Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ricciardi, Alessia. Review of Marcus Pound, ZIZEK. NDPR (October 2009).

Pound, Marcus. Žižek: a (Very) Critical Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008. Since the end of the 1980s, the American academic world has had to face Slavoj Žižek's repeated, and at times repetitive, critical assaults on identity politics, multiculturalism, and post-Marxism. Žižek has increasingly advocated in his work a return to the notion of modern subjectivity that was initially spelled out by the German idealists and then recuperated and transfigured by Lacan; together, their contributions comprise the strategic knot of the Slovenian philosopher's theoretical framework. His latest salvo against the supposedly widespread liberal assumptions of contemporary culture has taken the form of a revival of religion, particularly of Christianity, in The Fragile Absolute: or why is the christian legacy worth fighting for? (2000), On Belief (2001), and The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (2003). In the course of these writings, Žižek has moved from using Christianity as a reservoir of illustrative examples for his philosophical forays to engaging directly with its theological core, ultimately arriving at a position he describes as that of a "Pauline materialist". As a follower of Saint Paul, Žižek takes pride in grappling with religion in its institutional, dogmatic aspects, unlike, say, Levinas who in his eyes insists on reducing it to empty notions such as "Otherness". In line with Hegel's Christology, Žižek insists that Christianity ought to help bring about an end to the God of transcendence and "the beyond", thus enabling us, as a Lacanian would say, "to traverse the fantasy" of the Christian desire for the Divine (and the Judaic desire for God) in favor of love. Christianity becomes for Žižek something akin to a successful analysis and finds its defining moment in the Hilflösigkeit or helplessness experienced by the abandoned Christ on the cross. In fact, according to Lacan, this feeling characterizes the end of an effective analysis. Building on this insight, Žižek rejects the reading of Christ's sacrificial death as perverse and instead emphasizes the redemptive possibilities of Christian faith. What in his view requires further thought is Christianity's reliance on "violent love", which nevertheless accords with the spirit of a radical event, namely the crucifixion. Žižek opposes this spirit to the poetics of harmony and compassion espoused by Eastern religions such as Taoism and Buddhism that have become fashionable in Western culture and function as a mere supplement of capitalism. Žižek's engagement with Christianity raises a host of questions starting with the meaning of his notion of a religious suspension of the ethical, a concept that, notwithstanding its Kierkegaardian pedigree, can be confusing in his work. The most urgent questions are raised by his insistence on an organic relationship between religion and politics. Unlike the Leftist Hegelians, in particular Feuerbach and Marx, who criticized Christianity from a philosophico-political point of view, Žižek seems to believe that in breaking with the logic of desire for a transcendent divinity, Christianity opposes the logic of capitalism through its insistence on love as opposed to the desire that drives perpetual consumption. Although not entirely new, the use of Christianity in support of a Marxist agenda is certainly controversial, as is Žižek's adoption of Hegel's polemic in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, which views other religions, in particular Judaism, as less perfect antecedents of Christianity. By helping to preserve spiritual and political conviction from the attacks of both contemporary skeptics and fundamentalists, Christianity becomes pivotal to Žižek's theory. Given this background, Marcus Pound's discussion of Žižek's work in light of Christianity is an interesting project that helps to highlight the growing importance of questions of faith in orienting Žižek's thought toward a "materialist theology." . . . Read the whole review here:

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