10 January 2007

The Necessity of Extreme Unpleasantness

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 2:38 pm

“Why do two people as different as Bertold Brecht and Martin Heidegger, both key figures of German art and thought of the twentieth century, share the feature of being extremely unpleasant! Is this a mere idiosyncratic coincidence, or does it indicate some kind of necessity?”

I wonder what necessity Zizek has in mind. Being German? Being a key figure of art and thought? Brecht was a socialist who fled Germany when Hitler assumed power; Heidegger was a Nazi party member. Brecht wrote plays, Heidegger wrote philosophy. If you work long and hard enough at something that’s intellectually difficult, maybe you can’t help but turn into an asshole eventually. Zizek must think so:

“It is impossible to endure the exteme effort of thought all the time – we have to have an easy place to escape to.”

Does Zizek worry that he has become an unpleasant person? Or is he just asking for reassurance that he’s not? Or does he feel guilty about spending too much of his own time in the easy escapes? It’s funny to read his stuff: he vacillates wildly in his attention span, from Hegel and Kierkegaard and Lacan to Johnny Cash and Steven Spielberg and Mel Gibson. But then it all ends up in his book somehow – doesn’t that turn even his easy escapes into hard work?




  1. I think it is a personality thing with no real relationship to the work of thinking. There are plenty of philosophers and thinkers who take the time to cultivate a personal life and try to just be nice people because they have good personalities…..Of course, it could just very well be a German thing….


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 11 January 2007 @ 2:16 pm

  2. Some people are better at being pleasant than others, but as you say, some people try to be nice people — if it came naturally to them they wouldn’t have to make the effort. I think pleasantness is a characteristic of social interaction, and it can be a virtue or a vice. Mutual courtesy is a virtue; brown-nosing is a vice.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 January 2007 @ 3:41 pm

  3. Karen Horney, a protege of Freud’s, classified people by how they characteristically respond to interpersonal conflict: by ingratiating themselves (“moving toward”), by isolating themselves (“moving away”), or by becoming combative (“moving against”). Certainly the moving-towards are more pleasant to have around, but the moving-againsts are the ones who get the talkshow host gigs.


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 January 2007 @ 5:50 pm

  4. Uh, or they take up blogging….


    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 11 January 2007 @ 10:10 pm

  5. Hey, whadaya mean by that?!


    Comment by ktismatics — 11 January 2007 @ 10:17 pm

  6. Dude…I find this post fascinating. I can totally identify with this. Sometimes I feel like the more I committ myself to the effort of thinking, the more I find myself committed to being a pisser (or at least contrary) to those around me who are unthinkingly committed (so, uncommitted?) to unthinking living.

    Not only that, but it seems as though the very location of thinking (nowhere) lends itself to this being a pisser. Of course, the fact of the place of thinking in itself means that once you find yourself somewhere again, you could find yourself being either nice or not. But this takes me back to the committment to what you find in thinking, if you are to be a thinking person. I guess too it partially depends what you are thinking.

    Anyway…a thought…is turning the easy difficult not only that, but rather turning the diffiuclt easy as well? That seems to be part of Zizek’s effort…from the little I’ve been exposed to him.


    Comment by Jaosn Hesiak — 30 January 2007 @ 12:10 am

  7. Thinking can be hard work: your mind has to push against resistance, much of which is generated by other people. Resistance generates heat. Hey, it’s their fault, not yours.

    The location of thinking is nowhere — interesting. Thinking deeper pulls you further and further into the void.

    Turning the difficult easy — that too can be hard work. Have you ever come up with something really clever, made it easy to understand, told it to someone, and they say “of course, that’s obvious.” Pisses you off.


    Comment by ktismatics — 30 January 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  8. I’d say if I ever do succeed in making it easy to understand, I end up pissed off at the resistance rather than the ease of understanding for the audience…although its probably just redisual pissed offedness from the very presence of the resistence in the first place. But then, I find that in the end, when some meeting point is found, there is a great sense of joy. I think, too, that – just as ideas are “pregiven in consciousness” (from The Necessary Angel, by Massimo Cicciari) – the urge to forge through the resistance to a point of union on the other side of the river is “pregiven”.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 30 January 2007 @ 10:08 pm

  9. I don’t know this Italian-sounding fellow or this concept of “pregiven in consciousness” — can you clarify in a way that makes it easy for me to understand? *smiley winky face*


    Comment by ktismatics — 31 January 2007 @ 7:52 pm

  10. Oh, he just says that “ideas are pregiven in consciousness”, whereas language is a “product of conscousness”. I hear that and I think of Plato’s “remembering”. How’s that? Sorry, should have explained more.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 1 February 2007 @ 2:51 am

  11. Oh, and this notion of ideas and language is in a chapter called “The Problem of Representation”, in a book on angelology. So, he’s speaking into the question of how language corresponds to reality/idea (by “reality/idea” I am not proposing something about ideas and reality, just presenting to you what’s being discussed in the chapter “the problem of representation”).



    Please let me know if its still not clear. That’s something I’m trying to get better with.


    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 1 February 2007 @ 5:55 am

  12. I find Badiou really hard to understand, but I believe he sees awareness emerging in the Void: a realm of pure difference prior to verbalization and categorization. Do the ideas already exist in the void waiting to be apprehended, or is it the opening in an already-crowded world where something different has room to emerge out of the nothingness? In interpersonal space perhaps what we’re looking for isn’t common ground to walk across but a void to enter into, from which some new understanding can emerge. Sometimes I think just to be understood is satisfaction enough, but to make yourself understood you also have to project yourself into the other’s reality. If both people are doing that at the same time, then maybe some new interpersonal reality can open up. I don’t think it happens very often.


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 February 2007 @ 7:49 am

  13. Thanks John,

    Again, interesting comments. Look for the void rather than the common ground. But FYI – with my nowhere comment I had Hannah Arendt in mind rather than Badiou. But that’s exactly why I find your comment intersting.



    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 1 February 2007 @ 3:02 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: