Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Slavoj Žižek in the News - Article Links and a Profile

From Bookforum's Omnivore:
Ceasefire proflies Slavoj Zizek: The Dog’s Bollocks at the Media Dinner Party.
Slavoj Zizek wages a fight on two fronts, against both God and capitalism.
Here are excerpts from the forthcoming book Zizek and the Media by Paul Taylor.
Here is some of Paul Taylor's profile of Zizek in Ceasefire.

Profile: Slavoj Žižek – The Dog’s Bollocks … at the Media Dinner Party

By Paul Taylor

There are many great authors of the past who have survived centuries of oblivion and neglect, but it is still an open question whether they will be able to survive an entertaining version of what they have to say.
~ Hannah Arendt – The Crisis in Culture

As likely to talk about Homer’s Springfield as Ithaca, Žižek offers a fascinating new take on Arendt’s open question. Embodying “the Heineken effect”, he refreshes the parts other thinkers cannot reach at a time when increasingly anaemic universities have begun to act as uncritical subsidiaries of their governmental and corporate sponsors.

The motivation to write Žižek and the Media came from a desire to express exactly why he stands out so forcefully from the conventional commentariat as well as wanting to tackle head-on two frequently voiced objections to his work – the obscene humour and his refusal to provide ready-made solutions for the problems he so readily identifies.

Both po-faced distaste and an instrumentally-minded yearning for immediate answers miss two fundamental points – his jokes are philosophically important and, despite the über-pragmatic nature of our times (or perhaps more so now than ever before), the over-riding purpose of philosophy remains the asking of questions rather than the providing of answers – as Heidegger put it: “questioning is the piety of thought”.

In ancient Greece, the philosopher Diogenes (aka ‘the dog’) shocked the Athenian agora with public acts of defecation and masturbation. Although (so far) Žižek has limited himself to only talking about such acts, he can be viewed as a Diogenes for our online times. The following joke is not one that Žižek has used, but it nevertheless vividly encapsulates the paradoxically serious end of his frequently comic means.

In the middle of a vibrant middle-class dinner party, the host’s old flatulent dog staggers into the dining room, flops down, and promptly begins to enthusiastically and noisily lick its scrotum in full view of the now suddenly quiet guests. To ease the unbearable sense of embarrassment that descends upon the party, a male guest says, ‘I wish I could do that.’ This produces a round of cathartic tittering … that becomes heavy laughter when the hostess adds tartly, ‘If you give him a biscuit, you can.’

To apply this setting to today’s mediascape, the guest’s quip of ‘I wish I could do that’ is the socially acceptable level of communication that defuses otherwise disturbing situations – discourse’s equivalent of a lightning rod that channels away disruptive intrusions. By contrast, the hostess ups the traumatic ante. She extrapolates upon the guest’s interjection in order to undermine his attempt at defusing the situation. As a media theorist, Žižek provocatively mixes of the roles of the quick-thinking hostess and the pomposity-puncturing dog.

A related joke that Žižek does use himself (slightly adapted here) is set in an Eastern European bar in which a singing gypsy violin player moves between the tables. A customer is drinking whisky at the bar when, suddenly, a monkey jumps up, dances towards him, washes his testicles in the whisky glass, and then dances away again. The furious customer asks the bartender why the monkey did this, only to be told that he should ask the gypsy, who knows everything.
To read the rest of the joke and the rest of the column, follow this link.

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