Challenging Times and Intellectual Pleasures: My Talk with Slavoj Žižek

People often anticipate that someone as super powerful as a dictator is possessed of some deep metaphysical wisdom.

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File Photo of Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian philosopher [Photo: Eivind Senneset, UiB ]

We sat down last Sunday evening around 5:30 in Ljubljana time, which was 8:30 in the evening here in Colombo. The purpose was not to delve into deep philosophical realms but rather to listen to Slavoj Žižek’s thoughts on a few prevailing social issues. It had been a longstanding dream of mine to convey his ideas to the general public, which is tired of jargon and seeks great ideas in simple language.

I first started communicating with Slavoj Žižek, the intellectual superstar known for his unstoppable yet profound talks in any public gathering. I owe this opportunity to David J. Gunkel of Northern Illinois University, with whom I had my very first discussion about this eminent philosopher approximately seven years ago. This Slovenian philosopher, armed with a humorous sense, expertly deconstructs the most serious challenges and profound ideologies, and he needs no introduction.

However, meeting Slavoj was challenging as he is currently facing health issues, including panic attacks. Being aware of this made me cautious not to tire him during our conversation. Nevertheless, as the night was still young, he passionately talked, and most of the time, I found it hard to interrupt him. However, as he jokingly suggested, I might have to use “Stalinist freedom” to condense the insights from our hour-long discussion. Slavoj displayed patience and skillfully identified points where we had to pause due to technical issues.

Nilantha with Slavoj during the conversation

Stopping Slavoj when he is engrossed in conversation is quite inconvenient, and as a moderator, one might even forget their role. I shared with him that after years of communicating via email, it was my first time being in a live discussion with him, just the two of us. I jokingly remarked, “Slavoj, you are the most dangerous philosopher in the West. Oh God, you don’t look dangerous,” especially after hearing his brief observation on Sri Lanka during a time when its economic and political crisis dominated world headlines.

To this, Slavoj responded, “The branding of me as dangerous is a critique against my ideas. People who call me dangerous may also label me as despicable. I believe that such descriptions, whether politically dangerous, Stalinist, fascist, or merely as a joker, are used to undermine the seriousness of my work. Despite my jokes and provocations, I genuinely enjoy writing them. I’ll let you in on a secret: recently, New Statesman published three of my film reviews on Indiana Jones, Barbie, and Oppenheimer. Interestingly, I hadn’t seen any of these movies when I wrote the reviews. Instead, I read many reviews on them and then wrote my own. However, upon watching the films later, I realized that my initial assessments were accurate.”

This is Slavoj Žižek—timeless, ever-engaging, and ensuring you won’t be bored when listening to him. Instead, he invites you to dive deep into the dizzying world of intellectual discourse.

I decided to limit this conversation to eight major questions and twelve key words at the end. Stopping Slavoj from answering any question was challenging; he has a natural inclination to talk, but I believe that’s the nature of this profoundly honest philosopher who attracts minds from across the globe …..

Click here to read the complete article published in CounterPunch, USA

Click here to read the same article printed in Sunday Island, Colombo

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek, Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School, is International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London and the author, most recently, of Heaven in Disorder (OR Books, 2021) and Surplus-Enjoyment: A Guide For The Non-Perplexed (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022).

Nilantha Ilangamuwa

Nilantha Ilangamuwa is a founding editor of the Sri Lanka Guardian and has been the editor until 2018.

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