What would be my… how should I call it, spontaneous attitude towards the universe? It’s a very dark one. The first thesis would have been a kind of total vanity: there is nothing, basically. I mean it quite literally, like… ultimately…there are just some fragments, some vanishing things. If you look at the universe, it’s one big void. But then how do things emerge? Here, I feel a kind of spontaneous affinity with quantum physics, where, you know, the idea there is that universe is a void, but a kind of a positively charged void. And then particular things appear when the balance of the void is disturbed. And I like this idea of spontaneous very much that the fact that it’s just not nothing… Things are out there. It means something went terribly wrong… that what we call creation is a kind of a cosmic imbalance, cosmic catastrophe, that things exist by mistake. And I’m even ready to go to the end and to claim that the only way to counteract it is to assume the mistake and go to the end. And we have a name for this. It’s called love. Isn’t love precisely this kind of a cosmic imbalance?
I was always disgusted with this notion of “I love the world,” universal love. I don’t like the world. I don’t know how… Basically, I’m somewhere in between “I hate the world” or “I’m indifferent towards it.” But the whole of reality, it’s just it. It’s stupid. It is out there. I don’t care about it. Love, for me, is an extremely violent act. Love is not “I love you all.” Love means I pick out something, and it’s, again, this structure of imbalance. Even if this something is just a small detail… a fragile individual person… I say “I love you more than anything else.” In this quite formal sense, love is evil. They inform me they play chess. I like that.
[At University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina]
Think about the strangeness of today’s situation. 30, 40 years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: Communist, Fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on Earth disintegrating because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the Earth, and so on.
So the paradox is that it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on Earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism, which means that we should reinvent Utopia, but in what sense? There are two false meanings of Utopia. One is this old notion of imagining an ideal society, which we know will never be realized. The other is the capitalist Utopia in the sense of new perverse desires that you are not only allowed but even solicited to realize. The true Utopia is when the situation is so without issue, without a way to resolve it within the coordinates of the possible, that out of the pure urge of survival you have to invent a new space. Utopia is not kind of a free imagination. Utopia is a matter of innermost urgency. You are forced to imagine it as the only way out, and this is what we need today. I hope I wasn’t too long. I thank you very much for your patience.
Another very short comment that I can make. You know why I applauded? If you watch old documentary movies, you will see a big difference between a Fascist and a Stalinist leader. The Fascist leader, when he is applauded, he just accepts it. The Stalinist leader applauds himself. The message being And this was my side. So we are on. Okay.
[On Screen: “…Slavoj Žižek, a…Lacanian-Marxist philosopher from Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia…has written books on subjects as wide-ranging as Hitchcock, Lenin, opera, and the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Žižek’s aim, in his work, is to combine a Marxist critique of capitalism with a physchoanalytically informed unmasking of the ways in which capitalism works upon the public imagionation. – The New Yorker”
“Slavoj Žižek is an academic rock star. – In These Times]
The worst thing is to play this “We are all humans” game that some intellectuals like to play. You project a certain intellectual persona… cold thinker, whatever… but then you signal, through small details, to socialist wealth. A good, honest guy.
I put everything here… I love this… so that… By everything, I mean… Look even here it is. You see? Isn’t it a crazy combination? You have this, and then you have… The clothes are here. But it’s not only clothes. It’s more. It’s also… how do you call it? … covers, sheets for the… No, no. Everything is here. Here. Isn’t this nice, close to the kitchen? Here are socks, underwear. This is all my stuff, and basically, this is all my stuff: newspapers, journals. These are my books in foreign languages. Two copies of each one. So this is strictly prohibited. It looks bad. I think they are lower there, because this is mostly new stuff. I am narcissist here. Yes, I keep everything. This should go elsewhere. I’m sorry. I just… I’ll go far back, so this is there. Just let me… Okay, if you need the “Mladina” stuff, Ah, yes, there are some of them here. Let’s see what’s here, because these are the big format thing. These are some early Mladina from… Ah, this is from the dissident times. Yes. Mid-’80s, I started to write from time to time. For two years, some people even claim that I was the most influential. But then new political divisions start, and I was too combative, attacking everyone. This was me. This was my fame. I worked like crazy at that time, because I was writing in English my first books. I never wanted to endanger, not even minimally, the theory, which is why I was never, never interested in any kind of political career, because it simply takes time.
[On screen: “In 1990 Slavoj Žižek was a candidate for the presidency of the Republic of Slobenia in the country’s first democratic election.”]
[In Slovenian: “I think we should have enough of them making us guilty making us pay the dues of previous generations. We have had enough of being the material for someone else’s dreams whether those of partisans or their victims. We have had enough of the vampires that live off of us making us guilty that are making us pay someone else’s dues. And today we need, if I can end this poetically, only one stake, a wooden stake together with garlic to kill and destroy all sorts fo vampires. Liberal Democratic Party.”]
Two days before the election, there was a big round table with all the candidates: 20 of them, I don’t know how much.
[In Slovenian: “I would here repeat Churchill’s paradox. Private property is the worst of all possible systems. The problem is, as experience shows, there is no other that could be better.”]
A right wing naive good guy, but basically an idiot, made a fatal mistake, which everybody remembered. Not even a mistake, a kindness: namely, as usual, as you can imagine, I talked quite a lot, too much, and then this guy wanted to censor me friendly, and turned to me… this was all live, big debate, central TV.
[In Slovenian: “Despite the fact that I like Žižek very much, surely he has the highest IQ among all of us here, I am sure of that. But he has talked as much today, as half of this round table.”]
Listen, we all know that your IQ is twice as all of us others combined, but nonetheless could you let us a little bit to talk. But everybody remembered that, you know? You see? Even they admit that he is the bright guy, and so on. I remember then, you know, after it was over, when the lights went off, the cameras went off, all other candidates started to shout at this guy, like “Are you idiot? Are you crazy?” Because then I jumped up immediately and almost got elected.
[On Screen: “The most elementary definition of ideology is probably the well-known phrase from Marx’s Capital: ‘They do not know it, but they are doing it’.”
“The fundamental level of ideology, however, is not of an illusion masking the real state of things but that of an [unconscious] fantasy structuring our social reality itself – [amazon asin=1844673006&text=The Sublime Object of Ideology].”]
When I first visited the States, I was shocked by your toilets here.
Romanticism onwards. That was the idea of so-called European trinity… Anglo-Saxon economy, French politics, German metaphysics, poetry, philosophy …. as the basic… how should I put it? … spiritual stances of Europe. Sorry. That’s it. French politics, revolutionary: shit should disappear as soon as possible. Anglo-Saxon/American: let’s be pragmatic. German metaphysic poetry, inspection: you inspect, you reflect on your shit. So isn’t it totally crazy that in a vulgar, common phenomenon like that you find certain differences which you truly cannot account in any functional terms, but you have to evoke all this. I mean, you claim, Then you go to the toilet, produce shit. You are up to your shit, or how do you put it in ideology, no?
[At Columbia University, New York, NY]
Who believes what today? I think this is an interesting question, much more complex than it may appear. The first myth to be abandoned, I think, is the idea that we live in a cynical era where nobody believes no values, and that there were some times, more traditional, where people still believed, relied of some sort of substantial notion of belief, and so on and so on.
I think it’s today that we believe more than ever, and, as Fuller develops it in a nice, ironic way, the ultimate form of belief for him is deconstructionism. Why? Again, I’m going back to that question of, quote, Marx, no? Look how it functions, deconstructionism, in its standard version, already at the texture of style. You cannot find one text of Derrida without “A”, all of the quotation marks, and “B,” all of this rhetorical distanciations. Like… I don’t know. To take an ironic example, if somebody like Judith Butler were to be asked “What is this?” she would never have said, This is a bottle of tea. She would have said something like, she likes to put it in this rhetorical way… So it’s always this need to distanciate. It goes even for love, like nobody almost dares to say today “I love you.” It has to be, as a poet would have put it, I love you, or some kind of a distance. But what’s the problem here? The problem is that… why this fear? Because I claim that, when the ancients directly said “I love you,” they meant exactly the same. All these distanciations were included. So it’s we today who are afraid that, if we were to put it directly, “I love you,” that it would mean too much. We believe in it.
[On screen: “In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by the censors, he tells his friends: ‘Let’s establish a code: if a letter you get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it’s true; if it’s written in red ink, it’s false’. After a month, his friends get the first letter: ‘Everything is wonderful here. The shops are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, cinemas show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair – the only thing you can’t get is red ink’. One starts by agreeing that one has all the freedom one wants – then one merely adds that the only thing missing is the ‘red ink’: we ‘feel free’ because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. – [amazon asin=1859844219&text=Welcome to the Desert of the Real].”]
You know what I learned in the high school?
English and Russian. You why Russian?
It’s so disgusting, the reasoning behind it. Because all my friends… most of my friends… took either French or German as a second language. Okay, my idea was, you know, there was a code word to superpowers. Isn’t it good to play it safe? Whoever wins, I will speak their language. There were three levels of dissidents. The first in theory… I mean, if you dealt with theory or whatever or writing. The first level was, Were you allowed to teach? This was the first level of exclusion. The second level were, Are you allowed to publish books? The third level was, “Are you allowed to get a job at all in your domain?” And the fourth level is, you are arrested or whatever, no? I was between the second and third. My God, I was unemployed. It was humiliating. I was 27, and my parents supported me, my God. Then for two years, it was that humiliating job at the central committee. They knew that I am not an idiot and that I will probably succeed. So they were afraid that I would simply move abroad and succeed there. This would then be bad for… you know, another victim who wasn’t allowed to make a career in Slovenia. So they want me to vegetate on the margin, but there in Slovenia. It was in a way an intelligent move, but they didn’t know that the way they did it, they made it even easier for me to move abroad.
Give him 7. It’s okay. Oh, sorry. Okay. “Gracias.”
Oh, my God! I thought this would be some kind of old building with Peron and…not Peron, with Borges and so on. Oh, yeah. No, it’s super-modern. Oh, my God, I didn’t like the way that guy looked at me. It’s only an idiot coming. I hate this. Let’s move there.
- What do you hate?
I hate when… I think that idiot…friendly, bright person… recognized me, and I hate this, because then they stare.
- They descend on you?
Oh, my God. Okay, for you. To whom do I put it to? Thank you.
- Did you ever expect this, to have all these fans?
No, but that’s what I really hate this. I cannot tell you how much I hate it.
- You don’t love it just a little bit?
No, no, no, no, no. I think people are evil. This is horrible. You see all these creeps, all these creeps here? This is horrible. Who’s that hysterical woman?
- She’s a fan, Slavoj.
Yeah, but what is she doing here? She should go up there and wait in line, not annoy me here.
[On screen: Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) was a French psychoanalyist [sic.] whose ‘return to Freud’ transformed analytic theory and practice. Lacan’s seminars occupied a central place in Parisian intellectual life from the early 1950s until his death. His body of work connects psychoanalysis with other disciplines, especially structural linguistics and modern philosopher. In 1974, French government television aired a one-hour program featuring Lacan entitled ‘Psychoanalysis’.”]
[Lacan: “I always tell the truth. Not the whole truth, because one can’t. To say everything is impossible. Tehre aren’t enough words. Its this impossibility which brings truth close to the ‘real’.”
It was simply made as a documentary supposed to present Lacanian theory to a wide public, I think for the second channel of the French state TV.
[Lacan: “…not just analysts. Not just analysts.
– Unconscious, what a funny word!
– Yes, I agree.]
What I appreciate is this inversion… reversal of the role between public image and private. It’s this total denigration… disappearance of this warm, human person. This for me is the idea of ideology. The central idea of ideology for me is not these ideas determine you… you are a Christian, you are a Marxist, whatever, today liberal, I don’t know. But the idea is precisely that ideological propositions do not determine us totally. We cannot be reduced to our public image: there is a warm human being behind.
I think this is ideology at its purest. The most horrible and ideological act for me… and really horrible, terrifying… is to fully identify with the ideological image. The ultimate act is what we think is our true self. There is the true acting, and usually, our truth to that to which we are really committed existentially is in our acts more than importance supposed to be behind the act. So again, my point is that I’m… I like philosophy as an anonymous job, not as this kind of… Look at the way he moves now, these gestures. I find this ridiculous. He emphasizes ‘I cannot say all the truth, it’s impossible, materially’. This ridiculous emphasis. I think it’s pure fake, an empty gesture, as if he makes a deep point there. He does not. I think Lacan, in a very classical way… what interests me are his propositions: the underlying logic, not his style. His style is a total fake, I think. I try to forget it. I try to repress it. Maybe it works as a strategy. At a certain point, why not? First, you have to seduce people with obscure statements, but I hate this kind of approach. I’m a total enlightenment person. I believe in clear statements. And I’m for Lacan because, again, I think, to make it very clear, it’s not that Lacan is just bluffing in the sense that there is nothing behind this obscurity. The whole point of my work is that you can translate Lacan into clear terms. Well, I’ve just had enough of this.
Now, live from the CN8 Studios, This is CN8 Nitebeat, with Barry Nolan.
- Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst. He makes Freud sound like a simple Valley girl. Lacan’s theory of how the self works is so complicated, it makes my teeth hurt to think about it. Slavoj Žižek is a philosopher at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia… I think I said this fairly close to the way it’s pronounced… who has written a book called [amazon asin=0262740257&text=The Puppet and The Dwarf]. The book takes a look at modern Christianity from the view point of Lacanian psychoanalysis, or at least that’s what I think it’s about. Welcome, Mr. Žižek. Did I say that… Tell me the right way.
Slavoj Žižek, but again, I prefer it the wrong way. It makes me paranoid if I hear it the right way.
- This is the most complicated book I have ever tried to read.
Strange, because the goal of the book is, on the contrary, to make Lacan back into someone whom even your grandma could understand. Let’s say you have a good old-fashioned father. It’s Sunday afternoon. You have to visit Grandma. The father would… old-fashioned totalitarian father… will tell you, ‘Listen, I don’t care how you feel’ … if you are a small kid, of course… ‘Going Grandmother and behave there properly.’ That’s good. You can resist. Nothing is broken. But let’s say you have the so-called tolerant post-modern father. What he will tell you is the following: ‘You know how much your grandmother loves you. But nonetheless you should only visit her if you really want to’. Now, every child who is not an idiot… and they are not idiots… know that this apparent free choice secretly contains an even more stronger, much stronger order: ‘Not only you have to visit your grandmother, but you have to like it.’
- I’m beginning to like this book all the more.
That’s one example of how apparent tolerance, choice, and so on, can conceal a much stronger order.
- So we should go back to more like the dad that just says ‘Because I said so!’
Absolutely. It’s more honest.
You went to the McDonald breakfast? This is not so ridiculous. Look what you get. You know, you get this with Happy Meal.
- Yeah, to make you happy.
Yeah, but this is for the kids. I go there to make him happy. He pretends to be happy there not to disappoint me, But what the hell. The game functions. This means that, again, you know, I love him, but my perspective is time, you know. We go there, up and down, one hour passes. No, it’s pure desperate strategy of surviving. How to pass the time without getting too nervous without… and this is easy, because he eats and shuts up for 20 minutes after he eats.
- What does he get nervous about?
No, I get nervous. Okay, this will go. He’s perplexed, as you can see. Now he’s narcissistically amused. It’s just to keep him calm, in a non-demanding state, so it’s eating, it’s this, it’s whatever, no? Or at least negotiating. Yesterday, he was building some Lego castles. He wasn’t satisfied with them, but then he gave me the role of just collecting a certain type of these small plastic cubes. I start to shoot at the animals, then… I love this one, American Army. You know, this one, I bought it. I don’t know where, but it’s beautiful. You can open it, you see? And put soldiers in so that then he attacks me from there. He destroyed this castle that I had here. This was his original, but destruction is very precise. It’s incredible how you think it’s chaotic, no? But he’s the big wise guy. He observes. Here, he’s very profane. He wanted to have a woman as the boss, the queen. Then he said, ‘She would be alone,’ this is the two girls talking. You see, lesbian, progressive, politically correct, no? Two lesbians, and… but I like this one. Isn’t this a beautiful one? I bought it in Greece. A kind of a nice old Roman.
- Okay, philosophy.
This, I can do it, at least traditionally, in two lines, no? Philosophy does not solve problems. The duty of philosophy is not to solve problems but to redefine problems, to show how what we experience as a problem is a false problem. If what we experience as a problem is a true problem, then you don’t need philosophy. For example, let’s say that now there would be a deadly virus coming from out there in space, so not in any way mediated through our human history, and it would threaten all of us. We don’t need, basically, philosophy there. We simply need good science desperately to find… We would desperately need good science to find the solution, to stop this virus. We don’t need philosophy there, because the threat is a real threat, directly. You cannot play philosophical tricks and say “No, this is not the”… You know what I mean. It’s simply our life would be… or okay, the more vulgar, even, simpler science fiction scenario. It’s kind of “Armageddon” or whatever. No, “Deep Impact.” A big comet threatening to hit Earth. You don’t need philosophy here. You need… I don’t know. To be a little bit naive, I don’t know. Strong atomic bombs to explode, maybe. I think it’s maybe too utopian. But you know what I mean. I mean the threat is there, you see. In such a situation, you don’t need philosophy.
I don’t think that philosophers ever provided answers, but I think this was the greatness of philosophy, not in this common sense that philosophers just ask questions and so on. What is philosophy? [bctt tweet=”Philosophy is not what some people think, some crazy exercise in absolute truth”] Philosophy is not what some people think, some crazy exercise in absolute truth, and then you can adopt this sceptical attitude: we, through scientists, are dealing with actual, measurable solvable problems. Philosophers just ask stupid metaphysical questions and so on, play with absolute truths, which we all know is inaccessible. No, I think philosophy’s a very modest discipline. Philosophy asks a different question, the true philosophy. How does a philosopher approach the problem of freedom? It’s not “Are we free or not?” Is there God or not? It asks a simple question, which will be called a hermeneutic question: What does it mean to be free? So this is what philosophy basically does. It just asks, when we use certain notions, when we do certain acts, and so on, what is the implicit horizon of understanding? It doesn’t ask these stupid ideal questions: Is there truth? No. The question is, ‘What do you mean when you say this is true?’ So you can see, it’s a very modest thing, philosophy. Philosophers are not the mad men who search for some eternal truth.
[On screen: “On today;s market, we find a whole series of products deprived of their malignant property: ‘cream without fat’, ‘beer without alcohol’, ‘decaffeinated coffee’, ‘virtual sex – sex without sex’, ‘warfare without casualties (on our side of course) – war without war’ – [amazon asin=0262740257&text=The Puppet and The Dwarf].”]
[At Columbia University, New York, NY]
What we encounter here, I think, is precisely Lacan’s reversal of the famous Dostoyevsky model, ‘If god doesn’t exist, then everything is permitted; if god doesn’t exist everything is prohibited.’ How? On the one hand, again, you are allowed to have a full life of happiness and pleasure, but in order, precisely, to be happy, you should avoid dangerous excesses. So at the end, everything is prohibited. You cannot eat fat, you cannot have coffee, you cannot have nothing precisely in order to enjoy. So today’s hedonism combines pleasure with constraint. It is no longer the old notion of the right measure between pleasure and constraint. Like sex, yes, but not too much. Proper measure. No, it’s something much more paradoxical. It’s a kind of immediate coincidence of the two extremes, like… as if action and reaction coincide. The very thing which causes damage should already be the counter-agent, the medicine. The ultimate example I encountered recently in California… I don’t know if you can buy it also here in New York… is chocolate laxative. And there it says as a propaganda, The thing is already its own counter-agent. And the negative proof of the calamity of this stance, I think, is the fact that today, the true unconstrained consumption in all its main forms… drugs, free sex, smoking… is emerging as the main danger.
[On Screen: “How do we account for this paradox that the absence of Law universalizes Prohibition? There is only one possible explanation: enjoyment itself, which we experience as ‘transgression;, is in its innermost status something imposed, ordered – when we enjoy, we never do it spontaneously, we always follow a certain injunction. The psychoanalytic name for this absence infunction, for this obscene call, ‘ENJOY’, is SUPEREGO. – [amazon asin=1844672123&text=For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor]”]
The traditional notion of psychoanalysis is that, because of some inner obstacles… you internalized, identified excessively with paternal or other social prohibitions… you cannot set yourself free to enjoy, to… Pleasure is not accessible for you. It is accessible to you only in pathological forms, of feeling guilty and so on. So, then, the idea is, psychoanalysis allows you to suspend, overcome this internalized prohibitions so that it enables you to enjoy. The problem today is that the commandment of the ruling ideologies enjoy in different ways. It can be sex and enjoyment, consumption, commodity enjoyment, up to spiritual enjoyment, realize yourself, whatever. And I think that the problem today is not how to get rid of your inhibitions and to be able to spontaneously enjoy. The problem is how to get rid of this injunction to enjoy.
[Documentary on screen: “Organizations, such as the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, have helped gain general acceptance for theories considered radical when first advanced some 50 years ago by Dr. Sigmund Freud. The relationship between childhood frustrations and disturbed adult behaviour has been clearly traced by such authorities as Dr. Rene Spitz of New York. Distressing experiences in childhood may set up patterns which in later life will produce mental conflicts. Such conflicts lead to the same feelings of insecurity which was felt as a child. When such conflicts paralyze the individual, preventing him from acting freely, he is said to have a neurosis. Let us see how a neurosis develops.”]
My eternal fear is that if, for a brief moment, I stopped talking, you know, the whole spectacular appearance would disintegrate. People would think there is nobody and nothing there. This is my fear, as if I am nothing who pretends all the time to be somebody, and has to be hyperactive all the time, just to fascinate people enough so that they don’t notice that there is nothing.
Well? Ok, you also, you also. One of the big reproaches to psychoanalysis is that it’s only a theory of individual pathological disturbances, and that applying psychoanalysis to other cultural or social phenomena is theoretically illegitimate. It asks in what way you as an individual have to relate to social field, not just in the sense of other people, but in the sense of the anonymous social as such to exist as a person. You are, under quotation marks, normal individual person only being able to relate to some anonymous social field. What is to be interpreted and what not is that everything is to be interpreted. That is to say when Freud says, ‘Unbehagen in der Kultur’… [amazon asin=0393304515&text=Civilization and its Discontent], or more literally, the uneasiness in culture… he means that it’s not just that most of us, as normal, we socialize ourself normally. Some idiots didn’t make it. They fall out. Oh, they have to be normalized. Culture as such, in order to establish itself as normal, what appears as normal involves a whole series of pathological cuts, distortions, and so on and so on. There is, again, a kind of a “Unbehagen”/uneasiness: we are out of joint, not at home in culture as such, which means, again, that there is no normal culture. Culture as such has to be interpreted.
[On screen: “It is this paradox which defines surplus-enjoyment: it is not surplus which simply attaches itself to some normal, fundamental enjoyment, because enjoyment as such emerges only in this surplus, because it is constitutively an excess. If we subtract the surplus we lose enjoyment itself, just as capitalism, which can survive only by incessantly revolutionizing its own material conditions, ceases to exist if it stays the same, if it achieves an internal balance. This, then, is the homology between surplus-value – the ‘cause’ which sets in motion the capitalist process of production – and surplus-enjoyment, the object-cause of desire. – [amazon asin=1844673006&text=The Sublime Object of Ideology]”]
When people ask me why do I combine Lacan with Marx, my first answer is, Lacan already did it. I think, for example, that it’s only through the strict psychoanalytic Lacanian notion of fantasy that we can really grasp what Marx was aiming at with his notion of commodity fetishism. It’s, I think, precisely the use of Lacanian notions like, again, fantasy… fantasy in the strict Lacanian sense, or excess “plus de joie,” excess enjoyment, and so on and so on. The real… not to mention the real… that we can understand today’s phenomena, like new fundamentalist forms of racism, like the way our so-called permissive societies are functioning. Again, here, the psychoanalytic notion, especially the way it was conceptualized by Lacan. The psychoanalytic notion of superego as injunction to enjoy as an obscene category, not as a properly ethical category, is of great help. So again, I think that if Freud, in his Freudian theory in its traditional configuration, was appropriate to explain the standard capitalism which relied to some kind of a more traditional ethic of sexual control, repression, and so on, then Lacan is perfect to explain the paradoxes of permissive late capitalism.
[On screen, a satirical advertisement of Coca-Cola – “Now! Diet & Decaf. This SODA is it! The more you drink, the more you want. The more you want, the more you buy. Drink nothingness itself, the pure semblance of property. This soda is NEVER it! This example makes palpable the link between three notions: Marxist surplus-value, Lacan’s objet petit a as surplus enjoyment, the paradox of the superego. The more you have, the more you want, the more you drink, the more you are thirsty, the more you obey the superego, the more you are guilty. – [amazon asin=1844673022&text=The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for?]”]
When did you have the last meal… breakfast… or down there?
- Down there.
We should probably… No, no, I mean, one, two hours later, we should maybe go down there. Or do you know any…? At the place where you had your coffee, they do have good menus, you know, like very nice ones, like simple steak or whatever. They are not bad I mean.
- They are all vegetarians.
Sorry? Degenerates. Degenerates. You’ll turn into monkeys.
There is a table free here if you want to be absolutely opportunist.
- Aqua con gas.
Aqua con gas? Why shouldn’t I order? Could you put it there? Thank you. No, I mean, where to put it.
- Why do you want to… Why did you say it was a fundamental misunderstanding that so many people came?
No, in the simple sense that I have this terrible feeling that they expect something which they will not get, and I wonder what. Many leftists expect the formula, you know: I will teach them what to do. Shit, what do I know? Some people expect…
- You feel like that’s what that audience was looking for specifically?
It’s a simple common sense insight. Wait a minute, although I think they exaggerated… whatever, thousand people cannot all have the same interest in Lacan as I do, no? Can I ask you a simple question? If you were to have a daughter, would you allow this guy [points at a picture of himself in the newspaper] to take your daughter to cinema? Be honest. The answer is, no. I hate the way I appear. In some documents, it’s even worse. It’s really as a kind of a criminal that I appear, you know.
- You think they were expecting just a sort of political advisor?
No, the problem is, whenever I talk about politics, I feel it as if it’s a fake. Not in the sense that I’m faking, that I don’t mean it, but my heart is not in it. The books that I really enjoyed writing was the one on Hegel – sorry, on Schelling – [amazon asin=1844673014&text=The Ticklish Subject], and so on. And that part of the message doesn’t get through. You can immediately see also in the way it… For example, of my last books, the one that I really loved, [amazon asin=0415930170&text=Opera’s Second Death]. That one is doing very modestly, nothing. But that’s what I love.
No, we didn’t get, no? I’ll tell you… Wait a minute.
- Is this just drinks?
No, no, no… First you should look here, the Venice. You have calarinas [?], filet Milanese, ensalada césar.
This [points to picture of Stalin] is just for people who come to be shocked and hopefully to get out.
- So that is why you have it? So when people open the door, they go…
Yeah, there is a small hope that I will get rid of them. That’s the only function.
- Has it ever worked?
As a matter of fact, yeah. Some people were actually offended. My big worry is not to be ignored, but to be accepted. When I appear to be sarcastic and so on, the point is not not to take seriously. What is not to be taken seriously is the very form of sarcasm. It’s the form of the joke which masks the fact that I’m serious. But people still have this idea that this guy did some big crimes. No. Of course it’s not as simple as that that I’m simply a Stalinist – that would be crazy, tasteless, and so on. But… obviously, there is something in it that it’s not simply a joke. When I say ‘the only chance is that the left appropriate fascism’ and so on and so on, it’s not a cheap joke. The point is to avoid the trap of the standard liberal oppositions: freedom versus totalitarian order, discipline, and so on and so on, to rehabilitate notions of discipline, collective order, subordination, sacrifice, all that. I don’t think this is inherently fascist.
Often, friends tell me ‘Why do you provoke people unnecessarily? Why don’t you simply say what you mean? That of course you are against fascism, but bla bla bla’ I tell them ‘Yes, this is good as an abstract theoretical – not even theoretical – intellectual, whatever, statement. But it doesn’t work like that. For example, concerning Stalinism, my God, I’ve probably written more about Stalinism, about its most horrible aspects, than most of the people who reproach me with Stalinism. And that’s my wager here, that sorry, the only way to get the message… If you say, ‘Of course I’m against fascism. There are just some attitudes which were traditionally even more to the left, but fascism appropriated them, bla bla bla’; I think it doesn’t have the desired precise political effect. It enables the liberal consensus to reappropriate it. You must say it with this excess.
[Talking on the phone, inaudible.] One hour be enough, or you need more?
These are of course again the Lufthansa socks. I’ve stolen two of them today. I went to wash my hair, and then I was in an intense [?] situation, and then the woman hairdresser notice it, and told me, ‘Why don’t I give you a massage with some oil?’ I enjoyed it, but I felt so obscene, as if I paid for masturbation. It was so obscene. But it was relaxing. It is nice.
But it’s too much. My God, where are you? This reminds me of socialism, carrying water in plastic bottle.
Yeah, because they were waiting for us. You see? We were not late.
- I realize it, because you’re not here.
But they wait for us, you see?
- Yeah, they didn’t start without you.
They were waiting for us. Let’s start as soon as possible. Let’s go in.
The majority of academics who are obsessed with this idea ‘The left needs a new answer’ – isn’t it basically ‘We want a radical revolution, but at the same time we want our relatively prosperous lives to go undisturbed’. Like precisely as already Robespierre said, “We want revolution without a revolution.” … There is, I notice, a fundamental difference between the standard plurality of struggles which progressive liberals… What does it mean? Isn’t it in a way false even to expect such a clear political formula in the sense of ‘Oh, all we need is a bright intellectual to tell us what to do, and then capitalism will be over, we’ll have socialism,’ and so on and so on?
Look, I feel stupid, I don’t understand… I’m sorry. Thank you very much.
Again, I have to accept this, again, almost Lacanian decentrement of subjectivity, which is that ‘I stand for something, but I don’t really master/dominate what I stand for.’ People see things in me. They have some expectations. There may be political expectations that I will provide the formula, the big question that everybody’s expecting today from a leftist intellectual ‘What should we do?’ Or, some kind of spiritual guidance to help them psychologically. Or, theoretical amusement in the sense of many dirty jokes or examples from movies. And I honestly accept that. I think that my reaction to this should be not so much ‘Oh, it’s all a big misunderstanding, they are missing my deep point’; but my duty is basically to try and occupy the position of the analyst, which is basically to play, in a way of transference, with these expectations and to undermine/frustrate them. To make it clear to them that the question is not what I can give them, but are these expectations legitimate. What these expectations should tell them about themselves. It was usually that big progressive act was like it was Nixon, not Democrats, who had to do it with China. This paradox… It was in France. It was de Gaulle, not socialists, who… Algeria, yes. But I’m a little bit sceptical…
- [Hugged by a fan] You really are an intellectual superstar to me, so I had to touch you.
- I’m [name]. I’m the editor of Progress journal of socialist ideas… Harvard, you may know it. I brought you a copy.
- He needs a shower.
- It was over there.
Who knows here? The guy knows. I’m sorry. You know things here. Okay, sir, you know the guy who did The Hero, the Chinese guy? [amazon asin=B00U8O6IE0&text=Double Indemnity] is not on the market now I think, no? [amazon asinB001IHJ988&text=Being There] is also, I think, it looks bad, no? [amazon asinB001IHJ988&text=Being There], you know, Peter Sellers.
- It should be…
Hal Ashby. [While browsing through films] No, this is too intelligent for me. You know the ape will not get the banana. Fuck it, I don’t get it here. Ah. U.S. ’70s, [amazon asinB001IHJ988&text=Being There], ha ha ha. [amazon asinB001IHJ988&text=Being There]/em>, it’s a wonderful movie, and look, my anal character. The price is okay, so definitely. What more do I need? [amazon asin=B000HWZ4A2&text=The Fountainhead] is the best American movie of all times. Then the best German movie would be [amazon asin=B01HP7ZMV2&text=Opfergang]. This is the sacrificial path, of course, from ’44, by Veit Harlan, the Nazi director, no? So we have Ayn Rand, a Nazi, and then… unfortunately, this is a more standard one… it is [amazon asin=B00004XQN5&text=Ivan the Terrible] – Eisenstein. I would say these three are the best movies of all times for me. Ah, this one I want to get, definitely. So we have these two. That will be it, I think.
- How about if I buy them for you?
No, wait a minute. Poor American girl, working class. Who pays for that?
Are you serious?
- Yeah, yeah.
Okay, with pleasure. No, let it be the eternal secret of my desire.
Did I suspect this in advance or not? If you were not to make this offer, I would in the last minute say, ‘Oh, maybe not now. I have too many things to carry.’
- This one is a little expensive, actually: $32.
Shut up, or you will get three more. I’m so sad that l… Ah! Wait a minute. What is this? My God, I would love to have so that you will not… Let me buy this.
- It’s got a special booklet.
Where? Which one? Sorry, can I buy this one also?
[At Verso books, Zizek’s publisher]
Oh, sorry. Fuck off.
- What are you working on now, Slavoj? What’s the new book?
The mega… basically, [amazon asin=1844673014&text=Ticklish Subject], Part 2. Big, big mega thing.
- How far along are you?
Pretty close to the end. No, but it will be mega. One part philosophy/theology, one part cognitivism… I’m now deep in brain sciences… and one part obscenity, politics, and so on.
- What’s it gonna be called?
I don’t yet know. Maybe [amazon asin=0262512688&text=The Parallax View], but I must check it on amazon.com, see if there are already 20 books named [amazon asin=0262512688&text=The Parallax View], no? I must look into that aspect.
- What does parallax view mean?
It means something very simple. It comes as close as possible to what my position is. You know that… It’s very simple. When you mistake an apparent move… You look at an object. It appears that the object itself moves or changes, but in reality, it’s just that … because your perspective shifts, no? Like lunar, stellar, whatever, solar, parallax. The idea is, your shift in your subjective position is refined. You perceive it as [a] move in the object. But, of course, then I add another twist that it is in the object in a way, because object-subject can be mediated and so on and so on. So what interests me is precisely this radical cut, like you move from one to another perspective, there is no way to overcome this antinomy. And then I develop this systematically in philosophy, cognitive science. In cognitive sciences, the parallax would have been either you look at your inner experience, or you open the scar, you see the stupid flesh there, brains, no? But you really cannot make the jump, and you really cannot… Even if scientifically you can explain it, you really cannot accept that stupid piece of meat that you see – that’s thought.
- So if we distilled your canon into three books, what would they be?
Three of my best books are unfortunately four, I would say. [amazon asin=1844673006&text=Sublime Object], [amazon asin=0822313952&text=Tarrying with the Negative], [amazon asin=1844673014&text=Ticklish Subject], and now the new one. This is the serious work I’ve done, with little pieces here and there. But this is what I would… Although I’m more and more self-critical of the first one. It’s still too liberal. I’m for democracy there. I’m ashamed. I’m very sorry to say. I think there was a thing called totalitarianism, which was bad, and I think there should be pluralism in society. My God, what am I talking there? You know that Marx Brothers joke ‘I would never be a member of a club…?’ You know, if I were not myself, I would arrest myself.
I have a very complicated ritual about writing. It’s psychologically impossible for me to sit down, so I have to trick myself. I operate [?] a very simple strategy which, at least with me, it works. I put down ideas, but I put them down usually in a relatively elaborate way, like the line of thought already written in full sentences, and so on. So up to a certain point, I’m telling myself, ‘No, I’m not yet writing. I’m just putting down ideas.’ Then, at a certain point, I tell myself, ‘Everything is already there. Now I just have to edit it.’ So that’s the idea, to split it into two. I put down notes, I edit it. Writing disappears.
[At Brattle Theatre, Boston, MA]
Sorry. Please. Just be loud enough.
- How do you explain your own success, how do you explain your success especially in the United States, which you think of as a pathological society, I think.
Good question, but not in the sense that now I will say, ‘I’m modest, so nice.’ No, it’s much more serious phenomenon. Let’s be quite frank. At a certain superficial level, I am relatively popular, but me and my friends, I don’t think you can – maybe you can? – even imagine how noninfluential are we within the academia. Which is why it pisses me off how many, whoever they are – the enemies – portray us Lacanians as some kind of a phallocentric power discourse. It’s very fashionable to paint us as kind of a dogmatic power discourse. For example, yesterday, when I delivered a differently improvised version of the same talk at Columbia in New York, a lady kindly towards the end asked me ‘But why…?’ Her problem was, why am I so dogmatically Lacanian.
- … this misreading that you are doing where Derrida is concerned, I think this is identic to your work. And I wonder whether this is also another form of whether a certain sort of belief operating from a distance in your work.
What … which belief?
- Dogmatic Lacanian theme working as a belief in your work.
Perfect. Perfect question. Okay, I defy you with a very simple empirical, in the best Anglo-Saxon tradition, question. Apart from this brief conflict between Gayatri Spivak and Derrida, could you name me one Derridian who made a small critical remark on Derrida? Rudolph Gasche? Avital Ronell? Name somewhere… name me one. Why are we dogmatic? Why are they not? Name me one point where Sam Weber makes an ironic critical remark on Derrida. Name me one point where Avital Ronell does it. Name me one point where Rudolph Gasche does it. So why are we… Why is my… Why am I dogmatically attached to Lacan, and it’s not… Why did you think this is disavowed belief? I am a Lacanian. You are knocking on the open door here. You don’t have to prove to some deconstructive analysis, Oh, but he’s a Lacanian.’ I am a card-carrying Lacanian.
Something is going on here, and I just wanted to draw the attention to this, how all this popular, and I think so to give you now the true answer. I think that I admit it. There is a clownish aspect to me, like they put it in New York Times, Marx’s Brother, or whatever. All that, I maybe flirt with it. But nonetheless, I’m getting tired of it, because I notice that there is, as it were, when there are some stupid reports on me, reactions to me, a kind of a terrible urge, compulsion, to make me appear as a kind of a funny man. And the true question would be, where does this urge come from? Why is there this necessity to portray me as somebody who can only thrive through jokes? And so on and so on and so on. And even my publishers buy it. You know that my Lenin book – Introduction of Lenin’s work [[amazon asin=1844677141&text=Revolution at the Gates: Selected Writings of Lenin from 1917]] – was almost turned down by Verso? Why? First, they always, at Verso, gave hints at me ‘Oh, you are just making jokes,’ and so on and so on. Then I told them, ‘Okay, now you have a book, Lenin’s text.’ Their reproach was, ‘Wait a minute, where are the jokes, nobody will buy the book,’ and so on and so on. So, you know, much more than it may appear is going on here. It’s quite a complex phenomenon. I’m almost tempted to say that making me popular is a resistance against taking me serious. And I think it’s my duty, for this reason, to do a kind of a public suicide of myself as a popular comedian or whatever.
Let’s hope we can enter here. I don’t know how this functions now. This is it. Ok, but you see… Here you should do your Hitchcockian shot like from [amazon asin=B0089ATBMQ&text=Vertigo]. I saw two, three times that I came here, because when it was still open, you took there the elevator to the top. And often I saw here some policemen are cordoned off, and an object here, covered. Because you will immediately see what l… if you take the shot up. That’s it. From up there, it was practical to jump down, no? Go up, you jump down, and it’s kind of a nice, modest, ethical suicide. It’s not this spectacle that on the street, you embarrass other people. You go here, and you jump down. Of course, my idea was to organize this. You want to kill yourself. We organize it. We prevent so that we guarantee that no small… $5, no small children will be here. I even have the idea that, the way they do it in this society of biopolitics, as Foucault would have put it, where they ask you… In order to get married: you don’t have AIDS, you’re mentally stable and so on. Obviously, doesn’t work, because if it were to work, I would never be allowed to get married. But they should do it the same like if you want to kill yourself, no? I was thinking about it. I think that only people… some medical or psychiatric advisory / committee / team, should decide is it a case of a true metaphysical suicide, or just a short crisis? Like you were just dropped by your girlfriend or boyfriend, and there is a reasonable hope there that it’s a momentary depression, then, in two or three weeks, it will be over. So it can be medical crisis, it can be this kind of psychological crisis, or pure metaphysical suicide.
As a Marxist, if somebody tells me that Lacan is difficult, this is class propaganda by the enemy.
- I never thought I’d have this much fun talking about this. Have a great weekend, take care.