Contradictions Conference Summary

by Jason Goldfarb, PhD Student, Duke Graduate Program in Literature

April 11-13, 2018

Slavoj Žižek – Ernst Lubitsch I: From Indirectness to Ratatatata

Analyzing contemporary humor, politics, and sexuality through Ernst Lubitsch, Žižek argued that the key question is not “is Ernst Lubitsch still meaningful for us [in our time],” but rather “How would our time appear in the eyes of Lubitsch?”

Take the case of Lubitsch’s work on humor and tragedy. As a comedic film, To Be or Not to Be faced criticism for downplaying the atrocities of Nazism. Yet, Žižek instead insists that not only can one make a comedy from the horrors of Nazism, but in order to show true respect to the victims one, especially today, must use the comedic form. Tragedy requires a certain dignity in the victim –– the tragic hero –– but in the face of true horror, the tragic form can no longer function. Here Žižek offered the counter-example of the popular 1993 Holocaust drama Schindler’s List, in which the viewer is shown the interior dilemma of an Auschwitz commander as he contemplates the humanity of a beautiful Jewish prisoner. For Žižek, Schindler’s List erases the true horror of Auschwitz by positioning itself as a redemptive tragedy.

Humor, when done properly, then is not an affront but a respectful gesture, maintaining a proper distance from an irredeemable atrocity. Jews living in the ghettoes, for instance, relied upon tasteless and brutal jokes as a mechanism of survival. The precise message of these jokes were not that the horror itself is a joke, but rather that the topic is so traumatic that any “serious” articulation of the tragedy (“oh–the horror!”) is rendered false. This is the background against which we must read Lubitsch’s comedy.

Yet comedies, too, can retreat into humanism and thereby perform an erasure of horror. In To Be or Not to Be, the character of the S.S. Officer Ehrhardt does not fit the classic Hollywood archetype of the serious, fanatical, evil Nazi––instead, Ehrhardt is the voice of many of the film’s comedic lines, such as his embracing of the nickname “Concentration Camp Ehrhardt.” Today, however, the humor in this representation no longer works; contemporary politicians actually make such vulgar jokes. Trump, for instance, is the real Ehrhardt; the endless liberal jokes at Trump’s expense fall flat precisely because he already is his own best joke. A true humor, Žižek argued, should be an objective humor, already inscribed into reality itself. A true dialectical analysis will bring out the humor in the “thing itself”.

Drawing a parallel to psychoanalysis, Žižek then critiqued a popular premise of ‘68 which embraced the ‘vulgar’ perverted subject over the ‘questioning’ hysterical subject. There, the idea was that while a hysterical subject merely irritates power, the pervert actually enacts a subversive transgression. For Žižek, however, perversion is never subversion but only the hidden, obscene-underside of the existing power structure. Power requires perversion to maintain its normal functioning (think Trump). That is, today –– with the dominance of cynical ideology –– it is vital to understand that prohibition and injunction coexist. Consider the standard discourse around human sexuality where indirectness creates true obscenity, or surplus enjoyment. In Lubitsch’s The Smiling Lieutenant, for instance, the Austrian officer, whose job is to seduce and satisfy women, sings “ratatata” during a seduction dance routine. This “ratatata” is the truly embarrassing excess without which sexuality could not function.

Žižek then posed the question of how we might deal with all of these excesses. He used the metaphor of opium, as in Marx, in which religion is the opium of the people. This formulation, Žižek argued, still holds true, with religion functioning for fundamentalists as the opium which allows them to be integrated into global capitalism. Today, however, there are two other opium’s of the people: opium, and people. By opium, Žižek is referring to narco-capitalism: we use chemical pharmaceuticals both to soothe our anxieties and, contradictorily, to excite us. By people, Žižek refers to right-wing populism. He criticized Chantal Mouffe’s move to counter right-wing populism with left-wing populism, arguing that populism is an opium of the people because it offers “ordinary people” as a fetish so as to render to invisible basic social antagonism. He then argued that anti-fascism today works in Europe as an opium of the masses, as with the case of Macron, in which any criticism of Macron was taken as “objective” support of Le Pen.

Žižek closed the lecture with a discussion of identity politics. He affirmed the right of any group to proclaim their identity, but criticized an identity politics which makes the assertion of identity the central task. This kind of identity politics acts as another opium. Žižek argued that the politically correct prohibition of the assertion of white male heterosexual identity is, in fact, subtly used to legitimize white male hetero universality. This is the obscene (perverted) underside of identity politics—the strategy of prohibiting white male identity holds within it a hidden arrogance. The talk then leaves us with a lingering question: is the task today therefore to return to comedy and the hysterical subject?

Mladen Dolar – Endgame of Aesthetics, from Hegel to Beckett

Hegel’s collected Lectures on Aesthetics often causes embarrassment. Either it is thought of as a naive metaphysical monstrosity to be forgotten, or as a ‘radical edge’ which is then obfuscated by Hegel himself. Middle ground seems impossible. With this in mind, Dolar’s talk argued for us to think Hegel’s theory as a “stillborn child”; that is, from its onset (birth) Hegel’s aesthetics appear antiquated (pre-Kantian) and obsolete. This is termed the “malaise of aesthetics”.

Linking Hegel’s aesthetic to his philosophy of Spirit, Dolar continued, arguing that delay is not a contingent feature of Hegel but a constitutive feature for aesthetics as such. For Hegel, modern art is fully autonomous (divorced from any ends) yet this autonomy, art’s coming to be in-and-for itself, simultaneously signals its defeat: “the moment when art has achieved freedom and autonomization is when it is abandoned.” At its point of triumph, art is already surpassed by Spirit and relegated to a “side-show”. Art’s autonomy is concomitant with its decline.

It is then easy to see why Hegel’s aesthetics provides ammunition for his detractors. Hegel looks to advocate a teleological position par excellence: Spirit is always on the move, progressing towards some teleological absolute end; art (the sensuous) stands at lowest rank, suppressed by religion (representation), and finally by philosophical science (the concept). Yet Dolar emphasized that this reading overlooks the opposite direction: “teleology in reverse”. For Hegel, Spirit is only Spirit as long as it grapples with its alterity. There is no Spirit without resistance. Aesthetics is always the aesthetics of estrangement.

In psychoanalytic parlance, what makes art unique for Hegel is a double inscription of the gaze (Spirit) into its object. The key artistic moment is not a narcissistic symmetry (the subjective spirit coinciding with its object) but the estrangement of the object-gaze –– the way in which the art object looks back at the subject. The question of art is thus not reducible to how the subject’s represents itself in an object, but how the object embodies an enigmatic gaze and stares back at the subject.

But does an emphasis on a constitutive aesthetic enigma or “lostness” redeem Hegel’s teleology? Yes and no. While it is true that Hegel maintains a constitutive loss or malaise, he, nonetheless, is tied to a teleological optimism of progress; Spirit necessarily advances onwards into new forms.

This is where Beckett, as the ultimate pessimist, comes into play. In order to rid the last vestige of progressive teleology in Hegel, Dolar argued that we must supplement Hegel’s “Westward Ho” (progressivism) with Beckett’s Worstward Ho. Crucially, however, Beckett’s embrace of the worstward is not to be confused with a “Hölderlin paradigm”, or the cliché that “in the bottom of darkness one will always find light”. Beckett’s notion of the worst, in contrast, can best be understood with a quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear, “the worst is not so long as we can say ‘this is the worst’”. Like the liars paradox, as soon as we say ‘this is the worst’ we get relief through symbolization. Worstward Ho, then, is self-defeating project. But this works both ways. That is, if “worstward ho” becomes impossible the moment it is enunciated, so does Hegel’s “bestward ho”’. The intervention of the signifier prevents the worst, but it also prevents the best. Either way an irreducible enigma or enjoyment (jouissance) insists.

Continuing this line, Dolar pointed to five cases where Beckett parallels (and radicalizes) Hegel, establishing an irreducible enigma.

(1) Moving on.
If there is one phrase that characterizes Hegel and Beckett, Dolar argued, it is ‘always on’. Whereas Beckett begins Worstward Ho with “On say On”, Hegel begins The Logic with “Being pure Being”. If we consider that on in Greek translates to “Being” then this points to a further key proposition: Being is an imperative. ‘On’ is a transformation of the unnameable. ‘On’ replaces ‘No’, shifting the relationship of negativity into productivity. This ‘On’ Being, is a Being that can’t be affirmed or denied. That is, since negation is no more possible than affirmation, Being is pure persisting. In Beckett’s terms, at the “beginning” there is the only pure continuation. That which continues only arrives after pure continuation (Being). Two comes before one.

(2) Grey on Grey
Following the tradition of German idealism, Hegel and Beckett take up the color grey as philosophically and artistically central. For both, grey’s uniqueness lies in its liminal nature: since grey is neither a vibrant color nor the absence of color (white), it is the “indifference of the indifferent”, or the constitutive remainder (enigma) discussed above.

(3) Arriving Too Late
There are two ways to interpret Hegel and Beckett on the question of delay. The first sees philosophy as lagging behind and thus relegates it to an impotent, normative position (the Hegelian Robert Pippin, for instance). The second, more radical reading “ontologizes” this fact and thinks interruption and delay as constitutive of the new. Such an interpretation, Dolar claimed, is the key to thinking how a repetitive looping of the old opens the space for radical contingency.

(4) Coming to an End
For Hegel and Beckett, things always come “too late”, yet this does not entail the existence of a proper end to begin with. For Beckett, “the end is in the beginning and yet you go on”. This means that the end lies in past and not in the future; ending never coincides with itself.

(5) Redemptive Humor
It is tempting to read Beckett’s “nothing is funnier than unhappiness” as a redemptive formula for humor. Doing so, however, brings Beckett closer to the philosopher Simon Critchley who argues that humor is an attempt to deal with the worst, or a consolation prize for the unbearable. Yet for Beckett, – if unhappiness is humorous – then humor provides no relief for unhappiness. Humor is not a respite, but the real (liminal) worstward. That is, rather than a defense against the worst, aesthetic beauty and humor are (not even) the worst or the best. Aesthetics, instead, is the unbearable (enigmatic) excess between the two. Generalizing this position, Dolar concluded by speculating on the constitutive excess of (Hegelian) aesthetics as such.

Alenka Zupančič – Apocalypse is Disappointing

Drawing upon Maurice Blanchot’s paper of the same title, Zupančič opened by suggesting that thinking the apocalypse (for Blanchot related to the nuclear bomb) as “disappointing” paves the way for a new type of thinking.

Take the case of the 1960s nuclear threat and the possible “end of the world”. For Blanchot, this threat of destruction also meant that the bomb functioned as a genuine master signifier, capturing in one word an entire speculative universe. The immanent danger of the bomb made the idea of the whole of the world appear for the first time. The whole is precisely that which can be lost — with the bomb, we can lose it all. Taking this thought to its conclusion, Zupančič argued that the idea of the whole appears only through a negation. The “world” as a concept only comes into being once it is potentially lost. There is no existing whole of the world that could be lost; it is only the perspective of loss that makes the world appear for the first time as a totality.

Upholding a Hegelian stance — Zupančič then argued, following Blanchot, that although the appearance of the idea is important, it remains abstract. The imminent apocalypse gives rise to the whole, but the whole is disappointing as it lack a concrete form. With the Bomb, human community can be wiped out, but not affirmed (since it has not yet come into concrete being). But Blanchot’s point is not that the destruction of the world is insignificant since we have no real human community. Rather, with the abstract idea of the world as a human whole, the world becomes “worth the trouble” more than ever. For Blanchot, this is an argument for a communism to come.

Yet, not all theorist of the apocalypse see this radical potential. Blanchot’s argument stands in contrast to Karl Jaspers’s 1958 book on the atomic bomb, which argued that the Bomb gave another structure to political consciousness for all time. Science, Jaspers argued, has made us masters of annihilation. The result will either be that humankind will disappear or transform entirely.

For Blanchot, Jaspers’s book, which ostensibly posits a radical and totalizing change, contradicts itself through its own textual form. Blanchot argues that Jaspers’s text is identical in language and spirit to arguments that have been made for thousands of years, serving to bring humanity to a pre-established political consensus. What preoccupies and worries Jaspers, Blanchot suggests, is not the end of humanity, but the possible advancement of communism. The radical novelty of perspective supposedly brought by the Bomb is nowhere to be seen in Jaspers’s argument. Blanchot, then, argues that this reflection on the atomic terror is simply a pretense, and that Jaspers is not looking for new ways of thinking, but rather a way to consolidate old predicaments.

Alternatively, Blanchot argues that in the face of the ambiguous event of the creation of the Bomb, an event “of enormous size but enormously empty,” humanity can risk entirely new modes of thinking and organizing. In Jaspers, Blanchot detects a fear of humanity’s possible awakening to the idea of the whole, to the possibility of a bond of the whole beyond the simple possibility of disappearing. For Blanchot, the choice is not between tolerating the bomb at the risk of losing the world and preventing the destruction of the world at the risk of losing our liberal freedoms. The true choice is between losing it all, and first creating what we are about to lose. Here Blanchot performs a unique temporal logic; while for Jaspers the situation created by the Bomb is fixed and homogenous, Blanchot points to a crack. When we are caught in the fear of losing it all, we are held hostage by something that does not yet exist; in fear, we focus on preserving what exists, and eschew any real alternative. We are bound entirely to the parameters of the existing situation. For Blanchot, the possible awakening facilitated by the Bomb comes not from attempts to prevent the destruction of the world, but rather to build the totality that we will imminently lose. This is not about changing the world, but about making it.

Bringing this line to the present-day, Zupančič then asked: why are we today still far from moving in Blanchot’s direction? The knowledge that we may die at any moment, while assumed to produce courage and liberation from fear, instead produces apathy, depression, and anxiety. The possible remains ideologically compressed into the existent.

Zupančič closed the talk by arguing for a return to an apocalyptic mood, colored by a sense of impending ecological and economic disaster, war, terror, and, once more, the Bomb. Today’s sense of apocalypse, however, is characterized not by the fear that the “wrong button” might be pressed, but rather the knowledge that the “wrong button” has already been pressed. The apocalypse is not waiting in the future, but is dictating our social, economic, and environmental conditions now. The key point is that apocalypse can take time, long enough for another history and world to take place before it ends. The problem is not so much that the apocalypse is the end of the world, but rather that the world goes on. The true catastrophe of apocalypse is not about how and when we will die, but rather how we live. The question for Zupančič is this: shall we live as hostages of the approaching catastrophe, or as its active agents? To live as hostages is to consent to endless blackmail and implementation of catastrophe in the name of saving us from catastrophe. To live as active agents of catastrophe is to take as the starting point the reality of catastrophe, and to redirect it to different kinds of politics.

Mladen Dolar – The Slaughterhouse of Language

Referencing Fredric Jameson’s The Prison House of Language, Dolar argued for a, qualified, return to Lacanian linguistic structuralism: from prison house to slaughterhouse. That is, while the notion of a prison house implies a constitutive finitude or limitation (language is inside while Real phenomena are outside), the shift to a “slaughterhouse” aims to take structuralism further. A slaughterhouse imposes itself upon everything in range; it alters both the inside (subjective) and the outside (the Real thing in itself). That is, the socio-linguistic realm slaughters (denaturalizes) the body, producing the fantasy of a raw immediate Real. For a Lacanian structuralist account, then, the realm of representation (the symbolic) is the starting point from which language cuts the Real of the material body. The extra-symbolic Real exists outside of the symbolic-linguistic realm, only after the latter intervenes.

Turning to one of the most prominent critiques of psychoanalytic structuralism, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, Dolar then revisits the Oedipus myth with his concept of “slaughterhouse” in mind. While Deleuze and Guattar charge psychoanalysis with reducing the complexity of psychic and affective life to “family story” (the infamous mommy-daddy-me), Dolar, following Lacan, claimed that Oedipus is anything but. Far from reaffirming the family structure, Oedipus, presents a tale of the most “dysfunctional” family in human history. Oedipus is the Deleuzian “nomadic” subject par excellence, inscribing rather than reifying the conflicts of various subject positions. Expelled at birth, expelled at Thebes, and then finally deprived proper burial at Colonus, Oedipus is a story of symbolic discordance (slaughter) rather than stratification.

This is further encapsulated by a Lacanian quip: Oedipus, no doubt, had many complexes but he did not have an Oedipus complex. This is a reference to the fact that Oedipus never desires to kill his father and marry his mother. A fair reading of Sophocles reveals both acts as accidents (Oedipus neither knew nor desired his disruptive actions). Dolar then pointed towards Oedipus at Colonus, as the key text of the Oedipus trilogy. Oedipus here, as between two laws – unable to subjective or objectivize his guilt (without personal or legal responsibility) – embodies the nomad position.

Yet even further, Oedipus at Colonus transforms the nomadic position into a radical gesture: the oracle prophesies that the spot where Oedipus dies will be the cornerstone of a new peaceful civilization. Dolar then argued that we should take this literally: a new order only arises from primordial discordance.

Developing the concept of discordance, Dolar next drew an important resonance between Oedipus at Colonus, and Freud’s death drive. Circling back to Dolar’s first talk and the paradox of the worst (as soon as one enunciates ‘this is the worst’ the act of enunciation changes the enunciated content, making the statement false), Dolar read Oedipus along Aristotle’s anti-natalist lines: the best thing is “not to be born at all”. The paradox here is that he who has not been born can’t say that the best possible has happened; only after surviving not being born can one retroactively posit it as being the best. In other words, the human being lives its failure not to be. This is where Oedipus and Freud converge: for both, Being is a failed non-being. As the Lacanian Aaron Schuster puts it, human beings do everything they can to sabotage their own happiness but fail even at that.

The talk concluded by linking the in-between status of Oedipus and death drive with an ontological fact of Being itself. Being has not properly disentangled itself from non-being. Being, as a failed presence (and a failed absence) remains prematurely premature, tied to the umbilical cord of non-being. The slaughterhouse of language maims but does not kill, leaving the subject between life and death.

Alenka Zupančič – Sex Is Disappointing

Continuing the theme of the conference, Zupančič, began her talk with a discussion of death drive as between life and death. While for many death drive is taken as a type of vitalism or a “canceling out of tension”, for the ‘Slovenian school’ of psychoanalysis, death drive “names a fundamental exhaustion of life itself”. The latter, through a close reading of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, is developed for the remainder of the talk.

When discussing Freud’s metapsychology, one common mistake is to oppose death drive and life drive. In such a reading, Freud becomes a dualist: life-affirming sexual drives oppose nihilistic death drives, eros opposes thanatos. Yet this view, Zupančič argued, is unsustainable and lacks coherent textual support. Sexuality can’t be reduced to life instinct for the simple reason that psychoanalysis is built around a sexual non-rapport, an ontological lack in the order of Being. If sex responded to a life instinct there would be no psychoanalysis as we know it; sexuality is a primordial disorientation, not an X to be discovered.

A second misreading reduces death drive to death or the striving for a decrease in energy. This reduction, however, fails to respond to a simple difficulty: if death drive is just the lowering of tension then what is the pleasure principle? That is, since Freud defines the pleasure principle as an aversion to pain and tension, why would he need another concept called “death drive” to get across this same basic point? Adding the “reality principle” into this mix only further confuses the argument; if the reality principle is the pragmatic exception to the pleasure principle, then does it oppose both the death drive and the pleasure principle?

Turning to Lacan, however, allows Zupančič to avoid both errors mentioned above. That is, for Lacan’s reading of Freud, not only are all drives sexual, but they are all “fundamentally” instantiations of the death drive. That is, since all drives (oral, anal, scopic, and so on) aim at a lacking sexuality or negativity, they are all variations upon the death drive. Drive, then, does not seek to annihilate tension but to repeat it. Death drive is not a satisfaction of a need (the need to return to a lower energy state) but a “surplus” satisfaction on top of a need.

Moreover the satisfaction of repetition as negativity, paradoxically, amplifies rather than stifles the drive. The more we satisfy a need, the more we need to satisfy. So while it is true that the death drive stands in contrast to the pleasure principle (the lowering of tension) this is not because it affirms a will to die. On the contrary, drive co-opts pleasure, directing it towards its own (negative) aims. The pleasure of eating (satisfying the need of hunger), for instance, reverses into a negative pleasure of the mouth; the organic need for food becomes a byproduct to the repetitive chewing of drive.

But this is not the whole story. Surplus satisfaction is not yet drive. That is, although the above analysis explains the genesis of surplus against organic need, it does not explain how drive can have a revolutionary effect. We have not explained how drive reverses (or comes to dominate) the logic of the pleasure principle.

To fill this gap, Zupančič argued that we must think drive as it relates to a primal repression, or “inbuilt negativity in order of Being”. Surplus satisfaction truly occurs only when it functions as an object-embodiment of a cut in the order of Being (thus granting drive autonomy from a symbolic signifying structure). Lacan elaborates this point in Seminar XI. For Lacan, what the drive aims to repeat is not just surplus satisfaction but negativity (which can only be repeated by repeating surplus satisfaction). Drive thus reverses the logic of the pleasure principle: the object of the drive is not the satisfaction of an object; rather “satisfaction” has an object-like function only when it is embodiment of the negative. This is why drive is different from an erogenous zone — the latter is simple repetition rather than a repetition of negativity.

Zupančič, then, moved to apply this framework to trauma theory and the question of the un-symbolizible (negative) experience. For psychoanalysis, drive’s repetition repeats the X which never registers as experience. Yet, crucially, this un-symbolizable trauma does not exists outside the horizon of experience but is constitutive of it. Trauma is Real but not experienced. Such a psychoanalytic perspective thus shifts the debate on how to think the un-representable from a various dualisms — real against fantasy, material against psychic, flows against strata, and so on — to an ontological lack. Negativity takes positive form in drive.

In ethical-political terms, death drive is the repetition of lack that opens up the space beyond the ordinary. This is what breaks out of fatigue of life —not a capacity to die — but a capacity to die differently. Finally, picking up another theme of the conference, Zupančič closed with a paraphrase of Beckett as a slogan for the death drive: ‘Die. Fail. Die Again. Die better.’ The subject, caught between two deaths — the Real and the symbolic — never finishes dying. Death drive is the immortal insistence of an undead negativity.

Slavoj Žižek – Ernst Lubitsch II: Cynicism, Humor, and Engagement

After much of 20th century continental philosophy declared an end to metaphysics, the “big questions” of philosophy are now returning. Increasingly, it is impossible to leave traditional philosophical questions – is the world finite or infinite, do we have free will, and so on – to the domains of science and reductionist materialisms.

With that said, however, Žižek argued that we cannot simply return to metaphysics. The task instead is to develop a theory that is neither a form of 20th century constructivism nor a pre-Kantian naïve realism. Here, Hegel is the key figure that creates a possibility for such a “third way”.

For Hegel, the metaphysical Absolute, or the moment of “reconciliation”, does not entail a resolution of antagonism; rather, it involves a shift in perspective where one see that the problem of the absolute – it’s transient fleeting nature – is not a problem, but its own solution. Reconciliation entails a retroactive recognition that there never was a problem to begin with; antagonism is its own solution. In philosophical terms, the subject fails to grasp at the real “thing-in-itself” not because they are transcendentally limited, but because the real itself, is split, antagonistic, non-all, and so on.

Žižek then demonstrated his Hegelian concept of the Absolute (as retroactive and antagonistic) with a series of examples. Consider the debate around so-called “grey zones” in sexual encounters, or the question of how to navigate a space between excessive political correctness and sexual violence. The paradox is that in every process of seduction, there comes a point at which somebody has to make a “pass.” Here the Hegelian retroactive reconciliation is exemplified: if the pass is rejected, there is retroactively an obstacle. Yet if the pass is accepted, one doesn’t overcome the obstacle but rather (retroactively) discovers that there never was an obstacle to begin with. Once the act is accepted, contingency retroactively appears as necessity – the subject discovers that their advances were already requited.

A second Hegelian example comes from Levi Strauss’s Structural Anthropology. Strauss recounts two groups of villagers asked to map-out the constellation of their shared town. One group drew a core town-center and temple, surrounded by houses at relatively equidistant locations. The second drew the village with the temple and powerful houses on one side, yet with the houses of the poor on the other. Strauss’s Hegelian point is that the truth of the society is precisely in this antagonism (the contradictory drawings), and not, for instance, in a “scientific” image of what the village “actually” looks like (for example, as viewed through a helicopter). That is, such an “objective” view of the layout of the town would obfuscate the crucial aspect of distortion between the two groups, belaying class difference. Here again, the antagonism – in this case the real of an emerging capitalist inequality – is itself the Absolute.

Returning to philosophy, Žižek then argued that Kant’s distinction between negative and infinite judgments, hits upon this same ontological antagonism. For Kant, negative judgments simply negate predicates – X is not alive – yet do not tell us anything positive about X. Infinite judgments, however, take the negation of a predicate as a positive ontological condition: X is not-alive. In the latter the hyphen is key; it indicates a third position where the negation is directly affirmed (here, by affirming the negation, X is a type of un-dead zombie).

Picking up on the undead, Žižek then linked his proposed ontology to psychoanalysis. He claimed that death drive, as the immortal non-all, is the materialist name for a retroactive Hegelian philosophy of the negative. This bears on key metaphysical questions. In order to have this kind of undead universe (infinite judgments), the universe must be ontologically incomplete. Only with a non-fully constituted universe can retroactive reconstruction occur. The task of materialism today is to think the “unfinished” or “incomplete” character of reality without invoking a transcendent entity (God or metaphysical zombies).

How, then, do we proceed as philosophers? Until ten or fifteen years ago, continental thought was dominated by deconstruction, critique, and a transcendental rejection of metaphysics. While this mode of philosophy is still alive and well in the academy today, Žižek ends with a plea for a new type of metaphysics: one that is neither a scientific reductionist nor a naïve realist return to fully constituted objects (OOO).