Žižek presents ‘The Absolute Recoil: Hegel and the New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism’


Philosophical materialism in all its forms – from scientific naturalism to Deleuzian New Materialism – has failed to meet the key theoretical and political challenges of the modern world. This is the burden of philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s argument in this pathbreaking new work. Recent history has seen developments such as quantum physics and Freudian psychoanalysis, not to speak of the failure of twentieth-century communism, shake our understanding of existence. In the process, the dominant tradition in Western philosophy lost its moorings.

To bring materialism up to date, Žižek – himself a committed materialist and communist – proposes a radical revision of our intellectual heritage. He argues that dialectical materialism is the only true philosophical inheritor of what Hegel designated the “speculative” approach in thought. While focusing on how to overcome the transcendental approach without regressing to naïve, pre-Kantian realism, Žižek offers a startling reformulation of the basis and possibilities of contemporary philosophy.

Hegel is the ultimate bête noire of the last two centuries of philosophy: proponents of Lebensphilosophie, existentialists from Kierkegaard onwards, materialists, historicists, analytic philosophers and empiricists, Marxists, traditional liberals, religious moralists, deconstructionists and Deleuzians, they all define themselves through different modalities of rejecting Hegel.

But when enemies start to speak the same language, it is a reliable sign that something is eluding them all. So what if something happens in Hegel, a break-through into a unique dimension of thought which was obliterated, rendered invisible, by the so-called post-metaphysical thought? What if the ridiculous image of Hegel as the absurd “absolute idealist” who “pretended to know everything” is an exemplary case of what Freud called Deck-Erinnerung (screen-memory), a fantasy-formation destined to cover up a traumatic truth?

This is the recording of the final talk held at the symposium on 12th May 2013 at Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London.

Slavoj Žižek is a Philosopher and Psychoanalytic social theorist. He is Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana; Professor at the School of Law and Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London; Distinguished Scholar at the Kyung Hee University, Seoul; and Visiting Professor at the German Department, New York University. His field of work comprises Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, dialectical-materialist metaphysical interpretations of German Idealism and Marxian critique of ideology. His more than sixty books in English have been widely translated. His latest publications include ‘Hegel in a Wired Brain’, ‘Sex and the Failed Absolute’, ‘Like A Thief In Broad Daylight’, ‘Reading Marx’, ‘Incontinence of the Void’, ‘The Day After the Revolution’, ‘Heaven in Disorder’, ‘Reading Hegel’ and ‘Surplus-Enjoyment’.

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