Decca Aitkenhead interviews Slavoj Žižek: At the risk of upsetting Žižek’s fanatical global following, I would say that a lot of his work is impenetrable. But he writes with exhilarating ambition and his central thesis offers a perspective even his critics would have to concede is thought-provoking. In essence, he argues that nothing is ever what it appears, and contradiction is encoded in almost everything. Most of what we think of as radical or subversive – or even simply ethical – doesn’t actually change anything.
“Like when you buy an organic apple, you’re doing it for ideological reasons, it makes you feel good: ‘I’m doing something for Mother Earth,’ and so on. But in what sense are we engaged? It’s a false engagement. Paradoxically, we do these things to avoid really doing things. It makes you feel good. You recycle, you send £5 a month to some Somali orphan, and you did your duty.” But really, we’ve been tricked into operating safety valves that allow the status quo to survive unchallenged? “Yes, exactly.” The obsession of western liberals with identity politics only distracts from class struggle, and while Žižek doesn’t defend any version of communism ever seen in practice, he remains what he calls a “complicated Marxist” with revolutionary ideals.
To his critics, as one memorably put it, he is the Borat of philosophy, churning out ever more outrageous statements for scandalous effect. “The problem with Hitler was that he was not violent enough,” for example, or “I am not human. I am a monster.” Some dismiss him as a silly controversialist; others fear him as an agitator for neo-Marxist totalitarianism. But since the financial crisis he has been elevated to the status of a global-recession celebrity, drawing crowds of adoring followers who revere him as an intellectual genius. His popularity is just the sort of paradox Žižek delights in because if it were down to him, he says, he would rather not talk to anyone.
You wouldn’t guess so from the energetic flurry of good manners with which he welcomes us, but he’s quick to clarify that his attentiveness is just camouflage for misanthropy. “For me, the idea of hell is the American type of parties. Or, when they ask me to give a talk, and they say something like, ‘After the talk there will just be a small reception’ – I know this is hell. This means all the frustrated idiots, who are not able to ask you a question at the end of the talk, come to you and, usually, they start: ‘Professor Žižek, I know you must be tired, but …’ Well, fuck you. If you know that I am tired, why are you asking me? I’m really more and more becoming Stalinist. Liberals always say about totalitarians that they like humanity, as such, but they have no empathy for concrete people, no? OK, that fits me perfectly. Humanity? Yes, it’s OK – some great talks, some great arts. Concrete people? No, 99% are boring idiots.” [Continue reading…]