Slavoj Žižek Examines the Perverse Ideology of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy

Beethoven’s iconic Ninth Symphony premiered in Vienna in 1824, at “a time of great repression, of ultra-conservative nationalism” as the old orders fought back against the revolutions of the previous century. But it’s difficult to imagine the composer having any nationalist intent, what with his well-known hatred of authority, particularly imperialist authority (and particularly of Napoleon). Even less obvious is the imputation of nationalist tendencies to Friedrich Schiller, whose poem, “Ode to Joy” Beethoven adapts to a glorious chorus in the fourth movement. Schiller’s poem, writes Scott Horton in Harper’s, “envisions a world without monarchs” in which universal friendship “is essential if humankind is to overcome its darker moments.” And in his take on the ubiquitous piece of music, contrarian theorist Slavoj Žižek acknowledges in the clip above from his latest film, A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, that the Ninth is generally taken for granted “as a kind of an ode to humanity as such, to the brotherhood and freedom of all people.”

And yet Žižek , being Žižek, draws our attention to the Ninth Symphony as a perfect ideological container, by reference to its unforgettable use in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, as unsparing a look at humanity’s “darker moments” as one might find on film (excerpt above). Kubrick (and composer Wendy Carlos) drew on a long, dark history of associations with the Ninth. As evidence of its “universal adaptability,” Žižek points to its well-known use by the Nazis as a nationalist anthem, as well as by the Soviet Union as a communist song; in China during the Cultural Revolution, when almost all other Western music was prohibited; and at the extreme Apartheid right in South Rhodesia. “At the opposite end,” Žižek says, the Ninth Symphony was the favorite of ultra-leftist Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman, and in 1972, it became the unofficial “Anthem of Europe” (now of the European Union). The towering piece of music, Žižek claims, enables us to imagine a “perverse scene of universal fraternity” in which the world’s dictators, arch-terrorists, and war criminals all embrace each other. It’s a deeply disturbing image, to say the least. Watch the full excerpt for more of Žižek’s examination of the ideological weight Beethoven carries.

via Bibliokept

Related Content:

In His Latest Film, Slavoj Žižek Claims “The Only Way to Be an Atheist is Through Christianity”

Slavoj Žižek’s Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Decodes The Dark Knight and They Live

The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness



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by | Permalink | Comments (20) |

  • Rain,adustbowlstory

    Ode/Orange: how regrettable that even the best can be used by the worst; great art used by the artistically bankrupt.

  • tommasz

    Jesus, Zizek is such a dick. When ever I read anything by him or about him I can’t help but see only his dickitude.

  • tommasz

    Jesus, Zizek is such a dick. When ever I read anything by him or about him I can’t help but see only his dickitude.

  • Cambo

    Horseshit. It’s such a beautiful piece of music that no one can help but love it. End of story.

  • Cambo

    Horseshit. It’s such a beautiful piece of music that no one can help but love it. End of story.

  • svenjissom

    For a perspective on the uses to which the the Ninth has been put, see “The Ninth” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0490461/).

  • burak

    well he didn’t say the opposite? it’s just a theory.

  • Alexo54

    Echoing the general theme of these comments, I couldn’t help but notice the “statue” behind the speaker. What on earth? Is it inflated with air for his later enjoyment?

  • Alexo54

    Ah, having now viewed more of the clip, I understand…

  • danrod

    Or you could just say: artwork can be used to persuade despite the artist’s intentions; a pretty obvious observation. Couching this revelation in the music of Beethoven and 20th century politics does not make it a trenchant insight.

  • Wolfy

    Zizek is many things, but he’s not an artist, and has almost no knowledge of what Beethoven himself intended with his music and all. Sometimes I think he’s smart, most of the time I think he’s a little boy screaming for attention with a bigger than average vocabulary. This is one of those times. Dude, there’s enough cacophony out there. Shutup so we I can hear the 9th.

  • Lin Goab

    Sure, it’s a perverse ideology if you read Schiller as “Alle Menschen werden BRUEDER” and not “Alle MENSCHEN werden Brueder.” You need to be a Mensch before you can be a brother (or sister) of the world. So, no, S. Hussein and G. Bush (the terrorists and war criminals, etc.) don’t get to join in the heartwarming universal hug. I think Beethoven picks up on this difference in the way he wrote the “Ah” of “Alle” to hold over the measure line, which ueber-punctuates the stress on MENschen. As for this music being used so much by those perverse fascist oppressive regimes, doesn’t anything that makes the downtrodden masses feel like they have value and belong have the same effect?

  • bernardo lu00f3pez

    Well I am reading just now interesting times by Zizek, he is really brilliant, a real philosopher, and, yeah he is right, the 9th has been used by totalitarism as well as capitalism, nevertheless I really love it, all Bethoven and more Im deligth with Wagner, and I don’t care was Hitler’s favourite, walkirias are my love

  • ivaray

    Zizek is always dialectically dramatic. A great method to get people involved in a process of critical reasoning. Thinking more deeply about the destiny of any art work, I would say that the art prevails, while ideology sheds it’s snake’s skin and is remembered or forgotten as a bad history chapter. No mater what, the work of art has its own life, and is interpreted from different generational “zeitgaist” perspectives despite the original artist’s intention, “genius,” creation, or authorship. The true art is always exclusively universalistic.

  • Alex

    Thanks for your insights. They make a lot of sense. Beethoven was really irritated by the dictator of his day, Napoleon, who’d started off as a liberator.

  • Alex

    Thanks for your insights. They make a lot of sense. Beethoven was really irritated by the dictator of his day, Napoleon, who’d started off as a liberator.

  • ZxSpectrum

    reading the book, speaking about the book -one of out the many interviews Burguess gave about Alex characteru00b4s that hell NO, Kubrick did good works, The Clockwork Orange is BS his depiction of Alex simplistic and a plain shit movie, im sorry ooooh kubrik fans- of course was not plan of tonightu00b4s world most famous “celebrity philosopher”. What a wanker… please do we REALLY need another postmoderrn poser?

  • Jeeezzz

    finally, some brains over here, but hey! letu00b4s all kneel before the “celebrity-philosopher” wanker of the century zzzzzzzzzzz

  • wuth

    honestly i’m impressed that you managed to type for so long with absolutely nothing coherent coming out…

  • Zizek

    Seems like Chomsky made it cool to hate on Zizek. Stop hating on Zizek. He’s an insightful and humorous philosopher.

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