“I Nonetheless Deeply Regret The Incident,” Zizek Responds to Plagiarism Allegations

Slavoj Zizek has been in the spotlight recently after a 2006 article he authored was outed as a near-copy of a 1999 book review in a white supremacist publication.

After one blogger posted side-by-side comparisons of the Zizek’s “A “Plea for a Return Différance (with a Minor Pro Domo Sua)” with a review of Kevin Macdonald’s “The Culture of Critique” appearing in the American Renaissance, the story quickly spread and eventually made the pages of Newsweek.

Now, Zizek has responded to Critical-Theory via email. Zizek blames a lack of oversight on the affair, but defends that he in no way can be accused of “stealing ideas.”

Read Slavoj Zizek’s full response below.


With regard to the recent accusations about my plagiarism, here is what happened. When I was writing the text on Derrida which contains the problematic passages, a friend told me about Kevin Macdonald’s theories, and I asked him to send me a brief resume. The friend send [sic] it to me, assuring me that I can use it freely since it merely resumes another’s line of thought. Consequently, I did just that – and I sincerely apologize for not knowing that my friend’s resume was largely borrowed from Stanley Hornbeck’s review of Macdonald’s book. (These passages are also taken over in Part III, Chapter 1, of my book The Parallax View.) As any reader can quickly establish, the problematic passages are purely informative, a report on another’s theory for which I have no affinity whatsoever; all I do after this brief resume is quickly dismissing Macdonald’s theory as a new chapter in the long process of the destruction of Reason. In no way can I thus be accused of plagiarizing another’s line of thought, of »stealing ideas.« I nonetheless deeply regret the incident.

  • dh

    Seems legit.

  • T E

    he’s a bad communist and a bad academic

  • Greg Enge

    Zizek recycles his own stuff at levels I’ve rarely seen; the same jokes the same examples. This can be annoying. Without reading all the material involved in this cited incident his account sounds reasonable. An unintentional instance of failing to cite properly rather than passing off someone else’s ideas as one’s own.
    But Zizek is considered a fair target for any number of overblown accusations and diminishing of his status as a thinker and academic. Since his accomplishment is there for all to see and judge, the responses have often become a generalized statement about something else. In this way he reminds me of the response to Derrida, a thinker declaimed most loudly by those who haven’t read a word that he has written. The price of name recognition perhaps.
    So I often wonder what is this other thing that in the minds of many call for renunciation?

    • Titty O’Shea

      If an undergraduate did what he did, they’d be disciplined for plagiarism.

      • Mindrapist

        Then it’s good thing comrade Zizek writes for the people of the public and not for academia.

        • Titty O’Shea

          Oh please – he’s supposed to be an academic, he should be setting an example.

          • morpheus richards

            Who in the right mind looks towards academics as paragons of good conduct? Who ever has?

          • Titty O’Shea

            Good academic conduct might be expected of an academic. That’s clearly what I meant

          • Dexter Dude

            Oh please! He is a Crit. Anything that breaks down the Hegemony and achieves power is acceptable. Pretending that things like “attribution” or “copyright” are anything other than Tools of the Hegemony is silly. It is of no more significance that “coloring within the lines”.

          • Titty O’Shea

            I sincerely hope you’re being ironic there.

        • Risto Silvan

          Which public? Comrade Zizek is nothing more than a political asshole – who even ran for a president – now a parade horse of his political friends and other ‘comrades’ from the former regime here in Slovenia, the last communist stronghold in Europe. A “superstar” and one of the key elements of their propaganda machine, spitting on anything western or anyone who might threaten their privileges they have from the past. These for sure are his ‘people of the public’.

          • Mindrapist

            Even if Slavoj is evil and writes his philosophy for purely selfish reasons, is why his work has so much philosophical value and impetus to challenging the way we understand what the dangers of western ideology is by actually comparing it as the same phenomenon as stalinist ideology but in a new form and in different empirical circumstances.

          • jmmds

            Any way of contacting you? I’d like to discuss this further.

          • Applied Ill

            Sorry, but I heavily doubt that you know the first thing about the Slovenian politics back then. Now go to Slovenia and then visit Bosnia or Serbia and you see that Zizek’s work was actually fantastic back then.

          • Bueno Devine Burquez

            I’ll take an argument, please.

      • Bjål Janssen

        If an undergraduate had written what Zizek writes, he wouldn’t be an undergraduate.

        • Titty O’Shea

          Yes, Zizek’s work is pretty awful

          • Applied Ill

            Oh, c’mon. I mean critique is fine, really. But hell, give us some arguments here. It’s not so hard to get the impression that your aversion isn’t really based on actual problems within his theories which would be a lot better.

          • Вальтер Болты

            Write a paper and invite him to an academic debate.

  • Moneje Sogo

    thats so typical of plagiarists

  • The “plagiarism” charge is a little harsh, if this is what happened. Using summaries is fine, and if he made an honest mistake, so be it. It’s a pretty lame excuse, but whatever.

    The hilarious part, though, is that Zizek explicitly admits that he dismisses out-of-hand an argument and a book that he has never read. He is openly admitting that he’s not doing actual research and deduction and reasoning, but just deciding beforehand what the “right” answers are, and ignorning any arguments to the contrary. Theory before evidence at its finest.

    “I, for one, consider Darwin to be a heathen.”

    Have you read Darwin’s books or understood his arguments?

    “I don’t need to. I know he is evil and wrong and godless. Anyone who even reads that material is suspicious anyway. Only evil people read those kinds of books. Besides, I had my assistant send me this handy summary.”

    • Mindrapist

      He dismissed the wrong guy, though! I think Zizek is basically saying, he doesn’t agree with the ontological conclusions of a worldview because that is in contradiction to his ontological theories? Every philosopher is a critic. Does that mean all philosophers who have distanced themselves from Plato have plagiarised Plato however, since as Nietzsche observes Platonic thinking is plagiarised by people whom are ignorant of their own plagiarism of Plato, and polemic argumenters against the defined people therefore rely on Platonic modes of thought so that their destruction can be their common relative necessity to their ideas.

      • CityCalmDown

        Well, if both you and Ray Coppersmith actually followed Mr Coppersmith sage advice and actually read Zizek’s book, you would have your answer.

        In this instance, he was giving a list of examples of extreme irrationality which nevertheless manage to take ideological hold. That it, Kevin Macdonald’s three volume work of anti-Semitism which has become a guiding light for the White Nationalist far-right. And which in turn – three years down the track – have managed to make their way all the way to the White House.

        Notice that even the triumphant white nationalist who discovered Zizek’s act of acknowledge copying – surely this was all that it should be called if we are take real cases of serious plagiarism and fraud seriously – didn’t take dispute with the review of Macdonald’s book. And so it appear to a faithful account. Of dangerous lunacy.

        Whilst your above account of Nietzsche and Plato and the nature of intellectual history is quite interesting, it is also massively overthinking the matter. Zizek is saying something much simpler. There are ideas and arguments which are quite mad. And sometimes these ideas become a part of the ideas of the ruling ideology.

    • CityCalmDown

      Have *you* read Kevin Macdonald’s book? Or the discussion around it? Stephen Pinker who did Macdonald’s book decided in the end that it was too mad to validate with a proper refutation.

  • Josef

    Bad historian?

  • Harm Timmermans

    The problem with apologies like his is that they seem fair, while it is often overlooked that they are actually inadequate. Notice the assumption that it is okay to copy text from a friend when it is assumed the friend wrote it. He could’ve also apologized for taking his friends text without the slightest reference to his friend or even a mention that he did not write it himself. He could’ve also apologized for misleading the reader into thinking he wrote it himself. He could’ve also apologized for pretending to have read a book which he hadn’t. Is this how he does research? In my eyes this is very foul play in the academic field, and a simple oopsie daisy “for not knowing that my friend’s resume was largely borrowed from Stanley Hornbeck’s review” just doesn’t cut it, in my opinion. Especially the part where he explains that it isn’t all that bad since the stolen passages were “purely informative” shows a sincere lack of any sense of accountability. Would it have been too much to ask to put a simple “(My Friend, p. xx)” after these paragraphs, if not knowing they were largely borrowed was his only mistake? This is dirty, very dirty.

    • CityCalmDown

      >>>”Notice the assumption that it is okay to copy text from a friend when it is assumed the friend wrote it”

      No “the assumption” is your own. You are assuming that he failed to ask permission first. You have no evidence for either but are clearly driven by a zeal to assassinate.

      And there is nothing to “apologize” for – to use your word. When Zizek gives his account of what actually occurred, the whole “affair” is trivial in the extreme.

  • Mindrapist

    So he wants to talk about Kevin Macdonald’s position in the ideological web of culture, so let’s just say that he picks an article to represent that and copied it. He then says extra things, paradoxical to what the article thinks, to present how the original article missed it. The presuppositions of the article were wrong therefore. Therefore I suppose that a philosopher can be a plagiarist. A philosopher, could also be a liar. Does his philosophy advocate plagiarism? No, but it advocates only reading a portion of the original book, or a quote of it somewhere else or a review of it, to truly understand the inner essence of the actual book in its concrete form. Form here is used to deduce some other origin of the Understanding of the mind than reality.

  • Zizek, of all people, should know that one doesn’t apologise for stealing ideas.
    This is the academic class covering each other’s asses.

    • CityCalmDown

      He didn’t steal anyone’s “ideas” as he stated very clearly. He and Macdonald could not be further apart.

      He wanted an account of Macdonald’s book so he could add it to his list of examples of contemporary irrationality and anti-reason.

  • mito

    But, then, didn’t you steal your “friends” ideas? Which where stolen from a book review?

  • Risto Silvan

    Plagiarism is a national sport here in Slovenia, the “superstar’s” homeland. I am not surprised at all. What surprises me is that you can still find people across the world that are fooled by this jerk.

  • Davis Goodman

    “In no way can I be accused of plagiarizing”. Oh my god … GAG!!!!!

  • Brian Real

    “a friend told me about Kevin Macdonald’s theories, and I asked him to send me a brief resume. The friend send [sic] it to me, assuring me that I can use it freely since it merely resumes another’s line of thought. Consequently, I did just that – and I sincerely apologize for not knowing that my friend’s resume was largely borrowed from Stanley Hornbeck’s review of Macdonald’s book.”


    “In no way can I thus be accused of plagiarizing another’s line of thought, of ‘stealing ideas.’ I nonetheless deeply regret the incident.”

    Dude, stealing words is still plagiarism! Taking stuff that your buddy wrote (or you thought he wrote) and passing it off as your own is plagiarism! You don’t have to just swipe “ideas.” And, this is endemic of a field that only considers what they exalt as profound concepts to be important. That somehow your writing and actual research into factual stuff isn’t really work, but some supposedly profound ideas are the only thing that matter.

    I mean, this cuts to the core of some of the sharpest – and most fair – criticisms of CT. The fact that prominent people have often been opposed to historical or other fact based research (see David Bordwell’s “Zizek: Say Anything” for a detailed explanation of this problem) has created scores of academics (as well as un- or under-employed individuals with M.A.s and PhDs) who don’t respect scholarship outside of a narrow range of theory-based forms of inquiry that are considered politically correct within their own field. When it’s acceptable to denigrate digging through archives and other primary search research as undignified empiricism and not real scholarship, it becomes easier to justify ripping off the effort of lesser beings.

    • CityCalmDown

      If his friend stated that he had permission to copy the passage without reference, then what is the problem?

      More generally what is the big deal?

      Zizek’s priorities are the correct ones whilst everyone else seems half-crazed. Why is “plagiarism” the mortal sin that has it become? Is it because of the pernicious ruling ideology of private and academic careerism? Accompanied by a liberal “free-market” nihilism, relativism and warring perspectivism?

      If in subsequent printings of the book, the passage in question is printed indented with the reference added, then the book remains exactly the same.

      In which case, this universe rocking “scandal” of cosmic proportions is no more problematic than a typographical error.

  • Democrapper

    such an ugly snot-filled dark-bags-under-the-eyes babbling piece of shit

    • Bjål Janssen

      holy moly, what a nasty thing to say!

  • Tsvetan Vuchkov

    How about labeling him as yet another marxist copy-cat?

    “Zizek is considered a fair target for any number of overblown accusations..”

    Proletarians destroy the lying capitalist fools and praise comrade Zizek!

  • glennwire

    Contrary to what seems to be the consensus view below, I accept both Zizek’s account as being credible.

    And I accept that this is NOT plagiarism in the serious sense of the word. He simply used another person’s summary account of a book which he wanted to discuss further.

    This is not plagiarism in the substantive sense of the word. That of taking actual *ideas* and passing it off as one’s own.

    If he had simply referenced his friend’s letter to him, then they really would be nothing to see here. The situation as it occurred is actually no different. In subsequent re-printings, Zizek can simply provide the reference to his correspondence and his argument, thesis and evidence remain unchanged.

    The notion of Zizek – or of anyone – engaging in “self-plagiarism” is a notion which is just stupid on the face of it. The actual technique is simply called “transposition”. How is it even possible to plagiarize from oneself?

    More speculatively, we all live under the hegemonic ideology of private property which is notion which is deified to an extreme and irrational degree. I would assert that this is why plagiarism is regarded to the mortal sin that it is today.

  • Вальтер Болты

    Plagiarism is a legal issue. Period. There are no legal matters involved in this case, as far as i know. Just a blogger kid trying to kill his father in a very Lacanian fashionable way.

    • glennwire

      It wasn’t a “child” of the father.

      The white nationalist neo fascist who wrote the original review, found it in Zizek’s book.

      But as you say, unlike in other cases, the matter is wholly trivial.

      Place a new footnote in the book, and the matter is over. Text, argument and evidence emerge unchanged.