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.”
“I spent my life until I was 30 in a communist country,” he says. “That means that I know that the 20th-century communist experience – though it did some good things as regards healthcare and so forth – ended up as the greatest ethical-political fiasco in the history of humanity. I don’t think we need a new Leninist party. But we are confronting a whole array of problems.”
He launches into a discussion of looming ecological, economic and social disasters. How will we save the planet if the larger states remain hostile to regulation? If all economic planning is abandoned and the market retains control, then chaos surely awaits.
“I am a communist out of pessimism. What worries me is what happens if we do nothing. I am not like these old-fashioned Marxists who believes in the ‘train of history’. History is not working in our favour. It is leading us to ecological catastrophe and new forms of economic apartheid.”
Slavoj Zizek was born 64 years ago in Ljubljana – then part of Yugoslavia – to a comfortable family of intellectuals. He received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Ljubljana and then went on to study psychoanalysis in France. Not surprisingly, he occasionally found himself falling foul of the Titoist regime. But he is keen to clarify that life was much easier for writers in Yugoslavia than it was for their colleagues in the Soviet sphere of influence.
“To be honest, I consider those times to be good times,” he splutters. “It was a relatively liberal Communist dictatorship. It was still a dictatorship, blah, blah. And intellectually, I did have some problems. I was openly non-Marxist. Now, I remind myself of Ken Livingstone. He approached the Labour Party and reminded himself of a unique biological species: the rat that climbs up upon the sinking ship. I was a dissident then. But now I am a communist. You see what I mean?”
I suppose so. But I suspect that if all of Europe were converted to Communism, he would still find a way of being an outsider.
For all these political convolutions, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology can still be classed as a work of film theory. One wonders why he still pays so much attention to the medium. (For the record, he approved of the last Batman film and is devoted to Brit Marling, the radical American writer and actor.) Those of us who love cinema are delighted that he retains the interest. But shouldn’t the curious cultural commentator have moved on to other less creaky forms.
“This is a very good question,” he says with a flourish. “Up to a point, I still love classical cinema. But the main point is that, I think, if you want to discover where we are, you do get it in films. Nonetheless, I agree with you. I myself am convinced that cinema was the art of the 20th century, I now see two candidates for the 21st: one would be TV series; the other would be videogames. Good computer games should not be dismissed as . . .”.
And he’s off on a fresh tangent towards new digital worlds. You’ll have to wait for the next film to discover where he’s headed. Or the next three films. He’s still talking. Maybe Ms Fiennes might consider a boxed set.
The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is out now on limited release and is reviewed on page X