Kill Your Heroes!
Recently A.C. Grayling and some other notable academics got it in the neck for their role in setting up a private university with fees double the price of other university courses – immediately putting those students who are lesser off at a disadvantage. In so doing, the “telly dons” put paid their commitment to an education, in the words of Grayling himself – “provided free of charge to all those suitably qualified for it.”
Now a number of academics will take part in the London Critical Theory Summer School at Birckbeck, which can set students back the hefty fee of £750 for just two weeks.
Surprisingly, one of those academics planning to take part in the school is Slavoj Zizek.
By consequence of my observing the Hegelian-Lacanian-Contingency Paradigm, I am a fan of Slavoj Zizek’s. I’ve written a great many blog posts and articles using his name and texts, have written about him at length for pop philosophy publications, and the academic journal which bears his name.
(I also do a cracking impression of him, as anyone who knows me can attest to).
But my devotion to his deed does not keep me from raising criticism, where it is due – and here it is due (please do, incidentally, take the name of this blog post with a generous pinch of salt).
Around the time Edward Woollard threw a fire extinguisher from the roof of Tory HQ in Millbank, people were bending over backwards to level criticism at the young man, including and especially leftists and fellow student activists. Zizek, however, had the following to say about the Millbank protests, at a lecture in Birkbeck:
People saying you could have delivered the same message without violence. F*ck them! Of course you can deliver the message. But nobody would hear the message. This is what they like, that 100 people gather and write a message and then you don’t even get the bottom note in the day’s paper… You have to break some windows to get the message through.
Zizek has always been very vocal about what education should be about; the reintegration of people in the public sphere, where space is open - organising proper, unhindered free debate, away from the corporate’s who want to reign in radicalism and dissent. In 2009, to promote this very cause, the independent student initiative for the right to free education started a peaceful occupation of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, Croatia. Zizek, in a letter of support to the occupiers (who lasted 35 days), wrote:
Those among us who are old enough remember “specialized further education”, the last attempt of the Communist regime in the old Yugoslavia to streamline education to “social use” and narrow the space of dissent. Western Europe is now rediscovering it – it is called the “Bologna reform of the higher education,” a new attempt to subordinate higher education to the needs of social control and regulation. We need a cultural revolution to fight this dangerous tendency with all means available, violent civic disobedience included. You, students who occupy faculties, are doing not only the right thing, but the necessary thing. Go to the end, persist – no compromise!
There’s no doubt Zizek – a dying breed who still qualifies the term Communist in a positive way – is faithful to radical theory, but his participation in Birkbeck’s critical theory summer school implies an acceptance that radical education should come with a price tag.
And he has been stung before. On being questioned about writing the text accompanying Bruce Weber photos in a catalog for Abercrombie & Fitch, Zizek replied “If I were asked to choose between doing things like this to earn money and becoming fully employed as an American academic, kissing ass to get a tenured post, I would with pleasure choose writing for such journals!”
At the time this was an isolated incident, and could be ignored, but Zizek may fast be becoming an odd sort of communist.
The following video has been produced by Bloomsbury Fightback
(see also the Q&A with the Guardian he did in 2008. To the question “What is the worst job you’ve done?” he answered: “Teaching. I hate students, they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.” The irony here now slightly damaged).