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August 17, 2013

The Parallax View (2006), Slavoj Žižek


1) The focus of psychoanalysis resides elsewhere: the Social, the field of social practices and socially held beliefs, is not simply on a different level from individual experience, but something to which the individual himself has to relate, which the individual himself has to experience as an order which is minimally “reified,” externalized. The problem, therefore, is not “how to jump from the individual to the social level”; the problem is: how should the external-impersonal socio-symbolic order of institutionalized practices and beliefs be structured, if the subject is to retain his “sanity,” his “normal” functioning?

2) (Take the proverbial egotist, cynically dismissing the public system of moral norms: as a rule, such a subject can function only if this system is “out there,” publicly recognized—that is to say, in order to be a private cynic, he has to presuppose the existence of naive other(s) who “really believe.”) In other words, the gap between the individual and the “impersonal” social dimension is to be inscribed back within the individual himself: this “objective” order of the social Substance exists only insofar as individuals treat it as such, relate to it as such

3) The key problem here is that the basic “law”of dialectical materialism, the struggle of opposites, was colonized/obfuscated by the New Age notion of the polarity of opposites (yin-yang, and so on). The first critical move is to replace this topic of the polarity of opposites with the concept of the inherent “tension,” gap, noncoincidence, of the One itself.

[4) Difference between desire and drive: difference between the non-circumspect and circumspect [?]]

5) And, last but not least, we should assert the parallax status of philosophy as such. At its very inception (the Ionian pre-Socratics), philosophy emerged in the interstices of substantial social communities, as the thought of those who were caught in a “parallax” position, unable fully to identify with any of the positive social identities.

6) In On Tyranny, Leo Strauss answered the question “In what does philosophic politics consist?” with: “In satisfying the city that the philosophers are not atheists, that they do not desecrate everything sacred to the city, that they reverence what the city reverences, that they are not subversives, in short that they are not irresponsible adventurers, but the best citizens.” This, of course, is a defensive survival strategy to cover up the actual subversive nature of philosophy.

7) This crucial dimension is missing in Heidegger’s account: how, from his beloved pre-Socratics onward, philosophizing involved an “impossible” position displaced with regard to any communal identity, be it “economy” (oikos, the household organization) or polis (the city-state).

The grounding experience of his position of universal doubt is precisely a “multicultural” experience of how our own tradition is no better than what looks to us like the “eccentric” traditions of others:

I thus concluded that it is much more custom and example that persuade us than any certain knowledge, and yet in spite of this the voice of the majority does not afford a proof of any value in truths a little difficult to discover, because such truths are much more likely to have been discovered by one man than by a nation.

I could not, however, put my finger on a single person whose opinions seemed preferable to those of others, and I found that I was, so to speak, constrained myself to undertake the direction of my procedure [René Descartes, Discourse on Method]

8) The link between the emergence of the cogito and the disintegration and loss of substantial communal identities is therefore inherent, and this holds even more for Spinoza than for Descartes: although Spinoza criticized the Cartesian cogito, he criticized it as a positive ontological entity—but he implicitly fully endorsed it as the “position of the enunciated,” the one which speaks from radical self-doubting, since, even more than Descartes, Spinoza spoke from the interstices of the social space(s), neither a Jew nor a Christian. Spinoza is, in effect, the “philosopher”

9) For a philosopher, ethnic roots, national identity, introduction and so on, are simply not a category of truth—or, to put it in precise Kantian terms, when we reflect upon our ethnic roots, we engage in a private use of reason, constrained by contingent dogmatic presuppositions; that is to say, we act as “immature” individuals, not as free human beings who dwell in the dimension of the universality of reason.

10) This, of course, does not in any way entail that we should be ashamed of our ethnic roots; we can love them, be proud of them; returning home may warm our hearts—but the fact remains that all this is ultimately irrelevant.

11) The struggle which truly engages him is not simply “more universal” than that of one ethnic group against another; it is a struggle which obeys an entirely different logic: no longer the logic of one self-identical substantial group fighting another group, but of an antagonism that cuts diagonally across all particular groups.

12) The abandoning of the false, unstable home in order to reach our true home.

13) Along these lines of the constitutive “homelessness” of philosophy, Karatani asserts—against Hegel—Kant’s idea of the cosmopolitan “world-civil-society/ Weltburgergesellschaft,” which is not simply an expansion of the citizenship of a nation state to the citizenship of a global transnational State; it involves a shift from the principle of identification with one’s “organic” ethnic substance actualized in particular tradition, to a radically different principle of identification—Karatani refers here to Deleuze’s notion of universal singularity as opposed to the triad individuality-particularity-generality; this opposition is the opposition between Kant and Hegel. For Hegel, “world-civil-society” is an abstract notion without substantial content, lacking the mediation of the particular, and thus the force of full actuality—that is to say, it involves an abstract identification which does not seize the subject substantially; the only way for an individual to participate effectively in universal humanity is therefore via full identification with a particular nation-state: I am “human” only as a German, an Englishman. . . .

14) For Kant, on the contrary, “world-civil-society” designates the paradox of the universal singularity, of a singular subject who, in a kind of short circuit, bypassing the mediation of the particular, directly participates in the Universal. This identification with the Universal is not the identification with an all encompassing global Substance (“humanity”), but the identification with a universal ethico-political principle—a universal religious collective, a scientific collective, a global revolutionary organization, all of which are in principle accessible to everyone. This is what Kant, in the famous passage of “What Is Enlightenment?”, means by “public” as opposed to “private”: “private” is not individual as opposed to communal ties, but the very communal-institutional order of one’s particular identification; while “public” is the transnational universality of the exercise of one’s Reason.

15) The paradox is thus that one participates in the universal dimension of the “public” sphere precisely as a singular individual extracted from or even opposed to one’s substantial communal identification—one is truly universal only as radically singular, in the interstices of communal identities:

[16) ]

[17) But we are businessmen, actually, more than philosophers in our organizational culture-don’t ever forget that: Logic, objectives, implementation and power; and logic includes enormous self-doubt as revision as restraint in the pursuit of a clarity of vision.]




[ …]= Points enclosed in brackets are not from original text; footnote references from original have not been included.

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