Thoughts… on Zizek: The Unbearable Darkness of the Real


Wanted to get this down for future reference… obviously my repetition of Zizek is part of an ongoing book on dialectical materialism. Zizek awakened me to another way of seeing the issues and problems we are facing. His confrontation with the German Idealist traditions with his Lacanian lens interests me both philosophically and personally. His notion of ‘Christian materialism’ haunts me to no end, having escaped the world of Bible-Belt Southern Baptist belief systems I know very well that they still live in the hinterlands of my psyche like troglodytes of some impossible pre-history of my Self. The Self or subject does not pre-exist the very structure of our self-relating negativity, but is a retroactive construction, a narrative among narratives: a lie we all hold on to and cherish. Even as I proclaim a form of atheism, the world of religion haunts my thought like a bad dream. One never truly leaves one’s dark heritage, one can only live through the traumas of its broken world, the pain and effects, the scars and traces of its horrors. Zizek is one of the few philosophers to confront this heritage from a Continental perspective that rings true.

Zizek’s notion of retroactive reconstruction (causation) is about the effects of this Symbolic Order and its impositions, the way it tries to interpose its own narrative and control systems within the gap to shape the very texture of the life-world, thereby hoping to stave off the actual effects of the gap itself and its repercussions. The truth is found in the brokenness, the obstacles, the things that will not fit into the life-world representations or narratives we love to cling too. We love to believe in something rather than nothing. Even nihilists who try to live without any firm grounding or meaning grasp onto such frameworks as the sciences offer to give them a foothold onto the impossible truth, to fill the gap with scientific narratives of truth; this, too, is ideology, part of the symbolic Order or big Other’s game of Truth.

The thing about Zizek is that one does not read him, one deploys him; that is, one enacts the very dialectical materialist movement that his concepts conceive. Dialectical materialism is based on this oscillation between antinomies, between competing registrars of thinking and being without choosing one side or the other, but rather than trying to reconcile their differences or sublating them into some higher synthesis (Kant-Fichte-Schelling-Hegel), he chooses to keep them in a parallax gap from which to discover new truths and concepts, problems and questions. There can be no final truth, no absolute answer, no place in which thought will find its final resting place. We live in an open universe where thought’s limit is the unknown – what Ray Brassier once termed the ‘unbounded nihil’: this is the missing piece, the gap that will not go away and cannot be filled. We can only oscillate between its competing poles and antinomies, conflicts and unresolved dilemmas. Yet, in this very process we come to understand both ourselves and the unbearable darkness of the Real.

The Real in the guise of primordial flesh, the palpitation of the life substance as the Thing itself, in its disgusting dimension as a cancerous outgrowth; and, the Real of writing… The difference hinges on the different starting point: if we start with the imaginary, we get the Real in its imaginary dimension, as a horrifying primordial image that cancels the imagery itself; if we start with the symbolic, we get the signifier itself transformed into the Real of a meaningless letter or formula. These two figures are the two opposite aspects of the Real: the abyss of the primordial Life-Thing and the meaningless letter or formula (as in the Real of the modern science).1

The key is to hold these two aspects of the one Real in our vision without trying to reconcile their antinomic difference, to realize in the very oscillations between these two aspects of the Real the truth of our lives.

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 11013-11021). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Slavoj Zizek: The Black Hole that IS – Quote of the Day!


I have this analogy I like very much, of the puzzle where there is one empty space and the trick is to use this negative space to shift the pieces around until they create a “whole” image. However, the catch is the fulfillment of this whole is dependent upon the missing tile, the negative space, which both allows the image to be “made whole” and prevents it from ever being “fully” or “truly” whole. I think this is a good analogy for the structure of life. There is an all too obvious negativity, a lack, what many refer to (accurately I think) as “the void”. But, this same void is what allows us to really live. If we lived in some type of void-free utopia, we would be like animals, mere life forms who function purely on instinct, never really being aware of anything. The void is what both allows us to live and what we meet when we die. It has an almost sacred aura around it, it is in the void where we imagine we see things like God, the Devil, witchcraft, the supernatural, etc. It is the dark itself, and we are all naturally afraid of it, because, by its very nature, nothing is in it, and this precisely means that anything could be in it.

– Slavoj Žižek, Unfiltered Thought: A Political Philosophy