Welcome to the sixth masterclass focused on Slavoj Žižek’s philosophy. We will be analysing contemporary knowledge.
The first thing we can say about Žižek’s interpretation of contemporary knowledge is that it is conceived in the form of a quadratic negation. What this means is that Žižek identifies four distinct types of knowledge that he sees as different forms of the negation of the negation.
The first is “scientific materialism”, which focuses on understanding nature in-itself, physics, biology, chemistry, etc.
The second is “discursive historicism” which is basically instantiating knowledge as different forms of language games, trying to understand their power relations, historical origins, contingency; trying to understand the way they are pragmatically used by world historic subjects, and so forth.
The third is a type of “New Age/Western Buddhism”, which basically operates under the metaphysical principle of non-dualism. Basically trying to emphasize non-linguistic and meditative spiritual practices, that will take away the efficacy of the symbolic order.
The fourth is “phenomenal trans-finitude”, which is a type of Heideggerian metaphysics, of being-in-the-world, where our mortality and finitude are seen as fundamental limits that we cannot transcend, our fundamental coordinates of being.
For Žižek, what this quadratic field of contemporary knowledge struggles with, is the gap itself. Thus, each form of knowledge has different problems that need to be transcended for genuinely new knowledge in the real.
For scientific materialism, it cannot make sense of the appearance of material itself, it cannot make sense of why there is a world in the first place. They can understand the world but not why there is a world, and thus cannot go beyond the a priori frame of reference that Kant identified.
For discursive historicism, they cannot articulate genuinely new knowledge that is in-itself productive and generative, independent of the parasitism on the power center. This could be seen in light of the tendency of discursive historicist to see themselves as on the margins, on the edges, “subversive”, not in the centre of power. As a consequence, they are always parasitic to the dominant mode of power.
The New Age/Western Buddhist tradition cannot make sense of the appearance of movement, cannot make sense that there is a continual movement of the symbolic order and our reality. Nothing, no spiritual practice, will shut down this movement.
The Heidegerrian being-in-the-world, trans-finitude, cannot make sense of paradoxes of mortality and finitude. There are paradoxes of immortality and infinity that we need to approach.
What Žižek emphasizes is not the transcendental horizon but the pre-transcendental gap or rupture that opens the space for the symbolic order. What Žižek is emphasizing is a primordially disturbed void that gets filled with, or produces some symbolic content, which becomes the transcendental horizon (logos qua being).
The question is what is this symbolic order doing, how is it moving, how is it transforming, how is it acting, relating, and so forth. Instead of thinking of knowledge as a type of fundamental unity to reconcile all of being, of absolute knowledge as a type of eating of all reality, as if scientific materialists could over the entire field; instead what we do is acknowledge that the absolute knowledge is this pre-transcendental cut or gap or rupture itself.
Then tarrying with this division is itself a form of absolute knowing in motion. You do not shut down the symbolic order, but focus on the cuts or divisions in the symbolic order.
This is why Žižek’s fundamental metaphysical principle is “One divides into Two” (self and other). One can never coincide with itself, one always produces an otherness. This is the fundamental split.
All different forms of the knowledge horizon are different ways of obfuscating this fact that knowledge cannot be one, cannot be internally consistent and coherent.
Scientific materialists will guard against, repress, the fact that it cannot explain the appearance of the world.
Discursive historicists will not admit they are parasitic upon a power center.
New Agers will not admit that they refuse to confront the gaps in their own symbolic edifice.
Trans-finite people will not admit that there are still paradoxes of immortality and infinity that we are not properly confronting, and so forth.
The subject of knowledge becomes a subject tarrying with their own cut or pre-transcendental rupture, a rupture that opened up the space of knowledge in the first place.
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