Lecture date: 2003-11-06
Slavoj Zizek, academic rock star, wild man of theory, prolific author and essayist, philosopher, Lacanian psychoanalyst and Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, uses close readings of scenes from Hitchcock’s Vertigo to explore concepts of the Gaze, Otherness, Culture, Identity, and what in naive terms we mean by Fantasy and Reality.
Zizek’s latest book is ‘Organs Without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences’. Turning the Deleuzian terminology around he analyzes these organs without bodies in the work of Hitchcock and in films such as Fight Club, identifying a Deleuze closer to the Oedipus he would disavow.
MARK COUSINS: I was thinking of how exactly I would welcome or describe Slavoj, and it really kind of seemed fairly pointless. I read through some of the stuff other people got of the internet. There were some particularly kind of mad bits: in the last 20 years participation at over 350 international, philosophical, psychoanalytical and cultural criticism symposia in the USA, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, Australia, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Romania, Hungary, and Japan. There really is no need here to do anything by way of introduction except to welcome Slavoj back, who was here about 8 years ago to speak in a small conference on the domestic, to which he gave a paper on Radical Evil. But that turned out quite… The only safe way to put it is simply to say that Slavoj ‘is’ and he will talk. Thank you.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: Thank you very much and especially Mark for this kind introduction, because I have specially fond memories of this place, for very specific reasons, I don’t know if you remember, but there was a journalist here, a lady 8 years ago, from some architectural journal, and then she wrote a report on the talk which caused me—but I loved it—an immense amount of trouble in my country, Slovenia. I was attacked as non patriotic and so on. You know why? I spoke as you said about uncanny home, about radical evil. This lady, and I loved it, because it was this typically correct sympathy with victims was revealed as patronizing racism. She wrote, and this was then reproduced on the main Slovenian newspaper on the front page—a small item, but on the front page—to cut a long story short: she confused the names of my hometown Ljubljana, and Lubyanka, you know, the KGB prison in Moscow. Now only for him home is radical evil, when he was living there in the torture house of the KGB, and so on. So, my first memory of this place, from which I’m grateful… The second memory—this will be a kind of an ongoing dialogue, or I would have put it in much more innocent terms, class struggle between me and Mark, because we are both Hitchcockians, we both think that one of the two Hitchcock’s masterpieces is the greatest movie of all times. There is only a small difference, but you know among Stalinists, the smaller the difference… he thinks it’s Vertigo, I think it’s Psycho. But today, to annoy him, because I know he published a wonderful essay on Vertigo, I will mostly speak about Vertigo, and not to be too boring, I hope that I can presuppose, presume that most of you have seen the movie.
So let me then begin, whenever I read about a Hitchcock film or see it, something always strikes me: one of the most instructive things to do about these two masterpieces—Vertigo and Psycho—to play the game of mental experiments: what if things were to take just a slightly different path, as they almost did? For example, in Psycho, what if—did you know that there was already a score written, a totally different score, by Bernard Herrmann more in his style as he did it later for Taxi Driver: it’s strange to imagine what kind of a movie this would be because now we identify so much Psycho with this strings only score. Or, what would have happened if in Vertigo instead of Kim Novak you would get Vera Miles, who, as maybe you know, she was supposed to get the role and she got pregnant. Kim Novak was the second choice. And even more, ultimate obscenity to insult you Mark—that will be for you—do you know that there already was written by this best seller couple Livingston Evans, a song Vertigo, which the studio wanted to impose on Hitchcock during the titles, with this kind of idiotic, words like “Oh, I will drown you in vertigo, my love” and so on, and so on. So let’s try to imagine what could have happened. A more crucial, serious question, in the original scenario on Vertigo, there is another half a minute scene at the end, which Hitchcock shot, but basically he was cheating: he shot it just to dupe the censorship and then he dropped it out. If you know Vertigo you probably know the
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