The latest book by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek is a short, witty and insightful meditation on the state of Western society in light of the global pandemic.
Žižek employs his traditional roster of intellectual influences – Lacan, Marx and Hegel – to discuss various aspects of the political economy of life during lockdown. In bitesize chapters, the philosopher ruminates on the forms of tiredness our new social restrictions levy on workers, the efficiency and oppressiveness of China, the threat that ‘Putogan’ (Putin and Erdogan) poses to the structural integrity of Europe, and more widely, on the emergence of new socio-economic mechanisms that resemble, in their function if not in the rationale for their implementation, the features of Communism.
It is often remarked that Žižek is a victim of his own prolific catalogue – he repeats the same stories, tells the same jokes, observes the same analogies between high- and low-culture, etc. Pandemic is a fresh piece of writing, notably free of these tired Žižekisms. It is also characterised by an unlikely optimism. Throughout his career Žižek has demonstrated an acute criticality of ideology, insofar as ideology produces consequences that threaten the material conditions of the demos. Now we are witness to new material conditions, thinks Žižek, fostered by government action, international co-operation, and the de-escalation of consumerism. Whatever may happen with the coronavirus, he is struck by the thought that the seeds of our political salvation may have suddenly been planted.
Words: Tom Lordan