- Birthday, Books, Philosophy, Politics, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Slavoj Žižek on Writing, Words, Fiction, Politics, and More.

 

Happy birthday, Slavoj Žižek! 71, today! Here are some quotes from his writing.

 

“Words are never ‘only words’; they matter because they define the contours of what we can do.”

 

“Beyond the fiction of reality, there is the reality of the fiction.”

 

“The only way to survive such shitty times, if you ask me, is to write and read big, fat books, you know?”

 

“I think that the task of philosophy is not to provide answers, but to show how the way we perceive a problem can be itself part of a problem.

 

“I hate writing. I so intensely hate writing—I cannot tell you how much. The moment I am at the end of one project I have the idea that I didn’t really succeed in telling what I wanted to tell, that I need a new project—it’s an absolute nightmare. But my whole economy of writing is in fact based on an obsessional ritual to avoid the actual act of writing.”

 

“I do all my work to escape myself. I don’t believe in looking into yourself. If you do this, you just discover a lot of shit. I think what we should do is throw ourselves out of ourselves. The truth is not deep in ourselves. The truth is outside.”

 

“Writing saved my life. Years ago, because of some private love troubles, I was in a suicidal mood for a couple of weeks. I told myself: ‘I could kill myself, but I have a text to finish. First I will finish it, then I will kill myself.’ Then there was another text, and so on and so on, and here I still am.”

 

“As soon as we renounce fiction and illusion, we lose reality itself; the moment we subtract fictions from reality, reality itself loses its discursive-logical consistency.”

 

“We live in weird times in which we are compelled to behave as if we are free, so that the unsayable is not our freedom but the very fact of our servitude.”

 

“We feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom.”

 

“If we merely wait for the appropriate moment we will never live to see it, because this [appropriate moment] cannot arrive without the subjective conditions of the maturity of the revolutionary force being fulfilled—it can only arrive after a series of failed attempts.”

 

“Think about the strangeness of today’s situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on. So the paradox is, that it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.”

 

“When we are shown scenes of starving children in Africa, with a call for us to do something to help them, the underlying ideological message is something like: ‘Don’t think, don’t politicize, forget about the true causes of their poverty, just act, contribute money, so that you will not have to think!'”

 

“Liberal attitudes towards the other are characterized both by respect for otherness, openness to it, and an obsessive fear of harassment. In short, the other is welcomed insofar as its presence is not intrusive, insofar as it is not really the other. Tolerance thus coincides with its opposite. My duty to be tolerant towards the other effectively means that I should not get too close to him or her, not intrude into his space—in short, that I should respect his intolerance towards my over-proximity. This is increasingly emerging as the central human right of advanced capitalist society: the right not to be ‘harassed,’ that is, to be kept at a safe distance from others.”

 

“I believe in clear-cut positions. I think that the most arrogant position is this apparent, multidisciplinary modesty of “what I am saying now is not unconditional, it is just a hypothesis,” and so on. It really is a most arrogant position. I think that the only way to be honest and expose yourself to criticism is to state clearly and dogmatically where you are. You must take the risk and have a position.”

 

“[A]nd the age of philosophy in the sense again that we are confronted more and more often with philosophical problems at an everyday level. It is not that you withdraw from daily life into a world of philosophical contemplation. On the contrary, you cannot find your way around daily life itself without answering certain philosophical questions. It is a unique time when everyone is, in a way, forced to be some kind of philosopher.”

 

“They are trying as directly as possible to sell you experiences, i.e. what you are able to do with the car, not the car as a product itself. An extreme example of this is this existing economic marketing concept, which basically evaluates the value of you as a potential consumer of your own life. Like how much are you worth, in the sense of all you will spend to buy back your own life as a certain quality life. You will spend so much in doctors, so much in beauty, so much in transcendental meditation, so much for music, and so on. What you are buying is a certain image and practice of your life. So what is your market potential, as a buyer of your own life in this sense?”

 

“I already am eating from the trash can all the time. The name of this trash can is ideology. The material force of ideology makes me not see what I am effectively eating.”

 

“When we observe a thing, we see too much in it, we fall under the spell of the wealth of empirical detail which prevents us from clearly perceiving the notional determination which forms the core of the thing. The problem is thus not that of how to grasp the multiplicity of determinations, but rather to abstract from them, how to constrain our gaze and teach it to grasp only the notional determinism.”

 

“[T]here is never a ‘right moment’ for the revolutionary actthe act is always, by definition, ‘premature.'”

 

“Here is an old phrase I like: ‘The only way to the universal good is that we all become strangers to ourselves.’ You imagine looking at yourself with a foreign gaze, through foreign eyes. I think this is something that could be the greatest thing in humanity. You are never really limited just to your own perspective. I don’t like the false identity politics of multiculturalism which says that you are enclosed in your culture. No, we have all this amazing capacity to be surprised, not by others, but by ourselves seeing how what we are doing is strange.”

 

“The fact that a cloud from a minor volcanic eruption in Iceland—a small disturbance in the complex mechanism of life on the Earth—can bring to a standstill the aerial traffic over an entire continent is a reminder of how, with all its power to transform nature, humankind remains just another species on the planet Earth. The socioeconomic impact of such a minor outburst is due to our technological development (air travel)—a century ago, such an eruption would have passed unnoticed. Technological development makes us more independent from nature. At the same time, at a different level, it makes us more dependent on nature’s whims.”

 

“What characterizes a really great thinker is that they misrecognize the basic dimension of their own breakthrough.”

 

“European civilisation finds it easier to tolerate different ways of life precisely on account of what its critics usually denounce as its weakness and failure, namely the alienation of social life. One of the things alienation means is that distance is woven into the very social texture of everyday life. Even if I live side by side with others, in my normal state I ignore them. I am allowed not to get too close to others. I move in a social space where I interact with others obeying certain external ‘mechanical’ rules, without sharing their inner world. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that sometimes a dose of alienation is indispensable for peaceful coexistence. Sometimes alienation is not a problem but a solution.”

 

“The pressure ‘to do something’ here is like the superstitious compulsion to make some gesture when we are observing a process over which we have no real influence. Are not our acts often such gestures? The old saying ‘Don’t just talk, do something!’ is one of the most stupid things one can say, even measured by the low standards of common sense. Perhaps, rather, the problem lately has been that we have been doing too much, such as intervening in nature, destroying the environment, and so forth…Perhaps it is time to step back, think and say the right thing. True, we often talk about something instead of doing it; but sometimes we also do things in order to avoid talking and thinking about them. Such as throwing $700 billion at a problem [the 2008 financial crisis] instead of reflecting on how it arose in the first place.”

 

“The problem for us is not are our desires satisfied or not. The problem is how do we know what we desire.”

 

“The experience that we have of our lives from within, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves in order to account for what we are doing, is fundamentally a lie—the truth lies outside, in what we do.”

 

“[T]his readiness to assume the guilt for the threats to our environment is deceptively reassuring: We like to be guilty since, if we are guilty, it all depends on us. We pull the strings of the catastrophe, so we can also save ourselves simply by changing our lives. What is really hard for us (at least in the West) to accept is that we are reduced to the role of a passive observer who sits and watches what our fate will be. To avoid this impotence, we engage in frantic, obsessive activities. We recycle old paper, we buy organic food, we install long-lasting light bulbs—whatever—just so we can be sure that we are doing something. We make our individual contribution like the soccer fan who supports his team in front of a TV screen at home, shouting and jumping from his seat, in the belief that this will somehow influence the game’s outcome.”

 

“They tell you we are dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think things can go on indefinitely the way they are. We are not dreamers. We are awakening from a dream that is turning into a nightmare. We’re not destroying anything. We’re watching the system destroy itself.”

 

“Reality is for those who cannot face their dream.”

 

“One does not wait for the ‘ripe’ objective circumstances to make a revolution, circumstances become ‘ripe’ through the political struggle itself.”

 

“If we only change reality in order to realize our dreams, and do not change these dreams themselves, sooner or later we regress back to the old reality.”

 

“It is the ultimate irony of history that radical individualism serves as the ideological justification of the unconstrained power of what the large majority of individuals experience as a vast anonymous power, which, without any democratic public control, regulates their lives.”

 

“Every civilization that disavows its barbarian potential has already capitulated to barbarism.”

 

“I despise the kind of book which tells you how to live, how to make yourself happy! Philosophers have no good news for you at this level! I believe the first duty of philosophy is making you understand what deep shit you are in!”

 

“Happiness was never important. The problem is that we don’t know what we really want. What makes us happy is not to get what we want. But to dream about it. Happiness is for opportunists. So I think that the only life of deep satisfaction is a life of eternal struggle, especially struggle with oneself. If you want to remain happy, just remain stupid. Authentic masters are never happy; happiness is a category of slaves.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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