From coverage of the prequel, Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World

“An impressive feat.” —The Guardian

“Passages of beauty... a hire-wire juxtaposition of far-left political theory and pop culture, held together by the force of [Žižek’s] rumpled charm.” —BuzzFeed

“A stimulating polemic.” —The Times Higher Education Supplement

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About the Book

What do sex doll sales, locust swarms, and a wired-brain pig have to do with the coronavirus pandemic? Everything—according to that “Giant of Lubliana,” the inimitable Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

In this exhilarating sequel to his acclaimed Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World, Žižek delves into some of the more surprising dimensions of lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing—and the increasingly unruly opposition to them by “response fatigued” publics around the planet.

Here, Žižek examines the ripple effects on the food supply of harvest failures caused by labor shortages and the hyper-exploitation of the global class of care workers, without whose labor daily life would be impossible. Through such examples he pinpoints the inability of contemporary capitalism to effectively safeguard the public in times of crisis.

Writing with characteristic daring and zeal, Žižek ranges across critical theory, pop-culture, and psychoanalysis to reveal the troubling dynamics of knowledge and power emerging in these viral times.

202 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-68219-409-6 • E-book 978-1-68219-252-8

About the Author

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Slavoj Žižek is one of the most prolific and well-known philosophers and cultural theorists in the world today. His inventive, provocative body of work mixes Hegelian metaphysics, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and Marxist dialectic in order to challenge conventional wisdom and accepted verities on both the Left and the Right.

Read an Excerpt

Traditional Marxists distinguished between Communism proper and Socialism as its initial, lower stage (where money and state still exist and workers receive wages, etc.) In the Soviet Union, there was a debate in 1960 about how far they’d come in this regard, and the conclusion was that, although they were not yet in full Communism, neither were they still in the lower stage (Socialism); so they introduced a further distinction between the lower and higher stages of Socialism . . . Is not something similar occurring today with the Covid-19 pandemic? Until about a month ago, our media was full of warnings about a second, stronger viral wave predicted to arrive in the fall and winter. With numbers of infections now spiking again everywhere, some claim that this is not yet the second wave, but only an intensification of the ongoing first wave.

This classificatory confusion only confirms that the situation with Covid-19 is getting serious, with cases erupting again all around the world. The time has come for us to take seriously simple truths like the one recently announced by the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “The greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself. Rather, it’s the lack of leadership and solidarity at the global and national levels. We cannot defeat this pandemic as a divided world. The COVID-19 pandemic is a test of global solidarity and global leadership. The virus thrives on division, but is thwarted when we unite.” To take this truth seriously means that one should take into account not only international divisions, but also the class divisions within each country. As Philip Alston wrote in the Guardian: “The coronavirus has merely lifted the lid off the pre-existing pandemic of poverty. Covid-19 arrived in a world where poverty, extreme inequality and disregard for human life are thriving, and in which legal and economic policies are designed to create and sustain wealth for the powerful, but not end poverty.” Conclusion: we cannot contain the viral pandemic without also attacking the pandemic of poverty.

How to do this is, in principle, easy; we have the means and resources to restructure healthcare so that it serves the needs of the people in a time of crisis. However, to quote the last line of Brecht’s ‘In Praise of Communism’ from his play Mother: “Er ist das Einfache, das schwer zu machen ist. / It is the simple thing, that is so hard to do.” There are many obstacles that make it so hard to do, above all the global capitalist order, but I want to focus here on an ideological one – in the sense of the semi-conscious, even unconscious, stances, prejudices, and fantasies that regulate our lives also (and especially) in times of crisis. What is needed is a psychoanalytic theory of ideology.

In my work, I often refer to a series of Luis Buñuel’s films that are built around the same central motif of what Buñuel calls the “non-explainable impossibility of the fulfilment of a simple desire.” In L’Age d’Or, the couple wants to consummate their love but are again and again prevented by some stupid accident; in The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz, the hero wants to accomplish a simple murder, but all of his attempts fail; in The Exterminating Angel, after the conclusion of a party, a group of rich people cannot cross the threshold to leave the house; in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, three couples want to dine together but unexpected complications always prevent the accomplishment of this simple wish; and, finally, in That Obscure Object of Desire, we have the paradox of a woman who, through a series of tricks, continually postpones the final moment of reunion with her old lover . . . Our reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic is quite similar: we all somehow know what has to be done, but a strange fate prevents us from doing it.

With Covid-19 infections again on the rise, new restrictive measures are being announced, but this time accompanied by the implicit (and at times explicit) proviso that there will be no return to a full lockdown – public life will go on. This proviso echoes a spontaneous outcry from many people: “We cannot take it (full lockdown) again! We want normal life back!” Why? Was the lockdown – to turn around Benjamin’s “dialectics in a standstill” – a standstill without dialectics? Our social life is not at a standstill when we have to obey rules of isolation and quarantine – in moments of (what may appear to be) stillness, things are radically changing. The rejections of the lockdown are a rejection not of stillness but of change.

To ignore this means nothing less than a kind of collective psychosis. I hear in the outcries against lockdown an unexpected confirmation of Jacques Lacan’s claim that normality is a version of psychosis. To demand a return to normality today implies a psychotic foreclosure of the real of the virus – we go on acting as if the infections are not really taking place.

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