Radical media, politics and culture.

Scott McLemee, "Zizek Watch"

Zizek Watch

Scott McLemee, Chronicle of Higher Education, April 2, 2004

The world's leading cultural theorist has held exactly the same academic title for a quarter of a century. Slavoj Zizek is a "researcher" at the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana, in Slovenia. He attributes his great intellectual vitality to the fact that he has no reason to work very hard. "I'm on a permanent sabbatical," he tells Zizek Watch. "I have a pure research job, where I do nothing."A strange claim, coming from a man who publishes two or three books a year. "OK," he says, "I work all the time. But whatever I do counts for research. For the last two years, I was not even once at my job. I have a secretary who writes reports for me and knows how to forge my signature."

And so in February, when BBC Radio broadcast a program called "The Art of Laziness," Mr. Zizek appeared on it as a uniquely qualified expert. He criticized programs that teach relaxation techniques. "If you look closely at their leaflets," he said, "they tell you first that we are hyperactive and should learn to withdraw. But next, the second paragraph, they always say: 'This way you will relax and be even more productive.'"

Alluding to the surrealist thinker Georges Bataille, Mr. Zizek denounced "the hidden economy of 'I am lazy a little bit so that I will work better.'" Instead, he offered the example of residents of Montenegro, an earthquake-prone area of the former Yugoslavia. The local ethnic stereotype is that inhabitants of the region are utterly shiftless.

"The zero-level standard joke about laziness is how a Montenegro guy masturbates," he said. "He digs a hole in the earth, puts his penis in, and waits for the earthquake." The pleasure that Montenegrins take in telling the joke seems to Mr. Zizek to be the correct attitude toward both laziness and political incorrectness. "Instead of being afraid of this attitude," he said, "you freely, in a gesture of Bataillean autonomy and sovereignty, assume" the quality attributed to you.

It is not, however, an attitude that Mr. Zizek takes into the classroom. "I don't teach," he tells Zizek Watch. "Why should I teach? I'm not crazy."