The Excess of Exaggeration

Essays on technology, psycho­analysis, philosophy, design, ideology & Slavoj Žižek


September 30, 2011

The Excess of Exaggeration

Žižek in The Plague of Fantasies:

One thus has to abandon the textbook notion of the Hegelian dialectical process in which the first exaggeration is supplanted by the opposite one until, finally, the proper balance between the two is established, and each is reduced to its proper limited place, as in politics: one needs neither organic links that are too strong (which give us an inflexible corporate state unable to accommodate individual freedom, that is, the infinite right of subjectivity) nor a too-strong unilateral emphasis on abstract individual freedom (which leads to liberal anarchy and the disintegration of concrete social links, and as such gives rise to the mechanical state which is again experienced as an external power limiting the subjects’ freedom), but the proper synthesis of the two…

Hegel’s point is not a new version of the yin/yang balance, but its exact opposite: ‘truth’ resides in the excess of exaggeration as such. That is to say: here one has to apply the fundamental Hegelian logical principles according to which the two species of the genus are the genus itself and its one species, so that we do not have the two exaggerations (finally reunited in a synthesis), but the balance as such and the disruptive ‘exaggeration’ which disturbs its poise. And of course, Hegel’s point is the exact opposite of the standard wisdom: the harmonious balanced totality is not the ‘truth’ within which particular exaggerations, deprived of their excess, must find their proper place; on the contrary, the the excess of ‘exaggeration’ is the truth which undermines the falsity of the balanced totality. In other words, in the choice between the Whole and its Part, one has to choose the Part and elevate it to the Principle of the Whole - this ‘crazy’ reveral introduces the dynamics of the process. One can also put it in terms of the opposition between ‘being’ and ‘event’, of the subject qua event, articulated by Alain Badiou: the subject emerges in the event of ‘exaggeration’, when a part exceeds its limited place and explodes the constraints of the balanced totality.

Is not the whole point of Hegel, however, that one should pass from one position to the next through the self-resolution of its constrained character? Yes, but Hegel’s point is that this passage occurs only and precisely when we fully assume the ‘unilateral’ reductionist gesture: Hegelian totality is not an organic Whole within which each elements sticks to its limited place, but a ‘crazy’ totality in which a position reverts to its Other in the very moment of its excessive exaggeration - the dialectical ‘link’ of partial elements emerges only through their ‘exaggeration’.