LAST week, European Union leaders put an end to a decade of diplomatic wrangling and signed the Treaty of Lisbon, which outlined a complete overhaul of the organization, including the creation of a permanent post of European Union president to represent Europe on the world stage. During the ceremony at Lisbon’s grandiose Jerónimos Monastery, a choir performed Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the background. While the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, first performed in 1824, may seem an innocuous choice for the official anthem of the European Union (it was declared such in 1972), it actually tells much more than one would expect about Europe’s predicament today.

The “Ode to Joy” is more than just a universally popular piece of classical music that has become something of a cliché during the holiday season (especially, oddly, in Japan, where it has achieved cult status). It has also been, for more than a century, what literary theorists call an “empty signifier” — a symbol that can stand for anything.

In early 20th-century France, the Nobel laureate Romain Rolland declared it to be the great humanist ode to the brotherhood of all people, and it came to be called “the Marseillaise of humanity.” In 1938, it was performed as the high point of the Reichsmusiktage, the Nazi music festival, and was later used to celebrate Hitler’s birthday. In China during the Cultural Revolution, in an atmosphere of total rejection of European classics, it was redeemed by some as a piece of progressive class struggle.

[Extract. Appeared on The New York Times, on December 24th, 2007. (full text).]


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.

Tell us what you think...

Related Posts

- Newspapers and Magazines

Korean nuclear tension: Apocalypse… almost now

The saber rattling and harsh rhetoric during the current nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula should remind mankind of something we have forgotten. Atomic weapons are terrifying things, and talk of using them should be Read more…

- Newspapers and Magazines

Act Globally, Think Locally!

The looming military conflict between the US and North Korea contains a double danger. Although both sides, the US and North Korea, are for sure bluffing, not counting on an actual nuclear exchange, rhetoric never Read more…

- Newspapers and Magazines

Zizek’s Newspaper and Magazine Publications

2017 2017 September 11th, Korean nuclear tension: Apocalypse… almost now, RT. 2017 August 21st, Act Globally, Think Locally! The Philosophical Salon. 2017 July 9th, The problem with Venezuela’s revolution is that it didn’t go far enough, Independent. Why Read more…

%d bloggers like this: