Slavoj Žižek Tells Jokes (NSFW)

For Sig­mund Freud, a joke was nev­er just a joke, but a win­dow into the uncon­scious, laugh­ter an anx­ious symp­tom of recog­ni­tion that some­thing lost has resur­faced, dis­tort­ed into humor. For Sloven­ian psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic philoso­pher Slavoj Žižek, jokes func­tion sim­i­lar­ly. And yet, in keep­ing with his com­mit­ment to left­ist pol­i­tics, he uses jokes not to expose the hid­den ter­rain of indi­vid­ual psy­ches but “to evoke binds of his­tor­i­cal cir­cum­stances hard to indi­cate by oth­er means.” So writes Ken­neth Bak­er in a brief SFGate review of the recent Žižek’s Jokes, a book-length com­pi­la­tion of Žižekisms pub­lished by MIT Press. Bak­er also points out a defin­ing fea­ture of Žižek’s humor: “Many of Žižek’s jokes pre­serve or even ampli­fy the vul­gar­i­ty of their demot­ic or pop cul­tur­al ori­gins.” Take the NSFW joke he tells above at the expense of a Mon­tene­grin friend. Žižek explains the joke as part of his maybe dubi­ous strat­e­gy of coun­ter­ing racism with “pro­gres­sive racism” or the “sol­i­dar­i­ty” of “shared obscenity”—the use of poten­tial­ly uncom­fort­able eth­nic humor to expose uncom­fort­able polit­i­cal truths that get repressed or papered over by polite­ness.

Some of Žižek’s humor is more trig­ger-warn­ing wor­thy, such as his retelling of this old Sovi­et dis­si­dent joke or this “very dirty joke” he report­ed­ly heard from a Pales­tin­ian Chris­t­ian acquain­tance. On the oth­er hand, some of his “dirty jokes” replace vul­gar­i­ty with the­o­ry. For exam­ple, Žižek likes to tell a “tru­ly obscene” ver­sion of the famous­ly filthy joke “The Aris­to­crats,” which you’ll know if you’ve seen, or only read about, the film of the same name. And yet in his take, instead of a series of increas­ing­ly dis­gust­ing acts, the fam­i­ly per­forms “a short course in Hegelian thought, debat­ing the true mean­ing of the neg­a­tiv­i­ty, of sub­la­tion, of absolute know­ing, etc.” This is per­haps an exam­ple of what Bak­er refers to as Žižekian jokes that are “baf­fling to read­ers not con­ver­sant with the gnarly dialec­tics of his thought, which does not lend itself eas­i­ly to sam­pling.” Be that as it may, much of Žižek’s humor works with­out the the­o­ret­i­cal con­text, and some of it is even tame enough for water cool­er inter­ludes. Below are four exam­ples of “safe” jokes, culled from web­site Crit­i­cal Theory’s list of “The 10 Best Žižek Jokes to Get You Through Finals” (which itself culls from Žižek’s Jokes). “Some of the jokes [in Žižek’s book] pro­vide hilar­i­ous insights into Hegelian dialec­tics, Lacan­ian psy­cho­analy­sis or ide­ol­o­gy,” writes Crit­i­cal The­o­ry, “Oth­ers are just fun­ny, and most are some­what offensive—a char­ac­ter­is­tic Žižek admit­ted­ly doesn’t care to cor­rect.”

#1 There is an old Jewish joke, loved by Derrida…

about a group of Jews in a syn­a­gogue pub­licly admit­ting their nul­li­ty in the eyes of God. First, a rab­bi stands up and says: “O God, I know I am worth­less. I am noth­ing!” After he has fin­ished, a rich busi­ness­man stands up and says, beat­ing him­self on the chest: “O God, I am also worth­less, obsessed with mate­r­i­al wealth. I am noth­ing!” After this spec­ta­cle, a poor ordi­nary Jew also stands up and also pro­claims: “O God, I am noth­ing.” The rich busi­ness­man kicks the rab­bi and whis­pers in his ear with scorn: “What inso­lence! Who is that guy who dares to claim that he is noth­ing too!”

#4 When the Turkish Communist writer Panait Istrati visited the Soviet Union in the mid- 1930s, the time of the big purges…

and show tri­als, a Sovi­et apol­o­gist try­ing to con­vince him about the need for vio­lence against the ene­mies evoked the proverb “You can’t make an omelet with­out break­ing eggs,” to which Istrati terse­ly replied: “All right. I can see the bro­ken eggs. Where’s this omelet of yours?”

We should say the same about the aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures imposed by IMF: the Greeks would have the full right to say, “OK, we are break­ing our eggs for all of Europe, but where’s the omelet you are promis­ing us?”

#7 This also makes meaningless the Christian joke…

accord­ing to which, when, in John 8:1–11, Christ says to those who want to stone the woman tak­en in adul­tery, “Let him who is with­out sin among you be the first to throw a stone!” he is imme­di­ate­ly hit by a stone, and then shouts back: “Moth­er! I asked you to stay at home!”

#8 In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic,…

a Ger­man work­er gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by cen­sors, he tells his friends: “Let’s estab­lish a code: if a let­ter you will get from me is writ­ten in ordi­nary blue ink, it is true; if it is writ­ten in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first let­ter, writ­ten in blue ink: “Every­thing is won­der­ful here: stores are full, food is abun­dant, apart­ments are large and prop­er­ly heat­ed, movie the­aters show films from the West, there are many beau­ti­ful girls ready for an affair—the only thing unavail­able is red ink.”

And is this not our sit­u­a­tion till now? We have all the free­doms one wants—the only thing miss­ing is the “red ink”: we “feel free” because we lack the very lan­guage to artic­u­late our unfree­dom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to des­ig­nate the present con­flict —“war on ter­ror,” “democ­ra­cy and free­dom,” “human rights,” etc.—are false terms, mys­ti­fy­ing our per­cep­tion of the sit­u­a­tion instead of allow­ing us to think it. The task today is to give the pro­test­ers red ink.

For more of Slavoj Žižek’s wit­ti­cism, vul­gar­i­ty, and humor­ous cri­tiques of ide­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tions, polit­i­cal his­to­ry, and Hegelian and Lacan­ian thought, pick up a copy of Žižek’s Jokes, and see this Youtube com­pi­la­tion of the polit­i­cal­ly incor­rect left­ist philosopher’s humor caught on tape.

via Crit­i­cal The­o­ry

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Slavoj Žižek: What Full­fils You Cre­ative­ly Isn’t What Makes You Hap­py

Žižek!: 2005 Doc­u­men­tary Reveals the “Aca­d­e­m­ic Rock Star” and “Mon­ster” of a Man

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

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

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  • Mila says:

    This was a delight­ful read. When I first encoun­tered Žižek two years ago I found his artic­u­la­tions insight­ful yet ter­ri­fy­ing­ly aggres­sive, but the more I acquaint myself with his work, the more I realise I def­i­nite­ly mis­un­der­stood him… I’m find­ing it eas­i­er to appre­ci­ate his writ­ings and videos now.

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