Enough with the Zi-jerk Worship!

My latest on Slate is about Slavoj Žižek, who recently gave an interview in which he declares that he doesn’t care if his students commit suicide. As someone who had a student commit suicide–and who thinks about that student, and where she’d be, and how old she’d be now–every day, I could not let that slide. This is not just Oh that Žižek what a charming curmudgeon. This is a human being who should not be allowed around students. It especially depresses me because the students in his classes obviously worship him and have waited years and dreamed about being taught by him, only to be told they are “boring idiots” and he doesn’t want the “shitty papers” they have dreamed about writing for him.

If you needed another reason to be Team Chomsky 4 Lyfe, let this be it, simply by default.


23 thoughts on “Enough with the Zi-jerk Worship!

  1. This reminds me of a graduate student who committed suicide in my department while I pursuing my degree. I did not know this student, but I remember finding out about his death and vividly recall a faculty member, eyes with morbid glint, who kept asking only one question: “How did he do it ..I mean, kill himself?” I regret, to this day, not having barked at him “it is not of your business…is that all you care about, you can’t think of another question to ask?”. All the department mustered in memory of the student (it would have been better to do nothing) was set up a used, prefab [not inbuilt, mind you] bookcase in the bottom, place the deceased students books and call it the “memorial x library.” I kid.you.not. And, actually, there was a second grad student in the dept. who committed suicide during those years.


  2. I’m so sorry, Rebecca. I’m sorry the student was that full of despair (I’ve been there), and I’m sorry for your loss.

    And this is unrelated, but.. where did Chomsky come from? was it in a link I didn’t click? Or did you just use him as an example of God-Academic who isn’t an asshole? (I heard he is an asshole)


  3. It is a tragedy in the making and, as you say, people seem to find it amusing or at least acceptable because the scholar in question is famous. I don’t understand how such comments and attitudes don’t get called out by his colleagues – who must surely have to deal with the fall-out of his attitudes towards their students?


    • Ah!…but in the academic alpha male world, aggressiveness is a sign of intelligence and flustered authoritativeness (how am I to cope with such idiocy??? indignant rage is the manifestation of superiority)–the goal is, of course, to make everyone afraid. Thus, bullying and intimidation, plain and simple, stave off ANY kind of critique or criticism, personal, professional, scholarly (other professors, administrators and students simply don’t even bother to quibble because a minor issue or engaging question then turns into a cyclone of wrath with decades worth of repercussion and vendettas….so why bother? Bottom line, the moron wins with his strategy once he, generally a he, is ensconced in power). In every department there’s a few of these specimens, I’m sure anyone who reads this can name AT LEAST three that have had/have the misfortune of having to face.


  4. This man sounds a bit like one of the many instructors I had. Specifically in “Rhetorical Theory”. And if there’s one field where workers should go through sensitivity training it should be in academia. Then again, if you’re someone like this who actually says things like that to students then maybe teaching isn’t the profession for them, wouldn’t you say?


  5. Chomsky is also pretty horrible. This is the kind of fight where you’re better off not picking a side. I’m on Team NO-JERKS!


  6. I don’t comment on the Slate site, but I wanted to say that you’re absolutely right about caring about students not being on the agenda at big research universities. I was working on my PhD when I realized that the professors at my school didn’t get there by privileging their teaching. I was struggling as a single parent, had just had a sibling die, and sunk into a deep depression. I think that quitting the program probably saved my life, but I’ve never emotionally recovered from my “failure” (20+ years later). I think if I had stayed at the lower-level school where I got my MA, I would probably have been able to finish the PhD – and my colleagues there did almost as well getting teaching jobs as those at the big-name school.


  7. Just a couple days ago I came across a fullprof (in a STEM field) opining about how he really can’t be troubled to review the journal submissions or tenure files of faculty at institutions that are ranked lower than his own, as faculty without significant research budgets and teams of grad students are simply not able to produce any research worth his time. As TT positions disappear, this is the kind of person whose power over the profession only gets stronger.


  8. I’ve never read zizek, in part because his books have looked completely pompous and unreadable to me. Now that I know they’re the work of a flaming asshole, I never will. Chomsky, on the other hand, who I know from his linguistics work, was a complete mensch the one time I met him. The recent documentary (by Gondry) about his linguistics work is brilliant. I’ve heard that he’s willing to meet in his office with *anyone* who wants to, not just students.


  9. This post, and your writing more generally, is providing an invaluable resource in warning people about the brutalizing realities of the academy, where being a decent and sensitive person is not rewarded and is instead seen as ‘weakness’ to be preyed upon. My heart breaks for the people referenced in this conversation who couldn’t hold on and killed themselves. And a very public thank you for helping me during a very dark time, as I struggled to understand and cope with (not always in the mist gracious ways) with the ugliness and abuse the academy normalizes. Thank you so much Rebecca.


    • I always appreciate your comments, ‘Bad Attitude’. I don’t remember which (and would have a hard time tracking it down) but there was one in particular that really struck a chord with me when I read it. So, thank you for sharing too.


  10. Like Žižek, I am from Ljubljana too. I can’t believe how this clown is fooling people across the world. He shows himself as some kind of dissident, But he is no dissident. In fact, he is the product of the former communist regime here in Slovenia. He is their promoter not a victim. He is also well paid professor in Ljubljana as well. But he is never seen on the classes. What a fraud. I feel sorry for his students. How long will it take for them to read this jerk out?


      • Thanks, Rebecca, it is a beautiful city. You are welcome at any time. Unfortunately, you can find people here claiming Slovenia is recognized not by Ljubljana, but by Slavoje Žižek. Oooh, please. But, o.k. if people are fooled he is a philosopher or even “greatest philosopher”. What really really makes me sick, is seeing him preaching about Snowden, Assange and about ‘the right to know’ and blablabla. And you are wrong, Rebecca. Slavoje Žižek HAS childhood friends (or at least college friends). They are well known politicians on the left, mostly originating from the former regime, many of them corrupted and liers, for which he would quote “put his arm on the fire, if needed”. It was his political friends who had blocked the investigations about recent discovery of thousands of innocent people, who had been buried alive in Barbara mine shaft and about other crimes committed by the communist regime. Do relatives of those poor people have ‘the right to know’ about what happened to their loved ones? I am not a journalist nor a philosopher, but would really like to ask Mr. Žižek about this. I wonder what his answer would be. Perhaps “Kill yourself!”.


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