Malcolm's Reviews > Living in the End Times

Living in the End Times by Slavoj Žižek
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Jan 31, 2012

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bookshelves: marxism-and-the-left, philosophy
Read from May 18 to June 02, 2013

For the last few years Žižek has been exploring a set of ideas, some related to and developing Badiou’s notion of the Idea of communism and others developing an analysis based around the enclosure of the commons of internal and external life, of ecological catastrophe and of exclusion. These ideas come together in this book that is, in itself, a continuation of a case being developed through Once is Tragedy and In Defence of Lost Causes, but in this case he takes a different turn exploring the ‘end of capitalism’ through the five stages of dying associated with the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As with so much of Žižek’s work, however, I am more engaged with the big picture and really like the frame he brings to bear here – the five stages and the four antagonisms in a single piece – than I am convinced by the specifics of his case.

My problem with the specifics lies in three aspects of the argument. First, I have trouble with the Lacanian aspect in that while I accept that these psychoanalytic approaches can be helpful, to generalise the motifs to a whole of social order seems to risk pushing psychoanalysis beyond its limits. That said, he is backing off the excesses of psychoanalysis we saw in his late 1990s and early 2000s work. Second, his prolific publications programme makes him hard to keep up with but more that he continually recycles and reiterates sections of his previous work while developing the case. This seems to me to be thinking out loud in public, which is a little indulgent – although I see here how the four antagonisms have developed through the previous two works to become more sophisticated here. That said, there is repetition in this book, with sections of the Afterword (added to the paperback) repeating almost word for word and using identical evidence as the main text. It is also hard to see exactly why the Afterword has been added. Third, Žižek’s pyrotechnics (in the blurb Sean O’Hagen is quoted as describing as “part philosophical tightrope, part performance-art marathon, part intellectual roller coaster ride”) are in need of a rigorous and ferocious editing.

All of this is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this (and I am not going to embark on a long critique, in part because I suspect that would take about 20,000 words) but that it could have been tighter and more focussed. Problematically, like so many of us in the world of academic analysis, the case is a much better analysis than it is a programme, other than the fairly trite point that even a universalist response to the crisis must be focussed on local conditions.

That said, there are parts of the analysis I really like – faith-based politics as a politics of anger at the crisis of capitalism is an unsettling and engaging case; post-modern politics as a sign of political depression, and the notion of a debate about political economy as bourgeois classes bargaining with the crisis/end of capitalism.

I’m pretty sure I’ll come back to parts of this, but its episodic character (the product of framing the case through Kübler-Ross’s work) means that it seems to lack overall coherence, and appears as if it is a working through of further ideas rather than being something like an end point – although the rapidity and fluidity of change associated with the crisis as well as collapse of grand-narratives means we’ll be working through ideas for quite some time.
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05/18/2013 marked as: currently-reading
06/02/2013 marked as: read

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