Žižek’s Attitude towards God and Nature — Işık Barış Fidaner

I have previously associated psychoanalysis with the modern mourning of God and Nature. Now let’s examine Žižek’s position in this work of mourning.

We’ll begin with Nature. In an interview for New Scientist [1] Žižek says: “Mother Nature is not good – it’s a crazy bitch” or alternately “a dirty bitch” (as he repeats this thought in his several talks) [2] Although this is obviously meant as a metaphor or a joke and not a literal description of Nature, it nonetheless expresses Žižek’s negative transference or hatred towards Nature. What does this mean for the work of mourning? Darian Leader points out that hatred is an obstacle to mourning: “We’ll have difficulties in mourning not because we loved someone too much, as common sense might suggest, but because our hatred was so powerful.” (The New Black)

What about God? In Disparities, Žižek says: “the true formula of atheism is not ‘god doesn’t exist’ but ‘god not only doesn’t exist, he is also stupid, indifferent, and maybe outright evil’ – if we do not destroy the very fiction of god from within, it is easy for this fiction to prolong its hold over us in the form of disavowal (‘I know there is no god, but he is nonetheless a noble and uplifting illusion’).” Here, it is as if Žižek is instructing his readers to consciously avoid the mourning of God by preserving a negative transference (hatred) towards him. Thus, we conclude that in Žižek there is an obstacle of hatred against the proper modern mourning of God and Nature. Should we then identify Žižek as a melancholic subject with respect to God and Nature?

Darian Leader’s descriptions of melancholia in The New Black exactly fit the orientation of Žižek’s thought. In melancholia, according to Leader: “Each time it is necessary to take on a symbolic position, there is only a void.” “The lost loved one becomes a hole, an ever-present void which the melancholic cannot give up his attachment to.” This void-hole is obviously the Lacanian Real in Žižek’s theory, a gap (or rather, the gap) associated with the lack constitutive of desire. Žižek’s Lacanian Real also signifies impossibility and impasse, which are the other signs of melancholia: “Yet melancholics tell us again and again how their situation contains an impossibility. The clarity with which they can delimit this is quite remarkable. Crucially, this sense of impasse is communicated. This means that part of the melancholic’s struggle is to do with language, with finding a way to express the impossible.” (ibid) According to Leader, the melancholic’s effort is “to find words to say how words fail” and as we know “failure” is a fundamental concept in Žižek’s thought. What’s more, Leader points out a logical distinction:

Another way to describe the difference here was voiced by a melancholic subject. He distinguished between the denial of a positive term and the affirmation of a negative one. Trying to find ways to speak about the father he had lost in his childhood, he contrasted the way that, logic can put a negation sign next to a particular term (–(the man)) and how a negative term can itself be emphasized ((–the man)). In the first case, known as predicate negation, the sign of negation – or absence – is applied, as it were, externally to a term or concept (the man), whereas in the second, known as term negation, the negation is included within the term itself (the not-man). This brilliant distinction is perhaps the very difference between mourning and melancholia, and is itself a topic in the philosophy of logic. Mourning involves the process of establishing the denial of a positive term, a recognition of absence and loss. We accept that a presence is no longer there. Melancholia on the other hand, involves the affirmation of a negative term. (ibid)

Readers of Žižek will immediately recognize the distinction “predicate negation / term negation” as the distinction “negative judgement / indefinite judgement” in Kant:

in [Kant’s] philosophy, this crack, this space where such monstrous apparitions can emerge, is opened up by the distinction between negative and indefinite judgment. The very example used by Kant to illustrate this distinction is telltale: the positive judgment by means of which a predicate is ascribed to the (logical) subject – “The soul is mortal”; the negative judgment by means of which a predicate is denied to the subject – “The soul is not mortal”; the indefinite judgment by means of which, instead of negating a predicate (i.e., the copula which ascribes it to the subject), we affirm a certain non-predicate – “The soul is not-mortal.” (Tarrying with the Negative)

Žižek also associates the indefinite judgement with the “undead”:

In the texts of popular culture, the uncanny creatures which are neither alive nor dead, the “living dead” (vampires, etc.), are referred to as “the undead”; although they are not dead, they are clearly not alive like us, ordinary mortals. The judgment “he is undead” is therefore an indefinite-limiting judgment in the precise sense of a purely negative gesture of excluding vampires from the domain of the dead, without for that reason locating them in the domain of the living (as in the case of the simple negation “he is not dead”). (ibid)

So if we follow Darian Leader’s insights into melancholia, then we must conclude that the orientation of Žižek’s thought is melancholic, although we might be thus knocking at an open door, as Žižek associates melancholy with the beginning of philosophy itself (albeit with a changed definition):

Far from accentuating to the extreme the situation of frustrated desire, of desire deprived of its object, melancholy, rather, stands for the presence of the object itself deprived of the desire for itself – melancholy occurs when we finally get the desired object, but are disappointed with it. In this precise sense, melancholy (disappointment with all positive, empirical objects, none of which can satisfy our desire) is in fact the beginning of philosophy. (Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?)

(Turkish)

Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler (Placeless Things) blog, Admin/Editor/Curator of Žižekian Analysis, and one of the admins of “Žižek and the Slovenian School” group on Facebook. Twitter: @BarisFidaner

Notes:

[1] See “Žižek: apocalypse as revelation”

[2] This thought is inspired by Lynn Margulis who says: “Gaia, a tough bitch, is not at all threatened by humans.” (Symbiotic Planet)

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