Slavoj Žižek Expounds on His Hatred of Teaching, Grading Papers, and Particularly Holding Office Hours

“Those who can, do,” so we often used to hear, “and those who can’t, teach.” Nowa­days the sit­u­a­tion seems to have trans­formed into some­thing more like, “Those who can, do, at least in the occa­sion­al free moments when they don’t have to teach.” At first you just take a teach­ing gig on the side to sup­ple­ment your real career, and before you know it teach­ing has usurped that real career almost entire­ly. We’ve all heard com­plaints from aca­d­e­m­ic friends about the seem­ing­ly unbreak­able cycle of lec­tur­ing, grad­ing, and hold­ing office hours, but how many have put it in terms as stark as Slavoj Žižek does in the inter­view above?

“I hate, I hate, I hate — okay, talks are okay, but I hate giv­ing class­es,” says the Sloven­ian philoso­pher-crit­ic-show­man at a 2014 Uni­ver­si­ty of Cincin­nati Col­lege of Design, Archi­tec­ture, Art and Plan­ning con­fer­ence devot­ed to his work. “I’m proud to say, I did teach a cou­ple of semes­ters here, and all the grad­ing was pure bluff. I even open­ly told the stu­dents. I told them, I remem­ber — at the New School, for exam­ple, in New York, ‘If you don’t give me any of your shit­ty papers, you’ll get an A. If you give me a paper, I may read it and not like it, you can get a low­er grade.’ And it worked — I got no papers.” And so he solves the prob­lem of grad­ing.

But what of office hours? These he calls “the main rea­son I don’t want to teach,” because “stu­dents, they’re like oth­er peo­ple; the major­i­ty are bor­ing idiots, so I can­not imag­ine a worse expe­ri­ence than some idiot comes and starts to ask you ques­tions.” In oth­er coun­tries one might find a way to endure it, but “the prob­lem is, here in Unit­ed States, stu­dents tend to be so open that if you’re kind to them, they even start to ask you per­son­al ques­tions, like pri­vate prob­lems, could you help them, and so on. What should I tell them? ‘I don’t care. Kill your­self. Not my prob­lem.’ ”

These teach­ing expe­ri­ences led Žižek’s to one con­clu­sion: “I like uni­ver­si­ties with­out stu­dents.” But not every­one cheers his pro­nounce­ment: “When­ev­er some­thing like this pops up, I wor­ry that some peo­ple will see it and say, ‘You see? That’s what I’ve been say­ing about those ivory tow­er types all along,’ ” writes one anony­mous aca­d­e­m­ic in response. “Žižek is an out­lier, in terms of both his stature and his atti­tude. Most work­ing aca­d­e­mics can’t get away with being dis­mis­sive of stu­dents, and even if we could, almost all of us would­n’t.”

Slate’s Rebec­ca Schu­man argues that the “real prob­lem with Žižek isn’t that he feels this way or that he says these things aloud. It’s that he does so and peo­ple think it’s hilar­i­ous. It’s that his view is, believe it or not, a com­mon ‘super­star’ view of stu­dents — so com­mon, in fact, that if you work at a research uni­ver­si­ty and actu­al­ly like teach­ing, you should maybe pre­tend you don’t, lest you appear not ‘seri­ous’ enough about your research.” A semi-fre­quent crit­ic of Žižek, most recent­ly of his endorse­ment of Don­ald Trump (“after all, the two thrice-mar­ried, out­spo­ken old­er gen­tle­men do have quite a bit in com­mon, a fact that would sure­ly hor­ri­fy them both”), Schu­man knows that the fault lies nev­er so much with the provo­ca­teur him­self as it does with our ten­den­cy to take his provo­ca­tions at face val­ue.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Slavoj Žižek Answers the Ques­tion “Should We Teach Chil­dren to Believe in San­ta Claus?”

Slavoj Žižek Calls Polit­i­cal Cor­rect­ness a Form of “Mod­ern Total­i­tar­i­an­ism”

Philoso­phers (Includ­ing Slavoj Žižek) and Ethi­cists Answer the Ques­tion: Is It OK to Punch Nazis?

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, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • George says:

    I don’t know, this guy is pret­ty smart, but I still would con­sid­er him a jack­ass, ass­hole, annoy­ing piece of shit as a per­son while tak­ing his work in con­sid­er­a­tion. Read­ing about him I can only feel hatred towards some­thing or any­thing like.

  • stevelaudig says:

    These he calls “the main rea­son I don’t want to teach,” because “stu­dents, they’re like oth­er peo­ple; the major­i­ty are bor­ing idiots, so I can­not imag­ine a worse expe­ri­ence than some idiot comes and starts to ask you ques­tions.”

    He could always quit and, for his stu­dents’ sakes, he should. Every “dol­lar” he accepts as pay­ment for his “teach­ing” is theft. Hon­or is a con­cept beyond or out­side him. Peo­ple are as bor­ing as you make them. This quote tells us he’s lazy, intel­lec­tu­al­ly lazy has been obvi­ous since ‘for­ev­er’. but emo­tion­al­ly lazy also. Lots of evi­dence of lazi­ness.

  • Melchi Rabbit says:

    Do go and try teach­ing. Then you will under­stand. ^^

  • E says:

    I’ve always thought this guy was a pre­ten­tious hack. Blovi­at­ing that you hate stu­dents and teach­ing (see arti­cle above where among pro­fes­sors this shows you’re “seri­ous” and smart) only con­firms it.

    It’s not dis­lik­ing teaching/office hours/aspects of your job that’s the prob­lem, it’s being so gosh-darn proud of it.

  • Christine Japely says:

    He’s a great lec­tur­er! Lis­ten to him speak; he’s inspir­ing and bril­liant.

  • Kyle Ritchie says:

    I think this was his way of telling this annoy­ing kid (prob­a­bly his stu­dent) that he did­n’t like him. Watch the whole inter­view. The kid is unbear­able. 

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