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.