Ever wonder what a conversation between a Lacanian Marxist (perched behind the counter of a fitness center) and some guy off the street would be like? Well, I have. And I found a transcript of it over at Strange Herring: Slavoj Zizek’s Philosopher’s Gymnasium.
SCENE: Front counter of average-looking urban gym. Slavoj Zizek, a bearded, scruffy-looking, middle-aged Slovenian philosopher with a thick accent and a ratty T-shirt, a man subject to several ticks, including tweaking the end of his nose and pulling at his shirt front, is behind the counter reading. A man of no consequence, ME, enters with gym bag.
ME: Hi, um, how much for a daily workout?
SZ: When you ask how much for something, you are immediately thrust into a discussion of ideology. What is the value of something without value?
ME: So, ten dollars?
SZ: Ten dollars. A thousand dollars. Let us say I am the landlord and you are the tenant. As the landlord, I have one goal in mind. So when we speak of Kapitaleezum, let us give the devil his due. Of course, in the West, you can see how Kapitaleezum has raised the standard of living for so many. But when speaking of a totality, one must also include the negation. So, it is not enough to speak of the United States and Germany, for example, as the success of Kapitaleezum. You must also speak of Congo.
ME: Quick question, and I’m hoping an equally quick answer, your view on the bench press — barbells or dumbbells?
SZ: This here is the role of the philosopher. It is not merely to give prepared answers to certain questions, but to ask different questions. For example, are you doing a whole-body workout today or chest/back, shoulders/biceps, so on and so on?
ME: I was thinking of going whole body. I work out only once a week. Otherwise I get nauseous.
SZ: There is your mistake. When you first came in, I said to myself, and I mean this sincerely and without irony, that here comes an idiot. Now that we have had an opportunity to speak with one another, I am convinced of it. When you perform a whole body workout, you are hiding from yourself your own limitations, running away, as it were, from your own ultimate collapse, so on and so on.
ME: I don’t –
SZ: For example, take the wonderful feelum by Ernst Lubitsch, Ninotchka. There is a scene that takes place in a cafeteria. A man asks, “May I have coffee without cream.” The man behind the counter says, “I’m sorry, we do not have cream. Can I get you coffee without milk?” You see?
ME: I drink coffee black.
SZ: I will explain it: The man who is seeking to have his coffee without cream is told he can only have it without milk, thus introducing the illusion that he has received what he has asked for. But in fact, he has not. What is withheld is often as vital as what is given. Look at Wikileaks. We see there that the government and the banks are guilty not necessarily because they have lied in this case or that case but because of the information they have withheld. Here is the deception. What appears to be the whole truth – black coffee – is in fact a lie – coffee without milk.
ME: Maybe I’ll use one of the machines instead –
SZ: Again, the wrong question. The question is not whether you should use the dumbbells or the barbells or the machines.
ME: What is the question?
SZ: Why are we not speaking about Congo?
Each issue of Salvo has a “Blips” section. It’s a couple pages of movie and book blurbs that have shown up on the cultural radar recently. I remember a short blip about a movie about this man Zizek that we published a while back (Spring 2009).
Never heard of Slavoj Zizek? No one else has, either. Turns out he is the world’s foremost Lacanian Marxist, which is forgivable, considering his graciously inactivist approach to philosophy (Chomsky should take notes). Astra Taylor’s film does a decent job of generating interest in this bizarre character, but why we should actually care about him is never explained.
Although it seems that he has gone from inactivist to activist recently, as he’s been the speaker of choice for some of the Occupy Wall Street events. The blips section from the current issue will be up online tomorrow.