Review: Exploring Truth, Beauty and Good in a Post-Truth World

If we truly live in a post-truth society where the likes of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are able to say what they like without the cumbersome responsibility of it needing to be true, then it is not enough for them to not tell the truth, they also have to provide a non-truth. They have to tell us something artificial to fill the void of that brushed-aside truth.

In Slavoj Žižek’s three-part exploration of truth, beauty and good, Disparity, he discusses the revelation of the number zero in mathematics. The concept of the number zero having equal importance as a positive number (one with value) was considered ridiculous in mathematical study for a long time, but its inclusion enabled a multitude of theories to suddenly become possible. To cut short the required homework, it filled gaps. Žižek answers his own question when he asks what was so terrifying about the number zero: ‘…it treats the absence (lack) of a property as just another positive property.’ It is an artificial value designed to fulfil a negative void and although this would be a simple squabble between mathletes in any other circumstance, Žižek is able to make this number - and other notions of disparity, artificiality and alienation - seem to the reader to have far reaching consequences.

A Hegelian Marxist, and as such a man somewhat defined by contradiction, Žižek bases most of his definitions with regard to disparity around a critique of capitalism and the culture it has spawned. He begins with the notion of the mole, which moves above and below ground, and how subversive ideas move from the subterranean to the mainstream. But he prefers the idea of the Kraken. ‘Is Kraken not a perfect image of the global Capital, all-powerful and stupid, cunning and blind, whose tentacles regulate our lives?’ He describes disparity in these terms also: ‘Disparity is a concept that designates what, in a more descriptive language, we may call the disruptive effects of the awakened Kraken.’

As the Kraken moves through the subjects of truth, beauty and good, Žižek discusses how capitalism has caused our society to become both fractured and falsely whole, and touches on subjects such as environmentalism, immigration and our concept of reality, and how the artificiality of that reality will only grow as we move closer toward a post-human world. Whether you take this to mean a world in which humans have advanced scientifically and cybernetically to the point of no longer being biologically recognisable as human or one where we no longer exist is up to you.

He aims to create for us a reality that is not real but one which we might think of as such

The discussion of Marxism, however, ends up working as more of a framework in Disparity. Reading the book in a time when Vladislav Surkov’s avant-garde tactics of disinformation and misdirection have been allowed to define a country, Žižek’s latest offering seems like a companion piece to Adam Curtis’s 2016 documentary, HyperNormalisation. Continuing on from the zero and its paradoxical positive/negative status, Žižek discusses the idea of non-human and inhuman. The non-human is something which is not us (human), whereas the inhuman is the bastardisation of the space we inhabit: ‘…in the sense that they enable us to discern the contours of a real which is not part of our reality.’

Again, Žižek uses this to discuss the corruption of capitalism with regard to how we think of ourselves, such as the idea of wealth being an inhuman element that we treat as an inherently human one, however, as with his introduction of the concept of the hyper object - signs, like tornadoes or flooding, which symbolise a larger effect (i.e. global warming) - it is the inhuman, the artificial objet d’art, that most readily activates the imagination. The manufactured object of disparity, like a robotic eye in an otherwise human body, rings true from within the confines of a society that is held together by false replications of the truth.

It is not enough that Donald Trump denies the allegations of sexual abuse. He must also create an intricate conspiracy of women who are out to defy him, to inhabit the space in which that truth lies. He aims to create for us a reality that is not real but one which we might think of as such. Whilst reading Disparity I was struck by a similar feeling again and again: despair. Slavoj Žižek has written a book that is thought-provoking and intense, but that is not to say that it is lacking in either personality or relevance.

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