Mar 032014

PEL Not SchoolFor March I’m proposing a Not School reading group on Zizek. The group will read a 25-page transcript of a talk he gave at the International Journal of Zizek Studies 2012 conference. It is, I think, a very nice summary of some of his key philosophical positions and where his current theoretical interests lie. The added advantage of this reading is that a recording of Zizek himself delivering it is available on YouTube and since Zizek is a primarily oratorical philosopher, this should provide great assistance in one’s reading. The talk itself is about 1h 30m and the text can be read much more quickly – in, perhaps, thirty minutes or, with care, an hour.

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Feb 282014
Not School

Excerpts from PEL podcaster & listener discussions on Sartre’s Nausea, Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology,” Slavoj Zizek’s Year of Dreaming Dangerously, Marx and Engels’s “Communist Manifesto,” Peter Schaffer’s play Equus, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited: A Novel in Dramatic Form. Plus an interview with Hillary Sydlowski, leader of the Not School Introductory Readings in Philosophy Group.

This Digest (our first since last August) is jam-freakin’ packed, with folks moaning over difficult texts and crooning over easy ones. We’ve got good microphones side by side with terrible microphones so you can learn the difference! Wacky sound effects! A song (“Messed Up People” by The MayTricks, from 1994′s Happy Songs Will Bring You Down) spread out over two places but yet still not adding up to one whole song! The first minutes of several conversations, you know, before everyone got warmed up and comfortable! A commercial that sounds like real content, and some real content that sounds like a commercial! Such a thing is to be missed only if you have an ear infection! (We do that so you get the summary: you still learn what these works are about even just listening to these little bits, and you don’t have time to get bored.)

Please support our sponsor Squarespace: Go to and use the offer code Examine to get a free trial offer and 10% off.

And of course, become a Citizen to get the full discussions and join the new Not School groups for March.

Nov 282013

If from continental philosophy you throw out transcendental phenomenology and older idealist trappings–transcendental subjects and so on–you are left with a system which still has two components: the world and the self.  It was the relationship between these two that took hold as the major problem for 20th C. continental philosophy.

The upshot of the first phase of the “analysis of the self” we know as existentialism and may be traced back to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and others, but it really gets off the ground as an independent topic with Heidegger. His pre-conscious self, which he calls Dasein, is primarily characterized by two things: 1) it is ontologizing (it takes part in giving the world its particular character); 2) it cares. Continue reading »

Oct 232013

I and four Citizens took a first crack at discussing The Year of Dreaming Dangerously yesterday (read more about our Not School group here).

Since Freud and Jung, psychotherapy has been used to try to make sense of group behavior, and Lacan himself applied his insights to the political realm (among other places). Zizek follows in that tradition, doing a Marxist analysis of the various events of 2011 using Lacanian language: Capital is, according to Zizek, the “real” behind all of these various conflicts that seem to be between individual groups. Capitalism is never itself confronted as a system, but serves as the underlying force and the principle by which this force itself is made invisible to us.

Sound kooky? Well, yeah. Become a citizen, go to the Free Stuff page, and download the discussion. If you’ve already read the book or can read it quickly, you may still have time to join the group; there may be a second discussion scheduled, since some of the key group players couldn’t make it this time.

-Mark Linsenmayer

Oct 022013

Now that the government of the United States has finally shut down, the time is ripe for some revolutionary ideology.  October’s Not School activities offer at least two reading groups that should aid in that concern.  One is a brand new group which will be reading The Year of Dreaming Dangerously by none other than that superstar philosopher whose nose hairs tickle him oh so much, Slavoj Zizek. And our Marx group who just read the Communist Manifesto during September is still in active discussion mode, so it appears that the group may continue this month as well.

There are also offerings for the less than radical among us as well.  The long running Fiction group will within days be wrapping up discussion of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but appears to have chosen for their next book a novel called Kindred by Octavia Butler.

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Sep 242013

“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in.”
― Napoleon Bonaparte


Huge protest in Cairo, Egypt courtesy flipthemedia – snap! from 2011


[From Sotiris Triantis]  

In a previous article here on the PEL blog ‘Don’t Act. Just Think’: A Short Comment on Slavoj Zizek’s Critique of Activism, I argued that thinking is not enough in order to effect radical change in collective problems such as poverty, oppression or unemployment. In this article I argue that collective actions are not only vital in modern societies but that they are the cornerstone of every deliberative process. Social and political thought consists in activist movements.

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Aug 262013

Slavoj Zizek[From Sotiris Triantis]  

Slavoj Zizek – in a video titled ‘Don’t Act. Just Think’ – suggests that in the social and political realm we should not act but think. It’s an odd, somewhat counter-revolutionary thesis.  Historical change has always been brought about by collective action.

A more useful model might be: ‘First Think, Then Act’.  When Noam Chomsky was asked by the German student magazine Zeit Campus what we should do in order to change the world, he replied: ‘Look around, analyze the problems, ask yourself what you can do and set out on the work!’ Chomsky’s view reflects both core parts of activism: Thought (analysis) and Action (synthesis). Zizek’s framework unfortunately includes only the analytic part. Continue reading »

Jul 302013

Editor’s Note: We feel the need to provide some coverage of one of the few big news stories in philosophy, which is the ongoing hostile exchange between two giants of the philosophical left, Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Žižek. Since none of us podcasters has read much by either fellow or has much patience for following this story, I’ve asked PEL Citizen Michael Burgess to fill in the gap. For more info, check out OpenCulture’s coverage here, here, and here.

Kant, who is credited with giving the Enlightenment its slogan, “Sapere Aude! Have the courage to use your own intelligence!”: is also credited with dividing philosophy in half. In trying to reformulate metaphysics and epistemology to preserve the possibility of science, he deprived science its omniscience and made consciousness its pedestal.

This tension lies at the heart of post-Enlightenment philosophy and could be said to define the trenches between the Analytic and Continental schools: the former values formalization, empirical demonstration, and metaphysics a hair’s breath from physics (to preserve the possibility of science…); the latter “human” modes of reasoning (from the formal to the literary), analysis of the empirical, metaphysics a hair’s breadth from consciousness (to deprive science omniscience and make consciousness its pedestal).

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Apr 292013

zizek posterZizek! is one of those documentaries centered around one really, really interesting person. For that reason it’s more like Crumb or Bukowski - Born Into This than more famously philosophical movies like Waking Life. Zizek!’s structure is simple: The director and a small crew simply follow Slavoj Zizek as he goes about his daily business, which pretty much amounts to him walking around his apartment and traveling to lectures. It’s an entertaining film about a figure of whom most philosophically minded people are aware without knowing much about him. For the people already familiar with him, don’t worry, all of the “Zizek-tropes” are present: weird anecdotes, facial ticks, and self-deprecating humor, etc.

This is not an educational film. I probably know as much about Zizek’s philosophy after watching this movie as before, and this is despite the fact that the director intends to be pedagogical. This is because the film’s quick summaries of Zizek’s work are basically just factoids, full of vague phrases that do not accomplish much illumination, like the statement that claims Lacan was considered “a return to Freud.” I have no idea what this means and I feel 99 percent of the people who watch this film will feel the same. For the most part,  Zizek himself struggles to communicate anything of philosophical depth and clarity in the shortish interviews. But this is forgivable because he might be one of the most interesting people alive to observe (he communicates plenty of his salty charisma and humor though). Throughout the film I watched his face, transfixed, asking myself what many people have asked about him: is he on coke? Does he have ADD? Why does he always have phlegm in his mouth? Continue reading »

Feb 092013
marxist thought


The fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) seemed to herald the victory of capitalism over socialism, what Francis Fukuyama declared the “End of History;” the failure and death of both Marxist thought and political movements. Fukuyama, an eloquent Hegelian political philosopher and one-time neoconservative (and continued anti-Marxist) asserts uncompromisingly in his “End of History” essay that ideology, not economics or material circumstances, broadly determine human activity and the course of history. Fukuyama, in all subsequent writings that I have read (even up until today), continually advances this Hegelian perspective on history, and Slavoj Zizek, not just a Marxist but a Communist/Hegelian/Lacanian, wonders if, in light of the unimpeded charge of capitalism since 1989, we are not all “Fukuyama-ists.” In Zizek, probably the most famous philosopher of the last 10 years, we find a sysnthesis of Hegelian ideology (“THIS, I claim, is the best formula of how ideology works”) and Marxist materialism, and Zizek often defends Hegelianism despite his continual encouragement of proletarian solidarity (of course, there has always been a leftist Hegel camp that sees no contradiction in endorsing both him and Marx).

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Feb 032013

The Big Z courtesy of Guardian UK

PEL’s last episode focused on Karl Marx via The German Ideology. Possibly one of the most famous/infamous Marxists of our time is Slavoj Zizek. Some have called him too extreme to be taken seriously, while others have praised him for his brilliance.  A recent article in U.K. based paper The Guardian sheds some light on this interesting character and also discusses an upcoming opera based on Zizek’s ideology. Continue reading »

Oct 302012

As my first Not School group, I led some folks in discussing two Netflix philosophy documentaries, i.e. things that have been on my instant queue forever, and which I feel culturally, given my position here, I should watch, but always seemed too boring. Examined Life (2008) (Netflix link) was the best of the two that we picked, and the well of that sort of thing is dry enough that I’m not going to subject any group to more of them.

The movie is a series of 10-minute-or-so clips of different semi-famous philosophers talking, and so serves as a decent introduction to some of the most generally famous (which of course is not the same as the most academically respected) names in philosophy today, including Cornel West, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Slavoj Žižek. Here’s Žižek:

Watch Žižek in “Examined Life” on YouTube.

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Mar 052012

[Editor's Note: We welcome Derick from our semiotics episode You can read more of him on his blog.]


Watch on YouTube.

With Slavoj Zizek’s Lacanized form of Hegelian Marxism being all the rage these days, it is interesting to look at the Frankfurt School’s earlier Freudian version of the Hegelian Marxism.  One can wonder why the specter Hegel of looms in a discussion of popular music by two Marxist of entirely different time periods?

There is a certain kind of embrace of popular culture in Zizek that is absolutely abhorred by Theodor Adorno, and yet both Zizek and Adorno see a relationship between the strange way protest music functions in general society works and its supposed function as a check for governmental or social aggression.

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Apr 082011

One public intellectual who has made much hay of Hegel’s continued relevance is Slavoj Žižek, who begins one of his jazz-session-like lectures on Hegel’s concept of identity here:

Watch on youtube.

It’s not clear to me whether Žižek is properly interpreting Hegel, mostly because I find both Žižek and early Hegel incomprehensible. Z’s been accused of mis-reading Hegel, and of being a self-contradicting crypto-anti-semitic charlatan to boot. (Which is a bomb I can’t drop without immediately providing Z’s own self-defense.)

Maybe Žižek’s a fraud; maybe he just angers the intellectually insipid. I think vehement criticism is the inevitable price you pay when you don’t try to make yourself understood. But I’ll reserve judgement, as I haven’t read the necessary syllabus to decipher him. But I’ll give him this: he’s more disarming and affable than I expected, and his lectures are more fun (sometimes in a NSFW way) than most.

-Daniel Horne

Sep 292010

Here is a somewhat startling video of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek talking briefly about trying to apply the insights of psychotherapy (which deals with individuals) to cultures:

Watch on youtube.

His remarks about being able to relate an “anonymous social field” reflect Heidegger’s conception of “Das Man,” i.e. our tendency to conform to social norms, seeing through eyes that are not authentically our own.
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