We have produced a lot critique of Zizek’s book on dialectical materialism and we should pause and take stock and change direction: we can try and show the way that the framework of Last and First Men automatically ‘affirms and negates’ books of this type and keeps the perspective at a higher level of abstraction.
Reading Absolute Recoil, if you check Amazon reviews is a fun game for his fans, and a puzzling obstacle for many who can’t get through his works.
It is obvious why this is: Zizek presumes an audience which must consist of the students from the last generation of French Philosophy, with its various marxist diehards, psychoanalysts, and the like. This material in a segment of the left evokes a quick shard language and this type of material evokes the sense of great profundity. For a larger global audience who are not aware of Western Marxism, never heard of Lacan, and quite unversed in ‘dialectic’, Zizek is speaking a foreign language. I am quite acquainted with Kant, Hegel, marxist dialectic, and have read a book or two in Western marxism, but still Zizek’s book is heavy going. In part that is because as a leftist I spend all my time thinking in terms of economics, social criticism, communist specifics, etc… My brain shuts down with this type of material from Zizek because it is irrelevant to all issues of praxis, and proposes an alternate view of the history of the left’s ideologies that noone needs in dealing with the needs of a global activism.
But the real problem is the presumption that marxist orthodoxy presumes agreement about ‘dialectics’, a really bad thing to do. It requires every reader with some science sense to give that up for a curious mishmash called ‘dialectic’.
That is actually much fairer to Zizek than quibbling with his book. But I fear this phase of leftist French philosophy with Zizek at the peak may simply shift into history.
A good history and garland of the past generation with some insightful commentary on Zizek’s flood of books, might rescue something here for the future, and give the left, what to say the general public some handle on,…Deleuze and Guttari. I have actually read one book of these two, on schizophrenia, fascinating, that was forty years ago. I would certainly read more if there were a serious guide to this history. But getting up the requirements for reading Zizek takes time and fifty other subjects compete.
But in any case, I suspect the whole project of attempting to create a materialist foundation here is going to fail. And there is much that is puzzling here: if I read about a blend of Kant and Althusser to resolve the issues of the transcendental in Kant, I wince. Who are we dealing with here? Strange thinking. It isn’t going to work. Why bother. All the paintings in the museum have different premises: we can only examine them in passing.
I think the framework in Last and First Men is more useful because this exercise by Zizek can find a place in that larger context. The substream is an event in the larger model. The foundational aspect is historical chronicle, economic histories, ideological critiques, praxis-oriented recipes for social change.
What people globally need is a model of modernity, a critique of Eurocentrism, a saga of the modern transition with philosophy as a set of events, perspective on revolution, and a way to study economics critically. With a set of well-defined economies and communisms as practical strategies. We try to assess the ‘sequential positioning’ of downfield works (like Zizek’s) in that context, and we place him in the sequential dependencies of Kant, Hegel, and we are done.
A larger framework is thus neutral as to philosophy and requires no conversion, or entry to a fanclub in a philosophical belief system.
The macro model in Last and First Men thus contains the foundations for a dialogue with the Reformation, the rise of science, Spinoza and biblical criticism, the modern revolutions as liberalism, democracy and communism, in general the Enlightenment, Romanticism, German classical philosophy and everything that is a part of the modern transition.This is a bit obvious, but the views of the marxist left in the later phases of philosophy assume that the combination of historical materialism, dialectic, and the core of classical economics via Marx’s version are sufficient to evaluate all knowledge and cultural, an extravagant thesis. This view can’t even handle Schopenhauer without a nervous breakdown. It is obvious from too many marxist histories that this is a problem.
More generally I fear a harsh judgment awaits the philosophy corpus Zizek presumes. If this group wishes to preserve this legacy in a coming crisis of people who just might read the introduction to one Zizek book a new approach is needed that can be useful without being superficial.
But I think the world is moving rapidly: can we really assume that psychoanalysis is going to be foundational? Guttari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia (!) and the revolt against Freud of the early eighties cured me of the subject for good.
Last and First Men creates a comprehensive framework for all issues of philosophy, religion, art, science and politics since the Sumerians and can create in principle a superset of all of them. This approach automatically sublates a version of Zizek’s tangential logic.