How does one begin to describe Slavoj Zizek? Start with a picture of the larger-than-life character:
Zizek is a Slovenian-born philosopher and cultural critic. As a cultural critic, his most visible work has been ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology‘, a documentary that uses inventive interpretation of moving (movie) pictures to examine ideology – the collective fantasies that shape our beliefs and practices. An example from the film is Zizek’s interpretation of a scene from Jaws is the following:
- “In Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” a shark starts to attack people on the beach. What does this attack mean? What does the shark stand for? There were different, even mutually exclusive answers to this question. On the one hand some critics claimed that obviously the shark stands for the foreign threat to ordinary Americans. The shark is a metaphor for either natural disaster, storms or immigrants threatening the United States citizens and so on. On the other hand it’s interesting to know that Fidel Castro, who loves the film, once said that for him it was obvious that “Jaws” is kind of a leftist, Marxist film and that the shark is a metaphor for brutal, big capital exploiting ordinary Americans. So, which is the right answer? I claim none of them and at the same time all of them.“
Zizek has said publicly that he likes to write, over pretty much any other means. He published his first book, The Sublime Object of Ideology, in 1988 and has published over 20 books since (found here). A brief biography of Zizek can be found on IEP and EGS. Here are some of his critique of the ideology of international financial markets:
From his July 2014 Guardian Economic Policy: How capital captured politics
- The main culprits of the 2008 financial meltdown now impose themselves on us as experts leading us on the painful path to financial recovery. Their advice should trump parliamentary politics. Or, as Mario Monti put it: “Those who govern must not allow themselves to be completely bound by parliamentarians.”
- What, then, is the higher force whose authority can suspend the decisions of the democratically elected representatives of the people? As far back as 1998, the answer was provided by Hans Tietmeyer, the then governor of the Deutsche Bundesbank, who praised national governments for preferring “the permanent plebiscite of global markets” to the “plebiscite of the ballot box”.
- Note the democratic rhetoric of this obscene statement: global markets are more democratic than parliamentary elections, since the process of voting goes on in them permanently (and is permanently reflected in market fluctuations) and at a global level, not only within the limits of a nation state.
From his May 2014 Guardian Globalization: Who can control the post-superpower capitalist world order?
- To know a society is not only to know its explicit rules. One must also know how to apply them: when to use them, when to violate them, when to turn down a choice that is offered, and when we are effectively obliged to do something but have to pretend we are doing it as a free choice.
- The “American century” is over, and we have entered a period in which multiple centres of global capitalism have been forming. In the US, Europe, China and maybe Latin America, too, capitalist systems have developed with specific twists: the US stands for neoliberal capitalism, Europe for what remains of the welfare state, China for authoritarian capitalism, Latin America for populist capitalism. After the attempt by the US to impose itself as the sole superpower – the universal policeman – failed, there is now the need to establish the rules of interaction between these local centres as regards their conflicting interests.
- It is definitely time to teach the superpowers, old and new, some manners, but who will do it? Obviously, only a transnational entity can manage it – more than 200 years ago, Immanuel Kant saw the need for a transnational legal order grounded in the rise of the global society. In his project for perpetual peace, he wrote: “Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a law of world citizenship is no high-flown or exaggerated notion.”
- Today, in our era of globalisation, we are paying the price for this “principal contradiction.” In politics, age-old fixations, and particular, substantial ethnic, religious and cultural identities, have returned with a vengeance. Our predicament today is defined by this tension: the global free circulation of commodities is accompanied by growing separations in the social sphere. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the global market, new walls have begun emerging everywhere, separating peoples and their cultures. Perhaps the very survival of humanity depends on resolving this tension.
In terms of YouTube, the speeches and interviews Zizek has conducted are widely available.
And probably my favourite: