I’m not much of a fan of John Gray, but there are two things in his NYRB review of Zizek’s latest offerings that I really liked, one a general point not made often enough, one a specific skewering of a certain style of political trumping perfected by Zizek:
1). Gray reminds us that Marx theorised empirically, an obvious point perhaps, but an important one in the context of the contemporary reassertion of Philosophical philosophising in post-Theory ‘Continental Philosophy’ especially. Far more important than internal divides, or not, between continental and analytical philosophy is the fundamental break in modern thinking associated with Marx, Weber, Freud, and the like towards what I guess we might still call social theory, or, to put it another way, not completely making stuff up, or even, thinking socially in the fullest sense. Foucault, who belongs to this break too no doubt, once wondered about why modern thought was associated with the ism-ization of proper names (that’s my gloss). But the relation to proper names, and real biographical figures, might actually be different between social theory and philosophy – its one way of telling the difference. And somewhere, the distinction has to do with the difference between investing in the pure thought of an individual, compared to learning from the interesting things someone had to say about the world in which they lived.
2). Just by quoting Zizek saying it a lot, Gray draws out how much of this style of left thinking depends on constantly claiming not only that some actual political movement was not quite faithful enough to a canonical thinker, but in particular constantly shocking us by saying that this or that extreme position is not radical enough. Gray quotes Zizek saying this about just about anyone and everything, and by so doing, reveals the silliness of the claim.