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The art of cinema consists in arousing desire, to play with desire, but at the same time keeping it at a safe distance. Domesticating it. Rendering it palpable…
The problem for us is not are our desires satisfied or not. The problem is how do we know what we desire? There is nothing spontaneous, nothing natural about human desire. Our desires are artificial. We have to be taught to desire.
Cinema is the ultimate pervert art. It doesn’t give you what you desire. It tells you how to desire.
Slavoj Žižek, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, 2007
If you've ever been harassed on the Underground by a Christian who says, "Jesus is the answer. What's the question?", then perhaps you should thank God if you've never met a Lacanian. Slavoj Zizek, the most evangelical of Lacanians, would surely exchange the word "Jesus" in that statement for "Lacan/Hegel".
Zizek's star burns brightly at the moment, no doubt because we generally view films and pop culture purely as entertainment for our consumption. So it seems impressive when someone - anyone - comes along and says, "Hang on, films may say something about ourselves."
The ideas Zizek expounds in this film are "true" purely because he says so. For example, Zizek explains that three Marx Bros are the ego, superego and id (God knows what happened to Zeppo, or Gummo … perhaps they're the sinthome...or is that movies themselves?). This is simply what they are. In Zizek's output, culture is not there to be investigated but merely to be held as an example of his ideology. People may object that he certainly has something to say - but how different is what he says from the Christian attributing everything to God's will?
What's wrong with taking examples, from films or anywhere, to illustrate theory? Well, nothing at all. As Zizek seems to believe, they may even serve as a proof. However, it is merely cant and propaganda when these examples are isolated from their context. Without context, you can say and prove anything you want. For Zizek, Lacan is the answer – so he goes and makes an example of it. Everything but everything resembles the teachings of the Master and culture is there to bear this out, to serve this ideology. For instance, Zizek's exemplar of the fantasy position of the voyeur is taken from a scene in Vertigo when Jimmy Stewart spies on Kim Novak in a flower shop. But, in the context of the film, this is not a voyeur's fantasy position at all. Stewart has been deliberately led there by Novak. This presentation of examples isolated from their context continues throughout Zizek's two hour and a half cinematic sermon.
His analysis of the "baby wants to f---" scene in Blue Velvet is laughable. Touching lightly on what he appears to consider to be the horrific (to the masculine) truth of "feminine jouissance", Zizek says that Isabella Rossilini's character not only demands her degradation but is, unconsciously, in charge of the situation. This is an example of her "jouissance". Well ... possibly. But - sorry to be prosaic - where is the evidence for this? In the film, she partially undergoes her humiliations because Hopper has kidnapped her son. Zizek may object that she also evidently enjoys rough sex with Kyle MacLachalan. But this may be due to any number of things. Isn't that the point of so-called feminine "jouissance"? According to Lacan, feminine jouissance, unlike phallic jouissance, cannot be articulated, it is beyond the phallic capture and castration of language. If this is right, then no example can be made of it. It also means that the entire concept is non-sensical and entirely mystical. It can only be designated by dogmatists such as Zizek: "There's feminine jouissance for you! Why is this feminine jouissance? Because I say so."
What example can really be garnered from these films? Only Zizek's psychology. Why does he keep inserting himself into his favourite films, even to the point that, when in a boat on Botega Bay, he says he wants to f--- Rod Steiger too? Is this not the wish-fulfilment of someone who spends his life critiquing films? As the saying goes, Freud would have a field day with The Pervert's Guide to the Cinema - but with Zizek himself, nobody else.
Zizek's theory that films show us how we desire may be right on the face of it, but these films cannot be strict universal examples of psychoanalytical laws. This film illustrates how Zizek desires and only extremely vaguely - as to be almost useless - how the rest of us desire. For, as any psychoanalyst knows, how we desire and what we desire cannot be fully separated - and cannot be easily universalised, if at all. Zizek's love of making everything an example of Lacan's Answer bears this out: how do we desire? like this, this is how I do it. Problem is, in Zizek's desire, everything and everyone else is rationalised into his desire. But Zizek is a Leninist and they certainly don't like letting the "subject" speak for itself.
The Pervert's Guide to the Cinema is a summation Zizek's love of dogma and is entirely unphilosophical even if it remains very political (what dogma isn't?). Zizek has never questioned exactly what his motives might be when embarking on an analysis, what he is trying to discover, because the terms of his exploration, and therefore his ethics in doing so, are never put into question.
Zizek is extremely prolific but all his books and this film say the same thing. He's a kind of Henry Ford of cultural theory: mass-production and any colour as long as it's black. He is perfect for today's highly consumerist society: supposedly critical while giving people the same c-ap over and over and pretending that it is something different. This is popular because people largely prefer readymade answers to their problems - which capitalism always claims to provide - rather than investigating things with any serious consideration at all. Which is kind of like being brain dead. For me, Zizek's third Matrix pill is a suicide capsule.
PS: I loved Zizek's solemn remark - presented as a revelation about cinema and humanity - that music in films can greatly affect people's sympathies. Did this only occur to Zizek after he watched Jaws?
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