10 Oct 2014

We Went Busking With Slavoj Žižek

Superstar Communist philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek once claimed that his lectures are more rock and roll than The Beatles in their heyday. We decided to put the idea to the test by taking the unkempt Slovenian philosopher busking and see how much money he can make by ad-libbing about politics, philosophy and psychoanalysis on the streets of London. The results will surprise you.

1 The ICA - post-superpower capitalist world order

We head first to the Institute of Contemporary Art, a venue beloved by pretentious arty types who are into overpriced contemporary radical theory. Žižek stands outside the main doors and launches into an experimental rant about his latest obsession, a dissection of the possibilities of post-superpower capitalist world order. As soon as he is recognised a large crowd gathers around us.

But it quickly becomes apparent that they aren’t into Žižek’s new stuff and they were hoping to hear some of his old material. The crowd starts shouting ‘the sublime object of ideology’ and ‘interrogating the real’ but Žižek is deep into a complicated analogy about Putin and Obama out bear hunting and doesn’t want to stop before he’s constructed the allegorical foundation.

Žižek’s stubbornness angered the crowd and soon they started booing. Some started miming the act of throwing tomatoes at us, a gesture whose symbolism wasn’t lost on Žižek, particularly in reference to Lenin’s 1919 Padrova Street incident. It was getting ugly, and we had to flee the scene pursued by an angry middle class mob hurling virtual Communist Manifestos at us. We lost the crowd soon after, Žižek was visibly rattled but he insisted on carrying on.

2 The South Bank – Substitutional Reality

Next we went to the South Bank and Žižek stood at a spot by the river, unfazed by the presence by other street performers drawing crowds around us. This time Žižek decides to do a classic and starts reciting his argument about substitutional reality: ‘on today's market, we find a whole series of products deprived of their malignant property: coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer without alcohol..

Žižek’s impressive demeanour and delivery draws a small crowd at first, and soon others start to follow. Impressed by the way he deconstructed the notion of safe sex “Is having sex with a condom not like taking a shower with a raincoat on?" the crowd murmurs approvingly and soon they start dropping coins into the Red Army helmet Žižek placed on the floor in front of him. Some even cheer, but they could have been drunk if we are to be honest.

Žižek was drawing more people but the clown performing next to us was obviously upset about the competition so he came to complain about Žižek stealing his business. The clown complained that while he had to operate within the constraints of the real world, Žižek could just make stuff up with no consequences and that was unfair competition. We left soon after and realised that Žižek had taken in over 25 pounds.

3 Houses of Parliament – The Ruthless Exercise of Power
Encouraged by his success at the South Bank, Žižek decided to head to the Houses of Parliament. He chose a spot that reminded him of Stalin’s address to the workers of Puvlachnaya in 1932, claiming that only a fool would fail to spot symbolism and its Lacanian manifestations. (We didn’t.)
Žižek is in a feisty mood and he decided to take on representative democracy, inspired no doubt by the location. He launches into a fierce diatribe:

“The only ‘realistic’ prospect is to ground a new political universality by opting for the impossible, fully assuming the place of the exception, with no taboos, no a priori norms (‘human rights,’ ‘democracy’), respect for which would prevent us from ‘resignifying’ terror, the ruthless exercise of power, the spirit of sacrifice … if this radical choice is decried by some bleeding-heart liberals as Linksfaschismus, so be it!”

Žižek’s rant attracted the attention of the police and two of them approached us quickly. The short, squat one addressed us asking what Žižek was doing. Žižek reiterated his point albeit more politely. The cop nodded his head but quietly dismissed Žižek’s argument. “Sir, it is clear that your argument is merely a nostalgic gesture in the absence of an organised Left capable of conceptualising, let alone carrying out, the purposeful exercise of power in a transformative fashion. It’s an atemporal indulgence and as such you are peddling a fantasy without a license, in violation of the trade act. I will have to fine you.”

The fine turned out to be £25 and we were back where we started. We should have known better, the London police were becoming better at spotting theoretically unsound revolutionary diatribes and were keen to protect the public from being fooled by the fake promise of radical change.

4 Covent Garden – Lacan and Godzilla

Our last destination with Žižek was the Covent Garden market, but the profane philosopher had clearly taken his defeat at the hand of a London policeman very badly. His heart was clearly not in it anymore, but he put on a brave face and attempted to draw a crowd by ad-libbing a Lacanian interpretation of Godzilla while blindfolded.

He started strongly but then something amazing happened. A small kid, twelve or thirteen at most, spotted a logical fallacy in Žižek’s critical structure and demolished his theory with a few sentences. The crowd cheered the kid and quickly dispersed afterwards, London’s street audiences are notorious for their respect for structural consistency after all. We looked at the hat and there were only a few coins in there.

At the end of the day, we didn’t make much money but it was fun. And Žižek made us pay for his decaf latte.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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