British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Žižek and Media Studies: A Reader

Zizek and Media Studies edited by Matthew Flisfeder and Louis-Paul Willis (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2014). 316 pages. ISBN: 978-113736624-5 (hardback), £60

picture.phpAbout the reviewer: Gareth Longstaff is Teaching Fellow in Media and Cultural Studies at Newcastle University. His teaching and research interests are primarily concerned with sexuality, celebrity, discourses of reality, identity/identifications, pornography, psychoanalysis and visual culture. His publications include: ‘From reality to fantasy: celebrity, reality TV, and pornography’. The Journal of Celebrity Studies- Special Issue: Sex and the Celebrity 2013, Vol. 4, No. 1, 71-80.

This collection of responses to Slavoj Žižek presents an explicitly Zizekian approach to Media Studies. It cultivates and sustains this by assembling work allied to Zizek’s own interventions in the fields of media, ideology and politics, popular culture, film and cinema, and social media and the internet. Indeed, there are threads running through the collection which connect to the ideological reception of Zizek as a metonymic ‘Zizekian’ discourse, a celebrity enigma, and a philosopher capable of fusing elements of psychoanalysis, Marxist ideological critique, and innovative re-readings of film and media in both historical and contemporary contexts. Yet, the popularity and power that Zizek yields and the bedrock to the Zizekian approach that this collection upholds is down to ‘an ambiguous relationship’ that the editors’ claim is crucial to understanding the association that Zizek has with the media.

The dense range of influences and references allied to Zizek range from Lacanian psychoanalysis, Hegelian dialectics, and Marxist and Althusserian ideological critique.  Blend this together with his identity as a celebrity academic as well as his propensity for what Clint Burnham terms ‘self-plagiarism par excellence’ and we begin to see something of what may be termed ‘Zizekian Media Studies’ appear.  As well as this the collection is also textured with an   associated lexicon allied to all things Zizek. As with Lacan there is a distinct yet also contingent vocabulary which now circulates around Zizek and we see here how the symptom, disavowal, the sublime, the Real, the big Other, jouissance, pleasure, and fantasy (to name only a few) allow these scholars to employ the language of Zizek (and Lacan before him) as a critical tool to realign and redefine how the discourse of media is interrogated.

zmscover1In the first section which is concerned with media and ideology it is clear that Zizek’s association with many of the key concepts and theorists used in media studies is formed through a productively paradoxical series of links. Here, paradigms of ideology and resistance inform close critical analyses of student protest, the war on terror and John Gray’s reading of Zizek to convincingly form the Zizekian approach embedded in the collection.  Popular culture and its alliance to Zizekian media studies is the foundation of the next section and five essays which examine film, music, and sport through the lens of late capitalism, the Real, and ideological violence attempt to re-position Zizek’s own style and method in innovative and at times radical ways. In one of the collections most insightful essays Todd McGowan addresses the ‘priority of the example’ and the issue of ‘speculative identity in films studies’ by examining the suspicious role that the example plays both in Zizek’s work and in media and films studies per se. McGowan develops a diligent critique of Zizek’s analytical techniques by addressing the ways in which theoretical integrity often gets subsumed by the example itself. In turn, this is something that many Zizek scholars see beyond, and like McGowan, form their insights through. However for the growing number of students who encounter Zizek on under-graduate media degrees we may ask whether it is Zizek’s re-interpretation of Lacan’s real of sexual difference or the appeal of CGI movies that first grabs their attention?

Film and cinema haunt both psychoanalytic and Zizekian thought and in the third section the significance and the theoretical dangers of ‘symptomatic readings’ are both addressed and manifested. By now the nuances of contingency, ambiguity, and disavowal seem to have catalysed both orthodoxy and a dissident potential to the Zizekian approach – this is captured in Keiko Ogata’s detailed discussion of Zizek and Stanley Cavell on sexual difference which pushes the parameters of how Zizekian ‘non-encounters’ may ‘hold the possibility for transformation’.  Just as the discipline of media studies has the capacity to shift its emphasis and purpose, in the final section we see how social media and the internet are interpreted via Zizek. Here the potentials of how his work can be used to critique the neo-liberal politics of agency we see in social media is evidenced in Jodi Dean’s ‘the Real Internet’ which examines how digital media and social networking erode the subject of desire vis-à-vis ‘communicative capitalism’. Like many of the essays in this collection this pushes Zizek in a new and at times exhilarating direction. Therefore it is both an inevitable and ironic gesture that this collection ends with an appendix titled ‘ART’ and in a rather imposing gesture an essay by Zizek himself on Schoenberg’s 1909 opera Erwatung. Here his multi-layered and fluent insight into theory and context is characteristically repetitive yet unnervingly familiar to the majority of essays that precede it. At this point it is clear that within this reader there is now a discourse we can call Zizekian media studies constituted by Zizek himself, yet one which must remain vigilant not to become in Zizek’s own words ‘the excess of its content’.

Gareth Longstaff

Delicious Save this on Delicious |