Transcendental materialism? No, thanks!

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Noa Rodman
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May 15 2010 16:11

Yes, you claim Malabou proves the first axiom, however Zizek does not say that.

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But I don't see how you can say the second "axiom" presupposes the first, when the first is precisely the production of the first. It's not presupposing the first, the first is owed FIRST.

WTF? The second axiom follows the first, so of course the second presupposes the first.

example:

axiom 1: God exists

axiom 2: Jesus is the son of God

Thus, axiom 2 presupposes the validity of axiom 1.

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I think you're confusing the Real tout-court and the biological Real of the body. If you think it's a simple axiom that presupposes an initial axiom, which you could very well argue, I would have to ultimately conclude though, so what? Since all philosophy sooner or later will run into its own unprovable axiom, which is what makes it in a certain sense an axiom. I would say that this first axiom is based in science, at least. This is why I think Malabou's text is important, in her discussion of primarily cerebral plasticity, not the philosophical plasticity of her Avenir de Hegel text.

Zizek's TM is not based in science, and he does not say cerebral plasticity proves the biological Real. TM is based in Lacanian theory and Schellingian philosophy, to claim otherwise is disingenuous. The initial axiom of TM, namely the biological Real (and the real tout-court), is asserted without an argument. So that means it's accepted without logic, only on faith in Zizek or Lacan's authority. Only bad philosophy goes like that, which tbf, is almost all of it.

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I think the second "axiom", which isn't an axiom, is the conclusion of the first. That is, I disagree on the order in which you insist. I think the first axiom comes, and we therefore conclude with the second. I don't think the second is put forward and then a first axiom presupposed. I'm not sure how we could argue that point, as it could be simply rhetorical.

Yes, the second axiom is presented as a conclusion of the first. But the first axiom is asserted solely after the second axiom is already made.

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I personally am not familiar with the Schellingian act of freedom, but I do understand the Hegelian act of freedom as negativity, to me, there's no problem here. I simply have no read much Schelling.

Well Zizek's book on Schelling is the least read, but it's crucial to Zizek's TMist act of freedom, which is based on Schelling.

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How can you say you're interested in discussing the first axiom if you simply outright reject it? You switch between saying you want to debate it and you don't. And I'm not whining. You keep going on and on about Zizek being boring or banal, etc., but for some reason you can't stop talking about it. And I see how often you respond, so for you to tell me it's boring, well, I don't buy it.

Play the ball.

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Zizek's philosophy does predate neuroscience, as does Lacan's as well, and Lacan was clear to point out that science would bear out a number of his ideas, as has been done with Freud.

You simply contradict yourself then as in your previous post you wrote:

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Zizek's philosophy does not predate neuroscience or neurobiology.

So which is it? Not that it matters to anything I wrote.

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But again, there have been numerous biological aspects in terms of the biological Real, neuroscience as foundations for TransMat. To say it hasn't been argued is disingenuous.

Ad nauseum. There is a difference between assertion and argument.

Try reading and responding to my previous 2 posts.

communistingoodfaith
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May 15 2010 18:04

I don't care if Zizek doesn't say that Malabou proves this axiom. What I meant to say about Lacan and Zizek is their philosophies only encounter neuroscience later, as this was neither of their domaine until later.

The first axiom is provable, the holes in Nature are provable. Perhaps Zizek didn't have this information, yes, he made an axiomatic decision. Science turns out to have born him correct in that respect. Negativity in Hegel is also relatively axiomatic. Philosophy is BASED on axioms, and your arguments contain them as well. Zizek does not base TransMat in science, but Johnston does. And there's where it should be picked up. The science bears out the earlier philosophical work. You could have launched the same argument against Freud in the early part of the century, but the science bears him out. I'm taking on your arguments, so I don't know why you still seem unable to even read MY words.

I don't think it's necessary to pass through Zizek's book on Schelling before considering TransMat. Organs without Bodies does a wonderful job. Besides, I think it's pretty doubtful that you've read much Schelling other than the one that came coupled with Zizek's book, otherwise, you wouldn't have to ask that question. For Schelling anyway, God is already itself conflicted. That is, for Schelling, it's axiomatic as well. Stop telling me to play the ball when there's a ball to play with. I hear you repeat the same shit ad nauseum, suddenly I'm not repeating ad nauseum in the RIGHT WAY, whatever.

I choose to take TransMat from science, you choose to take it from philosophy. Pick your poison, because the science bears it out. And philosophy is ultimately axiomatic anyway, hence the difference between asserting something like truths or not.

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May 15 2010 21:36
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the holes in Nature are provable

It can't be proven (only you claim it can, and yet you have not even pointed out how others supposedly proved it). How can you prove if nature has holes or not? What does a transcendental materialist mean by holes in nature? Again, all unspecified. So when you point to the buzzing neurons in our brain, you say, see the holes, and I'm like, uh, holes?, what do you mean by holes, yeah, some holes in there, I guess, or maybe not.

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Zizek does not base TransMat in science, but Johnston does. And there's where it should be picked up. The science bears out the earlier philosophical work.
[..]
I choose to take TransMat from science, you choose to take it from philosophy. Pick your poison, because the science bears it out.

Johnston starts from Schelling/Lacan as well. Neither Johnston nor Zizek have had the fancy to claim that science proves them right, only you are so disingenuous to do and you have nothing to show for it. As a vulgar positivist you're trying to hide behind the discourse of science, because you know that there is no argument for the first axiom of TM, Zizek/Johnston are honest enough to admit it and you don't have an argument either.

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May 15 2010 23:37
revol68 wrote:
and there is always a gap, an excess, between the real and the symbolic, and it is this very gap/excess that provides (un)grounding for subjectivity.

That's probably the second axiom of TM.

revol68 wrote:
If the symbolic and the real mapped onto each other you'd have the view from nowhere, there would be no perspective, you'd have the death of both the subject and object.

Mapped onto each other in what sense? Possibly use a reference to a Hitchcock movie to explain it for me.

communistingoodfaith
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May 16 2010 01:40

Now you're just proving to be nothing more than an asshole. I haven't pointed out who supports holes within Nature because you've made it repeatedly clear that you weren't interested, added to the fact that you keep saying it's impossible to prove. And now you're accusing me of not mentioning it when you said that you didn't care? Yes it's unspecified, because you're interested in philosophy, and not science. Your interest is purely Schelling (which I still doubt you've read much of), and not someone like Damasio or Ansermet. I don't point to buzzing neurons in the brain and say "See the holes". The only hole I'm looking at is the one I'm responding to.

Johnston starts with Schelling and Lacan in PHILOSOPHY, and passes by, among others, Damasio, Ansermet, Magistretti, et al. in the realm of science. Johnston says SPECIFICALLY that science has over time confirmed many of Lacan's and Freud's insights, and then continues to go on to HOW that is. And then you say some bullshit like "as a vulgar positivist" - stop trying to sound intelligent, you aren't fooling anyone. I might as well say "as an ignorant douche bag, your argument against Zizek et al. is, at best, null" - that is, if you're trying to see who can be a bigger dick.. And then you respond to revol68 with "Possibly use a reference to a Hitchcock movie to explain it for me".

revol68, myself, and others, are at least defending something (and I would maintain, succeeding quite well). So far you haven't stood for anything other than being a whiny pussy. I'm done here.

Adios, admin warning - no real names

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May 16 2010 11:09

Could an admin please remove my name in post no. 80

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May 16 2010 11:35
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Considering the fact i'm giving the time of day to a cunt like yourself you might be a bit more grateful.

If you have a point please make it, rather than some pseudo-snidey remark about Hitchcock.

I'd be grateful if you made sentences that can be understood. What do you mean by the real and the symbolic being mapped onto each other? The reason I'm a bit sarcastic is because I should not have to waste my time by asking you to explain yourself. So 1) express yourself better 2) make a relevant argument to the debate.

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May 16 2010 11:52
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I haven't pointed out who supports holes within Nature because you've made it repeatedly clear that you weren't interested, added to the fact that you keep saying it's impossible to prove. And now you're accusing me of not mentioning it when you said that you didn't care?

I ask you to show HOW others have proved it.

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Yes it's unspecified, because you're interested in philosophy, and not science. Your interest is purely Schelling (which I still doubt you've read much of), and not someone like Damasio or Ansermet. I don't point to buzzing neurons in the brain and say "See the holes". The only hole I'm looking at is the one I'm responding to.

My interests have nothing do with this (and that you imagine I'm bragging of having read Schelling is crazy). Johnston and Zizek are the philosophers with an interest in Schelling. Transcendental materialism is based on Schelling ffs, according to them! Bad attempt at humor btw.

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Johnston starts with Schelling and Lacan in PHILOSOPHY, and passes by, among others, Damasio, Ansermet, Magistretti, et al. in the realm of science. Johnston says SPECIFICALLY that science has over time confirmed many of Lacan's and Freud's insights, and then continues to go on to HOW that is.

Where does Johnston say it specifically? I read his article on TM at the lacan site, I didn't see him make that claim. And do you agree that Zizek does not make this claim?

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And then you say some bullshit like "as a vulgar positivist" - stop trying to sound intelligent, you aren't fooling anyone. I might as well say "as an ignorant douche bag, your argument against Zizek et al. is, at best, null" - that is, if you're trying to see who can be a bigger dick.. And then you respond to revol68 with "Possibly use a reference to a Hitchcock movie to explain it for me".

You are still a vulgar materialist positivist. Cool the fuck down and make an argument for the first axiom. You can't really defend a claim without an argument.

communistingoodfaith
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May 16 2010 13:48

Defending a claim IS an argument, Admin: no real names. Last warning.

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May 16 2010 16:49

Lacanians don't know what the real is but yet they know that without it subjectivity cannot be explained. wall

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May 16 2010 16:54

Ok, we can make a step forward, towards Marxism. In what consists the importance of Marxism for today according to you?

zizek wrote:
Here I’m very clear. Almost in a platonic sense. I want to save the idea of Marxism.
The way to save it is to ruthlessly criticize the reality of Marxism. Not simply in this
usual sense when they try to realize a communist society they went wrong. Of
course, we should ask what went wrong already in Marx, Lenin, at the origins. And I think it’s totally clear, in some of my books I develop this clearly. We should
problematize the Marxist notion of social subject, the Marxist notion of power, or
more radically, the very fundamental Marxist vision of exploitation, revolution and so on.
But I think that we should repeat Marx in this sense, in a more Kierkegaardian sense where repeat does not mean you do the same. Your repeating means, as
Kierkegaard puts it nicely somewhere, that we should recapture what in Marx was
more then Marx - the impulse that Marx himself betrayed and to remain faithful to it.
This is at the abstract level. Concretely, this means I see immense problems for
example, with all the sympathies for Marx’s Capital, but it’s clear that if you want to
explain what today is going on with Marx’s theory of exploitation, what goes on today with poverty and so on, you can no longer account for it in the Marxist terms of exploitation. Because the Marxist term of exploitation, it’s a very precise term based on his labour theory of value. To apply the Marxist theory of value today, to be cynical, to Venezuela which is doing relatively well because of oil, is to say that
Venezuela is exploiting the United States. Because for Marx, it´s selling natural
resources, oil is no source of value. You know what I mean, the whole situation has changed radically. Which is why when I ironically refer to myself as a Leninist, when people ask me “What kind of Leninist?” I always say the Lenin of 1915. When, with the fiasco of the First World War, everything shattered for Lenin. And what did he do?
He went to Switzerland and started to read Hegel. That’s the Lenin that I like. To
admit fully the disaster. The first task of a Marxist today is to be radically self-critical.
To admit that it’s not just, you know, like the social democratic left betrayed a more
radical legacy. No no no, the whole leftist project has to be radically re-thought. In the view of these new challenges, new forms of biogenetical potentials, ecology and so on and so on.
So, the point is to be faithful to the impulse of Marxism by ruthlessly, maybe even
more ruthlessly than our enemies, right-wingers, to give a better critique of Stalinism, to give a better critique of Marx and so on. So again, this is for me the only sense to be a Marxist … again, what Lenin did in 1915, start from the zero point, refitting everything.
Obviously, the Marxist standard notion of revolution, you know, workers organized
and so on, it’s ridiculous even today to think in this term. I mean, what to do with
state power? For example, there are the big topics, to simplify it, of Marxism, to
abolish capitalism and totally to reorganize or to abolish the state. Today we no
longer even think about this.
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May 16 2010 17:00
Zizek wrote:
To apply the Marxist theory of value today, to be cynical, to Venezuela which is doing relatively well because of oil, is to say that
Venezuela is exploiting the United States. Because for Marx, it´s selling natural
resources, oil is no source of value.

as an aside, that is pretty fucking retarded. and factually incorrect on at least two counts (Marx said nature was a source of value, and nation-states were not the agents of exploitation but individuals/classes on either side of the property relation).

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May 16 2010 17:33
revol68 wrote:
the issue with applying the LTV to oil and the like is that it assumes competition and there is very little of it in the oil markets.

well yeah, there's all the assumptions of political economy he adopts, few of which apply to oil; perfect competition, no barriers to entry, infinite potential supply... but yeah for somebody rejecting Fukayama's simple-mindedness 'oil profits refute Capital' is fucking retarded - in fact Venezuela's a great example of the law of value imposing itself on a supposedly participatory socialist state project, with Chavistas smashing strikes, banning unions etc...

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May 16 2010 17:43
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yes, think of it as dark matter of the soul, it is inferred through necessity

necessity of faith?

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May 16 2010 17:46
revol68 wrote:
can we stick to the TM stuff though.

knock yourself out.

communistingoodfaith
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May 17 2010 09:32

"Where does Johnston say it specifically? I read his article on TM at the lacan site, I didn't see him make that claim. And do you agree that Zizek does not make this claim?"

Wow, one whole article, huh? Slow down! If you're interested, and you're not, there is Affects are Signifiers and The Weakness of Nature, two articles which are good on neuroscience, not to mention the one concerning the Hebb-event.

What's important in Malabou's study is "cellular death", where the links to the genetic formulations of the brain essentially "release" their hold on the development of the brain, allowing the subject, as the interstice between the interior and exterior to imprint directly on the brain through action and thought.

There is no genetic or cerebral mandate, it is the subject which concentrates synaptic development. And it does so precisely on account of a lack of any genetic mandate. The subject can then modulate synaptic traces by itself. This is what's meant by cerebral plasticity.

The work of Ansermet and Magistretti, of Gerard Pommier, Kimura Bin, Tomasio and Hebb are the names associated with this type of plasticity.

The point is that as soon as thought comes on the scene, we are no longer dealing with "being-in-itself". The subject derails itself. That's for the biological Real.

As for the Real tout-court, you might want to consider the phenomenon of dark matter, which can only be accounted for BECAUSE of its lack, BECAUSE of its absence.

Additionally, considering axioms, you're missing the entire point. We are firmly in the realm of SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY, which is, sooner or later, the assertion of an axiom for its own sake. May I suggest perhaps analytic philosophy might be more to your liking?

I notice someone picked up on your citing technique. How ironic. Stop tossing around words like "vulgar materialist positivist" when you don't know what you're talking about.

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May 17 2010 15:16

You are not off the hook by giving academic references. Think and argue (defend) the axioms of TM yourself.

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Wow, one whole article, huh? Slow down! If you're interested, and you're not, there is Affects are Signifiers and The Weakness of Nature, two articles which are good on neuroscience, not to mention the one concerning the Hebb-event.

Not that I expect you to bother or that it matters to the debate at all, but as you put it forth, so far you still haven't shown where in any one those articles Johnston specifically claims science has proven the first or second axiom of TM. I put in bold 'the first or second axiom', because that's what we're talking about. I also want to stress 'Johnston' and not other psychoanalysts/philosophers he discusses. I really could believe though that Johnston says science proves his axioms.

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What's important in Malabou's study is "cellular death", where the links to the genetic formulations of the brain essentially "release" their hold on the development of the brain, allowing the subject, as the interstice between the interior and exterior to imprint directly on the brain through action and thought.

There is no genetic or cerebral mandate, it is the subject which concentrates synaptic development. And it does so precisely on account of a lack of any genetic mandate. The subject can then modulate synaptic traces by itself. This is what's meant by cerebral plasticity.

Of course in the brain new synaptic traces are generated, the opposite of cellular death. Of course the brain is not a clock, a bone, a gallbladder or a bicep. So what?

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The work of Ansermet and Magistretti, of Gerard Pommier, Kimura Bin, Tomasio and Hebb are the names associated with this type of plasticity.

The first three of which I know are Lacanians (and sorry to be a spelling-Nazi but you surely meant Damasio). Is it surprising that Lacanians would like to think science proves the corpo-Real?

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The point is that as soon as thought comes on the scene, we are no longer dealing with "being-in-itself". The subject derails itself. That's for the biological Real.

What is the argument to back up your point? You unnecessarily repeat the axioms.

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As for the Real tout-court, you might want to consider the phenomenon of dark matter, which can only be accounted for BECAUSE of its lack, BECAUSE of its absence.

Poor formulation, do I have to guess what you meant?

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Additionally, considering axioms, you're missing the entire point. We are firmly in the realm of SPECULATIVE PHILOSOPHY, which is, sooner or later, the assertion of an axiom for its own sake. May I suggest perhaps analytic philosophy might be more to your liking?

As befits a positivist you misinterpret my demand that you actually argue these axioms with a demand to give empirical proof of them. I know you allow yourself to assert axioms for their own sake, that's not logical though (and logic is not the patent of only analytic philosophy).

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I notice someone picked up on your citing technique. How ironic. Stop tossing around words like "vulgar materialist positivist" when you don't know what you're talking about.

I quoted a passage mainly to show that Zizek does not understand even such a basic point of Marxism as the theory of value (so how well can he understand commodity fetishism). Zizek rejects everything of Marxism except the name. And that someone you refer to is named revol68 and said Zizek's point about oil indeed seemed pretty "mental". Hopefully Zizek manages to smarten up after reading someone like Postone (not likely though). That's however not the topic.

You are also a vulgar materialist because you write 'we expect something were there is nothing there'. Sorry, but I don't expect to find thoughts, feelings, etc. when looking at the piece of meat that is our brain. Only a vulgar materialist has this expectation.

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May 17 2010 20:18
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Marx himself said that his labor theory of value which ultimately remains that simple, physical labor as time spent on laboring is the measure of value.

this is a straw man though. marx talks about socially necessary abstract labour, which is a category quite removed from "simple, physical labour." Aufheben tear Negri/Hardt/Dyer-Witheford apart on this, pointing out that production is always 'hi-tech' in the present, making use of the prevailing levels of human knowledge. this is no more true of a microchip than a newcomen engine. probably best kept off this thread though?

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May 17 2010 21:49

reply moved here

Valeriano Orobó...
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May 20 2010 15:59

Frederic Jameson's review in the London Review of Books. It's long but it's good.

First Impressions
Fredric Jameson

* The Parallax View by Slavoj Žižek
MIT, 434 pp, £16.95, March 2006, ISBN 0 262 24051 3

As every schoolchild knows by now, a new book by Žižek is supposed to include, in no special order, discussions of Hegel, Marx and Kant; various pre- and post-socialist anecdotes and reflections; notes on Kafka as well as on mass-cultural writers like Stephen King or Patricia Highsmith; references to opera (Wagner, Mozart); jokes from the Marx Brothers; outbursts of obscenity, scatological as well as sexual; interventions in the history of philosophy, from Spinoza and Kierkegaard to Kripke and Dennett; analyses of Hitchcock films and other Hollywood products; references to current events; disquisitions on obscure points of Lacanian doctrine; polemics with various contemporary theorists (Derrida, Deleuze); comparative theology; and, most recently, reports on cognitive philosophy and neuroscientific ‘advances’. These are lined up in what Eisenstein liked to call ‘a montage of attractions’, a kind of theoretical variety show, in which a series of ‘numbers’ succeed each other and hold the audience in rapt fascination. It is a wonderful show; the only drawback is that at the end the reader is perplexed as to the ideas that have been presented, or at least as to the major ones to be retained. One would think that reading all Žižek’s books in succession would only compound this problem: on the contrary, it simplifies it somewhat, as the larger concepts begin to emerge from the mist. Still, one would not have it any other way, which is why the current volume – which, with its companion The Ticklish Subject (1999), purports to outline the ‘system’ as a whole (if it is one), or at least to make a single monumental statement – inspires some apprehension.

It will be dialectical to say that this apprehension is and is not confirmed. The first chapter, which explains the title and seeks to ground Žižek’s philosophy in some definitive method, is tough going indeed; I’ll come back to it. But later chapters – on Heidegger and politics, on cognitive philosophy and its impasses, on anti-semitism, on politics today – are luminous and eloquent, and will surely stand as major statements, with enough to provoke and irritate people from one end of the ideological spectrum to another (I am myself attacked in passing as some kind of gullible practitioner of commodification theory). Nor are they lacking in jokes, as tasteless as you might wish, and in passing remarks on current films (Žižek seems to have got Hitchcock out of his system, if not out of his unconscious – one never does that).

As for what has persisted through this now considerable oeuvre, I will start with the dialectic, of which Žižek is one of the great contemporary practitioners. The old stereotype is that Hegel works according to a cut-and-dried progression from thesis, through antithesis, to synthesis. This, Žižek explains, is completely erroneous: there are no real syntheses in Hegel and the dialectical operation is to be seen in an utterly different way; a variety of examples are adduced. Still, that stupid stereotype was not altogether wrong. There is a tripartite movement in the Hegelian dialectic, and in fact, Žižek goes on, he has just illustrated it: stupid stereotype, or the ‘appearance’; ingenious correction, the underlying reality or ‘essence’; finally, after all, the return to the reality of the appearance, so that it was the appearance that was ‘true’ after all.

What can this possibly have to do with popular culture? Let’s take a Hollywood product, say, Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Window (1944). (Maybe now Fritz Lang belongs to high culture rather than mass culture, but anyway . . .) Edward G. Robinson is a mild-mannered professor who, leaving his peaceful club one night, gets caught up in a web of love and murder. We think we are watching a thriller. At length, he takes refuge in his club again, falls asleep from exhaustion, and wakes up: it was all a dream. The movie has done the interpretation for us, by way of Lang’s capitulation to the cheap Hollywood insistence on happy endings. But in reality – which is to say in the true appearance – Edward G. Robinson ‘is not a quiet, kind, decent, bourgeois professor dreaming that he is a murderer, but a murderer dreaming, in his everyday life, that he is a quiet, kind, decent, bourgeois professor’. Hollywood’s censorship is therefore not some puritanical, uptight middle-class mechanism for repressing the obscene, nasty, antisocial, violent underside of life: it is, rather, the technique for revealing it.

Žižek’s interpretative work, from page to page, seems to revel in these paradoxes: but that is itself only some ‘stupid first impression’ (one of his favourite phrases). In reality, the paradox-effect is designed to undo that second moment of ingenuity, which is that of interpretation (it looks like this to you, but in reality what is going on is this . . .): the paradox is of the second order, so that what looks like a paradox is in reality simply a return to the first impression itself.

Or perhaps we might rather say: this is not a paradox, this is perversity. And indeed, the dialectic is just that inveterate, infuriating perversity whereby a commonsense empiricist view of reality is repudiated and undermined. But it is undermined together with its own accompanying interpretations of that reality, which look so much more astute and ingenious than the commonsense empiricist reality itself, until we understand that the interpretations are themselves also part of precisely that ‘first impression’. This is why the dialectic belongs to theory rather than philosophy: the latter is always haunted by the dream of some foolproof self-sufficient system, a set of interlocking concepts which are their own cause. This dream is of course the after-image of philosophy as an institution in the world, as a profession complicit with everything else in the status quo, in the fallen ontic realm of ‘what is’. Theory, on the other hand, has no vested interests inasmuch as it never lays claim to an absolute system, a non-ideological formulation of itself and its ‘truths’; indeed, always itself complicit in the being of current language, it has only the vocation and never-finished task of undermining philosophy as such, by unravelling affirmative statements and propositions of all kinds. We may put this another way by saying that the two great bodies of post-philosophical thought, marked by the names of Marx and Freud, are better characterised as unities of theory and practice: that is to say that their practical component always interrupts the ‘unity of theory’ and prevents it from coming together in some satisfying philosophical system. Alain Badiou has recently coined the expression ‘anti-philosophy’ for these new and constitutively scandalous modes of intervening conceptually in the world; it is a term that Žižek has been very willing to revindicate for himself.

Still, what can be the theoretical, if not indeed the philosophical content of Žižek’s little interpretative tricks? Let’s first take on the supremely unclassifiable figure who somehow, in ways that remain to be defined, presides over all Žižek’s work. One of Jacques Lacan’s late seminars has the title Les Non-Dupes errent. The joke lies in the homophony of this enigmatic proposition (‘the undeceived are mistaken’) with the oldest formula in the Lacanian book, ‘le nom du Père’, the name of the Father or, in other words, the Oedipus complex. However, Lacan’s later variant has nothing to do with the Father, but rather with the structure of deception. As everyone knows, the truth is itself the best disguise, as when the spy, asked what he does in life, answers, ‘Why, I’m a spy,’ only to be greeted with laughter. This peculiarity of truth, to express itself most fully in deception or falsehood, plays a crucial role in analysis, as one might expect. And as one might also expect, it is in that great non- or anti-philosopher Hegel that we find the most elaborate deployment of the dialectic of the necessity of error and of what he called appearance and essence, as well as the most thoroughgoing affirmation of the objectivity of appearance (one of the deeper subjects of The Parallax View). The other great modern dialectician, Theodor Adorno (whose generic tone compares with Žižek’s, perhaps, as tragedy to comedy), was fond of observing that nowhere was Hegel closer to his heroic contemporary Beethoven than in the great thunderchord of the Logic, the assertion that ‘Essence must appear!’

Yet this insistence on appearance now seems to bring us around unexpectedly to the whole vexed question of postmodernism and postmodernity, which is surely nothing if it is not a wholesale repudiation of essences in the name of surface, of truth in the name of fiction, of depth (past, present or future) in the name of the Nietzschean eternally recurring here-and-now. Žižek seems to identify postmodernism with ‘postmodern philosophy’ and relativism (an identification he shares with other enemies of these developments, some of them antediluvian, some resistant to the reification of the label), while on the other hand he endorses the proposition of an epochal change, provided we don’t call it that and provided we insist that it is still, on whatever scale, capitalism – something with which I imagine everyone will nowadays be prepared to agree. Indeed, some of his basic propositions are unthinkable except within the framework of the epochal, and of some new moment of capitalism itself; Lacan is occasionally enlisted in the theorisation of these changes, which have taken place since Freud made his major discoveries.

Take the new definition of the superego. No longer the instance of repression and judgment, of taboo and guilt, the superego has today become something obscene, whose perpetual injunction is: ‘Enjoy!’ Of course, the inner-directed Victorian must equally have been directed to enjoy his own specific historical repressions and sublimations; but that jouissance was probably not the same kind of enjoyment as that taken by the subject of consumer society and of obligatory permissiveness (Marcuse called it ‘repressive desublimation’), the subject of a desperate obligation to ‘liberate’ one’s desires and to ‘fulfil oneself’ by satisfying them. Yet psychoanalysis always involves a tricky and unstable balance between the theorisation of an eternal human psyche and the historical singularity of culture and mores: the latter tilts you back into periodisation, while the ‘eternal’ model is secured by the simple reminder that desire is never satisfied, whether you are a Victorian in thrall to duty or a postmodern intent on pleasure.

This is the point at which we reach the most persistent of all Žižek’s fundamental themes: namely, the death wish, the Thanatos, or what he prefers to call the ‘death drive’. Modern theory is indeed haunted by Freud’s death wish, that better mousetrap which any self-respecting intellectual owes it to himself or herself to invent a theory of (Freud’s own version having satisfied nobody). But we also owe it to ourselves to retain everything that is paradoxical (or perverse) in Žižek’s (or in Lacan’s) version of the matter; for here the Thanatos has nothing to do with death at all. Its horror lies in its embodiment as life itself, sheer life, indeed, as immortality, and as a curse from which only death mercifully relieves us (all the operatic overtones of The Flying Dutchman are relevant here, all the mythic connotations of the Wandering Jew, or indeed the vampire, the undead, those condemned to live for ever). The death drive is what lives inside us by virtue of our existence as living organisms, a fate that has little enough to do with our biographical destinies or even our existential experience: the Thanatos lives through us (‘in us what is more than us’); it is our species-being; and this is why it is preferable (following the later Lacan) to call it a drive rather than a desire, and to distinguish the impossible jouissance it dangles before us from the humdrum desires and velleities we constantly invent and then either satisfy or substitute.

As for jouissance, it is perhaps the central or at least the most powerful category in Žižek’s explanatory resources, a phenomenon capable of projecting a new theory of political and collective dynamics as much as a new way of looking at individual subjectivity. But to grasp the implications it is best to see jouissance as a relational concept rather than some isolated ‘ultimately determining instance’ or named force. In fact, it is the concept of the envy of jouissance that accounts for collective violence, racism, nationalism and the like, as much as for the singularities of individual investments, choices and obsessions: it offers a new way of building in the whole dimension of the Other (by now a well-worn concept which, when not merely added mechanically onto some individual psychology, evaporates into Levinassian sentimentalism). The power of this conception of envy may also be judged from the crisis into which it puts merely consensual and liberal ideals like those of Rawls or Habermas, which seem to include none of the negativity we experience in everyday life and politics. Žižek, indeed, includes powerful critiques of other current forms of bien-pensant political idealism such as multiculturalism and the rhetoric of human rights – admirable liberal ideals calculated to sap the energies of any serious movement intent on radical reconstruction.

All these ideals presuppose the possibility of some ultimate collective harmony and reconciliation as the operative goal or end of political action. It would be wrong to identify these ultimate aims with utopian thinking, which on the contrary presupposes a violent rupture with the current social system. Rather, they are associated, for Žižek, with that quite different absence of antagonism denounced in his very first book, The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989), a target also identified by Lacan and which has always been central in Žižek’s tireless explanations and propagation of Lacanian doctrine. This is the conviction that human subjectivity is permanently split and bears a gap within itself, a wound, an inner distance that can never be overcome: something Lacan demonstrated over and over again in an extraordinarily complex (and dialectical) articulation of the original Freudian models. But taken at this level of generality it is a view that might easily lead to social pessimism and conservatism, to a view of original sin and the incorrigibility of some permanent human nature.

It is to forestall and exclude just such a disastrous misunderstanding of the social and political consequences of the Lacanian ‘gap’ that is the task of The Parallax View. The book does so, however, not by any immediate extrapolation of the gap or constitutive distance from individual to collective; but rather by juxtaposing the theoretical consequences of split subjectivity on a variety of disciplinary levels (whence the difficulty of the opening chapter).

A parallax, Webster’s says, is ‘the apparent displacement of an observed object due to a change in the position of the observer’; but it is best to put the emphasis not on the change or shift, so much as on the multiplicity of observational sites, for in my opinion it is the absolute incommensurability of the resultant descriptions or theories of the object that Žižek is after, rather than some mere symptomal displacement. The idea thus brings us back to that old bugbear of postmodern relativism, to which it is certainly related. (Popular locution mutes this scandal by way of narrative: X tells the story of quantum theory, or modern dictatorship, this way; Y tells a different story. These convenient and widely accepted turns of phrase efface all the serious philosophical debates about causality, historical agency, the Event, philosophies of history, and even the status of narrative itself, which is probably why Žižek, assimilating the problems themselves to ‘postmodern philosophy’, has often been dismissive of narrative as such.)

The more fundamental difference at issue can be measured by comparing the parallax idea with the old Heisenberg principle, which asserted that the object can never be known, owing to the interference of our own observational system, the insertion of our own point of view and related equipment between ourselves and the reality in question. Heisenberg is then truly ‘postmodern’ in the assertion of an absolute indeterminacy of the real or the object, which withdraws into the status of a Kantian noumenon. In parallax thinking, however, the object can certainly be determined, but only indirectly, by way of a triangulation based on the incommensurability of the observations.

The object thus is unrepresentable: it constitutes precisely that gap or inner distance which Lacan theorised for the psyche, and which renders personal identity for ever problematic (‘man’s radical and fundamental dis-adaptation, mal-adaptation, to his environs’). The great binary oppositions – subject v. object, materialism v. idealism, economics v. politics – are all ways of naming this fundamental parallax gap: their tensions and incommensurabilities are indispensable to productive thinking (itself just such a gap), provided we do not lapse into some complacent agnosticism or Aristotelian moderation in which ‘the truth lies somewhere in between’; provided, in other words, we perpetuate the tension and the incommensurability rather than palliating or concealing it.

The reader will judge from the case-studies in this volume whether parallax theory has been fruitful. In particular, the chapter on the dilemmas of cognitive science – the material brain and the data of consciousness – is a superb achievement which transcends Spinozan parallelism towards the ultimate Hegelian paradox: ‘Spirit is a bone.’ As far as politics is concerned, it seems to me that Žižek’s lesson is as indispensable as it is energising. He believes (as I do) that Marxism is an economic rather than a political doctrine, which must tirelessly insist on the primacy of the economic system and on capitalism itself as the ultimate horizon of the political situation (as well as of all the other ones – social, cultural, psychic and so forth). Yet it was always a fundamental mistake to think that Marxism was a ‘philosophy’ which aimed at substituting the ‘ultimately determining instance’ of the economic for that of the political. Karl Korsch taught us eighty years ago that for Marxism the economic and the political are two distinct and incommensurable codes which say the same thing in radically different languages.

So how to think about the concrete combinations they present in real life and real history? At this point, we glimpse what is clearly Žižek’s basic Lacanian model for parallax: it is the Master’s scandalous and paradoxical idea that between the sexes ‘il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel’ (Seminar XX). ‘If, for Lacan, there is no sexual relationship,’ Žižek writes, ‘then, for Marxism proper, there is no relationship between economy and politics, no “meta-language” enabling us to grasp the two levels from the same neutral standpoint.’ The practical consequences are startling:

To put it in terms of the good old Marxist couple infrastructure/superstructure: we should take into account the irreducible duality of, on the one hand, the ‘objective’ material socioeconomic processes taking place in reality as well as, on the other, the politico-ideological process proper. What if the domain of politics is inherently ‘sterile’, a theatre of shadows, but nonetheless crucial in transforming reality? So, although economy is the real site and politics is a theatre of shadows, the main fight is to be fought in politics and ideology.

This is a far better starting point for the left than the current interminable debates about identity v. social class (it also seems to me a more appropriate climax than the enigmatic reflections on ‘Bartleby’ that actually close the book).

But it is appropriate, in the light of the earlier discussion, to ask just how dialectical this now turns out to be. I think an argument would run something like this: that third moment of the dialectic which returned to appearance as such is sometimes described (in Hegelian jargon) as returning to ‘appearance qua appearance’, to appearance with the understanding both that it is appearance and that nonetheless as appearance it has its own objectivity, its own reality as such. This is precisely what happens, I believe, with the two alternatives of the parallax, let us say the subjective and the objective one. To discover that neither the code of the subject nor the code of the object offers in itself an adequate representation of the unrepresentable object it designates means to rediscover each of these codes as sheer representation, to come to the conviction that each is both necessary and incomplete, that each is so to speak a necessary error, an indispensable appearance. I would only want to wonder whether there are not more complex forms of the parallax situation which posit more than two alternatives (on the order of subject and object), but which rather confront us with multiple, yet equally indispensable codes.

I cannot conclude without explaining my hesitant apprehensions about Žižek’s project. Clearly, the parallax position is an anti-philosophical one, for it not only eludes philosophical systemisation, but takes as its central thesis the latter’s impossibility. What we have here is theory, rather than philosophy: and its elaboration is itself parallaxical. It knows no master code (not even Lacan’s) and no definitive formulation; but must be rearticulated in the local terms of all the figurations into which it can be extrapolated, from ethics to neurosurgery, from religious fundamentalism to The Matrix, from Abu Ghraib to German Idealism.

Yet theory was always itself ‘grounded’ on a fundamental (and insoluble) dilemma: namely, that the provisional terms in which it does its work inevitably over time get ‘thematised’ (to use Paul de Man’s expression); they get reified (and even commodified, if I may say so), and eventually turn into systems in their own right. The self-consuming movement of the theoretical process gets slowed down and arrested, its provisional words turn into names and thence into concepts, the anti-philosophy becomes a philosophy in its own right. My occasional fear is, then, that by theorising and conceptualising the impossibilities designated by the parallax view, Žižek may turn out to have produced a new concept and a new theory after all, simply by naming what it is probably better not to call the unnameable.

communistingoodfaith
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May 25 2010 18:07

You're really sort of wasting time. Calling me a positivist, or a Lacanian, whatever, it's just a way of passing the time by throwing around labels you don't fully understand, clearly one of which is materialism.

I don't know how to be clearer. You asked who argued what and where, hence citations and references. Telling me to think, argue, defend my ideas is done through reference to material. You complain that citing isn't a way of defending the material, but then you want me to cite specific examples from specific works of whatever-it-is. Your argument style is poor, and you end up simply being guilty of just precisely what you accuse others of.

"Of course in the brain new synaptic traces are generated, the opposite of cellular death. Of course the brain is not a clock, a bone, a gallbladder or a bicep. So what?"

What are you arguing here?

What's wrong with citing Freudians and Lacanians when we are dealing with the mind? You have de facto eliminated Lacan, which so far I don't see how you defend anywhere. You would have to argue that FIRST.

Do you want me to personally argue how the drives are conflicted and cleft, or is that something too Lacanian and therefore a waste of your time? I would say self-delineation as a (relatively) autonomous organism is made possible through the acquisition of language, by which the organism, the human, is able to take a distance from himself. It is the alienation which makes the human being possible by ripping it out of its merely natural environment. I don't have a problem here, maybe you do. But again, this is speculative philosophy, and hence to a large extent speculative anthropology. It seems perfectly congruent with logic, however. But again, you are in the realm of axioms, that IS continental philosophy. But it doesn't make much sense for you to say that it is de facto illogical simply because it's axiomatic.

In regards to dark matter, apparently you do have to guess what I mean. I don't get your misunderstanding.

So please, stop tossing around names and labels where they very doubtfully apply.

What is YOUR position? Everyone has been clear to their ability about their own, but so far you're attacking something from an unclear and very incoherent position. What is your forward argument?

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May 26 2010 12:33
Hegel wrote:
Schelling often uses Spinoza's form of procedure, and sets up axioms. In philosophy, when we desire to establish it position, we demand proof. But if we begin with intellectual intuition, that constitutes an oracle to which we have to give way, since the existence of intellectual intuition was made our postulate.
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May 26 2010 13:04

flame on me,

I still have not seen a response to my post no.70 and no.72

You are free to make an argument for the axioms of TM, yourself revol, as communistingoodfaith seems to have a difficulty doing so, or even feeling the need to do so.

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May 26 2010 14:37

No, what you did was 1) assert the obligation to accept TM because otherwise we'd be idealists/vulgar materialists, and 2) repeatedly give poorly worded variations on the 2 axioms of TM.

At this point the only reason you hold on to TM is because the Real cannot be disproved. Does that ring any theological bell?

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May 26 2010 15:08

Alan Sokal, where art thou

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May 26 2010 17:12

Well, Zizek's claim is that the brain's material structure is non-all, corpo-real, so unlike dark matter, it's an observable phenomenon studied in neuroscience. That's just one reason why the dark matter analogy doesn't hold, much less shows the validity of TM's axioms.

Regarding circumventing social constructivism, as it happens, in the latest issue of zizek studies, Adrian Johnston (world leading zizek-scholar beardy ) writes in a letter to Zizek that:

Quote:
My more substantial concerns about your recent reflections on nature are similar to some of my long-standing worries regarding materialist and idealist versions of the Real. Although I am extremely sympathetic to this extension of the consequences of the big Other’s non-existence to nature—as you know, for the past few months, I too have been writing about this in terms of atheism, materialism, and the “barred Real”—I fear that certain articulations of this in Chapter Nine (especially “Nature doesn’t exist” and “life 1.0” versus “life 2.0) are vulnerable to being interpreted as a thorough liquidation of the natural compatible with various sorts of postmodern social constructivism with idealist leanings (ditto for your discussions of the Real-Symbolic distinction in these most recent of your writings).
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May 26 2010 22:09
Quote:
Zizek does not say the real is something that exists in the brain, that is bollocks

While the real being the dark matter of the soul is profound theory...

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May 27 2010 10:01

revol, I didn't claim the real exist in the brain, I said according to TM, the brain's material structure is non-all, corpo-real:

Johnston wrote:
One, the underlying ontogenetic base of the subject consists of the materiality of a certain Real, more specifically, of an internally conflicted libidinal economy at odds with itself from the very beginning (i.e., the Schellingian "vortex of drive" (Trieb) as the volatility of, so to speak, substance against itself); Two, the subject is genetically produced as a consequence of the fact that the disturbing discontent of this initial state prompts efforts at taming and domesticating this "corpo-Real," [25] efforts that come to constitute and define the fundamental contours of subjectivity itself (as a subject-position characterized by a (pseudo-)transcendence of embodied materiality).

So it is in fact you who suffer from ignorance.

Dark matter, okay, here is why the example doesn't fly:
Some scientists assume the existence of dark matter, but
1) they don't say the dark matter is 'internally conflicted' or non-all,
2) they don't say that visible matter emerged out of dark matter,
3) their assumption of the existence of dark matter does help explain things (shape of some stellar systems, etc.), contrary to the Real of TM which does not explain anything specific.
4) it's a temporary assumption caused by lack of knowledge about the laws of the universe, while the Real is an ontological claim that creates/justifies an eternal lack of knowledge.

So I'm still waiting to hear someone make an argument for TM, but please don't simply repeat the axioms as if that will make them true.

communistingoodfaith
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May 27 2010 11:44

I believe I already demonstrated precisely THAT point, that the brain's material and determining power over the subject as a whole are limited, that genetic AND external determinism are precisely not-All with regards to the subject.

You are only able to think the Real as Real, and not as also imaginary and symbolic. The Real of the body and the brain IS conflicted, leading it to this previously stated not-All.

However as Symbolic Real, we re-encounter the notion that the Big Other of the socio-symbolic Real is simply inexistent.

Nature as a whole is a mid-point between contingency and necessity.

Dark matter is an interesting METAPHOR for the Real, in that its existence is only deducible by its very absence. I don't think anyone here established a DIRECT correspondence between the Real and dark matter. The Real is the always existing gap in the realm of knowledge. Man is constitutively unable to know all. There are singular questions which have been around since the beginning of time which science will simply not be able to answer. But THIS isn't the point of our discussion.

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May 27 2010 22:47

Unfortunately the difficulty I'm having here is that Johnston does not agree with Zizek precisely on the points we're discussing, namely the status of the Real as material/ideal, and the way free choice works. For instance Zizek has a Schellingian free act, while Johnston a Sartrean one. I'm assuming you haven't figured out yet which of those you agree with but I guess you generally accept their Heideggerian overall frame. In any case I have shown the problems with both of them.

communistingoodfaith wrote:
I believe I already demonstrated precisely THAT point, that the brain's material and determining power over the subject as a whole are limited, that genetic AND external determinism are precisely not-All with regards to the subject.

I must have missed that, because all you did was claim that others have demonstrated it "scientifically". Again, if it's just a fact, there is no need for axioms. Clearly the facts don't demonstrate that the material structure of the subject is non-all. Before you run to the field of science for help again, stay within the domain of philosophy to logically prove the first axiom (non-all status of the onto-genetic base of the subject). I'm not against speculative philosophy, I'm against the bad philosophy of those whom Lenin named as 'degenerate chatterboxes who call themselves philosophers, flea-cracking university lecturers'. Frederic Jameson use of Badiou's more polite concept of 'anti-philosophy' is also appropriate.

Quote:
You are only able to think the Real as Real, and not as also imaginary and symbolic. The Real of the body and the brain IS conflicted, leading it to this previously stated not-All.

No, you brought up the brain, so I'm just talking about the Real there. Of course zizek's application of the Real is not limited to this field only.

The claim that the Real of the body "IS" conflicted is exactly what no Lacanian/Schellingian manages to prove.

Quote:
However as Symbolic Real, we re-encounter the notion that the Big Other of the socio-symbolic Real is simply inexistent.

Give an argument for your claims or do you think posting Lacan's word is enough? The fact that you "don't see a problem" with it or think it's "clear", is not an argument for TM.

Quote:
Dark matter is an interesting METAPHOR for the Real, in that its existence is only deducible by its very absence. I don't think anyone here established a DIRECT correspondence between the Real and dark matter.

Good, but you are still being obtuse; nobody deduced the existence of dark matter by its very absence, they couldn't explain certain observations so they created the idea of dark matter. It could well turn out to have the same value as the idea of ether.