In the middle of the documentary Examined Life begins the best of its 10 or so sequences. The sequence involves Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian-born Hegelian. The philosopher says something like this: "What is love? It is not about idealizing somebody, but about loving everything about them—their perfections and imperfections. That is how we must experience life and the world. We must love all of it, its good and bad." It's not that he is saying anything profound, but that he is saying it in a garbage dump. The ugliness of the city is all around him; trash piles up to the sky. Broken refrigerators here, broken bottles there. The philosopher is at home. This is the rise of reason from the refuse of existence.

In one of the essays in Hegel: Three Studies, Theodor W. Adorno sees in a description of a lecture delivered by Hegel—"his constant clearing of his throat and coughing interrupted any flow of speech"—"thought in action." Thought not as it is not, the product of a beautiful mind, but as it actually is, the product of ugly, slimy, organic processes. Shit all around, and from this shit, the effluvium of thoughts. Here, the director, Astra Taylor (who also made the documentary Žižek!), gets to the meat/gore core of the human condition.

At the beginning of the documentary, there is another important moment. It happens when Cornel West, a black American philosopher, declares: "We are featherless, two-legged, linguistically conscious creatures born between urine and feces." It's not that what he is saying is profound, but that he is saying it in the backseat of a car that's going around Manhattan, the center of civilization. We hear his words against the positive side of the city—its orderly streets and buildings.

The documentary, which is imperfect, should not have gone beyond these two points: Manhattan's negative side (a garbage dump) and its positive side (its apartments and stores). The other segments, which involve other thinkers talking and walking through parks and airports, weaken this powerful dialectic, this muscular movement between the positive and negative, shit and thought. recommended