Provoca­tive phi­los­o­phy of vi­o­lence

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

AS BOOK­SHOP shelves groan un­der the weight of ghost-writ­ten bi­ogra­phies, mis­ery mem­oirs and celebrity recipes, it is in­vig­o­rat­ing to find a pub­lisher tack­ling the great ques­tions of our age. Slavoj Zizek’s latest work Vi­o­lence (£12.99) is part of Profile’s Big Ideas se­ries. Other vol­umes tackle democ­racy, iden­tity and bod­ies.

Zizek’s thought­fully provoca­tive book ex­am­ines vi­o­lence in a se­ries of es­says that ranges from the tin­der-box sub­urbs of Paris, to Abu Ghraib prison, Stalin’s purges, and the Holo­caust.

Zizek, who teaches at Birk­beck Col­lege, Lon­don Univer­sity, is a Slove­nian Marx­ist philoso­pher and cul­tural critic, and the au­thor of more than 40 books. His per­spec­tive is clearly shaped by Marx­ist analy­ses of cap­i­tal, cap­i­tal­ism and po­lit­i­cal power, but his work is any­thing but dog­matic. Un­like so much of what passes for left­ist think­ing to­day, there is no pre-de­ter­mined pos­tur­ing. In­stead, the reader is treated to an en­joy­able and daz­zling dis­play of in­tel­lec­tual py­rotech­nics.

Zizek is no­tably sharp on the “new lib­eral com­mu­nists” — en­trepreneurs like Ge­orge Soros and Bill Gates and their “court philoso­phers” such as the Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Thomas Fried­man, who seek nir­vana in a class­less techno-utopia, where ev­ery­one is free to make money from a de­cen­tralised glob­al­i­sa­tion, while ig­nor­ing the so­cial costs. “Fear Thy Neigh­bour As Thy­self,” warns Zizek, al­though cu­ri­ously he has lit­tle to say about the wars in for­mer Yu­goslavia, where neigh­bours slaugh­tered each other with gusto.

As for the left’s favourite con­flict, be­tween Is­rael and Pales­tine, Zizek ar­gues that the Arab world should “stop putting all the blame on Jews as if the Zion­ist ex­pan­sion in Pales­tine is the ori­gin and sym­bolic stand-in for all Arab mis­for­tunes”. The Arab world, he ar­gues, should start by con­fronting regimes such as rule Syria and Saudi Ara­bia, which use Is­rael’s oc­cu­pa­tion to le­git­imise them­selves. In­deed. ADAM LEBOR

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