‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’

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Cyprus International University,  Research Methods: Commentary

Jahanzaib Haque

November 08, 2006

Slavoj Zizek’s essay is a narrative of the atypical viewpoint of the awakened man. Like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, he appears to be descending the mountainside proclaiming a view beyond the veil of illusion which is, our current reality. There are a number of criticisms and claims he puts forward in, ‘welcome to the desert of the real’ regarding society, with a particular focus on the United States of America and the events surrounding September 11th.

Zizek uses a plethora of pop culture references (Hollywood cinema in particular) to show us that reality is a construct in which we currently reside; a form of bubble world with multiple filters which leave the individual in a state completely ‘Irreal’ – resembling in parts the fictional stories we produce and mirror in our film studios ala, ‘the Truman Show’ and, ‘the Matrix’. He sees the events of September 11th as a moment in history where the fantasy reflection of human society manifests itself into real life, which in itself is a form of empty fantasy world. Characters like Osama Bin Laden can be readily assigned to villainous roles from old James Bond films and the age-old theme of a battle between good and evil is manifested in the gap between first world and third world; the American empire versus The Others, or as Zizek aptly puts it,

‘The struggle is now one between the “free world” and the forces of darkness and terror’

Given the struggles of a paranoid nation fulfilling its own worst nightmares, Zizek goes further in outlining a number of pertinent questions the American population (and humans everywhere in general) should query. In regards to the likelihood of continued violence worldwide, he asks for a look outside the, ‘fantasmatic screen’ and into the real world which begs the question: if one is to curb violence on one’s own soil, shouldn’t one desist in the use of violence anywhere else? Just as Nietzsche’s Zarathustra marched down the mountain with claims to personal responsibility and the will to cause change, Zizek challenges the reader to question the role of society (the macrocosm) and the individual (the microcosm) in shaping the nature of reality. He uses a directly mocking tone towards the average American and challenges their notions of civilization dressed in layers of hypocrisy whether it is in terms of their elected leaders (George Bush/Clinton) or in terms of their religious faith.

This essay points towards a cynicism in Zizek’s work. While he breaks down the illusions of people and suggests ways in which the world may be rectified, the underlying theme is that of human society degenerated into a form of savage who cannot foresee the dystopian future that awaits him. ‘Welcome to the desert of the real’ is reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson’s, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ in the sense that the protagonist (or in this case, Zizek) acts as an observer of the dreams and glittery illusions which gloss over the madness and violence inherent in humans. There are suggestions of possible change, but these are mere musings of a keen intellect which is aware that the likelihood of such changes is next to impossible. Each possibility is rounded up with a question mark which suggests that human history is destined to repeat itself ad infinitum.

‘America as a safe Haven?’

‘Will Americans fortify their “sphere” or risk stepping out of it?’

Trapped by the mass of illusions, the amplification of fear and paranoia projected through the systems of control which are currently being elected (religions, governments et al) ensure that the answer is no.

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