Žižek on Reconceptualizing Nature

by douglas c reeser on November 1, 2012
In some of my recent articles, I've brought up the need to begin rethinking the world around us. The current capitalist-driven approach is likely to more deeply embed the problems and issues that we currently face. Most appear eager to continue down this path, but there are a growing number who are beginning to question that wisdom (or lack thereof). But how do we rethink what has become so normal, so routine, so everyday?

One of the more popular social critics of our time is Slavoj Žižek, and he has a gift of being able to identify large-scale social problems and offer new ways of examining and addressing them. What follows, a 10-minute clip of Žižek from the documentary Examined Life, is such an example. Žižek offers his views on the environmental problems facing humanity (appropriate now, considering the destructive hurricane Sandy that just battered the northeastern US). He then goes on to offer a reconceptualization of nature, and the start of a different way to move forward to address one of our most pressing predicaments.

Check it!
Print Friendly and PDF


  1. Anonymous2:40 PM

    First off, I'm thrilled that a cultural critic like Zizek is talking about human ecology against a consumerist background.

    At the beginning of this lecture, I liked what he was saying - that ideology addresses real problems but mystifies them. His purposefully shocking statement that "There is no nature" was startling, but I was still willing to see where he was going to go with this argument.

    So, there is no nature, just a series of unthinkable catastrophes. Ok. I could've used some more explanation of what he meant by catastrophes. Later in the film, he mentions the ecological process of oil formation -- is it the formation that's the catastrophe? the deaths of the plants and animals? or human dependence on oil? Still later, he mentions
    Chernobyl, a more readily-identified example of a catastrophe, and one that he uses to contrast the average experience of walking outside and seeing birds and trees and being incapable of imagining it destroyed like Chernobyl. I can see how people's complacency could feed that.

    Continuing his argument, he says that ecology has taken on the roll of conservative religion. That ecology has become "don't mess with nature," "don't mess with dna." Again, some explication would be helpful. Are ecologists saying this? Is it the brainwashed masses' idea of ecology?

    And then, to build on his earlier statement that there is no nature, he says that we need to abandon the myth that we are part of nature (because, of course, there is no nature to be a part of). That we need to cut off our roots to nature to avoid ecological catastrophe. More alienation, more artificiality to build a thematical universe. In learning to love our world, we need to accept its imperfections and its unimaginable catastrophes, and learn to find beauty in this world of trash.

    Among the many questions that this argument raises for me, one is, does this really demystify the problem?

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful summary and reflection! And I have some things to add...

      On nature as a series of catastrophes: He brings up the concept of oil, and I think he was getting at the probability that some unimaginable event occurred that led to those billions of plants and animals to enter into a state of decay deep beneath the earth. We can say something like, "Oh, it must have been an asteroid" or something, but we as humans have very little capacity to really understand what could have happened.

      Similarly with Chernobyl and the devastation there - In our normal day-to-day lives, we step outside and see trees and birds, and there is very little inclination for us to even begin to imagine that all of that could be lost in the blink of an eye (like happened at Chernobyl). He explains that we all know there are potentially serious problems in our immediate environment, yet we act as if we don't know this - he calls it disavowal.

      His attempt at a solution - or at least a way to guard against going through what we can't imagine - is to alienate ourselves from nature even more. If we can create our entire environment, then catastrophes in nature won't really matter. Our disavowal will be justified. Artificial environments. In fact, the Biosphere experiments are attempts at doing just that.

      Personally, I don't buy into this solution. It sounds like it comes from a man who has never experienced the depth of what "nature" has to offer. Still, even in this short video, he raises some great questions, and certainly gives us much food for thought.

      I do like how he conceptualizes love - When you love something or someone you don't idealize. Love is acceptance. You accept what you love for all of its faults.

  2. He brings up a lot of good points, although there are some points he has that I don't share...


Having trouble leaving a comment? Some browsers require acceptance of 3rd party cookies. If you leave an anonymous comment, it may need to be approved.