Slavoj Zizek: The Reality Of The Virtual

  • 2004
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

Shot in London in December 2003, Ben Wright's 71-minute documentary is basically a filmed lecture delivered by the surprisingly popular Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek as he sits at a table and addresses an imaginary audience. It's the ultimate talking-head film starring the ultimate talking head. Contrary to what you might suppose from the title, Zizek's...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Shot in London in December 2003, Ben Wright's 71-minute documentary is basically a filmed lecture delivered by the surprisingly popular Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek as he sits at a table and addresses an imaginary audience. It's the ultimate talking-head film starring the ultimate talking head. Contrary to what you might suppose from the title, Zizek's subject for his discourse isn't artificial intelligence or the "miserable idea" of virtual reality, but the reality of the virtual in the strictest sense of the term: the real effects caused by something that does not fully exist. To explain, first consider the virtual in light of the triad of the imaginary, the symbolic and the real, as formulated by the Zizek's hero (though he'd be loathe to admit it), the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. The "virtual imaginary" include images we create of those with whom we interact — they're virtual because they don't include all the abject things we prefer not to notice. The "virtual symbolic" involves systems like paternal authority, which are only effective when they don't manifest themselves overtly, or beliefs like quantum physics, which no one fully understands but which nevertheless generate real-life effects. The "virtual real" refers to realities than can manifest themselves on the surface as one thing, but exist as quite another on a deeper, less actualized, but no less "real" level (Zizek uses an example from military marching chants in AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN that can't possibly be repeated here). To take Donald Rumsfeld's statement one crucial step further, these are the things that we don't know that we know, but control us through our unconscious. Using examples from physics and, of course, psychoanalysis, Zizek describes a formula for this virtual real, in which a distorted, unbalanced symbolic space precludes real trauma, then shows how it can be used to analyze such political and ideological phenomena as anti-Semitism and alternative modernity. It's challenging, mind-bending stuff, but Zizek — with his sweaty brow, manic speech and sniffling, and intense eyes that make him look as though he hasn't slept in a week — is a gripping speaker who makes the material as comprehensible as it's ever likely to get. He's also given to fun, fanciful pronouncements — he credits Rumsfeld with contributing to contemporary American philosophical debate, and calls THE SOUND OF MUSIC one of the great achievements of Western civilization because on the level of the virtual real it indirectly addresses our secret fascist fantasies. And his constant pop-culture references make the heavy-duty abstract analysis seem almost easy. Almost.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Shot in London in December 2003, Ben Wright's 71-minute documentary is basically a filmed lecture delivered by the surprisingly popular Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek as he sits at a table and addresses an imaginary audience. It's the ultimate talking-… (more)
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