Everything You Wanted to Know about Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) was the book that introduced me to Slavoj Zizek, and its title serves well as a Hollywood-style pitch for the man and his work. Zizek specialises in Marxist philosophy with a leaning towards Lacanian psychoanalysis, leavened by extensive references to popular culture. He is as comfortable with David Lynch and Jerry Lewis as he is with Hegel or Heidegger.

This might sound like a Sesame Street approach to philosophy but Zizek’s writing is anything but dumbed down. His prose avoids the obfuscation of much postmodern theory, no doubt helped by the fact that he writes English as a second language (he is Slovenian). A man of almost terrifying erudition, he none the less has the generosity of a great teacher, clearly glossing key theoretical precepts as he goes, never forgetting that his books have readers.

Zizek is one of those theorists for whom philosophy is inextricably linked to political action and he has been a speechwriter for the Slovenian president as well as a perceptive commentator on the break-up of Yugoslavia. Tackling every issue with a Shavian swagger, he goads even his admirers by calling himself “the bearded Stalinist”.

Zizek is refreshingly free of the orthodoxies and moral relativism of many on the left: he says some nice things about Christianity and American culture and was a fierce critic of both Milosevic and Tudjman in the 1990s.

Whether decrying the failure of mainstream political parties to deal with the rise of the far right or arguing that drinking caffeine-free Diet Coke is the apogee of Nietzschean nihilism, Zizek is always worth listening to. Where to start then? I’d recommend Welcome to the Desert of the Real, his lucid essay on 9/11. Fans of the Matrix will know where the title comes from.

Originally published by The Guardian.

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