Wednesday, August 8, 2007

What Zizek forgets, or, Zizek on Heidegger continued, continued

I said that the key to Heidegger is to realize that while the ontological veils itself, that does not mean it is indeterminate. The ontic veils the ontological, but this does not mean that the ontological is as indeterminate as the Kantian noumenal, the a priori. I also said Zizek knows this. But he is unwilling to stridently suggest that this determinacy of the ontological is the positive possibility of perceiving and grasping the ontological. Instead, he is completely willing to make this determinacy into something that only serves to provoke a futile search within the ontic for a way to get past it to the ontological. He thereby makes the ontic/ontological distinction seem Kantian. It is as if the determinacy of the ontological and its resistance to being something Kantian only further chastizes those who cannot get beyond the ontic--and thus makes it seem all the more Kantian. Thus he roundly declares the following as if it were not just true of the Heideggerians in Yugoslavia in the later parts of of the twentieth century but also of all Heideggerians to come: "Heideggerians are ... eternally in search for a positive ontic political system that would come closest to the epochal ontological truth, a strategy that inevitably ends in error" (The Ticklish Subject, 13). The determinacy for Zizek only works one way. Zizek forgets his own finding, that point where the perversity of Heideggerian philosophy might lie.
Now, the first thing to note is that this is not a new view of Heidegger, nor is it a wrong one. Heidegger does have a tendency to use the determinacy of the ontological as a way to chastize those who continue to interpret phenomena only ontically. But it should be obvious that this is only because he sees the power of grasping the ontological: what is Being and Time itself, like the Phenomenology of Spirit with regard to the power of thinking with regard to the Begriff, but a demonstration of that power? In terms of this not being a new view, one can cite an immensely critical article of Hannah Arendt from 1946 that says the following:

Heidegger's ontological appoach hides a rigid functionalism in which Man appears only as a conglomerate of modes of Being, which is in principle arbitrary, since no concept of Man determines the modes of his Being.
-"Existenz Philosophy," from the Partisan Review, included in The Phenomenology Reader, p. 355.

In essence this says the same thing as the quote from Being and Time that we cited earlier: the ontological approach risks a rigid functionalism in having to go "behind" the ontic without any ontical conception of the ontological to guide it. Arendt, like Zizek, thinks this cannot easily occur, and, unlike Zizek, implies that it is not the business of philosophy to move beyond the ontic without a prior ontic conception that could handily characterize the ontological. What by now should be obvious is that this too overlooks the determinacy that is just as constitutive for the ontological as well as the ontic, and thus that determining Man ontologically does not mean that one has to have any ontic conception of him to start with--in fact, if conceived rightly, any ontic conception will seem wrong once the ontological is grasped. The whole problem, however is how this grasping is to take place. But it is only a problem insofar as we conceed that it proceeds from the determinacy of the ontological and not any supposed indeterminacy: this is what Zizek stops short of investigating, though he knows it well enough as a Heideggerian, and this is why his rigorous analysis ends up seeming like the genuine distortion of Heidegger that Arendt actively engages in throughout her article (the article, it should be mentioned, is a horrible and, it seems to me, deliberate misreading of Heidegger to make him seem inferior to Jaspers).
Why does this all occur? And where does the "real perversity" lie? Essentially because, like all but the most rigorous of Heideggerians--Derrida, Badiou, Foucault, Gadamer, Dreyfus, to name a few of this exceptional group--Zizek believes Heidegger first and foremost devoted his philosophy to the concept of Being. What rigorous Heideggerians realize--and Gadamer and Derrida were the first to really point this out--was that Heidegger essentially is a philosopher of truth, and that the question of Being remains an equally important phenomenon only because it is connected with the essence of truth (in fact, is this essence). This is not to say that Heidegger's later thought past the "turn" it took after Being and Time was more reflective of the essential nature of his thinking than Being and Time itself, but rather, and more profoundly, that from the beginning Hedegger focused solely on the issue of truth and focused on Being because of this focus. Indeed, this seems odd, but one has to understand the profundity of the assertion Heidegger made even before Being and Time and of course even throughout it, that truth is unconcealment and not the mimetic correspondence of an object with its conception. Alain Badiou continually says that this assertion alone is the condition for all of modern philosophy (and thus penetrates deeper than Lacoue-Labarthe whom he cites, and who is merely developing theses of Derrida's):

Our epoch is most certainly that of a rupture with all that Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe has shown to depend on the motif of mimesis. One of the forms of this motif, which explicitly attaches truth to imitation, is the conception of truth as a relation; a relation of appropriateness between the intellect and the thing intellected; a relation of adequation, which always supposes, as Heidegger very well perceived, that truth be localizable in the form of a proposition. Modern philosophy is a criticism of truth as adequation.
-Infinite Thought, "Philosophy and Truth," 45.

Heidegger crystallizes and formalizes how this truth that is not adequation should be conceived, and it is this that not only makes all modern philosphy a criticism of truth as adequation, but also makes it an elaboration of the concept of Being. It is this fundamental insight, that truth, if it is not to be adequation, must be related to the unveiling of Being, that makes the perception of the ontological and not the ontic of such importance. In other words, it is this fact, and not merely the fact that Heidegger is obsessed with the question of Being, that makes him from the beginning (that is, even before his "turn" to the question of truth and being and away from "Dasein" after Being and Time) introduce the distinction between the ontological and the ontic that Zizek criticizes.
Furthermore, it is this that makes the ontological so very determinate. The ontological is the revealing of truth as Being and not as adequation. That is, as soon as we understand Heidegger as the philosopher of truth and not of Being, like all the best Heideggerians, we suddenly understand that the ontological could never be something that is indeterminate. That is, we understand both its opposition to the ontic as that which is merely that sphere of truth that is still determined by adequation while the ontological remains that which possesses a relationship to truth as alethia or the unveiling or unconcelment of Being, and we understand that this opposition is only a function of the nature of the ontological being absolutely determinate within the sphere of truth that it inhabits. In short, we understand both the opposition and its necessity in the inescapable determinacy of the ontological.
It is this point that we will elaborate in hopefully one more post, to be completed later. But for now it is enough to merely indicate it as the fundamental thing that Zizek, as a Heideggerian, should have remembered.

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