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Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a researcher at Birkbeck College, University of London, and the author of Absolute Recoil and Trouble in Paradise.

The Non-Existence of Norway

Slavoj Žižek, 9 September 2015

The flow​ of refugees from Africa and the Middle East into Western Europe has provoked a set of reactions strikingly similar to those we display on learning we have a terminal illness, according to the schema described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her classic study On Death and Dying. First there is denial: ‘It’s not so serious, let’s just ignore it’ (we...

Sinicisation

Slavoj Žižek, 15 July 2015

An exemplary case of today’s ‘socialism’ is China, where the Communist Party is engaged in a campaign of self-legitimisation which promotes three theses: 1) Communist Party rule alone can guarantee successful capitalism; 2) the rule of the atheist Communist Party alone can guarantee authentic religious freedom; and 3) continuing Communist Party rule alone can guarantee that China will be a society of Confucian conservative values (social harmony, patriotism, moral order).

In the Grey Zone

Slavoj Žižek, 5 February 2015

The​ formula of pathetic identification ‘I am …’ (or ‘We are all …’) only functions within certain limits, beyond which it turns into obscenity. We can proclaim ‘Je suis Charlie,’ but things start to crumble with examples like ‘We all live in Sarajevo!’ or ‘We are all in Gaza!’ The brutal fact that we are not all in...

Lenin v. Stalin in Kiev

Slavoj Žižek, 7 May 2014

Again and again in television reports on the mass protests in Kiev against the Yanukovich government, we saw images of protesters tearing down statues of Lenin. It was an easy way to demonstrate anger: the statues functioned as a symbol of Soviet oppression, and Putin’s Russia is perceived as continuing the Soviet policy of Russian domination of its neighbours. Bear in mind that it was only in 1956 that Lenin’s statues started to proliferate throughout the Soviet Union: until then, statues of Stalin were much more common.

The Global Protest

Slavoj Žižek, 18 July 2013

In his early writings, Marx described the German situation as one in which the only answer to particular problems was the universal solution: global revolution. This is a succinct expression of the difference between a reformist and a revolutionary period: in a reformist period, global revolution remains a dream which, if it does anything, merely lends weight to attempts to change things...

Europe and the Greeks

Slavoj Žižek, 7 June 2012

Imagine a scene from a dystopian movie that depicts our society in the near future. Uniformed guards patrol half-empty downtown streets at night, on the prowl for immigrants, criminals and vagrants. Those they find are brutalised. What seems like a fanciful Hollywood image is a reality in today’s Greece. At night, black-shirted vigilantes from the Holocaust-denying neo-fascist Golden Dawn movement – which won 7 per cent of the vote in the last round of elections, and had the support, it’s said, of 50 per cent of the Athenian police – have been patrolling the streets and beating up all the immigrants they can find: Afghans, Pakistanis, Algerians. So this is how Europe is defended in the spring of 2012.

The New Proletariat

Slavoj Žižek, 26 January 2012

How did Bill Gates become the richest man in America? His wealth has nothing to do with Microsoft producing good software at lower prices than its competitors, or ‘exploiting’ its workers more successfully (Microsoft pays its intellectual workers a relatively high salary). Millions of people still buy Microsoft software because Microsoft has imposed itself as an almost universal...

The Riots

Slavoj Žižek, 8 September 2011

This article, which appeared in the LRB of 8 September 2011, is an edited version of a piece originally published online. Read the full article here.

Shoplifters of the World Unite

Slavoj Žižek, 19 August 2011

Repetition, according to Hegel, plays a crucial role in history: when something happens just once, it may be dismissed as an accident, something that might have been avoided if the situation had been handled differently; but when the same event repeats itself, it is a sign that a deeper historical process is unfolding. When Napoleon lost at Leipzig in 1813, it looked like bad luck; when he...

Gentlemen of the Left

Slavoj Žižek, 20 January 2011

In one of the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks Putin and Medvedev are compared to Batman and Robin. It’s a useful analogy: isn’t Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s organiser, a real-life counterpart to the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight? In the film, the district attorney, Harvey Dent, an obsessive vigilante who is corrupted and himself commits murders, is killed by Batman. Batman and his friend police commissioner Gordon realise that the city’s morale would suffer if Dent’s murders were made public, so plot to preserve his image by holding Batman responsible for the killings. The film’s take-home message is that lying is necessary to sustain public morale: only a lie can redeem us. No wonder the only figure of truth in the film is the Joker, its supreme villain.

China’s Open Secret

Slavoj Žižek, 21 October 2010

Khrushchev’s speech in 1956 denouncing Stalin’s crimes was a political act from which, as his biographer William Taubman put it, ‘the Soviet regime never fully recovered, and neither did he.’ Although it was plainly opportunistic, there was just as plainly more to it than that, a kind of reckless excess that cannot be accounted for in terms of political strategy. The speech so undermined the dogma of infallible leadership that the entire nomenklatura sank into temporary paralysis. A dozen or so delegates collapsed during the speech, and had to be carried out and given medical help; one of them, Boleslaw Bierut, the hardline general secretary of the Polish Communist Party, died of a heart attack. The model Stalinist writer Alexander Fadeyev actually shot himself a few days later.

Neo-Anti-Communism

Slavoj Žižek, 19 November 2009

It is commonplace, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to hear the events of that time described as miraculous, a dream come true, something one couldn’t have imagined even a couple of months beforehand. Free elections in Poland with Lech Walesa as president: who would have thought it possible? But an even greater miracle took place only a couple of years later: free democratic...

The Rome-Tehran Axis

Slavoj Žižek, 23 July 2009

Is there a link between Ahmadinejad and Berlusconi? Isn’t it preposterous even to compare Ahmadinejad with a democratically elected Western leader? Unfortunately, it isn’t: the two are part of the same global process . . . The virus of authoritarian capitalism is slowly but surely spreading around the globe.

Noam Chomsky called for people to vote for Obama ‘without illusions’. I fully share Chomsky’s doubts about the real consequences of Obama’s victory: from a pragmatic perspective, it is quite possible that Obama will make only some minor improvements, turning out to be ‘Bush with a human face’. He will pursue the same basic policies in a more attractive way and thus effectively strengthen the US hegemony, damaged by the catastrophe of the Bush years.

One of the most striking things about the reaction to the current financial meltdown is that, as one of the participants put it: ‘No one really knows what to do.’ The reason is that expectations are part of the game: how the market reacts to a particular intervention depends not only on how much bankers and traders trust the interventions, but even more on how much they think others will trust them.

Radovan Karadzic’s Poetry

Slavoj Žižek, 14 August 2008

Now that Radovan Karadzic has finally been arrested it is time to recall that Karadzic, a psychiatrist by profession, was not only a ruthless political and military leader, but a poet. His poetry should not be dismissed as ridiculous: it deserves a close reading, since it tells us something about the way ethnic cleansing works. Here are the first lines of an untitled poem, identified by its...

What to Do about Capitalism

Slavoj Žižek, 15 November 2007

One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is indestructible. Marx compared it to a vampire, and one of the salient points of comparison now appears to be that vampires always rise up again after being stabbed to death. Even Mao’s attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to wipe out the traces of capitalism, ended up in its triumphant return. Today’s Left reacts in a wide variety of ways to the hegemony of global capitalism and its political supplement, liberal democracy. It might, for example, accept the hegemony, but continue to fight for reform within its rules (this is Third Way social democracy).

Dreaming

Slavoj Žižek, 25 May 2006

A century ago, Freud included psychoanalysis as one of what he described as the three ‘narcissistic illnesses’. First, Copernicus demonstrated that the Earth moves around the Sun, thereby depriving humans of their central place in the universe. Then Darwin demonstrated that we are the product of evolution, thereby depriving us of our privileged place among living beings. Finally, by making clear the predominant role of the unconscious in psychic processes, Freud showed that the ego is not master even in its own house. Today, scientific breakthroughs seem to bring further humiliation: the mind is merely a machine for data-processing, our sense of freedom and autonomy merely a ‘user’s illusion’. In comparison, the conclusions of psychoanalysis seem rather conservative.

The Philanthropic Enemy

Slavoj Žižek, 6 April 2006

Since 2001, Davos and Porto Alegre have been the twin cities of globalisation: Davos, the exclusive Swiss resort where the global elite of managers, statesmen and media personalities meets for the World Economic Forum under heavy police protection, trying to convince us (and themselves) that globalisation is its own best remedy; Porto Alegre, the subtropical Brazilian city where the counter-elite of the anti-globalisation movement meets, trying to convince us (and themselves) that capitalist globalisation is not our inevitable fate – that, as the official slogan puts it, ‘another world is possible.’ It seems, however, that the Porto Alegre reunions have somehow lost their impetus – we have heard less and less about them over the past couple of years. Where did the bright stars of Porto Alegre go?

There is a much deeper commitment to alternative histories in the radical Marxist view. For a radical Marxist, the actual history that we live is itself the realisation of an alternative history: we have to live in it because, in the past, we failed to seize the moment. In an outstanding reading of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, Eric Santner elaborated the notion that a present revolutionary intervention repeats/redeems failed attempts in the past. These attempts count as ‘symptoms’, and can be retroactively redeemed through the ‘miracle’ of the revolutionary act. They are ‘not so much forgotten deeds, but rather forgotten failures to act, failures to suspend the force of social bonds inhibiting acts of solidarity with society’s “others”.’

Stalin applauded too

Slavoj Žižek, 17 March 2005

“Till now, Stalinism hasn’t been rejected in the same way as Nazism. We are fully aware of its monstrous aspects, but still find Ostalgie acceptable: you can make Goodbye Lenin!, but Goodbye Hitler! is unthinkable. Why? Even at this anecdotal level, the difference between the Nazi and Stalinist universes is clear, just as it is when we recall that in the Stalinist show trials, the accused had publicly to confess his crimes and give an account of how he came to commit them, whereas the Nazis would never have required a Jew to confess that he was involved in a Jewish plot against the German nation. The reason is clear. Stalinism conceived itself as part of the Enlightenment tradition, according to which, truth being accessible to any rational man, no matter how depraved, everyone must be regarded as responsible for his crimes. But for the Nazis the guilt of the Jews was a fact of their biological constitution: there was no need to prove they were guilty, since they were guilty by virtue of being Jews.”

Populist Conservatism

Slavoj Žižek, 4 November 2004

In Kansas and other states in the American heartland, economic class conflict (poor farmers and blue-collar workers versus lawyers, bankers, large companies) has been transposed into an opposition between honest, hard-working, Christian Americans on the one hand, and decadent latte-drinking liberals who drive foreign cars, mock patriotism and advocate abortion and homosexuality on the other:...

Leftist Platitudes

Slavoj Žižek, 2 September 2004

“Although Timothy Garton Ash is my political opponent, I always consider him worth reading for his wealth of precise observations, and as a reliable source on the vicissitudes of the disintegration of Eastern European Communism. In Free World he has taken the same perspicuous and bitterly witty approach to the conundrums of the recent tensions between the key Western European states and the US. In the second half of the book, however, he passes to a general diagnosis of the threats to freedom since the end of the Cold War, and the tone becomes dogmatic and simplistic, and the proposed solutions hopelessly naive. The final pages are full of journalistic commonplaces. And what is one to say of his tendency to moral platitude?”

The Culture of Torture

Slavoj Žižek, 3 June 2004

Does anyone still remember ‘Comical Ali’, Saddam’s information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who, in his daily press conferences, heroically stuck to the Iraqi line in the face of the most glaring evidence? (He was still claiming that TV footage of US tanks on the streets of Baghdad were just Hollywood special effects when the tanks were only a few hundred yards from his...

Henning Mankell

Slavoj Žižek, 20 November 2003

Henning Mankell’s recent series of police procedurals set in the southern Swedish town of Ystad, with Inspector Kurt Wallander as their hero, is a perfect illustration of the fate of the detective novel in the era of global capitalism.

The main effect of globalisation on detective fiction is discernible in its dialectical counterpart: the specific locale, a particular provincial...

Highsmith is the One

Slavoj Žižek, 21 August 2003

For me, the name ‘Patricia Highsmith’ designates a sacred territory: she is the One whose place among writers is that which Spinoza held for Gilles Deleuze (a ‘Christ among philosophers’). I learned a lot about her from Andrew Wilson’s biography, a book which strikes the right balance between empathy and critical distance. Wilson’s interpretations of her...

Improve Your Performance!

Slavoj Žižek, 22 May 2003

“The philosophical question here is whether the unfortunate rat was aware that something was wrong, that its movements were being decided by another power. And when the same experiment is performed on a human being . . . will the steered person be aware that an external power is deciding his movements? And if so, will this power be experienced as an irresistible inner drive, or as coercion?”

What’s going on?

Slavoj Žižek, 3 April 2003

Everyone fears the possibility that the US attack on Iraq will have a catastrophic outcome – an ecological disaster of gigantic proportions, high American casualties, a terrorist attack in the West. If the war is over quickly (perhaps even by the time this is published) and if Saddam’s regime disintegrates, there will be a general sigh of relief, even among many critics of US...

Lenin’s Breakthrough

Slavoj Žižek, 25 July 2002

The Left is undergoing a shattering experience: the progressive movement is being compelled to reinvent its whole project. What tends to be forgotten, however, is that a similar experience gave birth to Leninism. Consider Lenin’s shock when, in the autumn of 1914, every European social democratic party except the Serbs’ followed the ‘patriotic line’. How difficult it...

Love Thy Neighbour

Slavoj Žižek, 23 May 2002

“Asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, ‘Concentration Camp’ Erhardt (in Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be) snaps back: ‘We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.’ A similar distinction applies to the Enron bankruptcy, which can be seen as an ironic comment on the notion of a risk society. Thousands of employees who lost their jobs and savings were certainly exposed to a risk, but without having any real choice: what was risk to those in the know was blind fate to them.”

From The Blog
28 October 2011

The protests on Wall Street and at St Paul’s Cathedral are similar, Anne Applebaum wrote in the Washington Post, ‘in their lack of focus, in their inchoate nature, and above all in their refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions’. ‘Unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square,’ she went on, ‘to whom the London and New York protesters openly (and ridiculously) compare themselves, we have democratic institutions.’ Once you have reduced the Tahrir Square protests to a call for Western-style democracy, as Applebaum does, of course it becomes ridiculous to compare the Wall Street protests with the events in Egypt: how can protesters in the West demand what they already have? What she blocks from view is the possibility of a general discontent with the global capitalist system which takes on different forms here or there.

Václav Havel

Slavoj Žižek, 28 October 1999

Vaclav Havel’s life would seem to be an unrivalled success story: the Philosopher-King, a man who combines political power with a global moral authority comparable only to that of the Pope, the Dalai Lama or Nelson Mandela. And just as at the end of a fairy tale when the hero is rewarded for all his suffering by marrying the princess, he is married to a beautiful movie actress. Why, then, has John Keane chosen as the subtitle of his biography ‘A Political Tragedy in Six Acts’?‘

The post-modern superego

Slavoj Žižek, 18 March 1999

‘Rule Girls’ are heterosexual women who follow precise rules as to how they let themselves be seduced (accept a date only if you are asked at least three days in advance etc). Although the rules correspond to customs which used to regulate the behaviour of old-fashioned women actively pursued by old-fashioned men, the Rule Girls phenomenon does not involve a return to conservative values: women now freely choose their own rules – an instance of the ‘reflexivisation’ of everyday customs in today’s ‘risk society’. According to the risk society theory of Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck and others, we no longer live our lives in compliance with Nature or Tradition; there is no symbolic order or code of accepted fictions (what Lacan calls the ‘Big Other’) to guide us in our social behaviour. All our impulses, from sexual orientation to ethnic belonging, are more and more often experienced as matters of choice. Things which once seemed self-evident – how to feed and educate a child, how to proceed in sexual seduction, how and what to eat, how to relax and amuse oneself – have now been ‘colonised’ by reflexivity, and are experienced as something to be learned and decided on.’‘

From The Blog
23 March 2010

The victory at the Oscars of Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker over James Cameron’s Avatar was generally perceived as a good sign of the state of things in Hollywood: a low-budget, independent film overcomes a superproduction whose technical brilliance cannot cover up the flat simplicity of its story. So Hollywood is not just a blockbuster machine, but still knows how to appreciate marginal creative efforts. Well, maybe. But it’s also the case that, with all its mystifications, Avatar clearly takes the side of those who oppose the global military-industrial complex, while The Hurt Locker presents the US army in a way which is much more finely attuned to its own public image in our time of humanitarian interventions and militaristic pacifism.

Letter

Resistance is Surrender

15 November 2007

My critics make the following claims (Letters, 13 December 2007): 1. that my message to the left is that there is no chance of overcoming capitalism; all we can do is to ‘sit at home and watch the barbarity on television’; 2. that I advocate modest realistic demands rather than the pursuit of big impossible goals; 3. that in dismissing the Western democratic left, I support power-mad dictators...
Letter

Hooray for Bush!

4 November 2004

My comments on the paradoxes of US populist conservatism were made just before the US election (LRB, 4 November). The result, it seems to me, poses the basic paradox of democracy itself. In The History of the VKP(b), Stalin (who ghost-wrote the book) describes the outcome of the voting at a party congress in the late 1920s: ‘With a large majority, the delegates unanimously approved the resolution...

Slavoj Žižek’s Paradoxes

Fredric Jameson, 7 September 2006

As every schoolchild knows by now, a new book by Žižek is supposed to include, in no special order, discussions of Hegel, Marx and Kant; various pre- and post-socialist anecdotes and...

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Slavoj Žižek

Malcolm Bull, 25 January 2001

Get into the car sometime and drive out of town. Once you have got past the suburbs, and the industrial estates, and the home-made signs (‘Buy British’, ‘Our Beef With...

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Enjoy!

Terry Eagleton, 27 November 1997

Schopenhauer saw us all as permanently pregnant with monsters, bearing at the very core of our being something implacably alien to it. He called this the Will, which was the stuff out of which we...

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