Slavoj Zižek’s missed encounter with Deleuze

«…in order to read Žižek properly one needs to love both high culture and low comedy. In fact reading his books is in itself a lot like watching a Marx brothers movie. (…)

Between passages of serious engagement with Deleuze, Žižeks writes sentences like: “And to go a step further, is the practice of fist-fucking not the exemplary case of what Deleuze called the “expansion of a concept?”… No wonder Foucault, Deleuze’s Other, was practicing fisting” (Organs 188). Such a sentence is objectionable not because it is irreverent, politically incorrect or because it touches upon a taboo [all of that, in fact, would make it at least slightly interesting], but simply because it is irrelevant.

Žižek’s argument, of course, is reminiscent of Freud’s wonderfully laconic statement about the logic of negation. When a patient told Freud that he did not know the identity of a female figure that he had seen in his dream but that he was sure that it was ‘definitely not his mother,’ Freud simply notes: “We correct, it is the mother.” Similarly, when Deleuze notes that his philosophy, whatever it might be, is ‘definitely not Hegelian,’ Žižek simply notes: ‘We correct, it is Hegelian.’ (…) Žižek sexualizes this love in an image itself taken from Deleuze: “what monster would have emerged if we were to stage the ghastly scene of the specter of Hegel taking Deleuze from behind” (47). Deleuze’s original goes like this: “I saw myself as taking an author fom behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed.” (“Letter to a Harsh Critic.” Negotiations. 1972 – 1990 (New York: Columbia UP, 1995, 3-12. 6)). What is Žižek’s investment in this image, which curiously redoubles the one on another philosophical postcard? Anybody who has ever read one of Žižek’s books knows that the two basic attractors around which his thought revolves are Lacan and Hegel. As the philosophical supplement to Lacanian psychoanalysis, Hegel is probably even more important to Žižek than he is to Lacan. He is a constant presence in Žižek’s books, sometimes more, as in Tarrying with the Negative (Durham: Duke UP, 1993) which, let me note in passing, contains the theoretical background on Hegel that Žižek reheats in Organs Without Bodies, and sometimes less, but even when Žižek is not directly talking about Hegel, he is ‘talking Hegel.’ Not surprisingly, Žižek’s deepest interest lately is the legacy of German idealism a.k.a. Hegel & Co. [For more on this interest, see the interview with Žižek in ebr]. For somebody so invested in Hegel, Deleuze, in his acknowledged and often repeated dislike of Hegel, must present a formidable irritation. He is the philosophical itch Žižek would love to scratch. (…)

The stakes, therefore, are high and they go something like this: If Hegel|Lacan can be saved from Deleuze by way of turning Deleuze into Hegel|Lacan, Žižek, and with him psychoanalysis, has scored big. [Derrida is a less threatening reference. Žižek had dealt with him en passant when he had argued that Lacan is not a poststructuralist.’ If it turns out, however, that Deleuze is not Hegel|Lacan and that he refuses to be turned into them, Žižek is in trouble. (…)

Organs Without Bodies is over long stretches not about Deleuze at all.The reason for this is not so much that Lacan and Deleuze mark “incompatible fields” (Organs xi) whose collision entails “over and above the symbolic exchange” (xi) a “traumatic impact” (xi) but simply because Žižek, probably even more so than in his other books, loves to digress. More than half of it [roughly 138 of its 226 pages] is either not about Deleuze, or stands only in a very loose relation to his work. In particular, these are the chapters in the ‘consequences’ section [pages 111 to 148], two of which start off with short Deleuzian references to then go on to ‘something completely different.’ At such moments, one suspects that the Deleuzian argument is merely a rhetorical glue that holds together a number of textual [auto]samplings that round up once more Žižek’s usual suspects: Bush, Slovenia, Cognitive Science, Hitchcock, the Palestine, the Left, the Right, the Middle, bad jokes, dumb movies. (…)

Žižek relates Deleuze’s “becoming Hegel” (50) directly to Deleuze’s notion of immanence, which constitutes a “subterranean link” (51) between the two. Žižek’s claim is that “if there ever was a philosopher of unconditional immanence, it is Hegel” (51), which means that there is really no difference between Deleuze and Hegel because Hegel is ‘always already’ Deleuze. Unfortunately, Hegel’s immanence – and here comes what I take to be the single most crucial sentence of Žižek’s book – is “the immanence of our thought” (51, emphasis added), which means that it has absolutely nothing to do with Deleuze’s concept of immanence. One really wonders how Žižek could have missed this obvious fact, as if he would stand in front of the Deleuzian map, unable to find the names written across it in giant letters! One is tempted here to quote Žižek against himself, although the context is different: “This insight seems so obvious, stating it seems so close to what the French call a lapalissade, that one is surprised how it has not yet been generally perceived” (20) (…)

To immediately separate this from a Lacanian logic, this consciousness is not a human – and thus a Hegelian – consciousness. Rather, it is “a pure stream of a-subjective consciousness, a pre-reflexive impersonal consciousness, a qualitative duration of consciousness without a self” (25). (…)

Ultimately, to be a Lacanian is fine, and to be a Deleuzian is fine as well. Both systems have their own internal consistency, logic and beauty. But in order to really talk, one first has to try and find the lines and the vectors that make up the cosmos of the ‘other.’ Žižek either never took the time for that or he was not able to distance himself enough from the Lacanian logic. Ultimately, the desire to incorporate Deleuze – to sublate him into his own brand of Hegelianism – must have been just a bit too strong for Žižek to really connect with Deleuze. As a result, the book is ultimately a failure. (…)

One wonders what kind of love Žižek meant when he talked, in connection with Deleuze, about his “true love for a philosopher” (Organs 3). (…) Žižek, it seems, can love Deleuze only when he has first dressed him up in Hegelian drag.»

“Is it possible not to love Zižek?” on Slavoj Zižek’s missed encounter with Deleuze by Prof. Dr. Hanjo Berressem (University of Cologne), 2005.


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