SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE (8): On (Failed) Dialogue

I am in the process of re-reading Zizek’s SEX AND THE FAILED ABSOLUTE and I find it a very interesting and inspiring work. It contains a very useful and systematic elaboration of Zizek’s main ontological and epistemological theses. In particular, the book contains a thorough working out of Zizek’s thesis that the (epistemological) absence of foundations for our knowledge is redoubled by the (ontological) absence of foundations in and for being.

According to Zizek, it is the absence of foundations that is foundation enough.

I read the book as presenting a metaphysical research programme in the technical sense of Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos, i.e. as presenting a very general vision of the world containing both testable and untestable elements (Popper) structured around a heuristic core (Lakatos).

Zizek’s metaphysical research programme is in explicit dialogue with other metaphysical research programmes, in particular with those of Gilles Deleuze and of Alain Badiou, and with the various new materialisms and speculative realisms.

I would also include François Laruelle, Bruno Latour, and Bernard Stiegler as important components of the current problem-situation. A neglected predecessor is Jean-François Lyotard, especially in his epistemological and ontological reworking of the death-drive.

Zizek is in dialogue with these thinkers, and with many more from philosophy’s history. « Dialogue » is a big word. In Zizek’s terms all dialogue is failed dialogue. He also explains there can be no complete epistemological or ontological closure, so dialogue is always possible.

We can see this thesis of the necessary failure of dialogue exhibited both in Zizek’s often flawed accounts of other thinkers and conversely in the many flawed or travestied readings of Zizek’s books. Unsurprisingly on this account, Zizek also misunderstands himself.

Zizek’s self-thwarting dialogue with his own thought is a great part of the dialectical force driving his research programme forward. No doubt he also self-plagiarises, we all do that, the name of this operation is ego. However, it is self-failing that is the primary dynamic.

We should be aware of this fraught, fractured, wounded incomplete, and improbable self-dialogue, and of our own, as we plunge into this eccentric, cranky, wrong-headed, unlikely, i.e. philosophical, book.

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