'First they called me a joker, now I am a dangerous thinker'
Shobhan Saxena, TNN, 10 January 2010, 12:26am
Slávoj Zizek is an unusual philosopher with unfashionably inflexible left-wing views. He also loves Hollywood classics. The 59-year-old academic has written more than 30 books on subjects as diverse as Alfred Hitchcock, Lenin and 9/11. A self-proclaimed Leninist, the Slovenian thinker believes that "communism will triumph finally". On his first visit to India this week, Zizek spoke about global capitalism, Gandhi, Bollywood and Buddhism. Excerpts from the interview:
You call yourself a Leninist but the media in the West has called you a 'rock star' and the 'Marx Brother'. How do you react to such labels?
With resigned melancholy. They try to say that this guy may be interesting and provocative but he is not serious. To them, I am like a fly that annoys you and provokes you but should not be taken seriously. Though, of late, they have been dubbing me as someone more threatening. In the last two years, the tone has changed. First, there were Marx Brothers' jokes and now they say I am the most dangerous philosopher in the West. But I don't care.
You also don't care when they say that you glorify political violence.
For me, the 20th century communism is the biggest ethical-political catastrophe in history, greater catastrophe than fascism. But in the first years of the October Revolution, in spite of the so-called Red Terror, there was sexual liberation and literary explosion before it turned into a nightmare. I don't accept the right-wing critique that says it was evil from the very beginning.
But what's your stand on political violence?
In an abstract sense, I am opposed to violence. But nobody is actually against violence. Look at the Buddhists. They say you shouldn't kill, but then they have all the exceptions. During the 40s, one of the great Zen philosophers was writing articles not only justifying Japanese invasion of China but also giving advice on how Buddhist enlightenment allows you to kill without guilt.
How can you dismiss Buddhism so easily? It's the fastest growing religion in the world.
In the West, Buddhism is the new predominant ideology. Things are so unstable and confusing that with one speculation you can lose billions of dollars in a minute. The only thing that can explain this is Buddhism which says that everything is an appearance. That's why the Dalai Lama is so popular in Hollywood.
You have also been critical of Gandhi. You have called him violent. Why?
It's crucial to see violence which is done repeatedly to keep the things the way they are. In that sense, Gandhi was more violent than Hitler.
A lot of people will find it ridiculous to even imagine that Gandhi was more violent than Hitler? Are you serious when you say that?
Yes. Though Gandhi didn't support killing, his actions helped the British imperialists to stay in India longer. This is something Hitler never wanted. Gandhi didn't do anything to stop the way the British empire functioned here.
For me, that is a problem.
I guess you have no respect for Gandhi who is a tall figure in this country.
I respect him. But I don't respect him for his peaceful ways, vegetarianism, etc. I don't care about that. But Gandhi somehow succeeded in carrying on his principled attitude with pragmatic spirit. It's very difficult to maintain this balance. But again I feel Ambedkar was much better than Gandhi. My favourite one-liner from Ambedkar is "no caste without outcasts". I am for Ambedkar's radical approach towards the caste issue.
In your new book, 'First as Tragedy, Then as Farce', you have analyzed the recent financial crisis. Do you see it as an opportunity for the Left?
I don't believe my leftist friends who say this is a wonderful opportunity for the Left. That's the tragedy of the Left. There may be hundreds of protest movements against global capitalism but there is no alternative proposal. A majority of the leftists today want global capitalism with a human face.
You are a leftist philosopher who loves Hollywood classics. Don't you see a contradiction there?
Hollywood is ambiguous but it's worth analysis. The Hollywood products are the best indicators of where we are moving in our collective ideology. If you look at reality, it's confusing, but in Hollywood you get the distilled version of reality. At the same time, on the margins of Hollywood you have wonderful filmmakers such as Robert Altman and Woody Allen. If you ignore Hollywood, you end up copying the worst of Hollywood.
You seem to have ignored Bollywood...
That's why I am here. It's chaotic and too colourful for us but I like this experience. It's a different type of narrative. It's like the medieval painting where you don't have to make a distinction between the foreground and background. I like even the fake Bollywood like Slumdog Millionaire. First, I resisted the movie, but I liked how it showed the brutality of life. This is something unimaginable in the West. It's a happy story but nonetheless the reality remains. In the West, a feel-good story cannot be combined with brutal social reality.
You can't be here just to see Bollywood flicks?
No, I am here to study how the modern systems like the IT industry in Bangalore, and traditional way of life co-exist amid contradictions of globalization. I have more hopes from India than China. In China, we are witnessing the rise of authoritarian capitalism. That's very scary.