Friday, February 6, 2015

Chomsky on Žižek and Lacan

Note Chomsky’s view of Jacques Lacan: “a total charlatan.”

This assessment came from Chomsky’s personal experience of Lacan, as he recounts here in a discussion of the three big Poststructuralists:
“So take Derrida, one of the grand old men. I thought I ought to at least be able to understand his Grammatology, so tried to read it. I could make out some of it, for example, the critical analysis of classical texts that I knew very well and had written about years before. I found the scholarship appalling, based on pathetic misreading; and the argument, such as it was, failed to come close to the kinds of standards I've been familiar with since virtually childhood. Well, maybe I missed something: could be, but suspicions remain, as noted. Again, sorry to make unsupported comments, but I was asked, and therefore am answering.

Some of the people in these cults (which is what they look like to me) I’ve met: Foucault (we even have a several-hour discussion, which is in print, and spent quite a few hours in very pleasant conversation, on real issues, and using language that was perfectly comprehensible – he speaking French, me English); Lacan (who I met several times and considered an amusing and perfectly self-conscious charlatan, …);”
Why was Lacan a charlatan? I suspect the reason was that most of his “work” was based on the pseudo-science of Freudian psychology.

Finally, Slavoj Žižek is probably the worst buffoon and windbag on the Left today. Žižek draws on (what else?!) the pseudo-science of Lacanian psychoanalysis as well as Marxism and German idealism.

It is an utter mystery to me why people think he is some kind of profound intellectual. Of course, I can hazard a guess: the reason is that many people on the Left have had their reasoning faculties poisoned by Postmodernist nonsense.

Apparently, the great man Žižek has criticisms of Postmodernism, and you can attempt to read a summary of his “critique” here. If you can make any sense of these incoherent ramblings, you are doing better than I am.


  1. The summary of Žižek's critique is like the Sraffa-Hayek debate all over again. Either I'm too stupid to understand it (the latter), or it is just plain nonsense (the former). I share Frank Knight's sentiment when he commented on the S-H debate (and the same feeling arises here):
    “I wish that he [Hayek] or someone would try to tell me in a plain grammatical sentence what the controversy between Sraffa and Hayek is about. I haven’t been able to find anyone on this side who has the least idea.”

    1. I happen to disagree on the Hayek-Sraffa debate: the concepts involved and language used have real, coherent meaning.

      By contrast, Postmodenist language and argument either have no coherent meaning, or when expressed in clear, short, plain language are easily seen to be mostly absurd rubbish.

  2. The Zizek summary makes perfect sense to me.

    Maybe you could try to explore the meaning of what he is saying rather than just saying: "I do not understand this, therefore it is rubbish".

    And by the way, on the Chomsky front: he is well known to write absolute nonsense when he moves into the spheres of foreign relations and history. His histories are known to be suspect, biased and absolute junk. So are his attempts at economic analysis.

    Why do I raise this? Because Chomsky regularly pontificates on things that he knows nothing about. And then you cite him as a source on things that you know nothing about.

    It's a bottomless pit.

    1. "And by the way, on the Chomsky front: he is well known to write absolute nonsense"

      Untrue. Chomsky's writings are clear, easy to understand and written in plain English.

      Postmodernist writing is generally the opposite of this.

      Presumably what you mean to say is that you think Chomsky's statements and explanations are wrong -- which is a different thing entirely to being incomprehensible gibberish, as a lot of Postmodernist writing is.

    2. Is everything that you don't understand 'gibberish'?

      If you read some of the financial statistical work that I am currently doing which contains terms and figures that you don't understand would you dismiss it as 'gibberish' because you don't understand it?

      I hope you wouldn't. I hope, if you were interested enough to comment, you would sit down and try to understand it first. Then criticise it afterwards. This would be a far better approach than looking for a hostile critic who themselves admits to not understanding it and digging in.

      But then that's just my approach to things...

    3. "If you read some of the financial statistical work that I am currently doing which contains terms and figures that you don't understand would you dismiss it as 'gibberish' because you don't understand it?

      No, because I have good evidence that financial statistical data and theory are not gibberish.

      By contrast, I have very good evidence that much -- though admittedly not all -- of Postmodernist writing is gibberish: that is, that it often has as much sense as the nonsensical statement "Colourless green ideas sleep furiously".


      "We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously. "

      "In the first place, singularities-events correspond to heterogeneous series which are organized into a system which is neither stable nor unstable, but rather 'metastable', endowed with a potential energy wherein the differences between series are distributed... In the second place, singularities possess a process of auto-unification, always mobile and displaced to the extent that a paradoxical element traverses the series and makes them resonate, enveloping the corresponding singular points in a single aleatory point and all the emissions, all dice throws, in a single cast. "

      Now many intelligent people have read these passages including scientists who have a high level understanding of the scientific concepts used. We can't see any coherent meaning here. These statements are just gibberish just as "Colourless green ideas sleep furiously" is gibberish.

      Let me just add, in case you misunderstand me, that not all Postmodernist writing is 100% gibberish, of course. Some statements are utterly trivial. Some statements have sense but are untrue.

      Some Postmodernists make statements where we can grasp the meaning but the argument is bizarrely, stupidly and insanely wrong:

      "The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids... From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders. "

      So let me sum up by saying as a rough guess, that I think that probably

      40% of Postmodernist writing is gibberish
      30% has sense but is plainly, crazily false
      30% probably is trivially true but of little intellectual merit.

      I hope that clarifies things.

    4. It clarifies that you are approaching this issue with your gut rather than with your head. And that you are taking the same closed-minded stance on the issue as neoclassical economists take of heterodox approaches.

    5. I admit that my percentages are "gut" instincts. However, I have good evidence that something like this is correct.

      Why? Because when I was a university student I read my share of Derrida and Foucault and other postmodernists.

      I could even dig out my notes and say why I think Derrida's theories are wrong, silly or just gibberish.

    6. Then maybe you should write posts criticising specific points of their theories rather than broad blanket "this is nonsense" hatchet jobs.

      If you simply wrote notes saying "I do not understand this" then either reread it and try again or drop it.

  3. Italian Post-modernism or none at all.