This essay, “Slavoj Zizek’s Third Way”, is the Editors’ Introduction to the second volume of his Selected Writings, The Universal Exception (Continuum, 2005). This volume includes the essays “Welcome the Desert of the Real”, “The Prospect of Radical Politics Today”, “Against the Double Blackmail” and “Iraq – Where is the True Danger?”, referred to here.
Let us begin here by noting an odd coincidence. After the terrorist strikes of 11 September 2001, both Slavoj Zizek and Jean Baudrillard leapt immediately into print. The two authors were, of course, already well-known for their interventions in world political events, often writing responses in newspapers or on the internet mere days after momentous events or at the height of major public debates (the role of NATO in Yugoslavia, the attempted genocide in Rwanda, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the issues surrounding genetic cloning and manipulation). But, paradoxically, for all of their usual haste in making their views known and amid calls from both sides of politics for swift retaliation, they both urged a kind of caution or delay. Baudrillard, for his part, wrote in The Spirit of Terrorism:
The whole play of history and power is disrupted by this event, but so, too, are the conditions of analysis. You have to take your time. While events were stagnating, you had to anticipate and move more quickly than they did. But when they speed up this much, you have to move more slowly-though without allowing yourself to be buried beneath a welter of words, or the gathering clouds of war, and preserving intact the unforgettable incandescence of the images. 1
While Zizek, for his part, in the essay “Welcome to the Desert of the Real”, stated that any immediate reaction would be little more than an impotent passage à l’acte, whose sole purpose would be “to avoid confronting the true dimension of what occurred on 11 September”.
To draw out what is going on here more precisely, it is crucial to realize that it is not simply a matter of these two highly “engaged” thinkers suddenly losing their nerve in the face of this almost overwhelming disaster, as so many others on the Left did. Rather, it is astonishing how quickly they formulated their responses to what had happened and distributed them via the internet around the world. And yet at the same time what they advise is a form of inaction, a pause, a time for reflection. This would, however, not be to do nothing, but to take the opportunity to think. It is through the minimal delay introduced by this thinking that we might somehow avoid those hysterical calls for action that would merely reproduce the existing ideological co-ordinates (of which even the claim that everything is different following 11 September is only a variant, a “hollow attempt to say something ‘deep’ without really knowing what to say”). As Zizek writes in his essay “The Prospect of Radical Politics Today”, in a surprising inversion of Marx’s famous thesis 11 (“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world; the point is to change it”):
The first task today is precisely not to succumb to the temptation to act, to intervene directly and change things (which then inevitably ends in a cul-de-sac of debilitating impossibility: ‘What can one do against global Capital?’), but to question the hegemonic ideological coordinates.
by Slavoj Zizek