Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic. He is a professor at the European Graduate School, International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London, and a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. His books include Living in the End Times, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, In Defense of Lost Causes, four volumes of the Essential Žižek, and Event: A Philosophical Journey Through a Concept.
Žižek received his Ph.D. in Philosophy in Ljubljana studying Psychoanalysis. He has been called the "Elvis of philosophy" and an "academic rock star." His work calls for a return to the Cartesian subject and the German Ideology, in particular the works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling. Slavoj Žižek's work draws on the works of Jacques Lacan, moving his theory towards modern political and philosophical issues, finding the potential for liberatory politics within his work. But in all his turns to these thinkers and strands of thought, he hopes to call forth new potentials in thinking and self-reflexivity. He also calls for a return to the spirit of the revolutionary potential of Lenin and Karl Marx.
Slavoj Zizek: You know, happiness is for me a very conformist category. It doesn't enter the frame. You have a serious ideological deviation at the very beginning of a famous proclamation of independence -- you know, pursuit of happiness. If there is a point in psychoanalysis, it is that people do not really want or desire happiness, and I think it’s good that it is like that.
For example, let’s be serious: when you are in a creative endeavor, in that wonderful fever--“My God, I’m onto something!” and so on--, happiness doesn't enter it. You are ready to suffer. Sometimes scientists--I read history of quantum physics or earlier of radiation--were even ready to take into account the possibility that they will die because of some radiation and so on. Happiness is, for me, an unethical category.
And also, we don't really want to get what we think that we want. The classical story that I like, the traditional male chauvinist scenario: I am married to a wife, relations with her are cold, and I have a mistress, and all the time I dream, “Oh my God, if my wife were to disappear . . . ,” I’m not a murderer, but let us say, “it would open up new life for me with the mistress.” You know what every psychoanalyst will tell you quite often happens? That then, for some reason, wife goes away, you lose the mistress, also.
You thought this is all I want. When you had it there, you found out that it was a much more complex situation, where what you want is not really to live with the mistress but to keep her at a distance as an object of desire about which you dream. And this is not just an excessive situation. I claim that this is how things function. We don't really want what we think we desire.
Interviewed by Megan Erickson
"I’m not a philosophical megalomaniac," says Slavoj Žižek. Philosophy is not here to provide all of the answers. What it can do however, which is more powerful, is ask the right questions.