A recent Radio 3 “Free Thinking” interview described Slavoj Žižek’s latest work as a “call to arms to imagine a new Europe”. If you read it expecting a manifesto for change, you will be disappointed.
It contains the kind of thought-provoking ideas to be expected of an eminent professor. Unfortunately, they are buried in a dislocated and unapproachable text. Just when you think that you are beginning to follow Žižek’s train of thought, he veers off on a seemingly unrelated tangent — often interesting but a tangent nonetheless. The Yorkshire idiom, “It’s all over t’shop”, describes this book well.
I had hoped that the text would focus on the current movement of migrants and refugees, and offer an academic analysis. To some extent it does, but many chapters are illustrated by lengthy literary and cinematic references which make it difficult to separate the author’s thoughts from those he cites and/or their characters.
He identifies global capitalism and European imperialism as key factors in the current mass movements of people to Europe. For Žižek the plight of African refugees is linked to food production, to global capitalism’s intervention in the markets of Africa and to the extraction of minerals. He calls for an end to Western intervention in the production of crops for export and the mining of high-tech minerals, but he offers no alternative.
The concluding paragraph of almost every chapter expresses politics and arguments not evident in the chapter, which is a shame as they show that Žižek has something pertinent to say.
Attacking the “Politically Correct Liberal Left” for downplaying the sexual assaults in Cologne at New Year, he uses a bizarre example of the Parisian Great Cat Massacre in 1730 to place them in a line of organised carnivalesque events deliberately designed to shock and disturb middle class decency.
In the final chapter he lays down his suggestions for the way in which Europe can deal with the movements of people across and within its borders. Coordination, regulation and the use of the organisational skills of the military machine are his suggestions. He firmly places the cause in the hands of global capitalism, and asserts that if transformation doesn’t come soon, people of countries such as Greece will suffer the same fate as Africa or Syria.
How is this change going to come about? The book concludes, “We are the ones we have been waiting for”, not as individuals but as part of a movement for global solidarity.