U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Examined Life

I saw a movie a couple of days ago called The Examined Life. It is a documentary of sorts that follows around several contemporary theorists: Cornel West, Peter Singer, Judith Butler, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Slavoj Žižek and a few others with whose work I am not familiar–and allows them to talk about their ideas. There are no big revelations here–my friend who saw the movie with me noted that most of the scholars “just say what they always say”–but the film is pleasant enough and does provide, if nothing else, an interesting shapshot of intellectual life circa 2009.

I saw it in New York City, where I am currently spending my spring break. I’m not sure how wide of a distribution it will get, so keep an eye out for it.

2 Thoughts on this Post

  1. The only one that stood out for me as being particularly interesting was Žižek, whose argument I ironically cannot remember very well. He was in a garbage dump talking about our romantic impressions of nature. He said that, as best as I can recall, our ideas of “nature” as being somehow more beautiful, more pristine, more “natural” than the down-and-dirty things we do every day (like making garbage) were somehow bad for the environment itself. (He did explain why he thinks this idea is linked to these pernicious effects, but I cannot remember what he said. There are some advantages to books!)

    Which isn’t to say the rest of them were not provocative, per se. Peter Singer, for example, telling people to stop eating meat and to start giving away all their money only fails to be “provocative” if you already know he’s been saying that for thirty years. Conversely, I’ve read very little Žižek, so maybe someone else might not find the points he made in the film to be particularly noteworthy.


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