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  • Event: A Philosophical Journey through a Concept by Slavoj Žižek, and: Ereignisse in aller Kürze. Narratologische Untersuchungen zur Ereignishaftigkeit in Kürzestprosa von Thomas Bernhard, Ror Wolf und Helmut Heißenbüttel by Carola Gruber
  • Andrew B.B. Hamilton
Event: A Philosophical Journey through a Concept. By Slavoj Žižek. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2014. Pp. 182. Paper $13.21. ISBN 978-1612194110.
Ereignisse in aller Kürze. Narratologische Untersuchungen zur Ereignishaftigkeit in Kürzestprosa von Thomas Bernhard, Ror Wolf und Helmut Heißenbüttel. By Carola Gruber. Bielefeld: transcript, 2014. Pp. 338. Paper €35.99. ISBN 978-3837624335.

Now is a good time to be curious about the event, that protean term that Slavoj Žižek calls “something shocking, out of joint that appears to happen all of a sudden and interrupts the usual flow of things; something that emerges seemingly out of nowhere, without discernible causes, an appearance without solid being as its foundation” (4) in his recent Event: A Philosophical Journey through a Concept. It is one of two books published last year, which offer the finest points of entry in recent memory into this challenging term. There is an emergent systematicity to be found in reading Slavoj Žižek’s Event and Carola Gruber’s Ereignisse in aller Kürze together. These two books could hardly be more different, and for precisely that reason they illustrate the vast range and power of the monoverbal lynchpin in their titles that holds them together. While Žižek’s book rests on the conceit of an imagined subway train ride (each chapter is a stop), jumping from topic to topic keeping only one hand clinging to the term “event,” Gruber offers a clear, concise, and systematic analysis of the narratological discussions surrounding the event and eventiveness. While Žižek is interested in the philosophical range of meaning that an event can take on and is prepared to trace the resonances of the event in intellectual history from Buddhism to Badiou, Gruber’s ultimate aim is an analysis of short-form prose (Kürzestprosa), which is informed and supported by her chapters on the narratological legacy of the event. Yet for all these differences, the texts resonate remarkably with one another, [End Page 211] their strengths being so complementary that a reader curious about theories of the event could not wish for a better way to be brought up to speed in all departments than to read these volumes together.

Žižek’s book, one of six he published in English in 2014, is the livelier of the two: the sheer energy with which the author sends the argument hurtling forward makes for a fun, and fast, reading experience. Žižek frames his approach in almost the broadest possible terms: “Already with this approximate definition, we find ourselves at the very heart of philosophy,” an exploration of which will invariably “culminate in some notion of Event” (5–6). From this promising, if bombastic, beginning, the ride itself cannot help be something of a letdown. Readers familiar with Žižek’s work will recognize many of his main lines of argumentation: regular recourse to Marx, a recurring ideology critique, and many, many cinematic illustrations. The breadth of reference in a book of this length may obscure the fact that the core argument of the book is in fact quite simple. An event, in Žižek’s account, is “an effect which exceeds its causes” (6). But such a definition is in fact unhelpful, and so one must encounter the event to define it: “The only appropriate solution is thus to approach events in an evental way” (7), and the subway conceit is born. Here is the overview of the book: “Let us then imagine that we are on a subway trip with many stops and connections, with each stop standing for a putative definition of event.” He goes on to enumerate the stops: the first is “a change or disintegration of the frame through which reality appears to us,” the second “a religious Fall,” the third “the breaking of symmetry,” the fourth “Buddhist Enlightenment” and so on via encounters with self-knowledge, encounters with absolute truth, and trauma...


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