Stalinist Self-Criticism

Fatema Ahmed · Žižek in 'Cahiers'

The highlight of the April issue of Cahiers du Cinéma is an interview with Slavoj Žižek. Following up on a piece he wrote about Avatar, reprinted in the March issue of Cahiers, he confesses to his interviewers that he hasn’t seen the film; as a good Lacanian, the idea is enough, and we must trust theory. Žižek promises that he will see the film and then write a Stalinist ‘self-criticism’.

The good Lacanian goes on to inform the Cahiers editors that he wrote about The Talented Mr Ripley before seeing it, and that although he has seen Psycho and Vertigo (the interviewers sound quite jittery by this point), there’s a long chapter on Rossellini in Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and out and, no, he hadn’t seen the films when he wrote it. Out of respect for Lacan? Not this time: ‘As a good Hegelian, between the idea and the reality, I choose the idea.’

Except in the case of actresses, it seems. Cash-strapped commissioning editors everywhere should take note that Žižek would love to interview Kate Winslet (‘Madame Mendes’ for not much longer) and that he’s offering to pay for the plane ticket to Hollywood (although he might have better luck in New York) himself if you can arrange it.


  • 9 April 2010 at 11:24am
    astott says:
    He admits as much in the "Zizek" documentary, though it's unclear whether or not he's joking. Still, not wasting one's time on primary texts would undoubtedly speed up composition, thereby accounting for his prolific output - that and a schtick.

  • 9 April 2010 at 3:03pm
    pinhut says:
    Not watching a film is 'the purest form of viewing' might be one angle to take. Going to put Blockbuster out of business, but still.

    • 9 April 2010 at 10:58pm
      Phil Edwards says: @ pinhut
      When I first saw this comment (in the RSS feed, where it floats free of the original post) I was convinced it was an oblique response to Jenny Diski's comment about the election. (I still think it works quite well.)

    • 11 April 2010 at 4:12am
      pinhut says: @ Phil Edwards
      Heavens above, I haven't read Diski since she deigned to insult me. Is there no escape?

      I was moved to write the original comment because I maintain contact with England solely through the use of the internet, and the patterns in the media (and those commenting on stories) disclose themselves with far more clarity through not being a part of daily life there. As McCluhan said, "We don't know who discovered water, but we know it wasn't the fish."

  • 9 April 2010 at 6:04pm
    Julia Atkins says:
    Žižek, as we know, is an artist; of which variety his readers have to determine for themselves. He seems to be repeating and plagiarizing a bit too much these days, which isn't good for him or those who have to read him.

    • 10 April 2010 at 1:08pm
      simonpawley says: @ Julia Atkins
      Does anybody "have to"? Whatever one thinks of Zizek, it is surely the case that the moment it stops being fun is the moment one should stop reading. And anyway, anyone who has read one or two of his books and got the gist can surely form an opinion on all the subsequent ones on the basis of a glance at the back cover. Or is it impermissible to subject Zizek to such a Zizekian "reading" (just as one cannot 'deconstruct' deconstruction)?

  • 10 April 2010 at 3:54am
    loxhore says:
    And had he seen The Hurt Locker when he wrote about it for you?

    • 11 April 2010 at 1:55am
      Whose point?

      I think it's intriguing that (a) in many cases, the fact is forever unavailable to the reader of his criticism and that (b) were it available, it couldn't but change the reader's reading of the criticism.

      Cf too the way he's not fussed about how his first-language English editors alter his copy.

    • 11 April 2010 at 7:50am
      simonpawley says: @ loxhore
      I can see what you're saying, loxhore, but I think the more important issue is that Zizek is never very interested in analyzing his examples. This is what leads many to complain that he can never stick to the point (the piece "about" Avatar quickly jumps to some remarks about 'Titanic' and then from 'Reds' that are recycled (or 'self-plagiarized' as it is called when students do it) from elsewhere.
      In this case, and also in his blog post about 'Hurt Locker', Zizek's aim is to use these examples to illustrate a discussion about ideology. From his point of view, it doesn't really matter whether the substance of the example is entirely accurate, because the examples are mere vehicles used to help him expound the theoretical point, which is what really matters. In this view, if he uses an inaccurate reading of Avatar (or whatever) to explain his theoretical point in a way that makes sense to his reader, he has succeeded.
      Without doubt, this has its drawbacks, and readers who are either unconvinced by Zizek's Lacanian view of ideology, or who are bored by repetition will sooner or later tire of it all.
      Whatever one's view of the whole exercise, the point, for me at least, is that you are unlikely to learn anything about a film from reading something Zizek has written about it (whether he has seen it or not) because his aim is not to tell you anything about a film, but to use it as an example (often repeatedly) to explain something about Lacan or ideology. I don't particularly want to defend any of this, but I think it's better to be clear about what the point of it all is before making a judgement about it.

    • 11 April 2010 at 1:06pm
      Isn't the point that it does? Even if it only confirms what we (by which I mean those who believe him to be, as Julia Atkins so elegantly puts it, an 'artist') have always known? They talk about the sheer weight of evidence, don't they, in legal circles, so the prosecution's dreary task is just to keep piling on the flimsy pages until their accumulated mass squashes him. You say overkill; I say tomato.

    • 11 April 2010 at 6:24pm
      pinhut says: @ simonpawley
      That is a fair point, though it begs the question - would anybody be reading Zizek to learn anything about films?

      I enjoy reading Zizek despite/because of my own aversion to cinema itself, having not watched a film in more than a decade. He rather describes precisely what is so awful about them, and does so with great enthusiasm.

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