Chapter 5 – Parataxis; Figures of the Dialectical Process (Part 2)

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The Second Dive

YouTube video here: Parataxis: Figures of the Dialectical Process (Part 2)

Welcome to Lecture 10 of Less Than Nothing. In this lecture series we will be covering Chapter 5 – Parataxis; Figures of the Dialectical Process (Part 2). In Part 1 we attempted to dive into the idealist universe structured around an ontology of freedom, and in Part 2 we are going to be diving into the fundamental structures of the Hegelian Absolute, putting these structures into conversation with Eastern philosophy or (more accurately) Eastern spirituality and psychoanalysis.

I should note that technically we are almost half way through Part 2 of the Hegelian The Thing Itself, although I want to be upfront that this is a little misleading. The reason why this is misleading is because the deeper I have gotten into analyzing Less Than Nothing the more I realize that for full chapters we really need more time and attention to detail in order to do full justice to the book. In that way, I will let you know in advance now that for all future chapters (not interludes) we will require more than just 2 lectures.

In the last lecture we started by focusing in on the distinction between Newton and Kant, where spacetime as real and freedom as ideal becomes reversed into spacetime as ideal and freedom as real. We emphasized in this reversal that Kant himself was unable to fully accept the radicality of his own discovery in the development of an ontology capable of approaching the real of freedom. Why? In order to explore that question we start this lecture by really focusing in on the difference that separates Kant and Hegel.  According to Žižek, where Kant was too conservative towards the end of his career to really accept the truth of his discovery, the later German Idealists, culminating with Hegel, were capable of unpacking the consequences of the Kantian break.

As Žižek states in the opening of the sub-section “Phenomena, Noumena, and the Limit” “Kant made a breakthrough the radicality of which he was himself unaware” (1). This radicality of which Kant himself was unaware is essential to understand because it structures the rest of post-Hegelian philosophy in a way that prevents philosophy from regressing back to being a secondary philosophical supplement to scientific naturalism. Thus, there is in some sense everything in this division between Kant and Hegel. For philosophers or general thinkers who cannot pass Kant, or who are unwilling to pass Kant, we are left in either a “pre-modern mystical universe” or a “scientific philosophic universe” that remains committed to traditional ontological division of appearances and true reality. It is only by passing through Fichte, Schelling and Hegel that we are really able to articulate an ontology that is distinct from pre-modern metaphysics and modern science. And at the same time, when we understand this break, we are still able to articulate a philosophy that provides new insights on pre-modern metaphysics, and is compatible and not necessarily antagonistic with modern science.

So let us get into it with the nature of the “gap” between noumena and phenomena. What does this mean that there is a “gap” between noumena and phenomena? The first thing to emphasize would be that Kant’s noumena, for Žižek, do not represent the highest concept of the Kantian edifice, but rather represent a low point, perhaps the lowest point, in the Kantian edifice. This is for the simple reason that with the presupposition of the inaccessible noumena as the in-itself of phenomena we sneak into philosophy a monstrous presupposition that is only the product of the Kantian transcendental synthetic imagination. Why do we need this presupposition? Is it not more parsimonious for us to presuppose that this noumena is nothing but the presupposition of a philosopher who was unable to really think the way in which he was intervening in the historical process? In other words, is it not more parsimonious to presuppose that Kant was simply more comfortable to remain in a classical ontology of the appearances of our perception versus the “true reality” that must be somewhere beyond or beneath these appearances? To quote Žižek on this Kantian presupposition: “appearances cannot stand on their own, there must be something behind them which sustains them.” (2)

In that sense Kant’s transcendence is a radical noumenal externality that the human subject will never know because it can never know it, structurally. Thus, when it comes to our sphere of knowledge, we only produce conceptual antinomies (contradictions) when we forget that the in-itself of the noumena is barred from our understanding, that we are getting wrapped up in things that we cannot know in principle. Human experience is radically finite and limited on such a fundamental level that we will never be able to know the truly infinite reality which sustains the appearances of our phenomenal perception. Thus here we have a division where the ultimate logical positivity is in the (secular) world “beyond”, the in-itself independent of our experience; and we have the for-us, which is a pure negativity in the sense that we want to know the in-itself of reality but for some reason have no access to this in-itself. We can clearly see as a consequence that the antinomies of our reason are produced on our side, internal to our sphere of knowledge since the noumena (whatever they are) are in-themselves non-contradictory, just simply there sustaining the appearances. From this perspective Kant leaves us with an unresolvable negativity. We can imagine that the rest of human existence continues on in contradiction and antagonism between the human sphere of knowledge seeking the truth of the in-itself and the in-itself resisting this knowing. In this scene the for-us is radically thwarted.

How does Hegel intervene here with a logic that can help us think a totally other horizon for philosophy? According to Žižek, Hegel helps us by being “more Kantian than Kant himself” (3) by asserting that the true division is not between appearances of our phenomenal perception and the inaccessible noumenal in-itself, but rather between the appearances of our phenomenal perception and nothing. This means that, for Hegel, there is nothing “behind phenomena” and “there is only what we put there” (4).

What do we gain from this reflexive move? What we gain is a style of thinking that emphasizes the self-limitation of phenomena over transcendental positivity. What does this mean? This means that the phenomena that we see (all there really is) is not something sustained by some transcendental positivity beyond them, but rather sustained by our own self-limited perception. And this is true phenomenologically since one can imagine not being a self-limited entity, in terms of death or in terms of being an infinite being. If one were dead or one were an infinite being (i.e. not self-limited) then we would not see the world of appearances.

Now this move brings us the Hegelian dimension of negativity, or absolute negativity. As we covered in the first lecture of “Is It Still Possible to be a Hegelian Today?” we know that Hegelian philosophy revolves around an undeconstructible negativity at the core of human existence. This is operative on a fundamental level between Kant and Hegel since there are not two spheres of positively existing objects, the phenomena and the noumena. Instead there are only phenomena and their self-limitation, which makes noumena, not a transcendental positivity, but a transcendental negativity, signalling a frustration on the side of the concept that is inscribed into the becoming of reality itself. This is why Žižek believes that Kant already had the in-itself, the in-itself is the frontier of phenomenal self-limitation, precisely where Kant’s transcendental synthetic imagination projected a noumena representing absolute negativity.

In this way we must wonder about the way in which the human mind tends towards organizing its conceptual structures around an absolute negativity that it perceives as inaccessible considering that we often get this structure of the understanding in many different forms, e.g. Platonic Ideality, Scientific Objectivity, Religious Transcendence, New Age Astral Realms, Mathematical Realism, Object Oriented Ontology, and so forth. In all of these ontologies, for Hegel, we get an obfuscation of the subject’s own historical intervention, we get an obfuscation of the fact that these “understandings” present a scene of the in-itself in which we are absent even if by definition these scenes were organized and constructed by a subject (5):

“This brings us to Hegel’s basic criticism of Kant, of his insistence on the limitation that our finitude imposes on our knowledge. It is that, beneath Kant’s modesty, there is a hidden arrogance: when Kant claims that we humans, constrained by our finite Understanding, cannot ever come to know the totality of the universe, he continues to represent this infinite task as one that another, infinite, Understanding would be able to accomplish, as if the problem is simply one of extending or extrapolating our capacity to infinity, rather than changing it qualitatively. The model for such false reasoning is the well-known naturalist determinist idea that, were an infinite mind able to know extensively all the atoms in the universe, their positive, force, and movement, it would be able to predict their future behaviour with the utmost precision — as if the very notion of a finite mind extended to infinity were not in itself nonsensical.”

Now this issue is central to both philosophy and science, and it is absolutely essential to understanding the presuppositions of determinism and Newtonian ontologies. For example, it was the great Newtonian scientist Pierre-Simon Laplace who proposed the thought experiment of a hypothetical “demon” who, if it were to know the position and momentum of every particle in the universe, it would know the entire past and future of the universe. This is the archetypal image of the deterministic universe, the classical framework, in which freedom is ideal and spacetime is real, and thus, where everything is already determined with no choice or chance for real freedom.

What Hegel is saying here is that Kant’s Understanding is all too quick to regress back with the noumena to a classical mechanistic view where we, a finite understanding, imagine an infinite understanding that could know everything, that could know all of time and every movement. What Hegel emphasizes is that this fantasm of deterministic scientific consciousness is in-itself non-sensical and tells us more about the presuppositions of the classical worldview based on the idea that one can in one’s own understanding develop a universal schematism independent of one’s own contingent subjective historical appearance. For Hegel, what precedes every universal schematism, what precedes every transcendental vision like a deterministic clockwork in which an infinite understanding knows the whole past and the whole future, is the force of absolute negativity which constitutes phenomenal self-limitation.

Here Hegel is ultimately providing the philosophical framework to think beyond the “rational calculus” of a Newton or a Laplace or a modern cognitivist brain science. What all of these forms of understanding presuppose is that their quantitive rational calculations could one day “reach the infinite” as if they were not always already experiencing the incalculable and irrational infinity in their own transcendental imaginings, in the introduction of their own signifiers that suture a lack internal to themselves. As Žižek states in regards to the short-comings of the presuppositions of rational calculus (6):

“When we represent to ourselves a mind able to grasp infinity, the image we refer to is that of a mind somehow able to count an infinite number of elements in the same way we are able to count a finite number of them.”

For Žižek this brings us to an essential difference between “what is explainable-in-principle” and what is actually “explained-in-fact”. For example, under the presuppositions of classical mechanics it is conceivable that one day in the far future or in some near-future transhuman or post-human world, perhaps, to think a situation where we are capable of rationally calculating every process in the entire universe with absolute precision, since the universe, we presuppose under this view, is a mechanical deterministic clockwork. Thus, in this view, we presuppose that the gap separating “explainable-in-principle” and “explainable-in-fact” is inscribed into a lack on our side of knowing, on the side of Kant’s antinomies of pure reason. However, the Newtonian mind, as Laplace’s mind demonstrates in an exceptional way, tends to the view that these antinomies can be abolished in principle.

However, for Hegel, the nature of the gap between explainable-in-principle and explainable-in-fact is indeed a lot different since he was able to push Kant’s antinomies of reason from purely internal to our sphere of knowing, and instead inscribed them into the thing-in-itself. This perspectival shift on the antinomies of reason can be directly applied to issues of contemporary cognitive science.

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Kant v Hegel on Cognitivism

In contemporary cognitive science, Žižek notes, the presupposition that represents the gap between “explainable-in-principle” and “explainable-in-fact” is operable in a Newtonian-Kantian ontological mode. Furthermore, this mode structures the whole of the presuppositions of our attempt to understand the nature of thought. Here we have the view that phenomenally we can observe neuronal processes, like the study of connections between synapses (the connectome) and the different forms of matter that compose our material brains; and that from this study of the phenomena we will eventually be able to understand the noumenal in-itself of thought produced by the brain. In these schemes we often get claims of correlationism between a certain neuronal mechanism and a certain subjective experience, and thus we get the view that the gap separating our knowledge from the noumenal in-itself is simply internal to our knowledge and that, with the relentless march of cognitive science we will eventually have a total understanding of the thought produced by the brain (a computational theory of the mind).

However, this is a totally untenable assumption in a Hegelian ontology since one can never get at the in-itself of thought by studying neuronal processes. In order to believe that one can get to the in-itself of thought by studying neuronal processes one must first believe that the appearances are being stabilized by some noumena. However, for Hegel, the appearances are all we have and so the real location of thought is in the observing categorization apparatus itself. In other words, the real location of thought is in the very transcendental apperception (to use Kant’s term) of the neuroscientists observing the brain matter. From this perspective we immediately see the ridiculousness of framing issues of thought and free will in neuronal terms since they totally miss the point of thought and free will (that these neuroscientists are themselves beings of thought with free will that are choosing to observe the brain in the frame that they are).

This means that the gap separating what is explainable-in-principle and what is explainable-in-fact itself changes. The in-itself of thought is nothing but the phenomenal self-limitation of the observing categorization apparatus. To quote Žižek (7):

“it is not that we already have the categorical apparatus necessary to explain consciousness (neuronal processes, etc.), and our failure to have yet done so pertains only to the empirical limitation of our knowing the relevant facts about our brain; the true limitation lies in the very form of our knowledge, in the very categorical apparatus we are using. In other words, the gap between the form of knowledge and its empirical limitation is inscribed in this form itself.”

This does not mean that engaging in scientific projects like the connectome are useless (they certainly do have utility), however, it bars us philosophically from thinking that we will ever discover a complete systematization of neuronal connections and subjective experience; the subjective experience emerges from material neuronal connections but cannot be reduced to such a matrix. For future philosophy this does not mean we regress into naive idealism as if we are searching for the magical seat of consciousness untouched from any material mechanism, but rather, leaves us the “hard” task of understanding how freedom and subjective experience are in-themselves a part of the becoming of reality itself. This is how Hegel goes beyond Kant, he does not regress back into a traditional noumenal ontology, but bravely moves forward into an ontology capable of confronting the real of freedom, the real untethered to any spacetime coordinate systematization.

Thus, for the Hegelian totality the Newtonian-Laplacian fantasy of total knowledge of a deterministic clockwork by studying the materiality of spacetime, or the Cognitivist fantasy of total knowledge of thought by understanding materiality of neuronal mechanism is not simply impossible at the moment because of a limitation of our own knowledge; but rather it is impossible in principle due to the very nature of human beings themselves and the way we, our subjective experience, is inscribed as a part of totality. This is why, as we will cover in much greater detail in future episodes, the Hegelian Absolute is substance but also subject.

Thus, Hegel allows us to escape crude materialism without regressing into a crude idealism. In a Hegelian ontology we are not thinking a totality in terms of actual content, whether that be the movement of particles in spacetime or the movement of neuronal connections in our brain, but also a totality that is inclusive of its immanent possibilities. To quote Žižek (8):

“the Hegelian totality is not merely the totality of the actual content; it includes the immanent possibilities of the existing constellation. To “grasp a totality” one should include its possibilities; to grasp the truth of what there is, one should include its failure.”

Thus, a totality of a perfect mechanism of all past and future movement makes no sense because we do not have anymore the space of possibility, we do not have anymore the chance of a mistake, of a failure, of something going totally wrong. For Hegel, imperfection and failure and incompletion must be inscribed into the very nature of the Absolute itself.

What we get from this understanding of the Absolute is a real liberation and a real freedom since we and our local subjective engagement with reality is a part of the Absolute’s own most becoming. The Absolute is not simply the Newtonian spacetime or the Kantian noumena but also must inscribe the very transcendental apperception that Kant could not fully grasp in his own attempt to understand the nature of freedom. In this sense our own partial or partisan view of the totality is a part of the becoming of the totality itself. Totality is not a perfect sphere but a sphere riddled with inconsistencies, holes, lacks, antagonisms internal to itself. This is why partial or partisan views do not bar one from totality or universality but allow oneself to express the becoming of totality or universality. To quote Žižek (9):

“the Hegelian totality is an “engaged” totality, a totality disclosed to a partial partisan view, not a “neutral” overview transcending engaged positions”.

If one thinks of the becoming of any major scientific, philosophical, artistic, political, or even Love movement, this fact becomes self-evident. Whenever a major scientific, philosophical, artistic, political or Love movement emerges it is never a movement that transcends all partial partisan views, but rather re-fractures or re-divides the field before becoming safely subsumed within a new order of being. One may even meta-reflectively think of the recent explosion of psychologist Jordan Peterson’s popularity in this way. Jordan Peterson is not a mind that represents a neutral position transcending partiality, on the contrary, his very rise in popularity is mediated by the fact that he speaks of totality and universality from a radically partial point of view. This is the essence of Hegelian totality.

This brings us to some of the elementary mechanics of the Hegelian dialectic, where we attempt to mediate the very becoming of Absolute totality itself. Of course, such a dialectical mediation of totality makes no sense in a Newtonian or a Kantian world, since the Absolute is not properly understood in its historicity, but is instead frozen in time as a transcendental positivity by the imaginations of Newton and Kant. In contrast, with Hegel we not only have the primordial absolute negativity, but also the negation of the negation, of the way in which the human historical subjectivity miraculously approaches the chaotic horizon of the new, unable to predict the future, and yet through its own self-reflective activity constitutes a new order. It is in this sense that we should view the Absolute as riddled with contradiction and error and mistakes.

One cannot construct a new order of the Absolute with precise perfect knowledge of what will happen, our own intervention ensures that we can never know the future until it has already happened. This is why the Hegelian dialectic, although it inscribes into the absolute the “immanent possibilities” of the future, it is not really about the future at all, it is not about the “end of history” at all, but rather about the way in which we can only know retroactively what the new transcendental order will be. In other words, the dialectic can only really analyze past events, since the real of our being confronts a horizon as a unique unrepeatable singularity. Here take any major historical break whatsoever, like the Communist Revolution, or World War II, or the election of Donald Trump. In these situations we have absolutely no idea what is going to happen when they break out in the pure radicality of an Event. These historical moments represent a break from the past that is pure chaos and here anything can happen, and when anything can happen usually something very bad can happen. In the dialectic we can only know retroactively what will have been the consequence of the Event.

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From politics to psychoanalysis

Let us spend some more time thinking the historical complexities of this since it is generally useful and will definitely be useful for future lectures. When we are thinking in the Hegelian dialectic we are not thinking in terms of the intuitive understanding, but rather we are thinking in a counter-intuitive understanding. Consider two examples, one from the political sphere of understanding and one from the psychological sphere of understanding. When we think intuitively about the French Revolution we intuitively grasp a narrative in which Event X of 1789 led to Event Y of the Jacobin Terror which led to Event Z of the Empire formation. In other words, we construct a linear temporal historicity. In the same way, when we think intuitively about the general emergence of subjectivity we think in a narrative in which Event X of the oral phase led to Event Y of the anal phase which led to Event Z of the phallic stage. Again, we construct a linear temporal historicity. However, according to Hegelian dialectical thought, this is not the real of the in-itself of the Absolute. In the real of the in-itself of the Absolute we can only construct a linear temporal narrative retroactively, we can only construct a linear temporal narrative after the fact. What we get in the real of the Absolute in-itself is simply a “series of existential decisions by agents who, caught up in a whirlwind of action, and to invent a way out of the deadlock” (10).

In this way, when we are thinking about the situation with Donald Trump, or when we are thinking about the situation of Global Warming, or when we are thinking about the situation of gender and sexual differences, or when we are thinking about the situation of global capitalism, we cannot know the future of any of these (on-going) Events. For an understanding situated within the Hegelian Absolute we can only be sure that we will have a story to tell after the fact. We will (retroactively) have a story to tell about how we madly and miraculously invented our way out of the deadlocks of tyrannical power, or climate change, or sexual-gender difference, or global capitalism. In the real we only have a vortex of action that cannot know itself. The gap is not closable in principle, the gap is what constitutes the difference between Kantian noumena and Hegelian phenomena.

And of course, it should be added, that here, Hegel’s historicity is not one in which every antagonism is magically resolved, there is space for real catastrophe, which is why our local perspectival engagement as a part of the Totality, matters, absolutely.

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Kantian, Hegelian Reversal

Thus, in understanding the gap between Kantian noumena and Hegelian phenomena we have a paradoxical reversal of the standard interpretation of the Kantian and Hegelian forms of subjectivity. In the standard interpretation of Kant we have a finite subject that opens up onto a multiplicity of phenomena with its impossible impenetrable background forever out of reach; and in the standard interpretation of the Hegel we have an infinite subject that is underneath a totalizing conceptual One. But, Žižek, claims, that we can reverse these presuppositions if we properly understand the gap separating the transition from Kant to Hegel. Indeed, it is the Kantian subject who, as opposed to being finite confronting an open multiplicity, is actually the subject who sneaks in an infinite One that holds a multiplicity of finite rational phenomena riddled with contradictions. And it is Hegelian subject, who far from being the totalizing One of a conceptual unity, has no such background for its activity, since phenomenal self-limitation is all that there really is, and thus its own totalizing partial view, its own splits/divisions/negativity, its fall from pure substance to individual subjectivity, is all that it really has.

In order to communicate this point Žižek makes the point that even the standard interpretation of Hegel as the philosopher of Absolute Spirit at the End of History does not allow for an interpretation of a higher Mega-Subject or Mega-Spirit overseeing the historical process. Hegel does not transform the external noumena into a World Spirit in the sense of a higher mind agent over and above individuals. The trick here, if one recalls from Lecture 3 “Where There Is Nothing, Read That I Love You”, the World Spirit or the Absolute Spirit is to be interpreted on the side of the presupposition of the subject, as its extimate reality (11):

“For Hegel, there is no collective Subject, no Subject-Spirit beyond and above individual humans. Therein resides the paradox of “objective spirit”: it is independent of individuals, encountered by them as given, pre-existent, as the presupposition of their activity; yet it is nonetheless spirit, that is, something that exists only insofar as individuals relate their activity to it, only as their (pre)supposition.”

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Standard versus the Reversal of Hegel

Now, moving on in this representation I would call your attention to the first few pages of the sub-section “The Differend”. In this sub-section Žižek starts by analyzing his own Hegelianism and how it differs from the standard Hegelian interpretations. In order to demonstrate these differences he dives deeply into a very critical negative review of himself as “mishandling” Hegel. I will not go into the specific content of this critique but rather I will attempt to extract the core differences between what Žižek sees as the standard Hegelian interpretation and his Hegelian reversal which, he claims, is much more true to the original Hegelian texts.

The first point to emphasize is the polarized and antagonistic and oppositional character of the Hegelian Absolute. In order to demonstrate this point Žižek relies on examples from the French and Haitian Revolutions regarding the fact that in order to truly become, and in order to truly produce something New, the Absolute polarizes itself in extreme oppositional determinations situated between the old organic order and the chaotic new, where the choice between the two necessitates a violent rupture where mistakes will be made and errors and failure will be constitutive of the Absolute’s becoming.

However, it is in these states, Žižek, claims, when the Absolute is actually “in harmony” since the Absolute does not inscribe peace times into the narrative of its own becoming. Indeed, the peace times of history are the times in which nothing at all is written. Thus, this emphasizes the fact that our partial engaged position, and the totality of such partial engaged positions, is the harmonious reconciliation of the Absolute itself. It is only from our local partial perspective that we see this as a disharmony or a chaos. To quote Žižek on Hegelian reconciliation (12):

“it is not the organicist harmony of a Whole within which every moment sticks to its particular place, as opposed to a field torn apart, in which every moment strives to assert its one-sided autonomy. Every particular moment does fully assert itself in its one-sided autonomy, but this assertion leads to its ruin, to its self-destruction — and this is the Hegelian “reconciliation”: not a direct reconciliation in mutual recognition, but a reconciliation in and through the struggle itself. The “harmony” Hegel depicts is the strange harmony of “extremes” themselves, the mad violent dance of every extreme turning into its opposite.”

One can easily see this at work in the aforementioned examples of the election of Donald Trump, or global warming, gender-sexual difference or global capitalism. In all of these situations we have a “harmony” which is nothing but its structure of oppositional determinations where a mad dance constitutes the very becoming of these problems. In the case of Trump we have a situation where a man who denounced the previous president, Barack Obama, as a non-American African with an illegitimate claim to the presidential position, ends up, in what can only be seen as the ultimate Hegelian irony, succeeding him in that very presidential position as his Absolute oppositional determination. In the case of global warming we have a situation where the raw industrial productive power that allows humans to finally lift themselves from the bare necessities of pre-modern agricultural life, potentially undermines the very ability of humans to exist on the planet at all. In the case of gender-sexual difference we have a situation where the liberatory power of feminist emancipation movements restructure the very conditions upon which men and women assert their gender identities, which in turn may undermine the very ability of men and women to feel comfortable identifying as men and women at all. Finally, with the emergence of global capitalism, we have a situation where the only real mechanism for international cooperation and integration in human history linking all nations independent of history and culture and language, is experienced as its opposite, as the mechanism undermining the possibility of a World Communist Utopia, and so forth. In all of these situations we should be careful to watch out for what Hegel would note as a magical “third act”, where we can expect, not a final synthesis where all antagonisms are resolved, but, perhaps, a radical flipping of the script where what we thought would happen and what we get is purely oppositional.

Now, moving on, in other ways Žižek’s interpretations of Hegel flip Hegel from being focused on an All-Container (as mentioned with the totalizing World Spirit and the End of History) to the “Non-All” “Anti-Container”; and from being focused on the “eternal being of a complete identity” to an “emergent becoming of incomplete differences”. What this means is that we should not conceive of the Absolute as a totalizing positivist spirit of history guiding us to its utopian conclusion in perfect being and complete identity. Instead, we should conceive of the Absolute as a formless Other that resists all symbolization, that resists all containment, that resists all abilities to be sublimated or integrated into the world of finite material reality. Thus, the Absolute becomes something that is “at war” with itself through self-reflexive particular notional determinations which exhaust their potential on the world historical stage against the background of nothing but their own impossibility. In that sense the Absolute is a radical emergence, a radical becoming, and fundamentally incomplete in its otherness from perfect completion. This is why Žižek emphasizes texts by Hegel that explicitly state that the Absolute is the “result of itself”, and that the Absolute is nothing but its “return to itself” (13). In this sense the Absolute cannot be an eternal being in complete identity since the Absolute forms itself from a formless Otherness that can never be sublated.

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Triadic Absolute

Now, to express how Žižek relates this Hegelian reversal of the Absolute to his reading of a paradoxically materialist “theological atheism” he gives the example of how the Absolute’s own war with itself, and how the Absolute’s own oppositional determination has to be inscribed into Christianity itself. In this reading we cannot read the structure in a pre-modern mode where humans can be neatly situated between two perfect poles, of the primordial God of full knowledge and the telos of a future reconciliation of Spirit with God in full knowledge again. Instead, we have the situation where God can only know himself through his oppositional determination, and through the War of Finitude, of being in a particular individual body. Žižek emphasizes throughout Less Than Nothing that God was never a Mega-Subject or Master-Spirit, but rather a pure substance that, in order to know himself, had to introduce freedom into the causal chain of being via the short-circuit of individual particular forms of free subjectivity. Furthermore, it is through this short-circuit, this introduction of individual particular forms of free subjectivity, that God reconciles himself through the community of believers, which have nothing but the abyss of their free love.

In this structure we get God the substantial Other who enters the world as a particular individual, his Son, Jesus, who then dies on the cross in Absolute suffering and pain, so that humans in historicity would be left with the knowledge that they have nothing left but their own freedom, and their own love for each other. To quote Žižek vis-a-vis his critics on the nature of the Hegelian Absolute (14):

“It is true that, int his way, “the sinful individual, separated from God, becomes an adopted child of God in the community of the Spirit”; however, the price paid for this is that God himself has to be separated from himself, that he has to die in the guise of his Son’s crucifixion. Is the death of Christ not the ultimate proof that, in the tension between God and the fallen world, God is at war with himself, which is why he has to “enter” the fallen world in the guise of his oppositional determination, as a miserable individual called Jesus?”

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Negation of Negation

In order to grasp this becoming of the Absolute, of how the Absolute is nothing but the result of its own activity, does not mean that the Absolute is transparent to itself, that it has a knowledge of its own discourse. Instead it means that the Absolute inscribes within itself its own free becoming, and the mechanism for this free becoming is articulated by Hegelian discourse under the negation of the negation. However, in order to grasp negation of the negation we must first move through the Hegelian dialectic in a pattern that we will recognize from the previous slide structuring a triad between God, Son and Holy Spirit. In the first movement we start with a positivity (like how Newton starts modern science by studying the positivity of spacetime, or how Kant starts modern philosophy by structuring the positivity of noumena). For the Hegelian dialectic this is the subject’s first intuitive expression, its confrontation with the positivity of a world which appears to it. However, the paradox of this first move, which we have already covered in the beginning of this lecture, is that the positivity of a substantial material world turns out on close inspection to be its own negation since we see a world only because we are internally self-limited. In other words, as is most logical, we would not see a world at all if we were not internally self-limited, the world’s appearing depends on this crucial reflexive determination. Without phenomenal self-limitation the in-itself of the world is (probably) just a chaotic multitude with no constitution at all, no ability to hold itself in a singular worldview as a substantial object.

Thus, in the second move, we turn to the first level of negation itself, which is a movement of self-consciousness where we mediate this substantial positivity. Here we can think of the very historical movement of the scientific social system itself which systematizes being in clear conceptual formalizations, from physics to chemistry to biology to geology and so forth, attempting to get a higher and higher form of positive otherness. This is the absolute in its own self-relating negation. Examples of how this movement is described as ‘original ‘positive’ forms’ being replaced by ‘higher forms’ can be derived from the very fact that different conceptual systems build up knowledge in a particular domain until, eventually, the positive knowledge no longer fits a given frame, requiring a new higher form in order to hold itself.

However, this is not yet at the level of the negation of the negation. On the level of negation of the negation we are at a level where we can conceive of the Absolute in its own subjectivity. As Žižek states (15):

“This shift from negation to the negation of negation is […] a shift from the objective to the subjective dimension: in direct negation, the subject observes a change in the object (its disintegration, its passage into its opposite), while in the negation of negation, the subject includes itself in the process, taking into account how the process it is observing affects is own position.”

Thus, on this level we are not thinking of how subjectivity is mediating objectivity but how subjectivity itself is inscribed into the Absolute as a part of its own becoming. As mentioned in Lecture 4 on the first part of “Fichte’s Choice”, the Hegelian Absolute at its highest level must inscribe into itself its own speculative becoming. This means, again, as mentioned in Lecture 6 on the first part of “Is It Possible to be a Hegelian Today?” that there is no “metalanguage” of the Hegelian dialectic, no second order knowledge that can universally schematize the historical becoming of the Absolute. It is on this highest level that we run into paradoxes in the becoming of the Absolute that require us to include psychoanalysis in order to properly give deeper interpretation of our historical situation.

In these psychoanalytic paradoxes of the Absolute on the level of “negation of the negation” we encounter the fact that a “final telos” or “final synthesis” cannot be accepted in which all subjective positions are brought into a unity. There are subjective positions that refuse to move, that refuse to see truth in their oppositional determination, that enjoy being openly contradictory, that simply don’t care about the world of appearances, and so forth. What are we to do with this situation? Can we make sense of a radically subjectivized Absolute?

Indeed, for Hegel, the highest level of the Absolute is reached by recognizing that the Absolute moves from substance, to substance and subject. However, when we introduce psychoanalysis, we get two new versions to consider, mediated by the unconscious, which could be categorized as the Freudian and the Jungian variations. In the Freudian version we have a negation of negation that is purely subjectivist, and in the Jungian version we have a negation of negation that is substantialist. In the Freudian version we have the famous axiom “where it was, there I shall be”. This is an axiom we will explore in greater depths in the section on the Lacanian Thing-in-itself articulating the idea that the subject’s becoming is mediated by its unconscious fantasmatic desire, and that this desire is not substantial but virtual. In this system there is no substantialist re-unification, there is only the “one divides into two”, there is only the eternal repetition of the drive.

In contrast to the Freudian variation, the Jungian variation offers the idea that substantial reunification is possible because the unconscious is presupposed as a hidden substantial Truth that regulates the human subject (i.e. there is some immovable substantial ground beneath or behind the virtual fantasmatic desire). This is why Jung, according to Žižek, sees Truth in the eastern wisdom traditions which silently guard the depths of true being within the inner psyche, whereas the West has become too preoccupied with hyper rational self-consciousness.

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Freud versus Jung

Of course, in terms of Hegelianism, it is easy to guess that Žižek sides with the Freudian version of the unconscious over the Jungian version of the unconscious vis-a-vis the status of the Absolute. This is not only because the Freudian unconscious allows for a radical cut from the origin, for a radical cut from substantial historicity into the abyss of freedom. It is also because the Jungian version articulates a notion of eternity that is static-fixed and ahistorical; as opposed to the eternity of the historical repetition; of the cut, of the division, of the contingency that transforms itself into a necessity temporally.

Thus, we can clearly differentiate between a psychoanalysis of the Absolute that is influenced by Freud and influenced by Jung. In the first Freudian version, since there is no final synthesis, we can say that the higher pole is already a synthesis of the lower pole. As Žižek states (16):

“The opposition of poles thus conceals the fact that one of the poles already is the unity of the two — so, for Hegel, there is no need for a third element to bring the two together.”

Thus, in couples that emerge as oppositional determinations, the trick is not to see how they are really two sides of the same coin that need to be balanced and reconciled in substantial harmony by a neutral third party; but instead how the Absolute is already in a harmonious division (manifesting itself most radically in the subject) and that the truth of synthesis can already be found in the higher pole which produces the lower pole as a retroactive excess of its own re-doubled lack.

As we have covered in Lecture 8 on Interlude 1, it is not that the subject must integrate and reconcile its alienated substantial content, but rather see how the alienated substantial content is produced because there is an antagonism as an irreducible gap of absolute negativity that precedes any universal schematism. In this way, the division between man-woman, or secular-religious, or capitalism-communism, and so forth present us with situations where we must reinvent the actuality of the universal term: the man, secular politics, and capitalism; in order to erase the lower pole as its excessive symptom. The “truth” of the polar opposites is not in their substantial integration but in their mutual dissolution through free reinvention of the higher term. It is for this reason that there is no place in Hegel or Freud for a neutral objective transcendent background where we could imagine that we hold a metalanguage of discourse that is capable of giving a “fair and balanced” view reconciling the opposites in a substantial eternity. The Absolute can only be reconciled through the radical engagement of polar partial views that figure out how to pragmatically reorganize the very structural determination of a historical matrix (17):

“For Hegel: the goal is not to (re)establish the symmetry and balance of the two opposing principles, but to recognize in one pole the symptom of the failure of the other (and not vice versa): fundamentalism is a symptom of liberalism. The solution is to revolutionize or change the universal term itself (liberalism, etc.), so that it will no longer require its symptom as the guarantee of its unity. Consequently, the way to overcome the tension between secular individualism and religious fundamentalism is not to find a proper balance between the two, but to abolish or overcome the source of the problem, the antagonism at the very heart of the capitalist individualist project.”

In this analysis Žižek pragmatically critiques Jung’s “compensation theory” and denounces any connection theorists may presuppose it has with Hegelianism. For Jungian compensation theorists there is a tendency to strive for a “synthesis” of the opposites in liberal freedom and fundamentalist collectivism in order to reconcile both poles. This can be seen most obviously in New Age communities which try to found themselves on individualist spiritualisms and egalitarian collectivism. However, for Žižek, the trick is not to balance liberal freedom and fundamentalist collectivism, but rather to re-invent the liberal capitalist individual project itself so that fundamentalist collectivism does not emerge in the first place. For Žižek, the fundamentalist collectivism is a retroactive distortion of the One that is forever lost. If we were to reinvent the liberal capitalist individual project, however, this situation we would not usher us into a perfect synthesis or symmetry of human life, but a totally other division with new symptomal excesses.

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East v West

This engagement with a Freudian Absolute which breaks from any substantial past, or a Jungian Absolute which attempts to reconnect us with our substantial past in the collective unconscious, bring us to the difference that Hegel introduces into the Absolute which separates it from the Eastern conception. In the Eastern conception Žižek emphasizes that the Absolute is in a struggle but that this is not a struggle for the Whole. The Eastern Whole is immovable and in a balanced harmony. In this conception the parts struggle, but the Whole remains unchanged. In this conception there is oppositional determination, yin and yang, black and white, light and darkness, good and evil, but these oppositional determinations do not constitute the Whole which is a pure unity of both oppositional determinations.

However, the distinction that Hegel introduces is precisely the one where oppositional determinations are self-mediated, self-reflected representations of the Absolute itself. Here we do not have a relationship where the parts struggle and the Whole is in harmonious rest; but rather we have a relationships where the very struggle between the parts constitutes the Whole itself; the parts are reflections of a Whole that does not gain any consistency or coherence without the parts and their partial engaged struggles. Furthermore, we do have oppositional determinations, something of a yin-yang, black and white, light and dark, good and evil, but they are not balanced or synthesized, but rather structured around an a priori impossibility, a formless and irreconcilable gap that means that the truth of their oppositional determination can only be in their mutual dissolution or destruction.

This has a meaningful consequence for understanding fundamental questions related to good and evil, right and wrong, truth and lies, and even something and nothing. In the concept of the Eastern Absolute, where oppositional determination are balanced and have no effect on the whole or the totality, we logically have the concept that the truth or the ground is the void of pure self-relating negativity (or nirvana). In the state of nirvana we have the concept of “non-dualism”, that the world is non-substantial, simply an appearance, and that all binary oppositions are thus illusory lures that should be treated as such. To quote Žižek who here cites work on the connection between Zen Buddhism and Western thought (18):

“In nirvana, we existentially assume this Void — not by denying phenomena, but by fully assuming their non-substantial character. […] “There is no good without evil and vice versa. There is nothingness without somethingness and vice versa.” When we realize this (not only notionally, but also existentially), we reach “the point where there is neither good nor evil, neither life nor death, neither nothingness nor somethingness… This is freedom.” At this point, “I am neither good nor bad. I am nothing whatsoever.””

What this conception clearly highlights, and which will be known to anyone familiar with Buddhism or eastern spirituality, is that the binary oppositions of history itself fall away and what is revealed as the truth is the insubstantial non-dual void.

Of course, here, Hegel’s Absolute has a totally different character because the Whole or the Absolute is nothing but the parts reflecting this Whole, and these parts in their irreducible partiality assign to this Whole an oppositional preference for Good over Evil, Life over Death, Something over Nothing. However, Žižek claims, that this oppositional preference for Good over Evil, Life over Death, Something over Nothing, emerges because the Absolute in-itself, the abyss of negativity prior to any subjective standpoint, itself provoked the progressive self-limitation of subjectivity because in-itself it is Evil, it is Death, it is Nothingness. In this way Žižek seeks to introduce the idea that the Hegelian Absolute in contrast to the Eastern Absolute does not need to shut down the false insubstantial appearances, but rather understand how the Absolute becomes Good, becomes Life, becomes Something, through its subjective self-limitation and confrontation with the Absolute in-itself. What this generates is a self-perpetuating loop or drive internal to the parts moving the whole where they are in-themselves preceded by a negativity.

From this logic we are confronted with the problem, not of the insubstantial appearances which should be shut down for the void, but the historicity of the void, of the way in which subjectivity positivizes the void with a strange ontological term that Žižek proposes throughout this work (of course) as “Less Than Nothing”. Here we reverse the Buddhist logic of the appearances, and seek to understand how the appearances gain a minimal level of efficacy through “progressive” subjective self-differentiation.

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Negation of Negation, Buddhism v Psychoanalysis

Now let us see how this strange triangular structure holding the negation of the negation emerges in the difference between Buddhism, historical dialectics and psychoanalysis. Here we start with something, the positivity of the appearances, and then we move to nothing, the void of self-relating negativity.

In this move the first negation is discovered in the realization that there is no substantial absolute reality behind or beneath the appearances, that the appearances are all there are and that the only in-itself is the void of self-relation.

Here we can add, in our psychoanalysis of the Absolute, that psychoanalysis itself makes precisely the same move. Thus, in the same way we proposed a formal homology between Buddhism and psychoanalysis towards the end of Lecture 3 we can again emphasize that this formal homology holds on the level of the Hegelian Absolute as well.

However, what we add here is the “negation of the negation”, which essentially inscribed the subject itself into the Absolute. When we inscribe the subject itself into the Absolute we can do this because the appearances themselves emerge only because of the self-limitation of subjectivity and thus the emergence of subjectivity signals a critical dimension of the becoming of the Absolute. In this emergence of subjectivity the appearances continue to move precisely because subjectivity introduces something into reality which was not there prior to the emergence of the subject: the impossibility of desire. Here the logical shift that we must think is not “there is no substantial absolute reality” (the first level of negation) but rather “there is a non-substantial absolute reality” (the negation of the negation) which is the subject’s own objectal counterpart, its own virtual-fantasmatic supplement which transforms the Absolute itself (19):

“[In] the properly Hegelian dialectical process negativity is not reduced to a self-mediation of the positive Absolute, but in which, on the contrary, positive reality appears as the result of self-relating negativity.”

Continued (20):

“What we get is a kind of “negation of negation”; that is, the content is negated or repressed, but this repression’s in the same gesture itself negated in the guise of the return of the repressed […] if we remove the “repression”, we also lose the repressed content. […] This negative gesture sustains the minimal gap between the symbolic and the Real, between (symbolic) reality and the impossible Real. […] Consequently, this something is not simply a remainder of the pre-symbolic Real that resists symbolic negation, but a spectral X called by Lacan the objet a or surplus-enjoyment.”

In this way once the subject emerges there is movement that can never be shut down for a return to the in-itself of the self-relating void. There is something that continues to move even when one has reached this level. This is why, if one goes to a Buddhist temple, one will not simply find minds in the void of self-relating negativity, but minds that are still preoccupied with the ritual dimensions of the symbolic order that are necessary to keep the virtual-fantasmatic structures of Buddhism in their proper coordinates. This is a virtual-Real that has nothing to do with the pre-symbolic substance, but rather a distortion or twist introduced into reality itself by the subject.

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Internal to Psychoanalysis

Now we can even go further and seek, or attempt to seek some resolution internal to psychoanalysis. As is well known there are fundamental divisions internal to psychoanalysis between the most influential founders of the discipline, Freud and Jung. In these fundamental divisions we can perhaps see a reflection of a deeper structure that can be mediated in a Hegelian dialectic.

The first step of the dialectic, we can say, is that Freud, the initial founder, entered into a negative relation with being. As is well known, Freud was intensely atheist and thought that psychoanalysis clearly demonstrated religion to be a fantasmatic formation of unconscious desires, and nothing more. In this structure we can say that Freud was in the mode of “there is no substantial absolute reality”, there is no God.

In contrast to Freud, we have the emergence of his own oppositional determination in the form of Jung. As is also well known, Jung was far more sympathetic with religion and its imagistic archetypal representations that, for him, told us something of a deep truth about the human psyche. In that sense Jung did not think that psychoanalysis proved atheism, on the contrary, Jung believed that psychoanalysis proved that there was a common substantial substructure underlying the development of the human mind. In Jung’s world the “collective unconscious” became the eternal “substantial absolute reality” that, we may say he thought of as the “baby in the bathwater” of religious institutions. From this perspective we can say that Jung here represents the religious collectivist anti-thesis to Freud’s liberal individualist atheism.

The paradox here is that Lacan, in his insistence on the “return to Freud” is capable of reinventing Freud, the thesis, without recourse to integrating the Jungian anti-thesis. In the sense, in the same way that Hegelian dialectics would suggest that individual liberalism should be re-invented in order to prevent the excesses of religious collectivity; perhaps we can say that Freudian psychoanalysis should be re-invented (in a Žižekian return to Lacan) in order to prevent the excesses of Jungian New Age collectivity. Lacan achieves this feat in the form of a “there is a non-substantial absolute reality” by understanding the “paradoxical re-doubling of the lack” that can be found in the virtual-fantasmatic coordinates of the subject in the objet petit a. In this way Lacan is able to avoid the naive side of new atheism which simply negates religious fundamentalism and pre-critical metaphysical substantialism, and also avoids the regress into eternal substantialism with recourse to a collective unconscious that we need to re-integrate into modern subjectivity. Of course, we will go into much greater detail on the structure of these differences when we approach the Lacanian thing-in-itself.

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To the drive

Now, perhaps, we can think the Hegelian Absolute inclusive of some of the stranger paradoxes of subjectivity. In this mode we have to think of the development of the subject’s libidinal economy as constitutive of the Absolute. Here we do not regress into a pre-symbolic Real of substantial fullness, but rather attempt to understand how the symbolic Real itself enters into a contingent becoming that forms a self-posited necessity which cannot be found in any pre-symbolic Real.

In this development we again get a triadic structure that does not culminate in a final synthesis but in a broken partial third that needs to be “tarried with” in order to push further into the unknown chaos of the Absolute’s own abyssal becoming. These three steps mirror the triadic structure of the Hegelian Absolute in the form of pleasure, unpleasure and enjoyment or drive. As everyone knows the Freudian psychoanalytic practice becomes with the division between pleasure and unpleasure. In pleasure we have an attachment to substantial content. In pleasure we aim to transform some desired object in reality, we aim to match substantial reality to our desires. This can be in the form of simple pleasures like eating (in the oral phase) or masturbation (in the phallic phase); but, as Lacan knew, these transformations can move to the phases of vision and voice, where we want to see pleasurable sensations and we want to hear pleasurable auditory sensations. In oppositional determination to pleasure we have the fact that we also become regulated by avoiding unpleasure (or pain/suffering). In this situation unpleasure can be categorized as losing or failing to acquire or transform the desired positive substantial object. From the actualization of unpleasure we have a situation where the subject feels a void or an emptiness that being itself is lacking.

However, from the oppositional regulation of pleasure-unpleasure we have a mysterious excessive third term that unsettles this relation. This mysterious excessive third term is a reversal of unpleasure into pleasure; a form of subjective attachment that in pure self-relation renounces pleasure and actively seeks unpleasure. The status of this reversal is what Lacan refers to as enjoyment or drive, located in the domain of a surplus or an excess that cannot be maintained within the libidinal economy of pleasure-unpleasure. What happens in this reversal is that the futural dimension of desire, the desire that seeks to transform a positive object, starts to curl or curve in on itself in pure self-relating negativity, and instead of meditating in the void, continues to move, continues to insist.

In this way the existential coordinates of the Absolute, in-themselves, eventually reach a stage beyond what the Buddhists articulate in the first mode of negation. What is experientially reached in the negation of negation is not a satisfaction with happiness and the avoidance of pain and suffering; but a realization that in order to really grow, in order to really produce something new, there must be pain and suffering, and that this pain and suffering must be self-posited. Here to quote Žižek on this excessive dimension (21):

“it involves a paradoxical “pleasure in pain”. That is to say, when Lacan uses the term plus-de-jouir, one has to ask another naive but crucial question: in what does this surplus consist? Is it merely a qualitative increase of ordinary pleasure? The ambiguity of the French expression is decisive here: it can mean “surplus of enjoyment” as well as “no enjoyment” — the surplus of enjoyment over mere pleasure is generated by the pleasure of the very opposite of pleasure, namely pain; it is the part of jouissance which resists being contained by homeostasis, by the pleasure-principle, it is the excess of pleasure produced by “repression” itself, which is why we lose it if we abolish repression.”

If one struggles to think of this excessive enjoyment that breaks the oppositions of pleasure and unpleasure regulation, perhaps one can reflect on the fact that simple pleasures, often lead to dead ends in terms of subjective self-differentiation. If one leads a life of simple pleasures, while avoiding unpleasure, one finds oneself in a stagnation. However, in order to grow, in order to search the core of one’s truth, one must circle the excesses of the domains in which (what at first site) seems like pain and suffering, actually produces the necessary enjoyment to maintain the eternity of the drive. One represses pleasure, and one finds pleasure in pain. Indeed, in a meta-reflective turn, could I not say that writing this very lecture series is not something that emerges due to regulation in pleasure and unpleasure. There is no universe in which I could interpret my current actions as being regulated in pleasure and unpleasure. If I were to do that I would not be putting so much effort into attempting to interpret the densest possible philosophical prose and repressing all of my pathological desires. However, for whatever reason, my form of subjectivity, as a part of the becoming of the Absolute, finds an excessive enjoyment, and rotary motion in the drive, by renouncing pleasure and giving myself to the hard work of discovering and sharing real knowledge.

Now Žižek makes a strategic return to the Hegelian Absolute. In this strategic return he seeks to argue that Hegel himself was able to think this paradoxical dimension so thoroughly explored by the Freudo-Lacanian school of psychoanalysis. In this claim Žižek starts by identifying that Hegel was well aware that the real problem of the pleasure principle is not scarcity (i.e. not having enough positive objects to satisfy subjectivity) but rather abundance (i.e. too many positive objects to satisfy subjectivity). In this sense the problem of pleasure is one that our culture is likely to confront more fiercely in the coming decades as our every desire related to sex, food, and entertainment becomes possible. In history we were in a world of scarcity, but now we are entering a world of abundance; and for Hegel, it is this world of abundance that would represent a much bigger and much more difficult challenge then even the problem of scarcity.

However, it is also clear that Hegel was aware of what had to be done in order to overcome the problems and paradoxes of the pleasure principle. What had to be done was related to a “principle of restraint”. In abundance, the work of self-consciousness is not to mindlessly throw oneself into the sea of accessible pleasures, but rather to use this environment to further differentiate action in a way that increases my freedom and my own self-determination. To quote (22): “the principle of my action must involve my willing that I be present in my action as a free agent.” Here we can once again remind ourselves that the contemporary cognitivists, reducing subjectivity to a neuronal mechanism, can never eradicate this dimension of subjectivity. It is not that subjectivity is mediated by neuronal mechanisms, but rather that subjectivity wills itself to be present at the scene of its own presentation. This willing itself to be present at the scene of its own presentation may retroactively shape neuronal connections, it may retroactively increase the strength of certain neuronal pathways, but cannot be reduced to these mechanisms.

Now we see that, indeed, the Hegelian dialectical approach to the oppositional determinations of pleasure-unpleasure, through a principle of restraint on the primary term, pleasure, do lead to a new set of oppositional determinations: that of pleasure and duty. This level of duty is a level that, Hegel claims, cannot be reached in the animal world. In that sense, Hegel identifies that there is a radical break in the emergence of the human, an unsettling of the pleasure-unpleasure opposition that finds an expression in the asymmetry of “demands of the impulse and their satisfaction” (23).

In this psychoanalysis would add that we can precisely subjectify the different positions that a subject can take in relation to pleasure and duty. In the mode of the narcissist, which we may identify as a lower pole of the infantile disposition, the subject finds that it elevates pleasure to a duty. However, in the mode of the moralist, the subject finds that it elevates duty itself to a pleasure. In order to meta-reflectively return to my own action, I can say that this lecture series is such a precise elevation, the elevation of duty (to knowledge, understanding, and so forth) into a pleasurable activity. This is the dimension of excessive enjoyment. To quote Žižek on the crucial level of this dimension (24): “it is crucial to distinguish between tolerating pleasure as an accidental by-product of doing my duty, and doing a duty because it provides me pleasure.”

Now towards the end of this chapter, Žižek seeks to resolve some issues in interpreting the coincidentia oppositorium revealed by the Hegelian dialectical machinery. In pagan cosmology we indeed have the tendency to the eternal harmony/struggle of the polar opposites. We covered this earlier in the lecture in regards the yin-yang of the Eastern Absolute. However, we have also seen that the Hegelian Absolute is much more complex in its handling of oppositional determination, privileging the subjective constitution of oppositional determination as essential for the historical becoming of the Absolute. In this sense the genius of Hegel was to historicize the Absolute itself, and to see in this becoming the very structure of how oppositional determinations become resolved, not to a higher totality, but rather a dissolution which leads to a qualitatively different field. This dissolution of an oppositional determination and the emergence of a new field is furthermore mediated by one of the two. The basic formula is “more than one and less than two”, we have a thesis and an anti-thesis which is just an excessive lack of the thesis.

What this means is that the “one” of an actualized notion (man, secular politics, capitalism, and so forth), means in the coincidentia oppositorium its own unsynthesizable lack, what it can never incorporate into itself without changing its own notion. In that sense man can never sublimate woman, secular politics can never sublimate religious fundamentalism, and capitalism can never sublimate communism; these are excessive lacks that are produced by the very introduction of the actualized notion of man, secular politics and capitalism. The only solution would be to reinvent the actualized notion so that the excessive lack itself is transformed. This is the only solution precisely because the lower pole cannot effectively transform the higher pole. This is the way we should interpret the statement “annihilation of subjectivity by substance is simultaneously substantial self-annihilation”. In other words, if woman tried to eliminate man, they would simultaneously eliminate themselves; or if religious fundamentalism tried to eliminate secular politics it would simultaneously eliminate itself, or if communism tried to eliminate capitalism it would simultaneously eliminate itself. Indeed, all such attempts have happened. Now is the time for a properly Hegelian dialectical reversal, where we see how to think a new notion. But how?

In order to think a new notion the essential Hegelian approach would be, as was emphasized extensively in Lecture 6 of “Is It Possible to be a Hegelian Today?” is to submit or surrender to the gap/distance separating your ideal notion from its miserable reality. This gap/distance is the Absolute as Absolute Negativity. This gap/distance is the in-itself that Kant could not recognize in his own mad projection of noumena. What we learn when we try our best to give our notion of this abyssal negativity is that there is no possibility of substantial reversal, no chance for a unified reconciliation where substance eats the subject. The subject only as its own abyssal free field that it can use through the duty of notional self-determination to transform substance. In this sense Žižek emphasizes strongly in the last section of this chapter that there is no reconciliation in unified internal immersion but only the reconciliation of an externalization of subjectivity. In other words, I am one with myself not when I disappear in the substance of a mystical pre-symbolic Real, but when I give myself radically to the symbolic Real that emerges in the virtual-fantasmatic coordinates of my being. This One can only be understood as a division, can only be understood as a self-differentiation. We do not know where this One takes us, it takes us into unknown chaos, and we can only brave these waters with the unconditional drive, the unconditional duty to self-knowledge in the abyssal Otherness (25):

“Hegel characterizes reconciliation as “externalization”, a kind of counter-move to the standard dialectical internalization of the external opposition: here, it is the inner contradiction of the subject which is externalized in the relationship among subjects, indicating the subject’s acceptance of itself as part of the outer social world over which it does not exert control. […] What is accepted, what the subject has to assume, is its radical and constitutive decentering in the symbolic order.”

Continued (26):

“Is there a way out of this abyss[?] […] [Does denial of the fantasmatic substantial merger] equal the act of traversing the fantasy, [and] open up the space for the emergence of the pure drive beyond fantasy?”

For now, we will leave this question open.  This concludes Lecture 10 of Less Than Nothing and it concludes Chapter 5 – Parataxis: Figures of the Dialectical Process. This will be the last chapter that we cover in only two parts because I have realized more and more that it is essential to take each section of each chapter seriously and to give it the time it deserves. Thus for future chapters we will need 3 or 4 lectures in order to analyze it in full depth.

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Deeper into the Absolute

Works Cited:

(1) Žižek, S. 2012. Chapter 5 – Parataxis; Figures of the Dialectical Process.  p. 280.

(2) ibid.  p. 281.

(3) ibid.

(4) ibid.

(5) ibid.  p. 283-284.

(6) ibid.  p. 284.

(7) ibid.

(8) ibid.  p. 285.

(9) ibid.

(10) ibid.

(11) ibid.  p. 286.

(12) ibid.  p. 290.

(13) ibid.  p. 291.

(14) ibid.  p. 292.

(15) ibid.  p. 299.

(16) ibid.  p. 303.

(17) ibid.

(18) ibid.  p. 304.

(19) ibid.

(20) ibid.  p. 307.

(21) ibid.  p. 308.

(22) ibid.  p. 310.

(23) ibid.

(24) ibid.

(25) ibid.  p. 321-322.

(26) ibid.  p. 326.

 

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