Continuing the theme of immanence and the constant presence of the Not Yet, Žižek says in chapter 7:
“…if the zero level of nature is space, then natural objects should develop out of space, not be conceived as mysterious chunks of matter that from who-knows-where “enter” space. The only thing that can happen to pure space is asymmetry, its becoming de-homogenized, “curved”—so the idea that “matter” is the effect of curved space is implied by Hegel’s theory of space.”
I know that I may be slightly prejudiced about this but Ernst Bloch uses almost the same language when he talked about the way in which people misunderstand matter as being a “Klotz” or a lump of something separate from a non-material Real. And it seems to me in my reading so far that this is increasingly the theme that Žižek is dealing with in this book. For example, in chapter 14 he uses the same strategy when discussing the Real as something integral to and entirely bound up in reality:
“But does this mean that we end up in a kind of idealism of the symbolic—what we experience as “reality” is symbolically constructed, and even the Real which eludes the grasp of the symbolic is a result of the immanent failure of the symbolic? No, because it is through this very failure to be itself that the symbolic touches the Real. In contrast to transcendentalism, Lacan agrees that we have access to the In-itself: Lacan is not a discourse-idealist who claims that we are forever caught in the web of symbolic practices, unable to reach the In-itself. However, we do not touch the Real by way of breaking out of the “prison-house of language” and gaining access to the external transcendent referent—every external referent (“fully existing positive reality”) is already transcendentally constituted. We touch the Real-in-itself in our very failure to touch it, since the Real is, at its most radical, the gap, the “minimal difference,” that separates the One from itself.”
In this way he also brings us back to the significance of failure, a theme which he has covered many times in his previous books:
“a subject wants to say something, it fails, and this failure is the subject—a “subject of the signifier” is literally the result of the failure to become itself. In this sense, also, within the symbolic space, the effect is a reaction against its cause, while the cause is a retroactive effect of its cause: the subject produces signifiers which fail, and the subject qua Real is the effect of this failure.”
Failure is thus not just a failure to achieve something but it is the achievement of something in a way which only fails against the measure of some ideal intentionality. Failure, as much a success, contributes to the development of a contingent reality. In hindsight of course what was considered to have been a failure may also turn out to have been a building block of success. If we think of Brecht’s poem An die Nachgeborenen where he is addressing the people of the future who will be living in a utopian society on the other side of the great eschatological flood, then we hear how Brecht justifies the terrible things that had to be done in order to create goodness. The flood is thus not some terrible catastrophe which befalls us but is the product of the process of development. This can also be seen in religious terms -as Brecht of course is wont to do – as the immanence of transcendence. William James, for example, spoke of transcendence “breaking in on us” from a metaphysical realm, whereas what both Hegel and Žižek – and Bloch – are maintaining is that the transcendent breaks out of us and carries us forward as drive informed by desire and hope.
This is of course why Žižek remains, as well as a Lacanian psychoanalyst and Hegelian philosopher, a Marxist, because the process of the development of material reality in a social sense has to include a conscious intervention into reality, which will itself create that reality. To put it in its profoundly banal sense, it’s like the poster I saw in a service station recently which said “You are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic.”
We are not stuck in history, we are history.