=The Parallax View=
The Tickling Object
Many times I am asked the obvious yet pertinent question about the title of my longest book: "so who or what is tickling the ticklish subject?" The answer, of course, is: the object - however, which object? This, in a nutshell (or, rather, as a nut within the shell), is the topic of the present book. The difference between subject and object can also be rendered as the difference between the two corresponding verbs, to subject (submit) oneself and to object (protest, oppose, make an obstacle). The subject's elementary, founding, gesture is to subject itself - voluntarily, of course: as both Wagner and Nietzsche, the two great opponents, were well aware of, the highest act of freedom is the display of amor fati, the act of freely assuming what is otherwise necessary. If, then, the subject's activity is, at its most fundamental, the activity of submitting oneself to the inevitable, the fundamental mode of object's passivity, of its passive presence, is that which moves, annoys, disturbs, traumatizes us (subjects): the object is at its most radical that which objects, that which disturbs the smooth run of things. <a name="1"></a><a href="#1x">1</a> The paradox is thus that the roles are reversed (with regard to the standard notion of the active subject working on the passive object): the subject is defined by a fundamental passivity, and it is the object from which movement comes, i.e., which does the tickling. But, again, WHICH is this object? The answer is: the parallax object.
The common definition of parallax is: the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight. The philosophical twist to be added, of course, is that the observed difference is not simply "subjective," due to the fact that the same object which exists "out there" is seen from two different stations, or points of view. It is rather that, as Hegel would have put it, subject and object are inherently "mediated," so that an "epistemological" shift in the subject's point of view always reflects an "ontological" shift in the object itself. Or, to put it in Lacanese, the subject's gaze is always-already inscribed into the perceived object itself, in the guise of its "blind spot," that which is "in the object more than object itself," the point from which the object itself returns the gaze. "Sure, the picture is in my eye, but me, I am also in the picture": <a name="2"></a><a href="#2x">2</a> the first part of this Lacan's statement designates subjectivization, the dependence of reality on its subjective constitution, while its second part provides a materialist supplement, reinscribing the subject into its own image in the guise of a stain (the objectivized splinter in its eye). Materialism is not the direct assertion of my inclusion into the objective reality (such an assertion presupposes that my position of enunciation is that of an external observer who can grasp the whole of reality); it rather resides in the reflexive twist by means of which I myself am included into the picture constituted by me - it is this reflexive short-circuit, this necessary REDOUBLING of myself as standing outside AND inside my picture, that bears witness to my "material existence." Materialism means that the reality I see is never "whole" - not because a large part of it eludes me, but because it contains a stain, a blind spot, which signals my inclusion in it.
Nowhere is this structure clearer than in the case of Lacan's objet petit a, the object-cause of desire. The same object can all of a sudden be "transubstantiated" into the object of my desire: what is to you just an ordinary object, is for me the focus of my libidinal investment, and this shift is caused by some unfathomable x, a je ne sais quoi in the object which cannot ever be pinned down to any of its particular properties. Objet a is therefore close to the Kantian transcendental object, since it stands for the unknown x, the noumenal core of the object beyond appearances, for what is "in you more than yourself." L'objet petit a can thus be defined as a pure parallax object: it is not only that its contours change with the shift of the subject; it only exists - its presence can only be discerned - when the landscape is viewed from a certain perspective. More precisely, the object a is the very CAUSE of the parallax gap, that unfathomable X which forever eludes the symbolic grasp and thus causes the multiplicity of symbolic perspectives. The paradox is here a very precise one: it is at the very point at which a pure difference emerges - a difference which is no longer a difference between two positively existing objects, but a minimal difference which divides one and the same object from itself - that this difference "as such" immediately coincides with an unfathomable object: in contrast to a mere difference between objects, the pure difference is itself an object. Another name for the parallax gap is therefore minimal difference, a "pure" difference which cannot be grounded in positive substantial properties. In Henry James's "The Real Thing," the painter-narrator agrees to hire the impoverished "true" aristocrats Major and Mrs. Monarch as models for his illustrations of a de luxe book. However, although they are the "real thing," their drawings appear a fake, so the painter has to rely more and more on a vulgar couple of the cheap Cockney model Miss Churm and the lithe Italian Oronte, whose imitation of the high-class poses works much better... is this not the unfathomable "minimal difference" at its purest?
A more complex literary case of this minimal difference is provided by the editorial fate of Tender Is the Night, Francis Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece, the sad story of the disintegrating marriage between Nicole Warren, the rich American heiress, a schizophrenic victim of incest, and Richard Diver, a young brilliant psychiatrist who treated her in Switzerland. In the first edition, the novel begins years later at the Divers' villa on the French Riviera where the couple lives a glamorous life; the story is told from the perspective of Rosemary, a young American movie actress who falls in love with Dick, fascinated by the Divers' glitzy life style. Gradually, Rosemary gets hints of a dark underside of traumas and psychic breakdowns beneath the surface of the glamorous social life. At this point, the story moves back into how Dick encountered Nicole, how they got married in spite of her family's doubts, etc.; after this interlude, the story returns to the present, continuing the description of the gradual falling apart of Nicole's and Dick's marriage (Dick's desperate affair with Rosemary, etc., up to one of the most depressive and hopeless endings in modern literature). However, for the novel's second edition (the first printing was a failure), Fitzgerald tried to improve it by rearranging the material in chronological order: now, the novel begins in 1919 Zurich, with Dick as a young doctor called by a friend psychiatrist to take over the difficult case of Nicole. <a name="3"></a><a href="#3x">3</a>
Why is none of the two versions satisfying? Obviously, the first one is the more adequate one, not only for purely dramatic-narrative reasons (it first creates the enigma - what is the secret behind the glitzy surface of the Divers' marriage? - and then, after arousing the reader's interest, it proceeds to give the answer). Rosemary's external point of view, fascinated by the ideal(ized) couple of Dick and Nicole, is not simply external. Rather, it embodies the gaze of the social "big Other," the Ego-Ideal, for which Dick enacts the life of a happy husband who tries to charm everybody around him, i.e., this external gaze is internal to Dick, part of his immanent subjective identity - he leads his life in order to satisfy this gaze. What this implies, furthermore, is that Dick's fate cannot be accounted for in the terms of the immanent deployment of a flawed character: to present Dick's sad fate in this way (i.e., in the mode of a linear narrative) is a lie, an ideological mystification that transposes the external network of social relations into inherent psychological features. One is even tempted to say that the flashback chapter on the prehistory of Dick's and Nicole's marriage, far from providing a truthful account of the reality beneath the false glitzy appearance, is a retroactive fantasy, a kind of a narrative version of what, in the history of capitalism, functions as the myth of "primordial accumulation." <a name="4"></a><a href="#4x">4</a> In other words, there is no direct immanent line of development from the prehistory to the glitzy story proper: the jump is irreducible here, a different dimensions intervenes.
The enigma is thus: why was Fitzgerald not satisfied with the first version? Why did he replace it with the clearly less satisfying linear narrative? Upon a closer look, it is easy to discern also the limitations of the first version: the flashback after the first part sticks out: while the jump from the present (French Riviera in 1929) to the past (Zurich in 1919) is convincing, the return to the present "doesn't work," is not artistically fully justified. The only consistent answer is therefore: because the only way to remain faithful to the artistic truth is to "bite the bullet" and admit defeat, i.e., to circumscribe the gap itself by way of presenting both versions. <a name="5"></a><a href="#5x">5</a> In other words, the two versions are not consecutive, they should be red structurally (synchronously), like the two maps of the same village in the example from Levi-Strauss (developed in detail later). In short, what we encounter here is the function of parallax at its purest: the gap between the two versions is irreducible, it is the "truth" of both of them, the traumatic core around which they circulate, there is no way to resolve the tension, to find a "proper" solution. What first appears as a merely formal narrative deadlock (how, in what order, to tell the story), thus signals a more radical deadlock that pertains to the social content itself. Fitzgerald's narrative failure and oscillation between the two versions tells us something about the social reality itself, about a certain gap that is stricto sensu a fundamental social fact. The "tickling object" is here the absent Cause, the unfathomable X that undermines every narrative solution.
Since l'objet petit a is the object of psychoanalysis, no wonder that we encounter a parallax gap in the very core of psychoanalytic experience. When Jean Laplanche elaborates the impasses of the Freudian topic of seduction, he effectively reproduces the precise structure of a Kantian antinomy. On the one hand, there is the brutal empirical realism of the parental seduction: the ultimate cause of later traumas and pathologies is that children effectively were seduced and molested by adults; on the other hand, there is the (in)famous reduction of the seduction scene to the patient's fantasy. As Laplanche points out, the ultimate irony is that the dismissal of seduction as fantasy passes today for the "realistic" stance, while those who insist on the reality of seduction end up advocating all kind of molestations, up to satanic rites and extra-terrestrial harassments... Laplanche's solution is precisely the transcendental one: while "seduction" cannot be reduced just to subject's fantasy, while it does refer to a traumatic encounter of the other's "enigmatic message," bearing witness to the other's unconscious, it also cannot be reduced to an event in the reality of the actual interaction between child and his/her adults. Seduction is rather a kind of transcendental structure, the minimal a priori formal constellation of the child confronted with the impenetrable acts of the Other which bear witness to the Other's unconscious - and we are never dealing here with simple "facts," but always with facts located into the space of indeterminacy between "too soon" and "too late": the child is originally helpless, thrown into the world when unable to take care of itself, i.e., his/her surviving skills develop too late; at the same time, the encounter of the sexualized Other always, by a structural necessity, comes "too soon," as an unexpected shock which cannot ever be properly symbolized, translated into the universe of meaning. <a name="6"></a><a href="#6x">6</a> The fact of seduction is thus that of the Kantian transcendental X, a structurally-necessary transcendental illusion.
The Kantian Parallax
In his formidable Transcritique, <a name="7"></a><a href="#7x">7</a> Kojin Karatani endeavors to assert the critical potential of such a "parallax view": when confronted with an antinomic stance in the precise Kantian sense of the term, one should renounce all attempts to reduce one aspect to the other (or, even more, to enact a kind of "dialectical synthesis" of the opposites); one should, on the contrary, assert antinomy as irreducible, and conceive the point of radical critique not a certain determinate position as opposed to another position, but the irreducible gap between the positions itself, the purely structural interstice between them. Kant's stance is thus "to see things neither from his own viewpoint, nor from the viewpoint of others, but to face the reality that is exposed through difference (parallax)." <a name="8"></a><a href="#8x">8</a> (Is this not Karatani's way to assert the Lacanian Real as a pure antagonism, as an impossible difference which precedes its terms?) This is how Karatani reads the Kantian notion of the Ding an sich (the Thing-in-itself, beyond phenomena): this Thing is not simply a transcendental entity beyond our grasp, but something discernible only via the irreducibly antinomic character of our experience of reality. <a name="9"></a><a href="#9x">9</a>
Let us take Kant's confrontation with the epistemological antinomy which characterized his epoch: empiricism versus rationalism. Kant's solution is neither to chose one of the terms, nor to enact a kind of higher "synthesis" which would "sublate" the two as unilateral, as partial moments of a global truth (and, of course, nor does he withdraw to pure scepticism); the stake of his "transcendental turn" is precisely to avoid the need to formulate one's own "positive" solution. What Kant does is to change the very terms of the debate; his solution - the transcendental turn - is unique in that it, first, rejects the ontological closure: it recognizes a certain fundamental and irreducible limitation ("finitude") of the human condition, which is why the two poles, rational and sensual, active and passive, cannot ever be fully mediated-reconciled - the "synthesis" of the two dimensions (i.e., the fact that our Reason seems to fit the structure of external reality that affects us)always relies on a certain salto mortale or "leap of faith." Far from designating a "synthesis" of the two dimensions, the Kantian "transcendental" rather stands for their irreducible gap "as such": the "transcendental" points at something in this gap, a new dimension which cannot be reduced to any of the two positive terms between which the gap is gaping. And Kant does the same with regard to the antinomy between the Cartesian cogito as res cogitans, the "thinking substance," a self-identical positive entity, and Hume's dissolution of the subject in the multitude of fleeting impressions: against both positions, he asserts the subject of transcendental apperception which, while displaying a self-reflective unity irreducible to the empirical multitude, nonetheless lacks any substantial positive being, i.e., it is in no way a res cogitans. Here, however, one should be more precise than Karatani who directly identifies the transcendental subject with transcendental illusion:
yes, an ego is just an illusion, but functioning there is the transcendental apperception X. But what one knows as metaphysics is that which considers the X as something substantial. Nevertheless, one cannot really escape from the drive /Trieb/ to take it as an empirical substance in various contexts. If so, it is possible to say that an ego is just an illusion, but a transcendental illusion. <a name="10"></a><a href="#10x">10</a>
However, the precise status of the transcendental subject is not that of what Kant calls a transcendental illusion or what Marx calls the objectively-necessary form of thought. First, the transcendental I, its pure apperception, is a purely formal function which is neither noumenal nor phenomenal - it is empty, no phenomenal intuition corresponds to it, since, if it were to appear to itself, its self-appearance would be the "thing itself," i.e., the direct self-transparency of a noumenon. <a name="11"></a><a href="#11x">11</a> The parallel between the void of the transcendental subject ($) and the void of the transcendental object, the inaccessible X that causes our perceptions, is misleading here: the transcendental object is the void beyond phenomenal appearances, while the transcendental subject already appears as a void. <a name="12"></a><a href="#12x">12</a>
Perhaps, the best way to describe the Kantian break towards this new dimension is with regard to the changed status of the notion of the "inhuman." Kant introduced a key distinction between negative and indefinite judgment: the positive judgment "the soul is mortal" can be negated in two ways, when a predicate is denied to the subject ("the soul is not mortal"), and when a non-predicate is affirmed ("the soul is non-mortal") - the difference is exactly the same as the one, known to every reader of Stephen King, between "he is not dead" and “he is un-dead." The indefinite judgment opens up a third domain which undermines the underlying distinction: the “undead" are neither alive nor dead, they are precisely the monstrous “living dead." <a name="13"></a><a href="#13x">13</a> And the same goes for "inhuman": "he is not human" is not the same as "he is inhuman" - "he is not human" means simply that he is external to humanity, animal or divine, while “he is inhuman" means something thoroughly difference, namely the fact that he is neither human nor inhuman, but marked by a terrifying excess which, although it negates what we understand as "humanity," is inherent to being-human. And, perhaps, one should risk the hypothesis that this is what changes with the Kantian revolution: in the pre-Kantian universe, humans were simply humans, beings of reason, fighting the excesses of animal lusts and divine madness, while only with Kant and German Idealism, the excess to be fought is absolutely immanent, the very core of subjectivity itself (which is why, with German Idealism, the metaphor for the core of subjectivity is Night, "Night of the World," in contrast to the Enlightenment notion of the Light of Reason fighting the darkness around). <a name="14"></a><a href="#14x">14</a> So when, in the pre-Kantian universe, a hero goes mad, it means he is deprived of his humanity, i.e., the animal passions or divine madness took over, while with Kant, madness signals the unconstrained explosion of the very core of a human being. (In Kafka's Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa's sister Grete designates her brother-turned-insect a monster - the German word used is ein Untier, an inanimal, in a strict symmetry to inhuman. What we get here is the opposite of inhuman: an animal which, while remaining animal, is not really animal - the excess over the animal in animal, the traumatic core of animality, that can only emerge "as such" in a human which became animal.) <a name="15"></a><a href="#15x">15</a>
Which, then, is this new dimension that emerges in the gap itself? It is that of the transcendental I itself, of its "spontaneity:" the ultimate parallax, the third space between phenomena and noumenon itself, is the subject's freedom/spontaneity, which - although, of course, it is not the property of a phenomenal entity, so that it cannot be dismissed as a false appearance which conceals the noumenal fact that we are totally caught in an inaccessible necessity - is also not simply noumenal. In a mysterious subchapter of his Critique of Practical Reason entitled "Of the Wise Adaptation of Man's Cognitive Faculties to His Practical Vocation," Kant endeavors to answer the question of what would happen to us if we were to gain access to the noumenal domain, to the Ding an sich:
... instead of the conflict which now the moral disposition has to wage with inclinations and in which, after some defeats, moral strength of mind may be gradually won, God and eternity in their awful majesty would stand unceasingly before our eyes. /.../ Thus most actions conforming to the law would be done from fear, few would be done from hope, none from duty. The moral worth of actions, on which alone the worth of the person and even of the world depends in the eyes of supreme wisdom, would not exist at all. The conduct of man, so long as his nature remained as it is now, would be changed into mere mechanism, where, as in a puppet show, everything would gesticulate well but no life would be found in the figures. <a name="1"></a><a href="#1x">1</a>
In short, the direct access to the noumenal domain would deprive us of the very "spontaneity" which forms the kernel of transcendental freedom: it would turn us into lifeless automata, or, to put it in today's terms, into "thinking machines." The implication of this passage is much more radical and paradoxical than it may appear. If we discard its inconsistency (how could fear and lifeless gesticulation coexist?), the conclusion it imposes is that, at the level of phenomena as well as at the noumenal level, we - humans - are a “mere mechanism" with no autonomy and freedom: as phenomena, we are not free, we are a part of nature, a “mere mechanism," totally submitted to causal links, a part of the nexus of causes and effects, and as noumena, we are again not free, but reduced to a "mere mechanism." (Is what Kant describes as a person which directly knows the noumenal domain not strictly homologous to the utilitarian subject whose acts are fully determined by the calculus of pleasures and pains?) Our freedom persists only in a space IN BETWEEN the phenomenal and the noumenal. It is therefore not that Kant simply limited causality to the phenomenal domain in order to be able to assert that, at the noumenal level, we are free autonomous agents: we are only free insofar as our horizon is that of the phenomenal, insofar as the noumenal domain remains inaccessible to us.
Is the way out of this predicament to assert that we are free insofar as we ARE noumenally autonomous, BUT our cognitive perspective remains constrained to the phenomenal level? In this case, we ARE “really free" at the noumenal level, but our freedom would be meaningless in we were also to have the cognitive insight into the noumenal domain, since that insight would always determine our choices - who WOULD choose evil, when confronted with the fact that the price of doing evil will be the divine punishment? However, does this imagined case not provide us with the only consequent answer to the question “what would a truly free act be," a free act for a noumenal entity, an act of true noumenal freedom? It would be to KNOW all the inexorable horrible consequences of choosing the evil, and nonetheless to choose it. This would have been a truly “non-pathological" act, an act of acting with no regard for one's pathological interests... Kant's own formulations are here misleading, since he often identifies the transcendental subject with the noumenal I whose phenomenal appearance is the empirical "person," thus shirking from his radical insight into how the transcendental subject is a pure formal-structural function beyond the opposition of the noumenal and the phenomenal.
The philosophical consequences of this Kantian parallax are fully explored in the notion of ontological difference, the focus of Heidegger's entire thought, which can only be properly grasped against the background of the motif of finitude. There is a double doxa on Heidegger's ontological difference: it is a difference between the What, the essence of beings, and the mere That-ness of their being - it liberates beings from being subordinated to any ground/arché/goal; furthermore, it is a difference not merely between (different levels of) beings, of reality, but between the All of reality and something else which, with regard to reality, cannot but appear as "Nothing"... This doxa is deeply misleading.
With regard to the notion of ontological difference as the difference between WHAT things are and the fact THAT they are, the doxa says that the mistake of metaphysics is to subordinate being to some presupposed essence (sense, goal, arché...) embodied in the highest entity, while ontological difference "de-essentializes" beings, setting them free from their enslavement to Essence, letting-them-be in their an-archic freedom - prior to any "what-for? why?" etc., things simply ARE, they just OCCUR... However, if this were Heidegger's thesis, then Sartre, in his Nausea, would also outline ontological difference at its most radical - does he not describe there the experience of the stupid and meaningless inertia of being at its most disgusting, indifferent to all our (human) meanings and projects? For Heidegger, in contrast to Sartre, "ontological difference" is, rather, the difference between the entities' stupid being-there, their senseless reality, and their horizon of meaning.
There is a link between ontological and sexual difference (conceived in a purely formal-transcendental way, along the lines of Lacan's "formulas of sexuation," of course). <a name="17"></a><a href="#17x">17</a> The male side - universality and exception - is literally "meta-physical" (the entire universe, all of reality, is grounded in its constitutive exception, the highest entity which is epekeina tes ousias), while the ontological difference proper is feminine: reality is non-all, but there is nothing beyond-outside it, and this Nothing is Being itself. Ontological difference is not between the Whole of beings and their Outside, as if there is a Super-Ground of the All. In this precise sense, ontological difference is linked to finitude (Heidegger's original insight and link to Kant), which means that Being is the horizon of finitude which prevents us from conceiving beings in their All. Being cuts from within beings: ontological difference is not the "mega-difference" between All of beings and something more fundamental, it is always also that which makes the domain of beings itself "non-all." - Apropos "telling all the truth," one should again apply the Lacanian paradoxes of the non-All; that is to say, one should strictly oppose two cases. Because truth is in itself non-all, inconsistent, "antagonistic," every telling of "all the Truth" has to rely on an exception, on a secret that is withheld; the opposite case, the telling of non-all truth, does not imply that we keep some part of truth secret - its obverse is that there is nothing we did not tell. <a name="18"></a><a href="#18x">18</a>
What this also means is that ontological difference is not "maximal," between all beings, the highest genus, and something else/more/beyond, but, rather, "minimal," the bare minimum of a difference not between beings but between the minimum of an entity and the void, nothing. Insofar as it is grounded in the finitude of humans, ontological difference is that which makes a totalization of "All of beings" impossible - ontological difference means that the field of reality is finite. Ontological difference is in this precise sense "real/impossible": to use Ernesto Laclau's determination of antagonism, in it, external difference overlaps with internal difference. The difference between beings and their Being is simultaneously a difference within beings themselves; that is to say, the difference between beings/entities and their Opening, their horizon of Meaning, always also cuts into the field of beings themselves, making it incomplete/finite. Therein resides the paradox: the difference between beings in their totality and their Being precisely "misses the difference" and reduces Being to another "higher" Entity. The parallel between Kant's antinomies and Heidegger's ontological difference resides in the fact that, in both cases, the gap (phenomenal/noumenal; ontic/ontological) is to be referred to the non-All of the phenomenal-ontic domain itself. However, the limitation of Kant was that he was not able to fully assume this paradox of finitude as constitutive of the ontological horizon: ultimately, he reduced transcendental horizon to a way reality appears to a finite being (man), with all of it located into a wider encompassing realm of noumenal reality.
Crucial is thus the shift of the place of freedom from the noumenal beyond to the very gap between phenomenal and noumenal - is this shift not the very shift from Kant to Hegel, from the tension between immanence and transcendence to the minimal difference/gap in the immanence itself? Hegel is thus not external to Kant: the problem with Kant was that he produced the shift but was not able, for structural reasons, to formulate it explicitly - he "knew" that the place of freedom is effectively not noumenal, but the gap between phenomenal and noumenal; AND he could not put it so explicitly, since, if he were to do it, his transcendental edifice would have collapsed. However, WITHOUT this implicit "knowledge," there would also have been no transcendental dimension, so that one is forced to conclude that, far from being a stable consistent position, the dimension of the Kantian "transcendental" can only sustain itself in a fragile balance between the said and the unsaid, through producing something the full consequences of which we refuse to articulate, to "posit as such." <a name="19"></a><a href="#19x">19</a> What this means is that Karatani is wrong in the way he opposes Kant and Hegel: far from overcoming the parallax logic, Hegel brings it from the Kantian "in itself" to "for itself." It is only Hegel who can think the parallax in its radicality, as the priority of the inherent antagonism over the multiple/failed reflection of the transcendent/impossible Thing.
Recall Claude Levi-Strauss's exemplary analysis, from his Structural Anthropology, of the spatial disposition of buildings in the Winnebago, one of the Great Lake tribes, might be of some help here. The tribe is divided into two sub-groups ("moieties"), "those who are from above" and "those who are from below"; when we ask an individual to draw on a piece of paper, or on sand, the ground-plan of his/her village (the spatial disposition of cottages), we obtain two quite different answers, depending on his/her belonging to one or the other sub-group. Both perceive the village as a circle; but for one sub-group, there is within this circle another circle of central houses, so that we have two concentric circles, while for the other sub-group, the circle is split into two by a clear dividing line. In other words, a member of the first sub-group (let us call it "conservative-corporatist") perceives the ground-plan of the village as a ring of houses more or less symmetrically disposed around the central temple, whereas a member of the second ("revolutionary-antagonistic") sub-group perceives his/her village as two distinct heaps of houses separated by an invisible frontier... <a name="20"></a><a href="#20x">20</a> The point Levi-Strauss wants to make is that this example should in no way entice us into cultural relativism, according to which the perception of social space depends on the observer's group-belonging: the very splitting into the two "relative" perceptions implies a hidden reference to a constant - not the objective, "actual" disposition of buildings but a traumatic kernel, a fundamental antagonism the inhabitants of the village were unable to symbolize, to account for, to "internalize", to come to terms with, an imbalance in social relations that prevented the community from stabilizing itself into a harmonious whole. The two perceptions of the ground-plan are simply two mutually exclusive endeavors to cope with this traumatic antagonism, to heal its wound via the imposition of a balanced symbolic structure. It is here that one can see it what precise sense the Real intervenes through anamorphosis. We have first the "actual," "objective," arrangement of the houses, and then its two different symbolizations which both distort in an anamorphic way the actual arrangement. However, the "real" is here not the actual arrangement, but the traumatic core of some social antagonism which distorts the tribe members' view of the actual arrangement of the houses in their village.
The Real is thus the disavowed X on account of which our vision of reality is anamorphically distorted; it is SIMULTANEOUSLY the Thing to which direct access is not possible AND the obstacle which prevents this direct access, the Thing which eludes our grasp AND the distorting screen which makes us miss the Thing. More precisely, the Real is ultimately the very shift of perspective from the first to the second standpoint. Recall the old well-known Adorno's analysis of the antagonistic character of the notion of society: in a first approach, the split between the two notions of society (Anglo-Saxon individualistic-nominalistic and Durkheimian organicist notion of society as a totality which preexists individuals) seems irreducible, we seem to be dealing with a true Kantian antinomy which cannot be resolved via a higher "dialectical synthesis," and which elevates society into an inaccessible Thing-in-itself; however, in a second approach, one should merely take not of how this radical antinomy which seems to preclude our access to the Thing ALREADY IS THE THING ITSELF - the fundamental feature of today's society IS the irreconcilable antagonism between Totality and the individual. What this means is that, ultimately, the status of the Real is purely parallactic and, as such, non-substantial: is has no substantial density in itself, it is just a gap between two points of perspective, perceptible only in the shift from the one to the other. The parallax Real is thus opposed to the standard (Lacanian) notion of the Real as that which "always returns at its place," i.e., as that which remains the same in all possible (symbolic) universes: the parallax Real is rather that which accounts for the very multiplicity of appearances of the same underlying Real - it is not the hard core which persists as the Same, but the hard bone of contention which pulverizes the sameness into the multitude of appearances. In a first move, the Real is the impossible hard core which we cannot confront directly, but only through the lenses of a multitude of symbolic fictions, virtual formations. In a second move, this very hard core is purely virtual, actually non-existing, an X which can be reconstructed only retroactively, from the multitude of symbolic formations which are "all that there actually is." <a name="21"></a><a href="#21x">21</a>
In philosophical terms, the topic of parallax confronts us with the key question of the passage from Kant to Hegel. There are two main versions of this passage (which is still one of the great dividing lines among philosophers: those - mostly of the analytic orientation - who think that Kant is the last one who "makes sense," and that the post-Kantian turn of German Idealism is one of the greatest catastrophes, regressions into meaningless speculation, in the history of philosophy, and those for whom the post-Kantian speculative-historical approach is the highest achievement of philosophy):
1. Kant asserts the gap of finitude, transcendental schematism, the negative access to the Noumenal (via Sublime) as the only possible one, etc., while Hegel's absolute idealism closes the Kantian gap and returns to pre-critical metaphysics;
2. it is Kant who goes only half the way in his destruction of metaphysics, still maintaining the reference to the Thing-in-itself as external inaccessible entity, and Hegel is merely a radicalized Kant, who makes the step from negative access to the Absolute to Absolute itself as negativity. Or, to put it in the terms of the Hegelian shift from epistemological obstacle to positive ontological condition (our incomplete knowledge of the thing turns into a positive feature of the thing which is in itself incomplete, inconsistent): it is not that Hegel "ontologizes" Kant; on the contrary, it is Kant who, insofar as he conceives the gap as merely epistemological, continues to presuppose a fully constituted noumenal realm existing out there, and it is Hegel who "deontologizes" Kant, introducing a gap into the very texture of reality.
In other words, Hegel's move is not to "overcome" the Kantian division, but, rather, to assert it "as such," to drop the need for its "overcoming," for the additional "reconciliation" of the opposites, i.e., to gain the insight - through a purely formal parallax shift - into how positing the distinction "as such" already IS the looked-for "reconciliation." The limitation of Kant is not in his remaining within the confines of finite oppositions, in his inability to reach the Infinite, but, on the contrary, in his very search for a transcendent domain beyond the realm of finite oppositions: Kant is not unable to reach the Infinite - what he is unable of is to see how he ALREADY HAS what he is looking for. This reversal provides the key for the infamous "Hegelian triad."
When talking about the "Hegelian triad," the first thing to do is to forget the story about alienation, loss of the original organic unity, and the return to a "higher" mediated unity. To get a more appropriate idea of it, it is worth recalling the sublime reversal found, among others, in Charles Dickens' The Great Expectations? When, at his birth, Pip is designated as a "man of great expectations," everybody perceives this as the forecast of his worldly success; however, at the novel's end, when he abandons London's false glamour and returns to his modest childhood community, we become aware that he did live up to the forecast that marked his life - it is only by way of finding strength to leave behind the vain thrill of London's high society that he authenticates the notion of being a "man of great expectations". We are dealing here with a kind of Hegelian reflexivity: what changes in the course of the hero's ordeal is not only his character, but also the very ethical standard by which we measure his character. And did not something of the same order happen at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, when Muhammad Ali lighted the Olympic fire with the torch held by his hand shaking heavily on account of his severe illness - when the journalists claimed that, in doing this, he truly was "The Greatest" (a reference to Ali's boasting self-designation decades ago, the title of the film about himself in which he starred and of his autobiography), they, of course, wanted to emphasize that Muhammad Ali achieved true greatness now, through his dignified endurance of his debilitating illness, not when he was enjoying the full swing of popularity and smashing his opponents in the ring... This is what "negation of negation" is: the shift of perspective which turns failure into true success.
The predominant way to assert the actuality of Hegel, i.e., to save him from the reproach that his system is a totally outdated metaphysical madness, is to read his thought as an attempt to establish the normative conditions or presuppositions of our cognitive and ethical claims: Hegel's logic is not a system of universal ontology, but just a systematic deployment of all ways available to us to make claims about what there is, and of the inherent inconsistencies of these ways. In this reading, Hegel's starting point is the fact that the fundamental structure of the human mind is self-reflective: a human being does not simply act, it (can) act(s) upon rational freely assumed norms and motivations, which means that, in order to account for our statements and attitudes, one cannot ever simply refer to some positive data (natural laws and processes, divine Reason, God's Will...) - each of these reference has to be JUSTIFIED, its normative binding power has to be somehow ACCOUNTED FOR. - The problem with this elegant solution is that, in contrast to the robust direct metaphysical reading of Hegel as rendering the structure of the Absolute, it is too modest: it silently reduces Hegel's logic to a system of global epistemology, of all possible epistemological stances, and what gets lost to it is the intersection between the epistemological and ontological aspects, the way "reality" itself is caught in the movement of our knowing it (or, vice versa, how our knowing of reality is embedded in reality itself, like journalist embedded with the US Army units in Iraq).
The Birth of (the Hegelian) Concrete Universality Out of the Spirit of (Kantian) Antinomies
On the southern side of the demilitarized zone in Korea, there is a unique visitor's site: a theater building with a large screen-like window in front, opening up onto the North. The spectacle people observe when they take seats and look through the window is reality itself (or, rather, a kind of "desert of the real"): the barren demilitarized zone with walls etc., and, beyond, a glimpse of North Korea. (As if to comply with the fiction, North Korea has built in front of this theater a pure fake, a model village with beautiful houses; in the evening, the lights in all the houses are turned on at the same time, although nobody lives in them.) Is this not a pure case of the symbolic efficiency of the frame as such? A barren zone is given a fantasmatic status, elevated into a spectacle, solely by being enframed. Nothing substantially changes here - it is merely that, viewed through the frame, reality turns into its own appearance. A supreme case of such an ontological comedy occurred in December 2001 in Buenos Aires, when Argentinians took to the streets to protest against the current government, and especially against Cavallo, the economy minister. When the crowd gathered around Cavallo's building, threatening to storm it, he escaped wearing a mask of himself (sold in disguise shops so that people could mock him by wearing his mask). It thus seems that at least Cavallo did learn something from the widely spread Lacanian movement in Argentina - the fact that a thing is its own best mask. What one encounters in tautology is thus PURE DIFFERENCE, not the difference between the element and other elements, but the different of the element FROM ITSELF.
The fundamental lesson of Hegel is that the key ontological problem is not that of reality but that of appearance: not "Are we condemned to the interminable play of appearances, or can we penetrate through their veil to the underlying true reality?", but: "How could - in the middle of the flat, stupid, reality which just IS THERE - something like APPEARANCE emerge?" The minimal ontology of parallax is therefore that of the Moebius band, of the curved space that is bent onto itself. That is to say, the minimum parallax constellation is that of a simple frame: all that has to intervene into the Real is an empty frame, so that the same things we saw before "directly" are now seen through the frame. A certain surplus-effect is thus generated which cannot simply be cancelled through "demystification": it is not enough to display the mechanism behind the frame, the stage-effect within the frame acquires an autonomy of its own. How is this possible? There is only one conslusion which can account for this gap: that there is no “neutral" reality within which gaps occur, within which frames isolate domains of appearances. Every field of "reality" (every "world") is always-already enframed, seen through an invisible frame. The parallax is not symmetrical, composed of two incompatible perspectives on the same X: there is an irreducible asymmetry between the two perspectives, a minimal reflexive twist. We do not have two perspectives, we have a perspective and what eludes it, and the other perspective fills in this void of what we could not see from the first perspective.
One of the minimal definitions of a modernist painting concerns the function of its frame. The frame of the painting in front of us is not its true frame; there is another, invisible, frame, the frame implied by the structure of the painting, the frame that enframes our perception of the painting, and these two frames by definition never overlap - there is an invisible gap separating them. The pivotal content of the painting is not rendered in its visible part, but is located in this dis-location of the two frames, in the gap that separates them. This dimension in-between-the-two-frames is obvious in Kazimir Malevich (what is his Black Square on White Surface if not the minimal marking of the distance between the two frames?), in Edward Hopper (recall his lone figures in office buildings or diners at night, where it seems as if the picture's frame has to be redoubled with another window frame - or, in the portraits of his wife close to open window, exposed to sun rays, the opposite excess of the painted content itself with regard to what we effectively see, as if we see only the fragment of the whole picture, the shot with a missing counter-shot), and, again, in Edvard Munch's Madonna - the droplets of sperm and the small foetus-like figure from The Scream squeezed in-between the two frames. The frame is always-already redoubled: the frame within "reality" is always linked to another frame enframing "reality" itself. Once introduced, the gap between reality and appearance is thus immediately complicated, reflected-into-itself: once we get a glimpse, through the Frame, of the Other Dimension, reality itself turns into appearance. In other words, things do not simply appear, they appear to appear. This is why the negation of a negation does not bring us to a simple flat affirmation: once things (start to) appear, they not only appear as what they are not, creating an illusion; they can also appear to just appear, concealing the fact that they ARE what they appear.
It is this logic of the "minimal difference," of the constitutive non-coincidence of a thing with itself, which provides the key to the central Hegelian category of “concrete universality." Let us take a “mute" abstract universality which encompasses a set of elements all of whom somehow subvert, do not fit, this universal frame - is, in this case, the “true" concrete universal not this distance itself, the universalized exception? And vice versa, is the element which directly fits the universal not the true exception? Not only is, as the commonplace goes, universality based in an exception; Lacan goes here a step further: universality IS its exception, it "appears as such" in its exception. This is what Badiou et al deployed as the logic of the "surnumerary" element: the exception (the element with no place in the structure) which immediately stands for the universal dimension. Christianity first introduced this notion: Christ, the miserable outcast, IS man as such (ecce homo). Democracy - in its true grandeur, not in its post-political logic of administration and compromise among multiple interests - partakes in the same tradition: the "part of no part," those with no proper place within the social edifice, ARE directly the universality of "people."
Universality is not the neutral container of particular formations, their common measure, the passive (back)ground on which the particulars fight their battles, but THIS BATTLE ITSELF, the struggle leading from one to another particular formation. Recall Krzysztof Kieslowski's passage from documentary to fiction cinema: we do not simply have two species of cinema, documentary and fiction; fiction emerges out of the inherent limitation of the documentary. Kieslowski's starting point was the same as the one of all cineasts in the Socialist countries: the conspicuous gap between the drab social reality and the optimistic, bright image which pervaded the heavily censored official media. The first reaction to the fact that, in Poland, social reality was "unrepresented," as Kieslowski put it, was, of course, the move towards a more adequate representation of the real life in all its drabness and ambiguity - in short, an authentic documentary approach:
There was a necessity, a need - which was very exciting for us - to describe the world. The Communist world had described how it should be and not how it really was. /.../ If something hasn't been described, then it doesn't officially exist. So that if we start describing it, we bring it to life. <a name="1"></a><a href="#1x">1</a>
Suffice it to mention Hospital, Kieslowski's documentary from 1976, in which the camera follows orthopaedic surgeons on a 32-hour shift. Instruments fall apart in their hands, the electrical current keeps breaking, there are shortages of the most basic materials, but the doctors persevere hour after hour, and with humor... Then, however, the obverse experience set in, best captured by the slogan used recently to publicize a Hollywood movie: "It's so real, it must be a fiction!"- at the most radical level, one can render the Real of subjective experience only in the guise of a fiction. Towards the end of the documentary First Love (1974), in which the camera follows a young unmarried couple during the girl's pregnancy, through their wedding, and the delivery of the baby, the father is shown holding the newly born baby in his hands and crying - Kieslowski reacted to the obscenity of such unwarranted probing into the other's intimacy with the "fright of real tears." His decision to pass from documentaries to fiction films was thus, at its most radical, an ethical one:
Not everything can be described. That's the documentary's great problem. It catches itself as if in its own trap. /.../ If I'm making a film about love, I can't go into a bedroom if real people are making love there. /.../ I noticed, when making documentaries, that the closer I wanted to get to an individual, the more objects which interested me shut themselves off.
That's probably why I changed to features. There's no problem there. I need a couple to make love in bed, that's fine. Of course, it might be difficult to find an actress who's willing to take off her bra, but then you just find one who is. /.../ I can even buy some glycerine, put some drops in her eyes and the actress will cry. I managed to photograph some real tears several times. It's something completely different. But now I've got glycerine. I'm frightened of real tears. In fact, I don't even know whether I've got the right to photograph them. At such times I feel like somebody who's found himself in a realm which is, in fact, out of bounds. That's the main reason why I escaped from documentaries. <a name="2"></a><a href="#2x">2</a>
The crucial intermediary in this passage from documentary to fiction is Camera Buff (1979), the portrait of a man who, because of his passion for the camera, loses his wife, child, and job - the fiction film about a documentary film-maker. So there is a domain of fantasmatic intimacy which is marked by a "No trespass!" sign and should be approached only via fiction, if one is to avoid pornographic obscenity. This is the reason why the French Veronique in The Double Life of Veronique rejects the puppeteer: he wants to penetrate her too much, which is why, towards the film's end, after he tells her the story of her double life, she is deeply hurt and escapes to her father. <a name="3"></a><a href="#3x">3</a> The »concrete universality« is a name for this process through which fiction explodes FROM WITHIN documentary, i.e., for the way the emergence of fiction cinema resolves the inherent deadlock of the documentary cinema. (Or, in philosophy, the point is not to conceive eternity as opposed to temporality, but eternity as it emerges from within our temporal experience - or, in an even more radical way, as Schelling did it, to conceive time itself as a subspecies of eternity, as the resolution of a deadlock of eternity.) <a name="4"></a><a href="#4x">4</a>
This brings us to the very heart of the concept of concrete universality: concrete universality is not merely the universal core that animates a series of its particular forms of appearance; it persists in the very irreducible tension, non-coincidence, between these different levels. Hegel is usually perceived as an "essentialist historicist," positing the spiritual "essence" of an epoch as a universal principle which expresses itself in a specific way in each domain of social life; say, the modern principle of subjectivity expresses itself in religion as Protestantism, in ethics as the subject's moral autonomy, in politics as democratic equality, etc. What such a view misses is what one is tempted to call temporal parallax: in the complex dialectic of historical phenomena, we encounter events or processes which, although they are the actualization of the same underlying "principle" at different levels, for that very reason cannot occur at the same historical moment.
Recall the old topic of the relationship between Protestantism, Kantian philosophical revolution and the French political revolution. Rebecca Comay recently refuted the myth that Hegel's critique of the French Revolution can be reduced to a variation of the "German" idea of how the Catholic French had to perform the violent "real" political revolution because they missed the historical moment of Reformation which already accomplished in the spiritual sphere the reconciliation between the spiritual Substance and the infinite subjectivity sought after in social reality by the revolutionaries. In this standard view, the German ethico-aesthetic attitude "sublates" revolutionary violence in the inner ethical order, thus enabling the replacement of the abstract "terrorist" revolutionary freedom by the concrete freedom of the State as an aesthetic organic Whole. However, already the temporality of this relationship between the French political revolution and the German spiritual reformation is ambiguous: all three possible relations seem to overlap here. First, the idea of "sublation" points towards a succession: the French "immediate" unity of the Universal and the Subject is followed by its sublation, the German ethico-aesthetic mediation. Then, there is the idea of a simultaneous choice (or lack thereof) which made the two nations follow a different path: the Germans opted for Reformation, while the French remained within the Catholic universe and had thus to take the tortuous route of violent revolution. However, the empirical fact that Kant's philosophical revolution precedes the French Revolution is also not just an insignificant accident - in the spectacle of revolutionary Terror, the Kantian ethics itself encounters the ultimate consequence of its own "abstract" character, so that Kant's philosophy should be read retroactively, through the prism of the French Revolution which enables us to perceive its limitations:
If /the Kantian moral view/ presents itself as the narrative successor to the revolution, this is not because it logically fulfils or supersedes it: Kant's critical venture phenomenologically succeeds the revolution that it chronologically, of course, anticipates only insofar as his text becomes legible only retroactively through the event that in institutionalizing the incessant short circuit of freedom and cruelty puts the project of modernity to its most extreme trial. /.../ the revolution itself inflicts on Kant's own text a kind of retroactive trauma. <a name="5"></a><a href="#5x">5</a>
What this means is that the revolutionary Terror is a kind of obscene double of Kant's ethical though: its destructive violence merely "exernalizes" the terrorist potential of Kant's thought. This is why - and therein resides Hegel's central insight - it is hypocritical to reject the "excesses" of the French Revolution from the standpoint of the "German" moral view: all its terrifying features found its counterpart in, are contained and REPEATED within, the Kantian spiritual edifice (and the term "repetition" has to be given here the entire weight of Freud's Wiederholungszwang):
/.../ the purity of the moral will can be no antidote to the terrifying purity of revolutionary virtue. All the logical problems of absolute freedom are essentially carried over into Hegel's analysis of Kantian morality: the obsessionality, the paranoia, the suspicion, the evaporation of objectivity, within the violent hyperbole of a subjectivity bent on reproducing itself within a world it must disavow. <a name="6"></a><a href="#6x">6</a>
So, insofar as we are dealing here with a historical choice (between the "French" way of remaining within Catholicism and thus being obliged to engage in the self-destructive revolutionary Terror, and the "German" way of Reformation), this choice involves exactly the same elementary dialectical paradox as the one, also from The Phenomenology of Spirit, between the two readings of "the Spirit is a bone" which Hegel illustrates by the phallic metaphor (phallus as the organ of insemination or phallus as the organ of urination): Hegel's point is NOT that, in contrast to the vulgar empiricist mind which sees only urination, the proper speculative attitude has to choose insemination. The paradox is that the direct choice of insemination is the infallible way to miss it: it is not possible to choose directly the "true meaning", i.e. one HAS to begin by making the "wrong" choice (of urination) - the true speculative meaning emerges only through the repeated reading, as the after-effect (or by-product) of the first, "wrong," reading.
And the same goes for social life in which the direct choice of the "concrete universality" of a particular ethical life-world can only end in a regression to pre-modern organic society that denies the infinite right of subjectivity as the fundamental feature of modernity. Since the subject-citizen of a modern state can no longer accept his immersion in some particular social role that confers on him a determinate place within the organic social Whole, the only way to the rational totality of the modern State leads through revolutionary Terror: one should ruthlessly tear up the constraints of the pre-modern organic "concrete universality," and fully assert the infinite right of subjectivity in its abstract negativity. In other words, the point of Hegel's analysis of the revolutionary Terror is not the rather obvious insight into how the revolutionary project involved the unilateral direct assertion of abstract Universal Reason, and was as such doomed to perish in self-destructive fury, since it was unable to organize the transposition of its revolutionary energy into a concrete stable and differentiated social order; Hegel's point is rather the enigma of why, in spite of the fact that revolutionary Terror was a historical deadlock, we have to pass through it in order to arrive at the modern rational State. So, back to the choice between the Protestant "inner revolution" and the French violent political revolution, this means that Hegel is far from endorsing the German self-complacent superiority ("we made the right choice and can thus avoid revolutionary madness"): precisely because Germans made the right choice at a wrong time (TOO EARLY: in the age of Reformation), they cannot gain access to the rational State that would be at the level of true political modernity.
One should make a step further here: it is not only that the universal Essence articulates itself in the discord between its particular forms of appearance; this discord is propelled by a gap that pertains to the very core of the universal Essence itself. In his book on modernity, Fredric Jameson refers to the Hegelian "concrete universality" is his concise critique of the recently fashionable theories of "alternate modernities":
How then can the ideologues of 'modernity' in its current sense manage to distinguish their product - the information revolution, and globalized, free-market modernity - from the detestable older kind, without getting themselves involved in asking the kinds of serious political and economic, systemic questions that the concept of a postmodernity makes unavoidable? The answer is simple: you talk about 'alternate' or 'alternative' modernities. Everyone knows the formula by now: this means that there can be a modernity for everybody which is different from the standard or hegemonic Anglo-Saxon model. Whatever you dislike about the latter, including the subaltern position it leaves you in, can be effaced by the reassuring and 'cultural' notion that you can fashion your own modernity differently, so that there can be a Latin-American kind, or an Indian kind or an African kind, and so on. /.../ But this is to overlook the other fundamental meaning of modernity which is that of a worldwide capitalism itself. <a name="7"></a><a href="#7x">7</a>
The significance of this critique reaches far beyond the case of modernity - it concerns the fundamental limitation of the nominalist historicizing. The recourse to multitude ("there is not one modernity with a fixed essence, there are multiple modernities, each of them irreducible to others...") is false not because it does not recognize a unique fixed "essence" of modernity, but because multiplication functions as the disavowal of the antagonism that inheres to the notion of modernity as such: the falsity of multiplication resides in the fact that it frees the universal notion of modernity of its antagonism, of the way it is embedded in the capitalist system, by relegating this aspect just to one of its historical subspecies. (One should not forget that the first half of the XXth century already was marked by two big projects which perfectly fit this notion of "alternate modernity": Fascism and Communism. Was not the basic idea of Fascism that of a modernity which provides an alternative to the standard Anglo-Saxon liberal-capitalist one, of saving the core of capitalist modernity by casting away its "contingent" Jewish-individualist-profiteering distortion? And was not the rapid industrializtation of the USSR in the late 1920s and 1930s also not an attempt at modernization different from the Western-capitalist one?) And, insofar as this inherent antagonism could be designated as a "castrative" dimension, and, furthermore, insofar as, according to Freud, the disavowal of castration is represented as the multiplication of the phallus-representatives (a multitude of phalluses signals castration, the lack of the one), it is easy to conceive such a multiplication of modernities as a form of fetishist disavowal.
Jameson's critique of the notion of alternate modernities thus provides a model of the properly dialectical relationship between the Universal and the Particular: the difference is not on the side of particular content (as the traditional differentia specifica), but on the side of the Universal. The Universal is not the encompassing container of the particular content, the peaceful medium-background of the conflict of particularities; the Universal "as such" is the site of an unbearable antagonism, self-contradiction, and (the multitude of) its particular species are ultimately nothing but so many attempts to obfuscate/reconcile/master this antagonism. In other words, the Universal names the site of a Problem-Deadlock, of a burning Question, and the Particulars are the attempted but failed Answers to this Problem. Say, the concept of State names a certain problem: how to contain the class antagonism of a society? All particular forms of State are so many (failed) attempts to propose a solution for this problem.
This is how one should answer the standard critique of the Christian universalism: what this all-inclusive attitude (recall St Paul's famous "There are no men or women, no Jews and Greeks") involves is a thorough exclusion of those who do not accept to be included into the Christian community. In other "particularistic" religions (and even in Islam, in spite of its global expansionism), there is a place for others, they are tolerated, even if they are condescendingly looked upon. The Christian motto "All men are brothers," however, means ALSO that "Those who are not my brothers ARE NOT (EVEN) MEN." Christians usually praise themselves for overcoming the Jewish exclusivist notion of the Chosen People and encompassing the entire humanity - the catch is here that, in their very insistence that they are the Chosen People with the privileged direct link to God, Jews accept the humanity of the other people who celebrate their false gods, while the Christian universalism tendentially excludes non-believers from the very universality of the humankind...
But the Christian universality is not the all-encompassing global medium where there is a place for all and everyone - it is rather the STRUGGLING universality, the site of a constant battle. Which battle, which division? To follow Paul: NOT the division between Law and sin, but between, on the one side, the TOTALITY of Law and sin as its supplement, and, on the other side, the way of Love. Christian universality is the universality which emerges at the symptomal point of those who are "part of no-part" of the global order - this is where the reproach of exclusion gets it wrong: the Christian universality, far from excluding some subjects, is formulated from the position of those excluded, of those for whom there is no specific place within the existing order, although they belong to it; universality is strictly co-dependent with this lack of specific place/determination.
Or, to put it in a different way: the reproach to Paul's universalism misses the true site of universality: the universal dimension he opened up is not the "neither Greeks nor Jews but all Christians," which implicitly excludes non-Christians; it is rather the difference Christians/non-Christians itself which, AS A DIFFERENCE, is universal, i.e., which cuts across the entire social body, splitting, dividing from within every substantial ethnic etc. identity - Greeks are cut into Christians and non-Christians, as well as Jews. The standard reproach thus in a way knocks on an open door: the whole point of the Paulinian notion of struggling universality IS that the true universality and partiality do not exclude each other, but that universal Truth is only accessible from a partial engaged subjective position.
Another name for this cut across the entire social body is, of course, antagonism; the logic of irreducible antagonism was lately developed by Ernesto Laclau in contrast to the Hegelian concrete universality which, allegedly, "sublates" (overcomes) all antagonisms in a higher mediated unity. Is, however, this effectively the case, or does, on the contrary, the reference to Hegel enable us to discern a flaw in Laclau's theory itself? The philosophical/notional limitation of Laclau's couple of two logics, that of difference and that of antagonism, is that he treats them as two externally opposed poles. When Laclau elaborates his fundamental opposition between the logic of difference and the logic of equivalence, he asserts the coincidence of the opposites: the two logics are not simply opposed, but each logic, brought to its extreme, converts into its opposite. <a name="8"></a><a href="#8x">8</a> That is to say, as he repeatedly points out, a system of pure differentiality (a system totally defined by the differential structure of its elements, with no antagonism and/or impossibility traversing it) would lead to a pure equivalence of all its elements - they are all equivalent with regard to the void of their Outside; and, at the other extreme, a system of radical antagonism with no structure at all but just the pure opposition of Us and Them would coincide with a naturalized difference between Us and Them as the positively existing opposed species... However, from a Hegelian standpoint, this logic continues to rely on the two externally opposed poles - the fact that each of the opposites, in the abstraction from the other (i.e., brought to the extreme at which it no longer needs the other as its opposite), falls into this other, merely demonstrates their mutual reliance. What we need to do is to make a step further from this external opposition (or mutual reliance) into the direct internalized overlapping, which means: not only does one pole, when abstracted from the other and thus brought to extreme, coincide with its opposite, but there is no "primordial" duality of poles in the first place, only the inherent gap of the One. Equivalence is primordially not the opposite of difference, equivalence only emerges because no system of differences can ever complete itself, it »is« a structural effect of this incompleteness. <a name="9"></a><a href="#9x">9</a> The tension between immanence and transcendence is thus also secondary with regard to the gap within immanence itself: »transcendence« is a kind of perspective illusion, the way we (mis)perceive the gap/discord that inhers to immanence itself. In the same way, the tension between the Same and the Other is secondary with regard to the non-coincidence of the Same with itself.
What this means is that the opposition of two logics, that of antagonism and that of difference, is the deployment of a logically preceding term, of the inherent »pure« difference, the minimal difference which marks the non-coincidence of the One with itself. This non-coincidence, this »pure difference,« can either unravel into a multitude of entities forming a differential totality, or split into the antagonistic opposition of two terms. And this duality again follows the logic of Lacan's formulas of sexuation - contrary to expectations, the differential multitude is »masculine,« while the antagonism is »feminine.« The primordial gap is thus not the polar opposition of two principles (masculine and feminine, lightness and darkness, opening and closure...), but the minimal gap between an element and ITSELF, the void of its own PLACE of inscription. It is this gap that Schelling aims at when he distinguishes between Existence and its impenetrable Ground, and this is why he is right in rejecting the accusation of dualism: Schelling remains a monist, there is only One, the gap is inherent to this One itself, not as the gap between its two opposite aspects, but as the gap between One and the Void. <a name="10"></a><a href="#10x">10</a>
The Master-Signifier and its Vicissitudes
In Lacanian terms, the space of the Laclauian logic of hegemony is that of the tension between the empty Master-Signifier and the series of "ordinary" signifiers which struggle to fill in the Master-Signifier with particular content: the struggle for Democracy (today's Master-Signifier) is in what will it mean, which kind of democracy will hegemonize the universal notion.
So what is a Master-Signifier? Let us imagine a confused situation of social disintegration, in which the cohesive power of ideology loses its efficiency: in such a situation, the Master is the one who invents a new signifier, the famous "quilting point," which again stabilizes the situation and makes it readable; the university discourse which then elaborates the network of Knowledge which sustains this readability by definition presupposes and relies on the initial gesture of the Master. The Master adds no new positive content - he merely adds a signifier which all of a sudden turns disorder into order, into "new harmony," as Rimbaud would have put it. Think about anti-Semitism in Germany of the 1920s: people experienced themselves as disoriented, thrown into undeserved military defeat, economic crisis which melted away their life-savings, political inefficiency, moral degeneration... and the Nazis provided a single agent which accounted for it all - the Jew, the Jewish plot. Therein resides the magic of a Master: although there is nothing new at the level of positive content, "nothing is quite the same" after he pronounces his Word... Recall how, in order to illustrate le point de capiton, Lacan quotes the famous lines from Racine's Athalie: Je crains Dieu, cher Abner, et je n'ai point d'autre crainte. "I fear God, my dear Abner, and have no other fears." - all fears are exchanged for one fear, i.e., it is the very fear of God which makes me fearless in all other worldly matters. The same reversal that gives rise to a new Master-Signifier is at work in ideology: in anti-Semitism, all fears (of economic crisis, of moral degradation...) are exchanged for the fear of the Jew - je crains le Juif, cher citoyen, et je n'ai point d'autre crainte... And is not the same logic also discernible in a horror film like Spielberg's Jaws? I fear the shark, my friend, and have no other fears...
So when, in his (forthcoming) Logique des mondes, in order to designate the moment of pure subjective decision/choice which stabilizes a world, Badiou proposes the concept of "point" as a simple decision in a situation reduced to a choice of Yes or No, he implicitly refers to Lacan's point de caption, of course - and does this not implicate that there is no "world" outside language, no world whose horizon of meaning is not determined by a symbolic order? The passage to truth is therefore the passage from language ("the limits of my language are the limits of my world") to LETTER, to "mathemes" which run diagonally across a multitude of worlds. The postmodern relativism is precisely the thought of the irreducible multitude of worlds each of them sustained by a specific language-game, so that each world "is" the narrative its members are telling themselves about themselves, with no shared terrain, no common language between them; and the problem of truth is how to establish something that, to refer to terms popular in modal logic, remains the same in all possible worlds.
One can see, now, in what precise sense one is to conceive of Lacan's thesis according to which, what is "primordially repressed" is the binary signifier (that of Vorstellungs-Repraesentanz): what the symbolic order precludes is the full harmonious presence of the couple of Master-signifiers, S1-S2 as yin-yang or any other two symmetrical "fundamental principles." The fact that "there is no sexual relationship" means precisely that the secondary signifier (that of the Woman) is "primordially repressed," and what we get in the place of this repression, what fills in its gap, is the multitude of the "returns of the repressed," the series of the "ordinary" signifiers. In Woody Allen's Tolstoy-parody War and Love, the first association that automatically pops up, of course, is: "If Tolstoy, where is then Dostoyevski?" In the film, Dostoyevski (the "binary signifier" to Tolstoy) remains "repressed" - however, the price paid for it is that a conversation in the middle of the film as it were accidentally includes the titles of all main Dostoyevski's novels: "Is that man still in the underground?" "You mean one of the Karamazov brothers?" "Yes, that idiot!" "Well, he did commit his crime and was punished for it!" "I know, he was a gambler who always risked too much!" etc.etc. Here we encounter the "return of the repressed," i.e. the series of signifiers which fills in the gap of the repressed binary signifier "Dostoyevski."
This is why the standard deconstructionist criticism according to which Lacan's theory of sexual difference falls into the trap of "binary logic" totally misses the point: Lacan's la femme n'existe pas aims precisely at undermining the "binary" polar couple of Masculine and Feminine - the original split is not between the One and the Other, but is strictly inherent to the One, it is the split between the One and its empty place of inscription (this is how one should read Kafka's famous statement that the Messiah will come one day after his arrival). This is also how one should conceive the link between the split inherent to the One and the explosion of the multiple: the multiple is not the primordial ontological fact; the "transcendental" genesis of the multiple resides in the lack of the binary signifier, i.e., the multiple emerges as the series of attempts to fill in the gap of the missing binary signifier. The difference between S1 and S2 is thus not the difference of two opposed poles within the same field, but, rather, the cut within this field - the cut of the level at which the process occurs - inherent to the one term: the original couple is not that of two signifiers, but that of the signifier and its reduplicatio, i.e., the minimal difference between a signifier and the place of its inscription, between one and zero. <a name="11"></a><a href="#11x">11</a>
The same self-reflexivity is crucial for the status of the gaze itself: gaze turns into an object when it passes "from inquisitiveness, from the gaze into the interior, to the gaze ex qua - from inside to outside. This turning constitutes a fundamental upheaval: it assumes that one goes from a kind of public gaze on "intimate scenes" to the entry of the gaze itself into the secret, the intimate - this would also be the ultimate moment necessary for the entry of the voyeur." <a name="12"></a><a href="#12x">12</a> The homology with the figure of the Master (agent of symbolic prohibition) is indicative here: in the same way that Father qua the agent of prohibition (preventing the subject's free access to libidinal objects) himself has to be prohibited (as a libidinal object), the gaze which looks for satisfaction in peering into intimate domain of private secrets has itself to turn into a secret, into something that strives to remain hidden, invisible in the public space. - What this reflexivity of the symbolic order (the fact that this order involves the minimal difference between an element and its structural place) does to the ethical choice is to introduce its redoubling: the choice is never simply the one between doing one's duty or following one's striving for »pathological« pleasures and satisfactions; this elementary choice is always redoubled by the one between elevating my striving for pleasures itself into my supreme Duty, and doing my Duty not for the sake of Duty but because it gives me satisfaction to do it. In the first case - pleasures are my duty -, the »pathological« striving for pleasures is located into the formal space of Duty, while, in the second case - duty is my pleasure - doing my duty is located into the formal space of »pathological« satisfactions. - Derrida is thus fully justified in emphasizing the self-reflexivity of the prohibition with regard to the Law - the Law not only prohibits, it is ITSELF prohibited:
The law is prohibition: this does not mean that it prohibits, but that it is itself prohibited, a prohibited place /.../ one cannot reach the law, and in order to have a rapport of respect with it, one must not have a rapport with the law, one must interrupt the relation. One must enter into relation only with the law's representatives, its examples, its guardians. These are interrupters as much as messengers. One must not know who or what or where the law is. <a name="13"></a><a href="#13x">13</a>
In one of his short fragments, Kafka himself pointed out how the ultimate secret of the Law is that it does not exist - another case of what Lacan called the inexistence of the big Other. This inexistence, of course, does not simply reduce the Law to an empty imaginary chimera; it rather makes it into an impossible Real, a void which nonetheless functions, exerts influence, causes effects, curves the symbolic space. So when Derrida wrote:
the inaccessible transcendence of the law, before which and prior to which man stands fast, only appears infinitely transcendent and thus theological to the extent that, nearest to him, it depends only on him, on the performative act by which he institutes it. /.../ The law is transcendent and theological, and so always to come, always promised, because it is immanent, finite, and thus already past." <a name="14"></a><a href="#14x">14</a>
The ambiguity of this statement is crucial: does it mean that this appearance of transcendence is a necessary illusion, a structural misperception (as Deleuze also claims in his reading of Kafka)? Is it then possible to break out of this misreading, to fully assume that “it all depends only on me"? And does this not happen precisely in Christianity? Is THIS not the core of incarnation? - The obverse aspect of this reflexivity resides in the fact that what Lacan calls "Master Signifier" is the reflexive signifier that fills in the very lack of the signifier. Spinoza's own supreme example of "God" is here crucial: when conceived as a mighty person, god merely embodies our ignorance of true causality. Examples from the history of science abound here - from flogiston (a pseudo-concept which just betrayed the scientist's ignorance of how light effectively travels) to Marx's »Asiatic mode of production« (which is a kind of negative container: the only true content of this concept is »all the modes of production which do not fit Marx's standard categorization of the modes of production«), not to mention today's popular "post-industrial society" - notions which, while they appear to designate a positive content, merely signal our ignorance.
However, did we not oscillate here between two opposed versions? In the first version, the binary signifier, the symmetric counterpart of S1, is "primordially repressed," and it is in order to supplement the void of this repression that the chain of S2 emerges, i.e., the original fact is the couple of S1 and the Void at the place of its counterpart, and the chain of S2 is secondary; in the second version, in the account of the emergence of S1 as the "enigmatic term," the empty signifier, the primordial fact is, on the contrary, S2, the signifying chain in its incompleteness, and it is in order to fill in the void of this incompleteness that S1 intervenes. How are the two versions to be coordinated? Is the ultimate fact the vicious circle of their mutual implication? What if, yet again, these two versions point towards the logic of Lacan's "formulas of sexuation"? Contrary to our expectations, it is the first version - the multitude emerges in order to fill in the void of the binary signifier - which is "feminine," i.e., which accounts for the explosion of the inconsistent multitude of the feminine non-All, and it is the second version which is "masculine", i.e., which accounts for how a multitude is totalized into an All through the exception which fills in its void.
We thus generated the four constituents of a discourse: S1, S2, $, a; their interaction, of course, always implies a more complex cobweb. <a name="15"></a><a href="#15x">15</a> How, then, does objet a function in this tension between the Master-Signifier and the series of "ordinary" signifiers that struggle to hegemonize it? While Ernesto Laclau is on the right track when he emphasizes the necessary role of objet a in rendering an ideological edifice operative, <a name="16"></a><a href="#16x">16</a> he curtails the true dimension of this role when he constrains it to the fact of hegemony (of how the void of the Master-Signifier has to be filled in with some particular content). Things are much more precise here: since objet a is (also) the object of fantasy, the catch lies in what one is tempted to call, with Kant, the role of "transcendental scheme" played by objet a - a fantasy constitutes our desire, provides its coordinates, i.e. it literally "teaches us how to desire."
The role of fantasy is thus in a way homologous to that of the ill-fated pineal gland in Descartes' philosophy, this mediator between res cogitans and res extensa: fantasy mediates between the formal symbolic structure and the positivity of the objects we encounter in reality, i.e. it provides a "scheme" according to which certain positive objects in reality can function as objects of desire, filling in the empty places opened up by the formal symbolic structure. To put it in somewhat simplified terms: fantasy does not mean that, when I desire a strawberry cake and cannot get it in reality, I fantasize about eating it; the problem is rather, how do I know that I desire a strawberry cake in the first place? This is what fantasy tells me. This role of fantasy hinges on the fact that "there is no sexual relationship," no universal formula or matrix guaranteeing a harmonious sexual relationship with one's partner: on account of the lack of this universal formula, every subject has to invent a fantasy of his own, a "private" formula for the sexual relationship - for a man, the relationship with a woman is possible only inasmuch as she fits his formula. In an exactly homologous way, objet a is the "sublime object of ideology": it serves as the fantasmatic support of ideological propositions - say, the anti-abortion struggle is "schematized" in the figure of a successful professional woman who suppresses her maternal vocation in order to pursue her career; or, in the UK under John Major's Conservative government, the single unemployed mother was proposed by the media as the singular cause of all social illnesses (Are taxes too heavy? It is because the state has to support unemployed single mothers! Is there too much juvenile delinquency? It is because single mothers, lacking the firm paternal authority, cannot provide proper moral education...).
The crucial point here is that, in this tension between a universal statement and its fantasmatic support, the "truth" is on the side of the universality. Recall Marx's brilliant analysis of how, in the French revolution of 1848, the conservative-REPUBLICAN Party of Order functioned as the coalition of the two branches of royalism (Orleanists and Legitimists) in the "anonymous kingdom of the Republic." <a name="17"></a><a href="#17x">17</a> The parliamentary deputees of the Party of Order perceived their republicanism as a mockery: in parliamentary debates, they all the time generated royalist slips of tongue, ridiculed the Republic, etc. - to let it be known that their true is to restore the kingdom. What they were not aware of is that they themselves were duped as to the true social signification of their rule: what they were effectively doing was to establish the conditions of bourgeois republican order that they despised so much deep in themselves (guaranteeing the safety of private property, etc.). So it is not that they were royalists who were just wearing a republican mask: although they experienced themselves as such, it was their very "inner" royalist conviction which was the deceptive front masking their true social role. In short, far from being the hidden truth of their public republicanism, their "sincere" royalism was the fantasmatic support of their ACTUAL republicanism - it was what provided the "passion" to their activity. <a name="18"></a><a href="#18x">18</a>
Furthermore, it is not enough to say that every ideological universal functions as an empty signifier which has to be filled in with (hegemonized by) a particular content, i.e., to demonstrate how all positive content is a contingent fill-in of the void of the empty signifier; one should move beyond this gap between empty signifier and determinate content and ask a more radical question: how, through what violent gesture, does the very void of the empty signifier arise? This empty space of universality arises from the radical inadequacy (non-coincidence, inherent gap) of a Particular with itself. In other words, not only has the structural lack/void of all universality to be filled in by a particular content, its stand-in; it is this empty universality itself which is a stand-in for the radical non-coincidence of the particular to itself, for a missing particular, the element whose addition would make the particular "full," coinciding with itself.
Soave sia il vento
Such a convoluted topology is what is totally absent from Spinoza's thought. Does Spinoza not formulate the highest parallax? The substance is One, and the difference between mind and body, its two modes, is purely that of parallax: "body" or "mind" are the same Substance perceived in a different mode. There is nonetheless a key difference between Spinoza and Hegel here: for Spinoza, the parallax is symmetric (there is no point of contact or of passage between the two modes, each of them just renders visible the same network in a different mode), while for Hegel, the two levels involved in a parallax shift are radically asymmetric: one of the two levels appears to be able to stand on itself, while the other stands for the shift as such, for the gap itself between the two. In other words, Two are not simply One and One, since Two stands for the very move/shift from One to Two. (A simplified example: in the class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat, proletariat stands for the struggle as such.) The passage from the Spinozean One qua the neutral medium/container of its modes and the One's inherent gap is the very passage from Substance to Subject. <a name="19"></a><a href="#19x">19</a>
The standard critical procedure today is to mobilize the opposition of man and subject: the notion of subjectivity (self-consciousness, self-positing autonomy, etc.) stands for a dangerous hubris, a will to power, which obfuscates and distorts the authentic essence of man; the task is thus to think the essence of man outside the domain of subjectivity. What Lacan tries to accomplish seems to be the exact opposite of this standard procedure: in all his great literary interpretations, from Oedipus and Antigone through Sade's Juliette to Claudel's The Hostage, he is in search of a point at which we enter the dimension of the "inhuman," a point at which "humanity" disintegrates, so that all that remains is a pure subject. Sophocles's Antigone, de Sade's Juliette, Claudel's Sygne - they are all these figures of such an "inhuman" subject (in contrast to their "human" counterpoint: Ismene, Justine...). To paraphrase Nietzsche, what one should render problematic is what is in us "human, all too human." One should not be afraid to apply this insight also to politics: it is all too simple to dismiss Nazis as inhuman and bestial - what if the problem with the Nazis was precisely that they remained "human, all too human"?<a name="20"></a><a href="#20x">20</a>
One of the curious stories about Hitler reported in the (in)famous record of his "table conversations" is that, one morning in the early 1940s, he awakened terrified and then, while tears were running down his cheeks, explained the nightmare that haunted him to his doctor: "In my dream, I saw the future overman - they are so totally ruthless, without any consideration for our pains, that I found it unbearable!" The very idea of Hitler, our main candidate for the most evil person of all times, being horrified at a lack of compassion, is, of course, weird - but, philosophically, the idea makes sense. What Hitler was implicitly referring to is the Nietzschean passage from Lion to Child: it is not yet possible for us, caught as we are in the cobweb of the reflective attitude of nihilism, to enter the "innocence of becoming," the full life beyond justification; all we can do is to engage in "self-overcoming of morality through truthfulness," <a name="21"></a><a href="#21x">21</a> i.e., to bring the moralistic will-to-truth to its self-cancellation, to become aware of the truth about will-to-truth itself (that it is an illusion of and for the weak). We "cannot create new values," we can only be the Lion who, in an outburst of active nihilism, clears the table and thus "creates freedom for new creation"; <a name="22"></a><a href="#22x">22</a> it is after us that the Child will appear, who will mark "a new Beginning, a sacred Yes." <a name="23"></a><a href="#23x">23</a>
The field of comedy is defined by two strangely opposed features: on the one hand, comedy is usually perceived as the intrusion of the vulgar materiality of ordinary life into high pretentious dignity - it cannot but produce a comic effect when the Leader, entering a Hall to preside a formal meeting, slips on the proverbial banana peel; on the other hand, there is a strange immortality that pertains to comic figures, homologous to the ability of the Sadean victims to survive all their misfortunes - back to our example of the Leader slipping on a banana peel, the truly comic thing is that, even after he slips, he is able to retain his dignity and goes on as if nothing happened... (if this is not the case, then we are rather dealing with a sad, if not outright tragic, spectacle of a Leader deprived of his dignity). How are we to think these two features together? Alenka Zupancic <a name="24"></a><a href="#24x">24</a> provides a properly Hegelian answer: it is true that the space of the comic is the space between the dignified symbolic mask and the ridiculous vulgarity of common life with its petty passions and weaknesses; however, the properly comic procedure is not simply to undermine the dignified mask (or task or sublime passion) through the intrusion of everyday reality, but a kind of structural short-circuit or, rather, exchange of places between the two in which the very dignified mask/task/passion appears as a pathetic idiosyncrasy, as a properly human weakness. Recall the standard generic comic heroes (Miser, Drunkard, Seducer): it is this very attachment to some excessive task/passion which makes them human. Which is why Chaplin was right in his Great Dictator: Hitler's hubris was not "inhuman," out of the range of the sympathy for common men pleasures and weaknesses - Hitler was "human, all too human," his political hubris was an "all too human" idiosyncrasy which makes him ridiculous. In short, Hitler was a burlesque figure of Evil Dictator who belong into the same series with Seducer, Miser, and Deceiving Servant.
Which, then, is the elementary dimension of subjectivity? Rebecca Comay drew attention to how, in Hegel's reading, the self-destructive fury of the revolutionary Terror as the actualization of Absolute Freedom simultaneously abolishes every Beyond, while reducing death to a meaningless chopping-off of a cabbage-head, AND remains haunted by an obscene spectral Beyond which returns in the guise of the "undead" apparitions:
The obsessive fantasies of survival entertained by the popular imaginary of the guillotine, and that preoccupied both literature and medical science from the 1970s, are but the inversion and confirmation of the living death to which life had seemingly been reduced - thus the proliferation of blushing heads, talking heads, suffering heads, heads that dreamed, screamed, returned the gaze, the disembodied body parts, detached writing hands, the ghosts and ghouls and zombies that would fill the pages of gothic novels throughout Europe. <a name="25"></a><a href="#25x">25</a>
Does this not bring us back to the famous passage from the beginning of Hegel's Jenaer Realphilosophie about the "night of the world"?
The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity - an unending wealth of many representations, images, of which none belongs to him - or which are not present. This night, the interior of nature, that exists here - pure self - in phantasmagorical representations, is night all around it, in which here shoots a bloody head - there another white ghastly apparition, suddenly here before it, and just so disappears. One catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye - into a night that becomes awful. <a name="26"></a><a href="#26x">26</a>
<a name="28"></a><a href="#28x">28</a> This "inter-space," the gap constitutive of a human being, appears at three levels:
1. first, as the "vanishing mediator" between Nature and Culture, the "inhuman" excess of freedom which is to be disciplined through culture. This zero-degree of "humanization" can be formulated in Hegelian terms as the reflexive reversal of the human animal (Mensch-Tier) into the animal man (Tier-Mensch): the shift of the structural place of the SAME element from the EXCESS to the NEUTRAL BASE, zero-level, i.e. from the human excess which distorts animality to the zero-level of humanity. <a name="29"></a><a href="#29x">29</a>
2. then, as the Real of antagonism, the difference which paradoxically precedes what it is a difference OF, the two terms being a reaction to the difference, two ways to cope with its trauma.
3. finally, as the "minimal difference" on account of which an individual is never fully himself, but always only "resembles him/herself" - Marx brothers were right: "You look like X, so no wonder you ARE X..." What this means, of course, is that there is no positive-substantial determination of man: man in the animal which recognizes itself as man, what makes him human is this formal gesture of recognition as such, not the recognized content. Man is a lack which, in order to fill itself in, recognizes itself as something.
This triad, of course, is that of the Universal-Particular-Individual: the Vanishing Mediator constitutive of the Universality of Humankind; the "particular" division into species (sexual difference, class difference) which cuts into the universality; the minimal distance, non-coincidence-with-itself, constitutive of the Individual.
In da Vinci's Mona Lisa, there is a strange discrepancy between figure and background: there is no continuity between the two, between the figure of Mona Lisa and the strangely complex, almost Gothic, background of trees, rocks, etc. It is as if, effectively, Mona Lisa stands in front of a painted background, not in real environs: the painted background stands for the void which is filled in with painting. <a name="30"></a><a href="#30x">30</a> Does this same discrepancy not account also for the strange attraction of the old Hollywood films from 30s and 40s in which actors are so obviously acting in front of a projected background? Recall the systematic use of this device in Hitchcock: Ingrid Bergman skiing down a mountain slope in front of a ridiculously discrepant snowy background in Spellbound; Ingrid Bergman again, driving a car in a studio with the uncoordinated background of a night landscape passing by in Notorious; up to two exemplary cases from the late Hitchcock (the dining-car table conversation between Cary Grant and Eva-Marie Saint with a Hudson Bay background in which we pass three times the same barn in North-by-Northwest; Tippi Hedren riding a horse in Marnie). Although it is easy to project a conscious strategy into what may have been Hitchcock's simple sloppiness, it is difficult to deny the strange psychological resonance of these shots, as if the very discord between figure and background renders a key message about the depicted person's subjectivity. It was above all Orson Welles who perfected the expressive use of this technique: one of his standard shots is the American shot of the hero too close to the camera, with the blurred background which, even if it is a "true" background, nonetheless generates the effect of something artificial, acquiring a spectral dimension, as if the hero is not moving in a real world, but in a phantasmagoric virtual universe... And does the same not go for modern subjectivity? Perhaps, it is a crucial fact that Mona Lisa was painted at the dawn of modernity: this irreducible gap between the subject and its "background," the fact that a subject never fully fits its environs, is never fully embedded in it, defines subjectivity.
In his Seminar XI, Lacan denounces the "essential flaw in philosophical idealism":
There is no subject without, somewhere, aphanasis of the subject, and it is in this alienation, in this fundamental division, that the dialectic of the subject is established. In order to answer the question I was asked last time concerning my adhesion to the Hegelian dialectic, is it not enough that, because of the vel, the sensitive point, point of balance, there is an emergence of the subject at the level of meaning only from its aphanasis in the Other locus, which is that of the unconscious?" <a name="31"></a><a href="#31x">31</a>
Is it not a tell-tale detail that, in order to designate the subject's fundamental division, he has to resort to the Hegelian term "dialectic"? What is the core of the Hegelian dialectic of the subject if not the very fact that, whenever a subject "posits" a meaning (a project), the truth of this gesture escapes him and persists on another locus, from which it undermines his project?
True, the Hegelian subject is "ecstatic," its mediation opens it up to otherness, shifting, loss of self-identity; however, there is a crucial step further to be accomplished here. Not only is the subject always-already dispossessed-ecstatic, etc., this ecstasy IS the subject, i.e., the subject is the $ void which emerges when a substance is "dispossessed" through ecstasy. Hair-splitting as it may appear, this distinction is crucial: is the status of the subject always limited, dispossessed, exposed, or is the subject itself a name for/of this dispossession? From the subject's limitation, we have to move to limit itself as the name for the subject. This is why it is not enough to say that, in Hegel, there is a move of »self-castration,« that the subject castrates itself - who is this Self? The problem is that this Self only emerges is the outcome, the result, of castration. This is how the key moment in a dialectical process is the »transubstantiation« of its focal point: what was first just a predicate, a subordinate moment of the process (money), becomes its central moment, retroctively degrading its presuppositions, the elements out of which it emerged, into its subordinate moments, elements of its self-propelling circulation. And this is also how one should approach Hegel's outrageously "speculative" formulations about Spirit as its own result, a product of itself: while "Spirit has its beginnings in nature in general,"
the extreme to which spirit tends is its freedom, its infinity, its being in and for itself. These are the two aspects but if we ask what Spirit is, the immediate answer is that it is this motion, this process of proceeding from, of freeing itself from, nature; this is the being, the substance of spirit itself. <a name="32"></a><a href="#32x">32</a>
Spirit is thus radically de-substantialized: Spirit is not a positive counter-force to nature, a different substance which gradually breaks and shines through the inert natural stuff, it is NOTHING BUT this process of freeing-itself-from. Hegel directly disowns the notion of Spirit as some kind of positive Agent which underlies the process:
Spirit is usually spoken of as subject, as doing something, and apart from what it does, as this motion, this process, as still something particular, its activity being more or less contingent /.../ it is of the very nature of spirit to be this absolute liveliness, this process, to proceed forth from naturality, immediacy, to sublate, to quit its naturality, and to come to itself, and to free itself, it being itself only as it comes to itself as such a product of itself; its actuality being merely that it has made itself into what it is. <a name="33"></a><a href="#33x">33</a>
If, then, "it is only as a result of itself that it is spirit," <a name="34"></a><a href="#34x">34</a> this means that the standard talk about the Hegelian Spirit which alienates itself to itself and then recognizes itself in its otherness and thus reappropriates its content, is deeply misleading: the Self to which spirit returns is produced in the very movement of this return, or, that to which the process of return is returning to is produced by the very process of returning. Recall here the unsurpassed concise formulations from Hegel's Logic on how essence
presupposes itself and the sublating of this presupposition is essence itself; conversely, this sublating of its presupposition is the presupposition itself. Reflection therefore finds before it an immediate which it transcends and from which it is the return. But this return is only the presupposing of what reflection finds before it. What it thus found only comes to be through being left behind /.../. For the presupposition of the return-into-self - that from which essence comes, and is only as this return - is only in the return itself. <a name="35"></a><a href="#35x">35</a>
When Hegel says that a Notion is the result of itself, that it provides its own actualization, this claim which, in a first approach, cannot but appear extravagant (the notion is not simply a thought activated by the thinking subject, but posesses a magic property of self-movement...), is to be approached as it were from the opposite side: the Spirit as the spiritual substance is a substance, an In-itself, which sustains itself ONLY through the incessant activity of the subjects engaged in it. Say, a nation exists ONLY insofar as its members take themselves as members of this nation and act accordingly, it has absolutely no content, no substantial consistence, outside this activity; and the same goes for, say the notion of Communism - this notion "generates its own actualization" by way of motivating people to struggle for it.
The relation between Kant and Hegel is here very precise, and one should avoid the temptation to reducing it to the simple opposition between Kantian »ethical narcissism« and Hegelian trust in the ethical substance. It is with regard to the central place of salto mortale that Adorno moves too fast in his critical rejection of Kant's so-called »ethical narcissism,« the Kantian stance of following one's ethical principles independently of consequences in the real world, of rejecting consequences as the criterion of moral value as »pathological,« of insisting on the purity of my Will, of my intention, as the ultimate criterion. <a name="36"></a><a href="#36x">36</a> The opposite view usually attributed to Hegel, the view that the »truth« of my acts is disclosed in its actual consequences, in the way it is received by (inscribed into) the ethical substance, is also problematic insofar as it presupposes a preestablished harmony between (individual) subject and substance, the fundamentally »benevolent« status of the substance. What if, however, I CANNOT fully recognize myself in the social substance - not because of my narcissism, but because the social substance of myself IS »evil,« and as such inverts all my acts into the opposite of what they intended to achieve? In other words, if the intention of my act is thwarted, should the entire blame be put on me? Hegel was well aware of this deadlock, which is why, in his Philosophy of Right, he admits that the »mob« has the right to revolt against "social substance."
It was Bernard Williams who formulated a third position, beyond the alternative »the purity of intention - actual consequences,« the alternative which focuses on the irreducible contingency of our situation, on how the value of our acts relies on an irreducible contingency - a scandalous result, because, against Kant, it clams that a pathological stain is irreducible to ethics, and, against Hegel, it rejects the trust into ethical substance. Williams <a name="37"></a><a href="#37x">37</a> is unique in advocating a position which questions the Kantian universalist apriorism as well as utilitarianism - what these two opposed positions share is the idea of some "common currency," universal medium which allows us to judge all moral experiences, either the moral Law or utility. While being well aware of the limitation of utilitarianism (the reference to "greater good" can justify injustices to individuals), Williams, in his critique of "moral self-indulgence," also perceives the basic weakness of those who reject morally distasteful acts, even if they would benefit people (in contrast to a consequent utilitarian who can find strong reasons for doing something which he finds morally distasteful): there is always "the suspicion that what the agent cares about is not so much other people, as himself caring about other people." <a name="38"></a><a href="#38x">38</a> His more fundamental point is directed against the partisans of “rational deliberation as directed to a life-plan," (Rawls, exemplarily), who insist that we are responsible to ourselves as one person over time, which is why a rational individual is always to act so that he need never blame himself no matter how things finally transpire. Williams' counter-argument is here dialectical in the strict Hegelian sense - he draws attention to how such a position ignores the fact that
what one does and the sort of life one leads condition one's later desires and judgments. The standpoint of that retrospective judge who will be my later self will be the product of my earlier choices. So there is no set of preferences both fixed and relevant, relative to which the various fillings of my life-space can be compared. <a name="39"></a><a href="#39x">39</a>
What this means is that temporality (and thereby contingency) are irreducible in moral judgments:
The perspective of deliberative choice on one's life is constitutively from here. Correspondingly the perspective of assessment with greater knowledge is necessarily from there, and not only can I not guarantee how factually it will be then, but I cannot ultimately guarantee from what standpoint of assessment my major and most fundamental regrets will be. <a name="40"></a><a href="#40x">40</a>
One should be careful not to miss the point here: one cannot guarantee it precisely because one cannot account in advance for how one's present acts will affect one's future retrospective view.
From this perspective, the Kantian emphasis on autonomy itself can be read not so much as an expression of "ethical narcissism," as, more, an acknowledgement of our unsurpassable limitation: since I always act in a situation which is ultimately opaque and thus cannot master the consequences of my acts, all I can do is to act with sincere intentions... Kant is thus not simply the ethical philosopher in stipulating that the purity of the inner intention is the only criterion of the moral character of my act: he is well aware that, in order for my moral activity to have any sense at all, we have to presuppose a deep affinity or harmony between our moral intentions and the objective structure of reality - therein resides the role of the postulates of pure practical reason. And it is here that the "moral luck" apparently excluded by Kant returns with a vengeance: Kant admits that we cannot effectively practice morality while constraining ourselves to only our inner intention, totally dismissing actual consequences - we are compelled to engage in a kind of "leap of faith" and commit ourselves to a fundamental trust into the friendly structure of reality. One cannot but recall here the wonderful "Soave sia il vento" trio from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, with its appeal to the "elements" (of the real) to respond benignly to our desires:
Gentle be the breeze,
calm be the waves,
and every element
to our desires. <a name="41"></a><a href="#41x">41</a>
- an appeal sustained by the suspicion that the there is no match between our desires and reality, that their discord is irreducible, that our desires themselves are in no way gentle, that they tend to explode in a violence and thus to provoke an even more violent answer of the Real.
If we read Kant in this way, focusing on the need to wage a salto mortale, then the opposition of autonomy and throwness/unaccountability loses its edge: the subject's throwness/unaccountability is the very condition of his autonomy. One should refer here to Lacan's logic of "non-all": the position of true autonomy is not "I am responsible for everything," but, rather, "there is nothing for which I am not responsible," the counterpart of which is "I am not responsible for All": precisely because I cannot have an overlook over All, there is nothing for which I can exempt myself from my responsibility. (And vice versa, of course: if I am responsible for everything, than there most be something for which I cannot be responsible.)
Another aspect of the thesis that contingency is irreducible in moral activity is the gap that forever separates MUST from OUGHT: "Ought is related to must as best is related to only." <a name="42"></a><a href="#42x">42</a> We arrive at what we must do after a long and anxious consideration of alternatives, and "can have that belief while remaining uncertain about it, and still very clearly seeing the powerful merits of alternative courses." <a name="43"></a><a href="#43x">43</a> This also opens up the space of manipulation, like when a bargaining partner or outright blackmailer say that "deplorably," this leaves him with no alternative to taking an unpleasant action. The falsity of this position resides in the fact that, when we "must" do something, it is not only that, within the limits that our situation sets to deliberation, we "cannot do otherwise but this": the character of a person is not only revealed in that he does what he must, but also "in the location of those limits, and in the very fact that one can determine, sometimes through deliberation itself, that one cannot do certain things, and must do others." <a name="44"></a><a href="#44">44</a> And one IS responsible for one's character, i.e., for the choice of coordinates which prevent me from doing some things and impel me to do others. This brings us to the Lacanian notion of act: in an act, I precisely redefine the very coordinates of what I cannot and must do.
When Lacan asserts that ethics belongs to the Real, is it not that, to put it in Kantian terms, he claims that, in our fleeting temporal phenomenal reality with no ultimate ontological grounding, the ethical, the unconditional demand of duty, is our only contact with the Eternal (noumenal)? The question is thus not simply that of how does Ought emerge out of Is, the positive order of Being, or of how to assert the ethical as external - irreducible - to the order of Being (the Levinasian topic of "beyond Being"), but that of the place of Ought within the very order of Being: within what ontology is the ethical dimension proper possible without being reduced to an epiphenomenon (in the style of Spinoza for whom Ought simply signals the limitation of our knowledge)? In other words, it is misleading to ask the question of how to overcome the gap that separates Being from the Ought, Sein from Sollen, facticity from the domain of norms: there is no need for an additional "synthesis" here - the question to be asked is rather: how does the dimension of Sollen emerge in the midst of Being, how does the positivity of Being engender the Ought. This explanation of how the GAP emerges is already the sought-for synthesis, in the same way that it is meaningless to supplant psychoanalysis with "psycho-synthesis" - psycho-ANALYSIS already IS this "synthesis."
<a name="1x"></a><a href="#1">1</a> Kieslowski on Kieslowski, edited by Danusia Stok, London: Faber and Faber 1993, p. 54-55.
<a name="2x"></a><a href="#2">2</a> Op. cit., p. 86.
<a name="3x"></a><a href="#3">3</a> For a more detailed account of this passage, see Chapter 1 of Slavoj Zizek, The Fright of Real Tears, London: BFI 2001.
<a name="4x"></a><a href="#4">4</a> The problem with “abstract" universal terms like hybridity and nomadic subjectivity is that they tend to nivellize, to render invisible, the antagonism that cuts across their content: when hybridity covers the globe-trotting academic as well as the refugee from a war torn country, it does something similar to obfuscating the gap that separates starving from dieting.
<a name="5x"></a><a href="#5">5</a> Rebecca Comay, "Dead Right: Hegel and the Terror," South Atlantic Quarterly 103:2/3 (Spring/Summer 2004), p. 393.
<a name="6x"></a><a href="#6">6</a> Op.cit., p. 392.
<a name="7x"></a><a href="#7">7</a> Fredric Jameson, A Singular Modernity, London: Verso Books 2002, p. 12.
<a name="8x"></a><a href="#8">8</a> See Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, London: Verso Books 1985.
<a name="9x"></a><a href="#9">9</a> In a homologous way, with regard to sexual difference, woman is not the polar opposite of man, there are women because man is not fully itself.
<a name="10x"></a><a href="#10">10</a> See F.W.J. Schelling, "Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom," in Philosophy of German Idealism, ed. by Ernst Behler, New York: Continuum 1987.
<a name="11x"></a><a href="#11">11</a> For a closer elaboration of this reflexive structure, see Chapter 3 of Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf, Cambridge (Ma): MIT Press 2003.
<a name="12x"></a><a href="#12">12</a> Gerard Wajcman, "The Birth of the Intimate (II)," lacanian ink 24-25, New York 2005, p. 44.
<a name="13x"></a><a href="#13">13</a> Jacques Derrida, Acts of Literature, New York: Routledge 1992, p. 201. In one of the supreme cases of signifier's irony, the (real!) name of the big-breasted sex-symbol of today's Slovene pop music is Natalija Verboten - the German word for "prohibited": the Thing is not simply prohibited, it is immediately the very emblem of prohibition, its agent. Therein resides the reflexivity of prohibition: what is ultimately prohibited is the very agent of prohibition, NOT the Thing the access to which is prevented by this agent.
<a name="14x"></a><a href="#14">14</a> Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion, New York: Routledge 2002. p. 270.
<a name="15x"></a><a href="#15">15</a> Let us take an unexpected example: why do Visions de l'amen, Olivier Messiaen's masterpiece for two pianos from 1943, consist of seven movements? He himself mentions four main versions of Amen: the Amen of creation ("So be it!"), the Amen of acceptance (of the divine will by the creatures), the Amen of desire, the Amen of paradisical bliss - are these four not Lacan's four elements of discourse (S1, S2, $, a)? So why the other three? First, the Amen of acceptance is split into the Amen of creatures which pronounce their acceptance of their existence to their Creator ("Here we are, as you interpellated us!"), and the Amen of Christ's acceptance of his suffering by means of which he will redeem the creatures. Secondly, the Amen of desire is inherently split into two aspects/sides of desiring, the pure and peaceful spiritual longing and the frantic torment of passion; these two are then externalized in two further movements: the Amen of the song of angels, saints and birds (who exert pure spiritual desire), and the Amen of the day of Judgment (in which ordinary humans will pay the price for their sinful passions). The whole is thus structured in a perfect symmetrical way: in the middle, the Amen of desire, by far the longest movement marked by an inherent split and surrounded by two triads, God-Creatures-Christ (Master and the split of the acceptance of the Servant) and Angels-Judgment-Paradise (the division of the subject between pure and "pathological" desire and the reconciliation of the paradisical bliss). We begin with the One of the Master, followed by the triple split (of the serving creatures; of desire; of subjectivity), and conclude by the Sameness of paradisical bliss. Although deeply Christian, the structure of Visions de l'amen thus simultaneously renders the most elementary signifying structure.
<a name="16x"></a><a href="#16">16</a> See Ernesto Laclau, "The Populist Reason," Umbr(a) 2004.
<a name="17x"></a><a href="#17">17</a> See Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Selected Works, Volume 1, Moscow: Progress Publishers 1969, p. 95.
<a name="18x"></a><a href="#18">18</a> In a social link, affects (collective hatred, love of a Leader, panic, and other "passions") thus also cheat - except anxiety which (as Freud put it in his essay on "Fetishism" - see Sigmund Freud, Studienausgabe, Band III, Frankfurt: Fischer Verlag 2000, p. 384) arises when we experience the fact that "the throne is empty." Is, then, enthusiasm the opposite of anxiety? Is it simply that the relationship between anxiety and enthusiasm is that of a proper distance: in enthusiasm, the object remains at a proper distance, while anxiety arises when it gets too close?
<a name="19x"></a><a href="#19">19</a> Blinded as we all are with the "French" Spinoza in all his different guises, from Althusser through Deleuze to Negri, one should not forget OTHER readings of Spinoza which played a crucial role in theoretical orientations whose very mention gives shudder to "postmodern" Leftists. First, Spinoza was a crucial reference in the work of Georgi Plekhanov, the key theoretical figure of Russian Social Democracy, who, a century ago, was the first to evelate Marxism into an all-encompassing world-view (incidentally, he also coined the term "dialectical materialism) - against Hegel, he designated Marxism as "modern Spinozism"... Then, the reference to Spinoza is central for the work of Leo Strauss, the father figure of today's US neo-conservatives: for Strauss, Spinoza provides a model for the split between popular ideology appropriate for ordinary people and true knowledge that should remain accessible only to the few. Last but not least, Spinoza's anti-Cartesian teaching on the human soul is considered an authority among some most influential of today's cognitivists and brain scientists - Antonio Damasio even wrote a popular book Looking for Spinoza. It is thus as if every postmodern "French" figure of Spinoza is accompanied by an obscene disavowed double or precursor: Althusser's proto-Marxist Spinoza - "with Plekhanov"; Negri's anti-Empire Spinoza of the multitude - "with Leo Strauss"; Deleuze's Spinoza of affects - "with Damasio"...
<a name="1x"></a><a href="#1">1</a> Furthermore, the very term "subject" has three main meanings: subject as an autonomous agent; subject as this same agent submitted ("subjected") to some power; topic, "subject matter." It is not difficult to recognize in these three meanings the triad of the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary: pure subject as the "answer of the real"; a subject of the signifier, submitted to - caught into - the symbolic order; the imaginary stuff that provides the matter, the "content," of the subject.
<a name="2x"></a><a href="#2">2</a> Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, New York: Norton 1979, p. 63.
<a name="3x"></a><a href="#3">3</a> For a condensed overview of the problem of the two versions of Tender Is the Night, see Malcolm Cowley's "Introduction" to the Penguin edition (Harmondsworth 1948).
<a name="4x"></a><a href="#4">4</a> Even the "complete" narrative of the second edition is structured around a black hole: it jumps directly from the events that led to marriage to the couple living at the Riviera, with their marriage already starting to disintegrate: the first few "happy years" are left out.
<a name="5x"></a><a href="#5">5</a> For this reason, one is tempted to propose that the only feasible solution would have been to do something similar to what Luis Bunuel did in his Mexican adaptation of Wuthering Heights from the early 50s (there, the story begins with Heathcliff's return - the past events are only evoked something mysterious that happened years ago between Heathcliff and Cathy, never directly shown or even narrated): to leave out completely the past, and to merely evoke it as a dark spot, as something indescribable, the "absent Cause" of the story.
<a name="6x"></a><a href="#6">6</a> See Jean Laplanche, New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1989.
<a name="7x"></a><a href="#7">7</a> See Kojin Karatani, Transcritique. On Kant and Marx, Cambridge (Ma): MIT Press 2003.
<a name="8x"></a><a href="#8">8</a> Karatani, op.cit., p. 3.
<a name="9x"></a><a href="#9">9</a> And, as René Girard pointed out, is the first full assertion of the ethical parallax not the Book of Job, in which the two perspective are confronted (the divine order of the world and Job's complaint), and neither is the "truthful" one - the truth resides in their very gap, in the shift of perspective. See René Girard, Job: The Victim and His People, Stanford: Stanford University Press 1987.
<a name="10x"></a><a href="#10">10</a> Karatani, op.cit., p. 6.
<a name="11x"></a><a href="#11">11</a> See Chapter 1 of Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying With the Negative, Durham: Duke University Press 1993.
<a name="12x"></a><a href="#12">12</a> Along these lines, The paradox of Kant's Ding an sich is that it is at the same time the excess of receptivity over intellect (the unknowable external source of our passive sensible perceptions) AND the purely intelligible content-less construct of an X without any support in our senses.
<a name="13x"></a><a href="#13">13</a> So why does Kant call judgements like »The soul is non-mortal« infinite? Because, in contrast to »The soul isn't mortal,« it covers an infinite set, not only the limited set of »immortal souls« as one of the species of the genus »souls,« the other species being the »mortal souls,« but the open-ended, illimited, set of souls which belong to the third domain, neither mortal nor immortal. For a closer elaboration of this distinction, see Chapter 3 of Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying With the Negative.
<a name="14x"></a><a href="#14">14</a> Perhaps, the satisfaction obtained by the cutters ("self-harmers") does not pertain so much to the way the feeling of intense bodily pain returns us back to reality, but, rather, to the fact that cutting oneself is a form of making a mark: when I make a cut into my arm, the »zero« of the subject's existential confusion, of her blurred virtual existence, is transformed into the »one« of a signifying inscription.
<a name="15x"></a><a href="#15">15</a> When Lacan defines himself as anti-philosopher, as insurging himself against philosophy, this is again to be conceived as a Kantian indefinite judgment: not "I am not a philosopher," but "I am a not-philosopher," i.e., I stand for the excessive core of philosophy itself, for what is in philosophy more than philosophy (which is why his main references are philosophical - in the index of Écrits, Hegel outnumbers Freud!).
<a name="16x"></a><a href="#16">16</a> Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, New York: Macmillan 1956, p. 152-153.
<a name="17x"></a><a href="#17">17</a> See On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX, Encore, New York: Norton 1999.
<a name="18x"></a><a href="#18">18</a> Can "multitude" in its opposition to crowd also not be conceived along the lines of the Lacanian non-All? Is multitude non-all, while there is nothing outside it, nothing that is not its part, and is crowd multitude under the sign of One, the "common denominator" of identification?
<a name="19x"></a><a href="#19">19</a> The same goes, say, for the fact that, in the Kantian dialectic of the Sublime, there is no positive Beyond whose phenomenal representation fails: there is nothing "beyond," the "Beyond" is only the void of the impossibility/failure of its own representation - or, as Hegel put it at the end of the chapter on consciousness in his Phenomenology of Spirit, beyond the veil of the phenomena, the consciousness only finds what it itself has put there. Again, Kant "knew it" without being able to consistently formulate it.
<a name="20x"></a><a href="#20">20</a> Claude Levi-Strauss, "Do Dual Organizations Exist?", in Structural Anthropology (New York: Basic Books 1963), p. 131-163; the drawings are on pages 133-134. For a more detailed analysis of this example, see Chapter III of Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf, Cambridge (Ma): MIT Press 2003.
<a name="21x"></a><a href="#21">21</a> Lacan's thought moves from the "internal externality" - the famous "ex-timacy" - of the Real qua Thing to the Symbolic (the Real as the inaccessible traumatic core around which symbolic formations circulate like flies around the light which burns them if they approach it too much), to the absolute inherence of Real to Symbolic (the Real has no subsistence, no ontological consistency of its own, it is NOTHING BUT the inherent inconsistency, gap, of the Symbolic). This, however, does not solve the key materialist question: if Real has no subsistence of its own, if it is inherent to Symbolic, how, then, are we to thing the emergence-explosion of the Symbolic out of the pre-symbolic X? Is the only solution to naïve realism really a kind of "methodological idealism" according to which, "the limits of our language are the limits of our world," so that what is beyond the Symbolic is strictly unthinkable?
<a name="20x"></a><a href="#20">20</a> Apropos Kant, Dieter Henrich deployed this same difference as the difference between person and subject - see Dieter Henrich, Bewusste Leben, Stuttgart: Reclam 1999, p. 199.
<a name="21x"></a><a href="#21">21</a> Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1978, p. 173
<a name="22x"></a><a href="#22">22</a> Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, New York: Anchor Books 1956, p. 255.
<a name="23x"></a><a href="#23">23</a> Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, New York: Random House 1968, p. 288.
<a name="24x"></a><a href="#24">24</a> See Alenka Zupancic, The Shortest Shadow, Cambridge (Ma): MIT Press 2004.
<a name="25x"></a><a href="#25">25</a> Rebecca Comay, Op. cit., p. 386.
<a name="26x"></a><a href="#26">26</a> G.W.F. Hegel, "Jenaer Realphilosophie," in Fruehe politische Systeme, Frankfurt: Ullstein 1974, p. 204.
<a name="27x"></a><a href="#27">27</a> In more general terms, the spectral Real appears in three versions: the shadow of the spectral entities which accompanies fully constituted reality; the inscription of the gaze itself into the perceived reality; the multiplication of realities themselves, i.e. the idea that what we perceive as reality is just one in the multitude of alternatives. The link between these three versions is easy to establish: the gap which separates reality from its proto-ontological spectral shadow is not simply "ontological" (in the naïve sense of the inherent properties of the objects themselves); it concerns the way the subject relates to reality - in short, this gap marks the inscription of the subject's gaze into the perceived reality. To put it in standard Kantian terms, reality is accompanied by its spectral shadows only insofar as it is already in itself transcendentally constituted through the subject. And the moment gaze is included in the picture, we no longer have ONE fully constituted reality accompanied by its multiple shadows, but a multitude of realities which emerge against the background of the indistinct pre-ontological Real. The inscription of the gaze itself into the perceived reality is thus the "vanishing mediator" between the two extremes, the ONE reality accompanied by proto-ontological spectral shadows and MULTIPLE realities emerging out of the abyssal plasticity of the Real.
<a name="28x"></a><a href="#28">28</a> See Giorgio Agamben, L'ouvert, Paris: Payot et Rivages 2002, p. 57.
<a name="29x"></a><a href="#29">29</a> See Darian Leader, Stealing Mona Lisa, London: Faber and Faber 2002, p. 89.
<a name="30x"></a><a href="#30">30</a> Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, New York: Norton 1979, p. 221.
<a name="31x"></a><a href="#31">31</a> G.W.H. Hegel, Hegel's Philosophie des subjektiven Geistes, Dordrecht: Riedel 1978, p. 6-7.
<a name="32x"></a><a href="#32">32</a> Ibid.
<a name="33x"></a><a href="#33">33</a> Ibid.
<a name="34x"></a><a href="#34">34</a> Hegel's Science of Logic, Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International 1989, p. 402. Various nationalist movements with their striving to »return to the origins« are exemplary here: it is the very return to the »lost origins« which literally constitutes what was lost, and, in this sense, the Nation/notion - as a spiritual substance - is the "product of itself."
<a name="35x"></a><a href="#35">35</a> See Theodor W. Adorno, Nachgelassene Schriften, Bd.10, Probleme der Moralphilosophie, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag 1996.
<a name="36x"></a><a href="#36">36</a> See Bernard Williams, Moral Luck, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press 1981.
<a name="37x"></a><a href="#37">37</a> Williams, op.cit., p. 45.
<a name="38x"></a><a href="#38">38</a> Williams, op.cit., p. 34.
<a name="39x"></a><a href="#39">39</a> Williams, Op.cit., p. 35.
<a name="40x"></a><a href="#40">40</a> Soave sia il vento, / Tranquilla sia l'onda / Ed ogni elemento / Benigno responda / Ai nostri desir. The trap one has to avoid here is that of reading this trio as a proof that Mozart was the last of the pre-modern (pre-Romantic) composers who still believed in the pre-established harmony between the turmoils of our inner lives and the ways of the world. On the contrary, Mozart was the first post-classicist, truly modern, composer: his appeal to the elements to respond gently to our desires already implies the Romantic gap between subjectivity and the ways of the world.
<a name="41x"></a><a href="#41">41</a> Williams, Op.cit., p. 125.
<a name="42x"></a><a href="#42">42</a> Williams, Op.cit., p. 126.
<a name="43x"></a><a href="#43">43</a> Williams, Op.cit., p. 130.
<a name="44x"></a><a href="#44">44</a> More closely, with regard to morals, Kant rejects both the rationalist notion of a transcendent (metaphysical or communal) substantial Good as well as the individualist-utilitarian notion of ethics grounded in the calculus of pleasures, profits and emotions - they are all "heteronomous." If we are to arrive at autonomous ethics, one should bracket BOTH communal substantial notions of Good and individual "pathological" pleasures and emotions.
The Parallax of the Critique of Political Economy
The three domains of reason (theoretical, practical, aesthetic) emerge through the shift in the subject's attitude, i.e., through "bracketing": the object of science emerges through bracketing moral and aesthetic judgments; the moral domain emerges through bracketing cognitive-theoretical and aesthetic concerns; and the aesthetic domain emerges through bracketing theoretical and moral concerns. For example, when we bracket moral and aesthetic concerns, a human being appears as non-free, totally conditioned by the causal nexus; if, on the contrary, we bracket theoretical concerns, it appears as a free autonomous being. Antinomies thus should not be reified - the antinomic positions emerge through shifts in the subject's attitude. <a name="1"></a><a href="#1x">1</a> - However, Karatani's crucial breakthrough resides in his application of such a parallax reading onto Marx, in his reading of Marx himself as a Kantian.
"I replaced Freud's energetics with political economy," said Lacan in his Seminar XVII - did he really mean it? When, in his "critique of political economy," Marx deals with the opposition of the "classical" political economy (Ricardo and his labor-theory of value - the counterpart to philosophical rationalism) and the neo-classic reduction of value to a purely relational entity without substance (Bailey - the counterpart to philosophical empiricism), he resolves this opposition by way of repeating the Kantian breakthrough towards the "parallax" view: he treated it as a Kantian antinomy, i.e., value has to originate outside circulation, in production, AND in circulation. The post-Marx "Marxism" - in both its versions, Social Democratic and Communist - lost this "parallax" perspective and regressed into the unilateral elevation of production as the site of truth against the "illusory" sphere of exchange and consumption. As he emphasizes, even the most sophisticated theory of reification, commodity fetishism, from the young Lukacs through Adorno up to Fredric Jameson, falls into this trap: the way they account for the lack of revolutionary movement is that the consciousness of workers is obfuscated by the seductions of consumerist society and/or the manipulation by the ideological forces of cultural hegemony, which is why the focus of the critical work should shift to "cultural criticism" (the so-called "cultural turn") - the disclosure of ideological (or libidinal - it is here that originates the key role of psychoanalysis in Western Marxism) mechanisms which keep the workers under the spell of bourgeois ideology.
In a close reading of Marx's analysis of the commodity-form, Karatani ground the insurmountable persistence of the parallax gap in the "salto mortale" that a product has to accomplish in order to assert itself as a commodity:
The price /of iron expressed in gold/, while on the one hand indicating the amount of labour-time contained in the iron, namely its value, at the same time signifies the pious wish to convert the iron into gold, that is to give the labour-time contained in the iron the form of universal social labour-time. If this transformation fails to take place, then the ton of iron ceases to be not only a commodity but also a product; since it is a commodity only because it is not a use-value for its owner, that is to say his labour is only really labour if it is useful labour for others, and it is useful for him only if it is abstract general labour. It is therefore the task of the iron or of its owner to find that location in the world of commodities where iron attracts gold. But if the sale actually takes place, as we assume in this analysis of simple circulation, then this difficulty, the salto mortale of the commodity, is surmounted. As a result of this alienation -- that is its transfer from the person for whom it is a non-use-value to the person for whom it is a use-value - the ton of iron proves to be in fact a use-value and its price is simultaneously realised, and merely imaginary gold is converted into real gold. <a name="2"></a><a href="#2x">2</a>
This is Karatani's key Kantian/anti-Hegelian point: the jump by means of which a commodity is sold and thus effectively constituted as commodity is not the result of an immanent self-development of (the concept of) Value, but a "salto mortale" comparable to a Kierkegaardian leap of faith, a temporary fragile "synthesis" between use-value and exchange-value comparable to the Kantian synthesis between sensitivity and understanding: in both cases, the two irreducibly external levels are brought together. <a name="3"></a><a href="#3x">3</a> For this precise reason, Marx abandoned his original project (discernible in the Grundrisse manuscripts) of "deducing" in a Hegelian way the split between exchange-value and use-value from the very concept of Value: in Capital, the split of these two dimensions, the "dual character of a merchandise," is the starting point. The synthesis has to rely on an irreducibly external element, as in Kant where being is not a predicate (i.e., cannot be reduced to a conceptual predicate of an entity), or as in Saul Kripke's Naming and Necessity, in which the reference of a name to an object cannot be grounded in the content of this name, in the properties it designates.
Which is why, although Marx's Darstellung of the self-deployment of the capital is full of Hegelian references, <a name="4"></a><a href="#4x">4</a> the self-movement of Capital is far from the circular self-movement of the Hegelian Notion (or Spirit): the point of Marx is that this movement never catches up with itself, that it never recovers its credit, that its resolution is postponed forever, that the crisis is its innermost constituent (the sign that the Whole of Capital is the non-True, as Adorno would have put it), which is why the movement is one of the "spurious infinity," forever reproducing itself:
Notwithstanding the Hegelian descriptive style /.../ Capital distinguishes itself from Hegel's philosophy in its motivation. The end of Capital is never the 'absolute Spirit.' Capital reveals the fact that capital, though organizing the world, can never go beyond its own limit. It is a Kantian critique of the ill-contained drive of capital/reason to self-realize beyond its limit. <a name="5"></a><a href="#5x">5</a>
It is interesting to note that it was already Adorno, who, in his Three Studies on Hegel, critically characterized Hegel's system in the same "financial" terms as a system which lives of a credit it can never pay off. And the same "financial" metaphor is often used for language itself - among others, Brian Rotman determined meaning as something which is always "borrowed from the future," relying on its forever-postponed fulfillment-to-come. <a name="6"></a><a href="#6x">6</a> That is to say, how does shared meaning emerge? Through what Alfred Schuetz called "mutual idealization": the subject cut the impasse of the endless probing into "do we all mean the same thing by 'bird'" by simply taking for granted, presupposing, acting AS IF they DO mean the same thing. There is no language without this "leap of faith."
This presupposition, this "leap of faith," should not be conceived, in the Habermasian vein, as the normativity build into the functioning of language, as the ideal the speakers (should) strive for: far from being an ideal, this presupposition is the fiction, the AS IF..., that sustains language - as such, it should be undermined again and again in the progress of knowledge. So, if anything, this presupposed AS IF... is profoundly ANTI-normative. - To this, a Habermasian may reply that the ideal, the norm inscribed into language, is nonetheless the state in which this fiction would no longer be a fiction, i.e, in which, in a smooth communication, subjects would effectively mean the same thing. However, this reproach misses the point, which is not only and simply that such a state is inaccessible (and also undesirable), but that the "leap of faith" by means of which the subjects take it for granted that they mean the same thing not only has no normative content, but can even block further elaboration - why strive for something that we allegedly already have? In other words, what the reading of this AS IF... as normativity misses is that the "leap of faith" is necessary and productive (enabling communication) precisely insofar as it is a counterfactual fiction: its "truth effect," its positive role of enabling communication, hinges precisely on the fact that it is NOT true, that it jumps ahead into fiction - its status is not normative because it cuts the debilitating deadlock of language, its ultimate lack of guarantee, by way of presenting what we should strive for as already accomplished. <a name="7"></a><a href="#7x">7</a>
The tension between production and circulation process is again that of parallax: yes, value is created in the production process; however, in it created there as it were only potentially, since it is only ACTUALIZED as value when the produced commodity is sold and the circle M-C-M' is thus completed. Crucial is this temporal GAP between the production of value and its actualization: even if value is produced in production, without the successful completion of the process of circulation, there stricto sensu is no value - the temporality is here that of the futur antérieur, i.e., value "is" not immediately, it only "will have been," it is retroactively actualized, performatively enacted. In production, value is generated "in itself," while only through completed circulation process it becomes "for itself." This is how Karatani resolves the Kantian antinomy of value which is AND is not generated in the process of production: it is generated there only "in itself." And it is because of this gap between in- and for-itself that capitalism needs formal democracy and equality:
"What precisely distinguishes capital from the master-slave relation is that the worker confronts him as consumer and possessor of exchange values, and that in the form of the possessor of money, in the form of money he becomes a simple center of circulation - one of its infinitely many centers, in which his specificity as worker is extinguished. <a name="8"></a><a href="#8x">8</a>
What this means is that, in order to complete the circle of its reproduction, the capital has to pass through this critical point at which the roles are inverted: "/.../ surplus value is realized in principle only by workers in totality buying back what they produce." <a name="9"></a><a href="#9x">9</a> This point is crucial for Karatani: it provides the key leverage from which to oppose the rule of the capital today: is it not natural that the proletarians should focus their attack on that unique point at which they approach the capital from the position of a buyer, and, consequently, at which it is the capital which is forced to court them? "/.../ if workers can become subjects at all, it is only as consumers." <a name="10"></a><a href="#10x">10</a> It is perhaps the ultimate case of the parallax situation: the position of worker-producer and that of consumer should be sustained as irreducible in their divergence, without privileging one as the "deeper truth" of the other. <a name="11"></a><a href="#11x">11</a> (And, incidentally, did not the planned economy of the State Socialism pay a terrible price for privileging production at the expense of consumption precisely by the failure in providing the consumers with unneeded goods, by producing things which nobody needed and wanted?) <a name="12"></a><a href="#12x">12</a> - This brings us to Karatani's key motif: one should thoroughly reject the (proto-Fascist, if anything) opposition of the financial-speculative profiteering capital to the "substantial" economy of capitalists engaged in productive activity: in capitalism, the production process is only a detour in the speculative process of money engendering more money, i.e., the profiteering logic is ultimately also what sustains the incessant drive to revolutionize and expand production:
The majority of economists warn today that the speculation of global financial capital is detached from the 'substantial' economy. What they overlook, however, is that the substantial economy as such is also driven by illusion, and that such is the nature of the capitalist economy. <a name="13"></a><a href="#13x">13</a>
There are, consequently, three basic positions apropos money: (1) the mercantilist one: a direct naïve fetishist belief in money as a "special thing"; (2) the "classical bourgeois political economy" embodied in Ricardo, which dismissed money-fetishism as a mere illusion and perceived money as a mere sign of the quantity of socially-useful labor - value was here conceived as inherent to a commodity; (3) the "neoclassical" school which rejected labor theory of value and also any "substantial" notion of value: for it, the price of a commodity is simply the result of the interplay of offer and demand, i.e., of the commodities' usefulness with regard to other commodities. And Karatani is right to emphasize how, paradoxically, Marx broke out of he confines of the "classical" Ricardo labor-theory of value through his reading of Bailey, the first "vulgar" economist who emphasized the purely relational status of value: value is not inherent to a commodity, it expresses the way this commodity relates to all other commodities. Bailey in this way opened up the path towards the structural-formal approach of Marx which insists on the gap between an object and the structural place it occupies: in the same way that a king is a king not because of his inherent properties, but because people treat him as one (Marx's own example), a commodity is money because it occupies the formal place of the general equivalent of all commodities, not because say, gold, is "naturally" money. But it is crucial to take note of how both mercantilists and their Ricardian critics remain "substantialist": Ricardo was, of course, aware that the object which serves as money is not "naturally" money, he laughed at the naïve superstition of money and dismissed mercantilists at primitive believers in magic properties; however, by reducing money to a secondary external sign of the value inherent to a commodity, he nonetheless again naturalized value, conceiving it is a direct "substantial" property of a commodity. It is this illusion that opened up the way to the naïve early-Socialist and Proudhonian practical proposal to overcome the money fetishism by way of introducing a direct "labor money" which would just designate the amount each individual contributed to social labor. The strict formal homology between Marx and Freud should be emphasized here <a name="14"></a><a href="#14x">14</a> - here are three key passages from Marx:
The determination of the magnitude of value by labor-time is therefore a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities. Its discovery, while removing all appearance of mere accidentality from the determination of the magnitude of the values of products, yet in no way alters the mode in which that determination takes place. <a name="15"></a><a href="#15x">15</a>
Political Economy has indeed analysed, however incompletely, value and its magnitude, and has discovered what lies beneath these forms. But it has never once asked the question why labour is represented by the value of its product and labour-time by the magnitude of that value. <a name="16"></a><a href="#16x">16</a>
It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than "table-turning" ever was.
The mystical character of commodities does not originate, therefore, in their use-value. Just as little does it proceed from the nature of the determining factors of value. For, in the first place, however varied the useful kinds of labor, or productive activities, may be, it is a physiological fact, that they are functions of the human organism, and that each such function, whatever may be its nature or form, is essentially the expenditure of human brain, nerves, muscles, etc. Secondly, with regard to that which forms the ground-work for the quantitative determination of value, namely, the duration of that expenditure, or the quantity of labor, it is quite clear that there is a palpable difference between its quantity and quality. In all states of society, the labor-time that it costs to produce the means of subsistence, must necessarily be an object of interest to mankind, though not of equal interest in different stages of development. And lastly, from the moment that men in any way work for one another, their labor assumes a social form.
Whence, then, arises the enigmatical character of the product of labor, so soon as it assumes the form of commodities? Clearly from this form itself. The equality of all sorts of human labor is expressed objectively by their products all being equally values; the measure of the expenditure of labor-power by the duration of that expenditure, takes the form of the quantity of value of the products of labor; and finally the mutual relations of the producers, within which the social character of their labor affirms itself, take the form of a social relation between the products. <a name="17"></a><a href="#17x">17</a>
The key explication is hidden in a footnote at the very end of the key chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams, on "The Dream-Work":
Formerly I found it extraordinarily difficult to accustom my readers to the distinction between the manifest dream-content and the latent dream-thoughts. Over and over again arguments and objections were adduced from the un-interpreted dream as it was retained in the memory, and the necessity of interpreting the dream was ignored. But now, when the analysts have at least become reconciled to substituting for the manifest dream its meaning as found by interpretation, many of them are guilty of another mistake, to which they adhere just as stubbornly. They look for the essence of the dream in this latent content, and thereby overlook the distinction between latent dream-thoughts and the dream-work. The dream is fundamentally nothing more than a special form of our thinking, which is made possible by the conditions of the sleeping state. It is the dream-work which produces this form, and it alone is the essence of dreaming- the only explanation of its singularity. <a name="18"></a><a href="#18x">18</a>
One should be therefore extremely attentive to the gap which separates Marx from Ricardo and his Leftist followers who already accomplished the move from appearance to essence, i.e., from the fascination with the domain of exchange to the site of production as its secret core; the basic move of Marx is the opposite one, the move back to the secret of the form itself. The key trap is not to be blinded by form, but to reduce form to a "mere form," i.e., to overlook how the secret essence NEEDS this form, how the form itself is essential.
Is, however, the ultimate Marxian parallax not the one between economy and politics, between the "critique of political economy" with its logic of commodities and the political struggle with its logic of antagonism? Both logic are "transcendental," not merely ontico-empirical; and they are both irreducible to each other. Of course they both point towards each other (class struggle is inscribed into the very heart of economy, yes has to remain absent, non-thematized - recall how the manuscript of Capital volume III abruptly ends with it; and class struggle is ultimately "about" economic power-relations), but this very mutual implication is twisted so that it prevents any direct contact (any direct translation of political struggle into a mere mirroring of economic "interests" is doomed to fail, as well as any reduction of the sphere of economic production to a secondary "reified" sedimentation of an underlying founding political process).
This "pure politics" of Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, and Etienne Balibar, more Jacobin than Marxist, shares with its great opponent, the Anglo-Saxon Cultural Studies and their focus on the struggles for recognition, the degradation of the sphere of economy. That is to say, what all the new French (or French oriented) theories of the Political, from Balibar through Ranciere and Badiou to Laclau and Mouffe, aim at is - to put it in the traditional philosophical terms - the reduction of the sphere of economy (of the material production) to an "ontic" sphere deprived of the "ontological" dignity. Within this horizon, there is simply no place for the Marxian "critique of political economy": the structure of the universe of commodities and capital in Marx's Capital is NOT just that of a limited empirical sphere, but a kind of socio-transcendental a priori, the matrix which generates the totality of social and political relations. The relationship between economy and politics is ultimately that of the well-known visual paradox of the "two faces or a vase": one either sees the two faces or a vase, never both of them - one has to make a choice. In the same way, one either focuses on the political, and the domain of economy is reduced to the empirical "servicing of goods," or one focuses on economy, and politics is reduced to a theater of appearances, to a passing phenomenon which will disappear with the arrival of the developed Communist (or technocratic) society, in which, as already Engels put it, the "administration of people" will vanish in the "administration of things."
The "political" critique of Marxism (the claim that, when one reduces politics to a "formal" expression of some underlying "objective" socio-economic process, one loses the openness and contingency constitutive of the political field proper) should thus be supplemented by its obverse: the field of economy is IN ITS VERY FORM irreducible to politics - this level of the FORM of economy (of economy as the determining FORM of the social) is what French "political post-Marxists" miss when they reduce economy to one of the positive social spheres. In Badiou, the root of this notion of pure "politics," radically autonomous with regard to history, society, economy, State, even Party, is his opposition between Being and Event - it is here that Badiou remains "idealist." From the materialist standpoint, an Event emerges "out of nowhere" within a specific constellation of Being - the space of an Event is the minimal "empty" distance between two beings, the "other" dimension which shines through this gap.
What parallax means is that the bracketing itself produces its object - "democracy" as a form emerges only when one brackets the texture of economic relations as well as the inherent logic of the political state apparatus: they both have to be abstracted from, people who are effectively embedded in economic processes and subjected to state apparatuses have to be reduced to abstract units. The same goes also for the "logic of domination," the way people are controlled/manipulated by the apparatuses of subjection: in order to clearly discern these mechanisms of power, one has to abstract not only from the democratic imaginary (as Foucault does it in his analyses of the micro-physics of power, but also as Lacan does it in his analysis of power in Seminar XVIII), but also from the process of economic (re)production. And, finally, the specific sphere of economic (re)production only emerges if one methodologically brackets the concrete existence of state and political ideology - no wonder critics of Marx complained that Marx's "critique of political economy" lacks a theory of power and state. And, of course, the trap to be avoided here is precisely that of trying to formulate the totality parts of which are democratic ideology, the exercise of power and the process of economic (re)production: if one tries to keep in view all, one ends up seeing nothing, the contours disappears. This bracketing is not only epistemological, it concerns what Marx called the "real abstraction": the abstraction from power and economic relations is inscribed into the very actuality of the democratic process, etc.
Karatani's account, impressive as it is, cannot but solicit a series of critical remarks. As for his advocacy of the LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) economic model, it is difficult to see how it avoids the very trap of which Karatani is well aware, the trap of money which would no longer be a fetish, but would serve just a "labor-money," a transparent instrument of exchange designating each individuals' contribution to the social product. Furthermore, Karatani's account of the Marxian notion of surplus-value and exploitation is strangely short in that it totally ignores the key element of Marx's critique of the standard labor theory of value: workers are not exploited by way of not being paid their full value - their wages are in principle "just," they are paid the full value of the commodity they are selling ("labor force"); the key is rather that the use-value of this commodity is unique, it produces new value greater that its own value, and this surplus in appropriated by the capitalists. Karatani, on the contrary, reduces exploitation to just another case of a difference in price between value systems: because of the incessant technological innovation, capitalists can earn from selling the products of labor more than they have to pay their workers - capitalist exploitation is thus posted as structurally the same as the activity of merchants who buy and sell at different locations, exploiting the fact that, because of different productivity, the same product is cheaper here (where they buy it) than there (where they sell it):
/.../ only where there is a difference in price between value systems: A (when they sell their labor power) and B (when they buy the commodities), is surplus value realized. This is so-called relative surplus value. And this is attained only by incessant technological innovation. Hence one finds that industrial capital too earns surplus value from the interstice between two different systems. <a name="19"></a><a href="#19x">19</a>
Perhaps, these limitations are grounded in the constrants of Karatani's Kantianism. <a name="20"></a><a href="#20x">20</a> When Karatani proposes his "transcendental" solution to the antinomy of money (we need an X which will be money and will not be money); when he reapplies this solution also to power (we need some centralized power, but not fetishized into a substance which is "in itself" Power); and when he explicitly evokes the structural homology with Duchamp (where an object becomes work of art not because of its inherent properties, but simply by occupying a certain place in the structure); does all this not exactly fit Lefort's theorization of democracy as a political order in which the place of power is originally empty, and is only temporary filled in by the elected representatives. Along these lines, even Karatani's apparently eccentric notion to combine elections with lottery in the procedure of determining who will rule us is more traditional than it may appear (he himself mentions the Ancient Greece) - paradoxically, it fulfills the same task as Hegel's theory of monarchy...
Karatani takes here a heroic risk at proposing a crazy-sounding definition of the difference between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat: "If universal suffrage by secret ballot, namely, parliamentary democracy, is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the introduction of lottery should be deemed the dictatorship of the proletariat." <a name="21"></a><a href="#21x">21</a> In this way, "the center exists and does not exist at the same time": <a name="22"></a><a href="#22x">22</a> it exists as an empty place, a transcendental X, and it does not exist as a substantial positive entity. But is this effectively enough to undermine the "fetishism of power"? When an accidental individual is allowed to temporarily occupy the place of power, the charisma of power is bestowed on him, following the well-known logic of fetishist disavowal: "I know very well that this is an ordinary person like me, BUT NONETHELESS... (while in power, he becomes an instrument of a transcendent force, power speaks and acts through him)!" Does all this not fit the general matrix of Kant's solutions where the metaphysical propositions (God, immortality of the soul...) are asserted "under erasure," as postulates? Consequently, would it not the true task be precisely to get rid of the very mystique of the PLACE of power?
"...ce seul objet don't le Neant s'honore"
Let us take a closer look at Marx's classical description of the passage from money to capital, with its explicit allusions to the Hegelian and Christian background. First, there is the simple act of market exchange in which I sell in order to buy - I sell the product I own or made in order to buy another one which is of some use to me: "The simple circulation of commodities - selling in order to buy - is a means of carrying out a purpose unconnected with circulation, namely, the appropriation of use-values, the satisfaction of wants." <a name="23"></a><a href="#23x">23</a> What happens with the emergence of the capital is not just the simple reversal of C-M-C /Commodity-Money-Commodity/ into M-C-M, i.e., of investing money into some commodity in order to sell it again and thus get back to (more) money; the key effect of this reversal is the ETERNALIZATION of circulation: "The circulation of money as capital is, on the contrary, an end in itself, for the expansion of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement. The circulation of capital has therefore no limits." <a name="24"></a><a href="#24x">24</a> Crucial here is the difference between the capitalist and the traditional miser, hoarding his treasure in a secret hide-out, and the capitalist who augments his treasure by throwing it into circulation:
The restless never-ending process of profit-making alone is what he aims at. This boundless greed after riches, this passionate chase after exchange-value, is common to the capitalist and the miser; but while the miser is merely a capitalist gone mad, the capitalist is a rational miser. The never-ending augmentation of exchange-value, which the miser strives after, by seeking to save his money from circulation, is attained by the more acute capitalist, by constantly throwing it afresh into circulation. <a name="25"></a><a href="#25x">25</a>
This madness of the miser is nonetheless not something which simply disappears with the rise of "normal" capitalism, or its pathological deviation. It is rather inherent to it: the miser has his moment of triumph in the economic crisis. In a crisis, it is not - as one would expect - money which loses its value, and we have to resort to the "real" value of commodities; commodities themselves (the embodiment of "real /use/ value") become useless, because there is no one to buy them. In a crisis,
money suddenly and immediately changes from its merely nominal shape, money of account, into hard cash. Profane commodities can no longer replace it. The use-value of commodities becomes value-less, and their value vanishes in the face of their own form of value. The bourgeois, drunk with prosperity and arrogantly certain of himself, has just declared that money is a purely imaginary creation. 'Commodities alone are money,' he said. But now the opposite cry resounds over the markets of the world: only money is a commodity. /.../ In a crisis, the antithesis between commodities and their value-form, money, is raised to the level of an absolute contradiction. <a name="26"></a><a href="#26x">26</a>
Does this not mean that at this moment, far from disintegrating, fetishism is fully asserted in its direct madness? <a name="27"></a><a href="#27x">27</a> In crisis, the underlying belief, disavowed and just practiced, is thus DIRECTLY asserted. It is crucial how, in this elevation of money to the status of the only true commodity ("The capitalist knows that all commodities, however scurvy they may look, or however badly they may smell, are in faith and in truth money, inwardly circumcised Jews."), <a name="28"></a><a href="#28x">28</a> Marx resorts to the precise Pauline definition of Christians as the "inwardly circumcised Jews": Christians do not need external actual circumcision (i.e., the abandonment of ordinary commodities with use values, dealing only with money), since they know that each of these ordinary commodities is already "inwardly circumcised," that its true substance is money. - It is even more crucial how Marx describes the passage from money to capital in the precise Hegelian terms of the passage from substance to subject:
In truth, however, value is here /in the capital/ the active factor in a process, in which, while constantly assuming the form in turn of money and commodities, it at the same time changes in magnitude, differentiates itself by throwing off surplus-value from itself; the original value, in other words, expands spontaneously. For the movement, in the course of which it adds surplus-value, is its own movement, its expansion, therefore, is automatic expansion. Because it is value, it has acquired the occult quality of being able to add value to itself. It brings forth living offspring, or, at the least, lays golden eggs. /.../
In simple circulation, C-M-C, the value of commodities attained at the most a form independent of their use-values, i.e., the form of money; but the same value now in the circulation M-C-M, or the circulation of capital, suddenly presents itself as an independent substance, endowed with a motion of its own, passing through a life-process of its own, in which money and commodities are mere forms which it assumes and casts off in turn. Nay, more: instead of simply representing the relations of commodities, it enters now, so to say, into private relations with itself. It differentiates itself as original value from itself as surplus value; as the father differentiates himself from himself qua the son, yet both are one and of one age: for only by the surplus value of 10 pounds dies the 100 pounds originally advanced become capital, and so on as this takes place, so soon as the son, and by the son, the father is begotten, so soon does their difference vanish, and they again become one, 110 pounds. <a name="29"></a><a href="#29x">29</a>
In short, capital is money which is no longer a mere substance of wealth, its universal embodiment, but value which, through its circulation, generates more value, value which mediates-posits itself, retroactively positing its own presuppositions. First, money appears as a mere means of the exchange of commodities: instead of the endless bartering, one first exchanges one's product for the universal equivalent of all commodities, which can then be exchanged for any commodity we may need. Then, once the circulation of the capital is set in motion, the relationship is inverted, the means turn into an end-in-itself, i.e., the very passage through the "material" domain of use-values (the production of commodities which satisfy individual's particular needs) is posited as a moment of what is substantially the self-movement of the capital itself - from this moment onwards, the true aim is no longer the satisfaction of individuals' needs, but simply more money, the endless repeating of the circulation as such... This arcane circular movement of self-positing is then equated with the central Christian tenet of the identity of God-the-Father and his Son, of the immaculate conception by means of which the single Father directly (without a female spouse) begets his only son and thus forms what is arguably the ultimate single-parent family.
Is then capital the true Subject/Substance? Yes and no: for Marx, this self-engendering circular movement is - to put it in Freudian terms - precisely the capitalist "unconscious fantasy" which parasitizes upon the proletariat as the "pure substanceless subjectivity"; for this reason, the capital's speculative self-generating dance has a limit, and it brings about the conditions of its own collapse. This insight allows us to solve the key interpretive problem of the above quote: how are we to read its first three words, "in truth, however"? First, of course, they imply that this truth has to be asserted against some false appearance or experience: the everyday experience that the ultimate goal of the capital's circulation is still the satisfaction of human needs, that capital is just a means to bring about this satisfaction in a more efficient way. However, this "truth" is NOT the reality of capitalism: in reality, capital does not engender itself, but exploits the worker's surplus-value. There is thus a necessary third level to be added to the simple opposition of subjective experience (of capital as a simple means of efficiently satisfying people's needs) and objective social reality (of exploitation): the "objective deception," the disavowed "unconscious" fantasy (of the mysterious self-generating circular movement of the capital), which is the TRUTH (although not the REALITY) of the capitalist process. Again, quote Lacan, truth has the structure of a fiction: the only way to formulate the truth of the capital is to render this fiction of its "immaculate" self-generating movement. And this insight also allows us to locate the weakness of the above-mentioned "deconstructionist" appropriation of Marx's analysis of capitalism: although it emphasizes the endless process of deferral which characterizes this movement, as well as its fundamental inconclusiveness, its self-blockade, the "deconstructionist" retelling still describes the FANTASY of the capital - it describes what individuals believe, although they don't know it.
This shift from goal-oriented stance of consumption towards the properly capitalist stance of self-propelling circulation allows us to locate desire and drive with regard to capitalism. Following Jacques-Alain Miller, a distinction has to be introduced here between lack and hole: lack is spatial, designating a void WITHIN a space, while hole is more radical, it designates the point at which this spatial order itself breaks down (as in the "black hole" in physics). <a name="30"></a><a href="#30x">30</a> Therein resides the difference between desire and drive: desire is grounded in its constitutive lack, while drive circulates around a hole, a gap in the order of being. In other words, the circular movement of drive obeys the weird logic of the curved space in which the shortest distance between the two points is not a straight line, but a curve: drive “knows" that the shortest way to attain its aim is to circulate around its goal-object. At the immediate level of addressing individuals, capitalism of course interpellates them as consumers, as subjects of desires, soliciting in them ever new perverse and excessive desires (for which it offers products to satisfy them); furthermore, it obviously also manipulates the "desire to desire," celebrating the very desire to desire ever new objects and modes of pleasure. However, even if it already manipulates desire in a way which takes into account the fact that the most elementary desire is the desire to reproduce itself as desire (and not to find satisfaction), at this level, we do not yet reach drive. Drive inheres to capitalism at a more fundamental, systemic, level: drive is that which propels the entire capitalist machinery, it is the impersonal compulsion to engage in the endless circular movement of expanded self-reproduction. We enter the mode of drive the moment the circulation of money as capital becomes "an end in itself, for the expansion of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement. The circulation of capital has therefore no limits." (One should bear in mind here Lacan's well-known distinction between the aim and the goal of drive: while the goal is the object around which drive circulates, its (true) aim is the endless continuation of this circulation as such.) The capitalist drive thus belongs to no definite individual - it is rather that those individuals who act as direct "agents" of the capital (capitalists themselves, top managers) have to display it.
Miller recently proposed a Benjaminian distinction between "constituted anxiety" and "constituent anxiety," which is crucial with regard to the shift from desire to drive: while the first one designated the standard notion of the terrifying and fascinating abyss of anxiety which haunts us, its infernal circle which threatens to draws us in, the second one stands for the "pure" confrontation with objet petit a as constituted in its very loss. <a name="31"></a><a href="#31x">31</a> Miller is right to emphasize here two features: the difference which separates constituted from constituent anxiety concerns the status of the object with regard to fantasy. In a case of constituted anxiety, the object dwells within the confines of a fantasy, while we only get the constituent anxiety when the subject "traverses the fantasy" and confronts the void, the gap, filled up by the fantasmatic object - as Mallarme put it in the famous bracketed last two lines of his "Sonnet en -yx," objet a is ce seul objet dont le Néant s'honore /this sole object with which Nothing is honoured/."
Clear and convincing as it is, Miller's formula misses the true paradox or, rather, ambiguity of objet a: when he defines objet a as the object which overlaps with its loss, which emerges at the very moment of its loss (so that all its fantasmatic incarnations, from breasts to voice and gaze, are metonymic figurations of the void, of nothing), he remains within the horizon of desire - the true object-cause of desire is the void filled in by its fantasmatic incarnations. While, as Lacan emphasizes, objet a is also the object of drive, the relationship is here thoroughly different: although, in both cases, the link between object and loss is crucial, in the case of objet a as the object-cause of desire, we have an object which is originally lost, which coincides with its own loss, which emerges as lost, while, in the case of objet a as the object of drive, the "object" IS DIRECTLY THE LOSS ITSELF - in the shift from desire to drive, we pass from the lost object to loss itself as an object. That is to say, the weird movement called "drive" is not driven by the "impossible" quest for the lost object; it is a push to directly enact the "loss" - the gap, cut, distance - itself. There is thus a DOUBLE distinction to be drawn here: not only between objet a in its fantasmatic and post-fantasmatic status, but also, within this post-fantasmatic domain itself, between the lost object-cause of desire and the object-loss of drive.
This is why one should not confuse death drive with the so-called "nirvana principle," the trust towards destruction or self-obliteration: the Freudian death drive has nothing whatsoever to do with the craving for self-annihilation, for the return to the inorganic absence of any life-tension; it is, on the contrary, the very opposite of dying - a name for the "undead" eternal life itself, for the horrible fate of being caught in the endless repetitive cycle of wandering around in guilt and pain. The paradox of the Freudian "death drive" is therefore that it is Freud's name for its very opposite, for the way immortality appears within psychoanalysis, for an uncanny EXCESS of life, for an "undead" urge which persist beyond the (biological) cycle of life and death, of generation and corruption. The ultimate lesson of psychoanalysis is that human life is never "just life": humans are not simply alive, they are possessed by the strange drive to enjoy life in excess, passionately attached to a surplus which sticks out and derails the ordinary run of things.
What this means is that it is wrong to claim that the "pure" death drive death drive would have been the impossible "total" will to (self)destruction, the ecstatic self-annihilation in which the subject would have rejoined the fullness of the maternal Thing, but that this will is not realizable, that it gets blocked, stuck to a "partial object." Such a notion retranslates death drive into the terms of desire and its lost object: it is in desire that the positive object is a metonymic stand-in for the void of the impossible Thing; it is in desire that the aspiration to fullness is transferred to partial objects - this is what Lacan called the metonymy of desire. One has to be very precise here if we are not to miss Lacan's point (and thereby confuse desire and drive): drive is not an infinite longing for the Thing which gets fixated onto a partial object - "drive" IS this fixation itself in which resides the "death" dimension of every drive. Drive is not a universal thrust (towards the incestuous Thing) braked and broken up, it IS this brake itself, a brake on instinct, its "stuckness," as Eric Santner would have put it. <a name="32"></a><a href="#32x">32</a> The elementary matrix of drive is NOT that of transcending all particular objects towards the void of the Thing (which is then accessible only in its metonymic stand-in), but that of our libido getting "stuck" onto a particular object, condemned to circulate around it forever.
The basic paradox here is that the specifically human dimension - drive as opposed to instinct - emerges precisely when what was originally a mere by-product is elevated into an autonomous aim: man is not more "reflexive"; on the contrary, man perceives as a direct goal what, for an animal, has no intrinsic value. In short, the zero-degree of "humanization" is not a further "mediation" of animal activity, its re-inscription as a subordinated moment of a higher totality (say, we eat and procreate in order to develop higher spiritual potentials), but the radical narrowing of focus, the elevation of a minor activity into an end-in-itself. We become "humans" when we get caught into a closed, self-propelling loop of repeating the same gesture and finding satisfaction in it.
We all recall one of the archetypal scenes from cartoons: while dancing, the cat jumps up into the air and turns around its own axis; however, instead of falling back down towards the earth's surface in accordance with the normal laws of gravity, it remains for some time suspended in the air, turning around in the levitated position as if caught in a loop of time, repeating the same circular movement on and on. (One also finds the same shot in some musical comedies which make use of the elements of slapstick: when a dancer turns around him- or herself in the air, s/he remains up there a little bit too long, as if, for a short period of time, s/he succeeded in suspending the law of gravity. And, effectively, is such an effect not the ultimate goal of the art of dancing?) In such moments, the "normal" run of things, the "normal" process of being caught in the imbecilic inertia of material reality, is for a brief moment suspended; we enter the magical domain of a suspended animation, of a kind of ethereal rotation which, as it were, sustains itself, hanging in the air like Baron Munchhausen who raised himself from the swamp by grabbing his own hair and pulling himself up. This rotary movement, in which the lineral progress of time is suspended in a repetitive loop, is DRIVE at its most elementary. This, again, is »humanization« at its zero-level: this self-propelling loop which suspends/disrupts linear temporal enchainment. This shift from desire to drive is crucial if one is to grasp properly the crux of the "minimal difference": at its most fundamental, the minimal difference is not the unfathomable X which elevates an ordinary object into an object of desire, but, rather, the inner torsion which curves the libidinal space and thus transforms instinct into drive.
Consequently, the concept of drive makes the alternative "either burned by the Thing or maintaining a distance" false: in a drive, the "thing itself" is a circulation around the void (or, rather, hole, not void). To put it even more pointedly, the object of drive is not related to the Thing as a filler of its void: drive is literally a counter-movement to desire, it does not strive towards impossible fullness and, being forced to renounce it, gets stuck onto a partial object as its remainder - drive is quite literally the very "drive" to BREAK the All of continuity in which we are embedded, to introduce a radical imbalance into it, and the difference between drive and desire it precisely that, in desire, this cut, this fixation onto a partial object, is as it were "transcendentalized," transposed into a stand-in for the void of the Thing.
<br. also="" how="" one="" should="" read="" s="" thesis="" on="" drives="" :="" does="" bring="" stand-in="" for="" thing="" because="" were="" turns="" into="" triumph="" -="" very="" repetition="" failure="" endless="" circulation="" object="" generates="" own="" as="" lacan="" true="" aim="" not="" reach="" goal="" but="" circulate="" endlessly="" around="" well-known="" vulgar="" joke="" about="" having="" his="" first="" intercourse="" girl="" has="" tell="" him="" exactly="" to="" do="" see="" this="" hole="" between="" my="" legs="" put="" here="" deep="" push="" pull="" it="" now="" wait="" minute="" interrupts="" her="" make="" up="" your="" mind="" in="" or="" out="" what="" fool="" misses="" is="" precisely="" structure="" of="" a="" drive="" which="" gets="" its="" satisfaction="" the="" indecision="" itself="" from="" repeated="" oscillation="">
Bruno Boostels' central Badiouian reproach to this topic of death drive qua self-relating negativity (from his unpublished essay "Badiou without Zizek") is that, by way of giving priority to the Act as a negative gesture of radical (self-relating) negativity, as "death drive" in actu, I in advance devalue every positive project of imposing a new Order, the fidelity to any positive political Cause:</br.>
what causes are there to be kept alive from a psychoanalytical perspective, if for the latter the most radical act consists in the subject's defining gesture of pure negativity that precedes and undermines every one of the possible candidates? /.../ Before any inscription of a new truth even has a chance to take place, actually blocking this process in advance by virtue of a structural necessity, the death drive always already has had to come first to wipe the slate clean.
The first thing to note here is how Boostels simply "axiomatically" opposes Lacan's and Badiou's respective notions of act, constraining Lacan to the paradigm of "tragic failure," to the primacy of negativity over any of its positivizations, while, for Badiou, all "death drive" phenomena are the result of the failure (betrayal, exhaustion) of a positive emancipatory project (do we not find here an echo of the old theological notion of Evil as a mere absence of Good, not as a positive power in itself?). Such a direct confrontation says nothing about the truth value of the two competing theories: Boostels's ultimate reproach to Lacan is tautological: that he is not Badiou - of which Lacan is, for sure, guilty.
Is, however, the opposition between the primacy of negativity and the primacy of the positive Truth really as simple and symmetrical as that? Is Boostels, in order to take side with Badiou, not compelled to conflate two notions o negativity: the "pure" self-relating negativity and negativity as an ethico-practical failure, as a betrayal of a positive project? In order to approach this topic properly, one would have to focus on the crucial, but often ambiguous, role of the Unnamable in Badiou. To cut a long story short: while, for Badiou, the unnamable Real is the unfathomable external background of a process of Truth (the resisting X which cannot ever be fully "forced" by the Truth), for Lacan, the Unnamable is absolutely inherent, it is the Act itself in its excess over its nominations. Badiou's rationalism remains at the level of the external opposition of Reason and the Unnamable (the Unnamable as the obscure background of Reason): there is no place in it for the moment of "madness" in the very core of Reason itself. A reference to German Idealism is crucial here: following Kant, Schelling deployed the notion of the primordial decision-differentiation (Ent-Scheidung), the unconscious atemporal deed by means of which the subject chooses his eternal character which, afterwards, within his conscious-temporal life, he experiences as the inexorable necessity, as "the way he always was":
The deed, once accomplished, sinks immediately into the unfathomable depth, thereby acquiring its lasting character. It is the same with the will which, once posited at the beginning and led into the outside, immediately has to sink into the unconscious. This is the only way the beginning, the beginning that does not cease to be one, the truly eternal beginning, is possible. For here also it holds that the beginning should not know itself. Once done, the deed is eternally done. The decision that is in any way the true beginning should not appear before consciousness, it should not be recalled to mind, since this, precisely, would amount to its recall. He who, apropos of a decision, reserves for himself the right to drag it again to light, will never accomplish the beginning. <a name="33"></a><a href="#33x">33</a>
With this abyssal act of freedom, the subject breaks up the rotary movement of drives, this abyss of the Unnamable - in short, this deed is the very founding gesture of naming. Therein resides Schelling's unheard-of philosophical revolution: he does not simply oppose the dark domain of the rotary movement of pre-ontological drives, this unnamable Real which cannot ever be totally symbolized, to the domain of Logos, of articulated Word which cannot ever totally "force" it (like Badiou, Schelling insists on how there is always a remainder of the unnamable Real - the "indivisible remainder" - which eludes symbolization); at its most radical, the unnamable Unconscious is not external to Logos, it is not its obscure background, but, rather, the very act of Naming, the very founding gesture of Logos. The greatest contingency, the ultimate act of abyssal madness, is the very act of imposing a rational Necessity onto the pre-rational chaos of the Real.
And, since we are dealing with German Idealism here, one should gather the courage to propose another paradoxical identification: what if this curved structure of drive is none other than that of what Hegel meant by "self-consciousness"? The crucial mistake to be avoided is to grasp the Hegelian self-consciousness as a kind of meta-Subject, a Mind, much larger than an individual human mind, aware of itself: once we do this, Hegel has to appear as a ridiculous spiritualist obscurantist, claiming that there is a kind of mega-Spirit controlling our history. Against this cliché, one should emphasize how Hegel is fully aware that "it is in the finite consciousness that the process of knowing spirit's essence takes place and that the divine self-consciousness thus arises. Out of the foaming ferment of finitude, spirit rises up fragrantly." <a name="34"></a><a href="#34x">34</a>
However, although our awareness, the (self)consciousness of finite humans, is the only actual site of spirit, this does not entail any kind of nominalist reduction - there is another dimension at work in "self-consciousness," the one designated by Lacan as the "big Other" and by Karl Popper as the Third World. That is to say, for Hegel, "self-consciousness" in its abstract definition stands for a purely non-psychological self-reflexive ply of registering (re-marking) one's own position, of reflexively "taking into account" what one is doing. Therein resides the link between Hegel and psychoanalysis: in this precise non-psychological sense, "self-consciousness" is in psychoanalysis an object - say, a tic, a symptom which articulates the falsity of my position of which I am unaware. Say, I did something wrong, and I consciously deluded myself that I had the right to do it; but, unaware to me, a compulsive act which appears mysterious and meaningless to me "registers" my guilt, it bears witness to the fact that, somewhere, my guilt is remarked. Along the same lines, Ingmar Bergman once noted that, towards the end of their careers, both Fellini and Tarkovsky (whom he admired) unfortunately started to make "Fellini films" and "Tarkovsky films," and that the same feature is the cause of the failure of his Autumn Sonata - it is a "Bergman film done by Bergman." What this means is that, in The Autumn Sonata, Bergman lost the spontaneous attitude towards his creative substance: he started to "imitate himself," to reflexively follow his own formula - in short, The Autumn Sonata is a "self-conscious" film, even if Bergman himself was psychologically totally unaware of it... This is the function of the Lacanian "big Other" at its purest: this impersonal, non-psychological, agency (or, rather, site) of registering, of "taking note of" what takes place.
This is how one should grasp Hegel's notion of State as "self-consciousness" of a people: "The state is the self-conscious ethical substance." <a name="35"></a><a href="#35x">35</a> A State is not merely a blindly running mechanism applied to regulate social life, it always also contains a series of practices, rituals and institutions that serve to "declare" its own status, in the guise of which the State appears to its subjects as what it is - parades and public celebrations, solemn oaths, legal and educational rituals which assert (and thereby enact) the subject's belonging to the State:
the self-consciousness of the state has nothing mental about it, if by 'mental' we understand the sorts of occurrences and qualities that are relevant to our own minds. What self-consciousness amounts to, in the state's case, is the existence of reflective practices, such as, but not limited to, educational ones. Parades displaying the state's military strength would be practices of this kind, and so would statements of principle by the legislature, or sentences by the Supreme Court - and they would be that even if all individual (human) participants in a parade, all members of the legislature or of the Supreme Court were personally motivated to play whatever role they play in this affair by greed, inertia, or fear, and even if all such participants or members were thoroughly uninterested and bored through the whole event, and totally lacking in any understanding of its significance. <a name="36"></a><a href="#36x">36</a>
So it is quite clear to Hegel that this appearing has nothing to do with conscious awareness: it does not matter what individuals' minds are preoccupied with while they are participating in a ceremony, the truth resides in the ceremony itself. Hegel made the same point a propos the marriage ceremony, which registers the most intimate link of love: "the solemn declaration of consent to the ethical bond of marriage and its recognition and confirmation by the family and community constitute the formal conclusion and actuality of marriage," which is why it belongs to "impertinence and its ally, understanding," to see "the ceremony whereby the essence of this bond is expressed and confirmed /.../ as an external formality," irrelevant with regard to the inwardness of passionate feeling. <a name="37"></a><a href="#37x">37</a>
This, of course, is not the whole story: Hegel also emphasized the need for a subjective element of individual self-awareness only through which a State fully actualizes itself - there has to be an actual individual "I will!" which immediately embodies the will of the State, therein consists Hegel's deduction of monarchy. However, here, we are in for a surprise: the Monarch is not the privileged point at which the State is fully aware of itself, of its nature and spiritual content; the Monarch is rather an idiot who merely provides the purely formal aspect of "This is my will! So be it!" to a content imposed on it from outside: "In a fully organized state, /.../ all that is required in a monarch is someone to say 'yes' and to dot the 'I'; for the supreme office should be such that the particular character of its occupant is of no significance." <a name="38"></a><a href="#38x">38</a> The State's "self-consciousness" is thus irreducibly split between its "objective" aspect (the self-registration in State rituals and declarations) and its "subjective" aspect (the person of the Monarch conferring on it the form of individual will) - the two never overlap. The contrast between the Hegelian Monarch and the "totalitarian" Leader who is effectively supposed to know cannot be stronger.
However, in a unique case of ethical perversion, "totalitarianism" itself exploits this gap of reflexivity that characterizes the structure of self-consciousness. In her Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt described the self-reflexive twist the Nazi executioners accomplished in order to be able to endure the horrible acts they performed: most of them were not simply evil, they were well aware that they are doing things which bring humiliation, suffering and death to their victims; the way they dealt with it was to accomplish the "Himmler trick," so that, "instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!" <a name="39"></a><a href="#39x">39</a> In this way, they were able to turn around the logic of resisting temptation: the temptation to be resisted was the temptation to succumb to the very elementary pity and sympathy in the presence of human suffering, and their "ethical" effort was directed towards the task of resisting this temptation NOT to murder, torture and humiliate. In a kind of recapitonnage, my very violation of spontaneous ethical instincts of pity and compassion is thus turned into the proof of my ethical grandeur: to do my duty, I am ready to assume the heavy burden of inflicting pain on others... <a name="40"></a><a href="#40x">40</a> No wonder Eichmann considered himself a Kantian: in him, the Kantian contrast between the subject's spontaneous egotistic strivings and the ethical struggle to overcome them is turned around into the struggle between the spontaneous ETHICAL strivings and the "evil" effort to overcome these barriers which make it so difficult for us to accomplish a terrible act of torturing or killing another human being, as in the short poem by Brecht apropos a statue of a Japanese demon, in which Brecht emphasizes the immense effort it takes to be truly evil.
<a name="1x"></a><a href="#1">1</a> More closely, with regard to morals, Kant rejects both the rationalist notion of a transcendent (metaphysical or communal) substantial Good as well as the individualist-utilitarian notion of ethics grounded in the calculus of pleasures, profits and emotions - they are all "heteronomous." If we are to arrive at autonomous ethics, one should bracket BOTH communal substantial notions of Good and individual "pathological" pleasures and emotions.
<a name="2x"></a><a href="#2">2</a> Karl Marx, "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy," in Collected Works, vol. 29, New York: International Publishers 1976, p. 390.
<a name="3x"></a><a href="#3">3</a> With this accent on the salto mortale of capitalist circulation, on how capitalism lives and thrives on the credit from the future, on the wager that the cycle of circulation will be accomplished, one is almost tempted to put it in Heideggerian terms: the essence of credit is the being-credited of the essence itself...
<a name="4x"></a><a href="#4">4</a> See, among others, Helmut Reichelt, Zur logischen Struktur des Kapitalbegriffs, Frankfurt: Europaische Verlagsanstalt 1970, and Hiroshi Uchida, Marx's Grundrisse and Hegel's Logic, New York: Routledge 1988.
<a name="5x"></a><a href="#5">5</a> Karatani, op.cit., p. 9.
<br.><a name="6x"></a><a href="#6">6</a> See Brian Rotman, Signifying Nothing, London: MacMillan 1975.
<a name="7x"></a><a href="#7">7</a> The same logic of living off the credit borrowed from the future also goes for Stalinism. The standard evolutionary version is that, while the Stalinist socialism did play a certain role in enabling the rapid industrialization of Russia, starting with the mid-60s, the system obviously exhausted its potentials; however, what this judgment fails to take into account is the fact that the entire epoch of the Soviet Communism from 1917 (or, more precisely, from Stalin's proclamation of the goal to "build socialism in one country" in 1924) lived on borrowed time, was "indebted to its own future," so that the final failure retroactively disqualified the earlier epochs themselves.
<a name="8x"></a><a href="#8">8</a> Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1993, p. 420-421.
<a name="9x"></a><a href="#9">9</a> Karatani, op.cit., p. 20.
<a name="10x"></a><a href="#10">10</a> Karatani, op.cit., p. 290.
<a name="11x"></a><a href="#11">11</a> Is a nice linguistic example of the parallax between production and consumption not that of the different use of "pork" and "pig" in today's English? "Pig" refers to animals with whom farmers deal, while "pork" is the meat we consume - and the class dimension is clear here: "pig" is the old Saxon word, since Saxons were the underprivileged farmers, while "pork" comes from French "porque," used by the privileged Norman conquerors who mostly consumed the pigs raised by farmers.
<a name="12x"></a><a href="#12">12</a> When post-Marxist Leftists speak of "consumtariat" as the new form of proletariat (see Alexander Bard and Jan Soderqvist, Netrocracy: The New Power Elite and Life After Capitalism, London: Reuters 2002), what they indicate is the ultimate identity of worker and consumer - it is for THIS reason that, in capitalism, a worker has to be formally free.
<a name="13x"></a><a href="#13">13</a> Karatani, op.cit., p. 241.
<a name="14x"></a><a href="#14">14</a> I first developed this moment in Chapter 1 of The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso Books 1989. And, against Karatani's anti-Hegelianism, one should remember that this notion of form is more Hegelian than Kantian: "Thus in the movement of consciousness there occurs a moment of being-in-itself or being-for-us which is not present to the consciousness comprehended in the experience itself. The content, however, of what presents itself to us does exist for it; we comprehend only the formal aspect /das Formelle/ of that content, or its pure origination. For it, what has thus arisen exists only as an object; for us, it appears at the same time as movement and a process of becoming."( G.W.F.Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1977, p. 56.)
<a name="15x"></a><a href="#15">15</a> Karl Marx, Capital, p. 166.
<a name="16x"></a><a href="#16">16</a> Karl Marx, op.cit., p. 167.
<a name="17x"></a><a href="#17">17</a> Karl Marx, op.cit., p. 163-164.
<a name="18x"></a><a href="#18">18</a> Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1977, p. 650.
<a name="19x"></a><a href="#19">19</a> Karatani, op.cit., p. 239.
<a name="20x"></a><a href="#20">20</a> What cannot but strike the eye of anyone well-versed in the history of Marxism is the conspicuous absence of the reference to Alfred Sohn-Rethel in Karatani's book: Sohn-Rethel directly deployed the parallel between Kant's transcendental critique and Marx's critique of political economy, but in the opposite critical direction (the structure of the commodity universe IS that of the Kantian transcendental space).
<a name="21x"></a><a href="#21">21</a> op.cit., p. 183. Karatani evokes here the example of old Athenian democracy; but is not the ultimate combination of ballots and lots advocated by him the unique procedure for electing the Doge in Venice, established in 1268, after a Doge tried to obtain hereditary monarchic powers? Thirty members would first be balloted for, then a ballot held to select nine of them. These nine then nominated 40 provisional electors who in turn chose twelve by lot who then elected 25. These were reduced to nine, who then each nominated five. The 45 so nominated were reduced by casting lots to eleven; nine of the eleven votes were needed to choose the final 41 who, meeting in conclave, would elect the Doge... The aim of this procedure was, of course, to prevent any group or family to exercise undue influence. Furthermore, in order to prevent the Doge himself from getting too much power, there was a list of duties he could not undertake (his sons or daughters could not marryoutside the Republic, he was only allowed to open official letters in the presence of others, etc.).
<a name="22x"></a><a href="#22">22</a> ibid.
<a name="23x"></a><a href="#23">23</a> Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, New York: International Publishers 1967, p. 253.
<a name="24x"></a><a href="#24">24</a> Karl Marx, op.cit., p. 254. - It is with this shift to the universal form of circulation as an end-in-itself that we pass from pre-modern ethics, grounded in a reference to some substantial supreme Good, to the paradigmatically modern Kantian ethics in which it is ultimately only the form of duty that matters, i.e. in which duty is to be accomplished for the sake of duty. What this means is that Lacan's emphasis on how Kant's ethics is the ethics inherent to the Galilean-Newtonian universe of the modern science, has to be supplemented by the insight into how Kant's ethics is also the ethics inherent to the capitalist logic of circulation as an end-in-itself.
<a name="25x"></a><a href="#25">25</a> Karl Marx, op.cit., p. 254-255.
<a name="26x"></a><a href="#26">26</a> Karl Marx, op.cit., p. 236-7.
<a name="27x"></a><a href="#27">27</a> This paradox is structurally homologous to that of Casanova who, in order to seduce a naïve peasant girl, draw a circle on the grass and claimed that staying within it protects you from all dangers light being hit by a lightning; when, however, immediately afterwards, an actual violent storm broke out, Casanova, in a moment of panic, himself stepped into this circle, acting as if he believed in its power although he knew very well it was just part of his deception...
<a name="28x"></a><a href="#28">28</a> Karl Marx, op.cit., p. 171.
<a name="29x"></a><a href="#29">29</a> Karl Marx, op.cit., p. 171-173.
<a name="30x"></a><a href="#30">30</a> See Jacques-Alain Miller, "Le nom-du-père, s'en passer, s'en servir," available on www.lacan.com.
<a name="31x"></a><a href="#31">31</a> See Jacques-Alain Miller, op.cit.
<a name="32x"></a><a href="#32">32</a> See Eric Santner, On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life, Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2001.
<a name="33x"></a><a href="#33">33</a> F.W.J. von Schelling, Ages of the World, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press 1997, p. 181-182. For a more detailed reading of this notion, see Chapter 1 of Slavoj Zizek, The Indivisible Remainder, London: Verso Books 1997.
<a name="34x"></a><a href="#34">34</a> G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, vol. III, Berkeley: University of California Press 1985, p. 233.
<a name="35x"></a><a href="#35">35</a> G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1971, p. 263.
<a name="36x"></a><a href="#36">36</a> Ermanno Bencivenga, Hegel's Dialectical Logic, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000, p. 64.
<a name="37x"></a><a href="#37">37</a> G.W.F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1991, p. 204-205.
<a name="38x"></a><a href="#38">38</a> G.W.F. Hegel, op.cit., p. 322-323.
<a name="39x"></a><a href="#39">39</a> Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report on the banality of evil, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1963, p. 98.
<a name="40x"></a><a href="#40">40</a> Stalinism was not far behind Nazism in inventing "ethical" justifications of evil measures. In, in the early thirties, Western humanist fellow-travelers were shocked to learn that the Soviet Union expanded death penalty to children from 12 years onwards - since Bukharin and some other main candidates for show trials had children of that age, the measure was meant to put additional pressure on them and thus to assure their participation in the trials. One of the Soviet explanations was that, in Soviet Union, the most highly developed country in the history of humanity, children mature faster than in the West, they become adult already at the age of 12, so they should also share the full responsibilities of the adults...