Joseph Carew

Ontological Catastrophe: Žižek and the Paradoxical Metaphysics of German Idealism

    II. Nature Torn Apart

    5. Kant, Todestrieb, and Beyond the Pleasure Principle: The Unruly Basis of Transcendental Freedom

    In this chapter I begin an examination of Žižek's metaphysics by showing how the thematic intersection between German Idealism and psychoanalysis allows him to develop a highly original approach to the transcendental. Beginning with a brief discussion of Adrian Johnston's summary of Lacan's passing remarks on nature in largely unavailable seminars stemming from the late period, I then precede to analyze how these remarks lay the foundation for Žižek's own radical rethinking of the Symbolic-Real relationship. Trying to comprehend the emergence of the Symbolic, Žižek attempts to demonstrate that the very fact of its existence must be revelatory of some ontological process that set the stage for its immanent genesis out of the Real as an extimate Other, even if, in turn, it makes the very Real from which it arose an impossible concept. Perceiving the key for understanding this paradoxical point of discordant (non-)relation between the pre-subjective Real and the transcendental matrix of the Symbolic in the Todestrieb, and following Lacan's claim that “Kant's practical philosophy [is] the starting point of the lineage culminating in Freud's invention of psychoanalysis,” [87] Žižek reactualizes the legacy of German Idealism in order to articulate his own parallax ontology through an intuition of a fundamental identity between Kantian transcendentalism and psychoanalysis as established in the former's concept of the primordial unruliness and diabolical evil at the core of subjectivity.

    5.1 From the Rottenness of Nature...

    Although Lacan lacks an explicitly developed philosophy of nature as a complement to his structuralist metapsychology, throughout his career we see a growing interest in and appreciation for the underlying ontology implied by his theory of the subject. Adrian Johnston succinctly describes the theoretical situation plaguing the late Lacan in his shift from the primacy of the Symbolic to that of the Real, a problematic of utmost importance for understanding the deficiency in Lacanian psychoanalysis that guides Žižek's own project:

    A psychoanalytically influenced theory of the subject that fails to furnish a basic delineation of human nature as the precondition for the genesis of subjectivity is groundless, incapable of explaining a foundational dimension of its object of inquiry.

    In the later seminars of the 1970s, a series of somewhat cryptic remarks testify to Lacan's awareness of the need to redefine nature itself in order to account for why human nature is predisposed to being thoroughly altered by the denaturalizing mediation of socio-symbolic structures. In both the twenty-first and twenty-fourth seminars, Lacan contends that nature is far from being entirely natural. However, this isn't just a slightly reworked reiteration of his earlier remarks from the 1950s about humanity's denaturalized nature. Rather than grounding his assertions here by invoking the externally imposed intrusion of images and signifiers as the ultimate cause of the denaturalization involved in subjectification, Lacan takes the additional step of pointing to something within nature itself that inclines it in the direction of its own effacement. [88]

    What is missing in Lacan, however, is a fully worked out account of the consequences of this shift, a detailed investigation into the paradoxical ground of the subject intrinsic to the very gesture of psychoanalysis. Yet he makes a crucial advance by suggesting that the Real is not to be, despite the fact that we can only posit its existence from within the differential network of signifiers, merely taken as that which must be said to logically precede the emergence of the linguistic subject, but also as that which renders the latter in a certain sense possible by virtue of a self-destructive tendency always already within it that opens up the space for its infinite loss to self through the colonizing activity of images and words. We encounter a metaphysical thesis: subjectivity does not come on the scene as a scar inflicted upon an otherwise harmonious nature, as a disturbance of its symphonized order by means of a haphazard intrusion into its sphere of non-natural influences that produce an accidental zone of ontological non-coincidence. The psychoanalytical experience is, rather, revelatory of something much more primordial: namely, that nature itself must be always already antiphusis, self-sabotaging, self-lacerating, and responsible for its own demise in the human being's denaturalized essence. But why?

    Lacan provides only a few hints. At one point, he identifies “liberty” (liberté) with “the non-existence of the sexual relationship,” which, in light of the above, can be understood as indicating that the freedom enjoyed by the autonomous subject is made possible by the lack of an integrated organic foundation as the grounding basis of the subject's being. Similarly, several years later, Lacan speaks of nature as not all that natural due to being internally plagued by “rottenness” (pourriture), by a decay or defect out of which culture (as antiphusis) bubbles forth (bouillonner). Viewed thus, human nature is naturally destined for denaturalization. Put differently, more-than-material subjectivity immanently arises out of the dysfunctionality of a libidinal-material ground. [89]

    Yet it would perhaps be erroneous to say that this theoretical awareness is limited to the late Lacan's move from the primacy of the Symbolic towards that of the Real. As early as 1949 in his work on the Imaginary and the mirror stage, Lacan had already said that “these reflections lead me to recognize in the spatial capture manifested by the mirror stage, the effect in man, even prior to this social dialectic, of an organic inadequacy of his natural reality—assuming we can give some meaning to the word 'nature,'” an inadequacy that points to “a certain dehiscence at the very heart of the organism, a primordial Discord betrayed by the signs of malaise and motor uncoordination of the neonatal months” [90] which is, in fact, responsible for the alteration we see in our relationship to nature in comparison with other animals insofar as it represents “the shattering of the Innenwelt and Umwelt circle” [91] and thus functions as the true “intersection of nature and culture.” [92] Here it is noteworthy to mention that the French word stade does not completely map onto the English stage. Although it does correspond in one of its principal meanings to the latter (a distinct stage in a process of evolution: les stades de la vie) it also means stadium (a terrain or area where something takes place) and thus signifies a primordial scene constituting the foundation or arena within/through which an activity unfolds. Consequently, Lacan's thesis is that the mirror stage can never be subsumed in a later phase of development, forcing us to conclude that, even in the early period, it must necessarily refer to some kind of self-effacing force immanent within nature that gives rise to and simultaneously sustains the ontogenetic condition of the possibility of the paradoxical emergence of a more-than-material subject. This force thereby institutes the infinitely denaturalizing process of flirtation with images and symbolic castration, so that organic discord in the motor coordination of the body is not a mere failure of the biological system but also a “positive” support that persists in its very non-naturalness even after the Imaginary and the Symbolic have taken hold as their dark origin. If the quasi-experience of dismemberment is to be taken as originary, as that which incites the libidinal investment of the captivating mirror picture the human infant sees of itself as the beginning of psychogenesis by letting itself be alienated by the Otherness of images and words, then nature here must also be seen—at least in the case of human being—as a festering, half-living corpse. The shift of emphasis in the late seminars is already contained within the founding texts of Lacanian psychoanalysis, which not only suggests their central thematic unity, despite the stark differences that they may exhibit, but more strongly a historical unfolding that follows an internal development conforming to the model of the Hegelian movement from the in-itself to the for-itself.

    But we should avoid looking at the various hints and suggestions in the late Lacan that gesture towards the character of the material edifice upon which the subject rests as a mere immanent elaboration of the implications of his previously laid out position, given that there are important changes of position in the development of his thinking. What is important is not the unity or disunity of Lacan, but rather the radicality and nuance inherent in his thinking of the subject as brought to the fore when we focus on this very specific constellation of problems hovering around the obscure relation between nature and the essence of human being, a constellation that proposes a frightening metaphysical conception of the world, albeit only implicitly. Synonymous with the irrevocable organic inadequacy of its biological prematurity at birth, and functioning as such as the basis for full-fledged subjectivity, the primordial Hilflosigkeit of the human infant already points toward a vision of the world that exceeds the constraints of psychoanalysis as a mere investigation into psychogenesis and its pathologies as to be dealt with in the psychiatric setting. Driven by its own concerns, psychoanalysis—indeed, perhaps like any strong theory of subjectivity—offers a metaphysics, or at least must become a metaphysics, since we can never safely isolate the subject under investigation from the greater scheme of ontology within which it is inscribed as a thing, process, or event. The subject is. What Lacan proclaims about its modality of “being” is that subjectivity can no longer be perceived as unnatural in the sense of an external-parasitical invasion into the vital movement of nature through the alienating effects of flirtatious images and castrating words, which somehow spoil or disfigure its pure unity by disrupting the smooth functioning of its immanent laws. The necessary theoretical posit of an originary rottenness of nature contends that there was never a realm of innocence, a pre-symbolic whole whose peaceful in-itself precluded division, a self-pervasive oneness whose unbroken energetic flow was then interrupted through the advent of language, which would be said not only to forever ideally fragment and lacerate it through artificial categories, but more disconcertingly to upset the very positivity of its movement, the cyclical repetition of things in the Real of nature, by short-circuiting the body's self-determining laws striving after homeostatic balance by giving rise to desire. No: it is not that it is only here that we see a snag, a breakdown, in the natural flow of things. Lacan's claim is much stronger: nature, in some sense, was never completely natural (it is in this spirit that we should interpret Lacan's hesitation in “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytical Experience” of being able to “give some meaning to the word 'nature'” [93] ).

    For Žižek, it is precisely this intuition of a necessary moment of negativity, which simultaneously rots nature from the inside out and gestures towards its constitutive weakness, that allows us to come to terms with the Symbolic-Real relation in Lacanian psychoanalysis. It alludes to the necessity of a metaphysics of the Real to explicate what the subject truly is and sketches its contours. Yet due to his conceptual reworking of Lacan, Žižek is led to part ways with and challenge many conventional ways of understanding this relation. Bruce Fink, for example, says:

    So too, Lacan's Real is without zones, subdivision, localized highs and lows, or gaps and plenitudes: the Real is a sort of unrent, undifferentiated, fabric, woven in such a way as to be full everywhere, there being no space between the threads that are its “stuff.” It is a sort of smooth, seamless surface or space which applies as much to a child's body as to the whole universe. The division of the Real into separate zones, distinct features, and contrasting structures is a result of the symbolic order, which, in a manner of speaking, cuts into the smooth facade of the Real, creating divisions, gaps, and distinguishable entities and laying the Real to rest, that is, drawing or sucking it into the symbols used to describe it, and thereby annihilating it. [94]

    For Žižek, if we are to understand how language emerges out of/within the Real, this pre-symbolic, pre-logical Real sans fissure does not go far enough and must be argued against for two reasons, even if traces of it can be found in Lacan. First, it is a necessary posit created by the Symbolic at the moment of its free self-instituting, just as the transcendental subject posits the notion of a pure noumenon as a consequence of its (re)constitution of phenomenal reality. In this sense, the idea of the extra-subjective Real as an undifferentiated “mass” exhibiting no absence and negativity, just like the noumenon, risks being a mere fantasy of some kind of positive state of ontological completion outside of symbolization and idealization, which psychoanalytical experience (the mind-body discord) disproves. The Real prior to language may not possess linguistic and conceptual determination into a system of strict symbolic differences, but it cannot be said to be a substantial reality fully existing unto itself in such a way that language “pierces” its smoothness by “cutting into it” it like a flesh wound, which such presentations of the problematic appear to imply. This means that the above reading (represented by Lacanians such as Fink) is not false, but must be qualified. The Real sans fissure and the noumenon represent a compensation for the impossibility of an intimate experience of the Real within the Symbolic by claiming that, outside the reach of this synthetic (re)constitution of reality, it can still be said to persist in a state lacking contradiction and antagonism. It safeguards us from the realization that the Real itself is morcelé: it does not merely get itself into traps, producing monsters that disrupt the flow of knowledge in the Real by making the latter howl under ontological pain (chaotic states such as black holes, wherein the laws of physics seem to break down, or states in which animals, misreading meteorological conditions, perceive warm days in winter as the beginning of spring and act accordingly, “not only rendering themselves vulnerable to later onslaughts of cold, but also perturbing the entire rhythm of natural reproduction” [95] ) but is always already riddled with internal differences, in such a manner that symbolic categories, due to a certain kind of “family resemblance,” cannot be said to be some kind of lacerating agent that first cuts up the stuff of the world into a system of divisions. Speaking of quantum mechanics (which Žižek is interested in precisely because it gives us resources that prevent us from having recourse to “a 'naive' ontology of spheres or levels” [96] and challenges our understanding of nature and culture/the Real and the Symbolic), he says:

    According to [our] “spontaneous ideology,” nature stands for the primacy of actuality over potentiality, its domain is the domain of the pure positivity of being where there are no lacks (gaps) in the strict symbolic sense; if, however, we take the ontological consequences of quantum physics seriously, then we have to suppose that the symbolic order pre-exists in a “wild” form, albeit in what Schelling would have called a lower potency. [97]

    Žižek outlines four precise ways in which the symbolic order unexpectedly “pre-exists” in the Real as according to quantum mechanics, which deserve to be paraphrased in full in this context:

    1. Possibility as such possesses actuality, that is, has effects. Just like parental authority imposes itself all the time despite the fact that it is normally only virtually and not actually present, understanding a particle's trajectory at the quantum level presupposes that we already know its possible trajectories within its wave function, which have a “being” of their own. What is more, the actualization of one of these latter does not do away with the rest: similar to the case of parental authority, as various phenomena of guilty conscience arising from an act or thought that no parental authority (or their stand-in) could ever find out or demonstrate, “what might have happened continues to echo in what actually happens as its virtual background.” [98]
    2. Both possess knowledge in the Real. As the now (in)famous double-slit experiment testifies, if we observe a particle to see through which slit it will pass, it will always behave as a particle, but if we do not observe it, it will always behave as a wave; it is as if the particle knows when it is and when it is not been watched by scientists. We display similar behaviour in the Symbolic—often, for instance, when others project certain roles on us, we act appropriately, being aware of the projection and assuming it.
    3. Each exhibits the phenomenon of registration. In the symbolic universe of meaning, an event only truly occurs when the surrounding “external” environment takes note of or registers it, that is, if it can leave a trace. In order to explain the phenomenon of the collapse of the wave function, physicists must also resort to such metaphors: even at the quantum level, an event only “fully actualizes itself only through its symbolic registration, its inscription into a symbolic network, which is external to it.” [99] For this reason, particles can pop into and out of existence, just as long as the universe does not notice—like it is possible to cheat a banking system if one does not violate normal functioning.
    4. Both exhibit an irreducible openness. In the Symbolic, there is always a delay between an event and its symbolic registration. The rise of a new master signifier that rewrites the entire logical field within which it occurs is not a substantial, fully constituted and self-unfolding process that was determined from the get-go, like a plant growing from a seed: it was not until the precise moment when it fully actualizes itself (when it inscribes itself into its surroundings as a master signifier) that it comes to be that which it retroactively always already was, thus rewriting its own entire past. Similarly, in the double-slit experiment, when a particle is observed, it “will not only (now) behave as a particle, its past will also retroactively become (‘will have been’) that of a particle,” [100] so that beforehand it could be said to have only existed as a form of proto-reality.

    Secondly, if we try to understand the pre-logical Real as in itself an undifferentiated “mass” or ontologically complete, we just cannot comprehend the possibility of the emergence of the Symbolic in the first place. If something like the human subject is to emerge, then nature must be self-divided, wrought with tension-ridden zones of inner laceration, for otherwise we cannot account for its ontogenesis in any adequate manner, insofar as the subject, intrinsically exhibiting an originary ontologico-natural discord, could not be inscribed into the world. The subject and its linguistic capacities must be seen as expressive of the underlying ontological status of the Real, even if they represent within Lacanian metapsychology the loss and impossibility of such a non-mediated, pre-symbolic reality: the Symbolic is not merely some kind of extraneous, self-unfolding construct (a self-generating matrix of “meaning” that can assert itself in complete freedom from the Real as such) for the mere fact that we are entrapped within it must be revelatory of the essence of objective reality at some level since it must have given birth to it. The meaning of this is twofold: firstly, descriptions of the Symbolic-Real relation such as Fink's risk obfuscating what is for Žižek of essential importance for understanding what is at stake because they describe language as “encrusted upon the living,” [101] thereby reducing language to an external reflection upon substance and rendering the task of explicating its obscure origins impossible; secondly, the apparently self-grounding idealism of Lacanian psychoanalysis—the autonomous, self-positing ciphering of the Real by the Symbolic—already points to a way of explaining its emergence, and thus of breaking free from its correlationalist prison, by zoning in on that very feature that seems to prohibit such an inquiry: that is, its ontological solipsism now understood as an ontological event. It is necessary to explain how the Real can open itself up and give rise to a force seemingly Other to itself, to explain how images and words can “colonize” being from within, but this process forces us to include a moment of non-coincidence and antagonism with the Real. Although it may be without meaning to say that in the Real there is lack—lack only being brought forth in the reign of the Symbolic—it would nevertheless be erroneous to deduce from this that there is no negativity or difference within it. Yet how are we to understand this element of negativity in the all-pervasive fabric of the pre-symbolic Real, this self-sabotaging moment in the very heart of being?

    5.2 a Denaturalized Monstrosity

    We can now begin to see why the psychoanalytical experience of the infinite dichotomy between the structures underlying personality (subjectivation, culture) and the vital flow of energy sustaining us in objective being (nature, the corpo-Real of the body) is so pivotal for Žižek. The two registers of the Symbolic and the Real may function without any degree of reciprocal interaction or mutual interconnectivity, but the simple declaration of this unstable Cartesian bipolarity actually belies a third element that subsists throughout the discord and, in fact, paradoxically ties them together in their very antagonistic dialectical (non-)relationship. Here, following another hint given by Lacan—

    While psychoanalysis cannot, since its experience is limited to the individual, claim to grasp the totality of any sociological object or even the whole set of forces currently operating in our society, the fact remains that it discovered in analytical experience relational tendencies that seem to play a basic role in all societies, as if the discontent in civilization [das Unbehagen in der Kultur] went so far as to lay bare the very meeting point of nature and culture. [102]

    —Žižek writes:

    Furthermore, is not the object of psychoanalysis precisely this gap between first and second nature—the insecure position of a human subject who, after losing his footing in the first nature, can never feel fully at case in the second: what Freud called das Unbehagen in der Kultur, the different way the subject's passage from first to second nature can go wrong (psychosis, neurosis ...)? There is thus a core that resists the subject's full reconciliation with his second nature: the Freudian name for this kernel is drive, the Hegelian name for it is “abstract negativity” (or, in more poetic terms of the young Hegel, the “night of the world”). [103]

    The conceptual contours of this passage are much more complex than they may originally appear. Žižek is saying that central to any psychoanalytical theory of psychogenesis and psychopathology is the claim that the subject is out of joint with both the biological needs of the corpo-Real of its body (the anorexic eats nothing, the romantic is willing to die for love) and the symbolically constituted “second” nature that is created to compensate for the primordial Hilflosigkeit of human organic insufficiency. Understood in the context of seeking the obscure origins of the Symbolic in the Real, the subject, as the very gap between first nature (Real) and second nature (Symbolic), cannot be said to fit into either: it is a paradoxically self-standing space of non-relation that protrudes out of and obstructs both. Strictly speaking, the subject is neither Real nor Symbolic—it is a pure logical non-coincidence that possesses no place in either, so that the question of its upsurge within being must also go beyond a mere exploration of the breakdown of the libidinal-material fold of its biological nature as that which sets the stage for its emergence by opening up a liberating space within nature's hold.

    What is crucial and groundbreaking here is the outlining of the ontological edifice that grounds human subjectivity qua cogito: we see the articulation of the “site” or “juncture” from which transcendental freedom and spontaneity emerge and take told. Self-positing autonomy, as both freedom from the laws of a closed libidinal-material economy and the relatively closed structural determinism of the symbolic law of culture, rests upon the subject as a self-relating point of infinite negativity, a positively charged, excessive void, but it can only beget itself if there is first of all a short circuit, a breakdown, in the dynamic flow of energy constitutive of nature's rhythms as that which carves up room for its more-than-materiality. Full-fledged subjectivity is rendered possible by a devastating ontological violence and is consequently nothing but a denaturalized monstrosity (Todestrieb) logically existing above and beyond the flux of being (due to its non-coincidence with the latter) while never able to leave its immanent plane within which it is primordially inscribed as out of joint: representing the failure, the collapse, of a self-enclosed biological system based upon the homeostatic self-preservation of the organism, it is an extimate inassimilable body in nature that exhibits the double feature of inclusion/exclusion, internal/external, presence/absence so characteristic of the Real in Lacan, which simultaneously demonstrates why the pre-symbolic Real must be said to be morcelé. In other words, set up as nature turned against itself, the first dull stirrings of the human subject refer to some kind of trauma that eventually incites the growth of individual ego life and culture in such a way that the latter exhibit the structural form of a reaction formation against this dysfunctionality in being and thus can never prevent themselves from being a negative, symptomatic expression of their basis in an ontological crisis, no matter how they may try to occult this fact. The psychoanalytical experience by definition presupposes an emergent schism in the fabric of the world between substance and subject, matter and mind, the Real and the Symbolic. But how can psychoanalysis—explicitly a theory of psychogenesis and its pathologies—explain where this denaturalization comes from, since such an investigation by principal must be external to its theoretical field and methodology?

    Using Lacan's gesture towards an originary rottenness plaguing nature as a theoretical starting point, Žižek seeks to expand this structuralist metapsychology in order to secure the means of articulating the ontogenetic possibility-conditions of the Symbolic in the Real. Seeing psychoanalysis as conceptually unable to fulfill this task, he expands its horizon by recourse to modern philosophy, seeing therein a certain homology that enables him to draw upon its resources. [104] Following Lacan's claim that “Kant's practical philosophy [is] the starting point of the lineage culminating in Freud's invention of psychoanalysis,” Žižek's project could be described as having two goals. [105] First, because the Lacanian subject is lacking any account of its ultimate origins, Žižek turns to German Idealism to develop a transcendental materialism insofar as there exists a structural parallelism in the underlying problematic plaguing both post-Kantian idealism and contemporary psychoanalysis. Second, and more strongly, Žižek's claim is that this parallelism is more than a mere shared set of theoretical concerns hovering around the grounding of the subject. If we read Kant, Schelling, and Hegel through Freud and Lacan, we actually see that there is a fundamental identity between the psychoanalytical subject haunted by the Todestrieb as constitutive of its very existence and the unconscious Grundlogik of German Idealism. We just have to look at how the latter's key representatives have recourse to various concepts (unruliness and diabolic evil in Kant, the night of the world in Hegel, or the Entscheidung in Schelling) that indicate a necessary disruption, breach, or violence at the very basis of the founding attributes they bestow upon the subject (self-legislative reason, the irreducibility of spirit, or freedom as the capacity for good and evil). It is exactly this paradoxical connection between real discord and ideal freedom throughout both traditions that enables Žižek to develop a new metaphysics by working in the intersections of both traditions, a metaphysics whose first conceptual contours we already see in Kant.

    5.3 Kant, Unruliness, and the Cry of the Newborn

    Lacan's claim that the beginning of psychoanalysis is in Kant's practical writings appears, at first, counter-intuitive. Especially given Lacan's structuralist bent, one would perhaps expect the clearest elaboration of the subject to be found in Kant's philosophical treatises on the mediating structures of consciousness. What do we see by delving into his practical philosophy except an attempt to found the ethical in the self-legislative spontaneity of human reason through articulating the self-imposing impetus of the categorical imperative and a listing of the a priori duties that automatically follow from its law? How could such a cold, machine-like way of determining the legitimacy of existential action be the immediate origin of psychoanalysis? Although we do encounter traces here of the irrevocably split nature of subjectivity in the tension between reason and sensible inclination, Kant's practical philosophy appears to have absolutely nothing to do with the unconscious in the Lacanian sense; on top of that, it displays great hope in the modern Enlightenment project of establishing the self-transparency and powers of reason—albeit through reason's own self-critique—as a means of historical progress and concretizing man's perfectibility. However, even if this might be the image of Kant's practical philosophy that always comes to mind, the matter at hand is far more complicated.

    Kant's practical philosophy is of central importance because it is an expression and systematization of the experience of freedom in its irreducible essence, freedom understood as the self-legislative spontaneity at the core of human subjectivity, a faculty that separates us from the rest of mechanical nature insofar as we generate and obey our own laws. One must also remember that, for Kant, the Critique of Pure Reason is an attempt to make room for faith by limiting knowledge and reason, a point that directs the entirety of the critical enterprise from beginning to end by penetrating into the originary self-positing of human liberty at all costs, something that the late German Idealists were retroactively convinced revealed a decisive deficiency present in all the great thinkers in the history of philosophy. It is not the Copernican revolution—indeed, Schelling's [106] and Hegel's [107] projects are founded upon an attempt to escape its consequences—which forces us to rethink the very possibility of philosophy, but rather Kant's account of freedom. [108] This is also true of Žižek: “Kantian practical reason provides a glimpse into the abyss of freedom beyond (or beneath) the constraints of traditional metaphysical ontology.” [109]

    It is all a matter of how one understands the Kantian breakthrough. Even if it is true that it is a response to specific epistemological and scientific concerns that emerge out of modern philosophy (the [im]possibility of universal and necessary knowledge, the nature of the correlation of our ideas to reality in the genesis of concepts, etc.) it is clear that Kant's revolution cannot merely be reduced to his innovative way of rethinking the question of the subject-object relation, for the radical reflexivity of the cogito that imposes upon us the task of reconceptualizing what it is for an object to be present in the field of experience is also at the basis of what it means to be a practical subject. The movement goes both ways: if we read the Critique of Pure Reason through the later ethical, pedagogical, and religious writings, Kant appears to be making the self-legislative freedom we witness in concrete, existential situations the very basis of theoretical philosophy—instead of a passive thinking subject that receives external reality as a kind of inert receptacle, a mere spectator, we have a reflecting subject that spontaneously and freely generates the very fabric of his own experience into a continuous, unitary whole through an activity of synthetic integration in a way similar to how it gives itself its own laws. The theoretical subject that is unearthed in transcendental apperception is ultimately identical with the practical subject of self-legislative freedom—or in other words, one cannot speak of one without the other, because they form a dialectical whole: if one wants to plunge into the labyrinthine depths of subjectivity, one should not read the Critique of Pure Reason in isolation from later works such as Lectures on Pedagogy and Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.

    In a similar vein, Žižek locates the true Kantian breakthrough in Kant’s practical thinking on subjectivity instead of his epistemologico-transcendental destruction of metaphysics insofar as it is in the former that we most directly see the abyss of freedom at the obscure origin of subjectivity. But what is so primordial in the former that could bestow upon Kant's pedagogical writings such a privilege for understanding the radicality of critical philosophy, while also enabling us to shed light on the basis of the Cartesian-psychoanalytical subject? Finding numerous textual traces of the death-drive understood as a self-sabotaging tendency in nature as logically prior to subjectivity in both Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, what interests Žižek in Kant's pedagogical writings is how they set the stage for what he claims to be the unconscious Grundlogik of German Idealism: that is, its founding intuition of the passage from nature to culture centred around a disturbing moment of irreducible negativity inscribed within the palpitating heart of being, which suggests that what first appears as a mere homology in conceptual structure between psychoanalysis and German Idealism is in fact a strict identity. What they bring to the fore is a thematization of the subject as some kind of disjunctive “and”:

    The key point is thus that the passage from “nature” to “culture” is not direct, that one cannot account for it within a continuous evolutionary narrative: something has to intervene between the two, a kind of “vanishing mediator,” which is neither nature nor culture—this In-between is silently presupposed in all evolutionary narratives. We are not idealists: this In-between is not the spark of logos magically conferred on Homo sapiens, enabling them to form his supplementary virtual symbolic surroundings, but precisely something that, although it is also no longer nature, is not yet logos, and has to be “repressed” by logos—the Freudian name for this In-between, of course, is the death drive. Speaking of this In-between, it is interesting to note how philosophical narratives of the “birth of man” are always compelled to presuppose such a moment of human (pre)history when (what will become) man is no longer a mere animal and simultaneously not a “being of language,” bound by symbolic Law; a moment of thoroughly “perverted,” “denaturalized,” “derailed” nature which is not yet culture. [110]

    According to Žižek, within Kant this “in-between” finds its expression in the necessity to discipline the excessive “unruliness” (Wildheit) of human nature, the “wild, unconstrained propensity to insist stubbornly on one's own will, cost what it may.” [111] What is to be emphasized here is the drastic nature of this claim: if we do not tame this primordial rawness (Rohigkeit) that presents itself as the zero-level of human spontaneity, not only do we fail to become full-fledged, fully adjusted subjects in the sociopolitical field of the world, but our freedom even threatens to devour itself in its frenzy in such a way that we become failed subjects: we are not born as humans, but rather become human—or, as Kant says, “[m]an only becomes man by education,” [112] which leads him to contend that “with education is involved the great secret of the perfection of human nature” [113] insofar as it is only through the principles offered by this act of disciplining, a means of schematizing our originary unruliness, that a “second nature” [114] can emerge as a response to the grounding ontological dilemma of human being, “nature ha[ving] placed no instinct in [man] for that purpose.” [115] Even if the dysfunction of nature, this ontological abortion that is a monstrous, uncontainable excess of life, can in a second dialectical moment serve as a “positive” foundation or support, it can also collapse upon itself like a dying star. Yet this “unruliness” cannot be equated with the brute reality of animal existence—even if it exists within nature, it is strictly speaking something non-natural:

    The love of freedom is naturally so strong in man, that when once he has grown accustomed to freedom, he will sacrifice everything for its sake [...]. Owing to his natural love of freedom, it is necessary that man should have his natural roughness smoothed down; with animals, their instinct renders this unnecessary. [116]

    For Žižek, this extract shows that the enigma of the emergence of subjectivity in German Idealism cannot be reduced to a mere dichotomy between nature and culture, as if in order to conform to the symbolic law of our own making we must first tame the blind, egotistical pleasure-seeking principles of our animal nature. The self-creative, logically autonomous milieu of culture is only possible through a prior, infinitely uncontainable freedom that acts as the “vanishing mediator” between brute animal reality and structured human intersubjective existence. The passage to culture does not consist in a sublimation of animalistic needs, but rather in a disciplining or symbolic re-articulation of a monstrous and logically irreducible unruliness that marks the essence of the human being, a disciplining that, when it succeeds (the possibility of neurosis always lurks in the air), simultaneously functions as that which once and for all separates us from nature by causing this denaturalized Grund (our ontogenetic “origins”) to withdraw from the scene.

    It is worth pointing out that Žižek strangely overlooks an important passage on the first page of the transcript we have of Kant's Lectures on Pedagogy, the very text that he makes use of at such a crucial point in his argument, which actually further supports his own Lacanian-inspired and ontologically oriented rereading of the vision of practical freedom it offers. In a perhaps unexpected move, Kant defines the human neonate as non-natural, claiming that, if an animal came to the world crying as a human does, it would merely attract attention to itself as potential prey, thus establishing that there is something off, primordially non-advantageous from a biological point of view, about the obscure ontogenetic beginnings of human subjectivity. In this context, we only need to cite a passage from the Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View to show how explicitly Lacanian Kant's point is:

    The cry of a newborn child is not the sound of distress but rather indignation and furious anger; not because something hurts him, but because something annoys him: presumably because he wants to move above and his inability to do so feels like a fetter through which his freedom is taken from him.—What could nature's intention be here in letting the child come into the world with loud cries which, in the crude state of nature, are extremely dangerous for himself and his mother? For a wolf or even a pig would thereby be lured to eat the child, if the mother is absent or exhausted from childbirth. However, no animal except the human being (as he is now) will loudly announce his existence at the moment of birth [...]. One must therefore assume that in the first epoch of nature with respect to this class of animals (namely, in the time of crudity), this crying of the child at birth did not yet exist; and then only later in a second epoch set in, when both parents had already reached the level of culture necessary for domestic life; without our knowing how, or through what contributing causes, nature brought about such a development. [117]

    Not only does Kant relate the dark unruliness that sets the stage for full-fledged human freedom to some kind of ontologically disjointed state of natural being, but he more radically links the cry of the newborn to the infinite dis-coordination of the corpo-Real of the human neonate, its feeling of utter dismemberment so central to the mirror stage in Lacan, and even suggests that this direct expression of painful negativity immanent in the fold of material being is fundamental to the passage from nature to culture.

    These passages could be further drawn out by supplementing them with a number of possible citations from Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, the first book in which Kant attempts to deal with the insurmountable propensity to evil that lies at the core of human subjectivity and ethical action. It argues two major points: (i) “the ground of this evil cannot be placed, as is so commonly done, in man's sensuous nature” and (ii) “neither can the ground of this evil be placed in a corruption of the morally legislative reason.” [118] As such, this diabolic evil can neither be linked to the corpo-Real of the body and its pleasure-seeking tendencies or to the self's being within the law of a criminal or coercive symbolic order, but must itself be a foundational, constitutive part of the subject insofar as, being an infinitely self-asserting activity irreducible to and incommensurate with either zone, it articulates this same paradoxical structure of the in-between. Protruding out of nature and culture and failing to be understood except by its own self-positing, self-determining logic, the diabolic evil at the basis of freedom can only appear as an uncontrollable urge threatening to devour everything, even itself, in its self-destructive forward thrust. But here we see one crucial difference: whereas before we were at the strict level of ontogenesis (the “origins” of transcendental subjectivity) we now encounter full-fledged speaking subjects acting in a world (the ambiguity of freedom). Linking this consuming fire at the core of subjectivity to the perverse truth hidden in the Cartesian gap between mind and body, nature and culture, we already see in Kant the outlines of the radical materialist ontology, for it is as if in the movement from the former to the latter we see unruliness positing or owning itself in its own attempt at self-domestication, the structural consequences of which have profound metaphysical consequences for our understanding of reality as a substantial whole or totality. Since the ontogenetic origins of the subject are linked to a denaturalized unruliness and a full-fledged subject only comes on the scene when the latter posits itself as such in this endeavour of schematizing itself, which in turn institutes a pure difference in being by forever sustaining the gap it attempts to fill in, subjectivity exhibits an insurmountable propensity to evil because its very founding gesture is structurally evil. It is a radical, egotistical “No!” that reverses the order of the world according to its own self-assertion and cannot be undone without undoing itself. What is more, not only did Kant identify the intrinsic break from the order of substantial being that sets the stage for the cogito's very autonomy and sketch this movement, he also already saw the paradox at the heart of subjectivity. That is to say, he implicitly understood that we can only grasp the latter as a pure act non-deducible from the obscure libidinal-material grounding that renders it possible (after all, for Kant evil is intrinsically enigmatic insofar as once as it is understood, it fails to be evil and becomes misguided good).

    Kant's breakthrough is the following: if human subjectivity is to be truly self-legislative, at its zero-level there can be no formal distinction between a good and evil free act insofar as both are self-chosen in a non-disciplinable frenzy that has no definitive (real or symbolic) status and knows no influence exterior to its own self-asserting, self-positing activity. In itself, freedom is indifferent to both: there is no intrinsic difference between a will that wills evil and a will that wills good in terms of the pure act itself insofar as both are merely following their own self-given causality, an unconstrained self-legislation that tears apart the very fabric of nature in its self-imposition. [119] A will that wills evil is not merely giving itself over to the animalistic impulses of the body, nor is it expressing its ignorance or even corruption of the symbolic fold of cultural laws; it is merely forcefully upholding its own diabolical evil for the sake of it, basking in its own self-grounding tyranny, even when it has complete knowledge of its nature and repercussions. What is so difficult to come to terms with in the theoretical positing of this state of unruliness, and the ambiguity at the core of the self-positing of the subject, is its proclamation that the good itself is only possible through the gentrification or taming of evil. In order for good to be truly good, it too must present itself as a non-deducible act that breaks free from any order within which it could be contained by refusing all inscription within a field of heterogeneous, external forces that could impose itself upon the absolute originarity of its uncompromising self-assertion. The Yes of union depends upon the No of separation, but the process of converting the latter into the former can never be complete, since this would reduce freedom to a mere moment of cultural law as a kind of quasi-natural immersion within a pre-given logistics, thereby robbing human spontaneity of its untouchable autonomy in face of everything else that may be said to have influence upon it. Posited as that which transcendentally precedes and even conditions the possibility of its (logico-symbolic) articulation, at the very heart of the good there paradoxically lies evil as its extimate Other and menacing ground, threatening at any moment to erupt and disturb its smooth surface. Evil and good are not infinitely different and opposed, but merely two logical modalities of freedom, a freedom that in and of itself knows no law except its own uncontainable upsurge. If subjectivity is evil and the subject is an event in the world, then the world must not be understood as not-all, for the latter is not incapable of subsuming the former within its smooth touch.

    It is precisely for this reason that Žižek, along with Lacan, believes that Kant's practical philosophy is the beginning of the lineage that culminates in psychoanalysis, the latter being understood as the second great revolution in philosophy that inflicts upon us the task of radically reconfiguring how we view ourselves and our relation to the world. Not only can we already therein see its traits principaux being thematized in an implicit way, but paradoxically one could even say that it in any uncanny manner develops them in different directions from Freud or Lacan so that bringing psychoanalysis and the German Idealist tradition together promises to produce something new. Just as Kant asserts an ultimate identity between the theoretical and practical ego, Žižek argues for the interpenetration of modern transcendental philosophy and psychoanalysis through the Kantian notion of the original “unruliness” of human nature. Todestrieb becomes a synonym for the transcendental “I,” the cogito, by giving expression to the pre-subjective conditions of the possibility of freedom as some kind of non-masterable excess in nature that must be “tamed” if full-fledged subjectivity is to come on the scene. Exposing an activity uncontainable within positive being, it alludes to an ontologically self-violent “wildness” that serves as the ontogenetically constitutive basis of the subject's self-positing, in such a way that makes the late Lacan's passing remarks over the ontology of the psychoanalytical subject (“the rottenness of nature”) come strikingly close to those of Kant (“[w]hat could nature's intention be here [...] ?”). In Kant, however, just as in Lacan, the actual status of the subject remains ambivalent and theoretically undetermined, even if there are various suggestions littered throughout their texts that programmatically outline how to proceed if one were to develop a materialism of transcendental freedom, despite the insurmountable problem that such gestures surpass the very constraints imposed upon the epistemology that they develop. The exact same set of theoretical questions is brought to the fore by both thinkers but remains unsolved: why does transcendental freedom develop? What is its exact relation to the “unruliness,” synonymous with the excess of life presented by the Todestrieb, at the core of our being that appears to logically precede it? Insofar as transcendental spontaneity is just as related to the synthetic powers of the imagination as it is to self-legislative reason in Kant, what role does the former play in this picture (or, in a Lacanian parlance, how can the Symbolic emerge as that which [re]constitutes the fold of experience)? It is only in Kant's successors that such concerns will be addressed in a more explicit manner, and it is through a psychoanalytical reactualization of their thinking that the transcendental materialist ontology at the heart of Kant's breakthrough can finally come to light.

    6. From Transcendental Philosophy to Substance as Subject: Hegel and the Psychotic Night of the World

    This chapter comprises a Žižekian-inspired interpretation of the philosophical movement from Kant to Hegel by focusing on Kant's thematization of freedom and how it radically reconfigures the possibility of metaphysical inquiry. In the aftermath of critical philosophy, what is clear is that any philosophy unable to think system and the irreducibility of the human subject is to be rejected. By following certain premonitions within Kant's pedagogical writings that appear to link transcendental spontaneity to the psychoanalytical concept of Todestrieb, Žižek gives us resources to read Hegelian Absolute Idealism against standard interpretations by claiming that Hegel's attempt to think substance as subject implies the ontogenetic emergence of freedom through a self-sundering of being, the immanent advent of a devastating ontological non-coincidence, which forces upon us the necessity of a new kind of metaphysics: a metaphysics of the not-all. This enables us not only to rethink the Kant-Hegel relation in a provocative manner, but also to explain how Žižek is able to draw upon post-Kantian idealism to lay the foundation for the logic of his own transcendental materialism.

    6.1 Fichte and the Frailty of Freedom

    Within the trajectory of modern philosophy, the inheritors of the legacy of the critical system all agree that it is with Kant that we see the first truly penetrating account of the essence of human freedom. [120] Although much of what he says concerning freedom is already laid out in Descartes' thinking on the cogito, it was Kant who gave it a full, profound expression. For Žižek, this means that it is here that the principal intuitions that heralded forth modernity—the ontologically shattering schism between the thinking mind and extended substance and subjectivity's irreducible reflexivity as that which institutes this very split—are radicalized and find an overpowering degree of theoretical articulation. After Kant, there is just no going back, for this would be to give up on what it means to be an infinitely self-standing, autonomous subject, to turn one's back on one's own freedom, whose apparently indemonstrable existence has been proven once and for all. [121] Any system that regresses into a “primitive,” “pre-critical” way of philosophizing is in effect merely recoiling from the difficulty that is the burden of freedom, “our experience of freedom [being] properly traumatic, even for Kant himself.” [122] Herein lies the fundamental undecidability intrinsic to the Kantian breakthrough: not only is the freedom of human subjectivity liberating, but it is also (and perhaps more originally) monstrous, insofar as we are infinitely given over to it and therefore responsible for it, yet can only comprehend it according to the frenzy that is its own self-positing essence. In the wake of the Kantian system, there is only “the uncanny abyss of freedom without any guarantee in the Order of Being”: [123]

    in Kantian ethics, the true tension is not between the subject's idea that he is acting only for the sake of duty, and the hidden fact that there was actually some pathological motivation at work (vulgar psychoanalysis); the true tension is exactly the opposite one: the free act in its abyss is unbearable, traumatic, so that when we accomplish an act out of freedom, in order to be able to bear it, we experience it as conditioned by some pathological motivation. Here I am tempted to bring in the key Kantian concept of schematization: a free act cannot be schematized, integrated into our experience; so, in order to schematize it, we have to “pathologize it.” [124]

    Immediately following the birth of transcendental idealism, however, there is an overall ambiguity as to how to proceed. Although there is some general consensus concerning the various ways that the critical system is by itself incomplete, internal discord quickly arises. Leaving aside Reinhold's and Maimon's own responses to its perceived insufficiencies, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, despite all agreeing that (i) the categories of the understanding are dogmatically asserted (they lack a genetic deduction grounding their necessity and universality) and ultimately too static (there is no clear articulation of their systematic interconnectivity) and (ii) concepts such as the thing-in-itself in their Kantian mode are internally contradictory or at least theoretically unnecessary, each offer different strategies to think through the deadlock of Kant's legacy to retain its grounding insights.

    The early Fichte of the Jena period—the only Fichte who had a significant impact on the internal development of German Idealism—proceeds by removing the extra-subjective alterity of the thing-in-itself, often referred to as the residual trace of a materialism in Kant, by reducing its status to a mere generated effect of subject's purely autonomous activity that knows no outside. Taking as his starting point the immanent field of absolute actuation presented by the subject's radical freedom, whose self-manifestedness is revealed in the unavoidable transcendental reduction of any given fact of consciousness to its activity and most primordially demonstrated by intellectual intuition, and which is best exemplified in the infinite thetic judgement I am, [125] subjectivity, as uncontainable freedom, cannot be trumped. Groundless, nothing can get beyond it: it is the ultimate, self-explanatory condition of experience. Yet, although a wondrous fountainhead of activity, the theoretical and practical unconditional beginning that is the I is paradoxically lacking. Not only is its essence (an essence that is its very act of existing) indistinguishable from nothingness insofar as it knows no bounds; more disconcertingly, it is also immensely fragile and immediately threatened by a not-I that risks destroying its very omnipotence from within its own sphere. In the face of the “not-I,” which is transcendentally simultaneous with the “I,” freedom cannot be simply restricted to the undetermined nothingness of the I am, but it must upsurge in an attempt through our very actions and finitude to overcome that which opposes it. In order to truly sustain its theorectio-practical firstness, to assert its own primordiality against the not-I that “desires” its annihilation, the subject must bring forth the freedom that is its own capacity for absolute actuation in the natural and sociopolitical field of the world, since as soon as the pure act of freedom tries to posit itself as such, it runs up against the impossibility of asserting itself as an autarchic all. In this conflict-ridden battle, the not-I proves to be more than a pure alterity wreaking havoc on the subject's freedom. Instead, it becomes a determined other, an Anstoß (an obstacle and impetus). Through encountering this Anstoß there can be a continual overcoming of the menacing not-I and a never-ending perfecting of the I’s own savage freedom by attaining an ever greater degree of concrete autonomy. In this sense, consciousness emerges from the shock of the not-I on the immanent field of actuation that is the unconscious I in its pure freedom and the latter's defiant cry and refusal to submit when confronted with the possibility of its own demise. The victory of this freedom is never ontologically guaranteed, but can only ever be won again and again in the onslaught of time, whose basic structure is described by the total theoretico-practical syntheses of divisibility opened by the third principle, thus making all principles simultaneous in experience.

    In this picture there is nothing outside of the pure immanence of the I as freedom and the dynamics of its subjectification as necessitated by the opposition it encounters to its raw, unconditional power. Due to this internal opposition, the I is divided between the absolute I (which is less an egological pole than a faceless, even inhuman activity that only warrants the title of I because it is always spoken of in relation to persons amongst whom it incarnates itself, thus making it in its very essence cryptic [126] ) and the finite (which in turn is divided into passive and active aspects wherein the absolute totality of reality as expressed by the I is never completely annihilated). There is no need for a hard, impenetrable remainder left over from the transcendental constitution of reality: that which threatens to destroy the subject if not gentrified through the syntheses of divisibility, the not-I, is a mere negative magnitude, even if its contorting effects upon the subject can never be predicated and could potentially upsurge as traumatic events. We do not need to go beyond this logical role of an internal pressure proclaiming the possible implosion of the I as freedom to explain experience. Thus, to say that the thing-in-itself becomes a theoretical posit of the subject is to say that its irreducibility to conscious, finite subjectivity and thus its apparently extra-subjective status have been deduced from the self-manifestedness offered by subjectivity as a first principle: its function is to underline the paradoxical simultaneity of radical spontaneity and fragility in the free constitution of phenomenal reality as it continually comes upon an alien presence within its very intimacy: namely, the irresolvable contradiction that exists in subjectivity between the groundlessness of consciousness as a radically self-grounding idealist freedom and the necessary realist contingency that continually jeopardizes it.

    For Fichte, the removal of an extra-subjective reality is a necessity imposed upon us not just by Kant's radical articulation of freedom, but more broadly by idealism as such. From within the latter, there can be no coherent assertion of a self-subsisting thing-in-itself which, existing outside of the closed idealist circle of phenomenality in an infinite elsewhere, causes our representations. This would be to transgress the epistemological constraints imposed upon us by the very confines of the idealization of the world; any assertion of the thing-in-itself would constitute a return to the worst kind of dogmatism. The Anstoß is therefore not merely the true limit of idealism, but contains the necessary resources to synthesize idealism and realism into a greater unity: [127] instead of proclaiming that all our idealizations are first caused by a foreign intruder pushing in upon subjectivity, it says that if there are immanent obstructions from within the mediating activity of the Ideal, if phenomenal experience is plagued by internal inconsistencies, we can legitimately say that these knots negatively point to some extra-subjective, inassimilable body in subjectivity itself forcing it partially to negate itself and transfer its power to that which is extimately Other in order to save itself from complete collapse. [128] Giving the immanent intruder reality is a way to appropriate it: in short, to idealize it. In this way, one of the major tasks of Fichte’s 1794 Wissenschaftslehre is to draw our attention to the radicality of this conditional: if we take idealism seriously then we can without difficulty account for realism, for the realist character of our everyday experience can be entirely explained by the very movement of the Ideal itself. Idealism does not infringe upon the freedom of the objective world, since it is clear that the latter can in some way make itself known through the very obstructions of our idealizations of it. The epistemic priority of the Ideal is not to be equated with the unknowability of the world, since its autonomous operational self-closure is precisely that which enables us to have a world at all.

    For Fichte, however, the most decisive consequence to draw from the removal of the thing-in-itself is not a rethinking of the realism-idealism debate. He never takes an interest in the resources that this new way of philosophizing would offer for developing a new form of spectral materialism. The reason is simple: taking the unbridled freedom of the I as his starting point, Fichte agrees with Kant's prohibition on searching for the ontological origins of the subject because, even if it seemingly becomes methodologically possible in Fichte, he argues that it is a futile project, the Ideal being self-explanatory without recourse to the Real. That the subject has no need for the thing-in-itself signifies that the subject is characterized by a constitutive groundlessness: transcendental spontaneity demonstrates that it is totally engulfed within a self-unfolding practical world of its own making, so that what is of primordial importance is never an extra-subjective reality, but the unconditioned freedom of our concrete activity. Fichte does not need to embark upon a metaphysical archaeology of the subject, instead focusing all of his attention on the dynamic inherent in the process of subjectification itself, which inflicts upon us a frightening realization ridden with stark ontological and political implications. Not only are all our actions—and thereby the identities and the collectives that we construct through them—irreducible in themselves insofar as they have no foothold in objective reality, but they become, as it were, mere parts of the free play of an infinite imagination so engrossed by its own self-composing stories that it almost lacks the power to know its self-narrating fiction as a fiction:

    There is no being. I myself do not know at all and don't exist. There are images: they are all that exists and they know about themselves in the manner of images—images which drift by without there being anything by which they drift; images which hang together through images; images which do not represent anything, without meaning and purpose. I myself am one of these images. No, I am not even that, but only a distorted image of these images. All reality is transformed into a fabulous dream, without there being any life the dream is about, without there being a mind which dreams; a dream which hangs together in a dream of itself. Intuition is the dream; thought (the source of all being and all reality which I imagine, of my being, my power, my purposes), thought is the dream of this dream. [129]

    Subjectification is nothing more than a spinning in the positively charged void of freedom. In the latter's aftermath, we become irrevocably lost in a series of dream-like images, a rhapsody of sociopolitical phantasmagoria, which give a transcendental structure to the fabric of our experience and thus to our ethical striving, thus even making our own self just one image amongst others, but without having any basis in the world at large. If we take Freud's definition of psychosis as a loss of the causal impact of the world upon the self—a “loosening of the relationship to reality” [130] —due to a radical withdrawal into primary narcissism, whereby object cathexes are libidinally cut off and the primary process slowly takes over psychic reality, we could venture the claim that the founding gesture of the Fichtean subject is a form of psychosis (the I “posits itself absolutely, and is thereby complete in itself and closed to any impression from without” [131] ), justified in the name of autonomy. Here, just as in the illusionary, image-filled world of the psychotic, the “objective” world is reduced to a mere haphazard obstruction to a self-unfolding and self-sustaining tale creative of its own experiential reality (which for Fichte, “absolutely creates itself [...] in a genesis out of nothing” [132] ), a mere haphazard obstruction that is to be overcome and integrated within the tale if the latter is to sustain its very consistency. What is more, in the same manner that the psychotic must continually refuse new perceptions so as to “autocratically” construct an external and internal world that pleases the id's wishful impulses, [133] the Fichtean subject, struggling to subsist as a pure I due to the contemporaneous emergence of the not-I and its violence with its self-positing, strives to rid itself of all influence of the not-I in the syntheses of divisibility and thereby actualize the sphere of absolute self-positing at the empirical level. In this respect, its ideal is a full-blown psychosis, an “alloplastic” [134] creation of its own experience, which, though technically impossible (without the influence of the not-I, the I would lack determination), is a structural tendency in all experience, the paradoxical basis of practical freedom. From within this originary psychosis at the heart of subjectivity, there is no escape “except” accepting it and taking the path it opens up to its end by the self-conscious creation of fabulous, imaginative identities (criticism) that can be used to give the subject the resources it needs to actualize itself through the formation of an absolutely free identity liberated from all external causality (dogmatism). What this means is that “the human being is originally nothing:” [135] it is free to strive, and should strive, to absolutely create itself according to its own transcendental self-positing/primary narcissism.

    For both Schelling and Hegel, however, this complete removal of the problematic of the grounding of the subject is not satisfying on two accounts. First, although Fichte's notion of the Anstoß in the 1794 Wissenschaftslehre does allow us to develop something like a spectral materialism, Fichte does not use his own real-idealism/ideal-realism to investigate the obscure origins of the subject, rejecting any transcendental materialist account of the emergence of the I out of the not-I as contrary to reason. [136] Transcendentalism must remain purely immanent—we need not investigate its ontological origins, since these will never suffice. But this does not necessarily mean we cannot embark on such an inquiry (a “pre-history” of the Ideal). Second, Fichte himself, despite his remarks concerning its impossibility, like Kant cannot refrain from commenting on the paradoxical ground of the subject's freedom, as if to say that the matter at hand cannot be limited to the transcendental structures at the heart of the self-unfolding conceptual-imaginative fabric underlying subjectification, but must also include the birthplace of the I as causa sui:

    Every animal, a few hours after its birth, moves and seeks nourishment at the breast of its mother [...]. To be sure, the human being has a plant-like instinct, but he has no animal instinct at all in the meaning given here. He needs the freely given assistance of other human beings, and without it would die shortly after birth. When the human offspring has left its mother's body, nature withdraws her hand from it and cuts it loose, so to speak [...]. For it is precisely nature's abandonment of him that proves that the human being, as such, neither is nor should be nature's pupil. If the human being is an animal, then he is an utterly incomplete animal, and for that very reason he is not an animal. [137]

    What is striking about this quote is not only that Fichte, like Kant before him, draws attention to the utter helplessness of the neonate as an indication of some kind of ontological indeterminacy within nature as that which sets the stage for subjectivity and freedom, an indeterminacy that is non-natural (“nature withdraws her hand”), but also that he is forced to do so from within the confines of a self-grounding idealism. To account for the very transcendental unity of experience, there is a point during the deduction of its laws that something meta-transcendental must be posited whose very existence appears to be responsible for the subject's groundlessness. That there is no possible explication of the leap from not-I to I appears now shaken, for a certain relation between the two has been established despite the fact that such a relation would seem to jeopardize the I's self-standingness. What is at stake is not that Fichte creates an unacceptable subjective idealism within which knowledge of the world is lost and even precluded through being constructed, but that his philosophy ultimately lacks the resources to tie together an ontology of nature with the spontaneity of the I, though such an impossible link has been immanently deduced. Although Fichte too outlines a transcendental materialist ontology of the subject, he, like Kant before him, cannot answer the question “How does appearance itself emerge from the Real?,” even if he stumbles upon the solution.

    If Fichte and Kant are right in these intuitions in the same way that Lacan could be said to be right in his late musings on the status of nature in light of the psychoanalytical subject, the task facing Hegel, Schelling, and Žižek is thus remarkably similar: how can being and thinking, the Real and the Symbolic, be reconciled to one another, for surely the latter must exist in the former? For the early Schelling, what is necessary is a theoretical project that supplements the ontologically solipsistic Fichtean subject with an account of its emergence out of an unconsciously creative nature, which would implicate the interpenetration and ultimate identity of the Real and the Ideal, so that such a problem is shown to be ultimately moot. [138] Interestingly, though he is initially satisfied with Schelling's response to the deadlock of Fichtean idealism, [139] Hegel later breaks from what Schelling himself refers to as a “real” or “objective idealism,” [140] claiming that by attempting to solve the internal contradictions of Fichte's idealism, Schelling unknowingly becomes its inverted opposite, a mere reactionary form spurred on by the inconsistencies of the former that ultimately fails because of its one-sided countermove. [141] But what, then, exactly drives Hegel to part ways from Schelling and develop his own way of balancing idealism (radically self-positing freedom) with a philosophy of nature (a system of the world)? And why is this juncture so important for understanding Žižek's own metaphysics of the disjunctive “and”? To answer this question, we must first make a brief detour through the development of modern philosophy.

    6.2 Metaphysics in the Aftermath of Freedom: The Case of Spinoza

    A common critique of Schelling and Hegel as they attempt to think through the problems bequeathed by Kantian idealism is that they ignore the basic breakthrough of the Critique of Pure Reason: that is, the recognition of the insurmountable finitude of human reason and its inability to grasp the absolute structure of reality. In face of its debilitation of a priori enquiry by pure reason, they return to a metaphysical thinking that has already been debunked. According to the canonical reading, while Schelling talks of the interrelated poles of subject and object in his attempt to balance transcendental idealism with a naturephilosophy, and then of their ultimate identity in the absolute as indifference by developing an account of absolute reason, Hegel supposedly attempts to show that the logical structures that the thinking subject uses to constitute the world transcendentally are actually one with its ontological, that is, its extra-conscious structure. What Hegel does is dialectically “fix up” Schelling by revealing that reality in all its facets (mind and matter, nature and subject) is merely an expression of the rational self-actualization of the absolute as a logical self-unfolding totality, which does away with the Schellingian indifference as an indeterminate void lacking genuine philosophical content, “the night in which, as the saying goes, all cows are black.” [142] Žižek, however, refuses this interpretation, calling it “the standard cliché according to which German Idealism pleads the 'pan-logicist' reduction of all reality to the product of the self-mediation of the Notion.” [143]

    Žižek gives us material that allows us to shed new light on the movement from Kant to Hegel by showing that this conventional reading of German Idealism levels off the daring character of the post-Kantian gesture by making it look like just another classical metaphysical system. Not only are Hegel and Schelling attempting to demonstrate how it is still possible to do metaphysics within the very breakthrough of critical philosophy without denying any of what they consider to be its necessary/essential presuppositions, but also, and most importantly, why it is necessary to do so:

    Here, however, a gap between Kant and his followers occurs: for Kant, freedom is an “irrational” fact of reason, it is simply and inexplicably given, something like an umbilical cord inexplicably rooting our experience in the unknown noumenal reality, not the First Principle out of which one can develop a systematic notion of reality, while the Idealists from Fichte onwards cross this limit and endeavour to provide a systematic account of freedom itself. [... F]or the Idealists [this is] just an indication that Kant was not yet ready to pursue his project to the end, to draw all the consequences from his breakthrough. For the Idealists, Kant got stuck half-way. [144]

    Although this may mean a vigorous rethinking of transcendental spontaneity and imagination, noumena and the status of nature, ultimately neither Hegel nor Schelling wants to give up on Kant's descriptions of freedom in order to substitute transcendental idealism with just another classico-metaphysical system. Yet for this endeavour to be successful, they realize that they need to fight against the Critique of Pure Reason's own prohibition of pure ontological inquiry; they deny one of the major claims of critical philosophy in the hope of saving it from itself.

    This becomes clear when we realize that for both Hegel and Schelling, Spinoza is the very emblem of a philosopher. His rationalist system is admirable not only for its depth and beauty, but for its self-consistency, clarity, and comprehensiveness. In terms of an expression of metaphysics, each looks up to him and sees something fundamentally askew in Kant's preclusion of its possibility—or, as Hegel says “[i]t is therefore worthy of note that thought must begin by placing itself at the standpoint of Spinozism; to be a follower of Spinoza is the essential commencement of all Philosophy.” [145] Not only did Kant not show trust in the capacities of human reason, more problematically his critical system was lacking any foundation insofar as it left the origins of the transcendental subject, the very object of its thematic, a mystery and even went so far as to put a ban on their investigation. They reject this for two reasons: first, it seems arbitrary, and, second, it threatens to destabilize the very Kantian edifice. Although both Schelling and Hegel believe that metaphysical knowledge of an objective reality is still possible, they are at the same time unwilling to abandon idealism insofar as they are not willing to back down from its articulation of freedom, which leads them to see both questions as intimately intertwined and refuse to separate them as Kant does in order to make room for faith and human autonomy. Schelling, for instance, bemoans the fact that “idealism,” whose founding intuition he identifies in the Freiheitsschrift with the principle of freedom, “is not a work of reason,” and that consequently “the supposedly sad honor of being a system of reason remains only for pantheism and Spinozism.” [146] Even if Kant's systematization of freedom is of irreducible importance for the late German Idealists, it must be stressed that of itself it remains theoretically negative in a strong sense: largely remaining at the level of formality, it never really manages to get off the ground and provide a thoroughly developed basis for itself. [147] We must provide the missing link between system (Spinozism, absolute determinism) and idealism (Kantianism, the true philosophy of freedom) by showing that freedom itself is a metaphysical possibility. But what does it mean for system if freedom is inscribed within it?

    Amongst other things, Spinozistic metaphysics represents an avid attempt to rethink the ontological splitting of mind and matter by reconceiving the very notion of substance so that the two categories no longer represent a schismatic split but are subsumable under a single, unified substrate of which they are merely different attributes, all the while preserving as much as possible the basic intuitions of Cartesianism. Mind and matter, the brute material Real of the universe and the self-reflexive powers of ideal spirit, are merely differing “perspectives” on the same, unchanging substance, [148] a kind of epistemic parallax shift between two of the countless logical modalities of an all-persuasive “weave” that encompasses all things within its vital ebb and flow. Although they succeed in manifesting the infinite power of substance through different refraction mediums irreducible to each other, they ultimately must be said to interpenetrate one another insofar as they articulate the same content: there is no possible rupturing chasm between them, but only an untouchable oneness. [149] But this oneness is not some kind of undifferentiated, static whole, an abyssal metaphysical void that devours all difference within its cruel awesomeness, like Chronos who eats his own offspring, but rather a pure power or force that is capable of expressing itself in an infinite variety of ways, [150] and indeed is only one insofar as it does so. If “nothing exists except substance and its modes,” [151] it is because the two constitute one another in an immanent pulsating field teeming, overflowing, with immanent life. Substance is a raw, pulsating activity, an unconstrained upsurge of a dynamic, quivering freedom that is at the very core of the flux that is perceived reality and circulates through its most minute and insignificant features: “God's power whereby he and all things are and act, is his very essence.” [152] Substance exists absolutely as a harmonious play of forces even in its most seeming conflict, tension, and struggle. It is a wondrous ballet of cosmic energy whose dance is something peaceful and inspiring, sometimes macabre and dreadful, for us mortals who without choice are engaged in its spectacle.

    Although this may appear to preclude human liberty, it actually proclaims that human beings are in a certain sense free insofar as they directly participate in the self-actualizing movement of substance (God, nature) as causa sui. In Spinozism, however, there is a crucial modification of the underlying logic of modern subjectivity already seen in Descartes: the intuition of irreducible subjective freedom is said to arise out of a misrecognition of our fundamentally determined character as egos. By locating freedom within the kernel of my being, my will, I am merely misperceiving its notion, for real spontaneity lies in the impersonal self-writing symphony of the universe, the self-creative flow of life and difference (“we are in God's power as clay in the hands of the potter” [153] ), in which I also play a constitutive part insofar as its energy expresses itself through me, animates me, constitutes me, so that any radical distinction disappears. The cause is fully in its effect, for it itself is immanent. Spinoza's account of human freedom, instead of being a pure cancellation of the significance of concrete human ethical striving by its submission to the total system of the world in its self-imposing oneness, is an attempt to show its greater truth, meaning, and role by its inclusion in the intimate life of God or nature: in short, its function within the autonomous and infinitely inventive self-actualization of substance. It is precisely for this reason that metaphysics is an ethics: the whole endeavour of Spinozism is meant to show how, by coming to this realization step by step through clear and precise reasoning, one can liberate oneself from the bondage of one's passive emotions and see how one directly takes part in the freedom of the self-unfolding cosmos, overflowing with uncontainable energy. Showing the structure of the world forces us to act differently—logical proofs are equivalent to opening the mind's eye to the dynamics of substance as totality. [154] For the late German Idealists working in the aftermath of Kant, however, this vision reduces the apparent autonomous essence of subjectivity to a mere epiphenomenon, a false appearance, of the vital flux of a more primordial life force that runs through and simultaneously is the universe, thus leaving nothing untouched and no room for a transcendence within its omnipresent pull. This “direct participation” can only be paradoxically interpreted as a passive participation, a forced enactment, which befalls us. We see this most unsettlingly in Spinoza's stone:

    Furthermore, conceive, if you please, that while continuing in motion the stone thinks, and knows that it is endeavouring, as far as in it lies, to continue in motion. Now this stone, since it is conscious only of its endeavour and is not at all indifferent, will think it is completely free, and that it continues in motion for no other reason than that it so wishes. This, then, is that human freedom which all men boast of possessing, and which consists solely in this, that men are conscious of their desire and unaware of the causes by which they are determined. In the same way that a baby thinks that it freely desires milk [...]. [155]

    For the late German Idealists, if this is freedom, it is a grotesque joke: instead of being liberating, it is claustrophobic, for our infinite strivings are reduced to a mere puppet show for an impersonal God sive nature whose power drowns any hope we may have for true self-standing independence in its might. Whatever freedom is here, it is distant from us: “[i]n the mind there is no absolute, or free, will. The mind is determined to this or that volition by a cause, which is likewise determined by another cause, and this again by another, and so ad infinitum.” [156] It is without a doubt Fichte who most succinctly expresses the German Idealist disdain at this picture. What repels him is that freedom is “not my freedom at all but rather that of an alien force outside me:” [157] “[t]o stand there cold and dead and merely to look at the change of events an inert mirror or fleeting forms—that is an unbearable existence and I disdain and deplore it. I want to love, I want to lose myself in taking an interest, I want to be glad or sad. [...] Only in love is there life; without it there is death and annihilation.” [158]

    At this juncture, a Spinozist may argue that the German Idealist misgivings of Spinoza's naturalistic pantheism are false. Is not the Ethics itself a profound celebration of life rather than death, love rather than indifference, a text that itself can be read as a quasi-psychotherapeutic intervention that aims, with the aid of its geometrical proofs, to liberate one from the passivity of the passions and in so doing find a new manner of radically asserting the (limited, though existent) freedom of one's own conatus? As Spinoza says, the Ethics “concerns the method, or way, leading to freedom.” [159] By demanding that we build a new organ of sight, [160] it asks us to undergo a profound change in our relationship to self and world, to become a new species, by giving up ill-founded politico-theological ideals and conceptions of humanity (mere fictions), [161] which we can only accomplish by giving into and working with the relational dynamics at the heart of what it means for to be singular essence insurmountably inter-bound with the infinity of other essences. Substance as a causal network of complete interpenetration wherein each being attains its life force reveals the immanent “potentials” of existence: that is, how it can achieve more power, more strength, more force in this or that existent. However, even if in this respect Spinoza does allow for the mind to have some power over the body and thus a certain degree of spontaneous activity (for surely the Ethics is emancipatory for the subject only because it is a work of ideas), according to the German Idealists this does not come close to articulating the irreducibility of freedom attested by Kant. [162] Spinoza fails to see the true kernel of human liberty, a failure that not only makes the Spinozistic system insufficient in terms of the lived essence of freedom, but also thereby takes away life and richness from its ontology. Without inscribing the difference announced by subjectivity into substance, we miss something essential about the life of the absolute, a critique raised by Schelling in his Freiheitsschrift:

    The error of his system lies by no means in the positing of things in God, but rather in that there are things in the abstract concept of the world's being, instead of infinite substance itself, which in fact is also a thing for him. Thus his arguments against freedom are entirely deterministic, and in nowise pantheistic. He treats the will, too, as a thing, and then naturally proves that it must be determined in its every action by another thing, which, in turn, is determined by yet another thing, etc., into infinity. Hence the lifelessness of his system: the mindlessness of its form, the impoverishment of its concepts and expressions, the unyielding acerbity of its definitions [...]. One could view Spinozism in its rigidity as Pygmalion's statue: it needed to be given a soul by the warm breath of love. [163]

    Hegel makes a similar point in his Science of Logic:

    Of course, substance is the absolute unity of thought and being or extension; it therefore contains thought itself, but only in its unity with extension, that is to say, not as separating itself from extension and hence, in general, not as determining and informing, nor as a movement of return that begins from itself. For this reason, on the one hand substance lacks the principle of personality—a defect that has especially aroused indignation against Spinoza’s system. [164]

    Humans are not mere passive players in the self-unfolding drama of the universe, but constitutive writers of it, dominating it from the inside out, to such an extent that they even present a challenge to the autonomy of substance. In the face of man, the very fabric of substance appears lacerated, for it encounters a transcendent Other within its heart of hearts that makes it non-coincident to itself, infringes upon its oneness and thereby renders it not-all. According to Žižek, what both Hegel and the middle-late Schelling find unsatisfactory about Spinoza is that he is unable to articulate the ontogenetic condition of the possibility of the emergence of a freely existing transcendent(al) subjectivity out of the purely immanent plane of being and its implications for understanding the metaphysical nature of reality. The problem is that freedom—in its very specific articulation in German Idealism—is not compatible with substance qua devouring totality. How, then, are we to think substance and subject/system and freedom if we are to retain the spontaneity first brought to light, albeit for the most part formally, by Kant? For Žižek, the answer is clear: “[t]he passage from the Spinozan One qua the neutral medium/container of its modes [to] the One's inherent gap is the very passage from Substance to Subject.” [165] But the recognition of this gap has to be intrinsically traumatic, terrifying—it demonstrates a radical shift in our understanding of the world as some sort of harmonious cosmos that holds itself together in its infinite rational majesty to a world that, lacking totalizing order, must be predicated upon disruption and upheaval. If such an intuition did arise in the history of German Idealism, we would expect to see a series of psychoanalytical defence mechanisms against a conscious acknowledgment of its truth, which in turn obstruct its texts. It is a direct confrontation with this Real of the tradition that will enable Žižek to bring forth the true metaphysical horror of subjectivity that he thinks Descartes had already glimpsed and that has been haunting philosophy like a spectre ever since.

    It is this specific spin on the dialectical “union” of system and freedom that is of utmost importance for understanding Žižek's psychoanalytical reactualization of German Idealism. It has two functions. First, it demonstrates the heterodox character of Žižek’s appropriation of the tradition insofar as he proclaims that its real truth has always been this disjunctive, parallax relationship between the two terms. [166] It clearly shows us how and why Žižek challenges our normal preconceptions of German Idealism's internal historico-theoretical concerns and puts us in a position to evaluate Žižek's own readings more clearly. Second, it demonstrates that Žižek's own specific take on its unconscious Grundlogik is grounded in an extremely coherent reading of the stakes at play in post-Kantian philosophy, even if these have been drastically reformatted along the way according to a perceived and unrealized textual possibility. This makes reading Žižek a strange experience because there is an irreconcilable tension between Žižek's account of German Idealism and what its representatives on the surface appear to accomplish with their systems. Yet through this productive clash, Žižek is trying to create a space of “therapeutic” interplay between German Idealism's surface content (what it takes itself to be in the narcissistic orbit of the Imaginary that often tells itself lies to cover up its dirty spots) and various symbolically non-integrated elements visibly existing in its fold (the ephemeral flickering of a traumatic Real interrupting its normal discourse pointing to its repressed truth), whose integration would demand a radical reconfiguration of its own self-perception (in the spirit of Wo Es war, soll ich werden). Žižek seeks to understand what the role played by this disavowed knowledge could teach us about this crucial turning point in the history of philosophy, the nature of subjectivity, and, ultimately, the very ontological structure of the world we live in.

    6.3 The Suffocating Deficiency of a Naturphilosophie

    The immediate problem facing the late German Idealists is that the Kantian affirmation of transcendental freedom must be grounded in an ontological edifice that can rival Spinozism, for otherwise a Spinozist could argue that freedom is merely the misrecognition of the absolutely free self-unfolding oneness of substance, of man's subsumption within the positive order of being driven by a divinely energized and productive nature as its immanent cause. While both the early Schelling and Hegel offer their own solutions, Hegel remains unsatisfied with the results of his onetime colleague and friend, both in terms of the former's naturephilosophical response to the early Fichte and his quasi-Spinozistic attempts to ground transcendental subjectivity and creative nature in a point of absolute indifference that is neither subjectivity nor nature, but possesses both equally within it. Both projects seem to miss the mark, but why this would lead to a break between Hegel and Schelling is not clear. As hinted by Žižek's vision of Hegel and the middle-late Schelling, Hegel must have implicitly recognized here that Schelling fails to grasp the true radicality of Kantian freedom and its implications by adhering too much to a unitary view of the absolute, the seamless oneness of all that is. Consequently, Hegel tries to save the breakthrough of the critical system by thinking substance as subject, by thinking how the positive order of being ex-ists (existere in the sense of stepping or standing out) in the mode of subjectivity, instead of merely tying two apparently different yet complementary areas together into a precarious, “dead” harmony in indifference, wherein all qualitative difference between subjectivity and objectivity becomes secondary, unimportant, and ultimately lost. As Hegel himself says in his Philosophy of Nature:

    The cause of [Naturphilosophie's] aberration lay in the fundamental error of first defining the Absolute as the absolute indifference of subjective and objective being, and then supposing that all determination is a merely quantitative difference. The truth is rather, that the soul of absolute form, which is the concept and living reality, is solely qualitative self-sublating differentiation, the dialectic of absolute antithesis. One may think, in so far as one is not aware of this genuinely infinite negativity, that one is unable to hold fast to the absolute identity of life, without converting the moment of difference into a simply external moment of reflection. This is of course the case with Spinoza, whose attributes and modes occur in an external understanding; life must then completely lack the leaping point of selfhood, the principle of autonomous movement, of internal self-diremption. [167]

    This citation clearly shows the task Hegel believes must be accomplished: a full actualization of the primordial insight underlying the cogito by instituting the I and the schism it evokes into the very immanent activity of the absolute. For if we follow Fichte's intuition that the subject emerges in being “by absolute spontaneity alone,” that is, “not through a transition, but by means of a leap,” [168] in the wake of the subject the life of substance must be said to undergo a process of internal self-diremption. Accordingly, Hegel's project is an attempt to ontologize the Kantian framework by exploring conditions of the possibility of the emergence of the subject out of a ground that remains Other to it (its “pre-history”), insofar as its self-positing must be identical to a liberating self-caused separation from substance that leaves the latter bleeding in its ontological fold. Hegel's goal is to balance Spinoza and Kant by creating a metaphysical system that renders possible rather than precludes freedom in such a way that his “transcendentalism” reaches far beyond the conditions of theoretical knowing or practical action and directly opens up to a metaphysics of the ontological rupture that presents itself as the extra-subjective condition of human autonomy.

    The issue is to explain how a true freely existing subject can arise from within the internal mechanics of substance. Žižek's heterodox and challenging claim is that the only way to do this is by taking the split announced by Cartesian subjectivity and pushing it to its limits by inscribing the non-coincidence of mind with matter into the very heart of being. If human freedom is irreducibly self-reflexive and self-legislative it cannot be understood in terms of the basal energetic pulsating of the absolute. Reading the Hegelian response to Schelling remodulated through psychoanalysis, Žižek suggests that what provokes the movement from transcendental philosophy to Hegelian substance as subject is how Spinozism and the Kantian articulation of freedom reciprocally expose each other's intrinsic limitations, which simultaneously force us to rethink our understanding of ourselves and our relation to the world. While the latter lacks a metaphysics, the former misses the irrevocable (ontological) disturbance of/in nature at the basis of the cogito, which signals that human spontaneity cannot be contained in the positive order of being, something also missed in Schelling's own early Naturphilosophie. For Žižek, the true breakthrough of Kantian idealism, made explicit for the first time in Hegel and in the middle-late Schelling and then most acutely in psychoanalysis, is the proclamation of transcendental freedom as linked to Todestrieb, an excess of being that breaks from all externally given laws, dirempts being from the inside out, and thereby produces a tension-stricken not-all bursting at the seams from inner turmoil. Because of the value Žižek accords to the psychoanalytical experience of the discord between mind and body, he arrives here at a conditional: If freedom exists, substance cannot be all. Substance's auto-disruption is the first-level condition of the possibility of the subject. Although this is perhaps a tenuous claim to make within the context of post-Kantian idealism (it exhibits an abundance of other ways of understanding the substance-subject relation), we should be wary of dismissing Žižek for purely “historico-contextual” reasons. He himself is more interested in another possibility of understanding German Idealism he sees hinted at behind the scenes of its texts. The fact that his reading is not a mere line-by-line commentary is no reason to proclaim that it is outright wrong. As a Lacanian, Žižek does not share the presuppositions that would make such a reading possible in the first place—and to apply external methodologies and constraints of truth for evaluating his interpretation would, in fact, merely do to Žižek what his critics accuse him of doing. In this respect, their critiques are a performative contradiction.

    What intrigues Žižek in Hegel's articulation of the subject as self-relating negativity is its connection with the Kantian pedagogical concept of “unruliness” and “diabolic evil.” Insofar as self-relating negativity indicates that human subjectivity is non-natural, it shows that, if we follow the internal course of German Idealism, many of Hegel's concepts such as the “night of the world” or “the activity of dissolution [which] is the power and work of Understanding” [169] appear to be nothing other than an elaboration of the subject's origins within an ontological disruption from the closed circuitry of nature's homeostatic laws as already alluded to but not fully developed by Kant. Žižek proclaims that we normally overlook something crucial in Hegel, for what Žižek's Hegel adds to the Kantian notion of the transcendental constitution of experience and rational self-determination is a gesture towards their dark commencement, a glimpse into how the spectral pandemonium of the pre-logical Real we see in “unruliness” precedes and makes possible the autonomy of the cogito and its originary “diabolic evil,” thus drawing a more explicit link between notions whose interdependence Kant merely suggested:

    The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity—an unending wealth of many representations, images, of which none belongs to him—or which are not present. This night, the interior of nature, that exists here—pure self—in phantasmagorical representations, is night all around it, in which here shoots a bloody head—there another white ghastly apparition, suddenly here before it, and just so disappears. One catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye—into a night that becomes awful. [170]

    Prior to the self-legislative laws of practical reason and the synthesis of transcendental imagination constituting the unity of phenomenal reality, we must posit some kind of ontological going-haywire that represents a savage tearing apart of the flow of vital being (“here shoots a bloody head—there another white ghastly apparition”) as that which opens up their logical possibility. If practical reason and transcendental imagination go hand in hand, it is because both are a response to subjectivity itself, a radicalization of this denaturalizing tendency, to a nature whose fold has been disrupted and thus demands re-articulation (“a night that becomes awful”):

    The pre-synthetic Real, its pure, not-yet-fashioned “multitude” not yet synthesized by a minimum of transcendental imagination, is, stricto sensu, impossible: a level that must be retroactively presupposed, but can never actually be encountered. Our (Hegelian) point, however, is that this mythical/impossible starting point, the presupposition of imagination, is already the product, the result of, the imagination's disruptive activity. In short, the mythic, inaccessible zero-level of pure multitude not yet affected/fashioned by imagination is nothing but pure imagination itself, imagination at its most violent, as the activity of disrupting the continuity of the inertia of the pre-symbolic “natural” Real. This pre-synthetic “multitude” is what Hegel describes as the “night of the world,” as the “unruliness” of the subject's abyssal freedom which violently explodes reality into a dispersed floating of membra disjecta. [171]

    This chaotic aggregate of ghastly forms and shapes making up the quasi-phenomenological self-experience of the night of the world is the pure expression of the unruliness/biological short circuitry of the human organism, the German Idealist variation upon Lacan's mirror stage. [172] As in the latter, this moment is not to be taken in isolation, but to be supplemented with what it ontogenetically makes possible, namely, the ideal-symbolical realm of ordered experience. What we see here is quasi-phenomenological because, in actuality, there is no fully developed I that stands in relationship to an alterity over and against which it can stand (rather than there being well-defined Gegen-stände, there is nothing but a fragmentary field lacking coherence). This I can only emerge après coup after a free act of synthesis of this initial state of chaotic dispersion, that is, its ideal-symbolic re-articulation. As a result, the unruliness of the human organism is nothing other than another logical modality of transcendental imagination, its ontological zero-level as a disruption in/of the circuitry of nature's laws that demands its recombination, a recombination that can only be done in a non-natural (virtual) register; and reading this insight in light of Kant's pedagogical writings on the necessity of disciplining unruliness for the emergence of culture, we can thus further say that the epigenesis of the categories [173] as that which bestows upon experience its form cannot be limited to the logico-scientific structure that the latter assumes, but must also extend to the sociopolitical code underlying culture itself. The out-of-control freedom of the subject is intimately linked with the power of imagination (Einbildungskraft) precisely because it is only by means of the latter that the subject is capable of producing images (Bilder or schemata) by which it can give structure to this ghastly state of chaos in the Real, a quasi-phenomenal field lacking subject-object articulation since, although the subject itself has emerged in a primordial sense, as of yet there are no conceptual structures and no symbolic network necessary to mould reality into an integrated, smooth fabric (a process of transcendental Bildung, a schematization of the night of the world). The paradox lies in the following: we can only explain the order of experiential reality in its multifarious modes by presupposing an originary, impenetrable pandemonium that we can only glimpse, but never know (it being always already “overcome” as soon as experience has come on the scene), a pandemonium that logically precedes and ontologically renders possible the consistency of full-fledged subjectivity and psychic life.

    The I itself as an irreducible core of transcendental reflexivity can only emerge out of this chaos, this macabre seizure of forms that represents ontological mayhem/madness at its finest, which in turn signals that, at its zero-level, the subject is nature in the mode of auto-denaturalization. Hegel's horrifying ontologization of transcendental imagination in the night of the world, however, goes a step further. The night of the world does not merely indicate a radical breakdown in the flux of materiality in the Real; it is also the beginning of an infinite withdrawal of being into itself that cuts all ties with the outside world through obeying its own self-given law. Consequently, if this ontogenetic mayhem/madness is that which renders possible the absolute spontaneity of the I, then it shares an uncanny structural identity with Hegel's definition of evil in the Jenaer Realphilosophie as an “internal reality, absolute certainty of itself, the pure night of being-for-itself.” [174] Just as Kant demonstrates in Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone, the basis of subjectivity for Hegel is inherently ambiguous, insupportably undecidable: not only does it necessarily bring our own understanding of freedom dangerously close to that of evil, where the difference between them threatens to dissipate, but more disconcertingly it points to the ancestral past of the subject as entangled in some kind of unfathomable ontological crime. [175] Whereas early post-Kantian philosophy, namely that of Reinhold and the early Fichte, sought to unify the critical project through elementary philosophy and the absolute self-positing of the I, respectively, Hegel came across something disquieting in his own endeavour to escape its impasses: theoretical and practical reason coincide in a chasm in being that testifies to an unspeakable extra-subjective violence. What both Kant's pedagogic writings and Hegel's night of the world reveal is that in order for idealization/symbolization to occur as a purely autonomous activity, there must be something in nature that leaves it lacerated, wounded, bleeding, this being the only way that a zone freed from its hegemony could arise. In other words, even if we take the breakthrough of Kantian idealism to be the priority of the symbolic-conceptual categories whereby the subject engenders experience rather than its account of freedom (a move that also assures that culture is always of our own making because not subject to natural determination) even on this reading, this is the dark horizon within which ideality and, by implication, the sociopolitical as a logically autonomous milieu can operate: the death of nature in us. In this respect, if the major insight of German Idealism and psychoanalysis is that “the passage from 'nature' to 'culture' is not direct,” [176] then one of its major implications is that the Symbolic is not only a “kingdom within a kingdom” (imperium in imperio), but more radically one that has won its way to ontological sovereignty through a destructive, murdering force, thus establishing the avid anti-Spinozism of both traditions. [177]

    The pure I inaugurated by transcendental philosophy exposes a bone in the throat of substance, a snag in natural causality, proclaiming that the absolute as nature or the physical universe cannot be all. What must be taken from this is one of the key principles of Žižek's ontology: freedom is not a raw, brute fact, but depends upon the caustic collapse of the vital fold of being, a brisure in the heart of the Real; the chaotic aggregate of ghastly forms that constitutes the zero-level of human freedom represents an ontological catastrophe, a catastrophe that is synonymous with the subject itself: “it designates [...] the primordial Big Bang, the violent self-contrast by means of which the balance and inner peace of the Void of which mystics speak are perturbed, thrown out of joint.” [178] In this sense, the Žižekian appropriation of the Hegelian attempt to think substance as subject readdresses what really differentiates Hegel from Schelling the Naturphilosoph and sets the stage for his own philosophical career. Although the early Hegel does support Schelling's project to develop a rich teleological account of nature (as various sketches in the Jena period demonstrate), he must be said to have come to some kind of recognition of the inherent limitations of Schelling's endeavour. It is this vital hemorrhaging of nature that, preventing the ideality of the subject from being subsumed within the self-actualizing of the absolute, pushes Hegel away from Schelling: before the transcendental (re)constitution of reality by the I can occur, an internal ontological short circuit, a metaphysical breakdown of substance, must be posited, which not only renders impossible a complete immersion of subjectivity within a natural evolutionary narrative, but declares the ultimate discontinuity between nature and spirit instead of their peaceful identity and mutual interpretation in nature as “the unconscious poetry of spirit.” [179]

    6.4 The Night of the World/A Monism Bursting at Its Seams

    Hegel makes a crucial step towards elaborating the paradoxical ground of the subject by demonstrating that it is this going-haywire, this dysfunctioning of substance that makes subjectivity incommensurable with material being and renders possible freedom in the truly “idealist” sense of the word. It is Hegel's account of the advent of the I in nature that is the first to truly explicate the eruption of the subject as an extimacy that cannot afterwards be resubsumed within the oneness of the self-integrating unity of the absolute. There is no smooth union, no ultimate self-penetrating identity within the fabric of pervasive being, for we encounter an infinite breakdown, an internal tension, that causes irrevocable havoc in the life of the absolute: “Subject designates the 'imperfection' of Substance, the inherent gap, self-deferral, distance-from-itself, which forever prevents Substance from fully realizing itself, from becoming 'fully itself.'” [180] The subject, therefore, has no positive ontological substrate, so that in Hegel the German Idealist attempt to supply a foundation for freedom strangely backfires on itself. But in its very failure, this attempt stumbles upon a great truth: the zero-level of human freedom is a blockage, an obstruction in the mechanics of nature, for the ontological status of the transcendental expresses its dependence upon a self-destructive negativity in substance itself. The Žižekian thesis is that without the articulation of this paradoxical site of excessive negativity (Todestrieb) as emerging immanently within being, all metaphysical accounts of human subjectivity and freedom jeopardize their reductionist-monistic cancelation—otherwise we cannot explain the leap constitutive of the latter without risking their subsumption within an evolutionary transition. If we are to defend the fact of freedom, we must assume it and go all the way, which leads us to a single coherent conclusion: “either subjectivity is an illusion, or reality itself (not only epistemologically) is not-All.” [181]

    Here we see again how Žižek's reactualization fights against textbook accounts of German Idealism. If Hegel is to be a philosopher of freedom, his metaphysical articulation of the absolute must pass through the Kantian critical system, which means it cannot just be a simple retour to Spinozistic metaphysics; we must witness some kind of brisure within the absolute that disrupts the blind, immanent movement of natural laws and thereby enables the possibility of a freely existing subject. Although this is a rather controversial claim to make in the context of German Idealism, Žižek believes it allows us to reconceptualize its attempt to think substance as subject in such a way that it does not fall into conventional platitudes that smother its theoretical potential: platitudes such as comprehending the absolute as a cosmic subject-like agency that remains constant through all determinate change, preceding and (sub/con)suming the freedom of concrete existence by autonomously actualizing itself from a safe distance from the flux and contingency of reality, thereby guaranteeing the movement of history. [182] The subject only emerges from an accidental blockage, an irrevocable moment of self-division, which means that substance and subject are in themselves dirempt and caught in finitude:

    “Substance is Subject” means that the split which separates Subject from Substance, from the inaccessible In-itself beyond phenomenal reality, is inherent to the Substance itself. [...] The point is not that Substance (the ultimate foundation of all entities, the Absolute) is not a pre-subjective Ground but a subject, an agent of self-differentiation, which posits its otherness and then reappropriates it, and so on: “Subject” stands for the non-substantial agency of phenomenalization, appearance, “illusion,” split, finitude, Understanding, and so on, and to conceive Substance as Subject means precisely that split, phenomenalization, and so forth, are inherent to the life of the Absolute itself. [183]

    Not only does the transcendental reconstitution of reality depend upon a prior upsurge of pure ontological violence, but the very phenomenalization of experience is co-incidental with this rupturing, the not-all, of substance. In other words, subject is substance in its mode of self-alienation: the transcendental reconstitution of reality is nothing but an immanent attempt by the absolute as nature to overcome its split by filling in the gap opened up in the core of its vital being, whereby ego development and concrete experience are reduced to a reaction formation, an attempt to suture a wound. Substance is not subject (as a proclamation of identity): substance becomes subject (in a moment of trauma). The very fact that there is experience demonstrates this for Žižek, for there is no intrinsic reason for experience within the “smooth” self-articulation of substance.

    But here we should make another addition. When we say that the subject is a transcendent Other created from within the immanence of being, we must be careful. It is not that substance creates or produces another substance, in which case the enigma concerning how one could explain the genesis of one out of the other would remain unsolved. Rather, the subject is nothing but the void of substance, the minimal difference of the absolute to itself, [184] which creates a metaphysical vacuum that is able to have devastating effects in the fabric of the Real of nature from which it emerged as soon as it develops the capacity to paradoxically relate to itself (movement from “unruliness” to “diabolic evil,” from the tearing apart of the flow of vital being to its radicalization in “the night of the world”). In this sense we should understand late German Idealism, and by consequence Žižek's own metaphysics, as attempts to think system and freedom as a critique of Propositions 12 and 13 of Part I of the Ethics, which argue for the absolute indivisibility and untouchable oneness of substance, but in such a way that we do not fall into the logical conundrum outlined in Propositions 2 through 6, whose goal is to show the impossibility of two substances having nothing in common being able to have an effect upon one another or to produce one another, all the while paradoxically without violating Propositions 14 and 15, which argue that all things must be within one substance. What idealism reveals to us is that freedom expresses something operatively new that has emerged within being and is irreducible to its ebb and flow, yet that does not exist outside of it, a transcendence in immanence that indicates some kind of split within substance itself infringing upon the logical hegemony of its infinite power by means of its internal breakdown. The subject “is not a new name for the One which grounds all, but the name for the inner impossibility or self-blockage of the One.” [185] In man, negativity, having attained notional self-reflexivity, shows itself to be foundational to identity rather than a mere subcategory of positivity of the absolute used in the determination of finite things, so that it possesses its own monstrous logic that colonizes the immanent field within which it has emerged from a place that can only appear, from within that field, as an infinite elsewhere. However, what do we see here except the beginnings of a systematic ontologization of Lacanian metapsychology, centred in the mirror stage as a primordial organic disharmony indicative of a disjunctive “and” inscribed within being? Doesn't Žižek imply here that the only possible way to answer Miller's famous question: “Lacan, what's your ontology?” is by a passage through German Idealism, because of the distinctly “psychoanalytical” themes omnipresent in the latter once we psychoanalytically reconstruct its Grundlogik?

    Yet one other thing should be clear at this juncture. Although Žižek's Hegel glimpses into the ontologico-foundational basis of human spontaneity preceding the transcendental constitution of experiential reality, he is unable to account for two things. First, the immanent generation of this negativity within the material flux of substance that sets the stage for subjectivity by enacting the first lacerations upon substance. How does the vital flow of being itself rupture? How does this extimate core germinate within the Real and incite a violent explosion that forever precludes the ontological life of the Real, thus making it barred: nothing but a series of membra disjecta? Second, the absolute spontaneity of the very founding gesture of subjectivity that depends on nothing but itself for its own self-positing, a self-positing that presents itself as a fiat that of itself institutes a pure difference in being:

    the problem for us is how we are to conceive of the founding gesture of subjectivity, the “passive violence,” the negative act of (not yet imagination, but) abstraction, self-withdrawal into the “night of the world.” This “abstraction” is the abyss concealed by the ontological synthesis: by the transcendental imagination constitutive of reality—as such, it is the point of the mysterious emergence of transcendental “spontaneity.” [186]

    To answer these questions, we will need to delve into Žižek's oft-neglected work on Schelling, for it is Schelling who delved most profoundly into the obscure origins of subjectivity.

    7. The Logic of Transcendental Materialism: Schelling and the Spectral Other Side of German Idealism

    Žižek needs to go beyond Hegel to articulate a crucial dialectical moment of transcendental materialism: the emergence of an ontological violence within being that prohibits the indivisibility of the absolute as an infinitely powerful, self-sustaining whole and creates room for irreducible freedom and ideality. To demonstrate this, I will outline the inherent limitations in Hegel's attempt to think substance as subject by focusing on Žižek's criticisms of the mature Hegelian Encyclopedia, thereby showing the theoretical hole simultaneously opened up and concealed by Hegel. Spurred on by the perceived threat of Absolute Idealism to human freedom, what we will see is how Schelling's investigation of the abyssal origins of subjectivity presents us with a passionate attempt to rethink the grounding of the subject and its role in being so that the former is never reducible to the latter. In this regard not only can Schelling's “materialist” response to Hegel be seen as the culminating, concluding step in what Žižek takes to be the unconscious Grundlogik of German Idealism, but it puts us face to face with the spectral Other Side of that tradition which it previously recoiled from to varying degrees: the insurmountable tension between the Real and the Ideal, which imposes a new conception of a never-to-be-reconciled quadruple dialectics with stark consequences for our understanding of nature, human historicity, and the absolute.

    7.1 The Hegelian Recoil, The Schellingian Breakthrough

    In order to explicate how substance auto-disrupts into a chaotic series of membra disjecta, the ontological zero-level preceding the synthetic modality of transcendental imagination, we have to move outside Žižek's reading of Hegel and confront his works on Schelling. The night of the world is merely a profile portrait of the disarray and pandemonium that pave the way for the transcendental constitution of reality into a (relatively) unified fabric of experience. It does not of itself explain the originary moment of withdrawal from organic immersion in the positive order rendered possible by Todestrieb as the obscure birthplace of an irreducible more-than-material subjectivity; comprehending this event requires us to first plunge headfirst into the immanent pulsation of the vital ebb and flow of being itself if we are to see how it sets the stage for the latter—a project that Žižek explicitly says is most acutely developed in Schelling:

    Kant was the first to detect this crack in the ontological edifice of reality: if (what we experience as) “objective reality” is not simply given “out there,” waiting to be perceived by the subject, but an artificial composite constituted through the subject's active participation—that is, through the act of transcendental synthesis—then the question crops up sooner or later: what is the status of the uncanny X that precedes the transcendentally constituted reality? F. W. J. Schelling gave the most detailed account of this X in his notion of the Ground of Existence—of that which “in God Himself is not yet God”: the “divine madness,” the obscure pre-ontological domain of “drives,” the pre-logical Real that forever remains the elusive Ground of Reason that can never be grasped “as such,” merely glimpsed in the very gesture of its withdrawal. [187]

    This, however, creates an internal problem for Žižek's work insofar as he describes his own project time and time again as Hegelian and never as Schellingian. If it is Schelling who is the philosopher who most fully describes the material ontogenetic conditions for the emergence of the subject rather than Hegel and thus more predominantly influences Žižek's metapsychology and ontology, then the fact that his own overt reliance upon Schelling remains largely behind the scenes potentially demonstrates some kind of error, inconsistency, or sleight of hand. Not only does Žižek fail to give any systematic argumentation for the superiority of Schelling over Hegel in terms of the obscure origins of the I out of its pre-subjective Grund, he also levels off the differences between the two insofar as he appears, as will become clear, to read them reciprocally through one other. Here I am thinking specifically of his endeavour in The Parallax View to show that, “far from posing an irreducible obstacle to dialectics, the notion of the parallax gap provides the key which enables us to discern its subversive core. To theorize this parallax gap properly is the necessary first step in the rehabilitation of the philosophy of dialectical materialism.” [188] But this quote is suspicious: remarking that Schelling was “the first to formulate the post-idealist motifs of finitude, contingency and temporality,” [189] and is even thus “at the origins of dialectical materialism,”[190] it is clear that Žižek associates Schelling with the beginning of this tradition rather than Hegel; Schelling occupies an “immediate” place, acting “as a kind of 'vanishing mediator' between the Idealism of the Absolute and the post-Hegelian universe of finitude-temporality-contingency, [such] that his thought—for a brief moment, as it were in a flash—renders visible something that was invisible and withdrew into invisibility thereafter.” [191] It is Schelling, not Hegel, who supplies us with the premonitions of a new radical way of philosophizing, a new dialectics. Moreover, the very idea of an insurmountable internal limit (a gap) as constitutive of (onto)logical movement—the necessity of positing the non-coincidence and tension of its moments to one another in order for it to function—has a more manifest affinity with Schelling's middle-late philosophy, which, developed as a response to the absoluteness of the Hegelian self-mediating Notion, bases itself on the idea of the indivisible remainder, der nie aufgehende Rest, as an irremovable snag in every system that guarantees its very vitality. Žižek in many ways appears to be interpreting Hegel retroactively through Schelling, which would explain why the irreducibility of the parallax between moments in contradistinction to their organic interpenetration in the notional structure of any given phenomenon is the “perverse” truth of Hegelian dialectics. [192] What is more, in a key passage in Less Than Nothing that describes dialectics as “the science of the gap between the Old and the New,” Žižek abruptly and without explication jumps into a discussion of the middle-late Schelling, going so far as to say that to avoid mystification properly we should not abandon his project from this period of his thinking, but rather “reformulate it so as to avoid the mystification of the theosophic mytho-poetic narrative,” [193] in such a way that it appears that the proximity of his reading of Hegel and Schelling when coupled with this brief and rare methodological explanation points to the core of his heterodox reading of German Idealism and thus his philosophy. This suggests that the core of Žižek's philosophy is a hybridism of Schellingianism and Hegelianism, so that exploring this intersection puts us face to face with the theoretico-ontological stakes underlying his entire project.

    Yet the following question imposes itself: at what point is Žižek's own metaphysical archaeology of the subject Schellingian or Hegelian? The very posing of this question is relatively misleading within the context of Žižek's reactualization of German Idealism, considering that what interests him is not Kant, Schelling, or Hegel as particular historical thinkers whose respective philosophies often display insurmountable differences to one another, not to mention incompatible concerns (to such a degree that one could even question whether German Idealism constitutes a coherent tradition with a single logical nucleus). What he finds alluring is a psychoanalytical truth self-unfolding throughout their works, a truth inaugurated by the Cartesian cogito and ultimately culminating in Freud and Lacan, but that they are unable to articulate fully due to its traumatic nature, “our experience of freedom” being, after all, “properly traumatic.” [194] However, even if what intrigues Žižek is the disavowed Grundlogik implicitly driving the movement as an unconscious formation—something that appears in a flash only to withdraw again into the abyss from which it came—we can nevertheless demonstrate a certain dominating influence of Schelling by showing how the latter fills in a theoretical void opened up by Hegel and thereby radicalizes the founding insight of German Idealism.

    According to a Žižekian narrative of the untold history of German Idealism, the essence of that impossible X that eternally precedes the birth of consciousness remains underdeveloped in the Hegelian attempt to think substance as subject. Although the Hegel of the night of the world hints at the disturbing metaphysical paradoxes that arise out of the ontologization of transcendental imagination and its concomitant concept of freedom, in The Ticklish Subject Žižek expresses outright dissatisfaction with Hegel's most systematic undertaking to inscribe the subject within a dialectics of nature as propounded in the various versions of The Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences. Since this book is written after The Indivisible Remainder, it would appear that Žižek's critical engagement with Hegel's mature system and its account of the passage to culture is based on the presuppositions that guide his own transcendental materialism as worked out in this vehement work on Schelling published only three years earlier. In other words, his admitted disapproval is an implicit proof of the prioritization given to Schellingian ontology for the theorization of the parallax as a metaphysics of the disjunctive “and.”

    Pointing to an ambiguity persisting within the movement from self-contained Notion to nature and then to spirit in his mature system, Žižek suggests that Hegel was unable to bring into conceptual fullness the earth-shattering realization that he was on the verge of. [195] What is left aside is, strictly speaking, the night of the world that Hegel's earlier Realphilosophie had uncovered. In the Encyclopedia, it is uncertain how this radical negativity, this moment of irremediable ontological breakdown haunted by sanguinary spirits, truly fits in. Instead of the precarious, never-to-be-complete “reconciliation” between nature and finite spirit brought forth by the subject, culture itself becomes a closed circuit, a complete return of the Idea to itself out of its infinite self-outsidedness in nature, a move that, by rendering culture a self-sufficient, self-contained all, completely does away with the unruliness that is the zero-level of freedom as revealed in psychoanalytical experience and potentially jeopardizes the irreducibility of the practico-concrete in Kant and made explicit for the first time in Fichte. The issue is that the Idea is nothing other than this very act of its own returning to itself, nothing but the attempt at reconciliation, so that not only is this very movement generative of that to which the movement returns, but more drastically the self-alienation of the Idea is a condition of its returning to itself. [196] If the ontological zone wherein the fabric of the world is torn apart (“here shoots a bloody head—there another ghostly apparition”) disappears, the claim is stronger than simply the subject as the irreconcilable in-between of nature and culture, the bone in the throat of substance and the snag in the machine of the Symbolic, loses all currency: we would paradoxically lose the very condition of free spiritual activity, for a complete sublation of nature into culture would herald the destruction of culture as a process of building an artificial, second nature where one is missing. Losing the obstacle causes us, in turn, to lose the goal; dialectics needs its own inner impediment to get off the ground.

    Corresponding to the reality/Real distinction in Lacanian psychoanalysis, we may thus venture that there are two forms of Hegelian dialectics: either we have the perfect dialectical triad of the mature system (Logic → Nature → Spirit) or a non-closed tetrad that signals the self-collapse of dialectical logic itself as seen in the Realphilosophie (Logic → Nature → finite Spirit → objective/naturalized Spirit). [197] The triad is, strictly speaking, not merely inconsistent with Hegel's—and ultimately Kant's—true earlier insight, but self-defeating: it robs dialectics of its own energy, energy that can only be mobilized due to the structural impossibility of completing the task it sets out to complete. At the most basic level, culture can never utterly sublate the excessive kernel of human being and simply make it a moment of the self-meditation of the Notion as it seeks to actualize itself: there must always be a minimal, insurmountable distance between the unruliness of human nature, the withdrawal into the nocturnal Innenwelt of the world that is the founding gesture of subjectivity, and the symbolic, cultural network that attempts to form and discipline this non-natural violence into a new order after subjectivity has posited itself as such. The two can never overlap within an all-pervasive totality, insofar as for Žižek this overlapping would not merely level out the singularity that marks the subject (namely, the fact that it cannot be fully explained by either material or cultural determinations) but also in the same breath radically preclude the condition of the possibility of human freedom and the exploration of its larger metaphysical implications.

    The difference between traditional accounts of Absolute Idealism and the quadruple dialectic of the Realphilosophie thus enables us to demonstrate the logic Žižek wants to defend both in terms of his own transcendental materialism and the unconscious Grundlogik of modern philosophy that he psychoanalytically constructs. Whereas the former articulates itself according to a series of upward-moving spirals wherein each new turn completely encompasses the previous one in an act of subsumption (so that we encounter a completely self-enclosed, organic oneness that slowly articulates itself in increasing complexity) the very self-unfolding operation of the later precludes the possibility of such a self-totalizing activity. While Absolute Idealism itself does move forward on the basis of fundamental non-coincidence or immanent contradiction (there is conflict internal to the system), it is always productive of new, evermore comprehensive unity, but in such a manner that its innate teleological push towards greater order and self-coherence is able to project an upper limit. Since it knows no radical inner impediment, the ever-expanding series of upward spirals predicts a point in history when the Idea would attain perfection by returning to itself and in turn overcome its prior self-alienation, that is to say, when nature and culture would become reconciled in a moment of ontological jubilation. Here, understood as the self-development of the structure of the world, the absolute is seen as an immanent processual movement from self-externality to absolute self-mediation: by making itself into the Idea, nature (as a realm of pure contingency) would have succeeded by coming to a complete grasp of itself in the freedom of thought, whereby the end of the movement would see itself in the beginning, thus closing the circle of circles. Within transcendental materialism, however, the passage from nature to culture does not reveal a struggle of notional transmutation as culture endeavours to rid itself of its basis in nature in the onslaught of history with the promise of completion, but rather reveals a standstill in the heart of being that cannot be brought into a higher moment of truth of free spirit that would bring the circle of circles to an end: the ebb and flow of substance ontogenetically incites the birth of a freely existing subject only through a self-sabotaging, self-destructive movement that defies perfect reconciliation, because this unruliness inheres in all culturally achieved unity and disrupts it from within. Conflict, though here too internal to the system, articulates at this juncture of the passage from nature to culture an irrevocable place of rupture, devastation, or laceration in the absolute, which points to a dialectical residue that can never become a vehicle of internal growth of the structure of the world, yet that simultaneously sustains culture as the very attempt to overcome it. With culture, we see that nature had immanently produced an eruptive, shattering transcendence (the subject) that bursts the seams of any monistic wholeness and gets in the way of the immanent self-development of the absolute by instituting a new age of the world that can never be reconciled with that which came before, in a moment of ontological triumph. As a consequence, if we inscribe culture into the fabric of the universe according to the second model of dialectics, we are forced to conclude that the absolute is open, precarious, and necessarily incomplete, for the symbolic universe is not only constitutively out of joint with nature, but as the always doomed attempt to reconcile itself with the latter, is constantly forced to reinvent itself.

    The process of subjectification (culture) emerges out of the ontological chasm opened up by the pure I and holds a position of infinite difference with respect to nature insofar as it operates within a zone of logical non-coincidence that has been carved out from within the laws of the latter. Instead of a self-enclosed spiral or circle of circles, we see an immanent “break” that prevents the next dialectical phase of self-appropriation from occurring and by means of which another level of autonomous activity irreducible to the first can take hold. The image is of two cones—one ontologically positive, the other immersed in a virtual zone of nonbeing—linked together by a black hole that is the pure I, the night of the world, whereby nature and culture self-actualize in isolation to one another, but are nevertheless negatively tied together by the abyssal void of subjectivity—that which “protrudes” out of both as an impossible in-between non-explicable in either. The subject stands for the bone in the throat of substance that prevents it from being a devouring all following its own immanent laws (nature's non-coincidence to self) just as much as it stands for that snag in the cultural machine (the non-all of the symbolic Other) that can never be filled in or completely overcome, and that thus constitutes the impetus for all subjectification as a series of reaction formations and the infinite proliferation of the forms it can take on due to its necessary failure of covering up, schematizing, the primordial trauma. In this regard, transcendental materialism presents a radically different view of dialectics as Absolute Idealism, going so far as to claim that what the latter misses is that it is, at best, a mere compensation in fantasy for the traumatic truth of the former. Here we have a rich account of the emergence of two zones of activity wherein, although the second is dependent upon the first that constitutes its genetic ground, it remains entirely free. To anyone familiar with the Freiheitsshcrift or the Weltalter, this demonstrates the manifest Schellingian character of Žižek's criticism of Hegel, while at the same time locating the germ of the former's logic of the Grund within Hegel's early Realphilosophie:

    But dependence does not annul autonomy or even freedom. It does not determine essence, but merely says that the dependent, whatever it might be, can only be as a consequent of that upon which it is dependent; it does not say what it is, and what it is not. Each organic individual, as something which has become, has its being only through another, and to this existent it is dependent in terms of becoming, but not at all in terms of being. It is not incongruous, says Leibniz, that he who is God is at the same time begotten, or vice versa; as it is no more a contradiction to say that he who is the son of a man is himself a man. [198]

    7.2 The Weltalter and the Systematization of Freedom

    One of the most interesting aspects of Žižek's reactualization of German Idealism is its claim that the middle-late Schelling's “departure” from the throes of reason and “descent” into theosophical obscurantism does not demonstrate a break from modern rationality as inaugurated by Descartes' search for a self-evident Archimedean starting point for all philosophy (famously developed further in Kant's transcendental conditions of the possibility of knowledge, and ultimately epitomized by Hegel's self-mediating Notion). [199] On the contrary, Žižek's reactualization states that Schelling actually makes explicit for the first time the perverse, unconscious truth that remains hidden throughout the entire tradition, but only appears ephemerally through the distortion of its imaginary-symbolic universe: his attempt to present a system that would be able to combat the perceived threat posed by Hegel's horrifying “pan-logicism” presents a radicalization, a completion, of modernity's fundamental insight into the paradoxical origins of subjectivity, an insight that Hegel himself was unable to follow through in his own endeavour to solve the impasse bequeathed by Kant's critical philosophy. In this sense, Žižek implies that it is philosophical orthodoxy that got it wrong: it is not Schelling who is the misfit, but rather Hegel, for it is he who turns away from the abyss brought forth by the idealist account of freedom after gazing too deeply into its traumatic core. After the Realphilosophie, something prevents Hegel, holds him back—there is a recoil, a hesitation.

    What is so compelling for Žižek about works such as the Weltalter is not their anti-Hegelian character, but their ability to penetrate into the breakthrough heralded by modern philosophy and to bring it to a new, higher level. It is Schelling who gives the complete articulation of its underlying but disavowed core insofar as it is he who most fully outlines the principles of a quadruple dialectical logic, whereas Hegel, going against his own initial tendencies, falls back into a triad at a crucial moment and loses sight of the “deontologized being” of the subject. What thus characterizes the passionate fury of the middle-late period is its embrace of the paradoxes surrounding subjectivity. This is what makes Schelling that which is in Hegel more than Hegel himself, the extimate core deeply entrenched within the body and soul of Hegel's philosophy that he could not own, as if Schelling were the real spectre haunting and destabilizing his mature system. Consequently Schelling, more than anyone else, is the culmination of German Idealism: it is he who most passionately tarries with its Real, for, in their “very failure, [the Weltalter drafts] are arguably the acme of German Idealism and, simultaneously, a breakthrough into an unknown domain whose contours became discernible only in the aftermath of German Idealism”; [200] “Hegel's 'overcoming' of Schelling is a case in itself: Schelling's reaction to Hegel's idealist dialectic was so strong and profound that more and more it is counted as the next (and concluding) step in the inner development of German Idealism.” [201]

    In the context of the Žižekian reactualization of German Idealism, the fundamental assertion to be made is that to understand the movement towards the middle-late period in Schelling we must at some level say that Schelling himself came to realize the deficiencies of his previous philosophical endeavours, perhaps either through a rethinking of the Kantian critical system or by being spurred on by Hegel. Although, for instance, in the Naturphilosophie Schelling is also interested in the dark side of nature, the project forecloses the possibility of Todestrieb as an emergent and infinitely disruptive force in being. In this sense, Žižek's rejection of the early Schellingian attempts to balance transcendental idealism with materialism follows the same line of argument as his denial of the theoretical weight of contemporary evolutionary models of self-reflexive consciousness, [202] for both share the same fault: the ultimate identification of mind and matter instead of the articulation of their ultimate irreconcilability to one another. From the standpoint of the immanent laws of the pre-symbolic Real (as avowed by Spinozistic monism or reductionistic materialism), Žižek's claim is that the Ideal cannot be explained either on the basis of a teleological or purely naturalistic emergence. The Ideal explodes from within the vital throes of positive being, [203] rather than just being one specific (albeit complex) mode of physical organization, for it names an alienating distance to self, a non-coincident split that literally short-circuits the world. Rather than inhering in matter as its implicit structure, mind can only emerge within the void of this ontological scar, thus making it impossible to reconcile with matter.

    Written in the aftermath of the birth of the Hegelian system with the publication of the Phenomenology of Spirit in 1807, which contains a famous explicit criticism of the Schellingian philosophy of absolute indifference as an attempt to balance the two poles of realism and idealism, [204] the Freiheitsschrift (1809) and the Weltalter (1810–1815) radically restructure the problematic that had occupied Schelling's philosophical career. But what complicates the issue at hand is the fundamental ambiguity of the Hegel-Schelling relationship in Žižek's own thinking, which is brought to an extreme at this crucial juncture: while one could say that much of the young Schelling's work is an attempt to rethink the subject's relation to the noumenal thing-in-itself that haunts its representations or to explicate the androgynous complementarity of the ideal-real poles, the middle-late Schelling's problematic, on Žižek's reading, is the one he erroneously attributes to Hegel: “the true problem is not how to reach the Real when we are confined to the interplay of the (inconsistent) multitude of appearances, but, more radically, the properly Hegelian one: how does appearance itself emerge from the interplay of the Real?[205] Although Žižek does oscillate between calling this problematic Hegelian and Schellingian, what should be clear is that it is more accurately Schellingian, insofar as it is the latter—according to Žižek's own words—who most fully develops the quadruple logic of the passage from the pre-logical Real into the Symbolic as the unconscious Grundlogik of German Idealism, whereas Hegel recoiled at the most crucial moment.

    Interpreting the Weltalter through this theoretical framework, Žižek is then able to interpret its ontology as an attempt to articulate a transcendental materialism capable of grounding the psychoanalytico-Cartesian subject by thematizating the vanishing mediator between the Real and the Symbolic. He can do this, perhaps surprisingly, because first and foremost the Weltalter manuscripts present themselves as a theosophic exploration of creation. Perceiving Hegelian logic as a purely conceptual artifice that suffocates the freedom under the self-articulating necessity of the Notion, Schelling puts his philosophical prowess to use to give his own account of the emergence of temporality and finitude that could rival the dialectics of his great adversary. His basic thesis is that, although Hegelian logic can express notional necessity (what something ideally is) it ultimately fails to grasp the fact of any being, the thatness of its existence, especially if that being has its primordial basis in the brute, raw reality of freedom, something that forever eludes the self-mediation of conceptuality. [206] For Schelling, however, this failure of pan-logistic dialectics in the face of a freely deciding being (the emergence of the subject) does not amount to a mere admittance of the intrinsic limitations of knowledge and human reason. It must be distinguished from a merely negative constraint upon philosophizing because this dialectical dead end we come across in explicating freedom does not arise due to the limited synthesizing activity of the subject and the finite conditions of the possibility of knowledge, but rather through an (onto)logically disruptive and yet productive metaphysical activity: to say that the fact of a specific being that possesses freedom as its essential predicate cannot be conceptualized according to an a priori dialectics is to point to the uncontainable act constituting its very self-positing, which is therefore capable of continually heralding forth the new and tearing apart any given causal matrix in which it finds itself, [207] thereby making itself only graspable après-coup in the wake of its own self-instituting revelation in the world. The inability to conceptualize the advent of eruptive subjectivity in substance through pure reason transcends mere epistemological constraints and reaches out unto the ontological: it is not merely that we must be agnostic concerning the existence of a totalizing principle that holds being together, but more disconcertingly, freedom proclaims that there is not any. The subject is an unpredictable event in being that rewrites what we consider to be possible. Thus, in trying to systematize freedom in a way to escape the perceived threat of Hegelian Absolute Idealism, Schelling reaches a contradiction, a contradiction that paradoxically becomes the very vitality of his system itself, insofar as it declares that the totality of being must be understood in terms of a constitutive yet conflict-ridden relation with an immanent Other: “[w]ere the first nature in harmony with itself, it would remain so. It would be constantly One and would never become Two. It would be an eternal rigidity without progress.” [208] Both the Freiheitsschrift and the Weltalter give expression to the necessary snag in the dialectical machine, the primordial, unruly excess of the Real over the Ideal that prevents any system of thinking from being self-enclosed unto itself and in the same breath guarantees the dynamic character of the latter by making it inclusive of freedom as an irrepressible, self-rupturing event at its very core.

    In order to situate ourselves more firmly within the dialectical nuance of the Weltalter and show how, in relation to Žižek's ontology, Schelling holds a position of theoretical primacy over Hegel, we can use the problem of evil as an entry point, since it is perhaps in their respective theories thereof that they most strongly distance themselves from one other. Whereas for the mature Hegel evil becomes a mere sublated moment in the self-development of the good, a necessary phase for its establishment, for Schelling evil remains at its very core irrational and illogical. By definition it cannot be sublated as a moment within a higher dialectical standpoint because it is, at its primordial basis, the effect of an irreducible act of will. There is something spontaneous about evil that forever eludes conceptualization, something insurmountable about the wildness of a soul that insists on that which it wants and will sacrifice whatever it can to achieve it. Evil has something crazed and frantic about it: it is the capacity to say “No!” with the full knowledge of the implications of one's action. As soon as evil is understood, it fails to be evil; it becomes, rather, misguided good in the Platonic sense that no one does wrong willingly. Hence Schelling's articulation of freedom as the capacity for good and evil: freedom in itself must rest intrinsically incomprehensible, that which cannot be dialectically mediated, which means that its pure self-positing can only resemble madness insofar as it precedes and makes possible any articulation of a table of values that could be used to comprehend it. It of itself knows no order, no rationality—if it did, it would be explicable in terms of the principle of sufficient reason and at risk of being thrown into a subordinate position within a greater self-articulating whole of which it is a mere functional part. There is therefore something always essentially impenetrable in every good and evil act done out of freedom, something always irreducible and violent in each act of self-positing: without this intuition, we lose the breakthrough of the critical system as revealed most poignantly in Kant's pedagogical writings and succumb to another form of determinism (dogmatism) that cancels out the primordial meaning of autonomy within a logic of overarching and self-unfolding reason. Insofar as the act itself is concerned, both the modalities of good and evil as expressions of freedom are formally identical; they involve an act logically distinct at its zero-level from any set of values—or in other words, an act done without any guarantee and without any external determination or influence. More radically, this testifies that evil is itself at the core of every good act, that evil is actually more primordial than the good. In order for an act to be truly good and authentically free at the same time, it must “pass” through evil, discipline it, and use it as the tamed Grund for its own expansive power—any Yes (adherence to rationally determined ethical principles) must first be a No (an egoistic self-assertion) if it is to be utterly self-determined and not just a blind following of laws: “the day lies concealed in the night, albeit overwhelmed by the night; likewise the night in the day, albeit kept down by the day, although it can establish itself as soon as the repressive potency disappears. Hence, good lies concealed in evil, albeit made unrecognizable by evil; likewise evil in good, albeit mastered by the good and brought to inactivity.” [209] In this respect, a priori dialectics must fail: if all birth is a birth from darkness to light, there is always something in the emergence of rational order that remains impervious to the latter. [210]

    From this it becomes clear that the Schellingian concept of freedom is an explicit rethinking of the Kantian notion of diabolic evil and its co-related concept of the original “unnatural” unruliness of the human organism, so that these original insights become an intrinsic part of his own logic of the Grund as the indivisible remainder, the “incomprehensible basis of reality,” which is missing in mature Hegelian dialectics. As a full-fledged ontologization of Kant's declaration of the radical spontaneity at the basis of human practical activity, [211] Schelling's philosophical impulse initiated by the Freiheitsschrift is an attempt to develop a system wherein freedom is irreducible to notional necessity, for “[o]nly he who has tasted of freedom can sense the desire to make everything its analogue, to spread it throughout the whole universe.” [212] What intrigues him is the fact that there is an insurmountable enigmatic blind spot at the core of every action, every decision, a blind spot that not only presents the truth, mystery, and potential horror of human freedom, but more primordially reveals a deep hole that has been carved out in the flesh of being, making it tremble from within, for the unpredictable has emerged in its core. It is this strong conviction in freedom that leads Schelling into the abyssal labyrinths of self-exploration that constitute the conceptual fabric of the Weltalter, in the same way the intuition of freedom made Kant limit knowledge in order to make room for faith and embark down the path where he would eventually articulate the necessity of diabolic evil and unruliness in his pedagogical writings after years of original investigation into the essence of self-legislative practical reason. For Žižek, it is not an accident that Schelling's own project in the Weltalter ends up radicalizing Hegel's descriptions of the night of the world or Kant's account of unruliness, which in turn proves that his response to Hegel is the concluding step of German Idealism: all are driven by an attempt to give a philosophically adequate bedrock to freedom, [213] with Schelling merely following its intuition right to the metaphysical conclusions it forces upon us in a way other representatives in the tradition were unable to do. What distinguishes Schelling is that he, propelled by an immense energy to battle against what he perceived as the threat posed by Hegelian dialectics on human freedom, had the strength to go further than the others in the symbolization of the unconscious Grundlogik inherent in the tradition. If his best-known work is called Philosophical Investigations into Human Freedom, which in many ways spends more time speaking of God/nature than of humanity, it is because it is a work that delves into the ontological implications of the freedom revealed by idealism.

    7.3 The Problem of the Beginning Itself: Schelling's Uncanny Response to Idealism

    Just as in the Freiheitsschrift, and using the operative logic that it had already programmatically developed as a guide, Schelling in the Weltalter embarks upon a specific form of introspective analysis with the aim of developing a theosophy, the founding intuition of which is that the same process underlying the birth of human subjectivity is fundamentally structurally identical to God's creation of the world (as exhibited in the alchemical principle “so above, so below”). [214] In another vein, the idea is that psychological experience is in some sense directly revelatory of the absolute drama of divine being in all its vicissitudes, even if it must pass through the meditating filters of self-reflexive consciousness: the experience of the relationship of dependence and autonomy that holds between one's pre-subjective, material Grund and free personality is primordially disclosive of an ontological event that is a symbol of God's relation to the finite created world. In this way, the theosophic odyssey of the birth of God out of that which in God is not God himself, is irrevocably intertwined with a parallel investigation into the ontogenesis of subjectivity out of a nature that presents itself as Other to and irreconcilable with its free self-standingness. Since the methodological starting point is similar to the psychoanalytical experience of disharmony between mind and body as the obscure basis of freedom (which hints at the vanishing mediator between them), Žižek is led to discard the entire theosophic scope of the work as ultimately accidental to its “true” philosophical core, so that Schelling's narration of the painful process of the self-begetting of God and the decision of divine creation presents itself as a mere “metapsychological work in the strict Freudian sense of the term.” [215] Whether or not Žižek himself is justified in completely removing the theosophic scope from Schelling's argument, one must at the very least admit that Žižek's wager follows the spirit of Schelling's middle-late philosophy to the letter, for Schelling himself declares in the Freiheitsschrift to “have established the first clear concept of personality.” [216]

    What makes Žižek's appropriation of Schelling at times so provocative and compelling is his profound ability to penetrate into the fine details of the conceptual structures that make up the operative logic of the Freiheitsschrift and the Weltalter in a way no one else has. What interests him is how Schelling advances the descriptions in the tradition of the status of the elusive X, which simultaneously haunts transcendentally constituted reality, precedes it, and appears to set the stage for its condition of possibility. These three conceptual aspects of this je ne sais quoi map directly unto the three modalities of the Real: (i) the Real as a “kink” in the Symbolic, which pressurizes phenomenal reality; (ii) the Real as pre-symbolic “immediacy” that is lost through the advent of language; and (iii) the barred Real (R̸) now understood as an auto-disruptive substance (N ≠ N) whose self-laceration creates the necessary room within which the transcendental constitution of reality through the Symbolic-Imaginary matrices underlying self-experience can take place, thus drawing attention to the interconnection of each aspect. Prior to these middle-late works, as we have seen, our relation to this mysterious X had already been partially “schematized” by a list of concepts (from Kantian transcendental freedom, diabolic evil, and unruliness to the Hegelian accounts of the night of the world and substance as subject). However, for Žižek, it is only with Schelling's own additions that we move away from the paradoxes of the ideal representation of the extra-subjective world or from a mere haphazard glimpse into the self-effacing ontological catastrophe that precedes the very possibility of free idealization. With him, we completely plunge into the auto-disruptive logic of the pre-symbolic Real at the basis of subjectivity so that the unconscious Grundlogik plaguing the German Idealist tradition, which had already from time to time appeared only to fall back into the darkness from which it came, finally comes clearly into light, becoming now minimally subjectified, as it were. The major difficulty, however, is how to articulate a philosophical system that can synthesize the various aspects of the Real together into a stable whole insofar as the very ontological space whose exploration would enable it retreats the very moment that conscious experience begins and is only visible in its very gesture of self-withdrawal. [217] It is no accident that the problem that haunts the entirety of the middle-late Schelling of the Freiheitsschrift and the Weltalter is, as Žižek emphasizes:

    the problem of the Beginning itself, the crucial problem of German Idealism—suffice it to recall Hegel's detailed elaboration of this problem and all its implications in his Science of Logic. Schelling's “materialist” contribution is best epitomized by his fundamental thesis according to which, to put it bluntly, the true Beginning is not at the beginning: there is something that precedes the Beginning itself—a rotary motion whose vicious cycle is broken, in a gesture analogous to the cutting of the Gordian knot, by the Beginning proper, that is, the primordial act of decision. The beginning of all beginnings, the beginning kat' exohen—“the mother of all beginnings” as one would say today—is, of course, the “in the beginning was the Word” from the Gospel according to St John: prior to it, there was nothing, that is, the void of divine eternity. According to Schelling, however, “eternity” is not a nondescript mass—a lot of things take place in it. Prior to the Word there is the chaotic-psychotic universe of blind drives, their rotary motion, their undifferentiated pulsating; and the Beginning occurs when the Word is pronounced which “represses,” rejects into the eternal Past, this self-enclosed circuit of drives. In short, at the Beginning proper stands a resolution, an act of decision which, by differentiating between past and present, resolves the preceding unbearable tension of the rotary motion of drives: the true Beginning is the passage from the “closed” rotary motion to “open” progress, from drive to desire—or, in Lacanian terms, from the Real to the Symbolic. [218]

    What Žižek refers to as “Schelling-in-itself: the 'Orgasm of Forces'” [219] is the remarkable capacity Schelling's philosophy possesses of being able to descend into the immanent driving forces governing the extra-subjective, material Real, the elusive, obscure phase of darkness that precedes and sets the stage for the birth of the light that is the openness of self-reflexive consciousness. But what fascinates Žižek is the depth of his materialist response to Hegel, which still remains immersed in the fabric of transcendental idealism, a response that is “at the origins of dialectical materialism.” [220] This is why Žižek describes Schelling as a vanishing mediator between classical philosophy and the contemporary discourse of finitude: Schelling stands in a position of irreconcilable contradiction between the two, a tension that Žižek takes upon himself to further develop insofar as Schelling, according to him, is unable to endure his own breakthrough and recoils. [221] If, onto the ground/existence distinction propounded in the Freiheitsschrift and systematically laid out in the Weltalter, we superimpose the real(ity)/ideal(ity) distinction operative within modern philosophy from Descartes onward, we perceive a nuance in the ontologization/grounding of Cartesian subjectivity: this split announced between mind and matter, which makes them non-reconcilable to one another, occurs “within” or “on the side of” the material Real through an ontologico-metaphysical deadlock, a schismatic rupture. The standard debate between idealism (ideality precedes and structurally makes possible the positive order of physical being and is thus the insurmountable metaphysical zero-level as in Platonism and textbook Hegelianism, or constitutes completely self-grounding and self-justifying transcendental conditions or normative values that make discourse possible as in Kantianism or much linguistic philosophy) and materialism (there is nothing but the ebb and flow of brute matter, the rest being reducible to an epiphenomenal production of nature's self-enclosed laws, as in the Greek atomists, conventional cognitive science, and logical positivism) is thus stood on its head in Schelling:

    idealism posits an ideal Event which cannot be accounted for in terms of its material (pre)conditions, while the materialist wager is that we can get “behind” the event and explore how Event explodes out of the gap in/of the order of Being. The first to formulate this task was Schelling, who, in his Weltalter fragments, outlined the dark territory of the “prehistory of Logos,” of what had to occur in pre-ontological proto-reality so that the openness of Logos and temporality could take place. [222]

    This quote expresses Schelling as one of the most crucial figures (if not the most crucial figure) in the history of dialectical materialism for Žižek, and thus establishes once and for all the pivotal role Schelling's ontology plays in his own philosophical development, despite his own characterizations of his project as Hegelian. So how, then, do the vicissitudes of pure, raw materiality open up unto the irreducible event of the Ideal and the transcendentally constituted reality of phenomenological (self-)experience?

    7.4 Grund and Existence: The Pulsating Heart of Nature and the Upward Spiral of Human Temporality

    Schellingian nature is more than a mere symbol or paradoxical representation of the eternal Past that precedes consciousness: it is that elusive, impossible X, that je ne sais quoi in the modality of the pre-symbolic Real prior to conceptual-linguistic mediation. Yet when we move from the world of human meaning and into the circuitry of nature's vital ebb and flow, we see that “[e]verything that surrounds us points back to a past of incredibly grandeur. The oldest formations of the earth bear such a foreign aspect that we are hardly in a position to form a concept of their time or origin or of the forces that were then at work,” [223] in such a way that the task of philosophy becomes to reconstruct this ancestral trajectory of the immemorial into a system of times:

    We find the greatest part of [its formations] collapsed in ruins, witnesses to a savage devastation. More tranquil eras followed, but they were interrupted by storms as well, and lie buried with their creations beneath those of a new era. In a series from time immemorial, each era has always obscured its predecessor, so that it hardly betrays any sign of an origin; an abundance of strata—the work of thousands of years—must be stripped away to come at last to the foundation, to the ground. [224]

    It is at this very juncture in the Weltalter that Žižek invites us to risk a daring thesis. If we draw our attention to its operative logic, we see that Schelling's system of times does something more radical than displace the primordiality of the human subject by illustrating its subsumption within the tenebrous pulsating heart of nature's productive potency, whose own self-unfolding takes place in the abyssal dregs of an immemorial time that threatens to engulf they who look into it. The crucial observation to be made here is that nature does not have a history that evolves by means of an activity of internal self-transmutation that leads to man, so that he is ultimately included within it. The reason for this is not that nature, instead of being characterized by a smooth teleological development, is plagued by unpredictable catastrophism, irruptive disharmonies of widespread murder and extinction that cover up their own traces, so that the history of the world cannot be subsumable under a single, all-pervasive trajectory that, preceding from simple to more complex organizations in the unimaginable passage of aeons and aeons, would crown man as the summit of an unconscious yearning for the Word, that is, the structured logos of the symbolic world (contra the surface structure of Schelling's thinking [225] ). This would effectively prevent nature from being motivated by an unknowing search for the light of self-consciousness from within the darkness of its raw, productive potency, [226] but the reason lies elsewhere. There are, of course, differing stages, periods, and epochs in nature—and ones that have been lost forever, never to be recovered—due to varying levels of dynamic evolution and growth within its immanent activity, even if there is always unforeseeable violence risking to wreak havoc. Yet when we look around, we cannot find the subject within the system of nature. It just does not fit, a fact that has stark metaphysical implications: the progressive, transformative time of nature presents itself as radically Other to the distinctiveness of human (spiritual) temporality because it does not display the same intensity of uncontrollable dialectical self-sublation. In nature, beginning and end for the most part coincide: in the darkness of the soil, the seed gives birth to the plant, which, after reaching the life-giving light of the radiant sun, finally dies, leaving behind its fruit and thereby returns to itself, only to burst forth again in an eternal recurrence of the same. Change can only transpire in the span of incomprehensible ages: unmeasurably dilatory, dialectical movement is here “enchained” within the unbreakable spurious infinity of endless circularity and does not display the same frantic upward-moving spiral of human temporality, the never repetitious onslaught of history, where beginning and end exist in a productive non-coincidence that is the very vital force of its unimaginably fast paced metamorphosis and unending creation of nuance. [227] A new era of culture displaces and supersedes the previous one, going in an unfathomable number of conflicting directions at once, so that no return to the beginning is even possible: the beginning, the origin, is always out of place in the inaccessible residue that is the past. The end, the result, is a qualitative break rewiring the plethora of human thoughts, expressions, and emotions, and even the past itself, [228] thus setting up a new beginning to be surmounted in its own right. As Žižek succinctly puts it, “[h]ere we encounter the key feature of the Symbolic: the fundamental 'openness' it introduces into a closed order of reality,” [229] in such a manner that saying nature yearns for humanity in its depths as the solution to its enigma [230] merely covers up the fact that humanity is an irreconcilable break from it. But if the subject is a break from the system of times that constitutes nature and its catastrophism by bringing forth a new age of self-unfolding activity, this does not mean that we are liberated from all dismay by being brought into the luminous sphere of holy spirit. Instead, bound by the erratic and excessive life of freedom that overflows itself, we face our own non-natural catastrophes.

    We also encounter traces of this paradoxical upward spiralling and uncontrollable linear time in Kant and Hegel, which establish its integral place within founding intuitions of the tradition. Kant's account of unruliness as the ontogenetic starting point of transcendental freedom not only establishes the non-natural basis of human sociopolitical activity—not only is the human being “the only creature that must be educated,” but due to his unruliness, man “has no instinct” and is therefore separated from the vital throes of nature [231] —but, what is more, it demands to be disciplined if it is not to devour the subject in its frenzy. Due to this exigence of discipline, there is an intrinsic link between what Kant calls moral education and the historical destiny of man that institutes a new form of temporality driven forward through a productive non-coincidence at the core of what it is to be man. Although presenting itself as an excessive energy whose domestication/schematization will enable us to attain terrestrial perfection, the very ground of our progress is in actuality its own inevitable obstacle: the meta-transcendental condition of subjectivity, while it opens up a distinctly human sphere within which progress is possible, at the same time tarnishes it with the inevitability of eventual collapse, misfire, failure. But this is not a mere proclamation of defeatism, resignation, and forfeit: the very impossibility of our task is the impetus for action, that which provokes an infinite plurality of new ways of “purifying” the insupportable surplus of our being, so that man is forever spurred on in the course of history to reinvent himself because of the insurmountable ontological violence preceding all acts of subjectification: “[t]he human being must therefore be educated to the good; but he who is to educate him is on the other hand a human being who still lies in the crudity of nature and who is now supposed to bring about what he himself needs. Hence the continuous deviation from his destiny with the always repeated returns to it.” [232] But the consequence of this is that man is nothing more than this perpetual deviation from his destiny, that “man only becomes man” [233] by continually (re)creating his own identity by means of education through the construction of a second nature within the forward onslaught of history, its fragile movement of contraction and expansion, history itself thus circulating around an ideal sociopolitical point that it posits by its very activity as necessary to it but which it can never reach, for beginning and end can never coincide as in the realm of nature. In other words, the impossibility of reaching our destiny is that which constitutes its very possibility, that which gives us a destiny in the first place. Due to this impossibility, we have historical time.

    This idea of a sharp distinction between the natural and the spiritual in terms of time is also taken up by the mature Hegel, even if, on Žižek's reading, he misses the radicality of the vanishing mediator—the night of the world—that enacts the passage from the former to the latter. There are two sides to the story. First, Hegel's starting point in the philosophy of nature is nature as “the Idea in the form of otherness.” [234] This means that nature cannot exhibit the characteristics Hegel associates with the Idea, such as development qua self-unfolding activity, whose image we see in the growth of plants from seeds, wherein we encounter a purposive causality guiding all change and movement. “The abstract universality of nature's self-outsidedness” [235] demonstrates that nature lacks any inner structuration that would enable it to realize itself freely according to a pre- or self-given telos. In this sense, there is no teleological activity intrinsic to nature: its zero-level is a deterministic mechanics ruled by the contingency of its relations that are always external to themselves. Exclusively determined by the conditions that engulf them, the bodies emerging here do not display any capacity for self-reproduction, but merely stumble against one another due to empirical laws, whereby nature presents itself as a dead husk and time is nothing other than a meaningless giving birth to and destruction of its own offspring. [236] Second, at the level of organic life, although nature has sublated this prior staleness and intrinsic lack of purposiveness within its ebb and flow, it nevertheless exhibits a kind of claustrophobic immanence wherein the freedom distinctive of spiritual temporality is foreclosed by the eternal repetition of sameness within nature's cycle of life and death, fullness and lack, for there is a suffocating coincidence between the birth of one individual and the death of the other. Even though there is teleological self-unfolding explicit within organic living being—there is a universal genus that concretizes itself by constituting itself within the series of particulars that it generates and that generates it in turn, a complex unity that sustains itself within difference throughout the dispersion of time—there is no real difference and thus no history possible, even if we are allowed to speak of gradual sedimentations of change over the course of living being's activity. To put it crudely (borrowing one of Hegel's favourite animal examples) in nature we see nothing but one damn parrot after another, [237] which ultimately makes nature uninteresting for him: nature remains immensely poor with regard to its notional reflexivity, for in contrast with historical existence, it is not capable of the faster-than-light transformations constitutive of the latter's essence. Hegel refers to this deficiency as the “impotence of nature,” [238] insofar as it is incapable of the power of self-relating negativity and therefore displays a spurious infinity. [239] Consequently, we must assert the following “distinction between the spiritual and the natural worlds: that, whilst the latter continues simply to return into itself, there is certainly a progression taking place in the former as well.” [240] As such, it is thus only with the rise of human spirit that we see contradiction posited as such, and with it, the possibility for real metamorphosis: “[s]pirit is posited as contradiction existing for itself, for there is an objective contradiction between the Idea in its infinite freedom and in the form of singularity, which occurs in nature only as an implicit contradiction, or as a contradiction which has being for us in that otherness appears in the Idea as a stable form.” [241]

    In German Idealism, a human subject is not merely born and then, by dying, proliferating his progeny in an endless repetition of the same. During man's slow march towards his oblivion, a frenzy of naturally uncontainable and unfathomable activity articulating itself emerges, a difference representing an irreconcilable rupture with the autopoiesis of nature, a self-legislative spontaneity that defines itself in direct opposition to its self-organizing totality, even if it must rely upon it as a dark, inaccessible ground. Human history begins with a cutting off of immemorial natural history, a tearing itself away from the natural cycle of life and death. Although our biology falters and brings us to our end, we die as men, not as mere creatures immersed in the world of substantial being. Schelling testifies to this insight, and advances it further than other representatives of the tradition (despite the fact he simultaneously recoils from, represses, the radicality of his own thematization of it [242] ) insofar as, when we examine the genealogy of natural history in the Weltalter, we realize that nature is not the unconscious proper. Strictly speaking, nature is nonconscious. [243] In it, we only encounter a pulsation of matter, an annular rotary movement of contraction and expansion that follows its own automatic rhythm—what we see knows no pure upsurge of the irrevocable forward march of time, no dynamic linear temporality, as first witnessed in the human symbolic universe, even if its constitutive openness already appears in a “wild” form at lower levels of being. Nature eternally repeats itself in an infinite, relatively self-enclosed cycle of life and death, day and night, fullness and lack, wherein change sediments excruciatingly slowly over inscrutable eons and eons through a sluggishly self-developing, self-growing activity. Outside of it, there is nothing—everything is caught within an agonizing deadlock insofar as there is no room for completely free movement, for there is nothing but a symphonized flow of energy within the indivisibility of nature that is at the same time, from our perspective, a “blind” oscillation because our singularity is there lost. When one looks into nature as that impossible X, that je ne sais quoi, which sustains our life as subjects, one is almost forced to collapse: in face of the all-encompassing immanent laws of substance, one is pushed into an infinitely claustrophobic space. For Žižek we get a sense of this all-devouring, all-consuming force when we look inside the body and specifically the skull—“the realization that, when we look behind the face into the skull, we find nothing; 'there’s no one at home' there, just piles of grey matter—it is difficult to tarry with this gap between meaning and the pure Real.” [244] This raw flow of biochemical and electrical energy is so “terrifying” for two reasons. First, it is faceless, personless—it has absolutely nothing to do with either the orbit of phenomenal experience or the human universe of meaning. There is no indication of any genuine human quality: we are only confronted with anonymous, dull palpitations, which resemble the industrial buzzing of automatic machinery, a machinery that may amaze us with its complexity and dynamism (the plasticity of the neuronal network) but that nevertheless exists as a matrix of closed circuitry locked within its own self-enclosed, self-sustaining movement, a movement that is not only greater than us but also thereby appears to “threaten” our very existence as free subjects at every step. Second, the passage from the pure, senseless Real of nature in its mechanism to the absolute spontaneity of the I—the rupturing advent of a dialectical leap—is stricto sensu inexplicable, for given our inability to locate the full-fledged human subject in nature, there is always a moment of arbitrariness and fiat.

    In the contemporary scientific scene, however, these menacing dimensions of the writhing, pulsating material of the Grund and its irreconcilable tension with free existence are constantly being brought into a new power, because neuroscience puts the very gap itself in question: the neuronal Grund, as a seething, all-devouring force, comes closer and closer to annihilating the distance from nature necessary for the autonomous transcendental constitution of reality, insofar as the fact of experience here risks being reduced to a mere epiphenomenon of a complex biological interface that uses the I as a system of representation to mediate itself to the world. As Žižek reiterates time and time again, “there are two options here: either subjectivity is an illusion, or reality itself (not only epistemologically) is not-Al.” [245] That being said, Žižek's reactualization of Schelling's revamped Cartesian positing of the difference between nature (cyclical time, body, ground) and human being (dialectical temporality, mind, existence) allows him to rethink the significance of contemporary neuroscience. The divide between our world of experience and the mechanisms of the natural world does not proclaim the irrelevance of the latter for our understanding of human subjectivity in face of the pure power of scientific explanatory models, their efficacy and statistical guarantee, as perhaps various representatives of phenomenological psychiatry or even psychoanalysis would advocate. On the contrary, according to Žižek, these models adequately describe the Real of our lives with a rigorous vigor and precision never before imaginable by penetrating into the true ontologico-foundational basis of experience. Žižek criticizes attempts to respond to the threat announced by neuroscience that merely assert the irreducible character of the subject, seeing instead the only feasible way to find a solution being to “develop one approach to its extreme, radically abstracting from the other—to develop the logic of brain science, for instance, at its purest.” [246] The question is how a parallax gap could emerge from within the self-regulated biochemical and electrical activity inside the skull, how “the 'mental' itself explodes within the neuronal through a kind of 'ontological explosion.'” [247] The question and problematic here is distinctly Schellingian: what is the nature of the copula in judgement? [248] Grund is existence in exactly the same way that the neuronal is the mental: the copula here does not primordially distinguish a relation of identity or pure equivalence, so that the latter is entirely subsumable under the former (ground = existence; the neuronal = the mental). It represents an activity that, through the logical self-withdrawal of its pervasiveness and primordiality, results in the production of irreducible difference (ground generates existence; the neuronal immanently gives rise to the mental), wherein each exists as opposite and therefore autonomous to one another, although the unpredictably new—a pure difference—that emerges nevertheless retains an internal thread of logical dependence upon that which gave birth to it at an originary level of theoretical investigation: that is, one of ontogenesis, whereby a productive or creative (schöpferisch) identity emerges between the irreducibly different terms. [249] But one must be careful. Grund and existence are just as much “contemporaneous” logical relations as stages of historical development. Although the emergent split institutes two autonomous zones of activity—or, to speak in the parlance of the Weltalter, although the divide in being created by the irreducible spontaneity of the unconscious decision or de-scission (Entscheidung as Ent-Scheidung) sets the stage for the irreconcilability of the Present and the Past as epochs or ages in nature that forever alter it—they both exist simultaneously after the act of separation, despite the fact that the Grund also represents the dark “pre-history” of existence. It is in this way that the body as an independent entity existing in infinite contradistinction to mind can still follow its own laws, even if mind ultimately proves itself to be superior to its ontogenetic origins by existing in its own free register only in the aftermath of its hegemonizing self-positing or usurping of the primacy of body—or, to put it differently, natural cyclical time can still exist alongside, albeit in tension with, the out-of-joint dialectical temporality of spirit in the same creature. The neuronal interface can subsist in two paradoxical times, in the non-coincident two-way pull of the parallax as a multistable figure, the eternal “Past” of nonconscious material pulsation and the eternal “Present” of self-consciousness, both being “held” together in the positively charged void that is the subject as the impossible in-between (the vanishing mediator) generated within/by the negativity of being, so that the gap that sustains the subjective consistency of the universe of meaning can be maintained without denying the autonomy and power of cognitivism to describe the pure Real of biochemical and electrical activity that is the brain. The two zones are not to be confounded with one another, even though in a certain sense there is only the brute matter of the neuronal interface. Here we must recognize an implicit wordplay in Schelling: the copula in judgement (Urteil) is not merely an act of mind, a mental synthesis bringing a subject and predicate into relation with one another, but the expression of an act of primordial ontological division (Ur-Teil as ursprüngliche Teilung) exhibited by the thing in question with itself. [250] The principle of identity should be able to explain eruptive breaches in the fold of being instead of being doomed to subsume everything under the dead univocity of a claustrophobic immanence: “[t]his principle does not give expression to an unity which, revolving in a circle of sameness, would be unprogressive, and thus insensitive or unalive. The unity of this law is immediately creative.” [251] The copula in judgement is, in this sense, one of Schelling's many expressions for a metaphysics of the disjunctive “and.” But what does this moment of the breaking of existence out of Grund, of the explosion of the Ideal out of the Real, look like? This leads us into a detailed analysis of the role of ontological catastrophe in the emergence of experience in being.

    8. When the World Opens its Eyes: The Traumatic Fissure of Ontological Catastrophe

    Žižek's quadruple dialectics sets forth a conception of the absolute that is incomplete, insofar as it has split itself through a moment of primordial division into two irreconcilable zones of activity: body and mind, nature and spirit, the Real and the Symbolic. However, to explain this moment of self-sundering, Žižek must reappropriate various elements from Schellingian ontology to articulate the pre-conditions of subjectivity in the throes of being, something that the mature Hegel, recoiling from his Jenaer night of the world, fails to do. Žižek's provocative claim is that if we attentively read Schelling's account of the eruption of a freely existing subjectivity out of a nature that becomes infinitely Other, we encounter two startling insights. First, the emergence of desire in being as the ontogenetic condition of the possibility of subjectivity and phenomenalization displays a structural parallel to Schelling's own theory of disease and evil. Second, we must follow the implications of this to the end: rather than exhibiting a great triumph at the end of the odyssey of being, self-consciousness is merely the possible aftereffect of a cancerous negativity in being, an ontological catastrophe, which points to an irreversible fracturing of the very essence of the world. We will also explore the consequences of this for evolutionary theory and contemporary philosophy of mind.

    8.1 Desire, the Disease-Stricken Body of Being

    Following Schelling's descriptions of the eternal Past forever anterior to consciousness and language, a concern immediately arises: when we look at the elusive X of nature in the immemorial epochs of cosmological and geological time or the evolutionary strata of biological auto-development, we encounter an all-encompassing/all-consuming whole that precludes the absolute freedom of the subject. Insofar as this self-totalizing causality immanent in nature represents a relatively closed circle, how is this deterministic “deadlock” surpassed so that autonomy is possible? How exactly can the Grund/neuronal interface act in the self-effacing yet world-giving mode of existence/the mental? Although Žižek's own descriptions of the passage in The Indivisible Remainder and The Abyss of Freedom focus on the founding gesture of subjectivity as a self-instituting fiat, this is not enough. It is only one side of the story. The question is how the undifferentiated circuit of drives that constitute the pre-logical Real could paradoxically ground—give rise to or help incite—the irreducible self-positing act of decision. As Adrian Johnston argues, although this self-positing is ultimately an arbitrary, groundless act “analogous to the cutting of the Gordian knot”—which, as Žižek himself says, “can be described (narrated) only post festum, after it has already taken place, since we are dealing not with a necessary act but with a free act which could also not have happened” [252] —Schelling himself searches for a way to inscribe the very condition of the possibility of the act itself within the material palpitations of nature, in works that Žižek for the most part does not discuss. [253] In this sense, Žižek's own account is not satisfactory because it has a tendency to present the drives as an irrevocably closed and blind system without explaining how of themselves they could short-circuit, a theoretical point that would be advantageous to his overall project.

    As Johnston points out, within the Schellingian ontogenetic narrative, the self-positing of the subject is first possiblized by the emergence of desire (Begierde) within being. Desire marks the first juncture of some kind of primordial blockage in the heart of blind necessity that upsets the automatic, unbridled oscillation of drives by shattering their pure immanence. This has two effects. First, in psychoanalytical terms, it means that instead of a relative homeostasis as the inner telos guiding the entirety of an organism's biological life, we see for the first time a relative short-circuiting within the pleasure principle, an inability to find satisfaction through the mere repetition of the same constitutive of the movement of instincts. Second, in place of a smooth, determined relation to the environment wholly programmed by instincts (the coincidence of Innenwelt and Aussenwelt through a predetermined set of biological schemata that hardwire the organism into its “exterior” surroundings) we get a degree of liberation from the various sense data of perception that normally mechanically determine an organism's actions as it enters into a state of denaturalization that is contemporaneous with an act of withdrawing from its immersion in being, and thereby the first stirrings of a free creation of a world of experience. Desire in its Schellingian mode is thus an intermediary stage between nature and the violent unruliness that is the dark birthplace of the transcendental I. But what must be noted here is how desire, as the beginning of the idealization of reality, is essentially identical to the conventional definitions of psychosis as withdrawal from objective reality into self, but here at the ontological level instead of that of sociopolitically structured reality. Consequently, it is Schelling and not Hegel who most succinctly describes the ontological passage through madness insofar as it is the former and not the latter who describes how the night of the world could disrupt the world into a series of membra disjecta. In this respect, when Žižek in The Ticklish Subject and Less Than Nothing proclaims that it is Hegel who is the most radical philosopher of the abyss of madness at the core of subjectivity and the minimal paranoia at the basis of order itself, [254] he appears to be completely unaware of how strongly his reading of Schelling influences his own reactualization of German Idealism. On his own account, not only is the Schellingian concept of the erratic oscillation of drives that precedes fully constituted reality the expression of the abyss of madness at the core of subjectivity, which Schelling himself supplements with the emergence of desire/ontological madness in being, but at the end of the first chapter of The Indivisible Remainder Žižek discusses Schelling's great insight into the necessarily paranoiac structure of universality as such, a point made explicit for the first time by Lacan, thus establishing a link between the two. [255]

    In this sense, in both Žižekian and Schellingian ontology we can speak of something like a spectrum of subjectivity or ideality inherent within nature. Following this claim literally, we must say that we come across traces of desire within other organisms to varying degrees: there is a kind of quantitative accumulation of desire (an evolutionary genesis) that may lead to a complete qualitative break with nature (the splitting act of Ent-Scheidung) but in such a way that the possibility of the latter is not logically contained within the former as a kind of hidden, self-unfolding kernel—rather, the former can only incite it, so that only after the fact can we establish a “relation” between the two. There is no guarantee for freedom in the realm of mere being. Yet, what desire shows us is that the pure Real is not completely all-consuming: it is teeming with crevices within its positive fold, interstices within its being, which present a restless negativity tearing it apart. However, these sites of negativity are to be distinguished from human subjectivity insofar as despite expressing a minimal level of liberation from nature's cycles, they are unable to completely liberate themselves from nature's biological hardwiring and thus seek a new form of non-natural (virtual) organization. In this respect, they would only resemble the primordial unruliness prior to the advent of the Symbolic insofar as they would not exhibit a violent process of utter denaturalization, although we must nevertheless speak of a tension-ridden trembling of the organic system as it begins to quiver under its own weight.

    It is for this reason that Žižek can adopt Heidegger's claim in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics that animals feel “the ‘poorness’ of their relating to the world” in such a way that we see “an infinite pain pervading the whole of living nature.” [256] As Žižek points out, this shares common ground with Schelling's notion of “the veil of despondency that spreads itself over nature.” [257] But we must understand this pain or despondency in nature in two separate but interrelated ways. First, one could say that in desire as the beginnings of the idealization, that is, of the world's psychotic replication of itself within itself, animals have a kind of implicit yet nonconscious “knowledge” that they are unfree because they exist in a mode of unfathomable tension between the Real (instinctual-deterministic schemata) and the Ideal (desire as a blockage), but without this distinction being posited as such, as if here the Ideal has begun to inhere/persist within the Real, disrupting it from the inside, without yet being autonomous. The Real rules supreme—and not only has full-fledged ideality not yet emerged in being, but what we encounter here may only be referred to as a form of ontological proto-ideality once ideality in its freedom has come on the scene, that is, retroactively. By consequence, the slightest tinge of desire within the biological system that is supposed to determine the animal's reaction with its environment in advance through a pre-set logistics gives it, as it were, a taste of its own possible, but unreachable freedom, the animal being liberated yet confined in its movement. It is this simultaneous nonconscious “dreamlike” premonition of subjective freedom and its ultimate ontological foreclosure that constitutes nature's despondency or melancholy (Schwermut). But it must be noted that the “despondency” or “melancholy” of nature is not a moment of mere poetical rhetoric or uncalled-for anthropomorphism. As Henri Maldiney points out, Heidegger's descriptions of living beings as plagued by a constitutive Benommenheit (captivation, dazedness) coincide with that “mode of being of the type melancolicus” elaborated by Tellenbach. [258] If nature is overcome by a veil of despondency, it is because non-human life is wrought by a structure that is, for us, distinctively pathological: it is as if it is held back, stuck in its tracks, because it is incapable of a truly effective willing. Second, with emergence of desire, the self-sustaining circuitry of nature becomes disturbed by the interruptive presence of an extimacy, an inassimilable Real, within its very ebb and flow, causing its relatively balanced rotation to fall into a painful deadlock, an erratic oscillation of conflictual tendencies that become more and more uncontrollable as desire increases. If the animal gets its first taste of freedom in desire, then nature in the same moment gets the first taste of the madness that awaits it if this freedom were to fully actualize itself (the night of the world). Nature's pain is the unsteady, unpredictable palpitation of its heart of hearts threatening to explode in one excessive outburst as Todestrieb begins to awaken itself, but because it has yet to self-accumulate to a great intensity, and nothing has arisen to tame this propensity, there is a bleak darkness of antagonism. What is at issue here is the state of nature that precedes and sets the stage for humanity as a response; the emphasis is not on us, but rather on ontogenetic conditions, so that the apparent anthropomorphization of nature is coincident with the dehumanization of humanity, for inscribing desire into being is identical with taking it away from us as a privileged attribute.

    The Žižekian night of the world emerges as the nonconscious drives of nature for the first time liberate themselves from their blind rotation in being through an immanently generated pandemonium within the corpo-Real of the body. Properly speaking, desire is an impasse within the ontological life of substance—“[s]ince there is consequently an unremitting urge to be and since it cannot be, it comes to a standstill in desire, as an unremitting striving, an eternally insatiable obsession with Being” [259] —that prevents substance from encompassing all, for the organism now obeys its own non-natural logic. It stands for the irremovable and impenetrable kernel of the Real qua logical paradox/internal limit that disturbs the annular circulation of drives through its own self-assertive violence. Here, the analogue with the body again proves to be useful to perceive the radicality of Žižek's reactualization of Schelling. Although the biological unity of the corpo-Real can astound us with its organic dynamism and systematic efficacy, the very awe-inspiring force of this self-organizing totality can cast a shadow over its dark underbelly, whose traumatic fact is often attested by nature's production of monstrosities, degenerative diseases, the mindless proliferation of cancerous tumors, or even the emergence of various forms of mental illness and psychosis caused by pure organic dysfunction, a fact that demonstrates how, from within the closed totality of a determinist system, a part can assert itself from within and hegemonize the organic whole, restructuring it according to its own “unruly” whim and thereby perturbing its harmonious, symphonized flow. Even if everything is logically pre-determined (the ebb and flow of matter can only follow certain paths carved out by genetics, the neuronal interface of the brain, and various different autopoietic systems), the laws that normally regulate the body can by themselves immanently generate a (bio)logical short circuit, thereby opening up a negative space within the body's corpo-Real that can assert itself and wreak havoc over its self-governing unity through a glitch in its programming. That which guarantees the placid functioning of everyday life and the health of body can suddenly turn into a ghastly apparition of true terror. Like an illness or disease within Schellingian ontology, desire does not stand for a positive ontological unity, but for an internal scrambling of the biological system that does not follow its supposed path within the whole and instead stubbornly asserts its own self at all costs—even its own dismal downfall by obstructing its own life source. A false unity, it simultaneously represents an ontological perversion and a metaphysical distortion: freedom is a devouring black hole, a mere disturbance, in the vital throes of being. In this context, Žižek talks of Jacques-Alain Miller's remarks on an unsettling rat experiment mentioned in one of Lacan's unpublished seminars, where it is only through a kind of neurological mutilation that a rat can be made to behave like a human. Formally, the specific character that distinguishes human freedom and separates it from the rest of the world is identical to rampant malfunction, a violent ontological disfiguring. [260]

    As the force of desire is raised to a higher and higher degree of ideality, matter enters into a self-lacerating rage (sich selbst zereißende Wut) like a cancer-ridden, disease-stricken body howling under its own out-of-control energy. [261] Desire is a self-destructive mania that tears apart the smooth fabric of the world. This is why Žižek finds Schelling's “Wagnerian” vision of God so terrifying. It depicts a being that, by means of the painful, crippling amplification of desire into Todestrieb, becomes completely denaturalized and can thus posit itself as distinct from the anonymous, faceless pulsation of substance by the carving up of a self: “[t]he horror of the rotary motion resides in the fact that it is no longer impersonal: God already exists as One, as the Subject who suffers and endures the antagonism of drives,” “a state of an endless 'pleasure in pain,' agonizing and struggling with Himself, affected by an unbearable anxiety.” [262] The primordial unruliness of human nature and its coequal term diabolical evil are therefore synonymous with this grotesque excess of life that we witness in the breakdown of the corpo-Real in times of illness, with what occurs when the self-enclosed logic of nature auto-disrupts through pure dysfunction. In this regard, the freedom of the subject—that anarchic state that precedes the birth of the Symbolic as a form of retroactive damage control—is not a positive characteristic or attribute: it is the failure of the auto-actualization of the essence of nature, its inability to contain itself within its own preset logistics, which causes an ontological catastrophe. [263] As Žižek makes clear in an interview, when viewed from the standpoint of the natural world we can only even understand the peculiarity of (self-) consciousness and human intelligence by positing something going horribly wrong in its internal development:

    Žižek. What I am currently engaged with is the paradoxical idea that, from a strict evolutionary standpoint, consciousness is a kind of mistake—a malfunction of evolution—and that out of this mistake a miracle emerged. That is to say, consciousness developed as an unintended by-product that acquired a kind of second-degree survivalist function. Basically, consciousness is not something which enables us to function better. On the contrary, I am more and more convinced that consciousness originates with something going terribly wrong—even at the most personal level. For example, when do we become aware of something, fully aware? Precisely at the point where something no longer functions properly or not in the expected way.

    Daly. Consciousness comes about as a result of some Real encounter?

    Žižek. Yes, consciousness is originally linked to this moment when “something is wrong,” or, to put it in Lacanian terms, an experience of the Real, of an impossible limit. Original awareness is impelled by a certain experience of failure and mortality—a kind of snag in the biological weave. And all the metaphysical dimensions concerning humanity, philosophical self-reflection, progress and so on emerge ultimately because of this basic traumatic fissure. [264]

    8.2 Malfunction, Mal-adaptation, Breakdown: Žižek and the Sciences

    We should pause for a moment and consider this Žižekian notion of a “snag in the biological weave” in order to draw out its full meaning and implications for our understanding of the sciences, which will simultaneously allow us to show that such an ontogenetic account of the emergence of Todestrieb is not enough to explain the emergence of subjectivity. Taken at a purely formal level, both standard accounts of evolution and Žižek's theory of the ontogenesis of the subject appear to share a fundamental presupposition. Functioning through random mishaps in the self-replication of genetic code producing new, unforeseeable ontological differences in living being, neo-Darwinian evolution is rendered possible by a moment of malfunction, error, the always possible upsurge of inconsistency in the “rhythmic” flow of nature. Irreversible mutations form the basal and primordial stuff from which life gains its mercurial character. Consequently, for modern-day biology, nature too is not-all insofar as there is no eternal, overarching unity in the vital energetics of substance, no all-inclusive weave with a preset structure, plan, or predictable movement: there are constant slips and slides in positive reality, glitches and functional disturbances. Evolution is nothing other than nature encountering its own real limit, which proves to be the actual driving force of material creation and change: its weakness does not prove to be a mere limitation, a deficiency, but is often even its strength, allowing its forms to endure by adaption. However, what we could call the biological movement of the negative is only able to ground this transformative activity insofar as it sets up a new “dialectic” between organism and environment. As malfunction slowly and contingently gives rise to new characteristics by the sedimentation of small changes over the sluggish march of evolutionary time, an automatic rubric of natural selection occurs: those who are, by pure chance, more “fit” for their particular niche survive and pass on the biological glitch that, paradoxically, shows itself retroactively to have been a source of force and power, making those that were not struck by accident with the given mishap of self-replication in question disadvantageous, leading them to die out. Though here the possibility of monstrosities coincides with the possibility for new natural forms, a new emergent logistic is able to subsume both within a greater system of the struggle for life and death, even if this struggle is, in and of itself, non-teleological.

    For Žižek, however, this naturalistic account of biological “negativity” within being at the level of the self-reproduction of organisms does not go far enough. Although he agrees with its fundamental presuppositions—nature as not-all, as driven forward by an internal yet productive inconsistency—he believes that the mechanism of neo-Darwinian evolution is unable to explain the emergence of subjectivity because it falls back into the trap of an organic theory of nature. Even if it does not posit an indwelling, necessary tendency for progression, a forward-moving advancement towards more sophisticated life-forms, the “dialectic” between organism and environment is all-inclusive: the law of self-preservation and homeostasis becomes so primordial that even a mishap in reproduction becomes ultimately subsumed under a species' attempt to assert itself and stay alive, so that the moment of the negative retroactively posits itself as being always already a teleologically guided, rational development. In other words, we can always give reasons as to why this or that evolutionary feature benefited the organism as a being immersed in the natural cycle of life and death. Even if within the naturalistic viewpoint nature/substance is in a certain respect not-all—there is nothing guaranteeing its completion—it does not go far enough, for nothing transcends its grasp. There may be conflict and negativity within the system, but this in no way poses a problem to the inner algorithm of its biological “dialectics.” The problem with this theoretical position is that it fails to see how the subject, haunted by Todestrieb, demonstrates that there is no single overarching principle of explanation, that there is a “place” in nature that is, strictly speaking, non-natural and defines itself against the rhythm of life and death, fullness and lack: the negativity that opens up the space for self-consciousness cannot be, even retroactively, subsumed within an evolutionary narrative of survival. Scientific methodology cannot explain the human, for the zero-level (= unruliness) of experience not only provides no functional advantage in nature, but even disturbs the dialectic of organism and environment because it cuts the link between Innenwelt and Aussenwelt. As Žižek says, “we should bear in mind the basic anti-Darwinian lesson of psychoanalysis repeatedly emphasized by Lacan: man’s radical and fundamental dis-adaptation, mal-adaptation, to his environs,” [265] a point not only argued for by Lacan, but also by Kant and Fichte at the beginning of the German Idealist tradition. [266]

    In his own work on cognitive science, Žižek attempts to show for this very reason how a variety of cognitive scientists and neurophilosophers falter at the enigma of consciousness and thereby create a plurality of approaches at odds with one another. He divides the latter into four groups, which cover the logical possibilities of explaining of consciousness in terms of the standard natural model (sadly, the details of each on the Žižekian reading must be left aside here):

    1. eliminative/reductive materialism: the proclamation that there is no such thing as consciousness and qualitative experience is a “naturalized” illusion (Patricia and Paul Churchland);
    2. the antimaterialist position: the necessity of positing a new fundamental force of nature yet to be discovered (David Chalmers);
    3. the inherent inexplicability of consciousness: given the “cognitive closure” limiting knowledge, we must assert that the birthplace of conscious awareness is unknowable, even if it did arise out of materiality (Colin McGinn, Steve Pinker);
    4. an “as-if” non-reductive materialism: consciousness exists, and we can use teleological language to describe it, but it has emerged entirely due to natural laws and can ultimately be completely subsumed within them (Daniel Dennett). [267]

    What remains common to each of these approaches, according to Žižek, is the failure of a purely scientific account of consciousness. In typical psychoanalytical style, it is the places where these discourses reach an impasse, where their symbolic space is internally obstructed, that are the most revealing; paradoxically, this occurs whenever they face the essentials of the very object of their investigation. Whether it be (i) the outright dismissal of self-consciousness reflexivity as a pseudo-problem, (ii) the thesis that the only way to inscribe the singularity of consciousness within nature is to posit a new force comparable to gravity or electromagnetism, (iii) entirely giving up any possible material explanation of consciousness, or (iv) the forced attempt to understand conscious reflexivity as a purely natural phenomenon, the closed loop of infinite self-relating that is the condition of the possibility of self-consciousness is itself the impasse of each discourse, for consciousness cannot be naturalized. This leads Žižek to say: “I am therefore tempted to apply here the dialectical reversal of epistemological obstacle into positive ontological condition: what if the 'enigma of consciousness,' its inexplicable character, contains its own solution? What if all we have to do is to transpose the gap which makes consciousness (as the object of our study) 'inexplicable' into consciousness itself?” [268] Either by trying to bypass the problem by fiat ([i] completely eliminating the object, “consciousness,” or [iv] stripping it of its singular character as ideal self-reflexivity—both an attempt to show the theoretical prowess of materialism) or by tackling it head-on ([ii] declaring the irreducibility of mind or [iii] making a possible materialist explanation disappear—both an attempt to demonstrate the necessity of idealism), what each option shows, positively or negatively, is that the self-reflexivity constitutive of consciousness is a disruption of natural laws that demands a new metaphysical vision of the world.

    For these reasons, Žižek does not locate the moment of malfunction constitutive of the subject at the level of genetic mutation and, in a second step, he refuses to equate it completely with a breakdown of the libidinal-material ground of nature. It goes beyond a scientifically measurable “unit of change” (even if is ultimately incited by a certain series of genetic mutations) insofar as it breaks with all totalizing, homogenizing principles or laws. As a closed loop of infinite self-relating, consciousness can only be made possible by a prior psychotic withdrawal of the world into its nocturnal, ontologically solipsistic self, the primordial rupture dividing Innenwelt and Aussenwelt. It is this founding gesture that sets an internal limit to scientific models because it obstructs the “dialectic” of organism and environment: the self-organizing, instinctual schemata offered by our genetic code go haywire in the life of the organism, so that we are no longer immersed in the world through a preset logistical program, but open up a space within which we are able to freely relate to it as an Other. The point is not to search for how the raw immediacy of the brute Real of neurons and their ancestral history in immemorial time dissipates the primordiality of self-experience, but how the irreducible reflexivity that sustains consciousness itself emerges from within the brute, faceless abyss of asubjective brain matter in such a way that the former remains incommensurate with latter, even if the latter is its obscure birthplace. Relying upon John Taylor's theory of consciousness, Žižek locates this primordial act of ontological division at a very specific point: through the relation of past working memory to present input, present experience spontaneously acquires the ability to relate to itself through a detour through the (its) past, the condition of which is “bubbles” of neuronal activity in local cortical regions establishing complex feedback systems. It is this direct self-instituting short-circuiting that allows for free, infinitely self-standing thought, the ease, energy and speed of mental operations, in contradistinction to the complex mediative channels of neuronal activity that produced the organism as a biological system, for it allows present experience to liberate itself radically from a mere attachment to input. [269] In a flash, the organism stops being determined through external conditions, but creates a zone within which it can relate to itself as a self so that bit by bit this self-relation takes charge of instinctual schemata. For Žižek, this “short circuit” or “(bio)logical glitch” between various faculties within the brain—a kind of naturally inexplicable overlapping that creates the possibility of psychotic self-relation, which, just like Schelling's account of the self-begetting of God, “can be described (narrated) only post festum, after it has already taken place, since we are dealing not with a necessary act but with a free act which could also not have happened” [270] —as a meta-transcendental condition of consciousness is related only in a derivative or secondary sense to the “malfunction” so fundamental to the process of neo-Darwinian evolution.This is true for two reasons. First, it makes itself superior to the natural basis that paves the way for it and thereby elevates itself above it. Second, it is not predictable from the mere level of genetic mutation. In this sense, not only is it a pure self-positing that depends on nothing but itself (even if it is incited by a genetic mutation, it remains irreducible to and logically distinct from it: it is a mere neuronal mishap, a disruptive emergence in the interstices of the logical network sustained by the biochemical and electrical interface of brain matter), but this capacity for self-assertion also allows it to liberate itself from its immersion/imprisonment in the natural world (the generated closed loop of self-relation breaks the interpenetration of Innenwelt and Aussenwelt in such a way that it cannot be retroactively subsumed within a survivalist narrative of newfound functionality, even if it does manage to acquire a second-degree survivalist function). Genetic mutation, the “dialectics” of organism and environment, and with it the breakdown of the libidinal-material ground of the organism, may be necessary for explaining the origins of subjectivity, but they are not sufficient. For full-fledged subjectivity to emerge, natural breakdown must paradoxically double itself.

    8.3 Terror, Perplexity, and the Awakening of the World

    Situating his own philosophical project within the heritage of German Idealism, Žižek's psychoanalytical reactualization of the Schellingian eruptive logic of the Grund is an attempt to show how the subject is not external to the absolute. In other words, the gaze of the subject in Žižekian ontology must be seen as the material universe finally “gaining” the power to look upon itself through an internal reflection: “the whole domain of the representation of the world (call it mind, spirit, language, consciousness, or whatever medium you prefer) needs to be understood as an event within and of the world itself. Thought is not at all opposed to being, it is rather being's replication within itself.” [271] As the dense, closed circuitry of nature dissolves under the impact of the Todestrieb, it gives way to the possibility of the “miracle” [272] of human thinking and its free idealization of the world as immanent in the latter. However, this moment of parallax shift from mere being to thought must be taken for what it is. Within the ancestral genealogy of forgotten, phenomenologically inaccessible time, the system of nature slowly and contingently grows in complexity, eventually reaching its autopoietic apotheosis in the structure of the brain, which, because of its some one hundred billion neurons possessing a total of at least one hundred trillion synaptic connections, thereby displaying one hundred times more synapses than the estimated number of stars in our galaxy, is unable to hold itself together according to its own immanent, self-regulating laws. Unintended loops and gaps in its processes become visible as they writhe under the infinite pressure of their own labyrinthine intricacy, nature failing to find its own way in its own production. Substance falls into deadlock: with the emergence of the complex neuronal interface of man, it can no longer successfully posit itself as a fragile all, and it breaks into a series of membra disjecta, which opens up the space within which the self-enclosed loop of experience asserts itself out of nowhere, further intruding upon and obstructing its activity from within. All at once and as if in a cosmic flash, through an accident of overlapping in the neuronal network, material being encounters its own internal limit amplified to the maximum and the world opens its eyes: with the rise of subjectivity it appears that an unsolvable glitch in the smooth functioning of its own inward-dwelling logic posits itself as such, enabling the world for the first time to find the distance to self necessary for its own self-phenemonalization by virtue of a shock, a blow, a violence, for which it itself is responsible. The claustrophobic immanence that drowns everything in the blind void of non-experience is finally shattered—yet when the world finally opens its eyes for the very first time in the mode of subjectivity it does not rejoice, it does not celebrate, nor does it feel a passive, grateful joy from the beauty surrounding it and bask in the bliss aroused by the wonder and amazement of the brute fact of its existence. It whimpers under its own weight, hearing its own inarticulate cry as it experiences itself in a moment of unbearable agony and catastrophic self-diremption, “a mixture of terror and perplexity” that Žižek compares to the atrocity of sexual abuse and the horrific pictures of children dying from radiation exposure in Chernobyl:

    Although one of today's main candidates for the figure of Evil is child sexual abuse, there is nevertheless something in the image of a hurt, vulnerable child which makes it unbearably touching: the figure of a child, between two and five years old, deeply wounded but retaining a defiant attitude, his face and poise remaining stubborn, although he is barely able to prevent an outburst of tears—is this not one of the figures of the Absolute? One thinks here about the photos of children dying from exposure to radiation after the Chernobyl accident, or—also from Ukraine—one of the photos on a child-porn website showing a really young child, no more than four years old, confronting a big ejaculating penis, face covered with fresh sperm. Although the shot probably plays on the link between the penis ejaculating sperm and the mother’s breast full of milk, the expression on the child's face is clearly a mixture of terror and perplexity: the child cannot make out what is going on. [273]

    What the world first sees is not its own awe-striking unity and oneness, the spiritual fullness of a self-seizing, self-actualizing centre that holds everything together in an all-encompassing totality. All it discerns is the tumultuous uproar of erratic pulsation, an insurmountable, non-masterable chaos resulting from the degradation or collapse of its own positive, autopoietic activity. The self-awareness of the world, its self-experience in the first person as made possible by the existence of subjectivity and thus all experience as such, is necessarily preceded by this irreducible and irreversible auto-disruption that must be seen as catastrophic. The ontogenetic basis of subjectivity is the trauma of primordial loss, where nature is forever alienated from itself through complete breakdown (N ≠ N), so that we must say that the subject is paradoxically that which has survived its own death, for “the past traumatic loss of substance [...] is constitutive of the very dimension of subjectivity” [274] —or as Schelling himself puts it, “[p]ain is something universal and necessary in all life, the unavoidable transition point to freedom [...]. It is the path to glory.” [275] But this is no mere rhetoric on behalf of Žižek: as his Schellingian-inspired argument makes clear, this psychosis-inducing auto-disruption of being is a necessary theoretical posit if free experience is to be possible instead of a blind experiential void:

    We cannot pass directly from nature to culture. Something goes terribly wrong in nature: nature produces an unnatural monstrosity and I claim that it is in order to cope with, to domesticate, this monstrosity that we symbolize. Taking Freud's fort/da as a model: something is primordially broken (the absence of the mother and so on) and symbolization functions as a way of living with that kind of trauma. [276]

    In short, the ontological necessity of “madness” resides in the fact that it is not possible to pass directly from the “animal soul” immersed in its natural life-world to “normal” subjectivity dwelling in its symbolic universe—the vanishing mediator between the two is the “mad” gesture of radical withdrawal from reality that opens up the space for its symbolic reconstitution. [277]

    The implication of this is that the Symbolic (the reconstitution of reality, the world's self-replication within itself) is nothing but an attempt to tame, to gentrify this constitutive mayhem/madness in the immanent fold of being. But it must be insisted that this can only be accomplished at the level of the virtual: “[t]he third moment which 'resolves' the contradiction is by definition 'prothetic' (virtual, artificial, symbolic, not substantially natural).” [278] When the world “perceives itself” as lost to self and infinitely dirempt (N ≠ N as the originary [onto]logical violence preceding and possibilizing transcendental imagination) in the mode of subjectivity, it recoils into culture as a defence mechanism to try to sublate this gap in its being, to fill in this hole in its depths and thereby posits itself as such as a full-fledged subjectivity. [279] In short, the passage from darkness to light only occurs at the level of the Symbolic: in the Real, nothing changes, unruliness (our break from nature) is left untouched. It is this aspect of the intrinsic madness of culture, language, and phenomenal reality, its psychotic lack of contact with the world, that Žižek claims we forget, that we must necessarily forget, if the transcendental misrecognition of reality necessary to subjectification as a reaction formation is to be a successful “compensation.” All our discourses, all our “truths,” are nothing but the deluded ravings of the asylum unaware of their true origin within the founding gesture of subjectivity as a recoil spurred on by the brutal trauma of violently awakening up into a dismembering hemorrhaging of being, the ultimate ontological catastrophe. All the beauty of the world merely belies its true, unbearable horror: “[i]f we take into consideration the many terrible things in nature and the spiritual world and the great many other things that a benevolent hand seems to cover up from us, then we could not doubt that [the ego] sits enthroned over a world of terrors.” [280] In this respect, “the true point of 'madness' [...] is not the pure excess of the ‘night of the world,' but the madness of the passage to the Symbolic itself, of imposing a symbolic order onto the chaos of the Real. If madness is constitutive, then every system of meaning is minimally paranoid, 'mad.'” [281] Paradoxically, the world can only become known to itself—being can only replicate itself within thought—if its medium of self-disclosure operates “with no external support of its truth,” [282] without ever touching the Real. [283]

    Accordingly, Schellingian desire must be said to be the beginning of being's withdrawal into its nocturnal, irreal self and that which opens up the space necessary for ego development as symptom formation (a defence). Following various hints and gestures in the middle-late Schelling, Žižek takes premonitions of the psychoanalytical experience of mind-body discord and brings to the fore their underlying eruptive logic. This leads him to the idea of Grund and existence as a dialectically irreconcilable pair emerging through the caustic collapse of being as it gains notional self-reflexivity, this being the fundamental logical moment for understanding how his own parallax ontology can bring together a materialism and a self-grounding idealism. It is not the mediating filters of language that are primordially responsible for our lack of access to extra-subjective reality due to some internal limitation—rather, it is reality itself that renders impossible its own access to itself. The Symbolic is always already revelatory of the nature of the world, albeit in an intrinsically negative manner: the prison house of language, our inability to “transcend” it and grasp reality as it is in itself, [284] necessarily refers to the material processes that gave birth to the alienating linguistic-conceptual structures that permanently rob us of the immediacy of being. Psychosis is not the feature of a single isolated subject lost in disarray—it is the rite of passage of becoming a subject, a point explicitly brought to the fore by Lacan [285] and that justifies rereading Schelling through Lacanian psychoanalysis. It is no accident that both Schelling's Stuttgarter Privatvorlesungen and the third draft of the Weltalter contain at a crucial point a meditation on the relationship between subjectivity and madness and the latter's irreducibility (in the former when discussing the soul's higher faculties, in the latter at the very end of the book of the Past): “[u]nderstanding, if it is to be an actual, living and active understanding, is therefore properly nothing other than a coordinated madness”; [286] “[f]or in what does the intellect prove itself than in the coping with and governance and regulation of madness? [...] Without continuous solicitation of it, there would be no consciousness.” [287]

    The difficult paradox of Žižek’s metaphysical archaeology of the subject is that it is only through this ontological catastrophe that the true “miracle” [288] of human thinking can emerge, so that there is a speculative identity between the highest (that which sustains and creates the autonomous sphere of spirit in its dialectical creativity) and the lowest (the irrevocable alienation of being to itself, its schismatic auto-disruption that produces a non-natural excess). As that which thereby negatively binds together materialism and idealism, the impossible in-between that is the subject is neither Real nor Symbolic insofar as it dialectically coincides with both modalities simultaneously, yet is also outside of them, thus rendering its status as a vanishing mediator undecidable. In both, it is internally contained as external, present as absent, included as excluded. The subject is therefore infinitely non-coincidental and contradictory: having no place in either mind or body, it can only show itself as the caustic breakdown of substance (N ≠ N) or in the fleeting, ephemeral distortions of symbolic space between signifiers ($), but these two traces fail to grasp its essence in its purity, for the subject is more than the material collapse of being and the limits of discourse. But what is more, not only is the subject outside the Symbolic because it is minimally non-coincident with it, but insofar as it is at its very origin and must withdraw in order for the Symbolic to take hold, we need a new form of language even to discuss its genesis out of pre-logical antagonism, since not even the inconsistencies of our notional apparatus could thus aid us to explain its pure upsurge. The subject is “a non-provable presupposition, something whose existence cannot be demonstrated but only inferred through the failure of its direct demonstration.” [289] As a result, the metaphysical archaeology of the subject I have been executing contains a necessary moment of speculative fabulation to fill in the unavoidable gaps of the narrative of how thought arises within the flat plane of being.

    Here, however, we encounter a major methodological difficulty. Drawing upon Schellingian ontology to embark upon such a mytho-poetic articulation of how substance could act in the self-effacing, self-sundering mode of subjectivity presents an immediate problem to those who are familiar with the texts upon which Žižek relies, for the Freiheitsschrift and the Weltalter display the structure of a quaternity, with a principle exterior to the dynamic of Grund and existence that ties them together as androgynous opposites in a point of absolute indifference, an Ungrund, whose conceptual contours appear to have starkly different consequences for human self-consciousness and culture, namely, that humans participate in the theo-cosmogonic drama of God's search for self-manifestedness in creation, or to put it differently, in the emergence of “the cosmos (of fully constituted reality, ruled by logos) out of the proto-cosmic pre-ontological chaos.” [290] According to this picture, ontological catastrophe (the subject) is less a cataclysmic breakdown than part of the inherent negativity in the intimate life of God that makes His personality truly alive. Only through the preclusion of a theosophic philosophy of nature as the illusion that there is “a secret, invisible, all-powerful agent who effectively 'pulls the strings' behind the visible, public Power... [an] obscene, invisible power structure acts the part of the 'Other of the Other' in the Lacanian sense, the part of the meta-guarantee of the consistency of the big Other (the symbolic order that regulates social life),” [291] can Žižek ground his reading of the ontogenesis of the subject by identifying the act of decision—the pure self-positing of the I that separates Grund from existence for the first time—with the self-assertive violence of evil and disease. Because there is no God who needs a being like Himself in order to recognize Himself as Himself through a mirror that is His Other, the irreducible freedom of the human subject can only be seen as an ontologically narcissistic disturbance of the relatively ordered whole of nature: there can be no internal teleology guided by divine understanding and will whereby man participates in the divine drama of being's search for self-disclosure. Nature is not the primordial, first revelation of God, [292] but the obscure basis of subjectivity, that against which it defines itself by a self-caused break. Rejecting the theosophic Ungrund central to Schelling's middle-late texts, Žižek sees traces of a disavowed analytic of finitude within them that, wrought with self-destructive, self-sabotaging tendencies, can paradoxically efface itself in the production of an extimate kernel of negativity, which then, in another moment, hegemonically takes over. In this sense, Žižek's own ontology—just like his work on Hegel—must be understood as an attempt to psychoanalytically construct the unconscious truth of Schelling's thinking by demonstrating how “his thought—for a brief moment, as it were in a flash—renders visible something that was invisible beforehand and withdrew into invisibility thereafter,” and how this tension constitutes the central difficulty of his theosophic epic. [293] What, then, motivates and philosophically founds Žižek's violent “reactualization” of the Schellingian subject? To come to terms with this, we will have to explore the psychoanalytical conflict omnipresent in the Weltalter project.

    9. The Abyss of Unconscious Decision: Schelling's Weltalter and Psychoanalytical Horror of Substance as Subject

    Since Schelling's own account of the Grund has theosophic tendencies in contradiction with the Lacanian subject, and by consequence with the disavowed yet formative Grundlogik of German Idealism, Žižek is only able to reactualize Schelling by “formalizing” its content. By elaborating Žižek's psychoanalytical methodology, I will show how Žižek is able to legitimate such a violent overhauling of Schelling insofar as he sees an inability to assimilate an encounter with the Real within key conceptual moments, a maddening struggle that simultaneously causes the “failure” of his middle-late philosophy and testifies to his prowess as the greatest thinker of subjectivity, thus presenting us with a nuanced and controversial reading of Schelling's philosophical development and his relation to German Idealism as a whole. What is more, reconstructing this “therapeutic space” will enable us to not only come to a greater understanding of the systematic rigour of Žižek's approach in opposition to what his critics want us to believe, but also bring us face to face with the psychoanalytical horror of the founding insight of modernity—the ontologically catastrophic nature of the subject as the vanishing mediator between the Real and the Symbolic—and the mechanisms by which even the greatest thinker of subjectivity can be seduced by fantasies as he tarries with its essence.

    9.1 Into the Void: The Frenzy of God's Self-Diremption

    The ambiguity of the Hegel-Schelling relationship within Žižek stems from his critique of Schellingian metaphysics. Even if Žižek's own transcendental materialism is founded upon a notion of emergent ontological catastrophe at the origin of subjectivity, a notion he largely derives from the Freiheitsschrift and the Weltalter, Žižek is quite adamant in distancing himself from these texts, even if in the same breath he praises Schelling's profound ability to penetrate into the pre-symbolic material of the Real. [294] Indeed, immediately after his remarkable and provocative reading of Schelling in The Indivisible Remainder, Žižek argues for the supremacy of Hegelian dialectics. Despite the ephemeral moments of genuine breakthrough that emerge “as it were in a flash,” [295] Žižek insists that Schelling remains philosophically inferior to his great rival: he ultimately fails to conceive the radicality implicit in the self-positing act of separating Grund from existence and tries to cover up the non-coincidence in being it indicates by making the two distinct from one another only by being founded within absolute indifference, which itself, as Schelling says, “is not a product of opposites, nor are they contained in it implicite; rather it is a being of its own, separated from all oppositions, on which all oppositions are broken, which is nothing other than their very non-being, and which therefore has no predicate except predicatelessness.” [296] The eruptive logic of the Grund, intrinsic to the notion of ontological catastrophe, is thereby completely lost: “from this neither-nor, or from this indifference, duality [...] immediately breaks forth, and without indifference, i.e., without an unground, there would be no twofoldness of the principles,” [297] in such a way that “the [Schellingian] Absolute is primarily the 'absolute indifference' providing the neutral medium for the coexistence of the polar opposites” of the Real and the Ideal. [298] As such, it provides a way out of the abyss of freedom as a kind of metaphysical violence: the act of unconscious decision, the vanishing mediator that mediates between the real and ideal poles, “'repressed' by the formal envelope of the ‘obscurantist’ Schelling,” becomes relegated to a mere secondary position in a theosophic drama that subsumes it. [299]

    Although Hegel's mature ontology as outlined in the Encyclopedia suffers, in Žižek's view, from a similar deficiency by articulating the complete return of the Idea to itself in a manner that attempts to get rid of the psychotic night of the world, nevertheless Hegel develops a superior logic because within it there is no need to leave the internal dynamic of Grund and existence and posit some transcendent principle. All can be done at the level of (a self-destructive, negativity-wrought) immanence. What Hegel fails to bring to full conceptual expression is how in dialectics the very category of “and” changes, along with the full range of implications this presents for any metaphysical system of the world: through the paradoxical identification of Grund and existence “and” becomes, in essence, tautological, [300] which not only prevents Grund and existence from being mere opposites existing alongside one another through their foundation in something external to their own movement, but also excludes the possibility of any self-totalizing activity. In the logical process of the dialectic, the third term is the second, understood as a negativity or internal limit inscribed in the first, but only insofar as it has successfully taken over, usurped, the originary position from which the movement began by asserting itself as such—that is, the passage from the second to the third is that of an emergent extimacy within the first moment, which renders it non-coincident to itself, and thereby not-all, by owning itself and taking over its originary position to which it was once held at bay through an uprising. In terms of substance and subject, this means that “this very reversal is the very definition of subject: ‘subject’ is the name for the principle of Selfhood that subordinates to itself the substantial Whole whose particular moment it originally was.” [301] Nothing at the level of content changes: it expresses a purely formal self-relationality giving birth to itself from within the radical non-coincidence of the absolute with itself, a self-begetting that resets the latter's logical hardwiring in an unpredictable way from within an unforeseeable self-posited zone of operation. The dialectical movement from (i) immediacy → (ii) negation → (iii) negation of negation is superior to Schellingian metaphysical narrative because there is no genuine return movement to the first, for everything takes place within a self-effacing, yet productive immanent field: the beginning and end do not overlap because something irreducibly different emerges within the first moment (negativity being now made foundational to identity): namely, an “out of joint” spirit that has a degree of notional self-reflexivity. In other words, the tautology indicated by the category of “and” is, in fact, revelatory of a monism bursting at the seams: to say that Grund and existence are identified is to say that Grund can only attain to existence, can only subsist in the modality of existence, insofar as it has erased itself, withdrawn from the scene. In this way it makes itself identical to the latter through the institution of its very difference from it, a difference that at some level is always a self-difference, a self-sabotaging, for there is no outside. [302] We come across a “self-enclosed” immanence that has produced a transcendence that persists in its heart of hearts in the paradoxical mode of the double feature of inclusion/exclusion, internal/external, presence/absence, so characteristic of Lacan's descriptions of the Real, but in such a way that what is excluded, external, absent, has a power over that from which it has emerged. Negativity means that the indivisibility and power of substance is shattered from within, because it is colonized by its own parasites like a madman is terrorized by his own hallucinations, but with the added effect that there is no need to posit a state of “originary health” of which the devouring restlessness of the negative cannot be predicated to explain the dynamism inherent to reality.

    Because of the theosophic structure of the middle-late Schelling, Žižek's own appropriations of concepts such as Grund and Entscheidung in the development of his own metaphysics put him in a delicate situation. The issue at hand is further complicated by Žižek's division of Schelling's philosophy into three distinct and irreconcilable stages, which he finds reflected in the three existent drafts of the Weltalter. [303] Schelling1 largely coincides with his quasi-Spinozistic philosophy of absolute indifference, where freedom is completely subsumed under the positive order of being. In the first draft this is seen in terms of the explication of freedom as a logical mode of necessity within the inner articulation of substance, its subsumption within the self-harmonizing genesis of the latter's rational structure and order. In the Schelling2 of the second draft of the Weltalter and the Freiheitsschrift, we see an interesting twist with regard to the concern with how the contraction of material being itself is made possible. By conceiving the act of contraction as ultimately free and self-positing, here Schelling is able to think the will-to-contraction (the No) and the will-to-expansion (the Yes) as identical and therefore internal to the dynamic of freedom, which makes his thinking approach that of Hegelian dialectics and secures his position as the concluding step of the unconscious Grundlogik of German Idealism whose lineage culminates in the advent of psychoanalysis. For Žižek, this brief period of breakthrough was quickly left behind by the Schelling3 of the philosophy of mythology and revelation, where we see a return to a pre-modern “essentialism,” traces of which he claims are already hinted at in the third draft of the Weltalter, where Schelling posits another principle of synthesis external to the movement of contraction and expansion within which freedom and determinism are grounded as opposites.

    It is because of these tendencies (which explain why Žižek qualifies the revolutionary character of Schelling's philosophy by describing him as the father of “New Age obscurantism” just as much as the father of contemporary philosophy of finitude) [304] that Žižek so quickly changes tone in the second chapter of The Indivisible Remainder. Yet while consistent with his overall interpretation of Schelling, this emphatic shift is simultaneously ambiguous insofar as Žižek does not distinguish which Schelling he is arguing against or justify how he is able to read the second draft of the Weltalter as an ephemeral rupture in Schelling's thought “which goes farthest in the direction of Freedom.” [305] Given that the only way for freedom to exist according to Žižek is through the space opened up by the caustic collapse of being, and that both Hegel's ontology and Schelling's logic fail in their own fashion to come to terms with this insight, [306] even if each encounters it in a significant manner, how exactly is Žižek able to retrieve this concept from the second draft without falling into the pitfalls of Schelling's own thinking, insofar as it is evidently against its letter and spirit even as he presents it? How is he able to maintain that the Weltalter and the Freiheitsschrift are the most sustained confrontation in the entire tradition with the frightening origins of subjectivity and its metaphysical implications, that they reveal the most profound penetration into the “perverted” core of the cogito that lurked latent in itself since the very founding gesture of modernity?

    What specifically interests Žižek in the middle-late work of Schelling is its frantic and uncertain nature. For all its intense, uncontrollable passion, for all its feverish outpouring, it does not get off the ground. Schelling's masterpiece, the Weltalter, never gets finished. Although this is not an outlier in Schelling's long philosophical career—his entire corpus is riddled with rapidly written sketches of systems and allusions to publications on the horizon that never appear—there is an undeniable hesitation saturating this period. The trunk of stillborn, abortive drafts of the first book of the Weltalter found in the library of Munich, of which only three remain today due to the fires that wrought havoc in the city in the aftermath of Allied bombings (but of which there were more than twelve different handwritten versions) is enough to demonstrate that this work haunted Schelling in a manner and with an intensity that others did not, as does the fact that after the 1809 Freiheitsschrift he refrained from publishing another major work, and largely withdrew from the German intellectual scene where he was once the rising star. Aside from scattered lectures—for instance, an 1827 and an 1833 course on the System der Weltalter—he would not return to the public eye with any sustained vigor until he was called to Berlin in 1841. At that time, assuming Hegel's chair ten years after the latter's untimely death, addressing an audience that had eagerly awaited him to break his silence for decades (an audience that included both Engels and Kierkegaard) and whose final reappearance was exacerbated by the uncertain fate of Hegelianism, he gave lectures on the philosophy of mythology and revelation. But the Hörsäle, first overflowing with excited, enthusiastic students of philosophy anxious to hear the words of Hegel’s old rival, were quickly abandoned in utter disappointment, leaving only a handful of devoted students, Fichte's son Immanuel Hermann von Fichte among them.

    But what explains this sudden change in Schelling's career, this lack of desire to publish, to engage in dialogue, to spread his philosophy over the European landscape that had eagerly welcomed it? Jason Wirth hints at something that comes to mind for anyone who knows Schelling's life story:

    Yet 1809 marked a turning point in Schelling's zeal to publish. Already Schelling's reputation had been injured by Hegel's unwarranted dismissal of the intellectual intuition as the “night when all cows are black.” [...] More seriously, however, Schelling's wife, Caroline, had become very ill. It is hard to read the Freedom essay, published in May 1809, with its analogy between sickness and evil (sickness is to Being as evil is to human being), without thinking of Caroline. In the treatise, Schelling claimed that the “veil of melancholy [Schwermut] that is spread out over all of nature is the profound and indestructible melancholy of all life.” Caroline died on September 7, 1809. Schelling was devastated. In a letter written less than a month after Caroline's death, Schelling claimed that “I now need friends who are not strangers to the real seriousness of pain and who feel that the single right and happy [glücklich] state of the soul is the divine mourning [Traurigkeit] in which all earthly pain is immersed.” A year later, Schelling began work on Die Weltalter, a philosophical poem about the rotatory movement of natality and fatality, pain and joy, comedy and tragedy within God, that is, within the whole of Being, itself. [307]

    Žižek allows us to offer a new, interesting, and controversial spin on this enigma. If we follow and reconstruct his implicit methodology, we see that he refuses the claim that Schelling's “retreat” was spurred on by the tragic death of his true love and great muse Caroline in 1809 just before the publication of the Freiheitsschrift, or for that matter even by the overwhelming influence of the Hegelian system that could also be seen as leaving him in a state of philosophical and existential paralysis. What Žižek invites us to argue is that, when one looks at the very structure of the Weltalter drafts themselves, one is confronted with an uncanny struggle of composition that reveals something primordial concerning what its texts give witness to and attempt—but ultimately fail—to bring forth. This painful unrest is not to be reduced to the mere level of personal dissatisfaction, as if there were a conscious recognition by Schelling that his own “masterpiece” could never hold its own as a rival of Hegelian logic, nor could it just boil down to some personal trauma that began to cloud Schelling's own philosophical capacities through a devouring melancholy that made the world during these years an agonizing repetition of bitter grey upon bitter grey. Instead, it provides the key to understanding both the self-deploying historico-dialectical (Lacanian) cause of German Idealism at work in Schelling's thought and ultimately dividing it into the three distinct stages as outlined by Žižek and establishing its true greatness in this fragmented second stage, whereby we can open up a legitimate space in which to reactualize it and let it come to terms with that which, by itself, it was not able to do.

    After Hegel’s critique of the Schellingian absolute indifference [308] in The Phenomenology of Spirit, and recognizing the strength of Hegel's dialectics, Schelling is forced to rethink the philosophical foundation of his thought and its attempt to balance transcendental idealism with an organic philosophy of nature in such a way that he can at the same time fight against the perceived threats of Hegel's philosophy. He puts his own prowess to use in articulating his account of the emergence of temporality and finitude that does not succumb to the claustrophobic subsumption of human freedom within the self-mediation of the absolute. Arguing that Hegel can only show the notional necessity of things and never their brute reality, he embarks on a theosophic exploration of the creation of the world that would not only challenge, but hopefully put a stake in the heart of the philosophy of his now adversary and former friend. Yet Schelling's middle-late philosophy is not just a theo-cosmogonic odyssey of the vicissitudes of divine being in its restless search for self-revelation. Following reason by analogy and identifying a structural parallel between God's speaking of the Word by which he becomes a full person and the birth of self-experience out of the eternal darkness that precedes it, [309] Schelling's philosophy simultaneously functions on two levels, that of the theo-cosmological and that of the metapsychological, in such a way that Schelling is able to say, at the end of the Freiheitsschrift, that we “have established the first clear concept of personality.” [310] It assumes that we can pass from the lowest to the highest, from the known to the unknown, by a careful, methodologically guided introspection, insofar as there is “a system of times [...] for us, of which the human system would be just a copy, a repetition within a narrower sphere.” [311]

    What is so intriguing about Schelling's attempt to describe the emergence of finitude from eternity and human subjectivity out of nature is the conceptual restlessness evident in the existent drafts of the project, each of which oscillates around an insurmountable deadlock located in the movement from the Past to the Present: that is, how the divine and human subject could emerge from the non-experiential void that precedes them. Schelling remains unable fully to explicate the meaning of what Žižek calls the “breach of symmetry,” God's contraction of finitude, and in the same vein the emergence of a free, deciding being (the subject) in a manner that leaves him at ease. In the first draft the abyss of freedom contracts materiality out of necessity, so that both divine and human freedom are subsumed within the self-unfolding of substance, while the second declares that the very contraction itself is an act of freedom, a self-positing, which not only renders the two opposed principles of the Yes and the No identical in the internal dynamic of freedom, but also (and more disconcertingly) results in a structural homology with sickness and evil as an unpredictable negative reversal of established ordered and wholeness from within. The third merely complicates the picture insofar as it breaks from the “Spinozistic” determinism and closed systematicity of the first and the radical philosophy of freedom with its potentially unsettling implications proclaimed by the second: by synthesizing both polar principles within a point of metaphysical simultaneity within the Godhead that is the Ungrund within which both rest as androgynous pairs, God the Creator's personal freedom is saved from being logically dependent upon a moment of cancer in divine being that upsets the joyful bliss of eternity, and in a similar move, subjectivity is no longer made possible by that which disrupts the smooth placidity of substance.

    These basic conceptual differences at such a foundational level of inquiry reverberate through the entire movement of the three stages in a meaningful way in each draft:

    1. Not only is human freedom actually a misrecognition of blind (Spinozistic) causality, so that the movement of dialectical human temporality is an illusion, all being co-present in the self-harmonizing synchronicity of the system—here we see Schelling struggling to rearticulate his old ideas in a new format—but even the act of contracting finitude is a necessity, so it could not not have happened, deriving from the “primordial Freedom in an absolutely immediate, 'blind,' non-reflected, unaccountable way.” [312]
    2. The fact of finitude in God or of freedom in man proclaims that synchronic substance cannot be a devouring totality, but must be an open not-all plagued with fragility and inconsistency all the way down. The very self-positing of finite being in God not only precludes all attempts to enclose it within a totalizing whole even within the divine understanding itself, since self-positing is equated with an absolute self-assertion, but (even more devastatingly) the emergence of God as a personal being out of its contracted material Grund is uncertain, insofar as there is no guarantee that He will come to His own by speaking the Word, unlike in the first draft where it is part of divine's substance infinite self-articulation.
    3. The problematic ramifications of the second position are foreclosed by making God's free existence as an entity predetermined and guaranteed in advance through the dialectical simultaneity of freedom and determinism in a higher synthetic principle. Thus the creation of the world is an absolutely contingent act following from a volitional arbitrariness expressing God's essence as love, making divine being, rather than a turmoil-ridden drama with an unforeseeable end, a self-maintaining whole. In this sense the third draft symbolizes a kind of retreat from the second; one is even tempted to say an (unconscious) attempt to save oneself from the traumatic, horrifying implications of its philosophy of freedom. The true basis of spontaneity was, as it were, too much for Schelling—he had to pull back.

    Not only do the existent drafts of the Weltalter give testament to an uncompromising tension, an endless circulation around an inassimilable kernel, both in terms of the relationship of God as person and consciousness to the eternal darkness of their ground, but it also appears as if Schelling's own philosophical career could only continue once it cut off, repressed, this encounter with the Real. In the turn to the Schelling3 of the philosophy of mythology (already hinted at in the third draft of the Weltalter) we can glimpse a recoil from the abyssal basis of freedom as pure self-positing unleashed in the second in the same way that the earlier Realphilosophie of Hegel is later abandoned in order to embrace a consoling triadic dialectics: just as Hegel tries to save the absolute from a diremptive wound that can never be healed, here Schelling attempts to save the essence of God and nature from the insoluble deadlock of drives eventually engendered by the self-institution of finitude and negativity he stumbled across in the Potenzenlehre of the second draft and already implicit in the eruptive logic of the Grund in the Freiheitsschrift; in both there is an attempt to retreat from the notion of a barred organic whole, a metaphysics of the not-all, as forced upon us by the philosophy of freedom whose first outlines we see already in Kant, substantiating Žižek's claim that both Hegel and Schelling repress the unacknowledged truth, the Grundlogik, of German Idealism. [313] By referring to the Godhead as das Überexistierende that summons the blind rotatory movement of drives, the third draft strives to save reality from the irredeemable conflict that it is faced with in the contraction of finitude: instead of the latter being absolutely self-positing as a moment in the movement from the potentiality of freedom in its abyssal eternity to its actualization, God in some strong sense now precedes the Grund of His existence, assuring His protection from the non-coincidence to self announced by the dependence of light on darkness: there is “an activity performed at a safe distance.” [314] This becomes even more evident in the late philosophy of mythology, where the entire theoretical edifice becomes grounded on the distinction between the Was and the Daß of God. The transcendence of the Daß from the flux of the Potenzen not only allows for an implicit, yet self-articulating teleological movement intrinsic to the antagonisms of finitude of the latter so that there are stages that unfold throughout nature and then human history that ultimately pave the way for the final revelation of God, but it also makes any appearance of ontological disarray merely a “perceptual illusion” generated by a self-harmonizing scheme deduced by negative philosophy (in Žižek's words, this is Schelling’s regress to pre-modern essentialism). Complementing negative philosophy, Schelling envisages a form of positive philosophy, one of whose primary tasks is to find and explicate these stages in nature and history: that is to say, “to function as a kind of 'transcendental empiricism,' and to 'test' the truth of rational construction in actual life,” [315] thereby subsuming the restless negativity at the heart of reality as revealed specifically in the second draft into a mere secondary feature of God's plan within the spectacle of the absolute's own self-development, deflating it to a mere ephemeral phase in an overarching cosmic dance towards revelation. The absolute yearns for self-disclosure once it has willed it, so that all things in creation move towards it, even if unknowingly: here, not only is nature's unpredictable catastrophism and widespread murder and extinction [316] no longer indicative of a lack of a totalizing principle, but man, denied the right to be an autonomous writer in the drama of divine being, is reduced to a mere actor or puppet who follows a pre-written script (a telos) given by the very structure of the Potenzen themselves for the joy of its author in His distant, cold kingdom of divine eternity, the non-rational Daß of God being, after all, distinct from and existing over and above the Was of God. But in the movement from Schelling2 to Schelling3 we should not just draw our attention to how in the latter there is absolutely no room for subjectivity with the very technical sense of the word that we have been using. What is much more revealing is how concerned Schelling3 is to establish God as that which guarantees the consistency and internal coherence of nature and history, previously jeopardized, for us and God Himself: there is a frantic obsession to demonstrate the existence of the Other of the Other in the Real when the inconsistencies and frailty of order have already been pushed upon us. The third stage in Schelling's thought is nothing but a reaction formation against his radical philosophy of freedom.

    Leaving aside the possible theological implications of Žižek's reading of Schelling—which deserve to be evaluated in their own right—due to his outright rejection of theosophy as ultimately nothing but a mytho-poetics of the Symbolic's coming into being, what Žižek's Schelling unearths in his frenzied attempt to develop a philosophical program able to battle Hegelian Absolute Idealism is the not-all nature of the absolute. Trying to give an account of the emergence of finitude and driven on by the alchemical intuition that there is an identity between the highest and the lowest, the self-begetting of God and the self-caused birth of the subject in its freedom, he delves into the nocturnal site out of which the human self is born and experiences the terror of the failure of positive being to ground itself, its “self-lacerating rage” (sich selbst zerreißende Wut), which acts as the vanishing mediator between nature and culture by opening up the possibility for the self-assertion of freedom from within the Real and its vicissitudes. This not only by definition prevents the completion of the project of the Weltalter insofar as it precludes any possibility of the reconciliation promised by the Third Age, the Future wherein Grund and existence become reconciled in redemption, which would merely just institute a triadic dialectics similar to that of Hegel's mature system—it also brings Schelling's philosophy to a halt, a standstill, as it comes upon metaphysical implications revealed by the split nature of subjectivity. Only ever successfully completing the first, preliminary part of his mytho-poetic ages of the world, his description of the eternal Past, Schelling remains forever unable to proceed; it is this which causes him to fade slowly from the public eye, where he was once a star and the leader of one of the greatest intellectual movements the world has ever witnessed, because he came too close to its true horrifying core.

    9.2 That Which Is in Schelling More than Schelling Himself— Žižek

    Schelling's failure to finish the Weltalter is not due to his lack of conceptual prowess or an earth-shattering, existential strife: it results from an encounter with the Real, an encounter that is philosophically meaningful. Because there is an inassimilable kernel within its symbolic space tearing it apart, its discourse is riddled with harrowing tension: unable to bring this encounter to its complete symbolization, Schelling's Weltalter falls to the ground and is only able to save itself through an unconscious disavowal that takes the form of an insistence on the existence of the Other of the Other. By consequence, it has to be interpreted psychoanalytically so that its truth or cause can finally be integrated into its symbolic space, and its place as the concluding step of German Idealism's formative Grundlogik can be firmly established. If this can be accomplished, then we will be permitted to say that, retroactively, Schelling's project fell to the ground not only in the sense of a purely negative collapse, but also as the condition of the possible opening of a new beginning, following the double connotation of the German zugrunde gehen. The failure of the Weltalter, the fact of its incompletion, turns out to be a triumph of human reason: [317] its apparent limitations—the feverish frenzy of the work, the inconsistency brought forth by its conceptual unrest—are actually expressive of an underlying ontological and metaphysical intuition that we can catch a glimpse of through the interstices of its discourse. Žižek's claim is that if we pass through the negative determination at the heart of the work, the non-coincident in-itself we witness can become a for-itself.

    The “victory” that Žižek perceives in the Weltalter is in its gestures towards philosophical logic underlying the birth of consciousness and its wider metaphysical implications. The strangeness and density of the Weltalter project are not due to its out-of-jointness with the modern tradition, but due to the fact that it comes too close to its disavowed essence. The anxiety-inducing reverberations that shake one's body when one reads the descriptions of “Schelling's grandiose 'Wagnerian' vision of God in the state of a endless 'pleasure in pain,' agonizing and struggling with Himself, affected by an unbearable anxiety, the vision of a 'psychotic,' mad God” [318] are so difficult because they make us approach the very kernel not just of our existence as subjects but also the nature of the world at large. This experience of reading its drafts is properly “traumatic” in the meaning Lacan gives to this term drawing upon its etymological origins in ancient Greek: they bring forth a devastating encounter by which the symbolic support of our personality is “wounded” or “pierced,” during which the coherence of our identity is torn apart as it comes upon its truth. [319] The effect is twofold. Firstly, both Schelling's own inability to finish the project, his heap of lost manuscripts, and the subsequent necessity to “invent” a solution to continue his philosophical career and its neglect in the philosophical community as a whole could thus be seen as nothing but a recoil from the Real of our being as finally explicitly brought into the open within his texts. It is thus Schelling who, in an attempt to give a death-dealing materialist response to Hegel's “pan-logicism,” most fully experiences out of all the representatives of the modern tradition the “incomprehensible basis of reality,” that mysterious X that forever haunts transcendentally constituted reality (the Real as a “kink” in the Symbolic), precedes it (the Real as pre-symbolic immediacy lost due to language), and in some modality conditions its very possibility (the Real [R̸] as auto-disruptive Substance [N ≠ N] whose self-laceration creates the space for free experience). In an attempt to articulate the irreducibility of freedom, Schelling plunges headfirst into the paradoxical character of subjectivity—not only into the denaturalized state of unruliness we must posit as prior to the emergence of phenomenal reality and culture, the pulsating cauldron of chaotic, heterogeneous forces that first make possible the gesture of infinite withdrawal into the nocturnal irreal self of the world, but the very ambiguity of the latter as an absolute self-positing act. Secondly, the originality of this narrative of German Idealism that Žižek allows us to construct is its implicit claim that the Weltalter is the text of modernity and that its incompletion, fragmentation, and unpopularity are philosophically rich in meaning, perhaps even necessary reactions to its truth. Not only does this contribute to elevating Schelling to his rightful place in history of philosophy after having long been overshadowed by Hegel, it also (and more importantly) calls us to own up to other elements of our being that may be more difficult to bear, even too difficult to bear, by one of their greatest theorists.

    Žižek's work on Schelling is so crucial for understanding his philosophy as a whole, not only because it provides us the resources we need to show the coherence of his reading of the modern philosophical tradition, but also because it allows us to demonstrate the profound level of philosophical scrutiny and methodological rigor inherent in his apparent heterodoxy. If the self-development of the former's account of subjectivity is characterized by a recoil from the parallax ontology of transcendental materialism at the core of the cogito's self-positing, the traces of which we can see in the negative contortions of its symbolic space through its entire history, it is only by reconstructing his psychoanalytical interpretation of Schelling as the culmination of German Idealism that we can truly legitimate and assess this claim. Although such a recoil from this traumatic Real may be evident in Descartes’s reification of the subject as a thinking thing, Kant's attempt to ontologize “this I or he or it (the thing) that thinks” or more strongly his inability to delve into obscure foundations of unruliness and diabolic evil, or in Hegel's mature system as a covering up of the madness of the night of the world, it is only by recourse to Schelling that he can retroactively posit such a self-deploying disavowed knowledge that deepens itself through the trajectory of the tradition and that leads to its eventual culmination in psychoanalysis. [320] What makes Schelling such an important outlier to this sustained recoil, however, was his ability (for a relatively brief period of time) to completely immerse himself within the frenzy, horror, and pandemonium that are the true origin of subjectivity in such a way that he brings to the fore the entire latent Grundlogik of modern philosophy of the subject preceding him and that is surpassed only by psychoanalysis' thematization of the unconscious and Todestrieb. His own turning away from this insight and the various inconsistencies that lace his texts must be seen as symptomatic of a greater tendency within the movement (and in humans in general) towards the development of defense mechanisms in the face of an inability to integrate the psychoanalytical truth the Real tries to force upon us. If Schelling's own recoil—a return to a pre-modern essentialism—is so severe, it is because he, as the one who experienced the horror of the metaphysical implications of subjectivity most strongly, needed a defense mechanism more radical than the rest. In their “very failure, [the Weltalter] are arguably the acme of German Idealism and, simultaneously, a breakthrough into an unknown domain whose contours became discernible only in the aftermath of German Idealism.” [321]

    Žižek thus sees his philosophy not only as an attempt to reactualize the German Idealist tradition, but also as immanently participating within its own self-deployment. He understands his project as a remodulation of its surface logic by clinically working through what he perceives as its internal tension, so as to construct the self-effacing, transcendental materialism that has been its unconscious truth. [322] He is not merely performing an act of hermeneutical retrieval, but (more strongly) taking these ideas into what he considers to be their dialectical “completion” from which they have been hindered by the tradition itself. For Žižek, it is Lacan who gives us the methodological tools we need to “rehabilitate” its fundamental concepts, but which amounts to something more than a mere application of psychoanalytical concepts to various texts in the history of philosophy. The approach is much more provocative. By enacting a kind of therapeutic space within key texts of the middle-late Schelling as the culminating point of German Idealism, the wager of Žižek's philosophy is that, by being open to their own inner movement, he can bring forth that which is in Schelling more than Schelling himself: the extimate, traumatic core lodged deep within his spirit and soul and from which Schelling withdrew into philosophical “paralysis” by integrating (constructing) the originally inassimilable theoretical potential and unsettling metaphysical consequences of the second draft of the Weltalter. The relationship of Žižek to Schelling as the endpoint of German Idealism is therefore structurally identical to that of Lacan to Freud. As Miller puts it:

    The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis appears to be a tribute to Freud, since the four concepts are taken directly from his work. Just as Lacan at that time calls his institute the “Freudian School,” in his seminar he uses the term “Freudian concepts” just to prove that he is not a dissident. But within this “tribute” he tries to go beyond Freud. Not a beyond Freud which leaves Freud behind; it is a beyond Freud which is nevertheless in Freud. Lacan is looking for something in Freud's work of which Freud himself was unaware. Something which we may call "extimate," as it is so very intimate that Freud himself was not aware of it. So very intimate that this intimacy is extimate. It is an internal beyond. [323]

    But how is Žižek able to accomplish such a feat, seeing that Schelling himself fought against this?

    9.3 A Mytho-Poetics of Creation and the Seducing Hand of Fantasy

    The answer lies in the second draft, where Žižek sees a distinctively Hegelian structure that enables him to develop a metapsychological reading of the text, preventing its underlying ontology from succumbing to philosophical commitments that he rejects and identifies as in opposition to the unconscious Grundlogik of German Idealism. In fighting against what he perceives to be the limitations and threat of Hegelian logic, Schelling, in the end, only radicalizes its perverse truth, yet is unable to contain the monster that he unleashes. After developing an astonishing philosophy of freedom in the second draft, Schelling immediately recoils from its implications by positing a principle of mediation that enables the neutral coexistence of Grund and existence through their mutual grounding in what Schelling in the Freiheitsschrift refers to as the Ungrund, that which in itself is ungrounded and thus simultaneously precedes both and is neither one nor the other. Because Schelling here understands the freedom of unconscious decision (Entscheidung) that separates Grund from existence as a return to the primordial origin of all reality that is the abyss of freedom itself, its conceptual edifice displays a structure of quaternity, which is articulated in his thinking largely through a systemization and reconceptionalization of thinkers like Jakob Böhme and Franz Baader, and is thereby able to sidestep the implication of freedom as a cancerous upsurge of pure self-assertion. But insofar as the second draft displays freedom as a kind of self-positing activity that identifies Grund (the will-to-contraction, the No) and existence (the will-to-expansion, the Yes), Žižek jumps at this slight “slip” in Schelling's text, seeing in this discursive inconsistency a possibility of “formalizing” the conceptual movement of the work by “purifying” it of all extraneous theosophic commitments through traces of Hegelian logic he sees operative within it. It is in this sense that Žižek's philosophy is a hybridism of Schellingian ontology and a Hegelian quadruple dialectics of non-reconciliation.

    For Žižek, Hegel is the superior logician because he has no need to posit a principle of mediation outside of the internal dynamic of Grund and existence. There is no possible return to (or even initial existence of) a state of “originary” health, as typified by the abyss of freedom as independent from the antagonism of the dual principles, for there is nothing that has not always already succumbed to the restlessness of the negative. Although textbook Hegelianism presents the third moment of the logic as a synthesis of two previous incompatible conceptual polarities by means of a cancellation of the falsehood and a preservation of the truth contained in each and thereby bringing them into a higher, more comprehensive dialectical standpoint (the banal reading of the equivocal character of the word “Aufhebung”) Žižek thinks this picture misses the true philosophical innovation that we see in the movement from one stage to another. [324] The third moment itself is only the second insofar as it hegemonically usurps the position of the first through positing itself as such—which is, in a way, a mere amplification of an already existing interruption in the immanence of the first's logical field, an amplification that destroys its sway from within, but without ever leaving its fold. The dialectical movement from (i) immediacy → (ii) negation → (iii) negation of negation is superior not only because there is no return to the first (something irreducibly different and operatively new emerges, irreversibly reconfiguring the entire [onto]logical apparatus through its self-positing) but also because there is no need to posit something outside the self-movement of negativity to explain the entire logical process: “[t]here is thus no reversal of negativity into positive greatness—the only greatness is 'negativity' itself.” [325] In other words, the negativity of the second is entirely inscribed within the first, arising from within its closed immediacy as a kind of tension or contradiction, and is in this regard not separate or distinct from it insofar as there is nothing but the dialectical register of the first. Yet because the second presents us with an internal limit (it itself has no substance of its own) and is thus by definition non-coincident with the first and its operational principles, it is in the same breath minimally distinguished from it, thus engendering a fissure in the logical self-closure of the field in a movement that makes the entire order inconsistent and ill at ease, which in turn opens up a foothold for the possibility of change. [326] For Hegel, it is this deadlock of real internal limit—an inassimilable kernel—that ultimately serves as the springboard for all dialectical change by creating the space necessary for the unpredictable self-founding of a new order, but of itself it only becomes explicit in the aftermath of the third as it overthrows the primacy of the first through the paradoxical causality of a retroactive positing of presuppositions (Setzung der Voraussetzungen). There is something like an internal parasitic logic that re-totalizes the entire dialectical framework, so that instead of witnessing a return to the first, an initially subordinate moment degrades its own genetic conditions into its own subordinate moment by means of the unforeseeable and destructive power of negativity, which now reigns supreme. [327]

    With the self-positing of the third (the second positing itself, counting itself, thus making itself the third by a self-doubling), negativity is finally fully “brought to life,” but in such a way that its dark pre-history in the vicissitudes of the previous stage as a purely negative real limit necessarily vanishes from sight, for the contingency of its self-positing has been immanently overcome. But even if the stark remodulation of the (onto)logical field within which it occurs, a remodulation that effectuates itself by establishing itself as the supreme category, covers up its steps like an experienced criminal used to getting away with his crime, in the same breath it sets the stage for a new (relatively closed) immediacy and thus the possibility of new unforeseeable dialectical change. But we must recognize that this self-positing always comes too late: its upsurge may posit itself at the logical beginning of the movement as necessary, it may make itself the primary principle, that to which the movement had always tended, but this only becomes visible after the fact and is thus plagued by a devastating belatedness. There is no way notionally to deduce the act of self-positing because, as free, it impossible to predetermine its arrival or even be aware that it could occur at all. [328] The reversal characteristic of the third moment befalls being, for “every dialectical passage or reversal is a passage in which the new figure emerges ex nihilo.” [329] What we often miss in the necessity of the dialectical movement and what is even obfuscated by it is the fact that every movement of its self-articulation is, in fact, constituted by a series of a contingent acts brought on by negativity, contingencies that only retroactively gain the status of necessity by making themselves necessary. [330] The passage from tension to victory is never ontologically guaranteed—and it is precisely this ambiguity intrinsic to the restlessness of negativity that constitutes the Real of the Weltalter. If it was Hegel who gave the former the most profound philosophical articulation in its raw purity in his Science of Logic, it was Schelling who was the first to stumble upon the full range of its metaphysical implications (to which we shall return). [331] What is more, this also lets us explain why Hegel could have stopped dead in his tracks in his mature thinking of a triadic relationship between logic, nature, and spirit despite already having at his disposition such a sophisticated account of a metaphysically contingent retroactive restructuring of being from within. Although the inner movement he describes in the Logic gives perfect expression to the quadruple dialectics already hinted at in the night of the world of his Realphilosophie, the problem is that the categories its describes, like Lacan's mathemes, do not supply us with any horizon of meaning. As such, they must be supplemented with the “concrete” symbolic content of the philosophies of nature and spirit, thus creating space in which Hegel could phantastically recoil from his breakthrough insight into the subject as a self-instituting gap in being and its stark consequences for our understanding of the self and the world. Hence why the Weltalter is so crucial for grasping the true importance of subjectivity as a contingent, world-changing event: it gives us mytho-poetic content that comes closer to grasping the matter at hand than Hegel's account of the particular sciences does, which rather obfuscates it (just as many empirical accounts continue to do today when faced with the explosion of the Ideal out of the Real).

    The immediate problem facing Žižek here is the fact that all of Schelling's middle-late works present themselves as a theogony, an account of the birth of God, based on the anti-dialectical structure of the quaternity, where the last movement is not the expression of something logically irreducible and operatively new immanently emerging from within a system, but a “return” to the first as a kind of direct contact with and raising up to a higher power of a dormant force that is simultaneously the primordial and unfathomable origin of all things. Each text repeats the same movement, although the drafts of the Weltalter—in contradistinction to the Freiheitsschrift—abruptly end before historical time. As the first, the abyss of God's freedom as the impenetrably dark source of divine and created reality rests in the absolute joy of eternity, a blind existence, where it wills nothing because it is the pure virtuality wherein everything is potentially contained, though does not determinately exist. Yet without distinction and duality, the eternal nature as freedom remains unrevealed and thus lacks the fullness of self-knowledge. In order to achieve this, God (who is here not yet a person) must somehow contract finitude and difference, limit His freedom, if He is to have an Other through which He can reveal Himself, thereby establishing the distance necessary to Himself to become a subject capable of owning freedom as a predicate instead of merely being freedom as a pure virtuality. He breaches this pure virtuality by instituting the conflict of Grund (the No, the darkness of materiality, the contractive energy that holds all together) and existence (the Yes, the light of spirit, the expansive structures that give order to the rulessness of the Grund) within Him, so that He can beget Himself as a self-conscious being and eventually decide to bestow upon His own Grund the status of an independent and productive being, thus becoming God the Creator and allowing this same conflict constitutive of his inner life to be mirrored in all living things. Hence Schelling can say at the end of the Freiheitsschrift that nature is the first revelation of God. [332] But with the highest creature, man, something new emerges in creation as the principles become separable, which leads to the possibility of the free conquering of the dark principle by the light if humans choose to live their lives in imitation of God's spirit as the perfect unity of Grund and existence and, by consequence, to the possibility of a complete revelation of God to Himself insofar as humans then become the image of God (imago dei). With the forward march of history, the goal of creation will be attained when evil is completely vanquished, for this will have meant that we, like God, will have achieved the holy unification of the light and dark principles, insofar as we will have made ourselves subjects capable of owning freedom as a predicate by autonomously choosing the Yes and thus overcoming our separation from God by returning to Him. Material being, which we will have then “divinized” in showing how it is capable of the good in and through us, and personal God will then be reconciled and love—which presents itself as the fourth, the positive counterpart at the end of the system corresponding to the Ungrund as its absolute beginning—will prevail: as nature yearns for the spoken Word, humanity longs for for the destruction of the antagonism of principles in the Future, which proves itself to be a paradoxical “return” to the Past, since once the Present has begun, its beginning is always already lost, so that the only way the Ungrund can reemerge is if the world ends in a Future that is to come. The pure virtuality that contains everything potentially may be irretrievable, but redemption—as love—awaits as a point to which the world tends, for this tendency towards its own annihilation as we know it is part of its metaphysical structure. The inner life of all being thus follows a series of fourfolds that are modelled after the structure intrinsic to the life of God:


    dark principle ←→ light principle

    self-manifest God or complete revelation

    But how is Schelling able to maintain such a narrative within the second period even in face of a structure that apparently forecloses its very possibility?

    That which enables Schelling to sustain such a narrative in face of a structure that compromises the dynamic of the quaternity paradoxically coincides with his insight into a parallactic dialectics of restless negativity. The success of Schelling's reaction formation goes hand in hand with the intensity of his plunging into the abyssal origins of subjectivity, since the latter constitutes some kind of primordial trauma whose repression is simultaneous with the transcendental constitution of reality so that it is only to be expected that such a two-way tension would emerge. Given that the origins of the Symbolic withdraw in their founding gesture, if Schelling is to describe the interior involutions of the Real, and in what sense they could bring forth the conditions of the possibility of an absolutely free subjectivity (either human or divine) Schelling must have recourse to a mytho-poetic medium to talk about that which forever precedes and can never enter the light of consciousness and language. If the subject is “the primordial Big Bang” of experiential reality, [333] how are we to grasp what occurred only nanoseconds prior to it? The issue is not the Real-as-excess as that which logically precedes and exceeds symbolization, for that spectrally haunts all synthetic constitution, but the very moment in which the Symbolic upsurges; and because such an event is a structurally impossible object of discourse, any discourse that attempts to account for it is by the same token plagued by this very impossibility. Faced with this impasse, we are forced to fall back into mythology to explain that which transcends the bounds of ideality as its core:

    Does not this step involve “regression” to a version of New Age mythology? When, at the key points of their theoretical edifice, Freud and Lacan also resorted to a mythical narrative (Freud's myth of the primordial father in Totem and Taboo, his reference to Plato's myth of androgynous primordial man in Beyond the Pleasure Principle; Lacan's myth of “lamella” in his Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis), they were driven by the same necessity as Schelling: the need for the form of mythical narrative arises when one endeavours to break the circle of the symbolic order and to give an account of its genesis (“origins”) from the Real and its pre-symbolic antagonism. [334]

    Although mythology is rationally justified insofar as we have, as it were, deduced the necessity of the non-deducible and now need a new manner to investigate it, it does not come without its risks: the pre-symbolic act at the very founding gesture of language—the vanishing mediator between nature and culture that cannot be found in either—is that which we can “access” through a kind of self-reflexive speculative fabulation that stages “the birth from darkness into light,” [335] but in such a way that we cannot guarantee a priori that such an endeavour will not be plagued by defence mechanisms, unconscious fantasies and wishes, especially given its essentially traumatic nature. To search for our origins, we must plunge into the abyss, but it can lead us astray: the mytho-poetics of speculative fabulation can just as much help us narrate the pre-history of the Symbolic and the always already lost act that institutes it, the trauma that is the lacerating cut of pure self-positing in its full horror, as it can nourish psychoanalytical defences against it when we approach the ontological catastrophe at our nativity as human subjects. It is exactly here at this juncture of interplay of mytho-poetic fabulation and phantasmic interference within Schelling's second period that Žižek intervenes, using the resources of Lacanian psychoanalysis to traverse its fantasy and thereby restructure its conceptual space so as to bring forth that which is in Schelling so intimately that it is most properly characterized as extimate. But how can Žižek accomplish such a feat? Before we can directly answer this question, it is necessary to summarize the two intertwined levels active in the rational mythology of the Weltalter project in order to locate the unsolved tension from which psychoanalysis offers us a way out.

    Within the stillborn drafts of the Weltalter, Schelling divides the passage from the eternal Past to the Present into three distinct stages. Because Schelling's text simultaneously operates in a theosophic and metapsychological mode, I will quickly summarize Žižek's presentation of each stage. Instead of outlining the various conceptual distinctions and internal differences that occur within the three existent drafts of the Weltalter, I will only be dealing with Žižek's own exegesis, which focuses on the second draft, since as we have seen he largely dismisses the importance of the other two versions.

    1. In the absolute beginning prior to God's contraction of material being and the annular rotation of drives, there is a joyous nothingness, a pure potentiality that exists in timeless, inexhaustible rapture. God is not a yet a “He,” but merely an impersonal, anonymous “it”: knowing no conflict, God knows not even itself as radical freedom. For Žižek, in contemporary terms this would be equivalent to the pure void that exists before the vacuum fluctuation declared by quantum cosmology, a nothingness that must be declared positively charged because from its (auto)disturbance “something” emerges. What is of utmost importance here is the irreconcilable contrast between this stage and the next: the joyous void of divine non-being is breached by the contraction of finitude and the self-diremption of perfection that it entails. Metapsychologically, this sundering of heavenly symmetry is thus structurally identical to the disruption of the oceanic unity of child and mother that supposedly precedes the Oedipus complex, or the smooth, placid functioning of cyclical nature, which is skewered by the advent of human subjectivity.
    2. After the contraction of material being, we have what Žižek calls “Schelling's grandiose 'Wagnerian' vision of God.” Within Schellingian cosmogony, this is so “terrifying” because, instead of the endless joy of divine eternity, we have a God as subject who finds Himself caught within the self-lacerating rage of matter. There is a sense in which God the Almighty is in infinite pain because his freedom has been lost within the torment-ridden movement that is coincident with the moment when the blind rotation of drives falls into an erratic, uncontrollable oscillation. As such, God is comparable to a helpless animal stuck in a trap. [336] To exemplify this point further, Žižek compares this stage to the unfathomable chaos that occurs after the vacuum fluctuation at the origins of the universe: the contraction of matter into an infinite point of absolute singularity, an incomprehensible upheaval within which the logic of our known physical universe breaks down. In terms of a metapsychology, it can be read as a mytho-poetic description of the ontological short circuit within the instinctual schemata of nature occurring before the eruption of human subjectivity. This moment of ontological standstill coincides with the pre-personal realm of anarchic self-experience seen in the night of the world and expresses the first beginnings of psychotic withdrawal of nature into an irreal self that severs the Innenwelt from Aussenwelt.
    3. Finally, we have God who is able to speak the Word and thus overcome the deadlock that he found Himself lodged within by becoming a full-fledged subjectivity. Ejecting the materiality that He had contracted, pushing it out of him like some kind of foreign body, he bestows upon this now excremental product its own independent existence and thus becomes God the Creator. For Žižek, this corresponds in physics to the primordial Big Bang itself: the beginning of our material universe as the self-expansion of the initially infinitely dense point of matter. Metapsychologically, in the Word we see the unconscious decision (Entscheidung) that separates Grund and existence for the first time. The Symbolic erupts as an attempt to discipline the unruliness of the previous stage, which has immanently disrupted the primacy of organism's autopoietic schemata. The schismatic split that characterizes the essence of the psychoanalytical experience and the actual freedom of the cogito is posited as such for the first time as a response to the complete denaturalization that is the zero-level of the subject. In both the theosophy of creation, the physics of the Big Bang, and the metapsychology of the birth of subjectivity, this stage is something unpredictable that founds something new (God the Creator, material reality, the universe of meaning).

    The existent drafts of the Weltalter find themselves confronted with the same problem as the Freiheitsschrift, that is, the arbitrariness of the beginning: why does God speak the Word? If the act of unconscious decision cannot be deduced according to notional necessity (were it able to be, Schelling would fall back into the perceived threat of Absolute Idealism that he is fighting against) there is no guarantee that God, after contracting material finitude, will be able to assert His freedom by making it a predicate of Himself: that is, there is no guarantee that the subject will be able to liberate itself from the deadlock of the drives within which it finds itself, in other words, their unruliness. Attempting to articulate a radical philosophy of freedom, Schelling in the second draft has no possible recourse to an explanatory principle capable of saving God or human being from possible infinite diremption: he is unable to foreclose the possibility that both could have become completely lost to themselves at a now inaccessible point in the vicissitudes of their dark pre-history. What is so terrifying here is that, instead of the light of consciousness and the universe of meaning, there could have been nothing but the agonizing rotation of drives in their frantic disorder, nothing but the ontological mayhem/madness wherein being would be irrevocably laid to waste in its own breakdown and catastrophism. If being awakens in a moment of primordial trauma, how could one be certain that its defense formation (subjectification through the Symbolic) would work? That it would solve its antagonism? If freedom is to be irreducible, it must posit itself entirely by its own activity from within the clutches of unbreakable determinism, but this comes at a price—and it is exactly around this problematic of the breach of symmetry necessary for a suitable “foundation” of freedom and its alarming metaphysical implications that the existent stillborn drafts circulate and ultimately falter, each offering a different spin irreconcilable with the others.

    For Žižek, however, the psychoanalytical tension of the Weltalter drafts displays a much more complex structure than that of a mere attempt to cover up the dialectical contingency at the heart of the unconscious decision and its wider implications. What intensifies the problem at hand is that the entire investigation has the fundamental structure of fantasy. [337] In the articulation of the absolute beginning, we insert ourselves as a pure gaze into the Real that is prior to our own conception, just as if we were to imagine ourselves as spectators in our funerals watching our friends react to our death—and if we read the mytho-poetic introspective analysis that leads Schelling to such a discussion with this in mind, then we must conclude that it too exhibits the psychoanalytical traits associated with such fantasy constructions, complete with all of the problems that go along with them. For both endeavour to describe the impossible: a linguistically ordered field of experience where there is none, a world of thought where no thinking could possibly exist, the first merely in a “subjective” sense (I cannot witness my own funeral because my own personal ego will never exist after my death in order to be able even to see such events unfolding as I may imagine them), but the second in an “objective” sense (not only is there no one there to witness the emergence of a world of signification, since consciousness presupposes someone has already emerged, but thought itself as logos has yet even to appear on the scene). When put in this manner, the question that poses itself is how the second, “objective” fabulation can be saved from the various kinds of illusions that may play themselves out in the first, “subjective” mode of fabulation such as those that occur in our daydreaming. In this respect, it is understandable how Schelling could have fallen into a trap: because we can only retroactively posit the material origins of subjectivity from within the Symbolic and the Imaginary and these origins represent the unthinkable basis of thinking itself, [338] the descriptions of this natal darkness can serve as a mere screen upon which we project fantasmatic supplements to satisfy unconscious desires. Not only does the very nature of the investigation jeopardize it (since we can structurally never reach the act that brings consciousness into existence, speculation has reached its limit and must pass into dramatic mytho-poetics) but it could easily be abolished through a reduction to the narcissistic orbit of the Imaginary or succumb to various symbolic levels of defence that would prevent the subject from performing its description, even in a self-reflexive mytho-poetic medium. By protecting us from the traumatic Real of our being, something that we of course all want, these supplements can lead us away from the truth for which we are searching. But it is precisely here that the strength of psychoanalysis shows itself: as a discourse about discourse, in short, a discourse whose aim is to understand the inherent limitations plaguing all discourse (itself thus included), it is able to bestow upon such theoretical investigation an extra level of self-reflexivity that could help it from falling into such traps: “the way to avoid this utopian reduction of the subject to the impossible gaze witnessing an alternate reality from which it is absent is not to abandon the topos of alternate reality as such, but to reformulate it so as to avoid the mystification of the theosophic mytho-poetic narrative which pretends to render the genesis of the cosmos.” [339] Thus, by focusing on the ambiguity of inserting ourselves as a pure gaze into the absolute beginning that we must retroactively posit, that is, the very impossibility of the endeavour itself to succeed in its task, Žižek is able to find a way to entirely cut off the theosophic character of Schelling's text and read it exclusively as a metapsychological account of the emergence of Symbolic from the meaningless Real. Man's inclusion within the divine theo-cosmogonic drama ultimately proves to be an extraneous feature of the operative logic of the Weltalter drafts, a code to be deciphered, many features of which can be ignored as a mere phantasmal projection accidentally adjoining itself to an exploration of the abyssal origins of subjectivity. One of Žižek's most provocative claims is that one can see such a phantasmal projection in the attempts to cover up its most groundbreaking insight: the destructive self-movement of negativity in reality that leads to and is radicalized in the self-positing of subjectivity. In this way, we can say that paradoxically “it was [Schelling's] very 'regression' from pure philosophical idealism to the pre-modern theosophical problematic which enabled him to overtake modernity itself.” [340] But now the question imposes itself upon us: what is revealed when we purify the odyssey that is the Freiheitsschrift and the Weltalter from its mytho-poetic phantasmagoria?

    10. Radicalizing the Subject: Substance Gasping for Breath, the Metaphysics of Quantum Mechanics, and the Žižekian Unconscious

    Although Žižek's transcendental materialism relies upon Schelling to explicate the origins of subjectivity, Hegel is nevertheless omnipresent in Žižek's work. Perceiving a strictly Hegelian structure of self-relating negativity in the second draft of the Weltalter that identifies Grund and existence in a manner inconsistent with its surface structure of quaternity, Žižek offers a psychoanalytical reconstruction of Schelling's aborted masterpiece by showing how Hegelian dialectics is its unconscious truth. Demonstrating this complex and nuanced hybridism of Hegelian logic and Schellingian ontology at the heart of Žižek's philosophy does not merely help us see its originality and singularity; it also enables us to shed light on in what sense his philosophy is a revisionist metaphysics of the subject. The existence of subjectivity not only attests that nature is at best a fragile not-all whose disruptive wounds are more primordial than its positive being. More drastically than this, the absolute, instead of being a fully subsisting reality that exists by means of a self-explanatory surplus, is at its most basic level only minimally indistinguishable from the void of nothingness, whereby the subject becomes one of the names of the eternal disturbance of this void by means of which there is something rather than nothing. This also leads us into a discussion of the paradoxical causality explicit in the self-begetting of the Žižekian subject and its repercussions for our understanding of the unconscious.

    10.1 From the Psychoanalytical Purification of the Theosophic to Substance Gasping for Breath

    Žižek does not articulate his own solution to the problematic of how he is able to purify the odyssey that is the Freiheitsschrift and the Weltalter from its mytho-poetic phantasmagoria. The issue at hand is how he can formalize Schelling's philosophy by purifying its theosophic content (the illusion of an originary oceanic bliss and its crucial role in covering up of the intrinsically dialectical structure inherent to the Grund by means of a quaternity) by traversing its fantasy. To do this, Žižek relies on the primordiality of the psychoanalytical experience and the irreducibility of negativity in Hegelian logic, the traces of which he sees in the second draft's descriptions of the three stages involved in the movement from the Past to the Present. The resources offered by both allow us to internally reconfigure its conceptual movement by removing this distorting fantasy element through a philosophical reconstruction of the abyssal origins of the subject by tarrying with the Real of Schelling's texts. It is this revamped version of the Weltalter's investigations into the spectral, never-present beginnings of the Symbolic that enables Žižek to draw out the full metaphysical implications of the paradoxical nature of psychoanalytico-Cartesian subjectivity.

    According to psychoanalytical experience, the zero-level fact in the passage from the Past to the Present has to be the second stage, [341] that is, the self-lacerating rage of matter. Because Žižek identifies the subject with the non-coincidence of substance, its alienation from itself, [342] this self-lacerating rage is equivalent to what Lacan refers to as the “organic dehiscence” exhibited in the mirror stage that forms the basis of the ontogenesis of personality. [343] But if we are to mytho-poetically explain how such a dismemberment forms the meta-transcendental conditions for the possibility of subjectivity's self-positing, we cannot understand it as a haphazard feature of nature that falls upon it like an alien blow from nowhere—rather, its pure contingency must itself emerge from some kind of immanent, self-effacing possibility always already implicit within it. [344] As that which metapsychologically corresponds to the eternal calm of the pure immanence of substance preceding the deadlock of drives and the struggle to speak the Word, the joyous nothingness of divine eternity is therefore merely a part of the ego's fantasy of desired fullness, a narcissistic and reactive attempt to secure the false status of nature as all in order to protect us from the dark truth implicit in the psychoanalytical experience: that one cannot draw a metaphysical distinction between substance as a nothingness that rejoices in the oceanic bliss of non-experience and the unruly basis of human subjectivity that “disrupts” this unity. For Žižek, the transcendental materialist logic of which we see premonitions in the second draft thus allows us to add precision to the late German Idealist attempts to think substance as subject: the model of subjectivity as a disease within the vital fold of being needs to be slightly modified, for there was never a state of metaphysical harmony and innocence that the going-haywire of human unruliness could have brought into ruin once and for all. This is exactly why Žižek feels justified in proclaiming the superiority of Hegelian logic and violently remodulating Schelling's middle-late ontology to get rid of its notion of absolute indifference, for in positing an initial state of health, Schelling demonstrates a tendency—a tendency only encouraged by the abyssal void of the Real-as-origin—to construct a rampant fantasy whose imaginary support (certain theosophic details) could protect him from his own insight into the restless movement of negativity in the interior life of being and at the core of the subject's pure act, a fantasy that in itself is filled with holes and inconsistencies as shown by the endless proliferation of stillborn drafts of the Weltalter in an attempt to secure it.

    That the subject is synonymous with the irrevocable self-sundering of substance does not mean that before the advent of complete denaturalization in our constitutive excess there was no internal obstruction within the former's immanent ebb and flow. If the human being is an irreversible blockage in the vital fold of being, it must represent an amplification of an already existing potentiality in nature. We can see this in various forms—natural disasters, deformed animals, mass extinction, black holes, all of which point to ways in which the originary “harmony” of the world is predicated upon disorder, eruptive disarray, and its inability to sustain itself in perfect symmetry. Knowledge in the Real is never perfect:

    The most unsettling aspect of such phenomena is the disturbance caused in what Lacan called “knowledge in the Real”: the “instinctual” knowledge which regulates animal and plant activity. This obscure knowledge can run amok. When winter is too warm, plants and animals misread the temperature as a signal that spring has already begun and so start to behave accordingly, thus not only rendering themselves vulnerable to later onslaughts of cold, but also perturbing the entire rhythm of natural reproduction. [345]

    These examples of destruction in nature must, however, be seen in their raw conceptual materiality. Rather than being justified by Žižek's rhetoric, they point to one of the major achievements of Žižek's dialectics: its ability to think through the philosophical implications of what is normally seen as a mere contingent breakdown of all-present order or a short-lived calamitous outburst of pandemonium in the otherwise smooth flow of things. Žižek refuses such a thesis: for him, contradiction and non-coincidence are to be seen as at the very basis of reality to such an extent that reality's logical closure upon itself is unable to sustain itself and is constitutively torment-ridden with fracture points. Rather than being a totalizing weave that is and thus embraces all things in its soft, calming touch, despite things seeming otherwise in experience (just as turbulent eddies are only possible given the oneness of the ocean that persists through them), substance is dirempt and constantly risks bursting at its seams due to its own internal fragmentation. These wounds in the absolute do not exude the vital blood of substance in such a way that they will, after a brief moment of cosmic fright, heal themselves and once again be subsumed within the economy of a symphonized sexualized dance of lack and plenitude, life and death: substance does not engage in a ritual of bloodletting to gain strength, as if conflict, although internal to the system, only existed so that through its conquering substance it could express again and again its infinite, almighty power. On the contrary, the wounds of substance are those places where it touches the void. Torn apart from the inside out, substance in its auto-laceration is in danger of dissipating into nothingness, of no longer being capable of holding itself together. Here one must think of the fundamental presupposition of Schellingian philosophy: were substance (God) all, were there from the very beginning nothing but a balanced movement, a pure, all-devouring totality, no subjectivity or experience would be possible. [346] In this sense, Žižek is not merely trying to radicalize this insight by reactualizing Schelling's metapsychology so that it does not succumb to its theosophic tendencies, but more primordially trying to make it internally consistent. According to Schelling's own words, if we posit an initial state of health, we cannot explain how subjectivity could emerge. Perfection is only an imaginary, fantasmatic extension of the existential horizon of our broken finitude, that is, a reaction formation, a reaction formation within which we encounter again and again the insupportable negativity that tears apart the world, for after all, the repressed always returns. As the greatest thinker of subjectivity, we begin to grasp why there would be such an immense conflict within Schelling's middle-late period between the irreconcilable extremes of a radical philosophy of freedom and an equally radical philosophy of a theo-cosmogonic drama of divine being seeking self-manifest revelation. They go hand in hand: traumatic insight elicits protective defences, but the latter can never be completely successful.

    Accordingly, Žižek psychoanalytically modifies Schelling's descriptions of the Past as that elusive X that forever haunts and precedes consciousness so that the real encounter (the horror of substance as subject) can be freed from its imaginary, fantasmatic surface (the theosophic odyssey) and brought into explicit mythologico-symbolization. This has severe consequences. First and foremost, we must remember that at the level of logic, Schelling's mytho-poetic narrative of the Past does not primordially present a chronology of the absolute, even if it is derived from phenomenological experience by the alchemical identification of the highest and lowest and can thus be used to explain the ontogenesis of the individual subject by means of reason by analogy. The “stages” Schelling refers to are purely logical and organized according to priority: the category of linear temporality only emerges with the Present as that which mirrors the structural relations intrinsic to the inner life of God. Consequently, there is no sense in which the joyous nothingness temporally precedes God as subject caught in the throes of the self-lacerating rage of matter. However, insofar as freedom as a predicate of a subject exists (stage three), the abyss of freedom as pure potentiality—a freedom that is not yet posited as such—must be said to logically precede the rotation of drives prior to full-fledged subjectivity (stage two). Žižek follows the argument thus far, but then makes a crucial change in an attempt to draw out a truth hidden in Schelling's descriptions of the passage from one moment to the other. Given that there is no temporal separation between the descriptions of the joyous nothingness of non-experience and the infinite, agonizing oscillation of the potencies, or substance and subject, they are, in essence, two sides of the same coin. The “passage” is nothing but a logical conversion:

    Let us step back for a moment and reformulate the primordial contraction in terms of the passage from a self-contented Will that wants nothing to an actual Will which effectively wants something: the pure potentiality of the primordial Freedom—this blissful tranquillity, this pure enjoyment, of an unassertive, neutral Will which wants nothing—actualizes itself in the guise of a Will which actively, effectively, wants this “nothing”—that is, the annihilation of every positive, determinate content. By means of this purely formal conversion of potentiality into actuality, the blissful peace of primordial Freedom thus changes into pure contraction, into the vortex of “divine madness” which threatens to swallow everything, into the highest affirmation of God's egotism which tolerates nothing outside of itself. In other words, the blissful peace of primordial Freedom and the all-destructive divine fury which sweeps away every determinate content are one and the same thing, only in a different modality—first in the mode of potentiality, then in the mode of actuality. [347]

    The ultimate paradox of the shift from the bliss of divine eternity, freedom as pure potentiality, to the annular rotation of drives in the Grund that serves as the stepping-stone to freedom as the predicate of a subject is that there is no movement at all—Grund is always already the Ungrund, the “closed” circle of nature is always already the scene of the possible emergence of freedom. [348] If we equate freedom with negativity, then we see that the Ungrund is no longer that which neutrally grounds the conflict of the polar principles in order to know itself and reveal itself to itself through them, but rather becomes synonymous with the devastating negativity at the heart of being, the places where it risks touching the void, and that even when it remains non-posited as such, is always already present within the palpitations of the latter like a cardiac arrest waiting to happen: the ground is always already minimally ungrounded, ridden with tension, bursting at the seams. We see this clearly in the dialectic of the ontogenesis of the subject. Although the movement from (i) the rapture of symmetry that is substance to (ii) the harrowing madness of the drives in the unruliness of the infant appears to be due to the grotesque excess of life that is human being as an unfortunate accident, the matter is more complicated. In the first stage freedom (negativity) is always already there as a logical possibility, but remains for the most part non-posited in the general economy of the dynamics of substance, though it shows its head constantly, so that we just have a relatively closed and blind annular rotation of drives; in the second, however, it finally successfully posits itself in a significant manner (although not as such) as the self-lacerating rage of matter, but in such a way that its rawness risks devouring itself. It needs to be tamed, disciplined, gentrified. The decisive moment comes with (iii) the act of decision through which freedom as subject (inner limit of substance) is converted into freedom as the predicate of a subject (self-relating negativity), an act that is not only notionally non-deducible because it is, in itself, radically free, but also one that withdraws in its very gesture of self-positing. When this occurs, negativity, instead of being a single part in the totality of material being, turns itself into an independent center that hegemonically dominates the whole to which it once belonged, which in turn forces the negativity always already contained in the first moment finally to become fully explicit. Freedom is not in direct contact with the Ungrund as that which neutrally grounds the conflict of the polar principles as indifference, nor is it a resurgence of the primordial abyss of freedom: it is nothing but this movement in which the second (the negativity of being), relating to itself, counting itself, usurps the position of the first (being) and thus institutes a mere formal reconfiguration of the whole. [349] As pure negativity, full-fledged self-standing freedom (self-relating negativity) does not emerge out of nowhere within a harmonious play of forces, because its existence attests that there is freedom (negativity) all the way down. As Žižek says, “the only greatness is 'negativity' itself.” [350]

    What the psychoanalytico-Cartesian subject thus shows us is that the idea of extra/pre-subjective nature as the self-harmonizing Grund of all things, a causally closed play of forces caught within a blind necessity, is a pure fantasy: the beginning is not a solid, inert density, but a seething mass of heterogeneous matter lacking overarching symmetry and balanced movement. Matter is not some kind of impenetrable or irreducible “real stuff” that persists beyond conscious representation and follows eternal laws—at its very core, matter constantly dematerializes itself by opening up its flesh to the void of (virtual) non-being to the point where it is no longer matter but something more: that is, a full-fledged subject. The self-operative logic of nature as Grund consequently demonstrates that the immanence of substance is not a permeating weave of positive being, a never-ending sea whose fullness encompasses all: it is plagued constitutively by the possibility of self-fragmentation, since irrevocable zones of (virtual) non-being shattering the ordered reality of the world and its causal closure always threaten to erupt and turn it into a chaotic pandemonium of disordered, anarchic forces combating for rulership—a state that would, in fact, bring substance itself to its untimely end, for a substance that has globally turned “into a dispersed floating of membra disjecta[351] is no longer a substance at all. The self-lacerating rage of matter thus takes on a new meaning. The libidinal frenzy of the unruliness of human nature does not merely represent a single case of the diseased breakdown of the ontological, but rather the inability of substance to posit itself as all: substance is destined towards auto-destruction; the “ground fails to ground,” [352] for it is always on the verge of passing over into hemorrhaging conflict and ravaging antagonism. In this regard, substance is constitutively weak, a precarious all whose fragility is not only always struggling to keep itself together as the contractive energy of all things, but also always capable of the new and the unpredictable at any cosmic moment due to its negativity, for what will be is not necessarily causally contained in what was. Here we see the extremely Hegelian logic that Žižek extracts from Schelling in the second draft: it is the failure of the first moment (the self-actualization of substance and the indivisibility of its causal self-enclosure, its closed annular rotation) that leads to/is the second (the unruliness of human nature, the unbearable short circuit in the rotation of drives), whose vicissitudes in turn set the stage for the third (the self-positing of the subject through this rupture in the fold of being, which opens up an autonomous logical space that attempts to suture the hole). The essence of the third moment is the self-negation of the previous one, which gives it a fully developed notional self-reflexivity in such a way that by guaranteeing the identity of Grund and existence Žižek is able to foreclose the possibility of a theosophic quaternity from within the conceptual fabric of Schelling's text. In this sense we can finally comprehend two controversial claims put forth by Žižek: first, that that “the founding gesture [the subject as the vanishing mediator] 'repressed' by the formal envelope of the 'panlogicist' Hegel is the same as the gesture which is 'repressed' by the formal envelope of the 'obscurantist' Schelling,” [353] for both reveal in their own way the “unacknowledged” Grundoperation of German Idealism; and, second, that “to articulate clearly the Grundoperation of German Idealism [...] necessitates reference to Lacan; that is to say, our premiss is that the 'royal road' to this Grundoperation involves reading German Idealism through the prism of Lacanian psychoanalytical theory.” [354] It is in this respect that Žižek's philosophy is a hybridism of Hegelian logic and Schellingian ontology, for it is a mere attempt at the thematization of its unconscious Grundlogik.

    The metaphysical basis of freedom is the irremovable possibility of negativity from within any self-totalizing, self-enclosed system. There are always unavoidable ruptures and breaks within the logical fold of the world, but these are not mere contingent features of the otherwise harmonious symphony of the infinity of being: the activity of the first moment always already “possesses” its own failure as exhibited in the constant proliferation of negativities that can never be fully subsumed within its dynamics, indicating that substance is constitutively minimally non-coincident to itself. Monstrosities and ontological abortions are an inescapable effect of substance's functioning, for function now shows itself to be one with dysfunction. In terms of Žižek's “reactualization” of Schelling, it is here that its most textually violent moment is located. It proclaims that the only way to save the Schellingian legacy is to say that nature as a full, rich creative potency inherent in the dark womb of the world is an illusion. Nature was always already a sickly creature, whose collapse coincides with its own conditions of (im)possibility. It is not only that nature never knew a moment of eternal happiness and joy, but that the dull, inarticulate pressure of its own gasping for breath (spirit, we remember, comes from the Latin spiritus, “breath,” and is related to spirare, “to breathe”) precedes the very positivity of its being. Substance can only be substance—nature can only be nature—insofar as it is always already internally torn apart by a constitutive moment of auto-laceration that is the site of spirit/subject: “incompleteness [is] already in itself a mode of subjectivity, such that subjectivity is always already part of the Absolute, and reality is not even thinkable without subjectivity.” [355]

    If the ontological dislocation attested to by emergence of the subject is always already a part of the absolute, then the passage from nature to culture is a mere logical conversion—it only requires a certain gesture or incitation to be brought to the fore while nothing changes at the level of “positive” being. Full-fledged subjectivity, and hence the symbolic universe of meaning that emerges as a belated response, may be an unpredictable event whose result institutes a new age of the world, but its ontological basis demonstrates that there is no ultimate opposition between us and the world. The idea of a unified, self-penetrating substance only comes après-coup as part of a fantasy that helps the subject protect itself, for without such a fantasmatic support of fullness we risk losing our very subjective consistency in face of the tragic incompletion of the world. The fiction of “Nature” is, in many ways, unavoidable: we unconsciously create it to save ourselves from recognizing the true basis of subjectivity and its stark implications: namely, the fact that the world, constitutively ravaged by the Ungrund, is metaphysically imbalanced and thus not-all:

    True “anthropomorphism” resides in the notion of nature tacitly assumed by those who oppose man to nature: nature as a circular “return of the same,” as the determinist kingdom of inexorable “natural laws,” or (more in accordance with “New Age” sensitivity) nature as a harmonious, balanced Whole of cosmic forces derailed by man's hubris, his pathological arrogance. What is to be “deconstructed” is this very notion of nature: the features we refer to in order to emphasize man's unique status—the constitutive imbalance, the “out-of-joint,” on account of which man is an “unnatural” creature, “nature sick unto death”—must somehow be at work in nature itself, although—as Schelling would have put it—in another, lower power (in the mathematical sense of the term). [356]

    But here we must be careful. Insofar as the subject is an immanent event within the world, that is, insofar as through it being has “gained” the power to look upon itself by internal reflection due to a maximization of this constitutive self-sabotaging tendency within nature and symbolization occurs as a means to deal with this trauma, one cannot conclude that symbolization is a mere defence mechanism constitutive of the human ego. The illusionary world of the Symbolic into which we withdraw to save ourselves from the trauma that is the very essence of our freedom is simultaneous with being's own recoil from itself as it achieves self-disclosure. Awakening into the nightmare that is the psychoanalytical horror of substance as subject in all of its ambiguity, the primordial reaction of the world opening its eyes for the first time is that of hellish panic, a panic whose ultimate fate is the necessity of an ontological passage through madness which we enact as symbolic subjects by (re)constituting reality in an ontologically solipsistic, eternally nocturnal space of signifiers, a universe of meaning. If the self-revelation of being to itself leads to an originary madness, then not only should we understand the proliferation within the latter of self-composing dream-like images, a rhapsody of social and political phantasmagoria that function as the fabric of our own identities, as events in being, but also this very fiction of ontological completion we witness in accounts of “Nature.” Through us, in a moment of fantasy, being sees itself as perfect—or as having been possibly perfect were it not for our intervention—by living out the impossibility of its own illusionary fullness, a fantasy that is a complete perversion of the typical narrative of God reaching full self-consciousness only by means of human activity. In this sense, if the theological implications of quantum mechanics, wherein particles can cheat the universe by coming into and out of existence before they are “symbolically” registered, are that we must “posit a God who is omnipotent, but not omniscient,” [357] then Žižek's metaphysics compels us to posit a God (nature, the absolute) that is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, yet somehow persists in being. But how?

    10.2 Eppur si muove: Ontological Dislocation and the Metaphysics of the Void

    At this conceptual conjuncture, Žižek takes an additional step in his psychoanalytical reconstruction of German Idealism that simultaneously brings into complete culmination its unconscious, disavowed Grundlogik and leads him into a profoundly new variety of metaphysical thinking that is uniquely his own. If in order to explain the emergence of the subject out of substance we have to proclaim that the latter, rather than being an indivisible oneness that weaves all things into an all-encompassing fabric, is predicated upon a site of auto-laceration, then the subject—as a name for this gap in substance that “sets it in motion”—has in turn to be more fully investigated, for we have not yet seen how ontological dislocation could be a creative force. We cannot stay at the level of substance qua nature: the ordered universe that compromises cosmological, geological, and biological time is so ravaged by negativity that the subject in its various vestiges does not merely indicate the places where substance in its trembling and uneasy auto-articulation risks touching the void, that is to say, is in danger of no longer holding itself together, but also the places where the void threatens to (re-)erupt. In this regard, the dynamic processes of the world are not just dependent upon (potential) disarray, but suggest that substance cannot be the last metaphysical word, since it appears on a second glance that the world itself is a response to something more primordial, something that is constantly trying to show its ugly head: ultimately “there is no Substance, only the Real as the absolute gap, non-identity, and particular phenomena (modes) are Ones, so many attempts to stabilize this gap.” [358]

    Risking anachronism, [359] Žižek sees a way to reinterpret the German Idealist attempt to think substance as subject through quantum mechanics that sheds light on this problematic. As quantum mechanics teaches us, any metaphysical investigation into the foundation of substance qua nature (the basic material constituents of reality) has a paradoxical result. Instead of coming upon a dense field of fully constituted realities that form the ultimate building blocks of the universe, “the more we analyze reality, the more we find a void”: [360] rather than encountering entities complete in themselves, we see irreducibly indeterminate states lacking being in any traditional sense and from which “hard” reality can only emerge if there is a collapse of the wave function; [361] “normal” laws of linear temporality and causality break down as we encounter particles that retroactively “choose” their paths along virtual chains of possibilities and others that can even cheat the universe, coming in and out of existence without the latter even knowing. [362] But this not only drastically challenges any sharp distinction between nature and culture, [363] but also attests that the micro-universe of quantum particles is strangely “less” than that of the macro-universe that constructs itself from its vicissitudes, in a way that is remarkably similar to how the Kantian subject can only construct a unified world of appearances from the inconsistent fragments of sensation. In an uncanny logical short circuit, it would appear that not only is there no bottom-up causality at the level of experience (transcendental constitution is more real than what Kant calls “a rhapsody of perception,” [364] since it founds a coherent field of reality), but even the most fundamental level of the universe is metaphysically more chaotic and constitutively less ontologically complete than the ordered macro-level physical world that science, as according to classical models, describes. Substance is not a given, but an achievement: it is as if all reality is transcendentally constituted, as if nature itself emerges out of this field of quasi-entities. But just as we had to explain the ontogenesis of unruliness, we must also explain the emergence of these ontologically incomplete realities that serve as the basis for the ordered universe, since they cannot be a brute, arbitrary given. The emphasis of the key philosophical question is thus shifted from how the subject can emerge out of the Real qua substance (thought from being) to how the subject can emerge out of the Real qua void (something from nothing), for the more strictly speaking ontological question of ontogenesis thus proves to be irreducibly entangled with the most fundamental of metaphysical questions.

    The more we analyze reality the more we find a void, because once we reach the level of quanta our conventional conceptions of the ordered cosmos just stop working. Not only do we here recognize that “there simply is no basic level,” that “divisions go on indefinitely,” whereby “the quantum level marks the beginning of the 'blurring' of 'basic' full reality,” [365] but also that “[o]ne should thus reject the ‘positive’ ontology that presupposes some zero-level of reality where things 'really happen' and dismisses the higher levels as mere abbreviations, illusory self-perception, and so forth. There is no such zero-level: if we go 'all the way down,' we arrive at the Void.” [366] This has a surprising consequence, one whose full metaphysical implications quantum mechanics thus summons us to accept: namely, that the closer we get to the origin of all things, the more ontologically incomplete reality is, the less distinguishable its fundamental constituents are from the void, thus forcing us not merely to proclaim that the void is “the only ultimate reality,” [367] but more drastically still that “'all there is' is, precisely, not-All, a distorted fragment which is ultimately a 'metonymy of nothing.'” [368] In short, what we experience as hard, full reality is at its core a mere vibration of nothingness lacking any true ontological depth, since there exists a certain radical indistinction between being (a structured physical universe) and the void (a structureless zone without any dense ontological determination in any traditional sense). [369]

    But if the building blocks of the world are nothing but variations upon nothingness, then why do they emerge in the first place? And what prevents the universe from imploding upon itself in some kind of triumphant suicidal gesture, leaving us with nothing but the “eternal peace” of the void? Why something rather than nothing? Žižek hints that the answer is to be found in the very tension between the void and this field of quasi-entities that, the further we push them, the more indistinguishable they appear from nothingness itself—using the Higgs field as an example. Physical systems tend towards a state of lowest energy. In another vein, if we take energy away from a system, we should eventually expect to reach a vacuum state where the total energy count would be zero. Yet certain phenomena tell us that “there has to be something (some substance) that we cannot take away from a given system without raising that system’s energy—this 'something' is called the Higgs field: once this field appears in a vessel that has been pumped empty, and whose temperature has been lowered as much as possible, its energy will be further lowered.” [370] Incredibly, once a physical system's energy has been lowered to the point where it it is on the brink of zero, this “something” appears, a “something” that possesses less energy than nothing. Consequently, “'nothingness (the void, being deprived of all substance) and the lowest level of energy paradoxically no longer coincide, that is, it is 'cheaper' (it costs the system less energy) to persist in 'something' than to dwell in 'nothing,' at the lowest level of tension, or in the void, the dissolution of all being.” [371] But here we should radicalize this paradox by extending it to the ultimate metaphysical level of reality. It is not merely that we cannot bring any physical system to a zero-level of energy without the Higgs field positing itself: what the latter suggests is that nothingness is minimally “inconsistent” with itself and that it is this very “inconsistency” that is responsible for the emergence of something out of nothing. The rapture of void, the bliss of an eternity freed from all tension, does not merely come at too high a price for us as creatures living in this world, but is, strictly speaking, impossible. Metaphysics is thus starkly remodulated:

    What if we posit that “Things-in-themselves” emerge against the background of the Void of Nothingness, the way this Void is conceived in quantum physics, as not just a negative void, but the portent of all possible reality? This is the only true consistent “transcendental materialism” which is possible after the Kantian transcendental idealism. For a true dialectician, the ultimate mystery is not “Why is there something rather than nothing?” but “Why is there nothing rather than something?” [372]

    Although Žižek makes use of the Higgs field mainly as an image, in Less Than Nothing his expansive engagement with quantum mechanics sheds new light on its precise conceptual role in his own thinking. Not only does this engagement enable him to draw out underlying ontological implications from quantum mechanics' fundamental insights, but it more strongly gives us sufficient resources from which we can extract a more strictly speaking metaphysical argument from his discussion of the Higgs field, which attests to how Žižek potentially supplies quantum mechanics with a wider, non-naturalistic foundation while simultaneously founding a new alternative in metaphysics argumentatively independent from its framework. As that which (theoretically) controls whether forces and particles behave differently, the Higgs field has two modes: it is either “switched off” (inoperative) or “switched on” (operative). While in the first, given that the system is in a state of pure vacuum, forces and particles cannot be distinguished, in the second symmetries between particles and forces are broken so that differentiations among them can occur. However, the paradox lies precisely in the following: what is so unique about the Higgs field is that it is favorable for it to be “switched on” (operative), for if a system is in a state of pure vacuum “the Higgs field still has to spend some energy—nothing comes for free; it is not the zero-point at which the universe is just 'resting in itself' in total release—the nothing has to be sustained by an investment of energy.” [373] Because the pure vacuum requires the expenditure of energy, in order to solve this paradox we are forced to substitute it with another by “introduc[ing] a distinction between two vacuums”:

    first, there is the “false” vacuum in which the Higgs field is switched off, i.e., there is pure symmetry with no differentiated particles or forces; this vacuum is “false” because it can only be sustained by a certain amount of energy expenditure. Then, there is the “true” vacuum in which, although the Higgs field is switched on and the symmetry is broken, i.e. there is a certain differentiation of particles and forces, the amount of energy spent is zero. In other words, energetically, the Higgs field is in a state of inactivity, of absolute repose. At the beginning, there is the false vacuum; this vacuum is disturbed and the symmetry is broken because, as with every energetic system, the Higgs field tends towards the minimization of its energy expenditure. This is why “there is something and not nothing”: because, energetically, something is cheaper than nothing. [374]

    What is crucial to note with the Higgs field is that the two vacuums whose existence it posits are not by any means equal: rather than encountering a mere polarity, a two-sided principle that brings together a delicate dance of opposites like light and day, life and death, fullness and lack, into equilibrium, we see a constitutive imbalance. Once we apply this principle cosmologically as a metaphysical principle, instead of having an eternal repetition of creation (breaking of the symmetries) and its destruction (return to the void), reality and its disappearance into the abyss, we come across a “displaced One, a One which is, as it were, retarded with regard to itself, always already 'fallen,' its symmetry always already broken.” [375] As such, there is nothing but creation or reality because the “pure” vacuum wherein one would expect absolute repose is “false,” that is, stricto sensu impossible—it structurally must have always already passed over into and became the “true” vacuum; and although this would appear to make the “false” vacuum theoretically superfluous (it never had, or could, exist) “this tension between the two vacuums [is to] be maintained: the 'false vacuum' cannot simply be dismissed as a mere illusion, leaving only the 'true' vacuum, so that the only true peace is that of incessant activity, of balanced circular motion—the 'true' vacuum itself remains forever a traumatic disturbance.” [376] But why? For the precise reason that without this primordial antagonism we could not explain the minimal distinction between the void and its vibrations, between the nothing and the ontologically incomplete realities barely distinguishable from it—in short, how the symmetries between particles and forces could have been broken in the first place. Were we only to have the “true” vacuum, then finitude, materiality, and ultimately experience would be a mere illusion, for there would be no difference between the symmetry of the void and its disturbance, leaving nothing but a nirvana-like principle of nothingness to which all things are reducible. But once we witness the irreducibility of the antagonism within the void itself between its two modes, reality becomes less a seeming that we have to break through than an intrinsic part of the void that necessarily arises as a response to the primordial metaphysical trauma that is the perturbation of the “true” vacuum and whose essence is thus preserved. Even if nothing and the metonymy of nothing is all there is, this presupposes that the latter does not logically collapse into the former although the exact boundary between them is blurred. Hence, the reason Žižek can say that if “[t]he answer to 'Why is there Something rather than Nothing?' is thus that there is only Nothing, and all processes take place 'from Nothing through Nothing to Nothing,'” then “this nothing is not the Oriental or mystical Void of peace, but the nothingness of a pure gap (antagonism, tension, 'contradiction'), the pure form of dislocation ontologically preceding any dislocated content,” [377] thus radically changing our very notion of nothingness itself.

    The Higgs field thus not only offers us an interesting naturalistic explanation of the world when used in cosmology, but more strongly hints at a new variety of metaphysics. Fleshing out its broad consequences, Žižek is not only able to offer a new account of the emergence of things that is inspired by though independent from quantum mechanics, but can also radicalize his ontology of the subject, thereby weaving metaphysics and ontology into a dynamic, self-articulating whole. For him, the primordial fact from which metaphysics must begin is the fact that nothingness is. Drawing upon insights gained by contemporary science, however, he says that in order to explain the mere existence of things, we must posit that nothingness necessarily fails “to be,” for any attempt to have a purely vacuous void paradoxically costs more energy than things existing against the background of this void. Here we encounter “the primacy of the inner split,” [378] whereby irresolvable conflict is at the origin of all things: the absolute is nothing but this fragile de-substantialized process that “arises” out of the self-splitting of a positively charged void, a split that befalls it from within through its own failure “to be” what it is without that very split. There is no primordial fullness, no positive hard reality that self-unfolds according to a creative principle of actualization; [379] there is nothing but a pure ontological dislocation of which we can only say eppur si muove (“and yet it moves”). But insofar as this gap cannot be mediated with the absolute, it presents itself as “the non-dialectical ground of negativity,” so that “[t]he old metaphysical problem of how to name the nameless abyss pops up here in the context of how to name the primordial gap: contradiction, antagonism, symbolic castration, parallax, diffraction, complementarity, up to difference.” [380] But the name that is perhaps best suited to this is the subject. First, this would inscribe this metaphysics of the void into the legacy of the German Idealist attempt to think substance as subject, while bringing us simultaneously beyond it and into a new sphere, a new materialism. [381] If German Idealism has taught us that epistemic ambiguities in idealism (how can the subject overcome its own synthetic mediation of the world and reach the latter an sich?) occur because our division from being is identical with being's own division to itself, quantum mechanics calls us to radicalize this notion of the subject even further and claim that it exhibits the same structure as the split responsible for all things:

    This, perhaps, is how one can imagine the zero-level of creation: a red diving line cuts through the thick darkness of the void, and on this line, a fuzzy something appears, the object-cause of desire—perhaps, for some, a woman's naked body (as on the cover of this book). Does this image not supply the minimal coordinates of the subject-object axis, the truly primordial axis of evil: the red line which cuts through the darkness is the subject, and the body its object? [382]

    If in Žižek's strictly metaphysical thinking the emphasis shifts from how the subject can emerge out of the Real qua substance (thought from being) to how the subject can emerge out of the Real qua void (something from nothing), it is because there is no radical difference between the creation of the world and the creation of the world of meaning. Both exhibit the same catastrophic cutting, so that the primary question becomes that of the originary catastrophe itself rather than just one of its specific “instantiations” in human freedom. The fact that the answer for both (the Real is always already subject) is identical proclaims that there is only the Real of the gap, that the splitting precedes what is split. Žižek's paradoxical conclusion is that if the subject is “the primordial Big Bang,” [383] it cannot merely be that of the universe of meaning, but must also be that of all that there is. The great lesson to be drawn from the metaphysical archaeology of the subject is that “[w]hat, ultimately, 'there is' is only the absolute Difference, the self-repelling Gap”: [384] although substance qua nature proves itself to be not-all (traces of which we see in German Idealist accounts of negativity and most radically in contemporary science), so that we must posit the logical precedence of the void to which its indivisibility is always already contrasted and thus impossiblized, nevertheless just like substance qua nature this originary void in itself also proves to be split—a split that is not merely a mere catastrophic cut, but a rupturing antagonism imbued with an “energetic” or “energizing” force, a force that is somehow less than nothing. This has two drastic consequences. First, the complex order of the cosmos may at some point in time be reduced to unimaginable chaos (being nothing but a heterogenous play of powers) but never to a nirvana-like nothingness, for before the moment at which an absolute zero would be reached the void would, as it were, break its own symmetry in advance and prevent its own repose. We cannot escape the fragile and macabre dance of the not-all: non-coincidence is the pulsating heart of all reality, a heart whose diastoles and systoles may whimper under their own weight and threaten to collapse upon themselves at any moment in one great and final apocalyptic turmoil, yet cannot, because this turmoil costs the universe less energy than the pure virtuality of the void. Second, if thinking substance as subject reveals that nature itself is anything but a powerful, creative source, a pure affirmation displaying ontological closure à la Spinoza, then the void in being imposed upon us by the metaphysical archaeology of the subject demonstrates something much more radical than the fact that the human subject is not a mere accidental breakdown of the natural order, but actually depends upon an inborn negativity that impossiblizes its attempt at a self-articulating totality from the outset (“we should accept that nature is 'unnatural,' a freak show of contingent disturbances with no inner rhyme or reason” [385] ). It further demonstrates that it is not the human subject that is the ultimate ontological catastrophe, but reality as such:

    There is nothing, basically. I mean it quite literally. But then how do things emerge? Here I feel a kind of spontaneous affinity with quantum physics, where, you know, the idea there is that [the] universe is a void, but a kind of a positively charged void—and then particular things appear when the balance of the void is disturbed. And I like this idea spontaneously very much, that the fact that it's not just nothing—things are out there—it means that something went terribly wrong, that what we call creation is a kind of a cosmic imbalance, cosmic catastrophe, that things exist by mistake. [386]

    However, if what we call creation, the primordial Big Bang, is some kind of cosmic mishap, then this mishap must in some sense have been unavoidable. The ontological catastrophe that is creation is a necessity because nothingness itself fails “to be” nothingness and through its failure never ceases to create “something”; and since this “something” is paradoxically less than nothing, the infinite proliferation of ontologically incomplete quasi-entities is only minimally distinguishable from the purely vacuous void itself. The world does not find its origin in a willed creation, an impersonal emanation from a sphere of consummate being overflowing in itself, or the uncontainable productivity of substance qua nature as absolute power—no, the world comes to be in an originary disaster, a primordial metaphysical cataclysm that is always already occurring, it being impossible to pinpoint a logical moment within which nothingness could have succeeded at “being” itself. Yet the split that is the subject in both its modes should not be considered a loss, but rather a liberation. Ontological catastrophe is paradoxically “a deprivation, a gesture of taking away which is in itself a giving, productive, generative, opening up and sustaining the space in which something(s) can appear,” [387] even if these something(s) only exist because ontological catastrophe is uncannily less than nothing.

    The veritable horror of substance as subject—ontological catastrophe—revealed through the metaphysical archaeology of the psychoanalytico-Cartesian subject is therefore twofold. At the first level, it indicates that nature was always already a sickly creature, its rhythms always already disordered, unsteady, broken. Within the “passage” from drives to desire, substance to subject, no positive content is added, nothing changes at the level of the Real qua Real. What the subject imposes upon us is the realization of the constitutive contingency that lies at the centre of creation, the fragility of the seemingly ordered cosmos that has arisen before us, so that the immanent causality of nature is seen to be predicated upon its potential internal breakdown. On the second level, the metaphysical archaeology of the subject tells us that if we remain here, we have not gone far enough. If we are truly to understand how the not-all of substance could sustain itself in its own precarious being and, more fundamentally, how it could have emerged in the first place, we must radicalize the subject understood as an underlying dysfunctioning of substance's dynamics. If, as Žižek maintains, experience is revelatory of the fact that reality must be not-all, then it also contains a still deeper truth: reminding us that substance fails to ground itself, that it is riddled with holes, that it opens up the logical space of the substance and its contrast, the void, forcing us to explore the latter. We have thus come full circle: an ontological account of the emergence of the subject (the arising of representation out of being) has morphed into a discussion concerning the ultimate metaphysical structure of the world (the upsurge of “something[s]” out of nothing), because the two questions are seen to be intimately linked, the former automatically leading to the latter. And falling upon this intuition, Žižek asks what if the same structure is at play at both levels, so that the answer to the latter will prove to be similar to that of the former, namely, that the movement from the Real of void to creation is not as initially problematic as it may appear because the Real of void shows itself to be always already tainted by the Real of gap. Ontological catastrophe is the zero-level of reality because there is a necessity of the primordial void of which mystics speak to be disturbed, a necessity that is not due to the notional necessity of right-wing Hegelian theology (in order for the Idea to actualize itself as infinite freedom, it must sacrifice itself in nature so that it can fully return to itself in spirit after arising from its own ashes) or the conditional necessity of the late Schellingian quaternity (if the Ungrund were to become self-manifest to itself, then it would have to arbitrarily limit its primordial freedom in the kabbalistic act of contracting finitude) but a necessity that derives from the impotence of the void “to be” a purely vacuous void, a necessity that is synonymous with the absolute non-coincidence of nothingness to nothingness that is motor of all things. The language of catastrophe is in this sense completely justified, for creation does not present itself as intrinsically beautiful and creative or purposeful, but rather as a monstrous seat of ontological abortions and terrors devoid of sense though from time to time capable of miracles. Rather than the world being given to us by the self-overflowing exuberance of the Good or the personal hand of God, it moves from nothing through nothing to nothing due to the self-repelling gap of the void, the internal split of a positively charged nothingness, which denies all positivity to that which it sets in motion: “[p]erhaps this gap separating the two vacuums is then the ultimate word (or one of them, at least) that we can pronounce on the universe: a kind of primordial ontological dislocation or différance on account of which, no matter how peaceful things may appear sub specie aeternitatis, the universe is out of joint and eppur si muove.” [388]

    10.3 The Act of Uneasy Self-Begetting: Entscheidung and the Paradoxical Self-Positing of Freedom

    By plunging into the abyssal origins of subjectivity Žižek is not just led to a new, disquieting form of transcendental materialism that offers an original account of the relationship between the Real and the Ideal, with stark implications for our understanding of substance, the emergence of order, and even the beginnings of the cosmos. He is also led to develop a theory of the unconscious that challenges both the traditional Freudian and Lacanian accounts, and even the one developed by Schelling that he draws upon. This theory deserves to be highlighted in some detail because it is revelatory of one of the most difficult and provocative aspects of Žižek's philosophy: that is, the pure act at the origin of the subject that is simultaneous with the ontological passage through madness that forces upon us the rational necessity of speculative fabulation to embark upon a metaphysical archeology of the subject.

    Schelling's account of the birth of subjectivity is more than a theory of the meta-transcendental state of affairs that must be in place if subjectivity is to arise out of nature with a triumphant cry, for central to Schelling's ontogenetic narrative is that the former, though providing necessary conditions for the birth of the subject in/out of nature, does not supply its sufficient conditions. To explicate the moment of ontological judgement that institutes the pure difference between Grund and existence and with it the entire universe of human meaning (the Present), Schelling must concern himself with the very moment of unconscious decision (Entscheidung) by which subjectivity paradoxically liberates itself out of the immanent field of being to which it once “belonged” in a moment that is a self-caused immaculate conception insofar as this self-positing, which cannot be deduced according to notional necessity, is an arbitrary act of pure freedom. What is of paramount importance is the root of the term, which in English displays a similar play on words: Entscheidung as Ent-Scheidung, decision as de-scission. Since the German suffix -ung refers to a process, Entscheidung designates a “de-scissioning” at the basis of self-consciousness and language as that which, by creating the Present, banishes the Past into the abyssal dregs of forgotten and inaccessible time. What Žižek focuses on is precisely the formal structure of the act itself, its activity of severing the Real into the parallax of the unconscious drives of nature and phenomenal reality, whereby the act itself is primordially repressed as necessary for the dawning of full-fledged subjectivity and becomes an impossible object for any discourse. Recognizing that the Entscheidung itself is that which originarily constitutes the conscious/unconscious distinction, Žižek argues that one of the fundamental breakthroughs of the Weltalter is its demonstration that drives themselves are, strictly speaking, nonconscious: if the very conscious/unconscious distinction only occurs with the utterance of the Word (there cannot be a ground without a grounded: prior to the grounded, the ground cannot be posited as ground as such, for it is merely a self-subsisting, semi-closed system of materiality, rather than the ground of existence) then it would be philosophically fallacious to call this energetic rotation of energy the unconscious proper or the true foundation of subjectivity, even if it incites (or to put it differently negatively carves up the room for) the latter's founding gesture. The result is that the Žižekian-Schellingian subject of the unconscious is radically non-coincident with both the id-forces of the body in its primary mode (the Real of Triebe can only be unconscious as a secondary effect of the self-positing of the act of de-scission[ing] as such) and the more-than-conscious matrix of the Symbolic (the self-generating play of language and culture only emerges after the founding gesture that marks the beginning of transcendental self-reflexivity). That is, the unconscious is the very gap, the irreconcilable parallax, between both registers: it is synonymous with the subject itself as the impossible in-between that binds together materialism (being) and idealism (thought) in their non-relationality by protruding out of yet being simultaneously spectrally present in both. As an irreducible, self-positing negativity that institutes the realm of culture and eternally separates it from nature, the subject of the unconscious is the true site of freedom.

    Here lies the challenge to Freud and Lacan, who broadly could be said to have respectively located the unconscious in the biological movement of instinctual energy and the alienating effects of language. For Žižek one must presuppose a more primordial level of unconscious activity than that of the biologically closed libidinal energetics within the corpo-Real of the body or that which emerges through the split between the subject of enunciation and the enunciating subject caused by the unpredictable reverberations of meaning within the infinite web of language: namely, an act that exploits the libidinal frenzy of the Real of the human body, the unruliness represented by the Todestrieb, to ground the self-generation and self-proliferation of the automatic machinery of language as a reaction formation. In this sense, Žižek's reactualization of the Schellingian unconscious is an attempt to sublate both the traditional Freudian and Lacanian accounts within a higher dialectical unity by showing their dependence on another, more fundamental conceptual level. His original addition to psychoanalysis is the formation of a conception of “the subject [which] at its most elementary is indeed 'beyond the unconscious': an empty form deprived even of unconscious formation encapsulating a variety of libidinal investments.” [389] Here again we see just how much Žižek's account of the subject is highly reliant upon his “modification” of the Weltalter in a way that challenges his so-called Hegelianism.

    Žižek's controversial wager is that there is something more primordial within Schelling's descriptions of the birth of the subject out of the utter twilight of pre-personal being than an account of the self-transformation of the “unconscious” spirit of nature as it rises towards the openness of self-revelation. In a move similar to psychoanalysis' claim that the material processes of our organs cannot be, strictly speaking, unconscious (physiological stimuli and reflexes are of a radically different nature), [390] Žižek levels out the richness of the Schellingian account of nature to a mere material autopoiesis that is unable to explain the true seat of personality. This is also why Žižek is so adamant that the unconscious is not to be equated with the set of irrational drives that structurally oppose and yet affect the self-transparency of rationality as we see in various forms of Lebensphilosophie. [391] What Schelling's account of decision as the metapsychological event par excellence proclaims is that there is no point of positive juncture between nature as Grund and the subject of the unconscious, insofar as decision takes over/usurps the logically primary position of the Grund through its own self-positing freedom, but in a manner that its self-positing is more fundamental than, and even erases, its dark pre-history: the libidinal-material chaos within nature does not come close to establishing the unconscious proper because the latter is never completely subsumable within the dynamic movement of natural history or laws, for it institutes itself into the fabric of being by means of a self-caused immaculate conception. If freedom is to be truly free, then we must not be able to deduce it according to notional necessity; it is as if, when substance risks touching the void in the painful oscillation of drives constitutive of the unruliness of the human organism, the subject creates itself out of nothing, with all the paradox that entails:

    In the psychoanalytical perspective, of course, this primordial act of free self-positing cannot but appear as the Real of a fantasy-construction: the status of the primordial act is analogous to that of the Freudian parricide—although it never effectively took place within temporal reality, one has to presuppose it hypothetically in order to account for the consistency of the temporal process. The paradox of the primordial act is the same as that of Baron Münchhausen pulling himself out of the swamp by lifting himself by the hair—in both cases, the subject is somehow already here prior to existence and then, by way of free act, creates-posits himself, his own being. [392]

    The subject's freely posited withdrawal into self is intrinsically paradoxical, for the very act of self-positing creates the very self that is at the origin of said positing. This is why we cannot escape the Baron Münchhausen dilemma: the subject is miraculously present at its own birth. [393] But how? To follow Žižek and draw upon a Hegelian logical category, when full-fledged subjectivity emerges in being it can be said to come into existence by a process of recollecting or interiorizing itself. This recollective interiorization (Er-inner-ung) is the direct effect of the subject's uneasy self-begetting, the aftermath of its self-caused immaculate conception in/out of matter that exploits the immanent negativity of the latter for the institution of its “miracle”: [394] this recollection is not a mere remembering of something in cosmic memory, an always already existing but non-actualized self awaiting the dawning of consciousness in the world—the very gesture of interiorization is that which creates what is interiorized, that is to say, the self in which the world withdraws out of its bloody night, in such a way that the recollected self or interiority retroactively posits itself as that which was always at the starting point. [395] Even a self-caused immaculate conception in being demonstrates a threatening belatedness, for it is stuck in a dialectical contradiction that cannot be resolved: “'[r]econciliation' between subject and substance means acceptance of this radical lack of any firm foundational point: the subject is not at its own origin, is secondary, dependent upon its substantial presuppositions; but these presuppositions do not have a substantial consistency of their own and are always retroactively posited.” [396] The only successful ontogenesis is one that underlines the very impossibility, the upper limit, of ontogenesis as such: what is essential is not a transition (whether it be understood in terms of teleological development or the potential productivity of breakdown, as we see in the night of the world) but the pure difference that is the full-fledged subject (which is responsible for “the madness of the passage to the Symbolic itself” [397] ) which institutes a “gap which makes impossible any account of the rise of the New in terms of a continuous narrative.” [398]

    But we must be very attentive to the conceptual movement if we are not to lose its radicality. Insofar as the chaotic oscillation of drives we witness in unruliness only becomes the Grund of existence after the act of decision, drives only become unconscious in the aftermath of the act itself. Due to the latter's irreducible self-positing, consciousness and the Real of drives qua unconscious both emerge in one magical brushstroke that retroactively constitutes its own evolutionary past—covers up its contingency—by subsuming the ontogenetic pre-history of the subject as part of its own self-effectuation through the paradoxical causality of the Freudian Nachträglichkeit/Lacanian après-coup/Hegelian positing of presuppositions. Here, however, we notice the difficulty of the Real-as-origin: since the abyssal beginning of the subject—the act of decision—effaces itself in the simultaneous gesture of converting the Real of drives into the unconscious as a libidinal system and founding consciousness, the birthplace of the subject becomes a mere posit that is in and of itself never accessible in language; and, as that which only shows itself in its very withdrawal (“sous rature”), it is denied the right of even “indirectly” shining through the cracks of the Ideal. It can only be narrated. Although we must posit the ontogenetic condition of desire (a pre-logical antagonism in the Real-as-excess) as that which precedes and in a certain sense renders possible the self-positing of the decision, the latter proves itself to be not only superior by saying “No!” to substance, thereby setting up a new age of the world within which the Past is always already “lost” through symbolization (an act that institutes the hegemony of the Real-as-lack), but also to be ontologically primary, despite being ontogenetically secondary. In a paradoxical movement where the cause-and-effect chain loses its grip, the self-unfolding causality of nature as substance is “torn apart” in the upsurge of freedom as self-relating negativity, which demands primordiality at all costs, even making being infinitely non-coincident to itself. It must be remembered, however, that this movement from Grund to subjectivity, from the breakdown of nature into a writhing mass of heterogeneous forces to the abyss of unconscious decision, must be described at the level of mytho-poetics. At the level of the Real, we are not warranted to make certain claims we have been forced to make: when the subject asserts itself at the beginning of its own pre-logical genesis (posits its own presupposition), it is not actually giving birth to itself (which implies a poietic production or genesis) in some kind of temporal loop, but directly creates itself at the instant of its own upsurge. The example of Baron Münchhausen's pulling himself up out of the swamp by his own hair expresses the intrinsic difficulty posed to any transcendental materialist account of the subject, for the subject does not exist before the very act of self-positing that it nonetheless paradoxically enacts—hence why it all happens in one magic brushstroke. The subject has no history except at the level of speculative fabulation (rationally justified mythology), for it is only after the subject's self-positing that we can raise the question of its origins: “what escapes our grasp is not the way things were before the arrival of the New, but the very birth of the New, the New as it was 'in itself,' from the perspective of the Old, before it managed to 'posit its presuppositions,'” [399] which is why Žižek can say that the true arche-fossil for correlationism is not occurrences in cosmological or geological time before the transcendental, but the very transcendental itself. [400]

    In this sense, the difficulty of the task of speculative fabulation finds itself reflected upon itself: that is to say, doubled. Not only do there exist psychoanalytical defence mechanisms to cover up the abyss of unconscious decision at the “heart” of subjectivity by means of fantasy constructions, but because the only way we have access to the latter is through a mytho-poetic ontogenesis of the subject's dark pre-history in the ontological vicissitudes of being, there is always the tendency to swap the real trauma (the pure contingency of the act as absolute spontaneity) for a fake (the painful oscillation of drives in the human infant that shows nature's sickness unto death in humanity). Even Schelling has a tendency to make us forget that the Grund, “this monstrous apparition with hundreds of hands, this vortex that threatens to swallow everything, is a lure, a defence against the abyss of the pure act,” [401] which is why psychoanalysis is so important. Although this secondary trauma must still be considered as having explanatory merit—it is, after all, a necessary condition for the primary trauma—the point is to pierce through one trauma (ontological catastrophe as the immanent breakdown of substance) to arrive at a more primordial one (ontological catastrophe as the pure difference that severs being in two). The “repressed spectral 'virtual history' is not the 'truth' [...] but the fantasy that fills in the void of the act [...] the secret narrative that tells its story is purely fantasmatic,” [402] which is why:

    Schelling's fundamental move is thus not simply to ground the ontologically structured universe of logos in the horrible vortex of the Real; if we read him carefully, there is a premonition in his work that this terrifying vortex of the pre-ontological Real itself is (accessible to us only in the guise of) a fantasmatic narrative, a lure destined to distract us from the true traumatic cut, that of the abyssal act of Ent-Scheidung. [403]

    This is why the Schelling's inability to complete his middle-late project of an ontology of freedom is of such paramount importance to Žižek, for “[t]he repeated failure of his Weltalter drafts signals precisely Schelling's honesty as a thinker—[not only] the fact that he was radical enough to acknowledge the impossibility of grounding the act or decision in a proto-cosmic myth,” but also that he was “compelled to posit an uncanny act of Ent-Scheidung (decision or separation), an act in a way more primordial than the Real of the 'eternal Past' itself.” [404]

    Focusing on the necessary posit of the convulsing labyrinth that is the pre-symbolic Real-as-excess in human unruliness, and plunging ourselves into it, we risk forgetting the abyss of the Real-as-origin that stares us in the face. The painful oscillations of the Grund in unruliness merely defer us from the true terror that is the pure act instituting the Symbolic's infinitely self-reflexive play of signifiers in which we live and which guarantees that it possesses no direct connection to the extra-notional world. Because this act absolutizes the short circuit between the Innenwelt and Aussenwelt, we can only encounter its abyssal origins in their very gesture of withdrawal. It is not nature, even in its mode of self-erasure (N ≠ N), that is the first revelation, [405] but rather, the void within which the Entscheidung spins—and we can only catch glimpses of the latter as the impossible in-between negatively tying together nature and culture, the Real and the Symbolic, and thereby hope to develop a comprehensive theory of subjectivity inclusive of a new, paradoxical form of metaphysics from within the mytho-poetics of the subject's slow, unsteady, and painful “emergence” out of the vicissitudes of being. But all of this has an interesting implication. If the Symbolic is a self-organizing system that freely constitutes the fabric of experience without any contact with objective reality, then this suggests that, from within its ontologically solipsistic dance of cybernetic ciphering, we can break through the impenetrable dusk of psychosis as we (in a reflexive albeit fabulative gesture) see it as the madness it is in a careful reconstruction of its trauma. Here, however, we encounter one of the most fundamental and perhaps paradoxical conclusions of Žižek's parallax ontology. It must be recalled that the trauma at the birthplace of the human subject is not only coincident with its freedom: [406] that is, its withdrawal from one's natural environment into an irreal, virtual self, [407] but its exploration necessarily demonstrates the structure of fantasy as we insert ourselves as a pure gaze in the moment of our own birth.[408] Not only can materialism only justify itself in “the shadow cast by [self-grounding] idealism's insurmountable incompleteness,” [409] but more radically, if we follow the true horror of substance as subject at the core of the latter, then we are forced to conclude that a metaphysics is only possible as a form of “successful” psychotic thinking, [410] a thinking that, from within the clutches of idealism as an insurmountable ontological psychosis and using the very energy and internal limitations of this psychosis, manages to succeed in achieving the impossible coincidence of subjective and objective reality: that is to say, in developing a comprehensive metaphysics of the Real. A cure to our correlationist imprisonment being excluded from the outset, philosophy has no hope of offering a therapy. What is more, if such a form of thinking is to be truly successful, not only must we find a way to overcome the realism-idealism debate within idealism, but we must also do so from the side of realism by writing the great epic of being as the eternal Past to come to terms with the ontological passage through madness at the latter's foundation, a task that requires a self-conscious mythologizing, fictionalization, or retrospective narration and is only achievable by entering the abyss of the spectral Real-as-origin and fending off the thrust of unconscious desires that try to protect us from it in order to draw out its stark metaphysical consequences. Only a scientific, psychoanalytically guided fabulation allows one to catch sight of the vanishing mediator that enacts the withdrawal into the night of the world. But how is a radical subjective idealism capable of such a feat? And as what brand of metaphysics should we baptize it?


    1. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 48.return to text
    2. Johnston, Žižek’s Ontology, p. 272. Here Johnston is referring to Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XXI: Les non-dupes errent, 1973–1974 (unpublished typescript), pp. 2, 21, and 74; and Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XXIII: Le sinthome, 1975–1976, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2005), pp. 5, 17, and 77 (untranslated).return to text
    3. Ibid., p. 273. Following Johnston’s bibliography, the first quote comes from Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XVIII: D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant, 1971 (unpublished typescript), pp. 2, 17, and 71, while the second seminar he makes reference to is (as in the previous footnote) Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XXIV: L’insu que sait de l’une bévue s’aile à mourre, 1976–1977, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, in Ornicar? 12-18, pp. 5, 17, and 77.return to text
    4. Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function,” Écrits, p. 96/77.return to text
    5. Ibid., p. 97/78.return to text
    6. Ibid., p 100/80.return to text
    7. Ibid., p. 96/77.return to text
    8. Fink, The Lacanian Subject, p. 24. I capitalize “the Real” for consistency.return to text
    9. Žižek, Living in the End Times (New York: Verso, 2011), pp. 350–51.return to text
    10. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 905.return to text
    11. Ibid., p. 921.return to text
    12. Ibid., p. 920.return to text
    13. Ibid.return to text
    14. Ibid., p. 921.return to text
    15. Fink, The Lacanian Subject, p. 12.return to text
    16. Lacan, “A Theoretical Induction to the Functions of Psychoanalysis in Criminology,” Écrits, p. 127/104.return to text
    17. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, pp. 81–82.return to text
    18. Žižek, “Liberation Hurts.”return to text
    19. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 48.return to text
    20. The founding gesture of Schelling’s entire project begins with an attempt to surmount the Copernican revolution. Only the modalities of his response differ: whether it be through an attempt to give a genesis of the categories from the I as the first principle, a daring naturephilosophy, or eventually by a theosophic mytho-poetics of creation, one thing is clear—we must go “beyond simple representation.” Einleitung in die Philosophie, ed. Walter E. Ehrhardt (Stuttgard-Bad Connstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1989).return to text
    21. Although people are wont to speak about the tight relationship between Kant and Hegel, one must point out that in the Lesser Logic Hegel badmouths Kant by by throwing upon him the ultimate insult one could give to a systematic philosopher (except, of course, that their absolute is a dead dog)—namely, that he was just too lazy to think through what he says and therefore completely misses the point: “[i]n dealing with this highest Idea [teleological causality], however, the laziness of thought, as we may call it, finds in the ‘ought’ an all too easy way out.” The Encyclopedia Logic (with the Zusätze), trans. T. F. Geraets, W. A. Suchting, and H. S. Harris (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1991), p. 101 (§55A).return to text
    22. See chapter 6.return to text
    23. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 48.return to text
    24. Ibid., p. 36.return to text
    25. Ibid.return to text
    26. Taken from Kant, Kant on Education, trans. Annette Churton (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1900), p. 6; for a more easily findable edition, see Lectures on Pedagogy, trans. Robert B. Louden, Anthropology, History, and Education, ed. Günter Zöller and Robert B. Louden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 439.return to text
    27. Ibid., pp. 7 and 439.return to text
    28. Ibid., pp. 9 and 440.return to text
    29. Ibid., pp. 13 and 442.return to text
    30. Ibid., pp. 4–5 and 438; quoted by Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 36.return to text
    31. Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, trans. Robert B. Louden, Anthropology, History, and Education, p. 423. First set of italics is my own.return to text
    32. Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, trans. T. M. Greene and H. H. Hudson (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), p. 30.return to text
    33. Žižek & Daly, Conversations with Žižek (Cambridge: Polity, 2004), p. 124.return to text
    34. In the Freiheitsschrift, for instance, Schelling says that it is idealism that “we have to thank for the first perfect concept of freedom” and then situates the true Kantian breakthrough in its revolutionary articulation. See pp. 231ff. Hegel also praises Kant’s theory of freedom. See Encyclopedia Logic, p. 101 (§54Z). The same applies to Žižek: “No wonder Kant is the philosopher of freedom: with him, the deadlock of freedom emerges.” Žižek, The Parallax View, p. 9. But all this was stressed by Kant himself, who declares that freedom “constitutes the keystone of the whole architecture of the system of pure reason and even of speculative reason.” Critique of Practical Reason, in Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) p. 139.return to text
    35. In this sense, both Hegel and Schelling are following Fichte: “I live in a new world since I read the Critique of Practical Reason; it destroyed theses that I thought were irrefutable, proved things I thought indemonstrable, like the concept of absolute freedom.” Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Gesamtausgabe der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Division III: Briefe, vol. I, ed. R. Lauth, Hans Jacob, and H. Gliwitzky (Frommann: Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, 1964–), no. 63, p. 168.return to text
    36. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 265.return to text
    37. Žižek, The Parallax View, p. 93. return to text
    38. Ibid., p. 92.return to text
    39. Fichte, Science of Knowledge, p. 114.return to text
    40. Maldiney, Penser l’homme et la folie (Paris: Gillon, 2007), p. 114.return to text
    41. Fichte, Science of Knowledge, p. 247.return to text
    42. Ibid., p. 152.return to text
    43. Fichte, The Vocation of Man, trans. Peter Preuss (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1987), p. 64.return to text
    44. Freud, “The Loss of Reality in Neurosis and Psychosis,” SE, XIX, p. 183.return to text
    45. Fichte, The Science of Knowledge, p. 243.return to text
    46. Fichte, Wissenschaftslehre 1805, ed. H. Gliwitzky (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1984), pp. 127–28.return to text
    47. Freud, “Neurosis and Psychosis,” SE, XIX, p. 151.return to text
    48. Freud, “The Loss of Reality in Neurosis and Psychosis,” SE, XIX, p. 185.return to text
    49. Fichte, Foundations of Natural Right, ed. Frederick Neuhouser, trans. Michael Baur (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 74.return to text
    50. Fichte, Fichte: Early Philosophic Writings, p. 147.return to text
    51. Fichte, Foundations of Natural Right, p. 76. Also compare p. 74.return to text
    52. See Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, trans. Peter Heath (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001), p. 232.return to text
    53. See Hegel, The Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy, pp. 143 and 168.return to text
    54. Schelling, Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie, Schellings sämmtliche Werke, ed. K. F. A. Schelling, division I, vol. 4 (Stuttgart and Augsburg: J. G. Cotta’scher Verlag, 1856–1861), p. 109.return to text
    55. In his “mature period,” Hegel declares Schelling as merely Fichte’s successor, ironically going against the spirit of his early work on the insurmountable difference between them. Cf. Lectures on the History of Philosophy: Medieval and Modern Philosophy, trans. E. S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson (London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), p. 529.return to text
    56. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (London: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 9.return to text
    57. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 55.return to text
    58. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 266.return to text
    59. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy: Medieval and Modern Philosophy, p. 257.return to text
    60. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 231.return to text
    61. Ibid., p. 232.return to text
    62. Spinoza, Ethics and Selected Letters, ed. Seymour Feldman and trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1982), II p7 (p. 66).return to text
    63. Ibid., I p13c (p. 39).return to text
    64. Ibid., I p16 (p. 43).return to text
    65. Ibid., I p15 (p. 40) and I ax1 (p. 31).return to text
    66. Ibid., I p34 (p. 56).return to text
    67. Ibid., Letter 78 to Henry Oldenburg (p. 254).return to text
    68. Ibid., V p23s (p. 216).return to text
    69. Ibid., Letter 58 to G. H. Schuller (p. 250). Compare with I p24 (p. 49), I p26 and 27 (p. 50), and I p33 (p. 54).return to text
    70. Ibid., II p48 (p. 95).return to text
    71. Fichte, The Vocation of Man, pp. 21–22.return to text
    72. Ibid., p. 24.return to text
    73. Spinoza, The Ethics, p. V pref (p. 203).return to text
    74. Ibid., V p23s (p. 216).return to text
    75. Ibid., I app (pp. 57–62).return to text
    76. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 227.return to text
    77. Ibid., pp. 230ff.return to text
    78. Hegel, The Science of Logic, p. 472.return to text
    79. Žižek, The Parallax View, p. 42.return to text
    80. See Žižek, The Abyss of Freedom, pp. 11–14.return to text
    81. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, vol. 3, pp. 142–43 (§359A). Translation modified.return to text
    82. Fichte, Science of Knowledge, p. 262.return to text
    83. See Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, pp. 18–19.return to text
    84. See Hegel, Frühe politische Systeme (Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein, 1974), p. 204; quoted in Donald Philip Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in the Phenomenology of Spirit (Albany: SUNY Press, 1985), pp. 7–8, whom Žižek takes it from. For a discussion, see The Abyss of Freedom, pp. 4–14; The Ticklish Subject, pp. 26–48; and The Parallax View, pp. 43–45.return to text
    85. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 33.return to text
    86. Kant knew this very well. See Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, p. 423.return to text
    87. Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, B167.return to text
    88. Hegel, Frühe politische Systeme, p. 262.return to text
    89. Žižek and Daly, Conversations with Žižek, p. 126.return to text
    90. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 36.return to text
    91. Compare Spinoza, The Ethics, III pre (p. 103).return to text
    92. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 31.return to text
    93. Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, p. 12.return to text
    94. Žižek, The Abyss of Freedom, p. 7.return to text
    95. Žižek, The Parallax View, p. 168; Less Than Zero, p. 725; and Žižek & Woodard, “Interview,” The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, ed. Bryant, Levi, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman (Melbourne:, 2011), p. 407. My italics.return to text
    96. See Žižek, Less Than Nothing, pp. 234–35 and 286–92.return to text
    97. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, pp. 88–89.return to text
    98. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 905.return to text
    99. Ibid., p. 380.return to text
    100. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 61.return to text
    101. Ibid., p. 55.return to text
    102. Žižek, The Parallax View, p. 4.return to text
    103. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder. Taken from the book description.return to text
    104. Ibid., p. 11.return to text
    105. Ibid., p. 8.return to text
    106. The other important figure here is, of course, Lacan. Since Lacanian psychoanalysis declares that the Symbolic is never all, it is only natural that dialectical logic for Žižek would necessarily include an irremovable moment of irreconcilability. After all, for Lacan “when one gives rise to two, there is never a return. They don’t revert to making one again, even if it is a new one. The Aufhebung is one of philosophy’s pretty little dreams.” The Seminar. Book XX. Encore, On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972–3, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: Norton, 1998), p. 86. Yet insofar as Žižek’s project rests on the claim that psychoanalysis is the culmination of a lineage that begins in German Idealism, to assert that he merely reads Hegel through Lacan does not suffice, especially given the similarities between his own dialectics and his reading of Schelling.return to text
    107. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 265.return to text
    108. Ibid.return to text
    109. See The Ticklish Subject, pp. 79–86.return to text
    110. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, pp. 234–35.return to text
    111. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 82.return to text
    112. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 227.return to text
    113. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 922.return to text
    114. Žižek, The Abyss of Freedom, pp. 3–4.return to text
    115. Žižek, “Fichte’s Laughter,” p. 122.return to text
    116. See, for instance, The Parallax View, pp. 197–99.return to text
    117. Žižek, The Parallax View, p. 197 and 210.return to text
    118. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 9.return to text
    119. Žižek, The Parallax View, p. 106 (repeated in Less Than Nothing, pp. 13f. and 642ff.). Contrast this with what he says of Schelling at ibid., p. 166;The Ticklish Subject, p. 55; The Indivisible Remainder, p. 14; and The Abyss of Freedom, p. 15.return to text
    120. This stays the same in the late philosophy. See The Grounding of Positive Philosophy, trans. Bruce Matthews (Albany: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 207.return to text
    121. Žižek, Less than Nothing, p. 265.return to text
    122. Schelling, The Ages of the World: Third Version (c. 1815), trans. Jason M. Wirth (Albany: SUNY Press, 2000) (hereafter Weltalter III), p. 219. return to text
    123. Ibid., p. 217.return to text
    124. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 239.return to text
    125. Ibid., p. 232.return to text
    126. Ibid.return to text
    127. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 266.return to text
    128. Schelling, Ages of the World, in The Abyss of Freedom/Ages of the World, trans. Judith Norman (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008) (hereafter Weltalter II), p. 121. return to text
    129. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 9.return to text
    130. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 281. return to text
    131. Schelling, Weltalter II, p. 6.return to text
    132. The Indivisible Remainder, p. 13.return to text
    133. Ibid.return to text
    134. Ibid., p. 11.return to text
    135. Ibid., pp. 35–39. I take up this point in chapter 9.return to text
    136. Žižek, The Parallax View, p. 166.return to text
    137. Schelling, Weltalter II, p. 121.return to text
    138. Ibid.return to text
    139. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, pp. 241–42.return to text
    140. Ibid., p. 239.return to text
    141. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 233.return to text
    142. See Žižek, The Parallax View, pp. 201–4.return to text
    143. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 558.return to text
    144. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 239.return to text
    145. Kant, Kant on Education, p. 1; Lectures on Pedagogy, p. 437. For my discussion, see chapter 5.return to text
    146. Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, p. 420.return to text
    147. Kant, Kant on Education, p. 6; Lectures on Pedagogy, p. 439.return to text
    148. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, vol. 1, p. 205 (§247).return to text
    149. Ibid., p. 223 (§254). Translation modified.return to text
    150. Ibid., p. 257 (§257A).return to text
    151. This example comes from my first Hegel teacher and philosophy mentor, Toni Stafford.return to text
    152. Hegel, The Science of Logic, p. 536.return to text
    153. Hegel, The Encyclopedia Logic, p. 293 (§221Z).return to text
    154. Ibid., pp. 302–3 (§234Z).return to text
    155. Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, vol. 1, p. 206 (§247Z).return to text
    156. Žižek, Indivisible Remainder, p. 92.return to text
    157. The full argument for this will be spilled out in chapter 10.return to text
    158. Žižek, The Parallax View, p. 7.return to text
    159. Ibid., p. 168 (again in Less Than Zero, p. 725; and Žižek & Woodard, “Interview,” The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, p. 407).return to text
    160. Ibid., p. 175.return to text
    161. Ibid., p. 210.return to text
    162. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, pp. 223–25.return to text
    163. Ibid., p. 227.return to text
    164. Hegel draws upon the same wordplay in his Logic. Cf. The Encyclopedia Logic, p. 244 (§166A); and The Science of Logic, p. 552.return to text
    165. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 227.return to text
    166. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, pp. 22–23.return to text
    167. See Johnston, Žižek’s Ontology, pp. 80–92. return to text
    168. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 78; and Less Than Nothing, p. 331.return to text
    169. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 76.return to text
    170. Žižek, The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why Is the Christian Legacy is Worth Fighting For? (London: Verso, 2008), pp. 86–89.return to text
    171. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 271.return to text
    172. Maldiney, Penser l’homme et la folie, p. 270.return to text
    173. Schelling, Weltalter III, p. 232.return to text
    174. See Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, pp. 219–20.return to text
    175. Schelling, Weltalter III, p. 322.return to text
    176. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 24.return to text
    177. Or, as Johnston succinctly puts it, “[t]he surplus of autonomy is made possible by the deficit of heteronomy. Freedom emerges from the dysfunctioning of determinism.” Žižek’s Ontology, p. 114.return to text
    178. Žižek and Daly, Conversations with Žižek, p. 59.return to text
    179. Žižek, The Parallax View, p. 231.return to text
    180. See chapters 5 and 6.return to text
    181. Žižek, The Parallax View, pp. 177–78. return to text
    182. Ibid., p. 241.return to text
    183. See ibid., pp. 210–14, for a rather interesting, detailed discussion.return to text
    184. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, pp. 22–23.return to text
    185. Gabriel and Žižek, “Introduction: A Plea for a Return to Post-Kantian Idealism,” in Mythology, Madness and Laughter, p. 3.return to text
    186. Žižek and Daly, Conversations with Žižek, p. 59.return to text
    187. Žižek,The Parallax View, p. 73. Strangely enough, this passage is omitted in the French translation. Cf. La Parallaxe (Paris: Fayard, 2008).return to text
    188. Žižek, Living in the End Times, p. 312.return to text
    189. Schelling, Weltalter III, p. 335.return to text
    190. Žižek and Daly, Conversations with Žižek, pp. 64–65.return to text
    191. Žižek,The Ticklish Subject, p. 35.return to text
    192. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 314.return to text
    193. Žižek, Living in the End Times, p. 398.return to text
    194. Schelling, Weltalter III, p. 291.return to text
    195. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 331.return to text
    196. Ibid., p. 77.return to text
    197. Ibid., p. 959.return to text
    198. Žižek,The Ticklish Subject, p. 33.return to text
    199. Lacan, “Presentation on Psychic Causality,” in Écrits, p. 176/144.return to text
    200. Schelling, Stuttgart Seminars, in Idealism and the Endgame of Theory, trans. Thomas Pfau (Albany: SUNY Press, 1994), p. 233.return to text
    201. Schelling, Weltalter III, pp. 338–39.return to text
    202. Žižek and Daly, Conversations with Žižek, p. 59.return to text
    203. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 730.return to text
    204. Ibid., pp. 273ff.return to text
    205. Žižek, “The Big Other Doesn’t Exist,” Journal of European Psychoanalysis, Spring-Fall 1997. Retrieved Jan. 7, 2013, from to text
    206. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 284.return to text
    207. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 8.return to text
    208. See Žižek,The Ticklish Subject, p. 55; and The Parallax View, p. 166.return to text
    209. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 8.return to text
    210. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 276.return to text
    211. Ibid., p. 278.return to text
    212. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 105.return to text
    213. Ibid., p. 92.return to text
    214. Ibid., p. 103.return to text
    215. Ibid., p. 106.return to text
    216. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 234.return to text
    217. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, pp. 35–39.return to text
    218. Schelling, Weltalter II, p. 4.return to text
    219. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 38.return to text
    220. Ibid., p. 92.return to text
    221. Wirth, “Translator’s Introduction,” in Weltalter III, pp. ix–x.return to text
    222. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 9.return to text
    223. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, pp. 20–21.return to text
    224. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 281.return to text
    225. Schelling, Weltalter II, p. 121.return to text
    226. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 38.return to text
    227. Ibid., p. 92.return to text
    228. Ibid., p. 37.return to text
    229. Ibid., p. 39.return to text
    230. Schelling, Weltalter II, p. 121.return to text
    231. Žižek, The Abyss of Freedom, pp. 3–4.return to text
    232. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 24.return to text
    233. See Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, trans. D. Nicholson-Smith (London: Karnac Books, 1988), pp. 465–69; and also Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis, 1963–1964, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans Alan Sheridan (London: Vintage, 1998), p. 51.return to text
    234. Žižek, “Liberation Hurts”; and The Ticklish Subject, p. 48.return to text
    235. Žižek, The Abyss of Freedom, pp. 3–4.return to text
    236. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 92.return to text
    237. Miller, “Context and Concepts,” in Reading Seminar XI: Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. Richard Feldstein, Bruce Fink, and Maire Jaanus (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), pp. 7–8.return to text
    238. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, pp. 300ff.return to text
    239. Ibid., p. 198. Compare with pp. 292ff. and 304.return to text
    240. Ibid., pp. 293–94.return to text
    241. Ibid., p. 234.return to text
    242. Ibid., p. 285.return to text
    243. Ibid., p. 231.return to text
    244. Ibid., p. 213.return to text
    245. Ibid. p. 274.return to text
    246. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 284.return to text
    247. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 31.return to text
    248. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 9.return to text
    249. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 239.return to text
    250. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 23.return to text
    251. Ibid., p. 22.return to text
    252. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 645.return to text
    253. Ibid., p. 273.return to text
    254. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 8.return to text
    255. For a discussion of the passage, see chapter 9.return to text
    256. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, pp. 88–89.return to text
    257. Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function,” Écrits, p. 96/77.return to text
    258. See chapter 4.return to text
    259. Žižek, Living in the End Times, pp. 350–51. I capitalize “the Real” for consistency.return to text
    260. Schelling, Weltalter III, p. 219.return to text
    261. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 23.return to text
    262. Johnson, Žižek’s Ontology, p. 92.return to text
    263. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 197.return to text
    264. Ibid., p. 198. Compare with pp. 292ff. and p. 304.return to text
    265. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 33.return to text
    266. Johnson, Žižek’s Ontology, p. 92.return to text
    267. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 92.return to text
    268. Ibid.return to text
    269. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 905.return to text
    270. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 220. See also p. 223.return to text
    271. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 923.return to text
    272. Ibid., p. 377.return to text
    273. Ibid., p. 947.return to text
    274. Ibid., p. 925.return to text
    275. Ibid., p. 724.return to text
    276. See, ibid., pp. 918–19; and The Indivisible Remainder, pp. 220–31.return to text
    277. See chapter 5.return to text
    278. Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, A 156/B195.return to text
    279. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 726.return to text
    280. Ibid., p. 730.return to text
    281. Ibid., p. 726.return to text
    282. Ibid., p. 641.return to text
    283. Ibid., p. 60.return to text
    284. Žižek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), p. 93.return to text
    285. Ibid.return to text
    286. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 925.return to text
    287. Ibid., p. 944.return to text
    288. Ibid., pp. 944–45.return to text
    289. Ibid., p. 949.return to text
    290. Ibid., pp. 949–50.return to text
    291. Ibid., p. 38.return to text
    292. Ibid., p. 386.return to text
    293. Žižek, Living in the End Times, p. 232.return to text
    294. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 950.return to text
    295. Ibid., p. 60.return to text
    296. Ibid.return to text
    297. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 31.return to text
    298. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 378.return to text
    299. Ibid., p. 298.return to text
    300. Žižek!, dir. Atra Taylor (Zeitgeist Video, 2007).return to text
    301. Žižek, The Puppet and the Dwarf, p. 93.return to text
    302. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 377.return to text
    303. Žižek, Living in the End Times, p. 311.return to text
    304. Freud, “Instincts and Their Vicissitudes” (1915), SE, XIV, p. 118.return to text
    305. See Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, pp. 28 and 174.return to text
    306. Ibid., p. 19.return to text
    307. Ibid.return to text
    308. Žižek and Daly, Conversations with Žižek, p. 59.return to text
    309. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 235.return to text
    310. Žižek, Living in the End Times, p. 229.return to text
    311. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 331.return to text
    312. Ibid., p. 273.return to text
    313. Ibid.return to text
    314. Ibid., p. 644.return to text
    315. Žižek, The Fragile Absolute, p. 70.return to text
    316. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 273.return to text
    317. Ibid., p. 275 (taken initially from The Fragile Absolute, p. 73).return to text
    318. Ibid., p. 274.return to text
    319. Schelling, Freiheitsschrift, p. 284.return to text
    320. Žižek, Less Than Nothing, p. 265.return to text
    321. Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, p. 35.return to text
    322. Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, p. 22.return to text
    323. Johnston, Žižek’s Ontology, p. 19.return to text
    324. Here I am playing with Henri Maldiney’s reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology as a “successful depressive thinking” and taking up certain gestures already hinted at in Jean-Christophe Goddard’s interpretation of this passage. Compare Maldiney, Penser l’homme et la folie, p. 27; and Goddard, Mysticisme et folie. Essai sur la simplicité (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 2002), pp. 83–84. I return to these points in chapter 12.return to text