Contrary to the dismissive stereotypes about his work perpetrated by superficial critics and commentators whose opinions have been formed without any engagement with his texts, Zizek is indeed a philosopher albeit a non-standard one, and his thought and works constitute an important contribution to the present wave of metaphysical creativity in Continental Philosophy. As such, it fully belongs inside the contemporary constellation that includes the philosophies of Badiou, Serres, Latour, Laruelle, and Stiegler.
I am using “metaphysical” not in the negative post-Heideggerian sense shared by these thinkers themselves but in a quite different sense, that of Karl Popper’s “metaphysical research programmes”. These are systems of thought proposing a general perspective on the world, which contain both testable and untestable elements. Given the attempts in recent Continental philosophy to make use of models and results drawn from particular scientific domains (mathematics, physics, biology, linguistics, climatology) but without ceding to the ideology of scientism, this Popperian sense is very useful and extremely illuminating.
Note: for an overview of this approach to Continental Philosophy as composed of a set of rival yet partially overlapping metaphysical research programmes that are responding to a common problem situation see this summary post. I propose six criteria for evaluating such research programmes: pluralism, realism, diachrony, apophaticism, testability, and democracy.
I have been trying to demonstrate on this blog that all these thinkers can be examined as belonging to the same constellation of thought and their contributions can be usefully discussed in terms of a philosophical dialogue that exists whether they are familiar with or favourable to the other contributions or not.
There is no need for the one-sided fantasmatic identification with the thought of one of these figures and scathing condemnation of the rest. There is no need for war cries and anathemas: Zizek is great, Laruelle is absurd! (or vice versa). Each of these thinkers can help us to avoid the traps of one-sided formulations, impoverished examples, incomplete references and unthinking prejudices stemming from our involvement with just one of the others.
This is one reason why Zizek’s repeated attempts to draw a line of demarcation between his own position and that of Deleuze are both superficially illuminating and ultimately unsatisfying. Despite their evident differences, their metaphysical research programmes belong to a large extent to the same problem situation and deploy similar concepts. We saw in the preceding post an example of this phenomenon of foregrounding differences that exist within a shared background. In Zizek’s methodological introduction to he can only distinguish his guiding concept of the Kraken (a monstrous power of disparity and of incommensurability evolving in the element of non-substantial reason and of fluid processes) from Deleuze’s similar conception by blatantly travestying Deleuze’s ideas.
In this series of posts I am reading Zizek’s new book DISPARITIES as he asks it to be read, against the grain, following the guiding thread of the disparate in his text and drawing a simple line between the pluralist (disparate) and the monist elements. This is the method that he is both advocating and illustrating in this book. As Zizek’s introduction makes clear this “method” is not the application of a systematic whole of pre-existent normative procedures but an inventive elaboration of an emergent non-totalisable set of heuristics.
From the beginning Zizek applies this non-systematic heuristic perspective, arguing for a disparate reading of Hegel’s dialectics as against the typical reconciliatory reading that privileges synthesis and totality. He opposes the heterogeneous un-determined Kraken to the uniform holistic deterministic mole. He deploys the elements of disparity he finds in Thales, Kant, Hegel, Lacan, Heidegger, Badiou and others to re-think his analysis of the contemporary field of thought.
In the first chapter of DISPARITIES Zizek discusses the microcosm of thinkers who either belong to the movement of Speculative Realism or are thematically associated with it. In particular, he considers the works of McKenzie Wark, Franco Berardi, Karen Barad, Ray Brassier, Timothy Morton, Adrian Johnston. In each case he proceeds by locating in each thinker’s work the disparatous elements that he favours and setting them against the monistic elements responsible for the forgetting of disparity that continues to block thought and to imprison it within the confines of the Big Other.
Discussing Ray Brassier’s NIHIL UNBOUND Zizek approves of the Sellarsian critique of direct naturalization (the impossibility for a subject to ever fully objectivize itself) and rejects for this reason Brassier’s privileging of the causal principle of “determination in the last instance” over transcendental “overdetermination”.
This is an important point, which is not limited to Brassier’s insufficiencies but which applies more generally to the type of post-Althusserian thought to be found in François Laruelle’s non-philosophy and in the writings of his disciples. The privilege accorded to “determination in the last instance” delimits a reductive, monist, causal objectivization of reason and subjectivity.
From Franco Berardi’s HEROES Zizek retains the notion of the traumatic impact of the discovery and of the deployment of neuro-plasticity as undermining our humanity and its habitual concept.
In McKenzie Wark’s MOLECULAR RED Zizek approves of the Nietzschean notion of a fundamentally unstable nature, of a rift in nature which splits humanity itself.
From Karen Barad Zizek takes the notion of the apparatus as constituting an inhuman mediation of the inhuman to the human, enabling us not only to get to know the inhuman real but also to construct new devices on inhuman bases.
From Timothy Morton, he takes the disparatous nature of hyperobjects as heralding the change in our conceptual apparatus that is needed not only to comprehend but even to apprehend the Anthropocene.
Finally Zizek considers Adrian Johnston’s objections to his own privileging of quantum mechanics as scientific exemplar of ontological incompleteness. This argument will be discussed in the next post.