<CPOV> Dare to Quote! On Zizek and Wikipedia

Geert Lovink geert at xs4all.nl
Thu Jul 15 15:59:52 CEST 2010

Reading Slavoj Zizek's 2010 Living in the End Times book, I noticed  
the author quoting Wikipedia a number of times. No big deal, you would  
say but it is significant in the light of ongoing controversy around  
Wikipedia as a reliable (academic) source. Zizek is considered a  
leading intellectual, and arguably Europe's most famous philosopher of  
the baby boomers (b. 1949). This postwar generation entered their  
professional lives in the age of the (electronic) type writer, well  
before the introduction of the personal computer. If a critic like  
Zizek includes Wikipedia in his verbal stream of conciousness it is a  
sign of the times that Wikipedia has become an integral part of our  
media environment.

So far, in the case of Zizek, referenced media have been been books,  
followed by feature films. Forget newspapers, television and radio, or  
hearsay conversations and correspondences. If Zizek starts telling  
stories it is based on contemporary myths and current affairs that are  
supposed to be known to all of us, written down without detailed  
references. If Zizek starts to theorize he talks aloud, like in a bar,  
and it is this oral, narrative element that constitutes his  
philosophy. To include Wikipedia in these rants is part of a  
significant cultural shift and it is odd that Zizek himself is unaware  
of this Event. Naive or not, it is

As far as I know Zizek has not yet written at length about the  
internet, mobile phones, e-readers or computer games. What in Living  
in the End Times resurfaces is his fascination for post-humanism and  
techno-gnosis. The example analyzed in this book it is MIT's Sixth  
Sense research program ("wearable gestural interface that augments the  
physical world around us with digital information and lets us use  
natural hand gestures to interact with that information"). Much like  
Zizek's analysis of early 90s Virtual Reality it is in particular the  
embodiment of information that interests the psycho analyst. Zzek  
cannot distinguish between networked communicatio and the 'virtual  
architecture' (if possible in 3D) of Second Life or World of Warcraft.  
The invisible, non-representational nature of new media falls outside  
of Zizek's theory scope. Zizek is not the only theorist we can blame  
for the confusion between cyberspace and virtual reality. But twenty  
years onwards you would think that someone could have given Zizek a  
basic update what has happened in the world of new media.

Libertarians are indeed featured (Ayn Rand) but the Silicon Valley  
techno-libertarian religion is not an object of study for Zizek. It is  
in particular the dark, apocalyptic side of Ray Kurzweil that  
interests Zizek, not Google. An interesting example of his  blind spot  
for the networked nature of capitalism is on display in Zizek's visit  
to Google's Mountain View headquarters where he spoke during the  
Authors at Google lunch series in October 2008.  Zizek is the perfect  
example if you want to show how little cultural studies and film  
theories have to say about the internet. As Zizek recently admitted to  
The Guardian: "I am a good Hegelian. If you have a good theory, forget  
about the reality." The problem in this case is that Zizek not even as  
a basic set of critical notions, let alone a theory. This could be  
reason why he remains silence about it in his books.

All the more interesting that In Living in the End Times we can find  
at least five references to Wikipedia (always without URL).  The books  
also refers to used internet sources in thirteen footnotes in which he  
does point to actual web locations but forgets to mention dates or  
author names. The editors at Verso Books did not include Wikipedia in  
the index. They did include 'internet' with three page references, but  
none of them are significant, idea-wise. "He is very much a thinker  
for our turbulent, high speed, information-led lives," Sophie Fiennes  
remarks in the same Guardian piece. Sure, but it is a pitty that when  
Zizek will eventually slow down to write his real Magnus Opus its  
topic will be Hegel and not the internet.

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