‘Power, Appearance and Obscenity in the Viral Desert’ by Slavoj Žižek

A view of Birkbeck, University of London. Video from the June 2020 Summer School of Critical Theory added on 23rd August 2021.

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The spread of the coronavirus epidemics has also triggered a vast epidemic of ideological viruses which were lying dormant in our societies: fake news, paranoiac conspiracy theories, explosions of racism, etc. Underlying these viruses is the rise of obscenity in public discourse which is linked to new Right populism. However, the ongoing epidemics at the same time clearly demonstrated the limit of populism.

Critical theoretical thought, at the most advanced level, includes a sense of the political urgency of the times, an urgency that has so dramatically increased in these past years with the advent of Brexit and Trump, the massive global inequality to which they both attest and exacerbate, the increasingly licensed ethno-nationalism, racism and misogyny which they sanction, the forms of historical forgetting which they appear to demand.

Theory is engaged theory, it pursues, elucidates and complicates its own genealogy and intellectual elaboration at the same time as attempting to show how theory, and the necessity of sustained reflection which it demands and enacts, can contribute to progressive, dissident thought and being in the modern world.


Slavoj Žižek is a Philosopher and psychoanalytic social theorist. He is Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana; Professor at the School of Law and Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London; Distinguished Scholar at the Kyung Hee University, Seoul; and Visiting Professor at the German Department, New York University. His field of work comprises Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, dialectical-materialist metaphysical interpretations of German Idealism and Marxian critique of ideology. His more than sixty books in English have been widely translated. His latest publications include Pandemic! & Pandemic! 2, Hegel in a Wired Brain, Sex and the Failed Absolute, Like A Thief In Broad DaylightReading MarxIncontinence of the Void, and The Day After the Revolution.

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