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"Enjoy Your Žižek!"


This title, 'Enjoy Your Žižek - An excitable Slovenian philosopher examines the obscene practices of everyday life Including His Own' was written by Robert S. Boyton in 2001, was published in Linguafranca
March 26, 2001.

Amid the bustle of Tony Blair's Britain, the tradition of the afternoon tea is one of the last remaining traces of the country's genteel past. There are few places that conjure up that past better than the oak-paneled King's Bar Lounge at the Hotel Russell, a fading Victorian pile that sits on the edge of Bloomsbury, only a few short blocks from the British Museum. On a drizzly summer afternoon, I sink into one of the Lounge's overstuffed leather chairs, feeling as if I were being transported back to an earlier, more leisurely era - far from "cool Britannia" and debates over the future of the euro. The spell is abruptly broken, however, by the sudden, agitated entrance of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who is in town to deliver a series of lectures at the British Film Institute.
"We must have the most fanatically precise English tea," Žižek insists, gesticulating dramatically in the style of a European dictator. "Everything must be exactly the way the English do it: clotted cream, cucumber sandwiches, scones. It must be the mo st radically English experience possible!"
Bearded, disheveled, and loud, Žižek looks like central casting's pick for the role of Eastern European Intellectual. Newspapers are lowered and conversations stop as a skittish waiter shows us to a small table in the far corner of the room. Barely pausing to sit down, Žižek launches into a monologue so learned and amusing that it could very well appear - verbatim - in one of the many books he has written about the obscene rules that sustain our supposedly civilized social practices. With lightning speed , he moves from the decline of British culture ("They took perfectly good tea, added milk, and made it look like filthy dishwater!") to Hollywood ("Brad Pitt's Seven Years in Tibet - a terrible movie!") to the Tibetan legal system ("a process of formalized bribery where opposing parties bid against each other in a ritualized auction - I absolutely love this!").

Žižek talks exactly as he writes, in a nonstop pastiche of Hegelian philosophy, Marxist dialectics, and Lacanian jargon leavened with references to film noir, dirty jokes, and pop culture ephemera. "Discussing Hegel and Lacan is like breathing for Slavoj. I've seen him talk about theory for four hours straight without flagging," says UC-Berkeley's Judith Butler. When not mediated by the printed page, however, the obsessive-compulsive quality that makes his hyperkinetic prose so exhilarating is somewhat overwhelming - even, evidently, for Žižek himself. Popping the occasional Xanax to settle his nerves, he tells me about his heart problems and frequent panic attacks. As his eyes dart around the room and his manic monologue becomes more frantic, I fear that I may be his last interviewer. Zizek is like a performance artist who is terrified of abandoning the stage; once he starts talking, he seems unable to stop. "You must be much crueler, more brutal with me!" he pleads, even as he speeds his pace to prevent me from cutting him off. "You should never enter a sadomasochistic relationship," he scolds, a sly smile peeking out from his bushy beard. "You wouldn't whip your partner hard enough!"

When the waiter returns, Žižek finally pauses, studies the menu, and orders a pot of mint tea and a plate of sugar cookies. Mint tea and cookies? What about our "radical" English experience? "Oh, I can't drink anything stronger than herbal tea in the afternoon," he says meekly. "Caffeine makes me too nervous."

For Žižek, a conversation - whatever the topic - is an exercise in self-contradiction. When he thinks you are beginning to get a handle on his motives or desires, he pulls an about-face, insists he doesn't mean anything he has just said , that his own views are the exact opposite. His contrariness is famous, and as a writer it has generally served him well - helping to earn him a reputation as a dazzlingly acute thinker and prose stylist and to win him a cult following among American graduate students. In person, however, it seems that Žižek's contrariness is at least partly an uncontrollable compulsion. And yet his manipulations and subterfuges are so entertaining, and his intellect so stimulating, that it is far wiser to surrender without a fight than to try to trump him at his game.

Later that evening, I have an opportunity to watch Žižek's mesmerizing oratorical skills in action at the Museum of the Moving Image, where he gives a standing-room-only lecture on the erotic forces at play in science fiction. The audience is a diverse group, with hip, nose-ring-studded film theorists jostling for seats with graying, tweedy academics. Beforehand, I find Žižek pacing madly outside the auditorium, and he confides to me that this week's panic attacks have been so severe he nearly canceled tonight's engagement. A few minutes into his talk, however, he is fine; his emotional anxiety is quickly transformed into a blur of theoretical intensity.




By the time his two-week-long lecture series is completed, he has offered a succession of Lacanian interpretations - accompanied by visuals of Titanic, Deep Impact, The Abyss, several works by Hitchcock and David Lynch, and even an episode of Oprah (with Slovene subtitles). At one point, he gleefully fast-forwards over a portion of Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, explaining that despite its theoretical value it is quite a dull film. "For me, life exists only insofar as I can theorize i t," he confesses. "I can be bored to death by a movie, but if you give me a good theory, I will gladly erase the past in an Orwellian fashion and claim that I have always enjoyed it!" It is a bravura performance, replete with Zizek's trademark synthesis of philosophical verve and rhetorical playfulness - an intellectual style that recently led Terry Eagleton to describe him in The London Review of Books as "the most formidably brilliant exponent of psychoanalysis, indeed of cultural theory in genera l, to have emerged in Europe for some decades."

Of course, many readers are likely to feel disoriented by Žižek's fast-paced, densely associative writing, as well as by his reliance on the difficult notions of a notorious French psychoanalyst. Žižek's chief intellectual hero, Jacques Lacan, is a man whom recent critics have portrayed as an eccentric tyrant who may have perpetrated a grand intellectual hoax on his followers. But Žižek's appeal is due, in part, to his considerable ease with two subjects that most disciples of Lacan disregard: popular culture and politics. In much of his work, Žižek employs familiar concepts from the psychoanalytic and Lacanian lexicon - projection, inversion, the Real and the Symbolic - to explore the ideological contradictions of contemporary life. In books like Enjoy Your Symptom!, Looking Awry, The Plague of Fantasies, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock), he offers provocative, and always lively, readings of everything from Patricia Highsmith novels to the resurgence of nationalism in Eastern Europe.

Politically savvy and deeply rational, Žižek's Lacan is a far cry from the abstruse guru of indeterminancy invoked by American literary theorists. In his writing, Žižek militates against the "distorted picture of Lacan as belonging to the field of 'post-structuralism.'" Rather, he argues that Lacan offers "perhaps the most radical contemporary version of the Enlightenment."
Žižek's Lacanian defense of the Enlightenment distinguishes him from many contemporary theorists. Indeed, the enormous popularity of Žižek's best-known book, The Sublime Object of Ideology (Verso, 1989), may owe something to the fact that it off ers an alternative to two entrenched and antithetical bodies of contemporary thought: the French postmodernists' skepticism about the Enlightenment ideals of universality, truth, reason, and progress, and the German theorist Jürgen Habermas's attempt to vindicate those ideals with his theory of "communicative rationality." While Foucault and Derrida dissolve the human subject in a sea of discursive indeterminacy and historical contingency, Habermas's defense of reason ultimately rests on a vision of the individual as an ethical actor in a functional community.

Žižek is sympathetic to many of Habermas's aims, but he offers a more complex psychoanalytic account of human thinking and desiring. Unlike Habermas, he assumes that communities are constitutively dysfunctional and that the human subject is always divided against itself by contradictory desires and identifications. And the rationalist project must proceed from the recognition of these fundamental truths. The thrill of reading Žižek (who, as a stylist, no one would ever confuse with the turgid Habermas) arises in part from the collision between the insanity he finds everywhere in our psychic and social lives and the rigorous clarity with which he anatomizes its workings. "He has almost single-handedly revived a dynamically dialectical, Hegelian, style o f thinking," says Eric Santner, a professor of Germanic studies at the University of Chicago. "I think of him as a sort of 'logician of culture' who reveals the underlying structures of politics and ideology in much the way Kant did."

If Žižek's is not a household name in academe, this is not due to a lack of effort on his part. His ability to compose his books in English (parts of them are subsequently translated into Slovene) has so hastened his pace of publication that his various English-language publishers must occasionally scramble to keep him from flooding the market. No less than a dozen titles have appeared under his name since 1989, including several essay collections in the separate book series he edits for Verso and for Duke University Press. And 1999 will be a big year - even for Žižek Inc. Blackwell is publishing The Žižek Reader, and Verso is publishing The Ticklish Subject. Advertised as his magnum opus, The Ticklish Subject may be his most focused and most political book to date. Taking on contemporary intellectual bugaboos - from political correctness to multiculturalism - Žižek argues for a radical politics that will be unafraid to make sweeping claims in the name of a universal human subject. "A spectre is haunting Western academia," he writes, "the spectre of the Cartesian subject."

Many of Žižek's distinguishing marks - his passion for psychoanalytic inversions, his fascination with Western popular culture, his resistance to the cynical logic of depoliticization - can be traced to the paradoxes of growing up under Yugloslav socialism. Born in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 1949, Žižek was the son of devout communists who grew increasingly disenchanted. He had a difficult relationship with his father, who wanted him to become an economist. Instead, Žižek divided his attention between reading philosophy and watching movies. Access to Western movies was easy because of a tradition requiring that movie companies deposit a copy of each film they distributed with the archives of regional universities. "The cinematheque theater was a miracle for us," remembers Žižek. "We were able to see unlimited Hollywood movies and European art films - one or two a day, five days a week."

Despite its relatively liberal cultural and political policies, Žižek argues, Tito's Yugoslavia produced a more repressive (though subtly so) brand of ideology than the other Eastern-bloc countries. While Czechoslovakian or Polish authorities made no secret of their authoritarian tactics, the more permissive Yugoslavian communists sent out mixed signals about what was and was not permitted, thereby fostering an unusually effective, because at least partially self-regulating, system of censorship. By way of example, Žižek tells the story of a Slovenian book publisher in the fairly tolerant late 1970s who wanted to collect some of the best-known Soviet dissident writing. "The party line fluctuated so much that the Central Committee of the League of Slovene Communists was terrified of committing itself one way or the other," Žižek explains. "So the members said, 'Wait a minute, you are yourself free to decide what to publish' - which was the really Kafkaesque situation. At least with Polish censorship, it was a strict bureaucracy, which would negotiate, reach a compromise, and give you a final decision. This would have been paradise for us! The nightmare of Yugoslavia was that you couldn't get a clear answer from anyone about anything."

The young Žižek was attracted to ideas that were relatively uncontaminated by ruling ideologies. After completing his undergraduate studies in 1971, Žižek wrote a four-hundred-page master's thesis called "The Theoretical and Practical Relevance of French Structuralism," which canvassed the work of Lacan, Derrida, Kristeva, Lévi-Strauss and Deleuze. Initially, Žižek was promised a university position. But when the evaluating committee judged his thesis insufficiently Marxist, the job went to another, less qualified candidate. "Slavoj was so charismatic and brilliant they were afraid to allow him to teach at the university lest he become the reigning sovereign at the department of philosophy and influence students," says the Lacanian social philosopher Mladen Dolar, who was also a graduate student at the time.

Žižek was devastated by this slight and spent the next several years virtually unemployed, supporting himself by translating philosophy from the German and living off his parents. In 1977, some of his former professors used their connections to win him a job at the Central Committee of the League of Slovene Communists, where, apart from assisting with occasional speeches (in which he would insert covertly subversive comments), Žižek was left alone to do his own philosophical work: The philosopher whose unreliable politics prevented him from teaching was now helping to write propaganda for the leaders of Slovenia's Communist Party. Žižek still revels in the irony. "I would write philosophy papers and then deliver them at international conferences in Italy and France - trips that were paid for by the Central Committee!"

If Yugoslavian socialism produced a thoroughly cynical citizenry, a country of people who understood that the last thing the regime desired was for them to believe too ardently in the official principles of communism, this, argues Žižek, was ideology at its most effective. "The paradox of the regime was that if people were to take their ideology seriously it would effectively destroy the system," he says. In his account, cynicism and apathy are explanations not for the regime's failure but, perversely, for its success. "The conventional wisdom is that socialism was a failure because, instead of creating a 'New Man,' it produced a country of cynics who believed that the system is corrupt, politics is a horror, and that only private happiness is possible," he argues. "But my point is this: Perhaps depoliticization was the true aim of socialist education? This was surely the daily experience of my youth."

To counter this depoliticization, Žižek banded together with the Ljubljana Lacanians, a tightknit group of Slovenian scholars that included Mladen Dolar, Alenka Zupancic, Miran Bozovic, Zdravko Kobe, and Žižek's wife, Renata Salecl (now ex-wife). In their hands, French psychoanalysis acquired an often highly comic cast. The group took over a journal, Problemi, and founded a book publishing series, Analecta; inspired by Lacan's roots in the French surrealist movement (he was friends with André Breton an d Salvador Dalí), they used these outlets to perpetrate several literary hoaxes. Articles in Problemi were frequently written under pseudonyms or left unsigned, in parodic imitation of Stalinist practice. Žižek once wrote a pseudonymous review attacking one of his own books on Lacan. On another occasion, Problemi published a fictional round table discussion of feminism in which Žižek played the boorish interlocutor, posing provocative questions to nonexistent participants. (Later, in Enjoy Your Symptom!, Žižek continued to engage in literary hoaxes with an essay on the films of Roberto Rossellini-none of which he had seen.) With the regime's aversion to Lacan on the rise, Žižek sensed a wonderful opportunity for mischief; writing in a widely read academic journal, Anthropos, under an assumed name, he published a deliberately clumsy attack on an imaginary book that allegedly detailed why Lacan's theories were wrong. The next day bookstores across Ljubljana received requests for the title.

In 1981, Žižek spent a year in Paris, where he met some of the thinkers whose work he had been so avidly consuming. He would return often. In 1982, however, Lacan died and his mantle passed to his son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller - a man who would play an important role in Žižek's career. A former student of Althusser's, Miller had impressed Lacan with the coherence he brought to the master's sprawling theoretical system. While many Lacanians accuse Miller of simplifying Lacan (perish the thought!), others believe that Lacan's posthumous reputation would not have grown without Miller's ordering influence. A shrewd political operator, Miller was eager to expand the Lacanian empire farther than its progenitor had ever imagined. Miller taught two classes in Paris: one that was open to anyone, and an exclusive, thirty-student seminar at the École de la Cause Freudienne in which he examined the works of Lacan page by page. After a brief interview, Žižek and Dolar were invited to attend this latter class. "Miller took enormous interest in us because we came from Yugoslavia," Dolar remembers. "We had been publishing Lacan in Problemi and Analecta for years, and he was grateful for that. He thinks very strategically and didn't have anyone else established in Eastern Europe. To him, we were the last stronghold of Western culture on the eastern front."
Žižek's Paris years, although intellectually stimulating, were not very happy. Thanks to Miller, who got him a coveted teaching fellowship, he was able to stay in Paris and write a second dissertation, a Lacanian reading of Hegel, Marx, and Saul Kripke , portions of which would later become The Sublime Object of Ideology. But his first marriage, to a fellow Slovenian philosophy graduate student, had just ended, and there were times he felt he was on the brink of committing suicide. His meager sti pend barely kept him alive. He was a ripe if reluctant candidate for psychoanalysis, and there were many days, he says, when he skipped meals in order to pay for treatment.

In addition to being Žižek's teacher, adviser, and sponsor, Jacques-Alain Miller became his analyst as well. While familiarity between analyst and analysand is discouraged by Freudians, it was not unusual for Lacanians to socialize with their patients. Lacan's most controversial psychoanalytic innovation, however, was the variable, or "short," session through which he tried to combat a patient's resistance by introducing an element of discontinuity into the therapeutic process. In contrast to Freud's fifty-minute "hour," Lacan's sessions ended the moment he sensed the patient had uttered an important word or phrase - a break that might occur in fifteen minutes or less. Miller had fine-tuned the logic of therapy to the point that few sessions lasted more than ten minutes. "To be in analysis with Miller was to step into a divine, predestined universe," says Žižek. "He was a totally arbitrary despot. He would say, come back tomorrow at exactly 4:55, but this didn't mean anything! I would arrive at 4:55 and would find a dozen people waiting."

One goal of the variable session is to keep a patient from preparing material ahead of time. In this respect, Lacanian psychoanalysis met its match in Žižek. "It was my strict rule, my sole ethical principle, to lie consistently: to invent all symptoms , fabricate all dreams," he reports of his treatment. "It was obsessional neurosis in its absolute purest form. Because you never knew how long it would last, I was always prepared for at least two sessions. I have this incredible fear of what I might dis cover if I really went into analysis. What if I lost my frenetic theoretical desire? What if I turned into a common person?" Eventually, Žižek claims, he had Miller completely taken in by his charade: "Once I knew what aroused his interest, I invented eve n more complicated scenarios and dreams. One involved the Bette Davis movie All About Eve. Miller's daughter is named Eve, so I told him that I had dreamed about going to a movie with Bette Davis in it. I planned every detail so that when I finished he announced grandly, 'This was your revenge against me!'"

As the head of the main Lacanian publishing house, Miller was in a position to turn Žižek's doctoral dissertation into a book. So, when not presenting his fabricated dreams and fantasies, Žižek would transform his sessions into de facto academic seminars to impress Miller with his keen intellect. Although Žižek successfully defended his dissertation in front of Miller, he learned after the defense that Miller did not intend to publish his thesis in book form. The following night he had his first panic attack, which had all the symptoms of a heart attack. Eventually, he placed the manuscript with the publishing house of a rival Lacanian faction.

Before Žižek began shuttling between Paris and Ljubljana, his professional prospects had already taken a turn for the better. He was still unable to hold a university position, but in 1979 some friends intervened and got him a job as a researcher at the Institute for Sociology. Given its social science orientation, Žižek was not allowed to do philosophy; instead, he announced that he would do research on the formation of Slovenian national identity. "I did the transcendental trick and said that although the long-term project is on Slovene nationalism, I must first sketch the conceptual structure of nationalism," he says. "Unfortunately, this 'clarification' has now gone on for two decades."

The job was a blessing in disguise. Once Žižek made his peace with the social scientists, he discovered that he was free to write, with none of the bureaucratic and pedagogical burdens of a Western academic. In essence, he is on permanent sabbatical. " Every three years I write a research proposal. Then I subdivide it into three one-sentence paragraphs, which I call my yearly projects. At the end of each year I change the research proposal's future-tense verbs into the past tense and then call it my final report," he explains. Because the institute's budget depends on how much its members publish, Žižek - who publishes more work in international publications than everyone else combined - is left completely alone. "With total freedom, I am a total workaholic," he says.

Total freedom also allowed Žižek to play a role in Slovenian politics. Although not a full-fledged activist, he was intimately involved in the movement that helped hasten the end of Yugoslavian socialism. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Žižek was a popular newspaper columnist for the weekly Mladina and helped found the Liberal Democratic Party, which opposes both communism and right-wing nationalism and has stressed feminist and environmental issues. In 1990, he even ran for a seat on the four-member collective Slovenian presidency (he finished fifth). As Slovenia achieved a mostly peaceful independence, Žižek wrote frequently about the bloody conflicts nearby. And when the Liberal Democrats came to power in 1992, he found himself in the odd position of being an intellectual who wasn't marginalized. Žižek is quite proud of the "dirty deals" and compromises made by his party. "I despise abstract leftists who don't want to touch power because it is corrupting," he says. "No, power is there to b e grabbed. I don't have any problem with that."

The day after Žižek's lecture, he and his wife, Renata Salecl, meet me for lunch at a cozy Greek café just down the block from their London hotel. An attractive woman with a round face and short blond hair, Salecl is as calm an d deliberate as Žižek is nervous and neurotic. Žižek, who claims he lacks the social graces to attend cocktail parties or schmooze with scholars and politicians, says that he relies on her to navigate the shoals of the outside world. She buys his clothes ("For me, shopping is like masturbating in public," he says), negotiates their teaching deals, and generally keeps him from having a nervous breakdown. Her first book, Discipline as a Condition of Freedom (which was recently staged as a ballet), was a Foucault-inspired analysis of communist Yugoslavia. "Nobody believed in the rules, but they nevertheless kept following them obediently, and I wanted to know why," she explains. She has spent the morning at the offices of Verso, which will be publishing her book (Per)versions of Love & Hate this fall.

Together, she and Žižek have mastered the intricacies of American academic politics and established a congenial teaching ritual that keeps them in the United States for one semester every year. Recently, they have held positions at Columbia, Princeton, Tulane, University of Minnesota, Cardozo Law School, and the New School for Social Research; this fall, they are teaching at the University of Michigan. The duo has refined the process to a science. Each university must provide teaching positions, office s, and accommodations for both of them and agree that they will each teach one two-month course, consisting of one lecture per week on whatever subject they happen to be writing about. In addition to his U.S. pay, Žižek receives a full salary from his institute in Ljubljana. "When people ask me why I don't teach permanently in the United States, I tell them that it is because American universities have this very strange, eccentric idea that you must work for your salary," Žižek says. "I prefer to do the opposite and not work for my salary!"

Žižek has developed an elaborate set of psychological tricks to manipulate his American students and enable him to have as little contact with them as possible. At the first meeting of each course, he announces that all students will get an A and should write a final paper only if they want to. "I terrorize them by creating a situation where they have no excuse for giving me a paper unless they think it is really good. This scares them so much, that out of forty students, I will get only a few papers," he says. "And I get away with this because they attribute it to my 'European eccentricity.'"
Žižek says that he deals with student inquiries in a similar spirit. "I understand I have to take questions during my lectures, since this is America and everybody is allowed to talk about everything. But when it comes to office hours, I have perfected a whole set of strategies for how to block this," he says with a smirk. "The real trick, however, is to minimize their access to me and simultaneously appear to be even more democratic!" Initially, Žižek scheduled office hours immediately before class so that students could not run on indefinitely. Then he came up with the idea of requiring them to submit a written question in advance, on the assumption that most would be too lazy to do it (they were). Žižek reserves what he calls "the nasty strategy" fo r large lecture classes in which the students often don't know one another. "I divide the time into six twenty-minute periods and then fill in the slots with invented names. That way the students think that all the hours are full and I can disappear," he explains.

Undergraduates are apt to be tolerant of their professors' idiosyncracies, but Žižek may have less luck hiding from critics when The Ticklish Subject is published this winter. Just as he once saw socialist Yugoslavia as a count ry that had been cynically depoliticized by its leaders, so Žižek now believes that conservatives, liberals, and radicals have effectively stamped out genuine politics in the West. The modern era, he argues, is decidedly "post-political." Instead of politics, he writes, we have a largely conflict-free "collaboration of enlightened technocrats (economists, public opinion specialists...) and liberal multiculturalists" who negotiate a series of compromises that pose as - but fail to reflect - a "universal consensus."

Blair's New Labourites and Clinton's New Democrats are only the most recent depoliticized political parties to have made "the art of the possible" their modest mantra. Žižek also charges that sexual and ethnic identity politics "fits perfectly the depoliticized notion of society in which every particular group is 'accounted for,' has its specific status (of a victim) acknowledged through affirmative action or other measures destined to guarantee social justice." In satisfying grievances through programs targeted to specific groups, such as affirmative action, the tolerant liberal establishment prevents the emergence of a genuinely universal - and in Žižek's definition, properly political - impulse.
For Žižek, all successful ideologies function the same way. If American-style consumer capitalism has replaced Yugoslavian Marxism as the antagonist, the battle is still the same: to create the conditions for what he calls "politics proper," a vaguely defined, but deeply heroic and inherently universalist impulse, in which a given social order and its power interests are destabilized and overthrown. "Authentic politics is the art of the impossible," he writes. "It changes the very parameters of what is considered 'possible' in the existing constellation."

This is a noble vision, but when Žižek turns to history, he finds only fleeting examples of genuine politics in action: in ancient Athens; in the proclamations of the Third Estate during the French Revolution; in the Polish Solidarity movement; and in the last, heady days of the East German Republic before the Wall came down and the crowds stopped chanting Wir sind das Volk ("We are the people!") and began chanting Wir sind ein Volk ("We are a/one people!"). The shift from definite to indefinite article, writes Žižek, marked "the closure of the momentary authentic political opening, the reappropriation of the democratic impetus by the thrust towards reunification of Germany, which meant rejoining Western Germany's liberal-capitalist police/political order."

In articulating his political credo, Žižek attempts to synthesize three unlikely - perhaps incompatible - sources: Lacan's notion of the subject as a "pure void" that is "radically out of joint" with the world, Marx's political economy, and St. Paul's conviction that universal truth is the only force capable of recognizing the needs of the particular. Žižek is fond of calling himself a "Pauline materialist," and he admires St. Paul's muscular vision. He believes that the post-political deadlock can be broken only by a gesture that undermines "capitalist globalization from the standpoint of universal truth in the same way that Pauline Christianity did to the Roman global empire." He adds: "My dream is to combine an extremely dark, pessimistic belief that life is basically horrible and contingent, with a revolutionary social attitude."




As philosophy, Žižek's argument is breathtaking, but as social prescription, "dream" may be an apt word. The only way to combat the dominance of global capitalism, he argues, is through a "direct socialization of the productive process" - an agenda that is unlikely to play well in Slovenia, which is now enjoying many of the fruits of Western consumer capitalism. When pressed to specify what controlling the productive process might look like, Žižek admits he doesn't know, although he feels certain that an alternative to capitalism will emerge and that the public debate must be opened up to include subjects like control over genetic engineering. Like many who call for a return to the primacy of economics, Žižek has only the most tenuous grasp of the subject.

What then are we to make of Žižek's eloquent plea for a return to politics? Is it just another self-undermining gesture? In part it is, but that may be the point. The blissful freedom of the utopian political moment is something, he believes, we all de sire. But so too, he would acknowledge, do we desire ideologies and institutions. And these contradictory impulses - toward liberation and constraint - are not only political. A central tenet of Lacanian psychoanalysis is that the push and pull of anarchic desires and inhibiting defense mechanisms structure the psychic life of the individual. And why shouldn't this same dialectic characterize Žižek's own intellectual life, which has been devoted to proclaiming the universal relevance of Lacan's ideas?

"Do not forget that with me everything is the opposite of what it seems," he says. "Deep down I am very conservative; I just play at this subversive stuff. My most secret dream is to write an old-fashioned, multi volume theological tract on Lacanian theory in the style of Aquinas. I would examine each of Lacan's theories in a completely dogmatic way, considering the arguments for and against each statement and then offering a commentary. I would be happiest if I could be a monk in my cell, with nothing to do but write my Summa Lacaniana."

But wouldn't that be lonely? Once again, Žižek qualifies his qualification. "Okay, maybe not a solitary monk. I could be a monk with a woman."

Josefina Ayerza with Slavoj Žižek: Hidden Prohibitions and the Pleasure Principle

The following interview was first published in Flash Art March/April 1992 - a publication by the Lacanian Ink.

Josefina Ayerza: Twenty million Eastern Europeans are going to arrive in Western Europe and the USA in no time. What do you think may happen to local regional cultures?

Slavoj Žižek: I don't believe in local regional cultures.

JA: Will immigration's effect on language and its structural behavior confirm Lacan's emphasis of Kant over Spinoza? In reducing the field of God to the universality of the signifier, Spinozism produces detachment from human desire. Kant's practical reason, sustained by moral law, brings out desire at its utmost: we know nevertheless how pure desire culminates in the sacrifice of the object of love.

SZ: Lacan says that Kant was right historically about the Spinozian universality of the signifier. It was a kind of false leap, but if your question implies that today's world is paradoxically closer to the neo-Spinozist universality of the signifier, I agree. The ultimate Spinozist idea is that you have a field of knowledge in the Lacanian sense, as the binary signifier without the Master signifier — in speech-act theory we would call it the "order of the performative." I think this was the ultimate Spinozist dream, what he called "love of God'' or "perfect rational knowledge," which is a kind of knowledge that is not obliged to have recourse to a Master signifier, to a point of order, which is performative.(1)

JA: So this knowledge would involve only the field of the signifier; in Lacan's terms the S2?

SZ: Only the field without the S1 functions precisely as an element of order. It is very interesting to read from this perspective how Spinoza reinterpreted the Bible, you know, God's command, "Thou shalt not eat from the tree of knowledge," and so forth. Spinoza said that because the Jews were primitive at that time it was necessary for God to formulate his will as a command, as a performative command, "Thou shalt not..." For a reasonable person, the way to grasp this is not through the performative, but through the constructive.

The constructive is simply like a kind of scientific, objective statement, "Because that tree's fruits of knowledge are dangerous, you should not eat them," etc. Then it is not a command but a simple scientific statement about a certain causality, "If you eat that, you will be in danger because..." This was Spinoza's idea. My point is that today, not only computers but social order, publicity, and the so-called universal, late capitalist consumer are among the fundamental results.

We don't get orders any more, orders are now hidden in this universal form. For example, nobody tells us directly, "You must eat this, you must not eat this." It is like with tobacco, the Spinozist doesn't say, "Don't smoke," he/she says "Smoke, but... ." You have this warning, "Nicotine can be dangerous to your health"; "Eat whatever you want, but beware of cholesterol," etc. You don't have direct prohibitions, you have just a kind of...

....nobody tells us directly, "You must eat this, you must not eat this." It is like with tobacco, the Spinozist doesn't say, "Don't smoke," he/she says "Smoke, but... ." You have this warning, "Nicotine can be dangerous to your health"; "Eat whatever you want, but beware of cholesterol," etc. You don't have direct prohibitions, you have just a kind of...
JA: Deadly warning?

SZ: Yes, but my point is that prohibition is masked as this kind of universal, objective, knowledge statement. This is for me today's Spinozist world, especially in the United States. For example, every can, every package, is full of information. Of course this information is about what it contains and what it does not contain: no cholesterol, no fat. This for me is the practical side of Spinoza today. The inherent dimension is that there are hidden prohibitions. Low fat or low cholesterol means you can easily enjoy it, but the form of a command is absent. You can do whatever you want, but...

JA: So the word "but" comes instead of "thou shalt not," implying we are not primitive anymore?

SZ: Yes, but what you get after "but" is not the Master signifier, it's not an order. It's a kind of masked, objective, scientific knowledge, just information. I think this is perhaps one of the things that fundamentally characterizes late capitalist, consumer society. As we all know, psychoanalysis enables us to discern that behind this explicit commandment lies a hidden, superego commandment to enjoy, to enjoy properly, to succeed. Lacan says the same thing.

JA: So it's actually "Don't smoke because you won't achieve what you want."

SZ: Yes, although the paradox I like here is that this kind of consumer society ideology illustrates nicely what Freud already knew were the paradoxes of the pleasure principle. You have a society which is ostensibly oriented toward pure pleasure, but you pay for it through a whole series of "you can't." The hidden prohibitions: eat whatever you want, but beware of fat and cholesterol; smoke, but beware of nicotine; sex, but safe sex. Yet the ultimate consequence of this pleasure principle is that everything is prohibited in a way; you can't smoke: there's nicotine; you can't eat: there's fat; you can't have sex: you'll get sick. So this is a kind of everyday confirmation of the Lacanian paradox.
We all know how Lacan reversed Dostoyevsky by saying "If God does not exist, everything is prohibited," not ''everything is permitted." I think this is perfectly epitomized by today's society of consumption. If God in the traditional sense as a universal model does not exist, then everything is allowed. You can get whatever you want but with the substance removed: coffee without caffeine, cigarettes without nicotine.

We all know how Lacan reversed Dostoyevsky by saying "If God does not exist, everything is prohibited," not ''everything is permitted." I think this is perfectly epitomized by today's society of consumption. If God in the traditional sense as a universal model does not exist, then everything is allowed. You can get whatever you want but with the substance removed: coffee without caffeine, cigarettes without nicotine.

I like the dirty story that was in all the magazines about Richard Gere. This widely known scandal, for me, is the ultimate example of all this. This is the story: Gere was hospitalized because he realized — with one of the latest practices in Hollywood, the latest in sexual perversion — the fantasy of Freud's Rat Man. You take a gerbil — not a rat but a gerbil — and a vet cuts off its teeth and nails. You put it in a bag, you attach a piece of string to its tail, and you put it in your anus. The animal suffocates of course and this is "it": the pleasure. Finally it is up to you to pull the dead animal out. The problem with Richard Gere, allegedly, was that he pulled it out too quickly and was left only with the tail; the dead animal remained inside.

It's the same paradox: the Rat Man fantasy, you get it, but without claws, without teeth, it is all cut off by a veterinarian. For me this is the ultimate of this same logic. Nothing is prohibited you can even realize the Rat Man fantasy but in a reduced version: the vet takes care of it, cuts off the claws, etc.
Again what is crucial here is the contemporary computer with its universal dimension — a kind of a Spinozist machine. We all know Lacan defines the lady in courtly love as a non-human partner. This is computers today.

JA: Is the computer a lady?

SZ: Yes, it takes the place of the lady. Thinking the innermost of your being is in a way externalized. The machine thinks for you: just by observing it you can enjoy how the other does it for you — again this is the ultimate Spinozist vision, passive immersion. Lacan falsely attributes this experience to Hegel, to Hegelian absolute knowledge, but I think it is far more Spinozist: the reduction to a pure bare observer. This kind of universal symbolic machine functioning by itself totally relieves you of your responsibility.

JA: The pure passivity of an observer or of a voyeur?

SZ: An amusing tendency of late capitalism is that the observer is gradually reduced to a purely passive role. We have nowadays home delivery of food, TV channels where you can shop, sex you can buy, and you can be connected to your work place through a modem.

There is a nice capitalist logic behind it. We return literally to Spinoza, why? Because capitalism in Spinoza's time — before factories — was such that workers worked at home. Spinoza was well before Adam Smith and the division of labor and so forth came a little bit later, in the late 18th century. In Spinoza's time, the typical form of capitalism was that workers worked at home in small villages. The capitalists came once a week, provided you with materials, took what you did and paid you. This functioned very well, why? Firstly, because you were pressured to work all the time, you didn't have any difference between your life and your work. Secondly, it prevented what we would call in Marxist terms class consciousness. It was perfect, you never confronted the capitalist, the owner, because you only encountered him or her individually — he or his representative came to your home. In a factory, workers are all there, physically together, thus they can organize strikes, etc. Nowadays they are totally dispersed, each of them staying at home; the paradox is with computerization.

JA: So there is no chance for a conspiracy?

SZ: Yes, and even at the level of the organization of production we are returning to this Spinozist form of capitalism. Now let's take the ultimate point: sexuality. There again we return to Spinoza, the same paradox of how we can survive alone. In France they have what is called "minitel." You have a choice when you get a phone: either a phone book or minitel, a small computer with a screen, and everybody takes the minitel. You can do all kinds of business through it, read the news, order things, make reservations, but the crucial point is sex. Now it is already a bit "out," but a couple of years ago, when it was fashionable, everybody in France was having sex on the minitel. It is not the same as what you call adult phone sex, this is simply a refined form of semi-prostitution. No, the idea of minitel is "sex is an Other." You type in your password but you do not communicate with a paid prostitute, you communicate with hundreds of people doing the same thing you are doing. So you pick up one of the messages and you do it: you send in your own message to him or to her — you don't know to whom, that is the charm. You only have the family name: it may be a man or a woman. You send your message to someone you don't know, you exchange dirty messages: "I will do this to you, you will do that to me." The point is that people became obsessed by this. Lacan says — he even uses vulgar terms — that if I'm speaking now about fucking it's the same as if I'm fucking. This is literally realized now in France; sex can be purely the matter of a signifier of exchanging dirt.





JA: So the signifier seems to be more than enough to provide jouissance?

SZ: Yes. I think the crucial point in this sense is the substitution of actual contact with an imagined community. This experience of exchanging dirty messages does not function as foreplay. The idea is not that in the end it will work out with the dirty messages, that you will exchange addresses and meet, no. The entire satisfaction, the jouissance is that you do not know and will never know who the other is. The point isn't even to masturbate, the entire satisfaction is in this purely symbolic exchange and this is an interesting late capitalist tendency.

JA: Would this involve Lacan's Theory of drive?

SZ: From this we can learn a lot about the Lacanian notion of drive and satisfaction. In quantum physics for example you have the idea of possibility. If you take all the possible movements of an electron, for example, that already describes a certain actuality. To deduce what the actual movement will be, you must consider all possibilities. Possibility is not just a mere possibility but already functions as actuality in itself. Dreaming about possible satisfaction is already a satisfaction in itself. You don't need to experience a lot, you don't really need to do it, this is already "it.'' I was always fascinated with game shows with the kind of imagined community constituted around them. When you watch people there, it is obvious that the point is not even to win money, it's the basic identification: to be one of them, to be one of the community, one of those who might win. Again, possibility in itself.

JA: Let's say that all this possibility is related to the field. Does the impossible stay with the S1?

SZ: Yes, and this is again the late capitalist dream. But what interests me is where we have Kant's revenge, where we have this late capitalist fantasy, strange and disturbing. When you read today's media, how is the enemy depicted? Fundamentalist, irrationalist, and so on. Let's return to Kant. I think that Kant was revolutionary because he was anti-universalist. Usually Immanuel Kant is identified as a universalist, his criteria for an ethical act is universality, that is to say to follow the maxim, for the good of the collectivity, etc. But I think this is already a secondary movement, and the real Kantian revolution is precisely the idea that there is already a crack in universality.

JA: Because there is some morality emerging here?

SZ: Yes. Precisely apropos of morality, Kantian ethics, universality of your maxim, this is the whole point of Lacan in Kant avec Sade. According to Kant the sadist is evil, but evil is intended as an ethical attitude. You are evil out of principle, not for pathological reasons or for profit, but because there is an ethics of evil. This is the most uncanny, in the Freudian sense, the most unheimlich moment in Kantian ethics. I think that in his last major writings, religion was within the limits of reason alone. In this last writing he formulated the possibility of what he calls "original radical evil," which is precisely evil as an ethical attitude. What was so horrible for Kant in this discovery? You can no longer discern it from good you can universalize it. It's the same.

This idea that there are uncontaminated central European cultures fighting against this Americanized, Japanized, universal horror is false on many levels. Furthermore I have a deep mistrust of this kind of "original ", "ethical" culture. We must recall that from the very beginning these cultures are usually false. In the case of my own country, Slovenia, our national costumes were copied from Austrian costumes, they were invented towards the end of the last century. 

JA: Will massive immigration affect Western points of view, or will they be incorporated?

SZ: People ask me what will happen now in this new universal field with new authentic Central European cultures, but I am very skeptical about it. This idea that there are uncontaminated central European cultures fighting against this Americanized, Japanized, universal horror is false on many levels. Furthermore I have a deep mistrust of this kind of "original ", "ethical" culture. We must recall that from the very beginning these cultures are usually false. In the case of my own country, Slovenia, our national costumes were copied from Austrian costumes, they were invented towards the end of the last century. The ultimate example is the Soviet Union. You may think that these nationalist revivals emerged in resistance to communism, but I think it was literally through antagonism toward communist rule itself that these national entities were created.

Let's take the extreme case, India, which is very instructive. People often forget that in India the anticommunist Congress party was not only founded by Indians educated at Eton, Cambridge, and Oxford, but it was even instigated by some progressive liberal Englishmen. So this is a nice paradox how the very idea of "let's get rid of English colonialism, let's return to our autonomous India" was strictly a product of English colonialism.

I'm radically Eurocentric. It is fashionable today to be anti-Eurocentric to stress African, Asian, all other cultures, but what people usually do not grasp is that every idea of anti-Eurocentricism is only possible against an Eurocentric, Cartesian background. That is against the idea that the tradition into which we were born, Protestant, Catholic, Indian, whatever is something ultimately contingent. Basically we are this kind of abstract anti-subject, not pinned down to the particular tradition into which we were born. It is only against this background that you consider it as something not really binding you, that you can reason against Eurocentricism. One can say "We must be open to different cultures," but this kind of pluralism is only possible against the notion that tradition is ultimately something contingent, against the background of an abstract empty Cartesian subject. My ultimate theoretical point is that Lacan is absolutely 100 per cent Cartesian, absolutely, he says it, people don't listen. Lacan says the subject of psychoanalysis is the Cartesian subject.

JA: Well, the subject relating to the signifier and metaphor is Cartesian...

SZ: Yes, and the subject of science. The whole point of Lacan is that the subject of psychoanalysis is a hysterical subject, a hysterical subject in reaction to the scientific discourse which was founded through Cartesian Science. I put it this way: here we have the difference between the Jungian and the Freudian attitude. If there is something absolutely foreign to Lacan it is this idea, very fashionable today, against this alienated, Western, Protestant model we must return to more original ethnic wisdoms of old and so forth. This is not psychoanalysis, this is Jung. Psychoanalysis is strictly on the side of this abstract Cartesian alienated subject. This is why I'm very distrustful of this myth of Central Europe, which has strictly been made by the Other and staged for the Other as a nostalgic object for the observer. For Western Europe Central Europe means this lost paradise of small countries this kind of lost paradise of the Austrian empire. I am not nostalgic about it. The ultimate kitsch movie of all times, The Sound of Music, is part of this myth of Central Europe. It existed from the very beginning as a lost object to be seen by foreigners. Central Europe actually, was precisely where anti-Semitism was born. I mean fascism is a Central European invention.

JA: Are they after the sublime object, or are they simply going for money?

SZ: People in Eastern Europe are after something more than money. This more is what I'm afraid of because more is the idea of not just this kind of alienated capitalist society, organic unity, and so on, it's more.

JA: Is this the mode of jouissance?

SZ: Yes, this is the answer to the elementary question, what is the sublime object of ideology? The idea behind it is simply "it is the mode of jouissance, the way ideology functions." The idea is to go against the so-called discourse, the analysis of ideology. You must deconstruct it, reduce it to certain discourse practices and symbolizations. My idea is that this is not enough. Let's take for example the image of the Jew. Of course it is easy to show how the Jew is a product of a certain discourse, but there is something more to it which is again a question of jouissance. And my point is that without this core of jouissance, ideology does not function. So now we are again at the problem of the death of jouissance. In today's so-called cynical society nobody believes in ideology anymore. Lacan says somewhere that the cynic believes in jouissance, and this is precisely what complicates things.

(1) S1=Master S2=slave, in the sense of Hegel's Phenomenology of the Spirit. Lacan applies it to the signifier, the acoustic language of the word (S1 representing law, what intervenes, the master signifier; S2 representing knowledge, the chain, the field of the Other).






Parallax View: A Dialectical Way of Thinking


(Žižek talks on the importance of the parallax view): Usually the parallax means: when you change a little bit and you see changes. The simplest parallax, though a bit obscene, would be: a postcard on which you see a girl with a blouse, and when you change it a little bit you see naked breasts. I remember when I was young, in those pre-digital times, we had those postcards. The object changes, but the change in the object is really just an effect of how you, as an observer, move.

What I want to show is that, nonetheless, this change is not simply subjective. It is an effect of a certain change in the object itself. Why did I pick up this term? To emphasize this incompatibility. When we are in ideology, we can look at things in radically different ways. And there is no all-encompassing larger narrative.

Let's take today's Middle East crisis: Israel - Palestine. You have the Israeli experience. They say: we just want to live here, they are rocketing us. But then, if you go to the other side, you hear a totally different story. And here, I don't believe in this abstract humanism of UNESCO type. The United Nations says: 'But let us tell a general story...'. No, there is no general story where there is a place for all of it. All there is, at a general level, is the logic of the struggle itself. We have incompatible perspectives.

It is basically - to be honest - a new, slightly modern way to make the old Marxist point of social antagonism - the class struggle. The idea being, again, that is that the gap is irreducible. It cannot be overcome through some kind of a higher perspective. All we can do is to formulate the antagonism. To understand a certain society means to understand its antagonism, its contradiction, its deadlock. Here I remain a Marxist.

On the other hand, this is what gives capitalism, its dynamic. Capitalism is the miraculous system in which the more it is contradictory, the more it functions. Capitalism thrives from pulling itself out of crises. The more it is in crises, the more it explodes. This is why, for certain traditional evolutionary Marxists, it is always a problem. As you maybe know, already for over a hundred years, Marxists have claimed that capitalism is approaching its last stage of rotting, of falling apart. But the more capitalism is becoming rotten, disintegrated, the better it functions. This is important.




We have certain basic Marxist-Hegelian notions like contradiction, antagonism. The problem is how to precisely understand them. I think we were so corrupted by this standard Stalinist idea that the contradiction simply means the struggle of opposites to us, which seems to mean that there are always two sides: the good one, and the bad one; and 'we should support the progressive side', and so on. That has nothing to do with the proper Hegelian-Marxist notion of contradiction.

The whole point of parallax is to reintroduce a more authentic dialectical way of thinking and to point to, especially today, where we are under this pressure of 'one global culture', 'we should understand each other'. No, here I am very brutal, but I think this is the true anti-racism. It is not that when I come to another country, I would like to understand you. No, I don't want to understand, and I cannot understand everything. Here I agree with my conservative friend, Peter Sloterdijk, who is definitely not a left-winger. He said: 'we need today a new code of discretion'.

Look, if you have a Muslim friend, it is stupid to expect that you should totally understand him. You never will. We need a superficial code of manners to treat each other respectfully, even without fully understanding ourselves. The lesson would have been: accept the distance. For example in ex-Yugoslavia, all those Western idiots came and said: 'You Bosnians and Serbs or Serbs and Albanians, why don't you understand each other, get closer...'. No! I claim: ignore each other, accept the distance.

There is something liberating in it. Maybe I am too misanthropic here, but I don't want to understand the whole world. There are cultures, which I consider stupid. I don't care. The problem is: how can you be a non-racist in accepting this. I claim that when we want to understand the other we are usually very racist. You want to penetrate the other to know everything. How can you understand the others, when the others don't understand themselves? We don't understand even ourselves.

So again, maybe a little bit in a Nietzschean way, I want to reassert distance, ignorance, to accept that we don't have to be too close to each other, we don't have to understand each other. Accept distance. And then, selectively, we can be friends. Through obscenities and so on. So my message is still very politically incorrect. Instead of trying to understand everybody, pick up friends and talk dirty to them, make racist jokes and so on, and life will be much better.





Žižek's wrote for Abercrombie & Fitch 'Back to School' issue

On 2003, Slavoj Žižek wrote the whole full issue of the Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) catalog. It was colorful and poetic. Here you can read the whole text, and see the colorful pages one-by-one. 


TEXT:

Dear Savas,
Friend! This is all I was able to do in these crazy circumstances! Feel free to use any of my comments, or not use them, and you can also use just parts of my comments!
All best, Slavoj 
Dear Slavoj,
Enclosed please find the images for our back to school issue. We’ve never had a philosopher write the text for our images before, so write what you like. We’re looking for that “Karl Marx meets groucho Marks” thing you do so well!
Thanks, Savas. 
Slavoj Zizek is a man who will tell you something about anything. A Slovenian national, all heavy Eastern European accent and nervous energy, he’ll expound on Lacanian-Marxist theory or get caught up with why he thinks Linda Fiorentino is so sexy. Sometimes both at the same time. Zizek’s the Sublime Object of Ideology and The Plague of Fantasies are already canonical classics. His essays cover everything from Alfred Hitchcock to war and terrorism in a series of paradoxical (sometimes contradictory) arguments that border on comedic genius. He’s widely considered the most important philosopher working today, but here at A&F we like to think of him as our own academic-at-large. So what better time to consults him than at back to school?!
We tracked down Zizek during a whirlwind three days in London to his input….. 
Back to School
Thus means: forget the stupid spontaneous pleasures of summer Sports, of reading Books, watching movies and listening to music. Pull yourself together and learn sex. 
As we know already from Daphnis and Chloe, the late Antiquity novel, there is nothing spontaneous about sex: one has to learn it, one has to be introduced to it. 
A naked couple without a spectacled teacher would be reduced to clumsy ignorants unable To perform the act. 
A melancholic nostalgia for the good old Victorian days, when it was still A terrifying Transgression if A music teacher seduced the daughter of the family….

The only successful sexual relationship occurs when the fantasies of the two partners overlap. If the man fantasizes that making love is like riding a bike….. 
…..And the woman wants to be penetrate by a stud, then what truly goes on while they make love is that a horse is riding a bike…. with a fantasy like that, who needs a personality? 
There can be no friendship between twins: they are too close, so the only way for each of them to maintain his identity is to liquidate the other. A friend has to be outside my reach, beyond my grasp. And there can be no friendship with someone whom I am not ready to betray: a friend is someone I can betray with love. 
A woman intermittently kissing two men: does this constellation not merely explicate the fact that, while a man cheats his feminine partner with another real woman, a woman can cheat a man even if she makes love only with him, since her pleasure is never fully contained in enjoying him?

The object of desire is hidden behind the thigh but the true cause of desire is the tattooed cross on the arm, is it not clear that we really make love with signs, not with bodies? This is why one has to go to school to learn sex. 
Is the naked couple a stain disturbing the classical beauty, or does it stand for the authentic bodily reality unmasking the fake of the kitsch architecture? Neither: they are both fakes. 
Movies are right: the romantic dream is in color, the reality of sex is in black and White. Here, however, school has to teach us another paradoxical lesson: the intensity of real sex can only take place in black and white. When we are immersed into love making, the world loses its colors. 
If there was a happy couple, this is one. The first lesson of love to be learned at school: do not look into each other’s eyes! Only by ignoring each other can a couple learn to endure each other and, eventually, to become aware of the other’s proximity.
It is obvious that the couple in front of the window are fantasizing that someone is observing them through the window! They need that gaze in order to be in love: they perform their love for that gaze. 
The apple in paradise really was a book Eve was reading: what seduced Adam into sin was the burning curiosity about what is written in the book. This is the ultimate proof that sex has nothing to do with sin: man became sinful the moment he was interested more in what’s in the book than in Eve’s gorgeous naked body. The solution is, of course: there was nothing in the book. Eve just pretended to be immersed into the Book to seduce Adam…… 
In true passion, one does not need a head or brain: The whole body is turned into a montage. This loss of body, this dissolution of the body into a composite of organs, is called happiness. 
No way to escape – even in pure mathematics, it will haunt you: how much energy is released when two bodies hit each other? Or is it that pure mathematics is much sexier than sex? 
Is the girl really dreaming that she is a butterfly? But what if she is a butterfly dreaming that it is a girl? It is only when her lover is able to discern the butterfly that is in her more than the girl herself that he will passionately desire her, that making love to her will not be only copulation. 
The tired anxious gazes of the participants display the question: was it okay? Did we perform Well? 
Another lesson to be learned at school: not only under our dress are we all naked – we are truly naked only under our cloths. If we are simply without dress, we are not really naked – there is nothing less erotic than nudism. 
Usually from a conservative cultural standpoint, the problem with today’s culture, especially youth culture, is that of ethics, specifically of standards, limits being blurred. For example, sometimes in the news you don’t even know what is publicity and what is news. That is to say that the news is turning into a kind of talk show…. What do I see? A utopian vision. A fugue. A truly modern synthesis. Shit, why not have a cake and eat too? You can have critical theory and nudity and enjoy it!
Slavoj Žižek












New Book on Žižek: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Literature but Were Afraid to Ask Žižek

The new book "Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Literature but Were Afraid to Ask Žižek" has resenting published Duke University Press. The book has been edited by Russell Sbriglia, who is Assistant Professor of English at Seton Hall University. The book is par of SIC series. The current series is SIC 10. Slavoj Žižek has also contributed a piece in the book.

Description: Challenging the widely-held assumption that Slavoj Žižek's work is far more germane to film and cultural studies than to literary studies, this volume demonstrates the importance of Žižek to literary criticism and theory. The contributors show how Žižek's practice of reading theory and literature through one another allows him to critique, complicate, and advance the understanding of Lacanian psychoanalysis and German Idealism, thereby urging a rethinking of historicity and universality. His methodology has implications for analyzing literature across historical periods, nationalities, and genres and can enrich theoretical frameworks ranging from aesthetics, semiotics, and psychoanalysis to feminism, historicism, postcolonialism, and ecocriticism. The contributors also offer Žižekian interpretations of a wide variety of texts, including Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Samuel Beckett's Not I, and William Burroughs's Nova Trilogy. The collection includes an essay by Žižek on subjectivity in Shakespeare and Beckett. Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Literature but Were Afraid to Ask Žižek affirms Žižek's value to literary studies while offering a rigorous model of Žižekian criticism.

Contributors. Shawn Alfrey, Daniel Beaumont, Geoff Boucher, Andrew Hageman, Jamil Khader, Anna Kornbluh, Todd McGowan, Paul Megna, Russell Sbriglia, Louis-Paul Willis, Slavoj Žižek.





The content is divided into two parts:Theory and Interpretation. The following is the content of the book:





Slavoj Žižek on his wife Jela Krečič's novel "None like Her"

Jela Krečič is a Slovene journalist, columnist and philosopher. And she is the wife of Slavoj Žižek. She received her PhD in philosophy under the guidance of Mladen Dolar from Faculty of Arts in 2009. Since 2013, she has been married to philosopher Slavoj Zizek. She writes for the largest national newspaper Delo. She published an exclusive interview with Julian Assange in 2013 on Delo. She has also co-edited a number of anthologies on contemporary TV series and on the German American film director, Ernst Lubitsch. Her essay was published in the English anthology 'Lubitsch Can't Wait' (Columbia University Press, 2014).





Recently, she published her first novel, 'None Like Her', originally written in Slovene, and has recently been translated into English. The novel is one of the first titles in the World Series by Peter Owen Publishers in association with Istros Books, bringing some of the best contemporary writing from Slovenia to English-speaking readers. The novel sold out quickly after its publication and was very well received in the media. Slavoj Žižek, in the following video, express how he fell victim to Jela Krečič with her debut:


'None Like Her' is a novel about Matjaž who is fearful of losing his friends over his obsession with his ex-girlfriend. To prove that he has moved on from his relationship with her, he embarks on an odyssey of dates around Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. In this comic and romantic tale a chapter is devoted to each new encounter and adventure. The women he selects are wildly different from one another, and the interactions of the characters are perspicuously and memorably observed.

Their preoccupations – drawn with coruscating dialogue – will speak directly to Generation Y, and in Matjaž, the hero, Jela Krečič has created a well-observed crypto-misogynist of the twenty-first century whose behaviour she offers up for the reader’s scrutiny.

On the 1st of November, 2016 Nigel Warburton and Slavoj Žižek join Jela Krečič to discuss her new novel, 'None Like Her':


The following is the video of the above talk for a few minutes:






Conversation with Sophie Fiennes, Director of The Pervert's Guide of Cinema

Maria Aristodemou, Lecturer in Law at Birkbeck, University of London leads a questions & answers with the director of "The Perverts guide to Cinema” Sophie Fiennes. Sophie discusses her motivation behind the documentary and her natural affinity to Slavoj Žižek's work at the Birkbeck's Big Ideas Žižek Lecture series.

"The Pervert's Guide to Cinema" is an introduction to Žižek's analysis of film, as an artistic benchmark of where we stand in relation to reality, in regards to the subjective experience of individuals. Žižek's Big Ideas Lecture series, where Birkbeck academics tackle big ideas, discussing the oeuvre of Slavoj Žižek.






Esben Bøgh Sørensen claims Žižek's thoughts on the refugee crisis are useless, even harmful

Esben Bøgh Sørensen, in a piece - Žižek: Fortress Europe’s Staunch Defender on the Left - on Roar Magazine claims "Žižek’s thoughts on the refugee crisis are useless, even harmful, for creating a pan-European leftist movement capable of challenging the far-right." Here is an excerpt from his writing:

In a recent article Žižek replied to the critique of a previous text he wrote on the so-called ‘refugee crisis.’ The exchange between Žižek and his critics essentially revolved around whether the left should support the refugees and migrants’ demands for open borders and the right to live where they choose, or not.

Žižek claimed that the refugees’ dream, represented by “Norway,” doesn’t exist, whereas one critic points out that it is our duty to create it. Particularly problematic is his use of phrases like “our way of life,” “Western values” and figures like “the typical left-liberal.” The most important thing that is missing in Žižek’s text is an analysis of the potentiality of the refugees and migrants’ struggles.

In his response to the criticism, Žižek begins by complaining about the shift from what he calls “radical emancipatory movements” like Syriza and Podemos to “the ‘humanitarian’ topic of the refugees.” This, we are informed, is not a good thing because the refugee and migrant struggles are actually nothing but “the liberal-cultural topic of tolerance” replacing the more genuine “class struggle.”





Why this is the case is left unclear. Rather, we are told that:
[t]he more Western Europe will be open to [immigrants], the more it will be made to feel guilty that it did not accept even more of them. There will never be enough of them. And with those who are here, the more tolerance one displays towards their way of life, the more one will be made guilty for not practicing enough tolerance.
There are several problems in this statement, especially the idea of a “we” of “Western Europe” contrasted against an image of a “way of life” somehow shared by all refugees and migrants. Before turning to that problem, however, it is useful to examine one of Žižek’s favorite tropes — the “typical left-liberal” — which sits at the heart of his critique.

Žižek’s “typical left-liberal” — a figure that is reiterated and criticized throughout much of his writing — is a figure who holds tolerant and multicultural views, but whose antiracism is actually a kind of subtle racism. In the piece in question the “left-liberal” humanist figure is a person who is afraid of criticizing Islam and who (according to Žižek) unjustly accuses those who do so of being Islamophobic.

But who is this “left-liberal” Žižek has spent so much time criticizing? On closer inspection this figure does not actually represent any position on the left. The left does not face a problem of too much tolerance, this is a straw man. If anything, it faces the twin problems of nationalism (or a national imaginary) and an inability to adequately critique Western values — problems which Žižek’s text demonstrate.

Go here to read full piece.




Žižek's New Book in French: The New Class Struggle - The Real Causes of Refugees and Terrorism

Slavoj Zizek has recently published new book in French: La Nouvelle Lutte des classes. Les vraies causes des réfugiés et du terrorisme (The New Class Struggle: The real causes of refugees and terrorism). The following excerpt is the English translation of the introductory section of the book:

Against double blackmail

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, in her classic book "The Last Instants of Life", has described her now famous description of the five stages we are experiencing in the announcement of a terminal illness: denial (we simply refuse to accept the situation : "It can not happen to me, not mine"); Anger (which explodes when we can no longer deny the situation: "How can this happen?"); Blackmail (hope that we can somehow extend the deadline or minimize the situation: "Let me live just long enough to see my children complete their studies"); Depression (libidinal disinvestment: "I'm going to die, so why do I care about anything?"); Acceptance ("I can not fight against the disease, so prepare me to die"). Kübler-Ross applies these five stages to all forms of personal catastrophe marked by loss (unemployment, death of a loved one, divorce, drug addiction). It also emphasizes that they do not necessarily follow in the same order, nor necessarily all of them.


.....denial (we simply refuse to accept the situation : "It can not happen to me, not mine");  
Anger (which explodes when we can no longer deny the situation: "How can this happen?"); 
Blackmail (hope that we can somehow extend the deadline or minimize the situation: "Let me live just long enough to see my children complete their studies"); 
Depression (libidinal disinvestment: "I'm going to die, so why do I care about anything?"); 
Acceptance ("I can not fight against the disease, so prepare me to die").






Today, in Western Europe, the reaction of the authorities and public opinion to the influx of refugees from Africa and the Middle East seems to be a combination of these different reactions. There are those - less and less numerous - who react by denial: "It is not so serious, do not worry us. "Those who give in to anger:" Refugees pose a threat to our way of life - not to mention radical Islamists hiding among them. They must be stopped at all costs! "Those who try blackmail:" OK, set quota and fund refugee camps, but in their own country! Those who fall into depression: "We are lost, Europe is turning into Europastan! A reaction is, however, totally absent here, the last stage described by Kübler-Ross: acceptance, which in this case means the elaboration at European level of a coherent plan proposing a solution to the refugee problem.

The terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015 further complicated the situation. We must of course condemn unconditionally these atrocities, but ... This "but" does not announce any kind of extenuating circumstance - there can be none - but indicates that these atrocities must be really condemned. Such condemnation requires much more than the usual description of the media, the simple and poignant spectacle of the solidarity of all (civilized, democratic and free people) against the murderous Islamic monster. There is something strange about the solemn declarations that we are at war with the Islamic state - all the world's superpowers against a religious group controlling a small strip of land that is essentially desert ... This does not mean, Is not necessary to us to destroy the Islamic state, without conditions and without "but" - the only "but" is that we must really use to destroy it, which requires much more than pathetic statements and Calls for the solidarity of all "civilized" forces against the demonic fundamentalist enemy. It is not a question of repeating the familiar litany of the well-thinking Left that "terror can not be fought by terror, violence causes more violence", the time has come to ask questions Unpleasant: how does the Islamic state manage to survive? As we all know, in spite of official condemnations and rejections on all sides, there are forces and states that not only tolerate it but also support it.

As David Graeber pointed out recently, had Turkey established a blockade as severe as that imposed on the Kurdish regions of Syria against the territories of the Islamic State, and if she had testified to the PKK and the YPG, The "benevolent indifference" with which the Islamic State has shown itself, the latter has long since collapsed, and the attacks of Paris would certainly not have occurred. Similar things happen in Saudi Arabia, the main ally of the United States in the region (which considers favorably the war waged by the Islamic state against the Shiites), and even Israel, when it comes to condemning the state Islamic state, observes a suspicious silence motivated by an opportunistic calculation (the Islamic State fights the pro-Iranian Shiite forces, which Israel considers its main enemy).

The agreement concluded at the end of November 2015 between the European Union and Turkey (the latter will reduce the number of refugees entering Europe in exchange for generous financial aid, originally fixed at 3 billion euros) is a shameful and disgusting act , A real ethical and political catastrophe. Is this how we intend to carry out the "war on terror", yielding to Turkish blackmail and rewarding one of the main leaders in the progression of the Islamic state in Syria? If the pragmatic and opportunistic justification for this agreement is clear (corrupting Turkey is not the most obvious way of limiting the influx of refugees?), Its long-term consequences will be catastrophic.


The agreement concluded at the end of November 2015 between the European Union and Turkey (the latter will reduce the number of refugees entering Europe in exchange for generous financial aid, originally fixed at 3 billion euros) is a shameful and disgusting act , A real ethical and political catastrophe.

This obscure background clearly shows that the "total war" against the Islamic state is not being seriously addressed - that the countries concerned do not really intend to carry it out. We are not dealing here with the clash of civilizations (the Christian West against radicalized Islam), but with a shock within each civilization: in the Christian space, the United States and Western Europe against the Russian Federation; In the Muslim space, the Sunnites against the Shiites. The monstrosity of the Islamic state serves as a fetish concealing all these conflicts in which each party claims to fight Daesh to better reach its true enemy.

A more serious analysis going beyond the common ground of the "war on terror" should, in the first place, argue that the Paris attacks constituted a sudden and momentary interruption of the normal course of everyday life. (It is significant that the attacks did not target political and military institutions, but symbols of everyday popular culture - restaurants, the rock concert hall, the football stadium ...) This form of terrorism - A temporary disruption - tends to characterize attacks on developed Western countries, thus clearly distinguishing them from the many developing countries in which violence is a constant reality. Think of everyday life in Congo, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon ... Where are the surges of international solidarity faced with the incessant atrocities perpetrated there? Let us remember that we now live in a kind of greenhouse in which terrorist violence exists mainly in the collective imagination in the form of a threat punctually carried out, unlike those countries where life Is marked by a more or less uninterrupted violence and terror, generally with the participation or complicity of the West.






The monstrosity of the Islamic state serves as a fetish concealing all these conflicts in which each party claims to fight Daesh to better reach its true enemy.

In his book The Crystal Palace. Within the framework of planetary capitalism, Peter Sloterdijk demonstrates that the capitalist system, through the processes of globalization, has come to determine all conditions of life. One of the first major signs of this development was the construction of the Crystal Palace in London, which hosted the first world exhibition in 1851. This was a tangible example of the inevitable exclusive character of globalization, A kind of vast inner world whose invisible boundaries are nevertheless almost impassable from the outside, and which today is inhabited by one and a half billion "winners" of globalization; Those who are excluded, those left behind, are three times more numerous. Consequently, as Sloterdijk writes, "the inner space of the world of capital is not an agora, nor an open-air fair, but a greenhouse that has attracted inwardly all that was once in the world Outside ". This interior, built on the excesses of capitalism, determines absolutely everything: "The central fact of modern times is not that the Earth revolves around the sun, but that money runs around the Earth. After the process of transforming the world into a sphere, "social life [...] could only take place in a wider interior, in an internal space ordered as a house and endowed with an artificial climate". From now on, with the absolute predominance of cultural capitalism, all the upheavals that are likely to transform the world system are contained: "Under such conditions no historical event could happen" - all disturbances of this kind would be " Moreover, of domestic accidents ".

Sloterdijk rightly points out that capitalist globalization is not only synonymous with openness and conquest but also materializes the idea of a closed sphere in which the privileged interior is separated from the outside. These two aspects of globalization are inseparable: the global dimension of capitalism rests on the radical class division it has imposed on the entire planet, separating those who are protected by the sphere from those who are excluded from it and who are This fact in a position of vulnerability.