An interesting aspect in Slavoj Zizek’s writings is the way he says something about and uses the concept of “the Real,” yet the Real he describes is similar to the reality that Rorty describes which philosophers and other beings have tried to grasp. For Rorty the real or reality is a philosophically empty concept. We have different candidates for the Real: God, Matter, What Is, Truth, Nature, Knowledge, but the debates about it are inconclusive and it seems to just serve as an unknowable ultimate justifier for our beliefs. Rorty’s pragmatic solution is to stop talking about it.
Zizek’s Real from Lacan is a gap, lack or absence, in a way not there, yet it’s incorporated into a psychoanalytical-philosophical understanding that gives it a useful role in helping us to understand ourselves and the world. The Real as a lack or absence lay at the center of our symbolic order and is why we can’t create a finished intellectual system. It is that uncanny, indefinable attractive something that causes certain objects to attract and entrance us. It is the trauma around which we construct our selves and repeat our behavioral patterns which contradictorily both offer to resolve the trauma and help us to avoid confronting it.
So Rorty says reality as the really real is not there and not a good use of our time to think about. Zizek says yes, it isn’t there in the way people want – a substantial something, a graspable bedrock – but in its absence it is there and has a determining presence which we see in its effects. He analyzes its qualities of attractiveness and repulsiveness. It’s the psychology of what ultimately isn’t there but can’t be gotten rid of.
There’s an Eastern spiritual version of this. The ultimate stuff is paradoxical: The Tao, Nirvana, Atman, the Non-Dual are ineffable and yet named. We try to grasp It or surrender to It but the very effort to know It causes It not to be known. It is beyond conceptuality. But the Eastern practices do believe there is a final attainment or resolution, whereas Zizek and Lacan don’t think there is.