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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Žižek: Yeah, okay. I'm In. 

A few months back Diane and I saw Examined Life, an intriguing film about philosophy and how it relates to our lives. The film has many intriguing interviews — I was most excited to see and hear the honorable Cornel West. I'd read bits and pieces from Avital Ronell at New College (thanks to Dallas Taylor and Nate Walker, if memory serves). And I'd read Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation in high school.

One of the other memorable interviews in the film is with Slovenian Marxist-Lacanian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, standing before a big mountain of trash and insisting that a true ecology movement could not (and certainly should not) avoid engagement with the refuse of our civilization.

Enter Jon Broad, who was the one who insisted long ago that I watch Barton Fink. Thus, I have come to appreciate his taste in the life of the mind. (Ya like how I wove them things together there?) He told me at a social gathering about how he's been reading Žižek and enjoying him, and I mentioned seeing him in Examined Life.

So I'm standing there in Rainbow Books and I find a newly reprinted edition of his first book, The Sublime Object of Ideology. I'm really enjoying it, so I went and found some audio interviews. Then I realize that the director of Examined Life made a whole movie about him, called (oddly enough) Žižek! (For some reason one of the interviews takes place while he's chillaxing in bed.) Today I watched it, and soon I will devour the special features.

He's got many important things to say, but one of the things I like best is the relatively high meaningful-stuff-to-horsecrap ratio. He's dense, but — not only is there important meaning inside his language — he gives profuse real-world examples and allusions to culture, popular and otherwise.

Perhaps the most worthwhile audio interview I found is this one, in which he discusses the 2008 Republican National Convention and theory and movies and ideology and a bunch of other topics. (It also has good sound quality — some of the others were proper scratchy, like they'd been duplicated from an old 78 wax cylinder.)

I'm intrigued by the interdisciplinary nature of his work. He doesn't focus on one particular part of the problem(s), he localizes each/all within a wide array of contexts, making important (and unusual) connections between them. He's also a really funny guy, but there's definitely some "laughing to keep from crying" (as Langston Hughes called it). Indeed, at one point in the movie he suggests that his popularity and media attention on his comedic value may be a way to distract people from what he's trying to say.

I won't go into more boring detail here — like anyone worth learning from, you can find lots of resources very easily today. So I encourage people who like thinking about stuff to check him out; the above-linked interview is a good place to start, or else find the documentary movie somewhere. Oh, and — as Jon Broad helpfully pointed out — he's on Twitter.


One of the best scenes in the film is this appearance on Comcast's CN8 cable show "nitebeat", where he was interviewed by very loud host Barry Nolan. (Interesting side note: Apparently Nolan was fired from CN8 for protesting an Emmy award being given to Bill O'Reilly.)

Today I'm listening to: Kettel!

Oh yeah, here's the trailer for Examined Life.

PS. Did you hear about the Boston cop who referred to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as a "banana-eating jungle monkey"? Here's the email. (TPCQ: "Here's what they think about you.")