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Contemporary Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Parallax View by Slavoj Zizek (Short Circuits: The MIT Press) is his most substantial theoretical work to appear in many years; Zizek himself describes it as his magnum opus. Parallax can be defined as the apparent displacement of an object, caused by a change in observational position. Zizek is interested in the "parallax gap" separating two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible, linked by an "impossible short circuit" of levels that can never meet. From this consideration of parallax, Zizek begins a rehabilitation of dialectical materialism.

Modes of parallax can be seen in different domains of today's theory, from the wave-particle duality in quantum physics to the parallax of the unconscious in Freudian psychoanalysis between interpretations of the formation of the unconscious and theories of drives. In The Parallax View, Zizek, with his usual astonishing erudition, focuses on three main modes of parallax: the ontological difference, the ultimate parallax that conditions our very access to reality; the scientific parallax, the irreducible gap between the phenomenal experience of reality and its scientific explanation, which reaches its apogee in today's brain sciences (according to which "nobody is home" in the skull, just stacks of brain meat--a condition Zizek calls "the unbearable lightness of being no one"); and the political parallax, the social antagonism that allows for no common ground. Between his discussions of these three modes, Zizek offers interludes that deal with more specific topics--including an ethical act in a novel by Henry James and anti-anti-Semitism.

The Parallax View not only expands Zizek's Lacanian-Hegelian approach to new domains (notably cognitive brain sciences) but also provides the systematic exposition of the conceptual framework that underlies his entire work. Philosophical and theological analysis, detailed readings of literature, cinema, and music coexist with lively anecdotes and obscene jokes.
Publisher’s Weekly: Starred Review. A Lacanian-Hegelian philosopher and pop culture critic who divides his time between America and Slovenia, 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. Expatiating on such subjects as Heidegger, neuroscience, the war on terror and The Matrix, he seeks to rehabilitate dialectical materialism by replacing the popular "yin-yang" interpretation (the struggle between opposites that ultimately form a whole) with a theory of the "gap which separates the One from itself." One example is a tribe whose two subgroups draw mutually exclusive plans of their village: their deadlock "implies a hidden reference to a constant... an imbalance in social`relations that prevented the community from stabilizing itself into a harmonious whole." Discussing Abu Ghraib and pedophilia in the Catholic Church, Zizek explores how an ideological edifice is sustained by underground transgressions: "Law can be sustained only by a sovereign power which reserves for itself the right... to suspend the rule of law(s) on behalf of the Law itself." Based on his interpretation of Lacanian psychoanalysis, he envisions a society in which public law would no longer sustain itself through its own obscene breach. This challenging book takes us on a roller-coaster ride whose every loop is a Möbius strip. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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