Reading Žižek’s Less Than Nothing (1)

Having been away from blogging for a good year or two, I realized that the positive side of that entire endeavor we undertook in 2007 was, in addition to mocking various laughable philosophical trends (there are always many), the chance to write things down for one’s own convenience. I miss that part. Other authors of this glorious outfit found other ways of expressing themselves, but I keep coming back to PE, not willing to just abandon it. I stopped blogging because it became impossible to avoid a certain group of topics. It still is but one must try and move on. The insidious activity of those who took it upon themselves to discredit me and others connected to this venture succeeded only partially in that the vile (and untrue) slander they spread (and are still spreading) only revealed the inherent insecurities of the authors and propagators themselves. As these “scholars” are entering the public sphere in a more or less traditional sense, more and more people come to the same realization that I already had several years ago – these aren’t very pleasant men, they aren’t interested in philosophy as such, their ideas are full of ridiculous holes, they will do (and have done) anything it takes to take down their real and imaginary opponents. And yet they do not quite live up to the level of Shakespearian villains. They are mostly one-dimensional souls, with their own hang-ups and shortcomings. And that’s what makes them human…

Now to Reading Žižek’s Less Than Nothing

I just finished Part 1 this morning (Chapters 1, 2 and 3). Mostly it’s the usual Žižekian nonsense – and I mean it in a kind of judgment-free sense where “nonsense” simply refers to Žižek’s annoying style of throwing everything together and link all the ideas with a “What if it isn’t the case?” – a kind of Eli Cash approach.

Chapter 1 has a lot of stuff about Badiou and Socrates, i.e. dialectics in a kind of traditional context of Greek philosophy, but of course with contemporary connection. Chapter 2 is entirely about religion and Christianity – I took one note while reading it (or maybe two) as there is really nothing interesting there about Hegel or dialectical materialism (supposed main themes of the book). Chapter 3 was more interesting because it dealt with Fichte (“Fichte’s Choice”). However, even that chapter clearly shows how lazy Žižek is – the chapter isn’t about Fichte as such, but about various interpretations of Fichte,  the chapter is supposed to look like a rereading/rethinking of Fichte. Some of its ideas are interesting and Žižek’s attempts to connect Fichte and Hegel in a more coherent way are to be applauded. But look at his notes – he doesn’t cite Fichte, the cites Fichte scholars, i.e. people who already accomplished all the leg-work of the above-mentioned connections. All Žižek does is take their work and do what they cannot (due to their intellectual integrity, perhaps) – he stretches their ideas to the point of non-recognition (connecting everything to Lacan) without any real argumentation: “Most people say Fichte was a subjective idealist, what this book presupposes… maybe he wasn’t?”

The end of Fichte’s chapter deserves some attention, I think. This is where Marx appears:

What makes Henrich’s reflections so interesting is that he relies on them in his critique of Marx (and of Marx’s critique of Hegel); his basic claim is that Marx’s project of the critique of ideology “depends on the conceptual apparatus of the Phenomenology of Spirit,” which is why, in his critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx cannot properly get Hegel’s notion of the State (which already presupposes the notional structure of the Science of Logic).

This is literally the last page of Chapter 3 (189) and Žižek does not give more than a few ideas on what Henrich means here (Henrich, by the way, as well as some other great German Idealism scholars, provides for the majority of Žižek’s quotations – in fact, just one of Henrich’s book – Between Kant and Hegel – and there is an occasional quotation of Hegel/Fichte, once again showing clearly that these ideas aren’t a result of some careful rereading of the classics).

The gist of Žižek’s conclusion vis-a-vis Hegel and Marx is intriguing – Marx fails to understand Hegel’s conception of the state because he fails to understand that Hegelian state, at least in Henrich/Žižek’s view, isn’t some arbitrarily chosen form/instrument but corresponds to the human will’s inherent (dialectics of) self-limitation. The Hegelian state isn’t there to fulfill human needs in the best possible way, but it structurally corresponds to the will’s own structure (to put it tautologically). The entire business of limitation, finitude and Fichte’s I and non-I comes to make a point here but the point isn’t quite made (yet). The chapter ends with this:

The Marxist analysis of the state as a structure of class domination (and, in this sense, as an instrument of civil society) misses the crucial problem Hegel was struggling with, “leaving the objective issue between Hegel’s institutionalism of freedom and socialism (with its spontaneity) entirely unsettled.” [Henrich, Between Kant and Hegel, 329] The price paid for this neglect was that the problem returned with a vengeance in the guise of the Stalinist “totalitarian” state.

Stalin? Well, I really hope Žižek actually gets to say something about it in Part 2.

11 thoughts on “Reading Žižek’s Less Than Nothing (1)

  1. Zizek’s return to Hegel is much like Lacan’s return to Freud – alienating ones own work under a master signifier. It is a form of retroactive positing. I think in one sense you take him too seriously, and in another not serious enough. At the level of content you take him too seriously and just see a load of nonesense, and in one sense you are absolutely right. On a formal level though I do not think you take him seriously enough, as I see it (and I’ve only read chapter 1 in any depth), Zizek is substituting the transcendental schema with his so called ‘parallax shift’ and then applying it a key Platoian text. From this perspective, for me at least, the nonesense makes sense.

      • I’m very sorry to report that (as I understand it, my essence was withdrawn from most of that crapulation) JohnD derived neither giggles nor shits from the sordid affair. In fact it’s my impression he had some kind of Enlightenment/stroke event and thought if everyone could just get together face to face, know each other as real live feeling thinking human beings, good will would prevail and you know this is killing me just to type it. Anyway I love you both, let’s never quarrel again!

      • Could be. Btw I have this theory that we find out what someone’s real religion is when we find out where their sense of humor ends. Unfortunately it turns out most people worship themselves.

      • I think I managed to preserve my sense of humor throughout, or I’d like to think so. I hold no grudges against JohnD, I’m sure he meant well in some strange way…

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