Zizek’s Examples

October 20, 2008

Lately, the question of Zizek’s examples has been raised.

Here is a quote from the Preface to the Routledge Classics Edition of the Enjoy Your Symptom! (2008) where Zizek addresses his use of examples:

“The way I proceed to analyze this impregnation of our daily lives by ideology is the reference to numerous examples – so a note about my (often criticized) use of examples is, perhaps, appropriate here…  The difference between the idealist and the materialist use of examples is that, in the Platonic-idealist approach, examples are always imperfect, they never perfectly render what they are supposed to exemplify, so that we should take care not to take them too literally, while, for a materialist, there is always more in the example than in what it exemplifies, i.e., an example always threatens to undermine what it is supposed to exemplify since it gives body to what the exemplified notion itself represses, is unable to cope with… This is why the idealist approach always demands a multitude of examples – since no single example is fully fitting, one has to enumerate them to indicate the transcendent wealth of the Idea they exemplify, the Idea being the fixed point of reference of the floating examples.  A materialist, on the contrary, tends to repeat one and the same example, to return to it obsessively:  it is the particular example which remains the same in all symbolic universes, while the universal notion it is supposed to exemplify continually changes its shape, so that we get a multitude of universal notions circulating, like flies around the light, around a single example” (pp. xi-xii).

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One Response to “Zizek’s Examples”

  1. Joe said

    Koans, while not the same as Zizek’s examples nor vice versa, seem to work along the lines of a “materialist example.” The word actually comes from a Chinese juridical device, “kung-an”, literally a “public record.”

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