Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mister big mouth

Posted By on 09.09.08 at 07:21 PM

While the rest of the world runs off to Toronto in search of the new and marketable, I'm still playing catch-up with movies from a few years back. Like Derrida (2002) and Zizek! (2005), the Philosophy 101 double feature that screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center a week or so ago, both documentaries already having passed through town—though not in each other's company—at least a couple times before.

Well sure, why not—can't beat the two-for-one come-on, and wasn't I in a logorrheic mood? Turns out, though, that Jacques Derrida wasn't, only reticent and guarded about large, important things—like, say, the "sex lives of philosophers"—that, by his own admission, he'd expect a film on Hegel or Kant or, god help us, Heidegger to be more forthcoming about. Not sure what to make of this discrepancy, or what he'd make of it himself, but with everyone around him so fawning and reverential it's possible the thought wouldn't even cross his mind. Then too there's the empty rattle about "true" love, "true" forgiveness—as if gratuitous qualifiers don't siphon away content, as if Wittgenstein and the Brit analytics hadn't made sufficient mincemeat of this arbitrary cut 'n' paste. Like Humpty Dumpty's, our philosopher's words mean only what he wants them to. Which is fine for him, I guess, but everyone else can take a powder.

On the other hand, there's Slavoj Zizek, who's not very anal retentive about meaning at all. Umm, no ... actually it's more like permanent diarrhea of the tongue—though after watching the fastidious Frenchman tiptoe around the shoals of semantic risk and daring, our less than fastidious Slovene seems almost a force of nature, at least if your tastes run toward Hurricane Katrina chaos. But it's the direction of the thought that matters more than anything you can literally pin to the wall—a philosophy of interstices, as he'd likely admit himself, where definition kills, or at least drains vitality away, and language retains its "explanatory" potency as long as it never explains anything too closely. Which Zizek tries to make sure it can't do. 

And I admit I'm a fan, I think he's on to something—the "truth" in the interstices idea, the notion of Marxian surplus as a "spiritualizing" agent (e.g., the myth of economic profit, creating something out of nothing, like a secular impersonation of the old Christian deity), performing the kinds of open-ended, connotative tasks that conventional religious language no longer seems capable of. But more to the point, at least performance-wise, the guy's just flat-out screaming hilarious. In fact Zizek!'s probably the funniest movie I've seen since Jaglom's Sitting Ducks—and funny in exactly the same way, with waves of obsessional babble bludgeoning you into giddy, helpless submission. Is it oracular, in the riddling delphic sense, or just outright crazy? No help from settled definitions on this one. Eat your heart out Michael Emil ... 

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