Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has been described as the Elvis of critical theory—an omnivorous mind unafraid of illuminating high-analytic thought using cultural detritus. He's used film directors Hitchcock and David Lynch to explain the Lacanian objet petit a, and famously referred to fistfucking as "the expansion of a concept." WW spoke with him about his new book, Violence (Picador, 272 pages, $14). In this book, he argues that in addition to the "subjective" violence we normally associate with the term (backstabbing, slap fights, waterboarding), there is an additional "objective" violence inscribed into our language and politics. So World Bank global capitalism might do violence by keeping entire countries trapped in misery, and leftist multiculti rhetoric might paradoxically lead to violence by excluding all criticism. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
WW: Why "subjective" and "objective"?
Slavoj Zizek: What I mean [by "subjective"] is, we see an actual subject who committed the violence, like Communists or the Nazis. Objective violence is more impersonal, so we sometimes don't even perceive it as such.
So, objective violence lies behind the more obvious violence?
No, but it is more radical. It is violence inscribed into the very social structure. If someone attacks you, you might think of this as a violent interruption of nonviolent normality. But this violence is already inscribed in the same social rules that were violated when they attacked you. One has to be aware of this so that violence doesn't merely seem like some explosion of the irrational. I ironically refer to objective violence as "dark matter." You don't see it, but it's there.
Is there hope for a society not founded on violence?
Violence is in a way consubstantial with being human, and with language. But the forms of objective violence can be changed. The tragedy of this past century is that the more aggressively nonviolent our ideology gets—dopey political correctness, heightened sensitivity toward violence—the more this can generate new forms of very brutal violence, including the current war on terror. The predominant antiviolent ideology of today...has a violent potential of its own.
Thanks for talking with us.
Yes, sure. And remember, I'm a good old-fashioned Orwellian. If you know better than me what I wanted to say, just go ahead and write it. You're the master here.
That's a relief.
Slavoj Zizek reads on Tuesday, Sept. 9, at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-0540. 7:30 pm. Free. Read a longer Q&A on wweek.com.