Philosophy 281: Zizek and the Movies / Fall 2011



Philosophy 281: Zizek and the Movies

Instructor Information

Instructor: Gary Zabel, Ph.D.

Department of Philosophy, UMB

Office: Wheatley 5/040

Office Hours: Thursday, 4:00-6:00 and By Appointment


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Facebook Site (Feel free to add me as a friend.)

Twitter Name: autonomia75

Skype Name: Gary Zabel

Course Description

Slavoj Zizek is a cultural icon as well as a philosopher. He has authored more than fifty books as well as hundreds of articles on such varied themes as the critique of ideology, the concept of enjoyment, the significance of cyberspace, the legacy of Christianity, the meaning of 9/11, and the war in Iraq. He attracts sell-out crowds wherever he lectures, whether in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Australia, or the United States. Active as a dissident under the old Yugoslavian regime, and a near successful candidate for the presidential council of post-communist Slovenia, Zizek nevertheless regards himself as a Marxist, and even, in his own words, a “communist in a qualified sense.” He is the subject of half a dozen documentary films and the creator of one of his own. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called him “the Elvis of Cultural Theory” and The New Republic has labeled him “the most dangerous philosopher in the West.”

Though Zizek’s philosophy involves a heady fusion of the work of Hegel, Marx, and the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, he often develops his ideas with reference to cinema as well as other forms of popular culture, which is, of course, part of the secret of his widespread appeal. In this course we will examine Zizek’s unique approach to cinema as a philosophical theme, by reading his works as well as watching and discussing relevant films. Following Zizek, we will pay special attention to Hitchcock’s movies including Vertigo, The Trouble With Harry, and The Birds, but we will also examine Chaplin’s City Lights, Godard’s La Chinoise and Tout Va Bien, Curtiz’s Casablanca, Lynch’s Open Highway, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Scott’s Alien, and Kubric’s Eyes Wide Shut. In addition, we will view the documentary film Zizek!, directed by Astra Taylor, as well as The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, directed by Sophie Fiennes and narrated by Zizek himself. 


1. Each week students will read the assigned book chapters and view the assigned films. The readings can be accessed either as streaming videos or as mailed DVDs through Netflix. Therefore you will need to get a Netflix account for the duration of the course, or an equivalent way of accessing the films we will watching, such as a good video store or library.

2. Each week students will listen to or read a lecture by the instructor on the readings and relevant films, archived as podcasts or short papers on our Black Board site.

3. Each week students will participate in written discussions of the course material in an electronic discussion group hosted by our Black Board site. Each student will write at least three paragraphs on a topic to be assigned each week, as well as respond in writing to the postings of at least two other students.

4. Students will attend two Wimba video-conferencing sessions, one in the middle and one at the end of the semester.

5. Students will write a midterm essay (approximately 6 double-spaced pages) based on the readings.

6. Students will produce a final paper (15 to 20 double-spaced pages) addressing questions in the philosophy of cinema based on the course readings, lectures, films, and discussions.

Note: This is a difficult course in spite of the fact that the topic is film. Please make sure you have time each week to devote to the films, readings, lectures, and discussions.


The course requirements have the following weight in determining the final grade for the course:

Midterm exam = 30%

Participation in group discussions  and Wimba sessions = 20%

Final paper = 50%