It is currently the London Literature Festival and as part of this, the Southbank Centre is staging a series of lectures and readings by eminent, contemporary figures in literature. On the bill last night was a talk by Slavoj Zizek centered around his latest book Living in the End Times, and I was lucky enough to be able to attend.
Slavoj delighted an audience -that seemed to me to consist of more than the aging, socialist academics I had suspected- with the mix of pop-culture references and deep analytical thinking that has become his trade mark. I might even call him a philosopher come stand-up but I couldn’t say how he would respond to the title.
The session consisted of a brief lecture regarding the inevitability of communism, and an interview conducted by an equally well respected philosopher A.C Grayling. During his lecture Slavoj made use first of the song Climb Every Mountain, sung by the Mother Superior from The Sound of Music to encourage Maria to follow he heart and love Baron VonTrapp, and the audience cheered as he showed up the hypocrisy of the songs sentiments. The same audience then sat quietly as he explained our grim fascination with fascism by means of the scene from Cabaret where the Hitler Youth sing inspirationally with a crowd in a beer hall. He said that our applause was mis-directed and that we ought to more strongly agree with sentiments of the second song as it is not intrinsically fascist but simply appropriated by fascism because it is beautiful.
During the interview A.C Grayling asked of Zizek “How can communism succeed? Look at the Soviet Union.” and Zizek’s answer lasted at least 40 minutes and took a variety of forms. In short though, he seemed to be talking not so much about an economic communism but instead a sort of cultural communism that is born of capitalism and the irony of postmodernism and consumerism. He claimed that history is no longer on the side of the academic because it encourages a relativist point of view, and as such socialism as it has existed will not come to fruition, but that there may be space for something new.
I’ve read some Zizek and not understood a lot of it, and to be honest last-night’s lecture didn’t clear many things up. However it is exciting to here someone talk about the future and if I can say anything about the philosophy of Slavoj Zizek it would be that it is in the future that he has made his home.