Slavoj Žižek Questions the Questions at ALOUD

In a packed house on Tuesday at the Central Library, international rock star philosopher Slavoj Žižek stopped by ALOUD for a conversation with Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies Jack Miles. Casually dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, Žižek was in his comfort zone: on a stage pontificating on topics from Christianity, to sex and smoking, to what would be a better ending to the Oscar-winning film La vita è bella. Over the course of the night, he transformed some of the biggest existential questions into hilarious anecdotes. However, he was adamant that he does not joke to undermine the gravity of an issue, but as a point of human access.

Photo by Gary Leonard

Combining great intellect and a penchant for storytelling, Žižek charmed the audience (many of whom were perhaps already enamored followers). Almost like casting a spell, Miles pointed out how Žižek answers questions only partially, but then seamlessly diverges to other topics. Miles was also amazed by Žižek’s ability to undermine opposing ideologies by over-agreeing with them. To this point, Žižek really agreed. He tried to illustrate his strategy by recalling some of Ayn Rand’s extreme ideologies, but he quickly conceded, “No, I can’t agree with Rand.”

Photo by Gary Leonard

He went on to discuss other literary figures by dismissing Joyce’s forced intellectualism in favor of Beckett. “I love his minimal move to radicalism,” Žižek said referring to Beckett as his hero. The night spun by with flashes of illumination after long-winded reflections on the invention of canned laughter (“the greatest cultural invention by Americans”) and why he admires the gospels (“for the texture of the text”) as Žižek turned idea after idea on its head. When the Q&A opened up, audience hands eagerly waved, asking questions on Catholicism, and atheism, and everything in between.

Both Miles and Žižek were thoroughly thought provoking, and the evening concluded with Žižek giving an impassioned appeal for the sanctity of open forums for free thinking, fierce debate, and free education like ALOUD at the Central Library. “We need places to question the questions,” he said. And although he may have expressed many controversial ideas throughout the night, this was one belief that everyone could stand behind. Watch now:

–Posted by Bridgette Bates

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