… By now I can see we’re not going to get anywhere near Žižek’s new book about Hegel, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism. Instead, he tells me about the holidays he takes with his young son. The last one was to the Burj Al Arab hotel, a grotesque temple to tacky ostentation in Dubai. “Why not? Why not? I like to do crazy things. But I did my Marxist duty. I got friendly with the Pakistani taxi driver who showed to me and my son reality. The whole structure of how the workers there live was explained, how it was controlled. My son was horrified.” This summer they are off to Singapore, to an artificial island with swimming pools built on top of 50-storey skyscrapers. “So we can swim there and look down on the city: ‘Ha ha, fuck you.’ That’s what I like to do – totally crazy things.” It wasn’t so much fun when his son was younger. “But now, we have a certain rhythm established. We sleep ‘til one, then we go to breakfast, then we go to the city – no culture, just consumerism or some stupid things like this – then we go back for dinner, then we go to a movie theatre, then we play games ‘til three in the morning.”
I wonder what all Žižek’s earnest young followers will make of this, and worry they will be cross with me for not getting anything more serious out of him. But to Žižek, Dubai tells us just as much about the world as a debate about the deficit, say, ever can. When his sweet-looking, polite young son arrives, I try to steer Žižek on to the financial crisis, and to the role his admirers hope he will play in formulating a radical response.
“I always emphasise: don’t expect this from me. I don’t think that the task of a guy like me is to propose complete solutions. When people ask me what to do with the economy, what the hell do I know? I think the task of people like me is not to provide answers but to ask the right questions.” He’s not against democracy, per se, he just thinks our democratic institutions are no longer capable of controlling global capitalism. “Nice consensual incremental reforms may work, possibly, at a local level.” But localism belongs in the same category as organic apples, and recycling. “It’s done to make you feel good. But the big question today is how to organise to act globally, at an immense international level, without regressing to some authoritarian rule.”
How will that happen? “I’m a pessimist in the sense that we are approaching dangerous times. But I’m an optimist for exactly the same reason. Pessimism means things are getting messy. Optimism means these are precisely the times when change is possible.” And what are the chances that things won’t change? “Ah, if this happens then we are slowly approaching a new apartheid authoritarian society. It will not be – I must underline this – the old stupid authoritarianism. This will be a new form, still consumerist.” The whole world will look like Dubai? “Yes, and in Dubai, you know, the other side are literally slaves.” [++]