Reading Žižek in Edinburgh

What does one do with a bit of free time in Edinburgh? Particularly if it’s cold and one brought the wrong kind of coat?

Clearly, I’m not the right kind of visitor, because the most natural option to me seemed to duck into a bookshop. And Edinburgh being Edinburgh, I made for the philosophy section. (I told you I’m the wrong kind of visitor.) Hume, of course: An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. But also Žižek, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously.

Hume is old hat, so the parsnip and parmesan soup at Spoon (link, highly recommended) was shared with Žižek, whom, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve seen on youtube more than I’ve actually read. (If you haven’t seen this, you must.)

Now, I’ve spent the last several weeks in a (mostly) silent mental apoplexy over the issue of tolerance, partly because so few of my (mostly Russian) interlocutors who want to engage me on the topic seem to have any clue what they’re talking about understand why, at least to some Westerners, the idea of tolerance is so important. And so I was happy to find a wonderful little essay in Žižek’s book, “The Return of the Evil Ethnic Thing”, which closes with the following passage:

 Today, our question is rather ‘What does Europe want?’ Mostly, it acts as a regulator of global capitalist development; sometimes, it flirts with the conservative defense of tradition. Both these paths lead to oblivion, to Europe’s marginalization. The only way out of this impasse is for Europe to resuscitate its legacy of radical and universal emancipation. The task is to move beyond the mere tolerance of others towards a positive emancipatory Leitkultur, which alone can sustain an authentic coexistence and mixing of different cultures, and to engage in the forthcoming battle for that LeitkulturDo not simply respect others, but offer them a common struggle, since our most pressing problems today are problems we have in common.

Problem is, I’m not sure who needs to hear that message more: Vladimir Putin or David Cameron?


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