BIG IDEAS//small books

Slavoj Zizek




Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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Using history, philosophy, books, movies, Lacanian psychiatry, and jokes, Slavoj Žižek examines the ways we perceive and misperceive violence. Drawing from his unique cultural vision, Žižek brings new light to the Paris riots of 2005; he questions the permissiveness of violence in philanthropy; in daring terms, he reflects on the powerful image and determination of contemporary terrorists. Violence, Žižek states, takes three forms—subjective (crime, terror), objective (racism, hate-speech, discrimination), and systemic (the catastrophic effects of economic and political systems)—and often one form of violence blunts our ability to see the others, raising complicated questions. Does the advent of capitalism and, indeed, civilization cause more violence than it prevents? Is there violence in the simple idea of "the neighbor"? And could the appropriate form of action against violence today simply be to contemplate, to think?  Beginning with these and other equally contemplative questions, Žižek discusses the inherent violence of globalization, capitalism, fundamentalism, and language, in a work that will confirm his standing as one of our most erudite and incendiary modern thinkers.


Praise for Violence

"Žižek's book addresses in a really powerful way the human condition as we find ourselves in it today: as inheritors of the legacy of 9/11, global capitalism, the war on terror, etc. As a teacher I strive to bring my students into contact with philosophical texts that speak this directly to their lives and experiences so that they can begin to realize, as I once did, that philosophy is not a dead science, but a living art which is profoundly and frighteningly relevant—capable of transforming their understanding of themselves and their world. Žižek's book accomplishes all this and more. For this reason, I recommend his work to all young students of philosophy as essential reading."—Drew Dalton, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, St. Anselm College

"'Love without cruelty is powerless,' writes Slovenian sociology professor Žižek in this combative and sparky study, in which he travels from 'the rejection of false violence to the endorsement of emancipatory violence.' To chastise the obvious outward manifestations of violence—murders, terrorism, revolution—is an ideological operation par excellence, Žižek argues, unless you examine the systemic violence that provokes them. Žižek looks at movies and books, not just politics and regimes; he's formidably brilliant, writing as nimbly about The Village as he does about Lacan or Walter Benjamin. It's as if Naomi Wolf had clambered into bed with Norman Klein—a nifty partnership, when you think about it. Žižek's study smartly launches a promising new Picador series, entitled 'BIG IDEAS/small books.'"—Richard Rayner, Los Angeles Times

"Our subjective outrage at the facts of violence—a suicide bombing, a terrorist attack, the assassination of a political figure—blinds us to the objective violence of the world, a violence where we are perpetrators and not just innocent bystanders. All we see are apparently inexplicable acts that disturb the supposed peace of everyday life. We consistently overlook the objective or what Žižek calls 'systemic' violence, endemic to our socio-economic order. The main ambition of this book is to bring together subjective violence with the objective violence that is its underside and precondition. 'Systemic violence is thus something like the notorious 'dark matter' of physics,' Žižek writes: invisible to the naked eye. Žižek offers a rather cool and at times cruel analysis of the varieties of objective violence. He asks tolerant multicultural Western liberals to suspend our outraged responses to acts of violence and turn instead to the real substance of the global situation. In order to understand violence, we need some good old-fashioned dispassionate materialist critique. At the heart of Žižek's book is an argument about ideology that has been a powerful, constant feature of his work since he burst onto the intellectual scene in the late 1980s. Far from existing in some post-ideological world at the end of history where all problems can be diagnosed with neo-liberal economics and self-serving assertions of human rights, ideology completely structures our lived reality. This ideology might be subjectively invisible, but it is objectively real . . . The great ideological illusion of the present is that there is no time to reflect and we have to act now. Žižek asks us to step back from the false urgency of the present with its multiple injunctions to intervene like good humanitarians. His diagnosis of this ideology is quite delightful, producing counter-intuitive analyses that overturn what passes for common sense. Žižek rages against the reduction of love to masturbatory self-interest, the multiple hypocrisies of the Israel/Palestine conflict and the supposed liberal philanthropy of Bill Gates and George Soros. There is a fascinating analysis of the scenes of torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which display, Žižek rightly contends, nothing more than the obscene underside of American culture."—Simon Critchley, The New School for Social Research, The Independent (U.K.)

"A one-person culture mulcher . . . a fast-forward philosopher of culture for the post-war period."—The Village Voice

"The most formidably brilliant exponent of psychoanalysis, indeed of cultural theory in general, to have emerged in Europe for some decades."—Terry Eagleton, The London Review of Books

"[Žižek] stares out, disheveled, from the page and dares the reader to disagree . . . As always, he combines the fruitfully combative, the densely intelligent, and the merely glib, sometimes in the same paragraph."—Steven Poole, The Guardian (U.K.)

“The Slovene philosopher defines the many facets of violence in the postmodern era. He argues that violence can be categorized in three forms: subjective (crime, terror), objective (racism, discrimination) and systemic (the catastrophic effects of political and economic systems). Too often, the author believes, subjective and objective violence distract discussion from the systemic. He offers as an example a wealthy entrepreneur whose fortune was the result of ruthless capitalist pursuit, perhaps marked by outsourcing production to a developing country. When this entrepreneur enjoys a favorable public reputation for donating annually to charities benefiting these same impoverished nations, avers the author, it proves that capitalism relies on charity to sustain its social feasibility. This kind of ‘philanthropy’ masks economic exploitation, he posits; systemic violence here is cloaked by the gesture of writing a check. ‘The same structure—the thing itself is the remedy against the threat it poses—is widely visible in today's ideological landscape,’ the author writes. He gives examples from Abu Ghraib to fundamentalist Islam to the Catholic Church to make his point: When high authority is both the enforcing entity and the criminal, systemic violence is enabled and pervasive. The author also argues that language is violently misused when a vague term like intolerance replaces specific, factual words such as inequality, exploitation or injustice. He ponders whether the concept of free will is paradoxical, or even oppressive, citing examples from social politeness to suicide bombers. It seems no subject escapes his omnivorous dissection, and all somehow support his central theme: The violence most discussed is not the most damaging to humankind, but simply the most obvious. The author's familiar kaleidoscope of cultural allusions seems almost anachronistic within his dense intellectual prose and Lacanian-Hegelian-Freudian dialectic, yet this may well be the philosophy of the future. Compelling and provocative philosophical work.”—Kirkus Reviews

“In this provocative and brilliantly argued work, philosopher Žižek takes readers on an intellectual and artistic tour—drawing upon Picasso's Guernica, Alfred Hitchcock and M. Night Shyamalan's films, Michel Houellebecq's novels, jokes, Lacanian psychology and a Kantian analysis of Hurricane Katrina—to demonstrate how societies understand, obscure and deny the sources of violence. His is not an examination of offenses but an argument that violence can perhaps be best defined by the bystanders and not by its perpetrators or victims. Žižek enumerates the varieties of violence (subjective, objective, systemic) and how it inheres in language, economics and religion, urging readers to discern the ‘violence that sustains our very efforts to fight violence and to promote tolerance.’ In meditations on the events of 9/11, the Abu Ghraib scandal and the 2005 Paris riots, the book turns numerous familiar arguments on their ear (he proposes that the guards at Abu Ghraib represent the true underside of American society). His unrelenting scrutiny and host of cultural and literary references dazzle, and this bracing and rewarding read will challenge anyone unwilling to recognize his or her complicity in systems of institutional and interpersonal violence.”—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo
Sos violence
Violence: Subjective and Objective
In 1922 the Soviet government organised the forced expulsion of leading anti-communist intellectuals, from philosophers andtheologians to economists and historians. They left Russia for Germany on a boat known as the Philosophy Steamer. Prior to his expulsion, Nikolai Lossky, one of those forced into exile, had enjoyed with his family the comfortable life of the haute bourgeoisie, supported by servants and nannies. He simply couldn’t understand who would want to destroy his way
Read the full excerpt



  • Love is Evil

    Slavoj Zizek on Love and everything in between in 2 minutes.

  • Slavoj Zizek explains why the Sound of Music is racist

    From Reality of the Virtual.

  • Clip from The Pervert's Guide To Cinema

    THE PERVERT'S GUIDE TO CINEMA takes the viewer on an exhilarating ride through some of the greatest movies ever made. Serving as presenter and guide is the charismatic Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst. With his engaging and passionate approach to thinking, Zizek delves into the hidden language of cinema, uncovering what movies can tell us about ourselves.



  • Slavoj Zizek

  • Slavoj Žižek is a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and has been a visiting professor at Columbia University, Princeton, and The New School. He is the author of more than thirty books and is the subject of the documentary, Žižek. His own critically acclaimed documentary, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, was the subject of a film retrospective in 2007 at the Museum of Modern Art.
  • Slavoj Zizek