Why Žižek Matters
Coolness by negation is an ideological move that is instantly recognizable in the relation of sub cultures to their perceived dominate (or popular culture) – once something becomes too popular or acceptable according to mainstream standards it is no longer cool and more obscure objects must be found. The bearers of this negative/cool, which move locust-like onto new ‘unfound interests,’ appear in myriad forms – most popular in the hipster and the postmodernist (and these forms often overlap). Once again I am repeating myself – but here I am talking specifically in regards to the strange non-reception of Žižek as a philosopher.
Žižek has recently broken through an even more popular layer of the pseudo-left (maybe the official left, the ghost of radical politics) – he had an interview this month on Democracy Now! and the first disc of his Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, is included in the most recent issue of The Believer. And, not surprisingly, it is still ‘cool to hate’ Zizek in the circles of postmodernity and its kneeling-to-the-Other followers (often part of the multicultural cult of Levinas).
In the center of this hatred lies a assertion that there is a so called cult of Žižek and, as of yet, I have never seen any evidence of this – again a strange resistance. A similarly unfriendly response has been witnessed in regards to Badiou, who falls in a similar vein as Žižek in that both are seen as somewhere opposed to postmodernity and, often derisively, as modern throwbacks. Adrian Johnston, in the preface to Žižek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity, points out that there are several Žižek’s, and that one of them is a ‘cultural studies’ Žižek – where too much or all attention is paid to his examples of junk culture and almost nothing to the conclusions he is making.
Most often it seems that the dislike for Žižek is that: 1 – He is running against fashionable post modernity which, in proper Žižekian parlance, is dead but does not know it and 2 – Žižek’s philosophical program is inherently nagging because it undermines agreed upon readings of past philosophers and takes contemporary philosophy and cognitive science and other developments into account.
On both these points Žižek (as well as other Slovenian Lacanian/Hegelians) can be placed along side another group that is striking out against Heideggerian and Derridean legacies – who critique the assertion that philosophy is indefinately and irreparably chained to language and that our sense of politics and philosophical praxis is locked in the bog of being-there regardless of how it is codified in sociological or cultural terms – Speculative Realists. There is not, of course, a pure homogeneity between Žižek’s Transcendental Materialism and these thinkers which include Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Quentin Meillassoux and Graham Harman. In addition there is Badiou and his fellow travelers such as Jacques Ranciere, who are opposed to the same, if not a strikingly similar, enemy.
In addition to being ‘my enemy’s enemy’, these groups have positive shared characteristics:
1 – All are post-Lacanian in that they see Lacan as offering a challenge to philosophy which must be engaged
2 – All believe in overturning Kant’s so called Copernican revolution in thought – in usurping the centrality of the experiencing subject and the pre-set forms of the world
3 – As a result, all seek to conceptualize a world that escapes the bounds of phenomenology and language as limiting or eliminating discussion of ontology and metaphysics
This is not to say that Žižek and those mentioned above, are opting for a direct return to classical metaphysics but instead wish to take Kant’s criticisms to heart while still refusing to acknowledge a premature death of metaphysics. Žižek’s metaphysics is a non-metaphysics in that his would not support a total system to describe the universe since the universe, as a natural entity, is fundamentally barred, it is not-all. Events emerge from the cracks and fissures in ontology itself allowing, as Johnston explains it, flecks of eternity to rupture the normal flow of time.
Transcendental material designates the process by which a dialectical process creates an errancy which can not be smoothly reabsorbed into the dialectic, into the chaos which birthed it. A transcendentally materialist ontogenesis of the subject would claim that we emerge from a chaotic nebula to take functional shape and that this emergence is not simply a delusion of the chaos, an epiphenomenon, since the consequences of its emergence change and are simultaneously changed by the material base.
What makes Žižek important is the simple fact that he approaches the topic of subjectivity and freedom (among other issues) by using psychoanalysis as a lense to examine German Idealism, and that this analysis allows for, and even encourages, a theory of the subject that takes into account but manages to narrowly escape, the scientifically fueled determinism of our age.
Filed under: psychoanalysis, transcendental materialism, Zizek | 4 Comments