Slavoj Zizek: Why a return to Plato?

This, then, is our basic philosophico-political choice (decision) today: either repeat in a materialist vein Plato’s assertion of the meta-physical dimension of “eternal Ideas,” or continue to dwell in the postmodern universe of “democratic-materialist” historicist relativism, caught in the vicious cycle of the eternal struggle with “premodern” fundamentalisms.

– Slavoj Zizek, Less than Nothing

If one wanted to find the center of Slavoj Zizek’s book, Less than Nothing, one could do no better than start at the question: “So why a return to Plato?” It is just here that he brings up the great divide in philosophy today, which he borrows from his friend Alain Badiou’s Logic of Worlds (Logiques des mondes): the opposition between “democratic materialism” and its opposite, “materialist dialectics”: the axiom which condenses the first is “There is nothing but bodies and languages …,” to which materialist dialectics adds “… with the exception of truths.”1

This need to add an immaterial element to the materialist program is central to Badiou’s gesture. His incorporation of incorporeal truths as the excess that any materialist program needs. As Zizek iterates it, as “a materialist, and in order to be thoroughly materialist, Badiou focuses on the idealist topos par excellence: how can a human animal forsake its animality and put its life in the service of a transcendent Truth? …Badiou repeats, within the materialist frame, the elementary gesture of idealist anti-reductionism: human Reason cannot be reduced to the result of evolutionary adaptation; art is not just a heightened procedure for producing sensual pleasure but a medium of Truth; and so on.”(ibid.)

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