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Violence (Big Ideas) Paperback – 10 Jan 2008
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His diagnosis of this ideology is quite delightful, producing counter-intuitive analyses that overturn what passes for common sense. Zizek rages against the reduction of love to masturbatory self-interest, the multiple hypocrisies of the Israel/Palestine conflict and the supposed liberal philanthropy of Bill Gates and George Soros. There is a fascinating analysis of the scenes of torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which display, Zizek rightly contends, nothing more than the obscene underside of American culture. (Simon Critchley Independent)
[A]n exhilarating, unsettling read. (The Dubliner)
His prose is dense but never foggy, graced by a wealth of jokes and anecdotes. (Arena)
An essay by the 'Elvis of cultural theory' is wisely chosen to launch a handsome new series on 'Big Ideas'. Violence is nothing if not an exciting read; provocative ideas abound on every page. (Mark Vernon Philosophy magazine)
(I)t is invigorating to find a publisher tackling the great questions of our age... Zizek's thoughtfully provocative book examines violence... the reader is treated to an enjoyable and dazzling display of intellectual pyrotechnics. (Jewish Chronicle)
In a series of fascinating essays, he locates the ruthless pursuit of profit in the structure of language: one linguistic sign leads to the next, pushing desire beyond proper limits in a consumerist thirst for more. (TLS)
'The Elvis of cultural theory' confirms his status as the most exciting philosopher in recent history as he explores the nature of violence in typically controversial style. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
If you are a Zizek fan, this is too exciting a book to not have in your collection. If you are new to Zizek, this is a wonderful place to start. If you are not a fan of Zizek, you are missing out on some wonderful platforms for debate and philosophizing. This book is such a platform, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject matter.
It’s hard to know where to begin dissecting this book, because it’s hard to know, at least at times, what it is Žižek means. The good news is: he can write. Of that, there’s no question. He’s an extraordinary stylist who scribbles in fluid academic prose laced with thoughtful references to Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Lacan and many others. He compares real life to stylized life (i.e. movies), imparts jokes (occasionally lewd), and analyzes the hell out of everything. Initially, Žižek is a tad overwhelming. His intellectual steam-roller is going full-tilt and you don’t want to get caught in its path. Who’s Lacan, you wonder, as you struggle to recall Kant’s big ideas. And what does Žižek mean by “ideology” and “post-ideological”? Isn’t everything ideological? What’s he on about?
Žižek seems to have unique conceptualizations of lexical items that have been filtered through various philosophical lenses. Consequently, unless you’re a student or professor of philosophy his take on things will likely be far from your take on things. Also, rather than indentify with the right or left, he stands in the middle (or hovers above) criticizing entries on both sides of the political ledger. This is a perspective to which I can relate. Still, questions persist, as do problems.
Great quotes abound in this book as do good criticisms, for example, of the left (I say, as a leftist), but you can think of them yourself while stopping short of Žižek’s generalizations. For instance, Slavoj says the left loves the Other only in theory; leftists take their Other “decaffeinated;” the (idealized) Other is fine provided it lives far away, etc. Okay, that’s a more interesting view than the usual “cry-baby snowflake” criticisms we tend to see of liberals, and I think there is truth in what he’s saying, but what about Other-tolerant types who are expatriates? And what about Other-tolerant types who are expatriates and criticize their host-culture? Do all leftists espouse such empty rhetoric? Do liberals never believe in what they claim? Or are Žižek’s statements merely meant to provoke? The writer also declares that it’s only the right that can really reach out to the Other in times of crisis, like Nixon did with Mao. But I wonder how much Slavoj knows about Nixon’s encounter with Mao. And what about the liberal Pierre Trudeau befriending Fidel Castro? It’s not enough to make claims. One must support them.
Žižek also, in supremely erudite ways, preys on the obvious. For instance, he says the ethos of the Catholic Church is fundamentally horrible for creating a pattern of child sexual-abuse. Yes, but we already know that. When chasing down other topics, he can be vague, like when he says political correctness is stupid, wrong, and ineffective, e.g. it doesn’t prevent racism. Maybe, but what exactly does he mean by racism? The kind you keep bottled up inside? The kind you openly display so that someone feels threatened? And what does he mean by political correctness? Left-wing censorship? Pointing out to someone that they’re being horribly racist? Something else? It’s not clear. There are certainly kernels of validity in what he says about racism (my own belief is that bigotry is hardwired; we are always discriminating and this is evident in language, therefore overriding discrimination can be extremely difficult), but like with many of his arguments, you don’t come away from them thinking you’ve just had your views radically altered. Challenged, maybe, or possibly augmented, but probably not changed. Perhaps my favourite argument was that leftists can rail about revolution all they want, because deep down they know one will never come – but this view is borrowed from George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier.
Furthermore, I thought that Žižek was sometimes dealing with trivialities. For instance, he criticizes Martin Amis for talking about how touching it was that the final messages from passengers to their families aboard the 9/11 aircraft that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania were expressions of love. Here, the Slovenian philosopher asks why love should be elevated in times of distress or impending doom, as if to say the expressions – or Amis’s interpretation of them – were insincere or incorrect. Is this important? I mean, Amis meant well, no? At funerals, friends and family usually say nice things aware that the deceased was less than angelic, but does this really need saying? Don’t we already know?
I was also confused about the type of revolution the neither-left-nor-right Žižek wishes to see. How should this transformation happen? What should it try to achieve? A complete recalibration, he says? A radical transformation? Details would seem to be in order, but we don’t get any. Then he makes what appears to be a contradictory (or at least unusual) statement when he urges people to resist and subvert the system and its attendant violence by doing nothing. Just sit around and (quoting Lenin), “Learn, learn, learn.” Sorry, but I believe it was Žižek’s principal influence who said, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Indeed, and isn’t Žižek trying to change the world through his speaking and writing? His just-sit-and-read message approaches some sort of Eastern “I am the tree” mysticism. (And this brings me to his denigration of mockery, i.e. what some on the left wish to expunge, even though mockery is vital.) But getting back to the revolution, Žižek criticizes moderate leftists (like me), who generally accept the status quo, but want to see better health care, improved democracy, a fairer society, etc. The moderate view is a practical view and one that is less violent. Yes, the system is wrong and should be dismantled and remade, but this will never happen. Who would give up their bank account? Would Žižek?
In places, Violence is sufficiently intriguing and wonderfully challenging, but I still came away from it feeling nonplussed. I went from being bowled over to feeling underwhelmed. I might read Slavoj Žižek again, or I might not. Two stars for the mental exercise, and one for the amazing writing.
Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World and War Torn: Adventures in the Brave New Canada
If, like me, you wish you read a more in depth account of his ideas set out in a structural, systematic way, this book will leave you thoroughly disappointed.
The primary thesis of this book is that there are different kinds of violence- the obvious direct kind, but also the 'systematic' kind which allows the rich to engage in philanthropic activities while simultaneously exploiting the poor 'through Capitalism'.
Apart from making this distinction, Slavoj does almost nothing to argue for it. The prose slips between superficial jokes and obscurantist 'Hegelian' verbiage. The rest of the book talks about various fashionable topics, e.g. political correctness, in a similar manner.
The best part of this book is when Slavoj quotes a large passage of George Orwell. I would not recommend it to anyone, apart from as a lesson on how not to write.