Gosh. Being a humanities scholar kind of feels creepy now.
Anyone involved in the academic field of the humanities knows how difficult it can be to raise questions about scholarship within the field. Question-raising is controversial. What a paradox. Humanities scholars are trained to think critically.
Yet, there is a perverse element of hero-worshiping and a weird emphasis on repetition that is associated with the field of the humanities. Worshipping intellectual rock-stars can make raising questions about the field’s superstars dangerous.
In 2011, when I was writing my doctoral qualifying examinations, I raised a question about Slavoj Zizek. My question-raising provoked a major freak out amongst my faculty. I had no idea that I was treading on dangerous territory. But I learned.
However, now I feel confident that my questioning was leading somewhere. This is because general news outlets are reporting that the esteemed, yet controversial, critical theorist, Zizek, may have committed academic theft (read about it here and here) it would appear that all is quiet from the secretive halls of ivy.
That is to say, there seems to be no reaction, outwardly anyway, from humanities scholars about this alleged incidence of misappropriation.
Zizkek, himself, has responded to the incident, as you may see here.
What to make of this silence from established humanities departments? Does anyone know of any humanities department leaders who are speaking publicly about the Zizek case of alleged plagiarism? What about Zizek’s rebuttal where he denies the charge of academic theft, while at the same time expressing sorrow?
Why have established scholars been slow to respond?
Maybe everybody’s on vacation.
Starbucks, Zizek, and Scholars of Color
There are days when I think the microscope under which the humanities seem to be placed is unnecessary, and statist. But news of the possibility that Zizek may have taken text that appeared in a journal of possibly suspect ideology, seems to warrant further investigation.
I also wonder what scholars who might consider themselves people of color think about this controversy?
Here is a video of Zizek with Tariq Ramadan. What is to be made of such a dialogic between these two intellectuals?
Should scholars of color stop reading Zizek, or invite him to tea?
If Zizek were to join me at the Starbucks in Southern California where I sit listening to hippy music whilst writing this blog post, I would have lots of questions for him.
First, I would ask him if he has ever dated anyone who is African, or African American, or anyone who is of a representative group of peoples historically displaced due to either a). genocide, or b). post-colonialism.
I would ask him questions about empathy and compassion for the Other. I would ask him about fear and whether that had anything to do with his alleged plagiarism.
Finally, I also would ask him about what role isolation plays in his life.
Depending on how he would react to these questions, I then might learn a lot about his world view. Then, I would probe, further.
I really want to know what Zizek thinks about diversity. I want him to come to my university in California and talk about diversity.
I would ask Zizek whether he thinks there is enough diversity of thought in fields like critical theory, cultural studies, and cultural politics. I would ask whether now is the time for critical evaluation of these academic fields and the institutions which house them.
When thinking about Zizek, I stress the importance of paying attention to the humanities, and to the people engaged in the humanities tradition. The field appears to be undergoing rapid change.
Chaotic change, even.
Without critical institutional reflection, the humanities risk obsolescence.
Anyone who disagrees with this statement is welcome to help me organize a conference on the topic of Critical Self-Reflection in The Humanities and the Obsolescence of Post-Structural Thought. Scholars who have raised questions about Zizek may be invited to speak on the subject of Zizek. Scholars who have not questioned Zizek, may also speak. Zizek, himself, might want to attend, and participate.
Since Zizek is accused of possibly plagiarizing text from a journal that may be described as one that promotes an ideology of reductivism, why not critically interrogate the field of knowledge to which he is attached?
Questions may be asked about diversity of contributors to this field of knowledge. Are there any people who are unlike him in the field, and if so, how do they differ?
Other alternatives include launching research initiatives to investigate, problematize, and catalog paradoxical and conflicting Zizekianisms.