SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Slavoj Žižek, the internationally renowned academic whom the Chronicle of Higher Education famously dubbed “the Elvis of cultural theory,” returned to Seton Hall University in early November for a public event titled “An Evening with Slavoj Žižek: Why Do We Enjoy Feeling Ashamed?”
Hosted by English professor Russell Sbriglia, the event, which was livestreamed and broadcasted across the globe, was co-sponsored by Seton Hall’s Office of the Provost, the dean’s office of the College of Arts & Sciences, and the department of English. The full recording of the event is available for streaming at shu.edu/arts-sciences/slavoj-zizek.cfm.
Speaking before a large crowd of students, faculty and members of the public in Jubilee Auditorium, Žižek delivered a lecture addressing — among many other things — the status of shame throughout the world.
With his typical gusto, Žižek highlighted the contradictions inherent in the positions of those across the political spectrum. Concerning “wokeism,” for instance, Žižek observed that the contemporary left more often than not prioritizes shame over argumentation. To illustrate his point that “shame is simply not reliable” as an indicator of whether an action is right or wrong, Žižek turned to a literary example from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Recounting the pivotal scene in which Huck Finn feels ashamed for helping his friend, the fugitive slave Jim, escape from slavery, Žižek stressed that such a scene offers “an obvious case” of the truth being “on the side of (one’s) acts” rather than one’s “inner feelings.” From here, Žižek concluded that if the positions held by those on the political left are as correct as they believe them to be, they should be willing “to move from shame to critical examination” of and argumentation about them.
With respect to the contemporary right, Žižek noted how the current anti-LGBT panic among conservatives over so-called “grooming” betrays a complete lack of conviction in their belief that sexuality is a strictly natural, biological phenomenon. As Žižek explained, “Conservatives are horrified by this idea, that if you teach young children about LGBT (people) and construction of sexual identity, that this may affect them, and that they will effectively become gay, trans and so on. But the paradox is clear here: They don’t believe their own idea that sex is natural. If they were to believe it, they wouldn’t be so afraid. If one’s sexual orientation is so easily changed by education, does this not imply that sexual identity is a social construct?”
Žižek also spoke at length about the war in Ukraine, voicing his unequivocal support for the Ukrainian struggle against the Russian occupation.
This most recent talk was Žižek’s second public appearance at Seton Hall University. In October of 2018, he delivered a talk as part of the university’s Poetry-in-the-Round speaker series titled “Samuel Beckett as the Writer of Political Abstraction; or, What Can Beckett Tell Us about the Alt-Right and Political Correctness?” The video of that lecture has more than 75,000 views.