I once read a book by Larry King called How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere. Slavoj Zizek might well consider writing a book of his own called How to Make Intellectual Pronouncements About Anything, Anytime, Anywhere. From Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" to political correctness to the Criterion Collection to Starbucks (and those just among the topics we've featured here on Open Culture) the Slovenian philosopher-provocateur has for decades demonstrated a willingness to expound on the widest possible variety of subjects, to the point where his career has begun to look like one continuous, free-associative analytical monologue, which in the Big Think video above reaches the inevitable subject: your love life.
Perhaps you've tried online dating — a practice that, given the increasingly thorough integration of the internet and daily life, we'll probably soon just call "dating." Perhaps you've had positive experiences with it, perhaps you've had negative ones, and most probably you've had a mixture of both, but how often can you take your mind off the awkward fact that you have to first "meet" the other person through an electronic medium, creating a version of yourself to suit that medium? Zizek calls this online dating's problematic "aspect of self-commodification or self-manipulation."
"When you date online," he says, "you have to present yourself there in a certain way, putting forward certain qualities. You focus on your idea of how other people should perceive you. But I think that’s not how love functions, even at the very simple level. I think the English term is 'endearing foibles' — an elementary ingredient in love. You cannot ever fall in love with the perfect person. There must be some tiny small disturbing element, and it is only through noticing this element that you say, 'But in spite of that imperfection, I love him or her.'"
Fair enough. But what to do about it? Zizek thinks that the way forward for romantic technologies lies not in a less technological approach, but a more technological approach — or at least a stranger technological approach. He imagines a world of "ideal sexual attraction" where "I meet a lady; we are attracted to each other; we say all the usual stuff — your place, my place, whatever, we meet there. What happens then? She comes with her plastic penis, electric dildo. I come with some horrible thing — I saw it, it’s called something like stimulating training unit — it's basically a plastic vagina, a hole."
Dare we examine where this scenario goes? The outcome may surprise you. They simply insert her electric dildo into his stimulating training unit, and voilà, "the machines are doing it for us, buzzing in the background, and I’m free to do whatever I want, and she." With full tribute paid to the superego by their vulgar devices, "we have a nice talk; we have tea; we talk about movies. I talk with a lady because we really like each other. And, you know, when I’m pouring her tea, or she to me, quite by chance our hands touch. We go on touching. Maybe we even end up in bed. But it’s not the usual oppressive sex where you worry about performance. No, all that is taken care of by the stupid machines. That would be ideal sex for me today."
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, and the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.