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The “Only Joking” Defense

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One would think that Paul’s observations on Zizek’s remarks about teaching would be unassailable.  But among other things personality cults generate defenses of the transparently indefensible, so Bob is Boring in comments:

Dang, that’s a lot of Zizek-hate.

I think he’s delightful. I certainly don’t always agree with him, and not all of his writings are great. I loved Looking Awry. That was the most I ever understood about Lacan.

[…]

And I find the statement in the OP to show clear signs of hyperbole. You know: rhetoric, for effect?

Ah, yes, the delightful scamp was Only Joking!  (I speak here only of the comments under dispute; I also don’t know enough to take a position on the quality of his theoretical work.)  And, indeed, one doesn’t need high-level critical skills to spot “hyperbole” in his remarks.  So let us say he kinda was Only Joking and is not literally indifferent to whether his students kill themselves.  How far does that get us? Well:

  • Were his comments funny?  Good God no, they were witless in a self-impressed way.  Among other things, good comedy rarely punches down.
  • Was the point the hyperbole was trying to make (“My shitty inferiors, I will gladly take the money that will leave many of you debt peons, so long as you expect nothing in exchange for it”) a good one?  No, it was a reprehensible one, and one that as Paul says actually says a lot about the role of arbitrarily selected “superstars” in academia.

Obviously, the point of this kind of half-joking hyperbole is to preempt criticism; by taking the remarks seriously you mark yourself as the square, the butt of the joke.  But it’s a chickenshit rhetorical move, and the sentiments the quasi-joke reflect reveal a problem that’s entirely serious.

…as djw reminds me in comments, I forgot about the best part of the comment:

Plus, I love that there’s a public intellectual willing to go on Brazillian talk shows and rant about Marx – we need more crazy bloviators moving the Overton window back to the left.

As a connoisseur of arguments that use the phrase “Overton Window” to assume multiple can openers,  I must agree that he will be a real game-changer on steroids.  I can now move on to awarding commenter Nick today’s internets:

Q: how many Slovenian Lacanians does it take to move the Overton Window in the US?

A: just one — as long as he appears on Brazilian talk shows.

 

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