Parallax View: A Dialectical Way of Thinking

(Žižek talks on the importance of the parallax view): Usually the parallax means: when you change a little bit and you see changes. The simplest parallax, though a bit obscene, would be: a postcard on which you see a girl with a blouse, and when you change it a little bit you see naked breasts. I remember when I was young, in those pre-digital times, we had those postcards. The object changes, but the change in the object is really just an effect of how you, as an observer, move.

What I want to show is that, nonetheless, this change is not simply subjective. It is an effect of a certain change in the object itself. Why did I pick up this term? To emphasize this incompatibility. When we are in ideology, we can look at things in radically different ways. And there is no all-encompassing larger narrative.

Let's take today's Middle East crisis: Israel - Palestine. You have the Israeli experience. They say: we just want to live here, they are rocketing us. But then, if you go to the other side, you hear a totally different story. And here, I don't believe in this abstract humanism of UNESCO type. The United Nations says: 'But let us tell a general story...'. No, there is no general story where there is a place for all of it. All there is, at a general level, is the logic of the struggle itself. We have incompatible perspectives.

It is basically - to be honest - a new, slightly modern way to make the old Marxist point of social antagonism - the class struggle. The idea being, again, that is that the gap is irreducible. It cannot be overcome through some kind of a higher perspective. All we can do is to formulate the antagonism. To understand a certain society means to understand its antagonism, its contradiction, its deadlock. Here I remain a Marxist.

On the other hand, this is what gives capitalism, its dynamic. Capitalism is the miraculous system in which the more it is contradictory, the more it functions. Capitalism thrives from pulling itself out of crises. The more it is in crises, the more it explodes. This is why, for certain traditional evolutionary Marxists, it is always a problem. As you maybe know, already for over a hundred years, Marxists have claimed that capitalism is approaching its last stage of rotting, of falling apart. But the more capitalism is becoming rotten, disintegrated, the better it functions. This is important.

We have certain basic Marxist-Hegelian notions like contradiction, antagonism. The problem is how to precisely understand them. I think we were so corrupted by this standard Stalinist idea that the contradiction simply means the struggle of opposites to us, which seems to mean that there are always two sides: the good one, and the bad one; and 'we should support the progressive side', and so on. That has nothing to do with the proper Hegelian-Marxist notion of contradiction.

The whole point of parallax is to reintroduce a more authentic dialectical way of thinking and to point to, especially today, where we are under this pressure of 'one global culture', 'we should understand each other'. No, here I am very brutal, but I think this is the true anti-racism. It is not that when I come to another country, I would like to understand you. No, I don't want to understand, and I cannot understand everything. Here I agree with my conservative friend, Peter Sloterdijk, who is definitely not a left-winger. He said: 'we need today a new code of discretion'.

Look, if you have a Muslim friend, it is stupid to expect that you should totally understand him. You never will. We need a superficial code of manners to treat each other respectfully, even without fully understanding ourselves. The lesson would have been: accept the distance. For example in ex-Yugoslavia, all those Western idiots came and said: 'You Bosnians and Serbs or Serbs and Albanians, why don't you understand each other, get closer...'. No! I claim: ignore each other, accept the distance.

There is something liberating in it. Maybe I am too misanthropic here, but I don't want to understand the whole world. There are cultures, which I consider stupid. I don't care. The problem is: how can you be a non-racist in accepting this. I claim that when we want to understand the other we are usually very racist. You want to penetrate the other to know everything. How can you understand the others, when the others don't understand themselves? We don't understand even ourselves.

So again, maybe a little bit in a Nietzschean way, I want to reassert distance, ignorance, to accept that we don't have to be too close to each other, we don't have to understand each other. Accept distance. And then, selectively, we can be friends. Through obscenities and so on. So my message is still very politically incorrect. Instead of trying to understand everybody, pick up friends and talk dirty to them, make racist jokes and so on, and life will be much better.


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