Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Pervert's Pervert

If there is one person I'd like to be, even more than the inimitable "Barney Roundtree", then it has to be Slavoj Žižek. Not least because his name is an insanely high Scrabble score (when augmenting the word SLAV, on an English Scrabble set, with someone so drunk or lax about the rules or such a big Žižek fan that they'd let you have a proper name. Perhaps Slavoj himself, late at night, in some Ljubljana shebeen), and contains two symbols I don't even know the word for.

Here he is talking about toilets

That particular ideological exegesis also crops up, more or less verbatim in David Foster Wallace's short story "The Suffering Channel" - you know when DFW is looting your ideas that you're onto something. For the full effect though you really need to hear him speaking in English, which he speaks beautifully, but with a Slovenian accent that is nothing short of sociopathic.

He's been described as the "Elvis of Psychoanalysis" - and I reckon he does have a peculiar energy about him which justifies the comparison.

Žižek specialises in unpacking Lacanian symbolism from within popular culture. You can watch him doing this in "The Pervert's Guide to Cinema" - in which he undertakes to introduce the principles of Lacanian psychoanalysis to the American movie-going public. This is a mad thing to want to do, madder still is that it seems to have worked, and he is all over YouTube.

Every single page of his writing is stocked with mind-bending ideas, it's just good for you to be forced to think like this, it's like doing yoga with someone who comes round and gently pulls your leg through your own armpit.

A standard trope of Žižekian thinking is perversion or paradox - so for instance, when Hanif Kureshi told him that his new novel was a complete departure, dealing with totally new areas of experience, Žižek said, yes, but the protagonist's father is still a failed Pakistani writer. Kureshi's reply was "But don't we all have fathers who are failed Pakistani writers?"

Žižek's genius is to agree with him.

Don't we all have fathers who are alienated by fatherhood, he says, and doomed to fall short of an impossible ideal? Is this not, in fact, the norm, and therefore the universal truth? Isn't the ideal really a universal untruth?

Neat huh?

Plus, trying to take Hanif Kureshi down a peg or two is just an admirable thing to do.

He gets a lot flack for his inconsistency, which some academics see as a lack of rigour, but is really just a flamboyant disrespect for his own gifts. He is also a communist who writes copy for Abercrombie and Fitch.

From Wikipedia:

Questioned as to the seemliness of a major intellectual writing ad copy, Žižek told the Boston Globe: "If I were asked to choose between doing things like this to earn money and becoming fully employed as an American academic, kissing ass to get a tenured post, I would with pleasure choose writing for such journals!"


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