Slavoj Zizek: The Madness of Philosophers

I don’t think that the task of a guy like me is to propose complete solutions. When people ask me what to do with the economy, what the hell do I know? I think the task of people like me is not to provide answers but to ask the right questions.

– Slavoj Zizek

Reading this particular interview in the Guardian we see Zizek trump his own clownishness. “I live as a madman!” In one moment he tells us that 99% of humanity are boring idiots, that students are his worst nightmare, and after three fitful marriages the only thing worth salvaging were the relationships with his two sons. In other words what we get in this interview is Zizek being Zizek. Diogenes of the Left. A madman whose barrel hit him point blank in the noggin after falling over the thin red line of his own broken dreams. Some say he’s getting senile, growing mellow in his old age, teetering on the edge; yet, others see him as a little wiser,  a little more cautious, seeing that the Communist Idea isn’t really going to take off anytime soon. Yet, he laughs, and jokes, and ponders the scope of our present predicament. “The big question today is how to organise to act globally, at an immense international level, without regressing to some authoritarian rule.” The reporter asks him: “How will that happen?” Simple, he says:

“I’m a pessimist in the sense that we are approaching dangerous times. But I’m an optimist for exactly the same reason. Pessimism means things are getting messy. Optimism means these are precisely the times when change is possible.” And what are the chances that things won’t change? “Ah, if this happens then we are slowly approaching a new apartheid authoritarian society. It will not be – I must underline this – the old stupid authoritarianism. This will be a new form, still consumerist.” The whole world will look like Dubai? “Yes, and in Dubai, you know, the other side are literally slaves.”

As for his jokes: “Most people think I’m making jokes, exaggerating – but no, I’m not. It’s not that. First I tell jokes, then I’m serious. No, the art is to bring the serious message into the forum of jokes.”

7 thoughts on “Slavoj Zizek: The Madness of Philosophers

  1. long history of serious clowns in Europe that gets a bit lost here stateside, like the new layout seems to be a nice marriage of form to function.

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  2. On jokes and the use of humour as subversion and seriousness:

    ‘We dismantle their power through the liberating force of laughter and like the body of the clown laughter is slippery and ever changing. You can laugh at someone and with someone, one minute it’s an act of solidarity, the next a gesture of contempt. Like fear – the force that those in power try to control us with – laughter is infectious. Where fear constricts and closes, laughter releases. It opens the body and mind, throwing it into a transformative chaos – it can turn humiliation into humour and a situation of terror into revealer of truth. It’s a form of sensuous solidarity which crisscrosses the normal lines of conflict – one minute those in authority are laughing at your stupidity, the next they are cowering from the mockery targeted at them.’- Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, http://www.clownarmy.org/about/writings.html

    Zizek’s question at the end there, on the need to organise without authoritarianism, is of course the important one. I have been engaged elsewhere in talking about this question, roughly, and find it infuriating that people who claim to want to re-think “how to organise” maintain automatic positions. ‘No to electoral politics! No to working with Leninists!’- but then what are you organsing? You’re own theoretico-practical cul-de-sac? Let us rethink things, but not if it means questioning any of our assumptions! I understand the reasons to be anti-Leninism and so on, the historical reasons, the ideological ones, but to make use of things, to pick up what lies at hand…must the question always revolve around questions of reformism and revolutionism, of the necessity of the former and the poverty of the latter? I don’t even think electoral politics are pertinent to the mass of people anymore, that little game is over, and, likewise, do reform/revolution make much sense to us in a time when the majority of political actions are defensive, when the majority of would-be revolutionaries only know of revolutions from textbooks and television screens? (And among these I of course include myself!)

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    • Yea, I understand. It’s not something one can force, either. While reading through some of Barardi he comes to a point when over a hundred thousand people came to Bologna in 1977. He says everyone was waiting for the “word” to begin, but no word ever came. I kept thinking, Why? Why does it always take one person, someone you wouldn’t really expect, the unknown X factor, to step up to the plate and start it all? Without leadership the crowd, the mass, is just that: lost, unable to act, unable to do for themselves what they know in their hearts must be done. Why do we always need confirmation first? Why have we bought into this need for some authority to tell us: It’s alright, I understand, you can begin now. You don’t have to fear anything but fear itself. Sure many of you may die, but we shall win through; for what we are doing has the force of truth in it.” Most people, sadly, are followers rather than leaders and cannot do for themselves what they should. It always comes down to: Buts… but I’m just one person, what can I do to make a difference? How can I begin? What’s to be done?” Maybe it comes down to critical mass… a sort of collective psychic trauma that spurs the mass into a collective awakening that then gets it all going… some event that wounds us to the core and forces us to rethink everything that we are or could be. One could puzzle over this for years. Psychologists have spent their lives trying to understand mass movements and why some succeed and others fail. But in the end there is no magic bullet. It’s something to do with Time…. even kairos – the right time… the moment when all the threads come together that offer the solution we’ve all been seeking to the tension of our moment.

      Like now in our time. We all know that things cannot go on as they are going on the planet. Yet, we all sit back and wait, ponder, wonder: when will people wake up, when will they realize that our planet is dying and we with it? Why want they do something? Why do they allow the oligarchs of the world, the profiteers to enslave us in their capitalistic bullshit system? Why do we sit idly by and allow the devastation across the planet to go on? Are we all that lazy? Even in this philosophical world that I watch everyday: I see all of you going about your business, day by day, academic meetings, journals, etc. as if everything is just some parade of academic one-upmanship. There seems to be no cohesiveness, nothing gels, there is no focus, no central message or cause; not even, in Zizek’s sense, of a lost cause to be restored. Why? Why is it that philosophers sit on the sidelines (of course I know that many of them have gone down into the streets in the Occupy movement, etc.). Yet, there is nothing that unites us under one umbrella. And most seem to speak academic prose to other academics rather than simplifying their message for the masses. Without a spokesman to bring that message to the greater world all we accomplish is the hollow cries of despair. We echo only ideas to ourselves, honing down our so to speak epistemic and ontological arguments that in the long run will die just like the icebergs at the two poles. Sometimes, I, too, feel that despair and pessimism that Zizek speaks of, yet I also allow for the optimism and hope of change, too. “Everything under heave is chaos: the situation is excellent,” Mao said. Yes, we are in the change, the generation that must change, must act, must make the first move out of this chaos and into a viable future.

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      • I am going to transcribe that comment into my own little Enchiridion so I can refer to it whenever I needto.

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  3. Pingback: A Response to a Zizekian question … Berardi and others… | noir realism

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