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First As Tragedy, Then As Farce by Slavoj Zizek

First As Tragedy, Then As Farce by Slavoj Zizek

"A typically trenchant account of the farce of capitalism and future of communism,"

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In this bravura analysis of the current global crisis following on from his bestselling Welcome to the Desert of the Real, Slavoj Zizek argues that the liberal idea of the end of history, declared by Francis Fukuyama during the 1990s, has had to die twice. After the collapse of the liberal-democratic political utopia, on the morning of 9/11, came the collapse of the economic utopia of global market capitalism at the end of 2008. Marx argued that history repeats itselfoccurring first as tragedy, the second time as farceand iek, following Herbert Marcuse, notes here that the repetition as farce can be even more terrifying than the original tragedy. The financial meltdown signals that the fantasy of globalization is over and as millions are put out of work it has become impossible to ignore the irrationality of global capitalism. Just a few months before the crash, the worlds priorities seemed to be global warming, AIDS, and access to medicine, food and water tasks labelled as urgent, but with any real action repeatedly postponed. Now, after the financial implosion, the urgent need to act seems to have become unconditionalwith the result that undreamt of quantities of cash were immediately found and then poured into the financial sector without any regard for the old priorities. Do we need further proof, iek asks, that Capital is the Real of our lives: the Real whose demands are more absolute than even the most pressing problems of our natural and social world?

 

There was once a time that the release of a new book from the 'Giant of Ljubliana' would be awaited with baited breath. It is perhaps a sign of Zizek's entry into the intellectual mainstream that his work is now regarded more as a literary window dressing than a genuine 'event'. I am pleased to say that this work is (or at least should be) a return to his provocative and relevant best.

For those who are unfamiliar with Zizek's thought, this is perhaps as good a place to enter his oeuvre as anywhere else. It gives a strong and readable introduction to his rhizomatic style of writing (and thought) and gives ample (although perhaps less sustained than in some of his other works) example of the inter-textuality he employs. It is also consistent with the central theses of his thought. In this, he is still as much of an heir to Hegel and Kant as he is Lacan and takes care to situate ideology as the central problem of 21st Century politics. As ever, Zizek writes about this in a way which assumes no prior knowledge, although encouraging and helping the reader to delve deeper into the folds of Lacanian and Marxian thought.

Those seasoned readers of Zizek who expect a rehash of his previous ideas, augmented with little more than new cultural data may be somewhat surprised. Where Zizek's recent works tended towards writing about new cultural phenomena in the context of his political project, this book is a fairly radical step in his political project, provoked by the best stimulant of philosophical creativity; events. Of particular interest will be the second part of the book, which acts as something of a manifesto for post-Fukuyaman communism, exaggerating the break with liberal universalism that he makes with his earlier work.

A political scientist by training, I was particularly struck by the articulate and provocative manner in which he argues for communism as the universality in which radical political action must participate. This forms a neat summary of a key area of discussion in contemporary critical theory and poststructuralist approaches to politics, productively intersecting recent debates about the nature of freedom, non-representational theories of politics and the relationship between molecular and molar structures of political potential (to name but three).

Some readers may be disappointed by the lack of substantive hypotheses contained within this book. It is however, much better to think of this book as an act of practical philosophy, acting in the liminal space between writing and production. If the purpose of this book is to provoke the reader, to provoke and produce a new revolutionary subject, then the book has a potential of success.

For some, 5 stars may be a little too much praise. The book itself is maybe a little too patchy to justify this score; it is certainly not 5-star material throughout. However, I have decided to give the book a score on the basis of its glorious highs, at the expense ignore some of its mediocre lows. After all, it is these crescendos of ideas that the reader will remember long after they have put down the book. I would recommend it to anyone interested in Zizek or investigating political responses to the recent financial crises, in an academic context or otherwise. This is a timely return to form, provoked largely by the philosophical urgency of events. As Zizek himself has said, when asked the key to radical politics during a financial crisis; it's the political economy stupid!

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