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European-American Topics - Editorial - Slavoj Zizek

Slavoj Zizek Speaks at Town Hall
Review by Elena Goukassian
Posted September 15, 2008


     The first time anyone goes into Seattle’s Town Hall, their reaction is invariably the same: “This place looks like a church.” Everyone sits in pews encircling a stage, anxious to receive some sort of knowledge or enlightenment. Out walks a middle-aged man with wild hair, spasmically scratching his nose and waving strands of hair out of his face with one hand while gesturing with the other and saying with great gusto that Hollywood has clearer, real ideology than real life itself. This is Slavoj Zizek: present-day philosopher and a native of Slovenia.

     Although Mr. Zizek’s tour was supposedly for the purpose of promoting his new book on violence, he devoted his two-and-a-half-hour lecture this past Monday, September 8, to the conceptual flaws of various ideologies, eventually tying them to political theory and current and historical affairs around the globe. Through a series of anecdotes, jokes, pop culture references, and ridiculous stories, Mr. Zizek succeeded in proving just how ridiculous ideological thinking can be.
     One idea Mr. Zizek used over and over again was the paradox of “transitive belief.” An example of this is children pretending to believe in Santa Claus only because they think their parents do, and vice versa. Then there’s the anecdote about the crazy man who was released from the hospital, cured of thinking he was a seed. He returned to the hospital later, after having run away from a chicken. When asked why he ran from the chicken when he knew he was a human being not a seed, he replied, “Yes, but does the chicken know that?” This “transitive belief,” Mr. Zizek claimed, was exactly what kept the revolution and partition of Yugoslavia from happening until after Tito’s death. People didn’t know whether or not Tito knew of the impeding and inevitable restructuring, so they pretended they didn’t know either--for the sake of both parties involved. Tito was the chicken.
     In this same manner of discussion, Mr. Zizek examined the unwritten rules of civility, how political correctness is actually oppressive, and how in today’s ideology the impossible becomes real. He concluded with some analysis of the present US presidential candidates, which the audience found most intriguing.
     Even though the lecture was all over the place--taking one idea and morphing it into a completely different one, only to eventually come back to the original--it was all very interesting and got everyone in the room thinking about beliefs and contradictions. We also wondered how exhausting it would be to live with such a complex, post-modern thinker as Slavoj Zizek.






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