Zizek gave a talk on Nov 12 2010 and the Birkbeck Institute, which you can listen to here. The following passage is around the one hour and ten minute mark. Zizek is famous for calling vegetarians “degenerates” on youtube. But he seems to be changing his view, after reading Derrida’s “L’animal donc que je suis” (The Animal that therefore I am):
My next example is Animal rights. I mean I am not becoming a Pete Singer, don’t be afraid of that. But nonetheless, I read recently this book by Derrida, and it has a nice point. Namely, to what extent our everyday life is based on this fetishist disavowal: “Je sais bien mais quand meme” (I know well, but anyway). We know what we are doing to animals, and I don’t even like these stories of laboratories because these are the exception. Because everyday, you know how chicken are grown, you know how pigs are grown. It’s a nightmare, but how do we survive? We know it, but we act as if we do not know. And Derrida has here a wonderful description in his book, “This Animal that I am”, of this kind of primordial scene when a wounded animal looks at you – this is the primordial gaze of the other. And here he makes a wonderful stab at Levinas – Levinas explicitly excludes animals from the gaze of the other. And here I’m a little bit sentimental in the sense that I remember years ago I saw a photo of a cat, immediately after this cat was submitted to some unpleasant experiment. This experiment was under the pretext of testing how a living organism, how much pressure and hits can it endure. It’s not immediately clear to me how this would help people. This cat was put in a centrifuge and it turned like crazy. What you then see was a cat with broken limbs, and most shocking to me most of its hair was gone. But it was still alive and just looking into the camera. And here I would like to ask the Hegelian question – what did the cat see in us. What kind of a monster. Not what the cat is for us, but what we were for the cat at this point. This monstrosity is something to think about. So again, another ignored violence.
I’ve always considered Zizek a serious, if flamboyant, thinker. This has been challenged recently when I’ve been made to realize how hurtful are some of the jokes he often tells, specifically jokes about Rape. (The joke appears on a blog post here, but a warning, there is no context or discussion). I hope this encounter with Derrida encourages him to renew and deepen the subjectively ethical side of his thinking, which is often sacrificed at the expense of brilliant institutional analysis.