As every schoolchild knows by now, a new book by ?i?ek is supposed to include, in no special order, discussions of Hegel, Marx and Kant; various pre- and post-socialist anecdotes and reflections; notes on Kafka as well as on mass-cultural writers like Stephen King or Patricia Highsmith; references to opera (Wagner, Mozart); jokes from the Marx Brothers; outbursts of obscenity, scatological as well as sexual; interventions in the history of philosophy, from Spinoza and Kierkegaard to Kripke and Dennett; analyses of Hitchcock films and other Hollywood products; references to current events; disquisitions on obscure points of Lacanian doctrine; polemics with various contemporary theorists (Derrida, Deleuze); comparative theology; and, most recently, reports on cognitive philosophy and neuroscientific 'advances'. These are lined up in what Eisenstein liked to call 'a montage of attractions', a kind of theoretical variety show, in which a series of 'numbers' succeed each other and hold the audience in rapt fascination. It is a wonderful show; the only drawback is that at the end the reader is perplexed as to the ideas that have been presented, or at least as to the major ones to be retained. One would think that reading all Zizek's books in succession would only compound this problem: on the contrary, it simplifies it somewhat, as the larger concepts begin to emerge from the mist. Still, one would not have it any other way, which is why the current volume - which, with its companion The Ticklish Subject (1999), purports to outline the 'system' as a whole (if it is one), or at least to make a single monumental statement - inspires some apprehension.
LRB 7 September 2006 | PDF Download