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Book Review Citizen Voices Coronavirus

Slavoj Zizek On Capital Animism, Coronavirus & Other Viruses Of The Mind

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From sudden disappearance of toilet rolling paper in England to downplaying of covid in Iran and US, that is how China bolstered its grip over commonplace to openly display its authoritarian alter-ego. It brought into its fold the wrangling over refugees of Putagan and European moguls, Putin of Russia and Erdogan of Turkey. Pioneering a new idea China called for re-invention of communism that should help in remedial means thereby bringing international communities on table for the sake of Planet earth.

Slavoj Zizek is one of the most prolific and famed philosophers and cultural theorists in the world today. His recent book – Pandemic! Covid19 shakes the world – was published recently and is comprised of more than a hundred pages. It is a big feat for Zizek to jot down such a crisp book carrying a vast amount of chapters articulating different issues in time of Coronavirus in very short period of time. That said, the book rakes up the elements which are helpful in this crushing period as well as the elements which further discombobulate us – we – who are the host of this virus which is ruthlessly replicating and mutating.

“What is wrong with Capital animism, Coronavirus and Slavoj Zizek: viruses of the mind. our system that we were caught unprepared by the catastrophe despite scientists warning us about it for years?” Such are the questions which, all along the book, he tries to answer in his discernible style: Slavojian zig-zag style.

He starts the book with a verse, perhaps a Biblical ” Don’t touch me” which is about Jesus and Mary. But it says even you find me somewhere unexpectedly, don’t touch me. Moreover, logic of it was that that in such times when touching someone triggers problems than affection, it is better to only look at eyes wherein an entire world exists and try doing this when you meet until looming threat subsides.

Additionally, the entire book revovles around a thesis: ‘a new form of what was called communism’ is indispensable to avert or avoid this pandemic taking a tremendous toll on  lives. Each chapter brings to the fore different issues, ranging from eastern totalithumanarian states using reprehensible tools to stifle dissent, western barbarism, politics of refugees and then it amalgamates them into a singal whole: how to make sense of this sketchy gestalt and take the bull by the horns.

The book suggests it is high time to assess where we have reached and re-constitute a new form of communism that should equally benefit every nation. Zizek envisages this breed of communism: “This is where my notion of “Communism” comes in, not as an obscure dream but simply as a name for what is already going on (or at least perceived by many as a necessity), measures which are already being considered and even partially enforced. It’s not a vision of a bright future but more one of ”disaster Communism” as an antidote to disaster capitalism.” Not only should the state assume a much more active role in organizing the production of urgently needed things like masks, test kits and respirators, sequestering hotels and other resorts, but also in guaranteeing the minimum of survival of all new unemployed, and so on; doing all of this by abandoning market mechanisms.

Furthermore, there is an appreciable section in this book which maintains that this is only now when after a long period of disconnection from near and dear ones that one can revive relationships in more stable ways and perhaps expediently ponder upon how important they are to us. And that really is revealing.

Despite the vicious things, there at the end of tunnel, is light and light becomes more pleasing when you receive it after a long period of darkness.

Similarly, he adds a quote by Hegel: “The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity—an unending wealth of many representations, images, of which none belongs to him—or which are not present. One catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye.”

No coronavirus can take this from us.

Book takes up concerns like how the freedom of speech is being suppressed during the unrelenting panic of coronavirus and how countries with totalitarian regimes and those with liberal democracies are managing the calamity. He renders examples of China where in Hubei province – the province where on december 31, 2019, cases of pneumonia from an unknown cause later turned up to be a deleterious virus – the all-powerful and so-called communist state apparatus imposed tough and egregious curbs to shut it down to flatten the curve of deadly virus. He endorses journalist Verna Yu’s comment that “if China valued free speech, there would be no coronavirus crisis. He affirms his remarks by arguing: “We should follow Immanuel Kant here who wrote with regard to the laws of the state: “Obey, but think, maintain the freedom of thought!”.

But he also suggests: “Today we need more than ever what Kant called the “public use of reason.” It is clear that epidemics will return, combined with other ecological threats, from droughts to locusts, so hard decisions are to be made now. This is the point that those who claim this is just another epidemic with a relatively small number of dead don’t get: yes, it is just an epidemic, but now we see that warnings about such epidemics in the past were fully justified, and that there is no end to them.”

Furthermore, he argues this is the time to put aside empty rhetoric and sloganeerings such as ‘ America first’ and instead build global cooperation to help one another. In Israel, the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu “immediately offered help and coordination to the Palestinian authorities” to fight coronavirus because he was well aware that Coronavirus is a democratic virus: as Žižek puts it, “if one group is affected, the other will inevitably also suffer.” No one is impervious to this virus whether a scientist a pauper or a rich.

Besides, the crux of the book is – and he perspicuously puts that into words – about the dormant ideological-viruses such as racism, fake news, conspiracy theories so on and so forth. He scrupulously hints at how these ideological viruses have been impeding the course of fight against a pandemic and further increasing the tension thus creating much more devastating circumstances. Needless to say that, these ideological viruses exploded concomitantly with the Corona virus as we witnessed mass protests in wake of killing of a black man in US and mud-slinging as well as hate-mongering by those leading the so-called World order; particularly Trump calling Corona virus as Chinese virus. Quite markedly, he argues his point that there is a genuine need of a more egalitarian alternative for this system of rapacious capitalism which is proving to be insufficient to face natural disaster steadily. He visualises a society beyond nation-state, a society that comes into realization in the form of solidarity and global cooperation; efficient enough to live up to the immediate expectations of common people.

The questions he raises further add to the curiosity: “Where does data end and ideology begin?”

There is much more in it. Zizek uncovers deeper meaning and argues, “the virus hides no deeper meaning.” But, nonetheless, it seems a little short of facts and full of generalizations. Besides, it enlightens you where we were and where are we heading to, by adducing his points through the insightful quotations of Hegel and a number of other thinker.

Down the last portion there is also a substantial mention of Leo tolstoy – who in theory of art did write something about infections which flood our minds. These are transferred to us by a huge line of cultural genealogy and system of languages. Hence, given that, it becomes daunting to draw a line between viruses of the mind and the biological viruses that subsequently destroy the edifice of proverbial Human civilization. In these times of extreme uncertainty and giddiness; everything is hanging in the balance. As Zizek says: ” The real catastrophe is the status quo.” So, where the problem essentially lies is perhaps made so much complex that the very hope to bring a change has waned. Again what Zizek has thought could help us to cotton on this whole enigma: ” It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to the capitalism.”

All in all, he culminates his book with this passage: “Alenka Zupančič recently reread Maurice Blanchot’s text from the Cold War era about the scare of nuclear self-destruction of humanity. Blanchot shows how our desperate wish to survive does not imply the stance of “forget about changes, let’s just keep safe the existing state of things, let’s save our bare lives.” In fact the opposite is true: it is through our effort to save humanity from self-destruction that we are creating a new humanity. It is only through this mortal threat that we can envision a unified humanity.”

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Naya Daur