Zizek reads Hegel through Lacan

18 10 2010

Slavoj Zizek’s book, The Sublime Object of Ideology, is not an easy work to cipher. So anything I jot down here may or may not be representative of what he actually says there. It has been ages since I read Jacques Lacan, and like the vast majority of people, I didn’t really “get it” when I read him. Whether or not it is at all possible to “get him” is the subject of another series of notes.

When I read books like this, I try to grab on to one idea and see how it interacts with all of the others that I seem to be having trouble with. In this case, that idea is a re-reading of the Hegelian dialectic. For all of you philosophical virgins out there, the Hegelian dialectic is commonly understood as a method for understanding how ideas move in history. The idea (a thesis) is negated by something (an antithesis) only to reach a higher level of understanding (synthesis). Zizek’s problem with this model is that the reading is, in a sense, too positive. The synthesis here is not a higher idea that emerges after a process of negation. It is, rather, a change of perspective in terms of how one sees the original thesis. It is not that the synthesis is something entirely new, but rather it is the thesis viewed in its negativity, the thesis avec negation, the objet petit a, the object as a lack. As Zizek writes in a related essay on the subject:

It would be a complete misunderstanding of the dialectical relationship between Knowledge and Truth if this rapport were viewed as a progressive approximation whereby the subject, driven by the operation of Truth, passes from one figure of knowledge (having proved its ‘falsity’, its insufficiency) to another that is much closer to Truth, etc., until a final agreement between knowledge and Truth is achieved in the form of Absolute Knowledge. From this perspective, Truth is conceived of as a substantial entity, an In-Itself, and the dialectical process is reduced to a simple, asymptotic movement, a progressive approximation to the Truth, in the sense of Victor Hugo’s famous saying: ‘Science is an asymptote of Truth. It ever approaches but ever touches it.’ On the contrary, the Hegelian coincidence of the movement toward truth with truth itself implies that there already has contact with the truth: truth itself must change with the changing knowledge, which is to say that, once knowledge no longer corresponds to truth, we must not merely adjust knowledge accordingly rather transform both poles – the insufficiency of knowledge, its apropos of the truth, radically indicates a lack, a non-achievement at the heart of truth itself.
Read the rest of this entry »