Chomsky -v- Žižek (and Lacan)

July 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm (academe, Beyond parody, Chomsky, cults, intellectuals, jerk, Jim D, language, philosophy, stalinism, strange situations, wankers)

Regulars will know that us Shirazers are not big fans of Noam Chomsky. But back in December 2012 he gave an interview that warmed the cockles of our collective heart, slamming, amongst others, those two verbose charlatans Žižek and Lacan:

Mike Springer (at Open Culture) writes:

Noam Chomsky’s well-known political views have tended to overshadow his groundbreaking work as a linguist and analytic philosopher. As a result, people sometimes assume that because Chomsky is a leftist, he would find common intellectual ground with the postmodernist philosophers of the European Left.

Big mistake.

In this brief excerpt from a December, 2012 interview with Veterans Unplugged, Chomsky is asked about the ideas of Slavoj Žižek, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida. The M.I.T. scholar, who elsewhere has described some of those figures and their followers as “cults,” doesn’t mince words:

What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever. So there’s no theory in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying. Jacques Lacan I actually knew. I kind of liked him. We had meetings every once in awhile. But quite frankly I thought he was a total charlatan. He was just posturing for the television cameras in the way many Paris intellectuals do. Why this is influential, I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t see anything there that should be influential.

via Leiter Reports

Related content:

John Searle on Foucault and the Obscurantism in French Philosophy

Clash of the Titans: Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault Debate Human Nature and Power on Dutch TV, 1971

Jacques Lacan Talks About Psychoanalysis with Panache (1973)

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek Interprets Hitchcock’s Vertigo in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006)


Oh, goody goody! Žižek has replied…(and makes some fair points about Chomsky’s record), here

Further comment on the spat, at Open Culture

H/t: Norm … who also draws our attention to the John Searl link on Foucault and Obscurantism, above.


  1. Andrew Coates said,

    Some fair points but when it comes to the Khmer Rouge Slavoj Žižek is treading on ice.

    Žižek is well-known as a very vocal defender of Alain Badiou,

    He has described him thus, “A figure like Plato or Hegel walks here among us”.

    Alain Badiou was the leader of a French Maoist group the UCFML ( L’Union des communistes de France marxiste-léniniste).

    This is from their own ‘balance-sheet’ of the period when the Khmer Rouge were in power.

    They note, that they maintained,

    ““Soutien à contre-courant des Khmers Rouges contre l’invasion vietnamienne.”

    Support, against the trend, for the Khmer Rouge against the Vietnamese invasion. (10 ans de Maoïsme. UCFML . 1981).

    That is Badiou, almost alone in the whacky world of French maoism, supported the Khmer Rouge *well after the Pol Pot genocide was widely known.*

    There is a lot more on the unsavoury past (including his backing of the far-right ‘Maoist’ group in Portugal, the MRPP, of which the present hard-right European Commissioner José Manuel Durão Barroso was a member) – here:

  2. Dave Kirk said,

    Andrew- I think Chomsky is much more of a apologist for “actual existing socialism” then Zizek. Zizek spent the first 30 years of his life under stalinism (or Titoism to be precise) and is a very critical of the Soviet Block China and Cuba. Chomsky despite his professed libertariansim is soft on Cuba.

    As for getting the Khmer Rouge wrong I dont think Zizek has ever said anything supportive of them. instead he says
    “the Khmer Rouge regime was a kind of political equivalent to the famous publicity description of the Linda Fiorentino utterly evil femme fatale character from John Dahl’s neo-noir The Last Seduction: “Most people have a dark side… she had nothing else.” In the same way, while most of the political regimes have a dark side of obscene secret rituals and apparatuses, the Khmer Rouge regime had nothing else… This is probably “totalitarianism” at its unsurpassed purest”

    Support for the Khmer Rounge in the war against the Vietnamese was pretty widespread. President Carter, Thatcher, most Trot groups including Workers Liberties predecessors talked about critical support.

    I think he has got better since the economic crisis began. Going back to Lenin, Trotsky and Gramsci and trying to apply them. On Occupy basically here he advocates Transitional demands

    “The art of politics is also to insist on a particular demand that, while thoroughly “realist”, disturbs the very core of the hegemonic ideology: ie one that, while definitely feasible and legitimate, is de facto impossible (universal healthcare in the US was such a case). In the aftermath of the Wall Street protests, we should definitely mobilise people to make such demands – however, it is no less important to simultaneously remain subtracted from the pragmatic field of negotiations and “realist” proposals.”

    It is no doubt true on Linguistics Chomsky is a very important thinker. Whereas Zizeks long spiels on Lacan, Hegel etc are often deliberatly obscure and Charlatanism is maybe an apt criticism.

    However as political actors and thinkes as opposed to academics I think Zizek is generally on the side of the working class against all dodgy regimes and for a critical approach to marxism as opposed to support for cultural relativism, islamism and third worldism.

  3. Dave Kirk said,

    Also Zizek is pretty clear on Left Anti Semitism and supports joint iseali palestinian work for peace over the strategy of BDS.
    Chomsky whilst not a simplistic Galloway like cheerleader for Hamas seems to think it can be reformed and seems to completely ignore its Anti Semitism.

  4. Transendental Materyalizm, Diyalektik ve Plastisite (Johnston, Zizek, Malabou) | Senselogi© said,

    […] Chomsky -v- Žižek (and Lacan) […]

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