Where does one start reading with Slavoj Žižek?

Slavoj Žižek has been called “One of the world’s best known public intellectuals.” According to Wikipedia he has published a total of 75 books since 1972  and he releases a new one, on average, every three or four months—not to mention an almost endless stream of articles and interviews. With so much to choose from how does one decide where to start reading Žižek? As you might expect there is no one simple answer to that question. However, depending on your background and what you are looking for, there are a few pathways into his philosophy.

1) The important books-if you are confident, have some familiarity with Hegel, Marx and psychoanalysis (particularly Lacan) and are willing spend some time and effort this is the place to start.

Sublime Object of Ideology (1989) is an early theoretical work where Žižek synthesizes Lacan and Althusser and applies them to contemporary culture and ideology. Quite likely the best book to get an understanding of where Žižek is coming from and what he is trying to do.

The Parallax View (2006) is a later theoretical work which further develops his approach and relates them to three modes of parallax: ontology, science and politics. Žižek has called this “his magnum opus” and is, so far, the best introduction to his later philosophy.

In Defense of Lost Causes (2008) is a bit more focused and directs his approach to a sustained critique of political liberalism, one of his favorite motifs.

2) The short books-if you are not sure you want to commit to several hundred pages of Lacan-influenced philosophical critique you could test the waters with one of his shorter works.

Violence (2008) will not give you a great overview of the world of Žižek, but it does give a very good sense of his approach, style and challenging ideas. You won’t leave this book as a Žižek expert but you will have a good sense of whether or not you will want to read more.

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (2009) like Violence, provides a good introduction to his style and approach. He presents a critique of liberalism similar to In Defense of Lost Causes but in a shorter format that looks specifically at 9-11 and the banking crisis.

3) The books about Lacan-if you need an introduction to Lacan before attempting the more strictly philosophical works or if you just want an entertaining read (amazing how Žižek can do both those things at the same time) these books are a good place to start.

How to Read Lacan (2006) is Žižek’s trademark blend of Lacanian analysis and pop culture with the emphasis on explaining Lacan and clarifying his notoriously difficult writings with wit and humor.

Enjoy Your Symptom! (1992) is an entertaining look at movies and film through the lens of Lacan psychoanalysis. One of his most enjoyable, funny and entertaining works.

Looking Awry (1991) is similar to Enjoy Your Symptom! but expands his subject matter to include all aspects of popular culture.

4) Update [September 2015]: Recent books-Since this was originally written Žižek has published a dozen new books as well as adding new themes, ideas and approaches to his repertory. These should help bring you up to date:

Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism (2014) provides a very readable account the themes that Žižek has been writing about in the last few years: the Hegelian Event, Althusserian Subjectivity and Deleuzian New Materialism as well as an analysis of Schoenberg’s transition from atonality to dodecaphony and his short opera, Erwartung.

Event: A Philosophical Journey Through a Concept (2014) is a shorter treatment, similar in outlook, but told primarily through the lens of Lacan’s formulations of the Real/Symbolic/Imaginary and the “truth that erupts from error.” 

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~ by severalfourmany on August 10, 2012.

4 Responses to “Where does one start reading with Slavoj Žižek?”

  1. Thank you! Consider editing the wikipedia article on this point if you feel competent about it. I unsuccessfully tried to find my entrypoint to Žižek there first.

  2. Thank you for this info, just what I was looking for

  3. Perfect!

    I started with Parallax View due to my interested in subjectivity/objectivity lens, but may stop and go back to Sublime now. Maybe will give Lost Causes a try to see his politics. For pop and film theory, I think it’s just best to watch his films.

    • Thanks. In recent years he has been exploring some new ideas (and old ones in new ways). Thought it was worth an update to point out some of the highlights of this new material.

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