"The Plague of Fantasies" is Zizek at his best: funny, irreverent, brilliant and sometimes just silly. Zizek is a master of critical theory: from Schelling and Hegel to Alain Badiou, he knows it all, and knows it in detail.
In this book, Zizek discusses a number of ideas, all of which focus around one or another aspect of Lacanian theory. Make no mistake about it: Zizek is a Lacanian (he may even know Lacan better than Lacan did). He analyzes various aspects of popular culture and leftist politics. Unlike some of his other books, however, this narrative is fast-paced and moves right along. In terms of ideas, he is mostly a passer-on of those which he has derived from others: the violence of interpretation, for instance, in which the deforming of a text's meaning, though untrue to the author's aims, nonetheless produces a truth effect which justifies the deliberate (mis)intepretation, is borrowed from Paul de Man; or the problem of the desublimated Other, which goes something like this: let's say you're having sex with your partner and all of a sudden your mind wanders. What's happened? According to Zizek, borrowing from Lacan here, your partner has (hopefully temporarily) slipped out of the phantasmatic reference frame you've built around him or her, for Zizek insists that we are always viewing others within frames of fantasy, in one way or another.
His discussion of the three types of shaven vagina in the book's intro is bold and fun; as is also his discussion of the semiotic differences between French, American and German toilets (perhaps a new explanation for the real [i.e. obscene] causes of the World Wars?)
Zizek is at his best and most entertaining in his analyses of movies. In the book's Forward, his comments about John Carpenter's "They Live" is priceless (I'll forgive him his reference to "Spielberg's Star Wars Trilogy,"; after all, one can't get everything right); his discussion of the leading motif of Spielberg's films being about the absent father, or the father figure who has lapsed in his duties and must learn how to make up for his lapse by defending his neglected family against the traumatic impact of the Real of some monstrous force (i.e. Nazis, dinosaurs, aliens from outer space) is a great insight, although he oversteps his bounds when he says that these films are about nothing else. That is false, trust me. There are all kinds of wonderful mythological and cosmological updates and retrievals going on in Spielberg's films. (A dose of heretical Jungian theory here might have helped him out a bit).
In any case, this book is a great place to begin if you are interested in reading Zizek. Though I don't always agree with him, he hardly ever fails to entertain me (except when he goes into long pedantic discussions about the function of the Ego in Fichte or Schelling's concept of the Absolute; I mean, come oooon!) In great books, it's the personality of the author that counts, and so one does not read Zizek so much for his ideas (since, let's face it, they're borrowed from just about everybody who's anybody in Critical Theory) as for the entertaining effect of his personality. He is a great raconteur (like Reagan) and tells great jokes (also like Reagan) but in other respects, he is entirely dissimilar from the former US president.
As Zizek, I mean, Lacan, would have said, borrowing perhaps from Coca-cola: "Enjoy!"
--John David Ebert, author of "The New Media Invasion" and "Dead Celebrities, Living Icons."