Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Slavoj Zizek, Plagiarist

Surprisingly, the story was important enough to appear in Newsweek.

Superstar Marxist (and Freudian) philosopher Slavoj Zizek was caught plagiarizing.

A discerning reader was surprised to discover, in a Zizek article, a couple of readable paragraphs. He understood that something was wrong.

In time he discovered that the offending passages had been lifted, nearly verbatim from another publication. Not just from any publication but from a white supremacist magazine called American Renaissance.

Of course, Zizek is not merely a Marxist philosopher. He is a leading proponent of psychoanalysis, especially that of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. I defined his role clearly in my book, The Last Psychoanalyst.

Writing about the kerfuffle in Slate Rebecca Schuman expressed some sympathy for the superstar. Don’t all great academic thinkers do the same thing? We do not expect such people to write every word that they publish, do we?

As for Zizek, he defended himself on the grounds that a friend had passed along the offending passages without telling him that they had been lifted from someone else’s work. Since the friend gave Zizek permission to transcribe his words verbatim, the superstar philosopher asks forgiveness because he did not know what he was doing.

He merely thought that he was plagiarizing a friend’s work. And besides, the plagiarized passages merely summarized an argument. They were, Zizek claimed, merely informative.

As Schuman hints, Zizek thereby showed that he does not understand plagiarism. You cannot plagiarize an idea; you can only plagiarize someone’s words. And on that count Zizek’s editor agrees that the philosopher stands guilty as charged.

And yet, said editor, from the journal Critical Inquiry now says that he would have dealt with the problem by asking Zizek to remove the plagiarized paragraphs. He would not, in other words, have held Zizek to account for his intellectual malfeasance and would have happily run the rest of the article.

Fortunately, Zizek does not much care about his reputation, but why would an apparently reputable journal of ideas adopt such an insouciant attitude toward a plagiarist?


Anonymous said...

American Renaissance is not white supremacist. It doesn't believe whites are better than other people. It believes whites in the West have a right to act in their own interests as Jews, blacks, and other groups do.

Jared Taylor who runs the site is no supremacist as these videos show:



If blacks have NAACP, Jews have AIPAC, and Hispanics have LA RAZA, why shouldn't whites think in terms of their own interests, esp when there's so much anti-white animus in our PC world.

Ares Olympus said...

Wikipedia policy makes a big deal about plagiarism, and its tricky since an encyclopedia is supposed to be to be summarizing external sources, while sometimes a summary is no shorter than the original reference, and so it can seem like you have a choice to reword something in a possibly inferior way, or quoting exactly, or almost exactly, which can be distracting to reading. But in any case, basically I think its laziness, although "irrespective of intent to deceive" shows your intentions don't matter.

Plagiarism is the incorporation of someone else's work – including their language and ideas – without providing adequate credit. The University of Cambridge defines plagiarism as: "submitting as one's own work, irrespective of intent to deceive, that which derives in part or in its entirety from the work of others without due acknowledgement."

Rand Paul got in trouble a while back on taking material word-for-word directly from Wikipedia for his speeches, and I can see both sides. And how do you "quote" Wikipedia which is itself a summary of many sources? But if the idea is purely information, to give summary context for the real remarks, I suppose it doesn't hurt just to say "According to Wikipedia..." and hope no one has been messing with the goodly Professor...

Sam L. said...

I'm sure they know he's a Marxist, and that they agree a Marxist can say anything he wants.

Lastango said...

+1 on Sam L.'s interpretation. Always and everywhere, Marxists get a free pass.

A quick google shows that Slavoj Zizek is a valuable asset to the Left. For example, he is in favor of environmental action even in the absence of evidence ("That our knowledge has limitations does not mean we shouldn’t exaggerate the ecological threat"). Through a convoluted, pseudo-intellectual spin he opposes the existence of the state of Israel. That may have everything to do with why he was elevated to superstar status in the first place.

Regarding plagiarism, I'm reminded of when a Charles Ogletree book was found to contain copied passages. He defended himself by saying he took responsibility for not adequately supervising the grad students who had worked on the book. But a journalist cut to the chase, saying (IIRC) "Since when is this how a Harvard professor writes a book?"

The journalist explained that, when you're a top Harvard professor, you are presumably there because you are at the pinnacle of your field and arrived there through scholarship and intellectual leadership. This is (or, should be) the very antithesis of using grad students to throw a book together and then sticking your own name on the cover.

So... so much for superstar academics. In my book, they're ginned-up frauds until they prove they're not.

Anonymous said...

The Plagiarist Manifesto (Burroughs). Also, citation is any philosopher's middle name, and why would Zizek, of all people, have to steal someone else's work? He doesn't have enough theories of his own?!
Given the large body, cross-disciplinary diversity, and over-all complexity of his works, this article seems more like academic smear/sneer posing as intellectual detective-work (nit-picking). Well?
"Free pass for a Marxist" sounds good though!