Žižek's East: Geopolitical Fractures in Žižek's Universalism

Saturday, 07 January
10:15–11:30 a.m., University, Sheraton 

461. Žižek's East: Geopolitical Fractures in Žižek's Universalism*

Taking its cue from Dusan Bjelić’s 2009 article on Žižek, Kristeva, and the Balkans in South Atlantic Quarterly, this panel aims to aim to "fracture geographically" Žižek's universalism and show its reactionary  implication for the geographies of the East. Basu Thakur will discuss a recent polemic between Žižek and Indian scholar Nivedita Menon about the limits of Zizek's theories in light of the colonial and post-colonial. In the second presentation, Žižek 's use of film comes under critique by Mario Slugan, who offers a re-reading of Kusturica's "Underground" to suggest that the radically conservative view Zizek puts forward about the Bosnian war is missing key pieces of evidence from the film and substituting new ones from outside of the text. Bjelić will revisit the questions raised in his article to show how such challenges fit into a larger pattern, in which we can clearly see Žižek's logic of geopolitical exclusion.

Chair: Dragan Kujundžić (U. Florida)

Gautam Basu Thakur (Boise State U.), "The Menon- Žižek Debate, or, How to Read Žižek in a Post-Colonial Context"

Mario Slugan (U. Chicago), "Žižek on Film: The Unbearable Lightness of Interpreting

Dusan Bjelić (U. Southern Maine), "The Balkans: Radical Conservatism and Desire"

Respondent: Tomislav Longinović (U. Wisconsin-Madison)

*Interested parties should note as well the upcoming fall 2011 special issue of Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, edited by Bjelić, devoted entirely to the question of Žižek and the Balkans.

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About the panelists:

Gautam Basu Thakur is Assistant Professor of English at Boise State University. His teaching and research interests include Anglophone literature and postcolonial studies; comparative literature; critical theory; Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis; and media and culture. His articles have appeared in Psychoanalysis, Culture, & Society, New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film, RaVon and in the anthologies Bollywood and Globalization: Indian Popular Cinema, Nation, and Diaspora and Figurations in Indian Film. Basu Thakur is currently working on his book, Indian Mutiny and the Rearrangement of Sovereign Desire, which studies the impact of the Indian uprising of 1857 on colonial social psychology and cultural imaginary.

Tomislav Longinović is Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include Borderline Culture (1993), Vampires Like Us (2005), the co-edited and co-translated volume, with Daniel Weissbort: Red Knight: Serbian Women Songs (1992), and the edited volume with David Albahari, Words are Something Else (1996). He is also the author of several books of fiction, both in Serbian (Sama Amerika, 1995) and English (Moment of Silence, 1990). His forthcoming book Vampire Nation: Violence as Cultural Imaginary will be published by Duke University Press in 2011.


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Full abstracts:

Gautam Basu Thakur
Department of English, Boise State University

On occasion of his first lecture tour of India in 2010, Zizek sparked off a debate with Nivedita Menon, a leading postcolonial feminist scholar. The debate rivets around Menon’s contention that Zizek’s emphasis on European, Christian Universalism as the most proactive model for countering capitalism is ignorant of the heteroglossiac postcolonial histories of South Asia. Menon’s deconstructive response (‘The Two Zizeks’) to Zizek’s lecture ‘Tragedy and Farce,’ and her later interpolations (in Kafila), suggest that what Zizek appears to be missing is a knowledge of the fallibility of Eurocentric discourses in negotiating the colonial and postcolonial situations particular to the subcontinent. Though Zizek’s debates with Badiou and Butler are well known few outside of India are aware of the Menon-Zizek debate. This paper will occasion this little known debate to consider some of the major points raised by Menon against the applicability of Zizek’s theoretical arguments toward reading and understanding South Asian politics and culture.

Mario Slugan (U. Chicago)
Zizek on Film: The Unbearable Lightness of Interpreting
A prolific writer on a wide variety of cultural phenomena, Zizek’s list of publications on film is certainly impressive and ranges from book length studies on Hitchcock, Kieslowski and Lynch to popularization of Lacan through the Mecca of today’s popular culture – Hollywood cinema. At the same time, anecdotes that he doesn’t even watch the movies he analyses, perpetuated even by himself, have become notorious, especially among the post-theorists, who already dismiss interpretative models similar to his and based on concepts such as the Lacan’s gaze. Leaving polemics about the preferred interpretative models of cinema aside, I aim to criticize Zizek’s approach to movies by focusing on a number of his analyses in order to demonstrate, what might be called, the unbearable lightness of writing about movies. I will argue that on many an occasion Zizek’s interpretative approach is invalid not because Lacan’s theory is problematic, but because much more rudimentary mistakes have been made. I identify two types of mistakes. First, I take a look at a number of Zizek’s books and papers and: a) list factual errors either in narrative recounting (Stromboli, Double Life of Veronique, Stalker) or formal analysis (Birds, Psycho) of the movies, and b) then point out how these factual errors make the basis of Zizek’s interpretation (Stalker, Birds, Psycho) rendering it invalid. Second, by focusing on Underground and Zizek’s thesis that the movie exposes the obscene of the neo-fascism at play in the ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian war, I expose how Zizek uses extra-textual information not only to fill the gaps in the movie in order to validate his claims, but also neglects intra-textual evidence which strongly suggest the opposite. I conclude with a plea for more scrutiny when dealing with Zizek’s film analyses.