The Uneasiness in Nature

27Nov09

Zizek’s Unbehagen In Der Nature addresses current discussions surrounding ecology and nature. Right off the bat however Zizek’s conceptualization of nature is limited – seeming to be nature as it appears to us, nature as we can manipulate it. The anxieity or uneasiness that Zizek discusses seems more to be more about the loss of a certain concept of nature or the natural and not the loss of nature itself.

Zizek writes:

“It is this horror at the unforeseen results of our own acts that causes shock and awe, not the power of nature over which we have no control; it is this horror that religion tries to domesticate. What is new today is the short-circuit between these two senses of ‘second nature’: ‘second nature’, in the sense of objective Fate, of the autonomized social process, generates ‘second nature’ in the sense of artificially created nature, of natural monsters.”

The disasters that Zizek warns about are all human-caused natural disasters and not the destructive capacity of nature itself. Furthermore while Zizek denounces an ecology of fear he also connects a view of nature in which are finitude is asserted to viewing nature as sacred and so forth. I find this connection troubling since nature as sacred allows for a separation and comfortable return to nature (in a pre-Oedipal sense) and the dominant ideological use of  nature (if it is negative) is not about nature over us but nature as a problem for our future – we must save the environment for our children etc.

Zizek continues with the following:

“‘terror’ means accepting the fact of the utter groundlessness of our existence: there is no firm foundation, a place of retreat, on which one can safely count. It means fully accepting that ‘nature’ does not exist. It means fully consummating the gap that separates the life-world notion of nature and the scientific notion of natural reality: ‘nature’ qua the domain of balanced reproduction, of organic deployment into which humanity intervenes with its hubris, brutally throwing off the rails its circular motion is man’s fantasy; nature is already in itself ‘second nature’. Its balance is always secondary, an attempt to negotiate a ‘habit’ that would restore some order after catastrophic interruptions.”

For Zizek nature must be non-all or barred, but this nature never goes beyond the range of the earth. Zizek those go on to argue that the appearence of the whole in nature, that the very possibility of nature-in-itself is merely a result of subjective experience, an argument he ties to the experience of the sublime. Zizek then argues for ecology without nature thereby following Timothy Morton’s Ecology without Nature.  I have unfortunately not yet read his text of the same name. From what I have read it seems that what he attacks as the concept of nature is a dominant mode of nature – one stemming from the rationalist tradition where is an immense but separate entity. Zizek writes: “what we need is ecology without nature: the ultimate obstacle to protecting nature is the very notion of nature we rely on.”

Here my largest issue (which seems to come up with many commentators on nature and ecology) is that the ecology of concepts of nature is severally narrowed for the sake of argument. Zizek seems to make a reversal when discussing the films of Tarkovsky and in particular Stalker but then shifts back to focus on transcendental subjectivity.

The ontological priviledge of the subject remains a serious stumbling block for any approach to nature that is not too shallow or too obfuscated. The finitude of the subject has become increasingly transcendentalized at the expense of nature, nature becomes merely an elaborate background. Nature goes right through the subject.

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4 Responses to “The Uneasiness in Nature”

  1. 1 kvond

    I like that, “Nature goes right through the subject”. I think what Zizek objects to is the sense of re-inclusion (return after the Fall) involved in the concept of Natural, but I think as well that you locate the great problem, the Lacanian need for the “subject” as rift in the fabric. If you just deny the fall as break, and only examine the degrees of differential power, sustainability, then Nature indeed goes right through the subject, in fact its tears at the subject, in any number of pleasureable and painful directions.


  1. 1 Nature and its Discontents « Complete Lies.
  2. 2 Nature and Its Discontents « Larval Subjects .
  3. 3 more on Žižek & nature’s discontents | immanence

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