Mythology, Madness and Laughter Event Round Up

Thanks to Continuum for the review copies of the book. Consider picking up a copy (Amazon: US, UK) if you didn’t read along during our discussion, but it seemed like something you may be interested in.

Our latest book event was, I think, a success in a lot of ways. I think the every other day format worked, but I would like to hear from the participants. It became clear that Gabriel was the star of this book and that Žižek just provided his name, despite a few interesting asides in his essays. I think the book could have benefited from Gabriel doing substantial revisions on Žižek’s essays, creating a true co-written text, and I would have been happy to see this take the form of short response at the end of the essays or perhaps a long afterword to the two. Still, the book, specifically Gabriel’s essay, does bring German Idealism into direct conversation with contemporary Continental metaphysics and for those readers interested in either of the two topics it will prove to be an interesting and fruitful read, if only because it calls for future work.

Below is the index to the posts from the event.

Mythology, Madness and Laughter – Fichte’s Laughter 3.5.-3.7

Žižek continues his reading of Fichte by renewing his claim that what is radical in Fichte’s thought is the “absolutely central role of the notion of limitation” or finitude (151). Žižek holds that this is what separates Fichte from the “idealist realism” of Descartes or Leibniz, because “for Fichte, the relationship of the I and the non-I is one of mutual limitation” (152). This is a consequence of the practical focus on Fichte’s work, for the I is orientated towards the outside, which it can only experience as “pathic”, as an obstacle to its activity, while it nevertheless being necessary to continue to be oriented in this way. Here Žižek returns to a rather facile (in my view) division between human beings and animals to argue for his point, saying that what separates human beings from other animals is that human beings are aware that they are being limited, while animals simply come up against an obstacle wh2ereby they are simply constrained. In short, the animal has no transcendental subjectivity. I’ll return to this point at the end in my reflections, but I don’t think our discussion of this division needs to be repeated.

The question of the mutual limitation opens up to what Žižek sees as the problem of Fichte (along with some other interpreters): “how to pass from the I to the non-I as an in-itself that has a consistency outside the I’s reflexive self-movement?” (154). The solution proposed by Pierre Livet is that of a non-external I (or non-I) within the I itself. For a psychoanalytic reader like Žižek there is a similarity to the Lacanian-Freudian figure of the neighbour, the primordial Other, yet he tells us this doesn’t quite work since the Neighbour qua Thing is not another subject. Read the rest of this entry »

Mythology, Madness and Laughter – Fichte’s Laughter 3.3-3.4

Žižek continues his discussion of Fichte in this chapter using what feels like a phoned in method: a few clever movie references here (sometimes with the date and sometimes without as if he can’t be bothered to check IMDB), some counter-intuitive thesis about Kant or Fichte here, interpolation of Fichte’s concepts via Lacan’s, etc. I have continued to be disappointed by Žižek’s showing in this book, but I’m going to try to distill out of this mess of references to other thinkers, films, and novels what I take to be the interesting point regarding Ficthe’s use of the concept Anstoß (which Žižek tells us has two primary meanings in German: “check, obstacle, hinderance, something that reists the boundless expansion of our striving, and an impetus, stimulus, something that incites our activity” (142).) Read the rest of this entry »

Mythology, Madness and Laughter – Fichte’s Laughter 3.0-3.2

Another guest post from Jeremy Ridenour provides the opening summary for the final chapter. -APS

Zizek begins this section arguing that we can learn a great deal by trying to think of how philosophers who were overcome by their successors would respond to their successor’s criticism (e.g. how Husserl would reply to Heidegger). These retroactive rejoinders are interesting insofar as “thought rebels against its reduction to a term in the chain of ‘development’ and assert its absolute right or claim” (123). These responses can open up truly new ways of thinking, or as Zizek puts it nicely, “[t]rue revolutionaries are always reflected conservatives” (123).

Specifically, Zizek explores the way Fichte responded to Schelling’s criticism of his early work. Fichte’s response was most manifest in his change of how to think of the ground of reality, namely the asubjective divine Being grounds reality not the self-positing I. For Ficthe, “I is ‘as such’ a split of the Absolute, the ‘minimal difference’ of its self-appearing” (124). However, Zizek criticizes Fichte for not being able to think the way in which the Absolute appears to itself, “i.e., that the subjective reflection of the Absolute is the Absolute’s self-reflection” (124). Ficthe’s self-reflecting I needed to have its foundation in the Absolute. Commenting on Ficthe’s discussion of the Absolute and appearance, Zizek notes that for the Absolute to appear as itself and not simply as another appearance there must a division in the realm of appearances in which “the gap between appearance and true Being must inscribe itself into the very domain of appearing” (125). The potential problem is that the appearance of the Absolute might be mistaken for the Absolute itself. Moreover, Zizek claims that “the illusion is no longer to mistake appearance for being, but to mistake being for appearing: the only ‘being’ of the Absolute is its appearing, and the illusion is that this appearing is a mere ‘image’ behind which there is a transcendent true Being” (126). Zizek uses this as a correction against Fichte who believes the true error is mistaking image for being, and he goes on to argue that we should endorse Derrida’s God as the promise of the to come (i.e. a God that is merely a “pure virtuality of a promise”) (126). Read the rest of this entry »

Mythology, Madness and Laughter – Discipline Between Two Freedoms 2.2-2.4

The latest summary for our reading group has been provided by Jeremy Ridenour who is a graduate student working in psychoanalysis and blogs on philosophy, religion and psychoanalysis at JRidenour. – APS

Zizek begins this section on the auto-poesis of the self by exploring the relationship between chaos and order. A major problem in evolutionary cognitivism is to explain how a distinct self-same organism emerges out of its environment. That is to say, how can we account for the cell’s membrane, which serves to delineate the boundaries between the cell and its surroundings? Zizek believes that this problem between the inside and the outside can only be explained when, “the One of an organism as a Whole retroactively ‘posits’ as its result, as that which it dominates and regulates, the set of its own causes” (106). Based on Hegel’s understanding of the infinite as self-limitation, Zizek concludes that the cell is thus true infinity insofar as it imposes its own boundary (i.e. membrane) and does not rely on its environment to set limits.

Next, Zizek outlines Hegel’s understanding of origin of human habits. “In his genealogy, Hegel conceives habit as the third, concluding, moment of the dialectical process of the Soul, whose structure follows the triad of notion – judgment – syllogism (107). The dialectic begins with the sentient self, which is simply an undifferentiated sensing object that Zizek compares to Freud’s notion of oceanic feeling. At this lowest level, the Soul lacks self-reflection. In judgment, the next movement, the Self has the ability to feel itself, which poses the unique problem of how it can serve as both the form and content of feeling. As Zizek puts it quite aptly, “the frame itself has to become part of the enframed content” (108). The exact problem is the self’s inability to grasp the frame itself since everything that is perceived is always already filtered through that frame. Zizek enlists Deleuze’s notion of the virtual (i.e. the actuality of the possible) to serve as a way out of this dilemma. According to Zizek, the self’s self-consciousness is in fact the actuality of its possibility. Within Kant’s philosophy we run up against a limit precisely when the self’s phenomenal experience of itself would suggest that the self could have access to the noumenal. Read the rest of this entry »

Mythology, Madness and Laughter – Discipline Between Two Freedoms 2.0-2.1

These two sections seem to constitute an expositional groundwork for Zizek’s argument, setting up what is by now a familiar pattern in Zizek’s reading of German Idealism: Kant gives us the fundamental problem, but we need Hegel to think it through to the end. In this case, the problem is the relationship between discipline and freedom. Kant believes that freedom is the goal of history but that people are not yet ready for it and need to be trained, yet Zizek points out that “in order to be educated into freedom (qua moral autonomy and self-responsibility), I already have to be free in a much more radical, ‘noumenal,’ even monstrous, sense” (96) — and he links this immediately to the Freudian (which for him means Lacanian) death drive.

The problem is not that humans are animals whose instincts need to be subdued, but that they have a fundamental “unruliness” that is actually foreign to the animal nature (97). In order for this “unruliness” to become actualized as freedom, it must first go through the discipline of habit, which is a kind of second-degree instinct. Due to the fundamental wound of the death drive, human nature can only be a “second nature” (100); there is no immediate connection to one’s Umwelt of the kind that we tend to imagine animals having.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mythology, Madness and Laughter – The Mythological Being of Reflection 1.3

I must confess that I feel somewhat unsuited to write the response to this section — I have never read Meillassoux’s After Finitude, for instance, and have no particular desire to do so. Nevertheless, I believe that this critical conclusion does make Gabriel’s intentions in the rest of the essay more clear.

As I understand it, Gabriel is arguing that contingency goes all the way down and that a self-aware mythology can do justice to this all-the-way-down contingency in a way that philosophical discourses — paradigmatically Hegel’s (because Hegel is so close to Gabriel’s position but takes one fatal step) — cannot. Indeed, even Meillassoux’s relatively minimal claim that this all-the-way-down contingency is itself necessary is saying too much, installing a non-self-aware mythology, which is to say an ideology.

The point of contact with Zizek’s ontology is clear, and in fact his final paragraph pushes the idea of the virtuality of reality much harder than anything I’ve read in Zizek: Read the rest of this entry »

Mythology, Madness and Laughter – The Mythological Being of Reflection 1.2

It’s good that somebody raised the issue of ecology, particularly as it relates to the dissolution (& emergence) of the self, in the comments of our previous post, because this seems to re-emerge with a certain renewed vigor in 1.2, “The Unprethinkable Being of Mythology — Schelling on the Limits of Reflection.” I appreciate how Gabriel highlights this with an appeal to Kant’s “transcendental affirmation,” wherein “all true negations [i.e., conceptual categorizations / differentiations] are nothing but limitations — a title which would be inapplicable, where they not based upon the unlimited, that is,  upon, the All.” (qtd. p. 52). By this, Gabriel argues, Kant is pointing toward the fact that there is always more potential data in the world than there is comprehension of this data.  That is to say, when we encounter phenomena, the process of our making sense of it, of categorizing it into comprehensible concepts, is incapable of accounting for this very process of “making sense”.

We are always confronted with the higher-order problem as to how to determine the necessity or contingency of a given framework which allows for necessary statements. If we are to assert that a given framework F is necessary then we ipso facto have to rely on another framework F* which allows for the quantification over frameworks. (p. 51)

While we are, especially when pressed philosophically, more or less inclined to accept this with regard to phenomena generally accepted as contingent, we are (I think it is fair to say) considerably less inclined to do so when it comes to addressing those things we regard as necessary.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mythology, Madness and Laughter – The Mythological Being of Reflection 1.1

Apologies for the somewhat belated posting. I’d planned on typing this out last  night, but had a sudden onset of food-borne nausea. It was the food or seeing Boston beat Cleveland in Game Six of the Eastern Conference semis. Either way, I was too ill to type.

Speaking from experience, if understanding the ins and the outs of German idealism is difficult to attain, articulating this understanding so others might understand better is even harder. Not only do the ideas themselves require patience in order to tease them out adequately, one must also be patient with the necessary repetition for these ideas to be so teased. There is, in short, no getting around the house-of-mirrors effect inherent to thinking about Hegel. Whether you derive joy or frustration from this, patience is required all the same.

Consequently, it is no surprise that Gabriel very deliberately paces this section, ’1. The Appearances – Hegel on Reflection’. We know from our History of Philosophy textbooks, aka Common Knowledge, that the upshot of Hegel’s is an all-encompassing (universal) Absolute. While there is a certain ring of truth to this characterization, Gabriel attempts to demonstrate that what is typically lost in this flattening out of Hegel’s thought is actually so crucial as to make the “upshot-version” of Hegel ultimately inadequate to understanding what he was really on about. What we miss, rather, is that what Hegel means when he tosses out ideas like  “totalization” is actually quite different from that which most of the post-Hegelian world has developed a reasonable allergy. (I would add here that the difference is actually really quite subtle; but perhaps a crucial subtlety. More on this a little further down.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Mythology, Madness and Laughter – The Mythological Being of Reflection 1.0

Guest post from Michael Burns. – APS

In section 1.0 Gabriel sets the stage for the rest of his essay and begins to lay out the stakes of the confrontation between Schelling and Hegel. Read the rest of this entry »

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