Žižek – caught in a game of Angry Birds and lost by James Williams who refused Lawrence Venuti on the way

Posted by on Temmuz 12, 2014 in Deneme, Güncel

This is absolutely interesting – that very few people does read Žižek seriously and friendly.

The philosopher is accused of plagiarism by someone who has, probably by chance read one of his articles because it referred to a writer that he liked, Kevin MacDonald.

The case history is shortly like this: In 1999, some businessman nicknamed Stanley Hornbeck has published a review titled as “Cherchez le Juif” on Kevin Macdonald’s book in the magazine American Renaissance.

Then, 7 years later, in 2006 Slavoj Žižek has published an article named “A Plea for a Return to Différance (with a Minor Pro Domo Sua)” in Critical Inquiry (Vol. 32, No. 3, p. 226-249, Winter 2006). There is a passage about MacDonald in the article.

Then this article has found its way to the book called The Parallax View published the same year.

And now, 8 years later a blogger has spotted the similarities between Hornbeck’s article and Zizek’s article. The part in question is 670 words in total, in an article of 9820 words.

Strange enough, Newsweek has been interested in this blog and has talked with the Critical Inquiry and also Hornbeck himself. Yes, they have talked with the “Washington, DC,-area businessman”. How could they have reached to him, is a mystery.

“When Newsweek contacted Critical Inquiry, James Williams, its senior managing editor, agreed that Žižek “absolutely” borrowed from Hornbeck’s review. “We’re very sorry it happened,” he said. “If we had known Žižek was plagiarizing, we would have certainly asked him to remove the illegal passages.”

Newsweek then contacted Hornbeck, who writes under a pseudonym. “Anyone who has seen the side-by-side comparisons can have no doubt that Žižek is a plagiarist,” he said. “I know nothing about his writing habits. Maybe he does this all the time. Or it may be that as a prominent Marxist he didn’t want it known that he reads American Renaissance. In any case, what he did is contemptible, and his publisher…should certainly have a word with him.”

Newsweek emailed Deogolwulf and Sailer for comment, but they did not respond by publication time. Attempts to reach Žižek through The Guardianwere also unsuccessful.”

Now there are even rumors that Hornbeck is Žižek himself and he just does not want anyone to know that he wrote for American Renaissance. But Hornbeck has written another to the magazine in November 2013. He has just 2 articles in the magazine: 1999 and 2013 – which is a strange thing. And another strange thing is that the publisher of the magazine, Jared Taylor and Kevin MacDonald seem very happy about this event.


Now, as every translator of Žižek knows well, he self-plagiarizes, which means he often quotes and makes collages from his own writings. Some of his books are in a way, unique collections of the articles that he wrote. I believe that he writes the articles to make a book: Once he has a subject-matter ready in his mind, he starts writing about it and the book’s plan is probably ready as he is writing the articles. This self-plagiarism is a strange phenomenon and no one can say a thing about it: One has the freedom to repeat himself or herself forever.

But in fact Žižek does not repeat, the similarities are cleverly orchestrated; it is like a melody played by different musical tools – this is a real polyphonic text. So technically what he makes is self-plagiarism which means quoting himself without giving the proper reference to himself; but in fact, it is the authorial freedom to own and use his own words. In this age of paradoxial copyrighting, patenting and branding, he is the real activist of freedom of speech. Anyone who has contacted with him about translating him or co-editing a book will have a similar opinion I believe.

Then what is going on here? The unreferenced quotation or adaptation from Hornbeck is so unimportant that it is shameful to build an argument out of it, but still there is a mystery there. And this real mystery is why did anyone discuss about his commenting about Kevin MacDonald in the first place? Why did not anyone, I mean from the Left, question about this reference to Kevin MacDonald who was unknown for the Leftist community?


And of course there is the stance exampled by James Williams from Critical Inquiry. Is the textual overlapping enough to be named as “plagiarizing” and what is the percentage for this? And can an editor comment on an article by Žižek, before talking to him in the first place (which I believe is what happened)? Then where is the publisher’s responsibility? I think there will be a good criticism of this.

But in fact, this editorial criticism has been made before. Lawrence Venuti has commented on a letter by the same James Williams from Critical Inquiry. In his book called Translation Changes Everything he remembers his experience of sending an article (this one is also on Derrida!) to the magazine and being refused for “not being theoretical enough” (64).

Venuti Critical Inquiry

Venuti’s argument is important: Translation Studies can’t find its proper place in the cultural theory. But what is more important in this parallax situation is that James Williams has refused Venuti’s article, but accepted an article which criticizes a white suprematist’s book without giving any reference or reason to do so. This is really strange, because while I translated The Parallax View to Turkish, I was surprised to see a mention of Kevin MacDonald’s work which is believed to be unacademic by many.

So while waiting to see more of interesting ideas on Žižek’s position under the cover of criticism and know a little bit more of his enemies, I’ll also be waiting to hear more from James Williams as an editor who seems to very easily have accepted the position of an editor who published plagiarism, but refused to publish Translation Studies.

UPDATE:  Žižek has responded to the Critical Theory for the accusations and accepted that he himself has not read MacDonald’s book:


With regard to the recent accusations about my plagiarism, here is what happened. When I was writing the text on Derrida which contains the problematic passages, a friend told me about Kevin Macdonald’s theories, and I asked him to send me a brief resume. The friend send [sic] it to me, assuring me that I can use it freely since it merely resumes another’s line of thought. Consequently, I did just that – and I sincerely apologize for not knowing that my friend’s resume was largely borrowed from Stanley Hornbeck’s review of Macdonald’s book. (These passages are also taken over in Part III, Chapter 1, of my book The Parallax View.) As any reader can quickly establish, the problematic passages are purely informative, a report on another’s theory for which I have no affinity whatsoever; all I do after this brief resume is quickly dismissing Macdonald’s theory as a new chapter in the long process of the destruction of Reason. In no way can I thus be accused of plagiarizing another’s line of thought, of »stealing ideas.« I nonetheless deeply regret the incident.

So the lesson for Žižek and for everyone is, don’t ever use a friend’s toothbrush.

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