Truth is the truth of relativity

In my post ‘A new kind of atheist’ I proposed that overdetermined and inconsistent meanings of existence constitute the whole truth of reality and is in no way a failure to cognitively map our situation.  I suggested that this understanding of the Real very well might make ‘suprarational faith vs rational nihilism’ a misconceived dualism. What I lack in rhetorical eloquence I leave to Žižek to make up the difference. Pay particular attention to the final sentence!

…everything is not just the interplay of appearances, there is a Real–this Real, however, is not the inaccessible Thing, but the gap which prevents our access to it, the “rock” of the antagonism which distorts our view of the perceived object through a partial perspective. And, again, the “truth” is not the “real” state of things, that is, the “direct” view of the object without perspectival distortion, but the very Real of the antagonism which causes perspectival distortion. The site of truth is not the way “things really are in themselves,” beyond their perspectival distortions, but the very gap, passage, which separates one perspective from another, the gap (in this case: social antagonism) which makes the two perspectives radically incommensurable. The “Real as impossible” is the cause of the impossibility of ever attaining the “neutral” non-perspectival view of the object. There is a truth, everything is not relative–but this truth is the truth of the perspectival distortion as such, not the truth distorted by the partial view from a one-sided perspective (The Parallax View, 281)

From my understanding, Alain Badiou seems to offer the same wisdom. In every axiomatic set there exists a void or gap that is uncounted in the situation. But what makes Badiou radical is that he locates truth precisely in the void rather than in spite of it. What’s more, one is a subject of truth if s/he locates him- herself in the void. All this comes to mean that our understanding and explaination of reality is in no way incomplete in the same way theology thinks of it. The truth is not “to come” in an eschatological unfolding or (thinking Derridian here) infinitely deferred. The partial, distorted and perspectival view of the Real is truth. Nietzsche, to prove this point for Žižek, failed to articulate the “right” position because he failed to recognize truth in the struggle for a “non-perspectival view”. Žižek’s concluding point is this: subjects must “come to peace with incommensurability itself“.

Despite this being a relatively short post, this sums up the fruit of a year of researching alternatives to the continental/analytic philosophy divide–primarily through the works of Deleuze, Badiou and Žižek. One of the prime reasons I have followed theology to the extent I have is partly due to the incompleteness or closedness of philosophy. But if this alternative proves reasonable I believe I’ll be heading in different directions from before. Žižek has already been a great model for myself; a critical psychoanalytic atheist philosopher who is also interested in how theology could possibly animate critical thought.

For those interested, here are some books on my summer reading list on a continuation of this journey:

Brassier, Ray. 2007. Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction

Meillassoux, Quentin. 2008. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency

Harman, Graham. 2009. Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics


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4 responses to “Truth is the truth of relativity”

  1. Matt Martin says :

    I might suggest some more cautionary readings as well, starting with Cunningham’s Genealogy of Nihilism. Contrary to the position you are pursuing, Cunningham lays out theology as the means of resolving such dualisms. Thus, theology is not a mistaken deferral of truth, but the means of overcoming nihilistic dualisms.

    The trick of the above pursuit is to substitute, in Cunningham’s words, the “nothing as something”, so that the nothing presents “something” which is no-thing. Thus, philosophy unaided by theology pretends to have overcome wrong-headed, imposed limits by realizing that the “gap”–the no-thing–is the “Truth”. Of course, Cunningham’s position is far more nuanced and informed than the above comments, but I hope I have accurately represented one of his main points of contention with such thinkers as Badiou and Deleuze.

  2. Matt Martin says :

    I might also add that this is not overcoming the analytic/continental divide. This is simply more continental philosophy (which is certainly not a criticism of it). Analyticists would take strong issue with almost everything laid out above, because if the “gap” is the truth, then the enterprise of analytic philosophy is pointless.

  3. Matt Martin says :

    As Cunningham notes: “It is well known that Parmenides equated being and thought. To be sure, there is something problematic with this, and the history of ontotheology, as creatively delineated by Heidegger, displays this with acumen. What Lacan and Žižek seem to be pointing to is the incongruity between being and thought, and with good reason. It seems to be true prima facie that being does exceed thought, and that if it did not there could not be creation, so to speak. For all would suffer the paralysis of a strict idealism; as we witness in ontotheology, which confines being with its unthinking categories and presumed significance. Indeed, can it not be said that life can only take place–existentially occur–in the space between thought and being? In other words, the difference between the two allows for difference. Yet the problem with such an approach is that it invites a new idealism, in the form of a new ‘name’, which actually realigns thought and being by bridging, and so removing, the difference; it is arguable that this is what meontology is guilty of. These new names come in many guises. For example, because thought and being are not the same, accidents happen, tragedy arises. But the danger is that if one simply renames life as tragic, tragedy disappears, for its now ‘metaphysical’ status–its reality–leaves it without the requisite space for tragedy to occur. To put it another way, to say that the world is full of suffering and so is meaningless, is to dilute the very suffering that initially motivated the negative judgement: there is no suffering in life, therefore life is meaningless, therefore there is no suffering. Absurdity and nihilism operate in a similar fashion, for they are names that settle into the gap between being and thought, reforging a novel chain. This is the ‘Devil of the Gaps’, who is a bridge to the void, after which it lusts.” (202, 258)

    In aligning reality (and hence being) in the “gap”, a new idealism is being constructed that voids either side of the canyon, as it were. Matt writes:

    “The partial, distorted and perspectival view of the Real is truth.”

    Such a position arguably conflates being with thought in its very attempt to avoid doing so, reestablishing an idealism that universalizes, well, no-thing. As Matt states, we even place ourselves within the void–the “gap” that is itself the truth of Reality. Žižek is correct that this is not relativism, because he is establishing a new objectivism. After all, he has discovered the “truth”, though in the moment he grasped it, he realized that it was nothing more than Sartre’s infamous hole.

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