Slavoj Zizek’s dialectical materialism is derived, he claims, from our experience of “the occurrence of an insurmountable parallax gap, the confrontation of two closely linked perspectives between which no neutral common ground is possible” (4). It asserts “the inherent ‘tension’, gap, noncoincidence, of the One itself” (7).“‘All there is’ is the interstice, the non-self-coincidence, of Being, that is, the ontological nonclosure of the order of Being” (167).—The Parallax View (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006)

At first glance, this may seem a denial of what I call the uniquely all-inclusive way of newly interacting (the God of process theism). But I think not.

This uniquely all-inclusive way is not a “neutral common ground.” It is not neutral, because its very all-inclusiveness introduces a “counter-tension” into the tensions that have arisen from prior ways of newly interacting (including its own prior tensions). And while its all-inclusiveness does involve some sort of commonality, that’s anything but a common “ground.” It’s not a resting place. It’s not resting—ever. That is, process theism easily affirms Zizek’s “ontological nonclosure of the order of Being.”

Process theism does insist that, without some sort of commonality, or relationality, there could be no confrontation or tension between two perspectives, nor could they be closely linked. But what Zizek seems to be denying is any sort of commonality that could mediate these tensions in a way that does not introduce further tensions. Tensions remain “insurmountable,” and invoking the God of process theism will not surmount them or make them go away.

I think I agree. Any way of newly interacting, divine or otherwise, involves a tension or noncoincidence with whatever came before. And there is no neutral common ground.

The tension is not inherently violent. It does involve a propensity to violence, especially if we try in some futile way to put a stop to the tension, causing it to build up until it breaks these artificial barriers. And maybe that exercise in futility is something we inescapably wind up doing. But that does not make the underlying tension inherently violent. Violence is one example of the tension, but it is not a synonym.

I also prefer to avoid speaking of any ultimate gaps. A “noncoincidence” is not always a gap, and a “tension” or “close link” is a connection, never a gap.

As to whether we should call this noncoinciding ensemble of ways of newly interacting material or spiritual (or physical or mental), I consider that entirely optional. My position is a form of “nondualism” with (of course) a newly interactive twist: In some configurations reality interacts newly in ways that have been called material/physical, and in other configurations it interacts newly in ways that have been called spiritual/mental. (But with this outlook we might imagine a culture that never developed a this sort of binary.) So again, newly interacting remains the insurmountably tensive fundamental reality, and whether we call this matter or spirit is entirely optional.

Zizek can call his ontology a form of dialectical materialism, but his “materialism” looks pretty “spirited” and “spooky” to me, and it would look so to the majority of physicalists among professional philosophers.

Fr. Charles