Monday, May 28, 2007


Ever wonder what type of chair Vladimir Nabokov sat on when he carefully penned the introduction to Bend Sinister, a precocious retort exclaiming, in effect, Freudians fuck off? How about what Simone de Beauvoir stuffed her face with come lunch time during the mammoth writing task that was The Second Sex? How many jars of whiskey surrounded Charles Bukowski as he spat out the prose that was to make up Post Office? These are questions lacking an answer; a patchwork of texts that conceals the author, throwing up a wall from which we can only resort to sheer conjecture as to precisely what Woody Allen had in his coffee the day he thought up the story about the hookers paid for their ability to discuss Milton (‘The Whore of Mensa’). These are disembodied reams of words, cut off from the wordsmith who suffered their conception, yet they somehow remain inextricably linked to that mind of origin.

Who were these men and women that were to express with such sublime triumph their talents for merging language and the floating images of consciousness? Despite the titbits of inference afforded us, the convoluted mediation process hinders any clear-sighted gaze we’d wish to possess; the question is: where is the window?

Zizek! is one such window. This documentary, produced in 2005, takes on the task of following its eponymous subject, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, as he treks from one teeming mass of hungry young leftists to another, visiting university campuses all over the globe, forever articulating in suitably spectacular fashion all the tenets of Lacanian psychoanalysis, a complex web of obtuse terminology and esoteric concepts read through as many multifarious and multifaceted cultural objects as possible. Lobbed up on stage, serrated by the roar of the baying crowd, Zizek can orate for hours on the exact dimensions of ideology, interweaving his theoretical delineation with accessible examples ranging from Hitchcock to chocolate laxatives. Never shying away from inserting the odd obscenity, or the old Stalinist joke, or a witty rebuttal to some insolent query, he exudes confidence and erudition on stage, connecting with fresh-faced students high on Foucault by dissecting the culture of the quotidian, shirking ivory tower banalities by singing in a key comprehendible to those perhaps yet unaccustomed with Schelling.

But we all know this. Zizek’s competence in relaying his rereading of Hegel, his manic rescue of the German philosopher from the bowels of Idealism’s dark netherworlds, this comes across in the myriad of lecture videos swimming ashore on Youtube every week. His analysis of the Marx Brothers in terms of Freud’s id/ego/superego triad and such like, wasn’t this all presented with subtle ingenuity in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema? It was indeed. So, where’s the attraction of this film?

Quite clearly, what interests us here are the sequences that punctuate the engagements of public speaking. The film truly comes alive for the first time during a visit to Zizek’s residence, wherein he shows us his preference for storing clothes in the cabinets gracing the walls of his kitchen, commenting enthusiastically about this arrangement, everything found in one small corner. These personal little unveilings are the warm heart of the film, witness Zizek as he explains to filmmaker Astra Taylor the portrait of Stalin that greets all visitors to his office, or his hyperactive exuberance in purchasing DVDs from a store in New York, or his jocular reproach to the congress of vegetarians constituting the film crew as he cries out for a meat-fuelled lunch. The particular highlight of the film has Zizek interacting with his infant son, discussing the charade of going to McDonalds and giving us an in-depth analysis of the little guy’s vast toy collection, with pater familias noting some of his favourite plastic figures and the wonderful feminist gesture signified by the son’s decision to place two female figures on the summit of a building. The scene is topped off by a hilarious statement from Zizek, when the infant becomes enraptured by the flickers of the TV, “oh look, he’s narcissistically amused.” Delivered with perfect timing and so indicative of a mind whose cogs never slow down for a second.

Textual quotes line the fissures opened up by one scene segueing into another. Rather than this being intrusive, or a dull and crippling tarnishing of the whole, these breakages highlight relevant kernels of Zizek’s philosophy, from relevant books, and are interpolated in such a way as to avoid ruining the pace of the film. This method of on-screen text and selective graphic embellishment is a contrast to the film’s precursor, Derrida – another film concerned with the everyday manoeuvres of a philosopher, this time the father of Deconstruction, Jacques Derrida. Packed with plenty of joviality from seeing the author of such headache-inducing tomes as Writing & Difference sitting down to eat a cracker, it was nevertheless mired slightly by interludes of spoken excerpts set to a strangely unsettling soundtrack. Thankfully, Zizek! skips right past this obstacle.

It’s incredibly interesting observing how such a brilliant mind goes about the dreary practice of everyday living, it allows us a fascinating peek into the world of a man whose words and dynamic on-stage persona were all we had held previously. Naturally, there’s a touch of the cult of personality in all this, something Zizek himself speaks out about in the film, casting mighty scornful gazes at the chance of someone perceiving him as anything other than “a monster.” Regardless, there appears an innate desire to reach out to the objectified other, as idealised as it may be, we want to clear away those barriers and see the frail organism that lies beyond, an entity more real than the slew of words that masks it.

Just today, in the Observer’s ‘Food Monthly’ supplement, there dwelled a fine piece of captivating journalistic inquiry detailing the contents of Steven Seagal’s shopping basket. Not only did we learn of his fondness for scotch whiskey, but he also, like a good pedagogue, taught us that he consumes Tibetan barley every morning, ending on the fundamental truth that “I always try and eat healthy but I’m kind of human so I do have my weaknesses.” How this “kind of human” compares to Zizek’s declaration that he is a monster is best left, for now, to another inquiry.


Blogger dh said...

I'm prepared to be contradicted but I believe Mr. Nabokov stood at a lectern to write.

6:31 pm  
Blogger Aaron Fleming said...

You could very well be correct on that count, I just assumed he would have sat. But if that's true, well, what a feat!

10:31 pm  
Anonymous Damian Kelleher said...

Who doesn't stand to write in this day and age?

10:28 am  

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