The political philosopher John Gray, who warned in the New Statesman “Western progressives nostalgic for the Soviet Union shouldn’t get too excited by the global financial crisis”, reviews Slavoj Žižek‘s latest First as Tragedy, Then as Farce in the Independent today alongside Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri’s Commonwealth, the final book in the trilogy with Empire (2000) and Multitude (2004):
No longer confined to dingy meetings of ageing Trotskyites or the longueurs of the academic seminar, communism has been reinvented as a kind of intellectual cabaret act. The 20th century’s biggest mistake is being marketed as high-end entertainment, with a modish neo-Bolshevism promising the jaded consumer an exciting experience of forbidden ideas…
A Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalytical theorist and film critic, Zizek has become a gadfly of the left establishment, a prolific provocateur whose principal aim seems to be to confound his tender-minded readers. His target throughout this book is not the right but the soft, democratic, meliorist left, which imagines that the egalitarian goals of communism can be realised by non-repressive, liberal means.
Zizek is savagely scornful of this view, writing sharply that “One of the mantras of the postmodern left has been that we should finally leave behind the ‘Jacobin-Leninist paradigm’ of centralised dictatorial power. But perhaps the time has now come to turn this mantra around… Now, more than ever, one should insist on the ‘eternal Idea of Communism'”
Read the full review here.
Verso publishes Political Descartes: Reason, Ideology and the Bourgeois Project and Books for Burning: Between Civil War and Democracy in 1970s Italy by Negri. Hardt & Negri are contributers to Debating Empire.
The new film by Astra Taylor, the director of Zizek!, opens tonight. Examined Life features Žižek and Judith Butler, amongst other philosophers. The Times says “Examined Life unfolds like a companion piece to Richard Linklater’s 2001 cartoon Waking Life.”