Zižek’s proposal here is absolutely straightforward: that the War on Terror (the ‘tragedy’ of his title) and the subsequentfinancial crisis and bank bailouts (the ‘farce’) cannot be addressed adequately by the liberalism which nominates itself as the last remaining well-intentioned politics after the Cold War. Reading the present-day left’s conspicuous dilemmas as an outcome of its neutralisation by and within the structures of a (superficially) ‘soft’ capitalism, he insists forcefully that, irrespective of the last decade’s exposure of the shoddy utopianism of End of History narratives, ‘most people today are [still] Fukuyamean’.
This idea is at least implicit in all of Žižek’s recent writing, but the real strength of First As Tragedy, Then As Farce is to present the problem in a fashion that uncovers the extent of disinclined complicity in this apparently belated Fukuyamism. Obvious targets are hung out to dry, but the polemic effects a parallel criticism of the way in which the moderate left’s making of Bush, Rumsfeld et al into straw men has deflected attention away from the unjustness of the system itself. It isn’t so much the case, Žižek insists, that ‘bad’ politicians embody an isolable malfunction on the part of liberal democracy than that they are symptomatic of its systemic putridity. Critique levelled towards the individual politician, party, avaricious banker, overpaid sportsperson, or undeserving celebrity functions only as carnival in the Roman sense, namely in that it represents an impermanent ‘reordering’ or safety-valve mechanism which is structurally indispensable to the maintenance of the social formation in question.”
Read Joe Kennedy’s complete review for 3: AM here.