- Slavoj Žižek’s Hegelian ReformationGiving a Hearing to The Parallax View
Slavoj Žižek. THE PARALLAX VIEW. Cambridge: MIT P, 2006. [PV]
Near the end of a two-hour presentation at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on November 10, 2006, Slavoj Žižek confesses that, in terms of the intellectual ambitions nearest to his heart, “my secret dream is to be Hegel’s Luther” [“Why Only an Atheist Can Believe”]. This confession comes just months after the publication of his latest major work, The Parallax View, a book described as a new magnum opus. There are ample justifications within this text to license retroactively rereading it through the lens of Žižek’s subsequent public admission that he is now preoccupied with rescuing Hegel from the numerous misinterpretations to which this giant of German idealism (who casts such a long shadow over the Continental European philosophical tradition) has been repeatedly subjected over the past two hundred years. The Parallax View, at certain points explicitly and in other places implicitly, can be seen as centered on an effort to confront aggressively the various received versions of Hegel widely accepted as official and orthodox exegetical renditions. The motif of the “parallax gap,” elaborated in a plethora of guises throughout this 2006 tome, condenses and reflects the axiomatic theses of what could be called Žižek’s Hegelian reformation.
The critical assessment of The Parallax View offered here seeks to go straight to its theoretical heart by highlighting a single line of argumentation running through the full span of this text’s different moments and phases. Žižek’s own Hegelian-style conceptions of truth (as fiercely partisan rather than calmly neutral) and universality (as immanently concrete rather than transcendently abstract) validate such an interpretive approach—“universal Truth is accessible only from a partial engaged subjective position” [PV 35]. Deliberately extracting particular conceptual constellations and forcing them to link up with each other according to the plan of a certain directed philosophical agenda promises to be much more revealing of the essential features of Žižekian thought than a comprehensive survey of this latest of his major works.
The specific argumentative thread to be isolated here is the new extended engagement with the terrain covered by cognitive science and the neurosciences. Apart from the task of denouncing falsifying popular pictures of Hegel, one of Žižek’s other driving ambitions in this book is the desire to formulate a fundamental ontology appropriate to the theory of subjectivity mapped out over the course of his entire intellectual itinerary (a theory informed by Kant and post-Kantian German idealism combined with Lacanian psychoanalytic metapsychology). And, herein, the articulation of such an ontology appropriately gets entangled, via reflections on the nature of the brain, with the latest instantiations of the perennial philosophical problem of the relationship between mind and [End Page 3] body. Žižek grants that the central nervous system is, in at least several undeniable and important senses, the material, corporeal ground of the subject, the bodily being without which there cannot be the parlêtre (speaking being). But, in the spirit of Schelling and Hegel (especially their philosophies of “productive” nature), the fashions in which Žižek attempts to tie together systematically a materialist ontology with an account of more-than-material, transontological subjectivity illuminate a normally obscured and ignored set of implied consequences flowing from the gesture of dissolving hard-and-fast dualist distinctions between body and mind, nature and spirit.
The past few decades of philosophical engagement with the neurosciences, an engagement almost completely monopolized by the Anglo-American Analytic philosophical tradition and neglected by the Continental European philosophical tradition to an equal degree, has emphasized (to put this in the vernacular of German idealism) the naturalization of spirit resulting from the collapse of any strict nature-spirit dichotomy. The materialisms promoted by those Analytic philosophers amenable to grounding the mental on the neuronal simply assume that the outcome of folding mind and matter into each other is a becoming-material of the mind, namely, a naturalization of the spirit (that is, the mind comes to resemble the brain conceived of as just another part...