Real Materialism


[h/t Nick] Review of Žižek’s Parallax and In Defence of Lost Causes from Jodi Dean here.

Žižek uses the parallax gap both to explore Hegelian concrete universality and to revise some key Lacanian categories. Concrete universality does not refer to a universal core or essence animating its particular forms of appearance. Rather, concrete universality persists in the unsurpassable gaps between these forms, in their noncoincidence and struggle. The Universal, then, “names the site of a Problem-Deadlock, of a burning Question, and the Particulars are attempted but failed Answers to this problem” (35). For example, the concept of the State names the problem of how to contain the antagonism that underlies and generates society. Particular states are particular solutions. Christianity likewise names a struggling universality, one formulated from the position of the excluded which thereby splits substantial identities.

Makes me want to go read the book again…

2 thoughts on “Real Materialism

  1. A few years ago (during the time *The Parallax View* was published) there was an article that Zizek wrote for Chicago’s *Critical Inquiry* journal responding to Laclau’s attacks, which was titled “Schlagend, aber nicht Treffend.” In the middle there is a really interesting remark on concrete universality that I think sums it up pretty well (insofar as parallax would designate, e.g., the oscillation between nominalism and rationalism):

    In other words, what is the Hegelian Begriff as opposed to the nominalist notion (the result of abstracting shared features from a series of particular objects)? Often, we stumble upon a particular case that does not fully fit its universal species, which is atypical; the next step is to acknowledge that every particular is “atypical,” that the universal species exists only in exceptions, that there is a structural tension between the universal and the particular. At this point, we become aware that the universal is no longer just an empty neutral container of its subspecies but an entity in tension with each and every one of its species. The universal notion thus acquires a dynamics of its own; more precisely, the true universal is this antagonistic dynamic between the universal and the particular. It is at this point that we pass from the abstract to the concrete universal, when we acknowledge that every particular is an exception and, consequently, that the universal, far from containing its particular content, excludes it (or is excluded by it).

  2. Funny you should mention it, I was reading that article earlier today, it has one of the most entertaining openings in this “in response to your criticism” genre of rejoinders:

    Things look really bad for me in Ernesto Laclau’s response (Laclau,“Why Constructing a People Is the Main Task of Radical Politics,” Critical Inquiry 32 [Summer 2006]: 646–80) to my essay “Against the PopulistTemptation”. I have again and again “utterly missed the point” (p. 654) ; I am “entirely unaware” (p. 654) of the theoretical consequences of the concepts I use; I have “not understood even the ABCs of the theory of hegemony” (p. 664); my reproaches are “pure invention” (p. 658) and do not possess even a “tentative plausibility” (p. 663), so that against me it is sufficient to evoke “an argument that any undergraduate knows” (p. 660); I “systematically distort Lacanian theory” (p. 657); I need to “go and do [my] homework” (p. 680); my concrete political references are “pure delirium” (p. 680); one finds in several places in my text “cheap tricks” (p. 649 n. 3); my procedure is “dishonest” (p. 678 n. 19).

    Is there not something slightly surprising in this obviously excessive subjective animosity? In academia, a polite way to say that we found our colleague’s intervention or talk stupid and boring is to say, “It was interesting.” So if, instead, we tell a colleague, “It was boring and stupid,” he would be fully justified to be surprised and ask, “But if you found it boring and stupid, why did you not simply say that it was interesting?” This unfortunate colleague would be right to take the direct statement as involving something
    more, not only as a comment about the quality of his paper but as an attack on his very person. So the difference between Laclau and me is that while Laclau tells me that my text is boring and stupid, I am telling him politely that his is interesting.

    So it seems I’m not the only asshole around…

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