Slavoj Žižek [slah-voy zhee-zhek] (b. 1949) is a Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic working. He has made contributions to political theory, film theory and theoretical psychoanalysis. Žižek is a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology University of Ljubljana.
Žižek uses examples from popular culture to explain the theory of Jacques Lacan and uses Lacanian psychoanalysis, Hegelian philosophy, and Marxist economic criticism to interpret and speak extensively on immediately current social phenomena, including the current ongoing global financial crisis.
He has described himself as a ‘communist in a qualified sense’ and a ‘radical leftist.’ It was not until the 1989 publication of his first book written in English, ‘The Sublime Object of Ideology,’ that Žižek achieved international recognition as a social theorist. Since then, he has continued to develop his status as a confrontational intellectual. He writes on many topics including subjectivity, ideology, capitalism, fundamentalism, racism, tolerance, multiculturalism, human rights, ecology, globalization, the Iraq War, revolution, utopianism, totalitarianism, postmodernism, pop culture, opera, cinema, political theology, and religion. He has been called ‘the most dangerous political philosopher in the West.’
Žižek was born in Ljubljana (Yugoslavia) to a middle-class family. His father was an economist and civil servant, and his mother was an accountant in a state enterprise; both were atheists. He received a Doctor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Ljubljana and studied psychoanalysis at the University of Paris VIII with Jacques-Alain Miller and François Regnault. Žižek’s early career was hampered by the political environment of 1970s Yugoslavia. He started his studies in an era of relative liberalization of the Communist regime. Among his early influences was the Slovenian Marxist philosopher Božidar Debenjak who introduced the thought of the Frankfurt School to Slovenia. Debenjak taught the philosophy of German idealism, and his reading of Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’ from the perspective of Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of the Mind’ influenced many future Slovenian philosophers, including Žižek.
In the early 1980s, he published his first books, focusing on the interpretation of Hegelian and Marxist philosophy from the perspective of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. He became one of the foremost members of the so-called Ljubljana school of psychoanalysis. Within its editorial and institutional framework, Žižek edited numerous translations of works by Lacan, Sigmund Freud, and Althusser to Slovene (during that period he also became an active member of the Slovenian Association of Literary Translators). In addition, he wrote the introduction to Slovene translations of G. K. Chesterton’s and John Le Carre’s detective novels. In 1988, he published his first book dedicated entirely to film theory. One of Žižek’s most widely discussed books, ‘The Ticklish Subject’ (1999), explicitly positions itself against Deconstructionists, Heideggerians, Habermasians, cognitive scientists, and what Žižek describes as New Age ‘obscurantists.’
Today, in the aftermath of the ‘end of ideology,’ Žižek is critical of the way political decisions are justified; the way, for example, reductions in social programs are sometimes presented as an apparently ‘objective’ necessity, though this is no longer a valid basis for political discourse. He sees the current ‘talk about greater citizen involvement’ or ‘political goals circumscribed within the rubric of the cultural’ as having little effectiveness as long as no substantial measures are devised for the long run. But measures such as the ‘limitation of the freedom of capital’ and the ‘subordination of the manufacturing processes to a mechanism of social control’—these Žižek calls a ‘radical de-politicization of the economy.’
Critiques charge Žižek with flouting standards of reasoned argument. His style has been called ‘a stream of nonconsecutive units arranged in arbitrary sequences that solicit a sporadic and discontinuous attention.’ And, ‘a dizzying array of wildly entertaining and often quite maddening rhetorical strategies are deployed in order to beguile, browbeat, dumbfound, dazzle, confuse, mislead, overwhelm, and generally subdue the reader into acceptance.’