Tuesday, 15 June 2010

first as tragedy, then as farce [slavoj zizek]

It's been a few weeks since I finished Zizek's entertaining book on the plane. Zizek is now part of the zeitgeist, gradually insinuating himself into a mainstream discourse, overlapping the kind of territory occupied by Alain De Botton, Chomsky, Schama, Dawkins and their ilk. Philosophical discourse for the masses.

Which, given his professed Communism, seems appropriate. Even if 'the masses' actually means 'the chattering classes'. One wonders how long before he has his own TV show. On the basis of his book, the sooner the better. He makes his case for the reinvention of Communism, a kind of post-Marxist Communism , succinctly. In the process he uses a host of contemporary references (including demonstrating a penchant for the more portentously tacky side of Hollywood), in a text which ranges from the Haitian slave revolt to Berlusconi, from Obama's Cairo speech on religious tolerance to Starbucks, from Hegel to Foucault. All via Marx himself.

It would be presumptuous of me to try and summarise his arguments, and I suspect they may be amplified in greater detail in other tomes, but as an introduction to his work, First as Tragedy... acts as an inspirational text. Anyone who has an interest in the fate of humankind in the forthcoming century would probably find it worth their while to read. As to what we do with the information, how we disrupt ourselves out of our comfortable mass socio-political hibernation in the Chocolate Factory of World Cups, iPads and modernity's other trappings - that's another issue. Just as the actual likelihood of the return of (genuine) Communism cannot be confirmed by the reading of this book. Nevertheless, Zizek seems to know whether the toast is going to land butter side down or not, and in his confident prose there emerges a kind of optimism for another way. Not the first, nor the second nor the third, but a way out of the mess we all secretly (and increasingly) suspect we've made of things, in the quest to make life 'better'.

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