How to Read Žižek

Adam Kostko in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

1346611538SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK, a philosopher and psychoanalyst from Slovenia, is one of the few academics to have achieved a degree of genuine popularity among general readers. He regularly lectures to overflow crowds, is the subject of a documentary film (called simplyŽižek!), and surely counts as one of the world’s most visible advocates of left-wing ideas. When Žižek first broke into the English-speaking academic scene, however, few would likely have predicted such success. For one thing, his research focused on an unpromising topic: the long-neglected field of “ideology critique,” a staple of Marxist cultural criticism that had fallen into eclipse as Marxism became less central to Western intellectual life in the second half of the twentieth century.

“Ideology” is one of those philosophical terms that has entered into everyday speech with an impoverished meaning. Much as “deconstruction” means little more than “detailed analysis” in popular usage, so “ideology” tends to refer to a body of beliefs, most often with overtones of inflexibility or fanaticism. But as Žižek argued in his 1989 book The Sublime Object of Ideology, ideology is not to be found in our conscious opinions or convictions but, as Marx suggested, in our everyday practices. Explicit opinions are important, but they serve as symptoms to be interpreted rather than statements to be taken at face value.

More here.