The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? (Essential Zizek) Paperback – 1 Jan 2009
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Zizek leaves no social or cultural phenomenon untheorized, and is master of the counterintuitive observation.
This is a subtle argument ... Zizek applies it with a broad brush to both contemporary society and popular culture.
Righteously to battle the tsunami of postmodern spiritual mush, i[ek attempts a reconciliation between Marxism and Christianity, eccentrically (against Nietzsche) trying to recuperate St Paul for the radical Christian. Guardian
i[ek leaves no social or cultural phenomenon untheorized, and is master of the counterintuitive observation. The New Yorker
This is a subtle argument ... i[ek applies it with a broad brush to both contemporary society and popular culture. Boston Book Review"
"Righteously to battle the tsunami of postmodern spiritual mush, iek attempts a reconciliation between Marxism and Christianity, eccentrically (against Nietzsche) trying to recuperate St Paul for the radical Christian."--Guardian
About the Author
Slavoj Zizek is the maverick philosopher, author of over 30 books and acclaimed as the 'Elvis of cultural theory', is today's most controversial public intellectual.
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But apart from this plea for a holy alliance under the banner Christ, Marx and Freud (or Saint Paul, Lenin, and Lacan), this book says very little about the Christian legacy, or why it should be worth fighting for. If there is a dominant theme in this loosely connected collection of short essays, it is that our beliefs are underlined by dirty little secrets, that there is an obscene and disavowed underside to our publicly acknowledged values. Zizek's goal is to bring the skeleton out of the closet, and to confront us with our unsavory family history.
According to Zizek, Judaism and Islam depend on a violent founding event that they repress and try to hide away, but that returns to haunt them. For Islam, it has to do with the role of women: Ishmael, the progenitor of all Arabs and the first son of Abraham, is presented in Genesis as the son of the Egyptian slave Hagar whereas the latter doesn't appear in the Qur'an (this is no secret for Moslems, who simply contest the Genesis version). For Judaism, the secret is that Moses was not a Jew but an Egyptian and that he was murdered by his people (you have to trust Freud on that one). Christianism's founding event is that Jesus died on the cross, but that is nobody's secret.
Family secrets are not confined to religions: for Freud, the founding of a community involves the murder of the father and the ensuing guilt that brings the brothers together. Similarly, the subconscious of any individual is marked by a primal scene or fundamental fantasy that, according to Freud, finds its way into consciousness through dreams and symptoms. No matter that the murder of the primordial father and other Freudian myths didn't take place: "they are in a way more real than reality; they are 'true', although, of course, they didn't really take place". Like ghosts, they continue to haunt the living, dwelling in a mysterious region of nonexistent entities which nonetheless persist and continue to exert their efficacy. A shared lie is an incomparably more efficient bond for a group than the truth.
(Zizek sees this mechanism at work "even in some Lacanian communities where the group recognizes itself through common use of some jargonized expressions whose meaning is not clear to anyone, be it 'symbolic castration' or 'divided subject' - everyone refers to them, and what binds the group together is ultimately their very shared ignorance. The Master-Signifier which guarantees the community's consistency is a signifier whose signified is an enigma for the members themselves - nobody really knows what it means, but each of them somehow presuppose that others know.")
For Zizek, one becomes a full member of a community not simply by identifying with its explicit tradition, but only when one also assumes the spectral dimension that sustains this tradition. On should therefore not only pay attention to the symbolic law but also to its obscene underside, the 'virtual' narrative of the irredeemable excess of violence that establishes the very rule of law. To Proudhon's famous claim that property is theft, Zizek adds that law is crime: the rule of law is based on a crime, on a "violent gesture that brings about a regime which retroactively makes this gesture itself illegal/criminal."
The Fragile Absolute is published in a series that collects The Essential Zizek. It provides a good introduction to the author, although seasoned Zizek readers will find many repetitions with other books, and sometimes within the same book. Interested readers will find quotations of canonical texts, like the passage in Marx's Manifesto where "all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at least compelled to face with sober senses his real condition in life, and his relation with his kind."
The only thing I found interesting in this book is his insight on Diet Coke as objet petite a. It's interesting, but I have suspicions that it's not an entirely accurate reading of Lacan's objet petite a (or if it is, Zizek did not argue the point correctly/thoroughly).
If you haven't read him before, buy it. I would recommend something else, though, I preferred "Violence" over this one.
If you've read him and you're "meh" about him, save your money. If you want something different from him, buy "The Parallax View".
If you're a blowhard Zizek person.... well you probably bought this before even reading the review. And if you haven't you probably will anyways.
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