Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates

Probing beneath the level of TV punditry, Žižek offers a highly original and readable account that serves as a fascinating and insightful comprehension of the events of September 11.
Liberals and conservatives proclaim the end of the American holiday from history. Now the easy games are over; one should take sides. Žižek argues this is precisely the temptation to be resisted. In such moments of apparently clear choices, the real alternatives are most hidden. Welcome to the Desert of the Real steps back, complicating the choices imposed on us. It proposes that global capitalism is fundamentalist and that America was complicit in the rise of Muslim fundamentalism. It points to our dreaming about the catastrophe in numerous disaster movies before it happened, and explores the irony that the tragedy has been used to legitimize torture. Last but not least it analyzes the fiasco of the predominant leftist response to the events.


  • ‘There can be no crisis of psychoanalysis’ Jacques Lacan interviewed in 1974

    In this interview given in 1974, Jacques Lacan prophetically warned of the dangers of the return of religion and of scientism. For him, psychoanalysis is the only conceivable rampart against contemporary anxieties. These are arguments of surprising present-day relevance.

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  • Some Bewildered Clarifications: A Response to Noam Chomsky by Slavoj Žižek

    Since Noam Chomsky’s "Fantasies" (July 21, 2013) present themselves as a reaction to my reply to his interview with a critical dismissal of my work, a brief clarification is needed. What Chomsky refers to as my "reply" is a non-authorized and not accurate transcription of my answer to a question from the public during a recent debate at Birkbeck college in London. As it would be clear from a full transcription, at that moment I didn’t even know about Chomsky’s attack on me—I was just asked what do I think about his total dismissal of my work (together with that of Lacan and Derrida) as a case of fanciful posturing without any foundation in empirical facts and scientific reasoning, and I improvised a reaction on the spot. Chomsky’s remark that I "cite nothing" to justify my claim about his inaccuracies is thus ridiculous—how could I have done it in an improvised reply to an unexpected question? Probably to illustrate my disrespect for facts, Chomsky also dwells on the characterization of Obama that I wrongly attributed to him; there is no mystery about it, upon learning about my mistake, I unambiguously apologized—here is the text of my apology (from Harper’s magazine):

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  • Winners of our Radical Thinkers competition!

    To launch Set 7 in our Radical Thinkers series, we ran a competition last week to win a copy of every available book published in the series so far.

    After a week of frenzied-question posting and a website crash in the face of Radical Thinkers popularity, I’m delighted to announce the winners and runners-up!

    Thank you to everyone who entered, and a huge congratulations to the following:


    Winner: Owen Cantrell (also winner of our favourite tweet re: the website crash)

    2nd place: Corey Nelson

    Runners-up: Tim O'Neil, Alan Ra and Thomas L Ruan

    Special Prize for Effort: Matt Kavanagh

    Rest of World:

    Winner:  Daniel Bristow

    2nd place: Dominic Teflise 

    Runners-up: Nikos Overheul, Evangelos Sakkas and Miša Krenčeyová 

    To remind you of the prizes: the winners will receive all available titles in the seven series published so far, those in second place will win a full Set 7, and the runners-up will win a book of their choice from Set 7. All have now been notified by email.

    Now for the answers to those all-important questions….

    1. Jean Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism

    The second chapter in The Sprit of Terrorism began as a contribution to a debate on the events of September 11th organized jointly by the New York University and France Culture in Washington Square, Manhattan. In an interview with the New York Times regarding French theory in American universities, Baudrillard remarked:

    “The French gave Americans a language they did not need. It was like the Statue of Liberty. Nobody needs French theory.” Which other widely known French theorist spoke at this event?

    ANSWER: Jacques Rancière

    2. Max Horkheimer, Critique of Instrumental Reason

    “At the end of the Nazi period (I thought at the time) a new day, the beginning of an authentically human history, would dawn in the developed countries as the result of reforms or revolution. Along with the other founders of Scientific Socialism, I thought that the cultural gains of the bourgeois era – the free development of human powers, a spiritual productivity – but stripped now of all elements of force and exploitation, would surely become widespread throughout the world.”

    In a groundbreaking book written by Horkheimer and his life long colleague and collaborator the first chapter states that the Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from what?

    ANSWER: Fear

    3. Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy

    One of the most famous works produced by the European revolutionary movement, Marxism and Philosophy is the first attempt by a Marxist to apply Marx’s critical and materialist method to the history of Marxism itself.

    Towards the end of the Second World War, which student of Karl Korsch enthusiastically put to verse The Communist Manifesto?

    ANSWER: Bertolt Brecht

    4. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings

    A great amount of the young Marx must remain unintelligible without reference to certain basic Feuerbachian texts. These selections, most of them previously translated, establish the thought of Feuerbach in an independent role.

    Which essay by Feuerbach, part of which is included in this collection, influenced Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen and caused Engels to remark, “One must himself have experienced the liberating effect of this book to get an idea of it. Enthusiasm was general; we all became at once Feuerbachians”?

    ANSWER: The Essence of Christianity

    5. Fredric Jameson, A Singular Modernity

    A major interpretation of the concepts of modernism and modernity.

    In his introduction to this book Jameson refers to a postmodern philosopher and his comments on two other well-known philosopher’s facial hair. Name these three men and their preference or not for beards.

    ANSWER: Jean-François Lyotard (clean-shaven) OR Deluze (clean-shaven). Marx (bearded), Hegel (clean-shaven) 

    The full quote is: "For Lyotard, as for Deleuze, the philosophers of the past were to be reinvented and rewritten in the post contemporary idiom […] the operative slogan being the famous evocation of 'a bearded Hegel and a clean-shaven Marx.' " As the question asks for three philosophers we can accept either Deluze or Lyotard

    6. Maurice Godelier, Rationality and Irrationality in Economics

    An analysis of social and economic systems and why they appear and disappear throughout history. As of 2001 Maurice Godelier owns what object, which was also possessed by Pierre Bourdieu and Claude Levi-Strauss?

    ANSWER: CNRS Gold Medal or Médaille d'or 

    7. Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of commitment, Politics of Resistance

    "Philosophy begins in disappointment.” Simon Critchley writes in the introduction to this work. “Nihilism is the breakdown of the order of meaning, where all that we previously imagined as a divine, transcendent basis for moral valuation has become meaningless. […]For some, this is the defining experience of youth – witness the deaths of numerous young romantics, whether Keats, Shelley, Sid Vicious or Kurt Cobain.”

    Which of four these dead romantics died youngest?

    ANSWER: Sid Vicious

    8. Wilhelm Reich, Sex-Pol: Essays, 1929-1934

    Wilhelm Reich was an Austrian psychoanalyst who made significant contributions to psychoanalytic theory. His controversial views on sexual and class oppression resulted in his expulsion from the International Communist Party of Germany in 1933 and from the International Psychoanalytic Association in 1934.

    Reich was subject to libricide by both the United States and the Nazi Party. Name another physician also interested in sexual repression who was subject to same fate under the Nazis.

    ANSWER:  Magnus Hirschfeld or Freud

    9. Alain Badiou Ethics: An Essay On The Understanding of Evil

    In this book Alain Badiou shows how our prevailing ethical principles serve ultimately to reinforce an ideology of the status quo and fail to provide a framework for an effective understanding of the concept of evil.

    Name a major influence on Badiou’s Ethics who famously said “Ne pas céder sur son désir.”

    ANSWER:  Jacques Lacan

    10. Slavoj Žižek Welcome to the Desert of the Real

    “The fact that September 11 attacks were the stuff of popular fantasies long before they actually took place provides yet another case of the twisted logic of dreams: it is easy to account for the fact that poor people around the world dream about becoming Americans – so what do the well-to-do Americans, immobilized in their well-being dream about? About a global catastrophe that would shatter their lives – why?”

    Prior to this quote Žižek mentions a film in the top fifty highest grossing films of all time staring an actor also known as ‘The Fresh Prince’. Name this film.

    ANSWER: Independence Day

    11. André Gorz Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology

    Against the background of recent technological developments, Gorz's major new book explores the political agendas facing both right and left in the midst of the transformations of the nature of work and the structure of the workforce.

    What is the connection between Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times and André Gorz’s journalistic career?

    ANSWER: Gorz wrote for Les Temps Moderne

    12. V.N. Voloshinov Freudianism: A Marxist Critique

    An early critique of Freud from a Marxist and linguistic perspective.

    Voloshninov was a member of a group of philosophers whose thought on language and art addressed the social and cultural issues posed by the Russian Revolution and its degeneration into the Stalin dictatorship. 

    ANSWER: Bakhtin

    The hugely popular Radical Thinkers series publishes beautifully designed and affordable editions of important works of theory and philosophy. Covering a full spectrum of critical thought, the series includes work from radical thinkers such as Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, Jean Baudrillard, Guy Debord, Georg Lukács, Gillian Rose, Jean-Paul Sartre, Theodor Adorno and many more.

    Set 7 will be launched in a series of fortnightly events at the ICA, starting on the 9th April. More details here.

    Corrections: Due to a typo the answer to question 5 had read Marx (clean shaven) and Hegel (bearded). This was changed for the correct Marx (bearded) and Hegel (clean shaven). Winning entries were taken for the correct answer although no entries were submitted to any other effect.

Other books by Slavoj Žižek