Sunday, June 6, 2010

Lecture at UCI: Slavoj Zizek on the Public Use of Reason

This past Friday I went down to the University of California Irvine to hear Slavoj Zizek lecture. It was really great and he was very entertaining. Here are some notes that my buddy Harris Bechtol, M.A. Philosophy from Loyola Marymount, took during the lecture.

1) Zizek's favorite theologian: G.K. Chesterton (he said this verbatim)

2) Christ's death on the cross is not an act of salvation, but the death of the ideology that Someone is in control and pulling all the disparate strings together--the death of the global perspective or heavenly perspective in Job. In other words, it marks the death of the cosmic perspective [sub specie aeterni]. In this regard, the death of Christ was the ultimate giving of freedom to su to take control of our lives.

3) The Holy Spirit is simply the believing community, which means that it is the first candidate/manifestation/model for the communist party

4) His paradigm for examining the volcano eruption in Iceland, the oil spill off of Louisiana shore, healthcare reform in the US:
       -Traumatic/horrific experience ("the real")
       -3 idiots exchanging their ideas ("the symbolic/comedic")

5) He is playing off of Immanuel Kant's use of the phrase "the public use of reason" in so far as Zizek agrees that this use of reason is a withdrawing from your private community to engage as a single individual with other single individualities. We don't wpeak for our community in this public use of reason. Zizek did admit that we are grounded in our communities, but we can speak as a non-rep of these communities through the public use of reason. We need something similar to this, says Zizek, in striving for a shared universal truth. However, Zizek's use of universal here is not Kantian, which in this regard Zizek departs from Kant, because he is not saying we need an abstract, interestless, and universal (in the Kantian sense of inherently or essential a part of the structural makeup of the human mind) use of reason, but opening the space for the outcasts to share their reason and ideas. [In this regard, universal seems to indicate an openness to many and myriad different voices and ideas.]
       -Zizek also calls this "political reason"—it is not Rawlsian or naively universal as Kant sought, but has the outcasts as its limit case. Thus, not a neutral, rational         universality.
       -Zizek follows Hegel in this use of reason because Hegel regarded the people who are not normally part of the public scene as the standard of universality.
       -Thus, that which is not part of the community is the universal standard.

6) Zizek said that the university and the learning going on in universities should not be ivory-tower-like, but should have social use. In light of his understanding of universality, he the university is absolutely crucial for an open space or a venue for the public use of reason. The university is a [the?] site of the public use of reason.

7) Democracy without a public use of reason is meaningless. However, Zizek sees in China [I think] a development in capitalism that does not demand a democracy.

One of my profs at Loyola said that Zizek is not doing philosophy, and I have been wondering why he said this about Zizek. However, I may know one reason: in response to a ridiculous question ("How do you live with yourself?") Zizek said, "I don't believe in the self." He believes he is simply a machine to do theory and everything else is extraneous "bull shit." In so far as he does not see theory and philosophy as connected with a Socratic kind of coming to know the self, then he is not a philosopher in my books. I wonder, though, whether his response to this person's question was meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek. Zizek said two or three times in his response that he is being dead serious, but I kind of wonder if he wasn't. Who knows.