As talks on post-Hegelian philosophy go it was pretty relaxed; long exhortations on the need to reconcile universal idealism with subjective reality serving only as an aside to all the quips on sex, Harry Potter, James Bond and more sex. There he was, the man the Western World have elevated to the status of a demi-god, delivering his one-man comedy show to an audience of adoring onlookers at the new CSM building at Kings Cross.
We were gathered for the inaugural collaboration between the school and the New Statesman, which with any luck should become an annual event. Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek is in town to promote his new book on Hegel and the two things happily coincided to bring us a talk between the philosopher and Jonathan Derbyshire, whose breadth of knowledge and ability to not only grapple, but anticipate the ideas at the pace at which they were being discussed, must be applauded.
For us mortals, however, there was the age-old Žižek problem: only being able to understand one in five sentences and trying to navigate a thousand tangents and explanatory anecdotes. When you’re already feeling proud of your efforts to follow topics that include Plato, post-structuralism and the fall of capitalism, this can prove a bit of a stretch. For those planning on stumbling into the 24-hr reading of his new one at Café Oto on Friday, may I recommend taking a thermos of (five) double espressos and keeping a glossary of philosophical terms by your side at all times.
Exaggerations aside though, if you’ve seen a few films and read even a basic guide to philosophy you’ll get something from reading the works of this man, who can safely be described, without exaggeration, as one of the most influential commentators of our times. If you haven’t already begun the mountainous trek through Žižek’s oeuvre, you might want to begin with Icon’s Graphic Guide, taken from their Introducing series and giving you a visual overview of the work to date. The great thing about this book is, aside from the eye-popping, elucidating doodles, it compartmentalises everything neatly. With this under your belt, you can then set about tackling great tomes such as The Sublime Object of Ideology and Living in the End Times, which explains the fall of the capitalist West in terms of the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. His latest offering Less Than Nothing has perhaps less claim on our daily lives, but who knows, once you’ve dipped your ontological toe into Žižek there may be no stopping you in your quest for intersubjective truth.
'Slavoj Žižek: A Graphic Guide' is printed by Icon Books and is available from Amazon and Waterstones. Žižek’s complete works are published by Verso and available from most established bookshops and online retailers. There will be a 24-hr reading of Žižek’s latest book, Less Than Nothing at Café Oto in Hackney, this Friday
Follow Nathalie Olah on Twitter here @NROlah