. . . . . . The Most Sublime of Hysterics: Hegel with Lacan •

. . . . . . . . Slavoj Zizek
. . . . . . . . translated by Rex Butler and Scott Stephens

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1. The Lack in the Other

It would be a complete misunderstanding of the dialectical relationship between Knowledge and Truth if this rapport were viewed as a progressive approximation whereby the subject, driven by the operation of Truth, passes from one figure of knowledge (having proved its 'falsity', its insufficiency) to another that is much closer to Truth, etc., until a final agreement between knowledge and Truth is achieved in the form of Absolute Knowledge. From this perspective, Truth is conceived of as a substantial entity, an In-Itself, and the dialectical process is reduced to a simple, asymptotic movement, a progressive approximation to the Truth, in the sense of Victor Hugo's famous saying: 'Science is an asymptote of Truth. It ever approaches but ever touches it.' On the contrary, the Hegelian coincidence of the movement toward truth with truth itself implies that there already has contact with the truth: truth itself must change with the changing knowledge, which is to say that, once knowledge no longer corresponds to truth, we must not merely adjust knowledge accordingly rather transform both poles - the insufficiency of knowledge, its apropos of the truth, radically indicates a lack, a non-achievement at the heart of truth itself.

We should thus abandon the standard notion that the dialectical process advances by moving from particular (limited and 'unilateral') elements toward some final totality: in fact, the truth at which one arrives is not 'complete'; the question remains open, is transposed into a question addressed to the Other. Lacan's formula that Hegel is 'the most sublime of hysterics' [1] should be interpreted along these lines: the hysteric, by his very questioning, 'burrows a hole in the Other'; his desire is experienced precisely as the Other's desire. Which is to say, the hysterical subject is fundamentally a subject who poses himself a question all the while presupposing that the Other has the key to the answer, that the Other knows the secret. But this question posed to the Other is in fact resolved, in the dialectical process, by a reflexive turn - namely, by regarding the question as its own answer.

Take an example from Adorno: [2] today, it is impossible to find a single definition of society; it is always a matter of a multitude of definitions that are more or less contradictory, even exclusive (for example, on the one hand there are those who conceive of society as an organic Whole that transcends particular individuals, and on the other those who conceive of society as a relationship between atomized individuals - 'organicism' versus 'individualism'). At first glance, these contradictions would seem to block any knowledge of society 'in itself, so that whoever presupposes society as a 'thing in itself can only approach it by way of a multitude of partial, relative conceptions that are incapable of grasping it. The dialectical turn takes place when this very contradiction becomes the answer: the different definitions of society do not function as an obstacle, but are inherent to the 'thing itself; they become indicators of actual social contradictions - the antagonism between society as an organic Whole as opposed to atomized individuals is not simply gnoseological; it is the fundamental antagonism which constitutes the very thing that one wants to comprehend. Here is the fundamental wager of the Hegelian strategy: 'inappropriateness as such' (in our case, that of opposing definitions) 'gives away the secret' [3] - whatever presents itself initially as an obstacle becomes, in the dialectical turn, the very proof that we have made contact with the truth. We are thus thrust into the thing by that which appears to obscure it, that which suggests that 'the thing itself is hidden, constituted around some lack. Examples of such a paradoxical logic in which the problem functions as its own solution are plentiful in the work of Lacan; besides "The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious", recall two other passages in which Lacan responds to his critics:

a). in "Science and Truth", Lacan comments on the confusion expressed by Laplanche and Leclaire concerning the problem of 'double inscription', a confusion whereby they 'could have read its solution in their split over how to approach the problem'. [4]

b). in Encore, the response of Lacan to Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe, who reproach him for the inconsequentiality of his theory of the signifier:

Beginning with what distinguishes me from Saussure, and what made me, as they say, distort him, we proceed, little by little, to the impasse I designate concerning analytic discourse's approach to truth and its paradoxes ... It is as if it were precisely upon reaching the impasse to which my discourse is designed to lead them that they considered their work done .. . [5]

In both cases, Lacan's procedure is the same: he calls attention to a sort of perspectival error. That which his critics perceive as a problem, an impasse, a matter of inconsequence, a contradiction, is in itself already a solution. One is even tempted to see here an elementary form of the Lacanian refutation of critique: your formulation of the problem already contains its very solution. It is precisely here, rather than in those explicit references to Hegel, that Lacan's 'Hegelian' dimension should be sought!

We are dealing with the same structure - that of the logic of the question that acts as its own response - in the well-known Witz of Rabinovitch: in a first moment, we are confronted with a problem, and our objection is invalidated by the objection of our adversary; but in a second moment, this very objection is revealed as the true argument. [6] Hegel himself cites, in his Philosophy of History, the good French saying: 'In pushing away the truth, one embraces it', [7] which suggests a paradoxical space in which the essence of 'the thing itself encounters its exteriority. This structure is illustrated, in its most elementary form, by the famous Hegelian witticism that the secrets of the Egyptians are secrets for the Egyptians themselves: the solution of the enigma is its redoubling, the same enigma displaced onto the Other. The solution to the enigma consists in understanding it as a question that the Other poses to itself: it is even by that which appears at first to exclude us from the Other - our question by which we conceive of it as enigmatic, inaccessible, transcendental - that we rejoin the Other, precisely because the question becomes the question of the Other itself, because substance becomes subject (that which defines the subject, let us not forget, is precisely the question).

Would it not be possible to situate Hegelian 'de-alienation' as an element of Lacanian separation! Lacan defines separation as the overlapping of two lacks: when the subject encounters a lack in the Other, he responds with a prior lack, with his own lack. [8] If, in alienation, the subject is confronted with a full and substantial Other, supposedly hiding in its depths some 'secret', its inaccessible treasure, 'de-alienation' has nothing to do with an attainment of this secret: far from managing to penetrate right into the Other's hidden kernel, the subject simply experiences this 'hidden treasure' (agalma) the object-cause of desire) as already missing/rom the Other itself. 'De-alienation' is reduced to a gesture whereby the subject realizes that the secret of the substantial Other is also a secret for the Other - it is thus reduced precisely to the experience of a separation between the Other and its secret, objet petit a.

2. The Symbolic Act

If the field of truth were not 'not-all', if the Other were not lacking, we would not be able to 'grasp subject as substance', and the subject would be merely an epiphenomenon, a secondary moment in the movement of substantial Truth: the subject is interior to substance precisely as its constitutive gap; it /.s- this void, the impossibility around which the field of substantial Truth is structured. The response to the question, 'Why is error, illusion, immanent to truth? Why does truth arise through mistakes?', is therefore quite simply: because substance is already subject. Substance is always already subjectivized: substantial Truth coincides with its very progression through 'subjective' illusions. At this point, another response to the question 'Why is error immanent to the truth?' emerges: because there is no metalanguage. The idea that one is able from the outset to account for error, to take it under consideration as error, and therefore to take one's distance from it, is precisely the supreme error of the existence of metalanguage, the illusion that, while taking part in illusion, one is somehow also able to observe the process from an 'objective' distance. By avoiding identifying oneself with error, we commit the supreme error and miss the truth, because the place of truth itself is only constituted through error. To put this another way, we could recall the Hegelian proposition which can be paraphrased as 'the fear of error is error itself: the true evil is not the evil object but the one who perceives evil as such.

One already finds this logic of the error interior to truth in Rosa Luxemburg's description of the dialectic of the revolutionary process. When Eduard Bernstein raised objections apropos of the revisionist fear of taking power 'too soon', prematurely, before the 'objective conditions' have reached their maturity, she responded that the first seizures of power are necessarily 'premature': for the proletariat, the only way of arriving at 'maturity', of waiting for the 'opportune' moment to seize power, is to form themselves, prepare themselves for this seizure; and the only way of forming themselves is, of course, these 'premature' attempts ... If we wait for the 'opportune moment', we will never attain it, because this 'opportune moment' - that which never occurs without fulfilling the subjective conditions for the 'maturity' of the revolutionary subject - can only occur through a series of 'premature' attempts. Thus the opposition to the 'premature' seizure of power is exposed as an opposition to the seizure of power in general, as such: to repeat the celebrated phrase of Robespierre, the revisionists want 'revolution without revolution'. [9]

Once we examine things more closely, we see that Luxemburg's fundamental wager is precisely the impossibility of a metalanguage in the revolutionary process: the revolutionary subject does not 'conduct' the process from an objective distance, he is himself constituted through this process; and it is because the time of revolution occurs by means of subjectivity that no one is able to 'achieve revolution on time', following 'premature', insufficient efforts. The attitude of Luxemburg is exactly that of the hysteric faced with the obsessional metalanguage of revisionism: strive to act, even if prematurely, in order to arrive at the correct act through this very error. One must be duped in one's desire, though it is ultimately impossible, in order that something real comes about.

The propositions of 'grasping substance as subject' and 'there is no metalanguage' are merely variations on the same theme. It is therefore impossible to say: 'Although there must be premature attempts at revolution, have no illusions and remain conscious that they are doomed in advance to failure.' The idea that we are able to act and yet retain some distance with regard to the 'objective' - making possible some consideration of the act's 'objective signification' (namely, its destiny to fail) during the act itself - misperceives the way that the 'subjective illusion' of the agents is part of the 'objective' process itself. This is why the revolution must be repeated: the 'meaning' of those premature attempts is literally to be found in their failure - or rather, as one says with Hegel, 'a political revolution is, in general, only sanctioned by popular opinion after it has been repeated'.

The Hegelian theory of historical repetition (developed in his Philosophy of History) consists, in brief, in this: 'By repetition that which at first appeared merely a matter of chance and contingency becomes a real and ratified existence.' [10] Hegel develops this apropos of the death of Caesar: when Caesar consolidated his personal power, he acted 'objectively' (in itself) in relation to the historical truth that 'in the Republic ... there was no longer any security; that could be looked for only in a single will'. [11] However, it is the Republic that still rules formally (for itself, in the 'opinion of the people') - the Republic 'is still alive only because it has forgotten that it is already dead', to paraphrase the Freudian dream of the father who did not know that he was dead. To this 'opinion' that still believes in the Republic, Caesar's action can only seem to be an arbitrary act, something accidental; it would appear to this opinion that, 'if this one individual were out of the way, the Republic would be ipso facto restored'. [12] However, it would be precisely the conspirators against Caesar who -conforming to the 'cunning of reason' - confirm the truth of Caesar: the final result of his murder would be the reign of Augustus, the first caesar. Thus, the truth emerges here from its very failure:

The murder of Caesar, by completely missing its immediate goal, fulfilled the function it had, in a Machiavellian way, been assigned by history: to exhibit the truth of history in exposing its own I non-truth. [13]

The whole problem of repetition is here: in this passage from Caesar -the name of a person - to caesar - the title of the Roman emperor. The murder of Caesar - as historical persona - would produce, as its final result, the establishment of caesarism: the Caesar-persona repeats itself as caesar-title. But what is the reason, the 'drive' behind this repetition? Paul-Laurent Assoun has developed in detail the double stakes of the Hegelian repetition: it signifies simultaneously the passage from contingency to necessity and the passage from unconscious substance to consciousness - in short, from the in-itself to the for-itself: The event that occurs only once seems by definition incapable of occurring at all.' [14] It seems, however, that Assoun interprets this conjunction in too 'mechanistic' a manner: as if it operates simply - by virtue of the event repeating itself - in being made up of 'two instances of the same general law', [15] which would attempt to convince 'popular opinion' of its necessity. At bottom, Assoun's interpretation is that the end of the Republic and the advent of imperial power was an objective necessity that asserted itself by its repetition. But Assoun's own formulation already belies this simplistic interpretation:

It is in effect through recognizing an event that has already occurred that historical consciousness must experience the necessity of the generative process. [16]

If one reads literally here: the difference between the 'original' and its repetition is the intervention of the signifying network in which the event is inscribed. Initially, the event is experienced as a contingent trauma, as an eruption of the non-symbolized; it is only by passing through repetition that it is 'recognized', which can only signify here: realized in the symbolic order. And this recognition-by-passing-through-repetition necessarily presupposes (much like Moses in Freud's analysis) a crime, an act of murder: Caesar must die as an 'empirical' person in order to be realized in his necessity, as the title-holder of power, precisely because the 'necessity' in question is a symbolic necessity.

It is not merely that the people 'need time to comprehend', or that the event in its initial form of appearance is too 'traumatic': the misrecognition of its first occurrence is 'inherent' to its symbolic necessity, and an immediate constituent of its recognition. To put this in its classical version: the first murder (the 'parricide' of Caesar) gives rise to a 'culpability', and it is this that 'supplies energy' to the repetition. The thing is not repeated because of some 'objective' necessity, 'independent of our subjective will' and in this way 'irresistible' -it is rather the 'culpability' itself that gives rise to the symbolic debt and thus initiates the compulsion to repeat. Repetition announces the emergence of the law, of the Name-of-the-Father instead of the assassinated father: the event that repeats itself retroactively receives, through its repetition, its law. To put this another way, we could conceptualize Hegelian repetition precisely as the passage from the 'lawless' to the 'law-like', [17] as the interpretive gesture par excellence (Lacan says somewhere that interpretation always proceeds under the sign of the Name-of-the-Father): the symbolic appropriation of the traumatic event.

Hegel has thus already succeeded in formulating the constitutive delay of the interpretive gesture: interpretation arrives only by repetition, while the event is incapable of becoming 'law-like' right from the start. We should connect this necessity of repetition to the famous preface to the Philosophy of Right on the owl of Minerva who is able to take flight only in the evening, after the fact. [18] Contrary to the Marxist critique which sees this as a sign of the impotence of the contemplative position of interpretation post festum, we should grasp this delay as inherent to the 'objective' process itself: the fact that 'popular opinion' sees the act of Caesar as something accidental and not as the manifestation of historical necessity is not a simple case of the 'delay of consciousness with regard to effectivity' - historical necessity itself, missed by 'opinion' during its initial appearance, mistaken for something arbitrary, is only able to constitute itself, to achieve itself, by means of this mistake.

There is a crucial distinction between this Hegelian position and the Marxist dialectic of the revolutionary process: for Rosa Luxemburg, the failures of premature attempts create the conditions for the final victory, while for Hegel, the dialectical reversal consists in the change of perspective whereby failure as such appears as victory - the symbolic act, the act precisely as symbolic, succeeds in its very failure. The Hegelian proposition that the 'true beginning only arrives at the end' should thus be understood in a literal fashion: the act - the "thesis' - is necessarily 'premature'; it is a 'hypothesis' condemned to failure, and the dialectical reversal takes place when the failure of this 'thesis' - the 'antithesis' - reveals the true 'thesis'. 'Synthesis' is the 'signification' of the thesis emerging from its failure. All the same, Goethe had it right, as opposed to Scripture (Écriture): in the beginning was the act; [19] the act implies a constitutive blunder, it misses, it 'falls into a void'; and the original gesture of symbolization is to posit this pure expenditure as something positive, to experience the loss as a process which opens up a free space, which 'lets things be'.

This is why the standard reproach - according to which Hegelian dialectics reduces the procedure to its purely logical structure, omitting the contingency of delays and overtakings, all the massive weight and inertia of the real which troubles and spoils the dialectical game, that is, which does not allow itself to be absorbed in the movement of Aufhebung - completely misses the point: this game of delays and overtaking is included in the dialectical process, not merely on the accidental, non-essential level, but absolutely as its central component. The dialectical process always takes the paradoxical form of overtaking/delay, the form of the reversal of a 'not yet' into an 'always already', of a 'too soon' and an 'after the fact' - its true motor is the structural impossibility of a 'right moment', the irreducible difference between a thing and its 'proper time'. Initially, the 'thesis' arrives by definition too soon to attain its proper identity, and it can only realize 'itself, become 'itself, after the fact, retroactively, by means of its repetition in the 'synthesis'.

3. '...This Integral Void That is Also Called the Sacred'

Let us be precise: it is not a matter of understanding the link between the failure of the act and its symbolization by reducing it to an alleged 'imaginary compensation' ('when the act, the effective intervention into reality, fails, one attempts to make up for this loss by a symbolic compensation, in keeping with the deeper meaning of such events') - for example, when the powerless victim of natural forces divinizes them, understands them as personified spiritual forces ... In such a rapid passage from the act to its 'deeper meaning', we miss the intermediate articulation which is the essence of its symbolization: the very moment of defeat, before it is redeemed by an 'imaginary compensation' and one obtains a 'deeper meaning', becomes in itself a positive gesture, a moment that would be denned by the distinction between the Symbolic in the strict sense and what one calls 'symbolic signification', or simply the symbolic order.

Normally, we pass directly from the real to the symbolic order: a thing is either itself, self-identical in the inertia of its bare presence, or else it possesses a 'symbolic signification'. So where does the Symbolic fit? It is necessary to introduce the crucial distinction between 'symbolic signification' and its own place, the empty place filled by signification: the Symbolic is above all a place, a place that was originally empty and subsequently filled with the bric-a-brac of the symbolic order. The crucial dimension of the Lacanian concept of the Symbolic is this logical priority, the precedence of the (empty) place with respect to the elements that fill it: before being a collection of 'symbols', bearers of some 'signification', the Symbolic is a differential network structured around an empty, traumatic place, described by Lacan as that of das Ding, the 'sacred' place of impossible jouissance. [20] As he demonstrates apropos of the vase, with reference to Heidegger, das Ding is above all an empty place surrounded by a signifying articulation - an empty place filled up by whatever one wants, right up to Jungian 'archetypes'. This priority of the 'sacred' as an empty place in relation to its content has already been emphasized by Hegel:

In order, then, that in this complete void (in diesen so ganz Leeren), which is even called the holy of holies, there may yet be something, we must fill it up with reveries (Traumereien), appearances, produced by consciousness itself ... since even reveries are better than its own emptiness. [21]

This is why the Hegelian 'loss of the loss' is definitively not the return to a full identity, lacking nothing. the 'loss of the loss' is the moment in which loss ceases to be the loss of 'something' and becomes the opening of the empty place that the object ('something') can occupy, the moment in which the empty place is conceived as prior to that which fills it - the loss opens up a space for the appearance of the object. In the 'loss of the loss', the loss remains a loss, it is not 'cancelled' in the ordinary sense: the regained 'positivity' is that of the loss as such, the experience of loss as a 'positive', indeed 'productive', condition.

Would it not be possible to define the final moment of the analytic process, the passe, as precisely this experience of the 'positive' character of loss, of the original void filled by the dazzling and fascinating experience of the fantasmatic object, the experience that the object as such, in its fundamental dimension, is the positivization of a void? Is this not the traversing of the fantasy, this experience of the priority of place in relation to the fantasmatic object, in the moment when, recalling the formula of Mallarmé, 'nothing takes place but the place'?

The desire of the analyst (insofar as it is 'pure' desire) is consequently not a particular desire (for example, the desire of interpretation, the desire to reveal the analysand's symptomal knot by way of interpretation), but - according to the Kantian formulation - quite simply non-pathological desire, a desire which is not tied to any fantasmatic 'pathological' object, but which is supported only by the empty place in the Other.

This is why it is so important clearly to distinguish the passe from any 'resignation' or 'assent to renunciation'; according to such a reading, analysis would be finished once the analysand 'accepts symbolic castration', when they resign themselves to the necessity of a radical Loss as part of their condition as a speaking-being... Such a reading makes of Lacan a kind of 'sage' preaching a 'fundamental renunciation'. At first glance, such a reading would appear well founded: is not fantasy, in the last resort, the fantasy that the sexual relationship is ultimately possible, fully achievable; and would not the end of analysis, the traversing of the fantasy, be precisely the equivalent of the experience of the impossibility of the sexual relationship, and thus the irreducibly discordant, blocked, deficient character of the 'human condition'? But this reading is empty: if one adopts as the fundamental ethical rule of analysis 'not to concede one's desire' [22] - from which it follows that the symptom is, as Jacques-Alain Miller emphasizes, precisely a specific mode of the 'conceding one's desire' - one must define the passe as the moment in which the subject takes upon themselves their desire in its pure, 'non-pathological' state, beyond its historicity/ hystericity - the exemplary case of the 'post-analytic' subject is not the dubious figure of the 'sage' but that of Oedipus at Colonnus, a rancorous old man who demands everything but renounces nothing! If the traversing of the fantasy overlaps with the experience of any lack, it is the lack of the Other and not that of the subject themselves: in the passe, the subject gets proof that the agalma, the 'hidden treasure', is already wanting in the Other; this object is separate from the point of symbolic identification, from the signifying trait in the Other. After locating the subject in relation to objet a,

the experience of the fundamental fantasy becomes the drive. What, then, does he who has passed through the experience of this opaque relation to the origin, to the drive, become? How can a subject who has traversed the radical fantasy experience the drive? This is the beyond of analysis, and has never been approached. Up to now, it has been approachable only at the level of the analyst, in as much as it would be required of him to have specifically traversed the cycle of the analytic experience in its totality. [23]

Is not Hegel's 'Absolute Knowledge', this incessant pulsation, this traversing of a path already taken repeated to infinity, the exemplary case of how 'to live out the drive' once history/hysteria is over? It is therefore not surprising that Lacan, in Chapter XIV of Seminar XI, articulates the circuit of the drive in terms that directly evoke the Hegelian distinction between 'finite' and 'infinite' ends. Lacan recalls the difference, distinctive to the English language, between aim and goal'. 'The aim is the way taken. The end has a different term in English, goal.' [24] The circuit of the drive is perhaps best defined as the pulsation between goal and aim: initially, the drive is on the path towards a certain goal; subsequently, this goal coincides with the experience of the path itself, whose 'aim is nothing else but the return of this circuit' [25] - in short, the true end ('infinite', aim) achieves itself by traversing its incessant failure to achieve the 'finite' end (goal); in the very failure to achieve our intended goal, the true aim is always already achieved.

4. Differentiating 'Absolute Knowledge'

'Absolute Knowledge' is undeniably not a position of 'omniscience', in which, ultimately, the subject 'knows everything'; we must first take into consideration the exact point at which it emerges in Hegel: at the end of the 'phenomenology of the spirit', the point where consciousness 'de-fetishizes' itself and, through this, becomes capable of knowing the truth, knowing the place of truth, and thus capable of 'science' in the Hegelian sense. As such, 'Absolute Knowledge' is only a 'that is to say (scilicet), a 'you are permitted to know', which opens up a place for the advance of science (logic, etc.).

What does the fetish represent, in the final analysis? It is an object that fills the constitutive lack in the Other, the empty place of 'primary repression', the place where the signifier must of necessity be lacking in order for the signifying network to articulate itself; in this sense, "de-fetishization' is equivalent to the experience of this constitutive lack, which is to say, of the Other as barred. It is perhaps for this reason that 'de-fetishization' is all the more difficult to achieve because the fetish reverses the standard relationship between the 'sign' and the 'thing': we usually understand the 'sign' as something that represents, that replaces the absent object, whereas the fetish is an object, a thing that replaces the missing 'sign'. It is easy to detect absence, the structure of signifying deferrals, when one expects the full presence of a thing, but it is more difficult to detect the inert presence of an object when one expects to find 'signs', the game of representational deferrals, traces ... This is why we are able clearly to distinguish Lacan from any tradition called 'post-structuralist', whose objective is to 'deconstruct' the 'metaphysics of presence': to denounce full presence, detecting there the traces of absence, dissolving fixed identity amidst a bundle of deferrals and traces ... Lacan is here much closer to Kafka: it is. of course, well known that Kafka is a 'writer of absence', describing a world that remains religious in its structure but in which the central place belonging to God is empty; however, it remains to be demonstrated how this Absence itself conceals an inert, nightmarish presence, that of an obscene Superegoic object, the 'Supreme-Being-in-Evilness. [26]

It is from this perspective that we would need to reinterpret the two characteristics of Absolute Knowledge that may, at first glance, possess an 'idealist' association: Absolute Knowledge as the 'abolition of the object', the suppression of objectivity as opposed to or outside of the subject; and Absolute Knowledge as the abolition of the Other (understood here as the dependence of the subject vis-à-vis an instance in relation to which he is exterior and decentered). The Hegelian 'sublation of the Other' does not equate either to a fusion of the subject with its Other, or to the appropriation, on the part of the subject, of any substantial content; it is rather a specifically Hegelian way of saying that 'the Other does not exist' (Lacan), in other words, that the Other does not exist as the Guarantor of Truth, as the Other of the Other, and thus this statement posits the lack in the Other, the Other as barred. It is in this hole within the substantial Other that the subject must recognize its place: the subject is interior to the substantial Other insofar as it is identified with an obstruction in the Other, with the impossibility of achieving its identity by means of self-closure. The 'abolition of the object', in turn, represents the flip-side: it is not a fusion of the subject and the object into a subject-object, but rather a radical shift in the status of the object itself - the object here neither conceals nor fills the hole in the Other. Such is the post-fantasmatic relationship with the object: the object is 'abolished', 'suppressed', it loses its fascinating aura. That which at first dazzles us with its charm is exposed as a sticky and disgusting remainder, the gift given 'is changed inexplicably into a gift of shit'. [27]

Apropos of Joyce, Lacan has stressed that he had very good reason for refusing analysis (the condition stipulated by a wealthy American patron in exchange for financial support); he had no need of it because, in his artistic practice, he had already attained the subjective position corresponding to the final moment in analysis, as is evident, for example, in his celebrated play on words letter/litter - that is to say, the transformation of the object of desire into shit, the post-fantasmatic relationship to the object. [28] In the field of philosophy, Hegelian Absolute Knowledge - and perhaps only Hegelian Absolute Knowledge - designates the same subjective position, that of the traversing of the fantasy, the post-fantasmatic relationship to the object, the experience of the lack in the Other. Perhaps the unique status of Hegelian Absolute Knowledge is due to the question that can be posed to proponents of the so-called 'post-Hegelian inversion', [29] whether the likes of Marx or Schelling: is this 'inversion' not, in the last resort, a flight in the face of the unbearability of the Hegelian procedure? The price of their 'inversion' seems to be a reading of Hegel that is totally blind to the dimension evoked by the traversing of the fantasy and the lack in the Other: in this reading. Absolute Knowledge becomes the culminating moment of so-called 'idealist panlogicism', against which one is able, of course, to affirm without any problem the 'process of effective life'.

One usually understands Absolute Knowledge as the fantasy of a full discourse, without fault or discord, the fantasy of an Identity inclusive of all divisions, whereas our reading, by way of contrast, sees in Absolute Knowledge the exact opposite of this, the dimension of the traversing of the fantasy. The defining trait of Absolute Knowledge is not a finally achieved Identity where for 'finite consciousness' there is only division (between the subject and the object, knowledge and truth, etc.), but rather the experience of distance, separation, where for 'finite consciousness' there is only fusion and identity (between oh/et a and the Other). Absolute Knowledge, far from filling the lack sensed by 'finite consciousness' separated from the Absolute, transfers this lack into the Other itself. The twist introduced by Absolute Knowledge thus concerns the very status of lack: the 'finite', 'alienated' consciousness suffers from the loss of the object, while 'de-alienation' consists of the realization that this object was lost from the beginning, and that any given object is simply an attempt to fill in the empty place of this loss.

The 'loss of loss' marks the point at which the subject recognizes the priority of the loss over the object: in the course of the dialectical process, the subject always loses anew that which it never possessed, while it continues to succumb to the necessary illusion that 'it would otherwise possess it'. This illusion according to which Absolute Knowledge would be the name given to the complete correspondence of subject and object, knowledge and truth, that is to say. the name of the filling of a lack in an absolute identity which suppresses all differences - is sustained by a perspectival error entirely homologous with the interpretation that understands the end of analytic process, which is the emergence of a non-relationship (non-rapport), as the establishment of a complete genital sexual relationship, which is the exact opposite of its actual end:

It is a fact that psychoanalysis is not able to produce the sexual relationship. Freud despaired over it. The post-Freudians have engaged themselves in finding its remedy by elaborating a genital formula. Even Lacan took note of it: the end of the analytic process does not hinge on the emergence of the sexual relationship. Instead, it depends entirely on the emergence of the non-relationship ... At this point, the end of analysis is resolved in a manner that formerly would have been unthinkable, rejected as pre-genital by the post-Freudian trend: to remain confined to the level of the object... The object is not what prevents the advent of the sexual relationship, as a perspectival error would have us believe. The object is on the contrary that which fills a relationship that does not exist, and gives it its fantasmatic consistency ... From now on, the end of analysis as such assumes an encounter with absence through the traversing of the fantasy and the separation from the object. [30]

The pre-genital object is the very thing that, by its inert fantasmatic presence, obstructs entry into the full, mature, genital sexual relationship, thus concealing, by the sheer weight of its presence, the fundamental obstacle, the void of the impossibility of the sexual relationship: far from concealing another presence, it instead distracts us, by its presence, from the place that it fills. But where does this perspectival error come from? From the fact that the void is strictly unsubstantial with the very movement of its concealment. It is true that the fantasy disguises the void signified by the formula 'there is no sexual relationship', but at the same time it stands in place of this void: the fantasmatic object conceals the gaping void which is a/so sustained by it.

And the same thing goes for the Hegelian object, the objectal figure-fetish: far from being a 'premature' figure of the true dialectical synthesis, it disguises, by its 'non-dialectical', 'non-mediated' given-ness, the impossibility of any final synthesis of the subject and the object. To put it another way, the perspectival error consists in thinking that at the end of the dialectical process, the subject finally obtains that for which they are searching - the perspectival error is here, because the Hegelian solution is not that they are not able to obtain that for which they are searching, but that they already possess that for which they are searching under the very form of its loss. The formula proposed by Gerard Miller to mark the difference between Marxism and psychoanalysis ('In Marxism, a man knows what he wants and does not possess it; in psychoanalysis, a man does not know what he wants and already possesses it') at the same time delineates the distance between Hegel and Marxism, the blindness of Marxism to the properly dialectical inversion of the impasse into the passe. The passe as the final moment of the analytic process does not say that one has finally resolved the impasse (the snaring of the unconscious in the transference, for example), overcoming its obstacles - the passe can be reduced to the retroactive experience that the impasse is already its own 'resolution'. To put it another way, the passe is exactly the same thing as the impasse (the impossibility of the sexual relationship), just as the synthesis is exactly the same thing as the antithesis: what changes is only the 'perspective', the position of the subject. In Lacan's early seminars, one can nevertheless find a conception of Absolute Knowledge that seems directly to contradict ours: Absolute Knowledge as the impossible ideal of attaining a definitive closure of the field of discourse:

Absolute knowledge is this moment in which the totality of discourse closes in on itself in a perfect non-contradiction, up to and including the fact that it posits, explains and justifies itself. We are some way from this ideal! [31]

The reason is simply that Lacan does not yet have at his disposal during this period any concept of the lack in the Other, nor does he appreciate the way this is at work in Hegel: his problematic is here that of symbolization-historicization, the symbolic realization of the traumatic kernel, along with the non-integration of the subject into the symbolic universe. For Lacan, therefore, the ideal end of analysis is to achieve a symbolization which reintegrates all traumatic ruptures within the symbolic field - an ideal incarnated in Hegelian Absolute Knowledge, but one whose true nature is instead Kantian: Absolute Knowledge is conceived as belonging to the species of the 'regulative idea', supposedly guiding the 'progress of the realization of the subject in the symbolic order': [32]

That is the ideal of analysis, which, of course, remains virtual. There is never a subject without an ego, a fully realized subject, but that in fact is what one must aim to obtain from the subject in analysis. [33]

Against such a conception, one must insist on the decisive fact that Hegelian Absolute Knowledge has absolutely nothing to do with some kind of ideal', the specific twist of Absolute Knowledge comes about when one perceives that the field of the Other is already 'closed' in on ifs own disorder. To put it another way, the subject as barred is to be posited as correlative to the inert remainder which forms the obstacle to its full symbolic realization, to its full subjectivization: <> a.

This is why, in the matheme for Absolute Knowledge (SA), the two terms must be barred - it works by the conjunction of and .


[1] See, e.g., Jacques Lacan, Le Seminaire dc Jacques Lacan XVII: L'envers de la psychoanalyse, 1969-70, ed. Jacques-Aiain Miller, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1991, p. 38 (transl. note).

[2] See Theodor Adorno et al., Aspects of Sociology, trans. John Viertel, Boston, Beacon, 1972, pp. 23-33.

[3] Jacques Lacan, 'The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious', in Écrits: A Selection, trans. Bruce Fink, New York, W. W. Norton, 2002, p. 306. Translation modified (transl. note).

[4] Jacques Lacan, 'Science and Truth', trans. Bruce Fink, Newsletter of the Freudian Field, 3, 1989, p. 13.

[5] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan XX: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-73 (Encore), ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink, New York, W. W. Norton, 1998, p. 65.

[6] In the opening paragraph of For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor (London and New York, Verso, 1991), Zizek tells the joke 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 the Communists will lose power in the Soviet Union, and the new forces will blame us Jews for the Communist crimes ..." "But," interrupts the bureaucrat, "this is pure nonsense, the power of the Communists will last for ever.'" "Well," responds Rabinovitch calmly, "that's my second reason."' The same joke also appears in The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge MA, MIT Press, 2003), p. 77 (transl. note)

[7] G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree, New York, Dover Publications, 1956, p. 355.

[8] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan XI; The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, 1964, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan, New York, W. W. Norton, 1977, p.204.

[9] See Rosa Luxemburg, Social Reform or Revolution, 2nd edn, trans. Integer, New York, Pathfinder Press, 1973.

[10] Hegel, Philosophy of History, p. 313.

[11] Ibid., p. 312.

[12] Ibid., p. 313.

[13] Paul-Laurent Assoun, Marx et la répétition historique, Paris, PUF, 1978, p. 68.

[14] Ibid., pp. 69-70.

[15] Ibid., p. 70.

[16] Ibid., p. 70.

[17] See Jacques-Alain Miller. 'Algorithmes de psychoanalyse', Ornicar?, 16, 1978.

[18] G. W. F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed. Alien W. Wood, trans. H. B. Nisbet, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 23.

[19] Zizek is referring here to the line from Goethe's Faust (Part I, Scene 3) - 'in the beginning was the Deed (Im An fang war die Tat)' - with which Freud also concludes his "Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics", in The Penguin Freud Library, 13: The Origins of Religion, ed. and trans. James Strachey, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1985, p. 224 (transl. note).

[20] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Dennis Porter, London and New York, Routledge, 1992, pp. 119-20, 129-30.

[21] G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1977, pp. 88-9.

[22] Lacan, Seminar VII, pp. 319-21. Dennis Porter renders the phrase ne pas céder sur son désir as 'giving ground relative to one's desire'. Bruce Fink, alternatively, opts for 'not to give up on his or her desire' or 'not to give in when it comes to his or her desire', in the sense that the analysand must not 'let the Other's desire take precedence over his or her own'. See his A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Practice, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1997, p. 206 (transl. note).

[23] Lacan, Seminar XI, pp. 273-4.

[24] Ibid., p. 179, translation modified.

[25] Ibid., p. 179.

[26] Lacan refers to this precise expression from Sade in his Seminar VII, p. 215, and again in "Kant avec Sade", in Écrits II, Paris: Seuil, 1966, p. 251. See also Chapter 6 of this volume, "The Limits of the Semiotic Approach to Psychoanalysis", p. 135 (transl. note).

[27] Lacan, Seminar XI, p. 268.

[28] I owe this formulation to Jacques-Alain Miller.

[29] Zizek seems to be referring here to Louis Althusser's well-known rejection of a Marxist 'inversion' (renversement) of the Hegelian dialectic in his "On the Materialist Dialectic: On the Unevenness of Origins", in For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster, London and New York, Verso, 1969, 161-218 (transl. note).

[30] Jacques-Alain Miller, "D'un autre Lacan", Ornicar? 28, 1984, pp. 51-2. Zizek cites a portion of this same passage in Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out, London and New York, Routledge, 1992, p. 89 (transl. note).

[31] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan I: Freud's Papers on Technique, 1953-54, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. John Forrester, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 264.

[32] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan II: The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli, New York, W. W. Norton, 1988, p. 319.

[33] Ibid., p. 246.

This essay was originally published in French in Le plus sublime des hystériques - Hegel passe, Broché, Paris, 1999. It appears in Interrogating the Real, London: Continuum, 2005, Rex Butler and Scott Stephens editors.

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Slavoj Zizek's Chronology

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