LectureHop: What Does a Jew Want
Written by Bwog Staff
On Wednesday night, professor and Hollywood producer James Schamus (of Brokeback Mountain) moderated a discussion with Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni, journalism professor Alisa Solomon and Slovenian philosopher/muckraker/hand gesticulation champion Slavoj Žižek, that nominally took on Israeli and Palestine conflicts and the nature of binationalism in Jewish culture, as part of the Heyman Center’s Theory-Art-Action series. Bwog’s own Michael Blair reports.
Though the lecture was dry at times, it was ultimately an extremely unique dialogue and, in an age when every other Columbia lecture is on Israel and Palestine, such a feat should be savored. The imaginative, and at times, mystifying, structure of the conversation was to the credit of the panelists. While all three are knowledge commentators, they are also all artists: Schamus the screenwriter/producer, Aloni the filmmaker, Solomon the journalist and Žižek the creative philosopher.
They spent the evening tackling questions that extended beyond the practicality of what to do and what not do, striving for notions of what it all means. Are Jews split people by nature, and is the notion of a completely Judaic nation-state something that doesn’t fit within the culture’s vast history of adapting and surviving in multicultural areas? Is the current artistic stereotype of depicting an Israeli soldier with a conflicting conscience a real, or productive, image? More than anything, these speakers were able to talk about these political and religious issues in terms of great art: each panelist mentioned certain films and film conventions and, in a particularly lively discussion, talked about the optimism buried in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. “I think Godot is one of the most optimistic works ever created,” Žižek quipped. Later, he added sarcastically that Israeli cultural clashes must be reconciled with the realization that “even the stupid Palestinians can do Godot.”
As always, Schamus looked dapper, donning horn-rims and a bowtie and throwing around phrases like “the rubric and bandwidth of Zionistic discourse” while briefly touching on the problematic translation of Freudian terminology from German. By the time Aloni began to drawl about Freud’s notions of women and Jews, we were all napping. It was mostly ten second eye-closes, but once Solomon began to read, it was headbob central in Miller Theater. Something about those plush seats and warm golden spotlights that, coupled with Marx’s understanding of ethno-political identities, made for a more effective insomnia cure than Ambien plus the Golf Channel. I think Solomon had some really insightful things to say, but man, it’s really all just a blur at this point.
Things changed, though, when Slavoj Žižek took the mic. Clad in a plain black tee and fabulously bearded, Žižek hands flew around in circles—sometimes stroking his beard, sometimes banging the table, and, most dubiously, grabbing his t-shirt compulsively in an apparent act of self-ventilation. He was that hot. I once observed all three movements seamlessly integrated into one sentence on the relationship between capitalism and anti-Semitism, and let me tell you, it was a sensory experience to be reckoned with. After all, this is the guy who’s talked about everything from Radiohead to the ideology of toilet construction. He didn’t disappoint here, telling stories about altercations with fans at an Alfred Hitchcock convention and, at one point, provoking a near altercation with Aloni about the difference between a “dying god” (Aloni’s preference) and a “dead god” (Žižek’s preference).
After Žižek’s commanding performance, and no clear conclusions, the night opened itself up to absurdity and some actual fun. Questioners asked him about Utopian Marxist societies, the Finnish Christian terrorist and the Occupy Wall Street movement. In one of the strangest public event displays I’ve ever encountered, a young Jewish man wrestled the microphone out of an attendants hands while inquiring about split-nationalist Zionism, later saying aloud “Sorry about that hand grab. I just really need to feel comfortable right now.”
Walking home in the rain after the lecture, I thought about how best to apply my newfound knowledge. Back in my room, I quickly checked my email and found a new message from my grandma waiting. Rather than look, though, I popped open Safari and started watching old Woody Allen clips. At this point, I’ve resigned myself to constant and inconsolable Jewish grandmother guilt; but at least for one small moment, as I leaned back on my bed and heard Woody say “Jew eat? Jew?,” I knew what I wanted.
Brooding via Wikimedia