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VIOLENCE by Slavoj Žižek Kirkus Star


Six Sideways Reflections

by Slavoj Žižek

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-312-42718-4
Publisher: Picador

The Slovene philosopher (In Defense of Lost Causes, 2008, etc.) defines the many facets of violence in the postmodern era.

He argues that violence can be categorized in three forms: subjective (crime, terror), objective (racism, discrimination) and systemic (the catastrophic effects of political and economic systems). Too often, the author believes, subjective and objective violence distract discussion from the systemic. He offers as an example a wealthy entrepreneur whose fortune was the result of ruthless capitalist pursuit, perhaps marked by outsourcing production to a developing country. When this entrepreneur enjoys a favorable public reputation for donating annually to charities benefiting these same impoverished nations, avers the author, it proves that capitalism relies on charity to sustain its social feasibility. This kind of “philanthropy” masks economic exploitation, he posits; systemic violence here is cloaked by the gesture of writing a check. “The same structure—the thing itself is the remedy against the threat it poses—is widely visible in today’s ideological landscape,” the author writes. He gives examples from Abu Ghraib to fundamentalist Islam to the Catholic Church to make his point: When high authority is both the enforcing entity and the criminal, systemic violence is enabled and pervasive. The author also argues that language is violently misused when a vague term like intolerance replaces specific, factual words such as inequality, exploitation or injustice. He ponders whether the concept of free will is paradoxical, or even oppressive, citing examples from social politeness to suicide bombers. It seems no subject escapes his omnivorous dissection, and all somehow support his central theme: The violence most discussed is not the most damaging to humankind, but simply the most obvious. The author’s familiar kaleidoscope of cultural allusions seems almost anachronistic within his dense intellectual prose and Lacanian-Hegelian-Freudian dialectic, yet this may well be the philosophy of the future.

Compelling and provocative philosophical work.