Slavoj Žižek was a favorite of mine going through grad school. I admired and coveted the way he wove social commentary, popular culture, and philosophy together. He’s far from perfect, and there is plenty of room for criticism of his work, but when you’re buried under a reading list for your comps, it’s nice to know there’s a book in there somewhere with some flair.

I got Pandemic! in the what-turned-out-to-be early days of the still ongoing health crisis. It took me so long to get to reading it, I actually–foolishly–thought the pandemic might be over by the time I finished. Sadly, I was wrong.

There are two ideas that strike me from this slim book.

First, the fact that we’ve all come to realize the divisions in our labor system, where the (often underpaid) essential workers must brave the worsening conditions of the pandemic while the (often overpaid) non-essential, more highly educated, generally white collar workers continue cashing their paychecks from the safety of their homes. Žižek clearly lumps himself into this last group of workers.

I’ve been struck by the ironic effect the pandemic has had on healthcare workers. Some must continue to press on, overworked and overstressed, while others–skilled and necessary–face layoffs as “elective” procedures are delayed.

Second, Žižek is hopeful that the pandemic will inspire a change in our social and professional lives, toward something more equitable. I’m too cynical to think that much lasting good will come from the pandemic. Old habits are hard to break, after all.

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