‘The Parallax of Ontology: Reality and Its Transcendental Supplement’ by Slavoj Žižek


The concept parallax refers to the apparent displacement in the position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight. Yet, more precisely, it includes the assumption to understand the observable change not simply as a subjective change of focus on the part of the subject, but also as a change of the object (characterized by an internal antagonism) on the level of its ontological status. In this case, a shift in the epistemic standpoint of the subject implies an ontological change in the object as well. To give an example, one can refer to Galilei’s astronomical observations. They were obviously more precisely reflected in celestial objects, even though the subject-object determination of his antipode, Bellarmin, was epistemologically more in accordance with the established web of reasons. Galilei’s ‘victory’ not only shifted the modern subject in the cosmos, but provoked a change of status of cosmic spheres themselves. Parallax refers to such and similar shifts between subject and object in historical processes, which cause both entities to circling each other again and again due to their lack of reconciliation. This is a process that has no end, because, as Hegel says, subject and object are mediated in themselves through time. Jacques Lacan expresses this idea likewise when he shows to what extent the subject’s gaze is always inscribed in the perceived object, in the form of a “blind spot”, from which the object can literally (in times of both epistemic and and political crises) return the sight.

Parallax can be detected in Kant’s antinomies, as well as in the incommensurability of various debates between eliminative scientistic and historically dialectical materialists, and it can be identified in the struggles for the sovereignty of a scientific worldview over, for example, life forms of religions. At the conference, internationally outstanding philosophers devote themselves to the concept of parallax within German Idealism and contemporary ontology in order to present it as an illuminating figure of thought and explanation, especially in theoretical philosophy.

As multifaceted as this figure of thought is, it contradicts both a naive epistemological realism, widespread in the academic world of today, and an eliminative scientism, namely in rejecting the belief in one basic structure of reality in which subject and object can harmoniously be put to rest. Parallax stands in opposition to this belief.

Talk given at the conference “Parallax. The Dependence of Reality on Its Subjective Constitution” on Dec. 1, 2018 at the Munich School of Philosophy, Germany.