YouTube video here: Chapter 2 — Where There Is Nothing, Read That I Love You
Welcome back for another dive into Slavoj Žižek’s Less Than Nothing. Here in lecture 3 we approach Chapter 2, entitled “Where There Is Nothing, Read That I Love You” which is an ode to the structure of Christian tragedy and love; an ode to a monotheistic tradition, which Žižek argues, can only be properly understood under a system of materialist atheism.
Here we have move on from “Eppur Si Muove” focused on introducing you to the basic concepts and frames considered in Less Than Nothing; and “Vacillating the Semblances” focused on a revival of understanding Platonic Truth. In this section we continue on from Plato into its logical institutional partner, the Nature of Christian Truth.
As Žižek identifies many times throughout his work, the God of Christianity takes on a radically different character than the God of Judaism. The God of Judaism is a mysterious tyrannical force who demands strange behaviours from his subjects; whereas in the God of Christianity, the mystery of God’s desire is reconciled, with the demand of an unconditional Love, an unconditional sacrifice, that is capable of manifesting itself beyond the Good.
Žižek offers that this transformation between the monotheistic traditions can be demonstrated to possess a striking parallel in the philosophical thought of Descartes cogito in the Meditations which grounds modern science; namely, a transition from the incertitude of radical doubt (that we do not know God’s desire) towards the certitude of radical knowledge (that we know absolutely God’s desire). In this perspective, no matter how horrible our material surroundings are, no matter how hopeless our world becomes, God’s love is absolute, unchanging, unwavering. That God loves humanity absolutely, to those who give themselves unconditionally to him.
However, Žižek does not offer this interpretation of Christianity to suggest that we should accept our Fate as doomed to this World, but rather, that the cognitive structure of Christianity signals the emergence of a collective belief that suggests that, basically, we are immortal souls with God, irrespective of any external evidences or external forces that would suggest otherwise. In this structure an uncompromising fidelity to desire, of unconditional Love to God, is to be privileged over any brave acceptance of our singular existential Fate in death. From this perspective there is nothing more radical than pure unconditional love (1):
“The unthinkable traumatic core of pure love[.] Here is [a] breathtakingly precise formula:
‘The unthinkable in pure love is, in a sense, Christianity itself, the scandal of the Cross, the Passion and the death of Christ, the “Why did you abandon me?” from the psalm taken over by Christ and on which the mystics of pure love conferred a radicality intolerable for the Church.’
This moment of tragedy, this return of the tragic at the very heart of Christianity as the religion of love, is also the point which the self-erasing mysticism of ecstatic love cannot properly grasp: when mystics talk about the “Night of the World”, they directly identify with this Night (the withdrawal from external reality into the void of pure innerness) with the divine Beatitude, with the self-erasing immersion into Divinity; for Christianity, in contrast, the unbearable and unsurpassable tension remains.”
If one reads this quote carefully what is being expressed here is an absolute rejection of the forms of Christianity which tend towards individual spiritual withdrawal over the actual historical commitment to love in our shared world. This expresses a theme that can be captured throughout Less Than Nothing: that is a theme of a spirituality or a religion that can withstand the brutality of the world over its first level negation which tends towards a reclusive innerness, and thus does not understand the importance of the appearances. One should keep this in mind as we move on throughout the lecture.
Throughout Less Than Nothing Žižek will offer his psychoanalytic interpretation of Christian love, and contrast it with the forms of religious like spirituality dominate today, such as:
- Eastern spiritualism of the void which negates all appearances as insubstantial and thus illusory, offering the subject a traversal of its Self-hood towards the pure nothingness of Being;
- Marxist humanism which argues for an atheistic love expressed through an abstract to concrete love of humanity as a whole, offering the subject a future secular paradise; and the
- Scientific atheist post-modernist love which is expressed as a love for nature as a whole and coming to understand our place in nature, which offers the subject a wise acceptance of finitude and mortality.
For Žižek, none of these forms of love is radical enough to confront the core Truths of Christianity.
What Žižek claims these modern dominant forms of spirituality fail to understand is the Evental nature of the Void, of the way in which it erupts within the revelation or disclosure of Being in human history. In Heidegger we get the emphasis on “being-in-the-world” of “being-there” as being the site within which both Being and Nothing manifests itself. Our phenomenal being (or the Dasein) is thus necessary for both Being to be itself and for Nothing to be itself. Being and Nothing take place through our Dasein.
In that sense Žižek notes that the religion which emphasizes the strongest negation of appearances, Buddhism, paradoxically has to account for its own historical manifestation as a religion committed to strict institutional practices. From this perspective we should not focus on Buddhism in the sense of the pure innerness, the pure inwardness of the Void, but instead focus on Buddhism in terms of its institutional practices and the way in which it actualizes and instantiates itself in history. This is what Heidegger would refer to as the “Event arrival” of Nothing. That Nothing as a historical presence is the very ontological fact that produces the institutional structures of Buddhism.
In this perspective we have to reflectively ask, not whether the appearances are just illusory, but why such a split emerges internal to the Being of Dasein? Why is there this seeming dualism between the illusory something of appearances and the nothing of the void? For this we have to understand the very nature of a historically constituted subjectivity.
In this reflective turn the status of the subject in German Idealism becomes important to understand. In German Idealism the subject is the power of unification in understanding, the subject is what brings Being into Being with the power of its synthetic cognitive imagination. Of course, this does not mean that the subject literally brings what we think of as the World or organic substantial Being in-itself itself into Being. But what it does mean is that Being gains the appearance of unity or a sensuous coming together only through the appearance of the subject.
Thus, German Idealism also thinks of the other side of the appearance of the subject, which is that the appearance of sensual unity emergent in the subject, is also the power of a forceful negativity, contrasted with the substantial positivity of Being. In this forceful negativity the subjective understanding (in its own unity) tears things apart, engages in the act of differentiation, where it takes a substantial whole and highlights connections and dimensions that are necessary for its unity. This is what we refer to as the powers of abstraction.
What is important to think when we think these two forces together, is that the subject’s differentiation from a pure substantial being, is simultaneously the offer of its own subjectively constituted unity, which did not exist prior to the subject.
In this sense German Idealism sees the subject as an emergent singularity within Being, the force that, between the opposites of something (a fully substantial organic unity) and nothing (a fully insubstantial imagistic void), introduces a third paradoxical element where all opposites coincide in its unifying gestures. Žižek understands this “singular punctual moment of the full identity of opposites” as something that can be structured by the bringing together of something and nothing; the bringing together of eros (the life force) and thanatos (the death force); of masculine penetrating energies and feminine receiving energies; of the light of sublime reason and the darkness of emotional madness; of the structure of a new order against the background of a chaotic realm. In that sense what the subject is is precisely the force that brings its synthetic activity to the polarities of opposites, bringing them together, if only for a fragile unobservable moment. From this perspective, once again, we do not focus only on the subject’s immersion in a pure inwardness, in a pure void of self-relation, but instead in a dynamic synthetic activity. This would contrast with the standard image of the meditating Buddha with the subjective motion requires to bring the institutional structures of Buddhism into Being itself.
Here we are introduced to the radicality of Žižek’s psychoanalytically informed Christianity. In this guise we have Christianity in the presented form of a monstrous drive which demands the singular unity of the signifier against all externalities. Thus here we can interpret the singular unity of Christ or the singular unity of Buddha or the singular unity of any signifier that organizes an unconditional historical ritual insisting on manifestation of the divine within Being as in the mode of what Freud called the “death drive”. The death drive is when the subject gives all its subjective energies to the unity of the signifier that emerges and was generated in-and-for-the-Other; so that the hole in the Other can be filled with a concrete unity. This is what is getting us closer to understanding the Heideggerian notion of the historicity of the Event of Nothing. Nothing is not just a passive entity there forever, but a historical provocation of Being. Nothing is a hole, a hole where the drive finds its own circular motion around a pure unity of the signifier.
In this frame Žižek suggests that the true meaning of the Death of God in Christianity, where God descends to Earth in the form of an individual human, only to die and be resurrected as the Holy Spirit; is the fact that there is something within the human body that is more than just a body. Thus when we consider the death of God from the perspective of deep melancholy, joyful freedom, or a cold analytical gaze, we should also be aware of the interpretation that points towards the very immortalization of the human body. In a very Lacanian formula we can say that “there is something in the human body which is more than […] this body itself” (4).
Žižek here seeks to deepen the connection between psychoanalysis and Christianity by interpreting the Holy Ghost as what Lacan identified as the Other. In this formula we have a fully substantial God, the Father, who enters into the World as a Subject, the Son, only to die on the Cross of self-sacrifice which manifests in the form of the Holy Ghost, or the Other. In this sense Žižek attempts to claim that when Jesus died on the Cross what we were left with was the community of believers, the community that organizes around the pure unified signifier.
What we get here is an absolute that is radical in its emergence, and also an absolute that is totally insubstantial, a virtual agency that exists only insofar as the subjectivity organizing around it, maintain their belief.
How do we interpret this?
We can interpret this in a precise sense. What Žižek is saying is that the community of Christians or the community of Buddhists or the community of communists or any community whatsoever, gains its consistency from the unity of the signifier, and that the unity of the signifier requires the engaged and belief-oriented action of a community of believing subjectivity. Thus there is no Holy Spirit or Other independent of the community of believers, the Holy Spirit or Other only gains its consistency and “subsistence” from the subjectivity that organizes it into Being.
Here we can quote Lacan when he stated that “The Holy Ghost is the entry of the signifier into the World.” (5) Or, we could also quote the Bible, which stated that the “Word became Flesh”, which is the same thing.
We can draw further parallels between Christianity and psychoanalysis with the structure of Hegelian phenomenology. In Hegelian phenomenology we are focusing on the movement of notional structures (what we covered in the last lecture as “vacillating semblances”). In order to understand the basic structure of these notional structures Hegel deployed three different movements of spirit. The first movement can be located on the level of subjective spirit, which is purely and simply the self-conscious creative experience; like, for example, if you are drawing or writing, or for me, when I am narrating and constructing these videos; Hegel would place this on the level of subjective spirit. Of course, there would be no such thing as drawings or writings, or narrated philosophy videos, if it were not for the force of the subjective spirit.
Now, on the second level, Hegel places the level of objective spirit. Objective spirit is the spirit that other subjective spirits encounter as objectively there in Being. As one would see a tree that is objectively there, or a planet that is objectively there, one can also see that Christians and Christian Churches are objectively there. Thus, for Hegel, the Christians and the Christian Churches are there as objectively as the trees and the planets are there, they continue to move and they continue to exist independent of my subjective spirit. This is a crucial dimension of knowing for Hegel that has to do with the subject’s de-centering within the symbolic order.
Finally, on the third level, we have what Hegel referred to as Absolute Spirit. In Absolute Spirit we have the “objective spirit” that the subject experiences in its self-consciousness as reality itself. In that sense the difference between objective and absolute spirit is the difference between me objectively observing Christians and Christian Churches in my environment, and me objectively identifying as a Christian and worshipping within a Christian Church as my true environment. In that sense it is that the symbolic order comes to be experienced as the truest reality, in and through the work of the subjective spirit. From this interpretation, precisely, we can say that the distance between the subject and the Absolute is found internal to a gap that is constitutive of subjectivity.
Now we can bring it back around and connect Hegel to Christianity and psychoanalysis. In this structure everything that I said about the differences between the subjective, objective, and absolute spirit can be applied to what we may refer to in Christianity as the Son-God-Holy Spirit; or in Psychoanalysis as the Subject-Father-Other triads (6):
“We can oppose the universal symbolic system as a non-psychological “objective social fact” to individual subjects and their interaction. We reach concrete universality when we ask how the anonymous symbolic system exists for the subject, that is, how the subject experiences it as “objective”, universal. In order for universality to become “concrete,” For-itself, it has to be experienced as such, as a non-psychological universal order, by the subject. This precise distinction enables us to account for the passage of what Hegel called “objective spirit” (OS) to “absolute spirit” (AS). We do not pass from OS to AS by way of a simple subjective appropriation of “reified” OS subjectivity — this would be a simple reduction of OS to subjective spirit (SS). […] The passage from OS to AS resides in nothing but the dialectical mediation between OS and SS, in the inclusion of a gap that separates OS from SS within SS, so that OS has to appear (be experienced) as such, as an objective “reified” entity, by SS itself.”
When Žižek describes the relation between the subject and the absolute we are thus reflecting on the nature of a subject in relation to a fundamental absence, that the absolute Other exists or emerges or appears in the very gap that I experience as an absence. This distance, this gap, from the absolute, is the necessary condition for the revelation of the absolute, and for the becoming of the subject. From this perspective the subject, the creative experience of spirit, draws itself into existence, and is drawn into existence, like the closed rotating loop of Escher’s famous image of two hands drawing each other. For example, in making these videos, my creative subjective spirit is engaged in a loop with the absolute Other of philosophy and knowledge of the symbolic order, which I experience as a true realty. My singular punctual intervention into history is nothing but the work of love that is generated by my igniting a closed loop of self-positing my own presuppositions, where the subject presupposes the absolute into Being.
In these representations we can work towards a representation of the Absolute Spirit in its actuality. We have already covered the necessary ontological spaces to articulate this without going over the precise distinctions between something, nothing, and less than nothing; but we can here imagine them in a new socially enacted and historically embedded way.
The first thing to note is that in order for the manifestation of the Absolute we have to have a subject who believes in an internally unified signifier which brings an absolute coherence and a consistency to the World; a subjective unity; but paradoxically and at the same time a radical differentiation from Being. In that sense we have ignited the rotary motion of the Absolute in a single subject.
However, in order to ignite the rotary motion of the Absolute in multiple subjects we have to have a subjective overlap in signifier unities, where two subjects internal unity corresponds to the same absolute Other. From the merger of two subjectivities in the Other we have more complex geometries forming, but in principle, there is no limit to the number of subjectivities which can converge within the Other. Thus, in principle, we can add an endless number of subjectivities to the Other and watch the emergence of the complex geometries that they produce in their rotary motion.
The fact that this Other is not constituted prior to the emergence of subjectivity; and the fact that the Other cannot gain any sense of existence without the belief of subjectivity; is the very space where we are free; and at the same time, the very space where there is no escape from our work and our responsibility for the Absolute.
What we should always be aware of in this structure is that two subjectivities or a community of subjectivities can never expect to substantially ground their unity in a “harmonious Third” (like a marriage contract or a State); a Third that is capable of eternally bringing together the opposites (Man-Woman; or Left-Right). However, and at the same time, the binary oppositions are in some sense structured in such a way that they must maintain their balance dialectically around the singularity of Being. This singularity of Being is the unity of the signifier, and thus is not something related to the Marxist communal love, nor the scientific love of nature.
Another crucial thing to remember about the structure of the Absolute is its radically contingent nature. Here we have to be able to think the radical way in which subjectivity, in its very motion, transforms a contingency, an accident, into an Universal Necessity. In that sense there is no Absolute that covers over the totality of subjectivity, that pre-exists their existence, but nonetheless, in the void, in the Heideggerian evental void, a subjectivity will nonetheless elevate to its highest necessity a unified Absolute.
The hard truth for the subject to accept is that this unified absolute cannot and does not exist outside of its commitment and responsibility for this form of eternity. If the subject were to lose its commitment and responsibility, then the hard work that that absolute requires would evaporate into nothing. At the same time, it is hard for modern subjectivity to understand that such a structure of the Absolute in no way delegitimizes the Absolute, it is its transcendental necessity (7):
“Love is a “scene of the Two” as such, grounded only in itself, its own “work of love”, lacking any Third which would provide a proper support or Ground: when I am in love with someone, my love is neither One nor Three (I do not form with my beloved a harmonious One in fusion, nor is our relationship grounded in a Third, a medium which would provide predetermined coordinates for our love and thus guarantee its harmony). This is what makes love so fragile: it is, as Badiou puts it, a process of pure presentation, a radically contingent encounter incessantly in search of some form of re-presentation in the big Other that would guarantee its consistency.
Christ-Love is [not] a Third term in the relationship of love, its guarantee and foundation, but, on the contrary, as another way of proclaiming the death of God: there is no Other which guarantees our fate; all we have is the self-grounded abyss of our love. What this means is also that Hegel really is the ultimate Christian philosopher: no wonder he often uses the term “love” to designate the play of the dialectical mediation of the opposites. What makes him a Christian philosopher and a philosopher of love is the fact that, contrary to the common misunderstanding, in the arena of dialectical struggle there is no Third which unites and reconciles the two struggling opposites.”
How can we imagine this in a deeper way? If the Absolute Other or the Holy Spirit is radically dependent on human subjectivity for its existence we here have the structure that paradoxically organizes itself around the All of a subjective unity and the Non-All of an objective void. Here the opposites coincide in a radical singularity, where the introduction of a desired unity on the side of the subject is made possible by the radical void on the side of the object.
This openness of the Absolute is what allows us to push history into a realm of Being that has never existed before. Take for example, the Burning Man festival, where we have this structure manifesting in its Absolute radicality, and perhaps, in its radical immanence. Here we have the structure of a community where no one subject stands for Totality, that is taken care of by the signifier of the Burning Man figure itself. Furthermore, in this structure we have a manifestation where the subjective creative spirit fully identifies with its substance in the Other. Moreover, this community emerges in nothingness, in the void of a desert. Where there was once nothing, we have a transcendental explosion or eruption of subjective belief held together by nothing but their own collective belief.
Of course, this is just one historically constituted example of something that could be generalized in a much more radical way. The radicality of the generalization is in relation to the idea that a subject truly engaged in its creative flow, political or artistic or whatever, and who really believes in this project against all limitations and against all external evidence to the contrary, will be existing within an opening where the Absolute appears as the Other. What Žižek is really aiming at here is thus a much more radical notion of communism then the Marxist interpretation which eliminates all transcendental otherness in favour of a pure humanism. What this misses is the very emergence of an insubstantial absolute, of the way in which the subject comes to discover the absolute internal to its own subjective motion. The reality of such a phenomenon is what makes the evental transition from parliamentary democracy to a revolutionary power, immanent.
This brings us to the core of desire, and thus the core of psychoanalysis. Here we see the biggest tension between Buddhism and the Western structure, which we will analyze in greater depth later in the lecture. For now, we can focus on what does it really mean to give oneself to one’s desire? What does it mean to follow the axiom “Do not compromise your desire”?
For Lacan, this must require us to dive as deep as possible into a new form of ethics, a form of ethics that is constituted within an a prior big Other, but an Other that is constituted by subjectivity (8):
“It is because we know better than those who went before how to recognize the nature of desire, which is at the heart of our experience, that a reconsideration of ethics is possible, that a form of ethical judgement is possible, of a kind that gives this question the force of a Last Judgement: ‘Have you acted in conformity with the desire that is in you?’
The only thing of which one can be guilty is of having given ground relative to one’s desire.”
In this exploration of psychoanalytic ethical commitment to desire we must approach the contemporary ethical constellation. In this constellation we find liberal hedonism, which offers us the potential to live a life of unrestrained pleasure (we can eat what we want, we can have sex with whoever we want, we can watch and listen and do anything we want, and so forth). We also find Western Buddhism which offers us a life aimed at internal happiness and peace; where we attempt to reduce external disturbances and troubles and live a restrained life within our limits and in conformity with a reflection of appearances. Finally, we also find individual immoralism, which offers us the option of developing our true self independent of any social pressures; that we can be as radically un-conformist as possible, that we can do whatever we want even at the expense of others moral sensibilities.
What Lacan suggests is that liberal hedonism, western buddhism, and individual immoralism are all false paths in relation to pure desire and are ultimately incapable of actualizing the potentials of the subject. For psychoanalysis unrestrained pleasures do not approach the beyond of the pleasure principle; happiness as the highest telos does not capture the radical imbalances and struggles necessary for real creative spiritual work; and some level of moral conformity with social pressure is necessary when we consider the totality of desires.
In order to better understand how we can think our way out of this ethical constellation let’s first work our way towards Immanuel Kant’s notion of ethical autonomy. In order to get to an understanding of ethical autonomy Kant first proposes the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is first and foremost an unconditional commitment to duty over simple pleasures. That a human subject cannot just give ones life to simple pleasures but must sustain a higher order duty that can sustain itself across the totality of the subjects life.
However, the problem for the categorial imperative, according to Kant, is that of the formal injunction. With the formal injunction we approach the problem that the moral Law cannot tell me what my duty is. In that sense Kant is saying that society is not necessarily a good guide to determine duty. If one simply forms one’s duty in relation to the moral Law we are already at a level where we ignore the desires of the subject and the truth of the subject.
Thus, we move to the realm of ethical autonomy. In ethical autonomy Kant suggests that because a subject must do one’s duty, and that the moral Law cannot tell me what my duty is, we are logically left with the conclusion that only a subject’s inwardness and full responsibility for its existence can lead to the formation of a duty that will sustain the subject across a lifetime. In that sense, Kant places full responsibility on subjective determination, to determine its life over and above the level of the moral Law.
Second, let us consider Nietzsche’s engagement with ethics. For Nietzsche, we, perhaps unexpectedly, start with morality. Nietzsche’s concerns with morality have to do with opening up a radical individualism. In this morality we are offered a simplistic symmetry, where the ground level of morality is concerned with a symmetry of human relations; that moral action is universalized without imbalance between intersubjective relations.
Then we move to ethics proper. In ethics proper Nietzsche is committed to an ethics that emphasizes a radical consistency and fidelity to one’s self desires nested within the symmetry of human relations. In that sense consistency and fidelity to self’s desires holds as long as it does not violate the moral symmetry, and thus cancels any recourse to a Nietzschean philosophy that can support individual immoralism.
Finally, we reach Nietzsche’s synthesis of morality and ethics which can be reduced to the common sense axiom of “do not do to me what you do not want me to do to you”. From this prescription we have a view of the world of the unreleased drive; of the drive free of the Other of symbolic Law outside of the free subject’s determination of the drive and the Law. Thus, with the transition between Kant and Nietzsche we can already see the uncloseable holes in the contemporary ethical constellation.
Now, moving to Lacan. In psychoanalysis we have to consider the way in which the subject moves through the symbolic order in order to reach the core of its desires. In this movement we first see that the subject comes to be exposed to an imposed duty by the symbolic order (say under the Mother, Father, or general society). From this first movement the subject experiences alienation insofar as it realized that the duty of the symbolic order is radically out of sync with the desires of subjectivity.
Second, we reach the level of separation, where the subject realizes that even if I follow the duty of the symbolic order, my desires will not be realized; that I am radially de-centered within the duty structure of the symbolic order. Here we see that in the first movement we experience an alienation in the Other; in the second movement we experience an alienation from the Other.
This brings us to the Third movement, which is again a turn to a radical inwardness that externalizes itself. In this sense we see the difference between individual spirituality and Western philosophy and psychoanalysis proper, which is an inwardness that moves towards an externalization of itself. This is what Lacan conceived of as a life based on principle over pleasures and profits; what can only be called “the fundamental choice” of subjectivity.
Thus, moving through Kant-Nietzsche-Lacan we reach the idea that the subject has an absolute duty to take responsibility for its life; that the subject must do this within the moral symmetry of human relations; and that the subject cannot receive such a duty from any external order, but only out of its own irreducible choice.
Now what do we learn from this exercise about the irreducible difference between Western philosophy/psychoanalysis and Buddhism. Let us go into greater depths as to how we can make sense of this difference in a fundamental ontological sense. What is the irreducible difference that separates the Eastern spiritual force and the Western spiritual force?
First we can see that there is a total symmetry between buddhism and psychoanalysis in terms of their first three fundamental claims:
- that the self is an illusion (‘there is no true absolute self’);
- that awareness and knowing do not reside in a true absolute reality that exists independent of the subject but within the void of our subjectivity that is just a reservoir of a multiplicity of images and representations; and thus,
- that desire does not correlate to some hard substantial truth of being that can be fully actualized but rather correlates with a void or an absence within being itself.
This is why both Buddhism and psychoanalysis do not seek to bring the subject to another higher world (like God or Utopia); but rather seek to help the subject confront the irreducible core of its being is nothing but its own self-relation.
Now on a further level we also see that Buddhism and Psychoanalysis share fundamental claims about the nature of life as an act of symmetry breaking; where the void stands for the perfect symmetry of nothing. In contrast to the void life is fundamentally disturbed in an asymmetrical imbalance that can ultimately never be reconciled.
Second, due to this structure we also see that Buddhism and psychoanalysis share the idea that the first level of desire is a deception and a lure that causes subjective suffering.
However, where we see a fundamental break, where we see a minimal difference between the two structures is in this interpretation, this reflective shift, in the historical meaning of symmetry breaking and the historical meaning of desire. In an analogous way to the way in which Buddhism cannot understand the historicity of the void in Heidegger; we also see that Buddhism cannot understand the historicity of desire in psychoanalysis.
In psychoanalysis we do not just simply have the first deceptive level of desire where we are surrounded on all sides by imaginary lures that ultimately leave us at a distance from our absolute object of desire; that leave us at a distance from a substantial merger into a primordial unity. In psychoanalysis, we have a qualitative transition where desire transforms into the mode of the drive, where the loss of an object that we desire unity with, becomes the very opening of a true liberation that enables a new constitution of being by subjectively introduced unity; or what we have covered as on the level of the Holy Spirit or the Other.
Thus, on this level, we have to include the paradox, not just of the historicity of nothing, but also the historicity of less than nothing as an immortal asymmetry that continues to move even after one has fully identified with the void of pure self-relation. This is the immortal asymmetry that is the only way we can explain, for example, the fact that Buddhism instantiates itself in historical reality within institutional structures as opposed to leaving our world of false appearances.
Thus, in this interpretation we cannot just consider the breaking of the wheel of life for the void; but also we have to consider the way in which the wheel of life continues to move even though there is nothing but a void there (9):
“What Freud calls the “drive” is not the craving that enslaves us to the world of illusions. The drive goes on even when the subject has “traversed the fantasy” and broken out of the illusory craving for the (lost) object of desire. And therein lies the difference between Buddhism and psychoanalysis, reduced to its formal minimum: for Buddhism, after Enlightenment (or “traversing the fantasy”), the Wheel no longer turns, the subject de-subjectivizes itself and finds peace; for psychoanalysis, on the other hand, the wheel continues to turn, and this continued turing-of-the-wheel is the drive: after the subject traverses the fantasy, desire is transformed into drive). What psychoanalysis adds to Buddhism is thus in fact a new version of Galileo’s eppur si muove: imagine a Lacanian being tortured by a New Age Western Buddhist into admitting that inner peace can be achieved; after the forced concession, as he leaves the room, he quietly mumbles: ‘But nonetheless, it continues to move!’”
“The Freudian death drive: every life system tends towards the lowest level of tension, ultimately towards death. To put it in terms of the Higgs field in quantum physics, “nothingness” (the void, being deprived of all substance) and the lowest level of energy paradoxically no longer coincide; at the lowest level of tension, or in the void, the dissolution of all order, it is “cheaper” (it costs the system less energy) to persist in “something” than to dwell in “nothing”.
Far from being the same as the nirvana principle (the striving towards the dissolution of all tension, the longing for a return to original nothingness), the death drive is the tension which persists and insists beyond and against the nirvana principle. In other words, far from being opposed to the pleasure principle, the nirvana principle is its highest and most radical expression. In this precise sense, the death drive stands for its exact opposite, for the dimension of the “undead”, of a spectral life which insists beyond (biological) death.”
And this ultimately brings us back to Žižek’s radical psychoanalytic interpretation of Christianity, as the Death of God that opens up a “loving nothing”, or as the title of the chapter suggests: “Where There Is Nothing, Read That I Love You”. In this sense, even though there is a void, we cannot stay in this void. We must continue to move in the historically constituted realm of appearances. In this realm of appearances the only thing we have is the radical nature of our unconditional Love for the Other and fidelity to our highest or deepest desires. In that sense, even when everything is lost, the singularity of our absolute love can see us through this loss; even, the loss is the very opening where this singular love can manifest itself (11):
“The frustrating nature of our human existence, the very fact that our lives are forever out of joint, marked by a traumatic imbalance, is what propels us towards permanent creativity.
[Thus] even if the object of desire is illusory, there is a real in this illusion: the object of desire in its positive content is vain, but not the place it occupies, the place of the Real; which is why there is more truth in the unconditional fidelity to one’s desire than in the resigned insight into the vanity of one’s striving.
This is why psychoanalysis is firmly entrenched in the Western Judeo-Christian tradition.”
From this work I hope I made clear the second chapter of Less Than Nothing: “Where There Is Nothing, Read That I Love You”. In this work I attempted to make the connection between the introduction of a paradoxical ontology explaining historical movement, to the nature of Platonic truth, and now its compliment in the meaning of the Christian tradition in Western culture. In this overview we get a deeper sense of the way in which we can relate to nothingness and virtuality in religious terms, something that we can continue to build on as we continue through Less than Nothing.
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(1) Žižek, S. 2012. Where There Is Nothing, Read That I Love You. p. 81-82.
(2) ibid. p. 106.
(3) ibid. p. 105.
(4) ibid. p. 85.
(5) ibid. p. 85.
(6) ibid. p. 98-99.
(7) ibid. p. 111-112.
(8) ibid. p. 131.
(9) ibid. p. 131-132.
(10) ibid. p. 132.