A life in writing: Slavoj Žižek, Interview with Stuart Jeffries

A life in writing: Slavoj Žižek, Interview with Stuart Jeffries

“There is an anarchist leftist group here in London who hate me,” says Slavoj Žižek with a giggle as we settle into a dilapidated leather sofa in the bar of his Bloomsbury hotel. He is wearing freebie airline socks, an Italian T-shirt someone gave him and jeans that could easily have been made decades earlier in an unsuccessful Soviet tractor factory. “But fuck it, let’s speak frankly, no bullshit, most of the left hates me even though I am supposed to be one of the world’s leading communist intellectuals.”

Žižek summons the waiter and orders hot chocolate, Diet Coke and lots of sugar (“I am diabetic”). He is disappointed, he tells me parenthetically, that we didn’t do the interview in the hotel’s adjacent Virginia Woolf burger bar. “What would the Virginia Woolf burger be like?” he asks. “Dried out, topped with parsley, totally overrated. I always preferred Daphne du Maurier.” He then launches into a denunciation of the pretensions of James Joyce, arguing that his literary career went downhill after Dubliners, and then into a eulogy to the radical minimalism of Beckett’s Not I. Within minutes we’re on to German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s views on the Malaysian economic miracle, the prospects for Žižek’s film theory course in Ramallah and Katarina Wagner’s production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, in which Hans Sachs is depicted as a Heil Hitler-ing Nazi. One’s task as a reader or interviewer of Žižek is rapidly to build a network of mental pontoon bridges to unite his seemingly autonomous intellectual territories.

Back to those shadowy anarchists. It was they (his PR people suggest a student group armed with a fake Facebook account rather than fizzing bombs) who smeared him online, claiming he was having a “thing” with singer Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga. It was, of course, a hoax, but sections of what Sarah Palin calls the lamestream media ran with it, including the New York Post and our own Daily Star, the latter reporting: “Pals fear the Lady Gaga’s head is being filled with extremist ideas by Slovenia-born Slavoj Žižek.”

What irked the not-Lord Gaga wasn’t so much the unwarranted Hegelian dialectical inversion (surely he might more plausibly have been corrupted by her extremist ideas?), but that the fake Facebook page claimed that Lady Gaga and Žižek cemented their relationship by deconstructing patriarchal ideology, feminism and collective human responsibility. It was an intolerable slur: “I don’t say those sort of things. Can you imagine a more boring evening?” How would you have spent an evening with Lady Gaga? He chuckles, but waves away the question (Žižek does many things in conversation but answering questions isn’t one of them).

“My mistake was that I should not have categorically denied a relationship to the press. I should have said ‘no comment’, leaving a gap for the obscene possibility that I am her lover.” There may be a gap in his love life: he was formerly married to Slovenian philosopher Renata Salecl and to Argentine model and Lacanian scholar Analia Hounie, but declines to tell me if they have a current successor. He has two sons, one in his early 30s, the other 10 years old.

[Extract. Appeared in The Guardian on July 15 2011.]

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books; his latest are Against the Double Blackmail and Disparities.

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