Slavoj Žižek (1949-) is a contemporary Slovenian philosopher who is best known for his political theory and cultural criticism although he also made an important contribution to theoretical psychoanalysis and film theory. Žižek is currently senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia but he is also a professor at the European Graduate School, International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for Humanities at the University of London and President of the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis in Ljubljana. A member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences of Art from 2005 is a visiting professor at a number of world’s most prestigious universities including the Princeton University, Columbia University, London Consortium and many others.
Žižek attracted international attention in the late 1980s when he published his first book in English. He is by many considered one of the top global thinkers. He has, however, also raised a lot of controversy which is why some consider him as a “Borat of philosophy” and a dangerous agitator for Marxism. Žižek’s philosophy is most often viewed as Lacanian Hegelian but the influence of the Marxist concept cannot be overlooked.
Žižek was born in 1949 in Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia which was at the time a part of Yugoslavia. He spent a great part of his childhood in the coastal town of Portorož. His parents moved back to the Slovenian capital while he was a teenager and enrolled him to a prestigious high school in Ljubljana. Žižek continued his education at the University of Ljubljana where he studied philosophy and sociology. After receiving a Doctor’s degree, he went to Paris where he studied psychoanalysis.
At the time Žižek began to study philosophy, the communist Yugoslavia was entering a period of liberalisation. But he was studying French structuralists even before he became a student of philosophy and sociology at the University of Ljubljana. As a high school student, Žižek published the first Slovene translation of Jacques Derrida.
Despite the fact that Žižek studied philosophy during the era of liberalisation, he was influenced greatly by his teacher, Slovenian Marxist philosopher Božidar Debenjak. The latter was a professor at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana where he taught German idealism and Karl Marx’s Capital from the Hegelian (philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel) perspective.
In the early 1970s, Žižek became an assistant researcher at the University of Ljubljana and was promised tenure. However, soon thereafter the Communist regime removed liberal leaders throughout Yugoslavia including what was then the Socialist Republic of Slovenia. As a result of toughening of the regime and Žižek’s Master’s work being evaluated as anti-Marxist, he lost his position at the University of Ljubljana.
In 1977, after being unemployed for four years, Žižek found a job at the Slovenian Marxist Center where he worked as a recording clerk. At that time he also came into contact with a group of scholars who introduced him to the theories of Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who had a major influence on his later work. In the late 1970s, Žižek returned to the University of Ljubljana and was employed by the Institute of Sociology.
In the late 1980s, Žižek attracted a lot of attention both at home and abroad. At home, he gained a lot of publicity as a columnist of the alternative magazine called Mladina (“Youth”) which was critical towards the Communist regime. Žižek who was a member of the Communist Party (like the majority of scholars and intellectuals at that time) returned his membership out of protest due to the so-called JBTZ trial. It was a trial held against two Mladina journalists, the magazine’s editor and a sergeant at the Yugoslav People’s Army for betrayal of military secrets in 1988. Žižek became active in political and civil movements for democratisation and even ran for Presidency of the Republic of Slovenia at the first free elections in 1990.
In the international scene, Žižek attracted attention in the late 1980s with his book The Sublime Object of Ideology and established himself as one of the most influential social theorist and contemporary philosopher.
Despite the fact that Žižek was actively involved in the democratisation process in Slovenia, he is committed to the communist idea and describes himself as a “radical leftist” and “communist in a qualified sense”. His political ideas and criticism of the existing political and economic systems caused a great deal of controversy in the intellectual circles on the one hand, and earned him the title of one of the foremost thinkers of modern times and a near celebrity-status on the other.
His works are influenced greatly by German idealism, most notably Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Immanuel Kant as well as the previously mentioned French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. But his theories also reveal a great deal of influence by Marxism. Some of his most notable works include:
- The Sublime Object of Ideology (1988)
- Looking Awry (1991)
- Tarrying With the Negative (1993)
- The Abyss of Freedom (1997)
- The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? (2000)
- Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism (2001)
- Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2002)
- The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (2003)
- Interrogating the Real (2005)
- In Defense of Lost Causes (2008)
- Violence: Big Ideas/Small Books (2008)
- Philosophy in the Present; with Alain Badiou (2010)
- The Idea of Communism (2010)
- God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse; with Boris Gunjević (2012)
- The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (2012)