Some Theses on the Religions of the Book

Here are some quick thoughts that develop previous blog posts on the three religions of the book.


Judaism gave us a symbolic god, that is, the name of the father. It emphasized the form of god – he is that he is, YHWH, a pure symbolic inscription (not meant to be spoken, thus the lack of vowels). (S-S)

Christianity gave us the imaginary god, that is, the god of the body, of the image, in Christ. (S-I)

Islam gave us the real god, that is, the god that is in us more than ourself, the god that Hegel referred to without realizing it when he claimed that the spirit is the bone. This is the god who has many names of the father, and who, for that reason, is not in the symbolic at all. (S-R)


Islam gave us the symbolic words. These are the names of the father, that is, the mystical “cuts,” that have no meaning. (S-S)

Judaism gave us the imaginary words. These are the rules that structure the law and refer to our relations with bodies here on earth. (I-S)

Christianity gave us the real of words, that is, the holy spirit: a lack of relation among the community that is sustained through love. (R-S)


Christianity gave us a lack of relation among our neighbours. Christ was established as a break from within the community of Jews. (S-S) Christ, on the cross, related to god from a position of atheism, introducing the symbolic function as a hole.

Islam gave us an imaginary relation among our neighbours. This is the community of Ummah, the community of humanity under god that is beyond all other imaginary contexts (nation, class, etc). (I-S)

Judaism gave us the community of the real: those afraid of the thundering sound who formed a bond at the foot of the mountain, and then were destined to receive the symbolic law. (R-S)

Whereby R-S-I refer to the Lacanian registers of the Real, Symbolic, and Imaginary.


ibn Arabi and the Mobius Strip

I am currently reading An Ocean Without Shore: ibn Arabi, The Book, and The Law, by Michael Chodkiewicz, and I found this remarkable passage, which I will quote in full:

This scrupulous attention to the form of the Word of God — for the form, being divine, is not only the most adequate expression of the Truth, it is the Truth; it is not only the bearer of meaning, it is the meaning –, is that which guides all of ibn Arabi’s reading of the Qur’an. It is not incorrect to consider that the work of the Shaykh al-Akbar, as we presently know it, is in its entirety a Qu’ranic commentary. This commentary is, moreover, a method of interpretation that does not look for what is beyond the letter elsewhere than within the letter itself. Thus, just as God is at one and the same time al-zahir wa l-batin, “the Apparent and the Hidden,” just as universal Reality is similar to the construction known as a Mobius strip (which appears to have two faces, one internal and one external, while in fact it has only one), in this same way it is absurd to distinguish–and a fortiori to oppose in the Word of God the letter and the spirit, the signifier and the signified. […]

Love: Courage and Cowardice

A few days ago, while trying to speak of, that is, teach Lacan, I declared, in one of my spontaneous fits of insight, that Lacan has two positions on love. I would like for anybody reading this blog post to comment if you have anything further to add about this.

The first position is a negative one: “love is what makes up for the lack of a sexual relation.” My claim is that this is the love that makes of the subject a coward. This version of love is not at all in fidelity to a love event, to put it in Badiou’s terms, but rather, against risk and reward, flees into love as a comfort from the real. This is why this version of love exists within the Lacanian imaginary or within the transference: it is the love that the psychoanalyst encourages within the clinic, and it is, to be brief, the love that is essential for treatment. It is through this love that treatment exists in the first place, for the most part.

The second position is an affirmative one: “love is giving what you do not have…” In this case, there is a love of an evental occurrence, that is, it is a love from within the anxiety of a real novelty, a new possibility, a contingency within the symbolic and imaginary fabric of everyday life. This is courageous love because it seeks to work-through the encounter to explore its consequences and to build a new truth.

To what extent, then, is my position all that different from the position of Alain Badiou? I’m not sure, actually. The difference, from Lacan, is one of granting a sense of virtue to the latter affirmative position at the expense of the vice of the former position.

To love, to really love, that is, for true love to exist, there must be the courage to move beyond the comfort of loving beyond lack; there must be the courage to face an event that ruptures the very fabric of your life.

Does this not explain why true love is more common among the young? The young are still, in a sense, exploring the world. They haven’t yet found comfort in the repetition or consistency of the world. It is easier for the young to find love and to believe it to be true love precisely because they already inhabit an unstable world. Thus, the young often love out of cowardice. The old, in order to be courageous, must be prepared to encounter love anew, and to find the strength to provide that love with a truth that will sustain it indefinitely.

Scribbles on a Bus

I scribbled this note on a bus, on the way home from a lecture.

Today I tried to teach Lacan to a group of second year students. These are students who are not tied to any particular discipline, although the course is a sociology one. Most of them are preparing to graduate, and they all seem advanced. Summer school students are generally advanced. In any case, I found myself pushing through a fundamental awkwardness. I had intended to speak to these students about the real Lacan. As it happens, speaking of anything real poses considerable challenges. Stammering, stuttering, extended moments of silence. I lost my place. I became disoriented. It wasn’t dramatic, I made my peace with the disorientation, with the loss of place — the straying from the topic/topos.

I asked myself: how did Lacan sustain a discourse without the awkwardness, and to what end? He inevitably made a name for himself (it is up to us to be “Lacanian”), but, my end, was a disintegration or a tarnishing of my image as I confronted the real so directly.

The laughing girls behind Lacan in that one video. He could not quite quiet them, though he tried. He intimated that their laughter was a part of what he had to say, and that, moreover, that they did not want to know anything about why they laughed. But that nonetheless did not stop them from laughing, and from distracting me, as they did, throughout the entire video. These laughing girls were also in my audience. It may have been paranoia, a laughing at … what? At the inability to articulate, or the struggles of the real. They want to know nothing about Lacan, ..or worse. They want to know it all about Lacan, or rather, they believe that it can all be said about Lacan. The last laugh is also here the last word on Lacan.

Yet, last year, in an advanced seminar on psychoanalysis & the social bond, we made much more headway on the real Lacan. The seminar was an incredible success, and we all left the seminar feeling an intense interest or questioning animated by a desire to come to know Lacan. The number of participants must have had something to do with this success: 5 or 6, 7 with me. But in the lecture there were 30 or more. I could have hardly been the plus-one since I was expected to be the only one.

I felt powerless in the face of the real Lacan.

Lacan can not be taught. That is my position. He can only be worked through. His discourse was meant for the electric age, for what Marshall McLuhan described as the age of “cool media.” The lecture is too “hot” of a medium for Lacan. Misunderstandings are not allowed within the university lecture.

The seminar is the ideal space for Lacan within the university.

I started reading _Charlie and the Chocolate Factory_ to my son at night. It has been a rather enjoyable experience.

The already starving and desperate family, all of whom can barely afford food, are willing to starve even more to maintain Charlie’s happiness and his conviction for the impossible. From this, I extract the theme of conviction for the impossible from the place of hopelessness.

The family’s desire is hinged to this conviction for the impossible from the place of hopelessness, but there is a supplemental, defensive, position that pops up as well. It is the conviction that the Other will offer a way out of all of one’s problems. For example, the family secretly believe – but will not let Charlie know – that Wonka’s chocolate bar lottery might help them out of their poverty. Or, at the very least, they believe that Charlie must remain happy precisely despite his poverty. I extract from this the theme of the Other’s omnipotence (e.g., the belief in the Other’s brilliant and “magical” abilities) and the counteraction of hopelessness with happiness.

This latter theme was transferred to Charlie precisely by the grandfather who instead of buying food for himself or for the family (indeed, for Charlie, who was skinny!), he gives Charlie his last coin so that he might buy a second chocolate bar on his birthday and so that he might have another chance at winning the trip to the factory. It was this moment that secured for Charlie the conviction of the Other’s omnipotence. It may have even been a case of interpassivity: the grandfather did not believe that Charlie would actually win, but he wanted Charlie to believe it; and Charlie did not believe he would win, but he wanted to make his grandfather happy by keeping up appearances. In any case, another stab at the lottery!

It is when Charlie moves through the factory that we can see things begin to change. Charlie is finally set free for a significant period of time from his family’s desire. He is not motivated by any of the vices of the other children, that is, in the final instance, Charlie, unlike the others, is not motivated by the desire for wealth. He remains happy in his poverty, and simply appreciates ‘being there.’ He is not tempted by this or that accumulation but is rather tempted by the purity of his curiosity: how do these “absurd” things work? Unlike the other children, he wants only to come to know the “absurd,” that is, he wants to know how the tricks are accomplished. In psychoanalytic jargon: he desires to know the unconscious, the place of the Other.

It is only through this radical hopelessness – the desire to know the absurd – that Charlie is capable of finally seeing Wonka for what he really is: an old man who will die and who will, precisely through that death, expose Charlie to the responsibility he has to run the factory. In Lacanese: the factory and all that is in it is like language and all of its signifiers, then, at the end of the book, Charlie takes control of these signifiers and invokes them to express his desire. Charlie passes through the fundamental fantasy. You can see how the relationship to Charlie’s father, who is never home and works at a toothpaste factory, is rendered apparent in the Wonka narrative: toothpaste cleans and protects teeth, chocolate and sweets rot and destroy teeth.


The work of translation is often a work of love. It involves moving the saint — the object of worship — from one tomb to another, realizing, of course, that the saint is dead. It is the process of accepting the gaps between your language and theirs, finding there, in the process of the translation a communism, that is, a shared space of the difference, for the two languages. Derrida, of course, knew this — but he nonetheless fell to the temptation: he found his own love precisely in the un-said, in the refusing to be said, in the rejection of narrative itself. This was his fantasy: he thought by refusing to speak of his love life that it would remain harmonious, mystical, direct.

But the translation is always a love letter.

What Lacan knew very well was that to speak of love and to write of love are two different operations, they are love in two different dimensions. And yet, in some sense, many lovers already know this basic truth. Recently I met two lovers who find in their love an endless came of “fort” and “da,” and who, precisely when they confirm the gap of their opposing languages through conflict, write the text message or the email addressed to the other.

The gap gives them the possibility for the love letter, for the letter as such. It seems to me, that the love letter, here, is much more beautiful than speech. Speech among these lovers is that which gives them the unbearable “too much-ness” of their love. And so it is not love at all, but rather suffocation, or, rather, a mystical love the sort that Derrida had precisely, and ironically, by not speaking at all; this time it is by speaking too much.

My own love began with a love letter. It was addressed to her, who had a name, from me, who didn’t have a name. I had a pseudonym. We didn’t have any speech at all; indeed, we didn’t yet meet. The letters transformed, gradually, into pages, and then chapters, and then volumes.

Eventually, recently, the letters stop coming, though they continue to be sent. What becomes of the love letter that is not returned? Is it still a love letter? In other words, spoken love is always given in the presence of ears — whether or not those ears listen. The written letter is not always given in the presence of a possible reception;

Kierkegaard once claimed that prayer is not meant to speak to god, the Other, but rather to fundamentally change the person who prays. We should ask ourselves how it functions to change the person who prays? It is precisely by separating, or affirming, it would seem, the separation of the individual from god. And it is the same with the love letter. Speech is always a demand to another in the other’s presence. It is not clear that the written word is an appeal to an Other. We address the love letter to an Other but it is not necessary that the other read it or even receive it. The love letter is meant to change the one who writes it — thus, reciprocating a love letter produces a double change.

More than ever today the love letter takes on an important function: if we choose to write — within the age of the catalogues of images, the age of instagram, the age of the endless curation of images — then it is because we opt to construct a truth of love that introduces a vacuum into semblance.