I have of late found myself intrigued by the writings of Slovenian philosopher and critical theorist, Slavoj Žižek. He is, quite literally, a force of nature; his lectures make for compulsive viewing, resplendent as they are with his unique presentation style characterized by a plethora of nervous ticks and a speech impediment. His style is utterly individual and it adds charismatic force to the intellectual rigour of his arguments. That he rarely stops talking, is he freely acknowledges, a ‘defence strategy’ against being ‘found out’ as having nothing substantive behind the seemingly anarchic public persona; as he says himself – ‘my big worry is not to be ignored, but to be accepted!’ Just one of many wonderfully quotable pieces of insight offered by Žižek in the documentary film that bears his name (albeit with an exclamation mark added!), produced by Astra Taylor and available to watch in its entirety on youtube.
In the abstract, Taylor’s film, a documentary on the life and thoughts of a philosopher who combines Marxist political theory with Hegelian analysis and psychoanalytic theory, does not sound particularly appealing. But, as should be already clear, Žižek is no ordinary philosopher; he has widespread appeal and speaks to an eclectic audience across the globe. His personality is quirky – the film highlights this brilliantly; for example, there is the scene where the protagonist shows the film-maker around his kitchen, opening drawers and cupboards to reveal, not cutlery or crockery, but a substantial collection of socks and underwear! Not what you might expect! Quite where he stores the pots and pans is not immediately obvious! And then you see him interacting with his son; unsurprisingly, Žižek gives one the impression that he has a unique parenting style where he analyzes everything from his son’s toys to a simple trip to McDonald’s.
In terms of content, Taylor’s film gives Žižek the freedom to express the main components of his philosophical world-view. His evident use of humour, film and cultural analysis to construct and articulate his series of hypotheses is very attractive. That said, I found myself disagreeing profoundly with a number of these hypotheses, particularly as it relates to his understanding of creation (and his apparent indifference towards it), and his understanding of love as an act of violence. But on the other hand, I concur with much of his critique of global capitalism, particularly his exposure of the illusion of capitalistic utopia and his call for a radical new future.
Interestingly, Žižek also makes a cogent argument that ideology is alive and well, but that we are often not aware of it. Contrary to much received wisdom, Žižek contends that we do not live in a post-ideological and cynical era, but instead we believe more today that we ever have, although that belief is expressed in different ways. That we feel free because we lack the language to express our lack of freedom is a point he makes with much force and coherence.
Paradoxically, Žižek contends that the problem that we face today is the injunction to enjoy. I say that this is paradoxical because the traditional role of psychotherapy is to remove psychic barriers to enjoyment; in Žižek’s worldview, this injunction needs to be turned completely on its head. An interesting point with fascinating ramifications.
Astra Taylor does a remarkable job of presenting a popular contemporary philosopher as an attractive character, which he clearly is, whilst also allowing him the freedom to articulate and explore the main components of his philosophy. And so whether you are familiar with Žižek’s work or are simply intrigued to find out more about the man and his thinking, this film comes highly recommended. You can watch it here courtesy of youtube: