Parallax View

by John Holbo on May 10, 2006

John & Belle is terribly amusing at the moment – check out our new comments policy, for example. I self-promote so shamelessly because I know many of you sincerely loved the ‘jake’ contributions to this thread – college squid, hepcat leftist sockhopper assumptions J. Edgar etc. etc. (Jim Henley devoted a short post to marvelling.) So you should know there is more to be had. Acephalous is having fun as well. We aren’t yet taking pre-orders for the CT brand “even Ezra Pound would have called you a bitch” Café Press thong underwear (with the delicate ‘Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made’ stitched in). PZ Myers is already banging the table for his college squid baby-t. Ah well. But the future is a long time, as they say. Perhaps the troll will straighten up, fly right – that is, in an away direction, and all will be well.

But all this is just to entertain you, by way of paying you back for answering a question. I’m writing a review of Zizek’s The Parallax View – which, weirdly, doesn’t discuss Pakula’s The Parallax View (see the top post on J&B). But the weird thing about this, seems to me, isn’t just that Zizek is a filmhound, so he should mention the film in a big book of this title – one containing a lot about film. The weird thing is that ‘the parallax view’ is a weird phrase because there’s no such thing as a parallax view. Parallax is a difference between two views – for example, the view through a camera viewer and the view through the lens, which then comes out as the picture you’ve taken. (See all the different things parallax can mean.) A difference between two views is not, itself, any view. The one thing that seems like it could be a ‘parallax view’ would be … healthy eyesight. The marksman with two eyes has better depth perception than the one-eyed marksman, to whom everything looks flat (like a carefully composed Pakula frame). I’m not sure what to make of this, but for starters I’m just asking: I’m not a photographer or astronomer, so maybe my premise is wrong? Does anyone ever use the phrase ‘parallax view’ except as the title of a book or film? If not, then it seems like Zizek naming his book after the film, then not discussing it, is some kind of clue, or joke.

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Crooked Timber » » Vicious Regress (I’m not bad, I just chose to be drawn that way )
05.14.06 at 11:42 am



Adam Roberts 05.10.06 at 5:41 am

This reminds me of the pother some Victorianists get into with the title of Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend. As Fowler insists, this phrase is a solecism, since … but why not quote the man himself?

Every one knows by now that our mutual friend is a solecism. Mutual implies an action or relation between two or more persons or things, A doing or standing to B as B does or stands to A. Let A and B be the persons indicated by our, C the friend. No such reciprocal relation is here implied between A and B (who for all we know may be enemies), but only a separate, though similar relation between each of them and C. There is no such thing as a mutual friend in the singular; but the phrase mutual friends may without nonsense be used to describe either A and C, B and C, or, if A and B happen to be also friends, A and B and C. Our mutual friend is nonsense; mutual friends, though not nonsense, is bad English, because it is tautological. It takes two to make a friendship, as to make a quarrel; and therefore all friends are mutual friends, and friends alone means as much as mutual friends.

Nevertheless, the phrase has entered the language. And the point is, delinquently or otherwise, we all know what we mean when we say, for instance, ‘Why here’s our mutual friend, the Troll of Constant Sorrow!’

Anyway. Got to go and view my parallax now.


Daniel 05.10.06 at 5:50 am

Kingsley Amis had the explanation for “our mutual friend”. What it means is a friend we have in common, but to call someone “our common friend” implies that our friend might be vulgar, and the British would always prefer a real grammatical solecism to an imagined social one.


Tom T. 05.10.06 at 6:23 am

I don’t suppose Zizek mentions any other Parallax View either.


Steve 05.10.06 at 6:35 am

Is this really John posting? The meandering peyote-influenced-stream-of-consciousness blather is more Belle-esque. It would have been healthier for both of you if she had learned from you, rather than the other way around.



Sean Carroll 05.10.06 at 7:56 am

Astronomers certainly do not talk about “parallax view.” They talk about “the parallax” of an object, the angle by which its apparent position changes when our location changes.


Jonathan 05.10.06 at 9:02 am

Every mention in JSTOR comes after the film.


Jonathan 05.10.06 at 9:03 am

And, John, have you read Jameson on the Pakula?


ezra pound 05.10.06 at 9:15 am

What a bitch you are, Steve.


John Holbo 05.10.06 at 9:28 am

ezra beat me to it. Steve, can I quote you on a coffee mug? Jonathan, I haven’t read Jameson, but thanks for the JSTOR point. If Sean says astronomers don’t use this term, they must not. So that settles it, unless professional photographers have a problem with that.


Adam Kotsko 05.10.06 at 10:06 am

Because God forbid he should coin a new term.


Dave M 05.10.06 at 10:42 am

Not having seen the movie, I always assumed The Parallax View was just a typically meaningless but portentous-sounding Robert Ludlum title (The Eiger Sanction, The Hades Factor, The Lazarus Vendetta, etc.). But it turns out the book was written by one Loren Singer. I have learned something this day.

I would certainly buy the right T-Shirt (heck, maybe one with no TOS on it at all, just the Kant quote). I dunno about thong underwear, though.


Matt 05.10.06 at 11:18 am

Have you heard that there is a film about Zizek coming out soon (in June, I guess) called “The Reality of the virtual”? (Maybe this is old news.) I got an advertisement for it in the mail today: “This unusual and highly engaging documentary by filmmaker Ben Wright introduces the audience to some of the most complex issues involving the study of philosopher Slavoj Zizek, his critique of Western culture, and his interpretations of reality/virtual reality. Subjects discussed range from philosophy and psychoanalysis to theology, film, opera, and politics”. It sounds awful, but maybe it could keep me from ever having to read any more of him than I have (a few terrible articles in places like the LRB.) The post card ad I got has some dangerous looking octopus tenticles comming of of the side. I’m not sure what that means.


Jim Harrison 05.10.06 at 11:23 am

Nikos Kazantzakis wrote about the Cretan Glance, by which he meant the mode of vision appropriate to an irreducably heterogenous world. The phrase off a metaphor that is a little too unmysterious for Zizek, whose admittedly entertaining works always work the Lacanian con of hinting that their author possesses a wisdom he can never quite make explicit, at least to the likes of you.


John Holbo 05.10.06 at 11:30 am

Adam, Zizek can’t possibly coin the term “The Parallax View”. It’s already the name of a 1974 film, directed by Alan Pakula. So what are you talking about? I’m not even being critical of Zizek in this post. I’m suggesting he’s probably making some sort of joke, possibly about the film. Calm down. Yeesh.

Dave M, I was THINKING about making a Ludlum joke.


Adam Kotsko 05.10.06 at 11:50 am

I’m calm now.

My initial joke when Jodi Dean pointed out the absense of the film in the book was to respond: “IS NOT THE VERY ABSENCE OF REFERENCE TO THE FILM THE MOST DETAILED POSSIBLE COMMENTARY?!”


Rich Puchalsky 05.10.06 at 1:27 pm

“If Sean says astronomers don’t use this term, ”

Dude. I am the proud recipient of an ABD in astrophysics. (Although I forget whether my masters degree was in astrophysics or astronomy; it had to do with arcane departmental politics). So: argument from authority confirmed! (Should I do that thing with the lots of exclamation points and a 1 tossed in?)

Anyways, the best interpretive tool for reading Zizek that I’ve found is the Nelson Muntz method. On the surface, Zizek only appears to be making fun of the people who he’s obviously making fun of. But — if you read enough Zizekiana, you’ll get to the point where he refers to making arguments just to show that one can argue for anything. A bit more of this and you quickly realize that he’s primarily making fun of the people who take him seriously, and who can never now admit to the joke because their professional reputations now depend on their status as Zizek-interpreters. So he attracts and creates his own comedic, “ticklish” subjects. It’s quite an accomplishment, really.


Tommaso Guidi 05.10.06 at 4:15 pm

I really like Neal Young but his lyrics bug me. “Love is a rose…” Huh? Love is an emotion, and a rose is a plant.
It makes no F’ing sense!


Adam Kotsko 05.10.06 at 5:53 pm

Does anyone remember if there’s anywhere in The Ticklish Subject that he mentions the concept of ticklishness? I just assumed that he was punning on the idea of a “ticklish subject” as something that’s awkward for people to talk about (such as Cartesian subjectivity in the academic circles he runs in).


Jonathan Lundell 05.10.06 at 8:07 pm

Any marksman is, operationally, a one-eyed marksman, exactly for reasons of parallax.


John Holbo 05.10.06 at 8:22 pm

No, no, tommaso, ‘love is a rose’ is a sort of metaphor. (That’s the explanation in that case. Hope this helps. Sorry you have so much trouble.)


John Holbo 05.10.06 at 8:23 pm

Rich, you are quite right, I should have consulted you first, of course. (Silly me.)


tommaso et cetera 05.10.06 at 10:21 pm

A difference between two views is not, itself, any view.”

So I guess that means one can’t be dialectical.
I’ve been making the same point here for years and now I’m contradicting myself I guess.

And any abuse of language that hasn’t been codified is off limits.

double hmm


Belle Waring 05.11.06 at 12:28 am

steve, you starfish queen of the trailer park you!


Matt 05.11.06 at 2:30 am

Can I pat Rich on the head too, whilst John searches for a crusty hook?

He’s a rather bad and tasteless egg, but a good enough maid – indulging one’s habitual ignorance and the like, with unmatched zeal and zest.

Might I recommend, John, the “Although I haven’t ever demonstrated any reasonable knowledge of Zizek’s major books, or arguments, or even read the last half of this one” opening.

That is how all professional reviews in the US begin.

(For the record, I am also calm. No need to call the maid.)


John Holbo 05.11.06 at 2:51 am

Sorry, Matt, if you are calm, then what’s the explanation for your comment?


Matt 05.11.06 at 3:49 am

Well actually, I’m a little sleep-deprived. Plus, have just read through the thread at your blog, which is indeed far more edifying. So thanks (mostly to Adam, Brad and Anthony) for that. Rich, I must say, never does seem to contribute much of anything. So your patting him on the head struck me as humorous. Just one observer’s unabashed opinion. Cheers.


John Holbo 05.11.06 at 5:09 am

I would just like to state – for the record – that I actually SHOULD have consulted Rich first, since he’s always interested in this Zizek stuff, and knows about astronomy and astrophysics.


John Holbo 05.11.06 at 5:23 am

Also, as apologies for failing to contribute to the thread go, Matt, ‘Rich never seems to contribute’ seems to lack something – to wit, the element of apology.


luc 05.11.06 at 6:23 am

Parallax being the evil company in the movie, where else to look for it but here.

parallax view

par·al·lax view (plural par·al·lax views)



unique viewpoint: a viewpoint from which you can observe and study something or somebody from a new angle, thus gaining insights unavailable before


Slavoj Žižek 05.11.06 at 8:10 am



Rich Puchalsky 05.11.06 at 8:18 am

Oh, don’t bother with Matt Christie. Criticizing any celebrity “on his side” is like saying that you dissed his American Idol choice.


John Holbo 05.11.06 at 9:07 am

Thanks, luc, I actually figured out something of the sort myself just this morning. Now what I’m wondering is whether this rather metaphoric usage predates the film, or did the film birth a catchphrase.


Drm 05.11.06 at 9:52 am

This image could reasonably be called a “parallax view”.


catherine liu 05.11.06 at 2:12 pm



Yentz Mahogany 05.11.06 at 2:45 pm


Matt 05.11.06 at 5:17 pm

I am afraid that Rich Puchalsky, closet poet warrior, hath failed yet once again in pegging me. Sorry about that, Rich.

Yes, that’s uncanny right. It’s the proclamation of having dissed, when no real dissing has begun that really really (well, barely) irks.


Matt 05.11.06 at 5:26 pm

“Aye, starry-eyed me! Wasting such time with tired philistines, who ‘criticize’ as if clocks stopped, at years numbered 1988” &c.


agm 05.11.06 at 7:01 pm

heck, maybe one with no TOS on it at all
I’m lost. What do Terms Of Service over at John&Belle have to this?


agm 05.11.06 at 7:11 pm

optics isn’t exactly philsophy. Well, at least not for the last couple hundred years. Too bad, lots of room for new theses there.



rea 05.11.06 at 9:42 pm

I really like Robert Burns but his poems bug me. “Love is a red red rose…” Huh? . . .


Slavoj Žižek (the reel one) 05.11.06 at 10:02 pm

“I actually figured out something of the sort myself just this morning. Now what I’m wondering is whether this rather metaphoric usage predates the film…

I’ll take that as an apology.


John Holbo 05.12.06 at 8:24 am

No no, it wasn’t an apology at all, Seth. You were totally confused and I was totally right. (I gotta call ’em like I see ’em.) Review the tape. I was asking whether there was any context in which ‘parallax view’ was used literally. You tried to make fun of me, feigning that it made sense to infer from my post that I don’t understand how metaphor works, which was silly. I made fun of you by feigning it was you who didn’t understand metaphor (which, for all I know, you may have some inkling of.) Then, I discovered that ‘parallax view’ may have a (rather uncommon) metaphoric usage. But, of course, the fact that it has a metaphoric usage in no sense vitiates the sense of my original inquiry into whether it has a literal sense. In fact, its metaphoric status is sort of dependant on me being right, in my post. The status of ‘parallax view’ as a METAPHOR for a fresh or unique point of view depends on the lack of any literal usage for the phrase. Does this help you to understand how metaphor works? It’s sort of like ‘love is a rose’. It works that way precisely because there is no literal sense in which a person, or an emotion, could be identical with a flower. (Metaphor. It’s neat stuff.) Another great example is ‘starfish queen of the trailer park.’ Whoo boy does THAT depend on there not being LITERAL starfish who are female monarchs in charge of trailer parks.


engelž 05.12.06 at 3:08 pm

It’s sort of like ‘love is a rose’. It works that way precisely because there is no literal sense in which a person, or an emotion, could be identical with a flower. (Metaphor. It’s neat stuff.) Another great example is ‘starfish queen of the trailer park.’ Whoo boy does THAT depend on there not being LITERAL starfish who are female monarchs in charge of trailer parks.

I think not. To take an example from the Bard of Bangalore: “The world is flat.” This is a metaphor, but it could be taken in a literal (and false) sense.


Eugène Haussmann 05.12.06 at 5:27 pm

I swing hard at every pitch: I have a thing about critics who love literature the way geologists admire rocks.

The point of comedy, or tragedy, is that we become attached to and even to admire criminals, murderers, idiots, fools, the deluded and the pathetic, or simply those who make mistakes (and then there are the people they invent for us to read about.) Poets are almost never right, about anything, and yet we return to their works again and again. and learn from them.
Outside the few friends he might have, who gives a damn about a mathematician who can’t count? I’m amazed that I get in fights about that here.

I took a swing before I even saw the pitch.
It happens.


John Holbo 05.12.06 at 10:48 pm

Seth, I’ll just finish up by saying that one reason why I was curious about ‘parallax view’ is that I think Zizek may be making a connection to a place in Hegel where he talks about the curious quality of judgments like “the rose is not an elephant”. So I thought it might be sort of important that there is no such thing as ‘parallax view’, literally, just as no rose is literally an elephant. Engelz point seems to me much the same. If the world really WAS flat, then the rhetorical effect of Tom Friedman’s title would be rather different. So, in order to get the right effect, you have to first ask … so, this earth you speak of? Is it flat?

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