Step 76: concrete universal (trash and art)
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Step 76: Concrete Universal

Concrete Universal

Trash & Art

Ryder Richards explores the concept of concrete universalism and its implications. He discusses the idea of transcending contradictions and how failures can lead to unexpected victories. Richards also examines the notion of the concrete universal through examples such as garbage and Picasso’s art, highlighting the tension between specificity and universality.


  • Concrete universalism explores the possibility of combining the concrete and the abstract into one concept.
  • Failures and contradictions can become powerful and unprovable, creating a sense of transcendence.
  • The concept of concrete universalism is exemplified through the idea of garbage, where a specific object represents the broader category.
  • Art, like the concrete universal, expresses both expression and concealment simultaneously, commenting on the inability to clearly define itself.
  • Picasso’s art serves as an example of the concrete universal, with different periods and works representing the totality of his artistic practice.

🗑️ Garbage represents the concrete universal of waste.
🎨 Picasso’s art exemplifies the concrete universal through different periods and works.
🌌 Failures and contradictions can lead to transcendence.
🎭 Art expresses both expression and concealment simultaneously.
🔀 Concrete universalism combines the concrete and the abstract into one concept.
💡 The concept of concrete universalism challenges fixed definitions and highlights the dynamic nature of objects, people, and ideas.
🔄 The concrete universal constantly expands, while the defining object fails to capture its totality fully.


  • 0:00 Welcome back to the show.
  • 1:34 Relating to god through the son.
  • 2:53 How can something be concrete but applicable to everything?
  • 5:04 The apex of the movement is the definition.
  • 7:20 A new, more robust form of universalism.
  • 9:02 Definition of the concrete universal.
  • 10:53 The central problem of art.
  • 12:33 The antagonisms in Guernica.
  • 14:18 The problem with the object definition of the universal.


“Sex & the Failed Absolute” Slavoj Zizek


Part 1: Concrete Universal

Part 2: Trash

Part 3: Art

Part 4: Closure



Welcome back! This is your host, Ryder Richards, stumbling through ideas I don’t really understand, attempting to fill the gaps in my understanding, and dragging you along.

The last dozen episodes, or so, are about the contradictory injunction, that is, the sway of the binary, its traps, and how opposition plays a role in dynamically inverting the didactic.

In the last few episodes, we looked at how mimetic desire, that is, memes and mimicry even camouflage, shape our desires and offer tactics to blend, from which the symbolic or abstract and artificial has very real-world effects.

What I am really looking at is how to parse the contamination of reality with- for lack of a better word- fiction. One way to think of this is when stories shape our desires, and we work to manifest our desires, we *must* have them to be happy, fulfilled individuals.

So, last episode, [[step 75: holy to holy s***]] we looked at how God was impossible to relate to as an all-powerful transcendent thing, and I guess the closest we could get was considering him a super-powerful authoritarian daddy. So, he split his singular self into two, with his son coming down to be treated like filth by us, and in this way, we can now relate, that is we relate through abuse, scapegoating, injustice, and sacrifice, bloody and brutal.

That is, we took the transcendent values and turned them into trash.

We bundled up all the good stuff, lots of different values and concepts, ran it through the food processor of humanity, and turned it into shit. We now have fertilizer from this undifferentiated mass, this homogenized pile to grow something new.

And that brings us to today’s episode. [[Slavoj Žižek]] brings up this idea of [[concrete universalism]].

So, this relates to the God/Jesus split, to trying to make the symbolic or abstract idea also be something in reality.

Because, of course, the transcendent is definitionally impossible to attain if we are located in reality, but oddly enough, there is an idea that contradictions like this have their own transcendence within them, that is immanent to the problem is the overcoming, which is a type of transcendence… yet the thing still remains… even as it transcends itself. jajaja

So, yeah, [[concrete universalism]], with ‘concrete’ as being real, specific, and particular, and universalism as abstract and applicable to everything.

Can something be both at once? Can we have abstract God, and concrete Jesus? And let’s not even bring in the Trinity, the ole holy spirit showing up all polyamoury, open-relationships, and whatnot, mucking up our binary.

Step 76: Concrete Universal

Part 1: Defining the Concrete Universal

Because I am simple, let’s keep it at two sides, or oppositions. Let’s call them Kantian antinomies or Hegelian antagonisms. They are bound up in an impossible disagreement, with each side attempting to become, that is, to overcome their limits fully. Part of overcoming their limits is gauged by overcoming the other.

Politically and socially, one side attempts to have dominion over the center.

On their oppositional path, there is always a moment of twisting back where they look like and relate to their antagonistic opposite. This is movement toward the hated other is perceived as a compromise that smacks of failure: failure to overcome, to dominate.

What happens here, though, is not that they become the other: they don’t fail and merge into one. Instead, you might consider that the movement has an extreme peak or an apex of the movement: the apex becomes the symbolic definition, even as the person, group, or movement crashes back to reality.

So, even if Marx or Che-Guevara were only human, the ideology and the t-shirt had a peak moment that defined them even if they never thoroughly dominated the center. They failed, yet persist as possibly more essential, powerful, and unprovable or incontrovertible because they did not succeed. (They become a ghost, and who can fight a ghost?)

So, here, the failure to overcome the antagonism, perhaps to transcend the opposition completely, which would convert the 2 sides into 1 thing, means that failing and falling back to earth results in something more, not less: the failure becomes a victorious amplification.

Just like Christ’s horrid treatment, his scapegoating, allowed the victim to become relatable and thus victorious.

1 into 2, 2 into all, and from all, a new, more robust 1… a new universalism founded on a real thing. 

Step 76: Concrete Universal

Part 2: Trash

Slavoj Zizek gives an example of [[concrete universalism]]. He says to take, for instance, garbage. For garbage, the species designates the definition.

Garbage is a genus, but also has species and is a species itself.

Zizek says the category finds its truth in one of the species.

So, let’s say you have recyclables (paper or glass) and non-recyclables, and perhaps food waste as biodegradable, but there is a mysterious X, which is the black bag of trash.

So, while garbage is all these things, stands for all these things, amongst them is the subspecies of garbage, the mysterious black bag… this is a specific thing. 

This is a “concrete universal”

The Universal is usually a broadly applied encompassing definition. It is because of its breadth and ability to circumscribe a concept that it tends towards abstract generalization.

However – the concrete universal is a real thing you can point at while standing for the abstract symbol: when people say garbage you can point at the black bulging bag, the universal receptacle, not really knowing what it contains, and know it is garbage of some sort.

So, what? Perhaps this is interesting or it is trash: just some odd observational nonsense we are pretending is meaningful. How do you use the concrete universal, or why should we recognize it?

I think the implication is that a real thing can be pointed to, and this is the “truth” from which we extend the definition to encompass other things… but this fundamental thing, the black sack of trash, also has to contain and maintain a vague mystery.

It cannot be fully known, or it cannot be vague enough to define the overarching category under which we shove all the related items.

In this way, it is like God, the one universal symbol, unknowable as he is, but it is also like shit: a catch-all sack of refuse lumped together under one name, and we have only a murky idea of what is going inside. 

Step 76: Concrete Universal

Part 3: Art

Here’s a nice left turn: from God to shit to art.

Let’s talk about the central problem of art, and reference Picasso. This also comes from [[Zizek]] and the “Zizek and So On…” podcast… but I’ll attempt to condense and extrapolate. 

Some forms of #art -the best ones- are attempting to resolve a deadlock inscribed into their very idea, written into their existence.

If you stop attempting to define art as one thing but think of it as a set of antagonisms (such as art is an expression or exposure and yet also concealment happening simultaneously), then you see how art can “expresses” the inability to “clearly-express.”

This makes the art more than real: it is meta, or transcendent, commenting on the realness while working to escape it, but of course, the art is in reality, it is always real, while attempting to express something beyond reality.

Good stuff right?

Now, in the case of Picasso… similar to the “Garbage” example, you think of his work, his art practice, as a body of work: it is a totality that is #[[Pablo Picasso]] … but is art.

Here’s where it is fun: Would you choose his blue period, his cubist phase, or perhaps Guernica?

To extract one piece, or part, as a proxy for the whole is a reduction, yet a reduction to one can exemplify the totality.

And to go further, consider the antagonisms in Guernica. Picasso’s famous painting about the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War is attempting to show horror without replicating horror.

It is anti-war, yet how do you communicate tragedy without offering a picture, a representation that replicates and doubles the tragedy in the world?

This is the antagonistic deadlock inscribed into the very creation of the piece.

Step 76: Concrete Universal

Part 4: Closure

What I like about this idea, the concrete universal, that is, the “particular abstract,” is it shows the looseness of our attribution, but also defines a very real location from which we can go back and attempt identification.

Pinning down symbolic meanings to objects is odd, and dangerous as it leads to deification. 

It also seems to forget that objects, people, and ideas are processes becoming… they are not reified, fixed, or concrete. It moves the finding into found, the process into fixity, and curiosity into belief. 

Yet, we can also find a touch point in reality, and see areas where a “specific” bleeds into becoming a “universal” –  almost like how coke or aspirin can become stand-ins for a broader category and yet fail to be the total of the category: the total category continues, even as the definition object demarcates… and confuses. 

So, we have talked about contradiction and binaries a lot. 

This episode takes a 1, and elevates it to a universal but oddly keeps the 1 grounded, as a subset, or subspecies, at the same time. This is a duplication of its work, where it doubles its role, at once hitting an apex in becoming and never leaving the ground.

Step 76: Concrete Universal

Thank you!

The next episode will be on perspective, another example by Zizek that helps us grasp the “parallax gap.”

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Wiki: Zizek’s Concrete Universality (I found this after I made the episode)

Zizek & So on… Podcast The Mobius Strip (June 2, 2022)

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