We have a reading group here in Southern California on Zizek and other Continental Philosophers and Film. See http://virtalmind.net We have been reading Sublime Object of Ideology. It is extremely useful to read philosophy with others rather than alone because of the ability to share insights and to help each other avoid falling into strange interpretations of the text.
Here I will say something about why Zizek is worth reading.
This question has been answered by others at Is Slavoj Zizek worth paying attention to?
My own take on whether Zizek is worth reading has to do with my over all theory of the crux of Continental Philosophy which is that it is an exploration of the Meta-levels of Being. There are five meta-levels of Being called Pure, Process, Hyper, Wild and Ultra by me. Pure and Process Being are the present-at-hand and ready-to-hand in Heidegger’s Being and Time.
Heidegger then discovered Hyper Being later which he called Being crossed out. Lacan started using this crossing out of the Subject and Other soon after the book was published of Heidegger’s that brought up the idea. Lacan was at ENS where Derrida was teaching, and Derrida came up with Differance (differing and deferring) as a way to talk about Hyper Being perhaps under Lacan’s influence but certainly under Heidegger’s influence. Merleau-Ponty rewrote Being and Time as the Phenomenology of Perception and seems to have independently discovered Hyper Being as the expansion of being-in-the-world toward the end of that book with the examples of the Musician and the Blindman who incorporate something from the environment into themselves which becomes part of them, part of their being-in-the-world (Dasein). Then in The Visible and the Invisible he defines Hyper Being as the Hyper dialectic between Sartre’s Nothingness and Heidegger’s concept of Being in Being and Time. Thus the name Hyper Being which he differentiates from Wild Being which is the contraction of being-in-the-world and the dual of Hyper Being. Thus we have four different kinds of Being, or meta-levels of Being prior to the fifth meta-level where there is a phase transition to Existence.
However, Existence appears as one of two nonduals, either Emptiness of Buddhism or Void of Taoism. Thus there are two nondual interpretations of Existence, i.e. Dual Nonduals. And what keeps them apart, what is the mark of the difference between these nondual interpretations of existence. It is a kind of Being called Ultra Being, Being as Singularity as seen as an externality in existence not seen from within the singularity of Being. Being only exists in Indo-European languages so it is an anomalous singularity within the languages of the world. And what I realized is that Zizek and Badiou are in different ways exploring Ultra Being seen as the Lacanian Structural and Semiotic Unconscious. Badiou is trying to approach it in terms of the arising of the ultra-one as an event from the Multiple that gives content to Set Theory seen as the realm of Ontology, which is wrong but interesting none the less. Zizek is much more interesting because he sees the Lacanian Unconscious as driving Ideology within the Big Other, i.e. the Das Mann (They) of Heidegger. Lacan sees both the Subject and the Other as crossed out, i.e. in terms of Hyper Being. But neither he nor Derrida seem to recognize Wild Being. It is Deleuze that recognizes Wild Being and tries to build a philosophy at that level. For Deleuze Ultra Being shows up as schizophrenia, i.e. madness. Which brings up the debate between Derrida and Foucault on the relation between madness and reason in Descartes which is an interesting problematic.
When ever Zizek talks about the Impossible in his books like SOI for instance then that is when he is talking about Ultra Being. This is in fact the cutting edge of the Continental Tradition as it is unfolding at the moment. Existentialists were interested in the unconscious and its connection to philosophy. Now Zizek and Badiou are Lacanian Analysts and they are applying Lacanian theory to all kinds of things attempting to understand them in terms of the action of Ultra Being on the other kinds of Being which are not impossible by necessity. Ultra Being warps the other kinds of Being and thus the Worldview, and Zizek calls these paradoxical or absurd warpages he jokes about Ideology.
Zizek is worth reading because he is bringing this understanding of Ultra Being to the rest of the world through his interesting interpretations of Films, Literature, Media, Politics and Philosophy and through the fusion of Lacan with Hegel and vice versa. Basically he is popularizing what Continental Philosophy has found out about the nature of the worldview. This is encapsulated in his talking about the Paradoxes of Zeno being descriptions of the field of Desire. Lacan brought the question of Desire back into Philosophy which has been exiled since Eros was a major issue in Plato’s philosophy. Basically all the things that have been excluded by Philosophy are included back in like children, women, evil, crime, nature beyond being seen as natural resources or the basis of physics once Lacan opens the door by his analysis of Descartes Cogito, as the Subject of The Other who desires desire. Philosophy is made so much more vibrant when it treats all human phenomena, not just casuistry for Science, and so-called Objectivity which Analytical Philosophers fantasize about.
So what Zizek is talking about is the cutting edge of Philosophy in as much as it is trying to understand the effects of the singularity of Ultra Being on the structure of the Western worldview, the warpages, discontinuities, and incoherences or opacities that it creates within the worldview, i.e. its Ideological Blindspots.
To my mind the next thing beyond that is the attempt to understand the Nondual itself which is embedded in the Western worldview, and the limit of the Supra-rational which is the opposite limit to the limit of mixture that includes contradiction, paradox, absurdity and the Impossibilities that indicate the presence of Ultra Being. It was actually Kierkegaard that introduced this idea of the interaction between the Eternal and the temporal into philosophy. Zizek is merely using the ideas of Deleuze and Derrida combined with some ideas of Lacan to get at the nature of these warpages that occur prior to experience and are seen as Traumas within experience.
These analyses are extremely pertinent given the current political climate in the US Presidential campaigns in which we see ideology in fully playing itself out in all its nihilistic glory. But in general it is a question of knowing how we are manipulated through the unconscious social mechanisms within our world through media and other cultural forms that are put to use by others for better or worse. The better we know how ideology works the better perhaps we can avoid some of its worse pitfalls.
Another reason to read Zizek is that he himself as read extremely widely, and if you read the things he refers to there is an education in Continental Philosophy just in those things he recommends as worth reading because he uses them in his arguments.
This is not to say that Zizek is a great philosopher. We have lost some of the great philosophers in the Continental Tradition recently such as Deleuze, and Derrida. He and Badiou criticize them in order to hide their debt to them, and because if you compare them to these philosophers like Deleuze and Derrida you can see that Continental Philosophy in general is going down hill. It is exploring new territory it is true beyond Wild Being of Deleuze and Hyper Being of Lacan and Derrida. But these new breed of philosophers who based themselves on Lacanian psychoanalysis are just not as great as those they criticize. They themselves are ideologues and they have political agendas that are in many respects regressive. So we have not reached a new height of genius with Zizek and Badiou, merely a new meta-level of Being which had not been explored before. But Continental Philosophy has been working itself up through these meta-levels of Being over the last hundred years and has done a good job of exploring those ever more difficult kinds of Being. And now we are at the last of these levels of Being, because we have reached the phase transition from Being to Existence. So it will be interesting to see of Continental Philosophy wanes or whether it pushes on into the new nondual realms beyond Ultra Being which are existence and manifestation and other higher nonduals related to the core of the Western worldview which we see in the Divided Line of Plato.
Bottom line is that Zizek is on the cutting edge of the Continental Philosophical Tradition and is the best representative so far as to how to apply the insights of Continental Philosophy to cultural products like films, literature, and politics, and economics, etc. But many of his insights come from the very people he denies like Deleuze and Derrida as well as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. He says he gets everything from Lacan and Hegel, but this is not true, if there had been no Deleuze or Derrida he could not have the point of view he espouses. He is a good representative of the entire Continental Tradition and its interest in interpreting political and cultural phenomena.
In France everyone was a communist. The communists were our allies during World War I and were not purged in France after the war but became the leading intellectuals. And there was a renaissance in philosophy in France that gave us what we now call Continental Philosophy. The fact that Zizek and Badiou are Marxists is just par for the course in French philosophy. And why that was good was that they were the only Marxists outside the Soviet Union and part of the reason for the fall of the Soviet Union, probably a small part, is that basically thinking in soviet countries about the nature of Marxism came to a halt as it was turned into a state religion. Sartre wrote Critique of Dialectical Reason which was the first book to try to rethink Marxism on the basis of advances in philosophy made in France, then many other books followed critiquing the mechanistic nature of Marxists dogma. Lacan supported Maoists at the time of the cultural revolution, but was smart enough not to go to China. Badiou was part of a Marxist Cell lead by Althrussar at ENS in Paris who were plotting against other French intellectuals like Derrida and Deleuze. Much of this history is starting to come out about French philosophy through intellectual biographies and studies of different subjects like Structuralism. Zizek was from a communist country, but when he went to France to study he was in good company with comrades he met there like Badiou. In France Communism is just another political party, like the socialists and many others. There is nothing special about Zizek being a communist except he is a non-dogmatic one, unlike Badiou. What is special about Zizek is that he has figured out how to take Lacanian Psychoanalytic Theory and generalize it to talk about Ideological warpages in our worldview and that gives us some insight into the action of Ultra Being, the last meta-level of being within the worldview, and this is extremely useful from a philosophical point of view and just the fact that it gives us an alternative way of thinking about cultural phenomena that would otherwise be taken for granted and not thought about at all.
Question posted on Continental Philosophy group on LinkedIn
See also https://continentalphilosophy.quora.com/Why-Is-Zizek-worth-Reading