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April 21, 2006

Zizek philosophizes on violence

Slavoj Zizek, Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic, spoke to a packed Max Palevsky Cinema at Ida Noyes Hall on Wednesday.

In his lecture, entitled “The Uses and Misuses of Violence,” Zizek discussed the status and causes of violence in the modern world, referring to riots in the suburbs of Paris last October and in the Muslim world in February following the publication of controversial cartoons by Danish newspapers.

In contrast to the ideal-driven French student protests of May 1968, last year’s protests were “violent protests which wanted nothing,” said Zizek, also a visiting professor for Critical Inquiry, a University of Chicago–based journal of interdisciplinary critical theory.

He argued that language is a key barrier to constructive communication among cultural groups.

“We live in different symbolic worlds,” Zizek said, adding that in this context, getting along may require isolation.

Comparing statistics that emphasize the urgency of humanitarian crises to a marketing campaign by Starbucks, Zizek proposed that leftists abandon urgency for theory.

“Action will come from there,” he said.

He closed his talk with a new rendition of the Aristocrats joke, drawing laughter from the audience. The original joke features a family carrying out various deviant acts in a performance known as “The Aristocrats.” In Zizek’s version of the joke, the family walks into an agent’s office with an act and proceeds to violently argue about Hegel. The agent asks what the act is called, and the father says, “The Perverts.”

Zizek’s talk was the second in a series of two lectures co-sponsored by the Department of English Language and Literature and the Franke Institute for the Humanities. Zizek’s first lecture, “The Ignorance of Chicken, or, Who Believes What Today,” took place on Wednesday, April 12.