Hurried Thoughts on the DNC, Academics, and the Left w/ Benjamin and Adorno

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that accords with this insight. Then we will clearly see that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against fascism…The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are “still” possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge – unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.” (Selections from Thesis VIII)

“The subject of historical knowledge is the struggling, oppressed class itself. Marx presents it as the last enslaved class – the avenger that completes the task of liberation in the name of generations of the downtrodden. This conviction, which has a brief resurgence in the Spartacus League, has always been objectionable to Social Democrats…The Social Democrats preferred to cast the working class in the role of a redeemer of *future* generations, in this way cutting the sinews of its greatest strength. This indoctrination made the working class forget both its hatred and its spirit of sacrifice, for both are nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than by the ideal of liberated grandchildren” – (Selections from Thesis XII)[1]

Social media has been consumed the last two weeks in the RNC and DNC. I include myself in this being-consumed. One of the more interesting phenomenon that is occurring are people whom I often assume (which I really should stop doing) are committed to a basically “leftist” view of history and politics succumbing to a rather banal form of liberal worship (see Sean’s previous post about the distinction between leftism and liberalism). Often this seems to appear in the guise of ‘strategy’ – i.e. Well, if you don’t vote for Hillary you are allowing Fascism to occur with Trump. I have seen this followed by comparisons of our current state of affairs with the Weimar Republic years preceding the rise of the Nazi party. The main thrust of these arguments is to neutralise the seemingly relentless critique that is coming from leftists whom aligned themselves with the Democratic party via Bernie Sanders (and we can all agree that Bernie is still a far cry from what we really want). Justifications are seen from all directions at this point, justifications for the status quo foreign and domestic policies that attempt to distance the Democratic party and HRC from any “outlying” issues of racist violence, conflict with certain Islamic groups, the violence done to the environment, etc.

I cannot help but think that these attempts by so many brilliant people I look up to in academia are nothing more than a desperately wilful attempt to not acknowledge the complicity of the Democrats and HRC in creating all of these problems, attempts that seek to neutralise relentless determinate critique (to blur my Benjamin references with some Adorno) in the name of utility.

The frame upon which the argument from utility rests is the frame that created Trump and HRC, in addition to so many of the aforementioned problems. Yet, so many seem to be doubling down within that frame, playing the internal dynamics of an already oppressive system – i.e. the dynamics between the ‘progressive liberal capitalist’ and the Fascist capitalist – on cue, rather than nourishing these real moments of critique that clearly expose the inherent lie at the core of a liberal politics of progress and redemption, the lie that we and the status quo just-are-good, that we happen upon moments of crisis rather than seeing that the crisis is our politics of liberal progress, that this politics is simply the other side of the same coin of what Trump is talking about. This desperate need to turn away from determinate critique is evidenced in both the resurgence of a language of American exceptionalism in the DNC speeches, and in the small expressions of nostalgia for Obama by ‘progressive’ academics on social media.

I know that politics is not voting and that organising is not equivalent with FB posting and canvasing for the main political parties in our country. But I am troubled by the acquiescence of so many scholars to the frame of liberal progressivism vs. Fascism, an acquiescence that only can serve to perpetuate oppressive violence, rather than enact violence against the frame itself.

[1] Both taken from: Walter Benjamin. Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings. Vol. 4. Ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings. (Cambridge: MA, Harvard University Press, 2006). p. 392, 394.

Privation, Excess and Lack in Sein und Zeit

 

The following is a footnote from a recent paper on Sein und Zeit that refers to an ongoing discussion with my colleague Martin Becker regarding how to think about privation in Heidegger and Benjamin’s work. The coincidence of lack and excess, of void and opening, is, I think, an important part of what might be called an apophatic element of Heidegger’s thinking, following my advisor (at least I think).

“Logically it makes no ‘apparent’ sense to speak of a lack in Heidegger’s schema, since privation does not signify a relationship to a reality of fullness that one reaches in the future. There is only this contingency of Dasein upon its ‘now,’ having been thrown into the world, toward that which is unrealizable, and without a decision of Dasein’s own. Yet I am not sure that we need the contrast between ultimate fullness and lack in order for the latter term to remain logically sensible. ‘Excess’ and the impossibility of ‘outstripping’ likewise typically rely upon a contrast between what is realizable and what is beyond realization. In the sense that excess names a purely ontological feature of Dasein’s Being-in-the-world, and not a theological eschaton, excess does not refer to any-thing that lies beyond a deficient present. Such a rendering would mistake both excess and privation as present-at-hand terms. Rather, excess names the immanent fact of Being unable to overtake that toward which one is oriented, and the fact of this inability to overtake is what we can properly call the primordial lack.”

Not Enough Time is Time Enough – iPhone Notes

I think it is strange that, upon reflecting on my life, I think my time so short. I have no other reference for my life-time that what I-am. What I am is finitude, I am only ever someone born and someone who will die. I am always dying. So why is it that I feel my time is too short, that life doesn’t last long *enough?* I think this is part of the tension of what Heidegger calls Dasein’s being-toward-death, which is being-toward-possibility itself insofar as I never experience my own death as an event. The entirety of who I am is only intelligible as finite, ‘finite’ names the unitary phenomenon of my being born, my dying and the anticipation of my death. That I never am outside of anticipation discloses the entirety of my Being as temporality.

So what do I make of my feeling that there is never *enough* if I have no reference to anything other than who I am? What do I make of this pressure I feel? It seems that this pressure is simply the phenomenological texture of time, of my life, for-me. I am this pressure, my relationships to others are this pressure, the world for-me is this pressure.

Love and Futurity- A Thought

Love and Futurity: there is always an incompleteness, an inadequacy that constitutes our orientation toward-possibility and with/toward-others. In both cases an irresolvable tension constitutes our relations – namely, between the act of and identity in love, and the quality of the other, of the not-yet, that forever eludes culmination, or fulfillment, in any total sense on the side of one’s Self. Loving an-other is the act of engaging, perhaps even building this tension. My love of an-other is only so insofar as my love never overtakes the excessive quality of the other in relation to both myself and my act(s) of love. Such a view discloses the temporal dimension as a constitutive element of what we see in the phenomenon of love, in acts of love. I hug those that are closest to me in-love, attempting to hold onto what inevitably goes away. So too does each moment of my falling in the world attempt to make graspable and arrest what invariably goes away. Indeed, the presence of what I hold is only intelligible by the fact of its potential-to-go-away. It is this characteristic of tension that I believe accounts for the coincidence of pleasure and pain when love manifests. Too, that words seem to fail in our attempts to express “exactly” how we feel toward those whom we love discloses this tension as constitutive for our Being-in-love with others, a dimension of solicitude left latent in Heidegger’s treatment in Being and Time.

Encountering Tragedy: Thoughts on Nietzsche and Plato

The goal of this post is to put onto ‘paper’ some thoughts regarding Nietzsche’s rendering of tragedy in The Birth of Tragedy and the way in which tragedy functions in Plato’s The Republic. I have prepared these thoughts within the context of writing a paper on Nietzsche and Bloch and preparing the syllabus for the introduction to philosophy course I am currently teaching at California State University Bakersfield. As I am now unable to produce anything like a lucid non-academic blog post, I have chosen to write this in essay format.

Thesis

The confrontation Nietzsche seeks throughout his project with the figure of Socrates, I argue, is summarily available to his readers through the way in which Plato construes tragedy negatively as an inappropriately imitative form of art. My thesis is that Plato’s censorship of particular genres and modes of storytelling reflect the positive content Nietzsche locates within tragedy for the unleashing of the human without the constraint of a purely Apolline, epistemic, ontological commitment.

Defining Key Terms

Several key terms forms the basic building blocks for my argument and necessitate clear definition – aesthetics and tragedy. Ancillary concepts, which I define within the body of the essay, are “affirmation” and “repetition.” The order of my argument follows: aesthetics, tragedy, repetition and affirmation as tragic, and hope.

By aesthetics, I am referring to the realm of experience in which concepts of beauty, terror, or any other example within the range of human being finds expression through art and by which art elicits from people such emotions and experiences.[1] Such experiences do not occur in abstraction from philosophical concerns regarding ontology and politics, rather, the aesthetic names an integral doorway into such concerns, engaging them in ways that formal discourse cannot reach.[2]

By tragedy, I refer to particular aesthetic performances on dramatic stages. Such narratives are those that frame heroic existence against the background of the inevitability of the heroes demise. Fate will always destroy the life of the tragic person. Yet, the person continues to fight, she resists her fated destiny even to the point of death. It is precisely this resistance that occupies my attention; tragedy renders individuals in-themselves, against any transcendental grounding or guarantee of their ontological identity.

What Aesthetics Do

Insofar as I identify the tragic as a particular kind of aesthetic production capable of producing specific effects in the political lives of persons, the role of aesthetics in relationship to other modes of inquiry becomes clear; the aesthetic dimension acts together with other modes of human creation as an access points into the metaphysical realities of the world. Poetic prose, musical movements and other formations of creative art expose what Nietzsche, following Schopenhauer, refers to as the primordial one. The primordial one is the basically immanent unity from which individuated entities, social formations and power relations all arise. The one is the causal core of the world, its common substance. This “one” is precisely that which individuated being, in its initial formation before the tragic experience, denies in its persistence to remain individuated, within the status quo’s projected ontology.

With regard to the general concept of art in this context, the aesthetic moves the person from the everydayness of life in which people find themselves individuated in their notions of identity and truth. The presupposition is that the ways people exist in societal structures of power correspond to reality as such. Hierarchical thinking in morality, religion and politics serve as examples for this initial state of the person in the world.

The critical function of aesthetic production is to collapse the structure of being, to render the world to the audience as essentially one with regard to its causal contingency, its lack of teleological grounding. Such a collapse disorients notions of propriety with regard to social relations. Thus, Nietzsche’s writing on the genealogy of morals proclaims, “It might even be possible that what constituted the value of these good and revered things is precisely that they are insidiously related, tied to, and involved with these wicked, seemingly opposite things – maybe even one with them in essence.”[3]

The aesthetic is always metaphysical even as it seeks to project an anti-metaphysical posture; the aesthetic is in a verbal sense, claiming something about the nature of reality within its moving of individuals toward a reflexive awareness of one’s connection to nature’s unified causal meaninglessness. The critical nature of tragedy is that the tragic performs the function of instilling in the audience a reflexive posture with regard to such meaninglessness.

The reflexivity Nietzsche wishes to engender through tragic drama is not the sort of posture one finds in the form of idealist thought. Rather, in affirming that existence, that nature itself, is an aesthetic phenomenon, Nietzsche advances a vision of human being that turns the nihilist pain of nature’s being into a resource for what Deleuze refers to as “the joy of affirmation as such,” the reorienting of the self to the immediacy of experience. The problem is not individuation in-itself but rather the sort of individuated structures of life that obscure primal realities of chaotic force in the erection of concepts of meaning.

Affirmation in the context of the movement into the primordial pain and chaos of existence and back out into an individuated state of self we may term “repetition.”[4] I want to position “repetition” within Giles Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche; repetition denotes the affirmation of the validity of every singularity of being, different from the other and from transcendental definition. Repetition is the affirmation of every individuation that occurs after exposure to the primordial pain of reality humans experience through aesthetic exposure.[5]

Here I must be clear with regard to the differentiation between an affirmation of individuation and that of subjectivity. Subjectivity is a concept reliant upon the structures of traditional ontological discourse. Repetition, however, is the affirmation of life’s unlimited singularity within the univocal reality of the world’s chaos. In this sense, Nietzsche’s tragic movement of the person constitutes an affirmation of agency in the moment.

Nietzsche’s tragic person corresponds to an agency of “will.” This is a notion of agency in which all transcendental conditions for “the subject” become diffuse across the plane of immanent exposure to the primal realities of life .

We are to recognize that everything which comes into being must be prepared for painful destruction; we are forced to gaze into the terrors of individual existence – and yet we are not to freeze in horror: its metaphysical solace tears us momentarily out of the turmoil of changing figures. For brief moments we are truly the primordial being itself and we feel its unbound greed and lust for being…we are pierced by the furious sting of these pains at the very moment when, as it were, we become one with the immeasurable….Despite fear and pity, we are happily alive.[6]

Nature as Aesthetic Phenomenon

Nietzsche defines nature as an essentially aesthetic phenomenon, and in so doing addresses the problematic political relationship between oneness and individuation. Individuation in the first instance denotes a political ontology of an authoritarian nature; it denies the primal oneness and contingency of the world, and subsumes the subversive transgression against nature that is human agency in light of contingent being. Only an ontology that abandons this notion of individuation within the order of nature is able to posit a concept of identity that does not subsume the person within a hierarchical, or theological, structure of being-qua-being.

Rather, the Nietzschean realisation of tragic being attempts to ‘ground’ singular existent persons on no thing other than their self-assertion, their will-to-be, in themselves.[7] Tragic individuation turns out to be a notion of agency, which denies nature’s order in the assertion of the person’s singularity against the backdrop of death. The person in everyday existence is transformed into a tragic hero insofar as she asserts her singular newness of life in the face of her fated being-in-one, insofar as she grabs ahold of the contingency of her being and lets go of the false individuations, which metaphysicians and moralists sale for comfort.

In order to undo the condition of un-reflexive individuation and reach the concept of subversive agency, Nietzsche must render nature itself as an essentially aesthetic phenomenon. Nietzsche’s assertion takes form in the theoretical arena of metaphysical problems concerning transcendence and immanence, oneness and plurality; the question is how does one justify existence in all of its individuated forms, which include Church dogma, when the nihilistic reality of oneness in-death looms overhead?

By posing the question in this context Nietzsche takes aim against both the theoretical underpinnings and the societal structuring of human reality itself. Tragedy is that movement of music, bodies on the stage and emotions that confronts the individuated audience and beckons them into reality’s inevitable unity. The tragic rendering of the gods, for example, illustrates this function of tragic drama insofar as the gods are made to live the lives of humans and represent the elemental forms of nature. Through this representation the gods seduce human beings to continue living through a catharsis of seeing the truth of their being mediated. Thus, Nietzsche calls nature as an aesthetic phenomenon “the only satisfactory theodicy,” justifying the world through solidarity as opposed to logic.[8]

Here the importance of thinking tragedy becomes clear with regard to religion; the gods who correspond to the capricious natural elements function in a mythological sense in the same way as the stage itself, creating the necessary distance in which the audience is able to approach the nihilistic core of being without being overwhelmed and destroyed. Religious imagery and experience will function for Bloch in a similar fashion, bringing the religious person into contact with parts of their political and ontological reality that are unknown prior to the aesthetic experience.

The Mechanism of Tragedy: Schein

I want to explain the mechanics of Nietzsche’s tragedy that allows for the creation of the necessary distance between the audience and the reality of the world through the gods and stage. I wish to draw attention to the role of “semblance” as the primary vehicle through which tragedy accomplishes its dual task of deconstruction and reconstruction of individuals. The link between ‘representation’ and metaphysics is the essential feature of Nietzsche’s theory of nature and semblance is where this link occurs; semblance is the artistic creation on which human meaning is founded.

Semblance names the aesthetic element that Nietzsche finds basic in human existence. Nietzsche begins The Birth of Tragedy by accounting for the occurrence of dreaming as one instance of semblance’s appearance, denoting its basically hidden place in the constitution of human nature. Nietzsche writes, “When this dream-reality is most alive, we nevertheless retain a pervasive sense that it is semblance…philosophical natures even have a presentiment that hidden beneath the reality in which we live and have our being there also lies a…quite different reality…this too is a semblance.”[9] Thus, the world of human life is essentially aesthetic semblance.

To be clear, semblance does not denote something unreal, but rather identifies the mechanical reality of how humans think about the real. Tragedy does something to the audience insofar as it engages this hitherto unknown metaphysical feature of human being. Tragedy moves the audience into the flux of the emotive and spiritual realms of their existence. This movement questions the terms of agreed upon social ontology in its exposure of ontology itself, as a discourse of power, as semblance. The deconstruction of ontology itself frees the individual, empowering her to assert her will in-the-world without regard for essentialist notions of identity or ultimate meaning beyond her immanently given self.

Plato’s Censorship of Schein

It is the role of schein in the tragic production which Plato finds damaging in The Republic. Semblance of this kind enables humans, through an imitative experience to sympathize with and to live-into the reality of the stage, in opposition to the hitherto unacknowledged semblance of everyday existence in ordered society. Such imitative possibility is the definition of subversion with regard to the necessary ordering of the polis’ life.

Plato establishes early on in book III of The Republic a sense of moral propriety with which the rulers of the polis are to judge particular stories. Interestingly, and politically telling given the above analysis of Nietzsche, Plato positions the poetic merit of a story as coterminous with a story’s potential to affect corruption upon the city’s youth.[10] More pertinent to the theoretical divide between Nietzsche’s upholding of tragedy against the figure of Socrates, however, is the way in which Plato proceeds to define three specific modes by which one is able to tell a particular story. “Now I think I can make it clear t you what I couldn’t make clear before, that one type of poetry and storytelling is purely imitative – this is tragedy and comedy, as you say. In another type, the poet tells his own story…The third type, using both imitation and narrative.”[11]

Each type of storytelling corresponds with a particular set of behaviors and habits that each story produces within people. In short, the founders should censor any aesthetic production that engenders imitation inappropriate to one’s “natural aptitude” and corresponding role within the city.[12] It is precisely this schematization and censorship of aesthetic production itself, suspending concern for particular content, that separates the Socratic posture and the liberated will of human spirit in Nietzsche’s work.

The drive of the Socratic posture is the equation of knowledge and wisdom, and the political correspondent equates to each manifests as the properly ordered, intelligible, society.[13] The power of the unconstrained tragic production to pull oneself into the purely imitative posture subverts this rational, scientific and moral order.

“For there is an infinite number of points on the periphery of the circle of science, and while we have no way of foreseeing how the circle could ever be completed, a noble and gifted man inevitably encounters, before the mid-point of his existence, boundary points on the periphery like this, where he stares into that which cannot be illuminated. When, to his horror, he sees how logic curls up around itself at these limits and finally bites its own tail, then a new form of knowledge breaks through, tragic knowledge, which, simply to be endured, needs art for protection and as medicine.”[14]

Conclusion

What tragedy breaks apart is the inability of the person to exist in limitation with regard to one’s relationship to aesthetic production. The danger Plato’s locates in comedy and tragedy as imitative kinds of aesthetic production is exactly where Nietzsche locates the horrific freedom for life after tragedy. Tragic truth obliterates the surety of moral and epistemic order, leaving the door open for tragic agency in the world to emerge in opposition to every sense of propriety.

What I find most interesting is how each thinker’s analysis, opposite as they are with regard to prescriptive argument, details the same affect aesthetic form has upon people. The formal movement that occurs in the imitative tragedy is what is most dangerous and liberative. In this sense, both Plato and Nietzsche locate the potency of tragedy in the same fashion. The only difference is with regard to ontological commitment.

[1] Audi, R., The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Second Edition: 1999, Cambridge England; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 12. “Questions specific to the field of aesthetics are: Is there a special attitude, the aesthetic attitude, which we should take toward works of art and the natural environment, and what is it like? Is there a distinctive type of experience, an aesthetic experience, and what is it? Is there a special object of attention that we can call the aesthetic object? Finally, is there a distinctive value, aesthetic value, comparable with moral, epistemic, and religious values?”

[2] Eagleton, T. The Ideology of the Aesthetic. 1990, Oxford, UK ; Cambridge, Mass., USA; Blackwell. p. 3. Eagleton, admitting that his readers will most likely find his definition of aesthetic too vague or all-encompassing with regard to the political qualifications of aesthetics writes, “But is the aesthetic returns with such persistence, it is partly because of a certain interdeterminancy of definition which allows it to figure in a varied span of preoccupations: freedom and legality, spontaneity and necessity, self-determination, autonomy, particularity and universality, along with several others. My argument, broadly speaking, is that the category of the aesthetic assumes the importance it does in modern Europe because in speaking of art it speaks of these other matters too, which are at the heart of the middle class’s struggle for political hegemony.”

[3] Nietzsche, F.W. and W.A. Kaufmann, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. 1989, New York: Vintage Books. p. 10

[4] Deleuze, G., Nietzsche and Philosophy. European Perspectives. 1983, New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 71-72. Here Deleuze offers a picture of how repetition manifests within Nietzsche’s work via the concept of the eternal return. “The eternal return is the being of becoming. But becoming is double: becoming-active and becoming-reactive, becoming-active of reactive forces and becoming reactive of active forces. But only becoming-active has being; it would be contradictory for the being of becoming to be affirmed of a becoming-reactive, of a becoming that is itself nihilistic. The eternal return would become contradictory if it were the return of reactive forces. The eternal return teaches us that becoming-reactive has no being. Indeed, it also teaches us of the existence of a becoming-active. It necessarily produces becoming-active by reproducing becoming…The old song is the cycle and the whole, universal being. But the complete formula of affirmation is: the whole, yes, universal being, yes, but universal being ought to belong to a single becoming, the whole ought to belong to a single moment.” Repetition is the continual movement into the newness of life in-the-world, a decision to be oneself, to create oneself, to be(come) one’s singular existent, to borrow from Jean-Luc Nancy’s lexicon.

[5] Deleuze. Difference and Repetition. p. 57. Here the relationship between the dismantling of transcendental reasoning and the affirmation of will-in-itself, through within the singular occurrences difference as ‘will’, becomes clear. “It is always differences which resemble one another, which are analogous, opposed or identical: difference is behind everything, but behind difference there is nothing. Each difference passes through all the others; it must ‘will’ itself or find itself through all the others.”

[6] [6] Nietzsche, F.W., R. Geuss, and R. Speirs, The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. 1999, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 80-81. Here Nietzsche is specifically describing the function of Dionysian art. However, for the purposes of my analysis of agency, his description illustrates the sort of movement into the univocal reality of chaos from which the will emerges in assertive, tragically heroic, force.

[7] Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy. p. 82. While Nietzsche provides other examples of the sort of hierarchies he attempting to deconstruct, or more appropriately ‘reevaluate,’ here Nietzsche illustrates the logic behind such hierarchical individuations of human being. The logic which Nietzsche opposes is, “the dialectical drive towards knowledge and the optimism of science…there is an eternal struggle between the theoretical and the tragic views of the world.” Socrates represents the quintessential anti-tragic thinker insofar as he embodies this posture toward knowledge over and against tragic embodiment of life in-the-world as primary. While Nietzsche refers specifically to science in this instance, theological morality Here, as my invocation of Heidegger’s neologism suggests, the Nietzschean posture informs the Heideggerian disavowal of metaphysics, of the onto-theological constitution of metaphysics. Against “Being” as “ground,” the most elementary definition of “nature,” both Nietzsche and Heidegger render Being as somewhat perverse, as chaotic and in opposition to singular beings, participating in reality with them but not defining their various essences. See: M. Heidegger, Identity and Difference. 1st ed. 1969, New York,: Harper & Row. p. 57.

[8] Nietzsche. Birth of Tragedy. p. 24.

[9] Nietzsche. Birth of Tragedy. p. 15.

[10] Plato, G.R.F. Ferrari, and T. Griffith, The Republic. Cambridge texts in the history of political thought. 2000, Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 71-72. Here, Plato specifically refers to the censoring of theological stories. “We shall have to ask them to stop being so negative about the underworld, and find something positive to say about it instead…Not that they lack poetic merit, or that they don’t give pleasure to most people. They do. But the more merit they have, the less suitable they are for boys and men who are expected to be free, and fear slavery more than death.”

[11] Plato. The Republic. p. 82

[12] Plato. The Republic. p. 52. Natural aptitude, the natural place of each individual in the world, forms the basis by which the person socializes into society. “And one thing immediately struck me when you said that, which is that one individual is by nature quite unlike another individual, that they differ in their natural aptitudes, and that different people are equipped to perform different tasks.”

[13] Plato. The Republic. p. 60. “And are love of knowledge and love of wisdom the same thing?’ ‘They are.”

[14] Nietzsche. Birth of Tragedy. p. 75.

Mitsein Freunden, Mitsein Liebe: A Reflection on Being-With

Lately, I have been giving a lot of thought to Heidegger’s neologism mitsein, being-with. The reasons for this are varied, in part due to a doctoral seminar in which I was assigned a fair bit of Jean-Luc Nancy’s work. In another sense, my thoughts are due to a more personal realisation – an increasing conviction that the world in which I am a part, of which I am constitutive, is only so through the reality of others and that, to put it crassly, this is all there is. So this being where I am at, I wanted to pause during this time of term paper writing, conference paper abstracting and syllabi preparing to offer some honest (and cheesy) reflections on Heidegger’s mitsein. Specifically, I want to talk about being-with-friends and being-with-love and why the contingent nature of being-in-the-world increasingly causes me to grab ahold of those who constitute as particular mode of my being-with in-the-world.

So bear with me though my basic expositions of Sein Und Zeit. I realise we all think we know Heidegger and how the language works. However, if my classroom discussions indicate the reality of the real-world most of us religion folk still don’t know shit and just like to wax Heideggerian, usually hiding our ignorance of the text about 10 “dasein” references into a conversation with some comment about Heidegger being a Nazi piece of shit. Which to be fair…

Dasein is not Present-to or Ready-at (At least not in the Same way other things are)

Mitsein, Mitdasein, and Dasein itself, function within a particular understanding of the way in which the sheerness of actuality frames human life, the way in which existence works in an existential fashion to define being-in-the-world. For Heidegger, it is impossible to think the “I” without also thinking “world,” which in turn is impossible to conceptualize without also thinking oneself-with-others and with-entities. Oh, fyi other entities exist with dasein in one of two ways, either present-at-hand or ready-to-hand. This distinction is important for understanding what exactly Heidegger is on about when he begins describing the who being-with thing…and also for his discussion about what the hell “being-in” really means, which I think is pretty important and probably should have been placed earlier in the text…but whatever. We don’t have time for that here. Just know the two ways of being-alongside other entities exist and that to a degree dasein shares with them the characteristic of being present-at-hand…but that dasein is still totally different that those entities even with its being present-at-hand.

“Present-at-hand” denotes a particular way in which dasein is in-the-world with regard to entitles which are not itself. This is contrasted with that other way of being-in-the-world in which entities that are not dasein manifest as “ready-to-hand.” So before getting to that, you sort of have to know what the fuck Heidegger means with the whole being-in-the-world thing. In brief, “being-in,” the “being-in-the-world” of dasein, denotes not “being-in-something,” not “in-one-another-ness.” Rather, “Being-in” is the formal existential expression for the Being of Dasein, which has Being-in-the-world as its essential state.” That Being-in-the-world is dasein’s essential state means that for whatever dasein is, it is pure and simple; “the ‘essence’ of Dasein lies in its existence.”

The affirmation of dasein as such is its essence without transcendent qualification. Dasein is, meaning that it its being is univocal and co-constitutive of the world. This use is in contrast to the improper use of “being-in,” which typically renders as the world as something external to dasein. The improper rendering of ‘world’ makes it that in which dasein is said to be within, while still being sufficient in-itselfhood alongside other entities that exist in the same way. “There is no such thing as the ‘side-by-side-ness’ of an entity called ‘Dasein.” Dasein is simply in- insofar as dasein is, and the way in which dasein is-in distinguishes itself in the fact that dasein is that for which Being “is an issue for this entity in its very Being.”

Entities which are not dasein have two modes of being-in-the-world that are relative to dasein’s relationship to these entities: present-at-hand and ready-to-hand. To be fair to the OOO folks this is a pretty anthropomorphic way of characterizing such entities….and that is a point that clearly needed so many blogs, books and whatever devoted to it (hopefully the sarcasm is coming through). Anyways… Dasein is not characterized in a way that is completely equivocal with these two modes of being-in that characterise other entities. Rather, the aforementioned fact of “Being being an issue” conditions the way in which Dasein is said to share a present-at-hand relation to/in/as-the-world, rendering Dasein’s present-at-hand relation distinct.

Without diving into more boring-ass explorations of Heideggerian terminology, you can go look up the exact definitions for present-at-hand and ready-to-hand. Suffice to say that mitsein, or more precisely the “other(s)” to which dasein’s “being-in-the-world-with” (Mitdasein), refers exhibits the same sort of distinctive being-in-the-world that characterizes dasein.

Mitsein vs. Zusammensein

I now want to begin to lay the cheese on thick. The neologism Mitsein is distinct form othe German formulations of being-together insofar as mitsein embodies the sort of sheer affirmative content of dasein’s being-in-the-world, insofar as this denotes a contingent way of being a co-constituent of the world (again, dasein is not like really in something external to its essence…which is existence).

Mitsein is contingent being-with, there is no prescriptive necessity behind it, only the content of the world its encounters and creates. An existential recognition of contingency, then, forms the basis by which one may distinguish between zusammensein, which can entail ‘togetherness,’ and mitsein. Since mitsein embodies the content of dasein, mitsein entails a way of being with other in which one is bound inextricably to the other, this being-with forming a kind of immanent transcendental condition by which dasein’s being-in-the-world is made intelligible to itself. What we share is that we are and this fact is inescapably the constant that frames our reality.

I am. We are. That is Enough.

Ernst Bloch’s refrain from The Spirit of Utopia resonates through me when I think about what it means to be-with. I am with my friends, they constitute the way in which my being-in is my own, the mineness of my present-at-hand being-in-the-world. Similarly, though with a different register of force and intensity at a certain point, my partner and I find ourselves being-with-love, the more accurate description of being-in-love insofar as the being-with identifies love as having to be within the context of a relation with-the-other. In both cases mitsein is enough. In both cases mitsein is all that there is.

Reading the Epoché Against Essentialism

The following is a small section from the paper I just delivered at the revolting peripheries conference in Bielsko-Biala, Poland. This particular section contains some very basic thoughts on trying to read the epoche in Husserl against colonial logics that posit subjects in a particularly active way, projecting categories of understanding on the world. I am posting it here since this section in particular will form part of an article I hope to submit for publication in the next month and I want to continue to think through the links between philosophies of immanence, early phenomenological method and critiques of colonial logic. Somewhere in there too is a latent engagement with Meillassoux that I need to more explicitly bring out.

There is only what is, which is to say there is no essence, only the actual.

The epoché in Husserl’s thought functions to allow for cognition of entities as they manifest in phenomena, in givenness, contrary to the ways in which people normally proceed in thinking the world. Normal modes of cognition take form in a posture Husserl refers to as the “natural attitude.” This ‘natural attitude’ of people is a particular posture toward the world and other people in which apriori categories undergird the person’s activity in and interpretation of the world. An example of this kind of thinking is the basic formation of Kantian subjectivity in which the active mind imposes categories for understanding upon the world. The best that one can hope for in this schema, with regard to cognition of those autonomous features of the world, is a mild agnosticism, affirming only the possibility of their existence but neglecting the import of their autonomy for human reason and use.

Important to note here is the fundamental role the recognition of one’s immanent situatedness in-the-world plays for Husserl’s thinking on this point. It is important because to gesture toward givenness is to summon up a basic tension between a concept of active subjectivity, which is the primary agent of cognition, and a realist sense of the world, in which one grants the world autonomy even in the process of cognition. Givenness appears to denote something of a flux between the two. There is a tension between the place in which a person constitutes herself in the recognition of her own thereness in-the-world and the place from which one recognizes that her situatedness denotes a primary posture of being as encounter, namely, with those aspects of autonomy and otherness that constitute the world in which she is a participant.

Husserl writes, “Enough now of absurd theories. No conceivable theory can make us err with respect to the principle of all principles: that every originary presentive intuition is a legitimizing source of cognition, that everything originarily offered to us in “intuition” is to be accepted simply as what is presented as being, but also only within the limits in which it is presented there.”[1] Here Husserl’s language reflects the tension above, implying both an aspect of activity on the part of the subject and the characteristic of otherness in given phenomenon. The point we should take here is, namely, that what is primary for cognition is not anything other than what presents itself in and as the world in sheer givenness of actuality.

For our purposes I want to say that the tension between revolting and being subsumed within overarching structures of power reflect the tension between givenness and its alternative. That is to say, the tension between an affirmation of sheer givenness and a notion of subjectivity that makes the subject’s prior categories for understanding the basis for intelligibility and order in the world is precisely the struggle for how to speak of the constitution of people without such speech subjugating them to authoritarian pronouncements. The latter sort of configuration predicates itself upon the assumption of essentialist definitions of identity. Contrary to essentialist forms of reason, the point to take away from a recourse to phenomenological givenness is that whatever is actual, is. Actuality is the only place from which to think self-possession, and actuality is always a matter of givenness unbound by any transcendental notion of essences.

What I want from the epoché, then, is a wider application that points us toward particular moments of givenness when we try to talk about revolting identities. In this sense, what we are doing in speaking of revolting peripheries is affirming the integrity of something already there in-the-world, without the need of any authoritarian transcendental to guide our affirmation. We seek to bracket what is our natural attitude with all of its essentialist content, we reject all of its concerns and we look toward something immanently given in our experience of oppression to constitute ourselves for ourselves.

To affirm actuality in this way is to undercut colonial logics of being. Colonial logic does work to impose its categories for understanding upon the actual world. Insofar as this type of logic functions to impose such a causal order upon the world, it functions very much like what Heidegger refers to as onto-theology, which is the logic that forces one to ground everything in essentialist definitions that correspond to transcendent notions of pure categorical essences. If this is how thinking of the subject occurs, then it is not too far to state that a colonialist ideology is our natural attitude

The real issue is not then an onto-theological constitution of metaphysics, but more accurately an onto-colonialist constitution. I think this is interesting, especially as Sean and I continue to discuss how to think concepts of “hope” in ways that jettison the impulse for teleological grounding for political or other actions. Political teleology is onto-theologic proper. It is that way of thinking which necessitates a regress into a transcendently given ground for proper cognition and reason. Such logic pronounces judgment upon revolutionary acts that do not think, that cannot think, in terms of what comes next due to the vast powers that are set against them. Colonialist ideology is exactly onto-theology insofar as it seeks to prescribe the structures of being in-the-world for those in the periphery. This is an authoritarian move that consigns all native speech that does not align into categories of non-being or unintelligibility.

Thus, we may here reconfigure Heidegger’s insight, in conjunction with this reading of the epoche, claiming that onto-theologic is not a matter of ideologically neutral ‘reason,’ but rather, a recourse to an onto-colonialist vision of the self, which is our natural attitude in contemporary western societies. Enrique Dussel notes, “That ontology did not come from nowhere. It arose from a previous experience of domination over other persons…Before the ego cogito there is an ego conquiro; I conquer.”[1] The conquering subject sets the parameters for all subsequent attempts to think self-possession. Insofar as this is the case, the colonial powers maintain the ability to subsume attempts at criticism, forcing them into categories of intelligibility.

 

[1] Dussel, E.D., Philosophy of liberation. 1985, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books. p. 3.

 

[1]Husserl, E., Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. Collected works/ Edmund Husserl. 1982, The Hague: Nijhoff. p. 45.

Basic Transitions Toward Immanence: Small Thoughts on Theodicy

ImageThis past semester I have been participating in a Theology and Science seminar at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. The seminar comes at a time of transition for me. I am working, preparing for my new  doctoral programme in Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University, attempting to finish an initial reading list for my first semester of research for my PhD at Nottingham and finishing a paper I am giving at the University of Bielsko-Biala, in Poland at the end of June. With so much going on I have worried that my capacity for attentiveness might be somewhat diminished with regard to the seminar. I have found, rather, that the seminar has coincided well with the material I have been engaging elsewhere, albeit a very critical coincident. 

Some point of obvious contention have included certain statement made by those on the theological end. “Quantum theory says ‘this’ so then we may speak of divine action like ‘that'” etc. There is an entire apologetic posture built into those types of questions that I don’t think I really need to expound but really only need to state in order for its fallacious nature to be obvious. However, I was assigned a brief presentation with another student on John Hick’s book Evil and the God of Love. The point of the assignment, with regard to its relation to the particular variant of the science-theology dialogue that the class engages, is to approach the topic of theodicy in light of what science purportedly has to say or do.

Specifically, I was tasked with responding to Hick’s argument for an “Irenaean approach” to theodicy. Hick argues that contrary to an Augustinian narrative of sin, where there is a historically and ontologically verifiable original state of humanity from which the species falls in sin, that Irenaeus provides a way of thinking humanity, evil and God that both takes evil serious as real, unlike Augustine’s privation, while preserving the transcendent categories for God and Being. What follows is my response that I will present tomorrow, which I have above characterised at a transition toward Immanence. In part this is due to how I take Hick to misrepresent Spinoza, and  the entire idea of monism. However, also see this response as an outworking of a larger transition toward figuring out how the work in my MA on critical pedagogy and personhood relate to a deeper recognition of what it means to think in an immanent frame. 

Here I wish set Hick’s descriptive account of the Irenaean approach into dialogue with an earlier section of the book in which Hick attempts to describe two other approaches, which he deems incompatible with Christian faith. The polar schematic Hick draws pits a monist ontology on the one end of the spectrum, what I will refer to here as an ontology of “immanence,”[1] and dualist ontology on the other end. Our focus for this reflection is upon the monist paradigm.

The purpose for such a move on my part is to provide the context from which to inquire into Hick’s understanding of the goal of theodicy, and by extension, the legitimacy of such an endeavor in itself. In short, I wish to question whether Hick’s nuanced attempt to bring about an eschatological resolution to the problems that plague other projects in theodicy actually accomplishes its goal. This line of questioning serves the larger purpose of getting us to the more basic question at work in Hick’s text, namely, whether or not the sought after goal of his theodicy is legitimate. Toward this end, I wish to argue that what Hick says he wants in the text, set against what his work discloses with regard to his desires, is contradictory.

Hick wants a rejection of an original state of perfection. Yet, he also needs to retain some sense of an incompleteness of the present in order for his interest in constructing a theodicy to remain intelligible. There is a certain type of rhetorical game that Hick plays at this point in recourse to Irenaeus, (i.e. the notion of ‘maturing’ vs. the Augustinian idea of moving from innate damnation to salvation in Christ). Yet, we must press Hick to differentiate further how this rhetorical move functions any differently than the move Augustine makes. I contend, with regard to function, that the logic is the same as the Augustinian. Any form of a redemptive eschatological goal that regards the present as somehow wanting in content, necessitating something other than the immanently real, ultimately devalues the present. Ironically, Hick will proceed to charge Spinoza, one of the great thinkers of immanence, with failing to take the immanent reality of evil seriously, while still making use of the aforementioned model.

I want to assert along these lines that Hick’s desire for an eradication of the perfect original state of humanity conflicts with how he wants to recognise the reality of evil in theological categories. Indeed, I want to so far to ask whether or not, in light of his use of modern theology, he maintains his proposal for dogmatic and not speculatively honest, reasons? Hick’s desires obfuscate the primary value that he highlights in his recovery of an Irenaean theodicy through Schleiermacher, namely, the primacy of an immanently human framework from which to make intelligible statements about evil and suffering.
            Hick couches his basic description of theodicy’s purpose in the form of a critical response to Spinoza’s concept of evil and suffering. Hick describes Spinoza’s monism, writing, “Everything in nature is, not indeed as it ought to be – for ‘ought’ presupposes a cosmic purpose or norm – but as it must be as a necessary part of the universal being tht is God in his aspect of natura naturata (20). Accordingly, evil is not “real” in any ontologically positive sense. To this point, Hick compares Spinoza’s understanding of evil with the Augustinian privation theory, writing of that Spinoza actually participates in the Augustinian paradigm.[2] “Sin, for example, is a state if self-imposed privation of virtue; the sinful act is good in so far as it contains a certain degree of reality, but evil in so far as it lacks a greater degree (20).” Following his description of Spinoza, Hick then gives us a response, in which the stakes of theodicy are laid bear. Hick writes, “the weakness of this way of thinking is not far to seek. In showing that the evils that we human beings experience are the illusory products of confused and inadequate ideas Spinoza has not made those evils any less dreadful and oppressive (23).”

On this basis, Hick thinks he is rejecting the monist ontology, and by extension of his critique of any privation theory of evil, he is able to already cast doubt upon the Augustinian legacy. However, this charge against Spinoza is curious since, in the first instance, the reading is questionable, and in the second instance, any attempt to frame evil outside of the parameters of a sheerly given experience already forces one to condition the experience beyond what is phenomenologically given, creating distance from whatever evil is as experienced. Is it not rather the case that in attempting to look at evil and suffering within the parameters of an immanent frame that one avoids such conditioning?[3] Hick, having dismissed the monist proposal outright, then, misunderstands the ramifications of Spinoza’s ontology for theological discourse, and as a result, fails to incorporate immanence into his own project as a viable way to understand issues of evil and suffering.[4] I find this misreading unfortunate for our current discussion since it seems to expose one of the more basic tensions at play in our discussion of how science and theology can speak to each other. Attempting to take experience as real and describe it accurately without the need to qualify it in any categories outside of itself appears the methodological site of struggle between the scientist and theologian.

Some questions for further consideration: Is the point of theodicy to really make evil less dreadful? What does this sort of statement reveal pedagogically about the difference in posture between the theologian and scientist? Is there room for an honest inquiry on the part of the theologian who seeks to ask questions related to theodicy if, for maintenance of theological identity, one has to condition, or qualify, experiences?

 

[1] Beistegui, M.d., Immanence: Deleuze and philosophy. Plateaus. 2010, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 35. Here it is important to be precise about what is meant by “immanence.” To begin, we must avoid conflating our meaning with another type of discussion more properly dogmatic in both language and aim. That particular discussion lies strictly within the scope of Christian theology and is dogmatic in concern. Ours is a larger concern, philosophical in nature, and encompasses only aspects of that other theological discussion. “Immanence” is to state the core realisation of an assertion for univocity. This is that the common substance of the universe is purely immanent to itself in cause and effect, such that the distinction between the two is only relative to itself in substance and time. “Pure immanence, on the other hand, requires as a principle the equality of being, or the positing of equal Being: not only is Being equal in itself, but it is equally present in all beings; not only is it said of everything that is, but it is said in the same sense– as ‘expression.’”

[2] This is one of the more directly fallacious associations Hick attributes to Spinoza. While the language appears similar with regard to evil not ‘being’ in a positively ontological sense, the association fails to seriously consider the difference the Augustinian narrative of a necessary salvation makes for framing privation. Privation only makes sense if there is a prescriptive order to the world, in which one can participate either fully or partially. For Spinoza, the statement of necessary order is not in any prescriptive sense but rather a phenomenological reality, the world just is and this includes the spectrum of human desires, feelings, etc. For Spinoza, then, there is no true privation of evil but rather an acknowledgment that evil and suffering function along a definitional horizon that is always in-flux, much the same way we now understand sexual desire to function.

[3] Barber, D.C., On Diaspora: Christianity, religion and secularity. 2011, Eugene, Or. Cascade Books. p. 27. Barber writes, “Immanence, ontologically speaking, names a reality that rejects any transcendent beyond, but it does so from a point prior to the distinction between a beyond and a below. What immanence defends, in other words, must not be defined by a prior relation to the beyond.” (Italics are mine). Hick comes close to realizing this outright when he affirms Schleiermacher’s project of eradicating the original state of perfection. “This is accordingly not a doctrine of the original perfection of the world in the sense of a harmonious primordial condition…The perfection of the world, in virtue of which the God-consciousness can occur within it, still exists; it is ‘original’ in the non-temporal sense of being fundamental and constitutive (221).” Hick appears to favour the use of ‘original’ as merely descriptive in nature of something innately given to human experience. In this regard though, Schleiermacher is much close to Spinoza than any explicitly Christian formulation insofar as such a theological conviction is not need for the affirmation of Schleiermacher’s position. This is not a conditional definition but rather a phenomenological description.

[4] Barber. On Diaspora. pp. 26-27. Barber illustrates my point in relation to understanding Spinoza’s notion of immanence and what this means for theological discourse, including theodicy. Immanence is unitary; it is ‘immanent’ to nothing and contingent upon only itself. In this sense, Hick’s description of monism is only partly wrong, his utilization of ‘harmonious’ to summarises Spinoza’s point being the target of my criticism on this point. Spinoza struggles with naming immanence, calling it dually ‘nature’ and ‘God.’ Barber picks up on this necessary act of naming in such a way that one asserts two difference names at once. He writes, “Spinoza thus serves as an excellent exemplar of the approach I am advancing, one in which the opposition of immanence to transcendence requires not the rejection of theological discourse’s signification, but on the contrary a new expression of it.” Theology, Christian theology included, is not necessarily against the monist but is required for the monist insofar as it expresses something necessary for stating the sheer thereness of the world as one substance.

 

Future Speaking Engagements and an Update

This post is I suppose (another?) shameless attempt at self-promortion and a brief update, which should hopefully explain why there has been such an absence on our end of the blog. 

In the first instance here is an update on some upcoming speaking engagements Sean and I have this summer. 

On June 25-27 at the University of Bielsko-Biala, Poland, I will be delivering the paper “Self-Possession’s Dis-onto-logic: The Epoché’ of Occupation in The Undercommons.” This is part of the conference Revolting Peripheries 2014. This is shaping up to be quite an exciting conference with the focus being on how to think the periphery and the gaze of the centre, or rather to unthink the binary definition of the periphery-centre.  My talk will focus on the theme of self-possession and phenomenological epoché in relation to how Moten and Harney describe the current state of education and the situatedness of students within such a state. 

http://revoltingperipheries2014.wordpress.com/conference-details/

On July 11-13 Sean will be delivering a paper at the Mystical Theology and Continental Philosophy conference at Liverpool Hope University. Sean’s paper deals with Marguerite Porete, reading her work in light of the strategies used to repress and re-read it (most specifically, her murder) in order to re-articulate the transgressive element of her text.

http://www.hope.ac.uk/mysticaltheology/#sthash.a2HvIOVr.dpuf

In addition to these speaking updates, I would like to share that I have recently made a shift in trajectory and am now undertaking a PhD in Cultural Studies at Claremont Graduate University concurrent to my PhD with the University of Nottingham in Theology. I am very excited and look forward to jumpstarting posts on the blog now that my programmes are set in place. 

 

Lacan on the Subject and Object – Tad Delay

The following is an excellent post by Tad Delay picking up on some of the issues we are dealing with in talking of subjects, objects and immanence. Tad is currently a PhD student at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA.Image

“Truth is nothing but what knowledge can learn that it knows merely by putting its ignorance to work.”1

Lucas and I have had our share of conversations over the notion of immanence in relation to critical theory and pedagogy. What seems to make for a roadblock in those conversations is some combination of 1) the differences in influences a Husserlian and a Lacanian naturally bring to the table and 2) the sheer amount of gin we consume during those conversations. But after his recent post, I think I am beginning to regarding subjectivity (or inter-subjectivity), and I think my trouble understanding had less to do with an irresolvable difference and more to do with the differing starting points of our respective theorists. So I’m going to start with where that difference might be located—which is our different meanings of subject and object—and I am going to conclude by saying we are not subjects interacting with objects but instead objects interacting with subjects.

Lucas uses the term immanence to describe an irreducible embeddedness of subject and object, all the more so when that object is another subject. He concludes we should examine “one’s existence as verbal, as ‘ ing’ in construction, ‘ -ing’ in-the-world with and as entities(y), constituting the most basic stuff of what we refer to when we talk of ‘discourse.’ As such, critique must be always thought in the face of the imminently human.” As a Lacanian, I say yes to the verbal nature of subjectivity (after all, the phrase the unconscious is structured like a language appears in nearly every essay and all seminars), but I think the big difference in starting points I mentioned comes from my disposition to see subjectivity—the Lacanian subject—as primarily unconscious. There is a wide difference between the totality of the I and the conscious perception of the me.

“The specular relationship with the other…can only reduce to its effective subordination the whole fantasmatization brought to light by analytic experience by interposing itself…between this shy of the Subject and this beyond of the Other, where speech in effect inserts it, insofar as the existences that are grounded in speech are entirely at the mercy of its faith.”2

The difference between the I and the me is described in Lacan’s “L Schema.”3 Two of these positions are (partly) conscious and two are unconscious. And to be clear— because this is almost always obfuscated— the un in unconscious is not a simple negation of conscious the way pre- Freudians and Jungians use the term; conscious is not to unconscious the way that

black is to unblack.4 Unconscious is a phenomenon that insists rather than exists.5 “The unconscious is a concept founded on the trail left by that which operates to constitute the subject. The unconscious is not a species defining the circle of that part of psychical reality which does not have the attribute (or the virtue) of consciousness.”6 In the “L Schema,” S (the subject) and A (big Other) are unconscious, and a’ (ego, the moi that I consciously perceive myself as) and a (the object, or object cause, of desire inasmuch as it enters the imaginary register7) are at least partly conscious. The object of desire is always accidental, never perfectly calculated the way our egos would like to imagine.8 L’objet a is not a “thing” qua actually-existing-thing but instead a structural position that the psyche maps an idea onto, which is why nothing we acquire finally satisfies the drive. These four positions are asymmetrical; think of the Subject as both its own position and that which contains the totality of the other three positions where Autre is the primary actor. And S, if it is properly split into conscious and unconscious ($) as it is in neurotic and perverse individuals, is a projection of the A, the big Other, which Lacan calls the discourse of speech.

This Other shouldn’t be confused with a Jungian collective unconscious, but if I understand Lacan’s intention correctly then there is no clear division between the big Other of the individual and the big Other of the culture creating that individual’s ego. The big Other is purely a function of the symbolic register; like the objet a, the Autre is a phenomenon and a position in the psyche rather than anything that actually exists in the world. It’s worth clarifying, because the big Other is often used as a synonym for God. God is one manifestation of the big Other, as are any number of social expectations, pressures, injunctions, identities, etc., but anytime we name something we are no longer talking about the symbolic big Other but instead are figuring a representation of the Other within the imaginary register. But moving on, analytic therapy is not simply a relation of two egos, one ego seeking help from the other. “…I teach that there are not only two subjects present in the analytic situation, but two subjects each of whom is provided with two objects, the ego and the other, the latter beginning with a lowercase o.”9 Lacan’s most basic matheme for the neurotic subject’s relationship to an object of desire is written as ($<>a).10

“In the unconscious, which is not so much deep as it is inaccessible to conscious scrutiny, it speaks…”11

“Why not look for the image of the ego in shrimp, under the pretext that both acquire a new shell after every molting?”12

In other words, when I perceive that I desire something, my ego (a’) is investing in an object (a) at the behest of unconscious injunctions and/or drives. This process is called cathexis by Freud and is most evident in the transference of love and hate. The stronger the cathexis, the more the ego has identified itself with an ideal and the more that ideal becomes part of the superego. “Over-thinking a relationship/job/conflict/etc.” is what cathexis feels like. There’s more to be said about object-libido and ego-libido (narcissism), but I will leave that aside. So we love and we hate, but we do not always have much of a rational reason explaining why we love or hate. That lack of rationality is because our ego has been directed (sometimes only in part, sometimes

entirely) by the unconscious. Anger is experienced at the imaginary register, but underneath it is “…the failure of an expected correlation between a symbolic order and the response of the real.”13 There is always a significant element of backwards-engineered justification by the time an idea becomes conscious, and this is why psychoanalysis does not locate subjectivity in the system-conscious. You see this backwards-engineering all the time when you discuss a concept with someone whose identity seems to depend on an easily falsifiable and/or completely indefensible position. You can strike down claim after claim (façade of a after a), but nothing changes one’s mind. The ego is actually defending the integrity of the big Other, and the big Other can simply redirect the subject’s ego to attach itself to the next object/idea. In therapy, this is a defense mechanism that gives me an infinite number of justifications to maintain self- sabotaging behavioral patterns. The big Other manifests as a repetition injunction. But this conversation began as a vicissitude of sublimation or repression of a drive, so the thing (with a lower case t, the façade) you are consciously discussing is already a few steps removed from the Thing/objet a of the drive. But every once in a while you stumble onto the conception of a particular a that big Other cannot stabilize itself without, and there is a cascading reaction where a particular form of the big Other looses operative power over the subject. At that point, the argument (or therapy) is over. So this is why Lacan’s goal was to traverse the fantasy, to “pierce through the imaginary dimension which veils the symbolic and confront the analysand’s relations to the Other head on.”14

“It is true that I am incomprehensible… I’m not afraid of people leaving. On the contrary, I am relieved when they leave.”15

So where then am I differing with Lucas? Well at the risk of oversimplifying—indeed, this whole piece is a bit of an oversimplification of Lacan’s schema—Lucas is rightly talking about the embeddedness of subject interacting with objects in order to discuss immanence and intersubjectivity. It’s just that Lacan doesn’t let us talk about subjects interacting with object; instead, I (at least, the me of the I) am an object interacting with subjects. Or further, moi is an object contained by a subject interacting with other objects contained by other subjects, and then this relationship becomes further complicated by group identities (which yields more and more complex conflicts of inter- and intra-group psychopathology). The analyst has to affiliate herself with the healthy part of the subjects ego, or applied differently, we have to realize that our conversations with others present a fiction that amounts to an interaction with only one part (momentarily conscious) of only one register (the imaginary), but we have an infinite depth to us, symbolic and real. At any rate, the moi is not where the Lacanian places the emphasis.

“Desire is what manifests itself in the interval demand excavates just shy of itself, insofar as the subject…brings to light his lack of being with his call to receive the complement of this lack form the Other—assuming that the Other…is also the locus of this lack. What it is thus the Other’s job to provide—and, indeed, it is what he does not have, since he too lacks being—is what is called love, but it is also hate and ignorance.”16

“We need not, in psychoanalysis, broaden people’s minds,”17 but for further reading on topics discussed:

Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality


Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle


Freud, The Ego and the Id


Lacan, Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis

 Lacan, “Position of the Unconscious” in Écrits

Lacan, “The Freudian Thing” in Écrits

Lacan, “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’” in Écrits

1 Lacan, Écrits, 675.

2 Lacan, Écrits, 40.

3 Lacan, Écrits, 40.

4 Lacan, Écrits, 704.

5 Read all of Seminar II!

6 Lacan, Écrits, 703.

7 This is a bit oversimplified, and l’objet a has as much (or more, depending on which seminar we draw from) to do with the real as it has to do with the imaginary. It is not the actual object that exists in reality, but reality’s objects become an objet a through all three registers and normally become expressed by the imaginary register. The objet a is the object of a partial drive—all Lacanian drives are partial, all are death drives—and the drive can only reach jouissance by endlessly encircling its object instead of directly acquiring any object. What I am describing here is admittedly a mix of Lacanian drive and Freudian cathexis regarding their shared origin in object-libido. Each use these terms, but Freud might be in more agreement with my use of the terms here than would Lacan.

8 Lacan, The Triumph of Religion, 46.

9 Lacan, Écrits, 357.

10 Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 99.

11 Lacan, Écrits, 364.

12 Lacan, Ecrits, 217

13 Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 103.

14 Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis, 35.

15 Lacan, The Triumph of Religion, 83, 85.

16 Lacan, Écrits, 524.

17 Lacan, Écrits, 305.