Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Brexit: Slavoj Žižek explains how opera helps us think about power and politics

Ahead of his key-note address at the Southbank Centre this weekend, the Slovenian philosopher talks about what opera can teach us

What does modern-day power have to do with opera? Philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek will address this question when he delivers a key-note speech on power and betrayal in the wake of Brexit, as part of the Southbank Centre’s Power of Power Festival.

The Festival, which includes Opera North’s production of Richard Wagner’s iconic Ring cycle, asks what power means today in our rapidly changing world. A number of talks and performances will tackle a vast range of topics from activism in the digital age to the price of education.

Giving an insight into the topic he will discuss further at the weekend, Žižek said that opera is vital tool for thinking about power, “because it deals with power from its very beginnings.”

The operatic aria has traditionally been the hero’s plea to a figure of power to show mercy, break their own law, and offer their hand to the hero, from Monteverdi’s Orpheus onwards, he explained. “Perhaps we need a new opera that will show us how to act when the big Other, the figure of Power, shows no mercy, but just pursues its path in blessed indifference."

Žižek, who has written a number of books include Living in the End Times, said that these aren’t the end times 2.0 – “it’s just the same old times raging on.”

The emotional turmoil that has followed Brexit “is a mask concealing the fact that nothing will really change,” he added, suggesting that UK and Europe will remain caught in inertia. The vote to leave the EU was “for a psycho-change, against the change we really need.”

He continued that, in the face of Brexit, our culture must reach beyond its national limits in order to contribute to a new universal culture. “This is needed if we are to confront the new challenges – from ecological dangers, to refugees.” 

Slavoj Žižek delivers a keynote address on Power, Betrayal and Brexit at the Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 2 July as part of Southbank Centre's Power of Power festival.

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