Diet Soap Podcast #207: Difference and a Space Odyssey

The guest this week is the pop philosopher Daniel Coffeen. Mister Coffeen is a recurring guest to Diet Soap and this week we discuss aliens, alienation, difference, 2001 and the Men in Black.

I want to thank Felix B for making a one time donation to the podcast and urge everyone who enjoys Diet Soap to consider pressing on the paypal buttons at dietsoap.podomatic.com. You can also follow me on twitter, friend me on Facebook, send me an email through my website (that’s douglaslain.com) or just wait for the visitors to bring me a message.

At the start of this episode Daniel Coffeen and I mention a critical outline/essay about Kubrick’s film 2001 that was written by Margaret Stackhouse when she was a junior at North Plainfield High School in 70s. The essay was originally published in Jerome Agel’s book “The Making of 2001.” Here’s an excerpt from her essay:

I. The monolith – source of infinite knowledge and intelligence

A. Perfection represented in its shape; its color — black —
could symbolize:

1. Evil and death, which result from man’s misuse of knowledge;

2. The incomprehensible — man, with his limited senses, cannot
comprehend the absence (perfect black) of color or light

Pop the Left #9: Is Žižek Dreaming Dangerously?

This week I’m presenting the latest Pop the Left Special wherein C Derick Varn and I discuss Slavoj Žižek’s little book “The Year of Dreaming Dangerously.” Neither of us found the book to be either coherent or useful. My main complaint would be Žižek’s failure to take Marx’s critique of Capitalist political economy seriously and his abandonment of the Labor Theory of Value. The conclusion we reach is that Žižek is a worthwhile philosopher, but that his philosophy is not a firm foundation for the development of a politics or a movement. What Žižek does deliver is an imperative: “THINK!” It turns out that this imperative will require us to think beyond him.

In this episode you’ll hear clips from the movie trailer for The Spectacular Now, a youtube mash-up of Zizek’s lectures, Zizek at Occupy Wall Street, and a bit of a Diet Soap interview with the art historian TJ Clark.
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Diet Soap Podcast #189: Chomsky vs. Žižek

The guest this week is a university lecturer, a poet, and my co-host on Pop the Left. I tapped C Derick Varn to come on so we could discuss the recent Chomsky/Zizek feud. For those of you who haven’t been following the debate let me expose you to it:

Noam Chomsky on Zizek: What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever. So there’s no theory in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying. Jacques Lacan I actually knew. I kind of liked him. We had meetings every once in awhile. But quite frankly I thought he was a total charlatan. He was just posturing for the television cameras in the way many Paris intellectuals do. Why this is influential, I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t see anything there that should be influential.

Slavoj Zizek on Chomsky: What is that about, again, the academy and Chomsky and so on? Well with all deep respect that I do have for Chomsky, my first point is that Chomsky, who always emphasizes how one has to be empirical, accurate, not just some crazy Lacanian speculations and so on… well I don’t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong in his descriptions in his whatever! Let’s look… I remember when he defended this demonstration of Khmer Rouge. And he wrote a couple of texts claiming: No, this is Western propaganda. Khmer Rouge are not as horrible as that.” And when later he was compelled to admit that Khmer Rouge were not the nicest guys in the Universe and so on, his defense was quite shocking for me. It was that “No, with the data that we had at that point, I was right. At that point we didn’t yet know enough, so… you know.” But I totally reject this line of reasoning.

For example, concerning Stalinism. The point is not that you have to know, you have photo evidence of gulag or whatever. My God you just have to listen to the public discourse of Stalinism, of Khmer Rouge, to get it that something terrifyingly pathological is going on there. For example, Khmer Rouge: Even if we have no data about their prisons and so on, isn’t it in a perverse way almost fascinating to have a regime which in the first two years (’75 to ’77) behaved towards itself, treated itself, as illegal? You know the regime was nameless. It was called “Angka,” an organization — not communist party of Cambodia — an organization. Leaders were nameless. If you ask “Who is my leader?” your head was chopped off immediately and so on.

You can find follow-ups from both of these thinkers here.

I want to reiterate my thanks to everyone who donated to the Think the Impossible book and podcast tour through Kickstarter. I’d love to meet people who have been listening to this podcast, and if you’re hearing this now and you live in NYC, Chicago, or San Francisco I do hope you’ll turn up to these events.

There are several sound clips in this episode. You’ll mostly hear from Chomsky and Zizek, but there is also a clip from the National Geographic special Brain Games Apollo Robbins and perhaps a few other voices as well.

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