Home / General / Before we pile on Žižek, we probably ought to consider the source

Before we pile on Žižek, we probably ought to consider the source

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I know it’s fun to make fun of Žižek — but I think Paul and Scott both missed something crucial about Rebecca Schuman’s broadside: it’s ridiculous beyond the point of stupidity. I’m not defending the man — I’m on the record as not being a fan — but at least I had the common courtesy to read work written by and about him before beginning the ritual slagging.

Because that’s what this is — a gussied up version of the annual conservative articles about the MLA written by intrepid reporters whose investigations amount to “flipping through the MLA catalog and writing down the names of funny sounding sessions.” Anyone could string together a series of bitter remarks made by put-upon academics if said academics had a camera pointed at them all the time. I’m not defending what Žižek said — he knew he was on camera or the record — merely noting that the manner in which this article was constructed is highly suspect.

Unless, that is, you think this a fine piece of journalism.

Exactly.

Whenever someone writes a condemnatory sentence as hedged as this one:

I have no idea what a superstar like Žižek gets paid, and I don’t know if he actually fills his office-hours sign-up sheet with fake names so that none of the “boring idiots” come and bother him with their stupid problems, as one New School faculty member has apparently claimed.

You should seriously consider not taking that person seriously. What I just wrote about The Donalde almost exactly obtains here:

Where do you even begin with this drivel? The initial confession of ignorance? The non-sequitur in the next clause? The non-sequitur in the next sentence? The second admission of ignorance? Or the confident statement of fact about what is really going on with the thing [she] twice-professed he knows nothing about?

When you only need to alter one pronoun to make a true statement about The Donalde apply to someone else, do you really want to take that person seriously?

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  • Aaron B.

    I think Scott’s primary claim – Zizek’s “joke” was shitty and unfunny, and deserving of criticism – is valid regardless, though.

  • cpinva

    she didn’t call him a “fascist douchebag”, so that has to count for something.

  • Dread Hierarch Scrotum-Piranha

    At least the Donald’s rug really tied the CPAC room together.

  • Paul Campos

    The crucial thing I missed about Schuman’s article was its existence, which explains why I neither linked to it or mentioned it.

    Whatever value Zizek’s work does or doesn’t have has exactly zero relevance to the criticisms Scott and me made of his comments.

    • SEK

      The crucial thing I missed about Schuman’s article was its existence, which explains why I neither linked to it or mentioned it.

      Touche! That Critical Theory article — which one commenter generously referred to as “the Buzzfeed of academia” — was the inspiration for Schuman’s, which is why I got a little confused.

    • ChrisTS

      Right. I think SEK is linking things that are only linked by having Zizek as the subject.

      Indeed, RS is not criticizing his work, either. She is criticizing the stupidly awful things he said about teaching and students.

      • SEK

        I think SEK is linking things that are only linked by having Zizek as the subject.

        Well, she linked to the Critical Theory piece, and the bits in Paul’s post were in that piece, which is why I assumed he and Scott had linked to the RS.

        • Barry Freed

          Don’t back down now, SEK. Zizek’s the bees knees.

      • gmack

        Sure, her critique of his remarks is fair enough, and I agree with it. Some of the stuff in her piece, however, was just straight insinuation and smearing without any effort to check facts on the matter. So SEK’s comparison of portions of her article to americaneocon’s writing is apt, in my view.

        Whatever value Zizek’s work does or doesn’t have has exactly zero relevance to the criticisms Scott and me made of his comments.

        Maybe, but if we assume that he’s engaging in some sort of elaborate joke or piece of performance art, then knowing his work might help us understand and evaluate what he’s doing. On the other hand, I wouldn’t actually advocate doing this; it seems like a whole lot of effort for very little payoff.

        • Bruce Baugh

          Some of us – by which I mostly just mean “I” – have kind of given up granting any special consideration for efforts to use performance art and put-on excuses. If anything, I tend to regard it as a complicating factor worsening the original charge. It’s not that it’s impossible to do it and make it work (Colbert does exist, after all), but it’s hard, and so often it’s just cover for being an asshole in public.

          • Bruce Baugh

            That’s not a quarrel, btw, or at least I didn’t intend it as one. :) More like “yes, and”, followed by my own stream of what-passes-for-consciousness.

            • gmack

              No quarrel taken. My original comment was supposed to be a bit tongue in cheek. I think in general it’s useful to keep in mind with his “outrageous” statements that Zizek is almost always playing a little joke. But to me in his jokes are not very interesting, and the comments at issue here are particularly witless.

        • cpinva

          could you be a tad more specific please?

          “Some of the stuff in her piece, however, was just straight insinuation and smearing without any effort to check facts on the matter”

          I read the articles, before commenting initially. as near as I can tell, schuman sticks to castigating him for acting (intentionally or not) as a shill for those who critique the humanities as a waste of college space. she makes no comment regarding the actual content of his work. again, near as I can tell, she neither insinuates, smears or tosses ad hominem attacks his way.

          so, I’m not at all clear what you’re referring to.

          • gmack

            I’m referring in particular to the bit SEK refers to in the post. She clearly insinuates, based on a completely unsubstantiated rumor from the critical theory blog, that Zizek falsely fills out sign-up sheets so that no students can actually attend office hours.

            Now, I know that Zizek has said a whole lot of stupid things about how he interacts with his students. Whether he actually does these things, however, is a rather different question.

            • calling all toasters

              She linked to the article in which both the verified remarks and the unverified accusation occurred. She critiques the remark, says that the unverified accusation is unverified, then goes on to say that her critique is specifically based on the remarks. Perhaps she could have ignored the accusation, but she certainly did not endorse it.

              • gmack

                I’m not the least bit interested in re-creating your exchange with SEK below. Let’s just say that I think Schuman’s mentioning of the office hours stuff was pretty clearly meant to insinuate that this is the sort of stuff he does. So you’re right, she doesn’t explicitly endorse the rumor, but the repetition suggests–without saying it outright–that Zizek is not just telling a bad joke but is also unethical.

                It’s a rhetorician’s trick, and I might add, it’s a trick I initially fell for: In Lemieux’s joke thread, I said that there was some evidence that Zizek does in fact treat his students awfully, and I cited the idea that he fills in his office hours sign up sheet with fake names as an example. Why did I do this? I remembered reading Schuman’s article and remembered the accusation being mentioned there, and that it was linked to another piece that (I assumed) was the source for the accusation. However, before SEK’s post I didn’t actually check Schuman’s link for the accusation. And the link refers to absolutely nothing (an anonymous rumor published on someone’s blog). In short, I think Schuman’s repetition of this charge is misleading, because I was misled by it. Sure, I should be a better reader (so should we all!), but honest authors shouldn’t do this kind of crap (she has no reason to repeat a completely unsubstantiated rumor unless she means to insinuate that the rumor might be true; as you have so clearly stated, the rumor is actually completely unconnected to the point she says she wants to make).

                • I’d like to take this opportunity to make a “cuts both ways” comment, as they seem to be all the rage with the young people.

                  I agree that mentioning a completely unsubstantiated rumor which happens to super duper reinforce a negative view of the target, partially by closing off irony informed readings is bad. On the flip side, multiple interviews and discussions where things are played very straight and similarly bad (or worse!) things are mentioned (if jokingly) is also pretty bad. I hold no brief for either person, but I’d like to see a bit more from the people with personal experience of Žižek qua generous with his time person what the “most people are stupid and boring” schtick is supposed to be doing.

                • gmack

                  I can agree with that. I can speculate about what Žižek thinks he’s doing, but it certainly isn’t obvious to me. I have little reason to think Žižek is much more than a jackass.

                  But for fun, here’s one hypothesis I came up with while spending entirely way too much time thinking about this: A number of folks have attested that he repeats these sorts of lines in many of his classes; perhaps, then, they originated as a kind of hyperbole. I do similar things in class. Sometimes, for instance, when I try to point out the difference between having an opinion and making an argument, I will say with exaggerated forcefulness: “I don’t care what your opinion is about X!” When teaching writing, I also sometimes make jokes that poke fun at the idea that writing is about “expressing deeply held beliefs or emotions.” Whether these jokes “work” or not depends on a whole lot of contextual factors (including such simple things like timing). I wouldn’t make such jokes to some students, for instance, if in my judgment they would take it the wrong way. And this leads to my main point. It’s perhaps possible that he started making these jokes in contexts where his audience understood quite well what he was doing (maybe adopting some persona, for instance), but now by repeating them in other contexts they lose all sense of humor and meaning.

                  This isn’t a defense, of course. Even if my little made-up story is true, it only means that Žižek is telling bad jokes not because he’s really horrible but because he’s lazy and not paying attention.

                • Yeah, I used to make such jokes back when I was a grad student, early on. People don’t like them. Even if they laugh, they don’t like them. I still do some classes of them (more and more self targeted), but it turns out that those have all sorts of unintended effects.

                  I really grew to loathe such when I had a boss who joked about firing people. They never did (and I believe they wouldn’t) but they loved to “joke” about it (sometimes for fun; sometimes because they were anxious). But it was always horrible.

                  Obviously, these sorts of jokes are way funnier when there’s no risk of the presented negative happening. But the only person who’s really secure in that assessment of risk is the person making the joke who is the person with the power. Abusers cover up their abuse with the “I’m joking” move so you can’t *really* tell whether someone is an abuser or “just” jocular.

                  Whoops. Went into a rant :)

  • gmack

    Alright, fair enough. I should not have repeated the office hours rumor in my comment on Lemieux’s joke thread.

    That said, like Aaron B., I think that Lemieux’s basic critique still stands. I know very well that Zizek is engaging in a schtick, but the fact that he’s doing a schtick does not put him beyond criticism (not that SEK is suggesting that; his post is just a useful reminder of the crappiness of Shuman’s #slatepitch).

    • david

      Zizek told that very same office hours joke about his time at Michigan. Cheeky!

  • Dave

    So, his “schtick” is a) people are stupid and boring, god they’re so boring, and did I say stupid? b) look how very very clever I am, I can tie mass culture in Lacanian knots without even bothering to put on a clean T-shirt, c) what we need around here is a Leninist Revolution to sort out those boring, stupid people.

    Is there any of that that “Fuck off you wanker” doesn’t cover by way of adequate response?

    • Lee Rudolph

      I believe you may have msspelled “Christ, what an asshole.”

  • Dave

    Furthermore, it’s evident that, at an interpersonal level, Rebecca Schuman is worth a number of Zizeks. Quite possibly a large number of them. No amount of radical fanboi rage will cancel that out.

    • Hogan

      I’m on the record as not being a fan

      The knee, how it jerks.

      • SEK

        How so? I’m not defending someone I almost wholly disagree with, merely noting that there’s a better way to disagree with him than citing references from an article over-larded with rumor or a post on a pretty worthless website that traffics in the same.

        • j_silent

          (De-lurking) IMHO calling out Schuman’s rumour-mongering paragraph is totally fair. But not sure the piece is “ridiculous beyond the point of stupidity”.

          The bottom-line point I took away seemed valid – that humanities education is worthwhile but dealing with some difficult issues in delivering and/or justifying value to students. Having someone like Zizek celebrated doesn’t help.

          • j_silent

            And this totally doesn’t excuse Schuman’s laziness but there does appear to be something to the sign-up sheet thing. There’s lot’s more in the article that does not reflect well. Though I guess this could be some kind of joke I’m not getting.

            Zizek reserves what he calls “the nasty strategy” for large lecture classes in which the students often don’t know one another. “I divide the time into six twenty-minute periods and then fill in the slots with invented names. That way the students think that all the hours are full and I can disappear,” he explains.

            • SEK

              Zizek says a lot of things. I could tell you stories, believe you me.

              Whether you choose to believe what he says, however, is another matter entirely.

              Given that my experience with him is that he’s a man whose overly generous with his time and frequently needs to put limits on how much he makes himself available to others, I don’t put much stock in the truth value of this bit of schtick.

              • j_silent

                Fair enough. I don’t get his schtick, but also have no background with this stuff.

                Incidentally, I realize I somehow didn’t manage to post the link from my quote above. Here it is for reference (assuming I don’t screw it up): http://linguafranca.mirror.theinfo.org/9810/zizek.html

                Other parts also strike me as pretty gross, but only going by plain-language reading.

              • Given that my experience with him is that he’s a man whose overly generous with his time and frequently needs to put limits on how much he makes himself available to others, I don’t put much stock in the truth value of this bit of schtick.

                Ok, so I watched the video. I looked at the Q&A. I see nothing that would indicate that he’s being insincere in his hatred and contempt of students.

                If it’s mere performance, I surely don’t get the point. What could it be? And what would be worth presenting this view of students so systematically and, well, straight given that he still teaches (he does, right?)?

          • calling all toasters

            Schuman’s rumour-mongering paragraph

            Her article is based on a post in the Critical Theory blog. That same post includes the rumor, and she is responsible enough to point out that she finds that part to only be only rumor. That’s not rumor-mongering.

        • Hogan

          I was responding to Dave’s “fanboi” crack, not to you.

          • Hogan

            Which, on reflection, I may have misunderstood.

      • I followed the link to read a really crappy parody of Rosa Parks qua person with hurt fee fees and then this:

        Zizek’s claim that identity politics, to paraphrase Jodi, eliminate the possibility for systemic change by reformulating systemic problems as personal issues strikes me as fundamentally correct. Then again, I came to the essay already believing that identity politics often trivialize concepts of social justice by subordinating them to an ethos of personal expression,

        This strikes me as an odd view of what I understand to be identity politics (which are about group identification rather than politics as personal expression; the slogan “the personal is political” is meant to expand the sphere of social justice).

        So, what’s up? Could you point me to some stuff on this concern?

        • gmack

          SEK’s piece is quoting an article by Jodi Dean, who is (apparently) paraphrasing Zizek. Notice in Dean’s piece she’s referring to the “therapeutic and particularized practices of institutionalized identity politics.” The quote from Dean aims to be a kind of parody of what would have happened in the Rosa Parks case had all of the participants adopted this framework (I wasn’t sure you got that, because your observation that it was a “really crappy parody” implied to me a misunderstanding that Dean meant it as a kind of reductio ad absurdum of certain tendencies she thinks are present in contemporary liberal democratic attitudes).

          The “therapeutic” aspects of Dean’s thought experiment about Rosa Parks are, I think, fairly clear. One would take a therapeutic approach to the Rosa Parks incident insofar as one saw the event not as a problem of systematic oppression but of hurt feelings that can be overcome through reconciliation. The same goes for the descriptor “particularistic.” The therapy is particularistic in that it is directed at individual pathologies.

          The sticking point, then, is the Dean’s (and SEK’s) assertion that these aspects are also part of “identity politics.” Broadly speaking, identity politics is about “group identification,” but if I understand Dean and SEK’s criticisms correctly, they are objecting to the ways in which this group identification too often takes the form of group pride and the assertion of certain “essential” characteristics. In the Rosa Parks hypothetical Dean constructs, the idea is that the participants (and the U.S. as a whole) just need some therapy so as to tolerate cultural differences. What results is what they see as a bland multiculturalism instead of the robust contestory and radically transformational politics we appear to need.

          • Ok, the citation in Scott’s post was a bit confusing (text read ” and Democracy” which seems to be this whereas he linked to “Zizek on Law”). But I’m on board now.

            The quote from Dean aims to be a kind of parody of what would have happened in the Rosa Parks case had all of the participants adopted this framework (I wasn’t sure you got that, because your observation that it was a “really crappy parody” implied to me a misunderstanding that Dean meant it as a kind of reductio ad absurdum of certain tendencies she thinks are present in contemporary liberal democratic attitudes).

            I was a bit confused (sorry, reading and typing on phone while at the DMV at the time)…but…is this a real thing? “One can imagine what could have occurred should the therapeutic and particularized practices of institutionalized identity politics have been in place:” Is this a real thing to be reductioed? I mean, I’ve seen very funny stuff (e.g., in Dykes to Watch Out For) that mocked New Agey, huggy, therapy oriented stuff, but I don’t see how that view is constituative, much less dominant, in identity politics.

            The bit about reducing politics to policing also escapes me at the moment. I’ll have to slog through the whole article, methinks.

            The “therapeutic” aspects of Dean’s thought experiment about Rosa Parks are, I think, fairly clear. One would take a therapeutic approach to the Rosa Parks incident insofar as one saw the event not as a problem of systematic oppression but of hurt feelings that can be overcome through reconciliation. The same goes for the descriptor “particularistic.” The therapy is particularistic in that it is directed at individual pathologies.

            Right, but who advocates this? The problem I have with the reductio is that it’s too absurd for me to connect to anyone.

            The sticking point, then, is the Dean’s (and SEK’s) assertion that these aspects are also part of “identity politics.”

            Definitely.

            I understand Dean and SEK’s criticisms correctly, they are objecting to the ways in which this group identification too often takes the form of group pride and the assertion of certain “essential” characteristics. In the Rosa Parks hypothetical Dean constructs, the idea is that the participants (and the U.S. as a whole) just need some therapy so as to tolerate cultural differences.

            I don’t get from the group pride even to essential characteristics (though that move *is* common) but especially not from that to some therapy! And when I look at the Rosa Parks parody, I would think that *group* pride would lead to want more than just *individual* reconciliation. Why should Parks qua black identified person want mere therapeutic reconciliation with the bus driver? Indeed, if she essentializes his racism, then *separatism* is the logical outcome (and was often the desired outcome!).

            So, still confused :)

            • Hogan


              Right, but who advocates this?

              Practitioners of identity politics, according to Zizek. It’s a reductio of his misleading caricature. I think.

            • gmack

              I’ve gone back to Dean’s original piece (it looks like the link at SEK’s blog is no longer accurate; it goes to another one of Dean’s papers on Zizek and Law; I found the piece SEK references via google). I haven’t read it carefully, but I will provide some context. In the context of her broader discussion, the passage SEK cites is not really designed to offer an analysis of identity politics or of particular advocates of therapy. Rather, her concern is with diagnosing certain tendencies to eliminate politics as such.

              This is a now well-established motif in certain traditions of political theory (it’s found among Arendtians, certain varieties of “agonistic” thought, certain versions of post-structuralist analysis, and even among some more analytic approaches, in the form of the debates over Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis, which is, in effect, a declaration of the end of politics too. Of course, Fukuyama celebrates this end, whereas most of this literature either rejects the diagnosis or illustrating how awful the “post-political” age is).

              Given the wide-ranging theoretical frameworks focusing on this theme, it’s hard to say much about it in a blog comment. As far as I can tell, Dean’s argument is that, for Zizek, one of the key problems in the present has to do with the ways in which the forces of “global capital” have become “naturalized,” such that it becomes impossible to represent or imagine alternatives. According to such a view, the central political problem is to figure out how to establish phenomena of global capitalism as political phenomena. Thus, part of Zizek’s goal is to try to examine what “politics” (or “the political”) means, and that’s what Dean is trying to explain in the portion of the paper that the example appears in. The example, in other words, aims to be a way to illustrate certain aspects of Zizek’s concept of politics, how it differs from other similar projects (Hardt and Negri, in particular), and why it’s a good way to conceptualize politics.

              What are the features of Zizek’s conception of politics? Sorry, you’ll need to read the piece. It would take way more time than I’m willing to spend to reconstruct it here.

              • Hogan

                Thanks.

              • Yeah, this is about as far as I got and realized that ill have to read it and probably a lot more in depth to make sense of it.

                I don’t know how worth it it is given that the whole debate seems very far from any framework I care about.

                Thanks for taking a crack at it, though!

              • SEK

                I missed this whole sub-thread as comments were flying on both posts, so all I’ll add is that gmack, you’re a mensch.

                I’m really glad I didn’t have to wade into that on the only day off I’ve had in the last two weeks or will have in the next three.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      at an interpersonal level, Rebecca Schuman is worth a number of Zizeks. Quite possibly a large number of them.

      I’m not at all sure I agree with this. And, to be clear, my disagreement doesn’t flow from any good feelings about Zizek at an interpersonal level. Schuman’s pieces are full of the sort of crappy journalism that SEK points to above. And when people disagree with her about her work, she attacks them personally (and encourages her fanbois to do so, too).

      • C

        Agreed. I like a lot of the points Schuman makes but she can be remarkably thin-skinned and unreasonable when dealing with people she disagrees with.

      • And a lot of her work is built on ideas developed in unacknowledged twitter conversations (and other social media). I’ve never read anything by her in which she added anything new to the discussion except attitude.

        • C

          That might be too harsh. I like some of her writing and I like that there’s a loud voice talking about the huge labor problems in higher ed. Nor do I mind that she brings emotion to the case. In fact, I even think she can acknowledge when she goes overboard. I feel so much empathy for folks who go through the wrenching identity change of being drummed out of academia by a horribly unfair system, and I think she voices that well and has gotten a lot of solace by being the rallying voice for those people. Now I hope she becomes a better reporter, moving beyond her #slatepitch gimmicks.

          • I don’t fundamentally disagree, except that she’s actually really bad at backing down or apologizing, or thinking things through.

            I still maintain, though, that most of the time I end up reading one of her pieces (because someone used a shortened URL and didn’t identify it), it’s material that’s already been hashed out on twitter about a week earlier, and none of the participants in that discussion are acknowledged.

            It’s not bad to see good ideas and bad experiences broadcast more widely, but she’s profiting from other people’s work and misery.

            • Anonymous

              If you really want to know who the giant profiteer and phony is, it’s Karen Kelso. Walked away from R1 tenured job and provides academic cv coaching at exorbitant rates and loudly rallies on twitter to show how down she is with the adjunctariat.

              • Lee Rudolph

                Google finds me far too many Karen Kelsos (including one who coaches squash, not CVs). Can you provide a link or further hints to help me find the one in question?

                • You’re Not Fired

                  I think the reference is to Karen Kelsky at “The Professor Is In.” I disagree with the characterization that she’s a phony. As for profiting, I think she’s offering a service to interested parties, based on her knowledge and experience. I think it’s possible to reconcile offering the service while also decrying the system that helps support its existence.

                • C

                  I think Anon meant Karen Kelsky, aka “The Professor Is In.”

              • Kelsky’s another one, yes. Frequently wrong, never in doubt, as Cheryl Wheeler sang.

  • shah8

    I have found the lack of critical insight to be a founding cause of disappointment with people in leftist circles.

    The whole…”you *do* realize who wrote/published this…* element of this post reflects thoughts I’ve had the last few days.

    • Rand Paul

      You rang?

  • cpinva

    “The whole…”you *do* realize who wrote/published this…* element of this post reflects thoughts I’ve had the last few days.”

    a visit to a dr. will help those pains go away.

    • shah8

      For the record, when I wrote that, I was thinking of Melissa Gira Grant’s article in Reason magazine a bit more than a year ago.

  • Scott Lemieux

    For the record, I’m not defending Schuman’s piece, which as with Paul wasn’t where I came across Zizek’s comments and whose existence I was unaware of until someone mentioned it on my Facebook page. (And which certainly has its own problems, starting with the “saying what Zizek said was totally cool when I said it” argument.) I’m talking solely about what Zizek said.

    • SEK

      I SEE THAT NOW STOP REMINDING ME.

      The shame, it is eternal.

      • Scott Lemieux

        If this leads you to take some more whacks at Schuman’s own “I don’t want to grade your shitty essays” piece, all the better! Now let us celebrate our understanding with the addition of chocolate to milk.

        • Release the Aimai!

        • Whew! I’m glad LGM headliner comity is restored.

          I thought that all the hugs and kisses from the 10 year celebrations portended tears! Followed by hugs. Followed by…pancakes?

  • bassopotamus

    I don’t know anything about Zizek (or how to make those little mark things) beyond what I’ve read here and in Slate. I have read enough Schuman, however, to determine that she is generally awful, and her “most caring adjunct ever” shtick is tiresome.

  • AcademicLurker

    All of this is making me nostalgic for the John Holbo vs Adam Kotsko Zizek arguments from the old days. For a while there they were practically an annual tradition.

    • SEK

      John, Adam and I held a dinner summit at an Ethiopian restaurant in Chicago a few years back. The vitriol was never the same after…

      • Malaclypse

        You told them to cut the bullshit?

        • david

          Thank you, Malaclypse, for saying what had to be said.

  • Autonomous Coward

    So I will, like bassopotamus, admit to knowing nothing about either the man nor how to do the little carrotty things over letters in his name.

    From what I can tell, am I correct in thinking that he’s “Philosophy Department Howard Zinn with a Mitteleuropa-accent”, more-or-less?

    • Except that Zinn actually understood organizing and wasn’t a personal showoff.

  • Tiny Tim
    • Yeah, Žižek isn’t the only one here with a contrarian schtick.

    • That is such a terrible article.

    • laura

      It’s the same with the stream of anti-student-evaluation articles. There are genuine problems with anonymous evaluations by students but I’ve never read a single think piece on the subject that doesn’t come off as “it’s so unfair my teaching should be held to any standard at all!”

      (A caveat is that of course it’s terrible that some schools renew adjuncts’ contracts based solely on evaluations but doesn’t mean the evaluations are meaningless or shouldn’t exist.)

      • Asymptotic Aardvark

        I’ve read (well in the past, so I have no idea where, possible in Academe), that one of the biggest problem with student evaluations is that, using the standard 1 (terrible) to 5 (great) scale, that there is a systemic 1 point bias against women and most ethnic minorities, and that there are also biases based on the type of class, with required out-of-major classes (like computer science for busines majors) being biased by about a point.

        Also, when I was a professor, my department didn’t bother with proper software to evaluate the scantron forms, so the department head just used the grading software and counted the percentage of “correct” answers (i.e., 5’s.)

        • There are all kinds of systematic bias in numeric student evaluations of teaching, including race, gender, appearance, time of day, and student’s expected grade.

          I’m really surprised there hasn’t been a class action challenge to their use yet.

          I actually made the case against their use in one of my pre-tenure evaluation portfolios, in a social sciences division….

          crickets.

      • Slocum

        Student evaluations of the fill-in-the bubble variety are worthless. Student evaluations in which they discuss instructor performance specifically in a brief “focus group” type setting would be much more informative.

    • bassopotamus

      That is quite possibly the worst thing I have read about higher education that wasn’t written by a someone wanting to defund it

      • r

        Concurred. Completely insufferable.

  • Downpuppy

    Now that there are 3 Zizek posts, we can decide which is the imaginary, the symbolic & the real. Since the first was my choice as the imaginary, and clearly this is not the symbolic, there’s a 2/3 chance that the second one is the goat.

    • Autonomous Coward

      But the real question is: if Zizek offers you the opportunity to switch the articles, should you?

      • Downpuppy

        My North Star, erste prinzep, fundamental, unchangeable takeaway from all 3 posts : Zizek is Honey Badger.

    • Hogan

      I’m stuck in the mirror stage, so I won’t be able to help.

      • FlipYrWhig

        Welcome to the desert of the real.

    • brad

      Depends which movie SEK was watching while he wrote.

  • calling all toasters

    So many strawmen in one blog post:

    (1) “I think Paul and Scott both missed something crucial about Rebecca Schuman’s broadside”
    They don’t link to her, and instead have a h/t to taxprof, who also does not link to her.

    (2) “at least I had the common courtesy to read work written by and about him before beginning the ritual slagging”
    It wasn’t a critique of his writing.

    (3) “Because that’s what this is — a gussied up version of the annual conservative articles about the MLA written by intrepid reporters whose investigations amount to “flipping through the MLA catalog and writing down the names of funny sounding sessions.” ”
    Again, not about his writing.

    (4) “merely noting that the manner in which this article was constructed is highly suspect.”
    I have to wonder if you even read it, much less thought about its structure. It’s about Zizek being a shitty human being, not about him being a shitty intellectual, BTW.

    (5) “Unless, that is, you think this a fine piece of journalism.”
    You link to an article that is not by Schumann and doesn’t mention her. Guilt by non-association, I guess.

    (5) “Exactly.”
    Nice meaningless rhetorical flourish.

    (6) “Whenever someone writes a condemnatory sentence as hedged as this one… You should seriously consider not taking that person seriously.”
    Because agnosticism about unverified accusations is wrong, I guess. If you’re busy slamming someone.

    The post is ugly and dishonest. Just apologize and move on.

    • SEK

      They don’t link to her, and instead have a h/t to taxprof, who also does not link to her.

      As already noted, I assumed they were linking to that piece because it’s been linked everywhere today, and is in Slate, as opposed to a week-old article on a little trafficked anti-theory outlet. My bad.

      Doesn’t change the fact that the problem I identified with Schuman’s article is, if anything, more exaggerated in the piece that was linked to.

      It wasn’t a critique of his writing.

      Didn’t say it was, and that’s beside the point. If you’re going to hang a scholar, at least demonstrate a passing familiarity with their work — after all, what they say might have something to do with how they think, as is certainly the case with Zizek.

      Again, not about his writing.

      Your example here betrays Donalde-esque levels of incomprehension. What, exactly, does my pointing out that intellectually lazy slaggings of the MLA based on the titles of panels have to do with Zizek’s writing?

      That’s right: absolutely nothing.

      It’s about Zizek being a shitty human being, not about him being a shitty intellectual, BTW.

      It’s about taking statements he’s made, in jest, that are ripped from both their immediate and larger contexts and are being used to pillory him as a shitty human being. You wouldn’t believe the number I could do on myself if I treated what I’ve written on the Internet with the same intellectual honesty that Schuman and Critical-Theory.org evidence.

      You link to an article that is not by Schumann and doesn’t mention her. Guilt by non-association, I guess.

      I linked to an article that demonstrated what happens when you blithely dismiss academic fields because you don’t like the kind of people who work in them, which is entirely germane to a conversation about anti-intellectual dismissals of academic fields because people don’t like the kind of people who work in them.

      Nice meaningless rhetorical flourish.

      Pot, meet kettle. I’m assuming you did that on purpose — because I know I did. Even set it off as its own paragraph and put it in italics and everything.

      Because agnosticism about unverified accusations is wrong, I guess. If you’re busy slamming someone.

      Talk about intellectual dishonesty — or do you really believe that it’s kosher to say, “I can’t verify this, and I don’t personally think it’s true, but I’ve heard that so-and-so rapes children to death on weekends”?

      Because if so, Christ, that makes you the most awful kind of rumor-mongering, basically on par with Schuman herself.

      • calling all toasters

        Well, I’m glad to see you’ve dialed the disingenuousness up to 11. Nothing you wrote is, apparently, about Schuman at all, and yet it still is. She’s unreliable because of slagging of the MLA (I know: you never said that). Or because of the Donalde (I know: you never said that). Or because she blithely dismisses academic fields (I know: you never said that). Or because stating agnosticism about a rumor in an article one has linked to is in itself, rumor-mongering (I know: you never said that).

        Every single part of your argument is vicious innuendo, and guilt by association even when no association exists, followed by denial of having stated same as a proposition.

        I repeat: The post is ugly and dishonest. Just apologize and move on.

        • SEK

          Every single part of your argument is vicious innuendo, and guilt by association even when no association exists, followed by denial of having stated same as a proposition.

          Wow. Seriously, just…wow. So you misunderstood everything, got called out on it, and your response is to double-down?

          You’ve got balls, my friend. No brains, but with balls the size of yours, I figure you’ll do fine when they put you out to pasture.

          Until then, feel free to use them to go fuck yourself.

          • calling all toasters

            I don’t understand why you think what you’re doing is acceptable. You title your post “Before we pile on Žižek, we probably ought to consider the source.” You then go on to slur Schuman (someone whom I had never heard of before today) with references to MLA slagging, the Donalde, and a variety of other associations that have nothing whatsoever to do with what she wrote. For the one thing she did write that you reference, you overlook the context to slur her about that, as well. When called on that, you claim (and yet don’t claim, as usual) that it is equivalent to spreading rape rumors.

            And now you have this:

            You’ve got balls, my friend. No brains, but with balls the size of yours, I figure you’ll do fine when they put you out to pasture.

            Until then, feel free to use them to go fuck yourself.

            It’s obvious you think Zizek has been treated unfairly, yet you can’t come up with anything honest to rebut the article, except for your mention of lack of context. You should have left it there, instead of flinging shit in every direction. That you couldn’t resist doing so says nothing about me, and quite a bit about you.

            • SEK

              I don’t understand why you think what you’re doing is acceptable.

              Yes, you’ve proven that you clearly don’t understand what you’re talking about.

              For the one thing she did write that you reference, you overlook the context to slur her about that, as well.

              You don’t know what the word “slur” means, do you? I directly quoted her writing something egregiously dishonest:

              I have no idea what a superstar like Žižek gets paid, and I don’t know if he actually fills his office-hours sign-up sheet with fake names so that none of the “boring idiots” come and bother him with their stupid problems, as one New School faculty member has apparently claimed.

              Since you don’t seem to understand what’s dishonest about that, I’ll tell you:

              It begins with a profession of ignorance, is followed by another profession of ignorance that, at the same time, suggests horrible things about a person — that’s called apophasis, in case you’re wondering — and ends with a link to the article Paul and Scott linked to as a source…which mentions, without quoting, that someone once “apparently claimed” that the aforementioned horrible thing was true.

              It’s typical of her work, and it’s dishonest in the extreme, and you’re defending it because…I don’t know why. But you’re very adamant about it, which tells me that you’re devoted to defending poorly sourced, intellectually dishonest arguments if their conclusions suit you.

              What’s your endgame here? Because I don’t think The Donalde is looking for an understudy.

              • calling all toasters

                OK, since you don’t understand the context, I will explain: she had linked to an article as a source. She then goes on to mention a relatively trivial accusation in the article, which anyone who had clicked through would be familiar with, and says she can’t vouch for it.

                She then goes on to say:

                The real problem with Žižek, in any case, isn’t that he feels this way or that he says these things aloud. It’s that he does so and people think it’s hilarious.

                So she has put aside the accusation about sign-up sheets. But apparently the mere mention of it– even if she may be trying to derail some sort of commenting pile-on about something that is not her point– draws this parallel from you:

                “I can’t verify this, and I don’t personally think it’s true, but I’ve heard that so-and-so rapes children to death on weekends”?

                And you apparently stand by this.

                It’s nice that you know the word “apophasis,” but using it isn’t any more determinative of truth or falsehood than your name-calling is.

                • SEK

                  So she has put aside the accusation about sign-up sheets. But apparently the mere mention of it– even if she may be trying to derail some sort of commenting pile-on about something that is not her point…

                  I don’t remember you being this stupid, but whatever. I mentioned apophasis because it’s directly relevant — it’s a fallacy that’s used by dishonest people to knock other people’s character while pretending to take the high road. Apparently, this concept is foreign to you, so let me say this:

                  I’m not going to mention the fact that some people have said that “calling all toasters” likes to rape babies, because that’s beside the point. What I’m really interested in saying is that “calling all toasters” is thick-headed, which has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve heard rumors, which I don’t necessarily believe, that he likes to rape babies.

                  Given that you don’t believe that such talk in any way reflects poorly on you, I’m sure you’ll be fine with me saying that every time you comment on a post of mine in the future. After all, I’m explicitly and repeatedly saying that this very specific thing about you isn’t true…

                • calling all toasters

                  Well, you certainly don’t pretend to take the high road, I’ll give you that.

                • SEK

                  Well, you certainly don’t pretend to take the high road, I’ll give you that.

                  And you’re committed to making irrelevant, nonsensical arguments about things you don’t understand.

                  So now we know where we stand. I cordially invite you not to comment on posts I write in the future, because I’m really not interested in suffering the kind of fool you clearly are.

                • calling all toasters

                  Why don’t you just not post? Or stop reading comments? I mean, if you get this bent out of shape by someone pointing out obvious problems in a horrible post, maybe it would be better for you back off a bit.

      • Sebastian H

        “Didn’t say it was, and that’s beside the point. If you’re going to hang a scholar, at least demonstrate a passing familiarity with their work — after all, what they say might have something to do with how they think, as is certainly the case with Zizek.”

        Quite. Which it turns out is a problem, not a defense.

  • John Protevi

    Yes, SEK has acknowledged that Campos and Lemieux link to “Critical-Theory.org”‘s ridiculous click bait piece rather than to Schuman’s ridiculous click bait piece. I would advise anyone in their position, however, who finds themselves saying stuff that sounds *anything* like Schuman’s typing, to step back and think what went wrong. But forget Schuman — would that I could — anytime you’re picking up on a “CriticalTheory.org” click bait piece as if it’s anything other than the Buzzfeedification of academia, then you also need to take a step back and think what went wrong. Seriously, this is a 20 year old schtick, which is by former students’ testimonies contradicted by Z’s actual practice (e.g., Creston C Davis on FB), and the fact that neither Lemieux nor Campos nor just about any of the otherwise sharp LGM commenters picked up on the total lack of attempts to, you know, talk to Z’s students in these sad little click bait pieces, means that most folks have dropped the ball here for a 2 Minute Hate. (Full disclosure: 25 years of peer-reviewed continental philosophy publishing and I have a grand total of one footnote on the guy, so I’m not engaging in any fanboying.)

    • calling all toasters

      Since you obviously missed the first two comment threads, let me bring you up to speed: most people here regarded Zizek’s comments as a likely joke, but an ugly one. This is why Scott and Paul didn’t spend a couple of hours or days days hunting down Zizek’s former students.

    • Paul Campos

      The problem with this kind of thing is that:

      (1) It’s difficult to tell if somebody is being serious when he tells students stuggling with academic and/or personal issues, depression, (which is positively rampant among law students; I don’t imagine that graduate students in fields where there are no jobs are a terribly cheerful bunch either) related substancec abuse issues etc., to go “kill themselves.” I imagine it’s especially difficult to tell if you’re a depressed student, who isn’t quite sophisticated enough to realize that Mr. World Famous Philosopher is just doing “schtick” to epater la bourgeoisie or whatever.

      (2) In the Youtube video Zizek says he told students that if they didn’t turn in any papers they would get an A, but if they did they might get a lower grade. He seems serious, but perhaps this is also nothing but a delightfully sophisticated schtick, not meant to be taken seriously, and so on and so forth. Oh the indeterminancy of texts!

      (3) If I were working in a field that was subject to regular criticism from inside and outside the academy to the effect that the field is just a bunch of self-aggrandizing bullshit (oh wait this isn’t a hypothetical), I would be inclined not to engage in the kind of self-aggrandizing bullshitdeliciouisly ironic performance art or what have you that tends to confirm these sorts of clains in the minds of the great unwashed.

    • Scott Lemieux

      1)The “be careful if you sound like Schuman” argument cuts both ways, since she’s also fond of “why should I have to read shitty student essays” contrarianism.

      2)I’m quite explicitly saying nothing about Zizek’s merits as a scholar.

      3)As I said in my post, I have no doubt that the comments reflect schtick and hyperbole. Nonetheless, for reasons stated the joke is sour and witless.

      • Slocum

        Why pick up on a sour and witless joke by an academic you don’t know much about?

    • Slocum

      Stop with the facts.

  • brad

    I never took any classes with him, but I was at the New School GF the same time as Zizek and from what I know he was actually a fantastic and engaging teacher who developed lasting personal connections with a number of students. The other profs loved him as well.
    Like his style or field of work or not, he was not a poor professor unless you were an administrator who really, really cared about the GPA spread.
    Which was not something the New School GF was/hopefully still isn’t about.

    • brad

      In fact, I have to suspect I know who made the complaint about the sign in sheet, if that wasn’t just secondhand gossip dressed up a bit.
      Zizek is very often absurd, it is part of his method, and that does make him clownish in ways that can detract from what he’s trying to communicate to those more accustomed to staid academic formalism. But it also makes his work lively and playful and occasionally genuinely vital. I’m not an expert or a particular fan, but I do enjoy his spirit and how he makes his work vital and living, at least for those with the necessary particular background and tastes.

      • brad

        And jesus, what a tiny world.
        Rebecca Schuman was my RA freshman year of undergrad, I only connected it when I saw her tagline pic in the article.
        She was a good person who did well by me, fwiw.

    • GiT

      Seconded. I wasn’t at the New School, but somewhere else where he visited for a bit. He’s a clown, and not in a way that would supposedly confuse and mislead depressed or otherwise afflicted graduate students.

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