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Slavoj Zizek has quickly become one of my favorite philosophers. When I was a graduate student in philosophy, my greatest regret was that philosophy, which had previously been at the center of intellectual life of society, had drifted to the perimeter. In the 18th century, if you could read and took part of the social and political life, you probably had read John Locke's ESSAY ON HUMAN UNDERSTANDING and Machiavelli's DISCOURSES ON LIVY (THE PRINCE only transcended the DISCOURSES as the most widely read work of Machiavelli in the past century; the Founders of the U.S. were all deeply steeped in Machiavelli's reflections over Livy's account of the founding of the Roman Republic, since a republic was what they were striving to erect in the New World). Today you will find few everyday people who have read anything by the three most prominent philosophers of the 20th Century, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Foucault. So I love that Zizek has striven to connect philosophically with the masses. What is amazing is that he has been amazingly consistent through all of the books of his that I have read. It seems as if he found his message early on and has since then been concerned with altering the ways he could articulate it. With some risk of simplification, Zizek has argued for founding a philosophical structure on four undergirding intellectual sources: 1) a revised form of Marxism or Dialectical Materialism, 2) the revision of Freud that was undertaken by Jacques Lacan, 3) the dialectical system of Hegel, and 4) the central message of Christianity. On the last point Zizek is quite heterodox, both to Christians and Marxists. For Christians the crucial essence of the faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; for Zizek, as it is for so many others, the central essence of Christianity can be expressed in its teaching without reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Nonetheless, these are the four features of his thought that reemerge in most of his books, even when he writes about other figures, such as Schelling or Alfred Hitchcock (Zizek writes frequently about movies, especially Hollywood movies). He'll even give book titles lines from movies, such as THE MATRIX's "Welcome to the desert of the real," which in turn is derived from Lacan, just as the rest of the film could be said to be an attempt to make a SF movie out of Guy Debord's Marxist masterpiece THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE (Experiment: read Debord but substitue "Matrix" for "spectacle" and then rewatch THE MATRIX and substitute "spectacle" for "Matrix", and you will see how fully each expresses the ideas of the other, just as the movie makes endless other philosophical references, such as Neo hiding his software in a fake copy of Jean Baudrillard, author of the famous SIMULATION AND SIMULACRA, which is appropriate since "The Matrix" is a complex simulacra.
So, I love Zizek's attempt to make philosophy relevant again, something that few have had much success with since Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell, the last two philosophers who were widely read in the English speaking world. I often agree with Zizek, just as I very often disagree. I have even come to see much of value in the work of Lacan, and am currently engaged in reading him for the first time.
The problem with Zizek has always been "What book of his do I read?" Because Zizek is an unbelievably prolific writer. He is apt to turn out 3 or 4 books some years, along with many essays and articles, along with the occasional motion picture (THE PERVERT'S GUIDE TO CINEMA and THE PERVERT'S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY are among the first attempts, and are certainly the most successful ones, to make movies that try to teach philosophy). I generally tell people to follow three rules of thumb in selecting books to read, and after that to explore on their own. First, the books in Verso's The Essential Zizek series is pretty appropriately named. Books like THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE and DID SOMEONE SAY TOTALITARIANISM? really are among his most important books. Second, read LOOKING AWRY, an attempt to look at major philosophical issues by using Lacan to analysis a string of Hollywood movies. It is Zizek at his best and most entertaining. Third, read THE PARALLAX VIEW, another book deeply influenced by Lacan but taking its title from American cinema. If Zizek can be said to have a major work, this would be it. After that, it really doesn't matter, since he has written so prolifically and approached his central subjects from so many angles. And this does not include his more topical titles that react to such events as 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, and the financial meltdown in 2008.
Which group does THE MOST SUBLIME HYSTERIC fall into? Definitely the third group. There really is nothing here that a seasoned reader of Zizek will not have encountered before. I won't deny that this is an interesting read. It is a revision of his doctoral dissertation, and that actually is the way it contributes the most to the study of Zizek. It shows that the fourfold structure that I mentioned above was already in place, What has changed most since this is primarily style of exposition rather than content. Still, I have trouble recommending this to anyone except someone who has already read many of his books. It isn't as fun as his other books, but has a somewhat more formal tone. Like I said, the best thing about the book is showing that Zizek found his message early on, and has since struggled mainly with finding his voice, which he has managed to do largely through applying the ideas of Marx, Hegel, Lacan, and Christianity (keeping in mind that Zizek is an atheist) to all kinds of problems. I still think LOOKING AWRY might be the best first book by Zizek, followed by just about any of the Verso books in the Essential Zizek series. But by all means read him. He can quite rightfully be said the first philosopher to worry about how to communicate philosophical ideas in the age of the Internet, and by and large I think he has been quite successful.