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?