A long line of fans formed around the stage at Cooper Union to have Slavoj Zizek sign books. They rattled off their names for the philosopher’s dedication.
“Ian,” said one.
“Like the writer,” said Mr. Zizek, “McEwan.”
“Kelvin,” said another.
“Like the stupid temperature.”
“Austin,” said a third.
“Anna,” said a fourth, “with two n’s. I’m from Denmark.”
“Denmark,” said Mr. Zizek. “I like Denmark because secretly I am a fascist. Keep the trains running on time. It’s the only way to stop Hitler!”
“Gideon,” said a fifth.
“He was a warrior. Paul Robeson, the greatest American leftist singer, has a song about him.”
“Elias,” said a sixth.
“Did you see the terrible movie Denzel Washington made about the Bible?” Mr. Zizek asked. “The Book of Eli?”
“Chris,” said a seventh.
“Are you Christ without the t?”
The celebrity radical had just barreled through 90 minutes of his trademark political paradoxes, pulling his beard, wiping his brow and waving his fist in the air. “Today it is capitalism that is revolutionary. … The impossible and the possible are exploding into excess. I am told that here in New York a man can have his penis cut in two. … So you can do it with two women. You can achieve immortality. You can go into space. But maintaining a little bit of health care is impossible.”
Afterward one fan told him, “I just want to thank you because last year I wrote a thesis at the University of Chicago based on your ideas.”
“Steven,” said the next.
“With a v?” asked Mr. Zizek.
“I knew it because there was another Steven with a v, and to me this is like that movie with Jim Carrey. It’s a Truman Show, and you’re all hired.”
“Do you like the show Lost?” asked the next in line.
“No,” said Mr. Zizek, “it’s too intellectual. I like 24.”
The line thinned to the last few acolytes. A man was recording Mr. Zizek with a video camera, and a woman sitting on the stage was doing the same with a smart phone. A student told Mr. Zizek he was organizing his fellow classmates at Stony Brook University against privatization and asked what he could do to rally them.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Mr. Zizek. “But I can come for free. There are suckers who pay me, so I can go to you for free. It’s like my friend Ralph Fiennes. He makes one blockbuster movie a year. He plays Voldemort in Harry Potter, so the rest of the year he can make small-budget independent movies. Right now he’s in Coriolanus. It’s set in a megalopolis and the opposing tribe are guerilla fighters.
“I was sitting with Ralph once, and he told me how many times he is approached by women everywhere, and then his wife, Sophie, who was pregnant, said something so obscene. Sophie said that swallowing semen is healthy for pregnant women. So I told Ralph, ‘Why don’t you sell your semen in bottles? You can sell it in pure form and in concentrate.’” Mr. Zizek put his pointer finger to his thumb to indicate a pill. “I said, ‘You can call one The English Patient and the other The Constant Gardener.’ Ralph didn’t think it was funny.”
The real problem with Hollywood today, he said, is that it “takes out the sex.” He cited earlier instances in Hollywood films where sex was coded. “A man was homosexual if he wore a scent. A woman was a prostitute if she was from New Orleans.
“Do you know that awful movie The Reader?” asked Mr. Zizek. “Did you know that Nicole Kidman was supposed to play the lead?”
“It was played by Kate Winslet,” said The Observer.
“Right, Kate Winslet,” said Mr. Zizek. “Ralph told me Nicole Kidman turned down the role because they demanded three conditions in the contract. First, no …” He gestured to his lips.
“Botox,” said a man sitting on the stage.
“Stop using botox,” said Mr. Zizek, “because her lips are supposed to look thin like a withered Nazi. She said O.K. Second, gain 15 kilos. O.K. Third, because there is a scene of full frontal nudity, no this–” Mr. Zizek made a shaving motion in the area of his crotch and laughed. “This she refused. Insanity!”
(Variety reported that Ms. Kidman dropped the role when she became pregnant.)
The man with the video camera stood up and moved directly in front of Mr. Zizek. “What do you think of the Palestinian situation?”
“I’m pro-Palestinian,” said Mr. Zizek, “but I don’t think it’s the worst situation in the world. Any man in Congo would sell his mother into slavery to move to the West Bank.
“But I like Israel. Israel is the most atheist state in the world. I like them for that. But at the same time as a majority does not believe in God, they assert that God gave them the right to the land.”
He said he was looking forward to a trip to Jenin next spring and had recently met with a group of Palestinians he would be visiting there. “They’re not Islamic fundamentalists. They’re normal people like us. We started exchanging dirty jokes. They told me one. ‘Why do Iraqi women not sleep with American soldiers? Because they always talk about pulling out but never do.’
“Beneath every Communist,” said Mr. Zizek, “there is a secret bourgeois snob. At least I admit to it.”
The man with the camera asked him about politics in the Balkans. Mr. Zizek said that his native Slovenia was in disarray but that he saw hope in Montenegro, where many Albanian refugees had settled without upheaval. The Observer admitted that he had an Albanian grandmother. Mr. Zizek said he liked to tell ethnic jokes about Balkan nationalities. Montenegrins, the jokes held, were famously lazy.
“How does a Montenegrin masturbate?” Mr. Zizek asked. “He digs a hole in the earth, puts his penis in and waits for an earthquake.”
The Observer presented his book to be signed and stated his name.
“Are you Christian?” asked Mr. Zizek.
“I’m a lapsed Catholic,” said The Observer.
“All Catholics are lapsed,” said Mr. Zizek. “Even the pope.”