Philosophy at the End of the World
And so it has come to this. Philosophy is now in the hands of a Slovenian madman. Slavoj Zizek has been thought of as one part Groucho, one part Karl Marx, an idiot savant, a Shakespearean fool, or maybe Dylan's Jokerman.1 A self-declared "fighting atheist" who claims the Christian legacy is worth fighting for. A Leninist who seeks wisdom in Chesterton's Orthodoxy. A leftist accused of being authoritarian, anti-feminist, and anti-Semitic. A critic of the worst excesses of capitalism who himself so over-produces books and articles that critics despair of ever being able to pin him down before he's off on his next tangent. So full of apparent contradictions is Zizek that to some critics it appears that while it is true Zizek exists, nevertheless we may well have created him.2
When writing about Zizek, one must decide (finally) to plant the flag somewhere. For the purposes of this article, I limit the discussion to Zizek's political-religious thought.3 And in order to provide anything like a coherent account even of this more narrowed focus, I will do so by discussing Zizek's concept of "the act." Although Zizek gives his most sustained philosophic analysis of the act in two earlier works, The Indivisible Remainder (1996) and The Ticklish Subject (1999), in the five books under discussion here, Zizek's invoking of the act serves as one link between his three works on Christianity and his accounts of the two defining moments of our contemporary political world, 9/11 and the war in Iraq. While there are some signs that his red-hot status may be cooling a bit, there is still enough going on in his rants against the Bush Administration and his riffs on St. Paul to give readers pause before judging him to be a signifier of nothing. There is method to his madness, wisdom in his foolishness.
At the outset of The Fragile Absolute, Zizek offers one of his patented twists on the expected Marxist response. In castigating the "deplorable aspects of the postmodern era" and "the return ...