Some brief thoughts on a few recently read books

I won’t be writing full posts on these books either because they’ve been available for a while or their focus isn’t quite aligned with this blog. But I think they’re worth mentioning as books that I read, enjoyed, was challenged by, and recommend.

The first is Slavoj Žižek’s 2008 repackaging of his 1989 classic The Sublime Object of Ideology. Admittedly, there were stretches were I was lost. Then there were stretches where Žižek’s engagement with the thought of figures like Marx, Freud, Hegel, and Lacan were enlightening. For a helpful overview, see Epoch Philosophy’s video on the book.

The second is Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism. I found Fisher’s critiques of the problems of capitalism agreeable but as with many books like this one, it seems as if solutions are harder to provide. Again, not a paid promotion, but Epoch Philosophy’s overview of Capitalist Realism is more helpful than anything I’d write here.

Finally, I read Kenneth P. Miller’s Texas vs. California: A History of Their Struggle for the Future of America. It’s a wonderful book. I devoured it in a few days. Miller sees Texas and California as sibling rivals. He shows how Texas and California weren’t always on the polar opposite side of things but also how they evolved to be. The book goes back and forth, juxtaposing the two states’ origins, people, economies, and cultures before exploring how Texas turned deep red and California deep blue. The second half of the book contrasts their “rival models” on everything from taxes, labor, energy, the environment to poverty and other social issues. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a proud Californian who happens to live in Texas. I’ll always feel this way. But there were points where I can see how the Texas model is right for Texas (e.g. taxes) or at least understand why Texas approaches things as they do (e.g. energy). There were moments when I thought California could learn from Texas (e.g. affordable housing). But overall, I came away homesick for California mostly when reading about social issues where my values are far more Californian than Texan regarding things like embracing LGBTQIA+ peoples, welcoming immigrants, and promoting a woman’s right to her bodily autonomy (a.k.a. pro-choice), etc.

Book Note: Slavoj Žižek’s “Heaven In Disorder”

Slavoj Žižek, Heaven in Disorder (New York: OR Books, 2021). (Amazon; OR Books)

I’ve started reading Žižek. But I started at the end with (what I believe is) his most recent book: Heaven in Disorder. According to a friend who is familiar with Žižek, this is one of his most readable and easy-to-understand books, so I think I made a good decision!

Mostly, it’s a collection of very short essays. Often, his essays are blog post size: three-four pages. There are a few longer essays but even those are less than twenty pages long.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is what ties together this collection. Žižek has a lot to say about American presidential politics as well, seeing that several essays reflect on the end of the previous administration and the election of Joe Biden.

As to the name of the book: Žižek talks about how “One of Mao Zedong’s best-known sayings is: ‘There is a great disorder under heaven; the situation is excellent.'” I don’t know if this refers to the Chinese view of the “mandate of heaven,” but that’s secondary to how Žižek uses it. He comments (p. 1), “Mao speaks about disorder under heaven, wherein ‘heaven’, or the big Other in whatever form—the inexorable logic of historical processes, the laws of social development—still exists and discreetly regulates social chaos. Today we should talk about heaven itself as being in disorder.” For Žižek this means that even the symbolic universes that held countries and cultures together are divided. The turmoil isn’t just “on the ground,” if you will but in the fact that “heaven is divided into two spheres” in a way that is similar to the Cold War, except that there’s one major difference (p. 2). He says, “The divisions of heaven today appear increasingly drawn within each particular country. In the United States, for instance, there is an ideological and political civil war between the alt-Right and the liberal-democratic establishment, while in the United Kingdom there are similarly deep divisions, as were recently expressed in the opposition between Brexiteers and anti-Brexiteers…Spaces for common ground are ever diminishing, mirroring the ongoing enclosure of physical public space, and this is happening at a time when multiple intersecting crises mean that global solidarity and international cooperation are more needed than ever.” (p. 2) In other words, the pandemic demanded global unity but even within nations, there’s no unity: “heaven” is torn in two.

It’s a great collection. It’s thought-provoking as always and easy to read, as my friend noted, and as I’m recognizing as I’ve dived into The Sublime Object of Ideology, which takes a lot more work!

Zizek, Barthes, and interpreting the Matrix

Yes, I’m still pondering The Matrix Resurrections, even after taking in all the insights that Tripp Fuller, Donna Bowman, and James McGrath offered. Slavoj Žižek wrote a review that I needed my friend Nate Bostain to help me interpret: “A Muddle Instead of a Movie”. Hopefully, Nate will write a blog post I can link, because he had good insights for someone like me who struggles to understand Žižek. Then Wisecrack made a video that looks at the film through Roland Barthes’ “death of the author” that’s worth viewing: “Matrix Resurrections Hates Itself!” So, if you’re still geeking out on the fourth installment of this franchise like I am, I hope this provides you with some enjoyable reading and viewing…even if Žižek’s last paragraph leaves you as confused as I am.