(A sketch inspired by watching one too many Slavoj Zizek YouTube videos after flipping through copies of Men’s Fitness and Men’s Health magazines over coffee at Barnes and Noble.)
SCENE: Front counter of average-looking urban gym. Slavoj Zizek, a bearded, scruffy-looking, middle-aged Slovenian philosopher with a thick accent and a ratty T-shirt, a man subject to several ticks, including tweaking the end of his nose and pulling at his shirt front, is behind the counter reading. A man of no consequence, ME, enters with gym bag.
ME: Hi, um, how much for a daily workout?
SZ: When you ask how much for something, you are immediately thrust into a discussion of ideology. What is the value of something without value?
ME: So, ten dollars?
SZ: Ten dollars. A thousand dollars. Let us say I am the landlord and you are the tenant. As the landlord, I have one goal in mind. So when we speak of Kapitaleezum, let us give the devil his due. Of course, in the West, you can see how Kapitaleezum has raised the standard of living for so many. But when speaking of a totality, one must also include the negation. So, it is not enough to speak of the United States and Germany, for example, as the success of Kapitaleezum. You must also speak of Congo.
ME: Quick question, and I’m hoping an equally quick answer, your view on the bench press — barbells or dumbbells?
SZ: This here is the role of the philosopher. It is not merely to give prepared answers to certain questions, but to ask different questions. For example, are you doing a whole-body workout today or chest/back, shoulders/biceps, so on and so on?
ME: I was thinking of going whole body. I work out only once a week. Otherwise I get nauseous.
SZ: There is your mistake. When you first came in, I said to myself, and I mean this sincerely and without irony, that here comes an idiot. Now that we have had an opportunity to speak with one another, I am convinced of it. When you perform a whole body workout, you are hiding from yourself your own limitations, running away, as it were, from your own ultimate collapse, so on and so on.
ME: I don’t –
SZ: For example, take the wonderful feelum by Ernst Lubitsch, Ninotchka. There is a scene that takes place in a cafeteria. A man asks, “May I have coffee without cream.” The man behind the counter says, “I’m sorry, we do not have cream. Can I get you coffee without milk?” You see?
ME: I drink coffee black.
SZ: I will explain it: The man who is seeking to have his coffee without cream is told he can only have it without milk, thus introducing the illusion that he has received what he has asked for. But in fact, he has not. What is withheld is often as vital as what is given. Look at Wikileaks. We see there that the government and the banks are guilty not necessarily because they have lied in this case or that case but because of the information they have withheld. Here is the deception. What appears to be the whole truth – black coffee – is in fact a lie – coffee without milk.
ME: Maybe I’ll use one of the machines instead –
SZ: Again, the wrong question. The question is not whether you should use the dumbbells or the barbells or the machines.
ME: What is the question?
SZ: Why are we not speaking about Congo?
ME: I don’t know. Why are we not speaking about Congo?
SZ: Because you insist on a whole-body workout. To work the entire body demands a limitation of time and effort on any one part of the body. So, you have only so much effort to give to your pectorals. And what is the typical, one may almost say stereotypical, exercise associated with the pectorals? It is the bench press. Which reminds me of a joke about a stupid guy from Montenegro. I know it is not politically correct, but I am seeck of these silly people telling me all the time, “You can’t tell this joke, you can’t tell that joke. It is offensive.” We told jokes about each other all the time, dirty jokes, because it was an act of soleedarity. Now all you can do is celebrate everybody’s ethnic dances and cultural habits – WHAT DO I CARE ABOUT YOUR ETHNIC DANCES? I want to tell dirty jokes. Which reminds me of the ideology of toilets. Have you ever seen a German toilet? It is all about metaphysics. But not racism. Racism I deplore, because racist jokes perpetuate the ideological and institutional isolation and alienation of an ethnic minority. But back to what I was saying, so you say to yourself, I can do the bench press with dumbbells or with barbells or on a machine. And, over time, like Kapitaleezum in the West, you will make significant gains. People will look at your pectorals and say, “My what extraordinary pectorals.” But, should you turn around, they will be appalled. Because, in your mad rush to build pectorals as part of a whole-body routine, you have failed to recognize the immanent negation within the totality, which is to say, you failed to compensate for the emphasis placed on the frontal deltoids in that particular movement by working your rear deltoids. These smaller muscles, like smaller countries, remain undeveloped. Why? Because the whole-body routine historically neglects isolation movements, just as we do grassroots movements, for lack of time and because the amount of weight, seen as return on investment, is deemed insufficient to activate the muscles in a way that will create impressive expansion of the muscles in as short a time as possible as does the bench press. The rear deltoids are part of the totality and yet suffer from the negation of negation. And so, apparently, from the front, what all can see, is very well-developed pectorals. But from behind, I want to throw up to look at you.
ME: So you recommend a split routine?
SZ: You are obviously suffering from some condition that results in your becoming stupider and stupider even as you absorb information. Perhaps this is unique to our digital age. Maybe we should call it Google syndrome. In any event, once again, you have asked the wrong question. Take The Matrix. Is it really a matter of taking the red pill or the blue pill? Of course not. What we want is a third pill, a pill that will enable us to see the reality INSIDE THE ILLUSION. Here you have an institution, this gymanseeum, which is evil. We are all agreed on that. It perpetuates this silly demand for bodily perfection. A kind of utopianeesm, as if you can stave off the ravages of time by doink weighted dips.
ME: Should I have gone to another gym?
SZ: My Gott, how exactly do you function on a daily basis? Do you have a nursemaid who ties your shoes? It is not a matter of whether my gym is more evil than another gym.
ME: Is there someone else I could talk to? Maybe in the back there’s someone. Look in the back.
SZ: This is another form of utopianeesm. Looking in the back, as if another reality is waiting just behind a curtain somewhere. This is the liberal wet dream. The lone avenger of injustice unmasks the criminals running the evil corporation, and once they are brought to justice, usually in one hundred and twenty minutes running time, then Kapitaleezum will be saved from itself. Robert Redford is not waiting in the back. George Clooney is not in the back. As another example, BP is not worse than other oil companies. The question we must ask ourselves is how are we living such that we are reliant on commodities that pollute and destroy and threaten our ecology.
ME: I could do flies.
SZ: You could do them, but you do not do them, because they are cruciform but in a secular dyemension, which implies this postmodern deconstruction of the old metafeesical gott. I want no part of that movement myself. So perhaps we have found a ground of some unity. Although I reject the vulgar mateerealeest’s infinity, I do find the Christian concept of the toxic neighbor susceptible to contemporary applications especially in relation to anti-immigrant parties in Europe so on and so on.
ME: How do you feel about yoga?
SZ: This, finally, is an interesting question. Maybe you are not as idiotic as you appear, although I doubt it. Take Kung Fu Panda. Here we have an almost fetishistic look at the oriental culture, with its ancient wisdom and warrior ethic and so on and so on. And yet it makes fun of these very practices, deconstructs them, but the ideology survives the deconstruction. There is no such thing as a non-ideological third way, such that the Arab Spring, for example, could avoid ideology despite not being motivated by religious fundamentalism and so on and so on. Francis Fukuyama is another crazy.
ME: Maybe I should do some of those stretchy-band things at home. Do you sell any here? Your own brand, perhaps?
SZ: Have you seen that John Carpenter leftist film They Live!? Put on your ideological glasses and see the true message behind stretchy bands: marry, reproduce, obey. Plus, I do not believe in surplus value. So no stretchy bands.
ME: Do you have perhaps a juice bar?
SZ: I ripped it out. Do you know what they sold here? Food without calories. Coffee without caffeine. Candy without sugar. It is the same as multiculturalism, which is just a subtle form of racism. We have denatured everything.
ME: Maybe I’ll just buy a treadmill.
SZ: Walking to get nowhere in the narcissistic pursuit of self-satisfaction in light of a commercial ideal of health and sexual appeal. So, temporarily, you feel good about yourself, like recycling — Oh look, I threw the bottle in one container but not the one with the newspapers. I would spit on you if I had any spit left. But frankly I could not care less what you do. The universe is stupid. And I do not like people. I am actually quite a misanthrope. In fact, I am not even human. I am a monster, a pervert. I am a theorist in a land of people who think having sex with a cow is seeck. But that is nothing. Try some Hegelian dialectics in 2012. See if you are not hauled away like Lenny Bruce on October 4, 1961. Remember to is a preposition.
(To elderly woman by water fountain.)
Hey, you! No free towels!