Almost 25 years ago, philosopher Slavoj Žižek broke through the intellectual cul-de-sac of Slovenian academia — making his mark on the English-speaking world with “The Sublime Object of Ideology” (1989), a wily fusing of Lacanian psychoanalysis, Frankfurt School idealism, and reflections on the 1979 blockbuster horror flick “Alien.”
Today, he’s everywhere. The notoriously unkempt “radical leftist” philosophe has become the unlikeliest of celebrities: a cult icon and spiritual guide for Europe’s lethargic left.
Žižek has published more than 50 books (most recently: “The Year of Dreaming Dangerously”) and starred in several documentaries. A journal, The International Journal of Žižek Studies, is devoted to his works. Žižek has been called “the Borat of philosophy,” “the Elvis of cultural theory,” and “the world’s hippest philosopher.” These are titles he abhors.
Salon caught up with Žižek, who still calls Ljubljana home, over Skype. On the agenda: the improbable celebrity of Slavoj Žižek.
You’ve given a number of interviews over the past few years. I was hoping that we could take this one up a few levels of abstraction and discuss the phenomenon that is Slavoj Žižek.
Ah, if you want to.
Most recently, Foreign Policy named you one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2012.
Yes, but at the bottom of the top!
Right, you were No. 92. Do you deserve to be on the list?
No! You could not get that out of me if you tortured me! I know the polite thing is to say no.
Isn’t the first one on this list that Myanmar girl? I always forget her name. Who is that?
Do you mean Aung San Suu Kyi?
Yes! Nothing against her, but can you explain to me: In what sense she is a philosopher or intellectual?
Well first, to clarify, this is a list of “thinkers,” not “philosophers.”
Yes but in what sense is she a thinker? She just tries to bring democracy to Myanmar. OK, that’s a nice thing. But you can’t just accept an ideal as ideal. Oh, democracy! Everyone gets an orgasm so let’s bring it to as many people as possible.
Thinking begins when you ask really difficult questions. For example: What is really decided in a democratic process?
So you did it for your wife, this big wedding?
Yes, she was dreaming about it.
You know what book I really didn’t like from this perspective? Laura Kipnis’ “Against Love.” Her idea is that the last defense of the bourgeois order is ‘No sex outside love!’ It’s the Judith Butler stuff: reconstruction, identity, blah, blah, blah.
I claim it’s just the opposite. Today, passionate engagement is considered almost pathological. I think there is something subversive in saying: This is the man or woman with whom I want to stake everything.
This is why I was never able to do so-called one-night stands. It has to at least have a perspective of eternity.
Yes, but personally we have great relations! Judith once told me: “Slavoj, you must think I’m a mean woman.” I said: “No, when somebody likes Hegel like you, you cannot be a total idiot!”
Are there historical figures that you relate to?
Robespierre. Maybe a bit of Lenin.
Really? Not Trotsky?
In 1918-19, Trotsky was much harsher than Stalin. And I do like this in him. But I will never forgive him for how he screwed it up in the mid-’20s. He was so stupid and arrogant. You know what he would do? He would come to party meetings carrying French classics like Flaubert, Stendhal, to signal to others: “Fuck you, I am civilized!”
You write that we need to think more and act less. But in the end you identify with Lenin: a famed man of action.
Yes, but wait a minute! Lenin was the right guy. When everything went wrong in 1914, what did he do? He moved to Switzerland and started reading Hegel.
[Extract. Appeared in Salon on December 29th 2012.]