This is a really enjoyable and bracing romp through last year's news headlines. Zizek gleefully deconstructs the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the Middle East 'peace process', the Breivik massacres and the EU sovereign debt crisis, unpicking their unspoken ideologies and deadlocked paradoxes as only he can. He is brilliantly unapologetic about his own (uncompromisingly theoretical) post-Lacanian Marxism, and he sets out his stall right at the start of the book: "if reality does not fit our concept, so much the worse for reality!" There are aphorisms this good on just about every page. What's great about reading Zizek is that he's as dismissive of the liberal Left as he is scornful of the conservative Right - on Planet Zizek, anyone who's not a post-Lacanian Marxist is by definition a moron - so unless you're a post-Lacanian Marxist yourself, you can be sure you will have your worldview brutally challenged by Zizek's deliberately provocative essays.
Docked one star for recycling quite a lot of his own journalism without attribution. Still, if you're only going to read one book this year by a bearded Slovenian Stalinist, then you should look no further!
on 16 March 2014
Slavoj Žižek comments on the world today – that is the year 2011: The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and also the backward steps presented by the increasing expressions of racism and the Norwegian massacre.
Žižek also debates how it is possible to fight the system without contributing to its selfreinforcement – a frequent reference being the TV series The Wire from which the following remark is taken:
‘We pretend to a war against narcotics, but in truth, we are simply brutalizing and dehumanizing an urban underclass we no longer need as a labor supply.’
As it is also stated by Zymunt Bauman in both ‘Globalization’ and ‘Collateral Damage’ this emphasizes the increasing class division and the realization that democracy presently has no tools that works:
'…politics is thus the name for the distance of the economy from itself'
- a distance still growing because the economic power is avoiding the influence of the democracies and thus undermining the very same democracies.
Žižek accuses Occupy Wall Street for being too much cheering and not providing new possibilities whereas the Spanish fraction – Los Indignados – demands honest and transparent politics. Which Žižek rejects as the problem never was lack of honest political representation.
The difficulties are somewhat demonstrated by the Greek solution:
'– testing ground for the imposition of a new socio-economic model with a universal claim: the depolitized technocratic model wherein bankers and other experts are allowed to squash democracy.'
Žižek is amazing when it comes to presenting a view of the political landscape and he has an eye for the real problems.
He does not always present the reader with solutions but he is always worth reading.
on 16 September 2012
Zizek does his usual dribble about Marx and Hegel, with Lacan making the odd appearance here and there. I get the impression Zizek has just googled Arab Spring and UK riots and financial crisis 2008. Then he has gone and copy and pasted a few facts, and then inserted a massive load of his own rubbish. This book could easily of been around 40 pages if you had taken out all the waffle.
If your looking for a detailed view at the causes of the current crisis and what the solution might be. Don't buy this book.
If you do wish to understand the current financial crisis and how capitalism is an unstable system read either:
The Enigma of Capital (newest version) by David Harvey
A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey
Good points about this book.
* I like his observation that the market has become a pagan god which is called upon by the news. The "market" often has various people that speak for it. Sometimes we just here "The market is down today" "the market is worried".
* More choice needs to be brought about in democracies. At the moment people can only choose between centre-right or centre-left parties. There is very little difference between most major political parties these days. Their policies are almost exactly the same.
* Police violence was essentially used to brush up the Occupy movements.
* Zizek mentions the journalist arrests in Turkey recently (which has received little mainstream media attention) **Especially as Turkey is often used as an ideal democratic/secular model that other Muslim countries should head towards.
* Where did the secular left in Arab countries go?
* Where did the secular left in once communist Afghanistan go?
* Good point about how some people have started to blame immigrants in Greece.
* Most people agree Greece will eventually default.
* US debt is out of control.
* Zizek fails to mention the widespread TAX avoidance in Greece.
* Zizek fails to mention US financial companies helped Greece hide their government budget figures.
* A whole chapter waffling on about The Wire. (TV Show)
As usual Zizek doesn't bother to even try and come up with a solution for the ills of capitalism. He can type all day about how is exploits workers, how it damages the environment etc. But never offers any solutions.
Do we scrap private property?
Do we let the state take over more companies?
Do we scrap money?
Do we limit people to one house max? (that way preventing investment bubbles in housing, which was the cause of the financial crisis in the first place)
Do we shut down all the stock markets?
Do we ban short-selling?
Do we ban certain forms of financial speculation?
Do we start to tax financial companies more? So hopefully more people may invest in factories/research and development of new technologies instead?
on 13 January 2013
As an undergraduate in the 90s I had a friend who was a full-blaze Marxist firebrand. Between glasses of red wine, strong coffee and Gauloises, she would declaim that the moment of revolutionary emancipation was upon us, knitting together harbingers of the end times of capitalist hegemony with soundbites from Lenin and Camus. It was heady, captivating rhetoric, and I was keen to impress her with my solidarity in the struggle.
Reading Zizek's book drew me back to those long afternoons, though also reminded me of why I was never entirely convinced by her arguments. It's not easy to pick out a theme from this disjointed, fragmentary and internally contradictory book, but one seems to be that we should be seeking common cause with all those fighting against the current world order, from the revolutionaries of Egypt to migrant workers to marching students on London streets.
This is a noble aspiration; I simply don't believe that it's a realistic one. Much like the 99% movement, what unites us is opposition, an entirely negative agenda. To claim we should unite requires us to elide the numerous conflicts of interest among us as if these are less important than the one class struggle (or to agree that it's all class struggle abstracted). When pressed, I doubt that many would concur. Can we really propose that liberal feminists in the West will unite with Islamic revolutionaries to overthrow our common class oppressor?
Zizek doesn't ignore this problem, though his expected outcome is avowedly Utopian. He celebrates those moments of opportunity when society comes together and everything seems possible. Times like the Prague spring, the aftermath of the 1980 Iranian revolution, the early days of protest in Tahrir Square. Rather than providing a manifesto, he assumes that a new and better society will be forged in the cauldrons of such debates. That it has failed to do so to date is only because each revolution was betrayed - they were not strong enough. Yet paradoxically he argues in the eighth chapter that the best way to protest might be... withdrawal from protest! He also earlier states that "It is the people who have the answers, they just do not know the questions to which they have (or rather are) the answer." This represents exactly the kind of faux-insight that he (correctly) lampoons earlier in the book; it's not deep, just obscure.
I remain a socialist, and the case against the present world order is as strong as ever. Sadly I am also more cynical, and with my head no longer clouded by youthful hormones it's too easy to see through this naive vision, even when wrapped in inspirational quotations and social theory. I want to believe that our common humanity will overcome all barriers between us; the evidence of history strongly suggests otherwise. I want to believe, as Zizek contends in the last chapter, that a reformed communism is the inevitable end-point of history, but I suspect that he has misidentified the light in the tunnel. I want to believe that 2011 marked a turning point in the relationship between people and capital, yet wonder whether we're just going round in circles.
That's not to say there aren't perspicacious insights here, which cause you to reconsider your view of events that have been well-trodden by the news media. Zizek is certainly a provocative and sometimes original thinker. There may yet be an argument that brings down the walls of capitalism and opens the gates to a more open, egalitarian society. This book isn't it.
on 16 January 2015
Journalists, activists, newsmen, radio celebrities, scholars, freelancers, even politicians have written books about the turbulent political events of 2011, the so-called Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Many of these books quickly have become dated; the events in the former are still unfolding and the meaning of the latter is still not ascertainable. However, it is possible to take a historical snapshot of these two events, make a philosophical analysis under Marxian/Socialist principles, and still come out with a cogent historical explanation of their meaning which far surpasses a surface treatment by, say, the Brookings Institution. Briefly, this is Slavoj Zizek’s interpretation of these epochal events.
Slavoj Zizek has been called “the most dangerous philosopher” in the West. He earned this moniker from the insight of his observations, the precision of his thought, and the incisiveness of his discourse. He receives this moniker from his analytic method, exhibited in this thin, but insightful, volume, of discussing philosophical or political issues through cultural icons. What other philosopher would engage into a discussion about the difference between reality and the real by analyzing The Wire? Who else would liken a good Bolshevik as having the Russian determination, American pragmatism and the innocent, malicious joy of Homer Simpson?
Zizek attempts to do two things with this book. On the one hand, he gives his perspective of the momentous events of 2011, the so-called Arab Spring, the London Urban Riots, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. On the other hand, but before discussing these events, he gives his assessment of this historical moment after the economic downturn of 2007 - 2008. Zizek explains any thought of the “down-trodden masses” being the lower worker strata of the economic chain, should be discarded. No, the proletariat of today are mid-level managerial worker staff, because they are the ones with the most at risk and the most to lose. Namely, at risk are the transportation, homes — especially their residences ---- retirement or 401 K accounts, and other assets particularly devastated from the economic dislocations.
In addition to being the most dangerous philosopher alive, Zizek possesses a decided Gonzo quality of interjecting his own perspectives on society to such an extent that he, and society, becomes the subject. For example, his discussion about the changing face of economic reality is centered around an analysis of the TV show, “Wire.” In the following chapter, when discussing the implications of Peter Sloterdijk’s philosophy on the Welfare State, Zizek also brings in correspondences from the new movie adaptation of Coriolanus from Ralph Fiennes and other Shakespearean plays. This is classic Zizek; as a good Structuralist he will comment on any feature of contemporary society that supports his argument.
This scattered analysis is emblematic of Zizek’s active curiosity and intellect. When applied to the momentous events of 2011, what he offers is not so much an in-depth analysis but observations of their import. The highlights of this discussion are the following:
For example, on the so-called Arab Spring he comments that in the wake of the Syrian civil war, whatever progress had been made is over. He maintains that Mousavi’s Green Revolution in Iran opened the floodgates at Tahrir Square. In reality, Egypt had an active labor movement for at least ten years before Tahrir Square.
He comments on the European financial crisis. He astutely observes that Greece is being made the guinea pig for how neoliberal policies may be applied to nations.
He comments on the London Urban Riots of 2011. He comments that these riots are symptomatic of random, spontaneous, acts of group violence which will become more common in the future.
He comments on the Occupy Wall Street movement. He criticizes the movement its apparent lack of focus or goal. He writes of 60-something aging counterculture speaker saying, “Program? What program? We have no program,” as an example of the superficial character of the movement. While this reviewer takes issue with this observation, as a speaker himself at Zuccotti Park, he should know wherefor he speaks.
These are only highlights. Of all the commentaries of 2011, the analysis of events offered by Zizek is by far the most probing and fascinating.