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Slavoj Zizek: I Am Not the World’s Hippest Philosopher!

The coolest and most influential leftist in Europe tells Salon he battles depression -- and those who worship him


Almost 25 years ago, philosopher Slavoj Žižek broke through the intellectual cul-de-sac of Slovenian academia — making his mark on the English-speaking world with “The Sublime Object of Ideology” (1989), a wily fusing of Lacanian psychoanalysis, Frankfurt School idealism, and reflections on the 1979 blockbuster horror flick “Alien.”

Today, he’s everywhere. The notoriously unkempt “radical leftist”  philosophe has become the unlikeliest of celebrities: a cult icon and spiritual guide for Europe’s lethargic left.

Žižek has published more than 50 books (most recently: “The Year of Dreaming Dangerously”) and starred in several documentaries. A journal, The International Journal of Žižek Studies, is devoted to his works. Žižek has been called “ the Borat of philosophy,” “ the Elvis of cultural theory,” and “ the world’s hippest philosopher.” These are titles he abhors.

Salon caught up with Žižek, who still calls Ljubljana home, over Skype. On the agenda: the improbable celebrity of Slavoj Žižek.

You’ve given a number of interviews over the past few years. I was hoping that we could take this one up a few levels of abstraction and discuss the phenomenon that is Slavoj Žižek.

Ah, if you want to.

Most recently, Foreign Policy named you one of its  Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2012.

Yes, but at the bottom of the top!

Right, you were No. 92. Do you deserve to be on the list?

No! You could not get that out of me if you tortured me! I know the polite thing is to say no.

Isn’t the first one on this list that Myanmar girl? I always forget her name. Who is that?

Do you mean Aung San Suu Kyi?

Yes! Nothing against her, but can you explain to me: In what sense she is a philosopher or intellectual?

Well first, to clarify, this is a list of “thinkers,” not “philosophers.”

Yes but in what sense is she a thinker? She just tries to bring democracy to Myanmar. OK, that’s a nice thing. But you can’t just accept an ideal as ideal.  Oh, democracy! Everyone gets an orgasm so let’s bring it to as many people as possible.

Thinking begins when you ask really difficult questions. For example: What is really decided in a democratic process?

I recently had a look through  The International Journal of Žižek Studies, and…

I never opened it! I promise! I never even opened that site.

What do you think of the idea?

I have good relations with  Paul Taylor, who edits it. We are friends. Ironically, he thought that this would help him in his academic career, but it only brings him trouble.

As you can see now — or in any of the  shitty movies that I make — I’m a nervous guy. I find it absolutely unbearable to see myself on a screen. And when people write about me, I never read it — unless there is a brutal attack and my friends think I should answer it.

I have a sense of shame here. I am afraid of seeing myself.

You’ve said this before. And you have noted the tendency for journalists to portray you as clownish or buffoonish. But I have to wonder: To what extent are you flirting with that?

You know why I do it? Because I’m terribly afraid that if people were to see me, to put it naively,  how I really am, they would be terribly bored.

You know, in my private life I am an extremely depressed guy. Look where I am now! Look around. I’m in Paris.

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