Žižek Studies

The Greatest Hits (So Far)

by David J. Gunkel (Volume editor) Paul A. Taylor (Volume editor)
©2020 Edited Collection XXII, 348 Pages
Series: Žižek Studies, Volume 1


Žižek Studies: The Greatest Hits (So Far) assembles and presents the best work published in the field of Žižek Studies over the last ten years, providing teachers, students, and researchers with a carefully curated volume of leading-edge scholarship addressing the unique and sometimes eclectic work of Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek. The chapters included in this collection have been rigorously tested in and culled from the (virtual) pages of the International Journal of Žižek Studies, a leading open access journal that began publication in 2007. The book is organized into three sections or subject areas where Žižek and his seemingly indefatigable efforts have had significant impact: philosophy, politics, and popular culture. As a "greatest hits," the book offers the long-time fan and uninitiated newcomer alike a comprehensive overview of the wide range of opportunity in the field of Žižek studies and a remarkable collection of truly interdisciplinary "hits" from a diverse set of innovative and accomplished writers.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Editors’ Introduction
  • Part I Philosophy
  • 1. Žižek and the Real Hegel (David J. Gunkel)
  • 2. Žižek’s Kant, or The Crack in the Universal (Politicizing the Transcendental Turn) (Matthew Sharpe)
  • 3. Žižek’s Brand of Philosophical Excess and the Treason of the Intellectuals: Wagers of Sin, Ugly Ducklings, and Mythical Swans (Paul A. Taylor)
  • 4. The Hegelian “Night of the World”: Žižek on Subjectivity, Negativity, and Universality (Robert Sinnerbrink)
  • Part II Politics
  • 5. A Hermeneutic of Hope: Problematizing Žižek’s Apocalypticism (Ola Sigurdson)
  • 6. Barack Obama, the New Spirit of Capitalism and the Populist Resistance (Olivier Jutel)
  • 7. Capitalism’s Cynical Leviathan: Cynicism, Totalitarianism, and Hobbes in Modern Capitalist Regulation (Peter Bloom)
  • 8. The Joy of Inequality: The Libidinal Economy of Compassionate Consumerism (Japhy Wilson)
  • 9. Žižek’s New Universe of Discourse: Politics and the Discourse of the Capitalist (Levi R. Bryant)
  • 10. Enjoying the Cinema (Todd McGowan)
  • 11. Losing What We Never Had: Žižek and Lacan Rock On with Bryan Adams (Graham Wolfe)
  • 12. Interpellating Django: The Functions of the Gaze in Tarantino’s Django Unchained (Abigail Fagan)
  • 13. You Only Die Thrice: Zombies Revisited in The Walking Dead (Vlad Dima)
  • 14. They Were Created by Man … and They Have a Plan: Subjective and Objective Violence in Battlestar Galactica and the War on Terror (Luke Howie)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index


This book is a testament to the commitment and dedication of a community of individuals from across the globe who—despite widely different interests, backgrounds, and professional affiliations—share an abiding interest in the work of Slavoj Žižek. For this reason, we dedicate this Greatest Hits to that community. The journal, the nascent field of what is now called, for better or worse, “Žižek Studies,” and this collection of essays is the direct result of this interest, support, and friendship.

We also need to recognize and extend a “thank you” to Imanol Galfarsoro, a Basque Liverpool FC supporter, who took over the reins as General Editor of the journal, when Paul Taylor needed to take a step back from IJŽS’s day-to-day operations. The heavy-lifting of organizing, assembling, and editing the chapters was supported by three very talented graduate research assistants from Northern Illinois University (NIU): Katherine Willis, Kyle Jacobs, and Danielle Waterson. The index was assembled by Michelle Kittling-Brewer, another talented NIU graduate student. The book that you hold in your hands would not have come together and materialized as such, if it was not for their careful attention to detail and tireless efforts.

Finally we need to thank Slavoj Žižek for putting up with us and the journal over the past 10+ years. He always thought we were wasting our time with this thing. Hopefully it was time well wasted.

Editors’ Introduction

Why Žižek? And Why Online?

Over a decade ago the idea for the International Journal of Žižek Studies (IJŽS) initially came from Paul A. Taylor who took inspiration directly from the already existing International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (IJBS) run by the late, much missed, Gerry Coulter of Bishops University, Quebec. The idea of launching a new a journal—and a web-distributed journal—exclusively dedicated to the work and writings of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek immediate lead to critical questions and reflection.

“Why Žižek?” This question asks about content. It asks, in particular, for scholars to reflect on the role Žižek’s work plays in shaping various research programs and investigations. And it asks for a justification. Why, for example, would anyone bother dedicating a journal to one particular individual who is still very much alive and whose oeuvre remains open-ended, indeterminate, and dynamic? These questions concerning the intended content of the journal, although undeniably important, were accompanied by another question concerning form—“Why online?” Why, for instance, would one decide to publish this content on the web? Why distribute the journal through the fiber-optic cables of the Internet as opposed to being printed on paper and distributed through the usual time-honored channels (like the book in your hand—which we would justify in the same way that, despite the many advantages of digital music, we ultimately prefer vinyl)? Was an online journal merely an instrumental convenience or even a contrivance? Or could there be legitimate philosophical and political reasons for such a decision?

In the following, we take up and investigate these two questions in order to account for the coming-into-being of the International Journal of Žižek Studies and to contextualize and situate this remarkable collection of essays that represent what we believe has been the best of the best or our Greatest Hits. The two questions are not unrelated. In fact, the question “Why Žižek?” and the question “Why online?” are implicated in one another. Or as G.W.F. Hegel has it: “what we have presented here is the absolute correlation of content and form, namely the reciprocal turning [Umschlagen] of the one into the other” (Hegel 1987, 265).

In the Beginning  … 

Paul initially tried to develop the journal on his own, leveraging that DIY ethos that was the subject of his early work in hacker culture. He began by designing a website banner and basic page layout but quickly realized that he was completely out of his comfort zone and knowledge base. He turned straight away to David Gunkel an unusual breed of academic—someone steeped in Theory (more about the use of the capital T shortly) and also highly competent in all things web-based. David, as always, had too much on his plate to start running a new journal but perhaps a clue as to the reason why he allowed himself to be inveigled into the project was contained within his succinct response to Paul’s early blue and yellow themed design efforts—“It looks like the banner for a Swedish porn site.” Suitably chastened, Paul then enrolled the help of a design-literate friend, Terry Speake, who came up with both the IJŽS logo—something we called “the slot-top Z”—and colour scheme, which David then brought alive as a functioning website.

From the very start of the journal, David was very clear that we should use a Creative Commons license which meant that 1) journal content would be open access and freely available to all readers across the globe and 2) the intellectual property (IP) of published material would remain in the control of the original authors with the stipulation that any and all subsequent usage acknowledged IJŽS as the original site of publication. This particular approach to open access content chimed fully with Paul’s appreciation of the innate accessibility of the IJBS and his perennial frustration with the supine acquiescence of the academic profession to a profoundly iniquitous system of journal publication and draconian control over intellectual property. In academic book publishing, the original authors receive a very small percentage of the net profits, but at least a discrete physical piece of property is produced with relatively low profit margins or, in the case of a university press, as a non-profit operation.

In contrast, the whole model of publishing conventional academic journals is premised upon an (eminently avoidable) system of labor exploitation. Academics provide the initial content, conduct the peer reviews of submissions, and carry out the editing process. Authors are then even further called upon to perform the task of proof reading and correcting the galley proofs. At the end of this very involved and labor-intensive process, publishers then distribute the final product under a subscription model, charging University libraries large sums for the privilege of providing patrons access to the intellectual content produced by their own faculty. And if for some reason (like diminishing funds to support serials) the library does not subscribe to the journal in which one has published research, authors and his/her students cannot access the content without a paying out of pocket for the privilege of access. A further aspect of this irrational situation is that, in addition to employing and supporting the primary producers of content, those same universities frequently have all the necessary conditions and equipment to act as publishers themselves, if they so wished. It is as a direct reaction to this institutionalized foolishness that freely available, open access journals like IJŽS have sprung up as countervailing initiative.

This model of content creation and distribution is a product of the exigencies of print technology. Although the technology has changed, the model has remains in place and largely unquestioned. In fact, the situation has not improved very much in the 10+ years since IJŽS began publication. Though IJŽS was part of what could (in retrospect) be called the academic “avant garde” in 2006, today the “online journal” is pretty much de rigour in academic publishing. Most academic journals from the big names in the business (and it is big business)—like Sage, Springer, Routledge, Elsevier, Emerald, etc.—are now online journals. As such, they employ and exploit many of the innovations pioneered by IJBS, IJŽS, and other early adopters: online review and processing of submissions, web-based distribution of content, “just in time” publication providing access to content prior to or in the process of issues being fully assembled and populated, fully searchable journal data bases and articles, etc. Today these features seem entirely natural to and a necessary aspect of any academic journal. But in 2006, when IJŽS was just starting out, it was revolutionary and untested. At that time, “serious” academic journals needed to be on paper, because (as many of our colleagues had argued at the time) “you can’t trust anything on the Internet.” There was also a widespread and rather curious criticism heard from both colleagues and publishers alike, that the electronic nature of an online journal meant that one could not read in the bathtub, as if reading academic publications was something that was routinely performed during personal grooming and bathing.

For these reasons, submitting an essay to IJŽS was a bit of a risk, and early adopters often had to prove to their institutions that the online journal was a credible source of peer-reviewed publication. But even if the mainstream academic journal has slowly but surely come to realize and even exploit the opportunities of online publication, their integration of open access options has often undermined the best of intentions. Currently, the big names in journal publishing have some form of open access option, but they use what is commonly called “gold open access.” This means that authors can publish in the journal, retain copyright to their contribution, and have the submission made freely available to all users without the burden of subscription or other form of payment. But the costs associated with the publication are then passed on to the author or his/her institution in the form of an article processing fee (APF). And anyone who has been through this process with Sage, Springer, Routledge, etc. knows that the cost of doing so is not cheap—typically something in the range of $1100 to $1800 USD depending on the journal. This fee, it is important to point out and recall, may appear to be minimal and of marginal importance for senior faculty with externally funded research grants at a top-tier universities in Europe or the United States. But it is exceedingly burdensome for junior faculty in the early stages of their career, who do not have access to institutional funding sources; independent scholars without institutional affiliation and revenue streams; or researchers working at small teaching colleges or in parts of the world that are typically (and pejoratively) identified as “developing.” The APF is (for better or worse) firmly situated in and supported by the neo-liberal ideology that has taken hold of institutions of higher education in the early decades of the 21st century.

So what the one hand giveth, the other taketh away. Commercial academic journals have caught up to innovations in digital technology and are following the lead of IJŽS (and other journals like it), moving to online submission, review, and distribution of content. But they have doubled down on monetizing their product. They still charge users for access to standard content (i.e. $29 USD for a one time use of a single article) and require that authors assign to the publisher all interests in and rights to the submitted content. But they now offer an open access option. This option is pay-to-play, where authors can retain IP rights over their material if and only if they (or their institution) provide up-front payment in the form of an APF. For this reason, the continued existence of a journal like IJŽS is important, because it provides, as it always has, practical counter-measures to commercialized forms of academic publishing.

A Man with Qualities—Žižek the Public Intellectual

So much for the practical issues of online publishing and open access to published content, but why create an online/open access journal devoted to the output of one single (and most shockingly for some people), living thinker—Slavoj Žižek? Part of the answer to this question can perhaps be found in the motivating origins of the earlier IJBS. Jean Baudrillard was a prolific writer, but he did not fit in a neat disciplinary mould (a sociologist by training, a philosopher and cultural theorist by nature). Within academia he is routinely and egregiously dismissed as a postmodern relativist (as is Žižek), whenin fact even a fleeting reading of his oeuvre reveals an almost Old Testament style contempt for relativism and the intellectual depredations created by a highly mediated society. There was something about Baudrillard’s work (perhaps his frequently ironic, tongue-in-cheek Gallic style of writing) that mainstream academia either could not, or would not, confront with genuine intellectual openness. It is therefore not surprising that this vacuum was filled by an online journal. In Žižek’s case, a similar level of institutional sniffiness exists. A genuine engagement with his work requires some humility because he challenges the amour-propre of established academics by drawing upon a challenging range of deeply complex psychoanalytical and philosophical core sources such as Hegel, Heidegger, and Lacan and then mixes it with rude jokes, popular culture references, and what the stereotypical “serious academic” is quick to dismiss as mere entertainment—Hollywood movies, instead of more serious “art films.” Žižek uses this unlikely but highly original mashup of materials to reach beyond the disciplinary silos that act as a security blanket for pragmatically ambitious but deeply uncurious scholars.

The fact that Žižek stands out so forcefully in the current intellectual climate is partly due to his own uniquely charismatic qualities, but also because of the parlous commodified and bureaucratized state of today’s university sector which provides the bleak background from which he stands out. Today, the idea of the university bears more than a passing resemblance to Siegfried Kracauer’s account of “the idea” becoming merely “an ostentatious façade” honoured more in the breach than the observance: “The group that has gained power certainly does not abandon the idea, even though it has in fact deserted the idea and is now just floating along in reality … Its relations to the contents of should-being that once constituted it are in truth now only of a superficial sort, the idea having become pure decoration, an ostentatious façade for a partly rotten interior which represents, together with this façade, a unity that is nothing short of a mockery of spirit” (Kracauer 1995, 167). Intellectually curious academics now frequently find themselves in a situation akin to that of a devout Catholic at the time of the Borgias, struggling to find space to say the rosary in the midst of a papal orgy.

It is no coincidence therefore that Žižek’s widespread popularity has arisen at the same time that virtue-signaling conformity within universities has increasingly replaced conceptual exploration. A key insight from the psychoanalytical tomes from which Žižek draws his inspiration is the fact that whatever comes to be repressed will reappear elsewhere in a different form. Our personal experience with organizing and attending Žižek-related events is that there is an almost palpable hunger for the intellectual buzz he provides that is no longer present (or is at best an “ostentatious façade”) in the institutions of higher education. In the UK, for example, the very fact that privately held companies called the Academy of Ideas and the Institute of Art and Ideas have prospered by promoting open discussion of difficult and controversial topics gives some small indication of the gap in public discourse that needs to be filled because universities are failing to engage with a public (despite or perhaps because of their bureaucratic drive to promote “impact” as a research goal). As acerbically described on the Academy of Ideas (2018) website: “At a time when inclusivity and equality are the watchwords of government higher-education policy, and education seems to be valued for almost any sake except its own, we think it’s vital to take a stand for the value of the content of education instead of fixating on object and process.”

Žižek thus succeeds where universities routinely fail in terms of public engagement partially because of his infectious enthusiasm for all things theoretical (even when the audience may not fully understand the esoteric content) and partly because, fully understood or not, that theory often serves to shed light upon some of the most pressing issues of our time. Žižek is not the most prepossessing of speakers, he lisps and he could be said to be sartorially challenged, yet his intellectual charisma provides audiences and readers with something they are sorely lacking. Whilst Western mainstream media failed to predict and then failed to understand phenomena like Donald Trump’s election in the US and the success of the Brexit referendum in the UK (and all too often lazily lump the two very distinct events together), the way in which Žižek blends ideological analysis with psychoanalytical insight serves to provide a much needed corrective to the media’s bromides and tired old formats.

Arguably, Žižek’s biggest contribution to intellectual life comes from how he has rehabilitated so spectacularly the notion of Theory with a capital T. In an age when academics are increasingly expected to subject themselves to a battery of quantitative metrics designed to measure their “impact,” their citability, their research productivity, etc. and at a time when the humanities are often seen as the poor cousin to the hard sciences or STEM disciplines and their self-styled imitator the social sciences, Žižek is unapologetic in his insistence on the primacy of Theory. With his patented mix of high theory and low culture, Žižek is able to engage with and explain contemporary phenomenon not by, for example, dismissing facts as fake news, but by demonstrating the subterranean psychological currents and ideological eddies that provide the fuller context from which to understand better those facts and their significance. In an age when experts are distrusted like never before, Žižek is uniquely valuable as a guide for understanding why hitherto under-acknowledged processes of belief and their inextricable links to ideology play a fundamental role in how people come to understand the world around them.

Within academia, at least one of the reasons Žižek is often viewed as persona non grata is because of his ribald humour and lewd jokes. This is not a surprising outcome given the often po-faced and precious climate that pervades contemporary academic discourse. But such knee-jerk dismissals of Žižek’s humorous method miss its substantive significance as memorably pointed out by Todd McGowan in the inaugural issue of IJŽS: “Without seriousness, theory becomes nothing but the bad conscience of the ruling ideology. It offers questions but never approaches truth. Only a serious theory can permit us to recognize the truth that we are living without being aware of it. Only in theoretical seriousness does the possibility exist for us to give up the quest for a truth based on knowledge and to embrace a truth of non-knowledge that structures our being. But first we must recognize that the path to seriousness is strewn with jokes” (McGowan 2007). Although Žižek rarely makes explicit reference to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, his critique of institutionalized forms of seriousness and the willingness to take a risk on what is ludic—even to the point of playing the role of “philosophical fool”—follows the spirit, if not the letter, of what Nietzsche called Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft or The Gay Science.

Screening Thought

The media establishment is, ironically, perhaps one of the last unexplored regions of our communications-saturated age. Despite our society now being one of extreme transparency (in the UK, for example, Channel 4 airs the program Naked Attraction in which nubile people select a date from a range of unclothed contestants) rarely does one expose the manufacturers of consent or comment upon the commentariat. Because of the way Žižek looks and sounds—add to that the radical nature of what he says—his audience and reader are provided with a corrective lens with which to view contemporary events and crucially the various structures that determine how those events are perceived and processed.

His work encourages us to recognize both the distinction and relationship between the subject of the enunciation (what is said) and the enunciated subject (how we ourselves are formed by how we come to say things). In fact, this formulation characterizes his particular way of theorizing truth and its mediated representation: “At the level of positive knowledge,” Žižek (2008, 3) writes, “it is, of course, never possible to (be sure that we have) attain(ed) the truth—one can only endlessly approach it, because language is ultimately self-referential, there is no way to draw a definitive line of separation between sophism, sophistic exercises, and Truth itself (this is Plato’s problem). Lacan’s wager is here the Pascalean one: the wager of Truth. But how? Not by running after ‘objective’ truth, but by holding onto the truth about the position from which one speaks.” The strategic advantage to this particular approach, then, is not that it provides one with privileged and immediate access to the object in its raw or naked state but that it continually conceptualizes the place from which one claims to know anything and submits to investigation the particular position that is occupied by any epistemological claim whatsoever.


XXII, 348
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (February)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. XIV, 348 pp., 12 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

David J. Gunkel (Volume editor) Paul A. Taylor (Volume editor)

David J. Gunkel is Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Communication at Northern Illinois University, USA. He is a founding editor of the International Journal of Žižek Studies. Paul A. Taylor is Senior Lecturer in Communications Theory at the University of Leeds, UK. He is a founding editor of the International Journal of Žižek Studies.


Title: Žižek Studies