KEZIZ!, Zizek Gets It Backwards (2): The Immaculate Conception is not The Virgin Birth

In « Letter To A Severe Critic » Deleuze explains how he imagined his incursions into the history of philosophy as a « sort of buggery », coming up from behind and giving a thinker a baby in his own likeness yet monstruous. A deterritorialised baby in sum. The baby, which is in fact the philosopher himself, is a paradoxical unity of likeness and monstruosity, a union of opposites. The identity of the philosopher must be subtracted, leaving the pure alterity that subtended this identity.

Deleuze adds that this « sort of buggery » (i.e. arriving in the back and engendering a baby, a monstruous similitude of the thinker’s system) was also imagined by him to be a « sort of immaculate conception ». Zizek here makes the common mistake of confounding the Immaculate conception with the Virgin Birth and affects to understand this equivalence between buggery and immaculate conception in a simplistic way: the buggered philosopher gives birth virginally to his deformed yet similtudinous baby. But being buggered does not leave you a virgin, something which Zizek conveniently forgets.

[Note: Zizek confuses the two phenomena not just here, but despite his « religious turn » in the rest of his work too, for example here and here.]

A more fecund approach would be to take Deleuze at his word (he is after all more erudite and much funnier than our Slovenian Super-Star). The immaculate conception is in no way virginal. Mary, the Mother of God, was conceived in the normal way (i.e. via the heterosexual genital intercourse of her mother and father) but without Original Sin. So Zizek’s elucubrations on his own fantasies of what Deleuze said are undermined by reading Deleuze’s actual words. The Original Sin is a thought based on identity, and so on representing difference, alterity, movement, becoming, multiplicity, rather than implementing and performing them. The Original Sin is Identity, and The Immaculate Conception is the subtraction of that identity and the engendering of thought in and as pure alterity.

Further, the Immaculate Conception embodies a strange temporality in which Mary is pre-redeemed by the future coming of the saviour. This fusion of the anticipatory and of the retrospective is an apposite description of Deleuze’s experiments in alterity begun in his treatment of the history of philosophy and extended in his encounters with Nietzsche and later Guattari. What Deleuze reveals is somehow already there (« the author had to really say everything that I made him say ») and yet a new birth because re-thought and re-imagined in terms of a new Image of Thought (« it was necessary to traverse all sorts of decenterings, slippage, breakage, and secret emissions »).

Zizek’s method is quite simple: wherever there is a heterogeneous assemblage of elements he « retains » the oedipal structures. I put the quotation marks around « retains » because in practice he often has to invent these oedipal structures and forcibly impose them on the text, before retaining them as the key. Deleuze makes only passing reference to Hegel and dismisses his triads and negativity as coarse and clumsy representations of real movement and becoming. Zizek has to inflate this into a total repression of Hegel (« the absolute exception ») to then « discover » the oedipal drama in Deleuze’s philosophical practice. He has to maculate everything with Oedipus, losing the text and henceforth only dealing with his own misconceptions.

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