Thursday, January 7, 2010

Moot-Irrealist meat-aphysics: Zizek as apostate apologist

Speaking of Niebuhr, Obama made some speech as a senator on the role of religion in American politics-- I only saw the beginning, but he kicks it off by speaking of green-Christian environmental stewardship and religious-public social entrepreneurship as nice but mostly irrelevant. I'm still glad I voted for that guy.

In talking about the null-set third term I only meant to refer to your concept of a neutral ground outside of culture where culture can be evaluated. I was trying to comment about that as well on your blog when I talked about (Z. talking about) the Holy Spirit, and my own belief in art as a socioeconomically-determined (material) zone of (immaterial) transcendence.

But also I'm in the part of Puppet n' Dwarf where Zizek is talking about God as the gap from Himself, and the Lacanian Act as apart from ethics, but distinct also from nihilistic mysticism, relating to his description of Zen capitalism (being at one with your sword, your marketing platform, etc.). He has that thing with the emphasis changing meaning, changing "Call me Ishmael" to "call me, Ishmael!," and "Nothiong is without reason" to "Nothing(ness) is without reason," and "Don't kill" to "Don't! ...Kill!"

Which brings up the example of Abraham and Isaac, as I did earlier-- Lacan apparently sees Abraham as fighting "the temptation of the ethical." One of Z's psychoanalytic critiques of Buddhism is the mistake that all sentient beings are truly seeking happiness, which we aren't. But he likes the idea that we are stuck in suffering because the first Bodhisattva was dumb enough to be compassionate and come back from Nirvana to try to bring other beings along with him.

For me it goes back to my vision of a universe eternally out of balance. I remember in college one time I was telling Bill that I had once seen the universe as a black and white yin-yang in a gray field absorbing all the gray, but now I see the yin-yang shrinking and the gray expanding. God is who we thank for our blessings, but never who we blame for our troubles. Morality is not optional, but it is human. Calling it transcendent just doesn't seem right to me.

--- On Wed, 1/6/10, Noah Berlatsky wrote:

I think you mean something by floater null-set third term that is technical and beyond my ken. Expound?

Yeah; using morality is kind of lame. But I'm an atheist, so what can you do.

Niebuhr is pretty fun to read on Catholicism. He's definitely of the opinion that the Pope is setting himself up in place of god in some sense (though it's Neibuhr, so I'm sure he'd say that Catholicism can also offer partial and valuable glimmerings of the divine.)

On Wed, Jan 6, 2010 at 4:30 PM, Albert Stabler wrote:

The point about transcendence as a floater null-set third term is really fabulous-- although how null it truly is is the tricky part. If it's humanist ethics, that may be transcendent for Kant, but not for me. I think being bound by morality/law is part of our lived libidinal contingent experience, not a condition of the universe on every level.

I definitely have problems with Catholicism-- although Chesterton himself was a Catholic, and in Orthodoxy describes the Church itself as a teetering sculpture in time, always making mistakes and trying to fix them, embodying the struggle of the individual sinner in a contingent community of souls. I can definitely see where Zizek is coming from in interpreting Christianity as materialist in that sense-- there is no perfection that we can truly know or even comprehend.

When you hate the body too much, when you're a dualist Manichean Neoplatonist alchemist wizard whatever, you start to think you're God. When you love the body too much, you start to abandon God. And I think I'm wiling to map that on to anthropomorphization as well. God does and does not have a body. Time is and is not eternity. That's the half-humanist thing I used to always to talk about with Freud and Marx... their transcendent terms are the superego and history respectively, but you can't deconstruct away the Base.

--- On Wed, 1/6/10, Noah Berlatsky wrote:

I don't know that the perverse core is exactly what I resent. Or, at least, I resent the anthropomorphizing of the perverse core, not necessarily the perverse core itself (at least in Job). If that makes sense, which it may well not.

I was reading a Catholic bishop recently arguing that no suffering goes to waste, that it's all stored up and used for salvation. Which does sort of evoke God as some sort of giant sybaritic vampire, sitting there sucking up suffering until he's got enough in his belly to let you into heaven. That is perverse, I suppose.

"only the Christian God appreciates a universe of multiplicity, shattered into individual souls (through whose contingency Zizek says God is made complete)."

I like the idea that you need a transcendent background in order to appreciate, or even allow for, multiplicity. I'm thinking about this a little bit in terms of culture and art, and the impulse that I think most everyone has to want people to consume/listen/read/whatever the right thing. It seems like that's coming from a place where the transcendent is material; that is, your worshipping the art itself, therefore moral choices become essentially consumer choices. Alternately, you just cut culture and morality apart altogether, and argue that neither has anything to do with the other. Whereas if you have a transcendent ground of some sort, you can say, well, culture connects up to morality and or important things in various ways, and you can talk about it in those terms, but choices about art are not in themselves good or evil.

Maybe that's somewhat the confusion with Zizek too? And perhaps the bishop as well. Suffering is linked to the divine, but that's different than saying "all suffering is good (or as the bishop seems to be saying, useful). It's also different than saying "all suffering is unrelated tot he divine." Having a transcendent other actually invalidates those kinds of sweeping statements; instead, you need to look at each particular case and figure out how, or whether, the transcendent seems to appear in this particular case.

You could make that a critique of Catholicism in general, right? The Catholic insistence on God's immanence in the Church results in a failure to take transcendence seriously...thus all the universalizing dictats.

On Wed, Jan 6, 2010 at 8:35 AM, Albert Stabler < > wrote:

So, the perverse core of Christianity is exactly the thing you resent in Job, and perhaps throughout Scripture. It's what Zizek quotes Kirkegaard as calling "the religious suspension of the ethical," supernatural superceding natural virtue. It's what causes Jesus to allow (or even ordain) his own martyrdom by Judas, it's what causes the Tree of Knowledge to be planted as temptation to Adam and Eve-- and one could certainly argue that it is taken to excuse theocratic or terrorist bloodletting. Or, in Zizek's case, the bloodletting of the Revolution.

Zizek has Paul standing in for Judas, or James Earl Ray-- the catalyst, the boot heel history uses to crush the righteous and thereby spread their fame and establish their significance.

In light of that, it is amazing how Zizek can not only atheistically celebrate transcendence (even its descent to the earthly cross) but also insist upon the meaninglessness of suffering. The fact that suffering is unrelated to divine judgement (even sometimes in the Bible) is a far cry from seeing suffering as empty. He also quotes Chesterton on Buddhism (speaking of emptiness) saying his thing about how only the Christian God appreciates a universe of multiplicity, shattered into individual souls (through whose contingency Zizek says God is made complete).

--- On Tue, 1/5/10, Albert Stabler wrote:

Apparently it is true, I just feel like I'm treating Zizek as entertainment. Which, essentially, he is-- materialistically dialectically economically speaking. Except that I think that what he says is sort of important, so he can't be "mere culture."

--- On Tue, 1/5/10, Noah Berlatsky wrote:

I think people can write better or worse books; even philosophers.

On Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 12:05 PM, Albert Stabler wrote:

It may be weird to prefer one of a philosopher's books over another, but I am not a huge fan of that 9/11 book, relatively speaking. It's sort of scattershot and rambling. And Zizek of all people should never come across as an empathist.

Yeah, I remember that thing about how the excessive slaughter of the Communist revolution is inherently different from the excessive slaughter of the fascist autocracy. Mao is a compelling figure, as butchers go, but I really doubt Saint Paul would let him of the hook for the Cultural Revolution.

This book also has the thing about how Hegel said "The Spirit is a bone." I think he's the first Magic-Eye philosopher-- you have to squint at it for awhile, and then it's like... whoa!

--- On Tue, 1/5/10, Noah Berlatsky wrote:

I started Zizek's Sept 11 book, which I kind of like and kind of am not sure about. He's got this thing where Communism is the one true antithesis to capitalism (as opposed to fascism, which is capitalism's excess). I find that pretty hard to swallow. He also comes down on the side of something like empathy which I also wonder about. But other bits are fun....

On Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 7:54 AM, Albert Stabler < > wrote:

I started rereading Zizek's "The Puppet and the Dwarf," since I'm waiting for my Alfred North Whitehead from Amazon, and it sure starts off great. He defines "culture" as that which we genuflect befire without believing in (although secretly we do unironically believe in it), and uses the example of Westerners being cultutally appalled at the Taliban destroying the Buddhas in Bamiyan because they actually believe they mean something.

I'm going to try to come up with homework for one of my classes about the controversy about the big half-naked public sculptures in Dakar, Senegal, and maybe contrast it with the "unofficial" art of Pape Diop, the mystical graffiti guy from there. I sort of want to work in the Bamiyan thing and the Swiss minnaret ban, but that might be overkill.

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