Slavoj Žižek is “the world’s hippest philosopher,” according to the UK’s Telegraph. Indeed, the Slovenian-born philosopher has won over adoring fans by combining references to Hegel, Freud, popular culture, and warmed-over postmodernism, and calling it philosophy. His stature is such that students can take classes on his thought and professors can contribute to a peer-reviewed journal devoted to “Žižek studies” and attend yearly conferences on the topic.
He’s also a plagiarist. A blogger recently found that Žižek lifted passages from a book review that appeared in the white supremacist magazine American Renaissance.
As befits a global celebrity, Žižek’s disciples have rushed to his defense. At Slate Magazine, Rebecca Schuman meekly disputed Žižek’s defense of “lifting Hornbeck’s ‘purely informative’ summary” (the original source). She understood his predicament: “Famous academics have their minions do their dirty work all the time. And most of these minions are legitimate scholars who would not steal someone else’s words . . . . So when one of them says, ‘Sure, you can use this verbatim,’ Žižek has no reason not to do just that.”
This defense is laughable. Žižek did not quote the passages in question “verbatim,” nor did he forget to insert quotation marks. Much like the harried freshmen I’ve observed, he made changes by switching words and phrases. Had he been caught doing so as a student, his punishment would’ve ranged from a failing grade for the assignment to expulsion.
Other devotees defend Žižek in post-modernist terms. Hollis Phelps, assistant professor of religion at the University of Mount Olive, claimed that “our publication practices and expectations haven’t caught up” with the postmodern project–which is “the death of the author, the inexistence of the subject, the collective production of knowledge, intertextuality, networks of information, and so on.”
In other words, once we “catch up” to the post-modern notions of collective knowledge and collective responsibility, plagiarism will cease to exist. In this context, then, Žižek is just ahead of his time.