In conversation with Glyn Daly, Žižek remarks:
I do consider myself an extreme Stalinist philosopher. That is to say, it's clear where I stand. I don't believe in combining things. I hate the approach of taking a little bit from Lacan, a little bit from Foucault, a little bit from Derrida. No, I don't believe in this; I believe in clear-cut positions. I think the most arrogant position is this apparent, multidisciplinary modesty of 'what I am saying now is not unconditional, it is just a hypothesis,' and so on. It really is a most arrogant position. I think the only way to be honest and to expose yourself to criticism is to state clearly and dogmatically where you are. You must take the risk and have a position. (Conversations with Žižek p45)Two different ills are attacked here. Žižek is opposed to eclecticism ("combining things... a little bit from [X], a little bit from [Y]"); he is also opposed to what he here calls "apparent, multidisciplinary modesty" which merely offers hypotheses. The latter, he thinks, is, beneath its veneer of humility, "the most arrogant position."
A bit ago, I commended, with reservations, a breezy little book called The World is Made of Stories by David Loy. I referenced there a mostly-positive review which nonetheless had problems with the way in which Loy presented his case:
what a curious tale it is: a kind of mystical hotch-potch in which Sartre rubs shoulders with gnosticism, psychotherapy with Advaita Vedanta...I suppose this is sort of thing Žižek has in mind; and while I think it's an approach that risks shallowness on the one hand and pedantry on the other, and while I share some doubts about the default relativism which I think Žižek is targeting, I think (to take a dogmatic position) that Žižek is simply wrong in his brusque dismissal of "combining things." (I confess I do not understand why Žižek thinks this must go hand-in-hand with the "arrogant" relativism he denounces, but here I want to address just the point about eclecticism.)
One indefatigable and loyal commenter to SCT, (Ombhurbhuva), recently urged meto "try venturing out without the bodyguard of authorities," which I take to be a suggestion to forgo engagement with a preexisting literature and simply start, as it were, from scratch. (He'll correct me if I've got him wrong, I trust.) One reason why I believe my approach does not collapse into mere commentary despite being a quite continual engagement with what I have read (and continue to read), is that I am unapologetically eclectic in precisely the way Žižek abhors-- in fact, far more so. I don't even find Žižek's example especially eclectic. "A little bit of Lacan, Foucault, Derrida...": could anything be more predictable, or more dated? Fast forward a decade or two, and we have: a little bit of Deleuze, a little bit of Badiou, a little bit of Žižek. There is hardly anything "multidisciplinary" about this. But take "a little Badiou, a little Strauss, a little Levinas," and we're further out--despite the fact that all three of these are admitted platonists of one sort or another. And taking a bit of Longinus, a bit of Wittgenstein, and a bit of St. Maximus--this, I should think, is in danger of being billed as merely syncretic. So be it. I have no truck with reducing philosophies or religions or etc. etc. to any one perennial message, but there is in my mind no question that there are perennial perplexities; and if I read Aurobindo back-to-back with Thomas Reid, it is not because I expect them to agree with each other (or with me!) but precisely because in navigating their differences, I may be more likely to triangulate towards the experience of insight.
So I have more than a passing interest in thinkers like Victor Cousin or Hermann Lotze, who were both called eclectics by contemporaries (Cousin, to be sure, also by himself). Both were philosophers of extraordinary influence in their day, whose stock has now fallen till their thought is only the concern of specialists. Perhaps this has more than a coincidental connection to their eclecticism; maybe Lotze's realism-idealism was so influential for a while for the same reasons that it eventually fell from favor--that it was so clearly a synthesis of doctrines of its time. Maybe.
On the other hand, one man's eclecticism may simply be another man's anomaly. I'm frequently bemused by the dismissals or critiques of this or that--say, a strain of ecological or economic thinking--on the grounds that it's somehow tainted with something suspect or impure, that it tumbles you in with strange bedfellows.
The most recent example I encountered is the one I mentioned last post, when I recounted being lumped in with a right-wing attack on public education. But further examples abound. Can one espouse a Heideggerian-inspired ecology without getting tripped up on the slippery slope into fascism? Can one preach localism or particularism in my political economy without aiding and abetting the white-collar scions of the Republican Party? Can one draw upon Marx and Sartre and Žižek without wanting to line those same scions up against the wall?
Žižek himself, incidentally, knows better than to practice the anti-eclecticism he preaches. If you put Lacan back-to-back with Damasio and Turing and St. Paul, you are an eclectic in my book.
I spend a great deal of time reading figures with whom I deeply disagree, but whose positions I do not feel I can in good conscience leave unconfronted. This isn't just "good form." I respect the uncompromising nihilism of Brassier, or the cheerful scientism of Dennett, or the fierce fury of Nietzsche, but I not only respect it-- I learn from it, I want to do it justice, I try to put myself through its fire.
Beyond this, though, I read many, many figures who apparently disagree with each other. This is not for the sake of eclecticism; philosophy is not a hodge-podge of Bartlett's quotations (and it has to be said that Loy's book does risk reading like such a mix-tape, with commentary). But it is one thing to illustrate one's claims or argument with what seems supporting testimony from someone else; it's another to spend the time in the crucible of another's thinking, not only "seeing the world through their eyes," but seeing why anyone would want to see the world thus, and then trying to articulate a worldview that keeps integrity while acknowledging the force of this vision. It may be too much to ask of a philosophy that it account for and accommodate (which does not mean satisfy), say, both Marx and Oakeshott, or Barth and Suhrawardi, or the Buddha and St. Paul; but if you don't understand why one would want to do this, you aren't really trying.
My own utterly disorganized and meandering thinking-out-loud is, in short, a messy dialectic. There is contradiction in it, and there's no getting it out.