Slovenian rock star philosopher Zizek was in town last week! Heard of Hegel? Heidegger? Derrida? Plato? Well Zizek is in the stratosphere among them, the most famous living philosopher in the world. And whether or not you know what post-structuralism is or who Lacan was, there is still much to learn from this hyper and hyper-talented thinker of genius proportions.
Because there are no limits to his subjects! From cinema (his black tee-shirt–worn both back-to-back nights— read J’aime le cinema on the front and J’aime Sarajevo on the back) to the war in Iraq to Marxism, psychology, and psychoanalysis to pornography… it was all covered, and more!
He’s written forty or fifty books and has even inspired a couple movies. I first discursively met the Giant of Ljubljana in college. In the mid-90’s at Vassar, post-modernism and post-structuralism were all the rage. We students of literary theory and criticism were assigned Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan Through Popular Culture, Zizek’s famous book with its lens focused on Hitchcock among others.
You know how drugs are supposed to take you to an altered consciousness or state of mind? Forget psychedelics and just read Zizek if you truly want to look at things awry. This book totally blew my mind to the point that I wrote my thesis on it. One truly trippy passage in his first chapter, How Real Is Reality?, deals with those most trite of fictional tropes, the ‘thank god it was only a dream!’ moments. Soap operas love them. But according to Zizek’s reading of Lacan, what is always going on here is that in terms of your PSYCHIC reality, you are not the relieved dreamer waking up in your bed, YOU ARE the creature in the dream–the murderer, monster, etc.
This flip-flopping of realities is the cornerstone of his talks the past couple days. When talking about the rhetoric of the current US war in Iraq, he assured us that we had to take great care when listening to the promises of fundamentalism in any form. The ruse of sacrifice for the cause belies the subtext within, that it is precisely a message of obscenity and excess that draws recruits and believers in. The stage of sacrificing for a cause actually promises greater freedoms–you can kill, you can have a gun, you can run amok.
Or the subtext within, of all things, pornography. Zizek called hard core pornography into question and claimed that at its core, what is taboo here is intimacy. The hardest core pornography is sex only, not intimate feelings or emotions, which leave the so-called intimate nature of these films anything but, if you really think about it.
And so on.
I’m probably not doing it justice.
But his latest two books: In Defense of Lost Causes and Violence, continue his inquiry into politics and human nature. He signed my copy of In Defense, which jumps in with both barrels in the first chapter, calling into question that sacred inner life we all have. He calls our inner lives total hypocrisies and demands an end to the lies. He almost hates how our New Age-y modern discourses rely so much on understanding through telling one’s story. Do we think that Hitler would be more human if we knew his story (Zizek’s example, not mine!)?? He calls this ridiculous.
Above all, Zizek rails against hypocrisy and blows apart assumptions that I didn’t even know I had. Wherever you start as your philosophical starting point, you must step back twenty feet and look at those assumptions that got you there. We don’t question our assumptions enough; we are too accepting of rhetoric and ideologies, and this is above all DANGEROUS!!!
Zizek himself is a quirky guy. Like I said, he wore the same t-shirt both nights, and with wild gray hair and beard plus exuberant and twitchy physical quirks, his passionate lectures are delivered in a thick Balkan accent complete with biting humor, almost breathless excitement, all the while his hands rubbing his nose and tugging at his shirt in the nipple region.
At his formal public lecture in a great hall brought to us by the always fantastic series, City Arts & Lectures, he was so into his talk and so obsessed with getting to his concluding points after a wild ride through brilliant and hilarious digressions, he proceeded to talk through three ushers telling him to stop, his introducer coming on stage to tell him to stop, and finally in a desperate plea, the house lights coming up. Wow.
And the next night at searingly hot Mission bookstore Modern Times gasping in a heat wave packed to the gills with hipsters…
They were quite the shows.
(Photo from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Slavoj_Zizek_in_Liverpool_cropped.jpg)