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Zizek’s Gaps

2017 has been a good year for fans of Slavoj Zizek. The books he has published this year show a global theorist extraordinaire at the top of his game. The International Journal of Zizek Studies, the open access journal dedicated to his life and work, has gone from strength to strength, and other open access journals like Crisis and Critique (now into its fourth volume) feature debates around the changing structure of his dense Marx/Hegel/Lacan theoretical framework. These debates are of the highest intellectual quality and show important political and theoretical links to other global theorists like Jacques Ranciere, Etienne Balibar, Fredric Jameson and Alain Badiou.

As in previous years, Zizek’s work has shown that there is nothing outside his field. But what is his field? Zizek’s most recent book is called Incontinence of the Void: Economico-Philosophical Spandrels. In it he agonises over the question ‘Am I a Philosopher?’ and muses over 300 pages on just about everything under the sun from Polish football hooliganism in the 1940s to the Danish TV series The Killing. The first part of the title of the new book comes from a late work of Samuel Beckett. The subtitle is odd, but provides a pointer to the contours of what field Zizek can be said to inhabit when he writes. Spandrels apparently is primarily an architectural term. Zizek defines it as the space between a curved figure and a rectangular rectilinear surround. Or, as Jean Baudrillard once put it, all things are curves! Spandrel, and spandrelisation, essentially refers to the space between two arches. Mostly its referent is the empty spaces, or gaps. Zizek tells us that spandrel later became a concept colonised by evolutionary biology where it stands for features of an organism arising as byproducts. In Zizek’s theoretical system which basically encompasses philosophy, psychoanalysis and political economy, it is the gaps – the empty spaces – between them which provide the most fertile ground. Zizek’s gaps!

These interspaces between fields can be explained historically and socially too. Incontinence of the Void (or the Voidoids as punk legend Richard Hell would have it) is published in MIT Press’ Short Circuits book series. Slavoj Zizek edits the series with his Slovenian colleagues Mladen Dolar and Alenka Zupancic. All three authors have had significant books published in the series over the years. They effectively formed the neo-Lacanian school in Slovenia, especially in Ljubljana. More widely known as the Ljubljana School of Psychoanalysis, there was widespread connection to post-Yugoslav alternative culture – art movements, punk music, film theory and post-punk bands like the internationally famous group Laibach. Laibach, incidentally, is the name given to Ljubljana under occupation by the Nazis in World War 2. Dolar and Zizek’s friendship goes back to their undergraduate days in the 1960s and their period of study under Jacques-Alain Miller (Jacques Lacan’s son in law) in Paris in the 1980s. Zupancic comes from a later generation and was a student of both Dolar and Zizek. Zizek became known, half seriously, as the ‘Slovenian Lacan’. A 2014 book by Jones Irwin and Slovenian philosopher Helena Motoh called Zizek And His Contemporaries: On The Emergence of the Slovenian Lacan shows the importance of the friendships and the working relationship of these three Slovenian scholars and a network of theory and politics which today stretches the globe.

The empty spaces or gaps between philosophy, psychoanalysis and political economy are where Slavoj Zizek, and his many followers around the globe, find themselves. Zizek has long standing posts as researcher at Birkbeck College, London in the UK and at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. Once also a holder of the post of Professor of Cultural Studies, he has recently been appointed Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University in the United States. Hmmm, German Professor. At least he does not have to keep worrying about whether he is a philosopher!!