Slavoj Zizek: Spirit as the Wound of Nature

Spirit is itself the wound it tries to heal, that is, the wound is self-inflicted. “Spirit” at its most elementary is the “wound” of nature. The subject is the immense— absolute— power of negativity, the power of introducing a gap or cut into the given – immediate substantial unity, the power of differentiating , of “abstracting,” of tearing apart and treating as self-standing what in reality is part of an organic unity. This is why the notion of the “self-alienation” of Spirit is more paradoxical than it may appear: it should be read together with Hegel’s assertion of the thoroughly non-substantial character of Spirit: there is no res cogitans, no thing which also thinks, Spirit is nothing but the process of overcoming natural immediacy, of the cultivation of this immediacy, of withdrawing -into-itself or “taking off” from it, of— why not?— alienating itself from it. The paradox is thus that there is no Self that precedes the Spirit’s “self-alienation”: the very process of alienation generates the “Self” from which Spirit is alienated and to which it then returns. … Spirit’s self-alienation is the same as, fully coincides with , its alienation from its Other (nature), because it constitutes itself through its “return-to-itself” from its immersion in natural Otherness. Spirit’s return-to-itself creates the very dimension to which it returns. What this means is that the “negation of the negation ,” the “return-to-oneself” from alienation, does not occur where it seems to: in the negation of the negation, Spirit’s negativity is not relativized, subsumed under an encompassing positivity; it is, on the contrary, the “simple negation” which remains attached to the presupposed positivity it has negated, the presupposed Otherness from which it alienates itself, and the negation of the negation is nothing but the negation of the substantial character of this Otherness itself, the full acceptance of the abyss of Spirit’s self-relating which retroactively posits all its presuppositions. In other words, once we are in negativity, we can never leave it and regain the lost innocence of the origins; in the “negation of the negation” the origins are truly lost, their very loss is lost, they are deprived of the substantial status of that which has been lost. Spirit heals its wound not directly, but by getting rid of the full and sane Body into which the wound was cut. It is in this precise sense that, according to Hegel, “the wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind.”  His point is not that Spirit heals its wounds so perfectly that, in a magical gesture of retroactive sublation, even the scars disappear; the point is rather that, in the course of the dialectical process, a shift of perspective occurs which makes the wound itself appear as its opposite— the wound itself is its own healing when seen from another standpoint.

– Slavoj Zizek,   Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (pp. 140-141)

8 thoughts on “Slavoj Zizek: Spirit as the Wound of Nature

  1. I was surprised by Searle’s almost abbreviated review of both books… Searle’s own philosophy was a no go for me, always was. I think Searle is an older curmudgeon that gave up the ghost long ago. Too bad when he read both books that he gave cliché reviews… hardly touching on the true weaknesses and strengths in either. Strange that. But Searle is of the old American tribe of philosophers: ingrown and demented, authoritarian and dismissive of the Continent.

    Like Floridi says: “After Turing, we are no longer at the center of the world of information either. We share the infosphere with smart technologies. These are not some unrealistic AI, as the review would have me suggest, but ordinary artefacts that outperform us in ever more tasks, despite being no cleverer than a toaster. Their abilities are humbling and make us revaluate our unique intelligence. Their successes largely depend on the fact that the world has become an IT-friendly environment, where technologies can replace us without having any understanding or semantic skills.” These new smart machines do not need human consciousness to surpass us: and, as David Roden keeps insisting, whatever the AGI and AI’s of the future will be, they will more than likely be completely different from what we expect or can even conceive. Already the FST’s on Wall Street (fast algorithm’s) have replaced the superficial guys hawking on the WS floors where the bell is rung… traders are simply irrelevant in the new economy: their dinosaur’s of a dead world.

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  2. “Spirit heals its wound not directly, but by getting rid of the full and sane Body into which the wound was cut. ” Precisely. These wounds are completely healed only when the body is done away with. Contrary to what most “sane” people would like us to believe.

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  3. A week ago Graham Harman wrote a post called “Immaterialism, which he says will be the title of an upcoming book. In the post Graham asserts that “Žižek is quite simply in no way at all a materialist, yet he continues to call himself one by way of the most amazing intellectual contortions.” I suspect that Graham could point to your quote of the day from Žižek as a case in point.

    In the next paragraph of his post Graham acknowledges that “OOO is not a materialism, and is proud of it.” Presumably if he were Hegelian/Žižekian in his immaterialism, Graham would regard his partitioning of the universe into discrete objects, as well the hermetically sealed essence of each object, as symptomatic of the self-alienation of Spirit. And this alienation would eventually be overcome by… what? Presumably not the collapse of objecthood into undifferentiated goo. Maybe there would be a future reconciliation of the universal congeries of separate units into a systemic whole, a universal hyperobject within which all the discrete objects are integrated as components? I don’t see it. That Graham does not take either of these tacks suggests that, in his OOO scheme, either the universal self-alienation cannot be healed or — more likely — the multiplicity of discrete withdrawn essences is ontologically foundational: a feature of reality rather than a bug. As best I can tell Graham doesn’t include a macrohistorical component in his ontology — neither a self-organizing therapeutics to heal the wound nor a self-disorganizing entropy consistent with the second law of thermodynamics.

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    • Not actually, if you read the previous quote of the day I had done last week you’d understand that Zizek’s materialism is differentiated from both what he perceives as the Deluzean line of Bennett and “vibrant materialism”, and the naïve physicalist version of naturalisms… his is as he says, an Idealism without idealism, materialism of the Idea… dialectical non-subtanstialism. He sees Harman as Idealist and Pre-critical… If you’ve ever read early Harman in Tool-Being, you can see Zizek everywhere in that book and Harman building his withdrawn objects from Zizek’s self-withdrawn and self-reflecting nothingness; yet, in Harman its the substantialism after the face, wherein Zizek its about Den of Less than nothing giving birth to nothingness (Quantum) then ontology… not as in Harman where its all ontology or everything here, now subtantialism…. I mean listen to what Zizek is saying: “In other words, once we are in negativity, we can never leave it and regain the lost innocence of the origins; in the “negation of the negation” the origins are truly lost, their very loss is lost, they are deprived of the substantial status of that which has been lost.” We are our self-negating nothingness, there is no overcoming or returning to the pre-critical origins before consciousness: that is lost forever. Thinking and Being will never be One… we are no longer animal, but something else… aware of our awareness, beyond the fold and insubstantial… no self or subjectivity precedes Self, the self is not substantial, neither are objects: there is no substance is Zizek’s message. Harman has always maintained a formal substantialism… just not the Aristotelian kind.

      I think people (wrongly) do not understand the praxis of dialectical materialism. In absolute recoil he practices it instead of explaining it. To me when it comes down to it: all philosophies are rhetoric through and through; no way around the use of tropes: one does not speak with things or objects, one speaks with words, signs, signifiers. It comes down to how these signifiers are deployed and how they martial one’s perceptions. For Zizek we are all looking and peering through the brain’s lenses, as well as through concepts, and folded in cultural frames that are enframed in a mesh of bounded tropes. We are never isolated dots on a line, but always and forever enmeshed in social traps: ideology if you will.

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    • Thanks for the elaboration. Would this be a fair contrast: For Harman the withdrawn essence of an object (or a subject) is a something, though no one knows what that something is. Whereas for Zizek the withdrawn essence is a nothing, and so the not-knowing of essence is resolved by realizing that there is nothing there to be known: a negation of negation. A material nothing (Zizek) isn’t the same as an immaterial something (Harman).

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      • Zizek would not use the term “essence” ever. The concept of essence implies already “substance”, and Zizek’s whole dictum is the Void, the substanceless real of subjectivity without essence or substance.

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      • Yeah but besides that… 😉

        You know what an empiricist I am, Craig, so I had to go ahead and look for Zizek using the term “essence.” I pulled Parallax View off the shelf and read this: “we should always bear in mind that, in Hegel’s dialectic of appearance and essence, it is appearance which is the asymmetrical encompassing term: the difference between essence and appearance is internal to appearance, not to essence…. there is an ‘essence’ only because appearance does not fully coincide with itself.” I.e., the “essence” of a thing has no essence; it emerges from the “cut” between seemingly conflicting appearances of that thing as experienced by the subject.

        This same idea is found in Sublime Object: “”The appearance implies that there is something behind it which appears through it; it conceals a truth and by the same gesture gives a foreboding thereof; it simultaneously hides and reveals the essence behind its curtain. But what is hidden behind the phenomenal appearance? Precisely the fact that there is nothing to hide. What is concealed is that the very act of concealing conceals nothing…. ‘essence’ itself is nothing but the self-rupture, the self-fissure of appearance.”

        So as you say, essence is not a substance but a wound.

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      • Yep… the Gap… remember Zizek’s chant is the “gap” around which we all revolve… and, if you read carefully Harman’s Tool-Being… almost verboten… Harman takes out of Zizek his conceptions of withdrawal after Schelling’s “infinite lack of being” (unendliche Mangel an Sein), and Hegel’s “when Hegel determines madness to be a withdrawal from the actual world, the closing of the soul upon itself, its “contraction,” cutting off of its links with external reality”… and, etc.). “But does not this withdrawal, on the contrary, designate the severing of all links with the Umwelt, the end of the subject’s immersion in its immediate natural environs, and, as such, is it not the founding gesture of “humanization”?”

        Zizek, Slavoj (2014-10-07). Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism (p. 183). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.

        Of course Harman was reading Zizek’s A Ticklish Subject in that work… but Zizek was already using the withdrawal of the subject, etc. after Descartes coining of that in res cogitans, etc. When you think about it Zizek and Harman are at opposite ends of the spectrum: Zizek taking subject, Harman object as withdrawing from relation, etc. Yet, each leads to a totally different view of reality thereby. Zizek favors Democritus’s Den or Less than Nothing, Harman sticks with the notion of a fully deployed ontology on a flat plane, etc. The only void in Harman is the void of the Real object contracted and withdrawn from its sensual appendages, etc. While for Zizek there is only the cut, the gap, but one cannot localize it or name it: it is always performative and masked, because what it masks is nothingness, the Void of subjectivity itself.

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