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Zizek's Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity (Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy) Paperback – 30 May 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press (30 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810124564
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810124561
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,046,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"It is always difficult to read books about oneself; with Johnston's book, my anxiety was even stronger than usual. While reading it, I often had the uncanny feeling of being confronted by a line of argumentation which fits better than my own texts what I am struggling to formulate--as if he is the original and I am a copy. He certainly knows how to read me. The majority of my critics concentrate on popular culture, politics, and ideology in my work--Johnston goes directly to its transcendental-ontological nucleus. This is not a book on me, but a book, critical of me, on what both Johnston and I consider the core of our philosophical predicament. I thus advise the reader to forget about me and to enjoy the hard work of penetrating the obscure dimension of the philosophical foundations of psychoanalysis." --Slavoj Zizek"

"It is always difficult to read books about oneself; with Johnston's book, my anxiety was even stronger than usual. While reading it, I often had the uncanny feeling of being confronted by a line of argumentation which fits better than my own texts what I am struggling to formulate--as if he is the original and I am a copy. He certainly knows how to read me. The majority of my critics concentrate on popular culture, politics, and ideology in my work--Johnston goes directly to its transcendental-ontological nucleus. This is not a book on me, but a book, critical of me, on what both Johnston and I consider the core of our philosophical predicament. I thus advise the reader to forget about me and to enjoy the hard work of penetrating the obscure dimension of the philosophical foundations of psychoanalysis." --Slavoj Zizek"

About the Author

Adrian Johnston is assistant professor of philosophy at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque.

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Insightful, rigorous and brilliant! Johnston is certainly well-versed in Zizek and German Idealism. A very thorough commentary on Zizek's system with great critical capacity. For those who have learned a lot of Zizek, this is not a mere repetition but an interesting critical engagement that one can still learn something valuable.
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Format: Paperback
excellent study of Zizek in the context of transcendental philosophy. valuable for everyone interested in the theory of the subject
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x92a62804) out of 5 stars 3 reviews
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x954d4b88) out of 5 stars The Best Book on Zizek's Philosophy 25 July 2008
By Thomas Meli - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Adrian Johnston has bypassed most of the fireworks concerning Zizek's public image and penetrated right to the philosophical propositions and arguments that are being made.

The fundamental thesis of the book is none other than what Zizek says of his own work: to raise lacanian psychoanalysis to the rigor of German idealism. The book's structure reflects this thesis, starting with Zizek's reading of Kant (Kant, who in Zizek's eyes, started philosophy as such by creating the concept of the transcendental subject). Kant, according to Zizek, was the first philosopher to rigorously draw out the idea that we do not have absolute empirical access, not just to the world, but also to our own selves as a subjective consistency. This is the beginning of the concept of the barred subject - or that the subject as it understands itself is never completely coincident with what it understands. Contemporary psychoanalysis understands all antagonisms in terms of this fundamental antagonism, coming back from Descartes and Kant's view of subjectivity.

This then moves to Zizek's reading of Schelling whose main materialist point is this fundamental antagonism owes itself to the idea that substance itself is divided, and it is this internal division within being itself that generates appearance and subjectivity. This is Zizek's materialist reading of Schelling - which is to unite the grounded material and the ungrounded ideal subject in a primary division or antagonism immanent in being itself. Quoting him that: if the world was complete unto itself, it would not need to split into two (the ideal and the material). This leads us to Zizek's reading of Hegel: Substance as subject and subject as substance.

Zizek's reading of Hegel is the last philosophical step in this triad. Zizek uses Hegel to explain precisely how and why the subject emerges from being. The explanation he gives is that "subject is nothing but that name for this inner distance of substance towards itself." This genesis occurs from inconsistencies and failures of the way being interacts and comes to know itself through its failures.

[it is this section of the book that is most philosophically problematic Johnston actually recourses to evolutionary theory and complexity theory to explain how there would be evolutionary selection for consciousness given that as the complexity of a system increases, more loopholes and failures are possible - thus generating more gaps "in-themselves" which need to be dealt with. I feel Johnston & Zizek (& Deleuze and any nonbiological philosopher!) can't provide a real consistent explanation for how subject arises out of being. "Failure" is hardly an explanation for the genesis of the subject... - failure with regard to what, an already existing proto-subject?]

The conclusion the book brings home is the precise nature of freedom as that which is absolutely contingent and absolutely autonomous.

Basic Strengths of the Book:

The consistencies and inconsistencies in Zizek's philosophy are dealt with in very rigorous ways. For example: the exact determination of the concept of "the real" fluctuates in both Zizek and Lacan as both that which is either "posed" as the negative OF the symbolic (the symbolic produces the real by its very failure), or the real as "presupposed" (the real is something anterior to the symbolic, not produced purely from it, but in from something else in relation to it).

Also, the breadth of knowledge Johnston exhibits is truly magnificent. Not only does he have an incredible mastery of philosophical and psychological concepts, but he also is able to express them in clear ways and relevant ways. He is able to sweep through most of Zizek's Oeuvre perceiving those aspects of his philosophical system that are crucial to the thesis and tying them all together very clearly.

Critique:

The writing style is somewhat like Zizek's (this probably comes from having read all of his books and not being able to shake some of the influence), and this becomes slightly annoying at times, leaving you feeling he is merely repeating Zizek rather than coming up with something new. But this feeling is momentary, and for the most part the work that Johnston has done is quite obvious and massively impressive.

Another issue I had is that Johnston doesn't notice the way other philosophers have tried to do the same thing as Zizek. Though the book is obviously about Zizek, many contemporary philosophers embark on the same project, not the least of which is Zizek's "enemy" Deleuze. Zizek himself says: I'm trying to do what Deleuze forgot to do, to take Hegel from behind.

For instance, it becomes clear that philosophically, Deleuze and Zizek drive home the same fundamental thesis: difference is metaphysically primary. By comparing alternate conceptions of the subject this would shed more light on Zizek's project and possible alternatives to it.

I also think the account of the genesis of the subject is inadequate, and so long as the "material" being of the world is considered isomorphic with the subject (i.e. it is inherently "split"), you cannot actually account for the concrete genesis of the subject as it actually occurred, but rather can only come up with a vague and general (and teleological) a priori argument about conditions of possibility for subjectivity (i.e. that being is inherently split!).

Also, it is questionable whether the explanations Zizek gives are actually due to the causes he ascribes them to (inherent tensions in being and the subject). Johnston also provides no alternative conceptions of this, which would shed light on the particular context Zizek uses for his own explanations.

Conclusion:

As it stands, the book is the best characterization of the project Zizek embarked on, while relating it to a historical background that Zizek merely assumes his readership is familiar with. Undoubtedly, the readings will be controversial, but Johnston provides a well crafted defense of Lacanian metapsychology, attempting to truly understand what Zizek is saying before running into a hasty critique. I consider it crucial to anyone interested in the philosophical edifice of Zizek's argumentation.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x92b68bc4) out of 5 stars A Guide for the Zizek-Perplexed 3 Mar. 2014
By Boris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Teachings of kabbalists were based on a principle: "Reveals an inch, conceals two" - truly profound things cannot be just spelled out, in a very Kierkegaardian way they relied on the disciple absorbing the material and making his own judgement. The joke behind this principle emerged in the enlightened times, when Jewish girls started dressing in more liberal ways than orthodox Judaism ever allowed. It was then said about any dress they would wear that it "Conceals an inch, reveals two".

Zizek, or as a matter of fact any deep thinker carries on this tradition. Zizek's ontology helps a lot not just to elucidate many points, but also to unearth the important, little things that are unavoidably missed during direct readings of any philosophical work, not to mention work as rich and intricate as Zizek's. This book is a huge help for any student who is trying to uncover the concealed.

One can view this book as a great mediator between the early and the late in Zizek's oeuvre (from the perspective of understanding and watching it develop). From Schelling taking central stage in The Indivisible Remainder, thus giving a mystical twist to the transcendental materialism, to re-evaluating his role and instead inscribing Fichte into the materialist philosophical edifice of this theory in Less Than Nothing.
6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x928ca978) out of 5 stars Time is on my side 10 Aug. 2008
By Ronald S. Rice - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am loving this book. My head is swollen from so many parentheses, but it is convinced that they are worth the effort. Among the many rewards of reading this book is to see some of Badiou's ideas contrasted with Zizek's.

Ron Rice
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