Elements of Epistemology
Jacques-Alain Miller

Author’s Bio

This is the last of three lectures which I have been invited to deliver. In my first lecture here I introduced the work and style of Jacques Lacan, and although time constraints did not allow me to go beyond half of what I had planned to tell you, I think I was able to give an idea of the theoretical principles whose uninterrupted development started more than thirty years ago.

In my second lecture I attempted to use the example of the piropo or flirtatious message, which I improvised, as a paradigm, in order to transmit some truths which are fundamental and yet unrecognized about language; in particular, about the function of language in sexual separation, the fading of the reference, the equivocation of language (langue), the misunderstanding of communication.

I am going to dedicate this third lecture to the question of science, and more precisely to respond, as far as I am able, to Professor Cardenas, to whose invitation I owe my presence here (I have already thanked him, and I now thank him again), and whose reaction, after my last exposition, was to say that, in the way in which I presented it, the Lacanian theory appeared to conclude in the impossibility of knowledge. Fair enough. After all, the impossibility of knowledge does not scare me, since knowledge is not science. The difference between knowledge and science appears to me to be fundamental in Lacan’s epistemology. and acceptable well beyond the strict field of psychoanalysis.

For greater convenience, I shall divide this lecture into ten points which I shall cover successively. This means that this lecture will have a style and a tone different to the previous one.

I. One can postulate that throughout the history of thought the theory of knowledge has always upheld the ideal, which has been formulated in various ways, of the union of subject and object. More precisely, the classical theory of knowledge assumes a co-naturality of subject and object, a pro-established harmony between, the subject who knows and the object known. The theory of knowledge has always commented on the miracle of the adequation of knowledge, reserving a place for the-thing-in-itself which, in Kant’s terms, would be unknowable.

From its beginnings, science has been distinguished from knowledge, if only because the former constructs its object. This principle, let it be understood, is not specifically Lacanian. It is also the principle of Bachelard, for example, for whom the object and the scientific instrument are an incarnated theory – that is his expression. I point out that the same thing happens with the Freudian unconscious: in so far as this is apprehended in the novel device of Freud’s practice, it also realizes a theory.

Which theory? This is the whole question. This is a first and brief point which is open to discussion, and I should say that it is not specifically Lacanian.

II. The second point is more precise. It is pertinent to notice that all knowledge is fundamentally illusory and mythical, in so far as what it does is to comment on the “sexual proportion,” a term with which David Mauri has very appropriately translated the French expression rapport sexuel used by Lacan. All theory of knowledge has sexual connotations. You can take as an example Aristotle’s complementarity between form and matter. You can also think of that very elaborate form of knowledge, ancient Chinese astrology, which is a whole discourse about the male and the female and which organizes not only the gods but also the entire society. These are examples that Lacan considers in his seminar The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis. Similarly, one can recall the theory of phlogiston, so compelling and present during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before the emergence of scientific chemistry. I would say since I cannot expose all the historical examples, that knowledge, in so far as it is distinguished from science, sings indefinitely the imaginary wedding of the male and the female principles. I believe it would not be an abusive generalization to state that all the “primitive forms” of knowledge are erotic. In the last analysis, they even get mixed up with the sexual techniques’. That is why Lacan’s thesis that The woman does not exist – which, in the way I presented it, appeared to be somehow abrupt, astonishing – is certainly a fundamental thesis for epistemology as well. Since the object, which in the theory of knowledge is meant to be complementary to the subject, represents also a way of taming the woman. Science – and by science I mean what was born as mathematical physics in the seventeenth century, and also mathematics proper, born well before that time. the gap between the birth of mathematics and the birth of mathematical physics being a big problem of the history of sciences – science, then, in this strict sense, assumes on the contrary that there is no co-naturality between subject and object, that there is no aesthesia of the opposite sex, that there is no natural sexual tropism. This is, furthermore, demonstrated by that structure which is fundamental to psychoanalysis and which introduced Freud to his practice, that is to say, hysteria. It is certainly one of the most surprising theses of Lacan’s epistemology – which I may not have enough time to develop here – that the structure of scientific discourse is not without relation with the structure of the discourse of hysteria. In this respect, Lacan’s proposition that there is no sexual rapport (or ratio) may be considered as a sort of secret condition for the emergence of the discourse of science. In a certain way, the men who developed the discourse of science in the seventeenth century must have posed the proposition that there is no sexual rapport. Those who are familiar with the texts from the Renaissance, for example, and the texts which have been preserved from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries produced by astrologists and philosophers, know about that evident and sudden break in style and in the very approach to problems. One could say, in this sense, that the scientific approach assumes a de-sexualization of the view of the world, and to use a philosophical expression, a de-sexualization of being in the world. Psychoanalysis is not at all a pan-sexualism. Pan-sexualism is, for example, the theory of Schopenhauer, which places life at its start; or, more precisely, which places at its start the sexual instinct, which would animate the entire nature as well as all human creations. Freud, awkwardly perhaps, but in a very significant manner, introduced the paradoxical term of death instinct, and he discovered, through the angle of hysteria, that the other sex is the Other sex, written with the big 0 of exteriority. I restrict myself to mere allusions to the works of epistemologists. Those who know such works will be able to judge the pertinency of this summary.

III. One can ask what it is that generates the pan-sexualist illusion. It seems to me that this illusion, which falls precisely with the emergence of the discourse of science, but not before, is, in this connection, something recent. What gives birth to the pan-sexualist illusion is that all signification, being imaginary, is fundamentally sexual. All which is said and which makes sense always reveals that, in the end, it aims at a unique signification that occupies the place of reference – reference which does not exist in natural language, in the maternal tongue, in vulgar language; and this signification, which occupies the place of the reference which is lacking, is fundamentally phallic. This is what confers interest and value on that very ancient exercise of discourse called comedy, which has always consisted in making one laugh while revealing the imaginary object which all discourses surround and at which they aim, namely, the phallus. There is a paper by Lacan in this respect which he delivered in Germany in the 1950s, entitled Die Bedeutung des Phallus (The signification of the phallus). Indeed, it is necessary to understand that the phallus is the fundamental Bedeutung or signification. This idea may appear to be somehow excessive; but not if one considers that for instance Frege, who is at the origins of mathematical logic, proposed the theory that all that is said can be classified in two ways: first the expressions which have the true as reference and then those expressions which have the false as reference. He imagined that language has everyday objects as reference. Now then, the simplification of the formulation provided by Lacan states that the sole reference is the signification of the phallus. And there is a discourse for this malediction, which could well be called a benediction. In any case, there is a law of diction, according to which the phallus is always there; it always reveals itself in a pertinent way in the lapsus or in the joke. One could say: “Look for the phallus, it is never very distant. “ There is, however, a discourse which escapes this law of diction, and that is the discourse of science. But this is precisely, and I stress this point, because this discourse constitutes itself only from the moment of the extinction of signification, from the construction of systematic networks of elements which are in themselves. This is the thesis which can be discussed, and which does not require a detailed knowledge of the Lacanian phraseology: science supposes the extinction of signification. It is a mistake to believe that measurement is constitutive of science. Mathematization does not mean measurement. Evidence of this is to be found for instance in topology. Topology is a geometry without measurement where there is no question of distances, where only the schematic network of the signifier supports the objects. These objects do not have any consistency; they do not possess any substance other than the network of signifiers itself. Evidently, at the beginnings of topology objects were represented; for example, that singular object called the Moebius strip was represented. It is possible to construct this object before one’s eyes: one takes a ribbon, and instead of joining its ends to form a cylinder, one joins its ends after making a twist through 180 degrees. This object is obviously curious: if one slides a finger on its edge, the finger appears on the other side of the ribbon, without having passed through any frontier. In the case of a cylinder, the finger remains always on the same side; there are two sides: a back and a front. With the Moebius strip one can, without interruption, move from the back to the front. It is a very singular object which had to wait until 1860 to be discovered by the mathematician Moebius. This is rather extraordinary, one wonders why this simple, small operation could not be performed before that date. This is the first topological object which Lacan has utilized to explain that one should not be contented with the thought-that things always have a front and a back, that the unconscious is at the bottom and language is at the surface. There is, on the contrary, a relation of Moebius strip which makes it possible that correlation and continuity between the right side out and the reverse become conceivable in a scientific manner. In this respect, Lacan has taken advantage of these topological objects derived from scientific discourse in order to structure the analytic experience. One should not believe that because in the analytic experience one is faced with phenomena which appear to be paradoxical from the point of view of common sense it is impossible to analyze them scientifically. That what is in the exterior is at the same time in the interior is not simply a witticism. For example, there is an object called a Klein bottle, which was invented by the mathematician Felix Klein soon after the invention of Moebius’ strip. The Klein bottle materializes, mathematically, a relationship between inside and outside which places the outside, if I may use the expression, inside the outside. I would need more time to give you a’ summary of the works by Lacan which located the main terms of the analytic discourse in topological figures. I should say that this is only the ABC of topology, since these objects can be designed. You can have a Moebius strip in front of your eyes. You can have a Klein bottle in front of your eyes, in three dimensions, only in an approximate form; but it can still be drawn. Then, with algebraic topology, the objects can no longer be drawn: what is called an object is a pure creation of mathematical discourse.

Therefore, we should not take as a criterion of science what experimental science has believed it can define as scientific in its own case. I must tell you that all that we accept as scientific disciplines in the schools of humanities, that is sociology, psychology, medicine, is very often a joke in the eyes of a mathematician or a physicist. I say this only to make it clear that the concept of science is more complex than simply trying to be objective. As Hamlet has it:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

The fate of science is tied to formalization, not to measurement. It is tied to the number in so far as the number represents in an enigmatic way the presence of the signifier in the real. I shall return to this point later. Lacan represents an attempt to formalize the structure which supports the phenomenology of the analytic experience. It is evident that this is a complex structure, since the phenomena which occur in the analytic experience induce, in a first approach, the feeling that they cannot be structured. Yet metaphor can be structured; metonymy can be structured; equivocation can be structured; the function of the Other in the determination of sense can be structured. This is, in a sense, an amazing feat. The feat consists in grasping, with the discourse of science, a Held that science was prepared to leave to obscurantism, that is to say, to leave as the refuge of fantasies of sexual knowledge.

This is why I was able to say, in my first lecture, that Lacan’s teaching was a critical and epistemological teaching, opposed to all obscurantist discourses which have found refuge, in the era of science, in the psychotherapeutic game.

IV. Once again, I am going to formulate a thesis which in my opinion has consistency outside the Lacanian phraseology, and which I submit for the consideration of teachers and students who are not specialists in Lacan.

Science assumes the disjunction of the symbolic and the imaginary, of the signifier and the image. Lacan has often commented on the works of Alexandre Koyré, one of the greatest French epistemologists, on Galileo, Kepler and Newton. Professor Cadenas told me that science is something which gives birth, for instance, to the equation of gravitation. This is also the example that Lacan uses as a model. But the emergence of the key equations of gravitation theory required – Lacan, on the basis of Koyré’s studies, points this out – the disappearance of all the imaginary values attributed to the movements of the stars. It required, according to Lacan’s expression, the extermination of all imaginary symbolism from heaven. What was. at bottom, the “epistemological obstacle” – to use Bachelard’s now famous expression – which opposed a barrier to the formulation of the equations of Newton’s theory? Let us consider Kepler’s example. Kepler could still think that. given the eminent dignity of the stars and their superior value, the orbits of planets should have a perfect form. Given that requirement of perfection, the movement of planets could not possibly be elliptical, but circular. This imaginary theory assumed that the circle, is more perfect than the ellipse; hence the requirement, I would say, of an aesthetic and imaginary character, that the movement of the planets be circular. Newton’s equation could only be formulated from the moment when there was a renunciation of the attribution of any imaginary signification to heaven; from the moment when thinking of the dignity of the planets ceased; when there was a renunciation of the requirement of perfection and one could be contented with those small symbols which can be written on a sheet of paper and which are valid for the entire creation.

In this sense, scientific theory has demanded. an adherence to the signifier in so far as this is separated from all imaginary signification is amusing that this did not prevent Newton from scrutinizing The Book of Daniel and The Apocalypse of John, in an attempt to decipher in the sacred text the future of creation and God’s plan. As with many other attempts at that moment of birth of scientific discourse. Newton could on the one hand exterminate the celestial signification, and on the other he looked for it, as a cabalist, by scrutinizing the biblical text. This is something which is not very well known. It is not to be found in Koyré. but in Lacan, who read Newton’s text on The Book of Daniel. Lacan has a copy of the edition of that time. It happened, then, as if signification, which had been excluded from heaven, found refuge in the sacred text. Newton is not, in this connection, the man one usually thinks he is. Someone wrote a beautiful article on Newton. He was a rather extraordinary scholar, and not simply an economist: Lord Keynes, John Maynard Keynes, who was very interested in Newton. Soon after the war he wrote an article in which he called Newton the last of the astrologists. That was the paradox which existed at the origins of the discourse of science: simultaneously with his construction of mathematical physics, Newton was passionately fond of astrology. A thesis published by MIT in 1975 or 1976 has revealed a number of papers by Newton concerning his research on physics. This presents to us Newton the individual as crossed by the epistemological cut. This is a remark aimed at avoiding any confusion between the individual and the subject of science, in so far as the latter is tied up with the discourse of science.

V. You must know Pascal’s sentence, which irritated Paul Valéry so much: “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.” Valéry was bothered by this sentence; he considered it to be a beautiful verse, but he thought it was rather melodramatic. Pascal was also one of those traversed by the epistemological cut. I would say something different to what Valéry said. Pascal’s sentence on the silence of the infinite spaces reveals a very modern affect, since heavens, the creation, were not at all mute before the advent of science. On the contrary, (he spaces, heavens, the creation, the earth I sung the glory of God and the grandeur of His plan. It is precisely the discourse of science, since the emergence of mathematical physics, that makes the world become silent. Lacan sums up this proposition, which I believe is unquestionable, by saying that science assumes that there exists in the world the signifier which means nothing – and for nobody. That the signifier can be found in the world, a signifier which is organized and which responds to laws, but which is not linked with a subject who would express himself through it—this is an entirely modem and scientific idea. The signifier may exist independently of a subject who expresses himself through its mediation. This is a signifier separated from its signification; a signifier without intention. The mathematization of physics answers to this requirement. But the Freudian invention of the unconscious also responds to it: the signifier exists independently of the consciousness that the subject might have of it or its expression. It is rather the subject who is the effect of the functioning of signifying laws. This is why Lacan says, and history seems to confirm it, that psychoanalysis was not possible before the advent of the discourse of science.

The scientific context where the Freudian discovery was born was very significant. Freud was the disciple of Brücke and Helmholtz, German scientists who did not want to know anything but the discourse of science. Freud himself remained faithful to that inspiration for the rest of his days. In this sense, psychoanalysis can be considered as the manifestation of the positive spirit of science in a domain which has been specially resistant to the conceptual grasp of science. In a way, this has always been known. One cannot confuse Freud and Jung. If Jung broke with Freud – and, incidentally. it cost him three years of serious depression, apart from all the vicissitudes of history – it was because he returned, with his book The Transformation of Libido, to what in ancient times was called the soul of the world. This is an old theory which has continued to be present in the history of thought, and which treats nature in its entirety as a being. It is a fundamental intuition which German romanticism, for example, developed fully: it found a new youth with the Naturphilosophie and even in our days something of the same order has made Teilhard de Chardin fashionable. There have always been, and specially in the era of science, people who search for what they call a complement of soul in these forms of knowledge (savoirs) which are not scientific and yet are knowledge, that is to say, are organized. The soul of the world: this is precisely what the discourse of science has put aside; this is a movement which in history is incarnated by Descartes. Through this movement the scientific spirit separated from the spirit, which should be called obscurantist, of the Renaissance. The omega of Father Teilhard de Chardin was the grand signified which was supposed to arrange the whole of human history. Furthermore, you must know as I do the part of the theology which still remains in Marxism-Leninism. The separation between Bossuet and Marx has not been completely achieved.

VI. With the discourse of science, God ceases to speak. He is silent, even hidden, as Goldmann said when discussing Racine’s tragedies in The Hidden God. He is silent and hidden and he calculates, as somebody who is also at the emergence of the discourse of science, Leibniz puts it. Koyré and Kojève have analyzed the relation between science and Judaeo-Christian monotheism. Their thesis is that the discourse of science was only possible in a religious context, where something totally new and singular was postulated: the creation of the world ex nihilo by a divine grand Other. The creation ex nihilo constructed by the discourse of religion permitted to trust the natural experience, since through the natural experience one can find the traces of a logical creation. This is why science is not. perhaps, as atheist as is generally believed. On the other hand, in the discourse of science, the signifier means nothing within nature; on the other hand, the signifier is there, in nature, in order to organize according to laws. This is why science is always linked with the idea that there is already knowledge (un savoir) in the real: an articulated network of signifiers which function in the real independently of the knowledge that we may have of it. Once again, the history of science teaches us something, this time in connection with Newton. Cartesians were scandalised by Newton. They considered that Newton represented a return to obscurantism, since – and this is something that Lacan as epistemologist has underlined – they wondered how was it possible that the planets knew Newton’s laws of gravitation. How could the planets obey those laws? This constituted a return to the hidden qualities which Descartes has dismissed. In this respect, Newton says that he did not forge hypotheses that would have only fictional existence. With his small signifying articulation, he verifies that they function in the real. Many things are verified like that, which after all there is no need to comprehend, and which evidently place God in the horizon of science. One can verify, for example, that certain plants arrange their leaves according to the series of Fibonacci, which is a regular order of numbers in a series discovered in the thirteenth century. Do plants know mathematics? All that mathematical physics teaches us is the verification that there is a knowledge (savoir) which functions in the real. In this sense, science assumes God in two forms. In the first place, it assumes God as Descartes recognised him, as the guarantor of truth, that is to say, as an element which does not deceive. There is a very precise demonstration by Descartes in this respect. As God is perfect, it would constitute an infraction to his perfection that he lied; therefore, and although this is a limit to his power. God cannot lie. Not being able to lie does not constitute an impotence, but, on the contrary, an excellence of power. This conviction about an element which does not deceive is completely decisive in science. Avicenna said something similar: “God is shrewd, but He is honest.”

The idea of God’s honesty is not simply a joke of Avicenna’s, and although it is believed that one does not believe in God, perhaps the belief in God nevertheless persists. This is, besides, what Lacan said one day in his seminar, where there were approximately four times the number of people present here: that he was certain that there was not one person in the audience who in fact did not believe in God. In God as the element which does not deceive. In the beginning, that had the appearance of an act of faith, and the philosophical elaboration of divine perfection was an essential component of the discourse of science. One should not think that philosophy consists simply of stories floating in the air. Philosophy has had a decisive importance in the clarification of the discourse of science. This concerns the first aspect of God which I have evoked: God as the guarantor of truth; God who does not deceive.

There is a second aspect, which refers to God as supposed subject of knowing. This is something against which there is no possible defence. When there is a signifying intention which assumes a concrete form and develops, one cannot defend oneself against the idea that that signifying intention has always been there. This is why we frequently have difficulties in apprehending past epochs or different principles of thought, since the categories within which we are captured often appear to us to be so valid that we believe that they have always existed. But, for example, there is nothing to prove that Plato had at all the sense of I (le sentiment du moi) that we have since the emergence of the discourse of science. There is nothing to confirm the view that the idea that we may have of sexual enjoyment (jouissance) is the same that the Epicureans and the Stoics had. The same thing happens with scientific inventions. I shall consider an example which is more simple: that of Cantor, who invented the uncountable infinite. He developed this invention in mathematics, not through experimentation or measurement. He invented it, undoubtedly, in a subjective experience for which he paid, one could say, with his reason. It is known that Cantor had a number of admissions to psychiatric clinics. What was the source of Cantor’s references when he invented the uncountable infinite? This is not to be found in a manual of mathematics, but it is mentioned in the works of Bourbaki on the history of mathematics. Those references are contained in the works and letters of Cantor. Cantor looked for references in theology. There is, as well as his mathematics, a theology of Cantor. For him the uncountable infinite and set theory were means of approaching God. He thought that at the moment of his invention of the uncountable infinite he was God’s administrative employee.

Cantor’s abuses are of little interest to us. There is. however, a natural movement which consists in projecting a signifying invention onto a supposed subject of knowing. It has obviously become more and more true, and a real thing for us. Cantor’s uncountable infinite is more true now than at the moment when Cantor invented it. Now it has been grasped, absorbed and developed by the discourse of mathematics. Developments like this have always required, obviously, the consensus of the community of mathematicians. It is apparent that in their case the function of transmission is essential. It is regrettable that instead of conceiving of itself according to the model of the community of scientists, the community of psychoanalysts conceive of itself as an ecclesiastical community. This has been to a great extent responsible for the delay in the diffusion of the positive spirit of science in psychoanalysis, such as Lacan has developed it after Freud.

It is worthwhile to consider Cantor’s scientific invention again. You may know the way in which Cantor demonstrates the existence of the uncountable infinite. He starts off by building a chart which, by hypothesis, would comprise all numbers between 0 and 1. Then, following what is known as Cantor’s diagonal method, he changes the symbol which appears in the place corresponding to each number of the diagonal in his chart. He reverses each of the symbols of the diagonal chain. He thus demonstrates that, each of the lines being infinite, the diagonal number cannot appear in the list, and that, in the mathematical sense, there exists an infinite as uncountable, as not being in the list of numbers. This is the paradigm of the mathematical real: the real constructed on the basis of a purely signifying experience. It is a real which emerges from the impossible, determined by a network of signifiers; it arises as a form of impasse in formalization; it is a sort of residue of the signifying operation. I hope that through this example, which obviously assumes some knowledge of mathematics, you grasp the sense of Lacan’s apparently paradoxical proposition: “The real is the impossible.”

When I say that this example requires some knowledge of mathematics, I mean that in fact it can be explained on the blackboard in half an hour, even to people who know nothing of mathematics. I have not talked about this example to make you think that it is something very complex: it is, indeed the ABC of the signifier.

VII. Descartes developed what one could call the subject of science. We know that the emergence of the Cartesian subject, the subject who says “I think, I am,” constitutes a cut in the history of ideas. This cut has been identified as such, at any rate, in the history of philosophy. It is an error to think that the Cartesian cogito establishes the identity I=I. The Cartesian cogito is something different to the ego as function of synthesis which psychologists test It is an abuse to extend the specific identity of the Cartesian cogito to the whole psychical sphere – psychical acts, movements and representations. The Cartesian cogito is, at the time of its emergence, correlative of a very distinct moment. Lacan, following the Cartesian text very closely, and in a way which is not contradictory with the most rigorous reading of The Meditations so far, that of the philosopher Martial Guéroult, deciphered the first Meditation in this direction. You may know, even if it is only from having heard its being mentioned, about the function of the hyperbolic doubt in Descartes. This function is nothing else than the emptying of the universe of representations, of everything which is imaginary. The cogito in its identity only emerges as the ineradicable residue of this operation of emptying. It we follow Lacan’s witticism in this connection, the evidence is of an emptied subject (sujet évidé) who does not exist at all as a sphere which would contain lots of representations, qualities and a diversity of properties, but as a simple, vanishing jlot. Descartes says: “I am, I think” – but for how-long? I am only during the instant when I think.

This is a subject who at the moment of his emergence is not a substance at all; on the contrary, he is an entirely desubstantialised subject, who is not a soul in any way, who is not in relation with any nature; a subject for whom all natural adherences have been undone. This subject who has broken with all those adherences and with all signification apart from that punctual and vanishing residue where thought and being become one, is structurally the agent of the discourse of science. This is the subject who then makes the signifier work in its relation with the other signifiers. It is on the basis of this subject that one can simply trust the small letters of algebra. These, small letters are not words; they are not captured by metaphor and metonymy; they are separate from signification. This is also the subject who is correlative to Cartesian extension, that extension which is so singular that is entirely external to itself (as Merleau-Ponty used to say, “without shadow and without hiding place”), that extension which is entirely manipulable and which is effectively the foundation of the discourse of science. I must point out that Descartes does not remain in this point of the subject, because he immediately discovers that the subject is correlative of the divine big Other, supposed subject of knowing who guarantees the automatic manipulation of those small letters.

VIII. Lacan postulates, and this may appear to be paradoxical, that the subject of the Freudian unconscious. that subject which is ostensibly very different from a cogito, is the subject of science. Descartes’ punctual and vanishing subject. Two things should be distinguished in this respect. In the first place, this subject of science which emerges with Descartes is, at the same time that it emerges, rejected by the discourse of science. He is simultaneously one of its conditions; but it is a foreclosed condition, rejected to the exterior, which means that science presents itself as a discourse without subject, as an impersonal discourse, as the discourse of the supposed subject of knowing in person.

The academics, and I am one of them, always introduce themselves as the representatives of the supposed subject of knowing. This is particularly evident in the universities, in Caracas or in Brussels: the academics pretend to articulate statements (énoncés) as if these were without enunciation (énonciation). We know that when one says “I” too frequently, and when one puts oneself on the scale, there appears to be a transgression against the discourse of science and its impersonality. In the case of psychoanalysis, the teaching does not take place in the same way as in the other disciplines. In fact, it is in the discourse of science that one can truly find the subject of Chomsky, about whom I spoke in my previous lecture: the ideal speaker- hearer who knows perfectly well the detours of his language and who transmits (that is the hope) without equivocations. Chomsky’s formulation is the ideal of scientific language, not the language that we speak and the language that speaks to us. Indeed, in the history of science itself one can perceive what could be called returns of the subject. This is observable precisely when one believes in the possibility of identifying oneself with the supposed subject of knowing. We may think of Frege. who believed that he could malhematize classical logic completely, through the achievement of a perfect, unequivocal and total written language. What happened to Frege is one of the great dramas of the history of science. At the time when the second volume of his work was about to be published, he received a letter from Bertrand Russell in which Russell told him that there was a small paradox in his first volume which spoilt the whole work. It is a very short paradox of only one paragraph, it fits within a sheet of paper, and Prege spent the last twenty years of his life ruminating over that significant fact. There are those lapses within the discourse of science which put all certainties in question. There is still another example taken from the history of mathematical logic which is, par excellence, where the perfect certainty of the discourse of science should be established. I am referring to the famous proof of Gödel. When Gödel postulated his theorem, the guarantee provided by the Other for the manipulation of the small letters, which had commenced with Descartes, appeared to suddenly collapse. I quote these examples simply to evoke the discourse of science in so far as this rejects the subject; and in turn, the subject also fractures the consistency of that discourse.

In the second place, the subject of the unconscious, in Lacan’s sense, is nothing else but subject of the signifier, that is to say, the subject of science, but regained in a scientific field as the subject who speaks. He is a subject who serves in an integral form as the vehicle of the signifier. Psychoanalysis is different from all forms of initiation and contemplative asceticism known in Antiquity. It is also different from all the vague bodily manipulations which are again fashionable today – those exercises through which an attempt is made to help the subject to get rid of his pain, to encourage him. to influence him by suggestion and to stimulate him. The psychoanalytic exercise is different from all initiation precisely because, if psychoanalysis is to work, the subject is not to have any form of mental preparation, contemplation or asceticism. On the contrary, the subject of psychoanalysis must arrive without preparation and must offer himself for the exercise without any previous purification. He must attend his sessions regularly, in a manner that can be called bureaucratic, and tell everything that goes through his head. He must not prepare fine speeches. It is not a question of purification through language, but on the contrary of releasing the material in disorder. And which is the operation peculiar to the psychoanalyst? To guarantee that all this material released in disorder has a cause. In this respect the fundamental postulate of psychoanalysis is determinist. Everything has a cause. This is one of the two formulations of the principle of sufficient reason, which emerged only with Leibniz. Once again, this is a principle linked to the discourse of science and which, incidentally, Heidegger commented in his work The Essence of Reasons. This is why in the psychoanalytic operation the psychoanalyst plays the part of the supposed subject of knowing. The analyst occupies this place in order to render the analytic operation possible. It is a very dangerous place, because this can easily lead the psychoanalyst to identify himself with the good God. This is, in fact, what we can verify in the history of psychoanalysis. The analysts have gladly identified with the divinity. They even experience a very special infatuation: given that as a consequence of their function they are supposed to know, they do not feel obliged to know anything. I mean that they can well be swimming in ignorance, but this does not prevent that, as their position is that of the Other in the experience, they consider themselves to be perfect. Sometimes they regard themselves as the model for their patients, as their ideal; sometimes they confuse the psychoanalytic treatment with a form of education which would simply aim at leading the subject to identifying with the psychoanalyst. They believe themselves to be the sovereign good. Lacan has made remarks like these, and naturally he did not make many friends among the psychoanalysts through them. If he is occasionally critical of the practitioners of other disciplines, certainly he is less critical of them than of his colleagues.

Lacan has also stated that the analytic experience does not consist in the identification of the patient with the psychoanalyst, but on the contrary in the evacuation of the supposed subject of knowing. There is only one practice that could truly be called atheist, and that is psychoanalysis. This is why priests are so interested in psychoanalysis. One can also observe the opposite trend. One can see psychoanalysts, even of Lacan’s school, like Françoise Dolto, telling the masses that the first psychotherapist was Jesus Christ, which pleases neither the psychoanalysts nor the Church. This is what after thirty years of Lacan’s discourse one can again hear in Paris. We must be sceptical about the effects that can be achieved through the! production of theory.

It is already time to finish. I still have to discuss two points, which I shall only do briefly.

IX. This point was originally aimed at showing how Lacan has, in the analytic experience itself, structured those paradoxes of communication which I presented in my second lecture and which prompted Professor Cadenas to say that they rendered knowledge impossible. I would have liked to demonstrate how Lacan, in a domain which is undoubtedly very difficult, attempts to structure those paradoxes. It is true that generalized equivocation is a motive to lose one’s mind; and yet this generalized equivocation has a structure.

X. I would have like to acquaint you with that formula of Lacan’s which I presented rather abruptly: “The woman does not exist.” It is a very good example precisely because Lacan attempts to write this paradox in a logical form; by this I mean he borrows the tools of mathematical logic. One should not believe that logic is simply what is taught at the first classes of the University about the principle of contradiction, and that where the principle of contradiction is not valid, there is no logic. This is an error. On the contrary. There exists something like Russell’s paradox which requires elaboration. There are inconsistent mathematical logics, founded on the negation of the principle of contradiction. It is possible to make a mathematical logic work while negating the principle of contradiction. If there are logicians present here, I think they will not disqualify what I am saying, given the existence of inconsistent mathematical logics. Lacan’s logic of the signifier. that logic which suits the unconscious and which does not know of contradiction, as Freud^said, is an inconsistent logic. The whole algebra of Lacanian terms .is organized around inconsistency.

I hope that logicians from Venezuela, if they are present here, will not contradict me, since the development of inconsistent mathematical logics has taken place particularly in Latin America. The Brazilian, Argentinian and Chilean schools of mathematical logic, whose recent symposium has been published two years ago by the North Holland Collection of works on logic, have shown all the resources that from the mathematical point of view can be found in the inconsistent logics. This demonstrates that there are more things in science than one imagines.

Lacan developed an inconsistent logic .of the phallus. He thought, very faithful in this respect to his teacher. Little Hans, that the phallus could be considered as a predicate. Lacan was able to arrange the Freudian paradoxes of castration of the basis of an inconsistent logic of the predicate phallus.

Jacques-Alain Miller

Author’s Bio

The term extimacy (extimité), coined by Lacan from the term “intimacy” (intimité), occurs two or three times in the Seminar, and it will be for us to transform this term into an articulation, a structure, to produce it as an S1 which would allow us to go beyond and over the confusion that we first experience when faced with such a signifier.


1. $


For analysts, referring only to the analytic experience is illusory; for Freud’s and Lacan’s works are also part of our relation to psychoanalysis. And our common reading of the commentary on Freudia texts which forms the subject of the first ten years of Lacan’s Seminar is not unlike the lectio of the Middle Ages. At that time, the lesson of a master was to be divided into three parts: littera, sensus and sententia. Littera is the level of the construction of the text, the most grammatical level; sensus is the level of the signified, of the explicit and easy meaning; and sententia is the deep understanding of meaning. Only this level of sententia can justify the discipline of commentary.


The problem posed by Lacan’s teaching is precisely that one of its constants is a commentary on Freud. Moreover, of his own sayings, Lacan makes maxims or sententiae (in the Middle Ages, the word also meant “common place”). Thus, he does not allow the Other to choose what of Lacan must be repeated – and this, because he formalizes his own thought by expressing it in formulas which are simple, or which at least seem simple. Thus, “The unconscious is structured like a language.” “Desire is the desire of the Other,” and “The signifier represents the subject for another signifier” are sententiae of Lacan. At present, part of our task lies in culling these sententiae, in gathering them into a florilegium. Thus we do with Lacan, because he seems to present himself as an author in the medieval sense of the word, i.e., as the one who knows what he says.

Despite his sententiae however, Lacan is not an author. His work is a teaching. We must take this into consideration; we must know that following his star requires that we do not synchronize and dogmatize this teaching, that we do not hide but rather stress its contradictions, its antinomies, its deadlocks, its difficulties. For, a teaching on the analytic experience is like a work in progress and implies a back and forth motion between text and experience.

2. Extimacy (extimité)

Why this title? First, because last year I gave my attention to gathering, developing, articulating the quaternary structures in Lacan’s teaching; and as a result it seems to me that extimacy must be formalized and dealt with apart from these structures. Second, I could not disregard this question of extimacy since I am particularly devoting myself to the question of the Real in the Symbolic. It so happens that extimacy is a term used by Lacan to designate in a problematic manner me real in the symbolic. Third, it seems to me that this term has a great potential for crystallization. When reconsidering the problems of analytic experience and of Lacan’s teaching from this starting point, one realizes indeed that a number of scattered questions raised by our practice fall into place. Fourth, this expression “extimacy” is necessary in order to escape the common ravings about a psychism supposedly located in a bipartition between interior and exterior.

Let us qualify this last point, however, for it is not enough to say that this bipartition is unsatisfactory; we must also elaborate a relation in its stead. Indeed, it is so easy to slide into this interior-exterior bipartition that we need, for our own use, to substitute for it another relation, the simplest possible, which we will represent with the following drawing:

This very simple diagram of Lacan’s means that the exterior is present in the interior. The most interior – this is how the dictionary defines “intimate” (l’intime) – has, in the analytic experience, a quality of exteriority. This is why Lacan invented the term extimate. The word indeed is not current yet. But with a little effort and luck, it will perhaps come to exist – in a few centuries – in the Académie Française dictionary.


It should be observed that the term “interior” is a comparative which comes to us from Latin and of which intimus is the superlative. There, there is an effort on the part of language to reach the deepest point in the interior. Let us note as well that quotations from literary works given by dictionaries show that one says commonly, constantly that the most intimate is at the same time the most hidden. Therefore, paradoxically, the most intimate is not a point of transparency but rather a point of opacity. And this point of opacity is generally used to found the necessity of certain covers, the most common being the religious cover, as we are going to see.

3. A —> $

Extimacy is not the contrary of intimacy. Extimacy says that the intimate is Other-like a foreign body, a parasite. In French, the date of birth of the term “intimacy” can be located in the seventeenth century; it is found for instance in Madame de Sevigné’s Correspondence, a model of intimacy, from which comes mis sentence: “I could not help telling you all this detail, in the intimacy and love of my heart, like someone who unburdens herself to a maid whose tenderness is without parallel.” Is it not charming that one of the first occurrences in the French language of the term “intimacy” already has a relation to a kind of confession of the heart to someone full of tenderness?

In psychoanalysis, it seems to us natural from the start to place ourselves in the register of intimacy, for there is no experience more intimate than that of analysis, which takes place in private and requires trust, the most complete lack of restraint possible, to the point that in our consulting rooms – these places reserved for the confessions of intimacy – analysands, though in the house of someone else, sometimes act as if they were at home. This is confirmed when such an analysand takes out of his pocket the key to his own house as he is reaching the door-step of his analyst.

However, in no way can one say that the analyst is an intimate friend of his analysand. The analyst, on the contrary, is precisely extimate to this intimacy. Perhaps this shows that one cannot have one’s own house. Perhaps also it is this position of the psychoanalyses extimacy which makes so distinct and so constant the role of the Jew in the history of psychoanalysis.

If we use the term extimacy in this way, we can consequently make it be equivalent to the unconscious itself. In this sense, the extimacy of the subject is the Other. This is what we find in ‘The Agency of the Letter” (Écrits, 172), when Lacan speaks of “this other to whom I am more attached than to myself, since, at the heart of my assent to my identity to myself, it is he who stirs me” (translation modified) – where the extimacy of the Other is tied to the vacillation of the subject’s identity to himself. Thus the writing A—> $ is justified.

There are several covers of this point of extimacy, one of which is the religious cover. Thus Saint Augustine speaks of God as interior intimo meo, “more interior than my innermost being.” God here is thus a word which covers this point of extimacy which in itself has nothing likeable. This implies this schema:

where the circle of the subject contains as the most intimate (intime) of its intimacy the extimacy of the Other. In a certain way, this is what Lacan is commenting on when he speaks of the unconscious as discourse of the Other, of this Other who, more intimate than my intimacy, stirs me. And this intimate which is radically Other, Lacan expressed with a single word: extimacy.

We could apply this term to the psychiatric clinic and call men automatism “extimate automatism” in so far as it manifests in obvious fashion the presence of the Other and of its discourse at the very center of intimacy. In the analytic clinic, it is interesting to note that it is always when extimacy is punctualized that an analyst’s hesitations about the diagnosis occur, between obsession and psychosis for example, despite the very clear distinctions that he makes in other respects between one and the other. Extimacy indeed is so structural for the speaking being that no analyst can say he has never encountered it, if only in the experience of his own hesitations.

4. a ◊ A

Let us introduce now a dimension other than the one from our previous schema, by posing the petit a as pan of the Other. The structure is the same but, this time, the exterior circle is that of the Other and the central area, the area of extimacy, is occupied by a.

This is not the negation of the preceding schema but a new use of the same structure, which responds to another consideration. Up to this point in our argument, we have used the concept of the Other as something obvious. Now, the question of extimacy leads us to problematize this concept, to ask the question of the alterity of the Other, i.e., of why the Other is really other.

“What is the Other of the Other?” is the very simple question asked by Lacan in order to ground the alterity of the Other. To say that this Other of the Other is the subject would not take us very far, for the precise reason that the subject of the analytic experience is nothing that it is a barred function.

The first attempt made by Lacan was to posit that the Other of the Other of the signifier was the Other of the law. This hypothesis concludes his essay on psychoses. [1] There would exist an Other who lays down the law to the Other. This would imply the existence of a metalanguage which would be the Law, for the Law as absolute is a metalanguage.

Later Lacan, thinking against Lacan, says on the contrary that “there is no Other of the Other,” that “there is no metalanguage.” To whom does he say this? He says it to the previous Lacan. Thus, there is no reason to confuse an effort at rationality with a dogmatization. Let us note that this famous sententia, “There is no Other of the Other,” implies a devalorization and a pluralization of the Name-of-the-Father. But it also implies a problem in grounding the alterity of the Other. Indeed, what is it, this Other, if not a universal function, an abstraction? Father Takatsuga Sasaki’s reaction, for example, testifies to it when he tells us that this kind of abstraction seems impossible in the Japanese language, in which there is no Other but various categories of alterity, of plurality.

The Other that we experience through the religious cover is omnivalent. It is precisely what is called, in Christianity, the neighbor. It is a way to nullify extimacy; it grounds what is common, what conforms conformity. It belongs fundamentally, as universal, to this conformity. But if there is no Other of the Other, what is the ground of its alterity?

Jouissance is precisely what grounds the alterity of the Other when there is no Other of the Other. It is in its relation to jouissance that the Other is really Other. This means that no one can ground the alterity of the Other from the signifier, since the very law of the signifier implies that one can always be substituted for the other and vice versa. The law of the signifier is indeed the very law of 1-2, and in this dimension, it is as though there is a democracy, an equality, a community, a principle of peace. Now, what we are attempting to see is what makes the Other other, i.e., what makes it particular, different, and in this dimension of alterity of the Other, we find war. In racism, for example, it is precisely a question of the relation to an Other as such, conceived in its difference. And it does not seem to me that any of the generous and universal discourses on the theme of “we are all fellow-beings” have had any effectiveness concerning this question. Why? Because racism calls into play a hatred which goes precisely toward what grounds the Other’s alterity, in other words its jouissance. If no decision, no will, no amount of reasoning is sufficient to wipe out racism, it is indeed because it is founded on the point of extimacy of the Other. It is not simply a matter of an imaginary aggressivity which, itself, is directed at fellow-beings. Racism is founded on what one imagines about the Other’s jouissance; it is hatred of the particular way, of the Other’s own way of experiencing jouissance. We may well think that racism exists because our Islamic neighbor is too noisy when he has parties; nevertheless it is a fact that what is really at stake is that he takes his jouissance in a way different from ours. Thus the Other’s proximity exacerbates racism: as soon as there is closeness, there is a confrontation of incompatible modes of jouissance. For it is simple to love one’s neighbor when he is distant, but it is a different matter in proximity. Racist stories are always about the way in which the Other obtains a plus-de-jouir: either he does not work or he does not work enough, or he is useless or a little too useful, but whatever the case may be, he is always endowed with a part of jouissance that he does not deserve. Thus true intolerance is the intolerance of the Other’s jouissance. Of course, we cannot deny that races do exist, but they exist in so far as they are, in Lacan’s words races of discourse, i.e., traditions of subjective positions.

5. a ⊂ A

One usually stresses what, of the Other, is subject. When Lacan speaks, for example, of the subject-supposed-to-know, there seems to be no difficulty: there is a way of the Other which is to be a subject. However, we must point out something else, i.e., what in the Other is object. We will develop this point from two seminars by Lacan, The Ethics, and Le transfert.

The opposition between das Ding, the Thing, and the Other is laid out in The Ethics. This antinomy is worked out enigmatically – which explains the fact that das Ding has long remained wrapped in mystery. But it is the case that, in the Seminar on transference, which comes immediately after The Ethics, this opposition if transformed into a relation which can be written in this way: a ⊂ A. Lacan makes this transformation from a metaphor borrowed from philosophy which is nowadays known as that of Silenus which contains the object, agalma, inside itself. Here, we see a revolution in Lacan’s teaching, for this relation, established in a literary, mythical non-formalist way, appears to be completely antagonistic to earlier developments. The Other, in Le transfert, is no longer only the place of the signifier, there the object is included in the Other – which appears somewhat mystical because the Seminar works only with the idea of interior and exterior. Plato’s model is nothing more: a cover which looks like a Silenus and inside of which something else is found. We must therefore formalize this model of interior and exterior.

Something has been introduced in Lacan’s teaching which has only been understood recently, i.e., the devalorization of the Other of the signifier. He could thus say: “The Other does not exist,” which does not prevent the Other from functioning, for many things function with without existing. However, the sentence, “The Other does not exist,” is meaningless if it does not imply that a, on the contrary, exists. The Lacanian Other, the Other that functions, is not real. That is what allows us to understand that a is real, to understand how this a as plus-de-jouir founds not only the Other’s alterity but also what is real in the Symbolic Other. It is not a matter of a link of integration, of interiorization, but of an articulation of extimacy.

Let us illustrate this with the incident which interrupted my class: a bomb scare. [2] The bomb did not exist. However, we had the proof that, without existing, it could produce its effect. My class is of me order of the signifier and is held in a place devoted to teaching, where an object was introduced which, let me tell you, had a great effect, but which no one knew the location of. Thus did we prove that at the very moment when this object crops up via die signifier “Bomb!” the Other is emptied, disappears. Only the object remains, the object in a desert.

This is a good example of the antinomy existing between A and a. And this antinomy is compatible with the formula which we write a ⊂ A. For this object, the bomb – an object which is perfectly efficacious without existing or which perhaps will explode tomorrow or next week – is the result of the discourse of the Other. It is not a natural phenomenon, not an earthquake; it is not a substance but on the contrary a result, a product of the discourse of science. The sentence, “Bomb!” is located on the level of intersections which Lacan studied to prove mat the presence of the subject of the enunciation does not need the presence of the énoncé. At the same time, this sentence gives a clear indication of the relation between signifier and object. Indeed, if the signifier “Bomb!” is truly a reference to the bomb, it still does not represent this bomb; it does not say where the bomb is. There is thus a link between this signifier and the object, but we cannot say that “Bomb” is the signifier of this bomb. The best proof of this is that no one will get the idea to go speak to the bomb so that it will not blow up.

To be done with this point, which has a paradigmatic value, my own position is to say that the young woman who burst into the room shouting “Bomb!” should have written this on a sheet of paper and handed it to me. At that time, I would have asked the people from one side of the room to leave, then from another side, then from a third one; i.e., I would have tried to do things in the most orderly way. This indicates a clinical difference between her and me, and the importance of the way a subject situates him or herself in a moment of crisis. When I asked this person why she had not warned me in writing, she answered: “But the bomb could have exploded any moment “Of course, but identifying with the bomb may not be the best way to get out of such a situation.

6. Quod without quid

This part of my development concerns the type of the object and what makes its localization in the place of the Other difficult When we speak of the objet a, we are not speaking about an object summoned opposite the subject of the representation. If we take the bomb, for example, no one is there to gaze at it; it is really an object incompatible with the presence of the subject; it implies a physical disappearance of bodies and persons that, in this example, represent the subject. If you can sit down opposite a painting and chat with the people next to you, it is not so with the bomb; when you speak about this type of object, the subject disappears.

The objet a is not a chapter of ontology. Indeed, ontology says what is common to all objects. It consists in gathering several features of the object of representation before the object itself is experienced. This is what Heidegger called “ontological pre-comprehension”: we can know a priori that an object is an object if it has such and such a feature. We can also enumerate the object’s criteria. An ontology tells a priori what can be said about objects. These are Aristotle’s categories, where the said is already placed on the object. An ontology is indeed always a doctrine of categories. It can be said that there the structure of objects is already the same as that of the énoncé.

But when we speak of objet a, we speak of another objectivity – let’s say of another “objectify,” an objectity which is not summoned opposite the subject of representation. For representation is not an imaginary function. In The Ethics, Vorstellung is the Symbolic itself – what Lacan will formalize a few years later with the representation of the subject by the signifier. The definition, in the Lacanian sense, of Vorstellung refers thus to the symbolic and not to the Imaginary. However, this new objectify is such that one cannot avoid experiencing it It is an object articulated not to the subject but to if division, to a subject which does not represent to itself the objects of the world but which is itself represented. For this reason, we cannot say that the structure of this object is identical to that of the énoné. There is no specificity of the object in the Other, where, nonetheless, the objet a does not dissolve. It escapes categories because it does not have the same structure as the énoncé. By using the medieval reference reactualized by Yankelevich, we can say that here it is a matter of a quod, in the sense of difference between quodity and quidity. We could also say that it is a question of the difference between existence an essence, of something that there is, but the essence of which one cannot define in the Other.

One can say that it is – i.e., quidity – but one cannot say what it is. There we have a kind of paradox of the quod: something exists but without quid. m this way no one can describe the bomb I was speaking about earlier, except the person who would encounter it, but then, he would not live long! This quod without quid is a “being without essence” (this expression is found once or twice in Lacan).

A/a is constructed on the model of another formula of Lacan, i(a)/a, which means that in reality, the image of the other clothes or covers the real of the object. But this can also be said of capital A. A/a is a formula which implies the devalorization of the Other. It indicates that the Other does not exist, that it has no other status than that of illusion. For this reason, Lacan was able to characterize the end of an analysis as “cynical.” Cynicism means here the end of the illusion of the Other. And sometimes, this fall allows a new access to jouissance, to a jouissance that Lacan terms perverse because it does not involve the relation to the Other. Sometimes, in fact, this is what someone gains at the end of an analysis – which is then nothing more than the naiveté of this cynicism.

Cynicism as such is indeed a form of naiveté, because it consists in thinking that the fact that the Other does not exist means that it does not function. However, deducing from the fact that the Other does not exist that we can erase its universal function and that only jouissance real is naive. Thus, Lacan could say that psychoanalysis made scoundrels stupid. They become so because they think, after an analysis, that the values of the Other do not function.

For lack of time, we won’t develop here me analyst’s position between cynicism and sublimation. Let us only specify mat sublimation can be written a/A. This does not mean that the analyst is only semblance of object – which would imply that the ultimate truth of the objet a is that it is real. The apparatus of analytic discourse involves something more difficult: the objet a is a semblance as such. In the expression “semblance of object” that we often use, we find the naïve belief that the objet a is real. However, the objet a as such, as I must emphasize, is a semblance. And the A which is below the bar can perfectly function as supposition – the fact that it does not exist, as such.

8. a ◊ Φ

We are going to introduce here a case that was presented in Barcelona [3] and in which we can see a way to refer to the absolute risk. It concerns a woman who gets married, then goes to a lawyer to establish a deed stipulating that she will give up all her rights the day her husband ceases to desire her. This case seems to me paradigmatic for explaining the antinomy between these two terms, since it concerns the very inversion of marriage, marriage being precisely what can permit one to insure oneself against the cause of desire. Marriage implies that the cause of desire is inscribed in the signifier, whereas this woman goes to her lawyer to inscribe in the law the risk of desire.

It concerns what I call, in Lacan, the formula of the second paternal metaphor. It corresponds point by point to the formula of the Name-of-the-Father, which we must absolutely not forget but, in the clinic itself, we must refer to the second formula, which poses the signification of the phallus as minus φ and which forces us to operate with the inexistence and the inconsistency of the Other, and not with the function of its consistency. This seems to me to have important consequences for analytic practice.

10. The objet a

The Real, when it concerns the objet a, is thus a semblance. It is so because it is a lie. Where does the objet a come from in Lacan? It comes from the partial object of Karl Abraham, i.e., from a corporeal consistency. The interesting thing is to see that Lacan transforms this corporeal consistency into a logical consistency. It is a fact, and a significant one: Lacan reduces the objet a, which is not a signifler, to a logical consistency. This is why we can read unmistakably, in Encore, that the objet a introduces a semblance of being. Note that he does not say that there is an opposition between semblance and real, quite the opposite. But it is not enough to develop the logical consistency of the Other; it is also necessary to articulate it with the logical consistency of the objet a. It is only from there that
one can understand that the real can be situated only from the deadlocks of logic. Lacan introduces this use of the category of the real in L’étourdit. [4] If there were an ontic in psychoanalysis, it would be the ontic of the objet a. But precisely, this is not the road taken by Lacan. The one he took is the road of logical consistency. It is only in this way that we can conceive of the analyst as the objet a. The analyst is not only a corporeal consistency. He is so also, obviously, as presence, but his value comes especially from logic. And this does not allow one to sit quietly between the signifier and the object, but requires on the contrary seeing in what sense the objet a is a logical consistency. To speak in this way is perhaps equivalent to thinking against what we said previously, but you know now that thinking against oneself is also the lesson of Lacan.

I will add as a final note that this festival of mathemes that I gave here rests on the in-depth work which is done in my class in a looser, more entertaining way, where I make it more palatable by using stories. But these stories are not, for all that, more valuable than the in-depth work of which the present text is the result.


[1] See “Of a question to any possible treatment of psychosis”.

[2] The class of February 19 1986 was interrupted by a bomb scare and was rescheduled the same evening in another location.

[3] See Ornicar? 43, Winter 1988, Paris: Navarin. p. 107.

[4] See Scilicet 4, 1983, p. 5.

Text established by Elisabeth Doisneau and translated by Françoise Massardier-Kenney.

Philosophy as Biography
Alain Badiou

Author’s Bio

• VIDEO Version

Nietzsche wrote that a philosophy is always the biography of the philosopher. Maybe a biography of the philosopher by the philosopher himself is a piece of philosophy. So I shall tell you nine stories taken of my private life, with their philosophical morality… The first story is the story of the father and the mother.

My father was an alumnus of the École Normale Supérieure and agrégé of mathematics: my mother an alumna of the École Normale Supérieure and agrégée of French literature. I am an alumnus of the École Normale Supérieure and agrégé, but agrege of what, of philosophy, that is to say, probably, the only possible way to assume the double filiation and circulate freely between the literary maternity and the mathematical paternity. This is a lesson for philosophy itself : the language of philosophy always constructs its own space between the matheme and the poem, between the mother and the father, after all.

Someone saw that very clearly, my colleague, the French analytic philosopher Jacques Bouveresse, from the Collège de France. In a recent book in which he paid me the horror of speaking of me, he compared me to a five-footed rabbit and says in substance: "This five-footed rabbit that Alain Badiou is runs at top speed in the direction of mathematic formalism, and then, all of a sudden, taking an incomprehensible turn, he goes back on his steps and runs at the same speed to throw himself into literature." Well, yes, that’s how with a father and a mother so well distributed, one turns into a rabitt.

Now the second story: about mother and philosophy.

My mother was very old and my father was not in Paris. I would take her out to eat in a restaurant. She would tell me on these occasions everything she had never told me. It was the final expressions of tenderness, which are so moving, that one has with one’s very old parents. One evening, she told me that even before meeting my father, when she was teaching in Algeria, she had a passion, a gigantic passion, a devouring passion, for a philosophy teacher. This story is absolutely authentic. I listened to it, obviously, in the position you can imagine, and I said to myself: well, that’s it, I have done nothing else except accomplish the desire of my mother, that the Algerian philosopher had neglected. He had gone off with someone else and I had done what I could to be the consolation for my mother’s terrible pain — which had subsisted underneath it all even until she was eighty-one.

The consequence I draw for philosophy is that, contrary to the usual assertion according to which “the end of metaphysics” you know, is being accomplished, and all that, philosophy precisely can not have an end, because it is haunted, from within itself, by the necessity to take one more step within a problem that already exists. And I believe that this is its nature. The nature of philosophy is that something is eternally being bequeathed to it. It has the responsibility of this bequeathal. Your are always treating the bequeathal itself, always taking one more step in the determination of what was thus bequeathed to you. As myself, in the most unconscious manner, I never did anything as a philosopher except respond to an appeal that I had not even heard.

The third story is about the famous notion of engagement.

I arrive in Paris in 1955, during the beginning of the war in Algeria. The horrors of this war that are today coming into the open – mass murders, torture, razzia, systematic rapes – are well known to everyone. Nevertheless, we are a small number in 1955, a very small number to want stop these horrors, to be against the war in Algeria. We demonstrate, from time to time, boulevard Saint-Michel, shouting "Peace in Algeria!", and when we get to the end of the street, the police are waiting for us, striking us with their cloaks, and we were joyfully knocked senseless. What is strange is that we could not say anything but this: we have to do it again. And yet, I can tell you this, the “pelerine” cloak is not particularly gay. I even think I prefer to be clubbed. But we had to do it again, because that’s what the pure present is: wanting the end of this war, as few as we were to share this wanting. I drew the conviction that philosophy exists if it takes charge of the quick of the contemporary. It is not simply a question of engagement, or a question of political exteriority, but that something of the contemporary is always raw, and philosophy must testify to this raw or take place within it, however sophisticated its intellectual production be.

The story number four is about love and religion.

Before coming to Paris, I lived in a province, I am a provincial who came to Paris a bit late. And one of the traits that characterized my provincial youth is that a majority of the girls were still raised in religion. These girls were still kept or reserved for an interesting destiny. Which gave an important figure to the masculine parade: the different manners to shine in front of these girls still pious, the principal of these being to refute the existence of God. This was an important exercise of seduction, both because it was transgress! ve, and rhetorically brilliant when one had the nieans of doing it.

Before conquering their virtues, the souls had to be yanked out of the Church. Which of the two is the worst, that’s for the priests to decide. But out of this conies the idea, that I had very early, that the most argumentative, the most abstract philosophy also always constitutes a seduction. A seduction whose basis is sexual, no doubt about it. Of course, philosophy argues against the seduction of images and I remain Platonist on this point. But it also argues in order to seduce. We can thus understand the Socratic function of corruption of the youth. Corrupting youth means being seductively hostile to the normal regime of seduction. I maintain and I repeat that is the destiny of philosophy to corrupt the youth, to teach it that immediate seductions have little value, but also that superior seductions exist. In the end, the young man who knows how to refute the existence of God is more seductive than the one who could only propose to the girl. a game of tennis. It’s a good reason to become a philosopher.

This is what has become the place of the question of love, as a key question of philosophy itself, exactly in the sense it already had for Plato in Symposium. The question of love is necessarily at the heart of philosophy, because it governs the question of its power, the question of its address to its public, the question of its seductive strength. On this point, I believe I have followed Socrates’s very difficult direction: “the one who follows the path of total revelation must begin at an early age to be taken by the beauty of bodies”.

The fifth story is a marxist one.

Naturally, my family tradition was to the left. My father had bequeathed to me two images: the image of the anti-nazi resistant during the war, and then the image of the socialist militant in power, because he was mayor of a big French town, Toulouse, for thirteen years. My story is the story of a rupture with this sort of official left.

There are two periods in the history of my rupture with the official left. The last, well known, is May 68 and its continuation. The other, less known, more secret and so even more active. In 1960 there was a general strike in Belgium. I will not give the details. I was sent to cover this strike as a journalist – I was often a journalist, I have written, it seems to me, hundreds of articles, maybe thousands. I met mine workers on strike. They have reorganized the entire social life of the country, by constructing a sort of new popular legitimacy. They have even edited a new money. I assisted at their assemblies, I spoke with them. And I was from then on convinced, up till this day I am speaking to you, that philosophy is on that side. “On that side” is not a social determination. It means: on the side of what is spoken orpronounced there, on the side of this obscure part of common humanity. On the side of equality.

The abstract maxim of philosophy is necessarily absolute equality. After my experience of mine workers strike in Belgium, I have give a philosophical order to myself : “transform the notion of truth in such a way that it obeys the equalitarian maxim, this is why I gave the truth three attributes:

1) It depends on an irruption, and not on a structure. Any truth is new, this will be the doctrine of the event.

2) All truth is universal, in a radical sense, the anonymous equalitarian for-all, the pure for-all, constitutes it in its being, this will be its genericity.

3) A truth constitutes its subject, and not the inverse, this will be its militant dimension.

All that, in a still total obscurity, is at work when I meet in 1960 the Belgium Mine Workers.

The story number six is a very moral story.

After 68, during what we can call the red years, when we invented new things, when we created bonds with peoples that we did not know, when we were in the conviction that an entirely other world than that of our academic destiny awaited us, we entered into a political enterprise with a good many people, – and some of them, me included, continue this new political enterprise.

But what really struck me, the experience I wish to speak of here, is the experience of those who, starting with the middle of the 1970s, renounced this enterprise. Not only did they renounce this enterprise, but they entered into a systematic renegation that, starting with the new philosophers, from the end of the 1970s, little by little establish themselves, spread and dominate. And this is planted in philosophy like an arrow. It is a question in itself: How is it possible that one can cease being the subject of a truth? How is it possible that one return to the routine of the world This question nourishes my conviction that what is constitutive of philosophy is to stay not only within the vividness of the event, but within its becoming, that is, within the treatment of its consequences. Never to return to structural passivity : That is properly constitutive of philosophy as thought. It is what I simply called fidelity. And fidelity forms a knot, it is a concept that brings together the subject, the event and truth. It is what traverses the subject with regard to an event capable of constituting a truth.

Here again I think of Plato. At the end of Book IX of the Republic, Socrates responds to the objection that the ideal city which he had traced the plan of would probably never exist. This is a massive objection that the young people make: “All that is magnificent, but we don’t see it coming!”. Socrates responds more or less like this: that this city exists or may one day exist is of no importance, because it is only its laws that must dictate our conduct. That is the principle of consequence. And it is not a question that is inferred from a problem of existence or inexistence. It’s our philosophical duty : to continue.

It’s my story seven which is an erotic story. This is what is expended by all biographers. Will you be disappointed? I will stay within the discreet erotic genre. A “soft” story.

Just like everyone, in the 50s and 60s, we were tormented by sexuality. This torment is certainly stil very perceptible in my first novels, Almagestes, in 1964 and then Portulans in 1967. But literature is a filter here. In the end, this trouble is foreign to philosophy strictly speaking., in conformity to its great classical tradition. I would say that I learned little by little why. It is certain that sexual situations are fascinating, and it is also certain that the formalism of these situations, the erotic formalism is extraordinarily poor. And all its force depends on a repetitive injunction, with variations of little amplitude. I would say then that little by little in life a relation of charmed connivance is established with this formalism. Finally neither transgressive fascination, nor the repression of the superego are really at their place in this affair. All that is delicious, and, after all, without great consequence for thought. I have come to conclude philosophically, that as acute as this pacifying charmed connivance might be, at least for me, desire is not a central category for philosophy, and cannot be. Or rather desires only touches philosophy – just as well as jouissance – as bodies are seized in love. That is why, from this long crossing through sexual torment the final result is, as I had already said for other reasons, that love, and not desire, must instantly return into the constitution of the concept.

The story number eight is a formal story, or a story concerning forms.

I said, on the subject of the erotic injunction, “formalism”, and I said it as a philosopher. Because I deeply believe that what permits a singular truth – amorous as well as political — to touch philosophy is, in the end, its form. In this sense, I would sustain that the only philosophy is formalist. Perhaps in the sense of Plato when he says: “the only veritable thought is in forms” — what is often translated by “Idea” is better rendered by “form”. And I believe that the creation of concepts lies in this: philosophy conceives the singularity of theorms of truth. And there again, we have a Platonic program. Why Platonic? Dialectics is the science of forms. And form is, in philosophy, singularity. It is, as Socrates says in Phaedo, “the unique form of what remains identical to itself.”

From this we have an intimate tie between philosophy and mathematics (a tie strongly thematized by Plato himself.) If the philosophic concepts are in the end the form of the concepts of truth, then they must support the proof of formalization. Whatever this proof be. All the great philosophers have submitted the concept to an overwhelming, speculative form of formalization. I think this is why mathematics must have remained a passion for me? I scrutinize this precisely – in mathematics: What is thought capable of when it is devoted to, pure form? As the literality of form? And the conclusion I have progressively drawn is that what it is capable of, when it is ordained as pure form, is thinking being as such, being as being. Which gives my provoking formula according to which effective ontology is nothing else than constituted mathematics. Which, obviously, in the eyes of the psychoanalyst, means that my desire is only there to sublimate the image of my mathematician father.

The final story, the story number nine, is about my masters.

Philosophy is a question of mastery, and this in a triple sense. First because it belongs in effect to what Lacan called the discourse of the master. Then because it supposes, in its very subjectivity, the encounter with a master. Finally and lastly, because if we look closely at it, philosophy always ends up by constituting a discourse that is ordained to a principal signifier, a master signifier, such as is, in my thought, the signifier “truth. In the three cases, philosophy is a question of mastery; So, biographically, who were my masters?

During the decisive years of my education, I had three masters: Sartre, Lacan and Althusser. They were not masters of the same thing.

What Sartre taught me was simply, existentialism. But what does existentialism mean? It means that you must have a tie between the concept on the one hand and on the other the existential agency of choice, the agency of the vital decision. The conviction that the philosophic concept is not worth an hour of toil if, be it by mediations of a great complexity, it does not reverberate, clarify and ordain the agency of choice, of the vital decision. And in this sense, the concept must be, also and always, an affair of existence. That is what Sartre taught me.

Lacan taught me the connection, the necessary link between a theory of subjects and a theory of forms. He taught me how and why the very thinking of subjects, which had so often been opposed to the theory of forms, was in reality intelligible only within the framework of this theory. He taught me that the subject is a question that is not at all of a psychological character, but is an axiomatic and formal question. More than any other question!

Althusser taught me two things: that there was no object proper to philosophy — this is one of his great theses —, but that there were orientations of thought, lines of separation. And, as Kant had already said, a sort of perpetual fight, a fight that was constantly begun again, in new conditions. He taught me consequently the sense of delimitations, of what he called the demarcation. In particular the conviction that philosophy is not the vague discourse of totality, or the general interpretation of what there is. That philosophy must be delimited, that it must be separated from what is not philosophy. Politics and philosophy are two distinct things, art and philosophy are two distinct things, science and philosophy are two distinct things.

Finally, I was able then to keep all my masters. I kept Sartre despite the disregard he was object of for a long time. I kept Lacan despite what must really be called the terrible character of his disciples. And I kept Althusser despite the substantial political divergences that opposed me to him starting with May 68. Crossing through the possibility of oblivion, the dissemination of disciples and the political conflict, I succeeded in conserving my fidelity to three disparate masters.

And I maintain today that in philosophy masters are necessary; I maintain a constitutive hostility to the tendency towards democratic professionalization of philosophy and to the imperative that is rampant today and humiliates youth: “Be little, and work as a team.” I would also say that the masters, must be combined and surmounted, but finally, it is always disastrous to deny them.

It’s the end, now. And when I am at my wits’ end, my trick is to pass the stick on to the poet. I have chosen the poet of my adolescence. Saint John Perse. With him, I can speak of another dimension of life, the companions, the companions of existence.

The companions of the poet are different from the companions of the philosopher. The companions of the philosopher are the different societies within which the question of a truth is at least posed. The companions of the poet are often the companions of his solitude, which is why Saint John Perse enumerates them as companions in exile, at the moment when he himself must go into exile. And aftet the enumeration of his companions, he returns to his solitude, and he says that:

Stranger, on all the beaches of this world, with neither audience nor witness, press to the ear of the West a seashell without memory:
Precarious host on the outskirts of our cities, you will not cross the sill of Lloyds, where your word is not honored and your gold has no title…
‘I shall inhabit my name’ was his response to the questionnaires of the port;
And on the tables of exchange, you have nothing but trouble to produce,
Just as these great moneys in iron exhumed by lightning.

“I shall inhabit my name”: this is precisely what philosophy tries to render possible for each and every one. Or rather, philosophy searches for the formal conditions, the possibility for each and every one to inhabit his name, to be simply there, and recognized by all as the one who inhabits his name, who, by right of this, as inhabiting his name, is the equal of anyone else.

That is why we mobilize so many resources. That is also what our monotonous biography can be used for: to constantly begin again the search for the conditions by which the proper name of each one can be inhabited.

Political Texts
The University in the New Reich
Martin Heidegger

followed by
Declaration of Support for Adolf Hitler
German Students
National Socialist Education (Wissensschulung)

Author’s Bio

The University in the New Reich

June 30, 1933 *

We have the new Reich and the university that is to receive its tasks from the Reich’s will to existence. There is revolution in Germany, and we must ask ourselves: Is there revolution at the university as well? No. The battle still consists of skirmishes. So far, a breakthrough has only been achieved on one front: because new life is being educated (durch die Bildung neuen Lebens) in the work camp and educational association (Erziehungsverband) as well as at the university, the latter has been relieved of educational tasks to which it has till now believed it had an exclusive right.

The possibility could exist that the university will suffer death through oblivion and forfeit the last vestige of its educational power. It must, however, be integrated again into the Volksgemeinschaft and be joined together with the State. The university must again become an educational force that draws on knowledge to educate the State’s leaders to knowledge. This goal demands three things: 1. knowledge of today’s university; 2. knowledge of die dangers today holds for the future; 3. new courage.

Up to now, research and teaching have been carried on at the universities as they were for decades. Teaching was supposed to develop out of research, and one sought to find a pleasant balance between the two. It was always only the point of view of the teacher that spoke out of this notion. No one had concerned himself with the university as community. Research got out of hand and concealed its uncertainty behind the idea of international scientific and scholarly progress. Teaching that had become aimless hid behind examination requirements.

A fierce battle must be fought against this situation in the National Socialist spirit, and this spirit cannot be allowed to be suffocated by humanizing, Christian ideas that suppress its unconditionality. Nor is it enough to desire to take the new situation (dem Neuen) into account by painting everything with a touch of political color. Of great danger are the noncommittal plans and slogans that are turning up everywhere; and so, too, is the “new” concept of Wissenschaft, which is nothing more than the old one with a slight anthropological underpinning. All of the talk about “politics” is nonsense as well, for it does nothing to put an end to the old routine way of doing and thinking about things (dem alten Schlendrian). What the real gravity of the new situation (des Neuen) calls for is the experience of affliction, is the active engagement with real conditions (die zugreifende Auseinandersetzung mit den wirklichen Zuständen). Only that activity is justified that is performed with full inner commitment to the future. The warning cry has already been sounded: “Wissenschaft is endangered by the amount of time lost in martial sports and other such activities.” But what does that mean, to lose time, when it is a question of fighting for the State! Danger comes not from work for the State. It comes only from indifference and resistance. For that reason, only true strength should have access to me right path, but not half-heartedness.

New courage allows these dangers to be seen clearly. Only it alone opens our eyes to that which is to come and which is now emerging. It forces each teacher and pupil to make up his mind about the fundamental questions of Wissenschaft, and this decision is of epochal importance, for on it depends whether we Germans shall remain a people that is, in the highest sense of the word, knowing. The new teaching which is at issue here does not mean conveying knowledge, but allowing students to learn and inducing them to learn. This means allowing oneself to be beset by the unknown and then becoming master of it in comprehending knowing; it means becoming secure in one’s sense for what is essential. It is from such teaching that true research emerges, interlocked with the whole through its rootedness in the Volk and its bond to the State. The student is forced out into the uncertainty of all things, in which the necessity of engagement (Einsatz) is grounded. University study must again become a risk (Wagnis), not a refuge for the cowardly. Whoever does not survive the battle, lies where he falls. The new courage must accustom itself to steadfastness, for the battle for the institutions where our leaders are educated will continue for a long time. It will be fought out of the strengths of the new Reich that Chancellor Hitler will bring to reality. A hard race (Geschlecht) with no thought of self must fight this battle, a race that lives from constant testing and that remains directed towards the goal to which it has committed itself. It is a battle to determine who shall be the teachers and leaders at the university (ein Kampf um die Gestalt des Lehrers und des Führers an der Universität).

* This speech was given by Heidegger as part of a series of political lectures organized by the Heidelberg Student Association. It appeared originally in Heidelberger Neuste Nachrichten, ]uly 1, 1933. Compiled by Richard Wolin and translated by William S. Lewis. Published in New German Critique, 45, Fall 1988.

Declaration of Support for Adolf Hitler

November 11, 1933 *

German teachers and comrades!

German Volksgenossen and Volksgenossinnen!

The German people has been summoned by the Führer to vote; the Führer, however, is asking nothing from the people. Rather, he is giving the people the possibility of making, directly, the highest free decision of all: whether the entire people wants its own existence (Dasein) or whether it does not want it.

Tomorrow the people will choose nothing less than its future.

This election remains absolutely incomparable with all previous elections. What is unique about this election is the simple greatness of the decision that is to be executed. The inexorability of what is simple and ultimate (des Einfachen und Letzten) tolerates no vacillation and no hesitation. This ultimate decision reaches to the outermost limit of our people’s existence. And what is this limit? It consists in the most basic demand of all Being (Sein), that it keep and save its own essence. A barrier is thereby erected between what can be reasonably expected of people and what cannot. It is by virtue of this basic law of honor that the German people retain the dignity and resoluteness of its life. However, the will to self-responsibility is not only the basic law of our people’s existence; it is also the fundamental event in the bringing about of the people’s National Socialist State. From this will to self-responsibility, every effort, be it humble or grand, of each social and occupational group (Stand) assumes its necessary and predestined place in the social order (in den Standort und Rang ihrer gleich notwendigen Bestimmung). The labor of the various groups (Stände) supports and strengthens the living framework of the State; labor recovers for the people its rootedness; labor places the State, as the reality of the people, into the field of action of all essential forces of human Being.

It is not ambition, not desire for glory, not blind obstinacy, and not hunger for power that demands from the Fuhrer that Germany withdraw from the League of Nations. It is only the clear will to unconditional self-responsibility in suffering and mastering the fate of our people. That is not a turning away from the community of peoples. On the contrary: with this step, our people is submitting to that essential law of human Being to which every people must first give allegiance if it is still to be a people.

It is only out of the parallel observance by all peoples of this unconditional demand of self-responsibility that there emerges the possibility of taking each other seriously so that a community can also be affirmed. The will to a true national community (Volksgemeinschaft) is equally far removed both from an unrestrained, vague desire for world brotherhood and from blind tyranny. Existing beyond this opposition, this will allows peoples and states to stand by one another in an open and manly fashion as self-reliant entities (das offene und mannhafte Aufsich und Zueinanderstehen der Volker und Staaten). What is it that such a will brings about? Is it reversion into barbarism? No! It is the averting of all empty negotiation and hidden deal-making through the simple, great demand of self-responsible action. Is it the eruption of lawlessness? No! It is the clear acknowledgement of each people’s inviolable independence. Is it the denial of the creative genius of a spiritual (geistig) people and the smashing of its historical traditions? No! It is the awakening of the young who have been purified and are growing back to their roots. Their will to the State will make this people hard towards itself and reverent towards each genuine deed.

What sort of event is this then? The nation is winning back the truth of its will to existence, for truth is the revelation of that which makes a people confident, lucid, and strong in its actions and knowledge. The genuine will to know arises from such truth. And this will to know circumscribes the right to know. And from there, finally, the limits are measured out within which genuine questioning and research must legitimize and prove themselves. Such is the origin of Wissenschaft, which is constrained by the necessity of self-responsible volkisch existence. Wissenschaft is thus the passion to educate that has been restrained by this necessity, the passion to want to know in order to make knowing. To be knowing, however, means: to be master of things in clarity and to be resolved to action.

We have declared our independence from the idol of thought that is without foundation and power. We see the end of the philosophy that serves such thought. We are certain that the clear hardness and the sure, steady competence (werkgerechte Sicherheit) of unyielding, simple questioning about the essence of Being are returning. For a volkische Wissenschaft, the courage either to grow or to be destroyed in confrontation with what is (dem Seienden), which is the first form of courage, is the innermost motive for questioning. For courage lures one forward; courage frees itself from what has been up to now; courage risks the unaccustomed and the incalculable. For us, questioning is not the unconstrained play of curiosity. Nor is questioning the stubborn insistence on doubt at any price. For us, questioning means: exposing oneself to the sublimity of things and their laws, it means: not dosing oneself off to the terror of the untamed and to the confusion of darkness. To be sure, it is for the sake of this questioning that we question, and not to serve those who have grown tired and their complacent yearning for comfortable answers. We know: the courage to question, to experience the abysses of existence and to endure the abysses of existence, is in itself already a higher answer than any of the all-too-cheap answers afforded by artificial systems of thought.

And so we, to whom the preservation of our people’s will to know shall in the future be entrusted, declare: The National Socialist revolution is not merely the assumption of power as it exists presently in the State by another party, a party grown sufficiently large in numbers to be able to do so. Rather, this revolution is bringing about the total transformation of our German existence (Dasein). From now, on each and every thing demands decision, and every deed demands responsibility. Of this we are certain; If the will to self-responsibility becomes the law that governs the coexistence of nations, then each people can and must be the master who instructs every other people in the richness and strength of all the great deeds and works of human Being (Sein).

The choice that the German people must now make is, simply as an event in itself, quite independent of the outcome, the strongest expression of the new German reality embodied in he National Socialist State. Our will to national (volfdsch) self-responsibility desires that each people find and preserve the greatness and truth of its destiny (Bestimmung). This will is the highest guarantee of peace among nations, for it binds itself to the basic law of manly respect and unconditional honor. The Fuhrer has awakened this will in the entire people and has welded it into one single resolve. No one can remain away from the polls on the day when this will is manifested.
Heil Hitler!

* Address presented by Heidegger at an election rally held by German universiy professors in Leipzig in support of the plebiscite of November 12, 1933 called by Hitler to sanction (ex post facto) Germany’s withdrawal from The League of Nations. Compiled by Richard Wolin and translated by William S. Lewis. Published in New German Critique, 45, Fall 1988.


May 26, 1933 *

In the midst of our work, during a short break in our lectures, let us remember the Freiburg student, Albert Leo Schlageter, a young Ger- man hero who a decade ago died the most difficult and the greatest death of all.

Let us honor him by reflecting, for a moment, upon his death in order that this death may help us to understand our lives.

Schlageter died the most difficult of all deaths. Not in the front line as the leader of his field artillery battery, not in the tumult of an attack, and not in a grim defensive action – no, he stood defenseless before the French rifles.

But he stood and bore the most difficult thing a man can bear.

Yet even this could have been borne with a final rush of jubilation, had a victory been won and the greatness of the awakening nation shone forth.

Instead — darkness, humiliation, and betrayal.

And so, in his most difficult hour, he had also to achieve the greatest thing of which man is capable. Alone, drawing on his own inner strength, he had to place before his soul an image of the future awakening of the Volk to honor and greatness so that he could die believing in this future.

Whence this hardness of will, which allowed him to endure the most difficult thing of all?

Whence this clarity of heart, which allowed him to envision what was greatest and most remote?

Student of Freiburg! German student! When on your hikes and outings you set foot in the mountains, forests, and valleys of the Black Forest, the home of this hero, experience this and know: The mountains among which the young farmer’s son grew up are of primitive stone, of granite. They have long been at work hardening the will.

The autumn sun of the Black Forest bathes the mountain ranges and forests in the most glorious clear light. It has long nourished clarity of the heart.

As he stood defenseless facing the rifles, the hero’s inner gaze soared above the muzzles to the daylight and mountains of his home that he might die for the German people and its Reich with the Alemannic countryside before his eyes.

With a hard will and a clear heart, Albert Leo Schlageter died his death, the most difficult and the greatest of all.

Student of Freiburg, let the strength of this hero’s native mountains flow into your will!

Student of Freiburg, let the strength of the autumn sun of this hero’s native valley shine into your heart! Preserve both within you and carry them, hardness of will and clarity of heart, to your comrades at the German universities.

Schlageter walked these grounds as a student. But Freiburg could not hold him for long. He was compelled to go to the Baltic; he was compelled to go to Upper Silesia; he was compelled to go to the Ruhr.

He was not permitted to escape his destiny so that he could die the most difficult and greatest of all deaths with a hard will and a clear heart. We honor the hero and raise our arms in silent greeting.

* Albert Leo Schlageter, a former student at Freiburg University, was shot for acts of sabotage against the French occupation army in the Ruhr on May 26, 1925. Subsequently, he was elevated to the status of a great Nazi martyr and hero. The German original of these texts can be found in Guido Schneeberger, Nachlese zu Heidegger (Bern: 1962). Compiled by Richard Wolin and translated by William S. Lewis. Published in New German Critique, 45, Fall 1988.

German Students

November 3, 1933 *

The National Socialist revolution is bringing about the total transformation of our German existence (Dasein).

In these events, it is up to you to remain the ones who always urge on and who are always ready, the ones who never yield and who always grow.

Your will to know seeks to experience what is essential, simple, and great.

You crave to be exposed to that which besets you most directly and to that which imposes upon you the most wide-ranging obligations.

Be hard and genuine in your demands.

Remain dear and sure in your rejection.

Do not pervert the knowledge you have struggled for into a vain, selfish possession. Preserve it as the necessary primal possession of the leader (führerischen Menschen) in the völkisch professions of the State. You can no longer be those who merely attend lectures (die nur “Hörenden”). You are obligated to know and act together in the creation of the future university (hohe Schule) of the German spirit. Every one of you must first prove and justify each talent and privilege. That will occur through the force of your aggressive involvement (Einsatz) in the struggle of the entire Volk for itself.

Let your loyalty and your will to follow (Gefolgschaftswille) be strengthened daily and hourly. Let your courage grow without ceasing so that you will be able to make the sacrifices necessary to save the essence of our Volk and to elevate its innermost strength in the State.

Let not propositions and “ideas” be the rules of your Being (Sein).

The Führer alone is the present and future German reality and its law. Learn to know ever more deeply: from now on every single thing demands decision, and every action responsibility.

Heil Hitler!
Martin Heidegger, Rector

* This appeal was launched by Heidegger on the occasion of the plebiscite of November 12, 1933 called by Hitler to sanction (ex post facto) Germany’s withdrawal from The League of Nations, published in the Freiburger Studentemeitung. Compiled by Richard Wolin and translated by William S. Lewis. Published in New German Critique, 45, Fall 1988.

National Socialist Education Wissensschulung

January 22, 1934 *

German Volksgenossen! German Workers!

As Rector of the University, I cordially welcome you to our institution. This welcome will at the same time be the beginning of our work together. Let us start by understanding clearly the significance of the fact that you, for whom the City of Freiburg has created jobs by emergency decree, are coming together with us in the largest lecture hall of the University.

What does this fact mean?

Because of novel and comprehensive employment measures on the part of the City of Freiburg, you have been given work and bread has been put on your tables. You thereby enjoy a privileged position among the rest of the City’s unemployed. But this preferential treatment means at the same time an obligation.

And your duty is to understand the creation of jobs, and to accept the work for which you are paid, in the way that the Führer of our new State demands. For the creation of jobs means not only the alleviation of external need, not only the elimination of inner discouragement or, indeed, despair; the creation of jobs means not only the warding off of that which burdens. The creation of jobs is at the same time, and in its essence, an act of building up and construction (Aufbau und Bau) in the new future of our Volk.

The creation of work must, first of all, make the unemployed and jobless Volksgenosse again capable of existing (daseinsfähig) in the State and for the State and thereby capable of existing for the Volk as a whole. The Volksgenosse who has found work should learn thereby that he has not been cast aside and abandoned, that he has an ordered place in the Volk, and that every service and every accomplishment possesses its own value that is fungible by other services and accomplishments. Having experienced this, he should win back proper dignity and self-confidence in his own eyes and acquire proper self-assurance and resoluteness in the eyes of the other Volksgenossen.

The goal is: to become strong for a fully valid existence as a Volksgenosse in the German Volksgemeinschaft.

For this, however, it is necessary:

to know where one’s place in the Volk is,

to know how the Volk is organized and how it renews itself in this organization,

to know what is happening with the German Volk in the National Socialist State.

to know in what a bitter struggle this new reality was won and created,

to know what the future recovery of the body of the Volk (Volkskörper) means and what it demands of each individual,

to know to what point urbanization has brought the Germans, how they should be returned to the soil and the country through resettlement,

to know what is entailed in the fact that 18 million Germans belong
to the Volk but, because they are living outside the borders of the Reich, do not yet belong to the Reich.

Everyone of our Volk who is employed must know for what reason and to what purpose he is where he is. It is only through this living and ever-present knowledge that his life will be rooted in the Volk as a whole, and in its destiny. Providing this knowledge is thus a necessary part of the creation of work; and it is your right, but therefore also your obligation, to demand this knowledge and to endeavor to acquire it.

And now, your younger comrades from the university stand ready to help you acquire this knowledge. They are resolved to help that knowledge to become alive in you, to help it develop and grow strong and never again to slumber. They stand ready, not as “intellectuals” (Gschtudierten) from the class of your “betters,” but as Volksgenossen who have recognized their duty.

They stand ready, not as the “educated” vis-à-vis a class — indeed, a “lower class” — of uneducated individuals, but as comrades. They are prepared to listen to your questions, your problems, your difficulties, and your doubts, to think through them with you, and, in shared effort, to bring them to a clear and decisive resolution. What, therefore, is the significance of the fact that you are assembled here in the auditorium of the University with us?

This fact is a sign that a new, common will exists, the will to build a living bridge between the worker of the “hand” and the worker of the “head.” Today, the will to bridge this gap is no longer a project that is doomed to failure. And why not? Because the whole of our German reality has been changed by the National Socialist State, with the result that our whole past way of understanding and thinking must also become different.

What we thought up to now when we used the words “knowledge” and Wissenschaft has taken on another significance.

What we meant up to now with the words “worker” and “work” has acquired another meaning.

Wissenschaft is not the possession of a privileged class of citizens, to be used as a weapon in the exploitation of the working people. Rather, Wissenschaft is merely the more rigorous and hence more responsible form of that knowledge which the entire German Volk must seek and demand for its own historical existence as a state (sein eigenes gesckichtiich-staat-liches Dasein) if it still wants to secure its continued existence and greatness and to preserve them in the future. In its essence, the knowledge of true Wissenschaft does not differ at all from the knowledge of the farmer, the woodcutter, the miner, the artisan. For knowledge means: to know one’s way around in the world into which we are placed, as a community and as individuals.

Knowledge means: in our decisions and actions to be up to the task that is assigned us, whether this task be to till the soil or to fell a tree or to dig a ditch or to inquire into the laws of Nature or to illumine the fate-like force of History.

Knowledge means: to be master of the situation into which we are placed.

What is decisive is not so much how varied our knowledge is and what quantity of things we know, but whether our knowledge has grown naturally out of and is directed towards our circle of existence (ein urspriinglich gewachsenes und aufunseren Daseinskreis ausgerichtetes) and whether, through our deeds and in our behavior, we take responsibility for what we know. We no longer distinguish between the “educated” and the “uneducated.” — And not because these are both the same, but because we no longer tie our esdmation of a person to this distinction. We do, on the other hand, differentiate between genuine knowledge and pseudo-knowledge. Genuine knowledge is something that both the farmer and die manual laborer have, each in his own way and in his own field of work, just as the scholar has it in his field. And, on the other hand, for all his learning, the scholar can in fact simply be wasting his time in die idle pursuit of pseudo-knowledge.

If you are to become ones who know here, then that does not mean that you will be served up scraps of some “general education,” as a charitable afterthought. Rather: that knowledge shall be awakened in you by means of which you — each in his respective class and work group — can be clear and resolute Germans.

Knowledge and die possession of knowledge, as National Socialism understands these words, does not divide into classes, but binds and unites Volksgenossen and social and occupational groups (Stände) in the one great will of the State.

Like these words “knowledge” and Wissenschaft, the words “worker” and “work,” too, have a transformed meaning and a new sound. The “worker” is not, as Marxism claimed, a mere object of exploitation. The workers (Arbeiterstand) are not the class of the disinherited who are rallying for the general class struggle. But labor is also not simply the production of goods for others. Nor is labor simply the occasion and die means to earn a living. Rather:

For us, “work” is the title of every well-ordered action that is borne by the responsibility of the individual, the group, and the State and which is thus of service to the Volk.

Work only exists where man’s determination and perseverance are freely engaged in the assertion of will and die accomplishment of a task; but there it exists everywhere. Therefore, all work is, as work, something spiritual (Geistiges), for it is founded in die free exercise of expert knowledge and in the competent understanding of one’s task; mat is: It is founded in authentic knowledge (eigentliches Wissen). The accomplishment of a miner is basically no less spiritual than the activity of a scholar.

Worker and work, as National Socialism understands these words, does not divide into classes, but binds and unites Volksgenossen and the social and occupational groups into the one great will of the State.

“Workers” and “academics” (die wissenschaftlich Wissenden) are not opposites. Every worker is, in his own way, one who knows; and only as one who knows is he able to work at all. The privilege of work is denied the animal. And conversely: Every person who acts knowingly and who makes decisions in and on the basis of Wissenschaft (wissenschaftlich Entscheidender) is a worker.

For this reason, neither for you nor for us can the will to build a living bridge remain any longer an empty, hopeless wish. This will, to consummate the creation of jobs by providing the right kind of knowledge, this will must be our innermost certainty and never faltering faith. For in what this will wills, we are only following the towering will of our Führer. To be his loyal followers means: to will that the German people shall again find, as a people of labor, its organic unity, its simple dignity, and its true strength; and that, as a state of labor, it shall secure for itself permanence and greatness.

To the man of this unprecedented will, to our Führer Adolf Hitler — a threefold “Sieg Heil!”

* This address was given by Heidegger at Freiburg University to 600 “beneficiaries” of the Nazi “labor service” program. Published in Der Alemanne Kampftlatt der Nationalsotialisten Oberbadens, February 1, 1934. Compiled by Richard Wolin and translated by William S. Lewis. Published in New German Critique, 45, Fall 1988.

Heidegger’s Existentialism
Political Implications
Karl Löwith

followed by
My Last Meeting with Heidegger, Rome 1936

Author’s Bio

It is possible that a philosopher could be guilty of a compromise with political authority in an apparently inconsequential manner; he himself might be aware of this. But what he could not be aware of is the possibility that this apparent compromise with authority finds its basis in the most profound deficiency … of his own doctrine.
If therefore a philosopher should “conform” (by making concessions to authority), his disciples will have to explain what he himself was aware of in a merely external way, in an internal and essential fashion.
Karl Marx, Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

The essay that follows was written outside of Germany in 1939 with the sole aim of clarifying my own ideas and without any intention of being published. Today (1946), I am publishing it in French translation, since I am convinced that the immediate political – i.e., National Socialist – implications of Heidegger’s concept of existence – though they might seem outstripped by contemporary events – possess an historical significance which reaches well beyond the figure of Heidegger, as well as the German situation of the interwar period. The fact that during the last war, Heidegger found a wide audience among French intellectuals, in contrast to the situation of Germany at that time, is a symptom which merits renewed attention.

His Sein und Zeit, which appeared in 1927, is still one of the rare, truly important contemporary philosophical publications, and when, in an era such as ours, an author is able to develop a following and to increase his influence continually over the course of 25 years, he must certainly contain something of substance. One should not forget either that this same man, whose thought was so relevant, also assimilated Greek philosophy and scholastic theology into his work. His knowledge, which is of the first hand variety, derives from the sources themselves.

The following study treats the implications and historico-philosophical consequences of Heidegger’s philosophy almost exclusively in relation to his speeches and lectures, rather than in terms of his philosophical oeuvre properly speaking. This may appear unjust insofar as the influence of Heidegger’s thought has been spurred much more by his work than his speeches, which aim explicitly at a practical effect. This appearance of injustice disappears, however, as soon as one realizes that Sein und Zeit also represents – and in a far from inessential manner – a theory of historical existence; whereas, on the other hand, the practical application of this project to an actual historical situation is only possible insofar as Sein und Zeit already contains a relation to contemporary reality. It is this practical-political application in terms of an actual commitment to a determinate decision that in truth justifies or condemns the philosophical theory that serves as the basis of this commitment. What is true or false in theory is also so in practice, above all when the theory itself originates in conscious fashion from a supreme fact – historical existence – and when its path leads it toward the latter.

The author, for many years a student of Heidegger, indebted to his master for certain essential intellectual impulses, will undoubtedly have to justify the employment of passages taken from private letters in face of the currently dominant conception of the separation of public from private life. My sole justification is that the personal and spontaneous thoughts of a thinker who was so discrete and guarded about his powerful dialectical capacities clarifies the fundamental traits of his philosophical aim better than a sagacious discussion of the existential categories, the aspects of which have already been fully elaborated.

The reader of this essay may choose to find a significant defense of Heidegger’s philosophy or a condemnation of his political attitudes. In the author’s eyes, however, these alternatives lack real meaning, insofar as the historical importance of Heideggerianism rests to a large extent on the fact that he took on political responsibilities and involvements in a manner consistent with the fundamental thesis of Sein und Zeit:

Only an essentially futural being… that is free for its death and can let itself be thrown back upon its factual “there” by shattering itself against death … can, by handing down to itself the possibility it has inherited, take over its own thrownness and be in the moment of vision for “its time.”

In order to understand the historical background of Heidegger’s philosophy, it will be useful to relate it to remarks by Rilke and Van Gogh. Certain sentences from Rilke’s letters (cf. Briefe, 1914-1921, pp. 89ff.) could easily serve as guiding threads to the intellectual achievement of Heidegger’s oeuvre. By dint of belief in progress and humanity, observes Rilke, the bourgeois world has forgotten the “ultimate instances” of human life, i.e., “that it has been once and for all surpassed by death and by God.” In Sein und Zeit, death has no other meaning than that of an “unsurpassable last instance” of our Being and capacities. In Heidegger, God is no longer at issue; he had been too much of a theologian to be able, like Rilke, to once again tell “Stories of the Dear Lord.” For Heidegger, death is the nothingness that reveals the finitude of our temporal existence; or, as he put it in one of his first courses in Freiburg, death is historical “facticity.”

Van Gogh is the painter whose influence was the greatest in Germany after World War I. “For years,” Heidegger wrote me in 1923, “a saying of Van Gogh’s has obsessed me: ‘I feel with all my power that the history of man is like that of wheat: if one is not planted in the earth to flourish, come what may, one will be ground up for bread.’ Woe to him who is not pulverized.” Instead of devoting oneself to the general need for cultivation, as one would upon receiving the command to “save culture,” one must – in a (time of) radical disintegration and regression, a Destruktion – convince oneself firmly of “the one thing that matters”‘ without bothering with the chatter and bustle of clever and enterprising men.

In this search for the “one thing that matters,” Heidegger turns above all toward Kierkegaard, though he does not permit himself to be consumed by him. The goal and theme of his existentialist philosophy is not “to attract attention to Christianity, but to formally thematize this-worldly existence.”

“My will, fundamentally, aspires to something else, and that is not much: living in an actual revolutionary situation, I pursue what I feel to be ‘necessary,’ without caring to know whether it emerges from ‘culture’ or whether my search will lead to ruin” (letter from Heidegger, 1920). He had a horror of all “philosophies of culture,” as well as of philosophy conferences; the vast number of journals that appeared after World War I aroused his emotional wrath. With bitter severity, he wrote to Scheler that he “renewed” E. Von Hartmann, while other scholars published an Ethos and a Kairos, in addition to an already antiquated Logos. “What will be next week’s joke? I believe that a lunatic asylum viewed from within would offer a more reasonable and clear perspective than this epoch.” Following this negation in principle of all that existed, as well as all programs aiming at reform, Heidegger at the same time made us guard against a false interpretation and over-estimation of his own work — against the idea that he would have some- thing “positive” to say or “new results” to show.

“The idea has emerged that our critique must be opposed to something that corresponds in content to that which has just been denied, or that our work would find its destiny in a school or trend, that it could be continued and complemented.” This work, he continued, is nothing of this nature. It is limited to a critical and rational destruction of philosophical and theological traditions; it thereby remains “something apart from and perhaps out of reach of the bustle of the day” (letter from Heidegger, 1924). On the whole, by viewing himself as beyond what is in and out of fashion, the philosopher must derive satisfaction, for where things age rapidly, there is not necessarily much depth to be found. The later attempt at a “fundamental ontology” was born of this attitude: i.e., an analysis of Being that is based on temporal existence – our Dasein which is at the same time historical and tied to particular moments – and the attempt to “destroy,” beginning from this position, the history of the reflection on Being, from the Greeks to Nietzsche, in order thereby to concentrate this reflection completely on the unique question of the meaning of Being – the question that is, at the same time, the simplest, the most essential, and the most original.

It was only against his original expectations that the enormous success of his courses and the extraordinary influence of his work – despite its difficulty – pushed him beyond the desired limits and made his thought fashionable. The primary attraction of his philosophical doctrine was not that it led his disciples to await a new system, but was instead its thematic indeterminacy and pureness; more generally, it was his concentration on “the one thing that mattered.” It was only later that many of his students understood that this “one thing” was nothingness, a pure Resolve, whose “aim” was undefined. One day a student invented the far from innocent joke: “I am resolved, only toward what I don’t know.”

The inner nihilism, die “national socialism,” of this pure Resolve in face of nothingness, remained at first hidden beneath certain traits which suggested a religious devotion; in effect, at this time (the early 1920s), Heidegger had not yet definitively broken with his theological origins. I remember having seen on his desk in Freiburg portraits of Pascal and Dostoyevsky, and on the wall in a comer of die room – which resembled a cell — hung a magnificent Expressionist crucifixtion scene. He gave me The Imitation by Thomas à Kempis as a Christmas present in 1920. Again in 1925, he saw spiritual substance in theology alone, and even here, only in Karl Barth, whose Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans had appeared in 1918 (at the same time as Spengler’s Decline of the West).

The extraordinary fascination that Spengler, Barth, and Heidegger – despite their various divergences – exerted upon a generation of young Germans following the First World War derives from a common source. Their shared position can be seen in the clear awareness of being situated in a crisis – a turning point between epochs; and thus being obliged to confront questions too radical to find an answer in the enfeebled, 19di-century belief in progress, culture, and education. The questions that agitated this young generation, devoid of illusions, yet sincere, were fundamentally questions of faith. One read Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, and Kierkegaard; and here one rediscovered the internal nexus between radical negation and radical affirmation, between skepticism and faith. In this period, Heidegger still explicitly counted himself among the ranks of the “theological Christians;” just as, ten years later, he affirmed that Nietzsche, the great destroyer, had been the “sole true believer” of the 19th century. The power of this spiritual stance is in direct relation to its power of negation, for a new faith is possible and necessary as soon as one has recognized the decrepitude of what one formerly believed. It was above all the young Luther – the Protestant whose rigorous faith considered the “natural reason” of the Scholastics a form of prostitution – to whom Heidegger was attracted. He knew Luther’s works better than many a professional theologian.

The hidden motto of Sein und ZeitUnus quisque robustus sit in existentia sua – also comes from Luther. Heidegger, abandoning faith in God, translates it by ceaselessly insisting on that which alone, in his opinion, is important: “that each individual do what his capacities permit,” — i.e., the “authentic capacity-for-Being always specific to each individual” – or the “existential limit of our ownmost particular historical facticity.”

He referred to this “capacity-for-Being” both as a duty and as a “destiny.” “I do only what I must do and what I believe to be necessary, and I do it as my powers permit. I do not embellish my philosophical labors with cultural requirements suitable for a vague historical present. I no longer subscribe to a Kierkegaardian outlook. I work from my own ‘I am’ and from my entirely particular spiritual origin. From this facticity surges the fury of ‘Existence’ ” (Letter, 1920).

Whoever, on the basis of these remarks, reflects on Heidegger’s later partisanship for Hitler, will find in this first formulation of the idea of historical “existence” the constituents of his political decision of several years hence. One need only abandon the still quasi-religious isolation and apply [the concept of| authentic “existence” — “always particular to each individual” – and the “duty” (Müssen) which follows from it to “specifically German existence” and its historical destiny in order thereby to introduce into the general course of German existence the energetic but empty movement of existential categories (“to decide for oneself; “to take stock of oneself in face of nothingness”; “wanting one’s ownmost destiny”; “to take responsibility for oneself) and to proceed from there to “destruction,” now on the terrain of politics. It is not chance, if one finds a political “decisionism” in Carl Schmitt which corresponds to Heidegger’s existentialist philosophy, in which the “capacity-for-Being-a-whole” of individual authentic existence is transposed to the “totality” of the authentic state, which is itself always particular. Corresponding to the preservation and affirmation of this authentic Dasein (in Heidegger) is the affirmation of political existence (in Schmitt); to “freedom for death” (in Heidegger), the “sacrifice of life” in the politically paramount case of war (in Schmitt). The principle is the same in both cases: naked “facticity,” which is all that remains of life when one has surpressed all traditional living contents.

The term in Sein und Zeit which expresses the concept of facticity is Existenz. It does not mean “the Being of a thing” (Was-Sein) (essentia), but the fact that a being is (existentia) – i.e., die pure fact of existing. This existence, stripped of all security and standing in relation to nothing other than itself, constitutes the essence of Dasein in Heideggerian philosophy; and Dasein itself is the foundation of all awareness of Being. Pure Dasein, the fundamental thesis of existential philosophy, presupposes that all traditional truths and contents of life have lost their substance. If one compares the modem conception of naked, resolute existence with the parallel notion in the Christian tradition, the revolutionary radicalism of Heidegger’s central thesis emerges clearly. Medieval philosophy believed mat all created being was differentiated into essence and existence; whereas God alone exists essentially, insofar as perfection pertains to his essence and perfection requires existence. The creator of Being alone unites essence and existence. But Heidegger’s fundamental ontology no longer acknowledges an eternal creator outside of time with respect to this unity of essence and existence (formerly, the ontological prerogative of God). Instead, one is left with a “temporal” Dasein, abandoned to itself, the essence of which derives solely from the fact “mat it is” and that it “must be.”

Certainly, Heidegger has not furnished an answer to the question of why this having-to-be is, and by not answering it, he avoids posing the question of suicide. In me Heideggerian analytic of Dasein., “freedom-for-death” merely signifies the possibility of consciously anticipating the temporal “end” and integrating the latter in “everyday Dasein.” In this projection toward the imminence of death, the supreme freedom of Dasein as such is affirmed. But when one thinks of the thousands of actual suicides committed in Germany after 1933, first, by the adversaries and victims of the Third Reich, and later by its defeated representatives, one cannot deny that the attitude toward there-being and not-being (Dasein and Nicht-Sein) expressed in Heideggerian philosophy has an importance concerning practical consequences for life that cedes nothing to the belief in God and immortality. Without recourse to the idea of an eternal creator of Being, it would undoubtedly be very difficult to refute Heidegger’s fundamental thesis concerning death as the “ultimate instance” of human Dasein, or to refute it from a moral standpoint. It is true that, from another perspective, the experience of the naked and insecure state of human Dasein constitutes a negative condition of the possibility of a religious vision of life. When one refuses to draw a religious conclusion from this fact, nothingness represents in effect the ultimate horizon before which the “meaning of Being” manifests itself. From this perspective, the nihilism of Heidegger’s existential ontology possesses foundations that are much more solid and profound than his adversaries – who cling to the ideas of progress and culture – are willing to concede. The fact that Heidegger, by virtue of an irreverent radicalism that can often repel, constantly attracted new disciples, that he was offered a chair in 1930 (during Weimar, and not only during Nazi rule) at the most prestigious German university (Berlin), an offer which he refused, should give his adversaries cause for reflection. However, though Heidegger resisted the call to Berlin, he succumbed to the temptation of directing Freiburg University.

Heidegger’s accession to the rectorship of Freiburg University was an event. It came at a decisive time during the “German Revolution,” insofar as all the other universities at this critical juncture lacked a leader capable of filling his role — not merely by virtue of his Party membership, but by virtue of his intellectual stature. As a result, his decision took on a more than local significance. It was felt everywhere, for Heidegger was then at the zenith of his fame. The students in Berlin demanded that all the other universities follow the example of Glekhschaltung practiced in Freiburg. Heidegger’s disciples were surprised by his decision. He had almost never expressed his opinion about political matters, and it did not seem that he had a firm opinion concerning such issues.

Heidegger, however, inaugurated his rectorship with a speech on “The Self-Affirmation of the German University.” Compared to the numerous pamphlets and speeches published by professors who were the beneficiaries of Gleichschaltung after the fall of the Weimar government, Heidegger’s speech is philosophically demanding, a minor stylistic masterpiece. From a strictly philosophical standpoint, the speech is strangely ambiguous from beginning to end. It succeeds in positing existential and ontological categories at a specific historical “moment,” in a way that suggests that their philosophical intentions a priori go hand in hand with the political situation, and that academic freedom jibes with political coercion. “Labor service” and “military service” are on a par with “service in knowledge” such that at the end of the speech, the listener was in doubt as to whether he should start reading the pre-Socratics or enlist in the SA. This is why the speech should not be judged according to one point of view alone, be it purely political or purely philosophical. It would be equally weak considered as a political speech or a philosophical essay. It transposes Heideggerian historical existentialism to contemporary German reality; and thus for the first time the master’s will to action finds suitable terrain and the formal outline of the existential categories receives decisive content.

The speech begins with a strange contradiction. In opposition to the subordination of university autonomy to the state, it advocates the “self-affirmation” (of die university), while denying academic freedom in its “liberal” form as well as [academic] “self-administration,” in order to integrate the universities seamlessly into the National Socialist schema of “leaders” and “followers.” The duty of the rector consists in the spiritual leadership of the professors and students. But he too – the leader – must in his turn be led, by the “spiritual mission of the Volk.” The content and direction of this historical mission remain indeterminate. The mission is in the last analysis decreed by “fate.” Corresponding to the indeterminacy of the mission is an emphasis on its in- exorability. The fate of the Volk is related to that of the university by un-arguable decree; the mission with which the universities are charged is “the same” as that of the Volk. German science and German fate affirm their power in a single “essential will to power” (Wesenswillen zur Macht). The will to essence is tacidy identified with die will to power, insofar as, from the National Socialist perspective, what is essential is the will as such. Prometheus, symbol of Western Will, is the “first philosopher” deserving of a following. As characterized by this promethean will European man is alleged “to have risen up against ‘beings'” to inquire concerning their Being and this revolutionary “uprising” characterizes Geist – the latter surrenders before the superiority of fate, but becomes creative by virtue of this very impotence. Spirit is neither “universal reason” nor (the faculty of) understanding, but rather “knowing Resolve” (wissende Entschlossenheit) toward the essence of Being. Thus the true world of spirit would be a “world of extreme outer and inner danger.” With military rigor, the student, animated by the will to knowledge, is commanded to “advance” to “the outpost of the most extreme danger,” to march, to engage himself and to expose himself, to persevere resolutely in the acceptance of German destiny “there” in the Führer. The relation to Führer and Volk, to honor and the fate of the Volk, is part and parcel of “service in knowledge.” In response to the Nietzschean question as to whether or not Europe wants to be itself, Heidegger says: “We want ourselves.” The youthful power of the German Volk has already decided in favor of the will to self-affirmation, not only in the university, but also with respect to German Dasein in its totality. In order to fully appreciate “the splendor and greatness of this awakening,” one must recall the wisdom of Plato’s saying which Heidegger translates (in a willful distortion) as Alles Grosse steht im Sturm – “Everything great stands in the storm.” So aggressively did Heidegger speak, that what young SS officer would not have felt moved or would have been able to see through the Greek nimbus of this highly German Sturmen. The community of teachers and students would also be a “community of struggle,” for only struggle (Kampf) furthers and preserves knowledge. In a lecture from the same period, Heidegger says: “essence” discloses itself to courage alone, not to contemplation, truth allows itself to be recognized only to the extent that one requires it of oneself. The German Gemüt (or temperament) itself is related to such courage (Mut), Even the enemy is not only vorhanden, but Dasein must create its enemy in order not to become deadened. In general, all that “is” is “governed by struggle,” and where there is neither struggle nor authority, decadence reigns. Essence “essences” in struggle.

Heidegger was leader for only a year. After much disillusionment and many vexations, he resigned his “commission” in order to oppose in his usual way the new “they,” risking bitter remarks in his lectures, which in no way contradicted his substantive attachment to National Socialism as a protestational movement of faith. For the “spirit” of National Socialism pertained less to its national or social dimension than to its Resolve (Entschiossenheit) and dynamics, which, trusting in itself alone – i.e., in its ownmost (German) Seinkönnen (Capacity-for-Being) – renounced all discussion and agreement. Expressions of violence and Resolve thoroughly determine both the vocabulary of National Socialist speeches and Heidegger’s speeches. The apodeictic character of Heidegger’s emotive formulations corresponds to the dictatorial style of the politics in question. It is the level of discourse, not the method, which defines the internal differences among a “community of followers;” and in the endit is “fate” which justifies all willing and confers its metaphysical (seins-geschichtlichen) mantle on the latter.

One month after Heidegger’s speech, Karl Barth wrote his theological appeal against accommodation to the reigning powers, “Theological Existence Today.” To be capable of an analogous act, philosophy, instead of treating “Being and Time,” would have to treat “the Being of Eternity.” But the important point about Heideggerian philosophy consisted precisely in its “resolute temporal understanding of time;” as a philosopher, Heidegger remained a theologian on this point, insofar as eternity seemed identical with God, concerning whom the philosopher “could know nothing.”

From this historical-political background, the specifically German aspects of Heidegger’s conception of Dasein become clear: Existence and Resolve, Being and Capacity-for-Being, the explanation of this capacity as duty and destiny, the stubborn insistence that this Capacity-for-Being is “my particular” (German) Capacity. The terms recur ceaselessly: discipline and coercion (even to attain “intellectual clarity,” one must “coerce oneself), hard, inexorable and severe, taut and sharp (“existence must be maintained at its peak”), to persevere and stand on one’s own, to encounter and expose oneself to danger, revolution, awakening, and disruption. All these terms reflect the disastrous intellectual mind-set of the German generation following World War I. The minutiae of their thought was concerned with “origins” or “ultimates” or “boundary-situations.” At base, all these terms and concepts are expressions of the bitter and hard Resolve that affirms itself in face of nothingness, proud of its contempt of happiness, reason, and compassion.

With the appearance of Sein und Zeit, it is likely that none of Heidegger’s students would have imagined that “my ownmost” death, radically individualized, and a central category of Sein und. Zeit, would be travestied six years later in a celebration of a National Socialist “hero.” But the leap in the existential analytic from death to Heidegger’s Schlageter speech (Freiburger Studentemeitung, June 1, 1933) is merely a passage from a particular and individual Dasein to one that is general, no less particular by virtue of its generality insofar as it is a question of German Dasein. In this memorial speech, composed in bombastic style, it is said that Schlageter died “the most difficult and greatest of all deaths,” shot in cold blood while his humiliated nation was on its knees. “Alone, drawing on his own inner strength, he had to place before his soul an image of the future awakening of the Volk to honor and greatness so that he could die believing in this future.” Heidegger inquires after the origin of this “hardness of will” and “clarity of heart.” He cites in response the mountains of the Black Forest (Schlageter’s home) and their autumnal limpidity. These earthy, natural forces are said to have been transposed into the heart of the young hero. In truth, Schlageter had been one of numerous young Germans left without recourse during the post-war years. Some became communists, some followed an opposite course. They are superbly described in E. von Salomon’s novel, The City. Disenfranchised by the war, they returned from military service unable to find a place in civilian life and joined one of the numerous Freikorps units, living their lives in anti-social aimlessness, adhering to whatever unruly cause presented itself. This is what the existential philosopher calls a “duty.” “He was compelled to go to the Baltic; he was compelled to go to Upper Silesia; he was compelled to go to the Ruhr;” he was compelled to fulfill the destiny chosen by himself. Here is the fatum of classical tragedy become German verbosity – that of a philosopher, no less!

A few months after this speech Germany, with much fuss, left the League of Nations. The Führer decreed elections after the fact in order to demonstrate to world opinion that Germany and Hitler stood united. Heidegger made the Freiburg students march in formation to the local polling place so that they could give their assent to Hider’s decision en bloc. A “yes” to Hider’s decision seemed to him to signify an affirmation of “authentic existence.” The electoral appeal he published in his capacity as rector conforms entirely with the National Socialist idiom and at the same time represents a popularized version of Heidegger’s philosophy:

German men and women!

The German people has been summoned by the Führer to vote; the Führer, however, is asking nothing from the people. Rather, he is giving the people the possibility of making, directly, the highest free decision of all: whether it – the entire people – wants its own existence (Dasein) or whether it docs not want it.

This election simply cannot be compared to all other previous elections. What is unique about this election is the simple greatness of the decision that is to be executed. The inexorability of what is simple and ultimate (des Einfachen und Lettten), however, tolerates no vacillation and no hesitation. This ultimate decision reaches to the outermost limit of our people’s existence. And what is this limit? It consists in the most basic demand of all Being (Sein), that it preserve and save its own essence. A barrier is thereby erected between what can be reasonably expected of a people and what cannot. It is by virtue of this basic law of honor that a people preserves the dignity and resoluteness of its essence.

It is not ambition, not desire for glory, not blind obstinacy, and not hunger for power that demands from the Führer that Germany withdraw from the League of Nations. It is only the clear will to unconditional self-responsibility in enduring and mastering the fate of our people.

That is not a turning away from the community of nations. On the contrary – with this step, our people is submitting to that essential law of human existence to which every people must first give allegiance if it is still to be a people. It is only out of the parallel observance by all peoples of this unconditional demand of self-responsibility that there emerges the possibility of taking one another seriously so that a community can be affirmed.

The will to a true community of nations (Völkergemeinschaft) is equally far removed both from an unrestrained, vague desire for world brotherhood and from blind tyranny. Existing beyond this opposition, this will allows peoples and states to stand by one another in an open and manly fashion as self-reliant entities (das offene und mannhafte Aufsich- und Zueinanderstehen der Völker und Staaten).

The choice that the German people will now make is – simply as an event in itself, and independent of the outcome – the strongest evidence of the new German reality embodied in the National Socialist State.

Our will to national (völkisch) self-responsibility desires that each people find and preserve the greatness and truth of its destiny (Bestimmung). This will is the highest guarantee of security among peoples; for it binds itself to the basic law of manly respect and unconditional honor.

On November 12, the German people as a whole will choose its future. This future is bound to the Führer. In choosing this future, the people cannot, on the basis of so-called foreign policy considerations, vote Yes without also including in this Yes the Führer and the political movement that has pledged itself unconditionally to him. There are not separate foreign and domestic policies. There is only the one will to the full existence (Dasein) of the State.

The Führer has awakened this will in the entire people and has welded it into a single resolve.

No one can remain away from the polls on the day when this will is manifested. (Freiburger Studentenzeitung, November 10, 1933).

It was in his Freiburg inaugural address (“What is Metaphysics?”) that Heidegger spoke for the first time of “the ultimate greatness” of Dasein, which consisted in the latter’s “daring” willingness to expend itself without regard to consequences. Here he makes even greater use of the idea of heroic grandeur. The latter applies to Schlageter’s death no less than Hitler’s daring decision to undertake an audacious and surprise move that rendered meaningless all contractual relations and juridical principles. This act, moreover, was allegedly not an abandonment of the community of European nations, but it alone, “on the contrary,” established the possibility of a true community, where each nation exists on its own, discovering in this stance the true basis of mutuality!

One week before this electoral appeal, Heidegger published a speech intended for the student body composed in very general terms (Freiburger Studentemeitung, November 11, 1933) in which he stated that the National Socialist Revolution represents a “total transformation of German Dasein.” It is up to the students, in their will to knowledge, to remain faithful to what is essential, simple and great, to be disciplined and authentic in their demands, clear and sure in their refusals; to be engaged fighters and to fortify their courage in being ready to sacrifice to save what is essential and to enhance the strength of the Volk. Ideas ought not guide the existence of the students. Hider alone should be their only law: “The Führer alone is the German present and future reality and its law.”

The philosophical definition of Dasein as an existing factum brutum which “is and must be” (Sein und Zeit, #29) – this sinister, active Dasein, stripped of all content, all beauty, all human kindness – is a mirror-image of the “heroic realism” of those Nazi-bred, German faces that stared out at us from every magazine. In his lectures, Heidegger “philosophized with a hammer,” as Nietzsche had done in Twilight of the Idols, yet without the latter’s brilliant psychological acumen. And while Nietzsche maintained an oppositional stance towards Bismarck’s Reich, the “highest free” decision of Heidegger’s Rektoratsrede philosophy gave the sublime name of “fate” to the factum brutum of contemporary German events.

The petty-bourgeois orthodoxy of the party was suspicious of Heidegger’s National Socialism insofar as Jewish and racial considerations played no role. Sein und Zeitwas dedicated to the Jew, Husserl, his Kant-book to the half-Jew, Scheler, and in his courses at Freiburg, Bergson and Simmel were taught. His spiritual concerns did not seem to conform to those of the “Nordic race,” which cared little about Angst in the face of nothingness. Conversely, Professor H. Naumann did not hesitate to explain German mythology with the help of concepts from Sein und Zeit, discovering “care” in Odin and the “they” in Baldur. Yet neither the aforementioned disdain or approval of his National Socialist credentials counts for much in itself. Heidegger’s decision for Hitler went far beyond simple agreement with the ideologyand program of the Party. He was and remained a National Socialist, as did Ernst Jünger, who was certainly on the margins and isolated, but nevertheless far from being without influence. Heidegger’s influence came through the radicalism with which he based the freedom of one’s ownmost individual as well as German Dasein on the manifestness of the naught (des Nichts). Even today (1939), Hitler’s daring decision to risk a war for the sake of Danzig serves as a good illustration of Heidegger’s philosophical concept of “courage for Angst” before nothingness (“Mut zyr Angst” vor dem Nichts) – a paradox which captures the entire German situation in a nutshell.

Given the significant attachment of the philosopher to the climate and intellectual habitus of National Socialism, it would be inappropriate to criticize or exonerate his political decision in isolation from the very principles of Heideggerian philosophy itself. It is not Heidegger, who, in opting for Hitler, “misunderstood himself;” instead, those who cannot understand why he acted this way have failed to understand him. A Swiss professor regretted that Heidegger consented to compromise himself with the “everyday,” as if a philosophy that explains Being from the standpoint of time and the everyday would not stand in relation to the daily historical realities that govern its origins and effects. The possibility of a Heideggerian political philosophy was not born as a result of a regrettable “miscue,” but from the very conception of existence that simultaneously combats and absorbs the “spirit of the age.”

The ultimate motivation of this will to rupture, revolution, and awakening, of this newly politicized Youth Movement from before World War I, is to be found in the awareness of ruin and decline, in European nihilism. It is significant that in Germany, Nietzsche had elevated this “European” nihilism to the rank of the principal philosophical theme, and that it was in Germany that it was able to take on a political form.

The German, first and foremost, bears witness to the universal historical mission of radicalism… No one else is so inexorable and ruthless, for he does not merely limit himself to turning upside down a world that is already upright in order to remain up- right himself, he turns himself upside down. Where the German demolishes, a god must fall and a world must perish. For the German, to destroy is to create, and the crushing of the temporal is his eternity. (Max Stimer)

The Germans have no aptitude for the rational application of freedom within the bounds of human experience (in den Grenzen des Menschlichen). One cannot understand the influence which Heidegger’s philosophical corpus has exerted upon us apart from this will to destruction. Its internal justification is always based on the radical character of the historical situation, on the fact that “old Europe” is finished. Heidegger’s fundamental idea is in effect free of all concern for the alternative: “whetherfrom this destruction a new ‘culture’ will emerge or an acceleration of decline” (letter of 1920). Similarly, the conclusion of the rectoral address of 1933 says that it is too late to transform the old institutions, let alone add new ones. One should instead return to the “original beginnings” of the Greeks in order to begin again in Europe. The danger according to him is that the spiritual power of the West will dry up, that the West will come apart at the seams before we can decide in favor of this renewal, and that as a result, “this exhausted pseudo-culture” will collapse, en- compassing all that is still living in the disorder. At this time, Heidegger still thought that our surviving the collapse or not depended entirely on ourselves, “whether we want ourselves, ourselves again and anew, or whether we do not want ourselves.” He believed that the question had been decided positively in the collective decision to follow the Führer. Three years later in 1936, in a lecture on Holderin, Heidegger concluded on much more resigned note. He shows us, with Hölderin, “the era in which the gods have fled and (that) of the god to come.” The present, hemmed in by this double negative, the “being-no-longer of the gods who have fled” and the “not-yet” of the God to come, is essentially an impoverished and indigent era; it is no longer a question of the “glorious” beginning of 1933.

In such an era, the poet resists and perseveres in the nothingness of this night, an image that recalls the somber conclusion of Max Weber in “Science as a Vocation” (1919). “Of what use are poets in an impoverished era?” Heidegger, too, posed this question on many occasions. To find an answer would undoubtedly be more difficult for him than for the poet himself.

The fascination Heidegger has exerted since 1920 as a result of his Resolve devoid of content and his ruthless critique has endured. The influence of his teachings can be felt almost everywhere – in France no less than elsewhere. The extraordinary success of his teachings is independent of the various relations, good or bad, which Heidegger has maintained with the National Socialist Party over the course of the last twelve years. In reality, what is demonstrated by the somewhat naive apology of the author of “A Visit With M. Heidegger” (Jean Beaufret) (Les Temps Modernes, January 1946) is not that Heidegger was not a distinguished representative of the German Revolution, but that he was so in a manner more radical than (Ernst) Krieck or (Alfred) Rosenberg.

Whether he merely put up with Hitler’s rule or whether he regretted his involvement as an error, the very possibility of his support for the “revolution of nihilism” must be explained from his basic philosophical principle. This principle – existence reduced to itself and resting on itself alone in face of nothingness – is by no means a gratuitious invention. It corresponds, on the contrary, to the radical character of the real historical situation with which Heideggerian existentialism, understood temporally and historically, explicitly identified. This historical situation cannot be dated from the contemporary period, nor is it specifically German. For a century, it has already been felt and expressed by perspicuous Europeans of all countries as a relentlessly approaching catastrophe. “European nihilism” which “prefers to will nothingness than to will nothing at all,” as the later Nietzsche acknowledged and defined it, has had its nervous prophets from the beginnings of the 19th century, in Niebuhr and Goethe; at mid-century, it had them in Burckhardt and Bruno Bauer, in Danilevsky and Kirojevsky, in Marx and Kierkegaard, in Proudhon and Donoso Cortés, in Flaubert and Baudelaire; and at the end of the century, in Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And if the truth of Dasein is really temporal and historical, it must be admitted – at the possible risk of contradiction – that the truth of contemporary German existence must be found more than ever in the philosophy of Heidegger, in the theology of karl Barth, and in Spengler’s philosophy of history; and not with those who try to resurrect the tradition of German idealism for the benefit of German youth. The German situation, for which Heidegger was the principal philosophical spokesman, has not become less radical since 1945; it has become, on the contrary, all the more so, and it is difficult to say where this will lead.

This essay was originally published (in French translation) in Les temps modernes 14, (1946-47). A revised version appears in Löwith’ autobiographical essay Mein Leben in Deutschland vor und nach 1933, Stuttgart, 1986. Translated by Richard Wolin and Melissa J. Cox.

My Last Meeting with Heidegger, Rome 1936

In 1936, during my stay in Rome, Heidegger gave a lecture on Hölderlin at the German-Italian Culture Institute. Afterwords, he accompanied me to our apartment and was visibly taken aback by the poverty of our furnishings…

The next day, my wife and I made an excursion to Frascati and Tusculum with Heidegger, his wife, and his two small sons, whom I had often cared for when they were little. It was a radiant afternoon, and I was happy about this final get together, despite undeniable reservations. Even on this occasion, Heidegger did not remove the Party insignia from his lapel. He wore it during his entire stay in Rome, and it had obviously not occurred to him that the swastika was out of place while spending the day with me.

We talked about Italy, Freiburg, and Marburg, and also about philosophical topics. He was friendly and attentive, yet avoided every allusion to the situation in Germany and his views of it, as did his wife.

On the way back, I wanted to spur him to an unguarded opinion about the situation in Germany. I turned the conversation to the controversy in the New Zuricher Zeitung and explained that I agreed neither with Earth’s political attack (on Heidegger) nor with Staiger’s defense, insofar as I was of the opinion that his partisanship for National Socialism lay in the essence of his philosophy. Heidegger agreed with me without reservation, and added that his concept of “historicity” was the basis of his political “engagement.” He also left no doubt about his belief in Hitler. He had underestimated only two things: the vitality of the Christian churches and the obstacles to the Anschluss with Austria. He was convinced now as before that National Socialism was the right course for Germany; one only had to “hold out” long enough. The only aspect that troubled him was the ceaseless “organization” at the expense of “vital forces.” He failed to notice the destructive radicalism of the whole movement and the petty bourgeois character of all its “Strength-through-joy” (Kraft durch Freude) institutions, because he himself was a radical petty bourgeois.

In response to my remark that there were many things I could understand about his attitude, except how he could sit at the same table (at the Academy of German Law) with someone like Julius Stretcher,1 he remained silent at first. Then, somewhat uncomfortably, the justification followed… things would have been “much worse” if at least a few intelligent persons (Wissenden) hadn’t become involved. And with bitter resentment against the intelligentsia, he concluded his explanation: “If these gentlemen hadn’t been too refined to get involved, then everything would be different; but, instead, I’m entirely alone now.” To my response that one didn’t have to be especially “refined” in order to renounce working with someone like Stretcher, he answered: one need not waste words over Stretcher, Der Stürmer was nothing more than pornography. He couldn’t understand why Hider didn’t get rid of this guy — whom Heidegger feared.

These responses were typical, for nothing is easier for Germans than to be radical when it comes to ideas and indifferent in practical fact. They manage to ignore all individual Fakta in order to cling all the more decisively to their concept of the whole and to separate “matters of fact” from “persons.” In truth, the program of “pornography” (embodied in anti-Semitic publications such as Der Stürmer) was fulfilled and became a German reality in 1938;2 and no one can deny that Streicher and Hider were in agreement on this matter.

In 1938, Husserl died in Freiburg. Heidegger proved his “Admiration and Friendship” (the terms in which he dedicated his 1927 work (Sein und Zeit) to Husserl) by wasting no words of remembrance or sympathy, either public or private, spoken or written.

Translated by Richard Wolin. Excerpted from Karl Löwith, Mein Leben in Deutschland vor und nach 1933 (Stuttgart: Metzler Verlag, 1986) 56-58.

The Dimensions of Art
On Udi Aloni’s film Forgiveness
Alain Badiou

Author’s Bio

This film presents, as does every film, visible two-dimensional images and audible successions—voices, music, and sounds. These are the evident materials of the film’s composition.

Now, I would like to examine a slightly different idea: an idea that proposes this film as a four-dimensional universe. As an object, insofar as you see it and hear it, the film has three dimensions—two in the visible and one in the auditory. But insofar as the film constructs an artistic idea, insofar as it is capable of transforming its spectator, or its voyeur, of modifying our thought, yours or mine, the film in reality has four dimensions.

I name these four dimensions: the historical dimension, the narrative dimension, the psychoanalytic dimension, and the cultural dimension. The objective of the film, as art work, is to unite these four dimensions, to make them hold together. The artistic dimension is thus like a fifth dimension, achieved by knotting together the four others.

I will now examine the four dimensions one by one.

The historical dimension is, evidently, a meditation on Israel and Palestine. Udi Aloni’s fundamental idea is that “Palestine” is the name that prevents Israel, as it exists, from becoming the incarnation of a Jewish universality in the eyes of the world. But just the same, “Israel” is taken as a hateful word of separation, or object of blind violence, and “Israel” is what prevents Palestine from becoming the incarnation of Arab universality in the eyes of the world. Udi Aloni does not inscribe his film into a prefabricated or abstract vision of the division or conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The question of war or of the sharing of territory is not his main problem. Because my friend Udi thinks that Palestine and the Palestinians are inscribed into the very essence of Israel. The powerful image expressing this idea is that dead Palestinians, their personal effects, their debris, constitute the soil upon which a psychiatric hospital was constructed in a village destroyed during the 1947 war. That is to say that from its origin, what troubles and affects Israel as spirit, as thought, what cannot be torn from it, is precisely the subterranean – fundamental – presence of the absolute wrong done to the Palestinians. It is thus impossible to think the becoming of Israel, just as it is impossible to think what could be left of the becoming of Palestine, under the rule of separation, entrenchment, and walls. On the contrary, the final scene, which depicts an attempt to cure the spiritual malady that Israel, as it exists, has introduced into what constitutes Jewish being, is a scene of descent into the subterranean, a scene of purification via avowal of origin, a scene from whence another history could begin, precisely because at last, nothing requires separation and war anymore. It was said, pronounced, that from its origins the earth itself could have been shared; that it had to be shared. And thus, the knot of daily life that might unite Palestinians and Israelis had no reasonable reason to be interminably divided.

I want to insist on the following point: what this film tells us, its Idea, is in no way a political thesis in the current sense of the term. The truth is inscribed, here, in art. The truth is an effect of art. The film shows in the same shot what is, what might have been, and what should be. What is: separation, war and violence. What might have been: shared love of place as powerful universal value, combining heterogeneous elements in an unprecedented music (music and dance, in Udi Aloni’s film, speak from the interior of what is to attest for what might have been). And finally what should be: a new declaration that would allow to start again, and which the title of the film, “Forgiveness”, recapitulates. Once spoken within the movement of what exists, the original sin loses its historical power. There is no longer a need to repeat the separation created by lies. In combining their action on an undivided territory the Jewish universality and the Arab universality would have a pacifying and creative effect on the world – what Mao Zedong called “a spiritual atomic bomb.”

Let us move on to the narrative dimension. The film, after all, also tells a story. The story of a young Jew, son of a German Jew, living in the United States. In revolt against his father’s sterile silence, the son enlists in the Israeli army, in order to finally confront real enemies, instead of historical phantoms. He will kill the child of a woman he loves. He will go insane, become mute, virtually criminal, or suicidal, when the possible repetition of the murder he committed looms over the child of another woman he loves. The women in this film always come from elsewhere, from the other apparent world, from the Arab world. The film exposes this frightening logic of repetition of that which has not been spoken.. But the film also rejects this, by engaging in the process of purification by the return to the origin. The narration accepts ordinary materials in their ordinary order: revolt, violence and war, love, crime and madness, suicide attempts and ultimate salvation. We have here all the elements for a melodrama. And in fact, we have it, this melodrama. Nevertheless, this second dimension, this melodrama, carries with it the first dimension, since each of its terms is also a stage for the inscription of the subject (the young hero) within the historical problem in which he is both situated and transformed. It is here that Udi Aloni takes up the old practice of the coming-of-age novel. And, as always in this kind of novel, individual decisions are also symbols for historical and political choices. Thus the two possible endings that the film virtuosically sets forth. Either the young man, symbolizing Israel, accepts this memory of having been a murderer, and peace and reconciliation become possible, or the young man encloses himself in silence, oblivion, and repetition, thus suiciding. This is to say that continuing in the mode of its contemporary political orientation is the real death threat against Israel – a historical suicide.

The third dimension, the psychoanalytic, draws its connection to the two earlier dimensions by virtue of metaphor. Just as the historical underground of the Israelis’, and thus of the Jews’, spiritual malady is the hidden Palestine, the son’s insanity finds its secret origin in what is obscured and hidden in the father. One of the film’s major themes is that the contemporary problem resides, without a doubt, in the recognition of the fathers by the sons, but even more forcefully in the recognition of the sons by the fathers.

In this regard, the essential scene is perhaps the confrontation between the two possible fathers of the hero, who are both, as their tattoos show, survivors of deportation and extermination. On one side, we have the real father, the German musician who wants to forget – in America – the historical destiny of the Jews. On the other side, we have the true father, the asylum’s craziest old man, guardian of the depths of the earth (“Well said, old mole!” says this prophesied Marxist), who knows that denying Palestinian deaths also forbids all active or peace-bringing memory of the camps and of extermination. The choice of obeying one or the other opens onto the son’s fundamental decision. A decision that also signifies the following: to continue on the path of separation, of war, of wrongs done to the Palestinians, means to give sinister assurance that the millions of dead Jews in fact and forever died for nothing, no matter how many monuments are dedicated to them. In truth, all that can be dedicated to the dead is the living monument of a reconciled Palestine.

Udi Aloni does not shy away from any allusive complexity. This is the difficult charm of his work. Here, we have at once Oedipus, who must kill his father in order to accomplish his destiny, and Freud, with his famous dream of the son who burns under the impotent eyes of the father, who—the father— is incapable of really understanding what the son really means when he says to him, “Father, don’t you see I’m burning?” And is it not true today, that everywhere in the world, our sons are burning under our very eyes, in general incomprehension? But we also have Oedipus at Colonnus, for the dead Palestinian girl is a new Antigone, who both haunts the son as the incarnation of his crime and gently leads him toward purification. But the film is also a very contemporary plea for the subjective operations of psychoanalysis against the objective and memory-less doctrine of chemical medication. To cure the young soldier the old Jewish doctor – played with astonishing naturalness by a great Palestinian actor – opposes as best he can his personal understanding and proximity to the official directives that prescribe a good syringe-full of oblivion serum. He yields to prescribing psychiatric medication by weakness, by virtue of an intrigue with the State (this power struggle is symbolized by a scene of trivial sex with a functionary). We see, here, a connection to the first dimension: on this bloody earth, to forget the initial wrong, to use chemicals against thought, amounts to prepare an infinite repetition of separating violence. What would force destiny toward the direction of salvation would be neither the father’s newfound tenderness for his son, nor the doctor’s too-easy sympathy for him, but rather the voice of the unconscious itself, individual and historical, that of the madman, or of the prophet, who knows that it is underneath the hospital, into the depths of the earth, that one must go to interrupt the fatal destiny of separation, to reinstate a chance for love.

The fourth dimension, which I name “cultural” is, from the start, more polyphonic. It consists in saturating the narration with what we could call artistic and cultural implants, that come from at least four worlds, and in giving, as figure of the country and more generally of the world, to see and to hear that the road toward salvation passes by this multiplicity itself, and never by warmongering palaver about culture shocks. This is not some soft principle of tolerance or respect for difference. It is about directly valorizing the fact that a contemporary universality can belong to no single heritage. Rather, it is something like a braid of knots, some tight, some less so. And it is expressly because Israel or Palestine are the names of an exemplary knot, where distinct heritages can nevertheless play together, that it is here that a universal dwelling, wholly new, could and must begin.

The four cultural worlds cited in Udi’s film are: old European artistic creation, the Arab world’s subtle and almost timeless savoir-vivre and love of life, American modernity, and the irreplaceable spirituality of the Jews. Extraordinary scenes show the interpenetration, the collision, the simultaneous giving-birth, of these worlds that are all implicated in the Israeli-Palestinian turmoil. Let us cite the song of the Palestinian woman who interrupts and subjugates Israeli nightclub dancers, or the dance of the soldiers in the synagogue, as though they had been seized, they, the oppressive warriors, by a loving drunkenness destined to the entire earth. Let us also cite the scene that touches me personally, in which the hero, accompanying himself on the piano, sings a Schumann lied about forgiveness in love, his face streaming with tears. Because in this respect the essential questions of the film– the father, Germany, the extermination of the Jews, Israel, Palestine, the universality of art and the difficulty of love-merge in a whole so complex that a solitary and disarmed subject cannot endure it without coming apart.

You see to what degree Udi Aloni’s film is ramified, as each of the elements of its construction is grafted onto others, in such a way as to make narrative fiction also become artistic allegory, psychoanalytic interrogation, historical meditation, and spiritual proposition. And that, despite the fact that emotional elements circulate freely in the film, each spectator is called, not to separate – as I have done – the ingredients of the film’s composition, but to receive the impact of a situation figured by a film, by an absorbing melodrama, and thus undergoes an evidence as shared as well as indivisible.

I would like to conclude in saying also that the film is essentially optimistic. As repetitive and despairing as a situation can be, there exists with in it, within its very entanglement, the chance for a respite. It is this conviction that the film orders. In this sense it belongs in what I have called affirmationism, in the hope of proposing thus a motto for the art to come. The doctrine according to which ideas generated by art do not so much carry a judgment upon the world as they indicate the point from which the world could be transfigured. Udi’s filmic figurations of Israel and Palestine are affirmationist in this sense. They indicate the point where separation could be overcome, they announce the power of Palestisrael, or of Israpalestine, to become the immanent transfiguration of the disaster itself.

Thank you, dear Udi.

translated from the French by Ariana Reines.

The Lacanian Real: Television
Slavoj Zizek

Author’s Bio

Lacan: Television – let’s proceed like idiots; let’s take this title literally and ask ourselves a question, not the question, “what can we learn about TV from Lacan’s teaching?” which would get us on the wrong path of so-called applied psychoanalysis, but the inverse question, “what can we learn about Lacan’s teaching from the TV phenomenon?” At first sight, this seems as absurd as the well-known Hegelian proposition defining phrenology, “the spirit is the bone”: the equalization of the most sublime, elusive theory with the vulgar mass-cultural phenomenon. But perhaps, as in the Hegelian proposition, there is a “speculative truth” beneath the obvious banality – perhaps certain peculiarities of the American TV program allow us to grasp the fundamental Lacanian proposition that psychoanalysis is not a psychology: the most intimate beliefs – even the most intimate emotions such as compassion, crying, sorrow, laughter – can be transferred, delegated to others without losing their sincerity.

The first TV-lesson: psychoanalysis is not psychology

In his seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan is speaking of the role of the Chorus in antique tragedy: we, the spectators, came to the theatre worried, full of everyday problems, unable to accustom ourselves without reserve to the problems of the play, i.e. to feel the required fears and compassions. But no problem; there is the Chorus, which is feeling the sorrow and the compassion instead of us, or, more precisely, we are feeling the required emotions through the medium of the Chorus: “You are then relieved of all worries, even if you don’t feel anything; it is the Chorus who will do it in your place.” [1] Even if we, the spectators, are just drowsily watching the show, objectively – to use this good old Stalinist expression – we are doing our duty of feeling compassion for the heroes. In so-called primitive societies, we find the same phenomenon in the form of “weepers,” women hired to cry instead of us. So, through the medium of the other, we accomplish our duty of mourning, while we can spend our time on more profitable exploits, disputing how to divide the inheritance of the deceased, for example.

But to avoid the impression that this exteriorization, this transference of our most intimate feelings, is just a characteristic of the so called primitive stages of development, let’s remind ourselves of a phenomenon quite usual in popular TV shows or serials – canned-laughter. After some supposedly funny or witty remark, you can hear the laughter and the applause included in the soundtrack of the show itself. Here we have die exact counterpart of the Chorus in antique tragedy; it’s here that we have to look for “living Antiquity.” That is to say, why this laughter? The first possible answer – that it serves to remind us when to laugh – is interesting enough because it implies the paradox that laughter is a matter of duty and not of some spontaneous feeling. But this answer isn’t sufficient, because usually we don’t laugh. The only correct answer would then be that the other – embodied in the TV-set – is relieving us even of our duty to laugh, i.e., is laughing instead of us. So, even if, tired from the hard day’s stupid work, we did nothing all evening but gaze drowsily into the TV-screen, we can say afterwards that objectively, through me medium of the other, we had a really good time.

All this is, of course, just to illustrate the alienation of the subject in the signifier as soon as he is caught in the radically exterior signifying network, he is mortified, dismembered, divided. To get an idea of what is meant by the Lacanian division of the subject, one has only to remember the well-known paradox of Lewis Carroll: “I’m so glad I don’t like asparagus,” said the small girl to a sympathetic friend. “Because, if I did, I should have to eat it – and I can’t bear it!” Here you have the whole Lacanian problem of the reflexivity of desire: desire is always a desire of a desire, i.e., the question is not immediately, “what should I desire?” but, “there are a lot of things that I desire; I have a lot of desires – which of them is worth being the object of my desire? Which desire should I desire?” This paradox is literally reproduced in the basic situation of the classic Stalinist political processes where the accused victim is at the same time supposed to confess his love for the asparagus (the bourgeoisie, the counter-revolution) and express an attitude of disgust towards his own activity which goes to the point of demanding the death penalty for himself. That’s why the Stalinist victim is the perfect example of the difference between the sujet d’énoncé (subject of the statement) and the sujet d’énonciation (subject of the enunciating). The demand that the Party addresses to him is: “At this moment, the Party needs the process to consolidate the revolutionary gains, so be a good communist, do a last service to the Party and confess.” Here we have the division of the subject in its purest form: the only way for the accused to confirm himself as a good communist at the level of the sujet d’énonciation, is to confess, i.e., to determine himself, at the level of the sujet d’énoncé, as a traitor. Ernesto Laclau was perhaps right when he once remarked that it isn’t only Stalinism which is a language-phenomenon; it is already language itself which is a Stalinist phenomenon.

Here, however, we must carefully distinguish between this Lacanian notion of the divided subject and the “post-structuralist” notion of the subject-positions. In “post-structuralism,” the subject is usually reduced to subjection. He is conceived as an effect of a fundamentally non-subjective process: the subject is always caught in, traversed by, the pre-subjective process (of “writing,” of “desire,” etc.), and the accent is put on die different modes of how individuals “experience,” “live,” their positions as “subjects,” “actors,” “agents” of the historical process. For example, it is only at a certain point in European history that the author of works of art, a painter or a writer, began to see himself as a creative individual who, in his work, is giving expression to his interior subjective richness. The great master of such analysis was, of course, Foucault: one might say that the main point of his late work was to articulate the different modes of how individuals assume their subject-positions.

But with Lacan, we have quite another notion of the subject. To put it in a simple way: if we abstract, if we subtract all the richness of the different modes of subjectivization, all the fullness of experience present in the way individuals “live” their subject-positions, what remains is an empty place which was filled out with this richness; and this original void, this lack of the symbolic structure is the subject, the subject of the signifier. The subject is therefore to be strictly opposed to the effect of subjectivation: what the subjectivation masks is not a pre- or trans-subjective process of writing but a lack in the structure, a lack which is the subject.

Our predominant idea of the subject is, in Lacanian terms, that of the “subject of the signified,” the active agent, the bearer of some signification who is trying to express himself in the language. The starting point of Lacan is, of course, that the symbolic representation represents the subject always in a distorted way, that it is always a displacement, a failure, i.e., that the subject cannot find a signifier which would be “his own,” that he is always saying less or too much, in short: something other than what he wanted, intended to say. The usual conclusion from this would be that the subject is some kind of interior richness of meaning which always exceeds its symbolic articulation: “language cannot express fully what I’m trying to say…” The Lacanian thesis is its exact opposite: this surplus of signification masks a fundamental lack. The subject of the signifier is precisely this lack, this impossibility to find a signifier which would be “his own”: the failure of his representation is a positive condition. The subject tries to articulate himself in a signifying representation, and the representation fails; instead of a richness we have a lack, and this void opened by the failure is the subject of the signifier. To put it in a paradoxical way: the subject of the signifier is a retroactive effect of the failure of his own representation; that’s why the failure of representation is the only way to represent him adequately.

To make this crucial point clearer, let’s take again the Hegelian proposition on phrenology: “the spirit (the subject) is a bone, a skull (der Geist ist ein Knochen).” If we read this proposition literally, it is vulgar-materialistic nonsense, reducing the subject to his immediate material reality. But where lies, in Hegel’s words, the speculative truth of this proposition? The effect of the phrase, “the spirit is a bone.” On the listener is the feeling of its utter inadequacy, of its absolute contradiction: it is total nonsense – how can we reduce the spirit, its dialectical movement, to an inert presence of a dead object, of a skull? The Hegelian answer me subject is precisely this absolute contradiction, this absolute negativity that we feel when we experience the uttermost inadequacy of the proposition, “the spirit is the bone.” We have here a kind of dialogic economy: we articulate a proposition defining the subject, and our attempt fails; we experience the absolute contradiction, the extreme negative relationship between the subject and the predicate – and it’s precisely this absolute discordance which is the subject as absolute negativity. It is the same as with a well-known joke from the Soviet Union about Rabinovitch, a Jew who wants to emigrate. The bureaucrat at the emigration office asks him why; Rabinovitch answers: “There are two reasons why. The first is that I’m afraid that in the Soviet Union, the communists will lose power, there will be a counter-revolution, and the new power will put all the blame for the communist crimes on us Jews – and there will be again the anti-Jewish pogroms…” “But,” interrupts the bureaucrat, “this is pure nonsense; nothing can change in the Soviet Union – the Soviet power will last eternally!” “Well,” responds Rabinovitch calmly, “that’s my second reason.” The logic is here the same as with the Hegelian proposition, “the spirit is a bone”: the failure itself of a first reading gives us the true meaning.

The second TV-lesson: you only die twice

Hereby, we have touched the other, usually neglected side of the Lacanian teaching: the side of the object in its inertia, the remnants, the left-over of the signifying process. This object – the Lacanian objet petit a – is filling out the void of the symbolic structure which is the subject: $ ◊ a, “the spirit is a bone.” In Lacanian theory, it is not the word which replaces the absent object; it is on the contrary the object itself which is filling out a lack of the signifier, a central void in the great Other of the symbolic structure. And here again, the cartoons – another characteristic feature of TV – are useful in more than one way to illustrate some fundamental Lacanian categories.

Let’s take the notion of “knowledge in the real”: the idea that nature knows its laws and behaves accordingly. We all know the classical, archetypal scene from the cartoons: a cat is approaching the edge of the precipice, but she doesn’t stop: she proceeds calmly, and although she is already hanging in the air, without ground under her feet, she doesn’t fall. When does she fall? The moment she looks down and becomes aware of the fact that she is hanging in the air. The point of this nonsense-accident is that, when the cat is walking slowly in the air, it is as if the real has for a moment forgotten its knowledge: when the cat finally looks down. She remembers that she must follow the laws of nature and falls down. It’s basically the same logic as in the well-known dream reported in Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams of a father who doesn’t know that he is dead: the point is again that because he doesn’t know that he is dead, he continues to live. He must be reminded of his death, or, to give this situation a comical twist, he is still living because he has forgotten to die. That’s how the phrase memento mori should be read: don’t forget to die!

This introduces us to a distinction between the two deaths: because of the lack of knowledge, the father of Freud’s dream is still living although he is already dead. From this perspective, we can also approach the problem of repetition: in a way, everybody must die twice. That’s the Hegelian theory of repetition in history. When Napoleon lost for the first time and was consigned to Elba, he didn’t know that he was already dead, that his historical role was finished, and he had to be reminded of it through his second defeat at Waterloo. At this point, when he died for the second time, he was really dead. [2]

And, to put it briefly, the place of the Stalinist communist is exactly between the two deaths. The somewhat poetical definitions of the figure of a communist that we find in Stalin’s work are to be taken literally. When, for example, in his speech at the funeral of Lenin, Stalin proclaims, “We, the communists, are people of a special mould. We are made of a special stuff,” it is quite easy to recognize the Lacanian name for this special stuff: objet petit a, the sublime object placed in the interspace between the two deaths. In the Stalinist vision, communists are “men of iron will,” somehow excluded from the everyday cycle of ordinary human passions and weaknesses. It is as if they are in a way “the living dead,” still alive but already excluded from the ordinary cycle of natural forces. It is as if they possessed another body, the sublime body beyond their ordinary physical body. (Is the fact that in Lubitch’s Ninotchka, the role of the high party apparatchik is played by Bela Lugosi, identified with the figure of Dracula, another “living dead,” expressing the presentiment of the described state of things, or is it just a happy coincidence?) The fantasy which serves as a support for the figure of the Stalinist communist is then exactly the same as the fantasy which is at work in the cartoons of Tom and Jerry: behind the figure of the indestructibility and invincibility of the communist who can endure even the most terrible ordeal and survive it intact, reinforced with new strength, there is the same fantasy-logic as that of a cat whose head is blown up by dynamite and who, in the next scene, proceeds intact in its pursuit of its class enemy, the mouse.

The problem is that we find this notion of a sublime body located between the two deaths already with the classical, pre-bourgeois Master: the King, for example – it is as if he possessed, beyond his ordinary body, a sublime, ethereal, mystical body personifying the State. [3] Where then lies the difference between the classical Master and the totalitarian Leader? The trans-substantiated body of the classical Master is an effect of the performative mechanism already described by la Boétie, Pascal, and Marx: we, the subjects, think that we treat the King as a King because he is in himself the King, but in reality a King is a King because we are treating him like one. And this fact that the charismatic power of a King is an effect of the symbolic ritual performed by his subjects, must remain hidden: as subjects, we are necessarily victims of the illusion that the King is already in himself a King. That’s why the classical Master must legitimize his rule with a reference to some non-social, external authority (God, Nature, some mythical past event…). As soon as the performative mechanism which gives him his charismatic authority is unmasked, the Master loses his power.

But the problem with the totalitarian leader is that he doesn’t need this external point of reference anymore to legitimize his rule. He isn’t saying to his subjects, “You must follow me because I’m your Leader.” Quite the opposite: “In myself, I’m nothing. I am what I am only as an expression, an embodiment, an executor of your will; my strength is your strength…” To put it briefly, it is as if the totalitarian Leader is addressing his subjects and legitimizing his power precisely by refer- ring to the above-mentioned Pascalian-Marxian argumentation, i.e., revealing to them the secret of the classical Master. Basically, he is saying to them: “I’m your master because you are treating me as your master; it is you, with your activity, who are making me your master!”

How, then, can we subvert the position of the totalitarian Leader, if the classical Pascalian-Marxian argumentation doesn’t work here any more? Here, the basic deception consists in the fact that the Leader’s point of reference, the instance to which he is referring to legitimize his rule (the People, the Class, the Nation) doesn’t exist, or, more precisely, exists only through and in its fetishistic representative, the Party and its Leader. The misrecognition of the performative dimension runs here in the opposite direction: the classical Master is the Master only insofar as his subjects are treating him as a Master, but here, the People are the “real People” only insofar as they are embodied in its representative, the Party and its Leader. The formula of the totalitarian misrecognition of the performative dimension would then be the following: the Party thinks that it is the Party because it represents the People’s real interests, because it is rooted in the People, expressing their will, but in reality, the People are the People because – or, more precisely, insofar as – they are embodied in the Party. And by saying that the People as a support of the Party don’t exist, we don’t mean the obvious fact that the majority of the people really don’t support the Party rule; the mechanism is a little bit more complicated. The paradoxical functioning of the “People” in the totalitarian universe can be most easily detected through the analysis of phrases like “the whole people supports the Party.” This proposition cannot be falsified because, behind the form of a statement of a fact, we have a circular definition of the People: in the Stalinist universe, “supporting the rule of the Party” is in the last analysis the only feature which – to use Kripkean terms – in all possible worlds defines the People. That’s why the real member of the People is only he who supports the rule of the Party: those who are working against the rule of the Party are automatically excluded from the People; they became the “enemies of the People.” What we have here is a somewhat crueller version of a well-known joke: “my fiancée never misses an appointment with me because the moment she misses one, she isn’t anymore my fiancée.” The People always support the Party because any member of the People who opposes the Party-rule automatically excludes himself from the People.

The Lacanian definition of democracy would then be: a socio-political order where the People don’t exist – they don’t exist as a unity, embodied in their unique representative. That’s why the basic feature of the democratic order is that the place of Power is, by the necessity of its structure, an empty place. [4] In a democratic order, sovereignty lies in the People – but what are the People if not, precisely, the collection of the subjects of the power? Here, we have the same paradox as that of a natural language which is at the same time the last, the highest metalanguage. Because the People cannot immediately govern themselves, the place of Power must always remain an empty place; each person occupying it can only do it temporarily, as a kind of surrogate, substitute for the real-impossible sovereign, – “nobody can rule innocently,” as Saint-Just puts it. And in totalitarianism, the Party again became precisely the subject who, being the immediate embodiment of the People, can rule innocently. It is not by accident that the real socialist countries call themselves “people’s democracies.” Here, finally, “the People” exist again.

The death drive

It is at the level of this difference between the two deaths, of this empty place in the very heart of the Other, that we must locate the problematic of the death drive. The connection between the death drive and the symbolic order is a constant with Lacan, but we can differentiate the various stages of his teaching precisely by reference to the different modes of articulation of the death drive and the signifier.

In the first period (the first seminar, “The Function and the Field of Speech and Language…”), it is the Hegelian phenomenological idea that the word is a death, a murder of a thing: as soon as the reality is symbolized, caught in a symbolic network, the thing itself is more present in a word, in its concept, than in its immediate physical reality. More precisely, we cannot return to the immediate reality: even if we turn from the word to the thing, from the word “table” to the table in its physical reality, for example, the appearance of the table itself is already marked with a certain lack. To know what a table really is, what it means, we must have recourse to the word, which implies an absence of the thing.

In the second period (the Lacanian reading of Poe’s Purloined Letter), the accent is shifted from the word, from speech, to language as a synchronic structure, a senseless autonomous mechanism which produces meaning as its effect If, in the first period, the Lacanian concept of language is still basically the phenomenological one (Lacan is repeating all the time that the field of psychoanalysis is the field of meaning, la signification), here we have a “structuralist” conception of language as a differential system of elements. The death drive is now identified with the symbolic order itself: in Lacan’s own words, it is “nothing but a mask of the symbolic order.” The main thing here is the opposition between the imaginary level of the experience of meaning and the meaningless signifier/signifying mechanism which produces it. The imaginary level is governed by the pleasure principle; it strives for a homeostatic balance. The symbolic order in its blind automatism is always troubling this homeostasis: it is “beyond the pleasure principle.” When the human being is caught in the signifier’s network, this network has a mortifying effect on him; he becomes part of a strange automatic order disturbing his natural homeostatic balance (through compulsive repetition, for example).

In the third period, where the main accent of Lacan’s teaching is put on the real as impossible, the death drive again radically changes its signification. This change can be most easily detected through the relationship between the pleasure principle and the symbolic order. Till the end of the fifties, the pleasure principle was identified with the imaginary level: the symbolic order was conceived as the real “beyond the pleasure principle.” But starting from the late fifties (the seminar on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis) it is on the contrary the symbolic order itself which is identified with the pleasure principle: the unconscious “structured like a language,” its “primary process” of metonymic-metaphoric displacements, is governed by the pleasure principle; what lies beyond is not the symbolic order but a real kernel, a traumatic core. To designate it, Lacan uses a Freudian term das Ding, the Thing as an incarnation of the impossible jouissance (the term Thing is to be taken here with all the connotations it possesses in the domain of horror science-fiction: the “alien” from the movie of the same name is a pre-symbolic, maternal Thing par excellence).

The symbolic order strives for a homeostatic balance, but there is in its kernel, in its very centre, some strange, traumatic element which cannot be symbolized, integrated into the symbolic order: the Thing. Lacan coined a neologism for it: l’extimité – external intimacy, which served as a title for one of the seminars of Jacques-Alain Miller. And what is, at this level, the death drive? Exactly the opposite of the symbolic order: the possibility of what was named by de Sade “the second death,” the radical annihilation of the symbolic texture through which so-called reality is constituted. The very existence of the symbolic order implies a possibility of its radical effacement, of the “symbolic death” – not the death of the so-called “real object” in its symbol but the obliteration of the signifying network itself.

This distinction between the different stages of Lacan’s teaching is not of merely theoretical interest; it has very definite consequences for me determination of me final moment of me psychoanalytic cure. In the first period, where the accent is laid on the word as a medium of the intersubjective recognition of desire, symptoms are conceived as white spots, non-symbolized imaginary elements of the history of the subject, and the process of analysis is that of their symbolization, i.e., of their integration into the symbolic universe of the subject: the analysis gives meaning, retroactively, to what was in the beginning a meaningless trace. So the final moment of analysis is here reached when the subject is able to narrate to the other his own history in its continuity, when his desire is integrated, recognized in a “full speech” (parole pleine).

In the second period, where the symbolic order is conceived as having a mortifying effect on a subject, i.e., as imposing on him a traumatic loss – and the name of this loss, of this lack, is of course the symbolic castration – the final moment of analysis is reached when the subject is made ready to accept this fundamental loss, to consent to symbolic castration as a price to pay for access to his desire.

In the third period, we have the great Other, the symbolic order, with a traumatic element in its very heart; and in Lacanian theory, fantasy is conceived as a construction allowing the subject to come to terms with this traumatic kernel. At this level, the final moment of analysis is defined as “going through a fantasy” (la traversée du fantasme): not its symbolic interpretation but the experience of the fact that the fantasy-object, by its fascinating presence, just fills out a lack, a void in the Other. There is nothing “behind” the fantasy; the fantasy is precisely a construction the function of which is to hide this void, this “nothing,” i.e., the lack in the Other. The crucial element of this third period of Lacan’s teaching is then the shift of the accent from the symbolic to the real. [5]

The prohibition of the impossible

The usual idea of the Lacanian “real” is that of a hard kernel resisting symbolization, dialectization, persisting in its place, always returning to it. There is a well-known science-fiction story (“Experiment” by Fredric Brown) perfectly illustrating this point. Professor Johnson has developed a small-scale experimental model of a time machine. Small articles placed on it can be sent into the past or the future. He first demonstrates to his two colleagues a five-minute time travel into the future, by setting the future-dial and placing a small brass cube on the machine’s platform. It instantly vanishes and reappears five minutes later. The next experiment, five minutes into the past, is a little trickier. Johnson explains that having set the past-dial at five minutes, he will place the cube on the platform at exactly 3 o’clock. But since time is now running backward, it should vanish from his hand and appear on the platform at five minutes before 3; that is, five minutes before he places it there. One of his colleagues asks the obvious question: “How can you place it there, then?” Johnson explains that at 3 o’clock the cube will vanish from the platform and appear in his hand, to be placed on the machine. This is exactly what happens. The second colleague wants to know what would happen if, after the cube has appeared on the platform (five minutes before being placed there), Johnson were to change his mind and not put it there at 3 o’clock. Would this not create a paradox?

“An interesting idea,” Professor Johnson said. “I had not thought of it and it will be interesting to try. Very well, I shall not…”
There was no paradox at all. The cube remained.
But the entire rest of the Universe, professors and all, vanished.

So, even if all symbolic reality dissolves itself, disappears into nothing, the real – the small cube – will return to its place. This is what Lacan means when he says that the ethical imperative is the mode of the presence of the real in the symbolic: Fiat justitia, pereat mundus! The cube must return to its place even if all the world, all symbolic reality perishes.

But this is just one side of the Lacanian real; it’s the side which predominates in the fifties, when we have the real – the brute, pre- symbolic reality which always returns to its place, then the Symbolic order, which structures our perception of reality, and finally the Imaginary, the level of illusory entities whose consistency is the effect of a kind of mirror-play, i.e., which have no real existence but are just a structural effect. With the development of the Lacanian teaching in the sixties and seventies, what he calls “the real” more and more approaches what he called, in the fifties, the imaginary. Let’s take the case of traumatism: in the fifties, in his first seminar, the traumatic event is defined as an imaginary entity which wasn’t yet fully symbolized, given a place in the symbolic universe of the subject In the seventies, the traumatism is real; it is a hard core resisting symbolization. But the point is that it doesn’t matter if it took place, if it “really occurred” in so-called reality; the point is just that it produces a series of structural effects (displacements, repetitions, etc.). The real is an entity which should be constructed afterwards so that we can account for the distortions of the symbolic structure. The most famous Freudian example of such a real entity is of course the primal parricide: it would be senseless to search for its traces in prehistoric reality, but it must nonetheless be presupposed if we want to account for the present state of things. It’s the same as with the primal fight to death between the (future) master and servant in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind: it is senseless trying to determine when this event could have taken place; the point is just that it must be presupposed, that it constitutes a fantasy- scenario implied by the very fact that people are working – it is the intersubjective condition of the so-called “instrumental relation to the world of objects.”

The paradox of the Lacanian real is then that it is an entity which, although it doesn’t exist (in the sense of “really existing,” taking place in reality), has a series of properties. It exercises a certain structural causality; it can produce a series of effects in the symbolic reality of subjects. That’s why it can be illustrated by a multitude of well-known jokes based on the same matrix: “Is this the place where the Duke of Wellington spoke his famous words?” “Yes, this is the place, but he never spoke those words.” These never-spoken words are a Lacanian real. One can quote the examples ad infinitum – “Smith not only doesn’t believe in ghosts, he isn’t afraid of them!” etc. – up to the God himself who, according to Lacan, belongs to the real: “God has all perfections except one – he doesn’t exist!” In this sense, the Lacanian sujet-supposé-savoir (the subject supposed to know) is also such a real entity: it doesn’t exist, but it produces a decisive shift in the development of the psychoanalytic cure. And, to mention the last example: the famous MacGuffin, me Hitchcockian object, the pure pretext the sole role of which is to set in motion the story, but which is in itself “nothing at all.” The only signification of the MacGuffin lies in the fact that it has some signification for the characters, i.e., that it must seem to be of vital importance to them. The original anecdote is well known: two men are sitting in a train. One of them asks, “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?” “Oh, that’s a MacGuffin.” “What’s a MacGuffin?” “Well, it’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.” “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands.” “Well, then, that’s not a MacGuffin.” There is another version which is much more to the point: it runs the same as the other with the exception of the last answer: “Well, you see how efficient it is!” That’s a MacGuffin, a pure nothing which is nonetheless efficient. It is needless to add that the MacGuffin is the purest case of what Lacan calls objet petit a: a pure void which functions as the object-cause of desire.

That would be, then, the precise definition of the real object: a cause which in itself doesn’t exist, i.e., which is present only in a series of its effects, but always in a distorted, displaced way. If the real is impossible, it is precisely this impossibility to be grasped through its effects. Laclau and Mouffe [6] were the first to develop this logic of the real in its relevance for the social-ideological field in their concept of antagonism: antagonism is precisely such an impossible kernel, a certain limit which is in itself nothing, and which is only to be constructed retroactively, from a series of its effects, as the traumatic point which escapes them and prevents a closure of the social field. We might reread this way even the classical notion of the “class struggle”: it is not the last signifier giving the meaning to all social phenomena (“all social processes are in the last instance expressions of the class struggle”), but quite the contrary a certain limit, a pure negativity, a traumatic limit which prevents the final totalization of the socio-ideological field. The “class struggle” is present only in its effects, in the fact that every attempt to totalize the social field, to assign to social phenomena a definite place in the social structure, is always doomed to failure.

If we define the real as such a paradoxical, chimerical entity which, although it doesn’t exist, has a series of properties and can produce a series of effects, it becomes clear that the real par excellence is jouissance: jouissance doesn’t exist; it is impossible, but it produces a lot of traumatic effects. And this paradoxical nature of jouissance offers us also a clue to explain the fundamental paradox which unfailingly attests the presence of the real: the fact of the prohibition of something which is already in itself impossible. The elementary model of it is, of course, the prohibition of incest; but there are many other examples. Let’s just mention the usual conservative attitude towards child sexuality: it doesn’t exist, children are innocent beings, that’s why we must strictly control them and fight child sexuality. Not to mention me obvious fact that the most famous phrase of all analytical philosophy – the last proposition of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus – implies the same paradox: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Immediately, the stupid question arises: if it is already stated that it’s impossible to say anything about the unspeakable, why add that we must not speak about it? We find the same paradox in Kant: when treating the question of the origins of legitimate state power, he says directly that we cannot penetrate the obscure origins of power because we shouldn’t do it (i.e. because by doing it, we put ourselves outside its domain and so automatically subvert its legitimacy). A curious variation on his basic ethical imperative Du kannst, denn du sollst! – you can because you must.

The solution to this paradox – why forbid something which is already in itself impossible? – lies in the fact that the impossibility regards the level of existence (it’s impossible, i.e., it doesn’t exist), while the prohibition regards the properties, its predicates (jouissance is forbidden because of its properties).

Freedom as real

In this sense, we may say that the status of freedom itself is real. The usual “(post)structuralist” approach would be to denounce “freedom” as an imaginary experience resting on misrecognition, on blindness to the structural causality which determines the activity of subjects. But, on the basis of Lacan’s teaching of the seventies, we can approach freedom from another perspective: freedom, “free choice” as a point of the real-impossible.

A few months ago, a Yugoslav student was called to regular military service. In Yugoslavia, at the beginning of military service, there is a certain ritual: every new soldier must solemnly swear that he is willing to serve his country and to defend it even if it means losing his life, etc. – the usual patriotic stuff. After the public ceremony, everybody must sign the solemn document. The young soldier simply refused to sign, saying that an oath depends upon a free choice, that it is a matter of free decision, and he, from his free choice, didn’t want to give his signature to the oath. But, he was quick to add, if one of the officers present was prepared to give him a formal order to sign the oath, he was of course prepared to do it. The perplexed officers explained to him that because the oath depended upon his free decision (an oath obtained by force is valueless), they could not give him such an order, but that, on the other hand, if he still refused to give his signature, he would be prosecuted for refusing to do his duty and condemned to prison. Needless to say, it was exactly this that happened; but before going to prison, the student did succeed in obtaining from the military court of law the paradoxical decision, a formal document ordering him to sign a free oath.

In the relation of the subject to the community to which he belongs, there is always such a paradoxical point of choix forcé. At this point, the community is saying to the subject: you have a freedom to choose, but on the condition that you choose the right thing; you have, for example, the freedom to choose to sign the oath or not, on the condition that you choose rightly, that you choose to sign it If you make the wrong choice, you lose the freedom of choice itself. And it is by no means accidental that this paradox arises at the level of the relation of the subject to the community to which he belongs: the situation of the forced choice consists in the fact that the subject must freely choose the community to which he already belongs independently of his choice: he must choose what is already given to him. The point, then, is that he is never actually in a position to choose: he is always treated as if he had already chosen. And, contrary to the first impression that such a forced choice is a trap by means of which the totalitarian Power catches its subjects, we must stress that there is nothing “totalitarian” about it. The subject who thinks he can avoid this paradox and really have a free choice is precisely a psychotic subject, the one who keeps a kind of distance to the symbolic order, i.e., who isn’t really caught in the signifying network. The “totalitarian” subject is closer to this psychotic position: the proof would be the status of the “enemy” in totalitarian discourse (the Jew in fascism, the traitor in Stalinism) – precisely the subject supposed to make a free choice and to choose freely the wrong side.

This is also the basic paradox of love, not only of one’s country, but also of a woman or a man. If I’m directly ordered to love a woman, it is clear that it doesn’t work: in a way. love must be free. But, on the other hand, if I’m proceeding as if I really have a free choice, if I start to look around and say to myself, “Let’s choose which of these women I will fall in love with,” it’s clear that this also doesn’t work, that it isn’t “real love.” The paradox of love is that it is a free choice, but a choice which never happens in the present, i.e., which is always already done – at a certain moment, I can only state retroactively that I’ve already chosen.

In the philosophical tradition, we find the clearest formulation of this paradoxical choice in Schelling’s Treatise on Human Freedom (1809). Schelling’s initial problem is the so-called sentiment of irrational, unfounded guilt: sometimes we feel guilty even for things for which rationally, on the level of our conscious decisions and aims, we are not responsible. His answer is a radical distinction between freedom and consciousness: the basic character of each human being – good or evil – is the result of an original, eternal, eternally past, a priori, transcendental choice, i.e., of a choice which was always already made although it never took place in temporary, ordinary, everyday reality. Such a free unconscious choice must be presupposed to account for the above-mentioned sentiment that we are guilty even for things which don’t depend upon our conscious decision.

Coincidentia oppositorum

The real is then at the same time the hard, impenetrable kernel resisting symbolization and a purely chimerical entity which has in itself no ontological consistency. To use Kripkean terminology, the real is the rock upon which every attempt at symbolization stumbles, the hard core which remains the same in all possible worlds (i.e., symbolic universes); but at the same time its status is thoroughly precarious: it’s something that persists only as failed, missed, in a shadow, and dissolves itself as soon as we try to grasp it in its positivity. As we have already seen, this is precisely what defines the notion of a traumatic event: a point of failure of symbolization, but at the same time never given in its positivity. It can only be constructed backwards, from its structural effects. All its efficacy lies in these effects, in the distortions it produces in the symbolic universe of the subject The traumatic event is ultimately just a fantasy-construct filling out a certain void in a symbolic structure and as such the retroactive effect of this structure.

There is a series of other oppositions which define the Lacanian concept of the real. First, we have the real as the starting point, the basis, the foundation of the process of symbolization (that’s why Lacan speaks of the “symbolization of the real”), i.e., the real which in a sense precedes the symbolic order and is subsequently structured by it when it gets caught in its network. This is the great Lacanian motif of symbolization as a process which mortifies, drains off, empties, carves the fulness of the real of the living body. But the real is at the same time the product, remainder, left-over, scraps of this process of symbolization, the remnants, the excess which escapes symbolization and which is as such produced by symbolization itself. In Hegelian terms, the real is at the same time presupposed and posed by the symbolic. Insofar as the kernel of the real is jouissance, this duality takes the form of a difference between jouissance, and plus-de-jouir: jouissance is the basis upon which symbolization works, the basis emptied, disembodied, structured by symbolization. But this process produces at the same time a remainder, a left-over which is the surplus-jouissance.

Second, me real is the fullness of the inert presence, positivity; nothing is lacking in me real, i.e., the lack is introduced only by the symbolization; it is a signifier which introduces a void, an absence into the real. But at me same time, the real is in itself a hole, a gap, an opening in the middle of me symbolic order. It is the lack around which the symbolic order is structured. The real as a starting point, as a basis, is a positive fullness without lack; as a product, a left-over of symbolization, it is on the contrary me void, the emptiness created, encircled by the symbolic structure. We might approach the same couple of opposites also from a perspective of negativity: me real is something that cannot be negated, a positive inert datum which is insensitive to negation, which cannot be caught in the dialectics of negativity. But we must add at once, that it is so because the real itself, in its positivity, is nothing but an embodiment, a positivation of a certain void, lack, radical negativity. It cannot be negated because it is already in itself, in its positivity, nothing but an embodiment of a pure negativity, emptiness. That’s why the real object is a sublime object in a strict Lacanian sense, i.e., an object which is just a positivation of the lack in the Other, in the symbolic order. The sublime object is an object which cannot be approached too closely: if we get too near it, it loses its sublime features and becomes an ordinary vulgar object It can persist only in an interspace, in an intermediate state, viewed from a certain perspective, half-seen. If we want to see it in the light of day, it changes into an everyday object, it dissipates itself, precisely because in itself, it is nothing at all. Let’s take a well-known scene from Fellini’s Roma. The workers digging tunnels for a subway find the remnants of some old Roman buildings; they call the archeologists, and when together they enter the buildings, a beautiful view is awaiting them, walls full of frescoes of immobile, melancholy figures. But the paintings are too fragile; they cannot sustain the open air and immediately begin to dissolve, leaving the spectators alone with the blank walls.

Third, as has been pointed out by Jacques-Alain Miller, the status of the real is at the same time that of pure contingency and that of logical consistency. In a first approach, the real is the shock of a contingent encounter which derails the automatic circulation of the symbolic mechanism, a grain of sand preventing its smooth function: a traumatic encounter which ruins the balance of the symbolic universe of the subject. But, as we have seen with regard to the trauma, precisely as an irruption of a total contingency, the traumatic event isn’t anywhere given in its positivity; it can only be logically constructed afterwards as a point which escapes symbolization.

Fourth, if we try to seize the real from the perspective of the distinction between quid and quod, between the properties of a symbolic- universal nature attributed to an object and this object itself in its givenness, a surplus of an X escaping, in its positivity, the network of universal-symbolic determinations – i.e., if we try to approach the real through the field opened by the Kripkean criticism of the theory of descriptions – we should say, first, that the real is the surplus of quod over quid, a pure positivity beyond the series of properties, beyond a set of descriptions; but at the same time, the example of the trauma proves that me real is also the exact opposite: an entity which doesn’t exist but nevertheless has a series of properties.

Last, if we try to define the real in its relation to me function of writing (écrit, not the post-structuralist écriture), we must, of course, in a first approach state that the real cannot be inscribed, that it escapes the inscription (the real of the sexual relation, for example). But at the same time, the real is writing itself as opposed to the signifier. As has been pointed out by Jacques-Alain Miller, the Lacanian écrit has the status of an object and not of a signifier.

This immediate coincidence of opposite or even contradictory determinations is what defines the Lacanian real. We can thus differentiate between the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real status of couples of opposites. In the imaginary relation, the two poles of the opposition are complementary; together, they build a harmonious totality, each of them gives to the other what the other lacks, i.e., each fills out the lack of the other (the fantasy of the fully realized sexual relationship, for example, where Man and Woman are forming a harmonious whole). The symbolic relation is on the contrary differential. The identity of each of the moments consists in its difference from the opposite moment. A given element doesn’t fill in the lack of the other. It isn’t complementary to the other, but on the contrary takes the place of the lack of the other, embodies what is lacking to the other. Its positive presence is nothing but the positivation of a lack of its opposite element. The opposites, the poles of the symbolic relation, thus in a way return each to the other its own lack. They are united on the basis of their common lack. That would also be the definition of symbolic communication: what circulates between the subjects is above all a certain void; the subjects pass to each other a common lack. From this perspective, a woman is not complementary to a man but rather embodies his lack (that’s why Lacan can say that a beautiful woman is a perfect incarnation of the man’s castration). The real is defined as a point of the immediate coincidence of the opposite poles: each of the poles passes immediately into its opposite; each is already in itself its own opposite. The only philosophical counterpart here is Hegelian dialectics. Already at the very beginning of his Logic, Being and Nothingness are not complementary to each other. Nor is Hegel’s point that each of them obtains its identity through its difference from the other. The point is that Being in itself, when we try to grasp it “as it is,” in its pure abstraction and indeterminateness, without further specification, reveals itself to be Nothingness. Another example, perhaps closer to the Lacanian real. would be Hegel’s criticism of Kant’s Thing- in-itself (das Ding-an-sich). Hegel is trying to show how this famous Thing-in-itself, this pure surplus of objectivity which cannot be reached by thought, this transcending entity, is effectively a pure “Thing-of- the-Thought” (Gedankending), a pure form of thought: the transcendence of the Thing-in-itself coincides immediately with the pure immanence of a Thought. That is to say, how do we reach, how do we build the idea of a Thing-in-itself? By making an abstraction, by subtracting all the particular, concrete determinations of the objectivity which are supposed to depend upon our subjectivity. And what remains after this abstraction of all particular, determinate contents is precisely a pure, empty form of Though!

The clue to this paradoxical coincidence of opposites is given by Lacan in Encore when he points out that “the real can be inscribed (peut s’inscrire) only through a deadlock of formalisation.” [7] The real is of course in a first approach that which cannot be inscribed, which “doesn’t cease not to inscribe itself” (ne cesse pas de ne pas s’écrire) – the rock upon which every formalization stumbles. But it is precisely through this failure that we can in a way encircle, locate the empty place of the real In other words, the real cannot be inscribed, but we can inscribe this impossibility itself. We can locate its place: a traumatic place which causes a series of failures. And the whole point of Lacan is that the real is nothing but this impossibility of its inscribing the real is not a transcendent positive entity, persisting somewhere beyond the symbolic order like a hard kernel inaccessible to it, some kind of Kantian “Thing-in-itself.” m itself, it is nothing at all, just a void, an emptiness in a symbolic structure, marking some central impossibility. It is in this sense that the enigmatic Lacanian phrase defining the subject as an “answer of the real” is to be understood: we can inscribe, encircle the void place of the subject through the failure of its symbolization, because the subject is nothing but the point of failure of the process of its symbolic representation.

a, Φ, S(A)

From a Lacanian perspective, the object as real is then, in the last resort, just a certain limit: we can overtake it, leave it behind us, but we cannot reach it. That’s the Lacanian reading of the classic paradox of Achilles and the tortoise: Achilles can of course overtake it, but he cannot reach it, catch up with it. It’s as with the old Brechtian paradox of happiness from The Beggar’s Opera: you must not run to desperately after happiness, because it might happen that you will overtake it, and then happiness will remain behind you. That’s the Lacanian real: a certain limit which is always missed – we always came too early or too late. And, as was pointed out by the late Michel Silvestre, the same thing goes also for so-called “free association” in psychoanalysis. [8] On the one hand, it is impossible to reach it. We cannot really spontaneously give ourselves to it. We always manipulate, have a certain intention, etc. But on the other hand, we cannot escape it: whatever we say during analysis already has the status of free association. For example, I cannot, in the middle of the analysis, turn to the analyst and say: “Now wait a minute, I want now to speak to you really seriously, person to person. …” Even if we do this, its performative force is already suspended, i.e., it already has a status of “free association,” of something that is to be interpreted, that is not to be taken at its face value.

But there are objects and objects. In Lacan’s teaching, we have to distinguish at least three types of objects. To articulate these distinctions, let’s return to the MacGuffin. We must not forget that in Hitchcock’s films, too, the MacGuffin is just one of the three types of objects.

First, then, the MacGuffin itself, “nothing at all,” an empty place, pure pretext for setting in motion the action: the formula of the aircraft-engines in The 39 Steps, the secret clause of the Naval treaty in Foreign Correspondent, the coded melody in The Lady Vanishes, the uranium-bottles in Notorious, etc. It’s a pure semblance. In itself, it is totally indifferent and, by structural necessity, absent Its signification is purely autoreflexive; it consists in the fact that it has some signification for the others, for the principal characters of the story.

But in a series of Hitchcock’s films, we find another type of object which is decidedly not indifferent, not pure absence. What matters here is precisely its presence, the material presence of a fragment of reality. It’s a left-over, a remnant which cannot be reduced to a network of formal relations proper to the symbolic structure, but which is, paradoxically, at the same time the positive condition for the effectuation of the formal structure. This object can be defined as an object of exchange circulating between subjects, serving as a kind of guarantee, a pawn in their symbolic relationship. It is the role of the key in Notorious and in Dial M for Murder, the role of the wedding ring in Shadow of a Doubt and in Rear Window, the role of the lighter in Strangers on a Train, and even the role of the child circulating between the two couples in The Man Who Knew Too Much. It is unique (unaire), non-specularized. It hasn’t a double; it escapes the dual mirror-relation. That’s why it plays a crucial role precisely in the films which are built on a whole series of dual relations, each element having its mirror-counter-part (Strangers on a Train; Shadow of a Doubt, where already the name of the central character is doubled – uncle Charlie, niece Charlie). It is the one which hasn’t got its counterpart, and that’s why it must circulate between the opposite elements. The paradox of its role is that, although it is a left-over of the real, an “excrement,” it functions as a positive condition of the restoring of a symbolic structure: the structure of symbolic exchanges between the subjects can exist only insofar as it is embodied in this pure material element which acts as its guarantee. For example, in Strangers on a Train, the murderous pact between Bruno and Guy holds only insofar as the object (the cigarette-lighter) is circulating between them.

That’s the basic situation of a whole series of Hitchcock’s films. At the beginning, we have a non-structured, pre-symbolic, imaginary homeostatic state of things, an indifferent balance where the relations between subjects are not yet structured in a strict sense, i.e., through the lack circulating between them. And the paradox is that this symbolic pact, this structural network of relations can only establish itself insofar as it is embodied in a totally contingent material element, a little-bit-of-real which, by its sudden irruption, disrupts the homeostatic indifference of the relations between subjects. In other words, the imaginary balance changes into a symbolically-structured network through a shock of the real. [9] That’s why Hitchcock (and with him Lacan) is no longer a “structuralist”: the basic gesture of “structuralism” is to reduce the imaginary richness to a formal network of symbolic relations. What escapes the structuralist perspective is that this formal structure itself is tied with an umbilical cord to some radically contingent material element which, in its pure particularity, “is” a structure, embodies it. Why? Because the great Other, the symbolic order, is always barré, blocked, failed, crossed, mutilated, and the contingent material element embodies this internal blockade, or limit, of the symbolic structure. The symbolic structure must include an element which embodies its “stain,” its own point of impossibility around which it is articulated: it is in a way the structuring of its own impossibility. The only philosophical counter-point to this logic is again the Hegelian dialectics: the greatest speculative mystery of the dialectical movement is not how a richness and diversity of reality can be reduced to a dialectical conceptual mediation, but the fact that this dialectical structuring itself, to take place, must be embodied in some totally contingent element. For example, that’s the point of the Hegelian deduction of the role of the King: the State as the rational totality exists effectively only insofar as it is embodied in the stupid presence of the King’s body. The King, in his non-rational, biologically determined presence, “is” the State, it is in his body that the State achieves its effectiveness. Here, we can use the distinction, developed by Laclau and Mouffe, between the accidental and the contingent: an ordinary element of a formal structure is accidental, indifferent, i.e. it can be interchanged. But there is always an element which, paradoxically, embodies this formal structure as such. It isn’t necessary, but it is, in its contingency itself, the positive condition of the restoring of the structural necessity; this necessity depends upon it, hangs on it.

Finally, we have a third kind of object: the birds in The Birds, for example (we could also add, in Marnie, the body of the giant ship at the end of the street where Mamie’s mother lives). This object has a massive, oppressive material presence. It is not an indifferent void like the MacGuffin, but at the same time it doesn’t circulate between the subjects; it’s not an object of exchange, it’s just a mute embodiment of an impossible jouissance.

How to explain the logic, the consistency of these three objects? In Encore Lacan proposes a schema proposes a schema for it: [10]

Here, we have to follow Jacques-Alain Miller and interpret the vector not as indicating a relation of determination (“the imaginary determines the symbolic,” etc.), but more in the sense of the “symbolization of the imaginary,” etc. So:

– the MacGuffin is clearly the objet petit a, a lack, the left-over of the real, setting in motion the symbolic order, a pure semblance of the “mystery” to be explained, interpreted.

– The birds are Φ, the impassive, imaginary making present of the real, an image which embodies jouissance.

– And, finally, the circulating object of exchange is S(A), the symbolic object which cannot be reduced to imaginary mirror-play and which at the same time embodies the lack in the Other, the impossibility around which the symbolic order is structured. It is the radically contingent element through which the symbolic necessity arises. That’s the greatest mystery of the symbolic order: how its necessity arises from the shock of a totally contingent encounter with the real. It is like the well-known accident in the Arabian Nights: the hero, lost in the desert, enters a cave quite by chance; there, he finds three old wise men awakened by his entry who say to him, “Finally, you have arrived! We have been waiting for you for the last three hundred years.”

The subject assumed to…

This mystery is in the last resort the mystery of the transference itself: to produce new meaning, it is necessary to presuppose its existence in the other. That’s me logic of the “subject assumed to know” which was isolated by Lacan as the central axis, or stronghold, of the phenomenon of transference. The analyst is in advance assumed to know – what? The meaning of the analysand’s symptoms. This knowledge is of course an illusion, but it is a necessary one: it is only through this supposition of knowledge that, at the end, some real knowledge can be produced. In the schema above, we have three versions of the object around the central nauseous protuberance of Jouissance, the Thing in its inaccessibility; one is tempted to construct, on the same matrix, three other concepts around the subject assumed to know.

Let us start with the subject assumed to believe. [11] Coming from Yugoslavia, i.e., from a real-socialist country, I’ll take an example typical of real socialism where, as you all know, there is always something lacking in the stores. Our hypothetical starting-point is that there is an abundance of toilet-paper on the market. But, suddenly and unexpectedly, a rumor starts going around that there is a shortage of toilet-paper. Because of this rumor, people frantically begin to buy it and, of course, the result is mat there is a real shortage of toilet-paper. At first sight, this seems to be the simple mechanism of what is called a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the effective way of how it functions is a little more complicated. The reasoning of each of the participants is the following: “I’m not naive and stupid. I know very well mat there is more than enough toilet-paper in the stores; but there are probably some naive and stupid people who believe these rumors, who are taking them seriously and who will act accordingly. They will frantically start to buy toilet-paper, and so in the end there will be a real shortage of it. So even if I know very well that there is enough of it, it would be a good idea to go and buy a lot of it!” The crucial point is that this other who is assumed to believe naively doesn’t have to exist in actuality. To produce his effects in the reality, it is enough that he is supposed by the others to exist. In a definite, closed multitude of subject, everybody can play this role for all the others. The effect will be exactly the same, i.e., the real shortage of toilet-paper. The one who will at the end remain without it will be precisely the one who will persist in the truth: the one who will say to himself, “I know that this is only a rumor and that there is enough toilet-paper,” and act upon it.

This concept of the subject supposed to believe has also its clinical use: it serves to mark the difference between the real Freudian analysis and the revisionist cure. While in the Freudian analysis the analyst plays the role of the subject assumed to know, in the revisionist tradition, his role is closest to that of the subject assumed to believe; that is to say, in this case, the reasoning of the patient goes as follows: “I have some psychic problem. I’m neurotic, so I need an analyst to cure me. The problem is that I don’t believe in the maternal phallus, symbolic castration, and all this shit. This is to me plain nonsense. But happily for me, here is the analyst who believes in it and, why not, perhaps he can cure me with his belief!” No wonder that various neo-Freudian schools are trying to incorporate some elements of shamanism!

The second concept in this series would be the subject supposed to jouir. [12] His role is fundamental in obsessive neurosis. For the obsessive neurotic, the traumatic point is the supposed existence, in the other, of an insupportable, limitless, horrifying jouissance. What is at stake of all his frantic activity is to protect, to save the other from his jouissance, even at the price of destroying him or her (saving the woman from her corruption, for example). And, again, this subject doesn’t have to exist in actuality to produce his effects, it is enough that he is supposed by the others to exist This supposed jouissance is one of the key components of racism: the other (Jew, Arab, Black) is always supposed to have an access to some specific jouissance, and mat is what really bothers us.

The last concept would be, of course, that of the subject assumed to desire. If the subject assumed to enjoy plays a central role in obsessive neurosis, the subject assumed to desire plays such a role in hysteria. One only has to remind oneself of Freud’s analysis of Dora. It is quite dear that Madame K. is playing for Dora the role not of her object of desire, as was mistakenly supposed by Freud, but of the subject supposed to desire, supposed to know how to organize her desire, how to avoid its deadlock. That’s why, when we are confronted with a hysteric, the question to ask is not, “What is her object of desire?” but, “Where does she desire from? Who is the other person through whom she is organizing his desire?” The problem with hysterical subject is that she always needs to have recourse to another subject to organize her desire. That’s the meaning of the Lacanian formula that hysterical desire is the desire of the other.

Needless to say, this conceptual quartet is useful in an analysis of ideological mechanisms. In oriental despotism, the whole system turns around the central point, the figure of the despot supposed to jouir. In classical Stalinism, the leadership is supposed to know, etc. But the thing not to forget is that the four subjects supposed to… are not on the same level: the subject assumed to know is their basis, their matrix, and the function of the remaining three is precisely to disguise its troubling paradox.

Two doors of the Law

Why is this supposed knowledge impossible/real? The Lacanian answer is that there is an object hidden in it, embodying obscene jouissance. To exemplify it, let’s take as a starting point the famous apologue concerning the door of the Law in The Trial [13] the little story told to K. by the priest to explain to him his situation vis-a-vis the Law. The patent failure of all the major interpretations of this apologue seems only to confirm the priest’s thesis that “the comments often enough merely express the commentator’s bewilderment”(p.240). But there is another way to penetrate the mystery of this apologue: Instead of seeking its meaning directly, it might be preferable to treat it the way Claude Lévi-Strauss treats a given myth: to establish its relations to a series of other myths and to elaborate the rule of their transformation. Where can we find, then, in The Trial another “myth” which functions as a variation, as an inversion, of the apologue concerning the door of the Law?

We don’t have to look far already at the beginning of the second chapter (“First interrogation”), Josef K. finds himself in front of another door of the Law (the entrance to the interrogation chamber). Here also, the door-keeper lets him know that this door is intended only for him. The washer-woman says to him: “I must shut this door after you; nobody else must come in.” This is clearly a variation of the last words of the door-keeper to the man from the country in the priest’s apologue: “No one but you could gain admittance through this door, since this door was intended only for you. I am now going to shut it.” At the same time, the apologue concerning the door of the Law (let’s call it, in the style of Lévi-Strauss, m1) and the first interrogation m2) can be opposed through a whole series of distinctive features: in m1, we are in front of the entrance to a magnificent court of justice, in m2, we are in a block of worker’s flats, full of filth and obscene crawling; in ml, the door-keeper is an employee of the court, in m2, it is an ordinary woman washing children’s clothes; in m 1 it’s a man, in m2 a woman; in m1, the door-keeper prevents the man from the country from passing through the door and entering the court, in m2, the washer-woman pushes him into the interrogation chamber half against his will. That is, the frontier separating everyday life from the sacred place of the Law cannot be transgressed in m1, but in m2, it is easy to transgress.

The crucial feature of m 2 is indicated already with its localization: the Court is located in the middle of the vital promiscuity of workers’ lodgings. Reiner Stach is quite justified in recognizing in this detail a distinctive trait of Kafka’s universe, “the trespass of the frontier which separates the vital domain from the judicial domain.” [14] The structure here is of course that of the band of Moebius: if we progress far enough in our descent to the social underground, we find ourselves suddenly on the other side, i.e., in the middle of the sublime and noble Law. The place of transition from one domain to the other is a door guarded by an ordinary washer-woman of provocative sensuality. In ml, the door-keeper doesn’t know anything, whereas here, the woman possesses a kind of advance knowledge: she simply ignores the naive cunning of K., his excuse that he is looking for a joiner called Lanz, and gives him to understand that they have been waiting for him for a long time, although K. chose to enter her room quite by chance, as a last desperate attempt after long and useless rambling:

The first thing he saw in the little room was a great pendulum clock which already pointed to ten. “Does a joiner called Lanz live here?” he asked. “Please go through,” said a young woman with sparkling black eyes, who was washing children’s clothes in a tub, and she pointed her damp hand to the open door of the next room… “I asked for a joiner, a man called Lanz.” “I know,” said the woman, “just go right in.” K. might not have obeyed if she had not come up to him, grasped the handle of the door, and said “I must shut this door after you; nobody else must come in.” (pp.45-6)

The situation here is exactly the same as in the above-mentioned accident from the Arabian Nights: one enters a place quite by chance and one learns that one’s arrival has been long expected. The para-doxical advance knowledge of the washer-woman has nothing whatsoever to do with a so-called “feminine intuition.” It is based on a simple fact that she is connected with the Law. Her position regarding the Law is far more crucial than that of a small functionary; K. finds it out by experience soon afterwards when his passionate argumentation before the tribunal is interrupted by an obscene intrusion:

Here K. was interrupted by a shriek from the end of the hall; he peered from beneath his hand to see what was happening, for the reek of the room and the dim light together made a whitish dazzle of fog. It was the washer-woman, whom K. had recognized as a potential cause of disturbance from the moment of her entrance. Whether she was at fault now or not, one could not tell. All K could see was that a man had drawn her into a comer by the door and was clasping her in his arms. Yet it was not she who had uttered the shriek but the man; his mouth was wide open and he was gazing up at the ceiling, (p. 55)

What then is the relation between the woman and the Court of Law? In Kafka’s work, the woman as a “psychological type” is wholly consistent with the antifeminist ideology of an Otto Weininger; the woman is a being without a proper Self, incapable of assuming an ethical attitude (even when she appears to act on ethical grounds, there is a hidden calculation of jouissance behind it), a being who hasn’t got access to the dimension of Truth (even when what she is saying is literally true, she is lying with her subjective position), a being about whom it is not sufficient to say that she is feigning feelings to seduce a man – the problem is that there is nothing behind this mask of simulation, nothing but a certain glutinous, filthy jouissance which is her only substance. Confronted with such an image of woman, Kafka doesn’t succumb to the usual critical-feminist temptation (of demonstrating how this figure is the ideological product of certain social conditions; of opposing to it the outlines of another type of femininity, etc.). His gesture is much more subversive: he wholly accepts this Weiningerian portrait of woman as a “psychological type,” but he makes it occupy an unheard of, unprecedented place, the place of the Law. This is perhaps, as was already pointed out by Stach, the elementary operation of Kafka: this short-circuit between the feminine “substance” (“psychological type”) and the place of the Law. Smeared over by an obscene vitality, the Law itself – in traditional perspective a pure, neutral universality – assumes the features of a heterogeneous, inconsistent bricolage penetrated with jouissance.

The obscene Law

In Kafka’s universe, the Court is above all lawless in a formal sense: as if the chain of “normal” connections between causes and effects is suspended, put in parentheses. Every attempt to establish the mode of functioning of the Court by means of logical reasoning is in advance doomed to fail: all the oppositions noted by K. (between me anger of the judges and the laughter of the public on the benches; between the merry right side and the severe left side of the public) prove themselves false as soon as he tries to base his tactics on them; after an ordinary answer by K., the public bursts into laughter:

“Well, then,” said the Examining Magistrate, turning over the leaves and addressing K. with an air of authority, “you are a house-painter?” “No,” said K., “I’m the junior manager of a large Bank.” This answer evoked such a hearty outburst of laughter from the Right party that K. had to laugh too. People doubled up with their hands on their knees and shook as if in spasms of coughing.

The other, positive side of this inconsistency is of course jouissance: it erupts openly when the argument of K. is disturbed by a public act of sexual intercourse. This act, difficult to perceive because of its over-exposure itself (K. has to “peer beneath his hands to see what was happening”), marks the moment of the eruption of the traumatic real, and the error of K. consists in overlooking the solidarity between this obscene disturbance and the Court. He thinks that everybody would be anxious to have order restored and the offending couple at least ejected from the meeting, but when he tries to rush across the room, the crowd obstructs him, and someone seizes him from behind by the collar. At this point, the game is over: puzzled and confused, K. loses the thread of his argument; filled with impotent rage, he soon leaves the room.

The fatal error of K. was to address the Court, the Other of the Law, as a homogeneous entity, attainable by means of consistent argument, whereas the Court could only return him an obscene smile mixed with signs of perplexity. In short, K. awaits from the Court acts (legal deeds, decisions), but what he gets is an act (a public copulation). Kafka’s sensitiveness as to this “trespass of the frontier which separates the vital domain from the judicial domain” depends upon his Judaism: the Jewish religion marks the moment of their most radical separation. In all previous religions, we always run into a place, a domain of sacred jouissance (in the form of ritual orgies, for example), whereas Judaism evacuates from the sacred domain all traces of vitality and subordinates the living substance to the dead letter of the Father’s Law. With Kafka, on the contrary, the judicial domain is again flooded with jouissance. We have a short-circuit between the Other of the Law and the Thing, the substance of jouissance.

That’s why his universe is eminently that of superego: the Other as the Other of the symbolic Law is not only dead, it doesn’t even know that it is dead (like the terrible figure from Freud’s dream). It couldn’t know it insofar as it is totally insensible to the living substance of jouissance. The superego on the contrary makes me present paradox of a Law which “proceeds from the time when the Other wasn’t yet dead. The superego is a surviving remainder” (Jacques-Alain Miller). The superego-imperative “Enjoy!”, the turning round of the dead Law into the obscene figure of superego, implies a disquieting experience: suddenly, we become aware of the fact that what a minute ago appeared to us a dead letter is really alive, breathing, palpitating. Let’s remind ourselves of a small scene from the movie Alien II. The group of heroes is advancing in a long tunnel whose stone walls are twisted like interlaced plaits of hair, suddenly, the plaits start to move and to secrete a glutinous mucus, and the petrified corpse comes to life again.

We should then reverse the usual metaphors of “alienation” where the dead, formal letter sucks out, like a kind of parasite or vampire, the living present force, i.e., where the living subjects are prisoners of a dead cobweb. This dead, formal character of the Law is a sine qua non of our freedom: the real totalitarian danger arises when the Law doesn’t want to stay dead anymore.

The two lacks

The result of ml is then that there isn’t any Truth about Truth. Every Warrant of the Law has the status of a semblance. The Law doesn’t have any support in the Truth: it is necessary without being true. “It is not necessary to accept everything as true; one must only accept it as necessary,” to quote the words of the priest’s commentary on ml. The meeting of K. with the washer-woman adds to this the reverse side usually passed by in silence: insofar as the Law isn’t grounded in Truth, it is impregnated with jouissance.

Ml and m2 are thus complementary, representing the two modes of the lack: the lack of incompleteness, and the lack of inconsistency (I’m referring here to a distinction elaborated by J.-A. Miller). In m1, the Other of the Law appears as incomplete: in its very heart, there is a certain gap. We cannot ever penetrate to the last door of the Law. And it is the reference to m1 which supports the interpretation of Kafka as a “writer of absence,” i.e., the negative-theological reading of his universe as a crazy bureaucratic machine turning blindly around a central void of the absent God. In m2, the Other of the Law appears on me contrary as inconsistent: nothing is wanting in it, there is no lack. But for all that, it still isn’t “whole/all”; it remains an inconsistent bricolage, a collection following a kind of aleatory logic of jouissance. This gives us a figure of Kafka as a “writer of presence.” The presence of what? Of a blind machinery where nothing is lacking insofar as it is soaked in the manure of its own jouissance.

That’s why Kafka occupies the opposite pole in relation to the “unreadable” character of modem literature as exemplified by Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. In an immediate approach, Finnegan’s Wake is of course an “unreadable” book; we cannot read it the way we read an ordinary “realistic” novel. To follow the thread of the text, we need a kind of “reader’s guide,” a commentary enabling us to see our way in the inexhaustible network of the ciphered allusions. But, on the other hand, this “unreadability” functions precisely as an invitation to an unending process of reading. It drives us to an incessant work of interpretation (one knows Joyce’s joke that with Finnegan’s Wake, he hopes to keep the literary scientists occupied at least for Ac next four hundred years). With Kafka, the situation is rather reversed: on the level of an immediate approach. The Trial is quite “readable”: the main outlines of the story are clear enough, and Kafka’s style is concise and of a proverbial pureness. But it is this “readability” itself which, because of its over-exposed character, entails a radical opacity and blocks every attempt at interpretation. It is as if Kafka’s text were a coagulated, stigmatized S1 which we are trying in vain to articulate in a chain with an S2 and thus provide retroactively for its signification. The Kafkian S1 repels this articulation because it is too much impregnated with jouissance: it is the inert presence of a which prevents its articulation with S2 – instead of the usual S1 → S2, we have a S1-a.

Colloquium “Jacques Lacan: Television,” New York, April 10, 1987

[1] Jacques Lacan, L’éthique de la psychanalyse (Paris: Seuil, 1986), p.295.

[2] For this distinction between the two deaths, J. Lacan, L’éthique de la psychanalyse, chapter XXI (“Antigone dans l’entre-deux-morts”), and also my analysis of Hitchcock’s “The Trouble with Harry” in October 38 (Fall 1986), 99-102.

[3] The classic text by Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies. In “Das Dinghafte der Geldware” (Wo es war 1, Ljubljana. 1986), Rado Riha has applied this notion of the sublime body to the Marxian theory of commodity-fetishism.

[4] Claude Lefort, L’invention démocratique (Paris: Fayard 1981).

[5] This whole periodization of Lacan’s teaching is indebted to Jacques-Alain Miller’s seminar.

[6] Ernesto Laclau/Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (London: Verso, 1986).

[7] Jacques Lacan, Encore (Paris: Seuil, 1975), p.85.

[8] Michel Silvestre, Demain la psychanalyse (Paris: Navarin, 1986).

[9] Mladen Dolar. “Hitchcocks Objekt,” in Wo es war 2, Ljubljana. 1986.

[10] Jacques Lacan, Encore, p. 83.

[11] Tastko Mocnik, “Ueber die Bedeutung der Chimären für die condido humana,” in Wo es war 1, Ljubljana, 1986.

[12] Miaden Dolar, “Die Einführung in das Serail,” Wo es war 3-4. Ljubljana, 1987.

[13] I am quoting The Trial from the Penguin Modern Classics edition, translated by Wills and Edwin Muir.

[14] Reiner Stach, Kafkas erotischer Mythos (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1987), p. 38.

Art: Gillian Wearing, Self Portrait as my Mother Jean Gregory, Self Portrait as my Father Brian Wearing, 2003.

Towards a Theory of the Tenured Class
Richard Kostelanetz

Author’s Bio

We don’t know who discovered water but are pretty sure it wasn’t a fish.

Marshall McLuhan


The great insight of that academic discipline called sociology is that much of a person’s sensibility and activity is determined by his and her social situation, no matter how much they might imagine otherwise. Rich people look at the world differently from poor people, those with power differently from those lacking it (even if they have wealth or prestige), city dwellers differently from, say, farmers. However, even though most sociologists are academics and then most prominent sociologists are tenured, few are able to examine their immediate world. Tenure I should note is the procedure by which permanent (for-life) employment is bestowed upon an employee, theoretically to grant him or her “free speech” in the classroom, which is intellectually desirable to be sure. Socially, however, tenure creates two things less desirable-not only a privileged class within academic institutions but teachers lacking privilege. The political analogue is the British House of Lords, where appointments are made for life, in contrast to the House of Commons, its name signifying lesser class, whose members must be (re)elected.


One reason why tenured academics are reluctant to move from one university to another is that tenure might need to be awarded again–reconfirmation is not automatic. Indeed, it could be said that for the past few decades American university teachers are divided into two classes-those that have tenure and can’t move, and those who don’t have tenure and thus can only move from one employer to another until they leave academia entirely. I’ve always wondered why academic Marxists haven’t envisioned how the dialectic between these classes with radically disparate privileges will be resolved.


Writers before me have written about the deleterious costs of tenuring upon those who are denied tenure; but I’m not aware of any critique of the its effect upon those who benefit, the naîve assumption being that, like most good fortune, it is an unmixed blessing, enabling them to produce scholarship that would not otherwise happen. As an independent Manhattan writer keeping some social distance from academia, I find myself less able to write a definitive essay on the effects of tenure than miscellaneous observations. I couldn’t find any previous exposés on this subject; nor did colleagues reading drafts of this text recommend any to me. Some of these remarks are more applicable to some tenured academics than to others, though I doubt if any of these generalizations are completely askew.


Whereas untenured academics tend to be cautious to a fault, out of a fear of offending anyone who might be involved in awarding them tenure, the tenured have no fear-none at all. Indeed, they are fundamentally unaccountable. Unless the process of getting tenure destroys them intellectually, leaving them hopelessly dulled, the survivors of university tenuring believe they can say and write anything they want, no matter how fantastic, nonsensical, or simply stupid. What missing from their heads and mouths is the self-filter that Ernest Hemingway called a “shit-detector,” because they won’t be penalized with anything more dismissive than negative words or, at worse, an editorial rejection slip. One of the great tragedies of tenured cultural life is that fools are rarely fired for being fashionably stupid?


To tenured ideologues is thus granted a platform for disseminating all kinds of preposterous agendas at no financial cost to themselves-Ward Churchill, Sammy al-Arian, Leonard Jeffries, Angela Davis, Holocaust deniers, gender fanatics, religious millennialists, professors convicting the Duke lacrosse team on insufficient evidence, what have you. To professors with a taste not just for jargon incomprehensible to common people but also for otherwise unacceptable contradictions, tenure offers authoritarian leverage in mind-fucking. (I’d name more names were not their notoriety mostly local until someone else publicizes them, as happened with Churchill and al-Arian. David Horowitz identifies a few of these among his “101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” most of whom are tenured, in his recent book The Professors (Regnery, 2006).)


Predisposed to pontificate, if not to bluster and bluff, they develop a resistance to doing first-hand research as beneath them, something strictly for the lower academic classes, much as those who become bosses become incapable of doing menial work. Indeed, especially if trained in philosophy, literature, and sociology, rather than history or economics, tenured profs are in my observation prone to making stuff up, often outrageously. When George Orwell once quipped that only intellectuals with a taste for peculiar ideas could be so stupid it was obvious that he didn’t know tenured profs, some of whom can be yet stupider at no cost to themselves, who are, in effect, a licensed jerks. The inspiration for this critique was a sociologist who seems to take particular glee in demonstrating how sociologically dumb an academic sociologist can be. A Victim of Tenure I rank him to be. Outrageous Stupidity becomes for the tenured the analogue of Conspicuous Consumption-an inexpensive privilege that Thorstein Veblen attributed to the “leisure class.”


Because of limitations on their university income, academics compete not for money but power within an institutional hierarchy. Power includes the disbursement of supplementary funds, say for professional travel or personal publishing and a greater role in hiring (and sometimes firing of the untenured), as well as awarding tenure. Those with greater academic power become a more privileged class within a larger group who often blame the former for depriving them not of basic income, which is secure, but from supplementary rewards they think due them. Not unlike others upon whom wealth and security is bestowed, they sometimes have difficulty accepting success that is earned mostly through individual effort, devoid of institutional security and support. The small-entrepreneur mentality lies beyond their imaginations. Academic society resembles Communist countries where people competed not for money but for privileges, perhaps incidentally accounting for why academics around the world found Communism less objectionable than, say, entrepreneurs.


As members of a privileged class, tenured academics prefer the company of those comparably privileged, by contrast condescending toward everyone less privileged, beginning with non-tenured academics, but also including others. Indeed, even common socializing with the non-tenured can be problematic for them. As a single gent with a taste for women with advanced degrees, I can testify that I have never dated for long a tenured professor (and that I didn’t recognize this fact until drafting this essay). Since I’ve known intimately women in a several professions, not to mention graduate students and junior professors who weren’t yet tenured, shouldn’t I assume that tenured royalty wouldn’t accept untenured me, elite literary recognitions notwithstanding? They sleep only with their kind, I’m told. Does this restrictive preference reflect a certain insecurity about their status not unusual in privileged people who recognize that others similarly competent could do as well were they not unfortunate because of disadvantages (of timing, gender, integrity, a lack of sponsors) and closed doors?


Few classes of people are more gratuitously mischievous, creating unnecessary problems for those around them. Yet even more dangerous are retired tenured profs, mostly because nothing else is as self-enhancing to them as gratuitous mischief. Whenever I’ve asked tenured profs whether job security had any negative effects upon themselves, as I have, none of them could think of a single thing, though some complained, often vehemently, about negative effects it had on certain other professors. Not even academic Marxists could deal seriously with the question of how differences in material conditions might affect consciousness. Likewise rare is the rich person who understands the negative effects, sometimes visible to outsiders, of having too much money. Indeed, when a Marxist told me that without university tenure he could not have written his books, I thought him implicitly self-deflating, measuring himself as inferior to those who write books without his secure advantages. (Many do it, including myself.) A Libertarian told that he doubted if academic colleagues of his political persuasion would survive without tenure, while another editor told me that, “there are no antiwar conservatives employed outside of academia, as the think tanks are pretty much run by neocons.” Thus does a similar anxiety in defense of certain privileges make uncomfortable bedfellows.


Another suggested that I wouldn’t have written this critique if I had tenure, implicitly criticizing politically inastute powerhouses for failing to buy me off. I advised him that, if he were serious, to tell them, not me, that they were fools. Academic operators don’t enjoy being told they are politically inastute, even if they know they might have been; but no one can’t beat people who are self-consciously stupid. Indeed, it is reasonable to ask whether Orwell, John Cage, or other independents (including myself) would have had their distinguished careers had they spent most of their lives as tenured professors? Indeed, though I’ve posed this question about my own career to a tenured academic more than once, never have I gotten an answer. Next question should be: And if not, why not?


In my observation, tenured profs indulge in self-defeating moves unavailable to those who are self-employed, precisely because stupidity costs them little-indeed, those similarly tenured regard such self-defeating moves by others as a privilege available exclusively to their aristocratic kind. Rare is the insulated human being who can be so smugly stupid. As tenure is granted for life, these people aren’t politicians with a justified fear of being voted out. What do you think of the House of Lords, I would ask defenders of tenure? Of monarchism? If it is objectionable to you, what else might also be? The more I think about the tenured class, the more dangerous I regard any process that institutionalizes elitism for life.


>Art: Zhang Xiaogang, Bloodline: Big Family No. 3, 1995.

The Performative
from Ordinary Conventions to the Real
Raoul Moati

1. Is Lacan’s full speech a performative?

This thesis was defended by Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen in the fifth chapter of his book Lacan-Le maître absolu, entitled “How to do nothing with words,” a chapter in which he proposes to reconcile the Lacanian theory of full speech with the Austinian category of performative. Borch-Jacobsen suggests that the accomplished or successful speech that Lacan calls full is fundamentally performative. According to Borch-Jacobsen:

It doesn’t take long to realize that Lacanian “full speech” has all the essential characteristics of the “Austinian performative. [1] For my part, I have a few reservations about identifying – without further nuance – the definition of Austin’s performative with the full speech of the early Lacan.

What exactly does Lacan mean by full speech? He defines it in opposition to empty speech, which is characteristic of speech that is confined to the role solely of conveying what it signifies. Full speech is the occasion to displace the centre of gravity from the process of recognition, from the Kojevian specular duality of the mirror stage to the symbolic big Other.

In Lacan’s early work, the big Other is the structure that symbolically institutes the subject’s place in an established order with that signifier that pre-existed him. The big Other is the place where a system of determined relationships between signifiers is put into place, and it is in the heart of this system into which the subject will be integrated as the subject of the signifier the moment he enters into language. By this operation, the subject enters into a relationship of dependency vis-à-vis the big Other, a demand for elucidation of the unconscious symbolic mandate in which he has invested himself from the moment he entered into the symbolic-linguistic interaction with the Other. The questions “who am I” and “what am I?” can only find their resolution in the elucidation of the Other’s desire, which presents itself to the subject as an enigma.

From this point the fundamental idea developed by Lacan (according to which the decoding of the relations into signifiers consciously mobilises into verbal utterances but rises unconsciously from them) inscribes itself in a more global fashion in the elucidation of the meaning of another desire in which the subjective desire finds itself taken up: to be primordially recognized as a subject: “This is why the Other’s question (la question de l’Autre) that comes back to the subject from the place from which he expects an oracular reply is the question that best leads the subject to the path of his own desire.” [2] The reply always takes some such form as Chè vuoi? “What do you want?”

This means that, from the time he begins to speak, that is, to enter into language, the subject must subscribe, in spite of himself, to a symbolic pact whose texture will always escape him as long as he adheres to conscious speech, that is, what Lacan calls empty speech.

The big Other recognizes the subject, and it is this recognition – which derives from a symbolic pact sealed with him, and despite him — that institutes the subjectivity which, in order to recover his true self beyond empty speech, he needs in order to understand how he has been recognized, to comprehend the modalities by which he makes himself known – in other words, to learn which previously-created symbolic pact his subjectivity has adhered to from the moment it has entered into language. The big Other thus defines itself minimally for Lacan as the position from which a subject fixes, by recognition, the symbolic position of another subject.

This explains the two paradigmatic examples Lacan uses to describe full speech: “You are my wife” and “You are my master.” Full speech intervenes when the subject sees itself as having been recognized by an Other, a recognition that puts it into a subjective relation to the big Other. This explains the reason why, as in Lacan’s famous phrase, “(h)uman language… constitute(s) a kind of communication in which the sender receives his own message back from the receiver in an inverted form.” [3] Full speech supports the state of the following fact: the symbolic or illocutionary range of speech emanates from a source that is not in the subject, but in the big Other, who is positioned behind what Lacan calls the “wall of language”.

What Austin calls the illocutionary force of speech, that which does rather than describes, comes from the Other. It is received by the subject without its awareness, to the degree that it believes (or, rather, mistakenly believes) the illusion that the source of the illocutionary value of its message arises from his own ego, or from that which the Gricean and neo-Gricean would call his intentions of discourse. [4] This lack of awareness of the source of the illocutionary force of its statements belongs to the empty word in which the subject remains powerless to recognize that the establishing symbolic force of his speech comes from the big Other; for example, in paradigmatic declarations such as “You are my master” or “You are my wife”.

The real question is to know whether full speech is tantamount to what Austin, in How to Do Things with Words, calls a constative utterance or a performative utterance. That is, does full speech translate my adherence to a symbolic pact that links me to the big Other in a constative way (verifying a symbolic pact that has forever defined me in my subjective position)? Or does it link me in a performative way (instituting the big Other as the master by whose intermediary it will be possible for me to elucidate what is my desire).

At first glance, it would seem that full speech represents a constative that the subject must assume. Indeed, it is the big Other who made me a disciple before I could interiorise the symbolic scope of the accomplished act. Thus the speech, “You are my master” is in no way constitutive because it is the inverse of “I am your disciple”. That is, it is a constative utterance, as it does not do anything to the other except the fact that I am testifying to the Other that I have interiorized the symbolic institutive act by which I have been recognized as a disciple. In full speech, I can now assume the subjective position of “disciple” which was conferred on me by the Other. The big Other established me as a disciple” and full speech only endorses and does not realise a symbolic relation from which I merely take on meaning as subject.

My subjective position thus depends on the symbolic act by which I was put in the position of a disciple. The utterance, “You are my master” accomplishes nothing, because its truth is in “I am your disciple” – that is, not in the realisation of a symbolic pact, but in the constative recognition of its institutive scope. One could therefore defend a thesis according to which “you are my master” is thus a falsely performative utterance that accomplishes nothing, but, on the contrary, assumes that which has already been accomplished at the level of the Other.

Full speech is therefore not performative speech; it has no other jurisdiction over the founding of a reciprocity in the recognition (and not letting that recognition remain unilateral) of the fact that the subject may receive his message from the Other without assuming that that is what it is, in continuing to falsely equate the symbolic efficacy of his speech to the discursive intentions emanating from its Self. Deep down, taking “You are my master” as a performative would be a lie; it would embrace the false belief that the symbolic scope of one’s discourse derives its source from the ego, and not, as has forever been the case, from the big Other.

In full speech, the subject himself assumes the fact that he only takes his position of subject; that the grounding act is not engendered in him, that it does not actually come from him. In full speech, the subject recognizes himself as a subject. This means that he recognizes the symbolic value of the grounding act by which the big Other recognizes him as a man, or as a disciple. Similarly, “You are my wife” signifies: “I have indeed received the message coming from the Other by which I am recognized and symbolically set in place in the subjective position of husband, and I testify to this in confirming the Other in its grounding act.”

In full speech, recognizing oneself boils down to recognizing the subject Other by whom I am recognized as occupying a determined subjective position in a symbolic pact. The question is knowing whether this second recognition is performative or constative. In my opinion, the question is difficult to resolve from Lacan’s texts. One can suggest two interpretations: If we take up the logic of full speech, the sentence “You are my wife” becomes the inversed statement of the “I am your husband” that emanates from the Other. The sentence “you are my wife” thus confirms the Other as the juridical grounding of my symbolic subjectivity.

The sentences “You are my master” and “You are my wife” thus do not seem to be performatives, but rather constatives that cognitively increase the grounding (performative) act, which previously positioned me as a symbolic subject.

“The sentences ‘You are my wife’ or ‘You are my master’ mean ‘You are still in my speech, and I can affirm it only in taking the speech to where you are. It’s up to you to find there the certitude of what I am engaging.’ This speech is a speech in which you engage yourself. The unity of speech as founder of the position of the two subjects is here manifested.” [5]

However, this public speech in the place of the Other indeed has effects. It is, of course, the flip side of the observation that “I am a disciple” or “I am a man”; it is an observation that, Lacan tells us, affects my return to myself as a subject through the fixation of the Other as a principle of symbolic subjectivity. Full speech seals a symbolic pact that precedes the subject in order to constitute it in its position as subject. It causes the subject to leave the ignorance in which he was plunged concerning the pact which has forever linked him as a subject of the big Other. But for Lacan, this departure from unknowing in which the subject maintains itself by its adherence to ego does not only support a cognitive recapturing of self identity; Lacan presents it in a number of passages as itself constitutive of subjectivity: that which complicates the task of finding out whether full speech is constative or performative.

On the one hand, full speech seems not to be an act of language; its role is, rather, to make explicit the symbolic pact that has always constituted subjectivity, and which the subject turns away from in the inauthentic issue of ego. The passage from empty speech to full speech seems to assure the transition from a badly formed pact (because it remains in the state of an implicit performative on the part of the subject and not recognized as that by the latter), to that of a pact improved because its terms are explicit. In this regard, it would seem that Lacan follows the idea of pragmatic progress that Austin developed in How To Do Things with Words concerning the passage from the implicit to the explicit performative.

However, Lacan’s explanation (which is quite different from Austin’s) would seem to have the value of a constative elucidation about the Other’s desire contained in my own speech: one would move from a state of ignorance to a state of knowledge, in the transition from an unconscious implicit performative arising from the Other to its conscious assumed clarification.

To state it in Austin’s terms, full speech compensates for an initial procedural flaw relevant to his ‘Gamma cases’: the act has, from time immemorial, “misfired”. However, as Austin states, the fact that the act is hollow does not get in the way of the effectiveness of the act. For what Lacan calls empty speech is not what Austin calls the empty act; it is more what Austin would call the hollow act, that is, an act effectuated by an insincere speaker who does not subscribe to the act in the first person. [6] This is what happens in the case of a promise that the speaker knows he does not mean to keep. However, the fact that the speaker is insincere does not prevent the act from being realized, nor the promise from committing him independently of his intention to honour it.

Lacan similarly states that, in empty speech, the symbolic pact linking the big Other to the subject could take place, but would turn out badly in the case where it is not explicitly assumed by one of the parties to the contract. The psychoanalytic cure should therefore consist in correcting the procedural deficiencies that characterise empty speech, because this empty speech (that Austin calls “hollow”) engenders the symptom of which the cause is related/need be related to the fact that the subject claims to be incapable of understanding the signification of psychic pain in the Other. This lack of understanding is due to the subject’s not having previously recognized the place from which the performative significance of the signifier, that is to say its symbolic value, could be decoded.

The symptom in its iterated form translates the failure of the cognitive recapturing of a performative of which the symbolic value (coming from the Other) remains inaccessible to the subject. It winds up being what Austin calls an infelicitous act, that is, not an act that has failed, but an act for which the responsibility was not assumed. Indeed, the symptom picks up the manifestation of a signifier that asks to be integrated into the symbolic valence from which it remains half excluded by unilateralism: the grounding act emanating from the Other does not respond to any reciprocity.

If the symptom were completely excluded from the symbolic sphere, there would be no symptom, no problematic manifestation of suffering. If it manifests itself, it is because, although the signifier has indeed been symbolically founded, the institutional procedure remains badly cemented. The encounter with the big Other – to which the psychoanalytic enterprise must lead – does not thus have any other objective than to bring to completion a symbolic contract that has been badly carried out; in responding to what Austin called Gamma cases. It is why Lacan remains very Austinian on this very point, decidedly more so than Derrida, [7] since for Lacan, just as for Austin, an act not subjectively assumed has indeed taken place. The fact that it was accomplished without the subject intentionally adhering to it takes nothing away from the fact that the act has taken place. Otherwise, the theory of the unconscious would be impossible to justify.

Similarly, for Austin, a promise made without a sincere intention to keep it is still a promise. For Lacan, a symbolic contract without a subject to explicitly assume it – the subject being able to turn away from it in the inauthentic outcome of the ego – still remains an accomplished agreement, even if the subject who receives it is ignorant of his deep participation.

Full speech is, in this respect, comparable in every aspect to Austin’s act of fully accomplished language (responding to all three Alpha, Beta and Gamma cases), where one promises with sincerity, in fully assuming the act of language thus accomplished from the place of the Other. Full speech should be the realisation of the gamma condition Austin posited in How To Do Things With Words. Thus it would not have performative value. Indeed, the grounding act would always have already taken place, its bilateral rectification remaining a procedure of cognitive recuperation, in no way a performative. Full speech remains the constative and reflexive redoubling of a primordial performative having established the symbolic valence of the subject even before it has been assumed. As Austin would say, it exhibits a disposition to sincerely accept speech coming from the Other, to no longer shrink from the implications nor from the verdict of such speech.

In this regard, one could read things in two ways, and it seems to me that Lacan did not define this issue. One could say that, for Lacan, an explicitly-rendered performative remains a constative; i.e., a personal adherence to an act which did not take place on the part of the Other. One could also believe (and certain pronouncements of Lacan on the matter open up this possibility) that, just as in Austin, the explicit performative does not turn up a constative reduction of the performative, but a pragmatic amelioration in the realisation of the act: the passage from empty speech to full speech would correspond to Austin’s description of the passage from primitive to explicit forms of the utterance. As Austin states:

(P)rimitive or primary forms of utterance will preserve the ‘ambiguity’, or ‘equivocation’, or ‘vagueness’ of primitive language in this respect; they will not make explicit the precise force of the utterance…. Language as such and in its primitive stages is not precise, and it is also not, in our sense, explicit: precision in language makes clearer what is being said – its meaning: explicitness, in our sense, makes clearer the force of the utterances, or ‘how it is to be taken’. The explicit performative formula, moreover, is only the last and ‘most successful’ of numerous speech-devices that have always been used with greater or lesser success to perform the same function (just as measurement or standardization was the most successful device ever invented for developing precision of speech). [8]

Austin’s explanation makes it clear that there should be an effect of self-realisation that should not stop before full speech. The explicit act should improve the symbolic scope of the original act in removing all equivocation on its value, such that the act should accomplish what it was not able to do in its primitive form, that is, the formation of the subject. Under the effect of this explanation, the performative would be even better realized to the point that it would put the subject in the position of no longer being able to escape the judgment of its symbolic destiny pronounced by the big Other. The impact of the explicit performative should be to clear away all equivocation in the reception of the act; it should have the effect of giving it more scope, improving the transmission of its illocutionary scope of which the realisation itself is a constituting act.

One could thus ask oneself if full speech does not dispose of this capacity to retroactively act upon the initial message in permitting it to realise itself a second time, in a more complete fashion. Thus the removal of symptom would reside in this amelioration in the realisation of the act The question is, therefore, to know whether full speech remains determined by the descriptive exigency of comprehension of the symbolic value of the constituting message emanating from the big Other, or if, on the contrary, it has a performative secondary scope capable of allowing the performative emanating from the big Other to completely realise itself, to completely unfold itself, something that was not possible so long as it remained implicit. In this way it should allow the subject to receive the message that comes from the Other without the possibility of denying it, without ambivalence or equivocation.

In reality, Lacan’s texts on full speech, together with Austin’s, allow the formulation of one or the other of these two hypotheses. What is clear is that for the Lacan of the early 1950s, the presence of the symptom proved that the act had already taken place, but in a vague, non-explicit fashion. However, is it the case that the explanation of desire of the Other as a constative act enables a curative virtue or, on the contrary, is it, as a second performative act, ameliorated retroactively?

In my opinion, the two hypotheses can be supported to the degree that the subject assumes the symbolic relationship that has, since time immemorial, linked him to the Other, where he institutes the big Other by confirming him in his position of authority. This confirmation allows the foundation of the big Other’s absolute position, which permits the subject to fix himself to the purpose that comes to him by means of his symbolic recognition by the big Other.

Indeed, Lacan affirms: “In the end, the speech value of a language is gauged by the intersubjectivity of the ‘we’ it takes on.” [9]

Thus empty speech would oppose itself to full speech only by virtue of the fact that in it the symbolic contract would be carried out in the impoverishing mode of denial, of refusal to understand. One remains with full speech from the point of view of the constative sense to the detriment of the act. Full speech returns to assume the fact that the symbolic act of institution comes from the Other and not from the ego: in this sense, full speech is humbling for the subject, as he comes to realise that his position of subject does not precisely depend on him, but that it belongs to the grounding act by which the subject previously recognizes himself by the big Other. In my opinion, it is this point of view that changed, starting at the end of the 1950s (the date of Lacan’s Séminaires on ethics), from which point one observes (notably with the commentary that Lacan proposed on Claudel’s The Hostage) that the performative scope of the act cannot simply be assumed as coming from the Other. This is particularly the case concerning what I propose calling a Lacanian perlocution.

But before moving on to this point, one must respond to the second burning question in the analysis of Lacan’s development between 1953 and 1960: is the symbolic reducible to the field of ordinary conventions? Or, in other words, can one reduce the realization of symbolic acts to acts recognized by the linguistic convention that Austin would call the realization of speech acts?

2. Is the symbolic solvable under ordinary conventions?

This question seems to be resolvable from the perspective of the refinements Lacan developed in Séminaires V and VI, notably in his Graph of Desire:

Looking at this graph, one can see that the category signifier, as it exists, only represents a diachronic sequence of signifiers. The chain’s anchoring to the big Other ensures the passage from the signifiers’ mere fluttering to the recognition of the symbolic and holistic value of each signifier in relation to the entirety of the system to which it belongs: the recognition by the big Other, or linguistic code, thus ensures the signifier’s movement from diachrony to synchrony. The big Other represents the “button tie” (point de capiton) [10] that stops the wave of signifiers in order to transform the entirety of their relations into one structure. It is the double retroactive effect created by the intervention of the big Other on the signifying chain that, for Lacan, explains the value of the sign as described by Saussure.

By itself the signifier does not articulate itself at any determined signified. For the relationship to consolidate itself, there must be a supplementary intervention on the part of the big Other, which is the only power capable of temporarily stopping “the otherwise indefinite sliding of signification” [11] under the signifier. Beneath the meaning, there is the non-meaning of the signifier, upon which the big Other’s grounding and retroactive action applies itself in the “second pass”, the big Other being itself a generator of signification. It is due to this original non-coincidence of the signifying chain of the big Other (as the operator grounding the sense) that Lacan in Seminar V defined the signifying chain as metonymic; that is, capable (beyond its conventional fixed signification) of creating new meanings that overflow the field previously normed by convention.

The first level of the graph, that of the signifying chain, can always, as in the case of slips of the tongue and witticisms, reassert its rights and engender new significations, because the signifying chain remains fundamentally refractive to every definitive signified fixed meaning. However, the coherence of Lacan’s system requires the big Other to be at the receiving end of such meaning-creation. In this configuration, the big Other can no longer be likened to a conventional code as is the case in rational discourse. One can identify the big Other at the first level as the representation? of a conventional code that ensures the realization of ordinary speech acts. Lacan considers these to be the poorest element of the signifier; he calls this conventional speech “repetitive purring pure and simple, like a mill of words,” [12] inevitably leading the subject to the deprivation of the imaginary fixations of the ego. The symbolic foundation of the subject in the conventional system elevates the movement by which a subject makes himself known by his correct usage of pragmatic conventions such as the speaker or agent of discursive intentions, constituting the contents of the mobilized signifying sequence.

Here one sees the reduction of the signifying chain at the point of transmission of an intentional message, where the pragmatic field of validation is defined by the codes of convention (situated upstream from the speech acts). However, Lacan considers this “ordinary” encounter with the visage of the big Other (here reduced to what Austin calls the A1 condition), that of the pragmatic of the illocutionary, to be no less the poorer. In this configuration the big Other constitutes an imaginary subject, a subject who is under the illusion that the illocutionary value of his statement is located in his conscious intention to say something. He misconstrues the fundamental operation from which the conventional and intentional scope is derived, that is to say, his heteronomic dependence on a grounding Other, irreducible to a code, and by which his recognition of what it is conditions full speech.

For Lacan, reducing the figure of the big Other to the conventional code only establishes the imaginary subject in the restrictive signification of the symbolic value of the signifying chain. The field of the Other overflows that of the conventional code. This is the objective of the Séminaire V, to show that what the conventional system would sanction as failures at the illocutionary application level does not, however, condemn the symbolic scope of the act performed, in cases such as slips of the tongue or witticisms.

The profundity of Lacan’s thesis is situated here, in his refusal to reduce (as Austin would do, and with him Searle’s ‘intentional pragmatics’) the symbolic to the sole field of convention: acts of language exist that remain null on the conventional plan, but which are absolutely not, however, empty from the point of view of their Symbolic value. The Symbolic efficiency of language has been defined by Lacan precisely as to be able to overflow the conventional field, to surpass its criteria of validation – those of ordinary usage – and thus not permit their ‘neutralisation’ in considering as null (which would be the case with Austin) the scope of acts as paradoxical as slips of the tongue and witticisms. Austin, on the other hand, considers as failures those acts he calls defective, and which he places in the category of ‘misexecutions’ applicable to his B cases (that the procedure of carrying out the language act took place, but it failed because it was not accomplished). [13]

Lacan takes up this idea again in Seminar V, where he discusses the famous example studied by Freud in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, the construction of the neologism famillionaire by Hirsch Hyacinth. Lacan suggests elucidating the mechanism of this formation by considering the signifier as a psychic rule. He illustrates in his Graph of Desire the ramifications of the movement of the signifier in two signifying chains – conscious and unconscious – simultaneously mobilized in the subject’s speech This division allows Lacan to make the case that the subject never knows what he has done with the signifying sequence that he has marshalled: the illocutionary value, that is to say the identification of what the speaker does with words, remains hidden for him as long as he is unable to make the big Other – likened to the code of ordinary language practice – recognise anything other than the sole chain of discourse. Indeed, the chain of discourse would not be able to realise the illocutionary value of a linguistic performance by sole virtue of the fact that every linguistic performance activates the simultaneous deployment of two signifying chains What remains at stake is the ability to capture the value of the enunciation beyond the sense of the utterance, in order to elucidate the fully symbolic illocutionary range of the linguistic performance:

Does he himself (the speaking subject) know or not what he is doing in speaking? Which means: is he able to efficiently signify his action of signification?”

It is precisely on this question that we may divide these two levels, of which we must consider that they both function at the same time in the slightest act of speech. [14]

This ramification, introduced by the graph of a word divided into two signifier circuits, has a decisive importance: it shows that the problematics of desire, woven into those of language, forbid reducing the latter (the language) to the mere pragmatic relationships of conventions to accomplished acts for the purpose of understanding it’s (the language’s) symbolic reach (first level: DS vector, where the accent is on s(A) on the s of the signified in contrast to the S of the signifier).

The problem of a perspective centred on ordinary discursive patterns would constitute just too great a restriction from the point of view of the Graph of Desire. It would presuppose the possibility of analysing a language free of the symbolic complications that its relation to desire inevitably introduces: reducing the symbolic to the conventional would thus destroy the inherent complexity in the field of the signifier. This complexification would therefore end up deactivated, revealing a language restricted to its relation to the code and to the rationality of the illocutionary functioning correlated to it.

However, according to Lacan, this reduced perspective of language could still be valuable if one adopted a dualist perspective of the psyche, so that, in the end, the conscious and the unconscious would belong to substantially compartmentalized spheres. Such a compartmentalisation would, of course, allow the isolation of the logical from the illocutionary sphere, and would therefore dismiss as failures such hybrid formations as slips of the tongue or witticisms.

By its treatment of the psyche’s wholeness at the exclusive level of the signifier, the Lacanian perspective does not reduce it to a uniform monotony, reducing everything to the same linguistic plane, because the field of the signifier has the characteristic of dividing itself into two circuits, implying at least a symbolic bivalence (represented by the two levels of the Graph of Desire), and attaching two signifying chains to each other – the unconscious and the conscious chain – under the same signifying denominator. For Lacan, the duality of the signifier does not imply a substantial difference between the conscious and the unconscious. This duality takes shape in the single element of the signifier, which Lacan later explained in his discourse on the topology of the Moebius strip.

On the Graph of Desire, the unconscious chain (vector D’/S’ on the graph) extends the conscious chain (vector D/S) with no discontinuity between the two chains. As shown by vector S(A)/s(A): a conscious signifier (represented by its signified) replaces an unconscious signifier from which it, in reality, derives its real value (because the signifier only holds its value from its relationship to another signifier). This explains the possible parasitic contamination of the conscious chain by the offshoots belonging to the unconscious chain, thus accounting for the formation of slips of the tongue and witticisms.

Just like a Moebius strip, the Graph of Desire supports the double inscription of the conscious and the unconscious chain in their common belonging to the homogenous field of the Symbolic in so far as the latter collects them both at the same time. In Freud’s Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, the anecdote of the neologism famillionaire is demonstrated in the following manner: Salomon Rothschild had welcomed Hirsch Hyacinth by treating him as an equal; it was this fact that Hirsch Hyacinth had the primordial intention to announce.

Instead of saying, “He treated me familiarly (as a family member)” Hirsch Hyacinth blurted out, “He treated me (as a) famillionaire.” Lacan presents this verbal event as the product of a condensation between two signifiers – familière (‘familiarly’) and millionaire. The presence of two phonemes in common (mil/mille and ère/aire) leads to a “kind of collision” between the two signifying chains.

The signifier, as we have seen, is produced by the encounter of the signifying chain (Δ/Δ’) with the circuit of discourse passing by A (= the big Other) and arriving at γ, which functions as a nodal point retroactively conferring its signification (in an intention to make sense) to a mobilized signifying chain relative to code (A). Which implies that, in order to wish to make sense, it is first necessary for the subject to receive his own message from the Other. For Lacan, this is the property of every signifying engagement: the subject always receives his own message from the Other.

Here, in its willingness to make sense, the intentional act is not like the classic phenomenological device located upstream from meaning, but downstream from it: in wanting to make sense, it comes back to elicit his own message from the Other, for the Other constitutes the reserve of normed linguistic performances that it is possible to utter. Wanting to make sense comes back to asking oneself at the start what makes sense, to take up a procedure already recognized and thus stabilised as conventionally acknowledged by the big Other. The realization of a speech act is not only the actualisation of a procedure received by the subject from the Other. Here the procedural specificity, such as one finds in Austin’s conventionalism, conditions the possibility of wanting to say something.

Just as with Austin, the intention to make sense does not suffice to realise the speech act. (For example, I could wish to baptise a penguin, but my intention will fail if it does not fall under a convention that would authorize it, and no such convention exists for the baptism of penguins.) It depends on its conformity to conventional procedures linked to an applicable context. That is signified in the path of this graph, the fact that the speaker begins by receiving his own message from the Other even before he performs it as an act of language. The circuit is the following on the graph: the message leaves Α and arrives at β (the place of “I”) in order to return to Α, which brings a halt to the sequence of signifiers mobilized on the signifying chain Δ/Δ’. Thus γ is the place where the message is concluded. If the signifying chain were to bring to completion its symbolic formation from the single place of the code, the message in γ would have been “He treated me as an equal, as a familiar.”

However, and according to the complication introduced by the potency of desire over the signifier, the symbolic spills beyond the field of the single formula, which formalizes the vector β/β’ on the graph.

However,” Lacan warns us, “do not forget that the interest of this schema is that there are two lines, and that these things circulate at the same time on the line of the signifying chain. [15]

What does this mean? It means that the signifying chain (vector Δ/Δ’) translates what arrives from β’ into a signifier. β’ is the point of the metonymic object that nourishes the chain of discourse, of excess signifiers with respect to the code. Indeed, if one limits oneself to the stoppage of the signifying chain by the single code, one should obtain the product familiarly in Γ. However, the result here is instead famillionaire, which means that an external signifier has interfered with the process of signification. The signifier is millionaire, and comes from the point B’, which stores the metonymic object of desire of Hirsch Hyacinth, that is, my millionaire. The object is metonymic in that it reveals the desire that Hirsch Hyacinth, as a lottery collector, can neither admit nor achieve: having a millionaire to mitigate his financial problems.

From the point of view of the big Other, the symbolic place of Hirsch Hyacinth is clearly defined: he is stopped at the point de caption by the big Other as being owned by the millionaire Salomon Rothschild, rather than the other way around. The object of desire is therefore repressed as being completely fantastic in the social milieu to which Hirsch Hyacinth belongs. For this reason the object finds itself engaged in a parallel circuit that collides with the obtained signifier γ (the place of the message). Thus while the desirable object my millionaire is repressed, the B/γ circuit remains open such that the metonymic signifier succeeds in ‘hacking’ the message to the point of encounter between two common phonemes (ère/aire and mili/milli) and the two signifiers thus condensed into the neologism famillionaire.

The excess of the symbolic system on the code (by means of the signifying circuits introducing the dimension of desire inherent in every linguistic performance) is not considered by Lacan, as would be the case with Austin, which deemed it a failure of procedure. On the contrary, it reveals the infinite reserve of meaning of which the signifying chain is capable, as well as its capacity to create new meaning beyond those already fixed, expected and foreseen by the conventional code. Convention always lags behind the fertility of the signifier; it catches up only after the fact in the systematic codification of the novelty that it introduces.

This novelty raises the issue of what Lacan calls in L’envers de la psychoanalyse “a knowledge that does not know itself”; that is, a knowledge that does not find confirmation of its conventional validity in the big Other. [16] But here is the fundamental point upon which I wish to insist (and Seminar XVII marks a turning point in this point of view): Seminar V remains conditioned by Hegelian/Kojevian logic of recognition, and does not approach the distinction Lacan proposed in Seminar XVII between “a knowledge that knows itself” (i.e., a knowledge confirmed by the big Other) and “a knowledge that does not know itself” (i.e., a knowledge not supported by the confirming validation of the big Other) and whose characteristic is, once introduced, to disrupt the parameters of the code from the utterance of a signifier whose value is situated in an excess that the symbolic system (the big Other) does not know how to contain.

I propose here to show that Lacan’s Seminars on ethics (i.e., VII and VIII) from the late 1950s and early 1960s open the possibility of language acts not recodifiable by the big Other, acts overwhelming the logic to which Lacan held until 1956 (that is, the Hegelian/Kojevian logic of recognition). It is this logic that is, it seems to me, profoundly subverted in Le transfert, and I will attempt to show how.

In Les formations de l’inconscient, Lacan placed the big Other’s recognition of the value of the linguistic performance at the horizon of meaning-creation that overflows the normed field of convention. The subject of desire is recognized by the big Other as a desiring subject, that is, as a symbolic subject of which the conventionally failed performance pronounces a message beyond the “purring” of discourse.

In Seminar V, Lacan is still influenced by the Kojevian dialectic of recognition, and places the figure of the big Other as the agent by which the subjectivation of the desiring subject realises itself under the effect of his recognition by the big Other. The model thus proposed introduces the possibility for the ‘creator acts of meaning’ to overflow the field of convention, but never that of the big Other, nor of the symbolic recognition that he systematically accomplishes from the moment that speech begins. The symbolic value of the created linguistic development, and of the desiring subject who supports that development, depends on the big Other’s recognition of its signifying scope (and this despite the appearance of failure at the pragmatic level of the codified performance).

Every speech act, even if creative, must receive its value from the recognition that the big Other is capable of according to it. However, the behaviour of the dialectic of recognition as principle of identification of the symbolic value of a signifying sequence beyond convention obliges Lacan to maintain the lexicon of convention as the paradoxical model of all the forms from which the recognition proceeds. It is, in effect, a question of thinking of a certain type of paradoxical message identifiable by the big Other beyond the code:

The message (that of the famillionaire) is perfectly incongruous in the sense that it is not received, it is not in the code. Everything is there. Certainly, the message is created in principle to be in a certain distinctive relationship with the code, but there, it is even at the level of the signifier that it is manifestly in violation of the code… The message remains in its difference from the code. [17]

In other words, the symbolic recognition, while establishing itself in its difference with validation by the code, does not cease to extend the model: it is always a question of a message that is dependant downstream of the big Other as an instance of symbolic validation of the realized linguistic performance. The big Other must convert that which appears to the code as a failure into a successful message: the analyst must recognize a message, and authenticate it as it is cleared to proceed to a recodification of the code:

How is this difference sanctioned? It is now a matter of the second level. This difference is sanctioned as a witticism by the Other… The Other sends the ball back, it stores the message in the code as a witticism. It says in the code: This is a witticism. If no one makes it, it is not a witticism. If no one perceives it, [18] if famillionaire is a slip of the tongue, that does not make it a witticism. The Other must codify it as a witticism in order for it to be inscribed in the code by the Other. [19]

It is this mechanism that Lacan profoundly modified when he developed an ethics of speech acts, a modification that would make it no longer able to guarantee the recodification of an unconventional sequence, as it was still the case in Seminar V. At that point in time, Lacan sketched out a plan wherein the speech act is systematically recodifiable; thus every speech act is characterized by the fact that it systematically disposes of a symbolic value, even if it is in excessive in relation to the linguistic code. It is evident in his Seminars on the ethics of desire that Lacan has opened the possibility of real acts, that is to say of acts not allowing any recodification of the code, of acts capable of overflowing the field of the big Other. Until 1960, the model remained the problematic one of an omnipresence of meaning, of a cognitive omnipotence of the big Other, through its capacity to recodify the code; a capacity that could be endlessly adapted to every type of signifying formation, by extension of the code to the format of all possible symbolic performances engendered by the subject.

The question that remains to be asked is, how do we identify the active component in the signifying chain of language as an act, properly speaking, that would no longer depend on the big Other? In other words, how do we identify the layer of the act that no longer depends on its symbolic value? I tried to show that in Seminar V it took its inspiration from the conventional model without, however, managing to truly overcome it. The question is thus to know whether Lacan managed to think of the speech act not only as a symbolic performance, but also as a real accomplishment. In other words, is there a place in Lacan for thinking about the perlocutionary dimension of the performative, the language act as Real? (At that point in time, the question of knowing what was necessary in order to understand the “Real” was yet to be resolved.)

In Austin, the duality between the illocutionary and the perlocutionary is explained by the fact that the liaison of the speaker to conventions is not isolatable from the exterior reality of the circumstances that inscribe themselves on our discourse. This inscription has a double implication for Austin:

1. That our acts produce non-conventional consequences on the interlocutor: perlocutionary effects. [20]

2. That our acts are rooted in a reality based in circumstances that can be reduced neither to meaning nor to the conditions in which they take place. When an act fails, it can thus be explained, in part, by the indifference of the real to the symbolic part of our experience.

We have seen that in the Lacan of Seminar V there is no place accorded to the Real, that is, to a part of the act that could maintain itself outside the symbolic sphere. As we have seen, the big Other revealed itself capable of absorbing and of recognising each and every linguistic performance, including those characterized as failures from the pragmatic point of view. Nothing would seem to escape the big Other; i.e., the symbolic recognition of any signifying sequence mobilized by the subject. Whereas for Austin, the speech act engenders non-symbolic effects to the degree that it is itself composed of real circumstances necessary to its execution.

Before Le transfert, Lacan was not really interested in the Real of the act; that is, in that which was outside the realm of the symbolic. Which implies the following fact: although in Les formations de l’inconscient Lacan speaks of speech acts in order to evoke the utterance, the reference to Austin remains implicit and badly developed, insomuch as every speech act always carries a message that has already happened in the Other, including the cases of acts of meaning-creation. However, the Real, for Austin as well as for Lacan, in meanings that cannot be likened to each other (to which we shall return later on), is that which in the act does not pertain to the symbolic order; it is unable to make any symbolic recognition of the object. The transformation of this mechanism is, I believe, proposed in Lacan’s discussion of Claudel’s The Hostage in Le transfert. This transformation allows us to re-read the Graph of Desire in a completely new way, in order to understand the ways by which the perlocutionary act arose in Lacan’s thinking as the blind spot of the symbolic, the Real of the speech act.

Indeed, in Austin, the perloctionary dimension of the act is the objective witness of its belonging to the reality of circumstances as they remain irreducible to the symbolic/conventional dimension of speech. For Lacan, the perlocutionary act is as revelatory as the Real, but it must be understood in a Lacanian sense: that is, not what is found to be ontologically distinct in the symbolic, but rather as that which the symbolic is powerless to contain. That is, as the thing that radically escapes the symbolic recodification engendered by the infinite enlargement of the powers of recognition of the big Other, the Real manifests itself as the hole that resists the totalising absorption of the recognition of the symbolic value of a linguistic performance made possible thanks to limitless recodifications executable by the big Other. The inauguration of the act in this internal failure at the symbolic level reintroduces a traumatic perlocutionary performance whose impact should be measured. This perlocutionary dimension shares with Austin the fact that it includes the non-symbolic performance of the accomplished speech act. However, in contrast with Austin, the Lacanian perlocutionary is not content with having causal effects on the interlocutor, but rather traumatic effects on the entire symbolic system.

In other words, where Austin firmly separates the two layers of illocutionary and perlocutionary acts, the Lacanian mechanism allows us to think of the incidence of the Real on the Symbolic itself, for the simple reason that Lacan describes the Real not as that which is beside meaning and in which meaning inscribes itself in order to realise itself. Instead, Lacan’s Real spells from the intimate fault line in the symbolic system.

For Lacan there is a perlocutionary, or Real, performance, not because another system would exist – that of causes, the causal/natural network – alongside symbolic efficacy as would be the case with Austin), but rather because there exists a dimension of linguistic activity that resists all symbolism. At this stage, it is a matter of evaluating the type of perlocutionary performance that introduces such a hole in the symbolic system, and the type of ethical performance that makes it attainable.

3. What is the Real of the Speech Act?

The novelty that Lacan introduces in Seminar VII is that the scope of an act must be considered in its spillover in relation to the symbolic. This thesis is also developed in his Ethics of Psychoanalysis.

1. The desire of the Thing, beyond the Symbolic.

It is through a re-reading of Freud’s Outline of a Theory of Practice that Lacan opens the topic of an original account of maternal satisfaction, always and forever unavailable to symbolism.

The impossible access to the Other, as every Other, as absolute Other as Thing, has the effect of creating a demand that it takes as an object. However, a gap intrudes in the transfer of the request to the Thing, in the sole measure where the signifier seeks to name that which is not nameable. The goal of the signifier remains marked by its non-conformity to the non-symbolic dimensions of the Thing, in such a way that the process of the request finishes by digging an ever-widening gap at the Thing, itself implying the interminable reiteration of a demand that sculpts, much more than it destroys, the field of its inadequacy to the Thing that it is aiming at.

In The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan takes up the Freudian distinction between the representation of a thing (Sachvorstellung) and the representation of a word (Wortvorstellung) in order to oppose both of them to the Thing (das Ding) which itself does not have Vorstellung. Indeed, Lacan insists, “Freud speaks of Sachvorstellung and not Dingvorstellung. [21]

From that time on, that which is the thing of the representation of things, its correlate, is the object in the sense of the signified. On the contrary, the Thing appears negatively as being that which representation has no hold, as that which belongs to the order of that which radically escapes it:

Sache and Wort are, therefore, closely linked; they form a couple. Das Ding is found somewhere else. [22]

In the section entitled “Memory and Judgment’ in his Outline of a Theory of Practice, [23] Freud describes the first encounter of the subject with an unknown aspect of the Other, that which Freud calls the Nebenwensch, that which one can translate, as does Lacan, as “neighbour” (prochain). Freud opposes two aspects of the “neighbour”: on the one hand, the neighbour is the other self whom the subject recognises as such by identification; he sees in the other another self. In this specular identification, a dimension of the neighbour as other is mastered.

This stage corresponds to Lacan’s mirror stage and to the imaginary identification to the alter ego that results from it. However, and this is the essential aspect of the Freudian description, there exists a part of the Other thus pierced which resists its specular integration, and which can be found in the mode of strangeness, of that in which the subject is powerless to project himself in a specular fashion. This dimension corresponds to that which Lacan will call the Real of the Other, or Thing, and it manifests itself as a unfathomable abyss that neither cognitive, nor specular nor symbolic domestication can contain. The Other in the dimension of the Real characterizes itself by its absolute impenetrability. During his encounter with his “neighbour” the subject experiences a radical ambivalence, since the heart of the identification of the subject to his neighbour surges through the gap of his radical otherness.

The Thing is thus the opening that attracts the symbolic structure to itself. It is the Thing that aims at the request without being able to attain it: the Other. This Other (the mother), who has given primordial satisfaction to the child, spreads itself out into two modalities. The first modality is the experience of the subject’s primordial jouissance by the satisfaction that the Other has been able to provide it; it is in the dimension of the Real that such a relationship of satisfaction obtained from the Other short of every demand is accomplished. The reiteration of such a primordial jouissance moves into a second stage by the procession of signifiers where the demand of the subject is articulated, but this demand is the request to obtain that which was originally obtained without asking for it; under this second modality, the subject addresses itself to the Other in the Symbolic dimension.

The figure of the Other incarnates this duality of the neighbour: at the same time it is the real source of the primordial jousissance that the subject seeks to regain, yet quest causes him to tip over the side of the second and derivative dimension of the Other: the Other as a receiver of the signifiying demand. One could summarise this situation under the following formula: what the subject searches for is the Other as Real, as Thing, and what he finds in the element of the mobilized signifier is the Other as the symbolic correlate of its demand (the big Other). A discrepancy thus intrudes between what the desire is targeting (the Other Thing) and the debased correlate obtained in place of the Thing, that is, the Symbolic response of the big Other. The subject finds himself confronting the Other as a stock of signifiers, and these signifying mechanics are substituted for the lost primacy of its relation with the Real Other.

In Lacan, the figure of the Other is located at the intersection of the Symbolic and the Real, and it is this entanglement that founds the double subjectivation of the subject of desire:

1. The emergence of the subject is carried out in the element of the symbolic as the effect of the knowledge by the big Other who addresses his symbolic mandate to him, that is, a fixed place at the interior of the signifying universe that the big Other has captured for him.

2. The ethical subjectivation which, by the intermediary of the death instinct, decides to force the restriction imposed by the Symbolic Order in targeting the Thing, that of suggesting a realm beyond to the symbolic mandate which was fixed for him by the big Other.

Here, the subject no longer aims at the accomplishment of his symbolic destiny; he targets the Thing beyond that, in such a manner that he introduces a gap between the signifier and himself in the heart of the signifying chain – the impossible substantial reflexivity of the signifier. The signifier reveals himself in such a case as a figure overrun by the desire of its subject, a subject that the big Other proves powerless to completely assign to its symbolic mandate:

We can try to define the field of the subject insofar as it is not simply the field of the intersubjective subject, the subject subjected to the mediation of the signifier. [24]

The subject targets the figure of the Other not as meaning, but as Real. It is the passage of the symbolic to real subjectivation that is described in The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. The tragedy of Antigone will become an exemplary standard for Lacan: in desiring the possible Antigone returns the symbolic order to its fundamental substantial lacuna (its lack of the Thing). But that which interests Lacan about this tragedy is what Antigone accomplishes through her fidelity to her desire: that which Lacan calls the passage from the first to the second death. This passage is completely characteristic of the modifications Lacan made in 1959 to the concept of the death drive. Since thereafter the authentic link to death is no longer simply posed as inherent to the signifier, it supposes the subjective complement introduced by the accomplishment of the ethical act. The “second death” defines itself by the extraction realized in the ethical act, of the signifying chain to its contents. The excessive desire of the Thing causes signifying chain to return to itself as an empty container. The passage from the first to the second death is nothing more than the process by which the “dumping” of the signifying chain is effectuated. The detaching of the signifier from his contents implies the dynamic articulation of two fundamental concepts:

1. The death drive by which a subject forces the homeostatic and diachronic limits of the signifier towards the Thing, in overrunning the Imaginary logic of life.

2. The eternity achieved by the signifier, and the indestructible desire that impregnates his inextinguishable character, which Lacan illustrated on a number of occasions by the expression he borrowed from the poet Paul Eluard, le dur désir de durer (“the difficult desire to endure”).

The death drive, according to Lacan, has the property to make the ex nihilo arise from the place from which the signifying chain emanates. It is on the creationist model implying an absolute beginning that it is necessary to understand the sudden appearance in the world of the signifier:

It is only from the point of view of an absolute beginning, which marks the origin of the signifying chain as a distinct order [25]

The first death thus conceives itself as a corporal, biological death; the second death is, on the contrary, the condition beyond this first death, from the indestructibility of the signifier as that which, because it arose from nothing, remains inassimilable to the ‘existant’ that supports it while it is alive.

In this instance, Antigone’s act is perfectly revealing of the movement from the first to the second death: the first death is the actual death of her brother Polynices (his corpse); the second death claimed by Antigone resides in the possibility of maintaining the status of her brother as vanished under the immovable signifier of his sepulchre. Even without a living container, the signifier of Polynices represents the eternity of his name beyond the temporary existence that he grafted to it. The timeless amplitude of the signifier does not know how to reduce itself to the life of a being that it represented during a finite period of existence.

This brother is something unique. And it is this alone that motivates me to oppose your edicts. Antigone invokes no other right than that one, a right that emerges in the language of the ineffaceable character of what is – ineffaceable, that is, from the moment when the emergent signifier freezes it like a fixed object in spite of the flood of possible transformations. What is, and it is to this, to this surface, that the unshakeable, unyielding position of Antigone is fixed. (…) It is nothing more than the break that the very presence of language inaugurates in the life of man. [26]

The emotional life of Polynices belongs to the sphere of the signified: that which fixes the existence of Polynices beyond the signified and of his ontological evanescence (his slippage indicated his disappearance into death) is the signifier. Here the figure of Antigone presents itself as the incarnation of a desire which, capable of preserving itself as the desire of nothing of the Thing, impregnates the signifying field of this emptiness, and re-articulates the Thing to its origin in the ex nihilo of an unconditioned surging out of nowhere. Here again one finds, in Lacan’s movement from the first seminars to Seminar VII, a static/descriptive to a dynamic/prescriptive perspective, the opposition between the first and the second death. Indeed this distinction was already actually present a year earlier in Lacan’s commentary on Antigone in Seminar VI, Desire and Its Interpretation. This distinction shows up again under the form of a static opposition. What is new in Seminar VII is the dimension of the act required in order for the signifier to cross from one modality to the other. Indeed, this is the difference that Lacan proposes in discussing the episode in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe where Robinson identifies Friday’s footprints on the beach of the deserted island.

The definition of the Lacanian signifier appears with great clarity at the occasion of such an analysis. The signifier is not yet there; one considers it as a trace, the trace of a presence to which the signifier will return (in the event of Friday’s presence). If one supposes that someone had come to blot out this trace, then there is no more trace of Friday’s presence. However, Lacan makes clear that it is not in the footprints, nor even in the erased footprints, that the signifying function reveals itself. Because the signifier represents not the living presence of an individual, but rather his proper capacity to make himself disappear:

It is not the obliterated trace that constitutes the signifier; what ushers in the signifier is something that presents itself as being able to be erased. [27]

Robinson wipes out Friday’s footprints, but he leaves a sign (a cross) that marks this erasure. The signifier is this cross, this witness of the signifier as the one who has been erased. The authentic signifier represents the operation of his own erasure. He represents the erasure of that which initially represents the subject:

I told you that the signifier begins, not with the trace, but with that which erases the trace, and that it is not the obliterated trace that constitutes the signifier. What ushers in the signifier is something that presents itself as being able to be erased…. The specific signifier is something that presents itself as being able to be erased itself, and it is precisely in this operation of erasure that it exists. [28]

The “specific” signifier (that which Lacan a year later would call ‘the second death’) is the negation that represents itself as having denied its first state as representative of the subject. Conversely, the signifier represents the subject as that of whom there remains no trace, unless a trace remains to show that no trace any longer exists. This complication allows the signifier to play a supporting role of negativity to which Lacan does not cease to refer throughout his discussion of the lament of the tragic hero – Oedipus in this instance – who is overcome by the weight of a “had I never been born!” The signifier becomes the indestructible trace of negativity; it is a witness to desire as a desire of self-eradication. There remains nothing left of the subject that can attest to his presence, unless no trace remains that he ever lived.

In other words, the signifier in its primary state is free from diachrony; that is, of its link to the historical subject that he bears: in the cases of Friday or of Polynices, the signifier returns to the subject in support of their psychic purpose.

Limiting oneself solely to the diachronic ambit of the signifier risks assimilating the signifier to the signified properties that disguise it in the course of the life of an ego, rather than understanding that these same properties slip and reflect only the superficial layer that is formed above the synchronic signifiying chain. Moreover, this chain has always already constituted the subject of the Symbolic, well before it drifted to its Imaginary identity.

In this manner, the signifier finishes by merging into the first death to which Creon wishes to condemn Polynices. It is from this first death that Antigone desires to extract her brother, and it is in this manner that she incarnates par excellence the subject of desire. Because in elevating her brother to the second death, she refuses to let the memory of his life rest restricted to one imaginary individual. She wishes to bear his essence as a Subject of desire. This is why she refuses Creon’s reduction of her brother to the status of traitor of the city. Beyond the contingent determination overwhelming him from the Symbolic Order, Polynice subsists as the Real Subject, that is, as the Subject whose signifying integrity to support the Void of his desire remains inalterable.

This relationship of being suspends everything that has to do with transformations, with the cycle of generation and decay or with history itself, and it places us on a level that is more extreme than any other insofar as it is directly attached to language as such. [29]

This sole irreducibility of the signifier to each signified content demands, from an ethical point of view, the burial of Polynices, and the sepulchre marked with his Name, inasmuch as it incarnates the fundamental ahistoricity of the signifier as signifier of the subjectivity contained in its essence. Lacan discharges to the conscious the role of bearer of the subjective integrity: the signifier, while he denies himself, affirms across this negation of diachronic properties with which the time of a life is merged with the first death (the absence of the individual and the biographical memory are part of this first death), and its fundamental negativity, that is, its irreducibility to every historical signified accomplishment.

Only the movement of negativity leads the Subject back to the Truth of himself as Subject of Desire, which finds the face of his own destiny in the fundamental Void around which every desire is articulated. As the signifier represents the subject of desire, it remains refractory in its assimilation of the properties that give it its diachronic sense. The synchrony of the signifier consists in, very precisely, the fact that the it must move away from these same properties. The essence of the signifier is not in the contingent properties that cover the time a life directed towards death; the eternal essence of the signifier — as a representative of the subject of desire — belongs to its capacity to obliterate itself as a diachronic signifier. Its synchrony prevails in this very obliteration.

The synchrony of the signifier thus rests on the signifier’s capacity to obliterate itself, and to conserve the trace of this same obliteration eternally, maintained as an absolute sign of the irreducibility of the signified’s desire. This it is the witness of the capacity of the signifier to maintain itself beyond life, as the fundamental articulation of a pure desire of all positive determination. If it is true that the signifier exceeds the signifying sphere that remains powerless to represent the Real, it is precisely in reason of the fact that the signifier disposes of this capacity to obliterate itself and to preserve its state as eternal witness, the movement by which it obliterates itself, by which it rejects the possibility of confounding itself with life. But life, because it is guided by the principle of pleasure and satisfaction it receives from it, is inevitably headed towards death.

In obliterating itself, the signifier holds onto the Subject, the hard kernel of its being as pure desire. It is the passage from a state of a still-incomplete signifier to a second power that incarnates the passage from the first death to the second death. This is why Antigone rebels against Creon, because he condemned the corpse of her brother Polynices to remain outside its sepulchre. As a trace of the life now extinguished, it does not conform to its signifier, that is, to Polynices as Empty Subject of the Thing.

2. The Real of the Subject and the Graph of Desire.

The subjective dependence on the desire of the Other stems from what Lacan, in Le désir et son interpretation, called the “principle of commutativity”. This principle describes the fundamental liaison of the child with his Mother from his first demands on her as a support of symbolic interaction. She is capable of receiving the need that the child addresses to her only in so far as she interprets it, that is, converts injuthe child’s corporal manifestation, or babble, into meaningful requests. This conversion determines the subject’s entry into the symbolic universe.

Hence, this is why Lacan argues that one always receives one’s own message from the Other, as the big Other is both upstream and downstream of meaning: for the child’s need to make sense, he must first alienate himself from the field of what makes sense for the Other, he must align himself with the Other’s desire, in order to then signify him his need, relative to what the Other may understand of it. Hence, the route of the signification remains circular; the Other merely sends the ball back to himself, since it is from his desire to understand one expression over another, to interpret in one way more than another, with all the arbitrariness that such a choice imposes on the subject of his demand, that a significant expression (gesticulation, cry, babble) becomes symbolic. It is on this occasion that the universe of signification emerges.

This is why psychoanalysis does not stop at the description of the conventions already ready to be established; it locates the origin of such a dependence of the subject vis-ˆ-vis the conventions beginning with the first relations of the subject with his mother, as a support of the code, as the first encounter of the subject with the big Other. This genesis of meaning, under the motif of the alienation of the subject in a desire that he encounters, that he transcends and upon which he depends in order to acquire meaning, is the very enigma of psychoanalysis, the fundamental trauma upon which the subject’s iapparatus rests.

Psychoanalysis does not content itself with understanding the relationships of the subject to conventions for themselves, it investigates their genesis, in linking the question of conventions to the description of the traumatic experience that constitutes the subject’s enigmatic encounter with the desire of the Other. It is this circular desire that sets the subject up as a container (through harnessing his pre-symbolic performances in the filaments of the symbolic demand) of a particular signifying value with regard to an already-constituted desire. In such a case, it is legitimate to ask whether (just as in Austin), this non-linguistic utterance is preserved after the subject’s entry into the language of the Other.

In reality, yes, but in a mode that is very distinct from the way Austin breaks down the speech act into illocutionary and perlocutionary. What remains of the process of conversion of the pre-symbolic manifestations of the child in the symbolic sphere is the object a, presented by Lacan as the detritus of the operation of symbolic transformation accomplished by the subject’s entry into the field of recognition by the big Other of the symbolic value of his primordial performances. The question is, therefore, that of knowing how, starting from the Graph of Desire, one may restore all its weight to the real enunciative efficiency, such as it is always played out beyond all symbolisation, as a call or cry to the Other.

How to regain, within the symbolic field, the Real in which the language act roots itself if, to follow the Lacanian definition of the Real, the Real belongs to the order of that which escapes the symbolic, of that which presents itself to the symbolic as impossible? The first important conclusion is that the apparatus that Searle developed in Speech Acts [30] is in every point identical to the description of the first stage of the Graph of Desire.

Indeed Searle’s ‘principle of expressibility’ postulates the existence of an analytical conjunction of mental intentions to language conventions. There is no intention that is not found to express itself in a typically conventional procedure, and this is true a priori for Searle. For Searle, each conventional procedure corresponds to an intentional pragmatic value. It is without doubt the reason why Searle remains so insensitive to perlocutionary phenomena; it is that, for him, the conventional field absorbs the entire sphere of expressivity of the subject (reduced to the intentional subject).

In this way, the procedure described by Lacan at the first stage of the Graph of Desire corresponds rather impressively to the system described by Searle in Speech Acts. Lacan’s theory would have been identical to that of Searle if Lacan had not distinguished the enunciation from the utterance in showing that the utterance belongs to the sphere of intentional discourse and the field of the desiring subjectivity is never reducible to that which reflects the intentional discourse. Lacanian subjectivity is not only made of intentions that branch onto conventions under the benevolent validation of the big Other. Because – and it is that which the Graph of Desire demonstrates – the intentional field of the subject remains a retroactive reconstruction after the fact, produced by the big Other. It is there that all the subversion of the Lacanian apparatus resides.

The pragmatic (in Searle, at least) presents things in the following way: there is an intention which, in order to express itself, uses a conventional procedure which is specific to it. Searle’s method is the following:

S utters sentence T and means it (means literally what he says) =
S utters sentence T and
(a) S intends (i-i) the utterance U of T to produce in H the knowledge (recognition, awareness) that the states of affairs specified by (certain of) the rules of T obtain. (Call this effect the illocutionary effect, IE)
(b) S intends U to produce IE by means of the recognition of i-i
(c) S intends that i-I will be recognized in virtue of (by means of) H’s knowledge of (certain of) rules governing (the elements of) T [31]

Intention never precedes the convention that expresses it; only once the field of the signifier is pinned down (by capitonnage) by the big Other, can one infer from an often-used conventional procedure that the speaker wanted to say something. Under the effect of capitonnage by the code (vector D’), the subject introduces his linguistic performance as being carried by an intentional agent/speaker. However, this agent/speaker only appears after the fact, once the big Other has fixed and recognized the signification of a performance, and it is by virtue of this recognition that is identified the intentional identity of the subject that was its bearer.

At the level of the code: the subject is recognized as intentional agent, but this identity did not precede the fixation of sense by the big Other of a signifying sequence mobilized by the subject to an infra-symbolic level. This is why, exactly as in Searle, Lacan’s intentions are soldered to conventions: no intention can be expressed outside a codified procedure (recognized by the big Other). From Lacan’s point of view, Searle’s naiveté was to infer (from usage conforming to the code) the existence of an intentional sphere upstream from its linguistic expression.

For Lacan, the procedure is exactly the inverse: it is the linguistic expression that precedes the discursive intentions and that results retroactively from the value of the expression authenticated by the big Other. However, it is the operation of conversion of a need deprived of meaning and of signifiers that he mobilized with the intention of making himself understood by the big Other; it is thus the conversion of the real need into symbolic demand, a tributary of the interpretative intervention of the Other, which is obliterated precisely at the level of the signified signification obtained in s(A). On the part of the signified, we find a signification referring back to the existence of a subject speaker conscious of himself – that which Lacan calls the semblance of subject, the Imaginary ego – situated upstream of the language and utilising it in order to transmit (under the form of pragmatic contents) its volitional states. The illusion of the signified is not uniquely an illusion as to meaning, but equally an illusion in that it truncates the operation from which the signification springs up.

The Graph of Desire shows that need does not become a demand until after the fact. The need as it exists does not carry any request before the Other has taken it in charge. This emergence of the signification after the act is a constant in Lacan’s teaching: it is only once the interpretation of the Other is realized that the life of the subject can be understood from the perspective of a truth through which this experience of life will appear as endowed with meaning. The interpretation by the Other realizes the truth in a performative manner; it is not discovered in the speech of the patient; it constitutes it. Meaning never precedes the act of interpretation upon which it depends. As Lacan affirms in Seminar XVIII.

(Interpretation) is true only by what comes afterwards, just like an oracle. Interpretation is not put to a truth test that slices it up, yes or no; it triggers the truth as it is. It is true only to the extent to which it is followed up. [32]

On the Graph of Desire, need belongs to the sphere of the Real (vector delta/A), just as its primordial bodily displays/demonstrations (the chain of signifiers vector D/A/S) before the interpretative intervention of the big Other) which, as they exist, have no signification. It is at the moment of the encounter with the Other as interpreting, that the subject of the real from where it is found, is transformed into an intentional imaginary subject at the first level of the graph, then, at the second level, as subject of an unconscious demand.

It is at that moment that his need suffers from the interpretation by the big Other, and finds itself reconstructed under the effect of this interpretation, as the expression of an intention.

Otherwise said, in the haste signified by the signifying chain at the first stage of the graph, the Real of the act does not reside in the usage that an intentional subject makes of a conventional procedure. Rather, the Real of the act finds itself in the impossible translation of his need by the big Other, and of the expressions located first in the element of non-sense, of the signifying register, before its symbolic interpretation by the big Other.

For the symbolic, the mobilization of such signifiers without a priori symbolic value is obliterated under the effect of the metamorphosis of need and of its signifying expressions in a symbolic demand. In other words, if the big Other reconstructs after the fact the sense of a call that is primordially destitute, that which escapes at this retroaction is the action of the retroaction itself. This retroaction is never identifiable from the two conscious and unconscious chains of the graph. There is indeed a non-symbolic residue at the operation of symbolization/conversion of the Real of the requested need, which is very precisely that which the symbolic is powerless to integrate; that is, itself as the process of translation of a real, non-symbolic solicitation.

What the symbolic never renders across the two chains of demand that it stratifies in the graph, is the act by which, in its signifying infra-symbolic expressions, the subject moves itself in the field of the Real; i.e., of that which precedes the interpretation of the Other at the same time as it necessarily escapes him (since the big Other is powerless to realize the retroactive procedure of transformation into demand of that which constituted an infra-symbolic manifestation). In such a case, the real act has been obliterated by the transformation of a subject of the real need into a pragmatic subject disposing of discursive intentions that would be supposed expressed from the start by its signifying performances. However, it is this brute, subjective solicitation that activates the operation of capitonnage by the big Other (vector Delta/A), which thus fixes the message of real signifying expressions.

In other words, the cry of need is the act devoid of meaning, which activates the procedure of capitonnage by which it (as well as the bodily/real expressions that accompany it) succeeds in signifying something. The capitonnage itself engenders a subject deprived of intentions of signification, that which the subject was not at all in the infra-symbolic element of need. Thus, once he has entered the symbolic, the subject no longer encounters the authentic act by which he made his entry, since he finds himself as having always already existed as an intentional subject of pragmatic performances (at the level of the first chain). However, the subject has not always been a subject of one or the other of these symbolic performances; he has become it by a real primordial act, a bodily manifestation; a cry that is not tied, as it is, to a signification.

The act thus (i.e., the need, its manifestation and the symbolic retraction of the big Other) remains itself deprived of all symbolic translation in the field of the constituted signification. Because there is no symbol to represent it, the act thus remains in the irreducible element of the Real, that is, impossible to translate into the symbolic. There is a part of the subject that remains unintegrated in its symbolic reconstruction, this real and inexchangeable part of the act, as a constitutive pillar of the signification at the same time that it is obliterated at the level of the signification. The Real of the act of enunciation can only appear as a task in the supposedly homogenous process of signification, and in this regard Lacan would join Derrida, in that such homogeneity of the signification remains necessarily reconstructed after the fact, by obliteration of the retroactive dynamic of the trace.

Only in Lacan does the reconstruction after the fact result not from the trace written as a difference (as with Derrida) but from a hiatus between the act and its interpretation by the Other. For Lacan, it is the act by which the subject realizes a linguistic performance that has no meaning in itself, nor would it be recognized as belonging to a symbolic register. The entire interest of the Lacanian apparatus is here: that which conditions the possibility for a subject to make meaning is that he must enter into the symbolic, and that logically implies the obliteration of the act by which his entry was accomplished. On the symbolic side, we find a subject imaginarily reconstructed as having always belonged to the sphere of intentions, at least concerning the first chain (the first level of the graph). Because on the side of the second chain, and this is the fundamental point, the subject has the fundamental experience of a lack in the Other translating the intimate lapse that crosses the field of the symbolic. Indeed, at the level of the unconscious chain (the second level of the graph), the subject is led to discover a fundamental signifier: that of the lack in the Other. This signifier translates the incapacity of the signifier to symbolically integrate object a, which is defined by Lacan as the object-cause of the desire under two modalities: under the form of a fundamental phantasm, (in Le transfert) and under the form of the partial object of the drive (in Seminar XI).

The object a is designated by Lacan as the detritus of the entry of the subject into the symbolic order. By his entry into language, the subject is castrated; that is, he loses a part of himself under the effect of the symbolic. And what he loses is his substantial reflexivity, since the Other has obliterated the origin, at the outset not symbolic, of his entry into the universe of meaning. The object a is thus the object of desire of the subject, that is, that which beyond the signifier is endorsed as that which would allow the subject to recover his lost integrity, and thus to exit from the division engendered by his entry into the symbolic. To use Stanley Cavell’s locution, the subject does not draw the “naturalness” of his identification from his condition of being the subject of ordinary conventions; the subject draws his naturalness from his capacity to aim at a phantasm, the object a, which surpasses the symbolic order constituting the human world.

Let us consider the possibility of the burial of Polynices for Antigone, that nothing in the symbolic universe can come to perform, and therefore remains in the state of an unattainable fundamental phantasm. The ‘naturalness’ of the subject, its substantial identity, does not derive from its integration into the symbolic universe. It derives, rather, from its capacity to object to this order which condemns it to division, a fundamental phantasm, an object-cause of desire that remains unattainable in the context of the instituted symbolic order to which the subject alienated itself in order to exist as a subject capable of entering into interaction with the big Other.

In this regard, as object-cause of desire, the object a results from the impossible reflexivity of the big Other on itself. Indeed it is the meaning of Lacanian formulas for which “there is no Other of the Other”: the symbolic universe is powerless to symbolise the operation by which the subject entered into the universe of meaning: this reflexive deficiency, in the sense that in the symbolic the subject only represents a signifier for another signifier, and is never represented as a real bearer, not reducible to the signification which comes to him from the Other; this reflexive deficiency of the big Other is discovered by the subject at the level of the signifier of the lack in the Other. This signifier of lack in the Other, frees the empty space in the signifying chain on which is grafted the fundamental phantasm by which the subject relates to himself, in contemplating beyond the symbolic order in which he is alienated, his lost and inaccessible “naturalness”. In such a case, he succeeds by his phantasm to produce a fiction that serves as a subject capable of desiring beyond the Symbolic Order, beyond the desire of the Other.

In other words, it is always because a real quid pro quo (object a, a fundamental attachment to a phantasm) at the subject’s symbolic insertion that he compensates the effects of his alienation. It is why at the symbolic order, such as it exists, the subject, such as Antigone, reveals herself even to object to a desire that is about the non-symbolic remainder (the phantasm) that drops from the symbolic operation of alienation constitutive of the subject of language. It is this object that enables Lacan to oppose the Laws of Desire to the Laws of the City, which, in the ethics of desire, configure the subject having acted “in conformity with his desire” as the operator of the unmasking of the void in the Other. To put it in Stanley Cavell’s terms, the ‘naturalness’ of the subject does not result from his integration in the ordinary conventions shared by all as a bodily condition, [33] but in his capacity to oppose to them a phantasm that the symbolic order cannot contain, as that which remains not integrable of the indexing of the primordial performances of subjectivity to the symbolic universe.

As with Cavell, the Lacanian ethical subject sets himself up in a never-ending quest for his voice, in the desire to recover the perlocutionary dimension of his being beyond the instituted Symbolic Order, the hard kernel of expressivity that radically escapes the operation of his symbolic integration under the effect of the big Other. Hence, it seems to me that one can all the better understand the meaning of the commentary on Claudel’s The Hostage that Lacan offered in Seminar VIII.

First, this commentary was meant to be a sequel to the commentary on Antigone that Lacan had delivered a year earlier, in The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. It dealt with the second part of Lacan’s reflections on the relationship between psychoanalysis and tragedy. This second part takes up the study of the modern tragedy in highlighting its differences with classical tragedy. According to Lacan, a modern tragic hero, such as Sygne (the principal character of Paul Claudel’s play The Hostage), no longer has, as was still the case for the classical hero, the possibility of objecting to the Symbolic Law, the Law of his own desire magnetized by the object-cause of desire. This hero is condemned to become alienated from the Symbolic Order without a quid pro quo; a quid pro quo on which (on the possibility for the subject of desiring something beyond the Symbolic Order), as we have just seen, rested the ‘naturalness’ of the subject: the consistence of the subject of desire resides in the Law of his desire which pushes him to desire the Impossible, that is, to be able to relate to the object a, as object-cause of his desire, without this Cause being able to find an effective translation in the instituted symbolic order. As he desires, the subject desires object a, that is, an absolute Cause beyond the instituted symbolic order.

In such a case, Lacan tells us, what differentiates the modern tragedy from classical tragedy, is that in classical tragedy, the symbolic order allows the possibility of the realisation of desire, whereas in modern tragedy it is not allowed. For Antigone it was possible to protest to Creon about the object of her desire, whereas for Sygne it will become impossible to object, whatever the symbolic order instituted. The world of modern tragedy is a world without cause, where the subject “is begged,” Lacan tells us, “to bear a horrible injustice as jouissance.” [34]

His sacrifice of the object a rests on the need Sygne is faced with of concealing the death of God, the violent expiration of the Name of the Father engendered by this new order. However, the impasse of his act reveals the sole fact that a symbolic law, thus instituted, inevitably annihilates the possibility of desire. From this point of view, Sygne is at the opposite end of the world from Antigone. The symbolic order condemned her to being unable to achieve her desire, to have to sacrifice it, to have to thus renounce her own subjective integrity, that is to say, to the hard kernel of her being, to that which, in her, “is worth more than herself’: the object-cause that galvanises her desire.

The modern individual is overcome by this impossibility, he is condemned to an alienation from the order of things without compensation; as Lacan puts it, in the modern age “one’s desire is extracted from him and, in exchange, it is him that is given to someone else – in this event, the social order”. [35]

This being the case, what will Sygne’s ethical act consist of if, contrary to Antigone, he can not use as support the prescription for desire, the Law to not “deliver over one’s desire”? Indeed, Antigone’s obsession resided in the possibility of preserving the honour of her family in desiring above all else the burial of her brother Polynices. The situation was reversed for Sygne, for whom fidelity to a familial signifier was what was radically forbidden.

“We are no longer in the clutch of guilt by this symbolic debt. It is to have the debt at our charge that is reproached to us, in the closest sense that the word can indicate… Without a doubt the ancient Atè rendered us guilty of this debt, but in renouncing it as we are going to now, we are burdened with a greater sadness still: that this destiny is no longer anything.” [36]

It is under this angle that the we may ask question of the redundant Real act as a fundamental ethical act. The last movement of Claudel’s play takes place a year afterwards. Turelure has married Sygne, and is prefect of the Seine; he is negotiating the surrender of Paris to the royalists; his abject cynicism leads him to lay claim on an important post once the monarchy is restored in France. However, the king’s chief negotiator Georges ends up provoking Turelure in a duel. At the moment when Georges’ bullet is about to lodge itself in Turelure’s chest, Sygne intervenes and protects her husband from the death that his cousin had already inflicted on him. By this act, she sacrifices herself for the man whom she loathes the most. At the very end of the play, Turelure, sitting at the bedside of the dying Sygne, asks her to explain her action. Sygne responds in the negative, by a sign saying ‘no’, the stage directions tell us. Despite her husband’s insistence in discovering the intentions behind her act, Sygne replies no. However, this response is not a conventional response; it has no value at the pragmatic level; it is, to borrow the quite pertinent formula of Zizek, a ‘response of the Real’. [37]

Sygne does not respond to Turelure in saying no; by this act of negation she incarnates a more global no, a no even to discourse, a no to every transformation of her act into words, i.e., into a signification. In this regard, Sygne explains nothing. In opening a gap before/in (?) the illocutionary value of her ‘no’, she refuses the act of subjectivation, which we have seen in the graph of desire, as it befalls the subject as an intentional subject under the effect of the capitonnage. By this act, Sygne resists all subjectivation, refuses her speech act to be recognized and interpreted by the big Other. Thus her act finds a translation in a symbolic order that she controls.

By her act of saying no, Sygne recovers the Real of corporal manifestations before they become metamorphozed into demands by the Other. For Sygne accompanies her act with a nervous tic that supports her ‘no’ – it is thus the body in all its strangeness, in its invincible resistance to any symbolic integration or translation.

The signifier that mobilises the ‘no’ is not the pragmatic response to suggestions as to the value of her gesture that her husband suggests to her in order to extricate himself from the intellectual impasse with which he is confronted through the sacrifice of a woman who had not stopped hating him: it is a signifier begrudging any signified – a non-symbolic signifier. In this way, through her radical act of refusal of the order to which she has been asked to consent, Sygne incarnates the signifier of lack in the Other.

By her refusal to enter into the process of symbolic subjectivation, without real compensation – without object a – she holds out against her gesture being symbolically translated. Her no is a pure signifier incomprehensible for the big Other – at that moment identified with Turelure. The ‘no’ of Sygne, in being deprived of any illocutionary value, remains as the Real of the Symbolic; it reveals the fundamental gouge that rips open the established order from its interior by the traumatic insertion of an unintegratable signifier.

In this regard, the ‘no’ of Sygne functions as a pure perlocutionary act, indeed of a non-conventional signifier, purely Real, but of a real that is not the real of the natural force described by Austin, but rather the Real of the enunciation; that is, the impossible harmony of the act of saying in the spoken, the impossible recuperation of the act of saying in the spoken. Sygne thus incarnates the act of saying as impossible, as Impossible to translate into signification.

Her ‘no’ represents the moment when the signifier is symbolically empty, even more where it incarnates the very Empty of the Symbolic, this forever non-integrable part of subjectivity, the tic which says no, in the refusal to see her saying, transformed in spoken:

Hence the versagung, the refusal which she cannot untie, becomes that which the structure of the word implies, versagen, the refusal concerning the said, and, if I wanted to equivocate in order to find the best translation, perdition. All that which is condition becomes perdition. And that is why here, to not say becomes the not-to-say… At this moment this gap opens itself where only that which is the beginning of a ne-fus-je can be articulated, which would know only how to be a refusal, a ne, this tic, this grimace; in brief, this quivering of the body, this psychosomatic, which is the term that we have to encounter the mark of the signifier. [38]

The non-symbolisable signifier no longer has any conventional effects, but real, that is to say traumatic, effects, as its existence opposes itself to any symbolic recuperation, and this in so far as it incarnates the act of saying in its pure state as a refusal of its reduction to the said, in so far as the signifier remains irreducible to every pragmatic/illocutionary content emanating from the big Other. The Real thus removes the impossible collection from the saying to the said, from the act to its derived content, and it is this internal failure in the field of the Other that the ethical act of Sygne embodies. Whereas the signifier of lack in the Other was reached by Antigone under the effect of her desire for the Thing, on the contrary Sygne incarnates this signifier of lack in the Other. She splits open any possibility of entering in the social/symbolic game that she controls.

Thus as in Stanley Cavell, where the withdrawal of the individual from the conventional system is possible in the name of a radical refusal, as exemplified by the case of Thoreau, Lacan opens the possibility of a radical withdrawal of the individual, of a refusal to play the symbolic game as soon as it closes all access to the affirmation of desire.

However, contrary to Cavell’s theory, where the withdrawal of the individual remains without effect on the conventional system that he abandons (that is the withdrawal described by Walden), in Lacan this withdrawal continues to have its effects on the symbolic system from which it has detached itself, since, reluctant towards any metamorphosis into demand, it reveals the fundamental gap, the radical Void on which the instituted symbolic order pronounces itself.

In this respect, the act disconnected from convention, has indeed as perlocutionary effect to return the symbolic system to its proper enigmaticity, to its insurmountable opacity, and this through the act of saying no accompanied by a tic, which it proves intrinsically and constitutionally powerless to cover over.

Contrary to what Lacan described in Seminar V, Sygne’s act cannot be integrated into a recodification. Her signifier is symbolically empty; it is the signifier of lack in the Other. Thus as in Stanley Cavell, where the withdrawal of the individual from the conventional system is possible in the name of a radical refusal, it is the exemplary case of Thoreau, Lacan opens the possibility of a radical withdrawal of the individual, of a refusal to play the symbolic game to the extent that he closes all access to the affirmation of desire.

However, contrary to Cavell’s theory, where the withdrawal of the individual remains without effect on the conventional system that he abandons (that is the withdrawal described by Walden), on the contrary, in Lacan this withdrawal continues to have its effects on the symbolic system from which it has detached itself, since, reluctant to every metamorphosis into demand, it reveals the fundamental gap, the radical Void on which the instituted symbolic order pronounces itself.

In this regard, the act disconnected from convention, has for perlocutionary effect to return the symbolic system to its proper enigmaticity, to its opacity impassable to itself, and this through the act of saying no accompanied by a tic that reveals itself intrinsically and constitutionally powerless to cover up. Contrary to what Lacan described in Seminar V, the act of Sygne is not integrable in a recodification, its signifier is symbolically empty. It is the signfier of the lack in the Other.

We have been able to see in what manner Lacan’s theory of speech acts evolved from its first developments to those proposed in the Seminars on ethics from the beginning of the 1960s. Lacan’s turnabout permitted him to put the focus on the impassable Real of every act before its alienation in the big Other, in place of the primacy otherwise accorded to the sole symbolic apparatus.

In contrast what Lacan initially presented in Seminar V, there also now exists a sphere of acts that are not recodifiable, a sort of omnipotence of the symbolic that reconfigures itself as meaning, thanks to the galvanising receptivity from the big Other, always capable of transforming into message the acts excessive in relation to the register of convention.

In the ethics of the perlocutionary act, the act no longer retains the possibility of recuperating the incongruity of the accomplished act in a symbolic form, but on the contrary to assure a place in decision theory to these acts capable of incarnating ‘the signifier of the lack in the Other’ and, thus, to restore the Symbolic the excess (overlapping) part of the Real; that every act of speaking exercise on the contents of the spoken that results; in sum, the intrinsic part of opacity of the Symbolic to itself; the part irreducibly untranslatable of the act as non-symbolically restituable.

What, then, restores the internal speaking to the spoken, or the Real from the Symbolic? It is ethics itself; it is the act that identifies with the structural lack that traverses the Symbolic as the most intimate part of itself, while at in the same time, more foreign, less integratable.

It still remains to investigate the continental reception of Austin by Derrida and Judith Butler. Because for them, the performative value of the speech act does not inscribe itself as it does with Lacan, in the Real, but more in the subversive resources proper to the symbolic itself, through the idea that the symbolic implies the existence of a supplement that constitutes and deconstructs the social norms at the same time.

In sticking to a conception closer to that of the earlier Lacan, Derrida and Butler from the thesis according to which the big Other can integrate by means of an infinite recodification, every new linguistic performance engendered by the performative. From Le transfert onwards, Lacan’s thesis is quite different: just as in Austin, the speech act is not only symbolic, it is its own activity that the big Other is incapable of restoring. The traumatic act does not open to a symbolic performance integratable by the big Other, but, on the contrary, returns to the idea that the big Other lacks reflexitivity, that it is only capable of decoding a speech act downstream, never upstream, in the Real in which it has rooted itself. The ethical act of Sygne restores this bit of impossible inherent in every act; it moves into the incompleteness of the big Other; it takes the place of the sacrificed object a.

It is thus not possible, like Derrida, to think that this act, as a traumatic act, would open an infinite series of new contexts, as if meaning overflowed convention, and on each occasion calling for a new convention capable of receiving it. Sygne is, on the contrary, on the side of a radical refusal capable of subjectivation, of that which renders possible the ethical act as a subjective act capable of defusing the reduction of the subject to its capitonnage under the effect of the big Other. The opposing approaches of Derrida and Butler appear to give an absolute credit to the big Other to call up capitonnages. In their willingness to destabilise the big Other, they confer on it a paradoxically absolute scope, just at the point where the end of the analysis consists precisely in accepting, like Sygne, the passage from phantasm to drive; that is, from consenting to the insurmountable lack in the Other, to the inexhaustible refusal of the Other, to give the last word.


[1] Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Lacan, Le Maître absolu, Champ Flammarion, Paris, 1990, p. 174.

[2] Jacques Lacan, “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire”, in Écrits, translated by B. Fink, W.W. Norton Co., 2006, p. 690.

[3] J. Lacan, “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis”, in Écrits, p. 246.

[4] Paul Grice, “Meaning”, in Studies in the Way of Words, Harvard University Press, 1989.

[5] J. Lacan, Le séminaire, livre III, Les psychoses, Le Seuil, Champ freudien, Paris, 1981, p. 47.

[6] Austin, How to do Things with Words, Oxford University Press, p. 16 and pp. 39-40.

[7] Because in “Signature, Event, Context” (see Margins of Philosophy, University of Chicago Press, 1982), Derrida adopted an intentionalist point of view on Austin’s speech acts. Derrida treats intention as belonging to the constituant A and B cases of the act, while the intention is never constitutive of the result of Austin’s successful performative. On this point cf. Raoul Moati, Derrida/Searle. Langage ordinaire et déconstruction, PUF, Philosophies, 2008 (forthcoming).

[8] How To Do Things with Words, pp. 72-73.

[9] J. Lacan, “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis”, Écrits, p. 247.

[10] See https://nosubject.com/Point_de_capiton.

[11] J. Lacan, “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire,” in Êcrits, p. 681.

[12] J. lacan, Le séminaire, Livre V, Les formations de l’inconscient, Le Seuil, Champ Freudien, 1998, p. 17.

[13] Austin explains, “By contrast with the A cases, the notion of the B cases is rather that the procedure is all right, and it does apply all right, but we muff the execution of the ritual with more or less consequences: so B cases as opposed to A cases will be called Misexecutions as opposed to Misinvocations: the purported act is vitiated by a flaw or hitch in the conduct of the ceremony.” How To Do Things With Words, p. 17.

[14] Le séminaire, Livre VI, Le désir et son interprŽétation; 2nd seminar of the year, unpub., “Le désir: les topiques de Freud”. We note here Lacan’s references to the making of discourse and to speech as an act.

[15] J. Lacan, Le séminaire, Livre V, Les formations de l’inconscient, p. 23.

[16] See a discussion of this distinction by Alenka Zupancic, in Ethics of the Real, Verso, 2000, pp. 200 ff.

[17] Ibid, p. 24.

[18] That is, if one leaves the task of identifying every message to the Code.

[19] Ibid, pp. 24-25.

[20] How To Do Things With Words, p. 103.

[21] J. Lacan, The Seminar, Book VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, W.W Norton Co., 1997, p. 45.

[22] Ibid, p. 45.

[23] S. Freud, Outline of a Theory of Practice (“L’Esquisse d’une psychologie scientifique”, in La naissance de la psychanalyse) Paris, PUF, p. 347.

[24] J. Lacan, The Seminar, Book VII, p. 103.

[25] Ibid, pp. 213-214.

[26] Ibid, p. 279.

[27] J. Lacan, Le séminaire, Livre VI, Le désir et son interprétation. “Cinquième séance: La négation et le Ne pas savoir”.

[28] Ibid

[29] Ibid, p. 285.

[30] J. R. Searle, Speech Acts, Cambridge University Press, 1969, pp. 42 and following, notably his critique of Grice. Searle puts all the weight of the intentional value of illocutionary acts on the decoding of well utilized conventions.

[31] Speech Acts, p. 50.

[32] J. Lacan, Le séminaire, Livre XVIII, D’un Discours qui ne serait pas du semblant, Paris Seuil, 2007, p. 13.

[33] As Sandra Laugier insists in “Voix reconnue, voix revendiquée, Cavell et la politique de la voix”, in Cahiers Philosophiques, 109, Scérén, April, 2007.

[34] J. Lacan. Le séminaire VIII, Le transfert, Le Seuil, Champ Freudien, Paris, 1991, p. 359.

[35] Ibid, p. 384.

[36] Ibid, pp. 358-359.

[37]Slavoj Zizek, Interrogating the Real, Continuum, 2005, p. 206.

[38] Ibid, pp. 357, 359, and 360.

Text as Morphological Excess
Irigaray’s Psychoanalytical Works
Adrian Switzer

In the “Questions” chapter of This Sex Which is Not One (Ce sexe qui n’en est pas un (1977), hereafter This Sex, Irigaray is asked whether she, “work(s) within the phallocratic psychoanalytic framework-Freudian or Lacanian, it doesn’t matter which-with the intention of producing a different analysis.” Irigaray answers in dismissive fashion: “I could answer that the question of whether I situate myself ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ with respect to the institution (of psychoanalysis) does not concern me” (Je pourrais répondre que la question de savoir si, par rapport à l’institution je me situe ‘dedans’ ou ‘dehors’ ne me concerne pas) (Irigaray 1985b, 146). Here, the intent is to take Irigaray at her word. The question of her relationship to psychoanalysis demands an alternate topology; it is properly addressed without recourse to such traditional, positional ideas as “inside” (dedans) and “outside” (dehors); without recourse to positionality in general. In an effort to make sense of Irigaray’s “displacing” reply, the present work focuses on her early, psychoanalytic works. Specifically, a differently drawn topography is here sketched in an effort to “situate” Irigaray relative to Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. However, to arrive at such an alternate topology, the course to be charted runs through the seemingly disparate lands of the western philosophical tradition.

In This Sex, in reply to a question concerning her “interpretive rereading” (relecture interprétante) of the texts that comprise the history of philosophy, a “rereading” carried out in her dissertation “Speculum of the Other Woman” (Speculum de l’autre femme, 1974) (hereafter “Speculum”), Irigaray explains, “it is indeed precisely philosophical discourse that we have to challenge, and disrupt, inasmuch as this discourse sets forth the law for all others” (c’est bien le discours philosophique qu’il faut questionner, et déranger, en tant qu’il fait la loi à tout autre). Continuing, Irigaray explains her efforts in terms of the necessary “derangement” of the texts of the tradition insofar as they codify the law passed down by philosophy as the “discourse on discourse” (le discours des discours, Irigaray 1985b, 74). The passage draws attention to the texts of the western philosophical tradition; indirectly, the passage directs us to attend to the texts of Irigaray: an interpretive re-reading that challenges and disrupts the texts of the tradition must itself be approached through the textuality of such disruption and derangement. Speculum considered at this level, considered, that is, in terms of its texuality, is divided between three unequal parts. The first, “The Blind Spot of an Old Dream of Symmetry” (La tâche aveugle d’un vieux rêve de symétrie), is overtly an engagement of the “Femininity” section of Freud’s New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis; indirectly, the first section of the text serves to announce the asymmetrical character of the work that follows. Since the first section of “Speculum” is the longest of the three, the asymmetry alluded to in its title might be read as a meta-textual reference to the structure of the dissertation itself. Furthermore, because the asymmetrically long first section of the work focuses on the Freudian theory of female sexuality, the implication is that a certain asymmetry characterizes Freud’s position relative to the western philosophical tradition. Accordingly, Freud’s theory of feminine sexuality is the “blind spot” (tâche aveugle) of the tradition; given its asymmetrical, obscure position, such a blind spot may be more or less distended. [1]

The second part of “Speculum”, entitled simply “Speculum” encompasses Irigaray’s “interpretive rereading” of the discourse of the philosophical tradition. The section spans the tradition from Plato to Hegel, passing, as it proceeds, through Descartes and Kant. At the center of this central section of the text, and thus in the heart of the heart of the work, is the chapter “La Mystérique,” an extended-and uncited-mimetic engagement of Plotinus’ Enneads. At the moment of passing over into this mimetic performance, Irigaray pauses briefly to reflect on her bearings: “What is expected is neither a this nor a that, not a here any more than a there. No being, no time, no places are designated” (Ce qui est attendu n’est ni un ceci, ni un cela, pa même un ici, non plus qu’un là. Sans être, ni temps, ni lieux désignables). Finding herself utterly dislocated, neither here nor there, Irigaray concludes, “the best plan is to abstain from all discourse… (w)hile all the while keeping an attentive ear open for any hint or tremor coming back” (Mieux vaut donc se refuser à tout discours… Tendant aussi l’oreille vers tout frémissement anonçant un retour) (Irigaray 1985a, 193). What Irigaray signals the reader to “attend to by ear” (tendant aussi l’oreille) in reading the Plotinian text that follows is the faint echo of her own mimicry. Given the present concern with topological matters as they bear on reading Irigaray, such mimicry is of note in that Irgaray here pairs a mimetic methodology with the distinctly topological matter of being dislocated. The connection Irigaray here draws between a mimetic engagement of the philosophical tradition and being displaced, without a “here” (ici), or “there” (), without the designation of “places” (lieux), suggests that a mimetic methodology is tied to questions of topological placement. Read in retrospect, the opening section of “Speculum” resonates as an instance of Irigaray’s mimetic methodology; mimetically, Freud comes back to the reader in distortion, twisted in the contours of the carnival-funhouse mirror. Operating within the general Freudian milieu of the castration complex and penis envy, Irigaray notes a peculiarity: “Now the little girl, the woman, supposedly has nothing you can see. She exposes, exhibits the possibility of a nothing to see” (Or la fillete, la femme, n’aurait rien à donner à voir. Elle exposerait, exhiberait, la possibilityé d’un rien à voir) (47). This “nothing” (rien) might have acted for Freud as an “inducement to perform castration upon an age-old oculocentrism” (l’invite à une opération de castration sur un oculocentrisme séculaire) (48). After all, such a “castration” is already performed, to an extent, in the arrangement of the analytic scene: the analyst is situated behind the back, and so out of the line of sight, of the analysand. Resistant to such a theoretical exigency, “contract[ing]” and “collud[ing]” according to the Leibnizian law that identifies singularity and being, Freud instead provides for the “visual dominance” of the male organ (48): this despite the fact that it is the woman’s body that occasions the male anxiety of castration. Irigaray reproduces the passage from the New Introductory Lectures where Freud frames this insight: “In (boys) the castration complex arises after they have learned from the sight of the female genitals that the organ which they value so highly need not necessarily accompany the body” (49).

The theoretical bias in Freud toward visible anatomy, which makes of a lack of a penis an anxiety or envy rather than a desire (57), is thus founded on a more fundamental invisibility: the “nothing” (rien) of female genitalia is the very condition for recognition of the “one” (un) sexual organ of the man. Indirectly, Irigaray’s point is that Freud’s scientific pretensions of explicating human psychosexual development, and making clear the impasses, delusional states, and paranoia into which it can dead end, is underwritten by its concealment of the very condition for such explication, namely the non-visible, the nothing of what cannot be brought to light. Taking this one exchange with Freud to instance the general manner in which Irigaray conducts her forays into the space of psychoanalysis, at least in “Speculum”, taking, moreover, her direct reproductions of Freudian texts as an instance of her mimeticization, what follows is the image of a methodology with clear affinities to deconstruction, generally construed. For both methodologies, a source text is directly engaged in its own terms, so as to allow the internal tensions of the original source material to emerge. Mimesis thus conceived threatens, however, to reinstate the very paradigm of knowledge as visibility Irigaray finds central to the homology of thought in discursive representation. Read as an instance of a deconstructive mimesis, the opening section of Speculum would, in the very act of mimetically rehearsing Freud’s inconsistent biasing of the visible, succumb to the same bias in undertaking to “clarify” or “expose” what is otherwise “concealed” in a text. Furthering, as it then would, the presumed association between knowledge and visibility, such a methodology would also treat a text according to the phallo-logocentrism Irigaray elsewhere challenges on grounds of its reductive tendencies. In the phallo-logocentrism of the western philosophical tradition, and in its attendant analogizing of knowledge as visibility, the possibility of real difference, of real alterity, is foreclosed. Thus, to avoid inscribing too hastily a mimetic methodology within the very problematic it challenges, affinities between deconstruction and Irigaray’s mimetics should be bracketed; in fact, any attempt to explain Irigaraian thought analogically must be avoided for the same reason. The task Irigaray poses to psychoanalysis, which is roughly the task she poses a reader in general and an interpreter of her own works in particular, is one of overcoming the bias toward making visible the meaning contained “in” texts. Irigaray insists on a new conception of textuality; a conception free of the metaphorics of knowledge as vision and reading as disclosure. The hermeneutic strategy at question in Irigaray is one that models interpretation on seeing and meaning on the visible. Against such traditional hermeneutics, Irigaray anticipates an alternate form of reading and writing: “What other mode of reading or writing, of interpretation and affirmation” (quel mode autre de lecture, d’écriture, d’interprétation, d’affirmation), Irigaray asks at one point in This Sex, “may be mine inasmuch as I am a woman” (peut être le mien en tant que femme) (Irigaray 1985b, 159). Such an alternate hermeneutics is one that is free of the “analogical” tendencies of traditional hermeneutic practices. For example, comparing or analogizing Irigaray’s mimetic methodology to Derridean deconstruction simply reinstates, in indirect fashion, the traditional hermeneutic bias toward visibility. [2] Irigaray, in fact, explores the traditional, analogical figure of speech implicit in an hermeneutics of visibility; she does so by way of the Platonic allegory of the cave at the end of Speculum. Here too, in reference to the Platonic dependence on an analogical mode of thought and analogy as the philosophically privileged form of speech, Irigaray discerns the same problem of displacement and dislocation that haunts the discursive tradition in its efforts to address woman in her desire.

Falling-as Plato would say, no doubt-into the trap of mimicking them (dans le piège de les mimer), of claiming to find jouissance as ‘she’ does. To the point when he can no longer find himself as ‘subject’ anymore, and goes where he has no wish to follow: to his loss in that a-typical, a-topical mysteria (à sa perte dans cette atypique, atopique, mystérie). (Irigaray 1985a, 191-192)

The sentence that prefaces this passage situates the “atopique” nature of discursive, philosophical representation of woman and her desire relative to the “pains” such representation takes to sustain a metaphorical figuration (le statut de figures) (191). What this suggests is that the figure of speech employed by Plato, the allegorical relationship constructed between knowledge and visibility, is precisely the “locus” of dislocation. Thus, the philosophical, discursive tradition dislocates itself in its appeal to and dependence upon an analogical mode of thought. To put the same point in more distinctly Irigaraian terms: it is precisely in analogizing women and her pleasure through the metaphorics of knowledge as visibility that the master discourse of philosophy deranges itself; drives itself mad. In the third and final section of “Speculum”, “Plato’s Hystera” (L’ustera de Platon), Irigaray returns from the depths of the “atopique,” Plotinian space of (represented) female subjectivity and pleasure-an “atopic” space of madness in that is nowhere-to the Platonic allegory of the cave. [3] Continuing an overtly “textual” approach to Irigaray’s work, Plato’s allegorical form of philosophical representation must be re-situated at the very heart of Irigaray’s traversal of the history of philosophy. Irigaray’s traversal, after all, runs historically in one direction from Plato to Hegel, and again in reverse from Plotinus back to Plato. Further, the central positioning of Plotinus, who retrieves Platonic dialectic for the Neo-Platonic tradition, signals the central place of Plato and the dialectic in the western philosophical tradition. Thus, despite the asymmetrical placement of the chapter on Plato’s allegory of the cave to the end of “Speculum”, textually, Plato and the allegory of the cave occupy the central position in the dissertation. The significance of such textual re-arrangement is that it centralizes the allegorical form of speech, and thereby evacuates the form of its signifying force. The figure of the analogy or metaphor, when employed within a philosophical model of representation, is enervated in this way because when turned back on itself the referring syntax of a metaphor is disrupted. The very relation of difference on which the metaphor depends, e.g., an unknown or unfamiliar object (or concept) occupies one pole of the metaphor and is compared to another, familiar object (or concept) occupying the other position in the analogy; such a form of comparison of the familiar to unfamiliar is lost to philosophical discursivity. The philosophical, discursive form of representation, after all, treats all things in homologous fashion: according to the logos or, more specifically, according to the idea of making visible, and thus of comprehending, what is otherwise concealed. Consequently, the very difference on which a metaphor operates is lost in the homology of philosophical discursivity. What this means, in turn, is that in its continued employment of the analogical form of thought, philosophy as a discursive practice, simply re-presents itself back to itself: the homology of logical thought quickly becomes the tautology of self-representation. Irigaray puts this same point, obliquely, in consideration of the Platonic koré: “Does this imply that man would see himself in (the concavity of the metaphorical koré) as he sees anyone else, not as an other reflected self. Is the identification ‘as’ like or same theoretically impossible?” (L’homme s’y verrait donc comme il voit tout un chacun non comme un autre soi-même réfléchi? L’identification ‘comme’ même serait impossible) (149).

To pursue, and in so doing “clarify,” Irigaray’s point concerning the metaphorical or analogical mode in which philosophy has been traditionally conducted, it is necessary to conclude with the premiere example of philosophical discursivity: Hegelian dialectic.1 Such prominence of place is granted from a marginal reference to Hegel at the midpoint of the Freud section of Speculum. Textually, Irigaray’s strategy is to announce a point of central, theoretical significance in what would otherwise seem merely “marginal” (marginale“, or textually peripheral (Cf. Irigaray 1985b, 127).

In the text that adjoins the footnote, Irigaray is entertaining the Freudian “super-ego” (Über-Ich) in relation to the hysterical woman, suggesting that the hysteric’s “fragile” and “fragmented” ego is particularly susceptible to the “mortifying sadism” (le sadisme mortifère) of a super-ego constituted in her by the law-making father, and by discursivity, language, and law in general (Irigaray 1985a, 89). Freud himself occasions such “extrinsic” super-egoism in the woman by noting that without possession of the penis, there is nothing of her own under threat by castration. Consequently, the woman’s super-ego is instituted wholly from without; impressed in the psyche with full sadistic force. But, from whence does the acuteness of such sadism arise? Irigaray offers, in reply, the “anxiety, horror, disdain of woman’s castration” (angoisse, horreur, mépris de leur châtrage), which, if right, demands a reopening, a reinterpretation, of the whole psychosexual history that Freud normalizes (89-90). At just this juncture, Irigaray steps in to interrupt herself; following suit, we take notice of the Hegelian interruption of Irigaray’s mimesis of Freud. In allowing for such interruption, however, it must be noted that it occurs at precisely the moment Irigaray transitions from the hysterical woman to a “redistribution” of partial instincts situated in the body of the phallic mother (90-91). Such instincts, or drives, are crucial to Irigaray’s positive appropriation of Freudian psychoanalysis. In conclusion, there will be occasion to return to this matter to suggest a connection between matriarchal partial drives and Irigaray’s “atopical” reading lessons in female sexual morphology.

The Freudian “Oedipal triangle” (la triangulation oedipienne), Irigaray notes in her footnote to Hegel, is “like the Hegelian dialectic” (que la dialectique hégélienne) in consisting of four rather than three terms: the third term in both is doubled through what Irigaray terms a “relative negation” (négation relative). The relative negation Irigaray finds described in the Freudian oedipal scenario is the bisexual other of the boy as he passes through oedipalization. Such negation is relative because it negates the feminine other of the masculine self within a scene that excludes absolutely the female other in the form of the little girl. As wholly excluded from the boy’s oedipalization, the little girl is the negative absolute; her simulacra expunged from the bisexual origins of the little boy is thus a relative negation. Concluding, in Deleuzian fashion, Irigaray then depicts the male subject as “schizated” (schizé), that is, as constituted in reference to an other “that he too once was” (de ce quatrième qu’il était aussi).

The relative negation in Hegel to which Irigaray would compare the fourfold Freudian triangle consists in restoring, through negation, the universality that is temporarily suspended in the particularity of the dialectical differentiation of the idea into its immediate and mediate moments. Drawing as she does from a textual passage late in Hegel’s Wissenschaft der Logik, Irigaray implicitly equates such universality with the absolute idea, which through negation of the whole of the pairings of the dialectical moments of the logic is “restored” to the universality of its “first immediacy,” i.e., the point from which its dialectical unfolding began. Enumerated in one way, the Hegelian absolute idea is then a third to the other two of (all of) the moments it passes through in coming to full realization; enumerated in another it is the fourth in being third to these moments plus the one of itself as the “first” universal immediacy that it “too once was” (90n).

Significantly, there is a remainder to Irigaray’s equation between the arithmetics of Freud and Hegel; there is a slight difference in Hegel’s calculation that three is indistinguishable from four. Consider in this regard the section of Hegel’s Logik from which Irigaray draws her unequal figures:

This negativity is the restoration of the first immediacy, of simple universality; for the other of the other, the negative of the negative, is immediately the positive, the identical, the universal. If one insists on counting, this second immediate is, in the course of the methods as a whole, the third term to the first immediate and the mediated… The third or fourth is in general the unity of the first and second moments, of the immediate and the mediated (Le troisième ou le quatrième est en général l’unité du premier et du deuxième moment, de l’immédiat et du médiatisé) (90n.)

The passage attests to Hegel’s arithmetical indifference: “the third or fourth” (le troisième ou le quatrième) is the unity of the immediate and mediated. In such indifference, more generally, Irigaray detects a remainder left over beyond the strict homology of analogical, discursive representation. [4] If in Freudian parlance the Hegelian third is the absolute otherness of the little girl excluded from the oedipal scene and the fourth is the relative negation of the bisexually female other of the boy passing through oedipalization, Hegel’s willingness to countenance third or fourth as perhaps the same in being the unity of immediate and mediated suggests that the absolutely and relatively other are indistinguishable one from another. The analytic gesture of excluding the real, female other from the oedipal scene – analytically expedient in allowing Freud to deal now with the boy’s psychosexual organization, later with the same for the girl – is impossible within the Hegelian dialectic given its indifference to three and four, absolute and relative, male and female.

If the relative and absolute come to be indistinguishable in the negativity of Hegelian dialectic, the remainder of this strange arithmetic is a distinct negation or distinct negativity. The distinctness of such negativity follows from the philosophical, discursive representation of dialectic: a distinguishable negativity made real or material, on Irigaray’s reading of the tradition, is nothing more than the basic, material textuality of philosophical representation.

Irigaray anticipates the real, textual remainder to philosophical representation in a passage early in Speculum. Here, Irigaray expressly links the real nothing of discursive representation to auto-affection as a form of “self-representation” or self-writing: “(Auto-affection) has been permitted, authorized, encouraged insofar as it has been deferred, exhibited in sublated ways. All this is endangered (caught in the act, one might say) by a nothing-that is, a nothing the same, identical, identifiable” (Et qu’un rien-de même, d’identique, d’identifiable…) “A nothing that might cause the ultimate destruction, the splintering, the break in the systems of ‘presence,’ of ‘re-presentation,’ and ‘representation'” (Rien qui risque de faire s’écrouler, se déliter, dériver indéfiniment, la cohérence de leur systématique de la ‘présence,’ de la ‘re-présentation,’ et ‘représentation’) (50).

The absolute nothing of the woman excluded from the figurings of psychosexual organization is folded into the oedipal scene through the dialectical indecision between relative and absolute. Further, such nothing, such negativity, is made real in the textual fact of philosophical, discursive self-representation. Woman as the nothing remainder left over from philosophical, discursive representation here becomes the real nothing of the basic materiality of the text: woman as text is then the real, material supplement to the machinations of phallo-logocentricism as a discursive, representational form.

Beyond signaling the distinct negativity that is in excess to discursive, philosophical representation, Hegel is privileged in Speculum for related, methodological reasons. Irigaray’s performance of speculative dialectic in and through the figure of the concave, specular mirror-a performance that might, accordingly, be termed a “specular dialectic” – shows Hegel’s methods to arise from and arrives at the same point. What Irigaray’s “specular” rehearsal of Hegelian dialectic shows, further, is the real remainder of the mirror in which the homologous image of the dialectic is cast. Irigaray makes this point textually in the above passage by separating off, so as to accentuate, the prefix “re-” in “re-presentation” (re-présentation). Caught in the gaze of its own privileged image of knowledge as visibility, philosophy finds only itself staring back at itself, blind to the remainder of the glass in which it reflects itself. [5]

In the term “speculum,” a reader of Irigaray’s early works is thus pressed to detect a reference not only to the device that enables the gynecological (visual) inspection of the vagina, but also reference to the Lacanian notion of the specular/mirror stage as locus of the constitution of sexed subjectivity. The Lacanian implications of Irigaray’s specular imagery are addressed in greater detail below. Within the context of Irigaray’s Hegelian footnote, the term “speculum” is made to support a third level of resonance: the Hegelian/Platonic idea of a speculative dialectic as specularly (or mimetically) rehearsed.

Read not as the “actual” practice of dialectic, but rather as the specular performance or rehearsal of dialectic, what Hegelian speculative dialectic is shown to present is nothing other than philosophical representation itself: dialectic as the premiere instance of philosophical representation in rote repetition of itself as mode of representation. Irigaray’s choice of Hegel as the end and culmination of the modern philosophical tradition, and her choice to juxtapose Hegel with Plotinus, who undertakes to revive Platonic dialectic in the Enneads-within the very section that Irigaray mimetically enacts-suggests, however indirectly, precisely the reconstruction of the text here offered. Attending to the text of Speculum, to the texts of the history of philosophy it reproduces and in so doing disrupts and deranges, Irigaray’s mimetic rehearsal of the dialectic folding together of Hegel, Plotinus, and Plato suggests a comparable derangement of the Platonic allegory of the cave with which Irigaray ends the dissertation. Read through its “other” text of the Enneads, which in broad outline offers a holistic monism according to which ontological difference arises through “emanation” from a fundamental metaphysical unity referred to, variously, as intelligence, the good, or the one, the allegorical form of Plato’s cave unhinges, and becomes “hysterical.” Once deranged through the text of the Enneads, the allegory of the cave in its disjointed madness is unable to keep separate the coming into sight of the Platonic sun and coming to be one with the sun. Such ontological identity is, after all, the culmination of Plotnius’ dialectic; a oneness of the soul with the intelligence from which it emanates. Further, and this point should be insisted upon, such derangement of the Platonic allegorical form is necessitated by the very logic of philosophical representation practiced in the service of dialectics.

Philosophical representation practiced in the service of, or according to the logic of, speculative dialectic, reduces ontology to homology. Plato’s allegorical expression of the human ascent to knowledge is discursively indistinguishable from Plotinus’ dialectical convergence of thought and being. Accordingly, the cosmological or mystical “reinterpretation” of Plato is simply Plato read back onto himself according to the dialectical logic of his own commitments to philosophical representation. Again, what this means within the context of the Republic is that the condition reached by those who ascend from the Platonic cave is refigured by the very dialectic by which they proceed. Forced to turn from the shadowy images cast on the wall of the cave and “compelled to look at the light itself,” the cavedwellers ascend into the light of the sun by which they would “contemplate the appearances” of things (Plato 1991, 515e2-516a8): “And so, finally, I suppose, [they] would be able to look upon the sun itself and see its true nature, not by reflections in water or phantasms of it in an alien setting, but in and by itself in its own place” (516b2-4).

Reading the end-point of Plotinian anabasis into this passage, the condition of the Platonic soul is not simply the noetic grasp of the good, where such noetic grasp is likened through analogy with the sun to “seeing” phenomena in their true light, but rather a coincidence in being with the good. Irigaray makes just this point to inaugurate her “interpretive rereading” of the texts of the history of philosophy: “To specularize and to speculate. Exiling himself ever further (toward) where the greatest power lies, he thus becomes the ‘sun’ if it is around him that things turn, a pole of attraction stronger than the ‘earth'” (Spéculariser, spéculer. S’exilant toujours plus loin (vers) là où serait le plus grand pouvoir, ainsi devient-il ‘soleil’ si c’est autour de lui que les choses tournent, pôle d’attraction plus fort que la ‘terre’) (Irigaray 1985a, 134). Analogized as it is with the sun through the figure of the allegory, the good is thus not, as Plato would have it, the condition of all further knowledge. Instead, the analogical sun becomes the blinding foreclosure of the dominant metaphorics of knowledge as visibility. To become one with the good/sun, which for Plotinus culminates the soul’s ascent back to its point of origin, is to reveal the dialectic as capable of revealing anything other than itself: a self-revelation that Irigaray reads as a disruption of all possible claims to knowledge as modes of seeing. As Irigaray puts the point later in “Speculum”, the cavedwellers finally ascend into (full view of) the sun and in so doing “sinks into a ‘dark night’ that is also fire and flame” (cette ‘nuit obscure’ mais encore ces feux et flames) (191). “Burned” (Brûler), blinded by the sun precisely in being the condition of knowledge metaphorized as sight, the philosophical tradition after Plato is unable to present anything different than itself because it represents all things as the same: representation becomes, in the metaphorics of knowledge as visibility, the condition of the impossibility of presenting or knowing anything other than itself. Irigaray’s specularly dialectic reading of Plotinus and Plato by way of Hegelian speculative dialectic shows discursive, philosophical representation to be reflectively attentive to itself and thus, and here is the point of Irigaray’s rehearsal of such dialectics, positioned precisely in the space of the nothing of self-representation. This “no” place that philosophical self-representation occupies, this “nothing” position, moreover, that philosophy inaugurates through its preferred figure of the analogy or metaphor, is the residual nothing of the text that codifies its self-representation. What cannot be folded into philosophical representation is the text as tympan, screen, or mirror onto which the dialectical self-representation of discursive thought projects itself. What evades philosophical representation as representation is the genuinely different. Yet, such un-representable difference is precisely what the philosophical text becomes at the dialectic hands of Plato, Plotinus, Hegel: the un-representable “excess” to philosophical representation.

It is for this reason, finally, that Irigaray engages the history of philosophy in the way she does, namely through mimesis of its textuality. It is for this reason that Irigray’s “interpretive rereading” of the history of philosophy is the rereading of the texts of that tradition. For, it is in repeating the tradition in its textuality that Irigaray gives expression to, without exposing to the metaphorics of knowledge as visibility, text as what exceeds philosophical, discursive representation. The more general conclusion Irigaray anticipates, and toward which the present work moves in close, is that without access-in excess-to the textuality of its own self-representation, philosophy as master discourse is foreclosed from the possibility of countenancing the particular fact of human, sexed subjectivity. In pursuing the more embracing implications of Irigaray’s engagement of the western, philosophical tradition, we are guided in a reading of Speculum back toward the psychoanalytic theory of sexed subjectivity with which the text begins. At the limnal edge of Speculum, passing from the blind spot of Freudian psychoanalysis into the self-blindness of speculative dialectics, Irigaray announces: “All theories of the ‘subject’ have always been appropriated to the ‘masculine'” (Toute théorie du ‘sujet’ aura toujours été appropriée au ‘masculin’) (Irigaray 1985a, 136). Despite such a pronouncement, Irigaray’s mimetic engagement of the philosophical tradition in the middle sections of Speculum, her paired performance of speculative dialectics and the metaphorics of knowledge as visibility, in short, the actual text of the dissertation, all of this suggests a displacement of such subjective theorization from the center of “Speculum”. Toril Moi, for one, misreads the middle of “Speculum”, and in so doing collapses Irigaray’s two concerns into one. The project of mimicking the speculative dialectics of the philosophical tradition becomes synonymous with articulating an alternate theory of sexed, female subjectivity. Consequently, Moi puzzles over the possibility of an alternate subjectivity constituted from within a discursivity subject to the “inexorable logic of the Same”; a discursivity that characterizes the whole of the western philosophical tradition, mysticism included. If the logic of sameness is, in fact, inexorable, then “how can Luce Irigaray’s doctoral thesis escape its pernicious influence?” (Moi 1989, 138).

To read “Speculum” in this way, to expect textual strands to follow one from another, or to expect claims to appear situated within a systematic argumentative progression, is to read Speculum as a phallo-logocentric text (or in a distinctly phallo-logocentric manner). To read in such a phallo-logocentric manner is, in one sense, to assume of texts a discreteness, unity, identifiability; it assumes that a clear demarcation might be drawn between what is text and what is non-text. Further, to read phallo-logocentrically is to treat texts as linearly coherent. On the basis of this assumption, the role that a particular textual strand is to play seems to be determinable by its location within the text. Irigaray frames Speculum against such phallo-logocentric assumptions of texts and textuality. She explains in her opening reply of “The Power of Discourse and the Subordination of the Feminine” (Pouvoir du discours/subordination du féminine) chapter of This Sex: “Strictly speaking, “Speculum” has no beginning or end. The architectonics of the text, or texts, confounds the linearity of an outline, the teleology of discourse” (A strictement parler, il n’y a pas, dans “Speculum”, un début et une fin. L’architectonique du texte, des textes, déconcerte cette linéarité d’un projet, cette téléologie du discours) (Irigaray 1985b, 68). Continuing, Irigaray provides a first indication of what reading otherwise might comprise.

(W)e need to proceed in such a way that linear reading is no longer possible: that is, the retroactive impact of the end of each word, utterance or sentence upon its beginning must be taken into consideration in order to undo the power of its teleological effect, including its deferred action (il convient de faire en sorte aussi que la lecture linéaire ne soit plus possible: c’est-à-dire que la rétroaction de la fin du mot, de l’énoncé, de la phrase, sur son début soit prise en compte pour désamorcer la puissance de son effet téléologique, y compris dans son après-coup). (80)

Rather than pressing the textual focal point of “Speculum” into service both to unfold the excess of traditional phallo-logocentric discursivity as well as to articulate a subjectivity that is genuinely other-even if Irigaray herself seems to recommend such a reading in announcing the problem of sexed subjectivity in the Plotinus section of the Speculum-the better tack to take is to re-contextualize Irigaray’s reference to subjectivity. Employing the model of a disruptive and reconfiguring textual hermeneutics Irigaray suggests, where linguistic occurrences serve “retroactive(ly)” to defer the “teleological effect” (effet téléologique) of the act of reading, a non-phallo-logocentric reading of “Speculum” drifts backward from its center to its beginning. Accordingly, the reader is enabled with the conditions for reading its opening Freud section only once she has arrived at its center. Reading Speculum free of the presumptions of phallo-logocentric textuality, free, that is, of the coordinates of traditional hermeneutics and teleological inertia, the opening chapter on Freud appears as a mimetic, reflective engagement of Freud’s theory of female subjectivity. Such reflective mimicry, however, is deranging and deforming; Freud’ theory is cast into the fragmented, disjointed mirror of textuality. Already noted, above, is the image of Freud that results from such distortion: the visible is privileged to the exclusion of the invisible female genitalia; the visible is privileged as well as to the exclusion of the “blind” analytic setting. Yet, it is just such invisibility that makes possible Freud’s privileging of the male genitalia, and it is just such analytic “blindness” that underlies Freud’s theoretical presumptions of scientific objectivity. Having traversed, briefly, Irigaray’s central engagement of the master discourse of the western, philosophical tradition, we are able to characterize the “mirror” in which Freud is projected to such effect. Interestingly, it is the textuality of Lacanian psychoanalysis; such is the “mirror phase [le stade du miroir]” of Lacanian theory read back onto itself according to its own dialectical logic. The “asymptotic” approach Lacan identifies in the pre-discursively constituted ego’s movement toward “social determination” here becomes truly, “fictional” (fiction), and as such, “remain[s] irreducible for the individual alone” (irréductible pour le seul individu) (Lacan 2002, 4). The egoic development Lacan characterizes as a “temporal dialectic,” pushing a primitive subjectivity “precipitously from insufficiency to anticipation” (6), fails to encompass the “dialectic” constitution of the mirror in this crucial, early psychosexual stage of development. The always fantastical projection of subjectivity into a form other than it presently embodies must reflect not only the fantasy of the projector but the character of the screen onto which the film is run. Irigaray offers just this insight in mimicry of Lacan: “(We must) look into the status of the ‘exteriority’ of this form that is ‘constituent (more than constituted)’ for the subject, into the way it serves as screen to another outside (a body other than this ‘total form’)” (Il convient donc de s’interroger sur le statut de l”extériorité’ de cette forme ‘constituante’ – plus que ‘constituée’ – pour le sujet, sur ce en quoi elle fait écran à un autre dehors, un corps autre que cette ‘forme totale’) (Irigaray 1985b, 117). The uninterrogated “exteriority” of the mirror stage, the “body” that is other to the subject’s projected total form, is the “screen” (écran) as text of philosophical, phallo-logocentric representation; this, again, according to the dialectic logic Irigaray finds insisted upon in such representation. If the fantastic, or fictional, projection of the Lacanian subject results from the fragmented screen constituted in the early mirror stage, and constituted in such a way that desire reflects back to the analyst as disjointed through fantasies and fictions, the meta-theoretical point Irigaray makes is, simply, that the same can be claimed for the relationship between the Lacanian text and the Freudian theory it disursively engages and interprets. Freudian psychoanalytic theory, particularly with respect to its theorization of feminine sexuality, is thus fictionalized, fragmented, and disjointed by the Lacanian text as the preeminent instance of its representation. [6] Consistent with a mimetic methodology, Irigaray’s retrieval of resources from Freudian psychoanalysis sufficient for, or at least suggestive of, a sexed subjectivity irreducible to discursive representation is thus nothing more than a retrieval of Freud through the disrupting text(s) of Lacan. Further, and in accordance with the reading here proposed of Irigaray’s specular rehearsal of discursive, speculative dialectics, Freudian psychoanalysis retrieved through Lacan’s text(s) is an essentially dislocated, non-situated theory. This follows naturally from the fact that text has been found to be the positionless excess to discursive representation. Accordingly, a theory distilled through the basic textuality of another’s work is itself in equal standing to that text, i.e., situated in the non-space of the text. In short, insofar as it is inherited in(to) the texts of Lacan, Freudian psychoanalytic theory is situated beyond the possibility of being situated.

Irigaray can thus answer inquiries into her relationship with psychoanalysis by replying that such questions are malformed: there is no inside or outside of such a theory; no positional standing is possible relative to what is itself non-situated. Positively, what this implies is that Freudian psychoanalytic theory refracted through the Lacanian text becomes for Irigaray the non-localizable site of the possibility of articulating sexed (female) subjectivity: “It is thus a matter of examining the texts of psychoanalytic discourse in order to read what they express – and how? – of female sexuality, and even more of sexual difference” (Il s’agit donc d’interroger les textes du discours psychanalytique pour lire ce qu’ils énoncent – et comment? – de la sexualité féminine, et plus encore de la différence sexuelle) (168). Note Irigaray’s focus in this programmatic remark: it is “the texts of psychoanalytic discourse” (les textes du discours psychanalytique) that must be attended to in order to “read” (lire) female sexuality and sexual difference. The emphasis Irigaray puts on textuality, accounts too for the distorted mimicry in the opening section of Speculum. If mimesis serves Irigaray in reflecting the contours of a theory, any distortions in the original insofar as it is textually inherited will simply be expressed in her mimeticization: the long, disfigured image Freud casts through the filter of the Lacanian text is mottled, and fragmented; Irigaraian mimicry does little more, as a mode of textuality, than reflect the distortion of one discursive representation in another. The promise Lacan’s textual inheritance of Freud carries for the Freudian theorization of sexed subjectivity is not, however, realizable within the non-space of “Speculum”. After all, in operating within the topological pull of philosophical discursivity and psychoanalytic theory, the text occupies a position too close to this problematic to realize another; this despite the fact that the problem of a differentiated, female sexed subjectivity is conditioned by the very success of navigating these discursive spaces. Irigaray attests, in the This Sex, to the insufficiencies of “Speculum”, making explicit the topological concerns pressed in the present essay: “But it is a reversal (“Speculum”‘s reversal of the philosophical tradition) ‘within’ which the question of the woman still cannot be articulated, so this reversal does not suffice” (Renversement ‘à l’intérieur’ duquel la question de la femme ne peut encore s’articuler, auquel on ne peut donc simplement se tenir) (Irigaray 1985b, 68). Trained as the reader and interpreter of Speculum is to approach a text turned inside out, from its center backward, so a reader and interpreter is prepared to read different texts into one another; the opening section of one text aptly serves as the preface to another. And so, This Sex, inaugurated under the lesson learned that if a differently sexed subjectivity is articulable, or at least sketched in outline, it must be articulated “within” the non-positional space of the text. In the “Pouvoir du discours” chapter of This Sex, Irigaray voices this lesson in terms of “systematicity” (systématicité) and the need for her to avoid its lure. Here she explains that the “interpretive rereading” of the western philosophical tradition undertaken in “Speculum” is an “interrogat[ion of] the conditions under which systematicity itself is possible” (interrogeant les conditions de possibilité de la systématicité elle-même) (74). Because, as Irigaray argues, the systematicity manifest in the philosophical phallo-logocentric tradition depends upon reduction of “all others to the economy of the Same” (réduire tout autre dans l’économie du même) (74), a systematic account of differenced subjectivity would risk reducing that difference to the sameness inherent in traditional philosophical discourse.

Framing This Sex against the Lacanian inheritance of Freudian sexed subjectivity-announced in the reference of this sex “which is not one” (qui n’en est pas un) to the phrase “there is such a thing as one” (il y a de l’un) from Lacan’s Seminar XIX Encore – such textual framing allows Irigaray to essentially displace or decontextualize the work. Framing This Sex against the text of Lacan, after all, is a relative positioning of her work against what itself is without positionality; this follows from the reading lessons, and the attention to textuality, offered in “Speculum”.

Freudian psychoanalysis as a resource for articulating a positive conception of the materiality of sexed subjectivity makes sense only on condition of its Lacanian textual inheritance. Irigaray as theorist is finally able to realize this possibility only once she is freed from the homologous, discursive practices of traditional representation. What is carried forward, positively, out of the non-space of the philosophical tradition, and carried forward out of the atopique place of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, is the materiality of text. In close, it will suffice to note, briefly, the inheritance of this insight into Irigaray’s early psycho-linguistic attempts at articulating a female, sexed subjectivity. Against generalized, encompassing theories of subjectivity and sexuality, Irigaray insists on the distinctly particular; a theoretical “specificity” (spécificité), to employ the language Irigaray invokes in This Sex (69). Irigaray succeeds in such specificity, and in accord with her specular insight into the excessive materiality of the text, by introducing the idea of morphology, a term borrowed from formal structural linguistics to reference the basic materiality of terms. It is in the figure of the morpheme, and in its peculiar operations within language, that Irigaray finds a textual artifact capable of directing a specific theorization of sexed subjectivity. Moreover, in the linguistic figure of the morpheme Irigaray is able to tie such theory to the materiality of text she recovers from the phallo-logocentric tendencies of discursive thought and representation.

Morphology as treated in structural linguistics subsumes those characteristics of a language, symbolic system, or discursive practice generally, that resist formalization. Such resistance stems from the insignificance of these figures apart from their particular instantiations. As a morpheme, the suffix “-ate,” for example, is semantically diverse; in Freudian terms, we might say that the semantics of the morpheme is marked by meaning and its “vicissitudes (Schicksale).” Thus, the appearance of “-ate” in suffix to “associate” and “situate” allows a language user to pair the terms by their basic materiality, leaving considerations of meaning aside. The reappearance of the “same” suffix now in the context of “concatenate” and “duplicate” functions in the same way to allow a language user to pair the terms solely along the lines of their material composition. Nested as morphemes are within the general language field, semantically and syntactically defined, while also resistant to full incorporation into such a field in being irreducibly material, the expectation is that Irigaray’s appeal to morphology will resonate through both the Lacanian symbolic register as well as with the Lacanian real as symptomatic of the basic material fact of sexed subjectivity. There is an indication of this first resonance in the 1977 essay “Women’s exile.” Here, Irigaray writes of a “feminine language” that would “undo the unique meaning, the proper meaning of words, of nouns: which still regulates all discourse” (Irigaray 1977, 65). [7]

A “feminine language” resists the paradigm of univocal language to which phallo-logocentric discourse is committed. As such, a “feminine language” is pluravocal; it leaves open the meaning of terms and sentences and makes no claims to universalism or essentialism. After all, Irigaray asks rhetorically, “(a) language which presents itself as universal, and which is in fact produced by men only, is this not what maintains the alienation and exploitation of women in and by society?” (67). If Irigaray’s “feminine language” were to be discursively univocal and universal, it would perpetuate the “alienation and exploitation of women.” The pluravocity of a “female language” (la langue du femme), with the French “language” (langue) allowed its play on both “language” and “tongue,” is an echo of the basic, material morphemes that circulate within it; slipping in significance, as they do, from particular instance to particular instance. Hegelian negative dialectics as marginally retrieved in the text of Speculum is here instructive. Recall from above that in Hegel the relative negation of the absolute idea is only probably separated from the absolute negation that it itself is in its inaugural universality. Above, the little arithmetics of three equaling four were identified with the irreducible remainder of the text of philosophical representation. Now, in the figure of the morpheme, such textual remainder is given a more specific character. Further, the implications of a real, negative textuality can be traced in the morpheme through the material parts of words, sentences, and phrases. A morpheme, in being semantically particular, is always open to alternate meanings: any one suffix might have been prefixed otherwise, leading thus to a different word and different meaning. In generating a representational body that cannot itself be represented, namely the text, but in insisting on its completeness in being able to fold everything into its representational scheme, the philosophical tradition of speculative dialectics leads the reader always on from the propositional content of its expression to the textual form in which that expression is recorded. Hegelian dialectic, in short, drives the reader from the phenomenology of spirit to the textuality of the Phänomenologie des Geistes. The morpheme as basic, irreducibly material unit of textuality, reduplicates this dialectical progression from expression to form, but with this difference: the morpheme in its particular materiality resists formalization; it exemplifies intra-textually what the text exemplifies relative to its discursive, representational content. In signaling the empty spaces, or the nothing, between terms – and, moreover, the nothing within terms – texts read morphologically show themselves to be productive, or generative. The materiality of texts, now construed morphologically, are capable of producing what is genuinely other in being irreducible to the homology of philosophical representation. Irigaray summarizes this whole argumentative trajectory, the whole topological study here conducted, in the following passage from “Speculum”:

Overthrow syntax by suspending its eternally teleological order, by snipping the wires, cutting the current, breaking the circuits, switching the connections, by modifying continuity, alternation, frequency, intensity. Make it impossible for a while to predict whence, whither, when, how, why… something goes by or goes on (Bouleverser la syntaxe, en suspendant son ordre toujours téléologique, par des rupture de fils, des coupures de courant, des pannes de conjoncteurs ou disjoncteurs, des inversions de couplages, des modifications de continuityé, d’alternance, de fréquence, d’intensité. Que, pour longtemps, on ne puisse plus prévoir d’où, vers où, quand, comment, pourquoi… ça passe ou ça se passé). (Irigaray 1985a, 142)

If only “for a while” (pour longtemps), for the space, to be exact, of the morpheme, syntax is broken, economies of exchange short-circuited, and texts are deranged. Further, for a morphological moment, texts become productive; partial terms intimate other fragments that could possibly adjoin them and in so doing resist complete signification through their present form. In this regard, one is reminded in the moment of another reading lesson, the one Joyce offers in the person of Molly Bloom at the end of Ulysses. The unpunctuated, unspaced, and unsparing, torrent of text, as in Irigaray’s central specular mimesis of Plotinus, is a space within which terms slip one into the other, resist, and succumb to one another, a space in which words allow for recombination, and recreation: “I wouldnt mind feeling it neither would he Id say by the bullneck in his horsecollar I wonder did he know me in the box I could see his face he couldnt see mine…” (Joyce 1986, 610). The touch of a “nice fat hand the palm moist,” Molly imagines on “the leg behind high up was it yes rather high up and was it where you sit down yes O Lord”: out with it, on her “bottom,” her ass (610); text as morphological compendium, allowing for the full expression of the basic materiality of language, the basic fact of the body, its sexuality. As Irigaray announces in the “Women’s exile” essay, “[w]e must go back to the question not of the anatomy but of the morphology of the female sex” (64). Here Irigaray echoes the Freudian insight offered in “Instincts and their Vicissitudes”: “If we now apply ourselves to considering mental life from a biological point of view, an ‘instinct’ appears to us as a concept on the frontier between the mental and the somatic” (Freud 1957b, 121-122).

Freud is right to situate the “drives” (Treiben) at the threshold between the mental and somatic, he is right, that is, to dislocate drives from easy positioning within either of the two, dominant topographies. He is wrong, though, to suggest that the limnally situated drives are thereby addressed only from a biological vantage. Irigaray’s insistence on the discursive yet also material significance of morphemes acts as corrective to Freud’s reductive gesture, succumbing as it does to the homogenizing logic of phallo-logocentric discursivity and its blindness to the positionless effect of its own mode of representation. We need, though, to keep live the double resonance Irigaray intends through the appeal to morphology. A morpheme acts for Irigaray in much the same way as does a Lacanian matheme; the latter occupying a dislocated position between the materiality of the real and the general discursive practices of the symbolic. Accordingly, a morpheme must direct us both to the basic materiality of words, their component, fragmentary segments and particles, as well as to the particularities of sexed subjectivity. Further, Irigaray must treat morphemes in just this double sense so that her theorization of sexed subjectivity and discursivity can be approached, sidelong, through the single linguistic structure of the morpheme. Without collapsing sexed subjectivity into the discursive practices through which it is constituted-or in terms of which it is theorized-while yet leaving open passage between the two registers, Irigaray turns in the “Women’s exile” essay to the relation of isomorphism.

All Western discourse presents a certain isomorphism with the masculine sex; the privilege of unity, form of the self, of the visible, of the specularisable, of the erection (which is the becoming in a form). Now this morpho-logic does not correspond to the female sex: there is no ‘a’ sex. The ‘no sex’ that has been assigned to the woman can mean that she does not have ‘a’ sex and that her sex is not visible nor identifiable or representable in a definite form. (Irigaray 1977, 64)

The isomorphism referenced in the passage is that between masculine morphology and phallo-logocentric philosophical discourse. And yet, by characterizing the relationship as “isomorphic,” Irigaray disrupts its seeming confluence: morphology reduces to discourse only once its isomorphism with the latter is obscured through its discursive, i.e., philosophical, representation. “Self-representation” is for Irigaray a signal phrase for exposing, and thus insisting upon, the relationship between morphology and discourse, a relationship not of identity as discursive representation would have it but of isomorphism. Somewhat obscurely, Irigaray frames this matter wholly within the context of a sexed morphology in an effort, seemingly, to avoid the reduction of that context to mere anatomy. Reading Irigaray somewhat against herself at this point, it seems viable to hear in her concern with the traditional grounding of morphology in naturalist anatomy an implicit concern with the naturalist tendency in linguistics to presume that the significance of a term is given by the object to which the term refers. Understood as an anti-naturalist argumentative strategy against the discursive reduction of morphology (to, for example, anatomy), self-representation becomes for Irigaray a wedge between the discursive representation of subjectivity and the basic morphological fact of sexuality. While there are implications for the one component in the other-and here it is only possible to suggest that Irigaray’s terminological pairing of the logos of morphos with the iso-morphism between sexed subjectivity and discourse situates her efforts relative to the Lacanian real insofar as it is diversified through the figure of the morpheme-what must be insisted upon is that Irigaray’s critical engagement of western philosophy’s phallo-logocentric model of knowledge is a matter of distinct concern apart from her constructive efforts to articulate a female morphology. If this is the case, and here is the main hermeneutic point of the present essay said at a slightly higher level of theorization, then the above question of Irigaray’s engagement of psychoanalytic theory can be answered only within the context of the latter, morphological, problematic rather than in the former, discursive one. To put the point slightly differently: what Irigaray realizes at this early juncture in her theorization of female, sexed subjectiviy, is that the very possibility of answering questions about theoretical positioning forecloses the further possibility of theorizing sexed subjectivity. It does not suffice to simply eschew the topological question of one’s theoretical position: the question must be rendered incoherent through a morphologically disfigured language. From here on, the task that remains to a reader and interpreter of Irigaray is to learn to hear and read differently; the reading lessons of “Speculum” and This Sex will carry us only so far into such a refiguring of text-/sex-uality.


[1] The French phrase tâche aveugle contains a pun that eludes the English translation “blindspot”: tâche connotes a spot in the sense of a stain or blot as in the expression tâche de sang, a “spot (or) stain” of blood. Granting the play on words their full significance, Freud’s theory on feminine sexuality is thus the blind spot of the western philosophical tradition in theorizing the corporeal, fluid fact of embodied female sexuality, which comes to visualization in the stain of menstrual blood: Freud’s theory of feminine sexuality is, or at least contains, the unseen mark of what the tradition excludes. A particular passage from the Hegel chapter of “Speculum” suggests a connection, at precisely this point, between Freud and Hegel: a connection it is the task of the present essay to pursue. Irigaray writes of the Hegelian dialectic, “[a]t the heart of the dialectic is hypochondria, melancholy. It can be linked to a clot of blood, cruor” (Irigaray 1985a, 222).

[2] Toral Moi argues that Irigaray’s mimeticization in “Speculum” is, in fact, a multiple gesture involving a “theatrical staging of the mime,” in other words, “miming the miming imposed on woman” by patriarchal phallo/logocentric discourse (Moi 1989, 140). This kind of double mimesis, Moi argues, effects an overdetermination of the dominant discourse through which its univocity (or logocentrism) is vitiated. This reading of Irigaray’s mimeticization thus moves the strategy of “Speculum” close to Derrida’s deconstructive undermining of the tradition’s belief in the possibility of distinguishing univocity from equivocity.

[3] In the Greek “hysteria” under which Irigaray inscribes this section of “Speculum” we should here implicit recourse to, at once, the womb and its associations with the koré Irigaray treats earlier in the text as well as to Freud’s theory of hysteria as a distinctly womb-oriented, and thus female, psychosis. The English translator of “Speculum” shares the related insight that throughout the section Irigaray puns, homonymously, on the French “antre” (cave, den), ventre (womb), and entre (Irigaray 1985a, 243n.).

[4] The present insistence on the importance of Hegel to the argument of “Speculum” is supported by Irigaray’s discussion of Antigone in the second section of the work. Insofar as Hegel’s reading of the Antigone tragedy in the Phenomenology is perhaps the best known (and most contentious) appropriation of the Euripidean text, Irigaray’s appeal to Antigone, as an exemplar of embodied female subjectivity, in the context of the philosophical tradition, should be taken as an indication of the significance of Hegel in this early work. “Speculum” is, in this respect, consonant with Irigaray’s later explicit turn to Hegelian thought (Cf. Irigaray 1993).

[5] Reading Irigaray through, or against, Hegel is increasingly common in the secondary literature (Cf. Elaine P. Miller, “Freedom and the Ethics of the Couple: Irigaray, Hegel and Schelling” Philosophy Today 2004 48(2), 128-147; Judith Butler, Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death, Columbia University Press, 2002; Stephanie Jenkins, “Listening to Antigone: Rewriting Sexual Difference in Hegel” Dialogue 2002 45(1), 1-10; Alison Stone, “Sexing the State: Familial and Political Form in Irigaray and Hegel,” Radical Philosophy 2002 113, 24-36; Tina Chanter, “Looking at Hegel’s Antigone through Irigaray’s ‘Speculum’,” Between Ethics and Aesthetics: Crossing the Boundaries, Ed. Dorota Glowacka. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002, 29-48). However, rather than framing Irigaray’s engagement of Hegelian thought through the particulars of his treatment of Antigone in the Phenomenology, the present effort is to frame such an engagement more broadly in methodological terms: How, we might ask, is mimesis related to dialectic? Taking up the question of the relation between Irigaray and Hegel at this general, methodological level serves indirectly to preserve the proximate distance between Irigaray and Lacan without collapsing that proximity into a definite positioning.

[6] Irigaray is close at this point to Derrida’s argument in “White Mythologies.” In the course of his argument, Derrida reveals the sun, which has served the western philosophical tradition as the figure through which its favored mode of analogical thought is mediated, to be itself resistant to analogical thought. Put differently, as the traditional condition of the possibility of metaphorics in general, the sun as non-metaphorizable, undermines the force of metaphor. In the language of the present essay, the metaphysical tradition is sun blind to alterity because the favored metaphorical trope of the sun can refer to nothing other than itself. We might, accordingly, read Irigaray as concurring with Derrida as far as he goes, but extending the import of his conclusion to an ontology of real, material textuality (a textual ontology that anticipates and prepares the way for her theory of real, sexed subjectivity.

[7] It is necessary to phrase Irigaray’s conception of “feminine language” in hypothetical terms since presenting a theory of language would be antithetical to the pluravocity and openness of this alternate form of discourse. While Irigaray is clearly employing this alternative form of discourse in her early texts, the result of that practice is in no way a formalized theory of “feminine language.”

Some Remarks on Marcel Duchamp
Alain Badiou

Author’s Bio

My departure point will be Andre Breton’s text, in 1922, consecrated to Duchamp in the fifth issue of the review Littérature. In this text, Breton writes: “Could it be that Marcel Duchamp arrives more quickly than anyone else at the critical point of ideas?” That says everything in a sense.

Synthetically, Breton attributes to Duchamp, once more, the quality that everyone has attributed to him: an exceptional intelligence. This would be trivial if it was a psychological remark: But it is much more than that. What is in question, in fact, is a new relation between art and concept. That is, a form of transgression of romanticism. Call “romanticism” the theory of a space between the quasi-divine or
sacred poetic intuition of the infinite, and the supposedly finite and sterile constraints of calculating rationality. In a totally .explicit manner, Duchamp is the hero of an art that ignores this space. Duchamp creates against the entire theory of inspiration and genius. He despises the category of taste that constitutes the unity of artistic action.

Two slogans are quite characteristic. Duchamp declares he made the “ready-made” “with no other intention except to discharge ideas”. And again: “I want to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”

But Breton’s statement must also be taken in detail. It can be analyzed as five abstract moments.

1) Art has become a question of movement, of what we get to rather than the abolition of this “getting to” in a result closed in the idolatrous cult of the work of art. Art is only the trace of its own action.

2) As a result the count procedures of movement are internal to art; slowness and speed of execution are pertinent parameters. There is an immanent link between art and number.

3) Art treats a point of thought. The space-time it moves in, surfaces, supports, speed of execution, references, all this is the envelope in which the point of thought is both exhibited and subtracted. It is the locus of the point. The construction of the locus is toil, but this is so on order for the point to fulgurate.

4) This point is critical in a dual sense. In the ordinary sense, because it criticizes in thought the idolatrous theory of art, that is, ordinary romanticism. Romanticism supposes the infinite transcendence as the horizon and aim of the finitude of art, it rejects the number and science to the outside of its sacred actiom, it intends to reveal, not one point, but the All. But the point is critical in another sense, the sense it has in mathematics and physics: a point at which there is a qualitative discontinuity, such that at this same point, there is indiscemibility between one state and another, which however differ absolutely every place else. Creating the locus at which anyone can reproduce the experience of such a critical point, and so of such an indiscemibility, would be the fundamental aim of art. At this point, we can say that the virtues of the conception of the infinite and of chance are exchanged.

5) This critical point is the visitation of the idea in its contemporary artistic form. Art is pure idea. It is not, as in vitalism, cprporal energy establishing the embrace of percepts and affects. It is not the continuous and projective passage from the experienced jouissance of becoming to living thought. It is on the contrary the establishment of a locus, of course, material, spatial- temporal, but at which the separation of the idea is experienced, and the fact that it can only touch the surface, like a bird skims the sea.

I return now to these five points one by one.

1). Art has to become the trace of its own action. Art must be the place of its taking place. So, the work of art is self-sufficient. We must have art without any artist. Duchamp affirms the impersonality of artistic action. He argues against everything that brings into the becoming of the work the trace of a perceptive passivity. Everything he calls retinian art, which goes back according to him to Courbet, and includes the impressionists, the fauves and the cubists. He dreams of being totally absent from creation, of “cutting off his hands”. On the other hand, he gives detailed explanations of the process of the work. Fundamentally, he accompanies the object by the something like a users7 manual, that is, of its modes of fabrication. Information on the work. The year before his death, speaking of the “Grand Verre” (“The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even”), he explains that, in order to appreciate this work, it is absolutely necessary to follow the text he wrote, which is, he says, “a sort of diagrammatic or programmatic explanation of what can be seen on the Glass”.

2). On the question of relationship between art and number, we can see that the fatal number, for Duchamp, is the 3. “The number three as three, for me is neither unity nor duality, the three is everything, the final end of numeration”. Or again: “One is unity, two is the double, and three is the rest”. Duchamp works on the relation between the infinite and space or spaces, that is to say dimensions. But the final space is always tridimensional. This is why he can say “millions do not count, the three fills the same role for me.”

3) On the point of thought, whose work of art is the envelope, or the place. The correlation between the refusal of all post-romantic sensitivity and the chance for a point of thought is strongly present in Duchamp. There is for him an implacable rationalism turned against aesthetic idolatry. He goes so far as to say, in an interview of 1953, that when we “do things for the pure idea of functional reasoning, the idea of aesthetics disappears.”

What is the ready-made after all? It is the exposed, although totally commonplace, envelope of the pure thought of choice or selection, with no subjective adherence. The point of thought here is that this choice, cut out of the commonplace, creates a pure point of indistinction between the commonplace and the supreme. Of course, there is a superior irony with respect to the envelope. The object that envelops the point is particularly without particularity.

(“Fontaine” seems to me with respect to this less convincing than the snow shovel or the bottle stand.)

Seeing it today hang from the ceiling of a museum and surrounded by pious reverence is comical. But the ascesis of Duchamp is there. Because the choice must be made without adhesion, it is not easy. Duchamp says he must find, in choosing the object, a “point of indifference of his own gaze”. The ready-made is the envelope of the point where thought is reduceed to a choice where we must find nothing, except choosing itself. The ready-made exposes the choice of the choice as a cut out of the commonplace. That is why its title is itself, its common name, and its situation a signature.

The complex works of Duchamp proceed on the contrary by learned recollection, but with the same objective; there are only two of them: The “Grand Verre”, the great glass, whose the complete title is “la mariée mise a nue par ses célibataires même” “The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even” and “Étant donné, un, la chute d’eau, et deux le gaz d’éclairage”, soit “Given one the waterfall and two the Gas Light”. They are in fact installations, which already re-produce often, as elements, anterior productions. The envelope is here the result of an immense, very technical, work, and in the opinion of Duchamp himself, it is very boring. We have in them a sort of maniacal craftsmanship. But why? Let’s say for the moment: in order to exhibit a complexity whose exterior focal point is the point of the gaze. Do not forget that “The Bride Stripped Bare” is a gigantesque transparent; and on the contrary, “Given” is a baroque exhibition that is closed, and includes a terrible quartered nude and a blinking landscape that is seen through a hole in a door. The complexity is here the capture of the seeing, as the ready-made is the capture of the indifferent decision. The point is that the simple stupefaction of the gaze is made with respect to an envelope constituted by years of fastidious work. When Duchamp was asked why all this toil, why this tour dc force, he answered: “Because I didn’t want to do something simple.” As he explores the dimensions, Duchamp looks for the envelope of the point of thought in the simplest, the ready-made, but also in the most complicated, the synthetic installations, disposed in correspondence to the openness of transparency or the enclosure of the fantasy.

4) On the critical aspect of the point. The center of thought is here discontinuity, or the point at which the same and the other are indiscernible. The “plastic” concept of this indiscemibility proposed by Duchamp in the 1930s is that of the infra thin. It is necessary, he says “to try to pass into the infra thin interval that separated two identical things.”

Obviously, we have here the foundation of the use of reduplication, of copies, of multiples, which constituted a major part of Duchamp’s reputation. The famous gesture by which he signed a copy or a miniature or a multiplication of one of his products, or even and above afll when they were done by someone other than himself, by apposing the famous inscription “certified true copy”. The infra thin is the exercise of the critical point as a point of minimal discontinuity; the point of discontinuity from the same to the other same. The new productive and reproductive thought must pass by this point.

5) That the idea not be embodied by a work, by an oeuvre, but given in a separation that touches the surface. The idea is there, in the surface, but at the infra thin point that separates that being-there from itself. For example, the idea of chance is in the “Grand Verre” under the form of the impact of bullets made by a little cannon that shoots matches with a bit of paint. Duchamp shot nine shots, three times three, remark, and he then pierced the points of impact. The strategy here is to mark the surface by the Idea forever, but that the surface be accountable for this idea, without its becoming its generous body. It is touched by it, like one shouts “touche” in a game or a shooting gallery.

So, yes, Duchamp went the fastest between 1912 and 1922, in ten years, in order to attain in the order of art the critical point of the idea. In reality, making the critical point of the idea the origin of art, in accordance with a de-romanticized and de-subjectivized line. Duchamp’s attempt is to reduce the work of art to the pure anonymous action (“art does not mean doing but acting”). A communist dream in its way, but indifferent to any politics. I quote Duchamp :”Art for me had died by the fact that, instead of being a singularized entity, it would be universal, a human factor in the life of people, each one would be an artist, but misrecognized as artist”.” Duchamp Rational form of the generic idea of the engulfment of art by ordinary life.

There we are. But everything must be taken up again starting from three points, which are quite singular: These points work against the anonymous and democratic concept of the work of art. These three points open the door, for a new aristocratic and self-expressive notion of modern art.

1) The decisive function of the refusal opposed to his work in Duchamp’s destiny. First, in 1912, the refusal of the great cubist canvas “Nude descending a stairway” by the Salon des Independants. This was the French refusal. Then, in 1917, the refusal or the dissimulation of the urinal entitled “Fountain” and signed R. Mutt, by the counsel of The Society of Independent Artists. This was the American refusal. These are crucial episodes. In 1968, Duchamp was an artist practically idolized by his peers and by the vanguard youth. But his rancor is still felt, when he declares: “Don’t forget that it never had any success until recently, very recently.” Behind his provocative and accomplidhed vision, Duchamp is a man.

2) The function, not only of his signature, now unfailing even for copies very far off. But inscriptions or legends affected to ordinary objects as to complex compositions, in vivid contrast with the redundant names of the type “bottle stand” or “bicycle wheel” or even ” The Big Glass”. Take for example “The Battle of Austerlitz”, which is a glass door. “The Breeding of Dust” (or: “The Dust Ranch”), “Why not Sneeze Rose Selavy” “Soigneur de gravité”, “In Advance of the Broken Arm”, and many others. All that is not at all abstract art. He projects the singularity of an art of poetic writing.

3) The function of eroticism, absolutely original and constant. The word “naked” is found everywhere. Or the thing… the three great works, but also a great many other works. As well as the Virgin, the roguish puns (LHOOQ), the use of sperm, etc.

These three questions seem to converge towards something else that would be that any framing is polarized by a fantasized framing. And that eroticism is of the order of art, as the necessary other side of calculation. But that would be another story. The story — in the work of Duchamp — of the struggle between the abstraction of indifferent choice and the seduction of desire and images. But it is probably the contradictory destiny of the most important part of modern art.

Learning from Las Vegas
Johannes Thumfart

Se réorienter dans le penser

In architecture, Postmodernism has been characterized by the introduction of ornamental forms such as pillars and gables in the mere functional realm of modern building. As best described in Venturi’s, Izenour’s and Scott Brown’s Learning from Las Vegas, Postmodernism was loud, noisy and eclectic and was – just like Las Vegas – surrounded by an icy desert of whatever-ness and ignorance.

When Alain Badiou chooses Plato as a guide through “the desert” (Deleuze) of postmodern thought, he surely engages a bit of postmodern historicism, as well. After the successful delocalization of Enlightenment (Foucault), Catholicism (Zizek), Rabbinsim (Derrida) Aristotelianism (Agamben), Baroque (Deleuze) and Japanese Samurai (Baudrillard), Plato may have been the last thing left to postmodern theory that hadn’t already been recycled.

But Plato is a very peculiar recycled object, too. He especially claimed his truths to be unbound by any particular time and space, but to be universal. Due to this rejection of affixing his thinking to any particular historical period, Plato cannot really be used as a mere historic ornament within a postmodern context. He is way too modern for that. Because geometry and mathematics haven’t fundamentally changed since Plato, his dictum that no one who doesn’t know geometry should enter the academy is still scary to many, especially to postmodernists. Are geometry, mathematics and logics not the ontological enemies of postmodern theory, which is, conversely, based on différance, Ereignis (event) and Werden (becoming)?

Although a pupil of Deleuze, Badiou knows mathematics, geometry and likes to argue with the theory of sets. Badiou’s series of lectures “Plato: For Today” is therefore not just the testimony of the “secret appointment” (Benjamin) between two great thinkers and mathematicians, but also a provocation. It is a provocation, foremost, of all for the postmodernists to whom Plato – founder of the academy and symbol of academic philosophy – has always and ever been the enemy No. 1. But Badiou’s reconsideration of Plato is not just a simple “patricide” within the allegedly “post-oedipal” (Deleuze) realms of Postmodernism. It also bears an extreme connection to his comments on contemporary politics. Therefore, when the critic Badiou says “Plato for today,” he means, in fact, “against today.” For Badiou, today, Plato’s philosophy signifies everything “that is not there,” and thus, the place where we should step to in order to “take measurement” anew. According to Badiou, a renaissance of Plato should contribute to the re-introduction of the notions of an objective end and an objective measure in contemporary society, where – as with Las Vegas – anything goes if, (and only if), it is measurable in terms of money.

First of all, Badiou finds in Plato the antithesis to all philosophical approaches of the 20th Century by pointing out that Plato was the most attacked thinker during that period. Although the philosophies of the 20th Century might be various and their differences numerous, one could summarize the whole of 20th Century philosophy as different objections to Plato: The Vitalism of Bergson, Nietzsche and Deleuze defined the Becoming against the platonic idea; the analytical philosophy of Wittgenstein and Carnap based their language against the platonic idea; Marx contrasted social reality against the platonic idea; existentialists like Sartre and Kierkegaard declared the mere force of existence against Plato; Heidegger accused Plato of being the first in a long tradition of the “forgetfulness of being,” (Seinsvergessenheit), and he claimed the recovery of the procedural character of the Sein as his own. Today’s democratic philosophy claims Pluralism and the free play of opinions against the “totalitarian tendencies” of Plato’s political philosophy, especially as expressed in the Politeia.

What connects all these different approaches to one another is their inconsistency, and especially the inconsistency of their objections to Plato. Reading Plato can, therefore, help to cultivate an understanding of the 20th Century philosophies’ – whose values are as vague and fluctuant as Becoming (Nietzsche), Language (Wittenstein), Society (Marx), Existence (Sartre), Process (Heidegger), and Political Pluralism (Popper) – by helping to understand their point of objection.

The most obvious inconsistency might be inherent to Nietzsche’s philosophy of Becoming and its anti-Platonism. Badiou says that by fighting the stagnancy of the “platonic sickness,” Nietzsche’s Vitalism has turned into an “anti-platonic sickness” itself. The “static” platonic ideas that Nietzsche was fighting against are completely imaginative. It is Parmenides’ concept that is much less flexible than Plato’s. Nietzsche seems to interchange the two. Badiou points out that in the “Sophistes” and the “Parmenides”, Plato, himself, fought against the static quality of the parmenidian concept of Being.

The most influential inconsistency is probably the analytical philosophers’ Anti-Platonism. Wittgenstein and Carnap especially attacked Plato because of his granting an eternal and unchangeable status to mathematical objects. Badiou notes that the analytical project of reducing all properties of mathematical and other objects of formal language to mere conventions is still to be debated and that the analytical philosophers too quickly eliminated any idealistic concept of language. The Anti-Platonism of analytical philosophy must, therefore, be re-thought.

It was Marx who dubbed Plato the “philosopher of the society of slaveholders.” In this platonic objection, Marx chose to follow Aristotle. This affiliation is not only obvious in Marx’s famous reprise of Aristotle’s rejection of monetary economics, but also in Marx’s general belief in the supremacy of the “natural” over the “artificial.” In his preference of Aristotle’s natural philosophy over Plato’s mathematical idealism, Marx completely overlooks the fact that it was Aristotle who legitimatized the slave-holder society by creating the figure of the “slave by nature” (doulos physei) and not Plato, who said nothing at all explicit on the problem of slaves.

The democratic Anti-Platonism of today accuses Plato of being “totalitarian,” because it is an essential concern of Plato to take a step out of the plurality of the doxa (opinion) towards an absolute knowledge (episteme). The theorists of modern democracy do not acknowledge any possibility of an absolute scientific or objective truth. That disavowal is, of course, a very totalitarian concept of truth in politics and precisely the stance of the Sophists against whom Plato fought. By identifying themselves with the Sophists, who were lawyers and rhetoric teachers, democratic theorists completely exclude the ethic dimension of politics. But according to Badiou, that dimension of ethics is exactly what is necessary for a measurement of today’s political process. Otherwise, the only reliable measurement of today’s political and social circuity is money.

Badiou writes that today’s most important political and theoretical values – Becoming (Nietzsche), Language (Wittenstein), Sociality (Marx), Existence (Sartre), Process (Heidegger) and Political Pluralism (Popper) – can be identified by their differing forms of modern Anti-Platonisms. In addition to supporting an understanding of these paradigms’ overwhelming power, the study of Plato today offers possibilities for opening up toward the absolute, impossible decisions, which must be made in the field of ethics. More extensively than fluxus, positivism, oversocialization, epistemic and moral nihilism, epistemic and moral relativism, and other discourses whose only aims are ongoing discourse, Plato can tell us, what “is possible, besides from that what is given,” according to Badiou.

Back to Las Vegas, that gem of postmodern architecture and metaphor for postmodern thinking, what Plato recycles is probably the desert itself. Imagine that: the reinvention of the desert as desert. Not an empty space, chora that – as Derrida once put it with Plato – “bears no property in order to take on any property.” Neither does Badiou dwell in Zizek’s “desert of the real.” Imagine Peter O’ Toole in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ instead. When asked why he likes the desert, he answers, “Because it is clean.” That could be Badiou’s answer too.

Féminin singulier
Saintes et exilées
Cristina Alvares

Dans un de ses remarquables essais, Slavoj Zizek formule les coordonnées imaginaires de la position subjective masculine dans les sphères privée et publique sous forme d’un carré sémiotique.

En haut, la certitude et la sureté d’une place et d’une identité contrastent avec le déplacement, l’activité et le risque d’en bas. Sur la gauche, substance et apparence sont représentées par deux figures de la féminité: la mère et la prostituée qui correspondent à l’inscription du féminin dans l’espace privé (particulier) et dans l’espace publique (universel) respectivement. Il s’agit de l’idéologie misogyne qui identifie la femme hors de la maison et la prostituée. Le sujet se situe à droite, divisé entre l’aventurier qui s’oppose à la famille, représentée par la mère, dans la sphère privée, et le héros éthique qui, en tant qu’homme de parole, incarne dans la sphère publique la consistance du contrat symbolique en contraste avec l’inconséquence, l’instabilité, la superficialité et le leurre de la prostituée. En tant qu’aventurier, le sujet quitte la maison familiale pour découvrir le monde. Déraciné, il se déplace tout le temps, il erre. Pensons à Ulysse, Perceval, Lucky Luck. Dans le schème héroïque, le sujet est toujours matricide en quelque sorte, car son départ libère le désir de l’inertie libidinale représentée par la substance maternelle (la jouissance incestueuse). De par cette dé-substantialisation, le sujet du désir se situe au-delà de son identité particulière (appartenance à une famille, une nation, une culture) et se rapporte directement à l’universel, c’est-à-dire à la structure signifiante en tant que telle. Il représente alors la loi symbolique.

Mais que devient le carré sémiotique lorsque le sujet est féminin? Comment se situe une femme par rapport à la sphère privée et à la sphère publique?

Il est facile de relever dans toutes sortes de produits culturels (romans, feuilletons, cinéma, autobiographies), depuis le Moyen Âge jusqu’à aujourd’hui, des personnages féminins rebelles et errants, qui s’opposent à ce que leur identité soit déterminée par la tradition comme appartenance à un groupe social particulier (clan, tribu, lignage). Le motif du refus du mariage y joue un rôle fondamental. Le mariage arrangé et imposé par la famille, selon les pratiques matrimoniales des sociétés pré-modernes, aussi bien du XIIème que du XXIème siècles, est l’instrument crucial du confinement des femmes à la place que la communauté leur réserve et qui est déterminée par leur rôle dans la reproduction. La réduction de la fonction sociale des femmes à l’immanence biologique de la maternité les confine alors à la sphère privée et cette relégation sociale se traduit physiquement et logistiquement: la place d’une femme est la maison. Refuser le mariage signifie alors s’arracher à la sphère privée afin d’accéder à la sphère publique, développer une action civique et politique, être libre. Comme pour l’homme, ceci implique mobilité, déplacement, errance, exil.

Les récits hagiographiques du Moyen &#194ge possédaient une prégnance idéologique comparable à celle de la culture de masses d’aujourd’hui. Ils mettent en scène des jeunes filles qui défient l’autorité paternelle plus ou moins ouvertement et violemment. La sainte peut casser les idoles de la religion païenne professée par le père ou, moins bruyamment, refuser le mari choisi par le père. Typiquement, l’acte de casser des idoles conduit au martyre, mais refuser le mariage conduit au départ. Énimie, la princesse mérovingienne du VIIème siècle, dont la vie a été écrite en langue d’oc par Bertrand de Marseille au XIIIème siècle, utilise le stratagème de la lèpre non seulement pour faire fuir le fiancé, mais aussi pour quitter la maison familiale à la recherche de la source qui la guérirait. Elle la trouve finalement très loin de Paris, dans un lieu sauvage1, et reste dans les parages, dans une sorte d’exil: sans famille, sans biens, sans confort, elle s’est dépouillée de son identité et de sa condition sociale et habite un no man’s land symbolique et culturel où elle n’existe que pour Dieu. La sainteté représente bien, pour une femme médiévale, la seule forme possible de rapport direct avec la transcendance universelle du symbolique (Dieu) qui en fait un sujet déraciné, vide de tout contenu particulier, sans attaches familiales, sans place dans la société, un pur sujet du signifiant qui n’appartient qu’à Dieu. Or, tout comme Zizek le souligne, la condition du rapport direct du sujet avec l’universel (Dieu) est la négativisation (abandon, trahison) de la famille, de l’espace privé et domestique, de ses lois et traditions qui composent le domaine du particulier. Et si le sujet masculin s’oppose à la mère, le rapport de la sainte à la famille passe inévitablement et prioritairement par le père dont elle défie le pouvoir au nom de l’Autre Père, le père transcendant et invisible, purement symbolique: Dieu. Mais ceci ne signifie point que la mère n’y soit pour rien, puisque c’est justement en tant que mère que la femme appartient à la famille patriarcale et occupe une place dans la communauté: ‘elle y est toute’, comme dit Lacan. Souvent la mère est plus sévèrement et formellement engagée que le père dans la perpétuation des valeurs et traditions du groupe, notamment la morale sexuelle. C’est pourquoi la résistance de la fille à la décision paternelle tue aussi la mère. En effet, la figure du matricide n’a rien à voir avec un supposé passage du matriarcat au patriarcat mais tout simplement avec l’arrachement du sujet à l’ontologie familiale, opération nécessaire à sa constitution au champ de l’Autre comme sujet du désir.

Si la sainte médiévale est une exilée, l’exilée de notre temps n’est pas une sainte. Les femmes exilées d’aujourd’hui viennent fréquemment du Tiers-Monde et mènent une importante activité politique et civique dans les pays occidentaux où elles habitent. Elles se réclament athées, laïques et des Lumières. C’est le cas d’Ayaan Hirsi Ali, la députée hollandaise d’origine somalienne qui, rejetant la décision paternelle concernant son époux, est restée en Hollande au lieu de poursuivre son voyage jusqu’au Canada pour rejoindre le mari imposé. Aux yeux de sa famille, de son clan et de son mari, elle les a tous déshonorés et trahis. Mais Ayaan ne voulait tout simplement pas être une unité dans une vaste ruche (Hirsi Ali, 2007:187). La mère qui lui tourne le dos au moment du départ et la lettre hostile qu’elle reçoit du père quelques mois après être arrivée en Hollande marquent la rupture d’Ayaan avec les valeurs et lois de sa culture et de sa famille. Mais le geste le plus symbolique est celui de remplacer son nom de famille, c’est-à-dire le nom du père, Magan, par un autre, Ali, qu’elle a indiqué aux autorités hollandaises pour échapper au clan. Le nom Ali marque sa nouvelle identité, créée à partir de l’indétermination radicale du sujet exilé.

Chahdortt Djavann est une iranienne exilée en France depuis 1992. Outre deux essais où elle prend parti contre le port du voile, Djavann a écrit trois romans. Dans Comment peut-on être français? (2006) elle raconte dans quelles circonstances Roxane a quitté son pays et est venue en France. La trahison de la famille commence par un projet de trahison linguistique amorcé pendant l’enfance:

Le séjour de la famille de l’oncle Sam a bouleversé ma vie, et nous voilà au coeur du sujet. Il m’a permis de comprendre les avantages qu’il y avait à ne pas comprendre la langue de sa famille! Comme il était déjà trop tard pour que je ne comprisse pas le persan, je me suis dit que, quand je serai grande, j’irai moi aussi à l’étranger, loin, et apprendrai une autre langue. Comme ça, personne, dans ma famille, ne me comprendra (p.191).

L’abandon de la famille se matérialise dans l’absence de la fille aux les funérailles du père, décédé le jour même de son départ. La cause de sa fuite n’est pas exactement le mariage forcé mais l’intensification obscène et sinistre de celui-ci sous la forme du viol: Roxane avait subi un viol collectif de la part des gardiens de la révolution islamique, elle en est tombée enceinte et est partie à Istambul pour avorter. Deux ans plus tard, elle a pu acheter un billet d’avion pour Paris. L’irréversibilité de l’exil correspond au désir radical de s’arracher à la langue maternelle pour refaire son être en prenant racine dans la langue française. Son apprentissage de la langue a une visée ontologique. Comment peut-on être français? En parlant français. Elle veut s’arracher au sol linguistique et culturel iranien, ce monde abhorré, s’émanciper de la langue de sa famille, faire peau neuve, être pleinement française par la langue. Pour bien apprendre la langue écrite, Roxanne écrit des lettres à Montesquieu qu’elle appelle “son cher géniteur”, tout en s’identifiant avec le personnage homonyme des Lettres persanes. C’est l’opération symbolique cruciale: Roxane remplace le père biologique par Montesquieu, père dont le nom symbolise les Lumières et ses valeurs rationnelles, universelles et laïques. Roxane aime le français en tant que langue de l’universalisme laïque, cet espace de la polis où tout un chacun se trouve évidé des particularités culturelles, religieuses, ethniques, génériques, pour être considéré dans sa singularité radicale de sujet.

Examinons maintenant l’autre vecteur du carré sémiotique, celui concernant la position du sujet dans la sphère publique. En tant que représentant de la loi symbolique, le sujet masculin a affaire à la prostituée, figure de l’apparence et du leurre. Mais le sujet féminin ne peut pas occuper la même position. Le héros se situe sur la droite du carré, entre Sujet et Essence, mais l’héroïne, tout en occupant la place de Sujet dans son opposition à la Substance, ne peut pas occuper la position d’Essence contre l’Apparence. Ceci impliquerait que ‘La femme’ existe et il n’y aurait aucune différence entre les carrés masculin et féminin. Le sujet féminin doit donc occuper la place de non-essence. Or, qu’est-ce qui s’oppose à l’Essence, c’est-à-dire à la consistance du symbolique, à la positivisation de l’universel, et qui n’est pas de l’ordre de l’Apparence? Des femmes qui sont devenues abbesses, députées, écrivaines, ne sont pas des séductrices qui détournent le héros du droit chemin pour le métamorphoser en cochon ou l’immobiliser dans le Val sans Retour, bref pour étouffer son désir dans la jouissance. Au contraire, l’éthique est maintenant du côté féminin et se manifeste comme résistance à l’appropriation du sujet par le symbolique. Ce qui s’oppose à l’Essence n’est donc pas l’Apparence mais l’inconsistance de la pastoute. Ce qui s’oppose à la droiture de la loi, ce n’est pas le leurre imaginaire mais le réel qui la fait défaillir. Il ne s’agit pas tellement d’un regard cynique qui dénoncerait les intérêts privés cachés sous de grands projets universaux, qui ne croirait pas à la loi mais seulement à la jouissance. Si cela était le cas, les femmes ne feraient plus que ramener l’universel au particulier (le social au domestique) et revenir à la famille, après l’avoir quittée pour s’élever à la dimension de l’au-delà. Un tel parcours en cercle vicieux s’énoncerait: une femme s’éloigne de la mère pour revenir occuper sa place.

Mais en fait, la pastoute s’oppose à la loi symbolique comme le singulier s’oppose à l’universel. Le particulier est catégorisable mais pas le singulier, ce qui explique pourquoi les femmes constituent un ensemble ouvert, un univers infini, qui objecte à la tendance du symbolique à se totaliser. La pastoute se trouve ainsi en opposition diagonale avec le tout-symbolique qui fige la droiture de la loi en impératif surmoïque. Le point de vue non-misogyne, qui n’identifie pas la femme libre avec la prostituée, focalise une dimension du symbolique différente de celle qui permet au sujet de se démarquer de la particularité de la culture familiale et d’accéder à l’universel. Il s’agit de la dimension omnivore du symbolique qui prend la forme obscène et féroce de la loi phallique dont l’érection ne défaille pas (équivalence du surmoi et de la jouissance du père de la horde). Parce que leur jouissance à elles ne s’épuise pas dans la jouissance phallique de Toutom, parce que leur sexualité n’est pas toute drainée par le phallus, les femmes sont en position d’objecter à l’appropriation symbolique de la subjectivité.

L’histoire d’Énimie tourne autour de l’appropriation symbolique du sujet. Le rapport direct d’une femme avec Dieu n’est pas une situation que l’église puisse tolérer. Elle intervient alors pour médiatiser ledit rapport au moyen de ses propres structures hiérarchiques et infrastructures logistiques. Devenant abbesse, Énimie est enfermée dans le cloître et soumise à l’évêque. Elle meurt peu de temps après. C’est justement après la mort d’Énimie qu’il est énormément question de sa place. Quelle institution doit avoir la garde de ses reliques: la Monarchie ou l’église? Or, les nonnes résistent aux grands projets des hommes, aussi bien celui du roi Dagobert de procéder à la translation (le) du cercueil de sa soeur à Saint-Denis, que celui de l’église de révéler les reliques et de faire du monastère un lieu de pèlerinage. Comment les nonnes ont-elles fait échouer les deux projets? En se taisant. Énimie avait fait promettre aux nonnes de garder secret du lieu de son cercueil, sans nom, caché dans la pierre dure et ainsi soustrait au signifiant. De par la localisation impossible du cercueil figure l’inconsistance du symbolique, il manque un signifiant, un nom: S(A). C’était sa stratégie pour limiter l’appropriation symbolique et institutionnelle de son corps. Le secret est mort avec les nonnes. Ce que Dagobert ramène à Saint Denis c’est le cercueil de la filleule d’Énimie qui portait le même prénom. Quant à l’église, il lui faudra recourir aux compétences visionnaires d’un moine pour découvrir l’endroit où le cercueil était caché. Après quoi, les nonnes disparaissent et il n’y aura qu’un monastère masculin. Mais Énimie a quand même réussi à ne pas revenir au sol familial qu’elle avait quitté irréversiblement: elle ne voulait pas être enterrée en France, elle voulait rester sur son lieu d’exil et de liberté.


Bertrand de Marseille, La vie de Sainte Énimie, ed. Clovis Brunel, Paris, Champion, 1970.

Djavann, Chahdortt, Comment peut-on être français?, Paris, Flammarion, 2006.

Hirsi Ali, Ayaan, Infidel, NY, London, Toronto, Sydney, Free Press, 2007.

Zizek, Slavoj, Metastases of Enjoyment, London, NY, Verso, 2001.

Art: Tanyth Berkeley, Grace for Cyberspace, C-print, 2006.

Heidegger and Lacan
their most important difference
Janne Kurki

This paper presents only one main proposition: the most important difference – a kind of founding difference – between Heidegger and Lacan is formed by the question of science and the related theme of the formalization of language. This founding difference between them induces, in a way, all the other differences between them. The reader is supposed to be familiar with their writings, at least in general, and, thus, I focus on abstracting this difference in order to make it evident.

It has to be noted that this difference between Heidegger and Lacan lives on in the articulations of their heirs: thus, for example, Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy have inherited clearly a kind of Heideggerian position within this “debate” (which was never explicitly debated), [1] where as, for example, Alain Badiou seems to speak up for a kind of Lacanian position, as have done many other French thinkers, like the late Louis Althusser. In other words, by explicating this difference between Heidegger and Lacan we explicate an important question area of contemporary Continental thought. In fact, my bold claim is that if we do not conceptualize this problem properly, we miss the central point of gravity of contemporary thinking.

The Question of Science

For Heidegger, all sciences belong to and continue the metaphysical tradition of forgetting the question of the being of beings. For Lacan, every proper science means a break against, within and in regard to the metaphysical tradition of philosophy. From a Heideggerian perspective, Lacan is unable to see the metaphysical implications and presuppositions of all the sciences. From a Lacanian perspective, Heidegger’s interpretation of a science is, in the end, naive and totalitarian. In other words, Heidegger includes all discourses into the totality formed by the history of the question of (the meaning of) the being of beings. Besides this, Heidegger includes all sciences into a homogenic and homological group, the totality of science, which seems to be, not only a coarse judgment, but also simply a totally blind and incompetent misjudgment. In Lacanian jargon, this means that Heidegger himself presupposes the Other of the Other: for Heidegger, the question of the being of beings functions, in the last analysis, as the Other of the Other criticized by Lacan. For Lacanians, what is radical in sciences is their ways of constructing discourses through formalized languages, not some determined “scientific” proposition. This is why Lacan stresses again and again that psychoanalysis is a science, and not only whatsoever science, but the science of the subject of science. The subject psychoanalyses studies is the subject of signifiers approached formally as signifiers, without their signified. Psychoanalysis as Lacan sees it became possible only after scientific revolutions. From this perspective, psychoanalysis is always secondary in regard to scientific revolutions.

Heidegger rejects sciences and the formalization of language; instead, he returns to the poetry, especially to Hölderlin, and to the times when philosophy was still immersed within poetry, namely to the pre-Socratic thinkers. Neither Lacan nor Badiou has denied the importance of this return or the importance of what took place in Greek philosophy before, with and after Plato. However, the way in which both Lacan and Badiou construct their discourses makes their commitment to explication through formalization pretty clear: after mathematicians, Newton, Marx, Darwin, Einstein etc. the Heideggerian return means, in the end, from the perspective of constructing discourses of thinking, degeneration, not regeneration. From this perspective, the only thing shared by sciences is the explication and abstraction through formalization.

The Formalization of Language

Thus, the question of science and the question of formalization of language are, in a way, the parallax of the “same” problem: they form the two sides of Moebius strip. The question of science deals with the revolution in the ways and the rules according to which we claim something about the presence. The question of the formalization of language deals with the conditions we lay down for the systems of differences within which these claims are articulated. In other words, the question of science names the modern problem of relating oneself to presence, and the question of the formalization of language names the modern problem of relating oneself to absence.

To be frank, there are certain moments in Heidegger’s writings when he himself turns toward formalization of his language, for example, when writes the being of beings as Sein and when he demands that Dasein should be written as Da-sein. However, these exceptions are really exceptions and they are clearly against the overall tendencies of Heidegger’s discourse. In Lacan, the formalization is an on-going and, in fact, increasing tendency from the fifties to the eighties. The topological objects and knots are nothing but the crystallization of this tendency: whereas still in the Seminar XI Lacan states that his formalizations are something we need to support our discourse due to the impotence of our thinking, during his knot era he states explicitly that the formalization itself, namely the knot, is the real.

It has to be noted, however, one thing: the formalization of language takes place always within a situation. Thus, the language to be formalized is always specific to that situation. For example, Lacan formalized the theoretical language of psychoanalysis, Newton formalized the language of physics etc. It is ridiculous to formalize natural languages that are used in the endless number of situations (which means, of course, that the contemporary so called “analytic philosophy” is ridiculous, from the hard-liners like Quine to the soft-liners like Putnam and Rorty, including the Finns Jaakko Hintikka – referred by Lacan himself, too – and Georg Henrik von Wright).


All this has certain consequences of which I present two:

1) First of all, a Lacanian thinker should never miss or deny the importance of sciences. This does not mean blind obedience to all kinds of discourse presenting themselves as science, on the contrary: from this perspective, there are sciences only on and of the presence and every science aims at the formalization of its language. Thus, for example, didactics or psychology are not and will never be sciences. Similarly, natural sciences can never say anything about meanings: you can use the best possible functional magnetic resonance imaging for observing what takes place in the brain of a speaking being, but you will never catch any meanings but only biological processes within the brain.

2) Secondly, the formalization of language is, however, partly independent of the question of science. For philosophy – which is not and will never be a science – the formalization of language forms the supporting guideline, the way to abstract and explicate its articulations.

In order to argue for the formalization within philosophy and the independence of sciences from metaphysics, I present ‘The Logic of Monogamy’. It is, on the one hand, a continuation of Lacanian theories; and, on the other hand, a withdrawal through formalization from a certain part of Freudian heritage of psychoanalysis, from the part that does not recognize the independence of sciences from philosophical speculations.

The Logic of Monogamy


In Ils se marièrent et euront beaucoup d’enfants (France, 2004), the director Yvan Attal introduces three men who are friends and whose relations to women differ from each other: the first one is married and without a lover (and his marriage seems to be an endless hell); the second one is married, but he has also a lover (and this arrangement does not seem to be an easy solution either); and the third man is a steady bachelor and he has an endless series of women, besides which he becomes a father during the story. The theme is expressed explicitly: whether to devote oneself to one woman or to the possibility to have all the women – and whether to bind oneself to this opposition (one “realized” woman vs. all the possible women) or to break this logical division with, for example, a lover. In other words, it is a question of the logic of monogamy and the nature and necessity of this logic. All this is softened by humor that partly veils the severity of the skeleton of the film, but not too much: this is a question that touches everybody living in monogamy, like the most of Western people and the most of women in the Moslem nations do.

Essential broadening to this setting is brought about by the question of children, for it is the birth of new human life that reorganizes the logic of monogamy as if from the inside of this logic. With the birth of a new human being, the black and white setting of one “realized” vs. all the possibilities has to be transformed into a system with more nuances.

Because I am interested in the logic of monogamy, I will put into the brackets the problem of sex as the oppositions between a man and a woman and between homosexuality and heterosexuality. My bold statement is that, for the logic of monogamy, the sex (as articulated by the oppositions man/woman and hetero/homosexuality) is, in the end, irrelevant. The central logical terms of the logic of monogamy include: one, all, possible, realized, but/except, all-but/except and one+third. For all of these, the sex is insignificant.

One realized vs. all the possible ones

The love for one has, no doubt, its biological background. This biological background is not, however, central for the pure logical approach, for the place of biology is, in regard to the logic of monogamy, the place of mythology. In other words, one cannot solve biological/mythical problems with the logic of monogamy. In any case, everybody who has lived or worked with the babies knows that for a baby its relationship to its first caretaker – in many cultures usually to its mother – is a special one and nobody is equal to the mother in baby’s eyes. This is a fundamental empirical fact, not a logical one. As noted, this empirical fact functions, no doubt, also as the mythical root of monogamy, but exactly because of this, it is irrelevant for the logic of monogamy.

In a monogamy that functions in both ways (both sides of a pair are devoted fully to their partner), it is a question of giving to the other an exclusive love/sexual enjoyment. What is central for the logic of monogamy is the setting determined by this exclusiveness: on the one side is my chosen one/the one who has chosen me, this one and only, this realized relationship within which sexuality is practiced, included and narrowed; on the other side are all the possibilities (including this one that, on the other side, excludes all the other possibilities). In other words, there is the opposition between the in-principle-determined-and-realized-but-non-transparent “one” that is more than a possibility and the almost-totally-non-determined “all the possibilities”:

Schema 1: The founding logical opposition of monogamy


However, the actual logic of monogamy is not as simple as the above-presented founding opposition. On the both sides, there appears usually – and, again, this is an empirical, non-logical fact that, in all its non-logic is, however, the very condition for the continuation of monogamy – a special “but/except”. On the side ruled by the one that is more than a possibility, there appears often, even if not always, another than the one, namely the third one of the couple: the child. The side that is ruled by all the possibilities is determined, on the other side, by a central factor that limits these possibilities: the prohibition against incest. Thus, the one that is more than a possibility becomes “one+third”, and all the possibilities become “all-except”:

Schema 2: The buts/excepts of the founding opposition of monogamy

In fact, monogamy can go on only through these buts/excepts of its founding opposition: only if the pair gives birth to the third one can the humankind, empirically, exists in the future, and only if the children do not marry their parents can a monogamy exists (for, in a traditional monogamy, the father and the mother are already engaged and not free to be chosen). Of course, these two buts/excepts are logically dependent on each other and together they form the non-logical excess of monogamy – around which monogamy is structured.


Thus, I have presented the logic of monogamy, based, not on the sex, but on the logical terms. In other words, the logic of monogamy is, as such, independent of the sex. The questions of sex and hetero/homosexuality are, from this perspective, irrelevant and particular components of monogamy.

The implications of this paper are provocative and they can be summarizes thus: in regard to desire, enjoyment, marriage etc. the sex is of no importance. On the contrary, the concern for the sex belongs to biological discourses: the sex is not a philosophical category, but a coarse abbreviation for the innumerable functions of probability proper to biological realm. This means that the sex can be studied meaningfully only through natural scientific methods: the sex is nothing but what becomes present through those methods. It is clear that this arrogant statement has its targets.

1) First of all, the main targets are the crude feministic theories from Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray to Jane Fonda. For example, Butler’s Gender Trouble presents a ridiculous reading of Lacan and, if possible, even more ridiculous reading of biological observations. This kind of mess is possible only when we confuse philosophical concepts with scientific concepts and do not bother to read the original texts. If Butler had even tried to explicate her statements through some kind of formalization, she would probably have noticed even by herself the ridiculousness of her statements.

2) Secondly, the kernel of Lacanian theory on sexuality is the discontinuity between the sex and the desire. Thus, my intention at the Lacanian front is to underline the simple, but often forgotten axiom of the discontinuity between the biological sex and the desire. This discontinuity is the origin of such fundamental Lacanian concepts like the imaginary and the fantasy. In other words, this fundamental gap is what the imaginary and the fantasy veil. The first time this discontinuity was explicitly articulated by Lacan was in “Beyond the Reality Principle” (1936)’: the human sexual behavior is independent of the biological sex. Here are the roots of the concept of imaginary and, thus, of the triad RSI. Again, the concept of fantasy names this “same” gap, or the way this gap is veiled – and what would the Lacanian field be without the concept of fantasy!

3) What it comes to psychoanalytic theory, this problematic area brings forth the never-ending debate of the relation between psychoanalysis and biology – articulated again and again by such names like Freud, Lacan and Laplanche. The implications of this paper are evident: leave to biology what belongs to biology and concentrate on what is yours, namely, on the logic and dynamics of desire, enjoyment, fantasy, identification, symptoms and signifiers. The sex is to be explicated by natural scientific methods, in other words, it is something that is present. But natural sciences can say nothing about what is absent, for example, about the system of difference (the symbolic), the absent cause of desire (the object a) etc. For example, the logic of desire is created historically by control and inhibitions, but also by baits and structures, ideals and images; here, one factor is, if you live within monogamy, the logic of monogamy.

Thus, the final conclusion of all this is the only radical conclusion to be drawn: psychoanalysis can say nothing about the topic of sex. Thus, ‘The Logic of Monogamy’ introduces – with a help and support of formalization – a sex-free logic of organizing and structuring desire, enjoyment, identifications and symptoms. Such is the future of psychoanalysis – and, in the end, such was one of the fundamental discoveries of Lacan.


[1] It is improbable that Heidegger and Lacan would have discussed this matter during Heidegger’s visit to Lacan’s home in 1955.

Art: Anna Gaskell, untitled # 8 (wonder), C-print, 1996.


Sex is Surface
Ontology and the Play of Signification
Jared Russell

Genital organizations

Recently I witnessed the following incident. The “Contemporary Freudian” institute where I train holds a rotating case seminar for advanced candidates doing control work. A new member had recently joined our group, having transferred in from another training institute, well known for its more “Classical” bent. When it came time for this new member to present a case, he quite courageously chose one that had been carried under supervisors from the previous institute. The patient was a female professional in her mid-thirties who complained of chronic disappointment in her relationships with men. The details of the case are unimportant, save to say that this was a very thoughtful analyst working under supervisors whose orientation had emphasized sexuality and aggression as things for which to be on the lookout. Everyone involved had generally agreed that the patient was a hysteric, and would therefore make an outstanding analysand.

As the transference developed, the patient brought in more and more sexualized material. She spent her sessions bemoaning her love life and relating dreams whose sexual content was readily interpretable. The supervisors saw this as evidence of analytic progress based on accurate interpretations, of which the candidate clearly was proud. So obvious was the sexual content of the patient’s dreams, however, that as the details of the treatment emerged, the instructor running our case seminar, and following him several students, began to smile knowingly, and then to laugh, goodheartedly but not without a certain sense of self-satisfaction: the analyst had been duped! Here was a hapless candidate, victim of his supervisors’ biases, thinking he was dealing with a hysteric. Since that was what the analyst was looking for, our instructor explained, that was what the patient provided him with – but this was not at all what was really going on. The group then approached the case as one in which the analyst’s desire to please his supervisors had led to an “intellectualized pseudo-analysis” with a patient who, on closer inspection, clearly had difficulties integrating self and object representations; who struggled to contain primitive anxieties; and who evinced a general level of character pathology that spoke to deeply pre-Oedipal issues. In other words, the patient was not hysteric at all, she was merely complying with her analyst’s wish to be treating such a case.

From a Lacanian perspective, the irony is frustratingly obvious: of course the patient was giving the analyst what he wanted to hear. This does not cancel the diagnosis of hysteria, but rather confirms it. That the patient imitates the symptoms of hysteria is precisely what makes her a hysteric. This was the lesson Freud took with him from his work with Charcot at Salpêtrière: it is the very extent to which the hysteric presents herself as a compliant malingerer that demonstrates she is not a compliant malingerer. Where the analyst misses this, the treatment will eventually be abandoned as yet another manifestation of how it is not the patient’s wishes, but those of everyone around her, that are at fault. One can imagine this patient’s jouissance had she witnessed the supervisors’ excitement over the sexualized material she so eagerly provided, not to mention the scene in which the analyst found himself in a group of her surrogates, laughing at his ignorance over the nature of his own desire.

Given the obverse situation, where a case supervised under a “contemporary” orientation were presented to a “classical” audience, much the same thing likely would have occurred: the instructor and group members pointing out how the analyst missed the obvious drive derivatives, criticizing his preoccupation with the dynamics of the object relationship. It is not that either of these positions is wrong, rather they are identical: both seek after something fundamental to the nature and constitution of the patient’s experience. Such essentialism in psychoanalysis today is based in a complete misunderstanding of how sexuality is to be situated with respect to the clinical field. Hysteria led Freud to the discovery of transference as an effort at seduction: the patient is always trying to seduce the analyst into offering what cannot be given (a brand new past, new parents, happiness) so that this can be refused and the analyst’s impotence unmasked. Where transference is understood not as passively repetitive, but as actively seductive, sexuality describes something more than what simply motivates transferential dynamics. Rather, the clinical surface across which the analytic relationship gets played out is itself sexually contrived. That is, transference does not describe how sexuality encroaches upon the clinical relationship; transference reveals sexuality as the very possibility of an interpretive framework.

Instead of disrupting the analytic work, the hysteric’s compliance is precisely what makes possible an interpretive clinical approach. This is why Lacan insisted that the opening phase of work with obsessional patients must consist in a “hysterization” of the patient’s discourse. Of course hysterical compliance is defensive, but there is nothing behind this posture that would indicate the patient’s true underlying conflicts and difficulties. My colleague’s analysand had managed happily to collude with the structures of more than one analytic training program. The “classical” supervisors were working with an understanding of sexuality that was too narrow (too genital) for this to be appreciated. But the new, “contemporary” environment was just as limited, in that sexuality was considered solely as a behavioral phenomenon – not “deep enough.” The reversibility of these attitudes is due to the fact that both reduce sexuality to the content of an intersubjective relationship. For Lacan, as for Freud, sexuality is a much broader field: sexuality is not just some activity in which the subject engages, it is the raw material from out of which the possibility of subjective experience emerges.

Neurotic strategy

The unconscious conceived as a container of buried psychic truths is a pre-Freudian unconscious – it is the “subconscious” of Janet, and of all descriptive accounts of the unconscious as a site of potential consciousness that simply has yet to be realized. Freud’s dynamic unconscious describes what is by definition unavailable to awareness. The dynamic unconscious is not “outside” awareness, capable eventually of being assimilated to conscious self-knowledge; it is the very form of awareness itself, and as such it cannot be taken up as an object of reflection. This inscrutable “structure” defines the Lacanian notion of subject, as what makes self-awareness possible by relating the ego to itself in the element of reflection. Rather than being a more primordial or authentic version of the self, the subject is instead that space or opening which gives rise to the capacity for reflective, narcissistic self-containment. What Freud ultimately called “death drive” describes consciousness (which arises “instead of a memory-trace,” (S.E. XVIII, p. 24)) as the subject’s effort to close its space down by relating to itself alone, in defiant opposition to the Other. It is this openness – “structured like a language,” like the infinite substitutability of signifiers that makes meaning possible – structured, that is, in such a way that the classical opposition of structure and process breaks down – that neurosis figures as castration.

A patient complains that I tell her nothing about myself, that I am so “clinical,” so cold. She goes on the internet and discovers my email address, which indicates that my middle initial is “k.” Announcing her discovery at first triumphantly, eventually she says that knowing this only makes things worse. What does “k” stand for? This becomes a question that weaves in and out of several sessions. What name could possibly begin with “k”? There are so few, yet at the same time too many to decide. And most importantly, why don’t I just tell her what my middle name is? Why do I torture her by telling her nothing about myself? She protests my not volunteering simple details about my life, while she continues to divulge her most intimate secrets. Of course, in all the haranguing about what a terrible sadist I am, the one question she never poses is: what is your middle name? Had she asked this, I may have answered, since my middle name in and of itself has nothing at all to do with the analytic work. What was important was not my withholding information, but that the patient never actually formulated the question. Instead, she insisted on her lack of knowledge as evidence of my refusal.

The hysteric says, “I tell you everything, yet I know nothing about you!” For the ego, this complaint communicates information about the experience of neurotic suffering. For the unconscious subject, it is designed to discover desire in the analyst. Lacan understood that neurosis consisted in the extent to which the simple question, “Tell me doctor, what is wrong with me?” could actually mean: “Tell me doctor, what makes you believe you are who you are, and me who I am?” – in other words, “What do you want from me?” The hysteric dramatizes this question, while the obsessive poses it in earnest. The hysteric insists, “It’s not me, it’s the world I live in – everyone else!” The obsessive worries, “Am I really connected to anything beyond myself?” What binds these two experiences of self and world together is the ideality of the phallic object. Neurosis is defined by the eagerness with which the question, “What is it you desire?” is answered: the phallus. Hysteria and obsession are strategies for obtaining possession of the phallus as the object-cause of the desire of the Other. The hysteric, in her effort to be the phallus, embodies absolute self-certainty; the obsessive, whose concern is over having the phallus, embodies pervasive self-doubt. By “neurosis,” Lacan understands the intrinsic complicity of these positions.

What mattered to my patient was not my middle name, but that I might wish to speak it, to “let her know.” By soliciting me to speak about myself, she sought to transform the analytic relationship into a power struggle over the fate of the process of signification, by converting a particular signifier (“k”) into a phallic object. This would impose upon the transference a clearly defined structure of opposition (knowing/not-knowing, having/not-having, subject/object, etc.). “What does k signify?” This is not at all the question raised by the unconscious subject. As subject rather than as ego, the patient’s question is always: “How am I to figure out what you are after?” By substituting the first kind of question for the second, the patient works to draw the analyst’s attention away from the play of signifiers that constitutes the transferential relationship as a stage dedicated to realizing the impasse that sustains desire. Neurosis consists precisely in the effort to distract from this, to seek instead after something allegedly “deep” and “hidden.” The patient’s ego speaks of suffering and wanting to know what the letter “k” represents. The subject of the unconscious is not interested in what “k” represents, but that “k” represents, and how this might be appropriated in such a way that would stabilize the play of signification.

The facticity of castration

Why do others invariably intervene in our experience of sexuality? Or, rather, how does sexuality make the investigation of otherness and difference an intrinsically clinical project? For Lacan, it is by filling the void of the lost little a that the Other rendered as object becomes our support by telling us about our being, about what we are. The “who” of the subject is determined by the “what” that essentially belongs to the Other – “who I am” is never something “I have,” but always something received. What allows the neurotic subject to be structured as an openness within the Symbolic order is the fact that the mother always seems to desire something else, something beyond the simplicity of the child’s being. The phallus is the fantastically ideal object – the object by means of which ideality receives its determination – with which the child imagines it might gain such absolute self-possession as to be able to give its being over to its mother and in doing so satisfy her completely.

A colleague describes an obsessional patient who contemplates leaving analysis for the refuge of a more “proactive,” “results-oriented” treatment. For months the patient collects brochures about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”). He promises that termination is imminent, and that he may not be able to give more than a moment’s notice. The analyst all the while is able to maintain a neutral, interpretive stance, consistently demonstrating her desire that the patient keep talking about how he may stop talking and leave treatment altogether. Eventually, with exasperation the patient concludes: “I’m so messed up, I probably need CBT just to go to CBT in the first place! So I might as well stay in analysis…” This is a perfect example of what sustains analytic work even at its most difficult moments. The patient will stay – indeed, he comes in the first place – as an enactment of the very refusal that any change might occur: “I might as well stay in analysis, since it isn’t giving me what I need like CBT would, which I would need in order to be in CBT to begin with.” Staying in analysis as if by default, this patient says, “I need what I lack in order to get what I need” – that is, “I am so terribly castrated that I must already have the phallus in order to be able to receive it in the first place. Do you see how impossible my life is? I am completely powerless!”

This patient insists that he lacks something the Other withholds, and that his lack is an effect of the Other’s refusal. The transference here consists in the patient’s effort to render performatively his conviction as to the fact of his castration, so that the Other can be reduced to an object, whose giving and withholding can potentially be controlled. This is the sense in which, for Lacan, transference is the enactment of unconscious psychic reality (Sem. XI, p. 149), and as such has nothing to do with the repetition of an actual developmental past. Dynamically conceived, transference is not the passive repetition of past events; transference is the active insistence that truth resides in an original, fantastically unmediated relationship with the caretaking world. Such a relationship is, of course, purely imaginary, never having taken place, yet it determines absolutely the way the patient comports himself both in the treatment and in his life. To work clinically with transference then is to understand that the symptom is not something the patient has, but how the patient is. This is what the Lacanian “return to Freud” had always aimed at recovering: that the symptom is not a manifestation of the psychological, but of the ontological. Despite the fact that it exchanges a philosophical for a medical vocabulary, Freud’s “metapsychology” demonstrates an ontological sensibility with respect to clinical phenomena. It is in these terms that “sexuality,” again dynamically conceived, translates into a clinical register what Heidegger, in Being and Time, intended by the term “facticity”: not what we are, but how we are, in confrontation with the fact that we are.


From a “classical Freudian” perspective, conflicts around sexuality are the cause of the symptom. From a “contemporary Freudian” perspective, sexuality manifests itself symptomatically in terms of one’s position vis a vis the object world. Lacan emphasizes sexuality as neither an intrapsychic nor an intersubjective problem, but as the very condition according to which any distinction between the two might be drawn. In opposition to clinical approaches that would interpret sexual demands, a Lacanian orientation tends to desire as it appears in the particularities these demands attempt to gloss over in addressing themselves to objects. Desire has no object, only a singular cause: desire desires its own cause in order ever to perpetuate itself. The ego experiences desire in the form of psychological contents (“wishes”). The subject of the unconscious does not have desire – it is desire. This is what is witnessed clinically as transference.

To the ego, the symptom appears as an external object, an incomprehensible “foreign body” intruding upon the unique individual one imagines oneself to be. For the subject of the unconscious, the symptom constitutes a modality of being. The Lacanian effort to distinguish the ego from the subject in terms of the relationship to desire is an insistence that sexuality is not the content of the unconscious, but the very structure of reflexive self-relation. Sexuality is that structure or process according to which consciousness is diverted from the phenomenological surface of experience. Unconscious fantasy in this way constitutes the unobservable truth or “material” support of self-experience, as is consistently revealed by the dynamic process that is the structure of the signifier or symptom. Put more succinctly: the play of signification is the articulation of human being as constitutively sexual.

¿Dios ha muerto?
Mario Goldenberg

Author’s Bio

La pertinencia de interrogar después de más de un siglo , la frase de Nietzsche, pone en evidencia, que el problema de las creencias, sigue vigente.

Gianni Vattimo, filósofo italiano, autor de “Creer que se cree” y “Después de la cristiandad”, entre otros, toma la frase de Nietzsche, siguiendo la interpretación heideggeriana, como el anuncio del final de la metafísica racionalista, el fin del Dios moral, aquel que Pascal llamó “el Dios de los filósofos”.

La frase indica que la era del absoluto, de los fundamentos últimos ha llegado a su fin. No considera la frase como un fin de la fe, si no que el fin de los relatos absolutos, deja la posibilidad de una renovada vuelta de la fe religiosa.

¿Cuál es el lugar del psicoanálisis en esta debate?

Dios: sentido, sacrificio y verdad.

Los primeros exponentes del pragmatismo americano fueron William James y Charles Peirce en el siglo XIX . Uno de los textos más importantes de William James fue “The will of believe”,(La voluntad de creer ), y de Pierce “La fijación de la creencia”. Ambos, William James y Charles Pierce, fueron creyentes; William James promovía una especie de psicoterapia religiosa. John Dewey, es posterior, plantea una continuación del pragmatismo de los dos primeros y, a la vez, maestro de Rorty. Dewey fue también creyente, proviene de la religión, e intenta hacer un cruce entre cristianismo y socialismo( -lo que puede ser socialismo en Estados Unidos-). Richard Rorty, que es el exponente del pragmatismo actual, reconoce a William James, a John Dewey, como sus antecesores en el pragmatismo pero, es absolutamente ateo. Es muy interesante, como el pragmatismo norteamericano puede pasar de una vertiente religiosa a una vertiente atea sin solución de continuidad, en el sentido que lo predominante es lo útil del sentido, no importa si es religioso o no. En los libros de Rorty no es alguien interesado en la religión, le interesa la política, la filosofía; la cuestión de la religión es un tema que está fuera de su obra. Es interesante ese movimiento, cómo una corriente filosófica pasa de sus primeros exponentes, creyentes en el sentido religioso, a un exponente ateo sin ruptura, sin la muerte de Dios, a pesar de que Rorty reconoce la tradición pragmática anterior.
En la conversación con Alan Badiou (*), sobre la cuestión de la muerte de Dios y la muerte del comunismo. Badiou plantea, la muerte de Dios como una separación definitiva entre sentido y verdad. Toma el sentido definido por Lacan como religioso, y la religión como una conjunción entre sentido y verdad. Justamente dice que en el pragmatismo hay una desaparición, una anulación de la verdad, o de la categoría de la verdad, y que la utilidad para el pragmatismo es solamente relativa al sentido. Esta apreciación de Badiou tiene todo su valor para el psicoanálisis, pues es por el Sujeto Supuesto Saber, es por el sentido, que se llega a la verdad, esa es la ilusión neurótica, mientras la experiencia analítica enseña que el sentido, más bien, obtura la castración. La operación analítica separa sentido y verdad, y es la fuga de sentido la que conduce a lo real. En esta conversación con Badiou, la pregunta apuntaba a dos muertes de las que habla en relación a esta época; la muerte de Dios y la muerte del comunismo, ubica la muerte del comunismo en el mismo sentido de la muerte de Dios, porque en el sentido histórico, el materialismo dialéctico hacía coincidir sentido y verdad. La historia tiene un sentido, la humanidad va inexorablemente al socialismo y, de éste modo, hay una coincidencia entre verdad y sentido, toda política es justa en tanto va en esta perspectiva. Así, por ejemplo, es llamativo el trato que tenían los opositores en la época de Stalin. Ustedes saben que Stalin acabó con todo la vanguardia bolchevique de Lenin,; el comité central del Partido Comunista que llevo a cabo la Revolución de Octubre, poco a poco, fue diezmado. Hay una diferencia en el modo de eliminación stalinista, del modo nazi. El nazismo, su modo de tratar al enemigo era eliminarlo directamente, no había ninguna pregunta que hacer; si había una pregunta era, si era negro, judío o gitano. En cambio, en el stalinismo, en el juicio a los opositores se les exigía una autocrítica, una especie de confesión con arrepentimiento por haber faltado al sentido de la historia, como una condición ejemplar para el resto, donde la autocrítica implicaba una especie de semblante de verdad de que se había fallado respecto de la orientación histórica del materialismo dialéctico. Ahora suena hasta disparatado, pero pueden leer sobre los procesos de Moscú y las purgas stalinistas. Kameniev, Zinoviev y Bujarin, sus juicios terminan con una autocrítica, reconociendo sus desviaciones. Ese arrepentimiento no implicaba el perdón, sino que, los fusilaban igual pero dejando como testimonio la autocrítica.

Badiou dice que, en ese punto, el stalinismo era religioso porque hacía coincidir sentido y verdad, toda política era justa en tanto el sentido de la historia conducía al socialismo inevitablemente, de ese modo sentido y verdad coincidían y podía justificar todas sus atrocidades.

La formulación de Badiou: “Dios ha muerto”, está como prólogo, en un texto que se llama “Breve tratado de ontología transitoria”, es justamente del año ’98. Es muy interesante que ese texto coincide con el curso de Miller y Laurent titulado “El Otro que no existe y sus comités de ética”, hay una especie de solidaridad entre el “Dios ha muerto” de Badiou, y “El Otro que no existe” de Miller. -El Otro que no existe- es una formulación que está en Lacan, el agregado que hace Miller es ubicar los ’90, como “la época del Otro que no existe”. Sin embargo, en su curso posterior llamado “Un esfuerzo de poesía” 2002/3 Jacques-Alain Miller pone en cuestión si podemos seguir llamando esta época como la del Otro que no existe. Allí Miller plantea un retorno de Dios, un retorno del discurso del Amo, cosa que en los ’90 parecía que eso había concluido.

Hay una relación entre el Otro lacaniano y Dios.

Es conocida una anécdota de Lacan con Althusser. Cuando Lacan, empieza la teorización del gran Otro, se encuentra con Althusser quien le dice -pero ese Otro del que usted habla no es otro que el buen Dios-. La afirmación de Althusser habría captado una vertiente de Lacan, el de la primer época, donde pasa de la intersubjetividad a la relación del sujeto barrado al Otro. No es disparatado decir que, si uno tematiza la teología, los problemas teológicos, se trata de la relación del sujeto con el Otro.

Dios, podría decirse, no es un sujeto; en la historia, uno de los modos de leer al Otro, es Dios. El problema para Lacan es si su teorización llevaba a una vertiente religiosa.

Jacques-Alain Miller en el curso “Un esfuerzo de poesía” dice claramente que en la primer época de Lacan, el Nombre del Padre, el gran Otro, toda la problemática de la verdad, conducían a un injerto cristiano en el psicoanálisis. Esa vertiente religiosa del psicoanálisis, lo lleva a Lacan, a tener que introducir el Otro barrado, a pasar del problema de la verdad al problema del goce, a orientar al psicoanálisis por lo real. No es casual que Lacan haya tomado como término Nombre del Padre que es un término claramente religioso. Hay una referencia del Seminario de la Angustia 10, donde Lacan, plantea:

“La cuestión tiene una gran importancia, ya que nos conduce al terreno donde se dibujó en el espíritu de Freud y con su forma más fulgurante la función de la repetición. La función de la repetición es solamente automática, y en cierto modo, está ligada al retorno, al acarreo necesario a la batería significante. O bien, posee otra dimensión que me parece inevitable encontrar en nuestra experiencia, si tiene un sentido aquella que da el sentido de esta interrogación portada por la definición del lugar del Otro con mayúscula, característica de lo que intento sostener ante ustedes, aquello a lo cual intento para decirlo todo intento acomodar vuestra mentalidad. Acaso a quien cuyo recuerdo se trata de despertar quiero decir que se trata de hacer que recuerde, no es Dios mismo?”.

La frase –“Dios ha muerto” -, es una frase de Nietzsche, que está en “Así habló Zaratustra”, es retomada por Heidegger, por Deleuze y por Badiou, por Vattimo, y otros; marca las coordenadas de una época. Hay un artículo de Karl Löwith, discípulo de Heidegger, que se llama “La interpretación del sentido tácito de la sentencia de Nietzsche, -Dios ha muerto-”, que está en un libro “Heidegger pensador de un tiempo indigente”, de 1956. La cita dice lo siguiente:

“La sentencia de Nietzsche de que Dios ha muerto se encuentra en el centro de la interpretación de Heidegger, pero no como un fragmento aislado de su doctrina, sino como, el leit motiv que ilumina el resto de los vocablos clásicos de Nietzsche, nihilismo, vida, valor, voluntad de poderío, eterno retorno. Dios ha muerto significa que el mundo metafísico de las ideas, del ideal, de los valores ya no tiene vida, y que, por lo tanto la metafísica en general ha llegado a su fin.” Aunque Heidegger no niega que la frase de Nietzsche se refiere al Dios cristiano de la revelación bíblica. Hay dos vertientes de cómo se toma esta frase, por un lado Nietzsche en el ataque al cristianismo, pero lo interesante de ese artículo es que dice que es un ataque al cristianismo y no a la iglesia; y por otro lado, el fin de la metafísica y de la caída de los ideales y los valores.
Se puede decir, que lo que se llamó Lacan, declinación social de la imago paterna, proviene de la época de Nietzsche. A veces se toma la cuestión de la declinación del padre como si fuera un problema de fines del siglo XX; no hay que ir muy lejos, leyendo los historiales freudianos de Dora, de Juanito, del hombre de las ratas, para notar que ya hay un padre que ha declinado allí. El único padre fuerte es el de Schreber, que no opera justamente como modelo de la función y evidentemente produce una psicosis. En ese sentido, la declinación del Otro, la declinación de los ideales, están desde el nacimiento del psicoanálisis, desde el fin del siglo XIX, no es una novedad del siglo XX. Miller en “Un esfuerzo de poesía”, toma la frase de Nietzsche, “Dios ha muerto”, como un clivaje, una bisagra entre el discurso religioso y el capitalismo. El plus de goce del discurso capitalista, pone un coto a la ética sacrificial de la religión. El siglo XX marca esa tensión entre religión y capitalismo. En Freud tenemos una modalidad de neurosis, la histeria donde se trata de la insatisfacción y la privación sacrificial, también la neurosis obsesiva, donde el rasgo central que tematiza, es la renuncia pulsional y el sacrificio, que estarían más ligado a la ética religiosa. Sin embargo, el discurso capitalista que no es del siglo XX y por eso es interesante ubicar la frase de Nietzsche como bisagra, promueve más bien el plus de goce, la plusvalía, en cambio la religión promueve el sacrificio.

Los textos de Freud sobre la religión, más conocidos son “El Porvenir de una ilusión”, o “Moisés y la religión monoteísta”; tenemos otros textos que son “Psicología de las masas y análisis del yo” donde hace una referencia a la Iglesia como masa artificial, y “Tótem y Tabú” donde se puede ubicar en el mito del asesinato del padre, el origen de la religión. Hay un texto previo, que no es de los más conocidos, llamado “Actos obsesivos y prácticas religiosas” de 1907; es un articulo donde anticipa los dos casos que están en “El sentido de los síntomas” y “La fijación al trauma” que son dos de las “Conferencias de introducción al psicoanálisis”,1916/7.

La señorita del ceremonial de dormir y la señora que tuvo un fracaso en la noche de bodas que repite un ceremonial que va del mantel a la cama. El primer modo en que aborda la cuestión religiosa es comparando el ritual religioso con el ritual obsesivo; ubica el ritual obsesivo como patológico respecto de la religión. Termina diciendo lo siguiente:

“Después de señalar las coincidencias y analogías podríamos arriesgarnos a considerar la neurosis obsesiva como la pareja patológica de la religiosidad. La neurosis como una religiosidad individual y la religión como una neurosis obsesiva universal”.

Freud continúa articulando la renuncia pulsional, con el sacrificio que promueve la religión como uno de los fundamentos del progreso cultural.

“La renuncia progresiva a las pulsiones constitucionales, cuya actividad podría aportar al yo un placer primario, parece ser uno de los fundamentos del desarrollo de la civilización humana”, la renuncia pulsional, una parte de esta represión de pulsiones es aportada por las religiones, haciendo que el individuo sacrifique a la divinidad el placer de sus instintos, la venganza es mía, dice el Señor. En la evolución de las religiones antiguas, creemos advertir que mucha parte de aquello a lo que el hombre había renunciado como pecado, fue cedido a la divinidad y, estaba aún permitido en nombre de ella, siendo así la cesión a la divinidad el camino por el cual el hombre hubo de liberarse del dominio de las pulsiones perversas antisociales”.

Hay aquí una versión del sacrificio; el sacrificio que implica la cesión del objeto al Otro, el objeto de la pulsión al Otro. Es interesante, ubicar esta cuestión del sacrificio religioso, muy ligado a la ética kantiana del sacrificio del objeto.

Es necesario señalar que la diferencia entre el sacrificio religioso y la ética capitalista.

La ética del discurso capitalista va bien con la frase de Fedor Dostoyevsky y no de Nietzsche, en “Los hermanos Karamazov”, en la que dice: “Si Dios ha muerto, todo está permitido”. Si hay Dios, hay sacrificio y si Dios ha muerto todo está permitido. Es Lacan quien toma la frase de Dostoyevsky para reformularla, plantea en el Seminario XVII, ”El envés del psicoanálisis” mas bien, si “Dios ha muerto, nada está permitido”. El sacrificio religioso, implica renunciar al goce, prohibiéndolo, en cambio en el capitalismo hay un imperativo de gozar que redobla la prohibición.

La ética del capitalismo, no es la del sacrificio sino, la del entretenimiento, la diversión como lo ha planteado recientemente Miller, tomando este término de Pascal.

No es un término secundario porque toda la promoción, a partir del siglo XIX y del siglo XX, en contra de lo sacrificial es del entretenimiento, en nuestra época se habla de la industria del entretenimiento, de la diversión, que paradojalmente tiene como correlato, la depresión.

La anorexia es el correlato de la oferta excesiva de objetos en el mercado de consumo y, la depresión, es justamente el correlato de la diversión, del entretenimiento.La palabra inglesa “entertainment”, entretenimiento, que los americanos han convertido en una poderosa industria.

La película norteamericana “Elephant” de Gus van Sant, trata del mismo episodio de “Bowling for Colombine” de Michel Moore, donde aparecen estudiantes de un colegio secundario que entran con armas en su colegio y hacen una masacre. El film muestra la preparación de esta trama, no es un documental, es una película donde se va describiendo lo que sucede personaje por personaje. Aparecen dos muchachos que son un poco raros, uno parece psicótico, pero hacen una vida normal, de uno de ellos se burlan un poco, pero nada distinto de lo que pasa en cualquier colegio secundario. En determinado momento, están en la casa y llega una encomienda por correo, la abren, y es un fusil. Lo prueban y al otro día –esto transcurre muy normalmente, se ponen ropa de combate, llevan unos bolsos con armas, tienen todo un arsenal- van al colegio -nadie se sorprende de verlos, eran estudiantes de ese colegio- y la frase, cuando empiezan la masacre, que uno le dice al otro es: “Disfrutalo, Diviertete”!!!. Se trata de eso, no hay un delirio de que son enviados de Dios, que van a matar al demonio, ni que son enviados de Satanás, no hay ningún delirio claro allí, sino que dicen “diviertete” y lo que sucede tiene la estructura de un videogame. Hay algo psicótico, seguramente. Matar pero divirtiéndose, eso es muy interesante retomando el planteo de la separación entre sentido y verdad. ¿Quién puede creer que la guerra de Irak se hizo porque Saddam Husseinn era peligroso? No había un discurso consistente que sostenía eso, o se hizo en nombre de Dios, eran más bien semblantes que muestran, evidentemente, que está en juego allí otra cosa. No hay un sentido sino un uso práctico del sentido.

¿Qué Dios?

De las distintas versiones de la muerte de Dios, corresponde interrogar ¿De qué Dios se trata?. Se podría hablar en el sentido filosófico y en el sentido teológico de una historia de Dios y también el lugar del psicoanálisis en esta historia. Se puede ubicar una historia en el sentido cronológico del politeísmo al monoteísmo, la cuestión de Dios en la época de la ciencia, pero como ordenamiento, parece más acertado el planteo de Blas Pascal, que toma Jacques Lacan.

Blas Pascal, la noche del 23 de noviembre de 1654 escribe lo que llamó su memorial, también se lo llamó su talismán; un texto a partir de una revelación, que se lo encontró cosido dentro de su ropa cuando murió. Pascal falleció a los 39 años, realmente es admirable la producción que hizo en un tiempo tan corto de vida, el memorial lo escribió a los 32 años. Tuvo en esos años -aunque siempre mantuvo su fe religiosa- una vida disipada dedicada a la diversión, hasta que se encuentra, ese 23 de noviembre, en un accidente viajando en un carruaje con una revelación.

El texto del memorial empieza diciendo: “Fuego, Dios de Abraham, Isaac y Jacob”, y no, Dios de los filósofos y los sabios.” Pascal apuesta al Dios- fuego, al Dios vivo, al de Abraham, Isaac y Jacob, de Jesús; Lacan toma al Dios de los filósofos y los sabios como el Sujeto supuesto Saber, como el Dios de la filosofía y el Dios de la ciencia, un Dios conceptual.

Pascal después de este memorial se convierte al jansenismo, que es una secta cristiana; se habla de Pascal como filósofo pero es más bien matemático y religioso; la cuestión religiosa a lo largo de los años se va volviendo más fuerte en Pascal.

Es uno de los autores favoritos de Lacan; son conocidos sus desarrolllos sobre la apuesta de Pascal, en relación a la existencia de Dios. También hay una frase de Pascal, que Lacan toma hablando de la castración del Otro que es: “el silencio eterno, de los espacios infinitos me aterra”, está en sus “Pensamientos”.

Un trabajo de Joseph Ratzinger, (Teólogo y cardenal de origen alemán recientemente devenido Papa Benedicto XVI ) titulado: “El Dios de la fé y el Dios de los filósofos”(1959).

En este artículo toma justamente estos dos dioses de Pascal, el Dios de la fe es el Dios del nombre, del monoteísmo, y el Dios de los filósofos lo toma de Aristóteles es el Dios como concepto. En el desarrollo de su texto toma el Dios como nombre, (- santificado sea tu nombre-), y el Dios de los filósofos que es un Dios conceptual, es el Dios garante de Descartes, es el Dios como motor inmóvil de Aristóteles. El artículo planteando esta diferencia intenta hacer una conjunción hegeliana entre fé y filosofía, entre nombre y concepto.

Por un lado el nombre, que tiene una relación con el Nombre del Padre y el Dios como Sujeto supuesto Saber; el Dios vivo y el Dios conceptual.

Freud participa de toda la corriente cientificista del siglo XVIII y XIX, que era más bien atea. Hay un intento en el discurso de la ciencia de terminar con la religión. La religión es una ilusión y se va a acceder a lo real a partir de la ciencia. Esa ilusión cientificista acompañó a Freud en toda su obra. Primero quiere demostrar que la religión es una neurosis obsesiva, después en “El Porvenir de una ilusión” pone las raíces del complejo paterno, de desamparo, de fuente de deseos, de la creencia y, en el Moisés, intenta deconstruir el monoteísmo, con el argumento de Moisés egipcio y Moisés madianita; también dos dioses, un Dios egipcio: Aton y un Dios del desierto: Yavhe. Es distinto el planteo de “El porvenir de una ilusión” al de “Moisés y la religión monoteísta”.

Freud intenta hacer una especie de refundación del psicoanálisis, donde toda la teoría está planteada de nuevo en relación a la neurosis y a la constitución del sujeto. La invención del Dios como Uno aparece a partir de Moisés. Hay un rezo en hebreo que dice: “ Shema Israel adonai eloheinu, adonai ejat” – Escucha Israel, Dios nuestro Señor, Dios es Uno.

Adonai es el Dios-Uno, que según la hipótesis que Freud toma de Sellin, proviene de la divinidad solar, Atón, del breve reinado del faraón Akhenaton.

Freud en “Moisés …” interpreta, despeja el misterio de Dios, planteando que no es otro que el Padre, deconstruye la divinidad pero salva al padre.

En “El porvenir de una ilusión” de 1927, Freud apuesta a la ciencia contra la religión, siguiendo el proyecto emancipatorio de la Ilustración, donde la religión sería un modo de preservar la minoridad del hombre.

Plantea justamente al final de su artículo dice: “…nuestra ciencia no es una ilusión. Sí lo sería creer que podríamos obtener de otra parte lo que ella no puede darnos.”

Hay un contrapunto interesante entre el planteo de Freud y la conferencia de prensa de Lacan en Roma de 1973.

Lacan plantea allí un posición distinta, justamente el avance de la ciencia, su incidencia en lo real, sus perturbaciones, hace más necesario el sentido que segrega la religión. Habla del triunfo de la religión, como refugio del sentido ante el real perturbador que produce la ciencia; deja al psicoanálisis la chance de sobrevivir si no es ahogado en el sentido.

No ubica al psicoanálisis del lado de la ciencia sino más bien, en la hiancia entre ciencia y religión, orientado por un real que la primera forcluye y la segunda reprime./p>

Un Dios

La cuestión del Uno, es una cuestión central para el psicoanálisis. La ilusión del inconciente, de la neurosis, de la religión, es que hay un Uno que preexiste. En cambio, como ha planteado Jacques-Alain Miller, el discurso analítico refuta esto diciendo que el Uno no es un Uno que preexiste, es un Uno que se produce. La diferencia, entre el discurso del Amo, que es el discurso del inconsciente, y el discurso analítico, es la siguiente:

En el discurso del amo hay un S1 que comanda, y en el discurso analítico hay un S1 que se produce. Ese es el punto de discrepancia en el que Freud que inventa el discurso analítico queda en un punto de impasse en relación al padre. Todavía sigue manteniendo que es el Uno de la excepción, que funda la estructura. En cambio, el discurso analítico mismo, lo que demuestra es que el Uno no es previo, sino es un Uno producido.

La religión individual: la neurosis, sostiene el padecimento particular, tanto en el sacrificio de su plus de gozar al Otro, como en dar consistencia al Otro respondiendo los imperativos de goce; son formas de velar la falta de saber en lo real para el ser-hablante, son formas de desmentir con el rito individual, la invención singular, que es el sinthome de cada ser-hablante.

Las identificaciones, el sentido de los síntomas, los diversos modos de sufrimiento, soportan la pasión neurótica de sacrificio de la singularidad del goce, esta singularidad del síntoma es el Uno al que se adviene en un análisis.

Esto indica un modo diverso de ligar, de hacer lazo con lo Otro, con la alteridad, con lo heterogéneo al sentido.

También de una creencia advertida de lo real, de saber-hacerse un recurso ante el silencio eterno de los espacios infinitos.

En fin

¿Dios ha muerto? con signos de interrogación. Sabemos que ni la frase de Nietzsche, ni la que toma Deleuze, ni Heidegger, se escribieron con signos de interrogación. El signo de interrogación apunta, por un lado, a poner en cuestión el fin de la religión planteada por la ilusión cientificista; por otro lado, es evidente que en estos últimos años, asistimos un retorno de Dios; guerras que se hacen en nombre de Dios, tanto de un bando como del otro. También a una proliferación de las creencias, las creencias religiosas, en el sentido de las religiones tradicionales y de otro tipo de creencias alternativas como el new age, el budismo, la diversidad de sectas. Hay un retorno a la religión en la filosofía, Jacques Derrida y Gianni Vattimo, convocaron a un coloquio en la isla de Capri en 1994, sobre “La religión” con varios filósofos como Eugenio Trías, Hans Gadamer, Vincenzo Vitiello, Aldo Gargani y Mauricio Ferraris, donde plantean el retorno a la religión, en el sentido de ubicar un límite ético para poder pensar la época.
La época del Otro que no existe, es una época donde el Ideal como regulación desaparece, donde hay una declinación de la ley, y todos estos filósofos que vienen de una formación atea, plantean un retorno a lo religioso.

En la década de los ’90, de la globalización, se decía que el Nombre del padre no funcionaba más; la familia, los lazos ya no existían, había que encontrarse con síntomas donde ya no estaba en juego el sentido, síntomas mudos, anorexia, depresiones, donde la represión ya no estaba en juego.

Si tomamos el cine como signos de la época, en el cine actual, llama la atención como en las últimas películas vuelve la cuestión del hijo y del padre. “Padre, hijo” de Sokurov, y otras películas con esta cuestión son: “El abrazo partido”, “El gran pez”, “Las invasiones bárbaras”, “Nemo”, sin olvidar la exitosa saga de Star Wars con su temible Darth-Vader, que no es otro que el padre. Se puede hacer una larga serie, pero evidentemente si hablamos de declinación del padre, hay que decir que la religión neurótica no desapareció. Lo que se llamó Fukuyama “El fin de la historia”, la expansión de la globalización y del mercado en los años ’90, el neoliberalismo produjo cierto efecto devastador en los lazos sociales y familiares, pero no terminó con los lazos, ni con la neurosis, ni con la represión y tampoco terminó con las creencias.

Es para el psicoanálisis un desafío, reconfigurarse para estos nuevos tiempos.

Lacan ha sido muy terminante respecto del carácter indestructible de la religión, al psicoanálisis le queda la operación, que no es menor, de prescindir de la creencia neurótica, la religión individual, de restaurar la creencia ante las nuevas formas estragantes, para poder hacer un uso nuevo de la creencia, de poder servirse de aquello que intenta borrar las ciencias duras con sus ofertas en el mercado: el síntoma.

Poder pasar de la desolación hipermoderna, no a una vuelta del ritual al que asistimos, sino a lo que tiene el arte de invención.


-Badiou, Alain : Diálogo con Alain Badiou / M. Goldenberg. Analítica del Litoral 2004, nª 8. Santa Fe : Aperion, EOL./ A Conversation with Alain Badiou, by Mario Goldenberg Lacanian ink 23/ https://www.lacan.com/frameXXIII6.htm

-Badiou, Alain; “Breve tratado de ontologia transitoria” Ed Gedisa, 2002.

-Freud, Sigmund: Moisés y la religión monoteísta. Tomo XXIII, Buenos Aires, Amorrortu editores.1987.

-Freud, Sigmund: El porvenir de una ilusión. Tomo XXI, Buenos Aires, Amorrortu editores.1987.

-Freud, Sigmund: Acciones obsesivas y prácticas religiosas. Tomo IX, Buenos Aires, Amorrortu editores.1987.

-James, William: “La voluntad de creer” (1897). Ediciones Encuentro.

-Lacan, Jacques: Seminario X, La angustia. Inédito.

-Miller, Jacques-Alain: “Un esfuerzo de poesía”. Curso inédito 2002-2003.

-Pascal, Blas: Pensamientos; Madrid, Espasa Calpe, 1995.

-Peirce, Charles: “La fijación de la creencia”. Universidad de Navarra España.

-Ratzinger, Joseph: Introducción al cristianismo, Ediciones Sigueme, S.A.Salamanca 1968.

-Vattimo, Gianni: “Creer que se cree”, Paidos, Buenos Aires 1996.

-Vattimo, Gianni: “Después de la cristiandad – Por un cristianismo no religioso” Paidós. Barcelona, 2003.

The Florenskian-Iconic as Lacanian?
Joseph Masheck

Notions of the Russian Orthodox ikon as a proto-suprematist painting, and relatedly, of the possible relevance of Pavel Florensky’s thought to the suprematist project of Kazimir Malevich, may be reinforced after the fact in certain curious points of similarity, even as suprematism underwent critical rediscovery in the 1970s, between the ikon tradition represented by Florensky (1882-1937) and the work of the contemporary revisionist psychoanalyst and cultural philosopher Jacques Lacan. The question deserves to be posed as highlighting a seeming iconic feature of Lacan’s thinking just as we of a new generation were newly comprehending the somehow socially ‘spiritual’ aspect-so different from Kandisnky’s spiritual privacy-of suprematism. Especially entailed are the primacy of the image’s active visual address of the spectator, as if the image harbored a ‘gaze’ of its own even as one gazed upon it, and also what Lacan took as his diagrammatic notion of the three-fold ‘Borromean knot,’ representing his trinity of the integrally interdependent ‘Real, Symbolic and Imaginary’ spheres. Considering Florensky in relation to Lacan may at least suggest how the ikon-like aspect of Malevich’s suprematism concerns a comprehensive sign system from which embodied meaning derives.

Nothing visual in Malevich’s suprematism more tellingly carries over from the Orthodox ikon than that inversion of conventional Western perspective, and apparent reversion to pre-Renaissance conditions, by which the image projects itself forward, as if impinging on the viewer’s space, quite instead of purporting to extend the everyday space of nature ‘backward’ with that pseudo-naturalistic consistency so long propounded in post-Renaissance academic tradition. Despite the fact that the same Eastern Orthodox church people who have long reviled Western Renaissance influence on Russian ikons have been pleased to ignore even the most accomplished modernist confirmations of their own critique of naturalism as ethico-aesthetic deceit, many modernists have been respectful admirers of ikons. One may think, analogously, of religious conservatives as often having uncritically assumed a counterrevolutionary political posture, even against the cause of justice, with the socialist cause inheriting more apocalyptic justification than either side was prepared to acknowledge. Father Pavel Florensky himself would have disagreed, though he himself was perhaps the most significant cultural figure ‘between stools’ in the Russian revolutionary period-harassed, imprisoned and executed by the Stalinists though he came to be, and only to be rehabilitated in the late Soviet period.

While neither a revolutionary nor a modernist, Florensky was an Orthodox priest who worked for the revolutionary government as an official in the field of artistic preservation, including ikons, and as an engineer, and he also taught spatial or perspectival theory in the great post-revolutionary ar workshops of the VKhUTEMAS (Higher State Art-Technical Studios) in Moscow. His ongoing theorization of the ikon is fascinating in light of Malevich’s development of suprematist painting, particularly in regard to inverse or reverse perspective but also for his basic understanding of the dialogic to the prayerfully attuned spectator on the part of the religious ikon; however it may also conceivably have had later impact in a different department of culture, namely, psychoanalytic theory as developed with aesthetic entailments by Lacan. The hypothesis would seem far-fetched but for a similarity to Lacan’s fundamental notion of le petit a as underwriting an analytical sense that what is under scrutiny in a situation may well, to begin with, be already, so to speak, gazing back first, for which grounds can also be found in Florensky, with a more distant but major philosophical source available to both thinkers. Concentrating on what of Florensky was contemporaneously available in the West will also suggest a source for Lacan’s later figure of thought, the ‘Borromean knot.’ Finally, some corroboration for a Florenskian adumbration of the Lacanian thing found gazing at one before one settles one’s gaze upon it, seems quite possible vis-à-vis the most famous Orthodox ikon, whose significance would nevertheless have gained by reading Florensky, specifically in respect to the ikon’s address and appeal from the heavenly realm ‘forward’ to the viewer in his or her earthly time and space.

If Lacan’s “central insight,” as has been claimed, is “that each picture, each image, holds in various blots or stains a trace of the gaze of the Other as the place from which I cannot see myself but know that I am seen from outside,” [1] without contradiction it may also be possible to say that what is most Florenskian, or most conspicuously Florenskian, in Lacan is precisely the sense of an image as but a special case of something already gazing at one when one, in effect, gazes back at it. The latter would encourage us to think that, somewhere near the center of the image’s panoramic membrane is an elusive chink of sorts, through which something we cannot quite face up to somehow glints, provoking us to account all else that we readily see as the extent of the real. In Lacan’s discussion of the tuché, or encounter, ‘The Split Between the Eye and the Gaze’ (dating to 1964), the “stain,” or tâche, first comes to the fore as addressing the viewing subject’s gaze unawares (shall we say ‘a priori’?). It is not needless to say that la tâche originelle is a traditional form of le péché original, or ‘original sin,’ that primary sin which, theology has it, one did not ‘actually’ commit but inherited as a stain that ‘came with’ the fallen human condition, and in virtue of which (or as if for once, in vice of which) one sets out lost but redeemable by opening to gratuitous compensation from without (‘grace’).

Adumbrating Lacan’s ‘past-participular’ philosophical position in which being gazed at, as if being seen, which would mean being perceived, as somehow prior to and a condition of seeing or perceiving as such, was the ontology of George Berkeley (itself influenced by Malebranche though for Protestant political reasons he would have been unable to say so), in which the whole world and all the minds in it are held in existence by being thought purely as signs in the mind of God. That Lenin could consider this the only really honest form of idealism, amusingly enough (in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, 1908), should not distract from the more serious irony by which Florensky could for once have agreed with him, especially in regard to the ikon as entailing a total linguistic system from which it, as it were, ‘down-loads’ self-evident meaning. Also pertinent, no doubt, is the hermeneutical stance of deferring to the text or art object as ‘already’ addressing us, its readers or viewers, when we look receptively to it: the work of art, in other words, as having something to say to us, prior to any inquiry we proceed to make of it, as where Heidegger speaks, in “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1935ff), of how “the thing solicits us by its looks” (eidos) and of how in its equipmental “usefulness” an entity “regards us, that is, flashes out at us and thereby is present and thus is this entity.” [2] In any case, only a week later in Lacan’s next discussion, ‘Anamorphosis,’ the “irreducible method of Bishop Berkeley, about whose subjective position much might be said,” comes up as a limiting case of idealism and/or of philosophy’s tendency to be content with talking to itself, for daring to “deny that nothing of the world appears to me except in my representations.” [3]

Curiously, for one who is so good at pointing up what should have been obvious in the larger picture, like all the empiricists who wish to embrace him on other than his own terms Lacan underplays Berkeley’s grand affirmation that the whole world is really just so much language held in thought-in the mind of God. Modern techno-friendly, anti-metaphysical empiricism has its own way of accommodating his central insight that to be is to be perceived; or as A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710; 2nd ed., 1734) classically has it: “[T]he various sensations or ideas imprinted on the sense, however blended or combined together (that is, whatever objects they compose) cannot exist otherwise than in a mind perceiving them… For as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived, that seems perfectly unintelligible. Their esse is percipi, nor is it possible they should have any existence, out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them” (I.3). [4] However, Berkeley had already supplied his doctrine with a deeper basis in A New Theory of Vision (1709), a text in which he also already expounds the doctrine of the “arbitrary” nature of “signs,” and which has great interest in light of the modernist artistic sense of the significance of flatness in painting, but which has been ignored by ‘logical empiricists’ presumably wiser than the deluded old man of the cloth. It was because of Berkeley’s prior theory, which one would have thought obviously underpinned what he meant a year later by the condition of percipi, i. e., of being perceived, but which is today so widely ignored, that as a dialectical materialist Lenin could at least point with wit.

It will clear the air and narrow the gap between Florensky and Lacan to consider that to Berkeley the world was already nothing but a system of divinely ‘arbitrary’ signs. Lacan’s seminar discussions that included ‘The Split Between the Eye and the Gaze’ were published as The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, in 1973. It is one thing, there, for Lacan to follow Lenin in taking Berkeley as an idealist, under a careful constraint of “methodological doubt” (80). [5] But speaking of that which is too glaring to be seen: besides the standard Anglo-American ‘analytical’ invocation of Berkeley as a major founder of empiricism as such, justified in effect by censoring just what was most important in his own thinking, that the world really consists of language as thought held in being in the mind of God, Lacan turns eccentric where he is charmed by a thought of Berkeley as gloating solipsistically over the “representations” constituting his world as so many possessions in the sense of his own “property” (81), because in Berkeley’s view everything that one can possesses is itself only as it were on loan from heaven, which is after all much closer to saying that it is the property of all concerned, or even of the people in common, than that it belongs only to oneself.

Lacan invokes anamorphic representation, as so aimed in one thoroughgoing way at a single point of sight as otherwise not to make representational sense, to elucidate how images as much as regard us, facing us down, as it were. Of that we are not ordinarily aware because in reading a representation we effectively everything that we manage knowingly to ‘see’ notwithstanding a sense that something escaping our regard keeps the image unscathed. To extend to him something like his own technique by observing of an instance in his own exposition something important implied quite apart from what is said: he speaks of holding up a “portrait” on a “flat” and presumably rectangular “piece of paper,” and refers to the nearby “blackboard,” also presumably rectangular, as being “in an oblique position I relation to the piece of paper” (85); but instead of acceding to his intent and imagining a projection of the drawing onto the blackboard, across but oblivious to the intervening space, one may instead consider how it should be more Malevichian to ignore the supposed image being transposed and attend instead to the paper and blackboard as two rectangles likely appearing differently trapezoidal in their common and already connective space. It is in a section of the same text subtitled ‘What Is a Picture?’ Lacan actually takes up the theme of the Orthodox ikon, in the form of Byzantine mural-painting. The ikon-painter is imagined as “playing with” the image he was engendering so as to “arouse the desire of God” (113). Given this manifest interest in the ikon, what, if anything, can further be inferred about Florensky?

Pavel Florensky’s name and work have not been unknown in West-European culture outside of Orthodoxy. A major semiotician-iconographer (in the sense of ikons), Boris Uspensky, relays an extended passage from a 1922 Florensky article on ‘Symbolic Description’ in a 1970 study of the semiotics of literary form. This includes the idea that symbolic description “must be double”; for, “the wise artist probably spends his greatest effort to keep his images, which have become symbols, from slipping from their pedestals of esthetic isolation and mixing with life, like elements which are homogeneous with it.” [6] Another excerpt, of some six pages, from Florensly’s other book, Iconostasis (written in 1922 and unpublished, owing to the Stalinists, until 1972), was included as an appendix titled ‘The Ikon as Related to Oil Paintng and Engraving: Metaphysical, Sensual and Rational Art Forms,’ in Stuart’s 1975 study Ikons. The text in question includes a remark on unwarranted, casually interjected detail in ikon-painting that is suggestive of the Lacanian tuché: “… such distortions as superfluous lines or metaphysically unjustified splashes of colour, seen in terms of the spiritual essence of the ikon, are the same as splashes of mud on a glass window, thrown up by a passing vehicle.” And it is not only that from one side of the glass, as it were, these partially block the view, but also, at least as importantly, that they interfere with the light coming in (“However amusing we may find such distortions in an ikon they are no more than marks of dirt”). [7]

What about the Lacanian thought-motif of the Borromean knot? In his 1975 seminar Encore (of 1972-73) Lacan, understanding the “idealism” of writing, necessarily in solitude, as though one could ever expect to circumscribe his or her place from within the contradictions of the sexes, comes to see writing, in Rabaté’s words, as “tak(ing) the form of a simple knot, which ‘has all the characteristics of writing-it could be a letter,'” which “becomes more and more encompassing until it finally allegorizes the trefoil of Trinity.” [8] Now in 1975 there was published a French edition of Florensky’s magnum opus The Pillar and Ground of the Truth (1914), which fortunately, like a contemporaneous English edition, reiterates Florensky’s graphic devices, emblematic vignettes, “the symbolic meaning of the majority” of which, he himself says, “does not require explanation,” these deriving from the rather belatedly first Russian emblem-book (Saint Petersburg, 1788), Nestor Maksimovic-Ambodik’s Symbola et emblemata selecta (589). [9] According to Rabaté, after developing “a theory of literary language caught between the effects of the written ‘knot’ or ‘hole’ and the simply spoken signifier” in the 1960s, Lacan worked in the earlier ’70s “with more and more mathemes,” in a discursive “algebra” and a “topology still lacking,” however, what he would soon establish definitively as “the Borromean knot”; [10] and as it emerged in the mid-1970s the device pointed up a doctrine of meaning as manifest in three and only three planes, namely “the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary,” which “should ideally be tied together in a Borromean knot to stress their complete interdependence and lack of hierarchy.” [11] So Lacan was theorizing his three-way Borromean knot at approximately the time when Florensky’s longest and most formidable text appeared in French with Maksimovic’s emblem of three interlocking wreathes as headpiece ornament to ‘Letter Two: Doubt’ (ch. iii), above the legend: His ornari aut mori. “To receive either death or a crown.” (14; Fr. 17) [12]

The motif also has something of a prehistory, however, including the form of the pretzel as emblematizing the eternally interdependent identities of the ‘persons’ of the Trinity, [13] though its practically logotypic Lacanian identity is usually simply referred to an armorial device of the Milanese Borromeo family of Milan. But Florensky’s interlocking wreath-rings also inherit something of a graphic tradition. Dürer opens Conrad Celtes’ Libri Amorum (1502) with an enthroned ‘Philosophia’ framed in an oval wreath divided into quadrants of differing seasonal vegetation; [14] a title page device by William Kent for James Thomson’s long poem The Seasons, from 1730, widely read on the Continent (even set to music by Haydn), is framed with a horizontal elliptical wreath also divided into foliage quadrants. [15] The proto-Enlightenment connotations of the British example point up, in turn, the then provincial Rococo of a wreath ornamenting the title page of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as first printed at Riga in 1781-and soon dropped in a more up-to-date Neoclassical design for the second edition (1787) by the same provincial printer: Kant’s earlier wreath is circular and floral, with two swags subdividing the enclosed area into approximately equal thirds without interlocking. [16] What is more, a major nineteenth-century case of both wreath and interlocking ring motifs would have both provoked Florensky by its techno-materialist motivation and piqued the curiosity of Lacan: the design theoretician Gottfried Semper, in Style the Technical and Tectonic Arts; or, Practical Aesthetics (1860-63; 2nd ed., 1878-79), taking the wreath as emblematizing the origin of all artistic construction in plaiting, illustrates a twined wreath of natural leaves and a Greek commemorative chaplet of stylized blossoms. [17] At least as akin to the Borromean knot, however, is his discussion of a form of Egyptian ornament with interlocking rings, evoking not only a Gnostic or hermetic understanding of a threefold-plus-one as a filling out the Trinity with an earthly female element but also the ‘Sophia’ figure of such early modern Russian philosophers as Vladimir Solovyov and Nicholas Lossky, as, amazingly enough, Semper the notorious materialist considers “the other heavenly hosts who surround God the Father, God the Son, or the complete (sic) Trinity with Mary in Glory.” [18]

Still other features of The Pillar and Ground of the Truth would likely have appealed to Lacan. [19] At the head of ‘Letter Four: The Light of the Truth’ (ch. v), is also a mirror device, reflecting the light of the dun onto a heart (53; Fr. 52.). In ‘Letter Six: Contradiction’ (ch. vii), dealing with inevitable antinomies in religious knowledge, there is Florensky’s sense that excising a perceived interference, in scrutinizing something, might have the effect of excising just what is sought after, as in effacing a painted mist in a picture or a design (ornement) woven into a fabric: attempting to detach these out of misplaced purism would only destroy the image or fabric along with the extracted qualification. Thus, “Where there is no antinomy, there is no faith. But this will be only when faith and hope vanish away and only love remains (see 1 Cor. 13:8-13)” (120; Fr. 111). Suggestive, too, of Lacanian jouissance is ‘Letter Eight: Gehenna’ (ch. ix), in which everybody is tried as gold and silver are “purified by fire,” this being “a ‘proof’ of the personality… If his selfhood is transformed into the likeness of God, then the man will receive a ‘reward,’ the inner bliss (béattitude) of seeing in himself the likeness (ressemblance) of God, the creative joy (joie créatrice) of an artist contemplating his own creation” (168: Fr. 153).

When Rabaté observes, “In later years Lacan tended to identify more and more with the discourse of female mystics who spoke of God as their ineffable lover”, [20] in the context of Florensky one can only recall the mystical, muse-like aspect of the Russian philosophers’ spirit of ‘Sophia.’ In ‘Letter Ten: Sophia,’ of Pillar and Ground (ch. xi), Florensky writes, “With regard to creation, Sophia is the Guardian Angel of creation, the Ideal person of the world. The shaping reason with regard to creation, Sophia is the shaped content of God-Reason, His ‘psychic’content,’ eternally created by he father through the Son and completed in the Holy Spirit: God thinks by things (en choses). Therefore, to exist is to be thought, to be remembered, or, finally, to be known by God. They whom God ‘knows’ possess reality. They whom God does ‘not know’ do not exist in the spiritual world, in the world of true reality, and their being is illusory” (237; Fr. 214). Of his Sophia, at least, Florensky can say, “She is the knowledge that the Father and the Son have. She is the contemplation of their desire (leur désir), the mirror (miroir) in which Their Glory is reflected. In relation to the Father, she is His daughter, for she constitutes part of His Son. In relation to the Son, according to the law of fatherly love, she is His sister” (241; Fr. 217).

Any Western European who takes an interest in ikons soon is soon aware that by far the most renowned example is the early fifteenth-century Holy Trinity known as the ‘Old Testament Trinity,’ painted by St. Andrei Rublyov for the great Trinity-St. Sergiy Lavra (monastery) near Moscow and now in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. As a monumentally scaled panel which ironically conforms to the cultus of the Renaissance artist-genius even as it otherwise holds its own against the conventions of Western religious painting, this image of the trio of angels who visited Abraham and Sarah as visual metaphor of the eternal Triune God has long presented itself to the sympathetic gaze of twentieth-century artists of all stylistic persuasions. Certainly it would even have appealed specifically to the notion of the modernist El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich’s major disciple, who wrote in 1920 (in ‘Suprematism in World Reconstruction’) that as the Old Covenant was to the New, so shall the New be to communism, and then likewise that that should be to a transcendental new order intimated here and now by suprematism in art. As Ouspensky and Lossky observe in their elucidation of its iconography, this famous painting, and source image for many more, “binds together, as it were, the beginning of the Old Testament Church and the establishment of the New Testament Church.” Indeed, the same scholars proceed to explain how the analogy of dialectical supersession even extends back another stage, since, by occurring at place already sacred to pagans (at the “oak of Mambre”), the original Jewish theophany of Genesis 18 was already a sublation-as already pointed up by Eusebius of Caesarea (Demonstratio Evengelica, early IV century), as quoted by St. John of Damascus (In Defense of the Holy Icons, early VIII century). [21]

While other commentators address the circularity of its composition, Ouspensky and Lossky note that this composition is literally determined by a visibly drawn or inscribed circle, that, “(p)assing through the upper part of the nimbus of the central Angel and partly cutting off the bottom of the pedestals…, embraces all three figures, showing very faintly through their outlines”-this being an adaptation, Ouspensky and Lossky infer, of an even more literally circular composition found on the bottoms of circular-footed liturgical vessels and “dictated” by that limit of the field rather than, as here, “by the dogmatic thought.” [22] Quoting Alpatov-“wherever we look, we see echoes of the main circular melody, correspondences of outline, forms arising from other forms or reflecting them as in a mirror, lines sweeping beyond the outlines of the circle or interwoven in its center…” Ouspensky and Lossky speak of the “inner life uniting the three figures enclosed in the circle and communicating itself to its surroundings… echoes, as it were, the words od St. Dionysius the Areopagite, according to whose iinterpretation, ‘circular movement signifies that God remains identical with Himself, that He envelops in synthesis the intermediate parts and the extremities, which are at the same time containers and contained, and that He recalls to himself all that has gone out from Him.” [23]

John Stuart calls our attention to something small and all too easily overlooked in regard to the Hospitality of Abraham as having provided the metaphoric occasion (human : angelic equals angelic: divine) for a Trinity itself sharing in a sacramental eucharist: “The central point of the composition is provided by the chalice containing a calf’s head – the Old Testament counterpart of a sacrificial lamb – the Eucharist…” And whereas many Russian ikons follow the Greek practice whereby a “saint’s gaze transfixes the worshipper, binding him to the ikon in a reciprocal relationship,” here, as elsewhere, Rublev constructs an “interplay of their glances” among the angels, advancing a “trance-like, spiritual mood” by having their eyes “not focus directly on the observer, but gaze into the beyond.” [24] Needless to say, the diminutive calf’s eye proffers a tiny staring candidate petit a.

But another, peculiarly interesting detail of Rublev’s famous image which is almost never remarked is a horizontal rectangular device, almost emblematically if enigmatically centered on the frontal plane of the table or other structure on which the metaphoric eucharist takes place. Tamara Talbot Rice, who not only beautifully characterizes the interrelation as well circularity of the three angel figures – “Each appears as the counterpart of the others, as laid down by the scriptures, yet each possesses its own individuality,”-explains the rationale of this curious, but even more curiously ignored, rectangular device as a kind of ocular slot. Apparently what is basically Abraham’s table here “may well represent the one believed to have belonged to Abraham which was venerated as a relic in the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, but in medieval times it was thought to represent the Saviour’s coffin,” which, since the Eucharist had been celebrated on it, “became the prototype of the Christian altar.” “Rublev must have regarded it as such,” she continues, “for he has provided it with the small opening often found in the coffins of saints” so that the faithful can “see their remains.” [25] But the slot for ‘looking in’ itself looks logotypically forth, almost suggesting an amuletic sigil. (In the Trinitarian context the ‘L’ form might also possibly suggest a sideways, gamma-like Greek numeral ‘3,’ or even a Slavonic ‘3’ when paralleled by a short line on its normally upper short side.)

Other, related examples differ on this crucial point. A case of Rublev’s device appearing reversed, left to right, with the L-shape space between inner and outer forming a solid, darkened ‘L’ with corner to the lower right, occurs in a Novgorod Old Testament Trinity (already without figures of Abraham and Sarah) of the XIV-XV century in the Korin collection, Moscow (Rice, pl. 188). [26] Here influence on or by Rublev would depend on more precise dating. Otherwise, in a small late fifteenth-century copy of Rublev’s Trinity in the Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg, the Rublevian device acquires a diagonal connecting the corner of the horizontal ‘L’ within with the corner of the containing rectangle, to a perspectival effect not shared by Rublev’s original (Ouspensky and Lossky, pl. on p. 203); and a similar linear-perspectival corner, if not something closer to Rublev’s form (it is hard to tell from the photograph), occurs in a 1586 copy of his great painting for another monastery and now also in the Tretyakov Gallery (Rice, pl. 128): Florensky would say that in these latter a Western naturalistic notion of perspective was seeping in. Other versions of the image have variant devices, front and center on the casket-altar deriving from Abraham’s table, or no device at all, especially later on. A laterally extended rectangle, framed as blank, appears in a XVI century North Russian example including Abraham and Sarah, from the Ostroükov collection now in the Tretyakov (Stuart, pl. 37); and a similar laterally extended rectangle inflected with vertical stripes, without implication of perspective, occurs in a Bulgarian example by Nedyalka of Lovec, c. 1597-98, in the collection of the Holy Synod of Sofia (Rice, pl. 45). A case which might be either a Rublevian sideways ‘L’ or a plain framed rectangle (it is again difficult to tell in reproduction) is a Moscow ikon also including Abraham and Sarah, from the late XVII century in the Tiflis Museum (Stuart, pl. 69b). [27]

Florensky’s Iconostasis, written in 1922 and first published in Russian in 1972, includes a reflection on Rublev’s Trinity from when the painting was still new, by the ascetic monk St. Joseph of Volotsk (1439-1515), who allows the traditional principle of reverence passed on through an ikon to its protoptype an uncommon sense of this as eliciting a return response. According to this Joseph, ikons are to stimulate us to “imagine and describe” how they came into being and how they addresses us here and now. With Rublev’s masterpiece, “we on earth are given the Thrice-Holy Hymn to the One-in-Essence and Life-Giving Trinity whereby our immeasurable desiring and loving ascend in spirit to the icon’s incomprehensible prototype so that, by means of its material appearance, our mind’s thoughts fly to the heavenly Desiring and Loving where we venerate-not the material thing-but the manifestation of that which makes the material thing beautiful; hence, in a transference, we come to venerate not the icon but the prototype; and in so doing the Holy Spirit illumines and enlightens us not only now but in the age that is coming…” [28] Forensky finds that Rublev’s image can strike even those unaccustomed to prayer as “a sharp penetration of a spiritual reality into the soul, a penetration almost like a physical blow or sudden burn that instantly shocks the viewer who is seeing, for the first time, one of the great works of sacred iconpainting. There is not the slightest question in such experiences that what is coming through the icon is merely the spectator’s subjective invention, so indisputably objective is its impact upon the viewer…” No wonder that earthly desire may subside, for “we recognize that we are, in this act of seeing, existing in the icon’s space in eternity. In such acts of seeing… we recognize the vision as something… acting upon us from its own dominion.” [29]

The ikon addresses us, soliciting our spiritual regard: looking at it, we discover it as already regarding us. Its function, far from being to trick us into supposing or even pretending that there, on the other side, as it were, remote from this present, flawed existence, is a preferable virtual reality into which we may choose to escape, is rather to provoke us reflexively to consider ourselves as being, however unworthily, already beloved and appealed to, somehow to assist rather than to delay or thwart, and certainly not to oppose, the advance of the Kingdom of Justice in this real world where we find ourselves together for the time being. All this possibly seems remote, if not altogether from Lacan, at least from Malevich, who however can be considered the painter and theoretician most responsible engendering a meaningfully aspirational ‘iconic,’ in the sense of Orthodox-ikon-like modality of purely ‘non-objective’ painting – not mere ‘pictures’ of the fallen, unredeemed, assumedly ‘natural’ world – in a great period of revolutionary transformation that must, increasingly since 1905, have raised even thoughts of bringing on the Kingdom of Justice.

Like other Western intellectuals interested in modern art, Lacan no doubt had some interest in ikons; and once Florensky became available in French he could have come to know inverse iconic perspective and the projective iconic appeal to the spectator, all the more with images purporting to be conduits of divine, unconditional love. In modern art, no one in East or West did more than Malevich to propound a modernist understanding of reformed, modernist, ‘abstract’ image-structure. But who, later on, beyond Florensky, could after iconic suprematism have been touched and moved to cultivate an effectively iconic approach? No orthodox Stalinist, to be sure, sharing in the sins of those who destroyed suprematism and harrassed and killed Florensky. But neither any ‘orthodox Orthodox,’ they being content to this day simply to shun modernity, including all of Marx and Freud. Who, then, finally, to turn the question around, but an ex-Catholic, unorthodox Freudian leftist who secretly owned a major work of early modern art (Courbet’s Source of the Loire), Lacan.


[1] Jean-Michel Rabaté, Jacques Lacan: Psychoanalysis and the Subject of Literature (Basingstoke, Hants.: Palgrave, 2001), 12.

[2] Martin Heidegger, ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ (1935ff), in his Poetry, Language, Thought, ed. and trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper, 1971), 17-87; here, 26, 28.

[3] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, Book XI), trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1981), 81.

[4] George Berkeley, “A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge”, in his Philosophical Works; Including the Works on Vision, ed. A. R. Ayers (1910), rev. ed. (London: Dent; Totowa, N. J., 1975), 77-78 Thanks to my friends Professor William Lyons and Dr. Paul O’Grady for altogether blameless help with the locus classicus.

[5] Jacques Lacan, op. cit.

[6] Boris Uspensky, A Poetics of Composition: The Structure of the Artistic Text and Typology of a Compositional Form, trans. Valentina Zavarin and Susan Wittig (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 139-40; here, 139. Uspensky’s The Semiotics of the Russian Icon (1971), trans. P. A. Reed and Stephen Rudy, ed. Rudy (Lisse: De Ridder, 1976), makes repeated references to Florensky and lists four works by him in its bibliography: a manuscript from 1924, articles of 1967 and 1969, and the first Russian edition of Iconostasis (Ikonostas), of 1972.

[7] John Stuart, Ikons (London: Faber, 1975), 147-53, with introductory remarks; here, 152.

[8] Jean-Michel Rabaté, op. cit.

[9] Pavel Florensky, La Colonne et le fondement de la vérité; essai d’une théodicée orthodoxe en douze letters, trans. Constantin Andronikof (Paris: L’&#194ge d’Homme, 1975); cited below, together with the English ed., as ‘Fr.’

[10] Rabaté, op. cit., 17-18.

[11] ibid, 25.

[12] Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth (1914), trans. and ed. Boris Jakim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), as cited here and subsequently, with French refs. from Florensky Colonne (note 9).

[13] An earlier example than is usually adduced for the origin of the pretzel, with its obvious Trinitarian aspect, dates as early as 1414-18: an illustration of an itinerant baker’s cart with pretzels hanging from a peg, in a manuscript account of the Council of Constance, in those years: illus. in Karl Küp, Ulrich von Richental’s Chronicle of the Council of Constance (New York: The New York Public Library, 1936), frontispiece; repr. from Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 40 (1936), 303-19.

[14] Illus., Raymond Klibansky, Erwin Panofsky and Fritz Saxl, Saturn and Melancholy (London: 1964), fig. 83.

[15] As I discussed many years ago: in “The First Plates for Thomson’s Seasons,” M. A. thesis, Columbia University, New York, 1965, pp. 3-6, with pls. 1, 2.

[16] Both title pages are reproduced in Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. and ed. Norman Kemp Smith (London: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin’s, 1963), 1, 3.

[17] Gottfried Semper, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts; or, Practical Aesthetics, trans. Henry Francis Mallgrave and Michael Robinson, Texts & Documents (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2004), 114, 162.

[18] Loc, cit., 48, with illus. One also thinks of C.G. Jung’s alchemical dynamic of the threefold-plus-one as similar Trinitarian supplementation with an earthly female element; see his discussion of the ‘axiom of Maria Prophetissa’ and divine ‘quaternity’ in his Psychology and Alchemy, Collected Works, 12 (New York: Pantheon, 1953), 23-26, 152-53, 401-02.

[19] Something else that would definitely have interested him in The Pillar and Ground of Truth is Florensky’s detailing of Kant’s several instances of thinking about space in respect to a glove’s reversal of left and right by turning it inside out, and extending to Louis Pasteur’s sense of “stereochemistry” (Florensky, Pillar and Ground, 450 n. 58); but well before the publication of Pillar and Ground in the West, Lacan was writing in the early 1960s, apropos of the Marquis de Sade and in contrast with Kant, about “something… which is in a way the reverse of the subject [l’envers du sujet], which takes on… its justification from… the glove turned inside out.” Lacan, Le séminaire X: L’angoisse (1962-63), unpublished translation by C. Gallagher from unedited French typescripts, p. 147, as quoted in Rabaté, Jacques Lacan, 100.

[20] Rabaté, op. cit., 26.

[21] Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, The Meaning of Icons, trans. G. E. H. Palmer and E. Kadloubovsky (1952), rev. ed. (Crestwood, N. Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Pres, 1982), 200-01.

[22] ibid

[23] ibid, 202, quoting Mikhail Alpatov, Andreij Rublev (Moscow-Leningrad, 1943), and Dionysius, On the Divine Names, in PG 3, col. 916D.

[24] 24. Stuart, Ikons (note 7), 72-73.

[25] David and Tamara Talbot Rice, Icons and Their History (London: Thames and Hudson; Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press, 1974), 104, 135 (Part II, ‘Russia,” by Tamara Talbot Rice).

[26] All icons cited in the present discussion are illustrated for convenience in the following three sources, identified by authors’ names: Ouspensky and Lossky, Meaning of Icons (note 21); Rice, Icons (note 25); Stuart, Ikons (note 7).

[27] The absence of such a device, easily enough rationalized with the frontal plane of the table-coffin-altar apparently covered by an altar frontal or tablecloth, as in Simon Ushakov’s 1671 version from the tsarist Armory school, now in the State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg (Rice, pl. 142), may perhaps amount, as if on second thought, to a reversion to the pre-Rublevian givens of the Hospitality of Abraham, what with the figures of Abraham and Sarah appearing, or reappearing, in what are supposed unequivocally to be ‘Old Testament Trinities’: such as a XIV-century Byzantine example in the Benaki Museum, Athens (Rice, pl. 187); a mid-to late-XVI-century Rostov-Suzdal example in the Tretyakov Gallery (Rice, pl. 189); and an undated version from the tsar’s court iconographers also in the Tretyakov (Rice, pl. 191). After all, were it not for the immense fame and popularity of Rublev’s image, it might be argued that any such examples including figures of Abraham and Sarah were really a ‘Hospitalities of Abraham’ that merely became interpretable as an ‘Old Testament Trinities’ in light of Rublev, rather than taken as unequivocal examples of the latter.

[28] Florensky, Iconostasis, trans. Donald Sheehan and Olga Andrejev (Crestwood, N. Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996), 66.

[29] ibid, 26; emphasis in original

Derrida on the Couch
the Perversity of Deconstruction
Michael Williams

The affinities between deconstruction and perversion are evident in Freud’s own writings on perversion. The deconstructive double-gesture reproduces the textual moves in the original scene of fetishism as depicted in Freud’s essay “Splitting of the Ego in the Defensive Process” (1938). In this text Freud lauds the child’s strategy in the face of the threat of castration as the “ingenuous solution” of fetishism – what Lacan calls the “perversion of perversions.” Freud describes the terrified boy’s reaction when confronted with the lack in the little girl – or, more specifically, when confronted with a present castration threat that retroactively marks the earlier “sight of the female genitals” as a “dreaded confirmation” of the omnipresent threat. The perverse little boy’s “ingenuous solution” is to accept both the “demand of the instinct” – to deny that-there-is-something-missing in order to sustain the satisfaction of plenitude prior to difference – and the “command of reality” – to acknowledge that-there-is-something-missing and that he, too, may lose that-something. This “ingenuous solution to the difficulty” – what Freud says is “another way out” of the castration threat – is the creation of a substitute. The fetish object substitutes for that-there-is-something-missing. This substitution allows the little pervert to disavow: ‘I know very well that-there-is-something-missing, but nevertheless – …a…a…shoe…a…a….’ This play of repudiation and concession – what Freud calls “the to and from between denial and acknowledgement” – allows the little boy to dismiss the threat and hence sustain his pleasure.

The perversity of Derrida’s deconstruction is palpable in his 1967 essay “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” One such conspicuously perverse feature is deconstruction’s demand for the simultaneity of mutually exclusive tasks. The two “interpretations of interpretation” offered in “Structure, Sign, and Play” are “absolutely irreconcilable even if we live them simultaneously and reconcile them in an obscure economy.” To both search for truth and dance beyond such a project performs perversion. This both-truth-and-play two-step poses a triple – “absolutely irreconcilable” – impossibility: the impossibility of truth and origin; the impossibility of adventure and dance; and the impossibility of “liv[ing] them simultaneously” in what Derrida refers to as an “obscure economy” and in what I designate as perversion. Both modes of interpretation are impossible as separate endeavors on their own terms. As such these two strategies mimic the logic of perversion as articulated by Octave Mannoni: ‘I know very well, but nevertheless….’ For the perverse deconstructionist: ‘I know very well that truth and origin are impossible, but nevertheless…’; ‘I know very well that adventure and dance are impossible, but nevertheless….’ Indeed, Derrida ‘knows very well’ that both projects are impossible, ‘but nevertheless….’ The demand to “live them simultaneously” (my emphasis) exhibits the both/and simultaneity characteristic of perversion. Just as the perverse little boy sustains two contradictory interpretations – both an acknowledgment and a denial that-there-is-something-missing – so does the deconstructionist “simultaneously” perform what are “absolutely irreconcilable.” The deconstructionist’s two-step perversity participates in the perversion of the both/and matrix: both a structuralist-pragmatic interpretation and a passage “beyond man and humanism,” and both reproducing the very economy that is the object of critique and flirting with an “absolute break and difference.”

There are several specifically fetishistic features of deconstruction that are especially evident in “Structure, Sign, and Play” (1967). In this paper Derrida notes a “series of substitutions of center for center” as a constitutive feature of every structure. By “center” Derrida means the transcendental condition of possibility – the enabling feature, the founding act, the constitutively necessary element – that provides an unquestioned ground for the organization and balance of a structure; the “center” is the unexamined assumption, the uninterrogated premise – what Lacan would call a point de capiton – that makes a structure possible (and impossible). The “series of substitutions” refers to the infinite variety of terms for the “center” – the substitution of one term for another. The “center” is subject to this “series of substitutions.” This series includes foundational terms – the “center” – that make each structure possible: God, man, cogito, mind, existence, essence, phenomenological consciousness, will to power, Being, to name a few. The resonance between the fetishist’s shoe and the philosopher’s “center” is immediate – both are substitutes. The logic of the fetish mimics the logic of substitution: the shoe stands in for, stands in the place of, fills the role of, the missing maternal phallus. The logic of the structure’s “center” is also a logic of substitution: the “center,” in Derrida’s words, “receives different forms or names.”

The “history of metaphysics” determinate of “Being as presence” has masked what would otherwise be scandalous: that “the center” is, as Derrida says, “not the center,” that the mover-and-shaker is always “elsewhere,” that the foundation of structure “escapes structurality” itself. It is because the “center” is in fact always de-centered – not in its proper place – that “the concept of a centered structure” can be understood as, in Derrida’s memorable phrase, “contradictorily coherent.” The contradiction at the center of “center” is that the mobility of the structure – what Derrida refers to as the “event” and the “rupture” (and which is none other than history itself) – produces a play, a movement, a give-and-take that subverts the “center” that is the structure’s condition of possibility. The determination of “Being as presence” reduces what is otherwise becoming and transforming – the spinning of the system, the toppling of the structure, the event, the rupture, history, time, thinking – to something immobile and nameable; the movement of becoming is reduced to the being of stasis. The “center” is radically unavailable, elsewhere: not present.

The non-present “center” that Derrida finds at the de-center of the structure marks another similarity between deconstruction theory and the concept of perversion: that the substitute, whether the fetishist’s shoe or the philosopher’s center, is always not itself. The fetish object functions as a substitute for the missing maternal phallus – something that was never there but should have been. The fetishist’s shoe is a stand-in, a prop, a substitute for the-something-that-is-missing. In fetishism it is absence – the very fact that-there-is-something-missing – that functions as the objet petit a, as the cause of desire, as the raison d’etre of the human subject. The fetish object does not substitute for nothing but for the presence of nothing: a ‘present absence’ of sorts. In Seminar VII (1959-60) Lacan equates the maternal phallus with das Ding. Lacan says: “The Thing is characterized by the fact that it is impossible for us to imagine it.” What this suggests is that the fetish object does not stand-in for something that is present and nameable – although we would like to approximate that-there-is-something-missing with the maternal phallus. Rather, the fetish object is a prop for the function of absence – for the function that-there-is-something-missing. This function is ‘itself’ (qualified with scare quotes because it is ‘absent’ or ‘not itself’) the source of the subject’s desire – of the substance constitutive of the subject’s very existence. The pervert’s a is ‘a’ substitute for ‘the’ function – the absence. The pervert desires ‘the’ function but only finds ‘a’ fetish object. The ‘present absence’ of ‘a’ ‘center’ is not itself ‘the’ function (of ‘itself’).

If the fetishist’s object is an object that substitutes for the function, if the structure’s center is “not the center” and “elsewhere,” then how are we to define the fetish object and the structure’s center? If the fetish is not what-is-missing, then what is it? If the center is not itself, then what is it? The pervert’s a and the philosopher’s “different forms or names” are ultimately props for a function – transcendental enabling conditions of possibility. This introduces another shared feature of perversion and deconstruction: the functionality of both the fetishist’s object and the structure’s center. When temporality and movement unsettle the rigidity of structure, when Derrida began “thinking that there was no center,” then it was discovered that the center is “not a fixed locus but a function, a sort of non-locus in which an infinite number of sign substitutions come into play.” Derrida suggests that the center is a necessary function; the center is a place-holder that receives different names – an “infinite number of sign-substitutions” – depending upon the structure that it founds, organizes, and balances. The center qua center is a faceless and nameless function whose functionality may be fixed but whose name and face – its “different forms or names” – are unfixed and substitutable. The appearance of the center qua center is itself impossible: the center is a function whose appearance is always marked by “different forms and names” of an “infinite number of sign-substitutions.” The center qua center – the center as function – is always “not the center” and always “elsewhere.” The different names and faces of the center – God, man, cogito, mind, existence, essence, phenomenological consciousness, will to power, Being, etc. – are each an incarnation of the necessary function that makes a structure possible (and impossible).

Lacan’s objet petit a is similarly functional: the object is the cause of desire, the condition of the subject’s own possibility, the subject’s raison d’être. The specific and particular features of the object – whether it is a shoe or a clitoris – are immaterial to its functionality. The function of the objet petit a – to initiate and organize the subject’s desire – is inexhaustible. The ostensible attainment of an object cannot deplete the transcendental power and efficacy of the function; there will always be another object that will serve the function of the objet petit a. It is for this reason that Lacan titles one of his texts “God and the Jouissance of The Woman” (1973) with “The” crossed out and under erasure; there is always another woman such that the woman (who I’m fucking) is only a woman – another woman always lurks beyond the bend. This model of desire is essentially fetishistic: an a is a substitute for another a is a substitute for another a – all “remnants,” in the terms of Seminar XI (1964), or “semblances,” in the terms of Seminar XX (1972-73), for the unattainable. Lacan brilliantly performs the very function of a by consistently shifting its name and definition – “different forms and names” in Derrida’s words – throughout the course of his teaching. In his discussions of “Schema L” Lacan refers to the object as ‘a,’ but in his seminar on The Transference (1960-61) Lacan refers to the function of a with the Greek term agalma from Plato’s Symposium. Most revealing is Alan Sheridan’s note in his translation of Écrits that “Lacan insists that ‘objet petit a’ should remain untranslated, thus acquiring, as it were, the status of an algebraic sign.” Lacan’s use of a formal and abstract symbol for the function of the object-cause of desire performs the ultimate untranslatability of the function: the transcendental function can only be represented by a sign whose translation is imprecise and approximate.

Both the strategy of deconstruction and the desire of perversion covet this functional transcendental condition of possibility: the center of the structure (or a foundational term) and the phallic function (or a fetishist’s a). Derrida announces the absolute necessity and inescapability of the function of the center. He notes that “one cannot in fact conceive of an unorganized structure” and that “the notion of a structure lacking any center represents the unthinkable itself.” The Derrida of “Structure, Sign, and Play” recommends only the thinking of the “structurality of structure” – an “event” or “rupture” that replaces one sign-substitution (say: God) for another transcendental term (say: Power). However, in his recent theological turn Derrida posits an ecstatic and optimistic ‘yes, yes’ – to an economy outside of traditional metaphysics – to a system beyond the rigidity of structure. I want to argue that the early (and pessimistic) Derrida of a certain no! – an apparent ‘no, no’ to a structure-less structure and a nothing-outside-the-text – has matured into the later (and more optimistically – if still cautiously – passionate) Derrida that cries ‘yes, yes’ to the impossible, the unthinkable, justice, ethics, and other ‘substitute’ terms for an experience of the impossible. Derrida’s later formulation of deconstruction affirms an impossible economy that explodes the founding, orienting, and balancing function of a “center.”

Lacan’s concept of desire similarly functions to (impossibly) destroy the transcendental condition of possibility – the phallic function, the objet petit a, the a. The designation of the object of desire as the object-cause of desire suggests that desire seeks its own condition of possibility; desire aims to fuck that which makes it possible. If desire is the “essence of man,” as Lacan proclaims in Seminar XI (1964), then a desire that desires its own cause constitutes a self-destructive suicidal desire that seeks to fuck – or to eat or to pulverize or to love or to demolish – its own condition of possibility, its own ground of existence, its very “essence.” It is no wonder, then, that the psychoanalytic death drive is a desirous drive for death; desire’s passion for its own cause consists in a movement of self-immolation: a literal death drive. The questions for both the deconstructionist and the fetishist (or any subject-of-desire) are: how does one fuck a function? how does one destroy the condition of one’s own possibility? how does one orient oneself toward the project of self-immolation? what attitude corresponds to such a suicidal gesture? what is leftover after the “center” (impossibly) disintegrates and the phallic function (impossibly) falters?

These are the questions that neither Derrida nor Lacan (nor Freud) finally resolve. Deconstruction neither repeats nor reverses the hierarchical logic of the binary that it seeks to upset. Rather, deconstruction seeks an “obscure economy” that exceeds the logic of the binary itself. Perversion neither represses the sight of the female genitals (neurosis) nor forecloses the economy of difference (psychosis). Rather, perversion seeks an “ingenious solution” and “another way out” of the Oedipus complex. This affirmation of the impossible – ‘yes, yes’ – animates both projects: of deconstruction and of psychoanalysis. What is this “obscure economy”? – what is this “ingenious solution”? ‘Yes, yes’ – to what? The objet petit a of both deconstruction and perversion is this impossible. – a death of the subject. It is toward a creative reinvention of this death – of the beyond of humanism, of the other to individualism – that both deconstruction and perversion gesture.

What is the difference between the Jacques of psychoanalysis and the Jacques of deconstruction? I would locate any disagreement – or difference – between the two Jacques in an intersubjective competition that finds its most theoretical visibility in the distinction between structuralism and post-structuralism. Neither Derrida nor Lacan offers explicit formulations and defenses of these theoretical positions. However, any differentiation between Derrida and Lacan can only be decided by the question of (perverse) substitution: what is the theoretical significance of the ‘post’ in post-structuralism found lacking in structuralism? what is replaced in structuralism by the substitution of the word ‘post’? Derrida’s critique of Lacan as it is disseminated, as it were, first in the long footnote in Positions (1971) and later in the essay “Le Facteur de la Vérité” (1975) reveals that it is Lacan’s erection of a system – the system of psychoanalysis with its equation of truth-woman-castration – that Derrida finds most metaphysical and worrisome. In an uncharacteristic if not charming declaration of his own identity – and as an identity that is different from Lacan’s identity – Derrida writes: “The difference which interests me here is that – a formula to be understood as one will – the lack does not have its place in dissemination.” For Derrida the term “lack” cannot name – is not “the place” of – the instability or play in the structure; no one (transcendental) term – “the lack” – has “its” own and proper “place” in either the play of the text or the dissemination of meaning. The difference between the two theories is that whereas Lacan identifies a necessary and structural lack in the very being of the human subject in its vexed relationship to the world of signification, Derrida acknowledges – or affirms – a play in the text. Whereas Lacan emphasizes lack and loss – the missing – Derrida impossibly resists naming the void and identifying the absence.

The distinction between Derrida and Lacan – and between structuralism and post-structuralism – cannot be separated from a certain competition or intersubjective rivalry between the two Jacques that Lacan’s own theory finds at the basis of the narcissism and aggressivity of the imaginary register. Such contention is palpable in Derrida’s Positions (1971) footnote in which he mentions Lacan’s “aggressions in the form of, or with the aim of, reappropriation.” The theme of ownership (le propre) frames many of Derrida’s texts, including The Truth in Painting (1987) – a text on the Shapiro-Heidegger debate about the Van Gogh “shoes” and the undecidable but unavoidable question of “whose shoes are they?” Whose theory is it? Who has determined the center as “otherwise”? Is it Derrida-structuralism or Lacan-structuralism? And which one is ‘post’? In Lacanian terms the slippage between the two Jacques mirrors the difference between the ego-ideal and the ideal-ego that Lacan both inscribes and undermines in the appropriately outside-and-inverted chapter title “Ego-ideal and ideal ego” in Seminar I (1953-54). It is what Lacan would call the “madness” and “confusion” of love: the dissolution of the distinction between self and other, lover and beloved, ego-ideal and ideal ego – a psychotic (dis)union delayed by reading these Jacques as two rather than as one. In the spirit of such madness let us ask the who speaks? of structuralism and post-structuralism: is it Jacques-structuralism or Jacques-structuralism? As with Derrida’s différance we cannot hear the difference between the two Jacques – nor, however, can we even see the difference. So, more rhetorically than ever: what’s the difference?


The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Ed. James Strachey (UK: Hogarth Press, 1966), 23: 275.

Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book I, Freud”s Papers on Technique Ed.. Jacques-Alain Miller, Transl. John Forrester, New York:Norton, 1991.

Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire livre IV, La relation d’objet, Paris: Seuil, 1994.

Jacques Lacan, The Seminar Book VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, transl. Dennis Porter, New York: Norton, 1986.

Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book XI, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, transl. Alan Sheridan, New York: Norton, 1998.

Alan Sheridan, “Translator’s Note” in Écrits, New York: Norton, 1982).

Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, transl. Alan Bass (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, transl. Alan Bass (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

Jacques Derrida, The Post Card, transl. Alan Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Jacques Derrida, Positions, transl. Alan Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, transl. Geoff Bennington, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Visions of Excess
Kenneth White

“ … It is from Freud … that a representation of matter must be taken.”
– Georges Bataille, Materialism (1929)[1]

Peggy Ahwesh’s films and videos engage the mediation of capital image-logic as inscribed on the individual. Each work doubly performs, as viewers do. Ahwesh’s camera is utterly subjective. Nearly every shot is a point of view, hand-held with intuitive, embodied movement. Her media performs the supposed film-language of the unconscious. Ahwesh’s subjects consciously mediate themselves for the camera; they “fictionalize themselves, and I’m basically getting the documentary of that process.”[2] The audience in turn internally performs capital labor of meaning making and externally performs the position of specific voyeur (the critic). Ahwesh in between provides the short circuit through her ‘home movie’ re-vision, “allowing something to erupt out of a nothingness.”[3] The private mechanizations of Super 8 reverse: in the medium’s supposed incapacity for professional image-labor, a spectacular ‘over-sight,’ Ahwesh finds fertile ambiguity. The culturally dismissed psychological space of Super 8 in and of her diegetic event structure becomes internalized mediation and conscious interactivity. Ahwesh’s confrontation erupts from the filmed performing subject to the viewing audience through her lived Imaginary of inefficient, excessive vision. Ahwesh’s subjects perform self-consciousness under her direction. Ahwesh’s editing method of unstable base-materialist juxtaposition directs our attention to the codification and expropriation of our viewing position.

Following Jonathan Crary’s exploration of “the deeply historical character”[4] of attention, Jonathan Beller explicitly addresses the concomitance of cinema and psychoanalysis. Like Crary, Beller dates the origination of the attention economy to the industrial revolution, but emphasizes the simultaneous emergence of Freud and the cinematic apparatus in the late 1800s, calling for “not just psychoanalytic film theory but psychoanalysis as proto-film theory”[5] in way of combating the “manageable subjectivity”[6] engineered by capital image-logic. For Beller, psychoanalysis is the symptom of cinema. Consciousness becomes an afterthought to the colonized unconscious that we inhabit. External interests colonize vision in the wage and leisure environments. Time is money, and we believe we are taking time to look. But in fact, those external mechanizations take and vigorously cultivate our attention value for the purpose of our continued conscription. We labor in capital image-logic, looking for meaning, looking for appropriate projections for our monetarily codified unconscious, for informative efficiency to that purpose, and we are thusly alienated from our visual attention. As Beller states, “the media are not merely engines of representation, they are economic engines, which as they represent they monetize.”[7] Ahwesh’s mode of counter-productive action is an advance on Georges Bataille’s ‘accursed share.’ How may we assess image-value in avant-garde cinema rooted in transgressive cultural economics so vehemently opposed to the impositions of abstract capital exchange?

Bataille defined the ‘accursed share’ as violent expenditure of excess energy and resources unaccounted for or unusable within the dominant economic system.[8] Those violent expenditures include human sacrifice, war, and sexual activity. In seeing Ahwesh’s films as manifested excess outside popular image-capital hegemony (also, notably, the image economics of the patriarchal master narratives of avant-garde cinema, “The Essential Cinema”) while also conducting system critique activated by established cinematic devices (match-on-action editing, montage, non-diegetic music tracks). Might it be possible to see forming an alternative image economics that begins with the accursed share in the moment of ritual expenditure, perhaps an attention value system that elevates the disbursement as the locus from which to begin eruption of identity critique and reformation?

In the cinema of Peggy Ahwesh, the accursed share is not a point of capital value speculation on attention, nor a site of stable canonical exploitation. It is an unsteady core of subjectivity poised for personal and social ritual rooted in curiosity. “In my Super 8 movies I don’t stage things,” said Ahwesh to MacDonald. “I have no idea what I’m going to do, but I like not knowing.”[9] Super 8 comes forward as the logical medium for pursuit of generative ‘nonknowledge.’ Its official bankruptcy as a communicative tool embodies the bankruptcy of the system mandating the medium’s demise. Super 8 is uniquely positioned to critique the increasingly complex colonization of the unconscious by the master narrative of capital image-logic.

Narrative is a generic convention undone by Ahwesh’s Super 8 application. Narrative becomes uninformative, a dominant fiction; she actively avoids its imposed resolutions.[10] Ahwesh begins her process from the internalized “cliché from Cinema Verite that the longer a shot goes on without a cut, the more believable it is as reality.”[11] Ahwesh’s cinema is all anecdote, all long-take of memory collage. Ahwesh constructs edits, not story lines. She speaks in generative cuts (to follow Luce Irigaray). From Lacan of The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Beller argues: “If … the unconscious … first appears ‘through the structure of the gap,’ that is, in the cut between words, then the unconscious of the unconscious is cinema … Cinema … is the repressed of the theory of the unconscious … Psychoanalysis itself … is the symptom – of cinema.”[12] If the unconscious is structured like a language, the unconscious is subsumed by image-capital logic, and Ahwesh’s character-actors perform Bataille and Lacan, then I believe Ahwesh’s works are not meant to simply ‘détour’ endangered alphanumeric literacy from capital image-logic dominion through explicit citation. (To paraphrase Beller, writing is history, as in finished).[13] Rather, Ahwesh is visualizing language as a reverse recuperation. Diversified investment of surplus value explodes the unconscious capital image-logic/film-language. The restricted image economy cannot accommodate; cinematic “eruption” of multiplicity results.

It is in The Star Eaters (2004, 23 min) that Ahwesh’s image economics comes to its most explicit and poetic expression. Through literary voiceover and explicit diegetic citation, vignetting, altered shutter speeds, and repeated imagery Ahwesh shares a new and utterly valuable attention to film theory and production. Bataille states in his aphorism Materialism (1929) that “ … It is from Freud … that a representation of matter must be taken.” It is from Bataille, and Freud through Lacan, that Ahwesh arrives at her hybrid aesthetic. The Star Eaters presents Ahwesh’s formal and conceptual critique of dominant capital image-logic and her counterpoint from the radical unproductivity of the accursed share.

Ahwesh produced The Star Eaters on video “in the style of the old Super 8s.”[14] Taking inspiration from Bataille’s short novel The Blue of Noon[15] and his fragmentary writings collected in Guilty,[16] in addition to works by Frederick and Steven Barthelme and Maurice Blanchot, Ahwesh introduces two unnamed women (Jackie Smith and Alex Auder) on a gambling trip in Atlantic City. Electronic Arts Intermix, a distributor of Ahwesh’s films and videotapes, describes the voiceover with the following: “Telling her story in voiceover, the woman drifts through real and remembered relationships that speak to risk-taking and transgression.”[17] While Smith is one of the videotape’s subjects, I understood that her voiceover is extra-diegetic: related as concept to illustration but not specifically descriptive of the performed episodic content. This shade of meaning is informative. It asserts that the conceptual structure (Bataille, Barthelme, Blanchot) is the narrativizing subject of the videotape, performed by Jackie Smith and Alex Auder. High theory and staged performance are individualized experiences for both Ahwesh’s subjects and the viewer. Image and text are equally valued as communicative systems in communication.

We first see a hand-held medium shot of the two actresses on a hotel bed. Recorded with a slowed shutter, their movements have a blurred, textural quality that exaggerates gesture and smears color. We hear cheap fabric rustling. In voiceover: “I don’t think about the future. I don’t give myself a future. The present keeps bending … a burden of lightness.” One of the women rolls off the bed; by Ahwesh’s edit, her movement repeats. Straight cut to Auder puking over their hotel room toilet. In medium shot, we see a chandelier swinging. Its light and shadows shift in drunken disconcert across the frame. Smith enters the bathroom and tells a joke to Auder. “This yuppie is involved in a serious car crash” and doesn’t notice that he lost his arm. When his amputation is brought to his attention, he exclaims, “Oh! My God! My Rolex!” Auder giggles. Ahwesh cuts to black, then to an establishing shot of the Claridge Casino floor. We see Smith step to an escalator, the shot reminiscent of a surveillance camera position.

Ahwesh reverses the following hand-held shot by post-production means. We see Smith at a card table. She smiles, picks up several cash bills, and walks backward through the casino, her smile devolving into blank loneliness. Ahwesh cuts to black then to Auder crawling across the hotel room floor. We hear Smith in voiceover: “Gambling is a child’s vice practiced largely by adults, often aging adults. We were children. … We started to notice that a lot of what passes for maturity looks like play-acting. That was something we understood.” On the wall, we see an enormous framed five-dollar bill. Andy Warhol’s signature is scrawled across it.

The Blue of Noon details the desperate scatology of two young adults, Troppmann, no one more “derelict and adrift,”[18] and Dorothea nee ‘Dirty,’ under the fascism of Francisco Franco’s Spain of the mid-1930s. It is a narrative of political and psychological transition told in the first-person by Troppmann, whom ‘Dirty’ believes “might go insane at any moment.”[19] Bataille generates the corporeal agency of the accursed share in his characters’ transgressive expenditures. The central instability of the accursed share, its oscillation between generative sexual release and destructive expression in institutionalized warfare, manifests in the pall of inevitable conflict that pervades the novel. Bataille spurns language’s inability to sufficiently qualify either experience; “It has been my aim to express myself clumsily.”[20] Bataille’s writing is simultaneously economic theory, fiction, and confessional. As Stuart Kendall describes in his Editor’s Introduction to Bataille’s The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge, “Chaos is the condition of his (Bataille’s) world, his reality, his consciousness … (H)is attempts to identify the meaning of this war-torn reality consistently, constantly fail him. This failing opens the wound through which communication becomes possible.”[21] Ahwesh borrows Bataille’s radical malaise as context for audio-visual critique of qualitative and quantitative emotional gambling. Bataille’s obsession with the binding and inherent chaos of experience, image, and writing affords Ahwesh an opening for radical re-integration of subjective, particularly feminist, discourse.

Smith in voiceover, from Bataille: “When I was a little girl I loved the sun. I used to shut my eyes and let the sun shine right through my eyelids. The sun was fantastic, all explosions and blood. … From the blood of the sun to the blue of the sky at noon, you could lose your mind in the stars.” Ahwesh changes “boy” of the text to “girl.” Bataille’s nonphallo-centric sexuality (recurring use of eyes, eggs, and testicles as objects of narrative activation) becomes explicitly feminist. The ‘clumsy’ male narrator (Troppmann/Bataille), constituting a categorical lack of authority in naturalist-realist cinema, becomes the transcendent “openness” sought by Ahwesh.

A shot sequence begins. Through a compressed wide-angle lens we see a male waiter depart an elevator. Smith, in her hotel room, looks to screen right, the direction from which the waiter walked. A standard eye-line match structure seems utilized. However, the waiter does not enter the room as anticipated. The camera moves to Smith’s position on the bed and directs straight upward to a mirror mounted on the ceiling. A point of view shot? Rather, Smith, now standing on the bed, leans into the frame and looks directly into the camera. The sequence ends; the waiter enters the room within the edit. He tells a joke: “Woman is in psychoanalysis. She’s having a problem with one of the basic concepts. She says to her shrink, ‘Doctor Freud, what is this phallus you keep talking about? He says, ‘Well it’s easier just to show you than to tell you.’ So he pulls his pants down and takes out his prick. She says, ‘Oh, I get it. Like a penis, only smaller.’” The woman’s specific expectation is mismatched with his identification with the universal, as Ahwesh’s short circuit to media consciousness confounds our expectation for standardized expository editing.

We see Smith and Auder playing cards at the casino; they find a new hotel. Ahwesh consistently records the two women at slower shutter speeds. We see Smith looking on depressed Atlantic City; the shot is presented in reverse. Later we hear Ahwesh giving verbal direction to the actors. Ahwesh’s post-production effects distance the women from their environment through distinguished material and psychological presence. The manipulation communicates the medium and confirms our spectatorship to ourselves. We identify the alterations as such. However, the goal is not narrative exposition through representation of their psychological state. As in Bataille’s writing, Ahwesh’s aesthetic decisions underscore the fictive reality of the performances of Smith, Auder, and our selves.

Smith and Auder adjust new dresses and apply make-up. From Smith’s shoulder in close-up we see her looking at herself in a small double-sided hand mirror. Auder looks at herself through the opposite side of the mirror held by Smith. The shot reverses: from Auder’s shoulder we see her looking into the mirror. Ahwesh cuts back and forth four more times. Whereas earlier Ahwesh discontinued the eye-line match, she now repeats the shot/reverse shot convention beyond naturalist-realist toleration. By the final shot of the series, the women’s conversation on white Russian violet perfume is asynchronous with their images; it is a performance of the mirror stage by adult children play-acting. Ahwesh cuts to Auder facing the camera as she pins up her hair. Auder looks beyond the camera, we assume to the large wall mirror behind the camera, behind us. The shot/reverse shot between Smith/reflection and Auder/reflection catches us within the performance. “I didn’t tell you that I have a foot fetish …” says Auder, her vocalized language unhinged from her performed image. Lacan is established as cinematic convention.

We see Smith and Auder lounging in a dive bar. A clean-shaven, bespectacled man (Ricardo Dominguez), with slick dark hair and wearing a shirt buttoned to the very top, enters the bar with a blonde woman (Lin Gathright). Dominguez approaches Smith. “Have you ever seen a film called ‘We Three Comrades’? Actually, it’s a mistranslation from the Italian. It’s actually ‘We the Living’ …” He recalls the film’s plot at length. Smith responds dispassionately, “No I’ve never heard of it.” Dominguez: “Hmm. That’s too bad,” and turns away. This exchange is reminiscent of Ahwesh’s art historian caricature in Ode to the New Pre-history who enthusiastically recuperates Hitler as a bucolic landscape painter, and in Martina’s Playhouse, her shots of Super 8 equipment self-reflexive to the degree of mockery. Dominguez appears as embodied film analysis obfuscation. He speaks, but seeks response only to fulfill his identification with discourse control. Film theory, warns Ahwesh, is not immune to the one-way conversation of capital image-logic. Later, Gathright will sneak into Smith and Auder’s hotel room and steal their casino winnings.

The Star Eaters concludes with point of view shots from Smith and Auder’s car departing Atlantic City. In one, we see the lights of the casinos recede in the distance. However, the rearview mirror of their car is briefly glimpsed in the lower left, meaning that the shot in fact is from their car approaching Atlantic City, reversed in the videotape. Ahwesh positions her works at the juncture of image and text insecurity. Super 8 home movie aesthetics, and their spill into video, is the premise for introduction of radical inefficiency to the spectacle’s master narratives of the unconscious, sexuality, and feminine agency. Ahwesh’s is a cinema of disintegration between the structure of the gap of capital image-logic.

Ahwesh melds Lacanian viewership analysis with Bataillean economics. She integrates Lacan’s registers as the decisive conventions of her film and video in complement to Bataille’s articulation of the accursed share of expenditure. We pay attention to a gamble on our identity structures. Our investment sees its return in a re-registering of economic, cultural, and psychological value systems. When we pay attention, we are not given information in the manner of narrative, documentary, or performance genres. It is not a system of closed circuits (Lacanian registers, shot/reverse shot codification, etc) but detourned from them. Particularly in the mirror shot series of The Star Eaters, the mode of communication is not the dialogue between two women (it falls out of synch), nor specular pleasure of watching (I am conscious of near-constant hand-held camera work, jarred by anti-diegetic editing techniques), and not Ahwesh’s ‘illustration’ of Bataille’s and Lacan’s theories. Rather, it is the commutability of the image itself within this hybrid context. The women may apparently ‘own’ their image to the degree beneficial for capital image-logic. However, in Ahwesh’s re-presentation, that investment does not return in the anticipated mode of patriarchal, imaged domination. The women are subjects in and of time, available for heterogeneous relations on the volatile base-materialist surface of history.

“(My films are) my own challenge to history. I remember thinking, early on, ‘Oh, women don’t write novels, they keep diaries.’ … There’s a romance about invisibility.”[22] Ahwesh recovers this invisibility, through the transparent aesthetics of Super 8 and the accursed share, as a generative retort to capital image-logic. Ahwesh is an animator of a de-centered Imaginary rediscovering its home movies. History speaks for itself in Ahwesh. It is subjective, contested, and always looking, looking for all its futures.


[1] Bataille, Georges. Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-39. Ed. Allan Stoekl. Trans. Allan Stoekl, Carl R. Lovitt, Donald M. Leslie Jr. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985: 15-16.

[2] Peggy Ahwesh, interview with Scott MacDonald: 13. Transcript provided to the present author by Ahwesh.

[3] Ahwesh, interview with MacDonald: 9.

[4] Crary, Jonathan. Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000: 1.

[5] Beller, Jonathan. The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle. Dartmouth: University of New England Press, 2006: 13.

[6] Crary: 2.

[7] Beller: 289.

[8] Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share, Volume One. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Zone Books, 1991.

[9] Ahwesh, interview with MacDonald: 9.

[10] Peggy Ahwesh, interview with Scott MacDonald. Millennium Film Journal 39/40: Hidden Currents (Winter 2003). New York: Millennium Film Workshop.

[11] Ahwesh, interview with MacDonald: 14.

[12] Beller: 18-19. Beller cites Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998: 29.

[13] Beller: 298.

[14] Ahwesh, email to present author (28 September 2007).

[15] Bataille, Georges. The Blue of Noon. Trans. Harry Mathews. New York: Marion Boyars, 2002.

[16] Bataille, Georges. Guilty. Ed. and Trans. Bruce Boone. San Francisco: The Lapis Press,1988.

[17] Electronic Arts Intermix website: Online Catalogue: Peggy Ahwesh: The Star Eaters. < https://www.eai.org/eai/tape.jsp?itemID=8537 > Accessed 4 December 2007.

[18] Bataille, The Blue of Noon, 12.

[19] Bataille, ibid , 19.

[20] Bataille, ibid, 128. Author’s Foreword to the original 1957 edition.

[21] Bataille, Georges. The Unfinished System of Nonknowledge. Ed. Stuart Kendall. Trans. Michelle Kendall and Stuart Kendall. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001: xvii.

[22] Ahwesh, interview with MacDonald: 12.

Art: Anne Collier, Woman with Camera, C-print, 2006.

Ser es ser mediático
Julia Goldenberg

I might be crazy triying to get you here with me. Why don’t you come here with me?
Vito Acconci(dirigiéndose al espectador), Theme song (video)

You must stand in front of the Mona Lisa or else. You can’t fall in love with her reproduction, no, no, no – that’s masturbation.
Douglas Davis

La filosofía contemporánea estableció una cuestión ética a ser discutida cuyo campo problemático gira en torno a la alteridad y a la experiencia que el sujeto tiene de ésta. Nuestro análisis toma como base los supuestos de que la relación con el otro[1] es del orden de la experiencia (no una relación cognitiva), y que ésta se encuentra mediada por la técnica. Es decir que no hay experiencia directa.[2] Solo así podrá delinearse la condición del otro inmerso en el campo perceptivo contemporáneo y la praxis política que gira en torno a él.

Pérdida del aura, ¿pérdida del otro?

La búsqueda por identificar claramente el lugar que el otro ocupa en relación al sujeto que percibe derivó en una separación entre lo que refiere a la experiencia en términos generales y lo que refiere a la experiencia de otro ser humano. Esto es, que en torno a la reflexión sobre los modos de percepción se distingue lo que refiere a la experiencia del otro. No podemos pensar al otro del mismo modo que al resto de las cosas ya que nuestra relación no es por definición unilateral e implica cuestiones morales que deben ser analizadas.

Nuestro trabajo se basa en los medios audiovisuales que ocupan un lugar protagónico en la escena tecnológica actual. Miro al otro y cuando lo miro percibo el medio. Además somos deudores de la idea de que con el otro la relación se da por medio de la experiencia y no como relación cognitiva: tengo la experiencia del otro-mediatizado.

Desde los comienzos de la aparición de la técnica Walter Benjamin, percibe un cambio radical en el campo perceptivo: la obra de arte es reproducida técnicamente. Por un lado se abre la posibilidad de reproducir una obra en distintos formatos sin alterarla, por otro surgen formatos que son esencialmente copia (por ejemplo el cine o la tecnología digital). Lo que Benjamin llamará la “pérdida del aura” refiere al hecho de que el encuentro con la copia de la obra es un encuentro de otro orden que el que se produce con el original. El “aura” aparece en un encuentro sin distancia con el original en el marco del presente. Pero dado que ciertas artes son esencialmente copia consideramos que ya no hay espacio para el “aura” en dicho ámbito, por lo tanto la búsqueda de una experiencia primordial, originaria es por definición un sinsentido. El origen es copia.

“There is no distinction now between “original” and “reproduction” in virtually any medium based in film, electronics, or telecommunications.”[3]

Benjamin describe la perdida del “aura” como fenómeno que invade el campo perceptivo contemporáneo (él lo marca en el arte pero se amplía a todas las esferas).[4] Nuestro trabajo toma el fenómeno de la “pérdida del aura” para pensarla en torno al problema del otro, identificando la causa de dicha pérdida con la reproducción técnica de su imagen. Es decir, consideramos que la experiencia que tenemos del otro está atravesada por el fenómeno que Benjamin describe en torno al arte. El otro es reproducido, así la experiencia que tengo de él no permanece en las mismas condiciones. La reproducción técnica genera la perdida del “aura” por lo tanto establece una distancia con aquello que percibo. La técnica es el medio que opera en la distancia establecida por la reproductibilidad. Entonces, podemos decir que la experiencia del otro en estos términos no es directa, hay algo en el medio, algo que mediatiza. ¿Acaso la experiencia del “otro” está enteramente mediatizada por la técnica? ¿Podemos hablar de un “otro” que ha perdido su “aura”?

Función y valor

Percibir al otro como sujeto es también percibir aquello que lo media: reformulado, revisado, replanteado, reproducido técnicamente. Ser-en-el-mundo es ser-en-el-mundo-de-la-técnica. La mediación persiste en el lenguaje que sigue operando, pero la técnica introduce un nuevo modo de percepción-mediación que atraviesa toda la experiencia. Dicha mediación puede ser pensada desde una suerte de triángulo entre mi ser, el ser del otro y el medio (el discurso audiovisual en éste caso). Llamaremos a la mediación técnica: “mediatización”. De ésta forma surge una dimensión problemática en torno a la subjetividad del otro como “otro-mediatizado”. La mediatización es problemática. La técnica es problemática. El problema es mediático. No hay relación directa. El panorama contemporáneo es irónico: la mediación es visible y está encarnada en la técnica, es manipulada, personalizada, pero quiere esconderse bajo el manto de un supuesto “discurso real”:

“Cuanto más perfecta e integralmente las técnicas cinematográficas dupliquen los objetos empíricos, tanto más fácilmente se logra hoy la ilusión de creer que el mundo fuera de la sala de proyección es la simple prolongación del que se conoce dentro de ella”.[5]

Cuando el otro es mediatizado pierde su aura, renuncia a ella.

“He aquí un estado de cosas que podríamos caracterizar así: por primera vez (y esto es obra del cine) llega el hombre a la situación de tener que actuar con toda su persona viva pero renunciando a su aura. Porque el aura está ligada a su aquí y ahora. Del aura no hay copia.”[6]

Pero la perdida del “aura” no es una perdida en un sentido de carencia, es el estado de cosas en el mundo contemporáneo, que ha sido reproducido. En el marco de mi vida cotidiana miro al otro reproductible: veo a “otro sin aura”. La experiencia aurática está regida por cierta precisión temporal que la delimita concretamente. Mientras que la reproducción es incapaz de reproducir ese “aquí y ahora” por lo que se pierde el aura. Pero no se trata únicamente de un encuentro temporal preciso. Dice Benjamin, “Es de decisiva importancia que el modo aurático de existencia de la obra de arte jamás se desligue de la función ritual”.[7] La existencia de la obra está atravesada por cierto “valor de culto” que se funda en el ritual en el que se da su primer y original valor. La obra obtiene su valor en un instante y un modo de ser originario. La práctica ritual opera con una funcionalidad primordial y su existencia queda legitimada en ese proceso cultual que tiene que ver con una experiencia ligada a lo mágico, incluso a lo sacro. En cambio cuando se emancipa de su regazo ritual se traduce en un “valor de exhibición”. Esto significa que el valor que cobra la obra, no tiene que ver ya con un momento originario, ni con un proceso de culto sino con su exhibición. Desplazando el estado de la cuestión al centro de nuestro planteo encontramos que el otro con el cual tenemos una experiencia no ya originaria, sino permanentemente reproductiva, ha perdido su aura. La experiencia del otro mediatizado encuentra su valor en la exhibición. Debido a que hay reproducción, el momento originario no persiste por lo tanto no podemos atribuirle un “valor de culto”. El otro ha quedado desarmado en el tiempo, no pertenece a un “aquí y ahora”, y su valor corre por cuenta de su exhibición atemporal y reproductiva. Sus coordenadas espacio temporales son mediatizadas junto con él.

Veo al otro una y otra vez de la misma forma, sin variantes. Establezco una relación con él desde la repetición. Ha perdido su aura. No podemos afirmar que toda experiencia que tengo del otro esté mediatizada ya que sabemos que subsisten otro tipo de experiencias. Sin embargo podemos declarar con certeza que todo otro que experimento ha sido mediatizado alguna vez (he experimentado a “los otros” con y sin aura). Por lo tanto la “pérdida del aura” es una condición, un “factum” que atraviesa toda la experiencia en el ámbito contemporáneo. Lo percibo mediatizado y reconozco que su valor se funda en la exhibición. Así la valoración que tengo de él se vincula directamente con un fundamento político que no está regido por un ritual.

“Quitarle su envoltura a cada objeto, triturar su aura, es la asignatura de una percepción cuyo sentido para lo igual en el mundo ha crecido tanto que incluso, por medio de la reproducción le gana terreno a lo irrepetible.”[8]

El modo en que percibo modifica el valor de aquello que circula frente a mí. Si suponemos que es posible cierta experiencia originaria despojada de éste proceso de mediatización, el encuentro con el otro estaría cargado de cierto valor de culto, su “aura” estaría intacta y nuestro encuentro con él atravesado por una función más bien ritual. Y como advierte Benjamin, una vez perdida el aura el fundamento ritual es remplazado por un fundamento en una praxis política. Es decir, el fundamento de la experiencia se basa en su valor y por tanto en el modo en que éste regirá su praxis. Aquella experiencia que deja de ser aurática pasa de tener un fundamento ritual a uno esencialmente político. Distinguir ambos modos de percepción es hacer visible el fundamento último del estado de cosas en el mundo. Por lo tanto poner en claro el estado de la cuestión es anclar una postura política en relación a un modo perceptivo imperante que rige un área esencialmente ética (que tiene que ver con el otro). El modo de percepción que tenemos del otro definirá su valor y así la relación que podemos establecer con él. Debemos pensar especialmente su lugar en el campo de la técnica puesto que supone definir el fundamento de una praxis en relación a un problema de base en la ética actual. El problema es disfrazar lo político de ritual ya que así se establece el discurso como dogma irrefutable. Es el primer paso hacia las consecuencias que emana el esteticismo de la política.[9]

La técnica y su sentido político

“La industria cultural” es un término acuñado por Adorno para definir la falta de límite entre el arte y lo que la sociedad capitalista se ha formulado como cultura. El problema que marca es que dentro de la sociedad capitalista aquello que integra la cultura está atravesado por el modo de producción industrial, del mismo modo que el resto de las áreas. Así el espacio que debería pertenecer a la reflexión en torno a la condición humana no es más que una mercancía como cualquier otra. Nosotros nos limitaremos a pensar el campo audiovisual y trataremos de marcar una diferencia entre aquello que pertenece a la industria cultural y aquello que pretende denunciar su lógica.

“El arte como dominio separado ha sido posible, desde el principio, sólo en cuanto burgués. Incluso su libertad, en cuanto negación de la utilidad social, tal como se impone a través del mercado, permanece esencialmente ligada al supuesto de la economía de mercado.”[10]

Consideramos que no hay producción “por fuera” de la economía de mercado, pero sí hay una alternativa discursiva y perceptiva que denuncia la fabricación de valores culturales y nos permite una reflexión en torno a la condición de la percepción en el mundo contemporáneo. Y una vez que sea posible definir dicha condición podremos establecer el valor de aquello que percibimos y su fundamento en una praxis concreta. Volviendo a un planteo nombrado previamente: “dime cómo percibes y te diré cuál es el fundamento de tu praxis”. El problema de la técnica es que abriga tanto a los medios de comunicación, como a la industria cultural, como a cualquier lenguaje alternativo. Nosotros nos dedicaremos a pensar específicamente el video que es exactamente idéntico en cuanto soporte pero radicalmente distinto desde su praxis. He aquí su fundamento último que lo distingue esencialmente de las imágenes que saturan nuestra vida cotidiana.

“Es el ideal de lo natural en esta rama de la industria. Un ideal que se afirma tanto más despótico cuanto más se reduce la técnica perfeccionada la tensión entre la imagen y la existencia cotidiana. La paradoja de la rutina, disfrazada de naturaleza se percibe en todas las manifestaciones de la industria cultural y en muchas de ellas se puede tocar con la mano”.[11]

Como bien señala Adorno la paradoja de la rutina está disfrazada de naturaleza. La tarea de los discursos alternativos es denunciar la naturalidad de algo que es pura construcción.
La industria tiene como objetivo la producción en cadena, el producto estándar. La industria cultural se apropia de la cultura ya que es susceptible de ser reproducida por la técnica, y la re-produce infinitas veces. Una imagen es mercancía, un sonido, un discurso, puesto que surgen de un modo de producción industrial. Cuando el centro de la imagen es el otro corremos el riesgo de percibirlo en los mismos términos que al resto de las imágenes y volverlo también una “imagen-mercancía”. Pero lo que marca el valor de la imagen no es únicamente su modo de producción sino la pregunta que transmiten en relación al estado de cosas en el mundo.

Volviendo a nuestro eje de trabajo en torno al “otro-mediatizado” por la técnica lo encontramos en circulación dentro de la industria cultural. Cualquier medio de comunicación nos muestra un “otro-mediatizado”. El problema es que el vector que rige ese uso que se le da a la reproducción técnica es la pregunta por la verdad. La verdad identificada aquí con la realidad implica claramente un “aquí y ahora” definida como situación no susceptible de ser reproducida. Nos presentan a un “otro” que se supone verdadero, sagrado, incuestionable, presente. Los medios de comunicación pretenden esconder la mediación ya que si ésta fuese evidente daría lugar a cualquier tipo de cuestionamiento. Esto es, la verdad inmediata en relación al “otro” permite que la mediatización se borre sin generar conciencia de ésta. Es invisible, pasada por alto: la experiencia es directa sucede en un “aquí y ahora” es por tanto aurática, ritual. ¿Cómo cuestionar aquello que está sucediendo? Me encuentro con el otro que está frente a mí en un encuentro sagrado en el sentido en que no podemos dudar de su valor o existencia. Es incuestionable: lo real pretende ser irrepetible, por lo tanto irreflexivo. Veo la guerra en la televisión y percibo al otro en “vivo y en directo”. Aquello que percibo a través de los “medios” de comunicación pretende mostrarme la realidad directamente. No hay mediación en el “medio” ¡Irónico! Hay un encuentro originario con aquella guerra que miro como si fuera un ritual. Los datos son concretos y la ubicación espacio temporal es exacta, pareciera ser que presenciamos la guerra misma como espectáculo. La humanidad se ha vuelto su propio espectáculo.

El arte, por otro lado, no plantea la pregunta por la verdad por lo tanto su modo de producción en el mismo campo audiovisual va a tratar el problema de la percepción y la producción de imágenes de manera alternativa. El otro siendo el centro de la cuestión ética que nos ocupa se verá también modificado por la forma. Trataremos un medio que utiliza el mismo formato que los medios de comunicación pero que procura ampliar las fronteras del “dogma” inmediato. En el caso en que su objeto sea el otro surge un planteo específico: “No solamente como cuestión del otro que ha de filmarse. Sino como cuestión del otro que mientras filmo también está enviándome una mirada. Aquel que filmo me ve.”[12] Aquí surge la idea de la mirada, pero no aparece como una mirada inmediata (en términos de Sartre) sino como una mirada que se hace visible junto con el medio. Miro al otro, que ha perdido su “aura” y a su vez él me ve. Y aunque no me viese, la propuesta que deja evidenciar el medio evidencia mi mirada sobre él. Se desprende de ellos el modo de percepción que opera aquí: el medio me permite ver la condición de el-otro-siendo-mediatizado. Junto con esta experiencia que pone en evidencia que el otro está siendo reproducido técnicamente, el valor de culto desaparece, no hay una experiencia de tipo ritual, sino que aparece una experiencia en relación a la exhibición. Sé que se trata de otro que está siendo mediado por la técnica por lo tanto aquello que veo es susceptible de ser reflexionado. Reflexiono sobre el medio, y sobre lo que el medio me hace ver. La pretensión de verdad aparece aquí como un sin-sentido. Lo fundamental es que el lenguaje del cual el video se apropia (utiliza el mismo soporte que los medios de comunicación) nos muestra el estado de cosas del mundo y puede ser pensado, revisado, cuestionado, re-flexionado, re-producido. No importa si aquello que se muestra es verdadero, lo que importa es que es evidentemente mediático por lo tanto puede ser cuestionado. La verdad está en la copia de la apariencia que a su vez ha sido reproducida. Hay un movimiento reflexivo sobre sí mismo que se desprende de la mostración del estado de cosas que impera un mundo donde reina la reproducibilidad técnica. El medio se hace obvio de ésta forma. La condición del otro se evidencia en tanto mediatizada. Dichas artes audiovisuales generan un modo de percepción del otro suponiendo un a priori, que determina de qué forma es la experiencia hoy: es esencialmente mediación técnica.

“Art can’t happen now, between you and me, only tomorrow, or the day after, to everyone”.[13]

No tiene sentido la pregunta por el original, por la verdad. Cada otro se constituye en torno a ese medio de distinta forma. En cambio si pensamos la representación del otro en torno a la verdad inmediata pareciera que estamos formulando un objeto estándar que va a responder siempre del mismo modo. La respuesta es “sí, está sucediendo”, “no más preguntas”. Aquello que pensemos en torno a un discurso que se esconde bajo el pretexto de lo verdadero resulta por definición dogmático.

La no-verdad en el discurso artístico

El concepto de “auto-puesta en escena”[14] supone una conciencia del otro que es filmado. El otro-mediatizado conoce su condición y su estado en el mundo-de-la-técnica. En el video como medio se evidencia el fundamento que se desprende de la experiencia del “otro-mediatizado”. Tomemos como ejemplo “Areas” (Hernan Kouhrian): dos personas van a degollar un animal. Se preparan frente a la cámara, esperan para realizar dicha acción pero de pronto alguien se para frente a la cámara y vemos cómo aquellos que esperaban ser filmados le exigen que se mueva. El medio se vuelve evidente. El otro es conciente de la mediatización y parece conocer claramente su condición en el mundo. Vemos a un “otro” que juega con dicha condición, que pide ser mediado. Se auto-pone en la escena del mundo perceptivo contemporáneo.

En segundo lugar en “Luján” (Andrés Denegri) aparece otro modo que evidencia el medio. Dos chicos que se están sacando fotos frente a la catedral de Luján se perciben siendo filmados y le piden a quien está detrás de la cámara que les saque una foto a ambos. La marca mediática es evidente. Ya no se manejan supuestos sino evidencias. Se evidencia la percepción mediada la renuncia al “aura”. La pregunta por la verdad de la imagen es aquí un sin sentido. La lejanía es inminente, por lo tanto la reflexión se vuelve ineludible. Se evidencia al otro siendo mediatizado y aquel que se esconde detrás del medio (aquel que filma) se me presenta mediado también, lo que me permite generar una reflexión en torno a él y su ser-mediático que a su vez es autor de la mediación. Una enorme puesta en abismo, una reproducción al infinito. Una forma de percibir así el infinito que acompaña dicho modo de percepción.

Así sucede en “Granada” (Graciela Taquini). La voz en off que orienta el testimonio de la mujer, atraviesa la condición de dicho testimonio, está siendo mediatizado: Ella le hace reproducir que diga lo que dijo. Ella reproduce lo que ella le hace decir. Ella dijo. Pero ahora ella reproduce mientras está siendo mediada. La mediación es evidente, lo cual se convierte en el centro del discurso. Lo importante no es tanto el testimonio sino la posibilidad de hacer aparecer dicho testimonio en un espacio que hace patente su reproducción. El testimonio así cobra otro valor: mediatizarlo es ligarlo a un fundamento político. Separarlo de su valor de culto y ligarlo a su valor de exhibición que le otorga trascendencia distanciándolo del “aquí y ahora” que acompaña el ritual.

En estos ejemplos (que han sido seleccionados de modo aleatorio, pero que pretenden ilustrar nuestra argumentación) no sólo se evidencia que el ser del “otro” es esencialmente mediático, sino que al asumir dicha condición queda expuesto el fundamento político de lo que es filmado. El valor de exhibición del “otro” en tanto otro-mediático procura establecer un discurso político y no un dogma sagrado. El video se piensa a sí mismo en tanto poder mediático, y decide trabajar desde el a priori que marca el modo de percepción actual. No ir en busca de la verdad, del original, del “aquí y ahora”, sino simplemente contemplar el estado de cosas del mundo, mediatizarlo y generar una distancia suficiente para el desarrollo de reflexiones en torno a su proyecto político y a su praxis posible.


La reproducción técnica no contiene en sí el problema de base que gira e torno al status del otro, éste se encuentra en el mal uso del medio cuando se trata de otro ser humano. El efecto que se produce es que se estandariza la imagen, se vuelve verdadera e incuestionable. Cuando el otro se ubica como protagonista de dicha imagen resulta también estandarizado.

“La industria cultural ha realizado malignamente al hombre como ser genérico. Cada uno es sólo aquello en virtud de lo cual puede sustituir a cualquier otro: fungible, un ejemplar. él mismo es como individuo lo absolutamente sustituible, la pura nada, y justamente eso es lo que llega a sentir, cuando con el tiempo va perdiendo la semejanza.”[15]

El sujeto que está detrás del medio, que se relaciona con él se ve convertido en un objeto estándar el cual sólo podrá ser pensado desde su permutabilidad. Los medios de comunicación cuando se preguntan por la verdad, establecen pautas universales, arquetipos.

“En la industria cultural (…) El individuo es tolerado sólo si su identidad incondicional con lo universal está fuera de toda duda.(…) sólo gracias a que los individuos no son tales, sino simplemente puntos de cruce de las tendencias de lo universal, es posible reabsorberlos íntegramente en la universalidad.”[16]

El otro sujeto es tomado de la misma forma que un producto, que un arquetipo invariable y universal. Así lejos de asumir al otro como sujeto nos paramos frente a un objeto estándar, como un objeto de información mas no sujeto de comunicación.

“En suma, la política debe ser preservada de su reducción a espectáculo fascinante o ilusión fantasmal, para permitir así que un discurso más racional habite la esfera pública, hoy amenazada de extinción por la imágenes y los simulacros de realidad.”[17]

Debemos pensar la condición de la percepción mediática en la actualidad como fundamento de cualquier experiencia. Aquello que percibo no lo percibo del mismo modo desde que su ser es reproductible. Siendo concientes de nuestro modo de percepción asumiremos que no es posible ubicarse por fuera de éste entonces deberemos elaborar un discurso que permita un quiebre, dando lugar a preguntarse por aquello que impera y poniendo en evidencia el estado de cosas en la época de la reproductibilidad técnica.


[1]La bastardilla marca que el otro al cual nos referimos es un otro conceptual.

[2]Ver autores que trabajan la filosofía del lenguaje: Lacan, Wittgenstein. Ellos piensan la experiencia del otro mediada por el lenguaje, pero dichos pensamientos no serán desarrollados ya que no contribuyen a nuestra argumentación.

[3]Douglas Davis, The work of art in the age of digital reproduction An Evolving Thesis/1991-1995.

[4]“ Ni la materia, ni el espacio, ni el tiempo son, desde hace veinte años lo que han venido siendo desde siempre” Paul Valéry, Pièces sur l’art.

[5]Th. W. Adorno, Dialéctica de la ilustración, trd. Joaquín Chamorro Mielke, ed. Akal 2007.

[6]W. Benjamin, La obra de arte en la época de su reproducibilidad técnica.



[9]Martin Jay, Campos de fuerza, trad. Alcira Bixio, Paidós, 2003.

[10]Th. W. Adorno, op. cit.

[11]Th. W. Adorno, op. cit.

[12]Jean-Louis Comolli, Filmar para ver, ed. Simurg 2002.

[13]Douglas Davis , op. cit.

[14]Jean-Louis Comolli, op. cit.

[15]Th. W. Adorno, op. cit.


[17]Martin Jay, op. cit.

Art: Hannah Starkey, The Dentist, C-print, 2003.