Five jokes from Slavoj Žižek
A sample of Å½iÅ¾ek’s jokes, on topics ranging from the illusion of freedom to phantasmal identification.
For the inimitable Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Å½iÅ¾ek, jokes are funny stories that offer a shortcut to philosophical insight. Anyone who has read his books or heard him speak knows that they are central to Å½iÅ¾ek’s speech, impossible to separate from his serious philosophy. Å½iÅ¾ek “gives us a refreshing sense of what we might call” the lightness of depth “,” writes author and composer Momus in the afterword to a complete collection of jokes from Å½iÅ¾ek. âWe see the charming playfulness of the great masters of philosophy and perhaps begin to recognize philosophy itself, at its highest and lightest level, as something akin to laughter and joke. ”
Taken from this volume, the sample of jokes below – accompanied by Å½iÅ¾ek’s anti-intro – covers a range of topics, from the illusion of freedom to phantasmal identification.
Instead of the introduction:
The role of jokes in the monkey’s becoming-human
One of the popular myths of the last communist regimes in Eastern Europe was that there was a secret police department whose function was (not to collect, but) to invent and circulate political jokes. against the regime and its representatives, because they were aware of the positive stabilizing function of jokes (political jokes offer ordinary people an easy and tolerable way to let off steam, by reducing their frustrations). As appealing as it is, this myth ignores a rarely mentioned but nonetheless crucial characteristic of jokes: they never seem to be authored, as if the question “who is the author of this joke?” Were impossible. Jokes are originally âtoldâ, they are always already âheardâ (remember the proverbial âDid you hear that joke aboutâ¦?â). Therein lies their mystery: they are idiosyncratic,
they represent the unique creativity of language, but are nonetheless “collective”, anonymous, authorless, suddenly out of nowhere. The idea that there must be an author of a joke is properly paranoid: it means that there must be an “Other of the Other”, of an anonymous symbolic order, as if it was necessary to personalize, located in an agent who controls it and secretly pulls the strings. This is why, from a theological point of view, God is the ultimate joker. This is the thesis of the charming novel by Isaac Asimov “Jokester”, about a group of language historians who, in order to support the hypothesis that God created man from apes by telling them a joke (he told the monkeys who until then were only exchanging animal signs, the first joke that gave birth to the spirit), try to piece this joke together, the “mother of all the jokes “. (Moreover, for a member of the Judeo-Christian tradition, this work is superfluous, since we all know what this joke was: “Do not eat from the tree of knowledge! Temptation whose purpose is not clear.)
In an old joke from the late German Democratic Republic, a German worker finds a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: âLet’s put a code down: if a letter you will receive from me is written in plain blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is wrong. After a month, his friends received the first letter, written in blue ink: “Everything is wonderful here: the shops are full, the food is plentiful, the apartments are large and well heated, the cinemas are showing movies. from the West there are many beautiful girls. ready for binding – the only thing unavailable is red ink.
And isn’t that our situation so far? We have all the freedoms we want – the only thing missing is âred inkâ: we âfeel freeâ because we don’t have the very language to express our lack of freedom. What this lack of red ink means is that today all of the major terms we use to refer to the current conflict – “war on terror”, “democracy and freedom”, “human rights”. man â, etc. perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think about it. The task today is to give red ink to the demonstrators.
There is an old Jewish joke, loved by Derrida, about a group of Jews in a synagogue publicly admitting their nullity in the sight of God. First, a rabbi stands up and says, âGod, I know I’m not worth anything. I am nothing! âAfter finishing, a wealthy businessman stands up and says, slapping his chest,â God, I too am worthless, obsessed with material wealth. I am nothing! â After this spectacle, a poor ordinary Jew also stands up and proclaims: âO God, I am nothing. The rich businessman kicks the rabbi and whispers in his ear contemptuously: “What insolence!” Who is this guy who dares to pretend he’s nothing too! “
There is a nice joke about Jesus Christ: In order to relax after the hard work of preaching and miracles, Jesus decided to take a short break by the Sea of ââGalilee. During a round of golf with one of his apostles, there was a difficult stroke to make; Jesus did it wrong and the ball ended up in the water, so he did his usual trick: he walked on the water to where the ball was, bent down and the picked up. When Jesus tried the same shot again, the apostle told him it was a very difficult shot – only someone like Tiger Woods can do it; Jesus replied, “What the hell I am the son of God I can do what Tiger Woods can do!” and took another strike. The ball landed in the water again, so Jesus walked around the surface of the water again to retrieve it. At this point a group of American tourists passed by and one of them, observing what was going on, turned to the apostle and said, âMy god, who is that guy over there? Does he think he is Jesus or what? The apostle replies, âNo, the jerk thinks he’s Tiger Woods!
This is how phantasmatic identification works: no one, not even God himself, is directly what he is; everyone needs an external, off-center identification point.
A joke from the early 60s captures the paradox of presupposed belief. After Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut, had made his visit to space, he was received by Nikita Khrushchev, the general secretary of the Communist Party, and told him confidentially: âYou know, comrade, that up there in the sky , I saw the sky with God and the angels, Christianity is right! Khrushchev whispers to him: “I know, I know, but shut up, don’t tell anyone that!” Next week, Gagarin visited the Vatican and was received by the Pope, to whom he confided: âYou know, holy father, I was up there in heaven and I saw that there is neither God nor angelsâ¦ ââ I know, I know â, interrupts the Pope,â but shut up, don’t tell anyone!
In the good old times of “really existing socialism”, every schoolboy was repeatedly told how Lenin read voraciously and his advice to young people: “Learn, learn and learn!” A classic socialist joke produces a nice subversive effect by using this motto in an unexpected context. Marx, Engels and Lenin were asked what they preferred, a wife or a mistress. Marx, whose attitude in private affairs is well known to have been rather conservative, replied “A wife”; Engels, who knew how to enjoy life, answered, of course, “A mistress”; the surprise comes with Lenin, who replied âBoth, wife and mistress! Is he doomed to a hidden pursuit of excessive sexual pleasures? No, since he explains quickly: “Like that, you can tell your mistress that you are with your wife, and to your wife that you are about to visit your mistress …” “And what what you actually do
do? ââ I go to a lonely place and learn, learn and learn! â