Interstices of the Sublime – Chapter 7 – Ages of the World and Creation ex Nihilo, Part II


Schelling for Zizek

In this chapter Crockett reads Schelling via Zizek with the hopes of bringing Tillich’s understanding of creation in conversation with Lacan’s conception of creation ex nihilo as the generation of the signifier. Crockett locates a misreading in Zizek’s interpretation that is a repetition of Schelling’s misreading, which he believes Tillich can help correct. Zizek understands Schelling’s potencies to be psychoanalytic drives. For God to exist, God must contract his being by expelling all the non-divine forces. This renders God a psychotic being who is totally alone in the incessant rotary motion of the drives, which ultimately is “tearing itself apart” (118). For Schelling (and Tillich) creation involves the genesis of God himself, not the world. Before the Word, God exists in this terrifying maddening state, but when God speaks his Word this moment before time is forever banished into the unconscious. Creation is a loving act when God decides to speak his Word (i.e. language). In this process God finally becomes free from the eternal conflict of forces. Freedom is thus the repression of the drives and the entrance into language, which is the intersubjective order with which humans communicate. Of course, whatever is repressed will return, and this “trace of unconscious conflict persists and reoccurs as a return of the repressed that horrifies human struggling with the split between conscious desires and their awareness of unconscious forces, albeit as always eternally past” (122). Translated into Lacanian terms, this rotary motion of the drives occurs in the Real before the subject comes to situate herself in the Symbolic. Once the subject enters language, then she can begin to consciously desire objects. Drives differ from desire because drives “ignore the existence of the Other” (122). Zizek explores the possibility of a creative, post-linguistic drive liberated from the endless, immobile repetition.

Schelling for Itself

Contra both Zizek and Schelling’s idea that God is the contracting ground, Tillich opens up new horizons to think of God. For Schelling, the third potency is spirit, which is the reconciliation of the other two potencies. This is a progression of oppositional potencies smacks of Hegelianism, however Zizek wants to read against this progressive resolution of potentialities. The opposition of forces “serves as an eternal pleasure principle for the unity of spirit, which appropriates the tension of unconscious conflict for the sake of a self-conscious unity and reconciliation” (123). We must grasp how both Schilling and Zizek understand how unity emerges out of division. For Schelling spirit lifts itself above the constant division, while for Zizek the Word is what disrupts the chaotic drives and leads to unity. The interminable forces finally reach a crises point that demands a solution. God’s “determination is analogous to the assumption of character in a person” (124). This decision is never conscious, and it is overwhelming but also essential for our freedom. However, the only way Schelling can assert that creation will occur is to assume that the contracting, negative will of divine wrath must “agree to go first” (124), which allows the expansive will of divine love to burst forth in a moment of time. Crockett points out a shifting of potencies in Schelling’s philosophy. He asks how will creation be affected if we understand essence as contracting and the unconscious ground as expansive? Crockett argues that the order of the different will is not important, rather the negative, unconscious was always already creative. This leads him to posit that “[t]here are not two wills; there is one will that doubles itself when it folds up into a determinative contractive essence” (125). This does not lead to a monism of will but rather a Deleuzian repetition of difference in which the different potencies are aspects of a single will while also realizing that this will must be conscious of something external to itself.

Lacan and Creation ex Nihilo

Lacan understood creation to be analogous to the creation of a signifier. But for Lacan, creation involves the Thing not God. The Thing is un-representable object lying outside the Symbolic in the Real. Lacan teases out the paradoxes if matter is considered eternal for creation ex nihilo. The Greek view contradicts creation ex nihilo because they understood that nothing is made from nothing, However, Christianity “remains indebted to this view because it assumes that matter is created out of pure nothingness, or ouk on, which is both logically absurd and inconceivable” (128). Schelling and Tillich stay away from these moves by introjecting the nothingness internal to God Himself. In a similar vein, Lacan repeats this view when discussing the generation of language, “[t]he fashioning of the signifier and the introduction of a gap or hole in the real is identical” (128). The signifier is another example of creation ex nihilo except the nothingness from which it emerges should be understood as the Thing. “So the production of the signifier that signifies a Thing opens us a hole in reality because it brings to light the difference between the Thing and what it is supposed to represent. And this is the essence of creation” (129). Concerning evil, Lacan recognized the evil attributed to matter might also be associated with the Thing (e.g. the wrath of God in Schelling’s God). The evil is related to the essential human factor, which is the contraction of creation in particular “matter”. Lacan also understood the signifying process as an example of sublimation, and if the Thing resists symbolization then it should be understood as the sublime. Tillich struggles with trying to relate creation ex nihilo with the creation of finite beings whose “finitude unites being with dialectical nonbeing” (130). Similarly, in Lacan signification would be related to Tillich’s idea of finite beings while the dialectical nonbeing reaches the limits of signification because it urges us to think of the creation of the signifier (in the Real). Theology needs to begin to create new concepts, which is risky because it involves “playing god with the realm of the symbolic” (131). In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guatarri define the task of philosophy as the creation of concepts. Similarly, creation ex nihilo ought to inspire theologians to the risk of imaginative thinking. Although, strictly speaking creation ex nihilo is impossible, if we read it in a non-linear way, then we can think creation as the becoming of ideas that occurs in the event of thinking.


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