Slavoj Žižek on the Occupy movement for Al Jazeera— videos and transcript


Slavoj Žižek has been interviewed by Al Jazeera to give his unique perspective on the tumultuous changes happening in the world financial and political systems. In an extensive conversation with Tom Ackerman, Žižek discussed the Arab Spring, London Riots and the Occupy movement, as well as the various financial and political crises across the world from Europe to India. Throughout the discussion, Žižek explored the themes of violence across the political spectrum and his irresistible desire to provoke friends and enemies alike.

Visit Al Jazeera to view the interview in situ.

 Žižek also visited St Marks bookshop to discuss his views on the Occupy Wall Street protest.

Žižek argued that now was the time for careful, critical thinking in order to avoid the Left being paralized by melancholy. Impose Magazine has produced a transcript of the talk:

I will simply begin by certain historical observations. You probably notice how some people, and I think precisely the wrong people, started to celebrate the Wall Street events as a new form of social carnival: so nice, we have there this horizontal organization, no terror, we are free, egalitarian, everybody can say whatever he or she wants, and so on, all that stuff. It is as if some kind of a carnivalesque collective experience is returning. And this tendency, much more than here, is alive, as you can expect, on the West Coast. A couple of days ago at Stanford they told me that - the other Sunday, about 9 days ago - that in the center of San Francisco, a guy speaking on behalf of those who occupy, said something like, "They are asking you what's your program. They don't get it. We don't have a program. We are here to enjoy ourselves. Have a nice collective experience," and so on and so on. That's precisely what I want to render problematic. How? You know, I would like to start with maybe a surprising point: the relationship between melancholy and prohibitions. The idea is the following one: modern subject paradigmatically is melancholic and the thing he is melancholic about, the lost object, is precisely collective, transgressive experience of carnival. For example, there is quite a nice a book from 2007 by Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets, where her thesis is that with modernity proper, not renaissance, what is lost is precisely this collective carnivalesque experience: we are no longer dancing in the streets, pleasure becomes a private thing, and so on and so on.

What I want to problematize is precisely the implicit causality, which is: first something was prohibited, or rendered inaccessible - collective dancing in the streets, whatever - and then we get melancholic. But I think it's the opposite way around. I think that melancholy comes first and prohibition is a way to avoid the deadlock of melancholy.

One has to be very precise here about the structure of melancholy. The usual, I call it in a friendly way, [?], Judith Butler reading is that melancholics are more radical, faithful than those who go through the work of mourning. The idea is that mourning, the Freudian [?], means to accept the loss of the object. You work to it symbolize the loss and you pass over to the real object. Why? A melancholic is not able to drop the object, remains faithful to the object. Those of you know Judith's work on gender and so on: remember what's her precise point. A kind of a tricky, ethical, strictly ethical, rehabilitation of both gay and lesbian homosexuality. The idea is that our first object of libidal investment is the same sex parent. Why? The price for becoming normal heterosexual is that you identify with the lost object, and in this way you become the normative subject, like a woman identifies with mother's feminity, a son with father's masculinity. And in this way, you accept the loss because you yourself identify with the lost object and become normal. She delves into this in detail if you want, in her maybe best book, I claim, The Psychic Life of Power. And then the idea is that gay people are a little bit more ethical here. They don't accept the loss of the, as it were, primordial object.

Okay, I see here many problems. The first one is, you know that Butler's basic theory of  gender is that gender is nothing natural, our gender identities are constructed through performative practices, re-enactments, so on and so on. My first very naive question here is: if this is true, how then can the child identify with the same sex parent prior to any performative identification and so on? It's as if the child nonetheless experiences sexual difference, father, mother before... okay it's another one.

What I want to say is that I want to problematize the underlining notion of melancholy. I think a good old-fashioned return to Freud, which has political bearing today, is very helpful here. Namely if you read closely Freud in his Mourning and Melancholy, he says something almost exactly opposite. His point is not melancholic subject more remains faithful to the object - no no no. He says something wonderful: he says that melancholy is something like mourning in advance. A melancholic treats the object of libidinal investment as lost while the object is still here[...]

Visit Impose Magazine to read the transcript in full.