In Chapter 1 Žižek also calls for a return to Plato, but this time transforming the idealist base of Plato’s eternal truths into a materialist dialectic in which it eternal truth and values emerge from contingent reality as an expression of the human desire for Exodus and liberation. Alain Badiou calls this the Communist hypothesis and Ernst Bloch’s term for this was the “invariant of direction”. First Žižek points out that Plato has been attacked from just about every philosophical and political position that has existed in modernity and post-modernity. He divides this opposition into six different groups of anti-Platonism: 1. vitalist; 2.empiricist-analytic; 3.Marxist; 4.existentialist; 5.Heideggerian; and 6.”Democratic”. Žižek puts it like this:
“Plato’s position is thus similar to that of Descartes: “Plato” is the negative point of reference which unites otherwise irreconcilable enemies: Marxists and anti-Communist liberals, existentialists and analytic empiricists, Heideggerians and vitalists… So why a return to Plato? Why do we need a repetition of Plato’s founding gesture? In his Logiques des mondes, Badiou provides a succinct definition of “democratic materialism” and its opposite, “materialist dialectics”: the axiom which condenses the first is “There is nothing but bodies and languages…,” to which materialist dialectics adds “…with the exception of truths.” One should bear in mind the Platonic, properly meta-physical, thrust of this distinction: prima facie, it cannot but appear as a proto-idealist gesture to assert that material reality is not all that there is, that there is also another level of incorporeal truths. Badiou here makes the paradoxical philosophical gesture of defending, as a materialist, the autonomy of the “immaterial” order of Truth. As a materialist, and in order to be thoroughly materialist, Badiou focuses on the idealist topos par excellence: how can a human animal forsake its animality and put its life in the service of a transcendent Truth? How can the “transubstantiation” from the pleasure-oriented life of an individual to the life of a subject dedicated to a Cause occur? In other words, how is a free act possible? How can one break (out of) the network of the causal connections of positive reality and conceive an act that begins by and in itself? Again, Badiou repeats, within the materialist frame, the elementary gesture of idealist anti-reductionism: human Reason cannot be reduced to the result of evolutionary adaptation; art is not just a heightened procedure for producing sensual pleasure but a medium of Truth; and so on.”
So far it seems to me that every part of this book that I dip into is essentially concerned with the nature of transcendence and how it can be rooted in reality rather than located in the unobtainable Real. Or rather, as he asks later in Chapter 1, is there a ‘third way’ between Nietzsches self contradictions on Truth as both a “Passion for the Real and a passion for semblance”? This is because:
“There is not just the interplay of appearances, there is a Real—this Real, however, is not the inaccessible Thing, but the gap which prevents our access to it, the “rock” of the antagonism which distorts our view of the perceived object through a partial perspective. The “truth” is thus not the “real” state of things, accessed by a “direct” view of the object without any perspectival distortion, but the very Real of the antagonism which causes the perspectival distortion itself. Again, the site of truth is not the way “things really are in themselves,” beyond perspectival distortion, but the very gap or passage which separates one perspective from another, the gap (in this case, social antagonism) which makes the two perspectives radically incommensurable. The “Real as impossible” is the cause of the impossibility of our ever attaining the “neutral” non-perspectival view of the object. There is a truth, and not everything is relative—but this truth is the truth of the perspectival distortion as such, not a truth distorted by the partial view from a one-sided perspective.”
Again, we can see here an attempt to overcome a dualism through contingent dialectic in which the Ding an Sich is not distorted by an external experience of perception but that the distortion that we experience is actually part of the Ding an Sich. In this way distinction between idealism and materialism, the gap between those two things, becomes the very thing which transcends the apparent contradiction between the two. Idealistic eternal truths and a commitment to the maintenance of those eternal truths become re-functioned as part of the dialectic of process and emergence out of immanence. Idealism and materialism in this view become merged into transcendence, but transcendence based in but also seen through the lens of objective reality. Again, contained within the real are glimpses or pre-illuminations (Bloch’s Vorscheineand Whitehead’s “Prehensions”) of something else which can only be understood as part of that which exists and not external to it. I haven’t found it yet, but I imagine that at some point he will quote Lenin’s famous dictum that “intelligent idealism is closer to intelligent materialism than stupid materialism”. What Žižek – using Badiou – argues here and elsewhere is that all of the economic analysis in the world will not put in the position to be able to win people over to your side in the struggle for equality and justice. Of course Žižek brings in the Arab spring to elucidate this point, pointing out that although the root causes of uprisings lie in contingent processes, the desire to be free provided the impetus.
Again Bloch already recognised this the 1930s when he wrote in 1933/34 that the Communist Party had failed to stop Hitler because it had failed to address the German people’s more idealistic and even metaphysical concerns, leaving the ground free for them to be exploited by fascism. As he said at the time “you can’t criticise the Communist Party for what it did, but you can criticise it for what it didn’t do.” He said that what was necessary was to put the “warm stream” of Marxism back in to the “cold stream” of economistic analysis. (As an aside we might say that as today, Marxist criticism exists almost entirely in the realm of cultural critique and has, with a few notable an honourable exceptions, almost nothing to say about economics, then one could argue that the reverse is necessary; that we need to pour some invigorating cold water into the rather tepid bath of philosophical Marxism.).
All of this is, of course, designed as a hefty sideswipe at post-modernism and “dogmatic relativism”, as Christopher Norris called it, in an attempt to re-establish a grand narrative of history, but this time one, as discussed in my first posting on this, with only a contingent and retrospective teleology. It is on the basis of that which has become that we can make some predictions about we might want to see, but we can in no way predict what might actually come about as a result of our actions in the face of contingent reality. The question I am starting to ask myself is whether this book is one long plea for seeing history simply as processually autopoietic.
Having started with Plato we might end with Aristotle and ask whether his two categories of being and possibility are relevant here. Bloch used as the basis for his processual dynamic the two Aristotelian terms kata to dynaton (that which is possible) and dynamei on (that which might become possible) to describe the way in which the impossibility emerges out of the darkness of the possible in ways which are as yet unpredictable. the only thing which would keep us on the right path in this process is our commitment to the Invariant of Direction or, as Badiou calls it, the Communist Hypothesis.