Note this review was orginally written for a now long defunct livejournal.
Figures of Dissent: Reviewing Fish, Spivak, Zizek and Others
I like Terry Eagleton well enough. I haven’t read many of his works (I’ve only read three, actually, the brilliant memoir The Gatekeeper, Literary Theory, and now Figures of Dissent) but I think I’ve dipped my toe in enough to be able to opine on his work. Literary Theory was a pretty important book for me. It was the first thing I read that explained a lot of the theoretical concepts that I would be interested in during my twenties including feminist theory, post-colonial theory, post-structuralism, post-modernism, and all else that falls under the broad tent of “theory”. I’ll do a full review of Literary Theory when its time comes, but for now, let’s just say Figure of Dissent is no Literary Theory.
This is a book of Eagleton’s reviews and thought pieces on various literary and cultural figures. It’s kind of fun if not particularly serious. His piece on Zizek is great and while it doesn’t explain Zizek’s overarching theory all that well (a perhaps impossible task as I’m not convinced Zizek is anything other than a huckster), it does do a good job of explaining a lot of Zizek’s pop culture appeal. Some of the other essays, I barely remember, which shows you the deep impact they had on me. Like mine, I imagine your time is limited. This is one of those books you can skip without missing much, but also isn’t a waste of time.
Recommended (really only) for the enthusiast.
I saw Astra Taylor’s documentary Zizek! last night. It was a lot of fun.* I think Taylor does a good job of allowing the hilarious nature of Zizek’s public performance to take center stage without totally forgetting about the serious parts of his work.
There’s a bunch of wonderful bits in the movie, including classic Zizek riffs on the difference between the way shit is represented in Germany, France and the US, an excellent dig at Judith Butler and a lot of talk about Stalin. Its worth seeing if you have any interest in the Zizek.
The talk of Stalin continued into the discussion after the film with Zizek and Taylor.The first part of the talk was a sort of disclaimer on the film, and that while it portends to give us an insight into his personal life, it does not. He claims to a great extent that it is all performance, and I think it probably is, but I think it is a performance he cannot completely control. There is a lot to be said about the introduction of capitalism into the Eastern Bloc, nerosis and parody when thinking about Zizek’s public preformance. But I think I’ll save that for another day.
After the bit about the film, Zizek went into a fairly serious bit about what a Lacanian ethics would be. After much back and forth and couching and blah blah blah, as Zizek would say, he came to the example of one of the woman caught up in the famous “doctors plot” in Russia who though it was almost pointless exercise, and she was doomed to be executed refused to confess. Zizek see this commitment to continuing, even when it is not rational, as a form of ethic. He quoted the classic Beckett line, “I cannot go on, I’ll go on” as a summation of what a Lacanian ethics might begin with, and I liked that very much.