Why is nearly every critique of Zizek out of context?
Zizek’s “empirical” refutation of Adorno (I read this in a paper just now) was literally:
To begin with, one is tempted to venture an ‘empirical’ refutation of this notion of an inherent link between philosophical ‘totalism’ and political totalitarianism: on the one hand, the philosophy that legitimizes a totalitarian political regime is generally some kind of evolutionary or vitalist relativism…
[The Invisible Remainder]
This is an empirical refutation. You can take your science, history, and “facts” and suck it. Empricism is now just another one of Zizek’s enigmatic “and such”s.
And yet you just took half of an off-hand remark from the introduction of one of Zizek’s books out of context. Not to mention his qualification of “one is tempted to venture” as well as putting “empirical” within quotes: denoting some irony, that the word isn’t suppose to be taken with its full seriousness, that this is Zizek having fun. He’s not attempting to begin a serious, exhaustive, scientific, and empirical refutation of Adorno. In fact, his point is more towards a discussion of Schelling contra Popper than trying to “refute Adorno.” And, in that half sentence, he’s merely commenting that history, ‘empirically,’ seems to disprove the link between philosophical ‘totalism’ and political totalitarianism.
Here’s the full context:
It is clear how these two surpluses comprise in nuce the logic of the opposition of commodity fetishism and of the Althusserian Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs): commodity fetishism involves the uncanny ‘spiritualization’ of the commodity-body, whereas ISAs materialize the spiritual, substanceless big Other of ideology.
However, are not Schelling’s obscure ruminations about the Absolute prior to the creation of the world simply out of touch with our post-Enlightened pragmatic universe? Among the numerous platitudes proposed by Karl Popper, one idea stands out as more inane than the rest: that of an inherent link between philosophical ‘totalism’ (‘strong’ philosophy striving to grasp the Absolute) and political totalitarianism - the idea that a thought which aims at the Absolute thereby lays the foundation for totalitarian domination. It is easy to mock this idea as an exemplary case of the inherent imbecility of analytical philosophy, of its inferiority to the dialectical (and/or hermeneutical) tradition - however, do not Adorno and Horkheimer, the two great opponents of the Popperian orientation, put forward what ultimately amounts to the same claim in their Dialectics of Enlightenment?
To begin with, one is tempted to venture an ‘empirical’ refutation of this notion of an inherent link between philosophical ‘totalism’ and political totalitarianism: on the one hand, the philosophy that legitimizes a totalitarian political regime is generally some kind of evolutionary or vitalist relativism; on the other hand, the very claim to a ‘contact with the Absolute’ can legitimize an individual’s resistance to a terrestrial political power - the link is thus far from necessary and self-evident; rather, the opposite. Is not the ultimate argument against this link provided by Schelling, who advocates the strongest version of the philosophy of the Absolute (in Part I of Weltalter he attempts to present the Past as the ‘age’ of God Himself prior to creation), yet who, in the name of this very reference to the Absolute, relativizes the State - that is, conceives it as something contingent, unachieved-incomplete in its very notion?
In fact, his use of Adorno and Horkheimer in that section is to signify that Popper’s argument, despite seeming inane, perhaps requires some thought as Adorno et. al. apparently arrive at the same claim. It’s certainly annoying that most complaints of Zizek seem to derive from incredibly uncharitable readings of small excerpts of his work.