Slavoj Zizek: Rocketman Lives; or, How I discovered the Transcendental Materialist

“Nature did not become ontologically indeterminate with the rise of quantum physics; the discovery of the “principle of uncertainty” means that it always was like that, and no matter how strongly “historically mediated” these scientific discoveries are, they refer to some reality external to the historical process. …The difficult problem is how to think the relationship between scientific knowledge and historical truth if neither of them can be reduced to the other.”

– Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing

In my further explorations of the strange and alien worlds of Slavoj Zizek I come upon a new organism: the “transcendental materialist”, who – according to Zizek, was first discovered by none other than Adrian Johnston. This alien creature believes that all of reality is transcendentally constituted, “correlative” to a subjective position, and, to push this through to the end, the way out of this “correlationist” circle is not to try to directly reach the In-itself, but to inscribe this transcendental correlation into the Thing itself.”1

Subjectivity is everywhere! Ah, but the catch is this: not the correlation itself is inscribed, no… it is the “transcendental correlation” that is now inscribed. But exactly what is the difference? What is this transcendental correlation? And, how does it magically get inscribed from the for-itself to an in-itself? Oh, not to worry, it’s a simple process says Zizek: the path to the “In-itself leads through the subjective gap, since the gap between For-us and In-itself is immanent to the In-itself: appearance is itself “objective,” therein resides the truth of the realist problem of “How can we pass from appearance For-us to reality In-itself?”(ibid. Kindle Locations 20230-20231)

See how simple that is… Rocketman is so clear and precise, one wonders why anyone could have doubted the precision of such a masterful diagnosis. Oh, but there is a catch: How is this gap breached? Do we suddenly enter the gap through some wormhole in the Real like psychonauts shooting the gap between thought and being? What sleight-of-hand practitioner will teach us this new trick?

Where is Alice when you need her? Oh, no problem, I have the Mad Hatter as my guide… let us enter the gap, my friends!

It may appear that the basic defining feature of materialism is a common-sense trust in the reality of the external world— we do not live in the fancies of our imagination, caught up in its web, there is a rich and full-blooded world open to us out there. But this is the premise any serious form of dialectical materialism has to do away with: there is no “objective” reality, every reality is already transcendentally constituted. “Reality” is not the transcendent hard core that eludes our grasp, accessible to us only in a distorted perspectival approach; it is rather the very gap that separates different perspectival approaches. The “Real” is not the inaccessible X, it is the very cause or obstacle that distorts our view on reality, that prevents our direct access to it. The real difficulty is to think the subjective perspective as inscribed in “reality” itself. (Kindle Locations 20232-20238

Let the Wars of the Real begin! Listen to Rocketman once more as we repeat the chorus of this refrain:

The “Real” is not the inaccessible X, it is the very cause or obstacle that distorts our view on reality, that prevents our direct access to it. The real difficulty is to think the subjective perspective as inscribed in “reality” itself.

To understand how to overcome the “Real” we need to get a good handle on just what it is… as the old saying goes: Know thy enemy! In our next Adventures of Rocketman we will trace the history of this strange notion, and ask the question: What is the “Real”, and why does it distort reality?

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1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism ). Norton. Kindle Edition. (Kindle Locations 20227-20230)

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