Žižek vs. Chomsky

Peter Thompson writes: In the great spat between King Kong Chomsky and Tyrannosaurus Žižek people are often asked which side they are on. Or maybe they are not, because until now these two great beasts have been roaring and knocking down trees without anyone outside leftist discourse hearing them fall. But maybe we should think who we would cheer on, because this is a debate about something very important – namely the relationship between theory, ideology and reality.

Noam Chomsky, the professional contrarian, has accused Slavoj Žižek, the professional heretic, of posturing in the place of theory. This is an accusation often levelled at Žižek from within the Anglo-Saxon empirical tradition. Even those like Chomsky who are on the proto-anarchist left of this tradition like to maintain that their theories are empirically verifiable and rooted in reality.

Žižek has countered with the side-swipe that nobody had been so empirically wrong throughout his life as Chomsky. He brought up Chomsky’s supposed support for the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and Chomsky’s later self-justification that there hadn’t been empirical evidence at the time of the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. It has all got rather heated and intemperate, but then, debates on the left are like that. More time is spent ripping flesh out of each other than it is trying to find a common cause against an apparently invisible and impregnable enemy. But terms have to be defined, ground has to be laid out. [Continue reading…]

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