“Why Are There Always Two Fathers?”

Zizek poses this question in the title to the fifth chapter of Enjoy Your Symptom. As with other questions posed as titles to previous sections in the book, it is unclear whether Zizek has offered an answer–straightforward or around-about–or, to some extent, is simply posing the question as the beginning point for his own line of inquiry (the latter is indicative of what Heidegger does in the introduction to Being and Time). Nevertheless, Zizek’s question is quite poignant and thought-provoking, particularly when ascribing to the motif that there are “always two fathers.” I would like consider four examples that may lead towards a way to answer Zizek’s question.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there are two father-figures for Prince Hamlet: his dead father King Hamlet, and his uncle-stepfather Claudius (crowned king by marrying Hamlet’s mother and assuming the throne of Denmark). Through the employment of two fathers in Hamlet, Hamlet is torn between the two–on one hand, obliged to seek revenge for King Hamlet’s death, and on the other, obliged to the fact that Claudius is the new king (and one cannot rightfully commit regicide) and Hamlet’s mother is married to him (even if the arrangement is nefarious). Yet, it is clear that these two fathers–one dead, one alive–permeate through the play and, perhaps, can be argued as being at the heart of the dilemma Hamlet faces, particularly voiced in the beginning of Act 3 in the “To be or not to be” soliloquy.

As another example, the motif of two fathers is evident in Star Wars, with Luke Skywalker’s paternal connection to Obi Wan and the other with his mystery of his dead father, which turns out to be demystified by Darth Vader. For Luke, the dead father–the one Luke has grown up not knowing what happened to–becomes substituted in the relationship with Obi Wan. After Obi Wan’s death, Obi continues on as a spiritual presence, making sure, among other things, that Luke “uses the force.” But, in Obi Wan’s death, there is a revival of the original dead father–this is, of course, brought to full fruition when we (as well as Luke) are aware that the original dead father is not dead, but has lived on in the persona of Darth Vader. In this way, as with Obi Wan replacing the original dead father, the man that becomes Darth Vader replaces the “second” dead father.

During my graduate work on theology, I was always struck–especially after completing my second Master degree in theology–that, in Christianity, particularly during the first century, there was a theological tension between two fathers: Jesus and Paul. This tension is especially noteworthy during the canonization of the New Testament–Paul’s letters being written first and the gospels coming thereafter, and the extent to which Paul’s “authority” as an apostle became in conflict (or opposition) with the authority of Jesus ( not just as man but as Christ). What the followers of Jesus (direct followers such as the disciples) and the followers of Paul (those that stemmed from the churches Paul founded) had to come to terms with, as the define what a “Christian” was, was that Christian (both historically and theologically) had “two fathers.”

As a final example, I would like to turn to Heidegger. There is no doubt that Heidegger philosophically influenced many young, up-and-coming scholars during his professorship at Freiburg and Marburg. Those influenced included theologians such as Karl Rahner, Paul Tillich, and Rudolf Bultmann, and proper philosophers such as Hans Jonas, Hannah Arendt, and later with the likes of Levinas, Jaspers, Sartre (et al). In Heidegger, the motif of “two fathers” plays out in the division between Heidegger the philosopher and Heidegger the man. In the former, we have the brilliant philosopher that became a Socratic midwife for a generation of theologians and philosophers–and philosopher who, in one masterstroke, produced a work (Being and Time) that dramatically changed the cited of the history of modern philosophy. However, in the latter, we have a man that aligned himself (whether purposefully or otherwise) with the Nazi movement–this latter being especially unfathomable (and mind-blowing) to Jewish students Jonas, Arendt, Jaspers, and Heidegger’s own mentor-friend Edmund Husserl. As a result, when we consider Heidegger (especially with the recent discovery of his “Black Notebooks”) we are uneasily forced to reconcile between his “two-father-ness.”

So, in revisiting Zizek’s question, it seems interesting that there is always, indeed, “two fathers.” But the question remains why? Or perhaps the “why” is encased in the importance of two-ness, the need for an “either/or” and a “both/and.” Is this, then, related to inescapable dualism?

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