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Žižek in a Crowd of Urban Hipsters

It was a delight last night to go and listen to Slovoj Žižek speak here in Portland. Though he was, allegedly here to speak on and promote his most recent book, his actual lecture, was of course something rather different. He spoke about the “culture of politeness,” the nature of academic discourse, the problems with contemporary liberalism, and of course made countless references to contemporary films, in most of which he detected horribly fascist undertones–especially in “The Dark Knight,” the discussion of which I found the most entertaining by far.

Žižek is a hilarious speaker. One of the main reasons for that may be his somewhat comical persona that he sustains, and of course American’s uncanny knack for finding unfamiliar accents blitheringly funny.

A lot of the talk was vintage Žižek. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of “nature.” In contrast to most liberal ecological rhetoric about how we need to “get back” to nature and become more “integrated” into nature, Žižek insisted that we need more alienation from nature, not less. Nature, he insisted is not a harmonious system existing in homeostasis which we nasty human have intruded on and disrupted. Rather nature is “one big catastrophe” which only sporadically manifests order and peace. This is clearly Žižek’s ontology manifesting itself. All things emerge from the void, indeed reality in some sense is nothing other than a chaotic void. Thus, the good can only appear in the world in the form of a radical rupture, a break, a complete severing of what is, since what is is chaos and nothingness.

This kind of way of conceptualizing nature clearly has its problems, though I respect it for at least taking the empirical reality of what happens “naturally” in our world seriously. What I appreciated even more was the way in which Žižek uncompromisingly berated “new age spiritualism” with its goddess language and deification of the earth. There were hushed murmurs and quiet quasi-boos in the audience when Žižek insisted that Christians and secularists should be behind the same barricades fighting against any sort of new age spiritualism, particularly the rather lame incarnation of Zen Buddhism in the West.

I don’t know if Žižek has been to Portland before, but I can’t imagine he didn’t know his audience. It was quite fun to watch the crowd, consisting of loads of trustafarians from Reed College squirm under his iconoclastic words. Even though Žižek certainly needs a lot of theological critique anyone who can so handily and casually deconstruct the sentimental notions of contemporary liberal college student spiritual sensibility is a friend of mine.

7 Comments

  1. philq wrote:

    I love it. A crucial point I’ve learned from Zizek (and Cavanaugh) is that, while we think that consumer society involves too much attachment to material goods, it’s actually characterized by an almost complete detachment. Thus imported Eastern philosophies and New Age spiritualities (not to mention leftist identity politics) paradoxically support the status quo! What we need is more attachment. And of course we can start by recognizing that material created reality reflects the goodness of its Creator.

    This is of course related to Hauerwas arguing that, in the face of romantic self definiton, marriage itself becomes a truly revolutionary act.

    Anyway, do you know if this lecture was recorded? I would love to watch it.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  2. Derrick wrote:

    Just a random question as I know next to nothing of Zizek’s ontology but the ontology of emergence from the void sounds similar to Deleuze’s theories of sporadic and contingent “answers” emerging from ultimate chaos (I think David Bentley Hart calls Deleuze’s system the “great inversion of Idealism”) is this connection off the mark or does Zizek interact at all with Deleuze?

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  3. dcrowe wrote:

    Man, I need to finish his book!

    I’m glad he’s challenging the ontology of the world being “order” manifested out of “chaos.” I think there’s good fuel for better theology available by inverting our usual concepts along these lines. Science (or at least, several versions of physics) shows that our moment in the life of the universe is not order imposed on chaos, but an interruption of chaos between two perfectly ordered states: the singularity and the undifferentiated space at the end of time. Chaos enables your existence, enables *anything’s* existence. You could tack on free will as an even deeper version of chaos – allowing matter to more and more act against basic billiard-ball physics to a limited extent. Maybe one could take this all the way to a conclusion (I haven’t yet…sorry…just blurting into a comment box) that pits it against the “myth of redemptive violence” where human society is an “order” imposed on a violent, evil chaos.

    Just thinking out loud…

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  4. Geoff wrote:

    Yeah, he was in Seattle on Monday night… a lot of fun!

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  5. Haden wrote:

    I wasn’t sure how to send you a private message, so I will just post the link here.

    This is an interesting article written on Sarah Palin and feminism I thought you would find ineteresting. The writing is fantastic. Although I find much of the writers worldview sad, I am always willing to respect someone who is honest, and thoroughly understands her views.

    Here is the link.

    http://www.salon.com/opinion/paglia/2008/09/10/palin/index.html

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 8:46 pm | Permalink
  6. Dave Belcher wrote:

    Derrick,

    Zizek wrote a book on Deleuze called, “Organs Without Bodies”….worth the read.

    Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  7. wess wrote:

    He was here in LA last night, somehow I didn’t get the memo until it was too late. I was really bummed, so thanks for the report on most likely what I missed.

    I’m interested to know the ethical implications of Zizek’s view on nature? Have any suggestions?

    Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

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