Critic, radical, public intellectual and part-time comedian, Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher who works within Marxism and psychoanalysis. He combines his own reading of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan with Hegelian philosophy and Marxist economics to criticise just about every facet of contemporary culture and politics. Not exactly a welcoming combination to the non-philosopher. The dense mixture of terminology he employs can be dizzying without a prior knowledge of his influences: “One of the commonplaces of today’s theory is that transcendental subjectivity is passé: if one is to start again the notion of the subject, one has to displace it with regard to the standard Cartesian cogito; that is, the new subject has to be a divided, finite subject, a subject ‘thrown’ into a non-transparent contingent life-world.” Indeed.
Thankfully more accessible, but by no means lightweight, is footage of Žižek debating and lecturing, and luckily there’s no shortage. A famously captivating performer, whether you’re an admirer or detractor (of which there’s also no shortage), his dramatic gesticulations, pop culture references and never-ending supply of obscene jokes demand audience attention and often overwhelm opponents. The psychoanalysis of cinema constitutes a large, and fascinating, portion of Žižek’s work, but his focus is the criticism of capitalism, democracy and ideology, and on this he holds nothing back. Žižek’s defence of such notions as a ‘good revolutionary terror’ has led to opponents sensationally branding him a Stalinist totalitarian and even dubbing him “the most dangerous philosopher in the West” in the New Republic. What’s clear is that his relentless questioning and criticism are subversive in way that touches nerves across the political spectrum.
The New York Times described Žižek as “the Elvis of critical theory” and sometimes the theatricality of his debating style can be his own worst enemy. Pay attention to the content, because right now Žižek represents a new radical left response to the crisis in Western Capitalism that no right-minded politician and few other thinkers are willing to suggest or confront. His criticism of conservatives and liberals alike provides a rallying point for those disillusioned with modern politics, and his unabashed devotion to Freud is a position rarely given a voice these days, providing a unique take on cinema. Žižek’s work challenges people to examine those circumstances and ideologies of the world that are difficult to consider objectively, and asks whether their transmission to those in question is something to be accepted. What’s more, he entertains while he does it.
A Pervert’s Guide to Cinema: from Charlie Chaplin to The Matrix, classic cinema gets the psychoanalytic treatment; you’ll never think the same way about film again.
Good Manners in the Age of Wikileaks (London Review of Books website): The Dark Knight was used as an analogy for the release of diplomatic cables by the website last year.