Slavoj Žižek

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I think that the task of philosophy is not to provide answers, but to show how the way we perceive a problem can be itself part of a problem.

Slavoj Žižek (born 21 March 1949) is a Slovenian sociologist, philosopher and cultural critic.


  • A spectre is haunting Western academia (...), the spectre of the Cartesian subject.
    • The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology (London/New York: Verso, 1999), p. 1.
  • It is also crucial to bear in mind the interconnection between the Decalogue... and its modern obverse, the celebrated 'human Rights'. As the experience of our post-political liberal-permissive society amply demonstrates, human Rights are ultimately, at their core, simply Rights to violate the Ten Commandments. 'The right to privacy' — the right to adultery, in secret, where no one sees me or has the right to probe my life. 'The right to pursue happiness and to possess private property' -- the right to steal (to exploit others). 'Freedom of the press and of the expression of opinion' -- the right to lie. 'The right of free citizens to possess weapons' -- the right to kill. And, ultimately, 'freedom of religious belief' — the right to worship false gods.
    • "The fragile absolute: or, why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for?"
  • There is a somewhat analogous situation with regard to the heterosexual seduction procedure in our Politically Correct times: the two sets, the set of PC behaviour and the set of seduction, do not actually intersect anywhere; that is, there is no seduction which is not in a way an "incorrect" intrusion or harassment — at some point, one has to expose oneself and "make a pass." So does this mean that every seduction is incorrect harassment through and through? No, and that is the catch: when you make a pass, you expose yourself to the Other (the potential partner), and she decides retroactively, by her reaction, whether what you have just done was harassment or a successful act of seduction — and there is no way to tell in advance what her reaction will be. This is why assertive women often despise "weak" men — because they fear to expose themselves, to take the necessary risk. And perhaps this is even more true in our PC times: are not PC prohibitions rules which, in one way or another, are to be violated in the seduction process? Is not the seducer’s art to accomplish this violation properly — so that afterwards, by its acceptance, its harassing aspect will be retroactively cancelled?
    • The Fragile Absolute: or, why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for? (London: Verso, 2000, ISBN 1-85984-326-3), p. 111.
  • In the electoral campaign, President Bush named as the most important person in his life Jesus. Now he has a unique chance to prove that he meant it seriously: for him, as for all Americans today, "Love thy neighbor!" means "Love the Muslims!" OR IT MEANS NOTHING AT ALL.
  • [A]t the beginning of November 2001, there was a series of meetings between White House advisers and senior Hollywood executives with the aim of co-ordinating the war effort and establishing how Hollywood could help in the "war against terrorism" by getting the right ideological message across not only to Americans, but also to the Hollywood public around the globe — the ultimate empirical proof that Hollywood does in fact function as an "ideological state apparatus."
  • We feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom.
    • "Introduction: The Missing Ink", in Welcome to the Desert of the Real!: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (2002), p. 2
  • As a Marxist, let me add: if anyone tells you Lacan is difficult, this is class propaganda by the enemy.
    • Last remark in an interview for the CN8 show Nitebeat (2003) [1]
  • I hate writing. I so intensely hate writing — I cannot tell you how much. The moment I am at the end of one project I have the idea that I didn’t really succeed in telling what I wanted to tell, that I need a new project — it’s an absolute nightmare. But my whole economy of writing is in fact based on an obsessional ritual to avoid the actual act of writing.
    • Conversations with Žižek by Slavoj Žižek and Glyn Daly (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), p. 42
  • I believe in clear-cut positions. I think that the most arrogant position is this apparent, multidisciplinary modesty of "what I am saying now is not unconditional, it is just a hypothesis," and so on. It really is a most arrogant position. I think that the only way to be honest and expose yourself to criticism is to state clearly and dogmatically where you are. You must take the risk and have a position.
    • Conversations with Žižek by Slavoj Žižek and Glyn Daly (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), p. 45
  • Daly: In a sense, would you say that the age of biogenetics/cyberspace is the age of philosophy?
    Žižek: Yes, and the age of philosophy in the sense again that we are confronted more and more often with philosophical problems at an everyday level. It is not that you withdraw from daily life into a world of philosophical contemplation. On the contrary, you cannot find your way around daily life itself without answering certain philosophical questions. It is a unique time when everyone is, in a way, forced to be some kind of philosopher.
    • Conversations with Žižek by Slavoj Žižek and Glyn Daly (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), p. 54
  • With Lenin it was always a substantial commitment. I always have a certain admiration for people who are aware that somebody has to do the job. What I hate about these liberal, pseudo-left, beautiful soul academics is that they are doing what they are doing fully aware that somebody else will do the job for them.
    • Conversations with Žižek by Slavoj Žižek and Glyn Daly (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), p. 50
  • They are trying as directly as possible to sell you experiences, i.e. what you are able to do with the car, not the car as a product itself. An extreme example of this is this existing economic marketing concept, which basically evaluates the value of you as a potential consumer of your own life. Like how much are you worth, in the sense of all you will spend to buy back your own life as a certain quality life. You will spend so much in doctors, so much in beauty, so much in transcendental meditation, so much for music, and so on. What you are buying is a certain image and practice of your life. So what is your market potential, as a buyer of your own life in this sense?
  • Think about the strangeness of today's situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on. So the paradox is, that it's much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.
  • We usually speak of the Jewish-Christian civilization — perhaps, the time has come, especially with regard to the Middle East conflict, to talk about the Jewish-Muslim civilization as an axis opposed to Christianity.
  • I claim that jihadis are really motivated neither by religion nor by a Leftist sense of justice, but by resentment, which in no way puts them on the Left, neither “objectively” nor “subjectively.” I simply never wrote that Islamic fundamentalists are in any sense on the Left—the whole point of my writing on this topic is that the “antagonism” between liberal tolerance and ethnic or religious fundamentalism is inherent to the universe of global capitalism: in their very opposition, they are the two faces of the same system. The true Left starts with the insight into this complicity. A good example of how religious fundamentalism is to be located “in the context of the antagonisms of global capitalism” is Afghanistan. Today, when Afghanistan is portrayed as the utmost Islamic fundamentalist country, who still remembers that, 30 years ago, it was a country with strong secular tradition, up to a strong Communist party which first took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Afghanistan became fundamentalist when it was drawn into global politics (first through the Soviet intervention).
  • One should oppose the fascination with Hitler according to which Hitler was, of course, a bad guy, responsible for the death of millions — but he definitely had balls, he pursued with iron will what he wanted. … This point is not only ethically repulsive, but simply wrong: no, Hitler did not ‘have the balls’ to really change things; he did not really act, all his actions were fundamentally reactions, i.e., he acted so that nothing would really change, he stages a big spectacle of Revolution so that the capitalist order could survive.”
    In this precise sense of violence, Gandhi was more violent than Hitler: Gandhi’s movement effectively endeavored to interrupt the basic functioning of the British colonial state.
    • "Disputations: Who Are You Calling Anti-Semitic?" in The New Republic (7 January 2009); Žižek is here quoting a statement he made in a prior essay to distinguish what he had actually said with such assertions as he was portrayed as having made. He asserts that Hitler for all his bluster and brutality was a promoter of established economies and less boldly revolutionary in his ideas and actions than Gandhi.
  • See you, either in Hell, or in Communism.
    • Parting remark in "The Culture Show" (2010)
  • Love is what makes sex more than masturbation. If there is no love even if you are really with a partner you masturbate with a partner.
    • Interview in HARDtalk, BBC World Service (12 January 2010)
  • I already am eating from the trash can all the time. The name of this trash can is ideology. The material force of ideology makes me not see what I am effectively eating.
  • I may still be a kind of a Marxist but I'm very realistic, I don't have these dreams of revolutions around the corner.
    • Interview [2]
  • I think that the task of philosophy is not to provide answers, but to show how the way we perceive a problem can be itself part of a problem.
    • Lecture "Year of Distraction" [3], at 1:07.

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (2009)[edit]

  • “On the information sheet in a New York hotel, I recently read: 'Dear guest! To guarantee that you will fully enjoy your stay with us, this hotel is totally smoke-free. For any infringement of this regulation, you will be charged $200.' The beauty of this formulation, taken literally, is that you are to be punished for refusing to fully enjoy your stay.”
  • “Populism is ultimately sustained by the frustrated exasperation of ordinary people, by the cry "I don't know what's going on, but I've just had enough of it! It cannot go on! It must stop!”

Living in the End Times (2010)[edit]

  • “It is more satisfying to sacrifice oneself for the poor victim than to enable the other to overcome their victim status and perhaps become even more succesfull than ourselves”

About Žižek[edit]

  • What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever. So there’s no theory in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying.
  • Why should anyone adopt Žižek’s ideas rather than any others? The answer cannot be that Žižek’s are true in any traditional sense. “The truth we are dealing with here is not ‘objective’ truth,” Žižek writes [in Less Than Nothing], “but the self-relating truth about one’s own subjective position; as such, it is an engaged truth, measured not by its factual accuracy but by the way it affects the subjective position of enunciation.”
    If this means anything, it is that truth is determined by reference to how an idea accords with the projects to which the speaker is committed—in Žižek’s case, a project of revolution. But this only poses the problem at another level: Why should anyone adopt Žižek’s project? The question cannot be answered in any simple way, since it is far from clear what Žižek’s revolutionary project consists in. He shows no signs of doubting that a society in which communism was realized would be better than any that has ever existed. On the other hand, he is unable to envision any circumstances in which communism might be realized.
    • John Gray, "The Violent Visions of Slavoj Žižek". The Guardian, July 12, 2012
  • Maybe, many years ago, Zizek made a bet with some of his Slovenian colleagues about how much post-modern sounding gibberish he could get contemporary academics to swallow-keep in mind that, recently, he's been trying to persuade people to embrace as unproblematic the juxtaposition of Stalinist dialectical materialism and Christian theology.
  • The shortage of public intellectuals (in the English-speaking world) goes back to the decline of the written media: the first TV intellectual was Foucault, who was at home in both media, but his successors and imitators know only the camera. This forces sound bites upon even the most complex material: see Schama, Ferguson e tutti quanti. Also, and paradoxically: public intellectuals are best when they are grounded in a particular language, culture, debate. Thus Camus was French, Habermas is German, Sen is Bengali, Orwell was deep English. This made their cross-frontier ventures plausible, in the same way that Havel or Michnik today have street cred because they started out as courageous dissidents in a very particular time and place. The opposite is the ridiculous Slavoj Zizek: a “global”’ public intellectual who is therefore of no particular interest in any one place or on any one subject. If he is the future of public intellectuals, then they have no future.
  • [I]t needs to be recognized that instead of being an “interdisciplinary philosopher” or “playfully Hegelian,” Žižek elevates the most un-Hegelian idea of all, arbitrariness, to be his guiding method. Throughout a long book [i.e., Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?] he brings up dozens of topics without providing any coherent explanation of why he chooses to discuss one topic rather than another. Thus, even someone sympathetic to a specific opinion can never be entirely sure whether Žižek will stand by his own case, or will simply drop it as he flits to another topic. In addition, though he quotes and makes allusions and references to a wide variety of well-known authors and canonical works, he does not provide reasons for his views of the cited texts. Rather, he makes highly tendentious assertions and expects his readers to submit to what are supposed to be apodictic statements. Should they be skeptical, they can be told that Žižek is above “standard” treatments and that he is following a dialectic.
    • David Pickus, "Did Somebody Evade Totalitarianism? On the Intellectual Escapism of Slavoj Žižek", Humanitas Vol 21, Nos. 1 & 2, 2008

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