Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

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Foam
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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#76 Post by Foam » Fri Aug 09, 2013 8:33 pm

This is a long shot, but I remember seeing a video/hearing an interview where Zizek admitted that he doesn't actually watch many of the films he writes/talks about but more often reads summaries. I'm hoping that's a joke, but I can't find it anywhere and would appreciate it if someone could point me to it.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#77 Post by MacktheFinger » Fri Aug 09, 2013 9:58 pm

Its in this interview, around 8:20 or so.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#78 Post by repeat » Sat Aug 10, 2013 3:17 am

I don't know where he originally confessed that, but it was touched upon in an extensive Cahiers du Cinéma interview some years ago (#655, April 2010, interview by messieurs Delorme & Tessé). I'll translate the relevant bits for you because it's fucking hilarious (and I hope this doesn't infringe on anyone's copyright)
Cahiers du Cinéma wrote:[Žižek leafs through the March issue... and comes upon the feature we dedicated to Avatar, featuring the text he sent us]
SŽ: I have to make a very intimate confession, and then we can start the interview: I haven't seen Avatar.
CdC: What??!!
[Huge peals of triumphant laughter and joyful one-finger salutes from Žižek]
CdC: You should have told us that before you sent the text! Why didn't you see it? Are you going to?
SŽ: Hey, I'm a good Lacanian, and for Lacanians, the idea is enough. You have to trust in theory, no? I haven't had time to see it, but I will, I promise, and I'll write you another text in the purest Stalinian tradition: "Elements of Self-Criticism"! Sometimes I read something about a film, or see some fragments, and I get an idea. And then I'm afraid that seeing the film will perturb the idea. So, as a good Hegelian, between the idea and the reality, I choose the idea. Besides, I'm not alone: how many analyses of Hitchcock are based on approximations of the real films? Anyway, I sometimes write about films without having seen them. I wrote a piece on The Talented Mr. Ripley before seeing it, for example.
CdC: Uh... but you have seen Psycho, and Vertigo..?
SŽ: Yes, yes! But I can tell you something else that's going to shock you: in Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out, there's a long chapter on Rossellini. When I wrote that, I hadn't seen any of his films.
CdC: Is this a joke?
SŽ: No, I swear it's true. In fact, it's even worse than that: I tried to watch them, but I couldn't. They're too transparent, they don't work anymore today. The political engagement is too banal.
He then proceeds to slam Stromboli, late Bergman ("metaphysical") and late Antonioni ("pretentious, void, unbearable"), and says that Cries and Whispers and Zabriskie Point should be "burnt in public". How can anyone not love this man? :D

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#79 Post by Foam » Sat Aug 10, 2013 4:24 am

Unbelievable. Or maybe all too believable. Hilarious in any case. Thanks guys!

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#80 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Aug 10, 2013 8:11 am

Zizek has always set off my BS detector -- now I understand why!

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#81 Post by repeat » Sat Aug 10, 2013 9:12 am

As opposed to other psychoanalytic film critics? :D

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#82 Post by gcgiles1dollarbin » Sat Aug 10, 2013 12:41 pm

Žižek in Cahiers du Cinéma wrote:Hey, I'm a good Lacanian, and for Lacanians, the idea is enough. You have to trust in theory, no?
This pretty much says it all. Even when Žižek contradicts himself, he believes that he is part a theory dynamic, and that should be enough for anyone. Even when he flips people off, he can theorize that. And the idea that secrets are revealed through close reading (or even through taking the time to watch a film) is, to him, fallacious. He can "read" a film through what has been said about the film, through its canonical stature, through other critics, etc., without actually having seen it. For those who fetishize the film-watching experience (as he might put it), this is, of course, total bullshit. But he doesn't believe in the revelatory power of textual closed systems. As I heard another high-theory academic once say (who was probably quoting someone else), "Close reading makes you blind." If forty different people take away forty different impressions of a single film, then there is nothing consistent or "trustworthy" about the film-watching experience, and certainly no "key" to the film has been presented through any one individual's viewing; a better approximation of a "key" is the aggregate of viewing experiences (even to the exclusion of viewing it oneself); and, according to a "good Lacanian," even better than that is simply: Lacanian theory. For myself, high theory is fetishism, and I don't think an idea is any less of an idol than a totem pole. (Depending on what meds Žižek took on any given day, he may or may not agree with this.)

So that's on one hand; on the other, Žižek is probably more well-read and "well-written" than anyone on this board, so if you put your faith in the revelatory powers of reading and viewing experiences (and the power of writing to process those experiences), he can't be dismissed outright, even if you dismiss his ability to judge Avatar.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#83 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sat Aug 10, 2013 1:09 pm

I think I can understand the idea that one can formulate arguments about what a movie represents or means to the world at large without actually seeing it, and also the argument that a movie can generate ideas in conception that might be displaced by watching it. To me, where it becomes unreasonable is when one presumes to critique the movie itself on the basis of those ideas or that representation- or to represent yourself as having watched it, particularly to a professional publication.

I mean, if you read Robin Wood or Pauline Kael or a number of other film writers, they're inevitably going to quote any number of movies you haven't seen, and you have to just move on with the understanding that you have an idea of what the movie in question's about; you don't necessarily have a full grasp of what they're getting at, but you don't necessarily lose the thread altogether, either.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#84 Post by gcgiles1dollarbin » Sat Aug 10, 2013 2:16 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:To me, where it becomes unreasonable is when one presumes to critique the movie itself on the basis of those ideas or that representation- or to represent yourself as having watched it, particularly to a professional publication.
I would tend to agree with you.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#85 Post by Gregory » Sat Aug 10, 2013 2:53 pm

I'm sure that among the legions of Zizek acolytes, there are some who read things such as his chapter on Rossellini, absorbed some of the ideas, and then spout forth blather of their own based on that without bothering to watch the films. So this whole discourse about a huge range of subjects to some extent becomes like a game of Chinese whispers (a.k.a "telephone") that can't even be traced back to any valid experience of the actual primary sources. This happens daily with millions of references to Adam Smith's ideas by people who never read The Wealth of Nations, to Tocqueville by people who never bothered to read Democracy in America, etc. but these extremely shallow takes on "familiar" things are enough to have currency almost anywhere.

One of the things that drove me crazy in academia was how many people would act like they had seen and read absolutely everything in the world, and when I would bring up a certain book or whatever, no matter how far outside their field, they would claim to have read it 100% of the time and could make some brief comment about it and/or quickly shift the discussion to something else rather than ever saying, "No, I'm not familiar with that. Tell me," and allowing someone who actually did read it to insert that into the discussion. I so often found this engrained culture of bluffing and fronting that sometimes I was tempted to bring up nonexistent books so I could see people nod in recognition and say, "Oh yeah, of course. Exactly."

From that interview, though, Zizek's candor and gleefulness about this makes me think he's a species of this general type who's evolved to the point that he can get away with so much that he'll proudly proclaim that he never saw something but can still denounce or comment on its significance because he's just that insightful.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#86 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Aug 10, 2013 3:17 pm

Like the poster who mentions the "Chinese whispers" game that Zizek's nonsense breeds, it has to be pointed out: this is more than anything a power grab, a way to lend an unquestionable authority to theory. If you disconnect your idea about a thing from the thing itself, no one can ever call the idea wrong. It becomes above criticism, above refutation, because anyone who tries to hold you to the movie itself can be dismissed in any number of ways, even by pointing out that watching the movie is irrelevant! His phrases "the idea is enough" and "you have to trust in theory, no?" say everything about his bullshit, especially the latter. It verges on an essentially religious obeisance to the authority of what 'theory' signifies, a thing above criticism, empirical testing, even earthly referents, in which we just have to trust. If nothing else this ought to help prove how easily po-mo theory becomes irrelevant, how its presuppositions and jargon all too easily buoy up total nonsense and incoherent thinking and, what's worse, convince people to bow to its authority. If Zizek were an ingenuous thinker he would've used this as an opportunity to encourage the skepticism of readers and scholars, point out how easily meaninful-seeming statements can be generated out of ignorance, and how easy it is to be taken in by this. But he doesn't, he just uses it as a further justification of the usefulness of theory. He encourages the worst kind of credulity.

And then there's Zizek's smug, rarefied air, about which enough could never be said.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#87 Post by repeat » Sat Aug 10, 2013 3:24 pm

You guys must really hate his guts - otherwise I can't for the life of me fathom how you can so completely ignore that he's saying all this stuff right there

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#88 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Aug 10, 2013 3:41 pm

repeat wrote:You guys must really hate his guts - otherwise I can't for the life of me fathom how you can so completely ignore that he's saying all this stuff right there
You mean ignore the series of smug excuses? He can't go a sentence without excusing himself, all the way from whining that 'other people do it too!' to claiming to be a good this and a good that (rather than, say, a bad scholar).

This sentences clinches it: "And then I'm afraid that seeing the film will perturb the idea." Would that I, too, could just come up with stuff off the top of my head and then never bother to check if it's true or not. My life would be a lot easier if I could just stop holding myself to a high standard and never give in to my fears that my clever little ideas might not have any basis in reality. Must be nice to live in such an ego-centric world where you can give yourself license to say (and publish!) anything.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#89 Post by repeat » Sat Aug 10, 2013 3:57 pm

I'm not going to get into another discussion destined to be trumped with the intentional fallacy card (which incidentally is every bit as bogus as the theories you accuse Žižek of peddling), but I think you're taking the man WAY too seriously, and not giving enough credit to his propensity for self-deprecation and irony; his vocation is exactly to come up with stuff off the top of his (considerably erudite) head and see if it sticks - he's a court jester, a provocateur, his job is to stir shit by "saying anything" (like Bordwell says). I don't get the hostility, I think it's just entertaining. I do understand that you could perhaps consider it irresponsible but I say it's the readers' responsibility if they choose to take him at face value.

I mean any kid could read that interview excerpt and see how obviously he's taking the piss out of the whole institution - unless they had specifically formed preconceptions about the man, or else believed that a person can't simultaneously endorse and lampoon an ideology or a system.
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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#90 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sat Aug 10, 2013 4:03 pm

I must say, I agree that I find Žižek's air less one that is smug and rarefied and more one that is constantly impish and demanding that you, the reader/listener, figure out whether he's being serious or not- which can be annoying, certainly, but doesn't fit with the solipsistic self appointed god of criticism that Sausage seems to be seeing. The "good Lacanian" remark definitely seems like it's a joke, fitting with his normal sense of humor.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#91 Post by knives » Sat Aug 10, 2013 4:12 pm

Though that doesn't excuse his bad theory.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#92 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Aug 10, 2013 4:14 pm

Just think for a moment about what the 'aren't I such a naughty boy!' demeanor is meant to hide. That's how he gets away with this nonsense, by provoking the equivalent of "oh, what a scamp! How cute!" He is precisely solipsistic and seeking to lend theory an unearned authority. And he forestalls criticism either by:
A. reducing the ground on which any of his theories could be judged or held accountable.
B. cultivating an 'impish' persona whereby any of his random pronouncements can be taken perfectly seriously (when he wants) or fobbed off as just a joke when they start to become seriously untenable.

Again, just to show how little of a real provocateur Zizek is, this could've been a grand opportunity to show up the entire business of modern academia and academic writing just like the Sokal hoax. But we don't get that, we get some bad-boy posturing that Zizek ultimately uses to excuse himself and reinforce the importance of the very thing his actions ought to have shown up.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#93 Post by gcgiles1dollarbin » Sat Aug 10, 2013 4:17 pm

Gregory wrote:I'm sure that among the legions of Zizek acolytes, there are some who read things such as his chapter on Rossellini, absorbed some of the ideas, and then spout forth blather of their own based on that without bothering to watch the films.
There are probably many more who have seen the films, read Žižek, and found some interesting ideas in his work. I would return to the issue of professional ethics, specifically the ways in which Žižek's admission during this interview would unsettle a grad student's career if he or she made the same admission to his or her dissertation committee or the editorial staff of a scholarly journal, for example. Žižek puts great stock in social justice, so it would make more sense to critique him from this angle. His disingenuous "confession" becomes an exhibition of political power: "Look what I can get away with!" Whether or not the chapter on Rossellini is erudite is beside the point.
repeat wrote:You guys must really hate his guts - otherwise I can't for the life of me fathom how you can so completely ignore that he's saying all this stuff right there
Where is he saying that he is held to a different standard than other scholars who don't enjoy his position of power? Does the interview conclude with him refusing money for his appearance and returning the payment for his Avatar article?

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#94 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat Aug 10, 2013 4:22 pm

gcgiles1dollarbin wrote:His disingenuous "confession" becomes an exhibition of political power: "Look what I can get away with!"
Exactly. He's bragging about just how much he can get away with. That's where his glee comes from.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#95 Post by Gregory » Sat Aug 10, 2013 4:34 pm

gcgiles1dollarbin wrote:
Gregory wrote:I'm sure that among the legions of Zizek acolytes, there are some who read things such as his chapter on Rossellini, absorbed some of the ideas, and then spout forth blather of their own based on that without bothering to watch the films.
There are probably many more who have seen the films, read Žižek, and found some interesting ideas in his work. I would return to the issue of professional ethics, specifically the ways in which Žižek's admission during this interview would unsettle a grad student's career if he or she made the same admission to his or her dissertation committee or the editorial staff of a scholarly journal, for example. Žižek puts great stock in social justice, so it would make more sense to critique him from this angle. His disingenuous "confession" becomes an exhibition of political power: "Look what I can get away with!" Whether or not the chapter on Rossellini is erudite is beside the point.
I believe it _is_ a matter of whether a piece of writing is erudite, if "erudite" means demonstrating knowledge of what's being discussed. And partly for reasons I've touched on, I think it exemplifies something far broader, not only the in the kind of academic culture I described, but it extends far beyond academia since we're in a world where more and more people are relying on things like Wikipedia summaries as sufficient and around spreading received ideas and superficiality, while actual familiarity with primary sources remains devalued.
And that's basically what "repeat" above seems to miss when saying he can't understand our hostility: putting aside the fact that I'm not hostile, the point is that it's hardly just about Zizek. My post above is very clear about why I think this matters, and it has very little to do with Zizek or his persona. His persona and his cockiness allow him to be open about something that's a pervasive phenomenon among not only intellectuals but others who want it to be assumed that their writing is based on their knowledge which is sometimes hot air.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#96 Post by gcgiles1dollarbin » Sat Aug 10, 2013 4:50 pm

I understand. I'm just trying to separate out the potential for Žižek to write an extremely valuable chapter on Rossellini without having seen a single film by Rossellini--something I believe is entirely possible--from the overriding fact that he is admitting to professional malfeasance that would get anyone else with less power in considerable trouble. In other words, I think we're more or less in the same boat, at least when it comes to the second half of that statement.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#97 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Aug 10, 2013 5:26 pm

> the potential for Žižek to write an extremely valuable chapter on Rossellini without having seen
> a single film by Rossellini--something I believe is entirely possible

With all due respect, I don't think this is even remotely possible.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#98 Post by domino harvey » Sat Aug 10, 2013 5:41 pm

Well, the thing is, he most definitely could write some important work of theory and insight based only on selected elements from Rossellini or whatever else he's only half-seen/read about/etc. Academia has always cherry-picked minute details and elements to make its larger points. Now, as works of film theory, absolutely these would be worthless because he'd necessarily be passing judgment and/or making larger claims on a work of art without experiencing the totality of it. But Zizek uses elements of films as popular markers to make larger connective points external to film as an art form, so as a work of philosophical theory &c, there's no reason to suggest it's automatically invalid. Now, whether you'd want to listen to someone who openly admits to this instead of concealing it is a personal choice and I don't think anyone could blame a detractor for using this against Zizek. But as contrary as it may appear, his admission is not nearly as damning as it sounds and I suspect many of the naysayers are ironically guilty of not being overly familiar with Zizek's work in the first place!

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#99 Post by Gregory » Sat Aug 10, 2013 5:50 pm

I'm familiar enough with his work to know that he does in fact make many statements that are primarily about the films, which he may not have seen, and does not merely use details from films solely as a means to making
I'm also familiar enough to have seen frequent examples of where he lacked in rigor to the extent of being intellectually lazy and even inaccurate and dishonest. Those for whom Zizek is just an imp or a gadly may reply that criticizing his intellectual rigor misses the point of how Zizek works, but I think it's fairly clear that he does want his thoughts to be taken seriously.

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Re: Psychoanalytic Film Criticism

#100 Post by domino harvey » Sat Aug 10, 2013 6:06 pm

Gregory wrote:One of the things that drove me crazy in academia was how many people would act like they had seen and read absolutely everything in the world, and when I would bring up a certain book or whatever, no matter how far outside their field, they would claim to have read it 100% of the time and could make some brief comment about it and/or quickly shift the discussion to something else rather than ever saying, "No, I'm not familiar with that. Tell me," and allowing someone who actually did read it to insert that into the discussion. I so often found this engrained culture of bluffing and fronting that sometimes I was tempted to bring up nonexistent books so I could see people nod in recognition and say, "Oh yeah, of course. Exactly."
Well, in the words of maybe the only thing we'll ever see eye to eye on, NewsRadio, "It's the wise man who knows there is much he does not know," but unfortunately you'll find the kind of posturing you describe within any circle of interest that values some form of self-governed reference points as markers. This kind of behavior is, for instance, rampant among indie music fans, especially now that the idea of "indie" as some distinctive element of identity means less than ever due to the increased availability of what once was marked as elite or privileged knowledge (however deluded these claims were in the first place). Toying with "lamestreamers" by naming invented groups has been a valued pastime between sets for as long as I've been going to shows, and it shows no signs of slowing.

The problem here as with your example is insecurity-- "How can I claim to be an expert if I haven't seen/read/heard X?" But I've never thought less of anyone who admitted they hadn't experienced some perceived cultural milestone, though I may be somewhat incredulous depending on how visible the object of their blind spot is given their profession/specialty. But it's impossible to have read/seen/experienced all the things we'd like, no matter how much of a head-start we've gained, so there's no hard feelings on my end towards those who have the honesty to admit as much. And to be clear, this is not the case with Zizek, so this isn't offered as a defense of his actions (my earlier post is, obv)

I seriously think about that NewsRadio exchange (Matthew: "I know, I know") every time this comes up in real life, too

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