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Violence by Slavoj Žižek
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Violence (2008)

by Slavoj Žižek

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Series: Big Ideas/Small Books

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As I write this, Hamas is lobbing rockets into Israel and Israel is returning with air strikes and a ground offensive. As I write this the Ukranian government is trying desperately to reclaim sovereignty over the East which is increasingly controlled by pro-Russian militants. Somehow during this outbreak of violence, a passenger jet was shot down killing 298 passengers and crew. Violence is alive and well in our world.

For Žižek, this explosive "subjective" violence is only the violence we see on the surface. Below the subjective violence is objective violence, the violence inherent in language which influences our thoughts and attitudes. Also below subjective violence is systemic violence—the effect of living in our modern economic and political systems. Any understanding of what's happening in the world today must take into account all the causes of violence.

Žižek (as you might expect) has many profound things to say about the subject, complete with regular references to Marx, Hegel, and Lacan. He wanders through many diverse cultural and political landscapes. He tackles the problem in the Middle East with an accusing look at the Germans (who, in his mind, offered restitution to the Jews by giving away someone else's land). He looks at the uproar over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad. He delves into Alfred Hitchkcock's films. He even considers the shaming of prisoners in Abu Ghraib This is one of the joys of Žižek—you never know where he's going next.

My difficulty with this book was that Žižek almost always takes a contrarian view. After a while it feels like he plays devil's advocate just for the sake of being different—as if it was a game. He takes a radically counter-intuitive idea then tries to argue for it. His arguments are inventive and brilliant, but they're far from infallible. Take for example, the prisoner abuse photos that came from Abu Ghraib. For Žižek, this obscene act of shaming was more like an initiation ritual into American culture. It was a hazing.

Žižek's Violence is an intellectual, political, and cultural look at the violence that permeates our world. You can agree or disagree with him, but you can't stay neutral. ( )
  StephenBarkley | Jul 23, 2014 |
Nobody is subject to such diminishing returns as Zizek, in large part because by the time I've finished this review he'll have published two books. 'Violence' makes a great point about how difficult it is to write about violence: if you don't make a big show about how sympathetic you are to victims of (what we usually call) violence, you look like a psychopath; if you do put on that show, you're unlikely to say anything interesting. So, he argues, you have to write about violence obliquely. He proceeds to do this in six fairly uninteresting 'digressions.'

There's good analysis, nonetheless: he distinguishes subjective violence (roughly, when a known agent perpetuates a discrete act, like shooting someone), objective violence (roughly, injustice that can't be blamed on an individual agent; structural violence and so on), and symbolic violence, which I assume is linked to Lacan's 'symbolic', but that doesn't come up in the book after the introduction. That's probably for the best.

In the conclusion, Zizek suggests three lessons that can be taken from the book. First, the mere chastising of violence ('Mandela is a terrorist!') is pure ideology that ignores whatever a specific act of subjective violence is responding to (i.e., usually objective violence). Second, true violence disturbs the basic parameters of social life (= the symbolic?); this is almost impossible. Finally, the violence of an act is always contextual. For instance, in Saramago's 'Seeing,' the mere act of abstaining from the vote is 'violent', in the sense that it disturbs the way things have been going. This leads Zizek to claim that "doing nothing is the most violent thing to do."

But that is almost never true, no matter how you define violence. In between the analysis and the conclusion, there's a bunch of stuff you can get less painlessly from Zizek's other books. I can't be the only one for whom all the cultural analogies are getting both boring and intrusive. Can I? ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
More Zizekian goodness. Used the wrong terms for things sometimes ( translation problem ? ) Says ' superego ' when it should be ' id ' , etc. ( )
  BakuDreamer | Sep 7, 2013 |
Worth rereading. Much of this has likely been said elsewhere (and not only in Zizek's works--e.g., his point from The Parallax View that not poetry but prose is impossible after Auschwitz, pace Adorno--but also in places like Benjamin's 'Critique of Violence' or, for that matter, cracks like 'a language is a dialect w/ an army' or in the ancient anecdote about the captured pirate who declared that all that differentiated him from Julius Caesar (or Alexander the Great) was the number of victims and the amount of booty). Nonetheless, Žižek's violence is admirable as much for getting so much in one place as for its lucidity and evenhandedness (I'm thinking here especially of what he says about Israel). Chunks of it would work well in a classroom.

Some of the points to take away: subjective violence (the violence of individuals, say muggers and murderers) screens systemic violence; that the charity of great capitalists and their resignification of the exploitations of capitalism as horizontally networked systems of choice only strengthens capitalism (see Christopher Hitchens on Mother Teresa for more on this); symbolic violence (the violence of language itself and its fundamental effort to distinguish inside from outside) creates the 'neighbor,' makes the neighbor noxiously close, and allows us to relate the neighbor as an object of care; and, above all, his demand that we stop and think, that we stop acting hastily.

Can we critique him for not having a program, for not doing the impossible and describing Benjaminian 'Divine Violence,' and also for the annoyance of his bad Latin (it's not "homini sacer" but "homines sacra": there are few writers at once as admirable and as sloppy as Žižek)? Maybe. We can critique him much more strongly, however, for focusing his attention on the (apparently) noxious Peter Sloterdijk and not on Judith Butler's excellent "Critique, Coercion, and Sacred Life in Benjamin's 'Critique of Vilence" let alone her Precarious Life. ( )
  karl.steel | Apr 2, 2013 |
He has some key statements such as the qauntity of rage capital is not enough. Pure fucking genius.
( )
  wonderperson | Mar 31, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Slavoj Žižekprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dedéu, BernatForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Iribarren, ConcepcióTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valentić, TončiAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valentić, TončiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Postoji stara priča o radniku kojeg su sumnjičili za krađu: svake večeri kad bi napuštao tvornicu ispred sebe je gurao kolica koja su stražari pomno pretraživali ali nisu nalazili ništa sumnjivo jer su ona bila prazna, dok naposljetku nisu shvatili o čemu se radi: radnik je krao upravo sama kolica...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312427182, Paperback)

Philosopher, cultural critic, and agent provocateur Slavoj Žižek constructs a fascinating new framework to look at the forces of violence in our world.

Using history, philosophy, books, movies, Lacanian psychiatry, and jokes, Slavoj Žižek examines the ways we perceive and misperceive violence. Drawing from his unique cultural vision, Žižek brings new light to the Paris riots of 2005; he questions the permissiveness of violence in philanthropy; in daring terms, he reflects on the powerful image and determination of contemporary terrorists.

Violence, Žižek states, takes three forms--subjective (crime, terror), objective (racism, hate-speech, discrimination), and systemic (the catastrophic effects of economic and political systems)--and often one form of violence blunts our ability to see the others, raising complicated questions.

Does the advent of capitalism and, indeed, civilization cause more violence than it prevents? Is there violence in the simple idea of "the neighbour"? And could the appropriate form of action against violence today simply be to contemplate, to think?

Beginning with these and other equally contemplative questions, Žižek discusses the inherent violence of globalization, capitalism, fundamentalism, and language, in a work that will confirm his standing as one of our most erudite and incendiary modern thinkers.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:42 -0400)

"Using history, philosophy, books, movies, Lacanian psychiatry, and jokes, Slavoj Zizek examines the ways we perceive and misperceive violence. Drawing from his unique cultural vision, Zizek brings new light to the Paris riots of 2005; he questions the permissiveness of violence in philanthropy; and, in daring terms, he reflects on the powerful image and determination of contemporary terrorists." "Beginning with a series of contemplative questions, Zizek discusses the inherent violence of globalization, capitalism, fundamentalism, and language in a work that will confirm his standing as one of our most erudite and incendiary modern thinkers."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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