The Blurb On The Back:
In this exhilarating sequel to his acclaimed Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes The World, Slavoj Žižek delves into the surprising dimensions of lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing – as well as the increasingly unruly opposition to them by a “response-fatigued” public around the world.
Žižek examines the ripple effects on the food supply of harvest failures caused by labour shortages, and the hyper-exploitation of the global class of care workers, without whose labour daily life would be impossible. Through such examples he pinpoints the inability of contemporary capitalism to safeguard effectively the public in times of crisis.
Writing with characteristic daring and zeal, Žižek ranges across critical theory, pop culture, and psychoanalysis to reveal the troubling dynamics of knowledge and power emerging in these viral times.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
The philosopher, cultural critic and sociologist Slavoj Žižek is International Director for Humanities at Birkbeck College. This brave sequel, written during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic uncertainty in 2020 and published in January 2021, tries to make sense of what’s happening and what it means for the future. It’s a time capsule whose assumptions aren’t always correct but are nonetheless useful for future historians analysing this period.
The best way of reading this book is to think of it as a time capsule documenting a particular set of circumstances and Žižek’s thoughts about what is going on and what it potentially means for the future. As such you need to keep in mind that he was writing this at the end of June 2020 before both the development of the vaccine and roll out of the vaccine programmes worldwide and before the US Presidential election (albeit after Biden was chosen as the Democrat nominee).
Žižek is writing the book because he argues that the pandemic has brought about a capitalist crisis, bringing the economic and social conflicts that have been simmering since, essentially, the 2007/2008 financial crash and turned into a conflict of global visions of society and humanity’s collective stance on the value of human life.
He does make some interesting points. For example, he’s right in saying that the pandemic has accentuated existing class divisions, hitting hardest those at the bottom of the ladder and leading to more exploitation. However, since the vaccine rollout this has been superseded by anecdotal evidence of people in low paying jobs walking off the job because the dearth of workers is driving up wages, which is in turn hitting the hospitality industry in particular. I would be interested in seeing what Žižek’s thoughts are on this and whether he thinks it’s sustainable or a seismic change (e.g. I have seen comparisons to the changes to feudalism following the Black Death in the 14th century) or a momentary flash-in-the-pan along the lines of economic and financial reform after the 07/08 crash.
I was interested in his thoughts on the rise of radical protest, such as Black Lives Matter and the monument toppling movements in both the UK and US and how they need to be more radical. He also makes an interesting point about the democratic protests in Belarus and how the questions about what happens after you’ve toppled a dictator can stymy moves to topple him/her.
I was less interested in the sections considering Elon Musk’s brain implant stunts because it’s so far away from being implemented that it felt like science fiction rather than something current to the pandemic. I was also less interested in a chapter where Žižek uses dream theory and psychoanalysis on the impact on mental health, mainly because it’s quite academic and esoteric and I didn’t quite follow it.
Academic interludes aside this is a very readable book – Žižek uses a range of popular cultural references to make his points, which makes it easy to follow and the chapters are for the most part quite small and almost chatty (albeit in a philosophical way).
Given where we currently are with the pandemic and the rise of the omicron variant at the time of writing this review, I found this a weirdly comforting read because it shows how far we’ve come, where the concerns still remain, where we’ve moved forward and where we have more hope. I don’t know if Žižek plans to write more but I would be interested in reading them and I certainly think that these will be useful books for future scholars looking back on these times and trying to assess them.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.