No one who knows anything about Slavoj Žižek should really be all that surprised by the likes of this story:
Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek — who is one of the world’s most prominent living public intellectuals — has been accused of plagiarizing from the white separatist magazine American Renaissance. (The magazine calls itself a “race realist” publication, while the Southern Poverty Law Center calls it a hub for “proponents of eugenics and blatant anti-black racists.”)
Last week, a blogger called “Deogolwulf” posted a comparison of passages from an article by Žižek in the journal Critical Inquiry and from a book review in American Renaissance. The review, by Stanley Hornbeck, is of Kevin Macdonald’s anti-Semitic book The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth Century Intellectual and Political Movements. Although the two pieces of writing come to different conclusions (Žižek calls it “barbarism”), passages summarizing Macdonald’s book appear with nearly identical wording in each publication.
In a statement emailed to NPR, Žižek wrote that he had been sent the words by a friend who said he was free to use them and that he did not realize the friend had in turn borrowed words from Hornbeck. Žižek added, “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 dismiss 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.”
NPR asked Žižek whether he considered it acceptable to borrow, even with permission, the words of a friend without citing the source. Žižek responded: “My friend not only agreed, he wrote those words for my use! Plus they are a resume of a book, not any creative development of ideas. So I really don’t see a problem here.”
Žižek’s “explanation” is, of course, ridiculous. Since when do friends send words from a racist publication and say, in essence, “go ahead; use them! It’s fine by me!”? To be sure, if Žižek really does have friends who encourage him to plagiarize from racist publications, then he has made the wrong class of friends, but I for one don’t believe in this absurd scenario for a moment. At minimum, Žižek was very clumsy in his writings by failing to properly attribute the words of another. At worst, he actively tried to get away with plagiarism, and now, he is making his problems worse by concocting a silly explanation for the incident in an effort to absolve himself.