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Special Lecture ① by Slavoj Zizek

2013-11-05 Academic

World-renowned philosopher Slavoj Zizek delivered a series of special lectures at Kyung Hee University from September 24 to 26, 2013.

In his first lecture held at Grand Peace Hall on September 24, 2013, Slavoj Zizek analyzed global capitalism from the perspective of philosophy and psychoanalysis and spoke about how to deal with a capitalistic economic system to an audience of 3,500 students, faculty, and guests.

Slavoj Zizek is an esteemed Slovene philosopher and cultural critic. He analyzes social phenomena based on the theories of Georg Hegel, Jacques-Marie-Emile Lacan, and Karl Marx. In July 2013, he was appointed as an Eminent Scholar at the Kyung Hee University School of Global Communication.

Capitalism deprives people of meaningful cognitive mapping
Slavoj Zizek began his lecture by speaking of Korea’s efforts to heal the wounds caused by its colonization by Japan in the early 20th century. He noted, “[Korean] society is more and more penetrated by this post-modern attitude of feeling wounded and trying to get better, healing the wound. This, I think, has nothing to do with the authentic suffering that you experienced. I really oppose this psychoanalytic culture of considering everything we experience as some kind of wound or trauma that we have to heal. Wounds are really liberating.

Slavoj Zizek also discussed Italian theorist Franco Berardi’s assertion that after decades of war and devastation, Korea smoothly entered the digital sphere with a lower degree of cultural resistance than virtually any other populations in the world. According to Berardi, Korea’s conditions have certainly improved, but the price of this improvement has been an extreme degree of individualization and desertification of daily life. With regard to this claim, Zizek stated, “Berardi portrays South Korea as a ‘worldless’ place.”

With regard to the dangers of capitalism, Zizek noted, “The entire world sustains ‘worldless’ ideological constellation. It deprives the large majority of people of any meaningful cognitive mapping.”

Questioning the possibility of global capitalism, Zizek commented, “In Europe, modernization was spread over centuries aand it had the time to acclimatize to it and to soften the impact of modernization through the formation of new social narratives and wits. Some other societies, exemplarily, the Muslim societies were exposed to this impact directly without protective screen or temporal delay. So, their symbolic universe faltered much more brutally. They lost their symbolic ground with no time left to establish a new symbolic balance. No wonder that the only way for some of these societies to avoid total breakdown was to erect in panic the shield of fundamentalism. This psychotic, delirious reassertion of religion is direct insight into the divine real with all the terrifying consequences that self-assertion entails, leading up to the return of the obscene super ego divinity demanding sacrifices.” According to Zizek, this rise of a super ego is another feature that post-modern liberal permissiveness shares with the new religious fundamentalism.

Concerns over privatization of public space
Zizek also spoke of the threat of the disappearance of what we once considered public space due to the digitalization of life. He referred to Immanuel Kant saying, “For Kant, state machinery, state bureaucracy is not public but private because they stand for particular interests. Only philosophy and the sciences are public. Public means we engage in a debate which is not limited by any collective, private concerns.”
According to Zizek, whistleblowers such as Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning, protect public space. He claimed that both public and private institutions need whistleblowers who can report illicit activities, and we should protect them by establishing an international network. With regard to Kyung Hee University’s efforts to focus on humanities education, Zizek said that he is pleased with its enthusiasm for the humanities and expressed concerns about the recent educational phenomenon in Europe, which devalues philosophers and emphasizes the need to foster science that produces only practical knowledge.

In closing, Zizek noted that looking at social dynamics shows us that very trivial things ignite changes that lead to even bigger changes. In a question and answer session, Zizek was asked for his thoughts on various topics including freedom, nationalism, and platonic love. Asked, “When are we free?” Zizek answered, “Real freedom is when we choose not a set of choices within a given field, but when we change possibilities, when we open up totally different possibilities of choice. This is the true, very difficult freedom.”

Translated by Ji Eun Song · Edited by Karen Choi

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