Slavoj Žižek on Why You’re Never Really Alone With Your Sexual Partner

Slavoj Žižek draws from examples in literature, film, and advertising to explain a phenomenon in which no sexual liaison is complete without a third element — an intruder, something like a fantasy.

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Slavoj Žižek: I like this new wave of feminine crime fiction writers who are feminists, but not in the stupid, politically correct way. That feminism isn’t authentic feminism, you know. They don’t have this patronizing attitude like, you know, women should always be passive victims and so on and so on. But even maybe now I’ll say something for that maybe I’m not very popular here. Even better than how she call Gillian Flynn or what is an Irish girl called Tana French. A series of crime fiction taking place in Dublin with more or less the same spirit, the same attitude. A kind of a, if I have to invent some stupid title, a kind of a dark neo-feminist crime thrillers. But no, of the movie that I recently saw, there is a problem. Often a movie attracts me — not attracts me, but gets me to think intellectually. But I don’t really like it as a movie. For example, the one, Her with Joaquin Phoenix. In the film at the end he is the hero together with the girl. I think she’s called Amy. But they are both abandoned by their machines. The big enigma here is, and this is what always attracted me. And this is I think what my mentor in theory, French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, insisted in his crazy theories there is no sexual relationship. Which means we are never alone, me and my partner. There has to be a third element, a fantasy scene, an intruder. It’s only through that mediation of a third element here, in Her they’re operating systems, that sex functions. And then I started to think about other variations of this, like for example, a perfect very intelligently made 20 years old British publicity for beer which is about wonderful ironic repetition of an old fairy tale motif you know. A young girl walks by a stream, sees a frog and, of course, that’s what you do in fairy tales. She picks up and kisses the frog and the frog turns into a prince, charming young man.

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But then the publicity goes on. The charming young man looks at her, kisses her and she turns into a can of beer, you know. That’s what really he wanted, you know. And then I found here in the States a similar, but inverted version. It’s pretty disgusting incidentally publicity for a Taco Bell publicity for something called quesarito, which is quesadilla and burrito — combination of the two. And it’s presented in such an obscene way that if you combine the two it’s really like a penis enwrapped by a vagina. But how is the publicity spot done here? A young guy and a girl seated during lunch break at the table and one has quesadilla, the other burrito. And they look at each other and then you see each person’s dream. Boy looks at her and imagines the future. They start to talk. They get married, have children. Then she looks at him, approaches him in her dream and takes his piece of burrito or whatever, wraps it up so that she gets a kind of a bisexual completing, and just makes a sign and he disappears. It’s similar to that one beer, but what I think is the enigma behind all this is why do we never get just a couple. Why it always have to be some intruder. And the best Hollywood version of this — I ask all the viewers who are watching this now to download — you can download it for free. It’s an American classic movie, Preston Sturges’ Lady Eve where you have the ultimate marriage proposal scene. You have Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck and a horse standing behind them and the horse’s head is always intruding and so on and so on. That’s the mystery of sex. It’s never two. You always need something, an imagined gaze, an element intruding and so on and so on.

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Slavoj Žižek draws from examples in literature, film, and advertising to explain a phenomenon in which no sexual liaison is complete without a third element — an intruder, something like a fantasy. He also dishes out on topics including feminist crime fiction, 20-year-old British beer commercials, and the Taco Bell Quesarito.

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10 excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' to unlock your inner Stoic

Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

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Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
  • The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.