Flapping his elbows and lathered in sweat, Slavoj Žižek looks like a man in the final throes of radiation sickness doing the birdy dance. But the world’s hippest philosopher is actually miming what he imagines it would feel like to be trapped inside an all-body condom.
“I saw this thing in an American store!” he explodes, lurching towards me in the quiet conservatory of a Bloomsbury hotel. “A total mask for the body! The ultimate in safe sex! So obscene! My God! But I do believe that by analysing this sort of phenomena you learn a lot about where we are. We want coffee without caffeine! Cake without sugar! And this is decaffeinated sex!”
The 61-year-old Slovenian who is headlining this year’s London Literature Festival is a Tasmanian Devil of a talker. Spluttering, lisping and pawing frantically at his face, he can spin you from Heidegger to Hershey bars (by way of Hitchcock and Hizbollah) in synapse-shortcircuiting seconds. He is, by turns, a brilliant and buffoonish critic of global capitalism. Once he winds himself into an intellectual whirlwind you just have to sit back and wait while he sucks up and spits out 21st century culture.
In the hour we talk topics include his “growing admiration for the works of Agatha Christie — she worked through every formula!” and his condemnation of the 3D blockbuster Avatar as “racist”. He locates “a wandering Jew” at the centre of Wagner’s work and hears a beautiful, minimalist communism in the music of Eric Satie. He points out that the “close doors” button in a lift doesn’t speed the closing of the doors, it is just there to give the user the illusion of action. Voting in a modern Western democracy, he feels, is much the same. He pauses to pant, sigh and throw up his palms. But he is not pausing now. A provocateur whose work inhabits the place where Lacanian psychoanalysis meets Marxist philosophy is going to have something to say about sex.
[Extract. Appeared in The Telegraph, July 5th, 2010.]