Book club: Living in the End Times

Finbarr Bermingham is fascinated, and exasperated, by the celebrated Slovenian philosopher

Living in the End Times

Slavoj �i�ek

Verso, 2011

Earlier this year, newspapers across the world reported an unlikely romantic link between Slavoj Žižek, the 62-year-old Slovenian philosopher and Marxist theorist, and Lady Gaga, the 25-year-old American pop star and provocateur. The story was, of course, a hoax, but it was an eyebrow-raising indicator of Žižek's place in the world in 2011. His theories are based on insightful, innovative and often controversial interpretation of popular culture. He's been heralded as the world's leading leftist thinker, and, as a result, been elevated to near celebrity status. Living in the End Times has done little to dampen the enthusiasm. It calls for a new global economic and political system, words that haven't been lost amid the current zeitgeist of civil unrest.

Living in the End Times is a lengthy, consuming diatribe, railing against the primary source of his discontent: capitalism. Žižek's view is that the global system of governance is running out of time. Capitalism, he thinks, is dying and he has identified global warming, economic inequality, exponential biogenetic development and widening schisms between social groups as the harbingers of its demise. He argues that since the majority of the West has only ever lived in capitalist times, its implosion feels apocalyptic: economic Armageddon is upon us.

Žižek's arguments, though, are fascinating. He displays an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema and a razor sharp ability to anchor social and political sentiment to even the most mainstream and (on the face of it) inoffensive movies. He draws parallels between the Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music and Josef Fritzl. Avatar is, he asserts, a manifestation of Hollywood Marxism. He says the children's movie Kung Fu Panda is �ideology at its embarrassing purest", finding within it the intricacies of Lancanian theory. It's inimitable moments of insight such as these that make Žižek the indispensable voice of a generation. But be warned: Living in the End Times isn't light, nor easy and should be tackled only by those open to a sustained intellectual challenge.