Joshua Delpech-Ramey: Of late, the writings of St. Paul have become for you, as well as for Alain Badiou and Giorgio Agamben, a touchstone for radical thought. You seem to see in Paul’s works something of a revolutionary manual, and in the founding of the community of believers a supreme example of the structure and effect of an authentic revolutionary act. For Badiou, Paul articulates a general structure of universality. But how separable is Paul’s gesture in founding Christianity from the particularities of Christianity itself? How general are the lessons one can learn from Paul? Can or should those lessons be separated out, as form from content, from their particularity as aspects of the history of Christianity, itself? Or are the particularities of Christianity somehow, of the essence of this gesture?
Slavoj Zizek: My problem with Badiou, although I admire his book very much, is that Badiou . . . allows for only four truth procedures: science, art, politics, and love (and then philosophy is just the study of these genetic procedures . . . ). The point is that his supreme example of a truth-procedure—event, and so on—its implicit model is a kind of religious interpellation. So no wonder that the best example, it’s religious! But paradoxically there is no place for religion. You know the irony is that the supreme example of the seminal structure of truth event that he tries to articulate, and it doesn’t count as a truth-event.
So what he does is something similar to Heidegger—there is a long history to this. As we know the early Heidegger started with the same reference, St. Paul. He [Heidegger] I think used the term formales anzeigen, formal indication. The idea being that, as Heidegger would have put it, religious experience is just an ontic experience, it doesn’t really have this transcendental dignity, and so on, but you find there a certain formal structure which can be then generalized, abstracted from its particular context into a kind of transcendental a priori. But still what is not answered, as you said, is that we cannot simply arrange this and say it’s a simply empirical concept. Why this structure?
The second point I want to make here is, I think the reason that Badiou does not deploy this, as I tried to develop in the long chapter on Badiou and St. Paul in The Ticklish Subject, the key question for me is negativity in the sense of death. For him, in Badiou’s reading of St. Paul, the death of Christ, as he puts it, has no inherent meaning whatsoever—it’s just to prepare the site for the event. All that matters is resurrection life. This is connected with a very complex philosophical-theological topic . . . you may have noticed if you read Badiou, Badiou has some kind of natural, gut-feeling resistance toward the topic of death and finitude. For him, death and finitude, animality and so on, being-towards-death, death-drive—he uses the term sometimes in a purely non-conceptual way, “death drive, decadence” as if we were reading some kind of naïve Marxist liberal optimist from the early 20th century. This is all somehow for me interconnected. Although I am also taking St. Paul as a model, a formal structure which can then be applied to revolutionary emancipatory collectivities, and so on, nonetheless I try to ground it in a specific Christian content, which again for me focuses precisely on Christ’s death, [his] death and resurrection. I am trying even to identify the two. The idea that resurrection follows death, the idea that these are two narrative events, this is at the narrative level of what Hegel would have called vorstellungen , representations. Actually, the two of them are even united. That is to say that Christ’s death, in the Hegelian reading, is the disappearance of disappearance. It is in itself already what becomes for itself the new community.
What interests me is how precisely to distinguish Christ’s death from this old boring topic—and all the old materialist critics of Christianity like to point this out: what’s the big news, don’t you have this sacrificial death of God in all pagan religions? Ah ah! You don’t. The structure is totally different if you read it closely: already at the most superficial level, after Christ’s death what you get is Holy Spirit, which is something totally different than in previous societies. All this about Isis, and so on, this rather boring circular myth, where basically god dies . . . you know, it’s like, people are disordered, things go bad, but then there is the phoenix, everything is good again—no wonder this version is so popular, like even in The Lion King, where you have a kind of Hamlet-version where king dies, son redeems, there is a new king and so on . . . Christianity precisely is not this.
This brings us to two further topics. Now in Badiou’s reading of psychoanalysis, he totally dismisses death drive. But the paradox for me, as I try to develop in my work, is that death drive is a very paradoxical notion if you read Freud closely. Death drive is basically, I claim, the Freudian term for immortality. Death drive has nothing to do, as Lacan points out, convincingly, with this so-called nirvana principle where everything wants to disappear, and so on. If anything (and because of this I like to read Richard Wagner’s operas where you have this), death drive is that which prevents you from dying. Death drive is that which persists beyond life and death. Again, it’s precisely what, in my beloved Stephen King’s horror/science fiction terminology he calls the “undead”: this terrifying insistence beneath death, which is why Freud links death drive to the compulsion to repeat. You know, it can be dead, but it goes on. This terrifying insistence of an undead object.
Point two: This is the big lesson to be learned, with all my criticism (criticism is the vulgar word, my difference of horizon), from Heidegger. The big breakthrough of Heidegger is to totally reconceptualize the notion of finitude. Already we have this in the early Heidegger with special reference to Kant. Already you see precisely how the other of finitude, the big stuff—infinity, eternity, and so on—is a category, modality, horizon of finitude. This was, for Heidegger, Kant’s big breakthrough: transcendental as opposed to transcendent is a category of finitude.