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The Elvis of Philosophy

entertainment Updated: Jan 02, 2010 23:47 IST
Paramita Ghosh

Popstars used to dream of becoming Elvis. Philosophers in the 21st century dream of becoming Slavoj Zizek. The 60-year-old Slovenian intellectual, who also ran for his country’s presidency, has led a radical reappraisal of Marxist philosophy using extremely unconventional tools — humour, psychoanalysis and Hollywood.

You’re an unlikely Left intellectual. You joke about ‘Really Existing Socialism’ (when Socialist regimes existed in countries around the world).

Lenin at his Beckettian best had said: “Begin from the beginning… Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Any lesson that the last two decades have taught us is that there are problems that cost Communism, so I consider the 20th century as the ‘Communist experiment’. What the present economic crisis has, however, shown us is that liberal capitalism doesn’t work either. It has given rise to newer apartheids, untouchables, problems of biogenetics, ecology. What we have to do is re-invent Communism. To do that we need to look at the Commons. Things like air, water, culture — things we share and how we share them.

In our part of the world, Marxism and Maoism, don’t have a good name.

I’m not like the Communists of the old days. I don’t say that Communism will make everything okay… but the Naxalite-led insurgency, I think, you’ve to live with. It’s the price of the politics of exclusion. If I’ve got it right, India’s new rich middle class is just 20 per cent of its population.

You and professor Alain Badiou, an intellectual hero of the French Left, say Communism is just a name for an idea yet to be reconstructed. Do you see any movement towards it worldwide?

The problem is that the political orientation of the West has so far been liberal-democratic. But even the United States has tried to move towards a stronger state regulation. As for India, the case is more interesting than China’s which is developing a capitalism more dynamic than western capitalism. In India, neither Gandhi’s idea of a self-sustained peasant economy, nor Nehru’s attempt at state socialism worked. Communism, for India, may mean uninterrupted people’s movements. But I would like to add that when people ask me if Communism is the light at the end of the tunnel, I say it’s probably another train approaching at full speed.

You’re seen as a maverick whose lectures are preceded by roadshows and who can talk of economics, Hollywood, scatology. And also Marx.

You have Satyajit Ray as part of Indian films do you not?

So just like Indian films is more than Bollywood, Hollywood is very useful to see where we are today. What I like to do and which I am doing now is to return to philosophy — from Buddhism to Hegel. The problem with philosophers is that sometimes we mystify problems when we should be helping people ask the right questions. But you’re right, no more roadshows.

What is the connection between German, French and American flushing systems and ideology?

Shock is a good strategy to arouse people’s interests. My study of toilets, which people talk about a lot, isn’t a big philosophical construction. Eating, shitting are part of our daily lives. I have been reading India’s big classical books like The Laws of Manu. Who can eat, who should clean up — this is Ideology at its most fundamental.

For details on Zizek’s lecture tour in India, visit