SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE (6): ontology and epistemology of the concept

In his book SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE Zizek gives a systematic presentation of his philosophy in the form of four theorems (I – Parallax, II – Redoubling, III – Unorientability, IV – Negativity). I describe these theorems in the previous post.

Together these theorems express our relation to the Absolute and relate a series of steps towards Absolute Knowing. Sometimes in discussing our relation to the Absolute Zizek uses the terminology of « access », and talks of the modalities of our access to the Absolute. However, I think this vocabulary is untrustworthy.

We must not forget that Object-Oriented Ontology has perverted the term of « access » to create a false problem and a corresponding false solution. Knowledge is not access, the knowledge relation is not best described as one of « access ». Further, perception is not access, although both knowledge and access may require some form of access among their conditions of possibility.

We have already given names to these theorems, but they have several possible names. If our focus is epistemological we can call them respectively: Theorem I – the No Access Theorem, II – the Disrupted Access Theorem, III – the Dis-oriented Access Theorem, and IV – the Dissolution of Access Theorem.

If the « object » to be accessed, the accessing « subject » and the relation of « access » itself are instantiations of radical negativity (Theorem IV), then the picture of a subject accessing an object (or not) is far too simplistic. This access is impossible (TI – Parallax Theorem), it cannot be achieved by indirection (TII – Redoubling Theorem).

This redoubling can be epistemologically effective only when it is itself redoubled (TIII – Unorientability Theorem), allowing for the inscription of subjectivity into every moment of the quest for access, opening an unorientable space in which access itself is dissolved and dispersed.

This allows us to reply to the question of the location of the concept, and also to that of its movement. The concept is present from the beginning (TI – Parallax Theorem –  concept-ladenness). All attempts to get behind the concept to compare it to the real only serve to redouble the concept-ladenness (TII – Redoubling Theorem – all methodologies aiming to redress concepts are themselves permeated by conceptual presuppositions).

A more formal approach to revising concepts based on methodological progression fails, opening up contradiction, discontinuity, cuts, gaps, lack and disruption in and between concepts (TIII – Unorientability Theorem). This failure to achieve « access » the object is re-conceptualised as indicating the necessary inscription of unorientable subjectivity (TIII) and retroactively attributable to constitutive negativity (Negativity Theorem: Dissolution of Access).

These four steps, derived from the four theorems, are present in Zizek’s recapitulation of « The Waistcoat ». He calls them deception, redoubled deception, silent knowing, Absolute Knowing. For a summary and analysis of Zizek’s approach to this story see previous post:

The Concept as concrete universality is immanent self-reflexively in step three (« silent knowing ») and fully subjectively in step four. It is however present from the start, and the parallax of the concept drives the process.

Note: it follows from this analysis that Deleuze and Guattari’s account of the concept and its place is seriously flawed. The detachment of the concept from other thinking practices creates an illusion of autonomy. They re-orient a previously unoriented space to striate it with separate Zones of Thought (philosophy, art, science).

Zizek implicitly uses the Unorientability Theorem in his criticism of Badiou’s distinctions and demarcations between Being and Event, and between Truth and Knowledge. Similar considerations apply to Deleuze and Guattari’s treatment of the concept as characterising philosophy to the exclusion of other domains. We have seen that this thesis is untenable.

Unorientability is constitutive, it defeats their demarcations from within.

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