Living in the End Times

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Verso, Apr 18, 2011 - Philosophy
1 Review

Zizek analyzes the end of the world at the hands of the “four riders of the apocalypse.”

The underlying premise of the book is a simple one: the global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero-point. Its four riders of the apocalypse are the ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, the imbalances within the system itself (problems with intellectual property, the forthcoming struggle for raw materials, food and water), and the explosions of social divisions and exclusions.

Society’s first reaction is ideological denial, then explosions of anger at the injustices of the new world order, attempts at bargaining, and when this fails, depression and withdrawal set in. Finally, after passing through this zero-point we no longer perceive it as a threat, but as the chance for a new beginning. or, as Mao Zedong might have put it, “There is great disorder under heaven, the situation is excellent.”

Žižek traces out in detail these five stances, makes a plea for a return to the Marxian critique of political economy, and sniffs out the first signs of a budding communist culture in all its diverse forms—in utopias that range from Kafka’s community of mice to the collective of freak outcasts in the TV series Heroes.

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I've read some difficult books in my time.I even managed to read Hegel's 'Phenomenology of Spirit' after about five years of reading around this text, it was like swimming through treacle but I managed it. I also managed Hegel's Logic,however I found 'Living in The End of Times' incomprehensible and unintelligable.I just couldn't understand what Zizek was saying.I have read and understood most of Marx's major works (I haven't read the Grundrisse) and have similarly read books about Lacan (I once tried to read Lacan's Ecrit but couldn't understand large sections of it) but I could not make head nor tail out of this book.I couln't understand what he was describing when he gave examples and observations about concepts taken from Hegel,Marx and Lacan that I thought I understood i.e. his example of Hegel's 'concrete universal' was so completely foreign to anything I read elsewhere I really couldn't understand what he meant.I am puzzled how other reviewers have been able to understand this work so well when I coudn't, and I suspect that at least some of them are confusing obscurity with profundity.
In the introduction to the book Zizek says that he, like Sartre, feels largely misunderstood ,although I don't doubt he is misunderstood I believe it is for entirely different reasons. I have read Sartre's 'Being and Nohingness' also his 'Critique of Dialectical Reason'.They were difficult works but I found they were comprehensible.Sartre was explicit and original in his theoretical work and gives the reader a chance to judge his ideas, Zizek dosn't.Apart from the illustrative examples purportedly designed to instantiate concepts drawn from the sources mentioned,he dosn't give an explicit integrative theoretical framework for his book.I beleve that if he aims to explain the disintigration of a global mode of life rather than just give lots of examples about it's contradictions he should have a framework from which to do this.It is not enough to give the reader lists of observations instantiating lots of concepts from well known philosophers like Hegel and Marx. I would like to know for example how he manages to overcome the differences between Marx and Lacan on alienation i.e.Marx thought it was possible for humans to overcome their alienation whilst Lacan seems (to me) to think humans are defined by it.He dosn't tell us how he does this ,at least not in this book.
In the end I gave up and gave the book to Oxfam.Hopefully someone can make more sense of it than I could.

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About the author (2011)

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic. He is a professor at the European Graduate School, International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London, and a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. His books include First as Tragedy, Then as Farce; Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle; In Defence of Lost Causes; Welcome to the Desert of the Real, Living in the End Times, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock; and more.

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