I'm not sure why, but for some reason I seem to want to compare Zizek with Noam Chomsky. I guess the reason is that both authors have brought me around to a new way of thinking that not many other authors have done so in the past. However I'm not sure if you can really compare the two, considering that Chomsky is a political theorist while Zizek is more of a psychoanalyst. Where Chomsky explores the reality behind the political sphere, Zizek seems to be more concerned with the reality behind the social sphere. Also, Zizek has the ability to make me laugh, whereas Chomsky is always so serious.
Anyway, I hadn't had the opportunity of reading any Zizek for a while, so while I was exploring a bookshop, with the intention of writing a Yelp review on the place (I like writing reviews on bookshops, though I try to resist the temptation since it means that I have to buy more books) I decided to grab a couple of his books that I could read on the train on the way to work. This happened to be one of them (though the one that I wanted unfortunately wasn't available – might have to get it online).
The thing with Zizek is that he can actually be quite profound in some of his writings, though he can also be really confusing. In fact it is quite odd because I will be reading a part of the book, scratching my head, trying to work out what he is trying he is saying (since he is using some really complex philosophical statements) when all of a sudden you I have this intense revelation.
Event is, well, a book about the concept of the Event. It is sort of like trying to define an abstract noun. Actually, as I was reading this I came to realise how difficult it is to define an abstract noun. I guess that is why a bunch of Greeks sat in a house 2500 years ago arguing about what love was (and not actually reaching a conclusion). That is the thing with abstract nouns – they really don't have a definition: define love, define happiness, define anger – and do it in a hundred words or less. Okay, you probably could say that happiness is when I am happy or anger is when I am angry, but that is little more than circular reasoning and never actually answers anything. The same goes with an event, though having thought about it for most of the day I have decided upon a better definition than 'something happens'. I would define an event as being an action or a state that causes an irreversible change. For instance, a junkie robs a service station – that is an event because it is an action of the junkie that changes the state of the victim, and the junkie him (or her) self. After committing that robbery there is no way that the Junkie can erase or remove that action – it has happened and it remains permanently in the mind of the victim and the junkie.
As with most of Zizek's books I ended up having to take quite a few notes as I was making my way through it, namely because he does have a habit of packing a huge amount of stuff into his writings. Hey, my review of Living in the End Times was so long that Goodreads couldn't contain it all in one post (and as of this writing I have yet to fix it up – when I get around to it I am going to try and condense it and move the full review onto my blog. Anyway I'll try not to do that with this post though, but rather I will discuss a couple of things that I got out of this book (and I am not going to refer to my notes on this review).
The Fantasy Reality
Like it or not, we here in the western World effectively live in a fantasy. This fantasy isn't just shaped by all of the rubbish that pours out of our television set, but it also is created by our interactions over the internet. For instance I found this awesome video called The Top Ten Ways Facebook Messes with our Head. That's the thing with Facebook – we create this idealised picture of ourself that isn't actually true. In fact what it does it is portrays a fantasy image of ourselves. Look, don't get me wrong, I find Facebook to be a very useful tool, however in other ways I actually hate it. Sure, it is another form of social media, but the thing with Facebook is that you are generally limited only to people that you know. Also, your friends can actually have an influence upon what you post, meaning that you will only ever post things that your friends will like, if only for fear of them unfriending you.
However, the other thing about this world of ours is that we have dreams. Due to the fact that we are actually really, really, wealthy here means that we can plan and do things. We set our aspirations high, and in many cases we don't care about what our actions might do to others. We walk into a department store and purchase clothes, without realising, or even caring about, how these clothes actually got to the store. We let ourselves become entranced by the advertising industry, believing that if we were to spend money on something then our lives would be better. In fact the self-help industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that simply peddles one slogan – believe in yourself. As a matter of fact I'm starting to get sick of people repeatedly posting such slogans onto Facebook (though I have to say that I really don't like unfriending people – I've have only done that a couple of times, and that is namely because they were scams).
The thing about events is that they have this tendency of piercing the fantasy veil that we put around ourselves, such as 9/11 or the Paris Attacks. When something horrific happens, it destroys the fantasy that we have created around ourselves, and in response we give up our freedoms bit by bit so that we may begin to rebuild that fantasy. We want this world to be a nice and pleasant place in which to live, and we simply do not want bad things to happen to us, because if they do, it undermines that false sense of security that we have created around ourselves.
The Fall of Humanity
I have to say that I don't necessarily agree with everything Zizek says, however he seems to have this very interesting understanding of the nature of Christianity. Mind you, I suspect that his interpretation is a much more post-modernist view than many Christians will be comfortable with, but in a number of cases I do believe he makes some valid points. However, the idea of creation being God wanting recognition doesn't work all that well with me because it is basically using human psychoanalysis to attempt to understand the actions of God – it doesn't work simply because God isn't human, God is God.
However, the interesting thing that Zizek points out is that there are two major events in the Bible: the Fall and the Redemption. The fall, in a way, is when that fantasy world comes crashing down and all we are left with is the reality of the situation in which we live. I believe that the idea of the fall in the Bible can give us a great understanding of how we exist within the fantasy realm that is Western Society. In some cases bad things happen, but we are able to reverse that situation to rebuild our fantasy – our house burns down and the insurance company pays for a new one and soon enough that event is a distant memory. By definition, the house burning down isn't actually an Event. An Event would be more like a divorce, or a car accident that leaves us permanently disabled. Our world has been drastically changed and there is no turning back. However while the car accident may be an Event, the divorce isn't necessarily the case – it is the result of a previous Event. It is the same way with the fall: the Event wasn't the expulsion from the garden, it was the result of the event when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. What they had done set about a chain of events that create an irreversible state.
The other Event that Zizek discusses is the redemption, or Christ's death on the cross. This was a conscious action of God that doesn't necessarily undo the effect of the fall – that was irreversible – but rather sets up a new chain of events that changes the nature of God's relationship to us. Many Christian pastors have spoken about how the concept of God being a judgemental God in the Old Testament and a loving God in the New Testament is wrong, but I not entirely sure if I agree with them any more. I'm sure we have all met somebody who simply hates mess, and hates it with a passion, to the point that they will automatically clean up anything that is out of place; or the person that will befriend somebody right up until the point they do something the don't like and they will never speak to them again. Well, that is sort of what God is like – he hates sin, and he hates rebellion, and whenever somebody rebels he wants to wipe that out. This is why the ancient cultures were always trying to pacify God with sacrifices because they knew that if they didn't then God would kill them. However, in comes Christ, God in the flesh. Christ is infinite as God is infinite, and by becoming the subject of all of God's wrath through his death on the Cross, he is able to be the focus – the magnet if you will – for all that anger, which is why in the New Testament you suddenly discover a loving God. Having dealt with his anger against humanity, he is now able to have a relationship with us, which he wasn't able to do before.
Zizek really makes me want to write an awful lot, but there is one last thing that I wish to talk about before I finish this off: the idea of the wound. Okay, many of us would love our wounds to be healed, and for the Events of our past to be undone, but the reality is that is not going to happen. For instance I simply cannot go back to my childhood and say to my friends, when we were in his computer shed, “let's create a Window's operating system” as opposed to “let's play adventure games” - the choices that I made, and the path that I took are set, and I have to live with them. In fact our wounds make us what we are. Sure, if my friends and I created a Windows operating system in our parent's back shed we might be billionaires, but I wouldn't be sitting here at 11:30 at night, writing about Zizek – I know what I would rather be doing (and no, it's not being a billionaire – I have no desire to have that much wealth).
Zizek loves to use modern pop culture in his examples, and I will do the same. In Star Trek V the crew of the Enterprise encounter this alien masquerading as God, and to show his power he goes and removes the crews' pain. However Kirk resists, saying that he would rather live with his pain because his pain is what makes him who he is – it defines him. Sure, the paraplegic probably would love to be able to walk like everybody else, but there is a thing about their condition that makes them who they are, and if they weren't in that situation, then maybe there would be things about them that would be different – maybe that influence that they had will not come about.
I mentioned at the beginning that Zizek was a psychoanalyst. It made me think about modern medicine and how we seem to want to treat mental disorders with drugs. It sort of reminds me of how the medieval doctors would treat diseases. They believed that disease was an imbalance of chemicals in the system, and would cure diseases by rebalancing the chemicals through methods such as bleeding. These days we consider it to be barbaric, but isn't that what we are doing with depression? To us depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, so we deal with it by giving the brain happy drugs. Okay, I'm no expert on depression, but sometimes I feel that we simply resort to drugs to solve all of our problems in the same way that medieval doctors resorted to leeches. My realisation, at the end of this book, was maybe that the solution to our wounds is not to try to heal them, but to learn to live with them, and to rejoice in that which we have become because of them.