Slovoj Zizek: The Parallax Shift


…the gap that separates the knowing subject from the known object is inherent to the object itself, my knowing a thing is part of a process internal to the thing, which is why the standard epistemological problem should be turned around: not “How is my knowledge of the thing possible?” but “How is it that knowledge appears within the thing as a mode of the thing’s relating to itself?”

– Slavoj Zizek,  Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

Our alienation from an object is the Object’s self-alienation. When we lose the object, it is not only that the Object abandons us, the Object abandons itself. Is this sheer non-sense? Have I suddenly plunged into a realm where things begin to think through me, rather than me thinking about things? Do things awaken in my mind of their own accord? Are things constituted by our mind or is the opposite true, that our mind is constituted by things. We know that the typical transcendental idealist ploy is to reflexively regress from the object to its subjective conditions of possibility. As Zizek will remind us even the philosophy of the “linguistic turn” remains at this transcendental level, addressing the transcendental dimension of language— that is, how the horizon of possible meaning sustained by language in which we dwell functions as the transcendental condition of possibility for all our experience of reality.1 He will add:

Here, then, “the signified falls into the signifier,” for the signified is an effect of the signifier, it is accounted for in the terms of the symbolic order as its transcendentally constitutive condition.  What dialectical reflection adds to this is another reflexive twist which grounds the very subjective-transcendental site of enunciation in the “self-movement” of the Thing itself: here, “the signifier falls into the signified,” the act of enunciation falls into the enunciated, the sign of the thing falls into the Thing itself. (ibid. see notes*)

In dialectical materialism Zizek will tell us that the “primordial” difference is not between things themselves, also not between things and their signs, but between the thing and the void of an invisible screen which distorts our perception of the thing so that we do not take the thing for itself. The movement from things to their signs is not that of a replacement of the thing by its sign, but that of the thing itself becoming the sign of— not another thing, but— itself, the void at its very core. (LTN, KL 123-12303)

What if we suddenly see between the object and the void the truth in the Möbius band: the property of being non-orientable. Zizek will define this as an example of the parallax shift, which refers to the apparent motion of an object when it is seen from different perspectives. Žižek, referring to Hegel tells us that the dialectic does not overcome the Kantian division of antinomies, but rather asserts them as such. The Hegelian synthesis, in other words, is the recognition of the insurmountable gap between two positions. This synthesis can only be achieved through a parallax shift.

…more on this in my next post…

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 12220-12237). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Notes* : When asked to explain the meaning of a term X to someone who, while more or less fluent in our language, does not know this specific term, we invariably respond with a potentially endless series of synonyms, paraphrases, or descriptions of situations in which the use of the term would be appropriate. In this way, through the very failure of our endeavor, we circumscribe an empty place, the place of the right word— precisely the word we are trying to explain. So at some point, after our paraphrases fail, all we can do is to conclude in exasperation: “In short, it is X!” Far from functioning as a simple admission of failure, however, this can effectively generate an insight— if, that is, through our failed paraphrases we have successfully circumscribed the place of the term to be explained. At this point, as Lacan would have put it, “the signifier falls into the signified,” the term becomes part of its own definition. It is a little bit like listening to old mono recordings: the very crackling sounds that filter and disturb the pure reproduction of the human voice generate an effect of authenticity, the impression that we are listening to (what was once) a real person singing, while the very perfection of modern recordings, with their stereo and other effects, strangely de-realize what we hear. (LTN, KL 12220-12237)

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