Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has become a cult figure for the Tarantino generation. People flock to hear him speak and he has responded by publishing 13 books in the past ten years. As Zizek himself admits, it is his dirty jokes which are the main source of attraction for his followers and also his dazzling ability to talk high culture and low culture in the same breath, to compare Heidegger and Hitchcock or Schelling and sado-masochistic sub-culture without turning a hair.
But Zizek is also attracting a growing readership because his philosophy seems so relevant and important for understanding late 20th-century global culture. Always inverting the expectations of his readers, he argues that we are both less free and yet potentially freer than we realise. By drawing upon the ideas of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, he repeatedly exposes the actual constraints and prohibitions of so-called free modern society that we have internalised. Pleasure, for example, or the right to enjoy oneself, is now almost enforced upon us. Yet, paradoxically, he also shows that the contradictory and elusive desires uncovered by psychoanalysis can liberate us from a world which, with the discovery of our genetic codes for example, appears increasingly determined.
So now a Reader , the ultimate accolade. As an introduction to Zizek's work, The Zizek Reader is a little bizarre since it includes nothing from the books for which Zizek is best known: The Sublime Object of Ideology and Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid To Ask Hitchcock). But it does include three new essays written especially for the book. So something for everyone: a glimpse of Zizek's typical pyrotechnics and bad taste to whet new readers' appetites for his other books, and new readings of cloning, Von Trier's Breaking the Waves and - my favourite - the fantasy of cyberspace for old fans.
Jennifer Wallace is director of studies in English, Peterhouse, Cambridge.
The Zizek Reader. First Edition
Editor - Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright
ISBN - Jenny Wallace
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £50.00 and £15.99
Pages - 332