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).

Although Fichte rightly recognizes that in appearance the Absolute must also appear to itself, Zizek criticizes Fichte’s conception of the Absolute as an immobile transcendent Being-in-itself. This stationary conception renders Fichte unable to properly think change and the movement of life itself. Zizek writes, “what he misses is how, precisely, the Absolute’s appearing is not a mere appearance, but a self-actualization, a self-revelation” (126). The appropriate Hegelian response to Fichte is that he cannot think of substance as subject. Zizek goes on to offer a critique of those who depict Hegel as an absolute idealist when, according to Zizek, Hegel’s whole point was that “there is no need for a third element, the medium or ground, beyond subject and object-substance. We start with objectivity, and the subject is nothing but the self-mediation of objectivity” (127). Next, Zizek maps out the differences between three philosophical positions: metaphysical, transcendent, and speculative. Zizek argues that the speculative approach makes the critical move of recognizing that the division between the in-itself and the subject “is fully admitted, this very split is transposed back into reality” (127). Hence, while much of contemporary philosophy’s focus on language tends to reduce the signified to the signifier, the dialectical approach emphasizes that the signifier falls into signified. That is to say it “grounds the very subjective-transcendental site of enunciation in the ‘self-movement’ of the Thing itself” (128). Zizek believes that the dialectical approach is most radical in transposing the “predicate into the position of subject” (129). For instance, as opposed to claiming that the essence of woman is dispersed, we argue that the very dispersal is the essence of femininity itself. Following Lacan, we should fully embrace that the subject is simply “not only supposed by the external observer-listener of a signifying chain, it is in itself a supposition” (130).

The lesson we should take from Hegel’s dialectics is that if the Idea cannot appropriately represent itself, then this distortion in representation of the Ideal is in fact “nothing other than the distortion/displacement, the self-inadequacy, of the particular with regard to itself” (131). An example of Hegel’s opposition determination is the homophobe who violently rapes a homosexual, which is to say that sometimes tautology can be the greatest contradiction. Hence, we can travel along the Mobius strip to only return to the starting point to realize that we are in fact “on the observe side of the band” (131). For Hegel, “the ‘primordial difference is…between the thing and the void of an invisible screen which distorts our perception of the thing so that we do not take thing for itself” (132). In 2001, Argentines protested against the economic minister by wearing masks of him and storming his building. The economic minister escaped to safety by wearing his own mask, which only serves to confirm Lacan’s thesis that “a thing is its own best mask” (132). According to Hegel and Lacan, the Idea only ever appears against the background of a reality that is copied. Zizek urges us to follow Plato in thinking of Ideas “as not the hidden reality beneath appearance…Ideas are nothing but the very form of appearance” (134). The redoubling of appearance can also be illustrated by a revision of the Biblical story of Jacob and Rachel and Leah. Jacob desires Rachel, but he first must marry her elder sister Leah. Rachel initially makes a pact with him to ensure that her father does not trick him into consummating his relationship with Leah. However, on the night of the plan, Rachel felt guilty and shared with her sister the secret signs. “So the decision was that Rachel will lie under the bed, and while Jacob is making love to Leah, Rachel will make the sounds, so he won’t recognize that he’s having sex with the wrong sister” (136). Only the voice of Rachel could serve as the fantasmatic dimension that could sustain the sexual relations with Leah, i.e. there is no such thing as a sexual relationship. The Lacanian understanding of appearance is this: appearance is not putting up a screen to hide a transgression, but rather the faking of a transgression that never was there in the first place. Hence, the Lacanian view of fantasy is not the mask that obscures the real, but rather the illusion that something is hidden behind the mask. Of course, this explains why the essential heterosexual male fantasy is that underneath the beauty of woman lies “some imponderable mystery” (137).

Even after progressing this far, I’m still unsure to what extent Zizek’s portrayal of Hegelian philosophy is faithful to Hegel. Following Zizek’s own idea, perhaps one question that could be asked would be what is the appropriate Hegelian response to Zizek’s Lacanian Hegel.

15 thoughts on “Mythology, Madness and Laughter – Fichte’s Laughter 3.0-3.2

  1. I think, while there have been interesting nuggets in Zizek’s two essays thus far, one really has to decide if the Gabriel is worth the cover price alone as he far outshines Zizek in this little book. Gabriel in part made good on the promise to turn this into a contemporary philosophy, but Zizek manages to do a kind of entertaining history of philosophy thus far.

    Or, perhaps I am wrong and his Lacanian lens is making this contemporary?

  2. I think on a certain level, Zizek just dogmatically asserts that the debates of German Idealism are relevant for today — just as he dogmatically asserts that there is some obvious right answer to the question Fichte is addressing in the early pages of this essay. And then of course the Lacan stuff is part and parcel of his longtime project of basically showing that Lacan inherits and advances the German Idealist project (whether Lacan knew it or not).

    If he really wanted to make the case for German Idealism in this context, his clearest route would probably to go into the ontology/quantum physics type of stuff that you see in the Schelling book and Monstrosity of Christ.

  3. Anthony,
    I absolutely agree. Hopefully when Gabriel has a stand-alone work out in English (which I think is coming out with continuum in 2011) we can have an event dedicated to that. Seems like Zizek is just using Fichte to say the same old stuff.

  4. [quote] and he goes on to argue that we should endorse Derrida’s God as the promise of the to come [Quote]
    I think this is supposed to say “we should endorse Derrida’s God as the promise to come.” Right?

  5. Apologies for double posting, but I’m now ready to become chopped liver. I’m not getting a firm understanding of “the promise of the to come” as a parallel to a God that is merely a “pure virtuality of a promise.”

    Is the parallel in the illustration of the Derridean logic in grammatical terms by leaving the “the” as the undefined subject that “shall” be defined through reflection? Is this then the promise that is being described as the pure virtual waiting on its reflexivity?

  6. “The to-come” is a pretty standard Derridean term, based on a pun in French between “avenir” (future) and “à venir” (to come). “The” is performing its normal grammatical role; “to-come” (which might’ve been more clear if hyphenated) is serving as a noun.

  7. Thanks Adam, much of my misinterpretation in my previous post has been clarified by your explanation. Yet now I just realized how far from the shore I just swam…

    From what I’ve understood so far is that this promise to come is represented by Ideals, i.e. justice, freedom, etc., but God singularly.

  8. To be honest, no I didn’t. But with doubt renewed, I did some research on Derrida’s to-come (which this reading introduced to me). What I should have said was that being was not in the “promise” to-come (emphasis on the promise) which is represented by Ideals, but in the “to-coming” that which is described here as the pure virtuality of God.

    Now reconciling this understanding with the reading, it is the to-come that being is because it is without appropriation from reflection. So when Zizek refers to the mistake of taking appearance as being, he is referring to the mistake of having being differentiated as the fulfillment of the promise. The correct view is to openly see the fulfilling of this promise as being, and to have the promise be respected as part of the virtuality that God resides.


  9. Ok, I’ll try to write this one a bit more assertively (And thanks for sticking with this):

    The promise is like the shoreline that can never be reached (the pure virtuality of God), but the being is the movement to meet the shore, which although remains an impossibility as long as the promise is respected as part of the virtual, it nonetheless makes possible of the to come that I’m describing as the movement to the shore.

  10. You seem to be missing Zizek’s emphasis here. He’s not trying to say something like “the journey is the goal.” There’s no “Being” in question here at all. He’s making the general point that we shouldn’t think that appearances necessarily imply a “true substantial being” behind them, and God is the most extreme example of this general point. I’ll quote more than Jeremy does: “At this level, one should accept the Derridean theological conclusion: ‘God’ is not an absolute Being persisting in itself, it is the pure virtuality of a promise, the pure appearing of itself. In other words, the ‘Absolute’ beyond appearances coincides with an ‘absolute appearance,’ an appearance beneath which there is no substantial Being.”

    (If you’re commenting without having read the Zizek text itself, I’d request that you read it before asking further questions.)

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