For a new world order
Questioning the strategies of the State
REVIEW BY SHELLEY WALIA
Whatever the marketing strategies by Verso may be in calling Slavoj Zizek the “Elvis of Cultural Theory” or the “The most dangerous philosopher in the West”, it succeeds in drawing attention to one of the most important cultural theorist of our times.I tend to find him rather obscure and at times painful to read but some of his works, for instance, Welcome to the Desert of the Real and the present book First as Tragedy, Then as Farce are razor-sharp and insightful in their response to the 9/11 tragedy and its aftermath culminating in the recent global economic fiasco.
The book is an interrogation of the strategies used by the state to meet the economic crisis, asking a forthright question: Is it legitimate to prop up the corporate sector in order to sustain economic development? The paradox of the argument brings the conservative Republicans in clash with the Socialists both of whom would want the deprived to be cared for, but decidedly there is a farcical element in the tendency of our society to first fund corporate culture in order that the benefits filter down to the deprived.
In spite of intense protests against the enclaves of the IMF and the World Bank, which propagated a false growth by ‘playing with fictional money', the warnings of a financial collapse went unheeded. This was a blatant act of ‘wilful ignorance.' Though the national leadership did try to rescue the situation by ‘a toxic mix of special interests, misguided economics and right-wing ideologies', little was done to understand what caused the crisis. Interestingly, Zizek argues that the old saying ‘Talk less and do something' was countered by ‘doing too much' by way of environmental degradation and interventions in both Nature and in the developing world. The lesson learnt is to sometimes do less and think and talk more so as to ‘ think things through'. Too much of ‘doing' can become an escape from talking about the problem.
The bail-out strategy, thus, is highly suspect as, at the end of the day, the big banks are protected against huge losses and at the same time are permitted to retain their profits. This is indeed, farcical.
Zizek points out that he is not engaged in any attack on communism. On the contrary, he is critical of the 20th century development of “Really Existing Socialism” that became visible in the erstwhile Soviet Union. For Zizek, the relevance of Marx's correction of Hegel's idea that history repeats itself twice is vital to the understanding of the 9/11 debacle and the 2008 economic meltdown: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great events and characters of world history occur, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” And to this statement, Hebert Marcuse added another note in his introduction to the edition of Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire: “sometime the repetition in the guise of a farce can be more terrifying than the original tragedy.”
First as Tragedy, Then as Farce; Slavoj Zizek, Verso, reprint by Navayana, Rs.200.
Fukuyama had used the early 19th century thesis of Hegel and earlier optimists to argue that there are two powerful forces at work in human history: he calls them ‘the logic of modern science' and the ‘ struggle for recognition'. Fukuyama's thesis rests on the premise that the historical process finally culminates in a universal capitalist and democratic order. He maintains that at the ‘end of history' social engineering is not enough to achieve further improvement.
But where does this ‘trust' come from especially in a society where you have a new global class with ‘an Indian passport, a castle in Scotland, a pied-a-terre in Manhattan and a private Caribbean island?' These global citizens live a private life of seclusion, ‘whether trekking in Patagonia or swimming in the translucent waters of their private islands.' The farce lies in the very idea of ‘ fear' that haunts the superrich who endeavour to keep themselves away from disease, violence and crime. Zizek gives the interesting example of a village near Shanghai which has been skilfully transformed into an English village that even has a Sainsbury store. In such an abode there is the absence of the other less ‘fortunate' classes. This is the ‘the two extremes of a new class division.'
The book is therefore, an excellent and engaging account of the contemporary social and economic predictions that the world faces as well as the need for a reinvention of the Left. History is here to stay, and no amount of the Hegelian idea of linear progress can bring about an understanding of the divergent ways in which history and the laws of economics move. A cultural struggle is needed at every level to fix the problem of tragedy and farce that face a world ridden by exploitation and exclusion.
(The Literary Review)
Lastupdate on : Fri, 12 Mar 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
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