Slavoj Žižek declares in his latest opus, In Defense of Lost Causes (Verso), that while postmodernism has caused (or allowed) every other kind of racial, social, and cultural identity to be in flux, Jewish identity appears to have become fixed in a simple equation in which Jews=Zionists=racists (thank you, UN). Jews are expected, he says (in his usual difficult prose) to “yield with regard to their name”—that is, “in the liberal multiculturalist perspective, all groups can assert their identity – except Jews, whose very self-assertion equals Zionist racism.”
Žižek, an internationally reknowned intellectual, has been at the cutting edge of social and political theory for almost two decades, and apparently strives to be an outsider. It is therefore no surprise that he has developed an interest in Jews, as such. Žižek cares so much about Jewish identity because he identifies as Jewish. Not literally. He is no more a Jew than Joe Lieberman is a liberal. Rather, Žižek, a product of Slovenia, a country torn by the last century’s wars, sees in the Jewish experience a representation of contemporary experience that is far more subtle than a chaotic and relativistic mash-up of identity politics. Was it not, as Žižek says, that “in the history of modern Europe, those who stood for the striving for universality were precisely atheist Jews from Spinoza to Marx and Freud?