Tag Archive: Zizek

This started out as a response to Slavoj Zizek’s recent talk here at the University of Vermont on “Buddhism Naturalized,” but evolved into a consideration of subjectivity, which happened to be the topic of my next post in the pre-G (process-relational ecosophy-G) series. So this can be considered part 1 of a 2-part series.


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I enjoyed Astra Taylor’s film Examined Life when I first saw it a couple of years ago, and, having just watched it again, I’m glad to see that it bears re-viewing.

As one might expect, some segments are more lasting than others. Slavoj Zizek wearing an orange safety vest talking about ecology at a London trash heap (above) is the most brilliantly conceived segment, and one gets to hear the full (and in its own way brilliant) incoherence of his position on the topic. “The true ecological attitude is to hate the world: less love, more hatred,” as he puts it in the full interview (available in the book-of-the-film, p. 180).

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I’ve been meaning to catch up on the discussions over Buddhism and objects/relations, Slavoj Zizek’s critique of “Western Buddhism,” and related topics, which have been continuing on Tim Morton’s Ecology Without Nature, Jeffrey Bell’s Aberrant Monism, Skholiast’s Speculum Criticum Traditionis, and elsewhere. I haven’t quite caught up, but here are a few quick notes on some of what’s been said…

1) Michael at Archive Fire rightfully points to the virtues of Jeffrey Bell‘s lucidly articulated point that

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The image of dark flow, described as 1400 galaxy clusters streaming toward the edge of the universe at blistering speed in the ongoing “afterglow” of the big bang (or something like that), has haunted me ever since I read about it several days ago. Caused “shortly after the big bang by something no longer in the observable universe,” and possibly by “a force exerted by other universes squeez[ing] ours” (umm, a force… doing what?… I can imagine Jon Stewart’s face squinting after hearing that), I can’t help thinking that astrophysicists are arriving at the point where the known universe is being bounded and taking its place amidst a more mysterious space of otherness, where we have no clue (and can’t possibly have a clue) what goes on. So it becomes the realm of poetry, of dreams and nightmares, of haunted imaginings, like the deep sea, beyond the reach of sunlight, that still fascinates us, but even more deep, dark, vital.

Einstein had famously said that “as our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it”; and perhaps the current constellation of events — the economic crisis with its Ponzi schemes, bank machinations, and the West’s growing indebtedness to po-faced and unreadable China, the gradually accumulating reports about climate change, and films about forthcoming apocalypses (2012), zombies and vampires (Zombieland, Twilight Saga: The New Moon), and zombieless apocalypses (The Road) — are conspiring to make us all a little curious, and spooked, about what’s out there in the growing darkness… What god will put the squeeze on us next, and what’s to guarantee he or she will be benevolent?

I’m also recalling a recent set of exchanges between Ben Woodard, kvond, and others on dark vitalism, a thought-stream brewing out of the nature-philosophical wing of speculative realism that Ian Hamilton Grant helped unleash with his Philosophies of Nature After Schelling… which perhaps is a Zeitgeist thing.

Zizek’s account of the Robert Heinlein novel “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” includes a lovely passage where he equates the Lacanian Real, the unassimilable kernel around which subjectivity is formed, with the “grey and formless mist, pulsing slowly as if with inchoate life” that emerges at the boundary of the known world and the unknown, outside the traveling couple’s car window. The Lacanian spookiness is perhaps what’s missing from Buddhist accounts of emptiness (though it’s hardly foreign to the Tibetan tantrics, with their graveyard nightshift meditations), and, to the goth-loving nature hound, it’s a nice addition. The passage is worth reproducing in full:

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It’s interesting to watch a topic spin itself out rhizomically across the blogosphere. Picking up on Žižek’s ecological musings, Levi Bryant seems more or less in agreement with what I had argued here last week, as does Michael Austin, while Ben Woodard criticizes the narrowing of the “ecology of concepts of nature” (a point I had made, too) and the “ontological priviledge of the subject” that “remains a serious stumbling block for any approach to nature that is not too shallow or too obfuscated.” This latter point sounds to me like Quentin Meillassoux’s (fashionable, in Speculative Realist circles) argument against “correlationism,” i.e., the (post-Kantian) anchoring of philosophy in the human subject’s relationship with the world. While I haven’t read Meillassoux’s After Finitude, I share his critique of correlationism if it’s restricted to the human piece (since the world is made up of more than just human subjects) but not to the extent that it tries to decenter subjectivity in general. As I see it, subjectivity and objectivity are mutually co-constituted through the events (becomings, actual occasions) that make up the world, and this relationship ought to be central to a philosophically realist understanding of the world.

Žižek’s recent lecture on apocalyptic times is available here, his First as Tragedy book talk here, and his new blog can alert you about other things being churned out of the Ž factory. And see all the responses to Mikhail Emelianov’s short post about the first, and Arts & Ecology’s post about the second. What’s most interesting about the apocalypse talk is that Ž. doesn’t include eco-apocalypse in his three main kinds of apocalyptic thinking in popular culture. Has he really come around to seeing both the forest (of “nature”-as-idea) and the trees (the things themselves, including the effects we are having on them)?

Meanwhile, the (pseudo-) event of the hacked climate change e-mails continues to reverberate in the media, siphoning off energy from the rather more important work of preparing for the Copenhagen summit. Grist, Dot Earth, Climate & Capitalism, Arts & Ecology, and WorldChanging are some of the better sites for staying up to date on that topic.

Žižek and his Others


Speaking here at the University of Vermont last Friday, Slavoj Žižek responded to a student query about where to study Lacanianism by lauding our Film and Television Studies Program as the only one anywhere at which Lacanians are actually “in power” — the current chair, former chair, and at least one other faculty member, plus an overflow audience composed primarily of undergrads providing pretty good evidence of this — and then by characterizing the world of Lacanian theory as a kind of widely but thinly spread diaspora, in which the Lacanian had to craftily pretend to go along with the powers-that-be until they got into a secure position at which point they could turn around and “shoot,” i.e. do the real (Lacanian) stuff.

It’s nice to have one’s university marked out as a unique place in this way, not necessarily because of the Lacanianism (though some would say for that, too) as because having Žižek’s imprimatur adds some always-welcome cachet to it. Compared to the talk Žižek gave in Montreal recently, where his topic had been theology and the death of God, he was more on home turf here, both in terms of having the sympathetic packed-hall audience and because his topic was the more familiar one (for his fans) of ideology, film, and Jacques Lacan.

As I’ve related here before (to some extent), I admire Žižek’s passion, am awed by his energy and prolificacy, and strongly sympathize with his overall project, which he has loosely characterized as waking people up from their ideologically induced slumber, where the ‘waking’ is part of a Lacanian unmasking of psychologically driven illusions, and the ‘ideology’ is the one propping up capitalist injustice. But when it comes to the details of his arguments, I don’t always find them as convincing as I would like.

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radical orthodoxies, left & right. . .

Slavoj Zizek’s engagement with theologians like radical orthodoxist John Milbank continues to perplex me a little bit, but having heard him speak a few days ago with death-of-God theologian Thomas Altizer at the American Academy of Religion meeting in Montreal left me reassured me that Zizek is far from the wildest (and zaniest) mind out there. Altizer’s voice thundered through the Palais des Congres conference room as he corralled Hegel and William Blake into a kind of ecstatic rave-up on Satan and the self-annihilation of God. I’m not familiar enough with Altizer’s thinking to judge it, but it sounded a little to me like taking two parts X (in this case, Hegel), one part Y (Blake), and sprinkling in some N and M (Nietzsche and Jung?) just to see what will come of it (something, I think, about spirit’s immanence in the world through the self-annihilation of God via Christ). [sentence deleted out of respect]*

But Zizek’s big argument was the same as ever: that the relativists, postmodernists, multiculturalists, holists, pagans, buddhists, relationalists, Deleuzians, and even deconstructive theologians like John Caputo (addressed directly) are all wrong, and are really just propping up the illusory Big Other instead of releasing us into the revolutionary moment, and that what we need instead is a Leninist revolutionary force to bring about, I guess, an egalitarian utopia on Earth.

I like watching Zizek perform and enjoy his post-Yugoslav sense of humor, and I think his big Lacanian thought is a very good one to have around — on ecological matters no less than on others (though there’s an incoherent desperation in his writing on ecology that makes me glad Tim Morton is around to tell us more clearly what Zizek would like to say). But I can’t help wondering if there’s a kind of continuity — not of ideas, but of sensibility — developing between his (and Alain Badiou’s) ultra-Left neo-Orthodoxy and other orthodoxies, like the Radical Orthodoxy of Milbank and of Philip Blond, spiritual gurus for some of the “red Tories” among David Cameron’s soon-to-be-ruling Conservatives in the UK, and maybe even the Radical Traditionalists that have influenced the European New Right (including the neo-’Pagans’ among them such as Russia’s Aleksandr Dugin and France’s Alain de Benoist). I haven’t read Zizek’s/Milbank’s Monstrosity of Christ (being, quite honestly, a little afraid of it), only reviews of it; but it does seem to me that all of these neo-orthodoxies are fervently anti-liberal, both in liberalism’s economic (neoliberal) and its cultural variants, and are either sour on democracy, or at least merely utilitarian in their approach to it.

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Žižek on Iran

I’m reprinting Slavoj Žižek’s (copyright-free) analysis of the events in Iran, which were forwarded to Infinite Thought by Ali Alizadeh, who I mentioned in a recent post. It’s vintage Žižek: by turns provocative, unpredictable, overwrought, and brilliant, in its verve if not necessarily its accuracy, though I think he gets it mostly right. I would read Tamim Ansari’s Iran’s Regime: Marching Toward A Cliff alongside this piece; Ansari provides some useful background on the social currents involved in these Iranian events and those of 1979. Also, the Independent’s Robert Fisk continues to provide a reasonable countercurrent to most everything that comes out in the popular western press; see, for instance, this piece on fantasy and reality in Iran.

Will the cat above the precipice fall down?

by Slavoj Žižek

When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, its dissolution as a rule follows two steps. Before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture takes place: all of a sudden people know that the game is over, they are simply no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its legitimacy, its exercise of power itself is perceived as an impotent panic reaction. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down…

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Or, Toward an eco-Buddhist-processualist cultural criticism

Note: This is work in progress and probably won’t be published for a while, and not in this form in any case. It comes from an attempt to theorize an ‘ecocritical’ understanding of culture that is in dialogue with the Marxist tradition of social and political analysis, Derridean poststructural philosophy, Buddhist psychology, and the psychoanalysis of Freud, Lacan, and Zizek, among others. I welcome comments.

For Fredric Jameson, it is history, understood in Marxian terms as a series of changing relationships among and between social groups and their systems of material production, that serves as a relatively stable ground or horizon against which the vicissitudes of human culture play their figure. For Derridean deconstruction (and other brands of poststructuralism), there is no ultimate ground, and textuality in its groundless infinite play is what shows us this most clearly. For the approach I’m working on, rooted in a more naturalistic understanding of the world than Derrida’s and a more ecological one than Jameson’s, there is similarly no ultimate ground, but there are relative grounds that can be found in the unfoldment of social and ecological relations. The hermeneutic I’m proposing doesn’t leave us errantly wandering among texts and discourses (as does deconstruction), but leaves us ethically responding to others (as many deconstructionists themselves do) among relations that are simultaneously material and biological (a la Marx and Darwin), discursive (a la culturalism), and imaginal-phantasmic (a la psychoanalysis).

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On the surface, “immanence” would appear to favor certain religiosities (paganisms, pantheisms, animisms, earth spiritualities) over others (transcendentalist monotheisms, rigid dualisms, Buddhist “extinctionism,” et al). But its resonance works within traditions as well: towards panentheistic strains of Christianity, where the Christ is seen as in-dwelling, where Easter is the rebirth of nature and life as well as of social relations after the long hard winter, where Mary is the cosmos; or toward a boddhisattvic liberationist Buddhism that cherishes life rather than seeking to flee from it.

Immanentism redirects our attention to what is going on in the moment-to-moment shaping of the world, to our experience and ability to shift things in one direction or another, to karmic conditions as open-ended rather than fixed. When we grasp something (the self, political power, the object of our desire), we lose it. Immanentism redirects us to the between: the grasping, the finding and losing, the power-to and power-with, the swelling current that pushes for change (e.g., in the build-up to the last US election) rather than the icon of change it gives rise to (Obama) though that icon be instrumental to the change.

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