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Slavoj Žižek is Absurd: Pornography Edition

Tim Whitby/Getty Images Entertainment

The New Republic's Adam Kirsch has already laid bare what is, respectively, sinister and fraudulent about Slavoj Žižek, the Slovene philosopher and campus hero. In New York magazine this week, Žižek gives some time to Joshua Cohen, who conducted an enjoyable (albeit nonlinear) interview with him. Žižek is interested in the distinction between the public and the private:

He went on to analyze Angela Merkel, Joschka Fischer, Robert Redford and The Company You Keep, then transitioned to a recap of the Kantian categoricals: Government surveillance was “private,” Žižek insisted, not “public,” “precisely in the sense that we’re all embarrassed by it when it goes public.”

This is the sort of thing that must get people nodding their heads on first glance, but then dissolves into mush upon re-reading. But how does it relate to pornography, you ask?

“Friends told me that the latest trend [in porn], at least in Europe, is public sex. They showed me some clips, and they’re terrifying. A couple enters a streetcar, half-full, simply takes a seat, undresses, and starts to do it. You can see from surprised faces that it’s not staged. It’s pure working-class suburb. But what’s fascinating is that the people all look, and then they politely ignore it. The message is that even if you’re together in public with people, it still counts as private space.”

I see. So, when people on a bus start doing something illegal and seemingly (assuming the camera is hidden) insane, and are ignored, it is all part of some large point about society and the public vs. the private. It's probably the same reason people ignore crazies on the street who scream and shout: It has nothing to do with fear, or a simple lack of desire to enmesh yourself with weird or dangerous fellow citizens. No, it's about the collapsing public space in society.

To his credit, however, I do admire Žižek's reliance on the trusty old My-Friends-Told-Me-About-This-Porn line. I didn't know people still had the gall to use that one, although now that people are having sex on streetcars, I guess anything goes.