“A hugely entertaining taster of Žižekian discourse is offered by a new film, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology,” writes Jonathan Romney in a profile of Slavoj Žižek for the Independent that is itself hugely entertaining. Seriously, it’s a fun, long, recommended read. At any rate, in the new film, “Žižek riffs pugnaciously to camera on the meaning and effects of ideology, with reference to The Sound of Music, Brief Encounter, Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’, Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs and the supposedly crypto-fascist stylings of German rock band Rammstein. The film is Žižek’s second collaboration—following 2006’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema—with British director Sophie Fiennes, and it’s far from a set of dry exegeses. It variously features Žižek sitting in a burnt-out plane in the Mojave desert; strapped to a hospital gurney, after Rock Hudson in 1966 thriller Seconds; and dressed as a priest to explain how the song ‘Climb Every Mountain’ illustrates the ambivalent logic of Catholicism.”
Talking with Fiennes for the Observer, Elizabeth Day notes that “the pervert of the title refers to the idea of perverting our preconceptions, rather than anything more X-rated.” Fiennes and Žižek have “developed a close working relationship—Fiennes goes away and ‘reads all the books,’ then asks Žižek to elaborate on the ideas she finds most interesting while the camera is rolling. There is no script—sometimes Žižek can speak for 17 minutes in full flow—which means the post-production can be lengthy. Fiennes spent the best part of a year editing The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.”
“This is slower and stodgier than the first film, with less fizz and fun,” finds the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “Žižek wants to show us that what we perceive as straightforward reality is always shaped by ideology: ideology is what makes the amorphous mass of experience readable. The movies can show how ideology goes to work—and they themselves are doing the work of ideology. Žižek argues that the Nazi propaganda films are like Spielberg’s Jaws, or any movie, in that the viewers are invited to focus all their fears and anxieties on one villain, or all their hopes on one hero. He ingeniously draws a parallel between narrative and the impulse of capitalism to consume, to use up, to start again, and decides that ideologies will sometimes recognize the existence of rebels or dissidents, on the tacit understanding that they are ultimately to be conquered or forgiven and this is analogous to the movies’ underdog or violent outsider…. Žižek’s flights of fancy are sometimes brilliant and sometimes implausible, but they are always airborne to some degree.”
“All The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is really doing is offering a specific model for a fairly standard, politically-inclined form of film criticism,” argues David Jenkins at Little White Lies. “When Žižek reveals the central motif of class rivalry at the center of James Cameron’s Titanic, he does so like he’s the first person to see it in this light. You wonder if, as a commentator, he’s formulating ideas without engaging in the lay critical conversation. He often refers to conversations he’s had with his philosopher pals, but there’s no sense that he’s reading what film critics are writing week in, week out. It’s when he expounds on the world outside the film and thinks of alternate scenarios and conclusions that he’s at his most entertaining and original.”
For Guy Lodge, writing for Time Out, “Žižek’s screen presence is at once crazed and disarming: no matter how outwardly impenetrable his theories, the manic conviction with which he expresses them makes them compelling.”
“I’m not sure if the Zizek thoughts are an aid to illuminating the Zizek-chosen movies, or vice versa,” writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. “But it is rich fun and collectably eccentric.”
The Telegraph‘s David Gritten senses a “whiff of neediness in such a performance, and his tirades finally become exhausting. There are those who find Žižek a delight; but well before the two-hour mark, one feels he has delighted us long enough.”
We’ll wrap for now with another profile, Donald Clarke‘s for the Irish Times. Clarke wonders why Žižek still pays so much attention to cinema. “‘This is a very good question,’ he says with a flourish. ‘Up to a point, I still love classical cinema. But the main point is that, I think, if you want to discover where we are, you do get it in films. Nonetheless, I agree with you. I myself am convinced that cinema was the art of the 20th century, I now see two candidates for the 21st: one would be TV series; the other would be videogames. Good computer games should not be dismissed as…’ And he’s off on a fresh tangent towards new digital worlds.”
Updates, 10/13: Hester Lacey has a quick chat with Žižek (for whom John Thornhill bought lunch in 2009) in the Financial Times: “If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?” Žižek: “Considering my work, my books, 10. For my personal life, zero.”
Update, 10/23: “Žižek wearing a priest’s habit and pontificating within a re-creation of the convent from The Sound of Music is doubtlessly amusing,” grants Dan Sullivan at the L, “but some of his claims, like the one about Rammstein’s allegedly successful transformation of aspects of Nazi aesthetics into ‘pure elements of libidinal investment’ to be enjoyed in their ‘pre-ideological state,’ remain as unpersuasive as the first 10 times he made them. But hey, he mostly hits the theoretical nail squarely on the head, and anyone who calls a Carpenter film a ‘forgotten masterpiece of the Hollywood Left’ or convincingly links Lindsay Anderson’s if… to atrocities at Abu Ghraib deserves a couple hours of any self-respecting, desiring subject’s time.”
Updates, 11/1: “When analyzing movies,” writes J. Hoberman for Artforum, “Slavoj Žižek generally employs the term ideology in the vulgar Marxist sense of a comforting falsehood and uses pervert to mean one who is a counterintuitive thinker. What, then, is the ideology underlying The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology… and how is it twisted?… The most baroque of (erstwhile) Marxist Freudians, having substituted the gnarlier Hegel and Lacan for Karl and Sigmund, Žižek typically draws out in his writings sharply defined contradictions, only to resolve them in a mist of categories imported from Georg and Jacques. Žižek’s sense of ideology as not imposed but spontaneous, desired, perhaps necessary, and even a form of fun, drenches Jacques Ellul’s venerable notion of ‘sociological propaganda’ with a secret sauce: chef Lacan’s objet petit a—that is to say, Žižek’s own evident, if deadpan, jouissance.”
“Žižek’s daisy-chained improvisations amount to an argument on behalf of complexity and unseen depths, and, like much academic writing, it risks monotony and becoming as reductive as it can be seductive,” finds Nicolas Rapold, writing for the New York Times.
At RogerEbert.com, Godfrey Cheshire finds it “noteworthy that, while Žižek’s background is Marxist and Pervert’s Guide unsurprisingly devotes some sharp critical scrutiny to the internal contradictions of Nazism, fascism and capitalism… he’s equally astringent regarding the Communist mythology that bolstered dictators like Stalin, Mao and Castro, a system based on a belief in an imaginary creature known as ‘the People’ and that justified its many horrors thereby. However, rather than attacking those iconic leaders, Žižek says, the best way to show up such myths is by dethroning that non-existent creature; and he cites Milos Forman’s early satires as films which do just that.”
Noel Murray at the Dissolve: “Žižek doesn’t exempt himself when he describes how Starbucks enables consumers to feel virtuous when they overpay for coffee, or when he talks about how A Clockwork Orange and West Side Story depict violent youth as far from mindless products of dire social conditions. The recurring message in The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is that the cultural order thrives on contradictions: The ultimate desire is to continue feeling desire, religion gives cover to immoral acts, racism is partly a function of envy, and so on. Žižek’s eventual assertion is that the only avenue to social change is to become aware of all of this, and to push through regardless.”
Update, 11/16: “Unfortunately, Pervert’s Guide to Ideology runs past its ideal point, but like college, you still remember it fondly, even if it went on a little too long or was a bit too expensive,” writes Jeremy Polacek at Hyperallergic.