In her re-view of Žižek!, a much-more-well-read-when-it-comes-to-philosophy-than-she-was-ten-years-ago Yasi Naraghi considers retitling her dissertation “I hate Žižek” – or at least using that as a chapter title.
Žižek! (2005) dir. Astra Taylor
I’m not quite sure as to why but the early to mid 2000s, as I remember it, saw an influx of films about celebrity-philosophers (or should it be philosophers-cum-celebrities), three of which, for better or worse, have stuck with me. There was the 2002 Derrida, undeniably the superior of the three, and then a horrendous Deleuze documentary whose title escapes me but I clearly remember seeing it with a couple of my friends in a small theater. We should’ve known it was going to be a painful experience when, before the film, it was announced that we would be issued refunds since the theater decided it should be a free screening. But instead we endured 80 minutes of artists, scholars, and scientists merely say the word “connectivity” every 30 seconds. We relieved our discomfort by snickering throughout the film to the dismay of the Deleuze cult seated in the row ahead of us. And then there was 2005’s Žižek!, a film not as pointless as the Deleuze one but quite close.
I had blissfully forgotten about its existence until I saw the title on the 10YA page and said to myself, oh yeah, that shitty movie. What the hell, I’d watch it again. So I did. If you are familiar with the polished and glossy format of Sophie Fiennes’ The Pervert’s Guide to… duology, then you would be decidedly disappointed in Astra Taylor’s Žižek! While Fiennes’ films are sleek, structurally succinct, and whimsical, Taylor’s Žižek! is, to put it nicely, a fucking mess. The cinematography and camera work are beyond amateurish, there is no narrative structure even though the film is divided under subheadings, and Žižek, the man, rambles on too much. You might say, of course Žižek rambles on, he’s a narcissist, that’s what he does. To which I will reply with a series of film terminology such as editing and script – and yes, documentaries are or at least should be scripted. It’s clear that Taylor belongs to the cult of Žižek and is more than satisfied to be in his presence and listen to everything he spews out.
The documentary, or rather Taylor, follows the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek as he travels around, mainly, South America giving lectures. Before the opening credits Žižek conjectures on the universe and love, “what we call creation is a kind of a cosmic imbalance, a cosmic catastrophe, that things exist by mistake. And I’m even ready to go to the end and to claim that the only way to counteract it is to assume the mistake and go to the end. And we have a name for this and it’s called love.” I’m not quite sure if the intent of this framing is to establish the film’s line of inquiry or if Taylor simply liked it as an assemblage of words. I’m sure I didn’t care either way when I first watched this film at the age of 18. But now I care and I care fiercely because since it is a preface to the film, I’m desperately searching for any semblance of continuity. There is no continuity and if there is one, it is accidentally established because Žižek repeats himself too much.
10 years ago, I let Žižek! wash over me unbothered by its inconsistencies. 10 years ago, I was finishing up my Bachelor’s degree in literature with a survey level knowledge of theory and philosophy. I planned on going to graduate school to study Polish literature so I wasn’t very invested in Lacanians or postmodernists. Fast forward 10 years and I’m in grad school, writing my dissertation. I have a basic knowledge of Polish, I still read Polish literature but my desires are definitely more aligned with philosophy and critical theory than Romantic Polish poetry. 10 year ago, I didn’t bother much with Žižek’s philosophical propositions. Now, I passionately disagree with monsieur Žižek and I don’t come from an analytical philosophy perspective. I would go as far as to say that I hate Žižek and his brand of philosophy and have successfully maintained this hatred even though there is no shortage of Lacanian Marxists around me.
Let me explain my distaste for Žižek: I find his work repetitive, uninspired, and ideologically contradictory. If this wasn’t a re-view of a film, I would in detail defend my position by citing evidence. But for now I will be as crude as Žižek in Žižek! (and elsewhere) and say, although his insistence on a return to class analysis is noteworthy, it is not only the means but the goal itself which nullify his claims of being a radical communist. My problem with Žižek is that his leftist rhetoric is a pretense that cunningly masks his liberal elitist position. This is obvious in the film as long as you don’t belong to the cult of Žižek. What’s more, his analysis more often than not returns to justify the same system[s] of which he is seemingly critical. It’s as if he’s incapable of imagining another framework through which to speak. His philosophy is a perverse exercise in the perpetuation of hegemonic powers.
– The most entertaining part of the film is a segment from Nitebeat in which Barry Nolan interviews Žižek on his new book, The Puppet and the Dwarf. Not only does Nolan atrociously mispronounce Slavoj Žižek but he also offers us this gem in his introduction of Žižek, “Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst. He makes Freud sound like a simple Valley girl. Lacan’s theory of how the self works is so complicated it makes my teeth hurt to think about it.”
– I once dated someone who definitely belonged to the cult of Žižek. On my 25th birthday, he gave me Less than Nothing with an inscription along the lines of “every scholar needs a Žižek on her bookcase.” When we broke up, I gave it back. I wholeheartedly disagree with his sentiment and my bookcase is better for it.
– I checked out the film from the University of Washington libraries. Here is an image of the cover:
– Žižek keeps his clothes and bed sheets in his kitchen cabinets. How tiresomely eccentric.
– At one point, Žižek says, “Every time I talk about politics my heart isn’t in it.” My response is, “Then stop talking about politics!”
– If interested, Žižek’s analysis of the current Syrian refugee situation is a testament to his perverse exercise of perpetuating hegemonic powers.