oth­ers.” This is ver­sus Fou­cault’s posi­tion, where he states: “I would say that our soci­ety has been afflict­ed by a dis­ease, a very curi­ous, a very para­dox­i­cal dis­ease, for which we haven’t yet found a name; and this men­tal dis­ease has a very curi­ous symp­tom, which is that the symp­tom itself brought the men­tal dis­ease into being… You can’t pre­vent me from believ­ing that these notions of human nature, of jus­tice, of the real­iza­tion of the essence of human beings, are all notions and con­cepts which have been formed with­in our civ­i­liza­tion, with­in our type of knowl­edge and our form of phi­los­o­phy, and that as a result form part of our class sys­tem; and one can’t, how­ev­er regret­table it may be, put for­ward these notions to describe or jus­ti­fy a fight which should-and shall in principle–overthrow the very fun­da­ments of our soci­ety. This is an extrap­o­la­tion for which I can’t find the his­tor­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion,” (See:…

    Chom­sky might be con­tra­dict­ing him­self when he said in his book On Lan­guage that, “Lan­guage serves essen­tial­ly for the expres­sion of thought… Per­haps the instru­men­tal­ist con­cep­tion of lan­guage is relat­ed to the gen­er­al belief that human action and its cre­ations, along with the intel­lec­tu­al struc­ture of human beings, are designed for the sat­is­fac­tion of cer­tain phys­i­cal needs (food, well-being, secu­ri­ty, etc.). Why try to reduce intel­lec­tu­al and artis­tic achieve­ments to ele­men­tary needs?” (From:
    Lan­guage and Respon­si­bil­i­ty, pp. 88–89.)

    He was crit­i­cal of George Lakoff too when he said that Lakoff was “Work­ing on ‘cog­ni­tive gram­mar,’ which inte­grates lan­guage with non­lin­guis­tic sys­tems.” Chom­sky said he did­n’t “See any the­o­ry in prospect there,” Ibid, p. 150. Chom­sky said that Lakoff pro­posed “arbi­trary” rela­tions between mean­ing and form.

    If we take the idea of “Anti-anti Semi­tism,” for exam­ple, what Zizek is talk­ing about is fun­da­men­tal­ly impor­tant. His asser­tion is that peo­ple are chang­ing their once sacred and pro­tec­tive views of Israelis because it would appear that like an abused child, Israelis have grown up to abuse. It is a slow aware­ness but one that legit­imizes Zizek because his the­o­ry both pre­dicts the future and explains the present and so the idea is not arbi­trary, but rather it is pro­found.

    I think Lakoff and Zizek have a lot in com­mon, where Lakof­f’s book Phi­los­o­phy in the Flesh talked about how sci­ence was no greater than what man could con­ceive through the con­text of his mind as in metaphors, which is a bit like Chom­sky’s idea of organs hav­ing a mem­o­ry and that lan­guage was already built in.

    When­ev­er some­one attacks anoth­er per­son because of the type of lan­guage that per­son uses, as in Chom­sky’s state­ment: “I’m not inter­est­ed in posturing–using fan­cy terms like poly­syl­la­bles and pre­tend­ing you have a the­o­ry when you have no the­o­ry what­so­ev­er,” it fails to address the mean­ing of those terms sep­a­rate­ly or con­joined. I found Zizek to be clear and infor­ma­tive, where I found Chom­sky to be nar­row­ly focused and repet­i­tive.

    I think Chom­sky may be loos­ing his sense of humor and tak­ing him­self too seri­ous­ly. How can some­one “kind of like” anoth­er per­son? The world is full of ideas. Philoso­phers look over the shoul­ders of sci­en­tists and dis­cuss the appli­ca­tion of dis­cov­er­ies. Chom­sky says that we nev­er change, which is a bit like say­ing that what sci­en­tists dis­cov­er is noth­ing new. And Lakoff would agree. Chom­sky gen­er­al­izes the “pos­tur­ing” Paris intel­lec­tu­als and I believe he com­mits the sins of the argu­ment ad hominem and arbi­trari­ness he blames Lakoff for. I believe he is pro­ject­ing his own fail­ures to change a world that has allowed him to the­o­rize. Fun­ny, he says, “Humans may devel­op their capac­i­ties with­out lim­it, but nev­er escap­ing cer­tain objec­tive bounds set by their bio­log­i­cal nature.” (Chom­sky, Ibid., p. 124)

  • William Large says:

    Your fas­ci­na­tion with this emp­ty argu­ment is rather strange. I also find your descrip­tion of Zizek’s blog as ‘very clear­ly writ­ten’ amus­ing, as though it were some­thing he was most­ly inca­pable of doing. You write as though you were bal­anced, but your con­tempt of ‘the­o­ry’ as you call is obvi­ous in most of what you write.

  • jkop says:

    @Mario: you say that Chom­sky’s attack “fails to address the mean­ing of terms sep­a­rate­ly or con­joined”. But Chom­sky’s point is that Zizek’s use of terms offers no con­clu­sions nor a the­o­ry to address. Hence the attack on Zizek’s use of lan­guage.

    For exam­ple, some terms may be too inde­ter­mi­nate (e.g. sweep­ing hegelian abstrac­tions), or their con­junc­tions vio­late or evade argu­ment form from which con­clu­sions could be made. It is there­fore not the­o­ry in any true sense of the word.

    Nor is it poet­ry. Poets don’t usu­al­ly label their poems the­o­ry, and if a poem is expressed obscure­ly, then it would be inde­ter­mi­nate­ly any­thing and not specif­i­cal­ly a poem. Obscu­ri­ty has lttle to do with poet­ry or the­o­ry, but more with fail­ure.

  • some dude, half joking says:

    In Rus­sia, Edward Snow­den is being tor­tured; what we and most west­ern audi­ences don’t know is that, giv­en the inter­re­la­tion between US and Rus­sia oil inter­ests, a secret deal may have been struck between Oba­ma and Putin: rus­sia grants a phoney-baloney asylum…etc. etc. The point is that Snow­den no longer mat­ters; he IS a talk­ing point, but, hon­est­ly, I’m just so relieved that young Han­nah Ander­son is safe…I mean.…FUCK!

  • Mario Savioni says:

    @Jkop, What I meant by Chomsky’s fail­ure to address the mean­ing of Zizek’s terms is that if you read Zizek and if you define the words he uses, you will come up with what I found, which is that Zizek is clear.

    Zizek’s state­ments offer con­clu­sions. His whole book Par­al­lax View, for exam­ple, is a thesis/theory about two sides of an intel­lec­tu­al coin.

    I am real­ly put off by this idea that Zizek does not the­o­rize. His propo­si­tions are the­o­ries about real­i­ty.

    When I talk about Thomas Kuhn, I am address­ing par­a­digm shifts, where, which I am sure you know, old great the­o­ries are replaced by oth­er great the­o­ries, which will also be replaced. What that says is that it turns the­o­ries into pos­tu­lates that seem to work as the legal con­cept known as shift­ing sands. We are so sure until some­one comes up with a bet­ter idea or the­o­ry. Lakoff talks about metaphors. Our the­o­ries are metaphors for how real­i­ty works. As human beings, we can think in terms that our brains can define and share. When we com­mu­ni­cate great the­o­ries, we reduce them to metaphor­i­cal sym­bols or for­mu­las and I believe great the­o­ries are born through insights that are then proven. Ideas give birth to accu­rate ways of see­ing the world or at least new ways of see­ing. Each idea about some­thing is a the­o­ry.

    Chom­sky attacks talk­ing. He attacks the gen­er­a­tive nature of lan­guage. He hates that Zizek or Fou­cault, I am sure, or any oth­er num­ber of writ­ers, who tool up com­plex lan­guage to define some­thing that he thinks should be made sim­ple for a 12-year-old to under­stand. Well, I dis­agree because that would be to take the joy out of read­ing Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Noth­ing­ness or Heidegger’s Being and Time or Foucault’s sec­tion on “Mad­ness, The Absence of an Oeu­vre,” for exam­ple.

    The words these great minds use cre­ate vast land­scapes of ideas and thoughts, they bring us to a greater appre­ci­a­tion of who we are because we are not left on a sin­gle plane of under­stand­ing or appre­ci­a­tion. When I read Heidegger’s Being and Time, I felt he under­stood, as I felt, that there are bil­lions of things going on at once, which is eas­i­ly under­stood by a 12-year-old because of the capac­i­ty of the intel­lect or sen­si­tiv­i­ty to life. Hei­deg­ger wrote in such a way as to both man­i­fest his point and to alter the reader’s mind. It was being in the mind of the genius as he thought about being and time.

    What defeats Chom­sky or makes his argu­ment disin­gen­u­ous is his state­ment about math­e­mat­i­cal lin­guis­tics and his lack of cre­den­tials and yet he gives talks and the math­e­mat­i­cal lin­guists lis­ten because he might say some­thing that is cor­rect or new and also cor­rect. Being cre­den­tialed does not a the­o­ry make.

    Zizek can use the Eng­lish lan­guage any­way he wants, because in the end we sim­ply take our dic­tio­nar­ies and define the terms and address the gram­mat­i­cal con­structs, which have mean­ing. We can test his the­o­ries in terms of our experience/experimentation.

    I do not agree with your asser­tion that some of Zizek’s terms are inde­ter­mi­nate. None, as far as I can tell, are thus. They are based in the Eng­lish lan­guage or at least they are trans­lat­able.

    Noth­ing I have read of his evades argu­ment. His words argu­ment inher­ent­ly, for any­thing a per­son says is arguable.

    It is the­o­ry in the sense that one def­i­n­i­tion of the word the­o­ry is: “A con­tem­pla­tive and ratio­nal type of abstract or gen­er­al­iz­ing think­ing, or the results of such think­ing.” (Tak­en from Wikipedia).

    As a poet, I dis­agree that poet­ry is not the­o­ry. It is an emo­tive syn­the­sis of real­i­ty akin to Einstein’s The­o­ry of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty. It works on the plane of emo­tion, while Einstein’s works on the plane of explain­ing the phe­nom­e­na known as dila­tion when mea­sur­ing quan­ti­ties that are rel­a­tive to the veloc­i­ties of observers, and where space and time should be con­sid­ered togeth­er, but where the speed of light is unvary­ing for all observers. (Tak­en from Wikipedia)

    Both poet­ry and Einstein’s the­o­ry are try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate what real­i­ty is, the poet in emo­tive terms, Ein­stein on even more abstract terms and hence Einstein’s obscure pos­tu­lates that could just as eas­i­ly be called inde­ter­mi­nate, except that he puts words to the pos­tu­la­tion, just as the poet puts words to her pos­tu­la­tions. (Please read POETRY IS NOT A PROJECT by Dorothea Lasky: to know what I mean by the sim­i­lar­i­ties between poets and sci­en­tists.)

    When I write the fol­low­ing, for exam­ple, I am con­tem­plat­ing a ratio­nal type of abstract or gen­er­al­ized think­ing. It is a the­o­ry about a moment in a cafe, where I am look­ing through the front win­dow at a woman. I hope to be with her just by her crotch, which is what I want of a par­tic­u­lar design, and where I come to this point, time and time again, such that in terms of the mea­sure­ments of these var­i­ous quan­ti­ties they are rel­a­tive to the speed of my obser­va­tion, to the sim­i­lar obser­va­tions of oth­ers, who also come to this point, dilat­ing, where the space and time of the moment should be con­sid­ered togeth­er as the light in know­ing this is invari­ant:

    In Truth

    It looks like rain but it isn’t, thun­der­clouds but they aren’t. Back in Milano, the cafe, that is, where I peer through the shat­tered glass of the front win­dow, hope walks by… I can’t see faces just the crotch­es of slim women — what I want in a lover. Time and time again I come to this point. (The poem, “In Truth,” page 14, Uncer­tain­ty, by Mario Savioni, © 2000 and revised in 2011, go to:

    Both Ein­stein and poets are using the Eng­lish lan­guage to explain a phe­nom­e­non they have expe­ri­enced or in the poet’s expres­sive obscu­ri­ty he too is com­mu­ni­cat­ing what is true because obscu­ri­ty may be his theme. There is no fail­ure in obscu­ri­ty; some­times that’s the point. I once reviewed an artist’s work and found her work ugly, but it was in that ugli­ness that she was mak­ing a point about real­i­ty that was true. At times ugli­ness is true and truth is always beau­ti­ful, even though it may be asym­met­ri­cal (See:

    I think you guys are not get­ting the point. Zizek is a great mind and Chom­sky is disin­gen­u­ous or at least for­get­ful that ideas are the stuff of the­o­ry and words are defin­able and so we are nev­er lost to obscu­ri­ty. If so, we are not work­ing hard enough.

  • Dh says:

    Sure­ly Zizek can list the the­o­ries and accom­plish­ments of note, that have had an effect on the audi­ence meant to be affect­ed (name­ly, the vast major­i­ty of peo­ple, the work­ing class), deriv­ing from the con­ti­nen­tal tra­di­tion. Marx turns in his grave at these obfus­ca­to­ry aca­d­e­mics and their wor­ship of tra­di­tion­al philo­soph­i­cal meth­ods.

  • Ralph Melcher says:

    A clear dif­fer­ence between Chom­sky and Zizek can be seen in their visu­al style. Chom­sky speaks in a dry monot­o­ne, almost nev­er mov­ing any part of his body, relent­less­ly blud­geon­ing us with fact after fact to back up a sin­gle the­sis: that Amer­i­ca is essen­tial­ly and almost one dimen­sion­al­ly defin­able as an impe­ri­al­ist pow­er and it must be resist­ed at all lev­els. Lis­ten­ing to Chom­sky is like being forced to car­ry a heavy stone up a very long grade. nnnWatch­ing Zizek is like being at the cir­cus. Every­thing is mov­ing as he throws out per­spec­tives that chal­lenge us to view our world with dif­fer­ent eyes, dif­fer­ent think­ing struc­tures, dif­fer­ent per­cep­tions. For Zizek there is no mono­lith­ic ‘sci­en­tif­ic’ point of view that dom­i­nates all dis­course, but a flu­id and con­stant­ly exper­i­men­tal process of explo­ration that shifts in tone, col­or and con­clu­sion with every bit of new input. Zizek con­sid­ers ‘facts’ from as many angles as pos­si­ble. He is occa­sion­al­ly elu­sive as he chal­lenges us in a good humored way to keep up with him. From Zizek’s per­spec­tive we enter a future with a sense that things are very much unre­solved and that the most use­ful approach is one that chal­lenges every form of dog­ma that imag­ines real­i­ty to be some­thing set in con­crete. A nnn­Chom­sky speaks as if all of our per­cep­tions can be resolved by sim­ply view­ing the ‘facts’ objec­tive­ly. Beneath the sup­posed objec­tiv­i­ty is a set of dog­mat­ic assump­tions that can­not be ques­tions and that car­ry with them an air of sti­fling and oppres­sive author­i­ty. Not to say that his analy­sis and point of view isn’t valu­able as an alter­na­tive to the one pre­sent­ed in the main­stream media, but after years of lis­ten­ing I’ve come to feel his lec­tures are a form of self-tor­ture that lead me nowhere.

  • tomthumb3 says:

    @Melcher, you are argu­ing the man: ad hominem.

  • stevelaudig says:

    nar­co­tiz­ing fog [occa­sion­al­ly mild­ly amus­ing] is the only apt descrip­tion of Mr. Zizek’s usu­al writ­ing style. He can be clear when he wants to be which means it is inten­tion­al­ly fog. call it ‘fog for fun’ that it makes him inac­ces­si­ble sim­ply makes him less use­ful and rel­e­vant and, a mere enter­tain­er.

  • andreas says:

    Prob­a­bly one of the best Zizek inter­preters — Yana Novak:

  • Ralph Melcher says:

    Indeed I am. It was, in fact an encounter with the per­son, Chom­sky, at a lec­ture in New Mex­i­co that left me feel­ing (yes, I’m talk­ing about feel­ings) absolute­ly ener­vat­ed and unin­spired and bereft of any impulse toward pos­i­tive action. This expe­ri­ence has led me to see more and more why the Left in both Amer­i­ca and Eng­land have lost the atten­tion of the very peo­ple whom Chom­sky ide­al­izes, the work­ing poor and the mid­dle class­es. To begin with a dog­mat­ic premise and then to fol­low it up with noth­ing more than a relent­less litany of “facts” pur­port­ing to sup­port that dog­ma is both demor­al­iz­ing and bor­ing, not to men­tion elit­ist in the extreme. While Zizek engages with peo­ple Chom­sky pon­tif­i­cates.

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