02 October 2007

Concerning a Surprise

The first sentence of Zizek's For they know not what they do contains a Brandom joke:

There are philosophical books, minor classics even, which are widely known and referred to, although practically no one has read them page by page (John Rawls's Theory of Justice, for example, or Robert Brandom's Making It Explicit) -- a nice example of interpassivity, where some figure of the Other is supposed to do the reading for us.
We are off to a good start, at least.

My copy of For they know not what they do arrived today. Sadly, looking at the index, Zizek doesn't appear to manhandle Davidson in the book; I know he's said some startlingly inaccurate things about the principle of charity before, and I was hoping I wouldn't have to do any real work to hunt them down. (Davidson is mentioned once in a footnote as a "recent analytic philosopher", but that's his sole appearance.) At least there are some decently-long Wittgenstein discussions in the book; one hopes to find some rough ground there.

I figure the worst case scenario is that I'll read for the jokes. Zizek's pretty good at delivering on such things.


Tom said...

I remember laughing when I read that Preface since I'm meant to be working on Brandom as a fair chunk of my PhD but haven't managed to make it all the way through the philosophy of language heavy section of Making It Explicit. Thank goodness that the big Other is there to do it for me!

Daniel said...

tom: Yeah, it's a good thing that there is a Big Other. I am sure we would all go quite mad without it.

And now I think I shall use my own comment space to take notes. Why not?

Page xii: The good start continues -- Brandom is cited on the very next page. (The entire book of MIE, of course, not a page or a direct quotation.)

And then we hit a rough spot:
"As Lacan pointed out in the early 1950's, apropos of performative statements like "You are my teacher", we are obliged to commit ourselves because the direct causality is canceled -- one never really knows, one never sees directly into, the other's mind."

This was by way of pointing out that (says the Lacanian) "there is something in between brute natural reality and the properly human symbolic universe of normative commitments [this is what Brandom was cited for]: the abyss of freedom." I should think it would come as quite a surprise to Brandom that his normatively-committed creatures were dwelling in something other than "brute natural reality". (This is not even to get into the huge warning signs that should flash whenever "normative" and "freedom" are separated.)

Also, Zizek says that in The Sublime Object of Ideology he had spoken of Lacan in "quasi-transcendental terms", with "the Real as the impossible Thing-in-itself." I will be quite careful to watch this; I suspect he may be pulling a Fichte -- attack the Thing-in-itself while not actually jettisoning the Thing. (Fichte's "shock" is not a solution at all. This is why Hegel lumps Fichte in with Kant as "Subjective Idealists", though Fichte gets credit for wanting to get rid of the noumenal.)

xiii: Brandom is criticized for not including a discussion of "the resistance to full commitment"; the example used is of the anxieties felt on one's wedding day. This is said to not be "just an empirical psychological fact but a resistance inscribed into the most elementary relationship between the subject and its symbolic representation/identification." I am inclined to suspect that part of Zizek's opening joke is that he hasn't read Brandom, either.

Zizek writes that "there is no language", but it seems a sort of lament; Zizek's epitaphs are in need of a derangement of some sort, I should say; at least, it would be nice if they were so shifted. "There is no such thing as a language" ought to be therapeutic, not an explanation for why therapy is needed.

xv: "the Real is not the hard kernel of reality which resists virtualization." My Fichte-sense is tingling. The shock, after all, is not a noumenal object -- emphatically not! Nor is it the cause of our representations; perish the thought. And yet... it is beyond the Ego and the Not-Ego both (both being posited by the Ego), and is the occasion for the Ego's double-positing of its own identity and its distinction from another. And it is the shock itself which prevents the final reconciliation of Ego and Non-Ego; Fichte repeats Kant's doctrine of the perpetual, endless striving towards perfection (which can at no point be reached -- for Fichte the identity of the Ego and the Non-Ego is purely a transcendental matter; the empirical ego is never known as identical with the non-ego).

xvi: "Gnosticism is thus simultaneously right and wrong: right, in so far as it claims that the human subject is not truly "at home" in our reality; wrong, in so far as it draws the conclusion that there should therefore be another (astral, etheric...) universe which is our true home, from which we "fell" into this material reality." And my Fichtometer is bursting off the charts! Hegel grows livid; here we have the absolute rejection of the essence of man as freedom, that he is to be at home in his reality -- at home with himself in the other! (I of course put this too strongly for such an early comment. But such is the way I take notes. I am often embarrassed by them later. You should see what I wrote about Plato in high school.)

Zizek mentions ghosts. I suspect it might be quite enlightening to compare & contrast Zizek's Real-specters to Hegel's treatment of Banquo in The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate. Zizek seems to be too haunted; Banquo shows up to only one banquet, and there is nothing about banquets as such which demands that they have ghostly attendees. Which does not mean Banquo is any the less real, in his own case.

A note to myself: Look up Hegel's comments on the gnostics. The philosophy of history notes are not the ones I want. (Though they were good reading. Hold up pretty well for being 170 years old.)

Daniel said...

xxi: "Thus differentiality inverts the common perception of presence and absence: it is not absence which is derivative of presence, but the other way round." What? Why would anyone find either of these ideas compelling? Presence-absence arise and fall together, like all good pairs of antonyms. You can use one iff you can use both.

This is illustrated with some rubbish about the phallus: man is a woman plus a phallus/woman is a man without a phallus. Stuff and nonsense! A man isn't a woman plus or minus anything; a woman isn't a man plus or minus anything. And a vagina is as fine a presence as anyone could ever ask for.

xxii: Zizek seems to think "Hegelese" is called for to say "concealing the fact that there is nothing to conceal." I would have thought Oscar Wilde would do: "The Sphinx Without a Secret". This has nothing to do with Hegel, unless by "Hegelese" one means "to put it cleverly."

Footnote 21 is entirely terrible. Dreadful. I am ashamed to see Hegel's name next to such lousy jokes.

xxiv: Zizek's flatly wrong about what Kant thought about the "formalism" charge vis-a-vis his ethical theory. He did have a separate line of argument to give substance to the "universality" bit. Respect, and all that. Zizek's Hegel-contra-Kant is also incredible; he has Hegel claiming some sort of radicalized version of Kant's moral theory, when Hegel really did think that being a good citizen was pretty much the high point of modern ethics. Patriotism gets the high rank in the Rechtsphilosophie, after all.

xxv: Zizek is Fichte redivivus. He actually does a decent job rehashing Fichte's criticisms of Kant. Except he attributes them all to Hegel.

I do not know how Zizek can think that Hegel was not interested into "direct insight into Eternal Truth". Hegel is not exactly humble in his rhetoric. Zizek claims that Hegel is not claiming to have the sort of knowledge which Kant prohibited, but that's simply wrong. Hegel says he knows things as they are in themselves (since that's how they are phenomenally). Kant said you couldn't do this. Hegel doesn't claim to know the transcendent objects of classical metaphysics, but this wasn't because of any limitation on the bounds of knowledge. It's because classical metaphysics is bollocks -- a mass of confusions.

xxvi: Zizek illustrates his misunderstanding of Hegel by speaking of the opposition between a species and its genus. I suspect Zizek has no sense of a "concrete universal" at all. There's no entry for it in the index of this book.

It's a pretty big deal for Hegel! "Everything is a syllogism" is all about concrete universals. Bob Stern's paper on the British Idealists was great on this. Hegel of course also speaks of abstract universals as well as concrete ones, but the abstract universals are a toy of the understanding. Concrete universals are where the action is act.