Three Points: Philosophical, Psychoanalytical, and Mystical

Today I find a shared truth among four traditions of thinking: Lacanian, Badiouan, Masonic, and Islamic. More broadly, I would say that this is a truth shared among psychoanalysis, philosophy, and mysticism.

I begin with Lacan.

Lacan claimed that the real can only be taken in in ‘bits,’ that is, point by point. The symbol “<>,” which finds itself between each of the two terms of many Lacanian mathemes, is named a “punch” (from the French “poincon”). The original French word has some relation to the word “point” in English. This makes sense given the context of the Borromean knot: there where two rings are brought together, at the point of intersection, is what Lacan names a “point.” Thus, in the twenty-second seminar, Lacan said: “There is nonetheless a way to defne what is named a ‘point’, namely, that it is something strange, which Euclidean geometry has not defned […] A point within Euclidean geometry has no dimension at all, zero dimensions. It is contrary to the line […] [which has] one, two, three dimensions. Is it not, in the defnition given to us of a point from Euclidean geometry, that which intersects two straight lines?”

Interestingly, if we separate the French root word for “point” from “poincon” we are left with “con,” which means any number of things, including: “cunt,” “asshole,” “shit,” “prick,” and even “bloody.” We are here dealing with the rims of the erogenous zones (e.g., asshole), as well as objects of those zones (e.g., shit). I can not provide a full account of the punch within Lacanian mathemes. In a sense, I am using it in a fairly restricted way to imply ‘is in some relation with’ (e.g.,‘Object is put in some relation with Object’). However, I do want to point out that a punch represents the possibility of at least four relations for Lacan, including envelopment (‘>’), development (‘<’), disjunction (‘∧’), and conjunction (‘∨’).

A point must be that which from within infnity folds back upon itself, as if by two strings overlapping one another, or as if by one string overlapping itself, so as to produce a buckle within the plane of infnity itself, and so as to establish, in the case of Euclid, an entire system of transcendental geometry. Recall that the frst defnition in Euclid’s Elements, which, it should be mentioned, was preceded by absolutely nothing, was the following: “a point is that which has no part.” An entire system of philosophy, of mathematical geometry, was founded upon a single point. Here we could even claim that the Euclidean concept of a point is not altogether different from Badiou’s notion of a point. Badiou has claimed that:

A point in a world is something like a crucial decision in existence: you have to choose between two possibilities [and only two possibilities]. The first one is completely negative, and will destroy the whole process of a truth […] The second one is completely affirmative, and will […] clarify the truth […] But we have no certainty concerning the choice. It is a bet. A point is the moment where a truth have to pass without guarantee.

If the entire Euclidean geometry was built off of the notion of a point, a concept which has no ground, finds itself to be dimensionless, and serves as the symbolic foundation (S1) of everything which followed it, then, with Badiou, we could think that it was a wager, a choice, a bet, which secured for thousands of years a ground for philosophical and mathematical thought. With the point we have to make a decision: to remain ignorant of the geometric laws which were so important to the craftsman and philosophers of the time, or to take a leap to faith and assume the point as foundation. Thus, a point has at least two defnitions: frst, it is represented topologically as the intersection of one string over itself, or of one string over another, and; second, it is understood as a decision to remain true to something which has yet no proper existence in the world of thought.

yod-in-a-triangle

Within Masonic thought we often refer to “yod,” in fact it is one of the principal logos on our Scottish Rite rings. Mackey claims:

[Yod is] initial letter of the word Jehovah, the Tetragrammaton, and hence [it] was peculiarly sacred among the Talmudists. Basnage, while treating of the mysteries of the name of Jehovah among the Jews, says of this letter: the yod in Jehovah is one of those things which eye hath not seen, but which has been concealed from all mankind. Its essence and matter are incomprehensible; it is not lawful so much as to meditate upon it.

Man may lawfully revolve his thoughts from one end of the heavens to the other, but he cannot approach that inaccessible light, that primitive existence, contained in the letter Yod and indeed the masters call the letter thought or idea, and prescribe no bounds to its efficacy. It was this letter which, flowing from the primitive light, gave being to emanations. It wearied itself by the way, but assumed a new vigor by the sense of the letter t which makes the second letter of the Ineffable Name.

In Symbolic Freemasonry, the god has been replaced by the letter G. But in the advanced Degrees it is retained, and within a triangle, as in the illustration, constitutes the symbol of the Deity.

Here we have an approach toward a profound truth, once again. The Yod, which is a point with a bit of a tapered off tail attached to it, is the beginning of the symbolic word.

alif-letter-chart

Similarly, in the Sufi tradition there has been extensive thought put into the ‘mystery letters’ of the Qur’an. These are frequently referred to as “Muqatta`at” or the “disconnected” or “disjoined” letters. The significance of the letters are unknown to readers of the Qur’an, and we are not permitted to have a dogmatic attitude when we speculative about them. However, we may speculate. The founder of the Baha’i Faith wrote a commentary on those letters, in which he stated that Allah cried: “O Pen! Set down the mysteries of pre-existence upon the Perspicuous, Snow-White Tablet.” The pen then weeps tears and stands up “between the hands of G-d,” and “there appear[s] within its tears a black hue.” This black hue forms a drop and falls onto the Tablet. He continues, “whereupon the Point [is] made manifest in the world of origination.”

What happens next is rather incredible. After the point, there formed the Alif – the Alif is, if you look at it closely, remarkably similar in form to the Hebrew Yod. You might even claim that they are essentially the same character.

Thus, through three traditions, or four bodies of thought, a shared truth exists. The question I find myself asking is the following: is it possible to work through these traditions to reveal the way in which they share fundamental understandings of the process of a truth? My belief is that only philosophy can articulate this, only psychoanalysis can produce this, and only mysticism can experience this.

The Instance of the Letter in the Qur’an

I do not have time to develop this so I am merely keeping record of it here in my blog. Recall in a previous post that I argued that the Quranic teachings are some of the most sane teachings there are in the religious world. In Lacanian thought, to be put in a very basic way, it is the letter or the record – the re-cord, which is like a cord that wraps around itself into a knot – that produces our fundamental sense of sanity, our neuroses (rather than, for example, psychoses). The alternative is an unknotting, or a not-knot, that is, madness.

In the Qur’an, Surah 68, it is written (translation):

By the Pen

And by the (Record)

Which (men) write —

Thou art not,

By the grace of thy Lord,

Mad or possessed.

The “Bar” and the “Split” Subject

pink-shorts-split-o

The distinction that I am trying to add to the traditional discussion of the “split subject” concerns the “bar” and the “split.” It is possible that some theorists might be tempted to describe the split only as a “bar” (e.g., what Lacan coined the “s-barred”), a bar which keeps the speaking-being from accessing the ontological coordinates of subjectivity. For example, in traditional Lacanian semiotic theory the “bar” operates to keep the system of signifiers from ever reaching the signified except by introducing another signifier or another meaning.1 The etymological distinction between “bar” and “signifier” is crucial: if “bar” describes an attempt to “fasten” or “obstruct” so as to prevent something dangerous from spilling out – it is therefore a barrier – then “split” describes an attempt by the subject to separate a given unity or whole by promoting an inherent crack of fissure. The bar is an act of primary repressive defence against the powerful effects of the real. In this case, the subject is at war with itself, but, ultimately, must be located on the side of the repressive defence mechanism, the ego. But the split is an act of subjectivity itself, it is the widening of a crack or fissure in the ego and an attempt to push through the walls of defence. Does this not help to explain why Jacques-Alain Miller wrote that “this barred ‘s’ is fundamentally a subject who does not keep to his place”?2

1“[The signified] is always moving towards […] another meaning” (Lacan, Seminar III., p. 137).

2Jacques-Alain Miller. “‘A’ and ‘a’ in Clinical Structures,” The Symptom. As Retrieved on August 19th, 2016 from <http://www.lacan.com/symptom6_articles/miller.html>

The Dialectical Necessity of “Sorry”

Clinical psychoanalysts do indeed practice dialectics. Lacan, for example, often claimed that the whole movement of a session depends entirely upon the making said (dit) of that which hitherto remained unsaid. In other words, there within the speech of the analysand is a signifier (S1) which insists on being said before the analysand may move beyond his or her current roadblock.

It is the same with everyday communication among friends, family, partners, colleagues, etc.

Frequently, “sorry” is a master signifier which must be unearthed from speech before a conversation or relationship can advance to the next logical stage. This is the true meaning of the Hegelian word “Aufhenbung” within Lacanian dialectics. Without the “sorry” there is only a roadblock and nothing can move forward.

Symbolic, Imaginary, Real Belief

I do not have the time to provide all the detail that I would like but I have developed the following positions on the question of Belief, with regard to the religions of the book:

(1) Judaism: Symbolic Belief. Moses, with the pure inscription of the law, delivers the symbolic commandment of belief. There are pure laws which are universal and which come forth from a higher place.The Torah is the written law. In the symbolic, there are various popular prohibitions including the avoidance of writing the name of G-d and the necessity to not erase it if it is indeed written. The call to prayer is the voice of G-d, in the terrifying thunderous sounds emitted form the Shofar.

(2) Christianity: Imaginary Belief. Jesus as the figure of G-d. Belief is Imaginary insofar as one must willfully believe, and believe at the existential level; there is thus the oft-quoted dark night of the soul, and one by necessity passes through the moment of non-belief, of atheism (‘my g-d, my g-d, why have you forsaken me?’). Belief must therefore be dialecticized and developed through stages. There is always the question of the contours of belief, the contours of the body (of belief), the limits of belief, and so on. The call to prayer is therefore a man-made sound, the bell.

(3) IslamReal Belief. Allah, the One, the Unity, gives us our belief. Our belief or non-belief is only part of His greater plan. The Quran is continually and consistently clear about this if only you read it to discover this for yourselves. Belief is therefore not a willful choice, it is a response to a choice already made. Does this not explain why it is that a good portion of the Quran is a response to belief systems already well established? Belief is here placed at the ontological level, and it is up to us, as willful agents of the imaginary, to respond properly to the belief that we already have but perhaps didn’t realize we already had. This is the Truth of the message: Allah is the cause of causes. Belief is immanent.

The Quran and Desire

The Quran teaches that Allah has no desire (cf., Surah 22, Section 8:64; ‘For verily Allah – He is free of all wants, worthy of all praise.’). The psychoanalytic definition of desire is very complicated but includes within it a notion of remainder and / or excess. So too is there a definition of desire as always being the desire of the Other (desire is the desire of the Other). I shall sort through each of these.

(1) The claim that man’s desire is the desire of the Other implies that man desires to be the object of the Other’s desire, most literally. This comes through in statements of love which often conceal the demand to be loved.  This, it seems to me, does not in anyway contradict the Quranic teachings – man essentially wants to be loved by others, Others, and Allah. We see this in his darkest moments, when, as the Quran continually illustrates, man is reduced to his pure desires, his pure being, his pure beliefs. The Quran asks: why do men only believe during these moments? These are the moments of truth, in a sense. It is easy to believe during those fleetings moments of intense anxiety – moments of judgment, moments of chaos, etc – which quickly relapse or move out into emotion, acting out, and so on. But what about moments when – to put it in popular terms – the ego has a firm grip on the id, and I want nothing to know about it?

These are the moments when one fails to go there where it was, to put it in classicaly Freudian terms.

However, we must be very clear: the statement man’s desire is the desire of the Other does not imply that man has simply inherited Allah’s desires. Indeed, according to the Quran, Allah has no desires. In some sense, this implies that Allah is not the same figure as the Other. This leads me to the second point below.

(2) Desire is hollowed out from the field of the Other. This claim was made most forcefully in Lacan’s tenth seminar on Anxiety. In other words, from the field of the symbolic there is something that remains as the objet petit a, the little object of desire. Desire pre-exists, in a sense, the subject. The subject is but a response to the desire which manifests itself before him as a foreign intruder. This also makes sense since the Quranic teachings in no way contradict the religions of the book which maintain that man (Adam) descended from heaven to earth. We see how the desire to transgress, for example, pre-existed man in Iblis, in jinn. However, it was precisely because of Adam’s eagerness to inherit the desire of Iblis that he became acutely aware of his own body, of the gaze and judgment of the Other, and of his reflexive subject position.

All of this leaves open the question of the possibility that Allah is the Other.

Plato’s Cave and the Seven Sleepers

Recall Plato’s allegory of the cave. I shall provide a summary from Wikipedia:

Plato has Socrates describe a gathering of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from things passing in front of a fire behind them, and they begin to give names to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality. He then explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, for he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

I would like to provide a counter-point and then return to compare the two allegories from the standpoint of ideology critique.

In the Quran, Surah 18, there is a story of the sleepers who were forced to leave the city because of their religious beliefs and take refuge in a cave. The Quran adds an important additional element to the Christian narrative: there is a dog who accompanies the cave sleepers. Wikipedia summarizes:

Unlike the Christian story, the Islamic version includes mention of a dog who accompanied the youths into the cave, and was also asleep, but when people passed by the cave it looked as if the dog was just keeping watch at the entrance, making them afraid of seeing what is in the cave once they saw the dog. In Islam, these youths are referred to as “The People of the Cave”.

Finally, in the Quran, there is the additional clarification:

And you would have thought them awake, while they were asleep. And We turned them on their right and on their left sides, and their dog stretching forth his two forelegs at the entrance [of the Cave or in the space near to the entrance of the Cave (as a guard at the gate)]. Had you looked at them, you would certainly have turned back from them in flight, and would certainly have been filled with awe of them.

There are many variations on Plato’s allegory of the cave. McKenzie Wark, for example, once implemented Jean Baudrillard’s theory so that when the people inside the cave go outside they realize that they are inside of another cave, and so on and so on. However, the Quranic version is much more interesting.

In the Platonic version we are expected to believe that the people inside the cave are imprisoned by ideology. When one of them steps outside of the cave they have stepped outside of ideology – they become good Marxists. But then there is the impossible task of having to return to the cave to show other people that there is something better outside. This pure place of freedom outside of the cave has been criticized by many contemporary theorists and philosophers. For them there is no uncontaminated point of departure for ideology critique or politics or power or whatever. This is precisely what led McKenzie Wark, no doubt, to state, basically, that there is no outside to ideology, no outside to the cave.

From this point on I am making an interpretation and it is not to be read as dogmatic or as the only correct reading.

The Quranic version begins in the city. In other words, it begins in the space of absolute freedom: the king uses this freedom to force his people to worship false idols, images of gods, etc. It is from this terrible abyss of freedom that the sleepers flee into the cave of ideology. The Quran narrates a flight from the jouissance of freedom into the cave of ideology – the people who retreated into the cave sleep there for a very, very long time. They literally turn to their dreams against the asphyxiating freedom of reality. Ideology here is precisely what rescues the sleepers from the terrible freedom of imaginary servitude.

What about the dog?

Whereas the Platonic allegory uses shadows and images to captivate the slaves and keep them from leaving the cave, the Quranic allegory uses a dog to keep free people away from the cave of slavery.

The lesson is clear: if the so called Western vision is one of absolute freedom from the prison house of ideology then the Islamic vision is one of burrowing within ideology to escape the terrifying abyss of absolute freedom.

The Islamic version offers a nice corrective to contemporary ideology critique.