for they know what they are doing”
The opposition between Kant and Rorty with regard to the distinction of public and private is rarely noted, but nonetheless crucial: they both sharply distinguish between the two domains, but in the opposite sense. For Rorty, the great contemporary liberal if there ever was one, private is the space of our idiosyncrasies where creativity and wild imagination rule, and moral considerations are (almost) suspended, while public is the space of social interaction where we should obey the rules so that we do not hurt others; in other words, the private is the space of irony, while the public is the space of solidarity. For Kant, however, the public space of the “world-civil-society” designates the paradox of the universal singularity, of a singular subject who, in a kind of short-circuit, by-passing the mediation of the particular, directly participates in the Universal. This is what Kant, in the famous passage of his “What is Enlightenment?”, means by “public” as opposed to “private”: “private” is not individual as opposed to one’s communal ties, but the very communal-institutional order of one’s particular identification, while “public” is the trans-national universality of the exercise of one’s Reason. The paradox of the underlying formula “Think freely, but obey!” (which, of course, poses a series of problems of its own, since it also relies on the distinction between the “performative” level of social authority, and the level of free thinking whose performativity is suspended) is thus that one participates in the universal dimension of the “public” sphere precisely as singular individual extracted from or even opposed to one’s substantial communal identification—one is truly universal only as radically singular, in the interstices of communal identities. It is Kant who should be read here as the critic of Rorty: in his vision of the public space of the unconstrained free exercise of Reason, he asserts the dimension of emancipatory universality OUTSIDE the confines of one’s social identity, of one’s position within the order of (social) being—the dimension missing in Rorty.
Was not, even before Satan’s famous “Evil, be thou my Good?” from Milton’s Paradise Lost, the formula of the diabolical Evil provided already by Shakespeare in whose Titus Andronicus the unrepentant Aaron’s final words are: “If one good deed in all my life I did, / I do repent it from my very soul?”
If we imagine the respective domains of what we see and of what we hear as two intersecting circles, their intersection is not simply what we hear and see; it has two sides: the voice that we see (but not hear) and the image that we hear (but not see).
In her memoirs, Anna Akhmatova describes what happened to her when, at the height of the Stalinist purges, she was waiting in the long queue in front of the Leningrad prison to learn about her arrested son Lev:
“One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind was a young woman, with lips blue from the cold, who had of course never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there), ‘Can you describe this?’ And I said, ‘I can.’ Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.” 
The key question, of course, is: what kind of “description” is intended here? Not a “realistic” description of the situation, but what Wallace Stevens called “description without place,” which is what is proper to art—not a description which located its content in a historical space-and-time, but a description which creates, as the background of the phenomena it describes, an inexistent (virtual) space of its own, so that what appears in it is not an appearance sustained by the depth of reality behind it, but a de-contextualized appearance, an appearance which fully coincides with real being, or, to quote Stevens again: “What it seems it is and in such seeming all things are.” Such an artistic description “is not a sign for something that lays outside its form”  Stevens again: “It is an artificial thing that exists, / In its own seeming, plainly visible /…/ Intenser than any actual life could be.” Badiou, on whom we rely in this reading of Stevens, proposes to extend this logic to politics itself, providing the outlines of a “politics without place,” a politics which is no longer just a particular intervention into a particular constellation of social places (classes, national, religious, economic, cultural places), but an “action without place,” an action which, in a “mixture of violence, abstraction, and final peace,”  creates its own virtual/non-existent space of collectivity based on the axiom of equality. Badiou quotes again Stevens:
“Out of this same light, out of the central mind
We make a dwelling in the evening /air/
In which being together is enough.”
However, there is a detail with regard to which one is tempted to correct Badiou: he reads the double “out of…” in the first line as an indicator of change (we should STEP OUT of the same light, of the central mind), while it seems more logical to read this “out of” as designating the origin, the source, OUT OF WHICH (from which) we should make a dwelling. Perhaps, this accounts for Badiou’s “Deleuzian deviation”: he designates this action without place as “nomadic creation,”  thereby mobilizing the Deleuzian opposition between “central mind” and its “nomadic” de-centeredness/subversion. Is it not more appropriate to read “central mind” as a POSITIVE source of the new political collectivity: we should learn to dwell IN the “central mind” so that, in it, “being together” will be “enough.”
But the question persists: how to read this “action without place” without falling into the trap of the aestheticization of politics (to which, it seems, Rancière succumbs), i.e., without reducing politics to a virtualized/displaced aesthetic spectacle, a collective performance or happening (two other words Badiou affirms in this text) in which, as in a carnival, rules which bind us to particular locations within the social edifice are suspended, and people dwell in the ex-static space of virtual collectivity?
The difference between “God is unconscious” and “God is THE unconscious” is the difference between Lacan and Jung: between the materialist thesis on our beliefs which, although we are unaware of it, persist in our material practices, where we act AS IF we believe, and the spiritualist-obscurantist notion of the divine dimension that dwells deep in our unconscious. While, in the first case, the unconscious is a lie constitutive of our identity, in the second case, it is our “inner truth.”
What, then, is the proper atheist stance? Not a continuous desperate struggle against theism, of course—but also not a simple indifference to belief. That is to say, what if, in a kind of negation of negation, true atheism should return to belief (faith?), asserting it without reference to god—only atheists can truly believe, the only true belief is the belief without any support in the authority of some presupposed figure of “big Other.” One can also conceive these three position (theism, negative and positive atheism) along the lines of the Kantian triad of positive, negative, and infinite judgment: while the positive statement “I believe in god” can be negated as “I don’t believe in god,” one can also imagine a kind of “infinite” negation, not so much “I believe in un-god” (which would be closer to negative theology), but, rather, something like “unbelief,” the pure form belief deprived of its substantialization—the “unbelief” is still the form of belief, like the undead who, as the living dead, remain dead.
Post-colonial critics like to dismiss Christianity as the “whiteness” of religions: the presupposed zero-level of normality, of the “true” religion, with regard to which all other religions are distortions or variations. However, when today’s New Age ideologists insist on the distinction between religion and spirituality (they perceive themselves as spiritual, not part of any organized religion), they (often not so) silently impose a “pure” procedure of Zen-like spiritual meditation as the “whiteness” of religion. The idea is that all religions presuppose, rely on, exploit, manipulate, etc., the same core of mystical experience, and that it is only the “pure” forms of meditation like Zen Buddhism that render this core directly, by-passing its institutional and dogmatic mediations. The fact that, today, spiritual meditation in its abstraction from institutionalized religion appears as the zero-level undistorted core of religion, hinges on the fact that such a meditation is the ideological form that best fits today’s global capitalism.
Recall the scene in the hotel room, the place of crime, in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation: the private eye (Gene Hackmann) inspects the room with a Hitchcockian gaze, like Lila and Sam do with Marion’s motel room, moving from the main bedroom to the bathroom and focusing there on the toilet and the shower. This shift from the shower (where there are no traces of the crime, where everything is clean) to the toilet sink, elevated it into the Hitchcockian object that attracts our gaze, fascinating us with its premonition of some unspeakable horror, is crucial here (recall Hitchcock’s battle with censorship to allow the inside view of the toilet, from where Sam picks up a torn piece of paper with Marion’s writing of the amounts of spent money, the proof that she was there). After a series of obvious references to Psycho apropos of the shower (quickly pulling open the curtain, inspecting the hole in the sink), the investigator focuses on the (allegedly cleansed) toilet seat, flushes it, and then the stain appears as if out of nowhere, blood and other traces of the crime overflowing the edge of the sink. This scene, a kind of Psycho reread through Marnie (with its red stain blurring the screen) contains the main elements of the Hitchcockian universe: it has the Hitchcockian object which materializes some unspecified threat, functioning as the hole into another abyssal dimension (is flushing the toilet in this scene not like pushing the wrong button that dissolves the entire universe in the science-fiction novels?); this object which simultaneously attracts and repels the subject can be said to be the point from which the inspected setting returns the gaze (is it not that the hero is somehow regarded by the toilet sink?); and, finally, Coppola realizes the alternative scenario of the toilet itself as the ultimate locus of mystery. What makes this mini-remake of a scene so effective is that Coppola suspends the prohibition operative in Psycho: the threat DOES explode, the camera DOES show the danger hanging in the air in Psycho, the chaotic bloody mess erupting from the toilet. And is not the swamp behind the house in which Norman drowns the cars with the bodies of his victims a kind of gigantic pool of excremental mud, so that one can say that he in a way flushes the cars down the toiled – the famous moment of the worried expression of his face when Marion’s car stops to immerse into the swamp for a couple of seconds effectively signals the worry that the toiled did not swallow the traces of our crime? The very last shot of Psycho, in which we see Marion’s car being pulled out of the swamp, is thus a kind of Hitchcockian equivalent to the blood reemerging out of the toilet sink—in short, this swamp is another in the series of the entrance-points to the pre-ontological Netherworld.
And is not the same reference to the pre-ontological Underworld operative also in the final scene of Vertigo? In the pre-digital times, when I was in my teens, I remember seeing a bad copy of Vertigo—its last seconds were simply missing, so that the movie appeared to have a happy ending, Scottie reconciled with Judy, forgiving her and accepting her as a partner, the two of them passionately embracing… My point is that such an ending is not as artificial as it may seem: it is rather in the actual ending that the sudden appearance of the Mother Superior from the staircase below functions as a kind of negative Deus ex machina, a sudden intrusion in no way properly grounded in the narrative logic, which prevents the happy ending. Where does the nun appear from? From the same pre-ontological realm of shadows from which Scottie himself secretly observes Madeleine in the florist’s. When Lesley Brill claims that in Under Capricorn is a kind of underworld creature trying to drag Ingrid Bergman back into hell, one is tempted to say that the nun which appears at the very end of Vertigo belongs to the same evil netherworld—the paradox being, of course, that it is a NUN, a woman of God, who embodies the force of Evil that drags the subject down and prevents her salvation.
This shocking elevation of the ridiculously lowest (the Beyond where shit disappears) into the metaphysical Sublime is perhaps one of the mysteries of Hitchcock’s art. Is not the Sublime sometimes part of our most common everyday experience? When, in the midst of accomplishing a simple task (say, climbing the long line of stairs), we are overwhelmed by an unexpected fatigue, it all of a sudden appears as if the simple goal we want to reach (the top of the stairs) is separated from us by an unfathomable barrier and thus changed into a metaphysical Object forever out of our reach, as if there is something which forever prevents us from accomplishing it… And the domain where excrements vanish after we flush the toilet is effectively one of the metaphors for the horrifyingly-sublime Beyond of the primordial, pre-ontological Chaos into which things disappear. Although we rationally know what goes on with the excrements, the imaginary mystery nonetheless persists—shit remains an excess with does not fit our daily reality, and Lacan was right in claiming that we pass from animals to humans the moment an animal has problems with what to do with its excrements, the moment they turn into an excess that annoys it. (It’s similar with the saliva: as we all know, although we can without problem swallow our own saliva, we find it extremely repulsive to swallow again a saliva which was spit out of our body – again a case of violating the Inside/Outside frontier.) The Real in the scene from The Conversation is thus not primarily the horrifyingly-disgusting stuff reemerging from the toilet sink, but rather the hole itself, the gap which serves as the passage to a different ontological order. The similarity between the empty toilet sink before the remainders of the murder reemerge from it and Malevitch’s Black Square on White Surface is significant here: does the look from above into the toilet sink not reproduce almost the same “minimalist” visual scheme, a black (or, at least, darker) square of water framed by the white surface of the sink itself? Again, we, of course, know that the excrements which disappear are somewhere in the sewage network—what is here “real” is the topological hole or torsion which “curves” the space of our reality so that we perceive/imagine excrements as disappearing into an alternative dimension which is not part of our everyday reality.
Hitchcock’s obsession with cleansing the bathroom or the toilet after its use is well-known, and it is significant that, when, after Marion’s murder, he wants to shift our point of identification to Norman, he does this with a long rendering of the careful process of cleansing the bathroom—this is perhaps the key scene of the film, a scene that provides an uncanny profound satisfaction of the job properly done, of things returning back to normal, of situation being again after control, of the traces of the horrifying netherworld being erased. One is tempted to read this scene against the background of the well-known proposition of Saint Thomas of Acquinas according to which a virtue (defined as a proper way to accomplish an act) can also serve evil purposes: one can also be a perfect thief, murderer, extortioner, i.e. accomplish an evil act in a “virtuous” way. What this scene of cleansing the bathroom in Psycho demonstrates is how the “lower” perfection can imperceptibly affect the “higher” goal: Norman’s virtuous perfection in cleansing the bathroom, of course, serves the evil purpose of erasing the traces of the crime; however, this very perfection, the dedication and the thoroughness of his act, seduces us, the spectators, into assuming that, if someone acts in such a “perfect” way, he should be in his entirety a good and sympathetic person. In short, someone who cleansed the bathroom so thoroughly as Norman cannot be really bad, in spite of his other minor peculiarities… (Or, to put it even more pointedly, in a country governed by Norman, trains would certainly run on time!) While watching this scene recently, I caught myself nervously noticing that the bathroom was not properly cleansed—two small stains on the side of the bathtub remained! I almost wanted to shout: hey, it’s not yet over, finish the job properly! Is it not that Psycho points here towards today’s ideological perception in which work itself (manual labor as opposed to “symbolic” activity), and not sex, becomes the site of obscene indecency to be concealed from the public eye? The tradition which goes back to Wagner’s Rheingold and Lang’s Metropolis, the tradition in which the working process takes place underground, in dark caves, today culminates in the millions of anonymous workers sweating in the Third World factories, from Chinese gulags to Indonesian or Brasil assembly lines—in their invisibility, the West can afford itself to babble about the “disappearing working class.” But what is crucial in this tradition is the equation of labor with crime, the idea that labor, hard work, is originally an indecent criminal activity to be hidden from the public eye. The only place in Hollywood films where we see the production process in all its intensity are when the action hero penetrates the master-criminal’s secret domain and locates there the site of intense labor (distilling and packaging the drugs, constructing a rocket that will destroy New York…). When, in a James Bond movie, the master-criminal, after capturing Bond, usually takes him on a tour of his illegal factory, is this not the closest Hollywood comes to the socialist-realist proud presentation of the production in a factory? And the function of Bond’s intervention, of course, is to explode in firecraks this site of production, allowing us to return to the daily semblance of our existence in a world with the “disappearing working class”…
Hitchcock plays here with our most basic spontaneous ontology: with the entry into the symbolic order, the most immediate bodily self-experience undergoes a radical change, we experience our bodies as surfaces, with no depth (depth is abstracted from, it “disappears” from our reality in the same way that excrements—which come from the inner of our body—disappear). When we look into another person’s head, we imagine “inside” the head something like “soul,” that x which speaks when s/he speaks, not the mess of meat, bones and blood. Recall the slightly sadistic experiment with a small child: you show yourself to him with a mask, he is scared; you put off the mask and reassure him that it is you, his daddy, behind the mask; then you put the mask on again—and the child will be scared again, although he knows very well that behind the mask there is only your well-known face. It is similar with our real faces: they are masks in which “souls” inhabit. This is why Freud already emphasized that ego is a phenomenon of the surface of our skin; this is why Lacan pointed out that erogeneous zones are cuts into the surface of our bodies; this is why “partial objects” qua organs without bodies are pure surface autonomized, magically surviving its detachment from the body, like the smile in Alice in Wonderland that persists alone, even when the Cheshire cat’s body is no longer present?: “All right,’ said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone. ‘Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,’ thought Alice; ‘ but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!”
In the report on the debate between Paul and the Athenians in Acts, Paul makes a deft use of the fact that Athenians, in their pragmatic opportunism, built, on the top of the statues of all their known gods, also the statue to an unknown god—they just wanted to be sure that their series of statues also includes the reference to some divinity ignored by them, i.e., the reference to what is excluded or missing from their pantheist pandemonium. Referring to this statue, Paul cunningly remarks that there already is in Athens the statue of the unique God of whom he speaks; the trick is that he replaces indefinite article with a definite one: not the statue of an unknown god (like the monument of the unknown dead soldier, referring to all those anonymous dead), but the statue of the unknown god, meaning the (one true) god who is/remains unknown, obfuscated by the glittering pandemonium of polytheism.
One can argue that atheism is truly thinkable only within monotheism: it is this reduction of many (gods) to one (god) that enables us to confront directly 1 and 0, i.e., to erase 1 and thus obtain 0. 
The rise of melancholy in Europe temporally overlaps with the prohibition and gradual disappearance of different forms of carnival, of manifestations of “collective joy” (Barbara Ehrenreich) from public life (late 16th, early 17th century)  —what conclusion are we to draw from this? The obvious one would have been that the prohibition came first: it deprived individuals of a key source of libidinal satisfaction, and this loss caused melancholy—melancholy bore witness to the fact that modern subjects live in a grey dis-enchanted secularized world from which ecstatic collective experienced disappeared…
What, however, if the causality is the opposite one? What if melancholy PRECEDES prohibition? What if prohibition is a way to resolve the deadlock of melancholy? One has to be very precise here about the structure of melancholy – in contrast to mourning, melancholy is not only the failure of the work of mourning, the persistence of the attachment to the real of the object, but also its very opposite: “the melancholy offers the paradox of an intention to mourn that precedes and anticipates the loss of the object.”  Therein resides the melancholic’s stratagem: the only way to possess an object which we never had, which was from the very outset lost, is to treat an object that we still fully possess as if this object is already lost. The melancholic’s refusal to accomplish the work of mourning thus takes the form of its very opposite, of a faked spectacle of the excessive, superfluous, mourning for an object even before this object is lost. This is what provides its unique flavor to a melancholic love relationship (like the one between Newland and Countess Olenska in Wharton’s The Age of Innocence): although the partners are still together, immensely in love, enjoying each other’s presence, the shadow of the future separation already colors their relationship, so that they perceive their current pleasures under the aegis of the catastrophe (separation) to come (in the exact reversal of the standard notion of enduring the present hardships with a view to the happiness to emerge out of them). In short, the mourner mourns the lost object and “kills it the second time” through symbolizing its loss, while the melancholic is not simply the one who is unable to renounce the object; he rather kills the object the second time (treats it as lost) before the object is actually lost—how are we to unravel this paradox of mourning an object which is not yet lost, which is still here? The key to this enigma resides in Freud’s precise formulation according to which, the melancholic is not aware of what he had lost in the lost object  —one has to introduce here the Lacanian distinction between the object and the object-cause of desire: while the object of desire is simply the desired object, the cause of desire is the feature on account of which we desire the desired object (some detail, tic, which we are usually unaware of and sometimes even misperceive it as the obstacle, as that in spite of which we desire the object). Perhaps, this gap between object and cause also explains the popularity of The Brief Encounter in the gay community: the reason is not simply that the furtive encounters of the two lovers in the dark passages and platforms of the railway station “resembles” the way gays were compelled to meet back in the 40s, since they were not yet allowed to flirt openly. Far from being an obstacle to the fulfillment of the gay desire, these features effectively functioned as its cause: deprived of these undercover conditions, the gay relationship loses a good part of its transgressive beguilement. So what we get in The Brief Encounter is not the object of the gay desire (the couple is straight), but its cause. No wonder, then, that gays often express their opposition to the liberal “inclusive” policy of fully legalizing gay couples: what sustains their opposition is not the (justified) awareness of the falsity of this liberal policy, but the fear that, being deprived of its obstacle/cause, the gay desire itself will wane.
From this perspective, the melancholic is not primarily the subject fixated on the lost object, unable to perform the work of mourning on it, but rather the subject who possesses the object, but has lost his desire for it, because the cause which made him desire this object has withdrawn, lost its efficiency. Far from accentuating to the extreme the situation of the frustrated desire, of the desire deprived of its object, melancholy rather stands for the presence of the object itself deprived of the desire for itself—melancholy occurs when we finally get the desired object, but are disappointed at it. In this precise sense, melancholy (disappointment at all positive, empirical objects, none of which can satisfy our desire) effectively is the beginning of philosophy. Say, a person who, all his life, was used to live in a certain city and is finally compelled to move elsewhere, is, of course, saddened by the prospect of being thrown into a new environment—however, what is it that effectively makes him sad? It is not the prospect of leaving the place which was for long years his home, but the much more subtle fear of losing his very attachment to this place. What makes me sad is the fact that I am aware that, sooner or later—sooner than I am ready to admit—I will integrate myself into a new community, forgetting the place which now means to me so much. In short, what makes me sad is the awareness that I will lose my desire for (what is now) my home.
The conclusion is thus that melancholy precedes prohibition: what makes melancholy so deadening is that objects are here, available, the subject just no longer desires them. As such, melancholy is inscribed into the very structure of the modern subject (the “inner self”): the function of prohibition is to shatter the subject out of melancholic lethargy and to set alive its desire. If, in melancholy, the object is here, available, while the cause of the subject’s desire for it is missing, the wager of prohibition is that, by depriving the subject of the object, it will resuscitate the cause of desire.
Freud defined Trieb (drive) as the limit-concept between biology and psychology, or nature and culture—a natural force known only through its psychic representatives. One should make her a step further and take Freud more radically: drive is natural, but nature thrown out of joint, distorted/deformed by culture, it is culture in its natural state. This is why drive is a kind of imaginary focus, meeting place, between psychoanalysis and cognitivist brain sciences: the paradox of the self-propelling loop on which the entire Freudian edifice is based and which brain sciences approach with metaphoric formulations, without being able to define it precisely.
“Biography is in fact one of the occult arts. It uses scientific means – documentation, analysis, inquiry—to achieve a hermetic end: the transformation of base material into gold. While its final intention is the most ambitious and blasphemous of all—to bring back a human being to life.” 
According to Freud, love arises out of the inhibited desire: the object whose (sexual) consummation is prevented is then idealized into a love object. This is why Lacan establishes a link between love and drive: the space of drive is defined by the gap between its goal (object) and its aim, which is not to directly reach its object, but to circulate around the object, to repeat the failure to reach it—what drive and love share is this structure of inhibition.
Insofar as, in love, only the lover sees in the object of love that X which causes love, the parallax-object, the structure of love is the same as that of the Badiouian Event which also exists only for those who recognize themselves in it: there is no Event for a non-engaged objective observer.
One of the standard definitions of the Lacanian Real is that it is that which always returns to the same place, that which remains the same in all possible symbolic universes. This notion of the Real as the “hard core” that resists symbolization is to be supplemented by its opposite: the Real is also a “pure appearance,” i.e., that which exists only when we look upon reality in front of us from a certain perspective—the moment we shift our point of view, the object disappears. What both extremes excludes in the standard notion of reality as something which resists in its In-itself, but changes with regard to its properties: when we shift perspective, it appears different. However, the two opposed notion of reality can be thought together—to do this, one should bear in mind that a crucial shift takes place in Lacan’s teaching with regard to the Real. From the 1960s onwards, the Real is no longer that which remains the same in all symbolic universes; with regard to the common notion of reality, the Real is NOT the underlying sameness which persists through the multitude of different points-of-view on an object. The Real is, on the contrary, that which generates these differences, the elusive “hard core” that the multiple points-of-view try (and fail) to recapture. This is why the Real “at its purest” is the “pure appearance”: a difference which cannot be grounded in any real features of the object, a “pure” difference. To grasp this paradox, recall Badiou’s notion of Event (which is Badiou’s name for the encounter with the Real): an Event can be discerned only by, is “visible” only to, those who are caught into it, those who recognize themselves as “interpellated” by it, those who are engaged in it—there is no Event for the neutral-impartial observers.
Pippin’s basic operation is to endorse Hegel’s thesis on the “end of art” with a qualification: it does not refer to art as such, but only to representational art, to the art which relies on some pre-subjective substantial notion of “reality” that the art should reflect, re-present in the medium of senses, of sensual materials
“Representational art cannot adequately express the full subjectivity of experience, the wholly self-legislating, self-authorizing status of the norms that constitute such subjectivity, or, thus, cannot adequately express who we (now) are. Only philosophy can ‘heal’ such a self-inflicted wound and allow the self-determining character of experience its adequate expression. (‘Only philosophy,’ that is, on Hegel’s official account. I am trying to suggest here that there is no reason a form of art, like abstraction, could not make such a point in a nondiscursive way.)”(Pippin-300)
This is how Pippin reads—in a consciously anachronistic way, with the benefit of the hindsight of those who live two centuries after Hegel—Hegel’s prophecy, in his Lectures on Aesthetics, that the post-Romantic art will enact the “self-transcendence of art but within its own sphere and in the form of art itself” (A-80): art transcends itself as representational art, it overcomes its limitation to the representational sphere. What Hegel could not grasp (insofar as his thought was, as every thought is, “his time conceived in thought”) was the notional possibility of an art that would overcome IN ITSELF, AS ART, the medium of representation, and thus function as an art adequate to the total reflexivization (subjective mediation) of life conceptualized in his absolute Idealism. (It would be an interesting topic of the Hegelian Higher Criticism to engage in a debate about the possible candidates for this post-Hegelian artistic version of the total subjectivization of substance: is it only the modernist break proper—Schoenberg’s atonality in music, Kandinsky’s abstraction in painting, etc.—or can figures like Richard Wagner also be read in this way?)
The interest of Pippin’s gesture resides in the fact that he rejects the standard story which goes somewhat like this: with Hegel, Western metaphysics reached its apogee in the figure of absolute Knowing, the actual Infinity of the total conceptual mediation of all reality—nothing can any longer resist the power of notional conceiving, God himself is, as Hegel put it with an implicit but all the more unsurpassable acerbic irony, “an interesting representation” (meaning: a mere representation, Vorstellung, whose truth is its notional content); however, the entire post-Hegelian philosophy, in all its versions, is a reaction against this totality of absolute notional self-medation, against this all-powerful Spirit which swallows everything. Finitude (either human finitude as such, man’s separatedness from God; or the finitude of man’s sensual life and material production) is fully reasserted, and what this means is that art regains its rights against philosophy. The first step in this direction was made already by Schelling in his System of Transcendental Idealism, where he posits art above philosophy, as the highest synthesis of Spirit and Nature, of Subject and Object, of thought and senses: philosophy is constrained to the thinking subject opposed to nature, to sensuous reality; the harmonious balance of the two sides is achieved only in a work of art.
When, however, Pippin envisages a new possibility for art after Hegel, he does not ground it in any limitation of Reason, of reflexive mediation: for him, the modernist break (abstract art) has nothing to do with the reassertion of the unsurpassable horizon of finitude. Pippin remains faithful to Hegel: there is no transcendent Truth from which we, finite humans, remain forever cut off, either in the form of Infinite Reality which art cannot properly represent, or in the form of a Divinity to sublime to be grasped by our finite mind. In other words, the point of Pippin’s rehabilitation of art is not that the Absolute cannot be directly conceptually grasped, that it can only be hinted at, evoked as an unfathomable X, by artistic metaphors; his rehabilitation of art has nothing to do with the assertion of irrational Spirituality, too subtle to let itself be caught by the crude analytic categories of human Reason, of a Spirituality which can only be experienced in the form of artistic intuition. Modernist art is thoroughly reflexive, in contrast to the traditional art which still relies on a non-reflected acceptance of some substantial medium or reality; it is reflexive in the radical sense of questioning its own medium. This is what “abstraction” means: a reflexive questioning of the very medium of artistic representation, so that this medium loses its natural transparency. Reality is not just “out there,” reflected/imitated by art, it is something constructed, something contingent, historically conditioned.
One cannot but agree with Pippin’s endorsement of Michael Fried’s rejection of modernism and postmodernism and consecutive “stages” of historical development; “postmodernism” is rather a name for a regression, for a rejection to follow the consequences of the modernist break:
“There was no failure of modernism, no exhaustion by the end of abstract expressionism. Rather, there was (and still is) a failure to appreciate and integrate the self-understanding reflected in such art (the same kind of failure to appreciate modernism, or the same kind of straw-men attacks, in what we call postmodernism). The aftermath—minimalism, ‘literalism,’ op and pop art, postmodernism—can be understood better as evasions and repressions than as alternatives.”(Pippin-301)
Or, to put it in Badiou’s terms, there is no postmodernist Event: postmodernism is not an Event proper, but, at its most basic, a reactive formation, a way to betray the modernist break, to re-integrate its achievement into the dominant field. The apparent “radicality” of some postmodern trends should not deceive us here: this—often spectacular—“radicality” is here the fascinate us with its deceptive lure, and thus to blind us for the fundamental absence of thought proper. Suffice it to recall recent trends in visual arts: gone are the days when we had simple statues or enframed paintings—what we get now are expositions of frames themselves without paintings, expositions of dead cows and their excrements, videos of the inside of the human body (gastroscopy and colonoscopy), inclusion of smell into the exposition, etc.etc. Here, again, as in the domain of sexuality, perversion is no longer subversive: the shocking excesses are part of the system itself, the system feeds on them in order to reproduce itself. Perhaps, this is one of the possible definitions of postmodern art as opposed to modernist art: in postmodernism, the transgressive excess loses its shocking value and is fully integrated into the establishet artistic market.
Pippin exemplifies in what sense the Hegelian Spirit is “its own result” by the finale of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu: how does Marcel finally “become what he is”? By way of breaking with the Platonic illusion that his Self can be “secured by anything, any value or reality that transcends the wholly temporal human world”:
“It was /…/ by failing to become ‘what a writer is,’ to realize his inner ‘writer’s essence’—as if that role must be some transcendentally important or even a definite, substantial role—that Marcel realizes that such a becoming is important by not being secured by the transcendent, by being wholly temporal and finite, always and everywhere in suspense, and yet nonetheless capable of some illumination. /…/ If Marcel has become who he is, and this somehow continuous with and a product of the experience of his own past, it is unlikely that we will be able to understand that by appeal to a substantial or underlying self, now discovered, or even by appeal to successor substantial selves, each one linked to the future and past by some sort of self-regard.”(332-4)
It is thus only by way of fully accepting this abyssal circularity in which the search itself creates what it is looking for, that the Spirit “finds itself.”
Levinas located the gap that separates Judaism and Christianity into the way spiritual salvation and worldly justice are linked: in contrast to the Jewish admission of terrestrial life as the very terrain of our ethical activity, Christianity simultaneously goes too far and not far enough: it believes that it is possible to overcome this horizon of finitude, to enter collectively a blessed state, to “move mountains by faith” and realize a utopia, AND it immediately transposes the place of this blessed state into an Elsewhere, which then propels it to declare our terrestrial life of ultimately secondary importance and to reach a compromise with the masters of this world, giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. The link between spiritual salvation and worldly justice is cut short.
Along these Levinasian lines, Jean-Claude Milner  recently elaborated the notion of “Jews” in the European ideological imaginary as the moment which prevents unification-peace, which has to be annihilated for Europe to unite, which is why Jews are always a “problem/question” demanding a “solution”—Hitler is merely the most radical point of this tradition. For Milner, the European dream is that of Parousia (Greek and Christian), of a full jouissance beyond Law, unencumbered by any obstacles or prohibitions. Modernity itself is propelled by a desire to move beyond Laws, to a self-regulated transparent social body; the last installment of this saga, today’s postmodern neo-pagan Gnosticism perceives reality as fully malleable, enabling us, humans, to transform ourselves into a migrating entity floating between a multitude of realities, sustained only by infinite Love. Against this tradition, Jews, in a radically anti-millenarian way, persist in their fidelity to the Law, they insist on the insurmountable finitude of humans, and, consequently, on the need for a minimum of “alienation,” which is why they are perceived as an obstacle by everyone bent on a “final solution.”
A more refined approach draws a precise line of distinction between Jewish messianism and Christian teleology: for Christians, history is a process directed towards its goal, redemption of humanity, while for the Jews, history is an open-ended, undecided, process, in which we wander without any guarantee of the final result… This approach nonetheless shirks (as Christians themselves often do) from drawing the full consequence from the basic shift from Judaism to Christianity with regard to the Event, best encapsulated with regard to the status of the Messiah: in contrast to the Jewish Messianic expectation (where the arrival of the Messiah is forever postponed, forever to-come, like Justice or democracy with Derrida), the basic Christian stance is that the expected Messiah has already arrived, i.e. that we are already redeemed: the time of nervous expectations, of precipitously rushing towards the expected Arrival, is over, we live in the aftermath of the Event, everything—the Big Thing—already happened. Paradoxically, of course, the result of this Event is not atavism (“It already happened, we are redeemed, so let us just rest and wait…”), but, on the contrary, an extreme urgency to act: it happened, so now we have to bear the almost unbearable burden of living up to it, of drawing the consequences of the Act… “Man proposes, god disposes”—man is incessantly active, intervening, but it is the divine act which decides of the outcome. With Christianity, it is the obverse—not “God proposes, man disposes,” but with the order inverted: “God /first/ disposes, /and then/ man proposes.”
Apropos school exams, Lacan pointed out a strange fact: there must be a minimal gap, delay, between the procedure of measuring my qualifications and the act of announcing the result (grades). In other words, even if I know that I provided perfect answers to the exam questions, there remains a minimum element of insecurity, of chance, till the results are announced – this gap is the gap between constative and performative, between measuring the results taking note of them (registering them) in the full sense of the symbolic act. The whole mystique of bureaucracy in its most sublime hinges on this gap: you know the facts, but you can never be quite sure of how these facts will be registered by bureaucracy. And, as Dupuy points out, the same holds for elections: in the electoral process also, the moment of contingency, of hazard, of a “draw,” is crucial. Fully “rational” elections would not be elections at all, but a transparent objectivized process.
Traditional (pre-modern) societies resolved this problem by invoking a transcendent source which “verified” the result, conferring authority on it (God, King…). Therein resides the problem of modernity: modern societies perceive themselves as autonomous, self-regulated, i.e., they can no longer rely on an external (transcendent) source of authority. But, nonetheless, the moment of hazard has to remain operative in the electoral process, which is why commentators like to dwell on the “irrationality” of votes (one never knows where votes will swing in the last days before elections…). In other words, democracy would not work if it were to be reduced to permanent opinion polling – fully mechanized-quantified, deprived of its “performative” character; as Lefort pointed out, voting has to remain a (sacrificial) ritual, a ritualistic self-destruction and rebirth of society.  The reason is that this hazard itself should not be transparent, it should be minimally externalized/reified: “people’s will” is our equivalent of what the Ancients perceived as the imponderable God’s will or the hands of Fate. What people cannot accept as their direct arbitrary choice, the result of a pure hazard, they can do it if this hazard is referred to a minimum of the “real”—Hegel knew this long ago, this is the entire point of his defense of monarchy. And, last but not least, the same goes for love: there should be an element of the “answer of the Real” in it (“we were forever meant for each other”), I cannot really accept that my falling in love hinges on a pure contingency. 
There is a passage in Proust’s À la recherche… in which Marcel uses phone for the first time, speaking to her grandmother; her voice, heard alone, apart from her body, surprised him—it is a voice of a frail old woman, not the voice of the grandmother he remembers. And the point is that this experience colors his perception of the grandmother: when, later, he visits her in person, he perceives her in a new way, as a strange mad old woman drowsing over her book, overburdened with age, flushed and course, no longer the charming and caring grandmother he remembered. This is how voice as autonomous partial object can affect our entire perception of the body to which it belongs. The lesson of it is that, precisely, the direct experience of the unity of a body, where voice seems to fit its organic whole, involves a necessary mystification; in order to penetrate to the truth, one has to tear this unity apart, to focus on one of its aspect in its isolation, and then to allow this element to color our entire perception. In other words, what we find here is another case of Freud’s anti-hermeneutic motto: one should interpret en détail, not en masse. To locate every feature of a human being into the organic Whole of the person is to miss not only its meaning, but the true meaning of the Whole itself. In this sense also, person and subject are to be opposed: subject is de-centered with regard to person, it obtains its minimal consistency from a singular feature (“partial object”). This object is what Lacan referred to as objet petit a, the object-cause of desire.
This same lesson, which concerns the tension between bodily appearance and the voice as ex-centric partial object, is given a sexualized twist in the Jewish story of Jacob who fell in love with Rachel and wanted to marry her; his father, however, wanted him to marry Leah, Rachel’s elder sister. In order that Jacob will not be tricked by the father or by Leah, Rachel taught him so that that he would recognize her at night in bed. Before the sexual event, Rachel felt guilty towards her sister, and told her what the signs were. Leah asked Rachel what will happen if he recognizes her voice. So the decision was that Rachel will lie under the bed, and while Jacob is making love to Leah, Rachel will make the sounds, so he won’t recognize that he’s having sex with the wrong sister. 
“But now thus said the Lord that created you, Jacob, and he that formed you, Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43,1) This, exactly, is what is reversed (undone) in “subjective destitution” at the end of the psychoanalytic treatment: I have to confront the terror of the big Other’s non-existence, which means that I myself am deprived of my symbolic identity—I as a barred subject ($) am no-one’s and nameless.
The famous first paragraph of Anti-Oedipus provides a long list of what the unconscious (Id, ca) does—conspicuously missing from the series is talking: for Deleuze and Guattari, there is no ça parle, the unconscious doesn’t talk.
In this precise sense, Antigone herself was inhuman (in contrast to Ismene, her “human, all too human” sister). One likes to quote the chorus from Antigone about man as the most “demoniac” of all creatures, as a being of excess, a being which violates all proper measures; however, it is crucial to bear in mind the exact location of these lines: the Chorus intervenes immediately after it becomes known that somebody (it is not yet known who this was) has defied Creon’s order and performed the funeral ritual on his body. It is THIS act which is perceived as a “demonic” excessive act, and not Creon’s prohibition—Antigone is far from being the place—holder of moderation, of respect for proper limits, against Creon’s sacrilegious hubris.
A patient from Latin America reported to his analyst a dream in which he felt an unbearable compulsion to eat caramel candies; the analyst was wise enough to resist any quick recourse to oral drive etc. and, instead, to focus on the Spanish expression “to eat a caramel,” which means to swallow a lie or a fantasy (to say that someone “gave me to eat a caramel” means that he put me off with solacing lies). The message of the dream was thus the patient’s urge to be protected by a cobweb of fantasies that should soften the impact of the real.
A Slovene Leftist daily newspaper, referring positively to my article from The New York Times in defense of atheism, translated my reversal of Dostoyevski’s “If there is no God, then everything is permitted!” as: “Even if there is no God, not everything is permitted!”—a benevolent vulgarity, changing Lacan’s provocative “If there is no God, then everything is prohibited!” into a modest assurance that even we, godless atheists, respect some ethical limits…
The obverse of Lacan’s statement, “If there is God, then everything is permitted!”, is openly asserted by some Christians, as a consequence of the Christian notion of the overcoming of the prohibitive Law in love: if you dwell in divine love, then you need no prohibitions, you can do whatever you want – with the underlying “totalitarian” catch that, if you really dwell in the divine love, then, of course, you would never want to do something evil…
The formula of the “fundamentalist” religious suspension of the ethical was already proposed by Saint Augustine who wrote: “Love God and do as you please.” (Or, another version: “Love, and do whatever you want”—from the Christian perspective, the two ultimately amount to the same, since God IS Love.) The catch, of course, is that, if you really love God, you will want what He wants – what pleases Him will please you, and what displeases him will make you miserable. So it is not that you can just “do whatever you want”: your love for God, if true, guarantees that, in what you want to do, you will follow the highest ethical standards. It is a little bit like the proverbial joke “My fiancée is never late for an appointment, because when she is late, she is no longer my fiancée”: if you love God, you can do whatever you want, because when you do something evil, this is in itself a proof that you do not really love God… However, the ambiguity persists, since there is no guarantee, external to your belief, of what God really wants you to do—in the absence of any ethical standards external to your belief in and love for God, the danger is always lurking that you will use your love of God as the legitimization of the most horrible deeds.
According to Deleuze, in Proust, “people and things occupy a place in time which is incommensurable with the one that they have in space”(C2 39): the notorious madeleine is here in time, but this is not its true place.
As Gadamer put it, “death is one of the most unpleasant things that are part of life.” 
Will Self, apropos his The Book of Dave: “The book is arguing that what you need for a revealed religion is any old bollocks, it just has to be there in the right place at the right time.” Is this not the effect of transference at its purest, as in Hal Ashby’s Being There?
One of the commonplaces of the “linguistic turn” is to emphasize how language is not a neutral medium of designation, but a practice embedded in a life world: we do things with it, accomplish specific acts… Is it not the time to turn this cliche around: who IS it that, today, claims that language is a neutral medium of designation? So, perhaps, one should emphasize how language is not a mere moment of life world, a practice within it: the true miracle of language is that it can ALSO serve as a neutral medium which just designates a conceptual/ideal content. In other words, the true task is not to locate language as a neutral medium within a life-world practice, but to show how, within this life world, a neutral medium of designation can emerge.
One can well imagine a truly obscene version of the “aristocrats” joke that easily beats all the vulgarity of family members vomiting, shitting, fornicating, and humiliating each other in all possible ways: when asked to perform, they give to the manager a short course in Hegelian thought, debating the true meaning of the negativity, of sublation, of absolute knowing, etc., and, when the surprised manager asks them what is the name of the weird show, they enthusiastically reply: “The aristocrats!” Indeed, to paraphrase the good old Brecht’s slogan “What is the robbing of a bank against a founding of a new bank?”: what is all the disturbing shock of family members shitting into one another’s mouth compared to the shock of a proper dialectical reversal? So, perhaps, one should turn the title of the joke around—the family comes to the manager of a night club specialized in hard core performances, performs their Hegelian dialogue and, when asked what is the title of their strange performance, enthusiastically exclaims: “The perverts!”
The difference between the idealist and the materialist use of examples is that, in the Platonic-idealist approach, examples are always imperfect, they never perfectly render what they are supposed to exemplify, so that we should take care not to take them too literally, while, for a materialist, there is always more in the example that in what it exemplifies, i.e., an example always threatens to undermine what it is supposed to exemplified since it gives body to what the exemplified notion itself represses, is unable to cope with. (Therein resides Hegel’s materialist procedure in his Phenomenology: each “figure of consciousness” is first staged-exemplified and then undermined through its own example.) This is why the idealist approach always demands a multitude of examples – since no single example is fully fitting, one has to enumerate them to indicate the transcendent wealth of the Idea they exemplify, the Idea being the fixed point of reference of the floating examples. A materialist, on the contrary, tends to repeat one and the same example, to return to it obsessively: it is the particular example which remains the same in all symbolic universes, while the universal notion it is supposed to exemplify continually changes its shape, so that we get a multitude of universal notions circulating, like flies around the light, around a single example. Is this not what Lacan is doing, returning to the same exemplary cases (the guessing-game with five hats, the dream of Irma’s injection), each time providing a new interpretation? Such an example is the universal Singular: a singular entity which persists as the universal in the multitude of its interpretations.
In a conversation, Hanif Kureishi was telling me about his new novel, whose narrative is different from what he wrote hitherto; I ironically asked him: “But the hero is nonetheless an immigrant with a Pakistani father who is a failed writer…” He replied: “What’s the problem? Do we not all have Pakistani fathers who are failed writers?” He was right—and this is what Hegel meant by singularity elevated into universality: the pathological twist that HK experienced in his father is part of EVERY father, there is no normal father, everybody’s father is a figure who failed to live up to his mandate and thus left to his son the task to settle his symbolic debts. In this sense, again, Kureishi’s Pakistani failed writer is a universal singular, a singular standing in for the universality.
This is what hegemony is about, this short-circuit between the universal and its paradigmatic case (in the precise Kuhnian sense of the term): it is not enough to say that Kureishi’s own case is one in the series of the cases exemplifying the universal fact that father is yet another “impossible profession”—one should make a step further and claim that, precisely, we all have Pakistani fathers who are failed writers… In other words, let us imagine being-a-father as a universal ideal which all empirical fathers endeavor to approach and ultimately fail to do it: what this means is that the true universality is not that of the ideal being-a-father, but that of failure itself.
Therein resides today’s true impasse of paternal authority: in the (biological) father’s growing reluctance to accept the symbolic mandate “father”—this impasse is the secret motif than runs through Steven Spielberg’s films. All his key films—ET, Empire of the Sun, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List—are variations on this motif. One should remember that the family to whose small boy ET appears was deserted by the father (as we learn in the very beginning), so that ET is ultimately a kind of “vanishing mediator” who provides a new father (the good scientist who, in the film’s last shot, is already seen embracing the mother) – when the new father is here, ET can leave and “go home.” Empire of the Sun focuses on a boy deserted by his family in the war-torn China and surviving through the help of an ersatz-father (played by John Malkovich). In the very first scene of Jurassic Park, we see the paternal figure (played by Sam Neill) jokingly threatening the two kids with a dinosaur bone—this bone is clearly the tiny object-stain which, later, explodes into gigantic dinosaurs, so that one can risk the hypothesis that, within the film’s fantasmatic universe, the dinosaurs’ destructive fury merely materializes the rage of the paternal superego. A barely perceptible detail that occurs later, in the middle of the film, confirm this reading. The pursued group of Neill with two kids take refugee from the murderous carnivorous dinosaurs in a gigantic tree, where, dead tired, they fall asleep; on the three, Neill loses the dinosaur bone that was stuck in his belt, and it is as if this accidental loss has a magic effect—before they fall asleep, Neill is reconciled with the children, displaying warm affection and care for them. Significantly, the dinosaurs who approach the three next morning and awaken the sleeping party, turn out to be of the benevolent herbivorous kind… Schindler’s List is, at the most basic level, a remake of Jurassic Park (and, if anything, worse than the original), with the Nazis as the dinosaur monsters, Schindler as (at the film’s beginning) the cynical-profiteering and opportunistic parental figure, and the ghetto Jews as threatened children (their infantilization in the film is eye-striking)—the story the film tells is about Schindler’s gradual rediscovery of his paternal duty towards the Jews, and his transformation into a caring and responsible father. And is The War of the Worlds not the last installment of this saga? Tom Cruise plays a divorced working class father who neglects his two children; the invasion of the aliens reawakens in him the proper paternal instincts, and he rediscovers himself as a caring father – no wonder that, in last scene, he finally gets the recognition from his son who, throughout the film, despised him. In the mode of the 18th century stories, the film could thus also have been subtitled “A story on how a working father finally gets reconciled with his son”… One can effectively imagine the film WITHOUT the blood-thirsty aliens: what remains is in a way “what the film really is about,” the story of a divorced working-class father who strives to regain the respect of his two children. Therein resides the film’s ideology: with regard to the two levels of the story (the Oedipal level of the lost and regained paternal authority; the spectacular level of the conflict with the invading aliens), there is a clear dissymmetry, since the Oedipal level is what the story is “really about,” while the external spectacular is merely its metaphoric extension. There is a nice detail in the film’s soundtrack which makes clear the predominance of this Oedipal dimension: the alien’s attacks are accompanied by a terrifying one-note low-trombone sound weirdly resembling the low bass and trumpet sound of the Tibetan Buddhist chant, the voice of the suffering-dying evil father (in clear contrast to the “beautiful” five-tones melodic fragment that identifies the “good” aliens in Spielberg’s Encounters of the Third Kind).
In Pascal’s notion of religious wager, we encounter the “extraordinary confluence of several important strands of thought: the justification of theism; probability theory and decision theory, used here for almost the first time in history; pragmatism; voluntarism (the thesis that belief is a matter of the will); and the use of the concept of infinity.”  The first thing that strikes the eye is that Pascal rejects all attempts to demonstrate the existence of God: he concedes that “we do not know if He is ,” so he seeks to provide prudential reasons for believing in God: we should wager that God exists because it is the best bet:
God is, or He is not.’ But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up… Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose… But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God.”
Pascal appears to be aware of the immediate objection to this argument, for he imagines an opponent replying: “That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.” In short, if I put my wager on God, and God does not exist, then I really do lose something—when one wagers for God, one does stake something, which presumably one loses if God does not exist. One such thing is TRUTH, another the respect for one’s worldly life. (It is strange how utilitarian-pragmatist Pascal’s reasoning is.). There is then a series of other objections:
1. The argument assumes that the same decision matrix applies to everybody; however, perhaps the relevant rewards are different for different people—perhaps, for example, there is a predestined infinite reward for the Chosen, whatever they do, and finite utility for the rest.
2. The matrix should have more rows. Perhaps there is more than one way to wager for God, and the rewards that God bestows vary accordingly. For instance, God might not reward infinitely those who strive to believe in Him only for the utilitarian-pragmatic reasons that Pascal gives. One could also imagine distinguishing belief based on faith from belief based on evidential reasons, and posit different rewards in each case.
3. Then there is the obvious many Gods objection: Pascal had in mind the Catholic God, but other theistic hypotheses are also live options, i.e., the “(Catholic) God does not exist” column really subdivides into various other theistic hypotheses (… but the Protestant God exists, Allah exists, there is no God). The obverse of this objection is the claim that Pascal’s argument proves too much: its logical conclusion is that rationality requires believing in various incompatible theistic hypotheses.
4. Finally, one can argue that morality requires you to wager against God: “Pascal himself appears to be aware of one such argument. He admits that if you do not believe in God, his recommended course of action will “deaden your acuteness.” One way of putting the argument is that wagering for God may require you to corrupt yourself, thus violating a Kantian duty to yourself.” It was already Voltaire who, along these lines, suggested that Pascal’s calculations, and his appeal to self-interest, are unworthy of the gravity of the subject of theistic belief.
Underlying all this is the basic paradox of belief as a matter of decision: as if to believe something or not is a matter of decision and not of an insight. So, if we read Pascal’s wager together with his no-less-known topic of customs
“You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc…“—one can argue that the core of his argument does concern directly belief but acting: one cannot decide to believe, one can only decide to act AS IF one believes, with the hope that belief will arise by itself; perhaps, this trust that, if you act as if you believe, belief will arise, is the wager.
Perhaps, the only way out of these impasses is what, in his unpublished “secret” writings, Denis Diderot elaborated under the title of the “materialist’s credo.” In Entretien d’un Philosophe avec la maréchale de… he concluded: Après tout, le plus court est de se conduire comme si le vieillard existait… même quand on n’y croit pas. /After all, the most straightforward way is to behave as if the old guy exists… even if one doesn’t believe it./ This may appear to amount to the same as Pascal’s wager apropos the custom: even if you don’t believe in it, act as if you believe… However, Diderot’s point is exactly the opposite one: the only way to be truly moral is to act morally without regard to God’s existence. In other words, Diderot directly turns around Pascal’s wager (the advice to put your bets on the existence of God): En un mot que la plupart ont tout a perdre et rien a gagner a nier un Dieu renumerateur et vengeur. /In a word, it is that the majority of those who deny a remunerating and revenging God has all to lose and nothing to gain./”  In his denial of the remunerating and vengeful god, the atheist loses everything (if he is wrong: he will be damned forever) and gains nothing (if he is right: there is no god, so nothing happens). It is this attitude which expresses true confidence in one’s belief, and makes me do good deeds without regard to the divine reward or punishment.
Authentic belief is to be opposed to the reliance on (or reference to) a(nother) subject supposed to believe: in an authentic act/decision of belief, I myself fully assume my belief, and thus have no need of any figure of the Other to guarantee my belief—to paraphrase Lacan, an authentic belief ne s’authorise que de lui-même. In this precise sense, authentic belief not only does not presuppose any big Other (is not a belief in a big Other), but, on the contrary, PRESUPPOSES the destitution of the big Other, the full acceptance of the inexistence of the big Other.
This is also why a true atheist is at the opposite end of those who want to save religion’s spiritual truth against its “external” dogmatic-institutional set-up. A profoundly religious friend once commented on the subtitle of a book of mine, “the perverse core of Christianity”: “I fully agree with you here! I believe in God, but find repulsive and deeply disturbing all the twist of celebrating sacrifice and humiliation, redemption through suffering, of God organizing his own son’s killing by men. Can’t we get Christianity without this perverse core?” I couldn’t bring myself to answer him: “But the point of my book is exactly the opposite: what I want is all those perverse twists of redemption through suffering, dying of God, etc., but without God!”
When, today, the Catholic Church presents itself as a beacon of the respect for freedom and human dignity, it is advisable to make a simple mental experiment. Till the early 1960s, the Church maintained the (in)famous Index of works whose reading was prohibited to (ordinary) Catholics; one should only imagine how would the artistic and intellectual history of modern Europe look if we erase from it all works that, at one time or another, found themselves on this Index—a modern Europe without Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Sartre, not to mention the large majority of modern literary classics.
The most appropriate way to grasp the radical character of the Kantian philosophical revolution is with regard to the difference between Schein (appearance as illusion) and Erscheinung (appearance as phenomenon). In the pre-Kantian philosophy, appearance was conceived as the illusory (defective) mode things appear to us, finite mortals; our task is to reach beyond these false appearances to the way things really are (from Plato’s Ideas to scientific “objective reality”). With Kant, however, appearance loses this pejorative characteristic: it designates the way things appear (are) to us in what we perceive as reality, and the task is not to denounce them as “mere illusory appearances” and to reach over them to transcendent reality, but an entirely different one, that of the conditions of possibility of this appearing of things, of their “transcendental genesis”: what does such an appearing presuppose, what must always-already have taken place for things to appear to us the way they do? If, for Plato, a table that I see in front of me is a defective/imperfect copy of the eternal Idea of the table, for Kant, it would have been meaningless to say that the table I see is a defective temporal/material copy of its transcendental conditions. Even if we take a transcendental category like that of Cause, it is meaningless for a Kantian to say that the empirical relation of causality between two phenomena participates in (is an imperfect copy of) the eternal Idea of a cause: the causes that I perceive between phenomena are the only causes that there are, the a priori notion of Cause is not their perfect model, but, precisely, the condition of possibility of me perceiving the relationship between phenomena as causal.
There is a nice distinction between “we are waiting for X” and “X is what we were waiting for”. For example, when we are avidly expecting the next book of an author, and this book, when it finally appears, turns out to be a disappointment, we can say: “Although we were waiting for this book, this is not the book we were waiting for.” This distinction is the one between the structural place and the element filling out this place.
In Nicholas Fearn’s Philosophy, The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions, the book’s “symptom” is discernible already from its “Contents”: the longest chapter (9 “Postmodernism and Pragmatism”) is its “Asiatic mode of production,” covering that which is excluded by the horizon of the book, by its choice of what philosophy is. Significant is the duality of the title: “postmodernism” as the outside and “pragmatism” (mainly Rorty) as the inscription of this outside within the field of analytic-cognitive thought.
The book’s horizon: gradual transposition of philosophical problems into scientific ones – philosophy, caught in insoluble dilemmas, reaches its maturity when it cancels/overcomes itself by posing its problem in scientific terms. General ontology thus becomes quantum physics cum theory of relativity, epistemology the cognitive account of our acquisition of knowledge, ethics the evolutionist inquiry into the rise of moral norms and their adaptive function… This is how Fearn elegantly accounts for the fact that, in some philosophical disciplines, approaches out of tune with the scientific version proliferate: this is “what one would expect in a field that has been vacated by philosophy’s regular armies and left to partisans who refuse to accept defeat”(37). In short, once the problem is fully transposed into terms which render possible its scientific solution, there is no longer a job for philosophers there, serious philosophers can move elsewhere, and those who remain are only the partisans of the old positions refusing to accept defeat—paradoxically, their very predominance (i.e., the absence of “serious” philosophers) is the sign of their defeat. Fearn’s example is that of the problem of free will versus natural determinism: the fact that most of philosophers who today work in this field are incompatibilists simply signals that compatibilists have already won the battle with their naturalistic account of how (what we mean by) freedom can be united with determinism, so ”they have better things to do than reoccupy secured ground(“36).
When we want to simulate reality within an artificial (virtual, digital) medium, we do not have to go to the end: we just have to reproduce features which make the image “realistic” for the spectator’s/participant’s point of view. Say, if there is a house in the background, we do not have to construct through program the house’s entire interior, since we expect that the participant will not want to enter the house; or, the construction of a virtual person in this space can be limited to his exterior—no need to bother with inner organs, bones, etc. We just need to install a program which will promptly fill in this gap if the participant’s activity will necessitate it (say, if he will cut with a knife deep into the virtual person’s body). It is like when we scroll down a long text on a PC screen: earlier and later pages do not preexist our viewing them—in the same way, when we simulate a virtual universe, the microscopic structure of objects can be left blank, and if stars on the horizon appear hazy, we need not bother to construct the way they would appear to a closer look, since nobody will go up there to take such a look at them… The truly interesting idea here is that the quantum indeterminacy which we encounter when we inquire into the tiniest components of our universe is to be read in exactly the same way, as “a feature of the limited resolution of our simulated world” (Fearn 77-8), i.e., as the sign of the ontological incompleteness of (what we experience as) reality itself. The big dilemma here is how are we to read this fact: as a sign that we already live in a simulated universe, or as a direct proof of the ontological incompleteness of reality itself? In the first case, the ontological incompleteness is transposed into an epistemological one, i.e., the incompleteness is perceived as the effect of the fact that another (secret, but FULLY REAL) agency constructed our reality as a simulated universe. The truly difficult thing is to accept the ontological incompleteness of reality itself. Back in 1959, Richard Feynman announced nanotechnology in a speech entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”—from the standpoint of the incompleteness of reality, we can even make a step further and claim that, at the very bottom, there is all the room we want, since there is nothing else there, just the void…
And it is only within such an incompleteness that the notion (and actuality) of the Self is thinkable. That is to say, what is Self? When we see a table, we accept that there is nothing behind its components, no secret X that stands for the core of its identity beyond and independently of all its properties, while, when dealing with a Self, we spontaneously assume that the Self is not simple a combination of its properties and of things that happens to and in it—there has to be some X beneath all this wealth that gives the Self its uniqueness… The problem is that, after we abstract all determinate qualities from the Self, what remains is just plain nothing, a void. So we should accept that our Self is, like a table, nothing but the network of its properties, of its contents, or, to put it in a more postmodern vein, of stories it is telling itself about itself – as already Nietzsche put it, there is no mysterious doer behind the multitude of deeds. (Fearn 6-7) There is, however, one option that this account leaves out of consideration: what if our Self is THIS VOID ITSELF, what if its core is not some positive content, but the very “self-relating negativity”(Hegel), the ability to negate every determinate content?
This brings us to the problem of free will. Compatibilists like Daniel Dennett have an elegant solution to the incompatibilists’ complaints about determinism (see Dennett’s Freedom Evolves): when incompatibilists complain that our freedom cannot be combined with the fact that all our acts are part of the great chain of natural determinism, they secretly make an unwarranted ontological assumption: first, they assume that we (the Self, the free agent) somehow stand OUTSIDE reality, and then go to complain how they feel oppressed by the notion that reality with its determinism controls them totally. This is what is wrong with the notion of us being “imprisoned” by the chains of the natural determinism: we thereby obfuscate the fact that we are PART OF reality, that the (possible, local) conflict between our “free” striving and external reality resisting to it is a conflict inherent to reality itself. That is to say, there is nothing “oppressive” or “constraining” about the fact that our innermost strivings are (pre)determined: when we feel thwarted in our freedom by the constraining pressure of external reality, there must be something in us, some desires, strivings, which are thus thwarted, and where should these strivings come if not from this same reality? Our “free will” does not in some mysterious way “disturb the natural course of things,” it is part and parcel of this course. For us to be “truly” and “radically” free, this would entail that there would be no positive content we would want to impose as our free act—if we want nothing “external” and particular/given to determine our behavior, then “this would involve being free of every part of ourselves”(Fearn 24). When a determinist claims that our free choice is “determined,” this does not mean that our free will is somehow constrained, that we are forced to act AGAINST our free will—what is “determined” is the very thing that we want to do “freely,” i.e., without being thwarted by external obstacles. Attractive as it sounds, this compatibilist solution again leaves out of consideration the “abstract” freedom that pertains to the void of subjectivity.
This is how Primo Levi, in If this is a man, describes the dreadful selekcja, the survival examination in the camp:
“The Blockaeltester /the elder of the hut/ has closed the connecting-door and has opened the other two which lead from the dormitory and the Tagesraum /daily room/ outside. Here, in front of the two doors, stands the arbiter of our fate, an SSD subaltern. On his right is the Blockaeltester, on his left, the quartermaster of the hut. Each one of us, as he comes naked out of the Tagesraum into the cold October air, has to run the few steps between the two doors, give the card to the SS man and enter the dormitory door. The SS man, in the fraction of a second between two successive crossings, with a glance at one’s back and front, judges everyone’s fate, and in turn gives the card to the man on his right or his left, and this is the life or death of each of us. In three or four minutes a hut of two hundred man is ‘done’, as is the whole camp of twelve thousand men in the course of the afternoon.” 
Right means survival, left means gas chamber. Is there not something properly COMIC in this, the ridiculous spectacle to appear strong and healthy, to attract for a brief moment the indifferent gaze of the Nazi administrator who presides over life and death—here, comedy and horror coincide: imagine the prisoners practicing their appearance, trying to hold head high and chest forward, walking with a brisk step, pinching their lips to appear less pale, exchanging advices on how to impress the SS man; imagine how a simple momentary confusion of cards or a lack of attention of the SS man can decide my fate…
And is a similar overlapping of horror and humor not a sign of distinction of the specifically Russian grotesque whose first great representative was Gogol? What is “The Nose,” his most famous short story of a low-level bureaucrat whose nose becomes detached and acquires a life of its own, a grotesque comedy or a horror-story? Indicative is here the reception of Shostakovich’s early “absurdist” short opera (1930) based on this story: although it is usually played as a satire or even a frenetic farce, Shostakovich himself called it “a horror story”: “I tried not to make jokes in ‘The Nose’. /…/ It’s too cruel.” So when The Opera Group which recently staged it called it, in their production-leaflet, “the funniest opera ever, an operatic version of Monty Python,” this designation should remind us of the underlying nightmarish dimension of the Monty Python comedy.
Is Becket’s L’innomable not to be OPPOSED to Badiou’s version of it: in Beckett, L’innomable is not the excessive multitude that cannot be forced thoroughly, but the ethical fidelity itself, its persistence embodied in the “undead” partial object.
Claudel himself found Sygne’s refusal of reconciliation with Turelure at the end of L’otage mysterious: it imposed itself on him while he was writing the drama, since it was not part of the original plan (first, he intended the marriage of Sygne and Turelure to mark the reconciliation of the ancien regime and the new regime in the Restoration; then, he planned Badillon to convince the dying Sygne to give the demanded sign of pardon and reconciliation to Turelure). Significantly, most of the critics perceived Sygne’s refusal not as the mark of her radicality, but as the mark of her failure to go to the end in the sacrifice demanded from her, i.e., to consent fully to the marriage with the despicable Turelure. The idea is that, by way of refusing a sign of consent and dying in ice-cold silence and withdrawal, Sygne disavows religious principles which hitherto dictated her behavior—as Abel Hermant wrote:
“Turelure tries to extract from Sygne a word, a sign of pardon, which would be for him the sign that he has definitely conquered her and reached the end of his ambitions. But Sygne refuses this pardon, on which nonetheless her eternal salvation seems to depend. She thus renders all her sacrifices worthless in the last minute.” 
To such readings, Claudel feebly protested: “I believe she is saved”, conceding that the meaning of her final act is not clear to him:
“At the play’s end, the persons escape all psychological investigation: at the human level, Sygne of course refused to fulfill her sacrifice; we do not know more about it, and the author himself can only “suppose” a meaning to her final gesture.” 
The identity of opposites—the case of pleasure and duty. Not only is it possible to make pleasure my duty, to elevate it into a duty (narcissistic hedonism); it is also possible to elevate duty into pleasure (sentimental moralists who find satisfaction in doing their duty). So what about the majority of cases, where the two are simply opposed? The catch is: am I able to do my duty (not when it curtails my pleasures, but) when it gives me pleasure to do it? Only if I AM able to do it, are the two domains not intersected, but truly separated. Otherwise, if I cannot tolerate the by-product of pleasure, my doing a duty is already contaminated by pleasure, by the economy of “moral masochism.” What is crucial here is to distinguish between tolerating pleasure while doing a duty, as its accidental by-product, and doing a duty BECAUSE it provides me pleasure.
There is a clear parallel between Foucault’s critique of Derrida’s reading of Descartes’ relationship between cogito and madness, and the standard “postmodern” critique of the Hegelian notion of contradiction, i.e., of the series difference-opposition-contradiction. For Foucault, Descartes (and, following him, Derrida) progresses from madness to universal doubt as a more “radical” version of madness, so that he can then self-cancel it in the rational Cogito; Foucault’s counter-point is that madness is not “less radical” but MORE radical than the notion of universal doubt, i.e., that the passage from madness to dream silently EXCLUDES the unbearable excess of madness. In a homologous way, Hegel appears to “radicalize” difference in opposition, and then opposition in contradiction; however, this “progress” effectively cancels what is really troubling in the notion of difference for a monist philosopher: the notion of radical heterogeneity, of a totally contingent external otherness which cannot be related dialectically to the inwardness of the One. With the passage from (simple external) difference (of INDIFFERENT units) to opposition (which already inherently relates the opposed units) and then to contradiction (in which the gap is posited WITHIN the One, as its inherent split, self-inconsistency), the road is prepared for the self-sublating of the difference and for the return to the One which can internalize and thus “dialectically mediate” all differences… Laclau also follows this line of critique when, in dealing with the Real, he seems to oscillate between the formal notion of Real as antagonism and the more “empirical” notion of the Real as that which cannot be reduced to a formal opposition:
“/…/ the opposition A-B will never fully become A—not A. The ‘B-ness’ of the B will be ultimately non-dialectizable. The “people” will always be something more than the pure opposite of power. There is a Real of the “people” which resists symbolic integration.” 
The crucial question, of course, is: which, exactly, is the character of this excess of “people” over being the “pure opposite of power,” i.e., WHAT in ‘people’ resists symbolic integration? Is it simply the wealth of its (empirical or other) determinations? If this is the case, then we are NOT dealing with a Real that resists symbolic integration, because the Real, in this case, is precisely the antagonism A – non-A, so that “that which is in B more than non-A” is not the Real in B but B’s symbolic determinations.
Laclau, of course, fully admits that every One-ness is blocked/split by an inherent gap; the dilemma is here: is the inherent impossibility for the One to achieve its full self-identity the result of the fact that the One is always affected by heterogeneous Others; or is the One’s being-affected by Others an indication of how this One is split/thwarted in itself? The only way to “save the Real” is to assert the primacy of the inner split/self-impediment: the primordial fact is this One’s inner impediment; the heterogeneous Others merely materialize, occupy the place, of this inner impediment – which is why, even if they are annihilated, the impossibility (of the One to reach its full self-identity) remains. In other words, if the intrusion of the heterogeneous Others were to be the primary fact, the annihilation of these external obstacles would allow the realization of One’s full self-identity.
(The Lacanian “logic of the signifier” even compels us to go a step further and to assert that self-identity itself of an entity implies this entity’s inner split or impediment: “self-identity” involves the reflexive gesture of identifying an entity with the void of its structural place, the void filled in by the signifier identifying this entity—“A=A” can occur only within the symbolic order, where it amounts to “the identity of A is guaranteed—constituted by the “unary feature” that marks (stands for) the void in its core. “You are John” means: the core of your identity is the abyssal je ne sais quoi designated by your name. So it is not only that “every identity is always thwarted, fragile, fictitious” (as the postmodern “deconstructionist” mantra goes): IDENTITY ITSELF is stricto sensu the mark of its opposite, of its own lack, of the fact that the entity asserted as self-identical LACKS full identity.)
Christ’s sacrifice set us free—how? Neither as the payment for our sins nor as legalistic ransom, but: like when we are afraid of something (and fear of death is the ultimate fear that makes us slaves), and a true friend says: “Don’t be afraid, look, I will do it, what you are so afraid of, and I will do it for free, not because I have to but out of my love for you, I am not afraid!” He does it and in this way sets us free, demonstrating in actu that IT CAN BE DONE, that we can also do it, that we are not slaves… Recall, from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, the description of the momentary impact Howard Roark makes on the members of the audience in the courtroom where he stands for trial:
“Roark stood before them as each man stands in the innocence of his own mind. But Roark stood like that before a hostile crowd – and they knew suddenly that no hatred was possible to him. For the flash of an instant, they grasped the manner of his consciousness. Each asked himself: do I need anyone’s approval?—does it matter?—am I tied? And for that instant, each man was free—free enough to feel benevolence for every other man in the room. It was only a moment; the moment of silence when Roark was about to speak.” 
This is the way Christ brings freedom: when confronting him, we become aware of our own freedom.
Hegel has a lot to teach us about the topic of possibility versus actuality. What is dialectical analysis, say, of a past event, of a revolutionary break? Does it really amount to formulating the underlying necessity that regulated the apparent confusion of the events? What if the opposite is true, and the dialectical analysis REINSERTS THE POSSIBILITY INTO THE NECESSARY PAST? There is something of an unpredictable miraculous emergence in every turn from “negation” to “negation of negation,” in every rise of a new Order out of the chaos of disintegration—why is why dialectical analysis is for Hegel always the analysis of PAST events. No deduction will brings us from chaos to order, and to locate this moment of the magic turn, this unpredictable reversal of chaos into Order, is the true aim of dialectical analysis. For example, the aim of the analysis of French Revolution is not to unearth the “historical necessity” of the passage from l789 to the Jacobin Terror and then to Thermidor and Empire, but to reconstruct this succession as a series of (to use this anachronistic term) existential decisions of the agents who, caught in the whirlpool of the action, had to invent a way out of the deadlock (in the same way that Lacan reconceptualizes the succession of oral, anal, and phallic phase as a series of dialectical reversals).
Derrida strictly opposes his “to-come…” to the Kantian regulative Idea: the To-Come implies unconditional urgency to act now in the urge of the moment and is, as such, the very opposite of gradual approaching the inaccessible Ideal. However, two counter-points. First, this urgency is here already in Kant, who should not be simplified as a straw opponent. Second, Derrida nonetheless here necessarily oscillates between this urgency of the moment to act and the gap that separates each act (as a contingent intervention) from the spectral idea of Justice.
Christ is not a Master figure, but objet a, occupying the position of analyst: embarrassing surplus, answering questions with jokes and riddles that only confound further the enigma, already acting as his own blasphemy.
The shift to feminine occurs already in Christ: Christ is not only not a Master figure, but also not a male figure—as many subtle readers noted, his strangely passive stance is that of feminization, not of male intervention.
What do we really believe when we believe? Is it not that, even when our belief is sincere and intimate, we do not simply believe in the direct reality of the object of our belief; in a much more refined way, they cling to a vision whose status is very fragile, virtual, so that its direct actualization would somehow betray the sublime character of the belief. You only believe in things whose status is ontologically suspended, which is why a friend of mine, a devour Catholic, was shocked when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger  was elected as the Pope Benedict XVI: “This is a man who really believes in what he is saying…”—as if it is normal NOT to believe, or, to paraphrase Marx brothers: “This man looks acts as if he believes, but this shouldn’t deceive you. He really believes.” (One should not forget that the same goes also for atheists: “This man acts and looks as if he is an atheist, but this shouldn’t deceive you. He really is an atheist.”) This is why Graham Greene didn’t go far enough when, in some of his plays and novels (The End of the Affair), he developed the traumatic impact on a non-believer when he witnesses a sudden miracle, a direct divine intervention (as a rule the miracle of saving a dying man from certain death). One should add a further twist to it: the true paradox is that such a direct miracle shatters even more the believers himself, as in Leap of Faith (1992), in which Steve Martin plays the Reverend Jonas Nightingale, a revivalist preacher with a road show of gospel music, miracles, and wonders. He’s a cynical hustler who knows how to read people and make money off their vulnerabilities. Jane, a savvy but lonely woman, is his business manager. Her technological expertise is essential to Nightingale’s ability to work the crowds gathered under the revival tent. When their bus breaks down in Rustwater, Kansas, the corn-relish capital of America, they learn that the rural community has been hard hit by a drought and unemployment. The sheriff unsuccessfully tries to shut the revival down, seeing it as a flim flam operation that the community cannot afford. Equally distrustful is a local waitress whose disabled brother has already been hurt by an insensitive evangelist. Nightingale uses every trick in the book to prey upon the hopes and the dreams of the townsfolk. He even rigs up a life-sized statue of Christ so that tears stream down its face. Thousands of outsiders arrive at the tent, eager to experience a miracle. Screenplay writer Janus Cercone exposes the mixture of credulity and belief characteristic of many who attend revivals. Nightingale is convinced that he can control the spiritual velocities which he sets in motion. A bigger skeptic than the sheriff, imagine this man’s astonishment when God has the last laugh… Miracles happen by grace, and often to those who least expect them.
Chesterton was right: if we do not believe in God, we are ready to believe anything. Belief in God is thus a constitutive exception which enables us to assert the factual rationality of the universe. We are dealing here yet again with the Lacanian logic of the non-All: God allows me to not to believe in vulgar miracles and to accept the basic rationality of the universe; without this exception, there is nothing I am not ready to believe.
In a kind of almost symmetric reversal, atheism is the secret inner conviction of believers who externalize their belief, while belief secret inner conviction of public atheists. This is why Lacan said that theologians are the only true materialists – and, we may add, this is why materialists are the only true believers. Umberto Eco is right here: “I frequently met scientists who, outside their own narrow discipline, are superstitious—to such an extent that it sometimes seems to me that to be a rigorous unbeliever today, you have to be a philosopher. Or perhaps a priest.”  These lines cannot but bring to mind what a leading Slovene conservative-Catholic intellectual wrote in a polemic against my defense of atheism:
“There are no proofs—and there can be none—that God doesn’t exist. Instead of the proofs, the atheist is driven only by the desire that there would be no God. This, however, is the best proof that God exists, since it is only about things which exist that one can desire that they would not be. Atheism is the best proof of God’s existence.”(Janko Kos, Islam in ateizem, in Demokracija / in Slovene/)
It is not enough to laugh at the all too obviously circular nature of this weird “proof of God”: atheists do not pretend to provide a positive proof that God doesn’t exist; what they do is (among other things) to render problematic the proofs that it DOES exist; plus, they do not “desire” that God shouldn’t exist—what they desire, at the utmost, is that RELIGION (the illusory belief in God) would not exist. Much more important is to reject its central premise, namely that “it is only about things which exist that one can desire that they would not be”: at its most fundamental, desire relates to something which does NOT exist. The basic lesson of psychoanalysis is that one can not only desire but even PROHIBIT something which doesn’t exist, and that such a prohibition is a cunning strategy to make it (appear to) exist. Prohibition at its most radical—prohibition of incest—is the prohibition of something which is in itself impossible. (According to some anthropologists, in the prehistory of humanity this was quite literally true: in that early age, parents as a rule died before their children became sexually active, so the prohibition of incest between parents and children was practically void. One can reconstruct the underlying reasoning in these terms: “In order to discipline people and make them work harder, we have to prohibit something; however, we are so poor that all that we have is necessary for survival, there is no surplus that can be renounced; so let us play it safely and prohibit something that is already in itself impossible—in this way, we will install the spirit of sacrifice and prohibition without really losing anything…”)
Furthermore, one can easily turn the argument around: “There are no proofs – and there can be none—that God exists. Instead of the proofs, the believer is driven only by the desire that there would be God. This, however, is the best proof that God doesn’t exist, since it is only about things which do not exist that one can desire that they would be. Theism is the best proof of God’s non-existence.” This is what Lacan effectively claims: theologians are the only true atheists.
The premise that underlies this conundrum is that it is impossible to do it directly – either to belief fully and directly, or to be a full and direct atheist. As if ashamed to openly declare their belief, believers take refuge in externalized phrases and rituals—if asked directly about their beliefs, their faces get red and their gazes turn down. And the same holds for the majority of atheists: even if they publicly declare themselves atheists, when they are directly asked about it, they start to mumble “of course I do not believe in a personal God, or in Church as an institution, BUT maybe there is some kind of higher power, a spiritual entity…” This symmetry, however, is not perfect, it is even deeply misleading, since both sides BELIEVE, only at a different level: each of them covers a different aspect of the big Other. The atheist who officially doesn’t believe, is, today, the one who assiduously checks his horoscope in the newspaper, with an embarrassed laughter which signals that he “doesn’t take it seriously”; the believer observes the external ritual, does his prayers, gets his children baptized, etc., convinced that he is just displaying a respect for tradition… short, they both rely on the big Other. To be truly an atheist, one has to accept that the big Other doesn’t exist and act upon it.
One of the popular myths in the late Communist regimes in Eastern Europe was that there was a department of the secret police whose function was (not to collect, but) to invent and put in circulation political jokes against the regime and its representatives: they were aware of their positive stabilizing function (political jokes offer to ordinary people an easy and tolerable way to let their steam off, easing their frustrations). Attractive as it is, this myth ignores a rarely mentioned, but nonetheless crucial, feature of jokes: they never seem to have an author, as if the question “who is the author of this joke?” is an impossible one. Jokes are originally “told”, they are always-already “heard” (recall the proverbial “Did you hear that joke about…?”). Therein resides their mystery: they are idiosyncratic, they stand for the unique creativity of language, but are nonetheless “collective,” anonymous, authorless, all of a sudden here out of nowhere. The idea that there has to be an author of a joke is properly paranoiac: it means that there has to be an “Other of the Other,” of the anonymous symbolic order, as if the very unfathomable contingent generative power of language has to be personalized, located into an agent who controls it and secretly pulls the strings. This is why, from the theological perspective, God is the ultimate jokester—the thesis of Isaac Asimov’s charming short story “Jokester” about a group of historians of languages who, in order to support the hypothesis that God created man out of apes by telling them a joke (he told apes who, up to that moment, were merely exchanging animal signs, the first joke that gave birth to spirit), try to reconstruct this joke, the “mother of all jokes.” (Incidentally, for a member of the Judeo-Christian tradition, this work is superfluous, since we all know WHICH was that joke: “Do not eat from the tree of knowledge!”—the first prohibition which clearly is a joke, a perplexing temptation whose point is not clear…).
Osiris in Guangzhou
In September 2006, the media reported that the first successful penis transplant was done my Chinese doctors in the General Hospital of Guangzhou: in an operation which lasted 15 hours, a 44 years old married man who lost his penis in a non-specified “accident” was given the penis of a 22 years old man who unexpectedly died of cerebral haemhorage. However, although the operation was medically a success and the penis was not rejected by the recipient’s body, they removed it again for psychological reason: it was too much of a trauma for both the man and his wife to have sex with a penis which was not his own… This incident reconfirms the truth known long ago by the ancient Egyptian myth of Osiris: after his evil brother Seth killed him and cut his body into pieces, the faithful sister-wife Isis re-assembled all the pieces and breathed life into them—all pieces except penis which she was not able to locate and had thus to replace it with an artificial wooden one. What this myth articulated is the fact that, in the symbolic economy of man’s body, phallus is not part of the body, but an artificial supplement which doesn’t fit it, which “sticks out.” Maybe the Chinese couple rejected the new penis because it rendered this fact all too visible, impossible to ignore…
“To believe that God exists is to believe that I stand in some relation to his existence such that his existence is itself the reason for my belief.”  In the properly Hegelian perspective, announced already in Eckhart, one should turn around this proposition: my belief in God is the reason for God’s very existence, i.e., that God qua Holy Ghost, the spiritual substance of the Christian collective, its presupposition, is alive only insofar as it itself posited by the continuous activity of individuals—and it is crucial NOT to confuse this gesture with the standard “materialist” notion that God is just a fiction projected by the believers.
 Quoted from Elaine Feinstein, Anna of All the Russians, New York: Alfred A. Knopf 2005, p. 170.
 Alain Badiou, “Drawing,” lacanian ink 28, p. 45.
 Op.cit., p. 48.
 Op.cit., p. 48.
 I owe this insight to Stathis Gourgouris.
 Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing In the Streets, London: Granta 2007.
 Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1993, p. 20.
 Sigmund Freud, “Trauer und Melancholie,” in Psychologie des Unbewussten, Frankfurt: Fischer Verlag 1975, p. 199.
 Richard Holmes, a review of A.O.J. Cockshut’s Truth to Life, The Times, 30 May 1974.
 Jean-Claude Milner, Les penchants criminels de l’Europe democratique (Paris: Editions Verdier 2003).
 Claude Lefort, Essais sur le politique, Paris: Editions du Seuil 1986.
 Slavoj Zizek, Looking Awry, Cambridge (Ma): MIT Press 1991.
 Galit Hasan-Rokem, Web of Life. Folklore and Midrash in Rabbinic Literature, Stanford: Stanford University Press 2000.
 Grondin, op.cit., p. 336.
 http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/—I rely here extensively on this entry.
 Denis Diderot, “Observations sur Hemsterhuis,” Oeuvres, Vol. I, Paris: Robert Laffont 1994, p. 759.
 Primo Levi, If This Is a Man, The Truce, London: Abacus 1987, p.; 133-134.
 Quoted in op.cit., p. 65.
 Jean-Pierre Kempf and Jacques Petit, L’otage, Paris: Archives des letters modernes 1966, p. 53.
 Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason, London: Verso 2005, p. 152.
 Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, New York: Signet 1992, p. 677.
 The Pope Ratzinger’s face is in itself provoking—as if, beneath the smiling surface, one can discern, through darkened eyebrows and other details, the weird contours of a vampire… A truly Hegelian coincidence of the opposites: the broad benevolent smile concealing obscene Evil.
 Umberto Eco, “God isn’t big enough for some people,” Sunday Telegraph, November 27 2005, p. 20.
 Sam Harris, The End of Faith, New York: Norton 2005, p. 63.
Art: Izima Kaoru, Kimura Yoshino wears Alexander McQueen, C-print, 2007, courtesy Von Lintel Gallery, NYC.