Slavoj Žižek

Slovene philosopher (b.1949)
I think that the task of philosophy is not to provide answers, but to show how the way we perceive a problem can be itself part of a problem.

Slavoj Žižek (born 21 March 1949) is a Slovenian sociologist, philosopher and cultural critic.



  • A spectre is haunting Western academia (...), the spectre of the Cartesian subject.
    • The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology (London/New York: Verso, 1999), p. 1.
  • It is also crucial to bear in mind the interconnection between the Decalogue... and its modern obverse, the celebrated 'human Rights'. As the experience of our post-political liberal-permissive society amply demonstrates, human Rights are ultimately, at their core, simply Rights to violate the Ten Commandments. 'The right to privacy' — the right to adultery, in secret, where no one sees me or has the right to probe my life. 'The right to pursue happiness and to possess private property' -- the right to steal (to exploit others). 'Freedom of the press and of the expression of opinion' -- the right to lie. 'The right of free citizens to possess weapons' -- the right to kill. And, ultimately, 'freedom of religious belief' — the right to worship false gods.
    • The Fragile Absolute: or, why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for?
  • There is a somewhat analogous situation with regard to the heterosexual seduction procedure in our Politically Correct times: the two sets, the set of PC behaviour and the set of seduction, do not actually intersect anywhere; that is, there is no seduction which is not in a way an "incorrect" intrusion or harassment — at some point, one has to expose oneself and "make a pass." So does this mean that every seduction is incorrect harassment through and through? No, and that is the catch: when you make a pass, you expose yourself to the Other (the potential partner), and she decides retroactively, by her reaction, whether what you have just done was harassment or a successful act of seduction — and there is no way to tell in advance what her reaction will be. This is why assertive women often despise "weak" men — because they fear to expose themselves, to take the necessary risk. And perhaps this is even more true in our PC times: are not PC prohibitions rules which, in one way or another, are to be violated in the seduction process? Is not the seducer’s art to accomplish this violation properly — so that afterwards, by its acceptance, its harassing aspect will be retroactively cancelled?
    • The Fragile Absolute: or, why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for? (London: Verso, 2000, ISBN 1-85984-326-3), p. 111.
  • In the electoral campaign, President Bush named as the most important person in his life Jesus. Now he has a unique chance to prove that he meant it seriously: for him, as for all Americans today, "Love thy neighbor!" means "Love the Muslims!" OR IT MEANS NOTHING AT ALL.
  • [A]t the beginning of November 2001, there was a series of meetings between White House advisers and senior Hollywood executives with the aim of co-ordinating the war effort and establishing how Hollywood could help in the "war against terrorism" by getting the right ideological message across not only to Americans, but also to the Hollywood public around the globe — the ultimate empirical proof that Hollywood does in fact function as an "ideological state apparatus."
  • We feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom.
    • "Introduction: The Missing Ink", in Welcome to the Desert of the Real!: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (2002), p. 2
  • As a Marxist, let me add: if anyone tells you Lacan is difficult, this is class propaganda by the enemy.
    • Last remark in an interview for the CN8 show Nitebeat (2003) [1]
  • I hate writing. I so intensely hate writing — I cannot tell you how much. The moment I am at the end of one project I have the idea that I didn’t really succeed in telling what I wanted to tell, that I need a new project — it’s an absolute nightmare. But my whole economy of writing is in fact based on an obsessional ritual to avoid the actual act of writing.
    • Conversations with Žižek by Slavoj Žižek and Glyn Daly (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), p. 42
  • I believe in clear-cut positions. I think that the most arrogant position is this apparent, multidisciplinary modesty of "what I am saying now is not unconditional, it is just a hypothesis," and so on. It really is a most arrogant position. I think that the only way to be honest and expose yourself to criticism is to state clearly and dogmatically where you are. You must take the risk and have a position.
    • Conversations with Žižek by Slavoj Žižek and Glyn Daly (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), p. 45
  • Daly: In a sense, would you say that the age of biogenetics/cyberspace is the age of philosophy?
    Žižek: Yes, and the age of philosophy in the sense again that we are confronted more and more often with philosophical problems at an everyday level. It is not that you withdraw from daily life into a world of philosophical contemplation. On the contrary, you cannot find your way around daily life itself without answering certain philosophical questions. It is a unique time when everyone is, in a way, forced to be some kind of philosopher.
    • Conversations with Žižek by Slavoj Žižek and Glyn Daly (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), p. 54
  • With Lenin it was always a substantial commitment. I always have a certain admiration for people who are aware that somebody has to do the job. What I hate about these liberal, pseudo-left, beautiful soul academics is that they are doing what they are doing fully aware that somebody else will do the job for them.
    • Conversations with Žižek by Slavoj Žižek and Glyn Daly (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004), p. 50
  • They are trying as directly as possible to sell you experiences, i.e. what you are able to do with the car, not the car as a product itself. An extreme example of this is this existing economic marketing concept, which basically evaluates the value of you as a potential consumer of your own life. Like how much are you worth, in the sense of all you will spend to buy back your own life as a certain quality life. You will spend so much in doctors, so much in beauty, so much in transcendental meditation, so much for music, and so on. What you are buying is a certain image and practice of your life. So what is your market potential, as a buyer of your own life in this sense?
  • Think about the strangeness of today's situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on. So the paradox is, that it's much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.
  • We usually speak of the Jewish-Christian civilization — perhaps, the time has come, especially with regard to the Middle East conflict, to talk about the Jewish-Muslim civilization as an axis opposed to Christianity.
  • I claim that jihadis are really motivated neither by religion nor by a Leftist sense of justice, but by resentment, which in no way puts them on the Left, neither “objectively” nor “subjectively.” I simply never wrote that Islamic fundamentalists are in any sense on the Left—the whole point of my writing on this topic is that the “antagonism” between liberal tolerance and ethnic or religious fundamentalism is inherent to the universe of global capitalism: in their very opposition, they are the two faces of the same system. The true Left starts with the insight into this complicity. A good example of how religious fundamentalism is to be located “in the context of the antagonisms of global capitalism” is Afghanistan. Today, when Afghanistan is portrayed as the utmost Islamic fundamentalist country, who still remembers that, 30 years ago, it was a country with strong secular tradition, up to a strong Communist party which first took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Afghanistan became fundamentalist when it was drawn into global politics (first through the Soviet intervention).
  • One should oppose the fascination with Hitler according to which Hitler was, of course, a bad guy, responsible for the death of millions — but he definitely had balls, he pursued with iron will what he wanted. … This point is not only ethically repulsive, but simply wrong: no, Hitler did not ‘have the balls’ to really change things; he did not really act, all his actions were fundamentally reactions, i.e., he acted so that nothing would really change, he stages a big spectacle of Revolution so that the capitalist order could survive.”
    In this precise sense of violence, Gandhi was more violent than Hitler: Gandhi’s movement effectively endeavored to interrupt the basic functioning of the British colonial state.
    • "Disputations: Who Are You Calling Anti-Semitic?" in The New Republic (7 January 2009); Žižek is here quoting a statement he made in a prior essay to distinguish what he had actually said with such assertions as he was portrayed as having made. He asserts that Hitler for all his bluster and brutality was a promoter of established economies and less boldly revolutionary in his ideas and actions than Gandhi.
  • See you, either in Hell, or in Communism.
    • Parting remark in "The Culture Show" (2010)
  • Love is what makes sex more than masturbation. If there is no love even if you are really with a partner you masturbate with a partner.
    • Interview in HARDtalk, BBC World Service (12 January 2010)
  • I already am eating from the trash can all the time. The name of this trash can is ideology. The material force of ideology makes me not see what I am effectively eating.
  • I may still be a kind of a Marxist but I'm very realistic, I don't have these dreams of revolutions around the corner.
  • I think that the task of philosophy is not to provide answers, but to show how the way we perceive a problem can be itself part of a problem.
    • Lecture "Year of Distraction" [3], at 1:07.
  • “I hate students,” [Zizek] said, “they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.
    In a recent interview at this year’s Zizek Conference in Ohio, Zizek talked about his personal life before delving into his thoughts on teaching.
    “I hate giving classes,” Zizek said, citing office hours and grading papers as his two biggest peeves.
    “I did teach a class here [at the University of Cincinnati] and all of the grading was pure bluff,” he continues. “I even told students at the New School for example… if you don’t give me any of your shitty papers, you get an A. If you give me a paper I may read it and not like it and you can get a lower grade.” He received no papers that semester.
    But it’s office hours that are the main reason he does not want to teach.
    “I can’t imagine a worse experience than some idiot comes there and starts to ask you questions, which is still tolerable. The problem is that here in the United States students tend to be so open that sooner or later, if you’re kind to them, they even start to ask you personal questions [about] private problems… What should I tell them?”
    “I don’t care,” he continued. “Kill yourself. It’s not my problem,”

The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989)Edit

  • When we observe a thing, we see too much in it, we fall under the spell of the wealth of empirical detail which prevents us from clearly perceiving the notional determination which forms the core of the thing. The problem is thus not that of how to grasp the multiplicity of determinations, but rather to abstract from them, how to constrain our gaze and teach it to grasp only the notional determinism.
    • xi
  • ...there are always three elements [of psychoanalysis] at work: the manifest dream-text, the latent dream-content or thought and the unconscious desire articulated in the dream. This desire attaches itself to the dream, it interlaces itself in the interspace between the latent thought and the manifest text; it is therefore not 'more concealed, deeper' in relation to the latent thought, it is decidedly more 'on the surface,' consisting entirely of the signifier's mechanisms, of the treatment to which the latent content is submitted.
    • 6
  • Dreams are nothing other than a particular form of thinking, made possible by the conditions of the state of sleep. it is the dream-work which creates that form, and it alone is the essence of dreaming - the explanation of its peculiar nature.
    • 7
  • 'Ideological' is a social reality whose very existence implies the non-knowledge of its participants as to its essence - that is, social effectivity, the very reproduction of which implies that the individuals 'do not know what they are doing.'
    • 15
  • The source of totalitarianism is a dogmatic attachment to the official word: the lack of laughter, of ironic detachment. An excessive commitment to Good may in itself become the greatest Evil: real Evil is any kind of fanatical dogmatism, especially exerted in the name of supreme Good... Consider only Mozart's Don Giovanni at the end of the opera, when he is confronted with the following choice: if he confesses his sins, he can still achieve salvation; if he persists, he will be damned forever. From this viewpoint of the pleasure principle, the proper thing to do would be to renounce his past, but he does not, he persists in his Evil, although he knows that by persisting he will be damned forever. Paradoxically, with his final choice of Evil, he acquires the status of an ethical hero - that is, of someone who is guided by fundamental principles beyond the pleasure principle and not just by the search for pleasure or material gain.
    • 23
  • In the more sophisticated versions of the critics of ideology - that developed by the Frankfurt School , for example - it is not just a question of seeing things (that is, social reality) as they 'really are," of throwing away the distorting spectacles of ideology; the main point is to see how the reality itself cannot reproduce itself without this so-called ideological mystification. The mask is not simply hiding the real state of things; the ideological distortion is written into its very essence... the moment we see it 'as it really is,' this being dissolves itself into nothingness or, more precisely, it changes into another kind of reality. That is why we must avoid simple metaphors of demasking, of throwing away the veils which are supposed to hide the naked reality.
    • 24-25
  • As Bertolt Brecht puts in his Threepenny Opera: ''What is the robbery of a bank compared to the foundation of a new bank?'
    • 26
  • ...Tibetan prayer wheels: you write a prayer on a paper, put the rolled paper on a wheel, and turn it automatically, without thinking. In this way, the wheel itself is praying for me, instead of me - or more precisely, I myself am praying through the medium of the wheel. The beauty of it all is that in my psychological inferiority I can think about whatever I want, I can yield to the most dirty and obscene fantasies, and it does not matter because - to use a good old Stalinist expression - 'whatever I am thinking, objectively I am praying.'
    • 32
  • In his seminar on The Ethic of Psychoanalysis, Lacan speaks of the role of the Chorus in classical tragedy: we, the spectators, came to the theatre worried, full of everyday problems, unable to adjust without reserve to the problems of the play, that is to feel the required fears and compassions - but not problem, there is a chorus, who feels the sorrow and the compassion instead of us - or, more precisely, we feel the required emotions through the medium of the chorus: 'You are then relieved of all worries, even if you do not feel anything, the Chorus will do so in your place.'
    • 32; quote from Lacan's Le séminaire, livre VII : L'éthique de la psychanalyse, 295
  • Canned laughter: After some supposedly funny or witty remark you can hear the laughter and applause included in the soundtrack of the show itself - here we have the exact counterpart of the Chorus in classical tragedy; it is here that we have to look for 'living Antiquity.' That is to say, why this laughter? The first possible answer - that it serves to remind us when to laugh - is interesting enough, because it implies the paradox that laughter is a matter of duty and not of some spontaneous feeling; but this answer is not sufficient because we do not usually laugh. The only correct answer would be that the Other - embodied in the television set - is relieving us even of our duty to laugh - is instead laughing for us. So even if, tired from a hard days stupid work, all evening we did nothing but gaze drowsily into the television screen, we can say afterwards that objectively, through the medium of the other, we had a really good time.
    • 33
  • A well-known joke - a fool who thought he was a grain of corn. After some time in a mental hospital he was cured; now he knew that he was not a grain, but a man. So they let him out; but soon after he came running back saying, 'I met a hen and I was afraid she would try to eat me.' The doctors tried to calm him down. 'What are you afraid of? You know you are not a grain, but a man.' The fool answered: 'Yes of course I know that, but does the hen know?'
    • 33
  • First, [the bourgeoisie] must recognize his own impotence, his incapacity to believe in a sense of history, even if his reason leans towards the truth, the passions and prejudices produced by his class position, prevent him from accepting it. So he should not exert himself with proving the truth of the historical mission of the working class; rather, he should learn to subdue his petty bourgeois passions and prejudices. He should take lessions from those who were once as important as he is now, but are ready to risk all for the revolutionary Cause.
    • 38

In Defense of Lost Causes (2008)Edit

  • Heidegger is 'great' not in spite of, but because of his Nazi engagement...
  • ...crazy, tasteless even, as it may sound, the problem with Hitler was that he was not violent enough, that his violence was not 'essential' enough...
  • ...there is never a "right moment" for the revolutionary act - the act is always, by definition, "premature".

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (2009)Edit

  • On the information sheet in a New York hotel, I recently read: 'Dear guest! To guarantee that you will fully enjoy your stay with us, this hotel is totally smoke-free. For any infringement of this regulation, you will be charged $200.' The beauty of this formulation, taken literally, is that you are to be punished for refusing to fully enjoy your stay.
  • Populism is ultimately sustained by the frustrated exasperation of ordinary people, by the cry "I don't know what's going on, but I've just had enough of it! It cannot go on! It must stop!"

Living in the End Times (2010)Edit

  • “It is more satisfying to sacrifice oneself for the poor victim than to enable the other to overcome their victim status and perhaps become even more succesfull than ourselves”

About ŽižekEdit

  • Few thinkers illustrate the contradictions of contemporary capitalism better than the Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek.
    • John Gray, "The Violent Visions of Slavoj Žižek". The Guardian, July 12, 2012
  • What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever. So there’s no theory in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying.
  • ...the works of Slavoj Žižek can advance the field of emotional geographies, as well as our understandings of emotion, space, and society. Žižek provides a rich social theoretical vocabulary that can help explain cultural discontent, how emotional worlds bond and fall apart, why there is no guaranteed harmony in love with our partner, and how emotional worlds are organized in ways so that people can hold onto something that resembles ‘subjectivity’ and ‘reality’.
    • Paul Kingsbury, "Did somebody say jouissance? On Slavoj Žižek, consumption, and nationalism", Emotion, Space and Society, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2008, Pages 48–55
  • The curious thing about the Žižek phenomenon is that the louder he applauds violence and terror—especially the terror of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, whose "lost causes" Žižek takes up in another new book, In Defense of Lost Causes—the more indulgently he is received by the academic left, which has elevated him into a celebrity and the center of a cult
    • Adam Kirsch, "The Deadly Jester", The New Republic, December 2, 2008
  • Maybe, many years ago, Zizek made a bet with some of his Slovenian colleagues about how much post-modern sounding gibberish he could get contemporary academics to swallow-keep in mind that, recently, he's been trying to persuade people to embrace as unproblematic the juxtaposition of Stalinist dialectical materialism and Christian theology.
  • The shortage of public intellectuals (in the English-speaking world) goes back to the decline of the written media: the first TV intellectual was Foucault, who was at home in both media, but his successors and imitators know only the camera. This forces sound bites upon even the most complex material: see Schama, Ferguson e tutti quanti. Also, and paradoxically: public intellectuals are best when they are grounded in a particular language, culture, debate. Thus Camus was French, Habermas is German, Sen is Bengali, Orwell was deep English. This made their cross-frontier ventures plausible, in the same way that Havel or Michnik today have street cred because they started out as courageous dissidents in a very particular time and place. The opposite is the ridiculous Slavoj Zizek: a “global”’ public intellectual who is therefore of no particular interest in any one place or on any one subject. If he is the future of public intellectuals, then they have no future.
  • [I]t needs to be recognized that instead of being an “interdisciplinary philosopher” or “playfully Hegelian,” Žižek elevates the most un-Hegelian idea of all, arbitrariness, to be his guiding method. Throughout a long book [i.e., Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?] he brings up dozens of topics without providing any coherent explanation of why he chooses to discuss one topic rather than another. Thus, even someone sympathetic to a specific opinion can never be entirely sure whether Žižek will stand by his own case, or will simply drop it as he flits to another topic. In addition, though he quotes and makes allusions and references to a wide variety of well-known authors and canonical works, he does not provide reasons for his views of the cited texts. Rather, he makes highly tendentious assertions and expects his readers to submit to what are supposed to be apodictic statements. Should they be skeptical, they can be told that Žižek is above “standard” treatments and that he is following a dialectic.
    • David Pickus, "Did Somebody Evade Totalitarianism? On the Intellectual Escapism of Slavoj Žižek", Humanitas Vol 21, Nos. 1 & 2, 2008

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