- Hardcover: 528 pages
- Publisher: MIT Press (28 Mar. 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262240513
- ISBN-13: 978-0262240512
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.9 x 22.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 702,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Parallax View (Short Circuits) Hardcover – 28 Mar 2006
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"In this huge, thrilling book, Slavoj Zizek enacts a dazzling display of philosophy as performance art, delighting in upsetting readers' expectations, inserting sly jokes, and castigating the 'boring' political analyses of just about everyone... Zizek is a thinker who regards nothing as outside his field: the result is deeply interesting and provocative." The Guardian "A remarkable demonstration of continental philosophical and psychoanalytical pyrotechnics. More provocative ideas per page than normally found in whole books by the dull anglophone empiricists who find him so threatening." Paul A. Taylor Times Higher Education "Frankly, a magnum opus is exactly what Zizekneeds right now... The Parallax View consolidates Zizek's work as a whole and decisively moves it forward." In These Times "No one demonstrates the continued philosophical vitality of Marxism better than Slavoj Zizek." Tikkun "Zizek has only to clap eyes on a received truth to feel the intolerable itch to deface it... Zizek is that rare breed of writer-one who is both lucid and esoteric. If he is sometimes hard to understand, it is because of the intricacy of his ideas, not because of a self-preening style." Terry Eagleton Artforum "Zizek is one of the few living writers to combine theoretical rigor with compulsive readability, and his new volume provides perhaps the clearest elaboration of his theoretical framework thus far...This challenging book takes us on a roller-coaster ride whose every loop is a Mobius strip." Publishers Weekly "Frankly, a magnum opus is exactly what Zizek needs right now... The Parallax View consolidates Zizek's work as a whole and decisively moves it forward." In These Times "Zizek is one of the few living writers to combine theoretical rigor with compulsive readability, and his new volume provides perhaps the clearest elaboration of his theoretical framework thus far...This challenging book takes us on a roller-coaster ride whose every loop is a Mobius strip." Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Slavoj Zizek is a philosopher and cultural critic. He is the author of more than thirty books, including Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, The Parallax View, and (with John Milbank) The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialect, these four published by the MIT Press.
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Top Customer Reviews
the dialectical epistemology which he claims to be trying to rehabilitate.
The real irony for Zizek is that what he is trying to say has already been handled in the established virtuality of literary fiction. First there was George Elliot's The Lifted Veil, the strangest of all her books and the only one that somehow doesn't quite work. Then came Houellebecq's lamentable Atomised reprising 1950s racism and sexism in response to the cracking of the genetic code. Finally there was Gdala's dialectical transcendence of Houellebecq's anthithesis in Pascal's Wager where all the double themes of Z's Parallax (from the centrality of the virtual, through the Lacanian transformation, to the historicism implicit in genetic and biochemical fatalism), all of these threads are carefully disentagled and rebraided in red gold and green.
I thought that it was from Zizek that I learned the idea that the clue to the contemporary default constellations is always to be found in a fictional narrative. I think it is time he deployed a different strategy if he is to engage with the real material challenges of the moment. It's too late for this kind of thing.
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Zizek refers to this work as his magnum opus. This is a curious remark for a few reasons. For one, the book does not come across as "climactic"; neither does one envisage a future decline in either productivity or quality in Zizek's writings. Just based on memory, this book is Zizek's longest and most sustained single engagement, but that fact in itself is not particularly relevant. It is undeniably one of Zizek's better books, but not an absolutely singular occurrence in his oevure (such an occurrence would have to be phenomenal).
Needless to say, the reader needs to come to this work with a background in Hegel and Lacan (as well as others, but these are the central presupposed figures). Zizek has been criticized for merely "regurgitating" Lacan or "applying" Lacanian ideas to various topics. This criticism is a little unfair, but it's also true that in this particular work, Zizek tends to string together a series of readings of various texts (which of course includes films, books, thinkers, novels, poems, and even Schumann's Humoresque). Zizek is usually insightful in his readings, even if he occasionally takes tendentious liberties and occasionally falls into obscurity; he is always provocative, however, even if one disagrees with his readings. Some reviews have faulted Zizek for making "too many" references. Although Zizek occasionally cites an obscure author (better known to Europeans than Americans), most of Zizek's texts are familiar to anyone reasonably versed enough in academic and popular culture at least to be able to get the point of a reading even if one has never seen Chaplin's City Lights. Zizek never *simply* refers to something by saying something exasperating (like some other academics) like "Adorno makes the point more emphatically when he claims, with Ibsen, that forms of moral purity are often nourished by a 'hidden egoism.'" At least Zizek explains the comparison or point he is trying to get across. In any event, Zizek writes in a way that demands breadth of knowledge from his readers, but in a way that is not merely an exercise in virtuosity.
On the other hand, one problem with this text is that the argument tends to get lost by virtue of the fact that Zizek moves from the reading of one text to another text such that it feels like all he is doing is either giving examples or arguing by a series of analogies. While there is nothing inherently wrong with analogical thinking, the problem is that it can be easy to miss the point. Zizek is most certainly not just giving examples, but the narrative tends to get buried under the readings.
These readings, however, traverse the gambit from the usual Kant (including an ingenious reading of his ethics), Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, and Lacan to Heidegger, Kafka, Mozart, Kierkegaard (problematic but interesting), Bernard Williams, Henry James, Wordsworth, Damasio, and Badiou (his most recent interlocutor).
The central idea is, of course, that of parallax, but it is easy to miss the point here. Zizek is *not* primarily interested in the perspectival aspect of parallax. While this feature of parallax often emerges in this discussions throughout the book (for example, he speaks of the political parallax in this way: "all [that] is needed is a slight shift in our perspective, and all the activity of "resistance," of bombarding those in power with impossible "subversive" (ecological, feminist, antiracist, anti-globalist...) demands, looks like an internal process of feeding the machine of power, providing the material to keep it in motion"), the "shift in perspective" is not the main point.
The main point is that when we take this shift in perspective, what becomes evident is the *parallax gap*, which is irreducible to either one of the two perspectives in parallax or even to perspective itself. The gap is the mark of the *noncoincidence of the One itself*. Here Zizek enters into the ontological debate between Deleuze and Badiou by proclaiming that "the pure difference is itself an object. Another name for the parallax gap is therefore minimal difference, a "pure" difference which cannot be grounded in positive substantial properties". (And, of course, we must turn to Lacan for the full importance of this: 'L'objet petit a' is the pure parallax object.)
It is this absence in the center of parallax that is key to Zizek's so-called "rehabilitation of dialectical materialism". The parallax is the key to his "materialist theology" in chapter two, but the relationship of parallax to (Hegelian) dialectics is precise: the parallax does not allow for synthesis to occur. In fact, it seems like Zizek has either given up on the very idea of synthesis or is arguing that synthesis entirely misses the point.
The encounter with Hegel thus continues Zizek's prior work, and he (more or less) explicitly updates his arguments in The Sublime Object of Ideology and The Ticklist Subject. Continuities, however, are apparent from other works such as Tarrying With the Negative (which is among my own favorites of his works and probably his most "theoretical" work despite the claims of The Parallax Gap).
What I personally found the most interesting in this book is the idea of pure ontological difference in itself--i.e., the very idea of parallax which is rather underdeveloped in the work. (Perhaps Zizek is simply relying on Badiou's kind of ontology, but this itself is not unproblematic.) Zizek devotes only a few pages in the first chapter to it before mobilizing the concept of the parallax in his readings of ontology, epistemology, and politics. (Of the three, the second seemed the weakest and Zizek's argument about the irreducibility of brain processes and conscious experiences added little to current debates in the philosophy of mind, even if the text was illuminating in some parts. In this light, chapter three was more interesting than chapter four, even though it was the latter on which Zizek placed the most argumentative emphasis.) Hence my first reason for this rating: the most interesting idea of this book from a philosophical point of view was underdeveloped before it was deployed (even if the critical exercises were stimulating). (Or, another way of saying this is that Zizek is at work in this book as a critic and not a philosopher.)
The other main reason for my rating is the surprising number of typographical errors throughout the book. These include misspellings, missing words (such as the one I added in brackets in the quotation above), some formatting errors, and so on. Some sources are also cited as "unpublished" or "forthcoming" which are indeed published (one such work, for example, was published in 2005, which should have been enough time for the printing of The Parallax View).
I used the word "provocative" several times in this review, and I did so consciously: it seems the best adjective to describe this work as a whole. The work "calls forth" insights in the reader in just about every page, even if they are not the insights Zizek is communicating. There are moments when obscurity muffles this call, but on the whole it is not a waste of time for anyone who thinks Zizek is on to something (on the other hand, if you don't think that, this work will not convince you otherwise).
In this book Zizek develops a new conceptual operator, that of the Parallax Gap, which takes its place alongside Zizek's other theoretical conceptual operators--the Vanishing Mediator, the Indivisible Remainder, the Minimal Difference, etc. Zizek employs a curious (and to some, frustrating) methodology in elaborating his theoretical concepts; rather than articulating them in a concise theortical description, he merely puts them to work in example after example in different contexts. In this book Zizek runs through the usual gamut of intellectual domains in elaborating the notion of parallax gap: from german idealism to Christian theology, cognitive brain sciences to contemprorary politico-economic ideology. (The chapters on cognitive science--a field only recently taken up by Zizek--are particularly impressive.) This methodology demands a peculiar sort of engagement from the reader, in that in order to really discern the theoretical stakes of Zizek's arguments, one has to read carefully and not get distracted by the innumerable references to popular culture, literature and cinema. One must discern, under the continually variegated examples adduced to illustrate his claims, the theoretical tools at work. Anyone willing to give this book the exertion and discipline required, however will be amply rewarded.
This book certainly rates as one of Zizek's best, and is crucial for understanding Zizek's most recent conceptual innovations and his grasp on the ideological coordinates of a post-9/11 world. Although his other books contain specific engagements on various topics of cultural relevance, to understand the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of his engagement, this book is a must read.
In other respects, this book covers familiar pop-cultural ground --- Lynch, cartoons, star wars episodes 1-3, etc --- but it does so with renewed vigor and further insights. I'm thinking particularly of the chapter entitled "a boy meets a lady." This chapter contains probably the most perverse --- and therefore most accurate --- interpretation of Hegel's "absolute knowledge" I have ever heard. Please read, you like.
As to the skepticism my fellow reviewers express over Zizek's appropriation of Bartleby, all I can say is "not the letter but the spirit." He is clearly NOT suggesting that you never leave your workplace and try to subsist only on pine nuts until the authorities cart you away. He's interested in the negativity of Bartleby's gesture/motto as a double retort to both the frenetic activity that the capitalist epoch compells in its subjects and to the obsessive half-measures of the "resistance" movements that are the inherent supplement of global capital.
What is to be done in 2k6? The answer is seinfeldian: "everybody's doing something; we'll do nothing." What does this mean in real terms? Take voting in America for instance, as Zizek pointed out years ago, the choice for us is between coke and diet coke. Sure diet coke won't start a war in Iraq; it's healthier than that. It'll will wage an economic one instead, i.e. nafta, ftaa, etc. As Kerry seemed to always be implying in his election bid: I can make this a even BETTER empire. SO what is the way out of this forced/false choice? DON'T VOTE. Take America's already existing, statistical apathy (50% voter turn out) and turn it into a statistical boycott (somewhere near the mid-30s in percentile). This would make our elections invalid according to international election authorities insofar as the result cannot be construed as the will of the majority of the people. Does that bear legally on our government? Of course not, but it would be a hell of a lot more interesting than voting democrat and republican for another 150 years.
So remember, tell the green party it needs to commit suicide by advocating that no one vote. It's time to subtract logical positivism from out poltical thinking. And it's time to have Zizek as a guest on The Daily Show.