Review: Slavoj Žižek’s “The Parallax View” (2009)
Posted by paratelos
Žižek’s Transcendentalism without the Transcendental
After reading a book in this series, the reader should not simply have learned something new: the point is, rather, to make him or her aware of another—disturbing—side of something he or she knew all the time.
The self-deprecating, radical theorist, Slavoj Žižek, proposes in his “…big fat book…” The Parallax View (2009) to elucidate the wicked hard problematic of the self in philosophy. In the introductory paragraphs we are shown around the galleys—an assemblage of art, pop-cultural and historical analysis and anecdotes—; one privilege of being a reader of Žižek is to find the same ironic and hilarious statements performed once again with grand flitting gestures and chorea on several video lectures online. We will dispense with the fun and game, and let the philosophy break out of its mirrored parallaxes.
The punch line of this tome, of course, is to situate the “…insurmountable parallax gap…” between plain sense certainty and the Hegelian infinite idea of self as the “the confrontation of two closely linked perspectives between which no neutral common ground is possible”. This deadlock, for him, is the self itself. The two closely linked objects of discourse here are the “…Hegelian-Lacanian…” notion of the subject and the dialectical materialist view of subjectivity that Žižek proposes to conjugate with sense perception, completing what he calls the event of “…Hegelian infinite judgement…” inside the self— a short circuit.
Let us qualify the terms of discourse through which Žižek offers to take us to this ‘self’ effacing parallax. The three terms, which begin with the problem of two [namely, subject and object], are: (1) the Hegelian-Lacanian subject; (2) the partial objects of sense perceptions; and, (3) the gap which Žižek calls constitutive of the Hegelian-Lacanian subject, and its contingent freedom in affirming its sense perceptions as Being itself.
It will be more beneficial to enter this discussion from its tail-end; what is this constitutive gap that Žižek is talking about?
This term “gap” which we now set out to analyse has been described, in The Universal Exception (2006), as the proper realm of human inter-action that is invoked in the transition from intentional speech content to the expressed contents of speech; or, even as the “…’defective’ mode of subjectivity, as a thwarted subject…” that is nonetheless constitutive of the absolute subject. This notion of the gap has been used, also, in The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology (2000), as a stick to beat Heidegger’s indigent and non-knowing being-at-hand which presumes to dismiss “…the gap separating awareness of the ontological horizon from the ontic engagement…” as the transcendental or absolute subject. It has been used to call up the “…unbridgeable gap” that “separates forever a human body from its voice”, in On Belief (2001).
This gap, it can be seen, has found articulation in several forms throughout Žižek’s philosophical oeuvre. The general use of the gap as an apparatus of thought in Žižek usually happens in encounters between a perceiving subject and a disorienting, or unprecedented, object of its perception. We can say that this gap, whenever it is invoked, takes on a spatial and temporal aspect where a decision is realised—creating a third entity. The idea of the human body separated from its voice is the alienated self, but this gap is crossed over by accepting the situation as the human voice tout court. The gap is what is between intentional thoughts and speech acts; the spaces where objects are united with their experiencing subject[s] in stages of thought; the awareness which succeeds preconscious motivation and contemplative activity. All these formulations of the gap, that we have been through so far, serve the express goal of uniting the conditions of sense experience in the person who experiences them, and without.
The gap in Žižek is, then, the conceptual bone from which the spirit of thought rises, beyond its abstract conceptual framework to the status of a concrete self in time and space, even as an absolute self. This entails conceiving of the instinctual stuff which is the seat of affect, cognition and action as a kind of pure, inscrutable and numinous intentionality; which is why Žižek tries to equate them with the death instinct or purely driven subject of Lacan ($).
“[The]…very detachment from immediate immersion in life-experiences gives rise to new (not emotions or feelings, but, rather) affects: anxiety, horror. Anxiety as correlative to confronting the Void that forms the core of the subject; horror as the experience of disgusting life at its purest, “undead” life”
—Žižek, Slavoj. (2009, p. 227).
The characteristics of this numinous intentionality cannot be determined by anything outside it, but it can, nevertheless, determine itself from within by tapping into the death-drive. Thus, action is achieved by an intentional subject acting on the world of objects which it must wilfully posit outside itself by a compulsion of its form, and in this action it recognises itself as an ‘I’. But, from its own mental experience the ‘I’ cannot yet affirm itself as a material or spiritual being because as pure intentionality it has only potentiality, or negativity, at least until it performs a self-determining action by negating itself.
So, Žižek asks us to think of the self, or ‘I’ in its “…concrete universality”…; “…not merely” as “the universal core that animates a series of its particular forms of appearance…” but as “…the very irreducible tension, noncoincidence between…different levels”. He evidently intends to derive by this negation of the gap—in voluntary action—a warrant to call the pre-reflective or abortive Cogito ‘I’ a stage before the Hegelian ticklish subject of infinite judgement. This absolute subject “…the Hegelian ‘negation of negation’” “…not a matrix…of a loss and its recuperation, but simply that of a process of passage from state A to state B: the first, immediate ‘negation’ of A” that “negates the position of A while remaining within its symbolic confines, so it must be followed by another negation, which then negates the very symbolic space common to A and its immediate negation. [T]hat the gap” which “…separates the negated system’s ‘real’ death from its ‘symbolic’ death is crucial: the…” subject “…has to die twice“. This speculation in-the-gaps-of-what-brain-science-cannot-explain is an overly religious attitude quite at odds with the claim of a radical materialist philosophy.
Of this movement the only justification offered is a proposition without argument, the arguments are levelled at a straw man: “… [T]he One of an organism as a Whole retroactively “posits” as its result, as that which dominates and regulates, the set of its own causes (that is, the very multiple process out of which it emerged)”. In light of neuroscientific evidence that the self produces itself but cannot understand the production of itself simultaneously Žižek says “I am tempted to link this emotion which precedes feeling to the empty pure subject ($): emotions are already the subject’s, but before subjectivisation, before their transposition into the subjective experience of feeling. $ is thus the subjective correlative to emotions prior to feeling: it is only through feelings that I become the ‘full’ subject of lived self-experience”. So, Damasio conveniently, for Žižek, “…leaves out of consideration the proper empty core of subjectivity”. Bakker beautifully deflates this bag of irresponsibly speculative wind: “The cognitive scientist need only ask, What is this ‘self-referential symbolic act’? And the circular penury of Žižek’s position is revealed: How can an act of meaning ground the possibility of meaningful acts? The vicious circularity is so obvious that one might wonder how a thinker as subtle as Zizek could run afoul it. But then, you must first realize (as, say, Dennett realizes) the way intentionality as a whole, and not simply the ‘person,’ is threatened by the mechanistic paradigm of the life sciences”.
Although this notion of gap remains fuzzy at its strongest moment of sleight of hand, we must now move onto the next term of Žižek’s discourse in The Parallax View (2009); namely, the Hegelian-Lacanian notion of the subject ($) but, considered on its own terms of coherence.
The question of the partial objects of sense perceptions.
The negation of Žižek’s negation of the gap in subjective feelings as ($) has been called into question from a scientific perspective. But there are phenomenological and psychoanalytical reasons, too, that prevent this rash sublation which Žižek is hedging for. The difference Žižek posits between $ and the abortive Cogito is one of the graduated self-consciousness of feelings expressed by language and thereby through figures of speech and feeling. But, this difference he invokes by appealing to Lacan’s notion of demand a propos desire is ultimately one which is hermeneutic, even eminently metaphysical in the Hegelian and even Kantian sense. He presents an apologia for numinous instincts that interpret themselves as a self and then as a transcendental subject for itself but does not tell us where this shift in the direction of selfhood and transcendence came about if the $ was preconstituted by a language that was not yet there. In other words, Freud’s notion of subjectivation is closer to the phenomenological observation, and dismantles Lacan’s contortions, he is clear that the instincts and their objects come to become “reality”: the self is an ego-cathexis.
Accordingly, if language preceded the phenomenological account of consciousness it was precisely because the ‘I’ which witnesses the suspended epochȇ was taken to be present in whatever capacity the object of its observation was present. It posits its presuppositions but not backwards, only forwards towards intentionality proper—because the topographic movement of consciousness presupposes an original repression. This commonality and compatibility between Freud and Damasio is devastating for Žižek’s claim; because, now there is no ontological validity in any distinction being made between “the proper core subjectivity” and mere affects. [T]he timelessness of the id and the chaotic cauldron of impulses it holds with the formal and immanent structure of the ego-object comes to a self-understanding only much later when language tones, controls, binds and negates instincts. One benefits by remembering Freud’s aphoristic brevity on the matter, “Where the id was the ego shall be”.
But, Žižek’s recourse to the Hegelian dialectic needs examination at this point. Let us assume for a moment that $ is subjectivity proper and that it is different from the ego-cathexis which Freud posits as the harbinger of reality.
“… [T]he sensitivity to the enigma of Other’s desire” which Žižek invokes to subjectivise the proper core of ego-cathexis, in his statement of, what he imagines would be, how “Hegel would have put it…transcendence is the form of appearance of immanence”. However, this is an absolutely unwarranted claim. Hegel was of the opinion that if the absolute was thought “…in naturalistic terms…then metaphysics” would “not require the transcendent knowledge condemned by Kant. All that” one “…need[ed] to know” was “nature herself”. The problem with Žižek’s naturalistic explanation, then, is the same as the problem with the Christian fundamentalist explanation of the Blind Watch Maker to account for intelligent design; the gaps in logic which science offers today are reified as transcendental reality always already.
Now, Kant’s blows fall mightily on Žižek’s crypto-transcendentalist $: “We cannot confirm the idea of a natural purpose through experience, and that we attribute purposes to nature only by analogy with our own conscious intentions. The idea of an organism has a strictly heuristic value in helping us to systematize our knowledge of the many particular laws of nature. We cannot assume that nature is an organism, then, but we can proceed only as if it were one. In the terms of Kant’s first Critique, the idea of an organism is not a “constitutive” but only a “regulative” principle. Rather than describing anything that exists, it simply prescribes a task, the organization of all our detailed knowledge into a system. Here, then, lies the basic sticking point between Kant and Hegel: Kant denies, and Hegel affirms, that we can know that nature is an organism”. But Žižek’s organism comes to subjectivated only retroactively when language can clothe its genitality in figures of speech, of feeling, but Freud’s naturalism and Hegel’s idealism are not amenable to this particular subjectivity proper which Žižek desperately needs for his transcendentalism without the transcendental.
The problem with laying on the Lacan on the Hegelian transcendental subject is that an impossible chasm—of the Freudian id which lacks time and spatiality—lies between them. See here.
The remnants of Žižek’s instinctual transcendentalism now require a topographic account of the prior-to-that-which-is-posited by the it or gap of his subtractive ontology. What exactly this subtractive ontology subtracts, and from what, as we have seen is a fraught question.
This brings us to the final, or Žižek’s first, term :the Hegelian-Lacanian Subject ($).
“We see that in the inner world of appearances, the Understanding in truth comes to know nothing else but appearance, but not in the shape of a play of Forces, but rather that play of Forces in its absolutely universal moments and in their movement; in fact, the Understanding experiences only itself. Raised above perception, consciousness exhibits itself closed in a unity with the supersensible world through the mediating term of appearance, through which it gazes into this background [lying behind appearance]. The two extremes [of this syllogism], the one, of the pure inner world, the other, that of the inner being gazing into this pure inner world, have coincided just as they, qua extremes, have vanished, so too the middle term, as something other than these extremes, has also vanished. This curtain [of appearances] hanging before the inner world is therefore drawn away, and we have the inner being [the ‘I’] gazing into the inner world—the vision of the undifferentiated selfsame being, which repels itself from itself, posits itself as an inner being containing different moments, but for which equally these moments are immediately not different—self-consciousness. It is manifest that behind the so-called curtain which is supposed to conceal the inner world, there is nothing to be seen unless we go behind it ourselves, as much in order that we may see, as that there may be something behind there which can be seen. But at the same time it is evident that we cannot without more ado go straightaway behind appearance. For this knowledge of what is the truth of appearance as ordinarily conceived, and of its inner being, is itself only a result of a complex movement whereby modes of consciousness ‘meaning’, perceiving, and the Understanding, vanish; and it will be equally evident that the cognition of what consciousness knows in knowing itself, requires a still more complex movement…”
—Hegel, Georg. W., F., § 165. Phenomenology of Spirit.
The transcendentally numinous instincts of Žižek’s notion of bare humanisation demand an account of the external reality which it projects without irony into its prehistory. Without the psychoanalytic notion of primal repression the dialectic which Hegel sets in motion does not even begin. Furthermore, the conclusions derived in the Lacanian version of this passage from Hegel are the same as that of Hegel. That one’s “…cognition of what consciousness knows in knowing itself…” requires a still greater movement that can account for the whole subject which precedes the cognition of parts belonging to a whole, and which Freudianism truly problematises. But, if Lacan is following Freud then this result cannot be true; or, Lacan is not a Freudian, because he doesn’t address the problem of the peculiar ego-cathexis which makes language possible. It cannot be emphasised more vehemently that what Jacques Lacan calls the “…imaginary spatiotemporal complex…” that allows desire to act in a specific way in response to a cognition is precisely the suspended epochȇ of the Kantian transcendental intuition. This intuition which is nevertheless the same transcendental subject of Hegel is also the constitutive form of mental objects, and then they, are “…the subjective forms of the unity of understanding”.
The further problem with the self-positing $ who demands his desire is the inability to posit language as a preconscious structure of intention, which other than taking issue with Freudianism would run afoul of Kant’s sophisticated case for what qualifies as subjective and objective. This means that “…the Kantian distinctions between judgements of perception and judgements of experience, subjective and objective unity of consciousness, and empirical and pure apperception…”… all of which are constitutive of Kant’s notion of consciousness demand satisfaction to pass muster as a properly subjective inaugural moment. Also, if this subjective moment were affirmed the purely instinctual drive or trieb, that Žižek latches onto, would begin with negativity only to negate an ego-cathexis, not reality as such as that would still be transcendental.
All in all, under the screen of anecdote and faux radicalism is the big charged void of Žižek’s fatally flawed subtractive ontology. The pithy mouthings and terse Lacanisation of desire—indeed, its becoming Oedipal despite itself and its self-positing genitality—are so much the worse for their blatant misapplication of German Idealism.
In a way, the faulty interpretation of Lacan’s Hegel and Lacan’s Freud which let Žižek fall through the constitutive gap of Hegelian infinite judgement are a proof a posteriori for the nullibiety of the Žižekian parallax. It hangs suspended on a gap, too precarious to tarry with the truly negative because it casts its pale shadow objectively over Žižek’s speculative negativity.
Beiser, Frederick. (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hegel. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Giordanetti, Piero; Pozzo, Ricardo & Sgarbi, Marco. (2012). Kant’s Philosophy of the Unconscious. Göttingen, Germany: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG.
Gregory, Richard, L. (2004). The Oxford Companion to the Mind. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
Hegel, Georg, W. F. Trans. Miller, A. V. (1977). The Phenomenology of Spirit. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
Lacan, Jacques. Trans. Fink, Bruce. (2006). Écrits: The First Complete English Edition. London, UK: W. W. Norton & Company.
Ricoeur, Paul. Trans. Savage, Denis. (2008). Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. New Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.
Žižek, Slavoj. (2000). The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology. London, UK: Verso.
Žižek, Slavoj. Rex, Butler & Stephens, Scott Eds. (2006). The Universal Exception. New York, USA: Continuum Books.
Žižek, Slavoj (2009). The Parallax View. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
 “Short Circuits: Series Foreword”.
 Žižek describing The Parallax View (2009), which he was in the final stages of writing, in Astra Taylor’s documentary Žižek! (2005).
 Žižek, Slavoj (2009). “Introduction”. The Parallax View. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press. p. 4.
 Žižek, Slavoj. (2009).
 Ibid. p. 5.
 Žižek, Slavoj. Rex, Butler & Stephens, Scott Eds. (2006). The Universal Exception. New York, USA: Continuum Books. p. xviii
 Ibid. p. 103.
 Žižek, Slavoj. (2000). The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology. London, UK: Verso. p. 15.
 Žižek, Slavoj. (2001). On Belief. New York, USA: Routledge, p. 58.
 “The “…proper core of subjectivity $…insofar as it explodes the frame of life-regulating homeostasis, coincides with what Freud calls death drive” Žižek, Slavoj. (2009, p. 227).
 Žižek spends considerable time refuting Damasio’s claims that the self produces itself by the moment but cannot account for the production of itself qua self. (2009, p. 225).
 “…This, again, is “humanisation” at its zero-level: this self-propelling loop which suspends/ disrupts linear temporal enchainment” Žižek, Slavoj (2009). “The Stellar Parallax: The Traps of Ontological Difference”. p. 63.
 Ibid. Žižek, Slavoj. (2009). p. 31.
 Žižek’s conception of voluntary is that “…man perceives as a direct goal what, for an animal, has no intrinsic value” (2009, p. 62).
 Žižek, Slavoj. (2000, p. 72).
 Žižek, Slavoj. (2009, p. 205).
 Ibid. p. 227.
 Žižek, Slavoj. (2009, p. 296).
 Ricoeur, Paul. 2008, p. 268.
 Ricoeur, Paul. 2008. p. 396- 97.
 Žižek, Slavoj. (2009, p. 356).
 Beiser, Frederick. (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hegel. “Introduction: Hegel and the problem of metaphysics” p. 8.
 Ibid. p. 9.
 Gregory, Richard, L. (2004). The Oxford Companion to the Mind. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
 “…if the finite ego and nature remain radically heterogeneous from one another – if the spontaneous activity of the ego is purely intellectual or noumenal and the sphere of nature is purely sensible or phenomenal – then the ego cannot even begin to act upon nature to bring it under its rational control” (Beiser, Frederick,1993, p. 14).
 Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason.
 Giordanetti, Piero; Pozzo, Ricardo & Sgarbi, Marco. (2012, p. 235).
About paratelosI am a freelance writer. My interests lie in literature, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, and the humanities. I write fiction, and verse occasionally, in between academic papers for clients, and for pleasure.
Posted on March 3, 2013, in anti-dialectics, endorsements and reviews, Ethics, History, Humanism, ideology, Left-turn, Marxism, Media, Philosophy and Politics, Polemics, Psychoanalysis, Reviews, RIght-turn, Science, Skepticism, Socialism, Uncategorized and tagged Being, Death drive, Ecrits, Ego-Cathexis, Freud, genitality, Georg, Hegel, Heidegger, Instinct, Jacques, Kant, Lacan, Metaphysics, Nirvana, noumena, Parallax, phenomena, philosophy, Psychoanalysis, Reality Principle, Review, Sigmund, Slavoj, Subtractive Ontology, transcendentalism, Trieb, View, Zizek. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.