Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Zizek Review of Children of Men

Zizek Reviews Children of Men

Children of Men
[Via I Cite]

I shouldn't be surprised--Zizek will be on the DVD version of Children of Men. The  director knows his work.  News - The Human Project.

Slavoj Zizek Reacts to Children of Men

    Philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Zizek provides his commentary and observations about Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men. The filmmakers recently spent time with Mr. Zizek after identifying him as an important element in their research because of the unique philosophical view he offers on both the implementation of governmental power, and the damaged emotional state of a refugee.
    In this transcript, he discusses issues including the foreground/background dynamics of the film, infertility and politics. Zizek brings a complex and informative view on Children of Men's portrayal of London, the emotional state of the characters and overall vision of the film.


For me, Children of Men is a model of a kind of materialist subversion of a reactionary classic, because the novel is obviously a spiritualist Christian parable of resuscitation, bringing new life and so on. The novel ends with baptizing. It's clear Christian parable. The film is a model of how you can take a reactionary text, change some details here and there and you get a totally, a totally different story. I would say that it's a realist film, but in what sense? Hegel in his esthetics says that a good portrayal looks more like the person who is portrayed than the person itself. A good portrayal is more you than you are yourself. And I think this is what the film does with our reality. The changes that the film introduces do not point toward alternate reality, they simply make reality more what it already is.  I think this is the true vocation of science fiction. Science fiction realism introduces a change that makes us see better. The nightmare that we are expecting is here.


So this I think is a true despair of the film. It's not so much ab out infertility. I think it's problematic to focus on infertility and then do the obvious spiritualist trick and say 'oh byt you know this biological infertility is really a metaphor for spiritual infertility' or whatever. I think that we should avoid this cheap direct spiritualist reading of the film. I think that the true infertility is the very lack of meaningful historical experience. It's a society of pure meaningless historical experience. Today ideology is no longer big causes such as socialism, equality, justice, democracy. The basic injunction is 'have a good time' or to put it in more spiritualist terms 'realize yourself. This is why I think Dalai Lama is such a big hit. He preaches enlightened egoism; be happy, realize your potentials and so on. And this our despair today. I think that this film gives the best diagnosis of the ideological despair of late capitalism. Of a society without history, or to use another political term, biopolitics. And my god, this film literally is about biopolitics. The basic problem in this society as depicted in the film is literally biopolitics: how to generate, regulate life. But again, I think the crucial point is that this obvious fact shouldn't deceive us. The true despair is precisely that; all historical acts disappear. Like all those classical statues are there, but they are deprived of a world. They are totally meaningless, because what does it mean to have a statue of Michaelangelo? It only works if it signals a certain world. And when this world is lacking, it's nothing. It all depends on whether we have a world. Doe we have some horizon that makes it meaningful? It's against this background that I think that the film approaches the topic of immigration and so on.


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I saw the film about a month ago when it came out here in Tokyo. It's good (but not that good). It was the British sociologist, Barbara Adam's book "Timescapes of Modernity", rather then Zizek, who came immediately to mind when I saw it though.

I really liked this film, but I really don't like what Žižek said about it. For one, he's harping on this whole materialist/spiritualist bit that I don't think makes a whole lot of sense. Žižek really has a strange materialism and I often find myself thinking, to my horror, that all this commitment to materialism by leftist philosophers is pure verbage without content. In a way the war cry remains that we don't know what a body can do, we don't know what material is. Which brings us to his conception of world, another common thing nowadays, which says nothing about the world but only makes reference to meaning. Would the world cease if there was no humanity? No, it wouldn't. Does a marble statue become nothing outside of human meaning? Does it even make sense to ask such a question?

It really is a great movie though. Amish is wrong, it is that good. One of the reasons it is so good is the pure motifs from Melville that haunt it.

Seriously, does Zizek even read or listen to the teachings of the Dalai Lama before he writes this shit? The distinctions between Soto or American Zen (which I practice) and Tibetan Buddhism (which I do not) are vast, but it really only takes a brief time reading through any of the literature on the Tibetan path, or on Tantic Buddhism in general, to see that "enlightened egoism" is a ridiculous paraphrasing of that tradition.

But I don't know what I expect. He can't take the time to read closely Levinas, Deleuze, and Heidegger before he criticizes their work, I don't know why I should expect him to actually know anything about Buddhism before he does the same.

Now, if Zizek wanted to chastise the Dalai Lamam for the ritualistic and materialist structure of Lamaism in general, I'd be all down with that. It's just that he doesn't teach enlightened egoism, and I'm not sure his popularity stems his teachings as much as it does his celebrity and a generalized American suspicion regarding China.

Sorry, I know this is tangential to the post. We were going to see the movie over break, while we were up visiting my folks in Ohio, but for whatever reason, it didn't show up in theaters there.


I don't think it is out yet in the States. It came out here (the UK) before a few months back, but I think they were waiting for Oscar reasons to release it in the States.

We all need to learn to read more carefully:

"This is why I think Dalai Lama is such a big hit."

This is not about what the Dalai Lama does or doesn't teach - but what the Dalai Lama represents through culture - the subject is "a big hit", not Dalai Lama.

"On the Beach" [Neville Shute - my fingers kept typing 'Shite':0) ] I saw as a child, and it terrified. Not the inevitable cruel death of the characters, but trying to comprehend the end of civilization.

This little chap had never imagined such things, having just discovered civilization and what a wonderful thing it was – well, according to my school text books and exciting trips to the big city.

I think at that moment I became a philosopher. Clearly the story's outcome could be grasped by my little mind, but not the deep despair.

'Like all those classical statues are there, but they are deprived of a world. They are totally meaningless, because what does it mean to have a statue of Michaelangelo? It only works if it signals a certain world. And when this world is lacking, it's nothing.'

No, this is what is bad, in fact is such an example of Zizek at his hyperbolic most yellow-journalistic, most Jeanne Dixon-prophetic without any basis that such a thing can be proven in any way other than it might qualify as a 'likelihood.' This was the trouble with the way he portrayed the 'virtual' as becoming more concrete than the localized/geographical, except that there was more there to work against in his prescription, although he has never followed it up.

In this latest, very irresponsible paragraph, you might miss that Michelangelo's statues were 'meaningless' a hundred years after they were made quite as much as they are in 2006 (IF they are, which they most certainly are NOT).
And they, like Bach, Beethoven, Petipa DO still 'signal a certain world', just not all of it as when they are new-born.

And what about 'and my god, this film literally is about biopolitics.' Incredible. I just can't even believe it. Virilio has been talking about these things for over 10 years, and Kurzweil outlines how he wants as much of it to take place as is science-fictionally possible.

I saw the previews of this, which was sufficient for me. It looked repulsive, but mainly unnecessary. It's just trendy and 'signals the world of 2006.' By 2008, it will even more meaningless than a Michelangelo statue or maybe even than Christmas.

What surprises me is that no one finds it worth commenting on the weird fact that Zizek is going to be included on the DVD of the movie. I find this quite remarkable.

On statue and world--this strikes me as a good point if an old hermeneutic one--meaning depends on a horizon, a horizon marks a world.

'On statue and world--this strikes me as a good point if an old hermeneutic one--meaning depends on a horizon, a horizon marks a world.'

It depends on it only to a certain degree, and always had done. It does not follow to go all the way to 'totally meaningless'. In fact, what I noted above about Zizek's favoring the 'virtual' is distinctly interactive with this: Unless the virtual world is by now the concrete one, the statues and old work still have their uses, which go well beyond tourist buses up to the Parthenon or Ground Zero (also surely 'meaningless' in this definition by now). While cyberspace affects a lot of what is produced offline by now, it's still not nearly as much as Zizek would insist upon: Not nearly everyone lives in cyberworld to such a degree that it can said to have become the dominant one--although it is definitely trying to. In any case, all the great works of art of the past would have found some way to become useless by now, instead of being valued (and for much more than their prestige value.)

I don't find it at all strange that Zizek and the director of 'Children of Men'. I would think this was a perfect match or trendies.

pebird, you did read the next sentence, yes?

The fact that he is going to be on the DVD isn't that much of a surprise after "Pervert's Guide..."

Anthony's point about materialism is why I think Barbara Adam is the academic name that fits the film, rather than Zizek. Although it could be a Zygmunt Bauman film too.It's very "British Sociology"

Amish--hmmm...I don't know her work and I disagree with APS re Z's materialism--I find the idea of a materialism that is ruptured by the gap that is the subject quite convincing; also, APS slips in his comment between a world and the world.

Well of course you do. Still don't see what the hell that has to do with this movie. It was an intentional shift. A world and the world are neccesarily coimplicated, which is why I don't agree with the pessimism of Zizek.


You're abolustely an old codger on this point. Alfonso Cuaron is a wonderful director. Hardly trendy, though you should know that the anti-trendy is again the new trendy.

'Would the world cease if there was no humanity? No, it wouldn't.'

Earth wouldn't, world would.

'Does a marble statue become nothing outside of human meaning?'

Of course. There are yet no lower animals capable of appropriating Art. To plants and lower animals, a marble statue is a rock.

All animals and even plants have worlds.

So it's either a statue or it's nothing? You don't see the problem with that?

It's either a piece of Art (for humans) or a 'hard thing' (plants and animals.) It does not become 'nothing' as 'hard thing', but it becomes 'nothing' as Art if it has only a plant and animal audience.

Surely you've heard stories of animal art. Animal language. Animal society.

Oh, pul-leaze, I'm not such an easy mark. Just because it's Sunday and I feel like being sweet to assuage my guilt for not having been to Sunday School since ----.

Of course I read it. Now you go re-read it with the concept "big hit" in the back of your mind.

Wow, different meaning. Funny how that works.

Happy New Year!

Oh, I see where we disagreed. When I wrote about the need for reading, I was talking about need to engage the words as they appear in print, and you were talking about the words in the back of your mind that give the words in print the widest latitude for plausibility.

So when I see the words that say, in effect, "he's a big hit; he preaches enlightened egoism" and then respond to that by noting "but wait, he doesn't teach enlightened egoism" I was responding to something totally different than you were, as you saw Zizek saying "such a big hit. He preaches enlightened egoism", which you insightfully realized should be include the phrase "and by 'preaches' I mean represent through culture," which I had totally missed. You also correctly realized that the Dalai Lama was not the subject in the phrases "the Dalai Lama is such a big hit" and "he preaches enlightened egoism." And whereas I mistakenly read the whole thing as what was printed in the excerpt, you correctly realized that, when Zizek said "the Dalai Lama is such a big hit" he meant "the teachings that are not the teachings of enlightened egoism but that are derived from what the Dalai Lama represents through culture, and which are all totally unrelated to the next sentence I'm about to say, are such big hits."

My bad. I can only plead bad reading on my part.

Happy New Year.

Kenneth--that's pretty damn good. The New Year is as good a time as any to ring out the outmoded. I don't care about the Dalai Lama, but I can see that Zizek wrote about the Dalai Lama very much as he wrote about Michelangelo's statues. You're supposed to take it literally until signalled not to. Is that the style?

btw, 'children of men' opened Xmas Day in 'selected cities' [divine term]

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