.........Slavoj Zizek - Books: A Summary

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His Life

Key Ideas


The Sublime Object of Ideology, New York: Verso, 1989.
This is Zizek's first major work in English and it remains one of his most accessible books. Mixing philosophy, politics and psychoanalysis with examples from high and low culture, he sets out in clear, explanatory detail his understanding of Hegel's dialectic, the basic thesis that underpins all his analyses, and one which finds that contradiction is an internal condition of every identity. Central to this enterprise is the examination of the theory which he returns to time and again - that the subject is the subject of a void.

Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991.
This text is often cited as the easiest of Zizek's books to navigate, a reputation underscored by the many and varied references to popular culture he makes throughout the text. However, as Zizek admits, this book should probably be subtitled "Everything He Wasn't Able to Put into The Sublime Object". Therefore, unless you already understand the Lacanian concepts of the Real and jouissance (the two aspects of Lacan's work upon which he concentrates here), then some of the analyses will seem unnecessarily foreshortened. If, on the other hand, you read The Sublime Object of Ideology first, you will be better able to grasp the subtleties of his arguments concerning detective fiction, pornography, democracy and Hitchcock.

For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor, New York: Verso, 1991.
Presented as a sequel to The Sublime Object of Ideology, this book examines the historical change emblematized by the shift in the telling of the Rabinovitch joke from that first book. In particular, it analyses the re-emergence of militant nationalism and racism in the wake of the break-up of the socialist countries of Eastern Europe. Zizek identifies the cause of this re-emergence in an eruption of enjoyment. This book also contains an extended discussion of the concept of the vanishing mediator.

Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan In Hollywood and Out, New York: Routledge, 1992.
Picking up on one of the themes of For They Know Not What They Do, Zizek here attends to the ideology of cynicism - the fetishist 'I know very well... but all the same... 'formulation which is one of the mainstays of his work. The book is structured around five chapters, each of which endeavors to explain a fundamental Lacanian concept - letter, woman, repetition, phallus and father. Hollywood is once again the lure in this text as Zizek elaborates each concept with reference to popular culture. However, as with Looking Awry, the familiarity of the examples does not necessarily make this the most accessible of his books to read.
In the second edition of the book (Routledge, 2000), Zizek added a chapter on the concept of reality. Using the film The Matrix as an example, he looks at the relationship between the Symbolic and the Real and explains why the big Other does not exist.

Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel and the Critique of Ideology, Durham: Duke University Press, 1993.
This is probably Zizek's lengthiest consideration of the radical negative gesture which he consistently identifies as the hallmark of 'true' philosophy. Here he sets out the case that Lacan is the third philosopher to accomplish this gesture after Plato and Kant, both of whom also trumped the relativistic attitudes of their day by way of an act of even greater radicalization. While this may be the larger picture of the book, and part of his project as a whole, Zizek also produces his most sustained explanation of Hegel's philosophy here, as well as dissecting the cogito. As this synopsis suggests, Tarrying with the Negative is, at times, a difficult book but one which repays the effort of your labor.

The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six. Essays on Woman and Causality, New York: Verso, 1994.
This is one of Zizek's most rewarding books as it covers a range of crucial topics from the cause of the subject through the role of the superego to the impossibility of the sexual relationship. In each of the six essays, Zizek begins by asking (and ultimately answering) the kind of basic questions that anyone interested in Lacanian psychoanalysis sooner or later wants to know the answers to. In the spirit of this fundamental questioning, the book's Appendix contains a self-interview in which Zizek poses to himself the kind of queries that bother what he terms 'common knowledge' about Lacanian theory as well as his own work. As a form of self-interrogation is the elementary procedure of all his books, this interview represents Zizek in his essence or, as he might put it (in Hegelese), Zizek in the mode of 'in-itself.

The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters, New York: Verso, 1996.
This book forms part of a larger project for Zizek to reinvigorate the reputation of German Idealism which, for him, constitutes the bedrock of all philosophy. His particular hope with this monograph is that he enhances the perception of Schelling's Ages of the World as 'one of the seminal works of materialism', divining in it a forerunner to the works of Marx and Lacan among others. The first part of the book endeavors to explain the Ages of the World, while the second part compares the reception of Schelling's work with the reception of Hegel's work using Lacan as the key to both. As can be imagined from this brief description, the first two parts of this volume make a complex and demanding read. The third part of the book (the 'related matters' of the title) is only relatively more accessible, but contains interesting discussions of both cyberspace and quantum physics, which prefigure some of Zizek's later work.

The Plague of Fantasies, New York: Verso, 1997.
This is an extended explanation of the psychoanalytical concept of fantasy. The plague' of the title refers to the deluge of pseudo-concrete images which Zizek places in an antagonistic relationship to the ever greater abstractions which determine our lives. As part of this discussion, Zizek advances one of his most considered analyses of cyberspace, which threatens to abolish the dimension of Symbolic virtuality. Given that fantasy plays a significant role in Zizek's anatomy of the human condition, the first chapter - "The Seven Veils of Fantasy" - clarifies the concept and makes the book a most suited for a first-time Zizek reader. As an added enticement, this work contains Zizek's famous Hegelian analysis of German, French and English toilet designs.

The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, New York: Verso, 1999.
Judging by the number of articles it has spawned, this book is one of the most comprehensive monographs Zizek wrote. Its central thesis is that the "nursery tale"of the cogito which has dominated modern thought (in its guise as the self-transparent thinking subject) is, in fact, a misnomer that fails to acknowledge the cogito's constitutive moment of madness. Structured in three parts, the book takes to task critics of Cartesian subjectivity in the fields of German idealism, French political philosophy and Anglo-American cultural studies, directing blame for contemporary scientific and technological catastrophes away from the cogito and laying it squarely at the door of capitalism. While the overall philosophical argument is enjoyable in itself, Zizek also delivers a series of fascinating local insights which range across all aspects of political, cultural and social life. If parts of the book are very demanding, it does reward the reader's patience.

The Fragile Absolute, or Why the Christian Legacy is Worth Fighting For, New York: Verso, 2000.
As Zizek himself confesses, it might seem strange for a Marxist to defend the legacy of Christianity in an age which has seen the re-emergence of obscurantist religious thought. However, part of the broad remit of this compact book is an attempt to resuscitate the subversive core of Christianity, the "act of shooting at oneself" (or of radical negativity) which forms the centrepiece of Zizek's analysis of Schelling in The Abyss of Freedom and of Descartes in Cogito and the Unconscious. Proposing that the only way to liberate oneself from the grip of existing social reality is to renounce the fantasmatic supplement that attaches us to it, he cites any number of examples from Sethe's act of infanticide in Toni Morrison Beloved, through Keyser Soeze's massacre of his own family in the Usual Suspects, up to the supreme instance of such a gesture in the Crucifixion. This is an accessible work which underscores the utopian aspect of his discussion of the "night of the world" in previous books.

The Art of the Ridiculous Sublime, Seattle: Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities, 2000.
Using material from The Fragile Absolute, while building on previous analyses from The Metastases of Enjoyment, this book-essay is an examination of David Lynch's Lost Highway. The main contention is that the fims functions as a form of meta-commentary on the opposition between the clasic and postmodern femme fatale.

The Spectre is Still Roaming Around, Zagreb: Arkzin, 2000.
This book/essay was written as the introduction to a 150th commemorative edition of Marx's The Communist Manifesto. Much of the material is a recapitulation of the ideas in the last chapter of The Ticklish Subject; however Zizek structures it around a consideration of the value of Marx's work today. He argues that, despite its revolutionary shortcomings, the Manifesto's analyzes of the destructive effects of capital are more aplicable to the world of late capitalism - a world in which the brutal imposition of a unified global market threatens all local ethnic traditions, including the very form of the nation-state - than they ever were when it was originally written.

NATO as the Left Hand of God, Zagreb: Arkzin, 2000.
As with The Spectre Still Roaming Around, this book/essay focuses on Zizek's critique of the NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia. According to him, this action dramatized a false alternative between the New World Order and the neo-racist nationalists opposing it. For Zizek, on the other hand, these are the two sides of the same coin - the New World Order, in which NATO is the military arm of multinational capitalism, itself breeds the monstrosities, such as Slobodan Milosevic, that it fights.

Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Essays in the (Mis)Use of a Notion, New York: Verso, 2001.
This combative book argues that totalitarianism is an ideological notion which has been used by the liberal democratic consensus to impugn the political left's critique of that consensus with the atrocities of the political right, thereby disabling effective political thought. Zizek examines five aspects of totalitarianism and concludes that the problem with the notion is the very thing that makes such a designation possible in the first place - the liberal democratic consensus (among whose members he includes just about everybody, damning tham as a bunch of "conformist scoundrles"). This work is more explicitlly political in its content, ending as it does with the refrain for increased socialization "in some form or another."

The Fright of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-theory, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.
This book is an intervention in the on-going debate in the field of film studies which is split between Theory (anything loosely affiliated with structuralism and post-structuralism) and Post-theory (anything loosely affiliated with a dislike of structuralism and post-structuralism). The main cause for antipathy for the Post-theorists is the dominance of crtain Lacanian concepts in the field of film studies. Zizek's argument here, through the reading of Kieslowski's flims, is that these Lacanian concepts were employed piecemeal without either due regard for their philosophical matrix or for thier implications. Zizek methodologically debunks the lamentable conclusions of Post-theory as he explains the workings and value of Lacan's insights.

On Belief, New York: Routledge, 2001.
Zizek returns to the territory of The Fragile Absolute in what he describes as a "self-critical" mood. Although advertized as an analysis of belief, the main concept concept in the book is the call for a politics of the ethical act, one which rejects the comforts of pragmatism and repeats the hard-line and unrepentant ethic of Saint Paul and Lenin. As such this represents one of Zizek's entreaties for us to leap into the "night of the world". This accessible book can be profitably read with little prior knowledge of Zizek's work.

to be continued...

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Lacan.com thanks Tony Myers who graciously lent material from his Slavoj Zizek, London: Routledge, 2003.

Photo credit: Kate Milford

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