Zizek, Job, Hegel and the Real

I read Job recently, which, other than Ecclesiastes and James, is probably my favorite book of the Christian Scriptures. One of the side fruits of this endeavor was being struck by how Zizek’s reading of the text opens up his reading of Hegel. (At least I think.) So here is what I am thinking.

For Zizek the Real is a fundamental gap or lack. That is, if for a orthodox, even if banal, Hegelian notion of thesis, antithesis and synthesis the idea is that the synthesis is the incorporation of both the thesis and antithesis into a higher/broader reality, than the for Zizek the synthesis is the realization that the antithesis is (already) this higher reality. This is seen in his reading of Job.

The book of Job opens by detailing a life that Job understands. Job is good, righteous and just and he is blessed as such. This follows traditional Hebraic wisdom. Yet–outside of the heavenly dispute, which Job cannot see–he receives calamity for no reason. His calamity is not due to some sin in his life. Although his friends cannot see this, Job knows it (and we as the readers know he is right). So Job’s whole world is upside down. The schema that he previously to used to make sense of existence is useful no longer. This is the anti-thesis. At the end God shows up and asks Job if he understands what the hell is really going on in creation. Job, of course, does not and therefore Yhwh says it would be best for him to shut up and submit himself to him. Job then gets all his treasures, family (new kids) and health back.

A traditional (Hegelian) reading–that considered the book as a whole–might say something like Job had a personal experience of Yhwh, some sort of theophany, and in light of this can now submit himself to the higher order of the deity. Thus, even though what he has experienced has destroyed his original understanding of existence, he can now incorporate this destruction into the view that Yhwh and the whole of life is more complex than traditional wisdom had supposed, yet Yhwh is in control and can still be trusted (or at least there is no choice but to do so). In light of this Job gets back, and in abundance, what he had previously lost. (Let me just say that this is not an interpretation of Job that I find at all appealing. Job is way too complex and disturbing to be definitively nailed down by such simplification. At the least I see Job as saying that any notion of theodicy is completely irrelevant and possibly evil but even this does not do justice to the story.)

In contrast, for Zizek the theophany Job experiences is just the opposite (seen in The Puppet and the Dwarf and I think The Parallax View). God shows up like an angry parent who has been constantly bombarded by demands that he cannot deliver on. For Zizek Job’s juridical accusations have revealed that God is powerless and now the only option God has left is to flay about in anger and talk about how much stronger he is than the puny Job. Job’s response is to be read ironically. He realizes that God is lacking in power and, almost feeling sorry for the impotent despot, Job submits just so that the tirade will be over. So the thesis is that God is in control and dishes out gifts to all good boys and girls. The antithesis comes when Job, the best of all good boys, gets shitted on by chaos (or the satan/accuser), and the synthesis is that this reveals that God, or the ordering structure of the universe, is impotent, that the truth of the matter is that shit happens and there is no rhyme of reason to it.

Suffice it to say that I don’t think Zizek’s reading does justice to the text either. It, does however, allow his version of Hegelianism to come through more clearly and shine some light on the Real. (At least I think. I am open to any critique here, since I am no Hegel or Zizek scholar.) In addition, there is one other thing that it does, and that is it problematizes any simple reading of Job, which in my opinion is a good thing. I also like the idea that Christ is the second Job, but I would want to include in this the resurrection, which would completely change Zizek’s reading of the cross, Christ, etc.


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