The pervert’s guide to Slavoj Zizek
Firebrand Slovenian academic Slavoj Zizek has spent his entire career dismantling culture and exposing the banality of conventional wisdom. He’s delivering his splenetic opinions again in Sophie Fiennes’s ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’. “Life is shit,” he says. “But it’s relatively okay today.”
Slavoj Zizek: “I am an obsessive, neurotic guy”
Sophie Fiennes and Slavoj Zizek filming "The Pervert's Guide to Ideology" in a junked jetliner in the Mojave Desert
‘I’m never enjoying myself. Life is shit. But it’s relatively okay today,” Slavoj Zizek splutters in his famously abrasive English.
But this is not such a bad life for an academic, right? While his colleagues in the field of cultural studies are lecturing to distracted freshmen in overheated halls, the eccentric Slovenian is promoting the second movie constructed around his startling opinions on contemporary culture. Sophie Fiennes’s The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology – her follow-up to The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema – finds Zizek mouthing off about a startling range of significant films. The public reaction to Jaws tells us something about the Nazis’ vilification of the Jews. Titanic deals in appalling reactionary attitudes to class. The Sound of Music reveals the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church.
It’s all heady, forceful stuff. Nothing is what it seems. Virtually ever manifestation of the entertainment industry is a vehicle for deceit. The message has helped Zizek – a large, grey man with an anarchic beard – to become a celebrity. His extraordinary, forceful, machine-gun delivery makes the package even more saleable. What does he make of being properly famous?
“Contrary to what many people think, I don’t even enjoy it as a guilty pleasure,” he says. “I would prefer to be without it. I accept that in this way, I may be able to get the message out. This way, the writing in my political work gets through. It’s not some big positive message. It’s to make them wonder. It’s to encourage them to not accept society the way it is.”
There is a very great deal more where that came from. Fiennes’s film is more than two hours long. But you suspect that editing his musings down to that length must have been something of struggle. Previous interviewers have reported, in mild despair, how the answer to one question has taken up all 30 minutes of an interview. By golly, he can talk.
“I very much admire – though he was too liberal for me – George Orwell, ” Zizek says. “He said something in The Road to Wigan Pier that I admire. He said that when progressive intellectuals talk about changing society, they repeat this all the time to make sure that nothing really changes. I am an obsessive, neurotic guy. I know what that means. When I was in psychoanalysis, I talked all the time – as you can imagine. I was afraid that if I stopped talking, the psychoanalyst might ask a real question.”
He goes on (some summarising is necessary) to point out that – though environmental activism is worthwhile – we all are fussing over recycling and so forth as a way of distracting ourselves from the need for real, meaningful change in society. The likes of Bill Gates are urging us to “be nice” rather than engage with the serious underlying problems.
“This is taking us away from the true questions about how we organise our industrial structures. Recycling won’t safe us.”
So what exactly are these changes he so greatly desires? In the past, Zizek has identified himself as a communist. But the real enemy seems to be liberal complacency. He tells me that he greatly prefers committed, intelligent conservatives over “naive progressives”. The new film opens with a study of John Carpenter’s They Live, in which a drifter finds a pair of sunglasses that reveal the hidden, mind-controlling messages that lie beneath the surfaces of contemporary life. Carpenter does, indeed, identify himself as a conservative. So, what sort of communist is Zizek?