Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Slavoj Žižek's "Event": Book Review

Slavoj Žižek proves as quirky and unpredictable in his references and leaps between them as ever. I started this with caution, warmed up as the pace quickened, and became excited. Was this the best out of the admittedly few of his dozens of books I'd read? For a few chapters, it seemed so. Despite the pace slackening halfway as Lacan and then Hegel returned as usual, when the tone grew occluded, diffusing the burst of intellectual fireworks, "Event: A Philosophical Journey Through a Concept" does entertain and educate. It makes sudden connections between exponents as diverse as Rosa Luxemburg and Psy of "Gangnam Style" fame. He cites from the recent films "Melancholia" and "An Act of Killing" adroitly, while Tahrir Square and Greek anti-austerity protests (if not the letdown of Occupy directly, an odd omission given past concern) show topicality.

Žižek repeats his ability to blend, if fleetingly or faintly (which also to me seems his weakness--you want him to pause and ponder more as he rushes from one film snippet or one detective novel and then on to a joke about Jesus or an expounded consideration of Descartes, the Big Bang, Hitchcock, or Lenin (in his love letters), the trendy signifiers of our own era as well as the intricacies of Buddhist debate, quantum physics, and Plato. This Slovenian critic aims also to somehow chide us for not rising up the past few years against capitalist oppression, but he eludes the question of how many eggs were broken by the failed communist suppression even if he repeats a Romanian's right question, wondering about an omelette. Žižek is toying with us here.

It remains a muddle in the telling, but certain parts will pop up to draw you in. This short book is marketed as ideal for a commute, so it's aimed at the curious reader with a few hours to spend on big ideas, told with far more verve than usual by a philosopher, and with certainly less obfuscation. What this adds up to, as with other books I've read by Žižek, appears less tangible. Therefore, appending the overview may be an efficient way to ask if this one's for you. Imagine it as a subway commute: 

"The first stop will be a change or disintegration of the frame through which reality appears to us; the second, a religious Fall. This is followed by the breaking of symmetry; Buddhist Enlightenment; an encounter with Truth that shatters our ordinary life; the experience of the self as a purely evental occurrence; the immanence of illusion to truth which makes truth itself evental; a trauma which destabilizes the symbolic order we dwell in; the rise of a new ‘Master-Signifier’, a signifier which structures an entire field of meaning; the experience of the pure flow of a (non)sense; a radical political rupture; and the undoing of an evental achievement. The journey will be bumpy but exciting, and much will be explained along the way." The results, as on a train, jostle you and may jolt.

What I found in "The Year of Dreaming Dangerously" by Slavoj Žižek applies again: "All this winds up chaotic, willfully so or due to the author's expectation that his diligent and combative readers do the heavy lifting to enact change, beyond that of intellectual suggestions or ideological explorations."

I continue to return to Žižek, but his evasive response as a Marxian (probably with a parenthetical qualifying prefix to distance himself knowingly from his formative exposure) critic of the depredations wrought by the other world-dominating economic system alongside those of our capitalist hegemony now endured and insufficiently resisted left me once more perplexed. We all witness declines of our political, educational, ecological, and economic realms, but what next? He reminds me of an authority figure (therapist, guru, mentor, coach) who refuses to suggest a solution.

This learned strategy of sages is an old one, of course, among philosophers, but one seeks guidance. It's another of his magical if demystifying history tours, a mad dash and a headlong rush through lofty concepts. Žižek's knack remains his clever eye for the cinematic moment or the literary aperçu to toss into Cartesian this or Chestertonian that. His characteristic tick keeps us off-guard about his sly, arch, avant-garde insistence that we can never get this task of running our lives or our world right, or left.
(To be published 8-26-14 in the US) P.S. See Amazon US 10-14 12 and my blog for my reviews of "The Year of Dreaming Dangerously."

No comments: