Slavoj Zizek: On Cinema from Geert Lovink Interview

What I despise in America is the studio actors logic, as if there is something good in self expression: do not be oppressed, open yourself, even if you shout and kick the others, everything in order to express and liberate yourself. This is a stupid idea, that behind the mask there is some truth.

– Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek (1949 – )

Concerning theory, there are a lot of others, the whole domain of cultural criticism in America is basically cinema theory. What attracts me, is the axis between gaze and voice and nowhere will you find this tension better than in cinema. This still is for me the principal axis. Cinema is for me a kind of condensation. On the one hand you have the problem of voice, on the other the narrativisation. The only change I can think of is that up until twenty years ago, going to the cinema was a totally different social experience. It was a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and this changed. But what still appears in ordinary commercial films is the shift in the notion of subjectivity. You can detect what goes on at the profoundest, most radical level of our symbolic identities and how we experience ourselves. Cinema is still the easiest way, like for Freud dreams were the royal way to the unconscious. Maybe I am part of a nostalgic movement. Nowadays, because of all these new media, cinema is in a crisis. It becomes popular as a nostalgic medium. And what is modern film theory really about? Its ultimate object are nostalgic films from the thirties and forties. It is as if you need the theory in order to enjoy them. It’s incredible how even Marxists enjoy this game. They have seen every film, I’m not joking. It’s not only this paternalising notion that it is good to use examples from cinema. I would still claim that there is an inherent logic of the theory itself, as if there is a privileged relationship, like the role literature played in the nineteenth century.

Interview with Slavoj Zizek by Geert Lovink (1995)

5 thoughts on “Slavoj Zizek: On Cinema from Geert Lovink Interview

  1. Something Zizek doesn’t think of, something that I didn’t realise happened until recently, is that vast swathes of people who watch stream films online do not actually watch the film. Doesn’t Zizek talk somewhere about interpassivity? I don’t need to watch the film because I have recorded it/bought the DVD. This happens though with watching too: I watch the film but I watch it while instant messaging, downloading, talking about some other film that it reminds me of. The loss of a special place to watch a film, Zizek’s nostalgia, shouldn’t be seen as a nostalgia. At the same time, this dis-empathic society we live in…isn’t cinema a kind of training in empathy sometimes? And this can be so because it is a dark place, a room where we are alone together for a circumscribed time, a time in which it is safe and sometimes expected to partake in a shared but individual emotional experience (this is the other side of synchronisation). Without that space people are just watching films in their living rooms together; who is allowed to be moved? who can be moved in those circumstances?

    I have a friend who always complains about actors commentaries and interviews on films. ‘Why ask them about it?’ he says, ‘what do they know? They are the empty vessels of the writers and directors, the make-up artists and the post-production engineers’. Its as if the actor is only really an actor in these interviews, as if they are automata at work and engaged in self-expression only after-the-fact. Is there a lesson in that? Self-expression comes as a kind of side-effect of the inability to have self-expression.


    • I think the point he makes in much of his cinema critiques is more along the same line as J.G. Ballard made: we’ve become a voyeuristic affectless society that needs more and more shocks, horrors, blood-letting, feral beasts roaming the romantic shores of being to awaken us. The problem is that it does just the reverse, it’s more like the Rousseauian dreams of a return to Nature, but the nature we’re returning to is the black metal nightmares of fascism, zombies, snuff films, etc. As horrible as it was even the recent massacre at a cinema in America is a sort of doom prophetic fulfillment of Ballard’s Miellenial trilogy novels: the death of affect that kills us all. Dark days and nights ahead… Even though most of Jerzy Kosinski’s works may have been ghost written (from what some say) it is still interesting that, he, too, used these same Ballardian motifs in his dark novels and vignettes. From the Painted Bird on he exposed the dark underbelly of ideologies and techne intertwined. Self-expression: that’s the crux – we no longer have any selves to express, its an empty show for hollow people, the negation of a negation writ big. Between the eye and screen is the dark truth: there is nothing behind either the screen or the one watching, there is only the emptiness of all the zombies humming away….


      • ‘we no longer have any selves to express’: Nina Power makes this point quite nicely in One-Dimensional Woman. The demand for/of self-expression is that there be some self left to express. She refers to it as a process of self-objectification in which there is no subjective space left that isn’t fully objectified as commodity. I like Thomas Ligotti’s take on the same thought, although he obviously makes it into a cosmological condition; that we are marionettes who think that they are human. I suppose this is also what is going on with RS Bakker.

        so this is really the same as my point. self-expression is a side-effect. but what is a side-effect? it is precisely what is secondary to the intended outcome. it is accidental-accidenting. Post-fordism requires that we produce the play of selves in order to express them, but obviously its all impression-management all the way down (Hocschild, but also Goffman). But the talk of objectification and of impression management implies something to objectify, some self that manages how it appears. The point is, just as you say, there is nothing behind anything but emptiness. The notion of “self” is a side-effect of the subjectivation of capitalist units as expressive.

        Something I wrote on the subject a few years ago… its not so great but it probably gets at what I mean better than I am at the moment:


      • I’ve always liked this quote from Steven Shaviro’s reading of Blood Meridian (a book I can never get through):

        ‘”subjectivity is not a perspective upon or projection into the world, nor even a transcendental condition for our perception of the world; it is just another
        empirical fact, intentionally within the world like any other. There is no interiority, no intentionality and no transcendence”.

        Naturally, I think this nihilist or pessimist conclusion is emancipatory in the same sense that Vattimo thinks of it. What a relief! What a lifting of the tragic burden!


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