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Žižek's Pandemic

Featherstone, Mark



In the first part of this article on Žižek's recent book Pandemic! I show how he develops a political theology of the spirit through a discussion of social distancing. In this argument Žižek connects the idea of physical distance to the biblical story of the resurrection, in which Jesus says to Mary Magdalene “noli me tangere” (“touch me not”), in order to imagine the emergence of a community of spirit from the social, political, and economic ruin caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Contrasting this community of spirit to the Chinese Communist Party's Foucauldian response to the outbreak of the virus, Žižek suggests a turn away from Prometheanism and the logic of domination toward a new posthuman humanitarianism based on a recognition of human weakness, vulnerability, and fragility. In Žižek's view, this turn toward a new form of humility would emerge from the final disenchantment of the spirit of capitalism and a recognition of the difference between human work, which contributes to a meaningful world, and bestial labor that dehumanizes and means nothing. Thus, the article shows how Žižek thinks about the pandemic in terms of a crisis of late capitalism and the possibility of a new spirit of communism. While the presexual nonlife of the virus is comparable to the drive of capitalism in respect of its unthinking will to replication and reproduction, Žižek founds the basis of humanity in our (human) mortality and being toward death that open out onto a new horizon of releasement (Gelassenheit) beyond biotechnoeconomic nihilism. The conclusion of the article, therefore, shows how Žižek imagines that the pandemic presents humanity with an existential choice about the way we organize social life. This choice is between the biopolitical domination of Chinese authoritarianism that seeks to control every aspect of life, American disaster capitalism that accepts the brutality of the state of nature, and finally Žižek's utopian spirit of communism based on a recognition of human and planetary finitude.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 1, 2021
Publication Date Mar 1, 2021
Deposit Date May 30, 2023
Journal Cultural Politics
Print ISSN 1743-2197
Electronic ISSN 1751-7435
Publisher Duke University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Issue 1
Pages 124-134
Keywords Sociology and Political Science; Communication; Cultural Studies