“Materialism has nothing to do with the assertion of the inert density of matter; it is, on the contrary, a position which accepts the ultimate Void of reality—the consequence of its central thesis on the primordial multiplicity is that there is no ‘substantial reality’, that the only ‘substance’ of the multiplicity is Void.”
– Slavoj Zizek, Speculative Turn
“But, as I have shown, the world is not formed of solid substance, since there is an admixture of void in things…”
– Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
I wager that Zizek will more and more come to be known as an Epicurean materialist in the tradition of that great formulator, Lucretius. Zizek’s admixture of atheism and Christianity in dialectical process weans us from the corrosive affects of that religion, while inserting the Void itself – as the central figure, rather than Christ, in a drama that has more to do with the unshackling of human finitude from its roots in false-consciousness than it does of some religious vision of pure transcendence. Against the substantial formalism of Plato and his progeny, up too and including certain forms of speculative realism, Zizek follows the secret life of both material and immaterial phenomena, and their irreducibility in the natural order of things that is imperfect, contingent, incomplete and open.
His version of the great tradition begins and ends with the logic of quantum physics, but read through the lens of Hegel and Lacan. Disputing with Zizek is like entering a chameleon’s den, not realizing the enemy is oneself rather than the dialectician sitting across from one; one who has already attuned himself to the full panoply of effective argumentation you so carefully brought to the table; having quickly replaced its ill-understood truths with with a jouissance that is both disarming of your uncertain mind, and a partial completion of the very truth of Zizek’s own irreducible thoughts on the Void.
At the center of Zizek’s involvement with quantum physics is a sense that our understanding of reality is incomplete: an ontological incompleteness informs all aspects of our imperfect knowledge (Zizek: “its premise is the ‘non-All’ of reality, its ontological incompleteness”… one can think of this as well within mathematics, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems.). This imperfect, incomplete reality is shaped by the necessity of contingency as well as founded on the contingency of necessity. This irreducible and immaterial materialism sets itself against both idealization of matter (cognitive naturalism) and the materialization of thoughts (material idealism). As Zizek would have it, the opposite of materialism is not – as some would say, idealism, but its vulgarization within the cognitive sciences (i.e., Churchland): the presumption of certain cognitive scientists who presume to make of ‘self-awarness’ of consciousness itself a fundamental force within the natural order of things; its “quintessence”(407).1
In an interview at the tail-end of the first Speculative Turn Zizek plunges ahead making his most radical turn toward a new materialism, telling us that if reality is ontologically incomplete, if the ‘non-All’ of matter is equated with the Void, then “this means that a truly radical materialism is by definition non-reductionist: far from claiming that ‘everything is matter’, it confers upon the ‘immaterial’ phenomena a specific positive non-being” (407). A materialism that is both non-reductive and immaterial would suddenly turn the tables on the history of materialism from Democritus to today, a rejection of ‘objective reality’: the insubstantial reality that undermines the logic of a consistent subjectivity, that brings with it an ontological openness breaks with Kant’s second antinomy of pure reason, and one that Plato in the Parmenides qualified: ‘Then may we not sum up the argument in a word and say truly; If one is not, then nothing is?’ (408). Rather, nothing exists; rejected by Kant, yet accepted in the qualification of a materialism in which “‘material reality is non-all’, as against the saying: ‘material reality is all there is'”(408).