Slavoj Zizek: What is the Question?

The Elvis of the intelligensia, Slavoj Zizek, hot-links in our one-way conversation…

…from nominating George W. Bush (for his trillion-dollar bail-out) to the Communist Party to Kung-Fu Panda,

…from John McCain (“Bush with lipstick”) to Naomi Klein,

…from Barack Obama’s risk of the “John Kerry syndrome” to the experience we’re all having of putting on the reality sunglasses in John Carpenter’s “They Live,”

…from the movies “Fight Club” and “300” (which he says left-populists should be studying) to his reading of gold-digger Kate Croy in Henry James’ Wings of the Dove as a plausible model of political militancy,

…from Immanuel Kant’s notion of the sublime, to racist jokes with a moral purpose.


In New York on the last day of an American tour, absorbing the demise of Yankee Stadium and maybe of Wall Street as we thought we knew it, Zizek’s talk is a blast-furnace but not a blur. The theme through all Zizek’s gags is that the financial meltdown marks a seriously dangerous moment — dangerous not least because, as in the interpretation of 9.11, the right wing is ready to impose a narrative. And the left wing is caught without a narrative or a theory. “Today is the time for theory,” he says. “Time to withdraw and think.”

Dangerous moments are coming. Dangerous moments are always also a chance to do something. But in such dangerous moments, you have to think, you have to try to understand. And today obviously all the predominant narratives — the old liberal-left welfare state narrative; the post-modern third-way left narrative; the neo-conservative narrative; and of course the old standard Marxist narrative — they don’t work. We don’t have a narrative. Where are we? Where are we going? What to do? You know, we have these stupid elementary questions: Is capitalism here to stay? Are there serious limits to capitalism? Can we imagine a popular mobilization outside democracy? How should we properly react to ecology? What does it mean, all the biogenetic stuff? How to deal with intellectual property today? Things are happening. We don’t have a proper approach. It’s not only that we don’t have the answers. We don’t even have the right question.

Slavoj Zizek of In

Defense of Lost Causes, in conversation with Chris Lydon, September 22, 2008

It’s almost impossible, I discovered anew, to interrupt Zizek. And impossible also to stop listening. Here’s the experiment: if you can break out of the Zizek spell, leave a comment, please, about where and why he lost you. He had me to the end.

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