Negation and its Reliabilities:
An Empty Subject for Ideology?1

Robert Pfaller


(1) From "cogito" to its negative representation

In a brilliant interpretation of Ridley Scott's movie "Blade Runner", Slavoj Zizek has shown that the plot of this film is, at various points, a reprise of the problematic developed in Descartes' "Meditations".2

The movie, as we know, deals with an imminent future where, among the earth's population there are a number of artificial beings ("replicants") who, resembling humans and even having artificial childhood memories (although they were assembled as adult machines), are misperceived, and misperceive themselves, as human beings. But, since they are capable of high intellectual performance, they themselves have their doubts, as in Descartes' second meditation, about the authenticity of their memories as well as their whole (human) subjectivity.3 So, once again, a point has to be found that escapes this universal doubt. Zizek writes:

Therein consists the implicit philosophical lesson of Blade Runner attested to by numerous allusions to the Cartesian cogito (like when the replicant-character played by Darryl Hannah ironically points out 'I think, therefore I am'): where is the cogito, the point of my self-consciousness, when everything that I actually am is an artifact - not only my body, my eyes, but even my most intimate memories and fantasies?4

The Cartesian answer can be explained, as Zizek shows, by applying a conceptual tool which has been developed by Jacques Lacan:5

It is here that we again encounter the Lacanian distinction between the subject of enunciation and the subject of the enunciated: everything that I positively am, every enunciated content I can point at and say 'that's me,' is not 'I'; I am only the void that remains, the empty distance toward every content.6

Under the condition of universal doubt, every possible content must appear questionable. But there is one level which evades this doubt: the level from which the doubt originates. The agency which doubts is not identical with anything that can be submitted to the doubt. What thinks, is not identical with anything that is being thought.

This finding which Descartes experienced as a certain relief can also be regarded as something quite alarming for the subject: one point is beyond the subject's power of doubting; there is a dimension that always escapes his/ her theoretical grasp (although it persistently signalizes its existence precisely in the failed attempt to grasp it). This alarming side of the Cartesian discovery has been underlined by Lacan. Lacan showed the radicality of the Cartesian result by emphasizing that due to its generality it also applied for a special case: What thinks, is not identical with what is being thought - even if what is being thought is the thinking subject itself.7

This was important especially in the case of utterances which seemed to contain the position from where they were enunciated (such as "I think" or "I lie").8 Following Descartes radically, Lacan made clear that the position where the utterance was enunciated from was never identical with anything contained within this utterance. The enunciating instance, the "subject of enunciation", was not to be identified with the "subject of the enunciated", the subject that figured within the content of the utterance.

This Lacanian consequence would, at first sight, seem quite disappointing for the Replicants and their specific concern. Since it gives a simple, negative answer to the question, where my true, unfeigned subjectivity could be situated, i. e. where my "cogito" is: it is somewhere outside the field of anything I can speak about. A certainty for the subject who doubts and thinks, the cogito is a problem of representation for the subject who speaks.

But at the same time the Lacanian distinction between the two levels of speech (the level of the enunciated content and the level of enunciation) allows us to understand the functioning of a possible solution. Since, by this distinction Lacan showed how the subject in his/ her speech constantly announces his/ her elusive dimension without even wanting or noticing it. The subject of the unconscious was, according to Lacan, to be found in every discourse on the level of its enunciation.9

This means that the mechanism by which the unconscious manifests itself according to Lacan should also provide the key to the replicant-problem: If there existed a way of communicating in an utterance not only its enunciated content (i. e. what is being said) but also the level of enunciation (the position from where it is being said), then this would be a possibility of how someone could signalize that there is something else in him or her than just his/ her possibly faked presence of body and (contents of) mind.

As Zizek shows, the replicants find such a solution for their problem (a solution which gives to the film its moving, tragic dimension). They seem to have one paradoxical possibility of signalizing that they are not replicants but human beings: by affirming the opposite, by saying "I am a replicant". Precisely the negation of the status they want to achieve seems to provide them with this status. Zizek writes: is only when, at the level of the enunciated content, I assume my replicant-status, that, at the level of enunciation, I become a truly human subject. 'I am a replicant' is the statement of the subject in its purest ...10

The paradoxical mechanism which produces the opposite meaning of the enunciated proposition is what Sigmund Freud called Verneinung (negation). As Freud noted, certain utterances like "You ask me who this person in my dream might be. It is not the mother" must be immediately understood in the opposite sense: "So it is the mother."11

The linguistic feature which enabled Freud to perform such an interpretation and saved him from succumbing to arbitrariness consists in the split between the two levels of speech in such a proposition. On the level of the enunciated, on the level of what is being said, everything seems O.K.; there is nothing strange or irritating for the analysand's (or anyone else's) consciousness in it. But what is strange is the fact that this is being said at all. On the level of enunciation the proposition "It is not the mother" is highly irritating, it gives rise to the question: If nobody ever posed the hypothesis of the mother, why does it have to be explicitly negated? If everything is just O.K., why does this have to be emphasized?

A special relationship between the two levels of speech is established in this case. If the content of the proposition builds a first message, then there lies a second message in the fact that the first message is being sent. The sending of the message is another message. And the second message contradicts the first one.

This split, this contradiction between what is being said and what is being signalized by saying it, conveys the level of enunciation (and its difference from the level of the enunciated). In negation this elusive dimension of speech is brought to its (negative) representation.12

The instrument by which this is being done is a displacement of the communicative situation: the situation which seemed to build the frame of communication is transferred to its explicit content, "perverted" into a remarkable fact. Negation "redoubles" tautologically what we considered unnecessary to mention, the unspoken presuppositions of our utterances: it affirms what seemed to stand on its own, it assures us of something which seemed beyond any doubt, it denies something that no one thought to state, it forbids what was considered to be impossible, it answers something which seemed out of any question.13

Precisely by affirming these presuppositions explicitly, negation puts them into question. It confronts us with our own presuppositions "in the wrong place" as it were; it makes us ask ourselves: If what was supposed to be a presupposition figures as an explicit statement - then, what are the presuppositions of this statement? If what was considered to be the "common sense", the background of our talk, figures in its foreground, as a "particular sense", then, what is the real background, the founding common sense of our communication? By its ironic means, negation signalizes for us a description of this background different from that which we considered it to be.

The same mechanism seems to be known by the replicants. It seems to give them a chance to prove - by saying that they are replicants - that they are something else. Zizek concludes in his interpretation:

In short, the implicit thesis of Blade Runner is that replicants are pure subjects precisely insofar as they testify that every positive, substantial content, inclusive of the most intimate fantasies, is not 'their own' but already implanted. In this precise sense, subject is by definition nostalgic, a subject of loss. Let us recall how, in Blade Runner, Rachel silently starts to cry when Deckard proves to her that she is a replicant. The silent grief over the loss of her 'humanity', the infinite longing to be or to become human again, although she knows this will never happen; or, conversely, the eternal gnawing doubt over whether I am truly human or just an android - it is these very undecided, intermediate states which make me human.14

If we leave aside the question of what this finding means for the Replicants and instead look at what it implies for psychoanalytical theory, we can enumerate a number of consequences. There are a series of propositions which must be supported by Lacanian theory. These are:

- that there is a primacy of negation over positive representation: negation can express something which cannot be told in a direct, positive expression

- that what negation tells is necessarily true

- that (in general) there exist things which can only be represented negatively, by negation

- that (in particular) there exists, represented by negation, a true, empty subjectivity beyond "full", imaginary subjectivity

From the last point follows an important consequence for the Lacanian theory of ideology: the thesis that this empty subjectivity has to be regarded as the cause of ideological effects for which a theory of the imaginary alone cannot account.

This is the argument developed by Lacanian theorists in opposition to Louis Althusser's psychoanalytical theory of ideology. Althusser, it was argued by Mladen Dolar and Slavoj Zizek, linked ideology, by conceptualizing it as a process of interpellation, to the sphere of mere imaginary subjectivity. But to give a full account of the whole domain of ideology, a "beyond of interpellation"15, a second subjectivity, a "subject before subjectivization"16 had to be thought. Since interpellation never seems to succeed totally; the subject seems to remain at a certain distance towards his/ her "meaningful" identity given to him/ her by interpellation, and precisely this "meaningless" remainder should be regarded as a condition of the subject's submission to the "meaningless" command of the ideological rituals and apparatuses.17

Since these consequences of the replicant-reprise of the "cogito" do not only concern androids and problems of other planets but - with regard to the question of subjectivity - address crucial questions of social life and its theory, they seem to merit close examination.18 It seems, furthermore, that a precise answer to the Lacanian theses can be found in Louis Althusser's writings. A certain negativism in Lacan has been criticized by the Spinozist wing of French anti-humanist philosophy: while Deleuze and Guattari have developed their criticism in relation to the concept of the "lack",19 Althusser seems to have done the same with some implications of the Lacanian concept of negation.

Slavoj Zizek also refers to Althusser in his interpretation of "Blade Runner" and uses this reference to support his argument. But it might be possible to develop from this reference an alternative model of the Althusserian position which would not only reestablish a different image of the theory of this widely forgotten philosopher but also render visible the cornerstones of a totally different theory: of negation as well as of empty subjectivity.


(2) Negation, the empty subject and the theory of ideology

The split and the truth of its message

In his analysis of the philosophical mechanisms at work in "Blade Runner", Slavoj Zizek refers to a conceptual figure developed in the theory of the French philosopher Louis Althusser. At first sight it seems that Althusser, with this figure, had described precisely the same logic as is practiced by the replicants. So the comparison would show further support for the Lacanian position on the part of Althusser. Zizek writes: is only when, at the level of the enunciated content, I assume my replicant-status, that, at the level of enunciation, I become a truly human subject. 'I am a replicant' is the statement of the subject in its purest - the same as in Althusser's theory of ideology where the statement 'I am in ideology' is the only way for me to truly avoid the vicious circle of ideology (or the Spinozean version of it: the awareness that nothing can ever escape the grasp of necessity is the only way for us to be truly free).20

It is true, in his essay "Idéologie et appareils idéologiques de l'état" Althusser writes:

... l'idéologie ne dit jamais 'je suis idéologique'. Il faut être hors de l'idéologie, c'est-à-dire dans la connaissance scientifique, pour pouvoir dire : je suis dans l'idéologie (cas tout à fait exceptionnel) ou (cas général) : j'étais dans l'idéologie.21

But it seems that this remark is in a way too short, that it does not fully correspond to Althusser's position on this problem. On one hand, of course, this remark is correct, as far as it says that science does not destroy ideology when it breaks with it. Ideology persists in a conflictual coexistence with the new science. Therefore even the scientist, after breaking with an ideological illusion on the level of his science, cannot fully escape ideology on the level of the rest of his social existence (for example, the very scientist becomes susceptible to an ideology of science, a "spontaneous philosophy"). So science (the scientist) must never say: "I am outside ideology".

Yet on the other hand, Althusser's remark could lead one to a wrong conclusion. It could be concluded (and Zizek's passage seems to suggest it) that the proposition "I am in ideology" were an unquestionable, doubtless mark of science or scientificality - or even the only possible way to achieve scientificality.

However, the Verneinung (the split between the level of the enunciated and the level of enunciation), the negation which characterizes such remarks as "I am in ideology" is not always reliable. On the contrary, there is an ideology which is based precisely on propositions like this; there exists an ideology which consists in saying things like: "I am in ideology".

For Althusser, this structure might even be the basic feature of ideology as such. He has, however, noticed such cases and criticized them. This can be seen for example in his remark on certain anti-intellectual - i. e. vitalist, empiricist and pragmatist - philosophical positions:

Qu'il y ait, dans cette proclamation des titres exaltants de la surabondance de la 'vie' et du 'concret' de la supériorité de l'imagination du monde, et de la verdeur de l'action, sur la pauvreté de la grisaille de la théorie, une sérieuse leçon de modestie intellectuelle à bon entendeur (présomptueux et dogmatique) salut, - nul doute.22

What Althusser examines here is, once again, a negation. Propositions like "My knowledge is abstract" (or "I am in abstraction") are characterized by a split between the level of the enunciated content and the level of its enunciation. This split can be heard by a good ear ("à bon entendeur salut"), capable of "symptomatic reading"23. It can be heard that, on the level of enunciation, the proposition says the contrary. The utterance "My knowledge is abstract" must be understood as saying: "My knowledge is concrete - so concrete that I know if it is abstract".

But to hear this split does not mean in this case to conclude that the speaker must have a position of enunciation outside the limits of his knowledge which are described and regretted on the level of the enunciated content. The enunciation of the proposition "My knowledge is abstract" does not necessarily testify to the fact that the speaker has overcome this very abstraction of his knowledge. The split between the two levels of speech is not identical with a split between two levels of knowledge, with a "coupure épistémologique"24.

As Althusser notices, the split between the two levels of speech in this case only symbolizes such a coupure, it only pretends that the speaker has been able to transgress the abstraction of knowledge he admits. But in this case it is a wrong pretension, an unjustified claim ("présomptueux et dogmatique"). The modesty of the enunciated is not so modest on the level of enunciation; and it is presumptuous, because the position of enunciation to which the enunciated alludes is imaginary.

This means that we can, even on the level of enunciation, tell something other than the truth: somebody who knows about the mechanisms of negation can instrumentalize them as a code of communication. He/ she can use negation to tell a lie.

For example, the proposition "I am a Replicant" would not provide a reliable criterion for recognizing human beings. This criterion would not pass Turing's test (which tries to see if a criterion that we have found for the difference between man and machine can be formalized and implanted into the software of the machine). Also a real replicant can, as a part of his software, be programmed to show the gesture of doubting his human nature.


Negation and cunning negation

As far as psychoanalytical theory is concerned, we have therefore to make a distinction between

1) the question if a proposition like "I am in ideology" is a negation; and

2) the question if what this proposition denies is true.

Only in Freud's special cases of negation ("Es ist nicht die Mutter") the second fact seems to be implied by the first, because the speaker does not know the first, i. e. he does not know that what he says is a negation. To recognize the fact that there is a hidden message is therefore the same as to recognize the hidden message's truth.

Now there seems to be a simple criterion for discerning between doubtless, unconscious negation and its conscious, dubitable use: In unconscious negation (such as "It is not the mother") the subject says, on the level of the enunciated content, something pleasant for him/ her. He/ she fully identifies with this content, and the fact that its enunciation conveys a second message, is extremely unpleasant for the subject. He/ she does not want to have it; he/ she is driven to drown it out precisely by enunciating it.25

In the case of the conscious use of negation the situation is totally different: The subject enunciates a content which is unpleasant for him/ her, often under the form of a self-accusation (for example "I am a Replicant"). He/ she does not identify with this content but with the level of enunciation which is meant to call the content into question. By negation the speaker depicts himself/ herself as something beyond this content and identifies with this "transcendent" position.

The structure of this "cunning" type of negation was also described by Freud. A subject acquainted with some principles of psychoanalytical theory would, for example, avoid saying "It is not the mother" and say instead "I think it is the mother. But no, that cannot be true - otherwise I could not know it." The cunning negator only enunciates the first part and leaves the second sentence up to the listener.26

As can be seen, for psychoanalytical theory negation is a code, a way of producing meaning. This meaning is not necessarily unconscious. Since it is also possible that somebody uses the code of negation consciously to transmit a certain message, the question of truth arises exactly as in every other production of meaning. We could therefore say: Everything that negation says - even what it says on the level of its enunciation - belongs to its enunciated content. Only the fact that it is a negation remains on the level of enunciation. Everything that can be falsified or verified is a part of the constative level of the enunciated - not of the performative level of enunciation, where the question of truth does not play any role.

Thus negation is one way of representation among others. It is not a privileged way of representation. What is expressed by negation can just as well be said in a positive expression.27 And an expression by negation is not more necessarily true than an ordinary, positive expression.


Transgression by explicit immanence

Negation is therefore not an apt mode for representing something which is constitutively absent. Negation cannot be regarded as the only possible testimony of something which can only have a negative status (for example, the status of man, or a position outside ideology, etc.).

For the same reason, negation is not the instrument for the only possible transgression of a totally closed space. It is not a performative way to transgress something which per definitionem cannot be transgressed (the status of a Replicant; the sphere of ideology, the abstraction of knowledge; - i. e. the sphere described on the constative level of the enunciated).

Once again, we could use here Althusser's opposition between (Hegelian) contradiction and (Freudian) overdetermination.28 Negation is overdetermined, it is not contradictory. It solves the problem of how to tell something under the condition that it should not to be told directly. But it does not solve the problem of how to make something true whose truth cannot appear or be told directly.29 Negation represents an absence, but it is not the presence of the absent itself. (The contradiction which appears in negation is a mode of representation, it is not what contradiction in Hegelian tradition is supposed to be: a feature belonging to the "Sache selbst".)

Negation cannot let such a thing appear, and, according to Althusser, such a thing does not exist. This might be explained by a difference between the Althusserian (psychoanalytical, Spinozist) ontolgy - or rather: topology - and the Hegelian one.

The Hegelian solution which Slavoj Zizek proposed for the Replicant-problem can be resumed by the formula: transgression by explicit immanence. This presupposes topologically that the only transgression of certain spaces is a negative transgression; that the only beyond of a closed space is an empty beyond. What limits the positive has, according to this, to be characterized as something negative.

Althusser, on the contrary, in his interpretation of psychoanalytical theory seems to follow the Spinozean principle that something can only be limited by something else which is of the same nature.30 Therefore, for Althusser and Spinoza, the solution of a problem of transgression can never consist only in the "empty gesture" of a negation. If we want to transgress a space we must arrive at another space. The transgression as well as the space where we arrive by this transgression must have a positive nature. (Whereas a space that cannot be transgressed at all, cannot be transgressed by negation either.)


The closed spaces of android and human misery

This can be seen, for example, in Spinoza's critical objection against an attitude which is that of Pascal. Pascal had proposed a (Hegelian) dialectical solution for the problem of human greatness. Since, for Pascal, human misery is a closed space, human greatness can only be achieved and testified negatively. And, as in Hegelianism, this negative gesture is regarded as a mark of distinction between man and nature:

La grandeur de l'homme est grande en ce qu'il se connait misérable. Un arbre ne se connaît pas misérable.

C'est donc être misérable que de [se] connaître misérable; mais c'est être grand que de connaître qu'on est misérable.31

Spinoza seems to reply directly to this in a passage of his Ethics:

He who succeeds in hitting off the weakness of the human mind more eloquently or more acutely than his fellows, is looked upon as a seer.32

For Spinoza, the Pascalian solution is nothing but an example of "presumptuous modesty". Human greatness, which is for Spinoza the same as human freedom, cannot at all be achieved or reliably be testified by its denial. (Nor is this negative gesture, as well as real freedom, a mark of distinction between humanity and nature.) To be free means, for Spinoza, to arrive at a greater power of producing effects which result only from one's own nature. To recognize that we are not free is therefore only useful as a positive knowledge, not as an empty admission without knowledge. It only helps if it means to see that what we considered to be our own effects are in fact not wholly our own - and if this is a first step to produce different effects which really are our own.

The same seems to apply for Althusser. For example, to know that we are in ideology means to be within the space of a certain positive, scientific knowledge - a space also with a positive existence, materialized in a scientific apparatus ("appareil de pensée").33 Therefore we should try a different reading of Althusser's passage in "Ideology and ideological apparatuses...". If Althusser writes:

Il faut être hors de l'idéologie, c'est-à-dire dans la connaissance scientifique, pour pouvoir dire : je suis dans l'idéologie...[,]

this does not mean that everybody who says "I am in ideology" is, by proof of this enunciation, within science. On the contrary, it means that only under a certain condition we are allowed to say that we are in ideology. Only if we are within science we can say such a thing without lying or being presumptuously modest. Only under the condition that we have arrived at the positive space of science we are legitimated to say that we are in ideology. But then this sentence expresses a positive knowledge. It can therefore be followed by other sentences which explain this statement (for example, the sentences in Althusser's essay on ideology). It is not the last and only possible sentence on this topic. And it is not a negation anymore.

With regard to this, the Pascalian gesture of negation has to be seen as an overdetermined gesture in another sense: it is not only overdetermined since it transports two contradictory meanings on its two levels of speech. It is also overdetermined on the level of enunciation itself. Because on this level it pretends a transgression, it signalizes the wish to transgress the closed sphere of human misery. But at the same time it shows that it does not really want to transgress this sphere. It wants to maintain the certainty that there is no real space beyond; it expresses the fear that the space beyond might not be empty.

Therefore Althusser would regard the Pascalian attitude as imaginary: it is an imaginary transgression, and even the wish of transgression within it is imaginary. The dialectical concept of transgression by explicit immanence is a concept of ideological integration. (We might remember here Althusser's remark on Hegel as "a 'theorist' of ideology without knowing it".34)


Religious ideology and the shadow of its doubt

This means that, according to Althusser, ideological integration sometimes works precisely by virtue of this gesture of imaginary transgression. We can be totally integrated by ideology only if ideology itself gives us the means to transgress it in an imaginary way. Therefore, ideology seems sometimes to need a gesture of negation for it to function.35

This is not only the case in the quoted examples of pragmatism, empiricism etc., where the negation (which pretends to criticize the limits of theoretical knowledge) has the role of blocking every positive attempt towards a theoretical concretization. The same can also be seen, for example, in the Kierkegaardian figure of the "true Christian believer". Zizek refers to this figure as follows:

...we, finite mortals, are condemned to 'believe that we believe'; we can never be certain that we actually believe. This position of eternal doubt, this awareness that our belief is forever condemned to remain a hazardous wager, is the only way for us to be true Christian believers: those who go beyond the threshold of uncertainty, preposterously assuming that they really do believe, are not believers at all but arrogant sinners.36

According to Kierkegaard, a true Christian can only be the one who says "I doubt whether I really am a Christian".

In this case, it seems probable that Althusser would completely agree with the result of the Kierkegaardian analysis: negation is necessary in order to be a true Christian (i. e., in Althusserian terms, to be fully subjectivized by Christian ideology). But Althusser's reasons would be completely different from Kierkegaard's.

According to Althusser, to be a true Christian does not work by negation because, as Kierkegaard postulates, such a being could only have a negative existence (an "intermediate state"), only negation being able to testify to this existence - without any possibility of lie or error for this negative testimony.

For Althusser, such a gesture of negation would be, as a pure negation, a lie. A pure negation, or a pure doubt without any positive reason, would only pretend that there exists a reason, a beyond of the closed space of non-Christianity. It would only make up a semblance of an "intermediate state", being in fact nothing but the present state's empty gestures (or, as Hegel would have said, "ein trockenes Versichern").

So, this negation would, at first sight, be only an imaginary transgression of non-Christianity; a presumptuous modesty, necessary for total integration into the closed space of non-authentic Christianity.

But we must not forget that this result includes a basic Christian presupposition: the idea that non-Christianity builds a closed space and that its beyond can only have a negative status; that true Christianity can only be an "intermediate state" and not, as it might appear to non-Christians, an enormous positivity materialized in a powerful apparatus at work in perfectly visible rituals.

For Althusser, the pronouncement of this presupposition in terms of a presumptuously modest doubt, is a crucial feature of (true) Christianity, of Christian ideology as such. Since this presupposition testifies to the basic Christian metaphysical attitude: the devaluation of the positive, in the name of a non-positive viewpoint. The suggestion that behind the utterance "I doubt whether I am a true Christian" there lurks a true Christian, is a lie. But this lie is constitutive of Christianity: you are only a true Christian if you have learned to perform this ritual of negation.37 Therefore this gesture of negation really shows that one is a true Christian: not because what it denies were necessarily true, but because the gesture of negation is real. The importance of the denial does not lie on its constative level; it lies on its performative level. What it says does not have to be true, but it must be said. The denial must be performed as a part of this ideology's customs.

The Christian devaluation of the positive concerns in this case, of course, the positive of Christian ideology itself, e. g. the materiality of its rituals. Because the utterance "I doubt whether I am a true Christian" does not have its Kierkegaardian negation-power if it is spoken by someone who, for example, sits praying in a mosque. Negation can only make a difference between "true" Christianity and something which already looks very much like Christianity, let us call it "machine-Christianity" (or between man and something which looks very much like man, the perfect "homme-machine").38

Negation only works in the case that everything looks as if the speaker were already a true Christian; if he/she participates in the Christian rituals. Then this proposition assumes its distinctive ideological value. It says then: "I look like a Christian and I behave like a Christian. But this is not the reason why I really am a Christian."

What denial says, on its constative level, is wrong. Its "truth" lies in its performative level: performing this denial is itself the "surplus" (over ideology's materiality) which denial pretends to speak about. We could therefore say that the Christian religion must always be structured like René Magritte's well-known painting „La Trahison des Images" („The Betrayal of Images", from 1929) which shows something that looks very much like a pipe and an inscription which says that „This is not a pipe" ("Ceci n'est pas une pipe"). In the case of religion we have something which looks very much like religious belief (going to the church, kneeling down, praying etc.) and an additional remark saying that "this is not it". - And it is really not "it". Since it lacks one thing: precisely this remark.

By metaphysically devaluating the materiality of Christian ideology, negation fulfills the function of "internalizing" this ideology, according to the attempts of internalization (Verinnerlichung) proper to Protestantism and its "purification" of Christianity. But we must probably say that this Protestant attitude is a necessary part of all Christianity, a "supplement" which can never be taken away even from the most orthodox, "machine-like" forms of Catholicism. It marks a consitutive point of Christian ideology, since it is the necessary ideological reversal between the ideology's rituals and the consciousness of the subjects subjected to these rituals. The theoretical misrecognition of the importance of the rituals (accompanied by full practical recognition), expressed by ritual negation, is a crucial feature of this ideology - and maybe characteristic, as Althusser regarded it, for all kinds of ideology.


The zero-degree of interpellation: the subject and its empty double

This seems important also with regard to the question of subjectivity, i. e. to the question whether the split between the two levels of speech is an apt instrument for transgressing the sphere of imaginary subjectivity - towards a "true" subjectivity of the unconscious, a subjectivity beyond subjectivization and interpellation. (The questions which seem to return again and again, troubling Lacanians and Althusserians.) In a footnote to "Tarrying..." Zizek writes:

Therein consists the anti-Althusserian gist of Lacan: subject qua $ is not an effect of interpellation, of the recognition in an ideological call; it rather stands for the very gesture of calling into question the identity conferred on me by way of interpellation.39

For Althusser, precisely this "gesture of calling into question the identity conferred on me by way of interpellation" is a necessary part of interpellation. This gesture is what Althusser calls "effet-sujet"40. It is an imaginary transgression of imaginary subjectivity. It pretends the autonomy of the subject towards the very ideology by which it became subject. This corresponds to the imaginary subject's ideological feeling that it has always-already been a subject - that it has been a subject even before achieving its imaginary subjectivity.

As we have seen, the empty subject is only produced by "cunning", conscious use of negation; the "self-accusation type" of negation where the subject makes his/ her utterance only in order to be identified with the level of its enunciation - i. e. a negation which can lie. By such a negation I, as it were, "throw myself out of the universe of my dubitable ideological identity given to me by my image" and rise above it as a pure gaze. Yet, although apparently nothing but a gaze, this new identity is nevertheless imaginary, not symbolic. It is still an image: since by the enunciation of my negation I testify the fact that I want to be seen in this position of the gaze.

The ideological nature of this feeling, of course, lies in its function of internalizing ideology, metaphysically devaluating the importance which the ideological materiality has - as well for ideology itself, as for the identity of the ideological subjects.

Ideology even has to provide the subjects with such a feature in order to enable them to "transgress" their ideology: it has to interpellate them as something "beyond ideology", "beyond identity"41. This "interpellation beyond interpellation" is a commonplace of numerous ideologies, such as the "Generation X"-movement or French existentialism (ideologies, as we know, which, although allegedly beyond interpellation, identity and materiality of ideology, always possess a very distinctive materiality - i.e. of fashion design and mores, such as frequenting certain bars, coffee-houses or semi-public events); but the same applies for a less programmatic cynical liberalist pragmatism: in this case the absence of identity can itself be perceived as an identity - as such a rigid identity, that it has again to be imaginarily transgressed. The transgression, then, can assume the form of a more colourful identity, of some urban tribalism or of romantic motorcycling as a pasttime, for example. Thus even "full" identity itself can take over the role of the necessary beyond which allows the subjects to live their "effet-sujet", their independence from the "empty" identity which their own ideology seems to confer upon them.

We could say that, analogous to every society's structure which, as Althusser has pointed out, always consists of at least two modes of production,42 the ideological superstructure also always consists of at least two modes of identity. This seems important to me with regard to the reply that Slavoj Zizek has given to my argument (as it was developed in an earlier, private communication). Zizek writes:

In order to provide a Lacanian answer to this criticism, it is necessary to introduce the distinction between subject qua pure void of self-relating negativity ($) and the phantasmic content which fills out this void (the 'stuff of the I', as Lacan puts it). That is to say: the very aim of the psychoanalytic process is, of course, to induce the subject to renounce the 'secret treasure' which forms the kernel of his phantasmic identity [...] However, the subject prior to interpellation-subjectivization is not this imaginary phanstasmic depth which allegedly precedes the process of interpellation, but the very void which remains once the phantasmic space is emptied of its content [...]43

From an Althusserian position, again, I would answer that in ideology we do not only have to do with some phantasmatic or imaginary content (which fills the void of "true subjectivity"); ideology is as well the appearance of a void which seems to be something totally different from any ideological content. Klaus Heinrich has demonstrated this by analyzing two famous "subjects beyond interpellation", two classical "nobodies" or "men without qualities": the cases of Homerian Odysseus (who, as we know, tricks the giant Polyphem by telling him that his name is Nobody) and of Bertolt Brecht's Herrn Keuner (which alludes to German "keiner" = nobody). Heinrich shows that their "non-identity" is precisely an imaginary mode of identity:

The early, heroic nobody-characters [...] could still enjoy their non-liability as a gliding. They opposed, as the subtle beings, the crustaceans, the bourgeois, who seemed obdurate and blocked in their identity. [...] Today's nobody-characters want to be a void: really a nothing. But [...] precisely the void, the negative, is liable.44

Ideology does not have an outside: The void is still an identity, and a "zero-interpellation", an "interpellation beyond interpellation", is still an interpellation. Herein might lie the reason why Althusser, as opposed to Lacan, refused to accept the notion of "true subjectivity" as a theoretical concept.

But if there is a "true subject", then it cannot always be found with the theoretical instrument of the distinction between the level of the enunciated and the level of enunciation. What is hidden on the level of enunciation is sometimes nothing but, again, the very subject - the imaginary subject which we hoped to transgress by leaving the level of the enunciated.

Two consequences could be drawn from this for a psychoanalytical theory of ideology: first, that theory must try not to share the self-understanding of its object45 - theory should refrain from believing in the forms of ideology's imaginary self-transgression (which produce illusionary subject-positions beyond ideology). And, second: any primacy of negation over positive representation must be regarded as one of the suggestions of ideology's self-understanding. To evade this suggestion means to follow Louis Althusser in his Spinozist serenity: to regard the object strictly as a theoretical object - as a 'plan d'immanence', a wholly positive whole.


1. This article is based on a letter to Slavoj Zizek dating from March 26, 1995. Slavoj Zizek referred to this letter in his book "The Indivisible Remainder. An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters", London/ New York: Verso, p. 165ff.
2.Cf. Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying with the Negative. Kant, Hegel and the Critique of Ideology, Durham: Duke Univ. Press 1993, p. 9ff.
3. The question of whether a proof of the existence of one's subjectivity (which Descartes produces) is at the same time a proof of one's human nature (which the replicants strive for) will be left aside here. The common denominator of the two questions is the search for something that lies beyond dubitable phenomenality.
4. Zizek, Tarrying..., p. 40.
5.Cf. J. Lacan, Le Séminaire, Livre XI: Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse, Paris 1964, p. 44.
6. Zizek, Tarrying..., p. 40.
7.Cf. J. Lacan, Écrits, Paris 1966, p. 517.
8. Cf. J. Lacan, Le Séminaire, Livre XI..., p. 127ff.
9. Cf. J. Lacan, Écrits, p. 834.
10. Zizek, Tarrying..., p. 41.
11. Cf. S. Freud, Die Verneinung, in: Studienausgabe, vol. III, Frankfurt: Fischer 1975, p. 373.
12. By interpreting the problem of negation (for example in the case of the famous "ne explétif" - cf. J. Lacan, Écrits, Paris 1966, p. 800) in terms of "enunciated/ enunciation", Jacques Lacan has contributed an important clarification to psychoanalytical theory. Because Freud's own words (especially his use of the term "Verneinungssymbol" - cf. Freud, Die Verneinung..., p. 374) could suggest that his theory relied on the old Aristotelian distinction between positive and negative judgements ("kataphasis" and "apophasis", cf. Aristoteles, De Interpretatione, 5f.). A negation would, according to this reading, be discernable by a word like "not". But there are a lot of negations which do not contain a "not". And there are, by the same token, a lot of propositions which, although containing a "not", are not negations.
Lacan's new conceptualization made clear that the key feature of negation had to be found elsewhere: in the split between the two levels of speech.
Precisely the same position had been developed by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his considerations "On Certainty": For example, if somebody uttered to a friend during their conversation a proposition like "I have all the time known that you are N. N.", this proposition, although its content could not be objected to, would become (on the level of enunciation) extremely unclear: it would not be understandable why it was uttered at all. The "background" of the message was "missing", as Wittgenstein noted: it was not clear why the situation should make such an utterance necessary. Assuring the friend of something which was beyond any possible doubt immediately signalized the contrary: that there existed some reason for such a doubt, a necessity for such an assurance. The indubitable foreground of the message negated the indubitability of its background. Therefore in Wittgenstein's understanding, doubting, as well as affirming certainty, was an operation between these two levels of speech, "foreground" and "background", or, in Lacan's terms, between the level of the enunciated and that of enunciation. (cf. L. Wittgenstein, Über Gewißheit, §§ 461, 464, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1970, p. 120)
For Wittgenstein, as for Lacan, it was clear that if there was negation involved, it had to be found in the relationship between these two levels. Therefore the proposition itself could be entirely positive, without any "no" or "not". Negation could have the form of propositions like "I know that this is a hand" or "I knew all the time that you are N. N."
The fact that Freud did not rely on the Aristotelian concept of negation himself, can be seen "à l'état pratique" in his analysis of various forms of negation at work in paranoia (cf. S. Freud, Psychoanalytische Bemerkungen über einen autobiographisch beschriebenen Fall von Paranoia, Studienausgabe Bd. VIII, p. 188): There he shows that a negation can have a purely positive form like "He hates me" (instead of "I hate him") or "She loves that man" (instead of "I love him").
The logical criticism of the Aristotelian concept of negation had been performed, only a few years before Freud's study "Die Verneinung", by G. Frege (Die Verneinung, in (id.) Logische Untersuchungen, Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht 1966, p.54-71) and Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his "tractatus logico-philosophicus" (proposition 4.0621).
13.The role of answers without questions in theoretical discourses has specifically been investigated by Louis Althusser in his theory of "symptomatic reading". Althusser regarded a certain type of these answers as the "negation", the tacit presence, of a new theoretical problematic within an old theoretical field (Cf. L. Althusser, Lire le Capital, Paris 1968, vol. I, p. 27f.). I have elaborated on this point that marks a new invention made by Althusser in breaking with a certain heritage of Bachelardian epistemology, in my book "Althusser - The Silence in the Text", Munich: W. Fink Verlag, 1997.
14.Zizek, Tarrying..., p. 41.
15.Ml. Dolar, Beyond Interpellation, in: Qui parle, Berkeley: Univ. of California press, vol. 6, number 2, spring/ summer 1993, pp. 75-96 (Jenseits der Anrufung, in: Gestalten der Autorität, Seminar der Laibacher Lacan-Schule, Wien 1991, p. 9-25).
16.Cf. Sl. Zizek, Das Subjekt vor der Subjektwerdung, in: kulturrevolution, nr. 20, dez. 1988, p. 36-37; The Sublime Object of Ideology, London/ New York: Verso 1987, p.43-47.
17.Cf. Sl. Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, London/ New York: Verso 1987, p.43: "...this leftover, far from hindering the full submission of the subject to the ideological command, is the very condition of it: it is precisely this non-integrated surplus of senseless traumatism which confers on the Law its unconditional authority..."
18. Of course, the question of negation is also crucial for several other philosophical fields. It appears for example within esthetics, where the themes of "negative representation" and the "sublime" have been reintroduced into discussion recently by J.-F. Lyotard.
19. Cf. G. Deleuze/ F. Guattari, L'Anti-Oedipe, Paris: Minuit 1972.
20. Sl. Zizek, Tarrying..., p.41.
21.L. Althusser, Idéologie et appareils idéologiques d'Etat, in: (id.) Positions, Paris: Editions sociales 1976, p. 114.
22. L. Althusser (et al.), Lire le Capital, Paris 1968, vol. I, p. 148.
23. For this Althusserian concept see L. Althusser, Lire le Capital..., vol. I, p. 28.
24. Cf. L. Althusser, Lire le Capital, vol. I, p. 90; (id.) Pour Marx, Paris: Éd. la Découverte 1986, p. 24f.; E. Balibar, Le concept de <coupure épistémologique> de Gaston Bachelard à Louis Althusser, in Écrits pour Althusser, Paris: Éd. la Découverte 1991, p. 9-57.
25. This applies also to the examples of "absolute certainty" given by G. E. Moore: Wittgenstein's discovery, namely that the utterance of a pleasant certainty like "I know that this is my hand" has to be read as a negation, is hardly pleasant for Moore.
26.Freud would probably have claimed that, contrary to ordinary negations, negations of this type on the level of their enunciated content always tell the truth: they try to "lie by telling the truth". Analogous to the "Lemberg-Krakau-joke" (cf. S. Freud, Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewußten, Studienausgabe, Bd. IV, p. 109), his answer might have been: "If you tell me it is the mother, you want me to believe that it is somebody else. But now I know that it is the mother. So why do you lie?" ("If you tell me you are a Replicant... etc."). Also Lacan's solution of the liar-paradox was to interpret it as a "cunning" negation ("If you tell me you lie..."), cf. Lacan, Le Séminaire, Livre XI..., p. 127ff.
27.Negation is a matter of censorship. This means that something is not permitted to be expressed directly, on the level of the enunciated, without using the split between the two levels as a sign. But this prohibition implies that a positive expression is possible. Censorship does not forbid the impossible.
28. Cf. L. Althusser, Pour Marx..., p. 85ff.
29. The idea of such a negation, however, describes an interesting form of a performative utterance: Different from ordinary performative utterances like "I thank you", "You are husband and wife" etc. which make true what they speak of, a performative utterance by negation would make true what it does not speak of.
30. Cf. Spinoza, Ethics, part I, def. 2.
31. Bl. Pascal, Pensées, No. 255 (éd. Chevalier), Paris 1965.
32. B. de Spinoza, Ethics, part III, introduction, in: On the Improvement of the Understanding, The Ethics, Correspondence, New York: Dover Publications, n. d. p. 128.
33.Cf. L. Althusser, Lire le Capital..., p. 47. - The reason why this space, although positive, cannot limit the positive space of ideology is that they belong to different types of positivity which produce different specific effects. Ideology is not a lie or an error - which would be the precise opposite of scientific truth (and disappear when it arises). There is no common space which includes the two of them. A limitation of theoretical ideology only takes place within the space of science.
34. Cf. L. Althusser, Idéologie..., p. 120, note 22.
35.The thesis that "ideology does not have an outside" (cf. Althusser, Idéologie..., p. 115) should be understood as an explanation of this fact: this thesis should not be read as an admittance that ideology can only be transgressed negatively; on the contrary, it should be read in the following sense: negation (such as "I am in ideology") is an integral part of ideology, since it produces an imaginary outside of ideology. Negation is the imaginary way out which leads us right back into ideology.
36. Zizek, Tarrying..., p.247, n.53.
37. I saw this ritual very clearly when, shortly after the so-called "reunification" between West and East Germany, dissident intellectuals from the former GDR were invited by Austrian Television to discuss guilt and heroism at the time under "Stasi" surveillance. Members of Protestant dissident groups especially astonished and irritated the Austrian leading the discussion when, instead of attacking the present representatives of the former repressive state's apparatuses, they repeatedly banged their hands against their chests, causing very loud noises on the hidden television-microphones, and said: "Everyone of us is so guilty". This extreme (Protestant as well as suppression-specific) langugage-game of defeating each other by humiliating oneself in presumptions of modesty was surprising and quite difficult to understand for a spectator not acquainted with the situation.
38. Negation only "christianizes" the Christians (which might remind us of Pascal's remark on the proofs of God: they only convince the already convinced). The same applies for the replicant-problem: The proposition "I doubt whether I am a human being" would have nothing but a comical effect if it were uttered, for example, by the character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator I", after being transformed into a robot-like machine.
39. Zizek, Tarrying..., p.254, n.39.
40.Cf. L. Althusser, Écrits sur la psychanalyse, Paris 1993, p. 131. - To give a very rough model we could say that in Althusser's theory of ideology there are only two "spheres": the social structure and the imaginary of the subjects' self-understanding. These two spheres can be identified with the "symbolic" and the "imaginary" in Lacan. But Lacan posits a third sphere: the Real (with a series of concepts belonging to this sphere, such as the lack of the Other, the subject of the signifier, the phantasmatic etc.). The reason why, for Althusser, there is no choice between these two paradigms and why he refuses to accept the position of a third sphere seems to be the fact that with this notion, science would begin affirming the subject's imaginary self-understanding (for example, it would regard the subject's imaginary distance towards its identity as a real distance). Science, then, becomes susceptible to the suspicion that it might be nothing but a "rationalization" (in the Freudian sense) of ideology. And as long as this suspicion can be maintained, there is no possibility for truth in science's propositions. The field is not open, it is conflict-ridden - in other words: in this situation, within science, the philosophical, polemical aspect dominates over the scientific aspect. Science cannot simply "say what it wants" (for example pose a new hypothesis). As long as "the stick is bent" by ideology, science must direct all its efforts at bending it back. (Cf. L. Althusser, Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists, London/ New York: Verso 1990, p. 210)
41. The effect of such an interpellation of the subject as a pure void could be called a "screen-psychosis". This apparently "psychotic" layer covers the subject's ordinary, "full" identity - which, as we know, is always "neurotic", i. e. the result of an over-identification.
42. Cf. L. Althusser, Écrits philosophiques et politiques, vol. II, Paris 1995, p. 421.
43. Cf. Sl. Zizek, The Indivisible Remainder..., p. 166.
44. Kl. Heinrich, Versuch über die Schwierigkeit nein zu sagen, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1964, p. 56 (my translation, R. P.)
45. Cf. L. Althusser, Écrits sur la psychanalyse..., p. 234: "Règle d'or du matérialisme : ne pas juger de l'être par sa conscience de soi !"