Did you hear the one about Hegel and negation? The question, which is itself a kind of joke, appears on the front cover of this wickedly humorous little anthology.
You might not laugh out loud but – a rare treat – “Žižek’s jokes” is amusing and serious at the same time.
Jokes are mostly anonymous and seem to come out of the mysterious ability of language to endlessly generate new forms by playing on old ones. Only the paranoid insist on thinking there must be a personal agent responsible for each and every joke.
Thus, from the theological point of view, Žižek is correct in asserting that God is the ultimate jokester.
Being Žižek, there are of course a number of Hegel-related jokes in this collection. This one is a neat illustration of the Hegelian triad and the nature of the shift in the ‘negation of the negation’. An ardent Communist, speaking at a Party meeting in Moscow, admonishes a man in the audience for not knowing about a particular person: “If you came to party meetings more often and listened more carefully, you’d know who I’m referring to”.
The man snaps back, asking if the speaker knows who Andreyev is only to be told he doesn’t: “If you came less often to party meetings and listened more carefully to what is going on in your home, you would know that Andreyev is the guy having sex with your wife when you’re giving boring speeches”.
The concluding moment in the negation of the negation turns the proposition on its head and reverses the logic of the argument.
Lacan is also a point of reference for jokes about identity and the way a subject relates to the name that fixes its symbolic role: the author of all those famous plays is not William Shakepeare but someone else with the same name.
One of the funniest vulgar jokes in this collection – it comes from “Less than nothing” – serves as a warning to beware of do-gooders. It tells of how the apostles of Christ, anticipating his arrest and execution and knowing he was a virgin, wanted him to experience a little bit of pleasure before he dies.
They arrange for Mary Magdalene to seduce him but, after entering his tent, she runs out traumatized. She had undressed in front of him but, seeing her vagina, Christ had said ‘What a terrible wound! It should be healed! and he gently placed his palm on it.
The moral is that sometimes one enjoys ne’s wounds. For good measure, Žižek draws an analogy with the consequences of trying to heal the wounds of colonialism by returning to the precolonial reality.
If Indian nationalists, he says (but it could be any nationalist group harking back to some mythical golden age), were to find themselves in precolonial reality they would have uttered the same terrified scream as Mary Magdalene.
“Žižek’s jokes” by Slavoj Žižek is published by The MIT Press