Monday, 7 October 2013

Transcript, Slavoj Zizek: "Materialism & Theology" - address to European Graduate School, 2007


What follows is my transcript of a talk given by Slavoj Zizek to the European Graduate School in 2007 on the subject of Materialism and Theology.

It is available to view and listen on youtube.

I'm posting it first, but have had many thoughts in response, some given here.

I came across the talk about the same time I read the Terry Lectures given by Terry Eagleton in 2008 and published in 2009: "Faith, Reason and Revolution". I felt that there was a subtle but substantial lack of something (a kind of awareness) in the scientific-rationalist writing against religion that had emerged - coincidentally? - as the 150th anniversary of the "Origin of Species" approached.

I'd like to recapture everything that propelled me down this reading path. (I kept notebooks and will piece it together). I was questioning home, identity, technology, buying and renovating, in the early 2000s, a dilapidated ex-council house in a crowded south London suburb, responses to the crush of cars and street and people, menace and smeared pavements. (The world has retained a threatening aspect, though I have ways of interpreting this feeling now which I didn't have back then). In amongst this, was a moment of realisation that science is a cultural outgrowth, as much to do with the way I related to myself as it was a way of describing the world "out there". I was on the way to discovering the depths to which a kind of Benthamism worked in me, but hadn't the learning to identify it. I grew up aiming to emulate my civil engineer father, and started work at a time when that world was becoming pre-occupied with the environment, with "green-ness", with looking at the world and finding it too "un-natural". I was engaging with this engineered world - full of waste and the dismal results of utopian urban projects - with the practical stance of an engineer and unconsciously becoming a constructivist, bringing the objective problem-solving round in on itself, locating myself within it, becoming subjective.

Anyway, Zizek's talk is interesting and entertaining. Also in my reading at the time were works by Andrew Bowie (who writes on German philosophy since Kant), Isaiah Berlin, Andrew Feenberg, John Gray and others.

The talk lasts an hour. Reading it takes a little less. It's almost verbatim. There is no paraphrasing, but maybe some small editing, e.g. where Zizek corrected himself, or making good the occasionally odd English phrasing.


"WHILE there has been a rise of religious fundamentalism, there has also been a rise of very reductive vulgar materialism, dawkins, dennet, hitchens, sam harris. I think that these are two sides of the same coin, we don't have to choose. In September 2006, Pope Ratzinger caused a stir when he quoted the infamous lines of a 14th century Byzantine emperor..."Show me what was new in Muhammad, and I will show you evil..the faith he preached". What was Ratzinger's idea? He tried to delineate a fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam, that Christianity is fundamentally linked to reason (...'First there was the word, logos.') and [for]Islam, that God is absolute, transcendental, other. Islam, according to the Pope, is that God is not bound up with us through reason, so the irrationality of violence might thereby appear to be justified [to those who believe] it is God's will. So the Pope asks "Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature always and intrinsically true?" There is a problem with this statement. In it the Pope also condemned the western godless secularism. Pope says that the gift of reason has resulted [and] warped into an absolutist doctrine, so the Pope concludes that reason and faith must come together in a new way, in the divine logos, the breath of reason. Where is the problem? They explode when one analyses what the Pope means by "reason". Just a week before this Pope's statement he made some remarks on the irrationaltiy of Darwinism. There was an american jesuit priest who contradicted the Pope's endorsement of intelligent design theory (Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican observatory) "the Adam and Eve" theory of evolution. Father Coyne was outspoken defender of Darwin's theory and said it was compatible with Christianity. But the Pope said (in his book "Truth and Tolerance"): "The question is whether reality originated on the basis of chance and necessity and thus from what is irrational..." you got the point - necessity is for the Pope irrational... "...that is whether reason, being a chance by-product of irrationality and floating in an ocean of irrationality, is ultimately just as meaningless. Or whether the principle that represents the fundamental conviction of christian faith and of its philosphy remains true: in principio erat verbo ... in the beginning of all things stands creative power of reason. Now, as then, christian faith represents the choice in favour of the priority of reason and of rationality".

So this then is the first qualification that one must have. The Reason of which the pope speaks, is the Reason for which Darwin's theory of evolution ... and let's be clear here, ultimately modern science itself, for which the assertion of the contingency of the universe, the break with the Aristotelian teleology, is a constitutive axiom. So... for which Darwin ['s theory of evolution] and Modern Science are irrational. The Reason of which the Pope speaks is the pre-modern, teleological reason, the view of the universe as a harmonious whole in which everything serves some higher purpose. Which is why, incidentally - this is a nice pardox here - the Pope's remarks obfuscate the key role of the christian theology in the birth of modern science. I think this is true, that Christian theology played a crucial part [in the origin of modern science]. But which theology? What paved the way for modern science was precisely the voluntarist idea, elborated by, among others, Duns Scotus and Rene Descartes, that God is not bound by any eternal rational truths, that is to say: while the illusory perception of modern science is that it is a discourse of pure description - of facts - the paradox resides - i.e. the paradox of modern science - in the coincidence of bare facticity and radical voluntarism. Facts can be sustained as meaningless, as something that just Is the way it is only if it is secretly sustained by an arbitrary divine will. This is why Descartes is one of the founding figures of modern science, precisey when he made even the most elementary mathematical facts (like two and two is four) dependent on the arbitrary divine will. Even in mathematics, this unconditional voluntarism is discernible in it's axiomatic character."

(Editor's note: A very similar point is penetratingly and subtly made in Martin Heidegger's essay "Mathematics, Modern Science, and Metaphysics".)

"... One begins by arbitrarily positing a series of axioms out of which everything else is supposed to follow, so again, that's the first paradox - when the Pope speaks about rationality he means the pre-modern harmonious teleological vision of the universe not at all what we mean by the rationality of the modern sciences.

The second qualification - Is Islam really so irrational? Does it really celebrate a totally transcendent God above Reason? In an issue of Time magazine, a year ago, there was an interesting interview with Majmoud Ahmadinejad, who advocated exactly the same unity of reason, logic and spirituality as does the Pope, i.e. to the question what he would ask of George Bush, MA relied, "I would ask him 'Are Rationalism Spirituality and Humanitarianism and Logic are the bad things for human beings? Why more conflict? Why houdl we go for hostilities, why build weapons of mass destrution, everybody can love one another, I have said that we can run the world through logic, problems cannot be solved through bombs, what we need today is logic?" This is the despised muslim fundamentalist. I claim he was right. From the perspective of Islam, Christianity, the religion of love, which is not rational enough. Its focus on love makes God all too human, biased, in the figure of christ who intervenes into creation as an engaged, combative figure, allowing his Christ's passion to overrun the logic of the creator and master of the universe. The muslim god, on the contrary, is the true god of reason. He's wholly transcendent, not in the sense of frivolous irrationalitya s the pope thinks, but in the sense of the supreme creator who knows and directs everything and has thus no need to get involved in earthly accidents with partial [biased] passion .... You know, the god already is total rational master of the universe, no need to intervene with some stupid self-sacrifices or whatever .... No wonder then that - that's an interesting fact - that Islam finds it much easier to accept the, for our commonsense, paradoxical results of modern quantum physics, which run against our common sense. The notion of an all-enompassing, rational order which runs against our common sense (that's the idea of quantum physics). The underlying logic of Islam is that of a rationality which can be wierd, but which allows no exceptions. The universe is totally rational. While the underlying logic of Christianity is of an irrational exception, unfathomable divine mystery which sustains our rationality, or (as GK Chesterton put it) "The christian doctrine not only discovered the law, but it foresaw the exceptions. It is only the exceptions which allow us to perceive the miracle of the unversal rule" and for Chesterton, the same goes for our rational understanding of the universe. A quote from Chesterton's "Orthodoxy": "The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious and everything else becomes lucid. The one created thing we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything. Like the sun at noonday, mysticism explains everything else by the blaze of its own victorious invisibility."

Chesterton's aim is thus to save reason, through sticking to it's founding exception. Deprived of reason, deprived of this exception, reason degenerates into a blind, self-destructive scepticism, in short into total irrationalism, or, as Chetsterton liked to repeat, "If you do not believe in God, you will soon be ready to believe in anything, including the most superstitious nonsense about miracles", which is why incidentally - and Chestreton was here consequent [relevant?] - you probably now that even today he is best known as the author of detective stories - Father Brown. What's the point of detective stories, as Chesterton put it? You have something that appears enigmatic, mysterious, like - I don't know, a locked room mystery - and precisely the whole point of detective stories is to avoid a ... if you know the solution at the end was, like a divine intervention, you are cheating. The explanation must be totally rational. And that's the nice thing about Chesterton His claim is that Christianity is the only way to save reason, through the exception. This was GKC's basic insight: that the irrationalism of the late 19th century (Nietsche, Lebensphilosophie and so on) was the necessary consequence of the enlightenment rationalist attack on religion. Another problematic, nice quote: "The ... and the crusades, the heresies and the horrible persecutions of the pre-modern medi-aeval universe were not organised, as is ignorantly said, for the suppression of reason, they (witch hunts etc.) were organised for the difficult defence of reason. Men, by a blind instinct, knew that once things were wildly questioned, reason could be questioned first. The authority of priests to absolve, the authority of popes to define the authority, even of inquisitors to terrify, these were all only dark defences erected around one central authority more undemonstrable more supernatural than all: the authority of a man to think freely." I love this: in so far as religion is gone, reason is going. It's a consequent position, the position again of universal rule and excpeption. Now here however, I think we encounter GKC's limitation. But a limitation that he himself overcomes, when (I think this is his best text), in his text on the book of Job, he shows why God had to rebuke his own defenders. (The men that try to appease Job for his misfortune with reasons about God's having it in store for him or whatever - there is a deeper reason why you got screwed up. They want to read a meaning into it - God is Just, whatever. "The mechanical and supercilious comforters of Job" as GKC put it). Job's point is not that "No, I didn't.." not that "No! I'm innocent God is wrong and unjust", but that there is no deeper meaning. And what the three of four theologists friends of Job insist on is precisely: No - Your catastrophe HAS a deeper meaning. The nice thing is (and this is why I think the Book of Job is the founding text of Materialism maybe) is that God himself, without any ambiguity, takes the side of Job: He says everything that Job said is right, everything that the three comforters said is wrong. Quote from GKC:

"The mechanical optimist endeavours to justify the universe avowedly upon the ground that it is rational and consecutive pattern. He points out that the fine thing about the world is that it can all be explained. That is the one point, if I may so put it so, at which God, in his return to Job, is explicit to the point of violence. God says, in effect, that if there is one fine thing about the world, then it is that it cannot be explained. He insists on the inexplicableness of everything. He goes even further and insists on the positive and palpable unreason of things. A quote from the book of Job: "Hast thou sent the rain upon the desert where no man is and on the winderness where there is no man", and so on. To startle man, God, for an instant, becomes a blasphemer. One might even say that God comes for an instant to be an atheist. He unrolls before Job a long panorama of created things: the horse, the raven, the white Ess [?] the peacock, the ostrich, the crocodile, he so describes each of them that it sounds like a monster walking in the sun. The whole is a sort of psalm or rhapsody on the sense of wonder. The maker of all things is astonished at the things he has himself made."

So you got it: God is here no longer the miraculaous exception which guarantees the normality of the universe, the unexplainable X who enables us to explain everything else. He is, on the contrary, Himself overwhelmed by the miracle of his own creation. Upon a closer look there is nothing normal in our universe. Everything, even every small thing, is a miraculous exception. Viewed from a proper perspective, every normal thing is a monstrosity. [For example] why should we take the horse as normal and the unicorn as a miraculous exception? Even the horse, the most normal thing in the world is a flattering (?) miracle. And I think this blasphemous God is the God of modern science, since modern science is sustained by exactly this attitude of wondering at the most obvious. In short modern science is on the side of believing in anything. It is one of the lessons of the theory of relativity or of quantum physics, not that modern science undermines our most elementary natural attitude and compels us to believe the most non-sensical things.

To clarify this confusion, I think that Jacques Lacan's logic of the so-called "Non-All", can be of some help here. (Lacan distinguishes the so-called masculine side: universality, "All", Universal Law, grounded in exception, and "Non-All" - there is no exception but because of this, no universality.) GKC obviously relies on masculine side of universality and its constitutive exception. Everything obeys causality with the exception of God, the central mystery. The logic of modern science is, on the contrary, feminine. First, it is materialist, accepting the axiom that nothing escapes natural causality, there is nothing which cannot be accounted for by rational explanation. However, the other side of this materialist axiom is that not all is rational - not in the sense that there is something that is irrational, something that escapes natural causality, but in the sense that it is the totality of rational causal order which is in itself inconsistent (in this formal sense of course - irrational "Non-All"). Only this Non-All guarantees the proper opening of the scientific discourse to surprises, to the emergence of the unthinkable. Who in the nineteenth century would have imagined anything like relativity theory or quantum physics. So perhaps the imcompatibility between Derrida (I quote now to give you an example of this difference) and Deleuze I think can also be accounted [for] in these terms. Whate makes Derrida masculine, in the sense of the logic of universality and its exception, is the persistence in his work of totalisation through exception. the search for a post-metaphysical way of thinking, the break-out of the metaphysical closure, presupposes the violent gesture of universalisation of levelling, equalization, unifiction of all the field of intra-metaphysical struggles (... you know the story of all the attempts to break out of metaphysics, from Kierkegaard to Marx, from Nietsche to Heidegger, from Levinas to Claude Levi-Strauss) ultimately remain in the horizon of the metaphysics of presence. The same gesture is clearly discernible also in Heidegger, for whom all reversals of metaphysics from Marx to Nietsche, from Husserl to Sartre, remain within the horizon of the forgetting of being, ultimately caught in the technological nihilism as the accomplishment of metaphysics, as wells as (incidentally) for Adorno and Horkheimer, for whom the entire Western thought is totalised as the gradual deployment of the dialectics of enlightenment which culminates in today's administered world. As some people used to say, "From Plato to Nato is a straight line".

It is also this aspect that I find problematic in our good friend Giorgio Agamben (I can say something critical about him, because he's not here). Seriously: doesn't he do the same thing... like... what narrative is he telling us? From the very beginning of the West, western philosophy, there is a kind of straight line eschatology that terminates in today's Homo Sacer, concentration camp logic, that's the true form of the entire development and all attempts to break out get caught into it, so we just have to wait for the reversal. I'm tempted to claim that perhaps it is this very gesture of violent equalisation of the entire field against which you then formulate your own position of exception, which is the most elementary gesture of metaphysics - this is for me what maybe we should... drop: the idea that everything is part of metaphysics of presence, the forgetfulness of being, except the position from which you are totalising. In clear contrast to Derrida, this gesture of violent equalisation is, as far as I can see, totally absent in Gilles Deleuze's work. Deleuze's gaze upon the tradition of philosophy is somehow like the gaze of God on creation in God's reply to Job. There is no norm whoch would allow us to levelise [sic] the field. Miracles are everywhere, every phenomenon, perceived properly, from a position which it from its standard context, is an exception. (This is what I like, again, in Deleuze. He is far from the idea of all hitherto is... NO! He says Let's look at even Plato, who appears to be his enemy, even Kant, Spinoza, everywhere you see an exception, everywhere you see a miracle). Catholic church, on the contrary, was, as a rule, always on the side of the common sense realism and universal, natural explanation. From GKC to Pope Jean-Paul II, who endorsed both evolutionism (sic) with the exception of the moment when God imparts the exception of the immortal soul (it's always the same logic) or even contemporary cosmology. Jean-Paul II says "It's fine, wonderful, but don't mess with big bang".No wonder that many neo-Thomists know that there is a weird similarity between their own ontology and the ontology of the Stalinist dialectical materialsm, because both were defending a version of naive realism: objects as we perceive them, really exist outside and idependently of our perception, and so on. This is why both Catholic philosophy and Dialectical Materialism had such problems with the so-called "open ontology" of quantum mechanics. That is to say, how are we to interpret the so-called principle of uncertainty, which prohibits us from obtaining full knowledge of particles at the quantum level? For Einstein, this principle of uncerainty demonstartes that quantum physics does not provide a full description of reality, that there must be some unknown feature missed by its conceptual aparatus.

As we all know, Heisenberg, Bohr and others insisted that this incompleteness of our knowledge, of our quantum reality, points towards a strange incompleteness of reality itself: a claim which leads to a breathtaking, weird ontology. What kind of ontology? Let me give you a well known example. When we want to simulate reality within an artificial digital medium, we do not have to go to the end, we just have to reproduce features which make the image realistic from the spectator's point of view. Say, when you are playing a digital PC game, if there is a house in the background, the programmer does not have to construct the house's entire interior since we expect that the participant, the player will not want to enter the house, or the construction of a virtual person in this space can be limited to his exterior. (You know, when you interact with a person there, it's not in the programme bones and so on, it's not part of the rules of the game). We just need maybe a programme which will just fill in this gap if the participant's activity necessitates it. It is like when you scroll down a long text on a computer screen. Earlier and later pages do not pre-exist our viewing them. In the same way, when we simulate a virtual universe, the microscopic structure of objects can be left blank, and if you see stars on the horizon, you know the sky in a digital game, if the stars appear hazy, blurred, we need not bother to construct the way they would appear to a closer look, since there is no closer look in the game. Nobody will go up there to get such a look at them.

Now you get my point. The interesting idea here is that the quantum indeterminacy which we encounter when we enquire into the tiniest components of our universe can be read in exactly the same way as the limited resolution of our simulated world in a PC game, that is to say, as a sign of the ontological incompleteness of what we experience as reality itself. That is to say, let us imagine a god who is creating the world for us human inhabitants to dwell in. His task could be made easier (I quote here Nicholas Ferm... Introduction to philosophy) by only needing to furnish those parts that its inhabitants need to know about, for example the microscopic structure of the earth's interior could be left blank, at least until someone decides to dig down deep enough, in which case the details could be hastily filled in as required..

[Compare: "If we but knew what we do when, we choose to delve and hew" G Manley Hopkins "Aspens" - Ed.]

..in which case the details could be filled in as required. If the most distance stars are hazy, no-one is going to get close enough to erealise that something is amiss. I love this theory because.. you got it why: When God created the world, he under-estimated us. He was too lazy. He thought that the limits of our knowledge is atoms. He thought that we will not go beyond the atom by dividning it, so why waste precious time constructing things there, he left it open, you know "Who cares if the place of a partcle is this or that, let's leave it open". But we got a little bit too intelligent for god, we approached the atom, we approached the limit.

Now of course comes the counter-question, But what has this to do with materialism? Isn't this entire vision precisely based on the theological view: there must be a creator. My answer is No. That is to say, it's not necessary to read this, as it were, ontological incompleteness of reality as a sign that we live in a simulated universe, but we can simply read it as a sign of the onotlogical incompleteness of reality itself, and this I think is the difficult thing to accept. That is to say that reality is in itself incomplete, and our common sense tells us that if realty itself is incomplete it will collapse into itself , you know you can play the game, but at some unltimate level, in order for things to exist, they must fully, ontologically exist. If reality is to really exist out there, it has to be complete all the way down. Otherwise we are dealing with fiction that hangs in the air, like appearances that are not appearances of a substantial something. But here precisely again, I think quantum physics offers a model of how to think such an open ontology, and I claim, ruthlessly manipulating ... [?] Alain Badiou, he formulated the same thing in his idea of pure multiplicity as the ultimate category. Reality is the multiplicity of multiplicities which cannot be generated or constituted from or reduced to some form of "ones" as its elementary atomic constituents. The difficult thing is to think multiplicity as original. You get my point. There is a mulitplicity which is not a mulitplicity of "ones": multiplicity comes before one. No matter how far we progress in our analysis of multiplicities, we never reach the Zero-level of simple constituents. You can go endlessly on. The only background of multplicities is just zero - the void.

Therein resides, I think, Alain Badiou's ontological breakthrough: the primordial opposition is not that of one and zero, but between zero and multiplicities, and the "one" emerges later. To put it more radically, since only "Ones" fully really exist, multiplicities and zero are the same thing. Zero is multiplicities, without the Ones that would guarantee their ontological consistencies. So when Badiou speaks about multiplicities and the void, his point is not the vulgar Democritian theory one: "Yes I know, multiplicities are small particles running all over the place and the void is the space" - No! Imagine multiplicities, but the more you divide them, it's only more open space. The zero is the substance of multiplicities. And now comes a bit of cultural theory: shared ideology and Lebenswelt illustrated by tiny details. Difference between Europe ans US. In America the lift goes from 1 (ground). (Incidentally, they sometimes exclude 13 in high rise buildings - but of course, God knows your 14 is really 13... subjectivist idealism...) For Americans, you start with one, you don't need zero, the Big Other. In France it goes from 0, 1, 2, etc. there has to be a zero background. But in Poland, it goes 0 then directly to 2, 3, 4! There is no "1"! It's like they read Badiou's Being and Event. I asked the lift operator, where is the "1"? He said "The moment you start to count, zero becomes One"! In order to count, zero has to be counted as one!

So you see my point. Contrary to this idea that materialsim means this full reality out there fully intologically constituted, I think the real challenge today is to think this materialism of multiplicities against the background of the void. What we should do here is an excursus into Kant. It's an old distinction I refer to all the time, a wonderful Kantian distinction between negative and infinite judgement. Negative judgement you negate a predicate: infinite judgement you don't negate a predicate, you affirm a non-predicate. You can negate the statement "You are dead" with "You are not dead" i.e. "You are alive". But Infinite judgement would be "You are undead", and it invites us to imagine an infinity of the undead. And I think we should do the same thing here. If we take the axiom that material reality is all there is, if we negate it in the mode of negative judgement, then we say that material reality is not all there is. (This is idealism... Ha ha, materiality is not all there is...) What we should say is not "material reality is not all there is" but "material reality IS non-all", there is nothing outside, it is just incomplete in itself. And this is very hard to accept (if I come back to the beginning) both for the vulgar materialists and the new-age idealists... but some conclusing remarks on ecology. I think the true site of the struggle for materialsim today is ecology. Now let me elaborate an idea that I had with Badiou in conversation. Ecology has today all the chances of developing into the predominant form of ideology, of our global capitalism. I'm more and more convinced that even multiculturalism doesn't look so well, liberalism (if you dig down to the end) it's ecology. Ecology is effectively, as Badiou put it to me in a private conversation, the new opium for the masses, replacing religion. Why?

It takes over the old religions' fundamental function of putting on an unquestionable authority which can impose limits. The lesson this ecology is constantly hammering home is our finitude: We are not cartesian subjects extracted from reality, we are finite bengs embedded in the biosphere which vastly transgresses our horizon, in our expoitation of natural resources we are borrowing from the future so we should treat our earth with respect, as something ultimately sacred, as something that should not be totally unveiled, something that should forever remain a mystery, a power we should trust, not something we sould explode and dominate. While we cannot gain full mastery over our biosphere, unforntuately it is in our power to derail it, disturb its balance, and so on. This is why, although ecoogists are all the time demanding that we change our way of life, underneath this is its opposite. It conceals a deep distrust of development, of progress, every radical change can have the unintended consequence of triggering a catastrophe. This distrust was given today a new impetus by today's bio-genetics, which is on the verge of a crucial breakthrough, namely, until now geneticists were confined to tinkering, tweaking the DNA of existing organisms (taking a gene from a bacterium an inserting it into a pigm, or whatever). But now the prospect is to produce life that will be wholly new, not in any way a genetic descendant of existing biological organisms. The initial members of each newly formed organism will have no ancestors at all. So the genome itself of this organism will be artificially put together. First individual biological building blocks will be fabricated, then they will be combined into an entirely new, synthetic, self replicating organism. As we know, scientists designate this as "Life 2.0", as opposed to our "natural" life that is "Life 1.0". This is effectively a kind of end of nature. Synthetic life is not just supplimenting natural life, it turns "natural" life itself into a kind of imperfect species of synthetic life. So there are effectively some breath-taking prospects here. My idea is that those who oppose most ferociously this prospect are precisely religious leaders and environmentalists. For both there is something of a transgression, of entering a prohibited domain, this idea of creating a new form of life from scratch. And this brings us back to the idea of ecology as the new opium of the masses.

The underlying message is again a deeply conservative one - any change can only be a change for the worse. Quote from a newspaper report that illustrates on this typical ecological attitude: "Behind much of the resistance to this new synthetic life is the untuition that nature, or God, created the best of all possible worlds. Charles Darwin believed that the myriad designs of nature's creations are perfect honed to do whatever they are meant to do. Animals that see, hear, feed, sing, or plants that feed from the suns rays", so on and so on. I claim that this reference to Darwin is totally misleading. The ultimate lesson of Darwin is the exact opposite in that nature tinkers and improvises with with great losses and catastrophes accompanying every limited success. Is the fact that 90% of the human genome is junk DNA with no clear function not the ultimate proof of it. Consequently the first clear lesson to be drawn is the one repeatedly drawn by Stephen J Gould, of the utter contingency of our existence. There is no evolution. Catastrophes and broken equilibriums are part of natural history. At numerous points in the past, life could have turned into an entirely different direction. The main source of our energy, oil, is the result in the past of a catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions. And I think this again, is what we must accept. The first premise of materialist ecology is "nature" doesn't exist - Like Lacan said "La femme n'existe pas" - if we mean by nature some kind of mythic, balanced, self-reproducing universe which is then derailed by human hubris, and to which we must return. I quite agree with those who claim that there is in the predomonant form of a kind of secularist version of this religious idea of the fall. And this is the truly difficult materialist thing. Of curse we have to do something. I'm totally pro-ecologist. But we have to drop the ideas of mather nature, balanced nature disturbed by humans. We should go even further and reject a certain anthropology that we find in almost the entirety of modern philosophy (Kant, Hegel, Nietsche Heidegger, even early Lacan) this idea that man is a sick-unto-death, sick nature and derailed nature. Nature is already in itself sick, confused. Again there is no nature. What does this mean practically?

There is no previous standard to which - this would be the practical advice for ecological politics - we can return. My favourite ecological book is the one, an American scientist, I forgot his name, who demonstrated that nature on our earth already to such an extent integrated to our pollution that if our pollution was to diminish too fast, then it would have a catastrophic effect for animal life. No, I'm not saying that Ha Ha so we can do whatever we want. The situation is more terrifying. Of course I believe there can be catastrophes and so on, but there is nothing but catastrophes. We don't have a ground. We have nowhere to return to. So we should also drop another idea, that the ultimate source of our ecological problems is alienated premination [?] of scientific universe, science manipulating but we should not forget that there is a prior (you know this phenomenological, Husserlian description) prior to every scientific objectification there is the lifeworld and we are irreducibly immersed into the lifeworld. This is for me precisely the catastrophe. Why? Let's ask ourselves a simple question. You read about global warming, blah blah blah, ozone hole, well look up as much as you want, you won't see ozone hole. I mean we totally have to rely on science. On the other hand, a scientist - where does this mysterious fact comes that although the possibility of catastrophe is convincingly demonstrated by scientists, we humanity do not take serious measures to react to it.

[A message in the same vain as Adorno and Heidegger - did I read it in Safranski? - that there is a crisis, but the catastrophe is that we don't know it is a crisis. - Ed.]

I think it is this fetishist sp{?}.. we know very well that it's true but we don't believe it. Why? Precisely b... What happens? You read about catatrophye, then you go out, what a nice star, look at the sky, and you really can't believe that this natural life world can be destroyed. So I think that precisely in order to confront properly ecology, we should all become Cartesian subjects. we should renounce our reliance on the Lifeworld and so on.

[To conclude]. This materialist lesson, to return, is for me the lesson of the book of Job, because what really happens there... Job and three theologists. Did you notice the strange parallel between the structure of the book of Job and the structure of Freud's most famous dream account with which he opens "The interpretatin of Dreams", of Irma's injection? The structure there is the same: first there is a catastrophe, the dreamer (Freud) looks into Irma's throat and there is the horror and catastrophe, the a shift to three stupid doctors who produce conflicting reasons why Freud is not guilty: there ws no injection or Irma was already infected whatever - doesn't the same thing happen in the book of Job. First the catastrophye, he loses everything cows, pigs, wives, daughters, then come the three ideologues. This is the zero level of ideology: the three theologists come to Job and say there is a deeper meaning to your catastrophe, that is what we should resist. This is how ecology predominantly functions today: there is a deeper meaining, and this is why God is the only true materialist there (in the Book of Job), who comes and says There is no deeper meaning, everything is a miracle, as GKC says, God is for a moment an atheist, a pure immanentist, there is no transcendent master. Which is why, I think, we have to read Christ as a repetition of Job. What dies on the cross with Christ? As God knew, what dies is not an earthly representative of a transcendent God, but God AS the transcendent master of the universe. What dies on the cross, for me, is this idea of God as the ultimate guarantee of meaning, this vulgar metaphor that I hate that all creation is like a painting, that when we see a catastrophe it is as if when you look at a picture and you look too close and all you see only the stain, but you look from an appropriate distance and what you saw as a stain actually contributes to the harmony of the whole. So the lesson of Christianity for materialists, the lesson of Christ, we cannot afford this withdrawal, confronting horrible things, I don't know... Holocaust, concentration camps so on, other catastrophes, it is vulgar to say that this appears as a catastrophe close up, but looked at from a distance there is harmony. There is no Big Other. This is why this would be a more materialist reading of why Christ sacrificed himself. The reading is "No all we can do is here, there is no Father up there who takes care of it that everything is ok". So in a way I think it's the opposite. Not "Trust God", but "God Trusts Us". All that can be done is we should do it. In this sense, with this incomplete notion of reality... it opens this space for freedom. there is freedom, but only in an ontologically unfinished reality.

Thank you."


In answer to a question, he clarifies the point about Life 2.0. He says that the very moment you have Life 2.0, it "denaturalizes" nature, which becomes Life 1.0, an imperfect version of synthetic nature. he draws an analogy: the moment we realise a pill, a chemical that can change our psychology, it makes us realise that the position which we recognise as free (i.e. our psychology before the pill) is also brain chemistry, just another brain chemistry arrived at randomly through natural evolution. He says the same thing has emerged in Habermas, a line drawn, hab says that Life 2.0 threatens freedom, and has written a book to this effect with the Pope Ratzinger. A more serious, radical philosophy says it's not a question of saving freedom but of how is freedom ontologically grounded, and so on.

Kierkegaard, Book of Job, Zizek

At the weekend I am glad to have a bit of money in my pocket, so I can buy myself a pair of shoes, and my daughter a pair of shoes (two in fact!), and help her mummy a little. See? I am a person doing as many, many others do. If I can just show that I can look after myself, it should be enough that one looks after oneself. That is what Christianity is enabling us to do. To love ourselves as we do our neighbours, because there is no-one else to do it. If we can once perceive that there is no-one else, then we know we must do it for ourselves and we can then see that the way we would choose to do it, to live is a Christian way of life. This is Kierkegaard. (The choice of Marxism – or rather as Zizek might qualify it, Stalinism - is finding a “something else”, which is “History”). I saw Zizek at the cinema last night. "The Pervert's Guide to Ideology". It is at the closing of this film directed by Sophie Fiennes – of the Fiennes dynasty – that Zizek comes to consider the book of Job, as he did to great effect in his EGS talk "Materialism and Theology" (2007, on YouTube). Zizek says that in this important book, God confirms it is Job who is correct, not the three theologian-friends who come to Job, offering explanations for Job’s suffering. Job rejects all their interpretations and keeps to his line that his sufferings are because God is God. Because God can. And God supports Job. In Zizek’s words “God confirms that there is no God!”, so that Christianity is the best atheism! (LOL!) Zizek is very good in the last ten minutes of this film. (Just skip the rest). He wants to point out that whereas leaders such as Stalin might have been at pains to show that they are just like the ordinary people, the interesting early “Czech New Wave” film of Milos Forman “The Firemen’s Ball”, which shows ordinary people to be really not worth wanting to be like! So the best satire on the leader who claims to be representative of the ordinary people (Stalin or whoever) is to satirise the ordinary people whom he claims to esteem. Being among ordinary people, fitting in, showing that one can get on, and yet being in touch with that there is no-one else, that alone-ness, an infinity, and carry on.