Slavov Žižek, the famous Slovenian philosopher also known as the “Elvis of cultural theory” and “The Most Dangerous Philosopher of the West,” just published a brand new book this April titled “PANDEMIC!: COVID-19 Shakes the World” that may shake your worldview. In his erudite, yet lucid writing style that draws from Marx to Tarantino films, from Hegel to dirty jokes, Žižek makes the impassionate call for Communism once again as COVID-19 wrecks the world.
In 11 short chapters, topics range from a biblical exegesis of John 20:17 to an analysis of the pandemic through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief. Žižek explores how our ideological systems “caught [us] unprepared by the [COVID-19] catastrophe despite scientists warning us about it for years.”
In almost 150 pages, Žižek looks at the intricacies of capitalism through popular movies, books, current events, and Lacanian psychoanalysis to show it deeply alienates us from our work and ourselves as spiritual beings. Žižek shows that the act of writing is not only to describe and to interpret the world, but to change it.
In the novel, Žižek speaks with the rhetorical force of a Marx: “Things we were used to as part of our daily life will no longer be taken for granted, we will have to learn to live a much more fragile life with constant threats … in other words, if we understand ‘philosophy’ as the name for our basic orientation in life, we will have to experience a true philosophical revolution.”
“PANDEMIC!” is daring, especially since it was written in such a short amount of time. The fact that Žižek was able to produce numerous interesting analyses on the pandemic since global quarantine measures have been enacted shows the speed and power of his far-ranging thought.
However, the book’s speedy production has caused one of its biggest flaws: some of the chapters are too short and consist of re-published material from articles previously written by Žižek.
In particular, two chapters, both ripped from his own online articles, address a debate Žižek is currently having with Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben on the role of the state to implement quarantine. Albeit fascinating, these chapters could’ve been significantly edited as well as featured Agamben’s responses to make more sense to the general reader.
Nonetheless, “PANDEMIC!” is bound to be provocative to whoever reads it, whether you consider yourself a staunch leftist or an adamant conservative. Exemplifying Žižek’s revelry through joke and paradox, the back of the book promises to “uncover deeper meanings” of the pandemic, yet claims in the first chapter that the “epidemic … just happened and hides no deeper meaning.”
He compares the unity one feels with Christ when abandoned by God to “Julian Assange, isolated in his prison cell.” He doubts the “epidemic will make us wiser,” yet constantly suggests “the arrival of a form of Communism as a result of the coronavirus.”
Finally, he also says that he’s not trying to legitimize suffering, yet divinates from the virus a message from nature: “What you did to me, I am now doing to you.”
Whether or not the contradictions work in his favor to demonstrate the complexity of our modern times — which requires multiple political, psychoanalytical, and philosophical approaches to analyze — readers will not be disappointed by hearing Žižek’s revolutionary call for change.
“PANDEMIC!: COVID-19 Shakes the World” by Slavoj Žižek is available at OR Books (Paperback: $15/E-book: $8) and Amazon. All royalties will be donated to Médecins Sans Frontières.