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January 12, 2008


Barry Meislin

Alas, I fear that you are committing symbolic violence against Zizek on several levels.

First, you suggest that Zizek's judgment is not to be trusted. Second you refer to Zizek's analogy as "terrible."

To accuse a postmodern philosopher of having any judgment at all is no small matter, and is really no different from accusing her (or him) of searching for---"privileging" is no doubt the better word---"truth" or "reason" or "accuracy"; whereas we all know that in that rarified postmodern universe, where narrative is "the thing," such an accusation can only be viewed as a naive, if not dreadful, non sequitur. ("Scurrilous" and "libelous" may also come to mind, depending on one's level of outrage.)

Similarly, in the postmodern realm, any anology whose intention it is to make a point (preferably enlivened with as much shock value as possible), cannot, by definition, be judged or rejected. So that here too, the term "terrible" to describe an analogy deserves no sanction.

Postmodernism gives one the freedom to laud Zizek for the courage, audacity and creativity of his views, even while others (from the vantage point of other "spaces") may pity him for the paucity of his actual thinking. However, inhabiting such other "spaces" comes with responbilities; and since, you (as far as I can ascertain) do not consider yourself a postmodern philosopher, it would appear that you, unlike Zizek, have no justification for the violence you have committed.

At the very least, I would expect that an apology is in order.

Ophelia Benson

'Judge Gray said that in some respects Irving "treated the historical evidence in a manner which fell far short of the standard to be expected of a conscientious historian."'

To put it mildly. He falsified the evidence. He systematically falsified the evidence in small difficult-to-detect ways, in multiple places. This was only discovered because of the trial, for which the historian (the real historian) Richard Evans was hired to check Irving's citations. Evans did so, and found multiple falsifications.

Evans writes about the implications of postmodernism for history in his book 'In Defense of History' and in an article at Butterflies and Wheels -


This is the concluding paragraph:

"What the Irving trial showed in the end was the ability of historians to come to reasoned and persuasive conclusions about the past on the basis of a fair-minded and objective examination of the evidence. It didn’t show that the evidence in question was totally flawless, but it did show that attempts to discredit it rested on demonstrable forgery and falsification. If there is such a thing as historical untruth, there must also be such a thing as historical truth. And if there is such a thing as a biased, tendentious historian who tried to support preconceived ideas about the past by a selective use of the evidence and by doctoring the documents, there must be such a thing as an objective historian who puts preconceived ideas about the past to the test of whether or not they are supported by the evidence, and modifies or abandons them if they are not."


You seem to miss the point of Zizek's book. It doesn't matter whether Irving was guilty or not, or whether he received a fair trial or not, the point is that while liberals in the west rail against the implicit lack of freedom of expression in the muslim world (where any attack on the prophet would result in a violent reprisal), they themselves only defend freedom of speech within the framework of their own, violently imposed systems. This is his point.

He uses a joke (uncharacteristically enough!) in another book about this: a colonial administrator travels up an African river to speak to some tribal leaders. Hearing reports from the chiefs he asks one of them: 'what is happening with the cannibal situation?'
Chief: 'There are no more cannibals, sir.
Admin: why not?
Chief: We ate the last one yesterday.

The chief, as the one imposing the particular order, is also free from those own orders. The point is that western liberals organise their own legal frameworks and rights systems, including all the ambiguities or hidden contradictions (i.e. the law against holocaust denial), which are then used to morally reprimand other people for not respecting those same rights.

Even if you want to take issue with his example of Irving, he provides numerous other examples; we are expected to rally against the violence of terrorism while we bombard Iraqis, we call for intervention against the janjaweed militias in Sudan while we allow other african countries to slowly rot in aids epidemics and poverty. It is not just about hypocrisy, it is abut how at the basic socio-symbolic level, one type of violence appears as posited and the other is invisible.


I think you are mistaken on many levels.

The first being the labeling of Z as a postmodernist. I don't think he actually fits this bill. You should really read more Z before you try to pin him down. In his Totalitarian book he calls postmodernism the great myth of modernism.

I also think it is a mistake to say it is a mistake to have "No Socrates". Z is a Materialist not an Idealist. Why must we tie all great knowledge to a realm of Ideas that exists beyond reality??

Come on man! Get Real!!


I agree with you to a point. Zizek picked an inflammatory example, and certainly it was for the intended effect. It caused an intense reaction, because the subject is undeniably horrible. If it were a fable, which certainly is not, it would be no less, perhaps more horrible. Stepping away a bit, however, I see something more happening here. Having our faces rubbed into the unavoidable subject of the inherent contradiction of violence built into our western societies. Even when we dismiss Zizek's affront, to lay his "violence" at our feet, we can do nothing worse than ignore it. We must continue to talk about the contradictions what we live with everyday, why we accept them, and ask how we can do better. Zizek is only a messenger, and a very untidy one at that.

Account Deleted

Nigel, it'd be very interesting for you to have a discussion with Zizek and upload it on to youtube or here. I sense a frustration on your part towards Slavoj, which is in part understandable, but having a discussion with him could be very fruitful. I haven't seen him in an discussion in which he is seriously challenged. And perhaps he can illustrate your mistakes too, if there are any, in your criticisms of his work.

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