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Rose Barnsley: All the Red Young Žižekian Guys




These squares are outwardly similar to existing squares and yet we have never seen them…we are in an immense previously inconceivable world.
—Paul Eluard on de Chirico’s The Uncertainty of the Poet

At nineteen, it is easy to think that all you’re missing is the right movement. But there is something about the young left wing societies I talk with that properly gets under my skin. I don’t like the sweaty red t-shirts and the sweaty red pamphlets. I don’t like the theatrical way the guy from my linguistics lecture puffs himself up at a march, carefully smoking American Spirit. A reflexive nostalgia often seems to govern these movements and sometimes I swear the party shirts are only there to accessorise a Facebook album with a sepia tint.

Slavoj Žižek recently spoke at the London Literature Festival. He talked about true freedom and where it lies; about whether it has become an impossible dream. Stretching a tightrope in between the poles of John Gray and Francis Fukuyama, he explored the tension. How free, he asked, is the current system? He nearly sold out the Royal Festival Hall. The crowd was mainly my age, with a lot of guys sporting good cheekbones who didn’t take off their coats before sitting down.

Žižek is often dismissed. A big personality, he can come off as a clown, advocating a utopia he cannot define. Benjamin Kunkel noted that, since 1991, the greatest challenge to the would-be revolutionary left has been the fact that they can demonstrate “…neither a serious strategy for the conquest of power nor a programme to implement, should power be won.”[1] This is not a new anxiety, but it gets at why Žižek is relevant to the young left today. I don’t believe we are able to look to Žižek to tell us where a revolution should lead. What he can give us is something more concrete than that. He says things that can be held onto in the world of exam preparation and career prospecting. He says things that feel like the intimations of a strategy. It’s a message, from someone who has pored over revolutions, to those people, like myself, who are agitated by the apparent immutability of the current economic system.

According to Žižek, the pivotal question of his speech was: ‘Are you a Fukuyamist?’ Even Fukuyama says he can no longer justify his position as a Fukuyamist, but what we can justify need not correspond with how we believe. Global capitalism’s greatest art is its ability to tranquillise us with the belief that we exist at the culmination of civilisation.

Canary Wharf is made of steel, glass and inhuman scalings. It is hard to see it being ripped apart any time soon. Maybe this is why the young movements I come across seem so tied up with the manageable. Their Facebook pages, their society balls,.....more here