Chomsky Responds: Zizek’s Remarks are “Sheer Fantasy”

chomsky zizek feud

Noam Chomsky, renowned linguist and anarchist, has replied to Slavoj Zizek’s assertion that he is “empirically wrong.”

Chomsky has been fighting with critical theorists for a while now. For years he’s been calling Jacques Lacan a self-aware “charlatan.” But in an interview from 2012, Chomsky amended his list of “worthless” theorists to include the work of Lacanian philospher Slavoj Zizek. Chomsky noted ““Zizek is an extreme example, I don’t see anything in what he’s saying,” Zizek responded to Chomsky’s comments recently by saying:

Well with all deep respect that I do have for Chomsky, my first point is that Chomsky who always emphasises how one has to be empirical, accurate, not just some crazy Lacanian speculations and so on… well I don’t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong in his descriptions in his whatever! Let’s look… I remember when he defended this demonisation of Khmer Rouge.

Now, Chomsky has replied to those assertions, calling Zizek’s argument “pure fantasy.” In an article released today, Chomsky contends that it’s not the first time Zizek has falsely attributed quotes to him. Writing on ZNet:

Žižek finds nothing, literally nothing, that is empirically wrong. That’s hardly a surprise. Anyone who claims to find empirical errors, and is minimally serious, will at the very least provide a few particles of evidence – some quotes, references, at least something. But there is nothing here – which, I’m afraid, doesn’t surprise me either. I’ve come across instances of Žižek’s concept of empirical fact and reasoned argument.

For example, in the Winter 2008 issue of the German cultural journal Lettre International, Žižek attributed to me a racist comment on Obama by Silvio Berlusconi. I ignored it. Anyone who strays from ideological orthodoxy is used to this kind of treatment. However, an editor of Harper’s magazine, Sam Stark, was interested and followed it up. In the January 2009 issue he reports the result of his investigation. Žižek said he was basing the attribution on something he had read in a Slovenian magazine. A marvelous source, if it even exists.

…According to him, I claim that “we don’t need any critique of ideology” – that is, we don’t need what I’ve devoted enormous efforts to for many years. His evidence? He heard that from some people who talked to me. Sheer fantasy again, but another indication of his concept of empirical fact and rational discussion.

In regards to Chomsky’s alleged support of the Khmer Rouge, Chomsky responds that Zizek’s interpretation of (what he assumes is) the work he did with Edward Herman is a gross mischaracterization. Chomsky explains that the work in question criticized US propaganda for stressing the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and ignoring those committed by America and its allies. Additionally, argues Chomsky, the US actively fabricated and aggrandized events for ideological purposes.

The two prime examples on which we focused were Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in the same years. A long chapter is devoted to each. These are very telling examples: comparable atrocities, in the same region, in the same years. Victims of the Khmer Rouge are “worthy victims,” whose fate can be blamed on an enemy. The Timorese are “unworthy victims,” because we are responsible for their fate: the Indonesian invasion was approved by Washington and fully supported right through the worst atrocities, labeled “genocidal” by a later UN investigation, but with ample evidence right at the time, as we documented. We showed that in both cases there was extraordinary lying, on a scale that would have impressed Stalin, but in opposite directions: in the case of the KR vast fabrication of alleged crimes, recycling of charges after they were conceded to be false, ignoring of the most credible evidence, etc. In the case of ET, in contrast, mostly silence, or else denial.

You can read Chomsky’s full response at ZNet. Now can the left please stop cannibalizing each other?

  • Craig Courtney

    What’s gross? when turns into the Perez Hilton of Academia.
    What’s grosser than gross? I get annoyed at myself for tolerating it, assuming they won’t do it again tomorrow.

    I’m afraid neither party will learn.

  • Dave Bones

    these two are left?

  • Christopher Rashad Williams

    All of the internets to Craig. You’ve earned them.

  • Innigkeit

    People who say: “Stop with the drama!” are themselves the biggest drama queens. If they’re not interested in this conversation they can just open a new tab and close this one. On the contrary, this attack on Žižek’s sloppiness was warranted. I don’t know lot about Khmer Rouge but I remember listening to a lecture of Žižek on Buddhism, where he displayed very basic understanding of it (one you can get from reading on or two introductory books) – but anyway proceeded to criticize it. Criticize a 2000 year old tradition in a few paragraphs. (Of course he would never do this to Islam, that would be politically incorrect and against the leftist party-line codex). Anyway, it was embarrassing watching him “criticizing” something he barely understands. – Now, I don’t deny Žižek has some very interesting insights, especially when he talks about Hegel. But this doesn’t give him the right to talk about things he doesn’t know about. The way he cites sources in his talk is “friends in Israel tell me”, “my Buddhist friends tell me”, “a couple of Maoists in India told me” … When I was at a Žižek lecture in Ljubljana, Slovenia, he admitted: “I am a Platonist. If empirical facts are in contradiction to theory, I will stick with the theory and ignore the facts.” – I swear on my life I heard him say that, in Slovenian (I am Slovenian too). – This is important because Žižek, even though he’s an interesting philosopher – deserves a spanking from an intellectual giant such as Chomsky. – The clownish ways and entertainment are all good but he did a mistake to attack someone like Chomsky on the battliefield of empircal evidence! Where Žižek is most weak and Chomsky strongest. Deserved spanking.

  • Josef Zeko

    I wrote all of my undergrad papers using Zizek’s Iraq: The Broken Kettle. I’d just open up to a random page, pull out a sentence that looked promising and use that as the entire basis of my paper, referring back to it again and again, basically creating new variations on whatever theme I was playing with. Things that like mesmerize lit profs at public schools.

    Of course I’m still paying the BANKS for my students loans, but that’s another issue for another time.

  • Sam Iam

    Why not just write that Zizek was completely wrong? He not only completely misrepresented Chomsky’s position on the KR, but he completely misunderstood the context in which it was written. He put a video out on YouTube, so this was not some off hand comment in which he didn’t have time to read what he intended to discuss. Also, Zizek claimed to be proving that he has “never met someone who has been consistently as empirically wrong” as Chomsky, then, sort of, mentions one case… which Chomsky smashes with his usual ease.

  • tadeas novak

    So, Khmer Rouge’re still technically OK for Chomsky. Just some vast fabrication of alleged crimes, recycling of charges after they were conceded to be false, ignoring of the most credible evidence, etc. No piles of skulls in jungle at all. Khmer propaganda most probably printed in US too.

    • ghanderman

      the way certain people miss chomsky’s point with his critique of US media treatment of KR atrocities reminds me of dogs watching liquid being poured from a container into a cup you hold out in front of them. try it sometime. maybe you will understand the analogy, maybe not. obviously you do not understand why chomsky contrasted how ET and KR were painted in public media so i wont waste any more of my time pompously amusing myself with your weak sauce stupidity.