Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Inspiring Negativity: Zizek and Ideas

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Fuck you!  You have to come up with the good idea!

This little nugget of negative inspiration came to me via a video of an interview with the (in)famous philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek (for the bit on the video go to about 9:28).

Here, Zizek is speaking about EGS, The European Graduate School based in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.  In explaining why he likes working at EGS, Zizek contrasts it with “the worst American way” of teaching, in which professors help students find a direction of study.  He says that when students come to him and ask him for direction he simply says, “Fuck you! You have to come up with the good idea!”

Now, I have certainly benefited from the guidance of my teachers at every step of my education.  And when I first heard this clip it put me off a little, especially because I have entertained thoughts of studying cultural theory and philosophy.  Yet, there are days when I wake up and realize precisely that I still don’t have a direction; I still don’t know what I want.  That’s when the wisdom of Zizek’s words hit home.  There comes a time when a person has to stop relying on surrogates to suggest where to go and what to do.  Sometimes you have to find out who YOU are and what YOU want, by yourself.

In roughly rejecting students’ overtures, Zizek refuses the role of a god and takes on the role of a mirror.

So thanks Zizek!  I will come up with a good idea, and when I do I will steal your job.

What is it that you want?


  1. when i came across your blog edit i had to laugh – but in all that irony and sarcasm that zizek generosly distributes amongst his audience: yes, that is it exactly, what zizek wants and demands. we just provide him with the space.

  2. EGS:

    I think it’s great that you provide thinkers like Zizek with the freedom to teach in the way they feel will be most effective. I also think you provide an amazing service by posting video of their lectures. I know I have benefited from them. Thanks!

  3. Great post. I like your reading of Zizek as a mirror. Some authors feel like mentors; Zizek feels more like an iconoclasm. (Which in the end may be the best analysis of the Hegelian dialectic)

    One question though…. It’s one thing to discover YOU in the mirror, it seems like something else entirely to span the gap between that (dare I call it) image, and fidelity toward that YOU-by-yourself which can animate that mirror image. In other words, it’s one thing to pick a topic, but how the hell are you supposed to write about it?

    Enjoying the negativity. Keep it coming.

  4. We always carry around images of ourselves. I think the task is not how to escape that mode, but to learn to be flexible and playful with our images, and to use those times when our images are shattered to embrace the new/now.

    This is what Zizek’s words invite us to do. They ask us to check our own thoughts and feelings about our direction. They direct us to ask ourselves the questions we may be asking others. This involves exploration of and perhaps modification of our self-images. Part of the point is that we never arrive at a final or fixed image of ourselves. This is an ongoing inquiry!

    That said, there is room to engage in practices that turn down the conscious parts of our mind in order to give space to those ideas/voices/whatever that we ignore; and ultimately to embrace stillness.

    As for the question “how the hell are you supposed to write about it?” Because you are my friend, I would like to refer you to the opening line of this blog . . . 😉

  5. I love this. (In fact this is often my opening line to myself every morning. Closely followed by “now get off your butt and make it happen.”)If I had experienced a teacher like this I might have actually respected secondary education. Instead, I was surrounded by a bunch of lemmings all following the teacher off a cliff. (I was probably also on my way over the edge, but I sure as hell was going to take a different route.)

    I do need to give credit to my journalism teacher however for letting some of this idea sneak into her classes. Letting a student right about her one day pot-smoking hiatus at a strict Christian College was pretty cool. Definitely my own idea.

  6. Sounds like a pretty cool journalism teacher. I think on some level people like being told what to do. It is much harder to take responsibility than to take orders. That said, I do think support is crucial too.