By Slavoj Zizek
Bloomsbury – £19.99

One need only negotiate this book’s Introduction to partially comprehend the enormity of the philosophical subject matter contained herein: ”[…] when a philosopher deals with another philosopher, his or her stance is not that of a dialogue but of division, of drawing the line that separates truth from falsity, from Plato whose focus is the line that divides truth from mere opinion up to Lenin obsessed with the line that separates materialism from idealism. As Alain Badiou said, a true Idea is one that divides.

Enough philosophical food for initial thought (a mere few pages in)?

From such sub-headings as ‘The subject’s epigenesis’ to ‘In defence of Hegel’s madness’ to ‘The lesson of psychoanalysis;’ from ‘The divine death drive’ to ‘The parallax of drive and desire’ to ‘Materialism or agnosticism,’ Slavoj Zizek’s Disparities is indeed a book of profound philosophical investigation.

Ought this be in the least surprising?

Zizek is after all, a Hegelian philosopher, a Lacanian psychoanalyst as well as a Communist. He is also international Director at the Birkbeck Institute of Humanities at the University of London and visiting Professor at the New York University (not to mention Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia).

So when he continues on from the above opening quote with: ”The present book is an exercise in this art of delimitation: its aim is to specify the contours of the dialectical-materialist notion of disparity by way of drawing a line that separates it from other deceptively similar forms of thought, from Julia Kristeva’s abjection to Robert Pippin’s and Robert Brandom’s version of self-consciousness, from object-oriented ontology to the topic of post-humanity, from the god of negative theology to millenarian politics.,” the art of one’s own previous held delimitation(s), be they political or philosophical, need to be ever so partially reconciled with that of Zisek’s.

Especially if one is to fully comprehend and continue.

Reason being: ”The method of such a procedure is not learned in advance, it emerges retroactively – one should remember here Pascal Quignard’s definition of method: ‘Method is the road after we traversed it.’ Method is not learned in advance: it emerges retroactively.”

Categorised by three distinct different sections (‘The Disparity of Truth: Subject, Object and the Rest,’ ‘The Disparity of Beauty: The Ugly, The Abject and the Minimal Difference’ and ‘The Disparity of the Good: Towards a Materialist Negative Theology’) these 385 pages – excluding Notes and Index – are an in-depth, complex and surprisingly enlightening read if ever there was one.

Although it does have to be said that the book would have benefited from a little light relief from time to time. An abundance of (too much of) anything, especially from a literary angle, is never a particularly good idea.

Under the heading ‘A Comical conclusion,’ this might partially explain the following: ”Today sexuality is more and more reduced to pleasures in partial objects: we are more and more bombarded with objects-gadgets which promise to deliver excessive but effortless pleasure […]. the Stamina Training Unit, a counterpart to the good old vibrator – a masturbatory device that resembles a battery-powered light (so we’re not embarrassed when carrying it around). You put the erect penis into the opening at the top, push the button, and the object vibrates till satisfaction. The product is available in different colours, levels of tightness, and forms (hairy or without hair etc.) that imitate all three openings for sexual penetration (mouth, vagina, anus). What one buys here is the partial object (erogenous zone) alone, deprived of the embarrassing additional burden of having to deal with another entire person. How are we to cope with this brave new world which undermines the basic premises of our intimate life?”

Ahem, it’s the one section of the book nigh guaranteed to make a wider readership sit up listen. And dare I say it, partake in Zisek’s acutely focused, philosophical vision.

As such, the one thing I’d suggest to make Disparities something of a far more forthcoming and ultimately beneficial read, would perhaps be more writing of a personable persuasion.

David Marx


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