The first chapter of my dissertation at Trent University assumes a (non-)philosophical reading of Lacan. This sort of claim can be troubling for some psychoanalysts. I found this out when my supervisor, Dr. James Penney, removed himself from my project because he felt that it did not rise up to the expectations of psychoanalysis proper. This, by necessity, begs the question of the relationship between psychoanalysis and philosophy. As many of you know, there has been a long-standing debate within the Lacanian community about this very topic. Its most fruitful exchange, perhaps, occurs between Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek. In any case, I use, as my point of departure today, Alain Badiou’s philosowiphical reading.
Badiou begins his lecture with three main points:
- Lacan’s work is filled with references to the great classical philosophers, including, for example, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Descartes, and Kierkegaard. This is not exactly the case in the work of Freud. Lacan’s writings could therefore be distinguished from Freud’s writings on the basis of their indebtedness to philosophical texts. In fact, Badiou contends that Lacan was the first analyst to ever include philosophers within his texts. On this count, it is perhaps possible to read Lacan philosophically without making too many explicit connections with psychoanalytic texts. This is, for example, what Lorenzo Chiesa has done so well in his Subjectivity and Otherness: A Philosophical Reading of Lacan.
- Lacan’s explicit position is anti-philosophical. He uses the word anti-philosophy to describe the precise relationship between psychoanalysis and philosophy. We will explore this point, through Badiou, momentarily.
- Lacan affirms that his ideas are inspired by clinical practice rather than philosophy. More specifically, his ideas are directly attributable to the analytic cure or the pass.
These three points do not stand well together. There is a problematic relationship between theory, practice, and thinking within the Lacanian field. As for philosophy, the crucial question consists of whether or not psychoanalysis is a thinking. In other words, Badiou contends that the rift between psychoanalysis and philosophy has little to do with their different articulations of the Subject – as many seem to believe – but rather on their relationship to thinking.
What is thinking? Badiou uses the word thinking to describe the non-dialectical unity of theory and practice. The exemplary case of thinking occurs within the sciences. The science of physics consists of theories, concepts, mathematical formulae, technical apparatuses, and experiences. As a thinking, of course, physics does not separate any of these – they all occur within the same rubric or framework for understanding the thinking of the science. The work of Galileo and Einstein circulates around various concepts, mathematical expressions, and experiences. This is the movement that is necessary for a unique form of thinking. We know that Einstein, for example, expressed his thinking via formulaic inscriptions that are still integral to the tradition of the physical sciences. Politics is also a thinking insofar as it consists of key writings concentrating on the relation between concepts and action. The unique movement of thinking within politics consists of the circulation of theoretical hypotheses and singular situations. Within Marxism, to use one example, there is a necessary unity between theory and practice.
Psychoanalysis certainly presents itself as a thinking. In Lacan’s work we can easily discover everything that we described about physics. There are fundamental concepts (such as the Real, the name of the father, and so on), there are formulae and writings about these formulae (including the matheme of fantasy, the formulae of sexuation, and so on), and there are clinical experiences along with experimental apparatuses (such as the protocol of the “pass”). The protocol of the pass was invented by Lacan in 1967; it was designed in order to verify the existence of the analytic act). We can therefore compare psychoanalysis to other fields such as science or politics. While the practices of the fields are different, there are nonetheless common characteristics that occur among them. Two thinkings can have something in common – this is what we can identify as the “structure” of the thinking/s. Thinking always has to do with the unique movement which unifies theory and practice. The difference of thinkings therefore has little to do with the difference between theories or practices. It is the relationship between theory and practice as a structure which can be compared between two thinkings.
By this measure, we can argue that Science and Politics are completely different thinkings. In the science of physics there is an experiment which occurs as an artificial construction and which therefore must be validated through repetition. An experiment is validated essentially when the repetition of the experience produces the same or a similar result. The result is thus inscribed into mathematical formulae. But in Politics the thinking is completely different because the situation of Politics is always singular and therefore never repeated. Thus, political writings are justified by an inscription which can not be repeated. If political inscriptions force a repetition of the experience then it is an empty repetition and therefore is not a thinking. On this point we can distinguish between political actors [note: I am deliberately using “actor” rather than “activist” because of certain connotations within the anarchist political field] and politicians. Political actors announce something that can not be repeated into the possibility of the situation. The politician, on the other hand, composes speeches which are derived from and faithful to the repetition of the situation. Politicians are thus exemplars of regular change within the political field and political actors are exemplars of singular change within the political field (see The Subject of Change, by Badiou). Political actors think and politicians do not.
Is psychoanalysis a thinking? The (clinical) experience of psychoanalysis is not like science at all. Within the field of psychoanalysis the Subject is never a repetition of another Subject. Moreover, the relationship between the theoretical infrastructure/writings and the clinical situation/experience does not take place according to the artificial situation of the repetition, as in Science. One could suggest that psychoanalytical thinking resembles political thinking more than scientific thinking. There are a number of points that can be made here about the relationship between psychoanalysis and politics. First of all, politics is necessarily organized; politics implies a collective organization of knowledge. Within psychoanalysis, too, there are associations which organize psychoanalytical knowledge. I, personally, know of two great ones that are within range: Pensee and The Toronto Cartel. Of course there are many others – and I invite you to advertise such organizations in the comments section of this blog. For Badiou, these institutions are not only necessary – they must also be carefully constructed and thought about. Psychoanalysis is a thinking which organizes the knowledge and the transmission of that knowledge, collectively.
Science guarantees two things: first, there will be a mathematical proof which everyone can review, and; second, there will be experiments which can be repeated. This is the rule of scientific thinking: there will be a repetition which guarantees the invention of the repetition itself. What matters for scientists is the very possibility of this repetition – it does not necessarily account for what can be done when there is no possibility of repetition. For psychoanalysis, there must be an organization which collects and transmits the assessment of the unrepeatable experience itself. This implies that there must be some sort of agreement between those with whom one is organized. Psychoanalysts must recognize the relationship that occurs between writings and theory on the one and and the singularity of the experience of the clinic on the other hand. This is precisely the relationship that occurs within the political field. In both cases, there are theoretical principles and unrepeatable situations, and in both cases what is required is a collective organization which validates the thinking.
However, there is a real difference between the fields of psychoanalysis and politics as well. Political thinking always ruptures with the dominant state (of things). It ruptures with the State. In the political field, one must be a part of the situation – you can not be a political actor outside of the situation of politics itself. The political actor discusses the situation with the people. It is an abnormal journey. In psychoanalysis, on the other hand, it is not the analyst who makes the journey, but the analysand. The journey within psychoanalysis is somewhat fixed. The situation involves a couch, an appointment, and so on. It is also necessary that the analysand pay to make the journey. Badiou believes that this is problematic because “all genuine thinking is free.” A political actor does not become such because of the possibility of earning money, status, power, or privilege. Those who join the political field for this reason are politicians and politicians do not think. The goal of political thinking is to think about a new possibility in the situation and to thereby transform non-repeatable situations into something.
The goal of Freud and Lacan was not to cure the client’s pain. The goal involves discovering the singularity of the human subject confronted by language and sexuality. There is a tension here between the two to which we shall return. The subject who knocks on the door of the analyst is a suffering subject. He suffers from his symptom and prefers to have that symptom mitigated. A true politics, on the other hand, is always situated within this failure and within the impasses of the structure of the situation. Of course, psychoanalysis also begins within the disorder and symptom; this, then, ostensibly marks a point of convergence between psychoanalysis and poltics inasmuch as politics begins at the point of the disorder of the state of the situation. But politics is different because the political actor desires the most radical consequences, the political actor works against the structure rather than along with it. Can we say the same about psychoanalysis? Psychoanalysis seems to want to mitigate the analysand’s symptom by allowing the subject to accommodate the Real. The political actor does not want to accommodate the disorder of the situation.
The difference thereby has something to do with the real. It is worth noting that I have made great advancements in my own thinking by differentiating a first order Real from a second order Real, das Ding from objet petit a, the philosophy of psychoanalysis from the psychoanalysis of anti-philosophy (see here, for example). Within clinical psychoanalysis, it is important therefore to displace the symptom of the real by accommodating it. This, in turn, creates the possibility of a new accommodation of the real by the subject. Many Lacanian’s call this the process of dialecticization (most notably, Bruce Fink). Badiou’s claim is that the goal of political action is not to accommodate the collective to its real/disorder but to find a new possibility within the situation. This furthermore implies the construction of a new real. In my own discourse, I claim that this involves the discovery of the new second order real (see, for example, “The Necessity of Going Outside”). Badiou formalizes this: psychoanalysis involves the displacement of the symptom of the Real, and political action involves an attempt to displace the Real itself and not only the symptom of the Real. Here, I believe that Badiou is locating the first order Real of the political situation and opening up, through philosophy, the possibility of the construction of a new second order Real. This is markedly different from the traditional Lacanian procedure of accommodating the second order Real through dialecticization. Thus, what separates Politics from Psychoanalysis, for Badiou, is the relation to the Real. For Psychoanalysis, the relationship to the real is always inscribed in the structure itself, as an afterward to the phallic function, for example. For Politics, the relation to the Real is always subtracted from the State of the situation.
Badiou believes that psychoanalysis essentially wants to locate the real as a difference between the sexes. I’ve done a little work on this – inspired, as always, by Levi Bryant – here. For Lacanian psychoanalysts, there is no sexual relation. This is an axiom of sorts – or, at least, a guiding thesis. The Real, for psychoanalysis, is therefore a negative thing. Politics, on the other hand, wants to think about the difference between the presentation of the collective and the re-presentation of the State. This difference refers to that which occurs between the true life of individuals and the symbolic order of the State. The political thesis or axiom is therefore that there is a possibility of pure presentation. Psychoanalysis therefore has for its point of departure a skeptical or negative axiom, and Poltiics has an affirmative and potentially dogmatic axiom. Badiou’s claim is therefore the following:
Political thinking protects itself from dogmatism through psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic thinking protects itself from skepticism through politics.
Badiou picks up on an obscure passage from Lacan’s twentieth seminar where Lacan compares the relation between Lacan and Freud to the one between Lenin and Marx. In my mind, this is a rare opportunistic moment for Badiou. I’m not convinced by the argument. In one of Lacan’s seminars, during the middle period of his teaching, he makes reference to the anarchist Proudhon (and on more than one occassion). In an upcoming chapter in Lacan and Radical Politics (Duane Rousselle & Saul Newman, Eds.), Daniel Colson makes extensive use of this moment in Lacan’s thinking to inform a non-dogmatic politics. I am much more convinced by this latter argument. In any case, Proudhon figures more prominently in Lacan’s discussion of the sexual relationship and this, by Badiou’s own account, is central to the localization of the void within psychoanalysis. The point is that Lacan believes that psychoanalysis and politics can teach each other something. Badiou’s point is that the risk of psychoanalysis is a generalized skepticism whereas the risk of political thinking is a general dogmatism whereby certain militants believe themselves to hold to key to the future political situation.
Only from within philosophy can psychoanalysis and politics encounter one another. Badiou believes that this is the point of philosophy – it is neither a psychoanalysis of politics nor a politicization of psychoanalysis. Rather, philosophy encounters the relationship between the two fields and opens up the choice concerning that relationship. The choice is to think psychoanalysis with politics (and vice versa) or not. The relationship between fields of thinking always occurs within philosophy. You can not, for example, have a discussion of the relationship between science and art without moving into a third realm which allows the distance from either of the two for thinking about their thinkings. The conceptual framework of philosophy permits this sort of thing to occur.
So – what does philosophy reveal about the relationship between philosophy and psychoanalysis? Precisely, the question of Truth is shared by both psychoanalysis and philosophy. Truth is a major concept within psychoanalysis, but really only for Freud and Lacan. It refers to the true desire of the subject or the true objective of the desire of the subject. Within psychoanalysis, we begin from appearances or the imaginary and we move toward the Real. Within philosophy, we seem to go the other direction. Classically, philosophy begins with the real or with truth and moves toward appearances. Lacan once claimed, in 1975, that Truth concerns only the Real. The question Badiou raises – and he does not necessarily answer it – is the following: when you read that 1975 quote from Lacan, do you believe it is a philosophical claim or a psychoanalytic claim? Badiou remains undecided.
In any case, psychoanalysis and philosophy always asks about the relationship of Truth and the Real. What unites the two thinkings on this point is the following position: truth does not have anything to do with the correspondence or correlation between thought and a thing. For Heidegger, truth is unvealing. For Marxism, truth has to do with production. For Badiou, Truth is a process prepared for by the event. And for Lacan, truth has nothing to do with the correlation between language and a Thing. Within the Speculative Realism trend, this is named “non-correlationism“. In other words, for both Lacan (or, at least, Badiou’s reading of Lacan at this juncture) and contemporary philosophy, thought is separated from the real. To be sure, it is possible that thought can be caught within a process in the direction of some knowledge of the Real but there is nonetheless no real correspondence between the two. Thought does not abide by a law of access.
Truth is typically this effect of separation (from access), it is a loss or a void, and has no positive correspondence whatsoever. Badiou believes that this is what has made Slavoj Zizek’s thought so important – there is no direct access to the real. For Badiou, on the other hand, truth is always prompted by an event, and this event then disappears or is abolished by thought. Thus, one can never have true knowledge of the event as such. An event is the necessity of Truth but there is no truth of the Event itself. Likewise, for Lacan, at one phase of his thinking of the big Other, there is a hole or void in knowledge itself. For example, in 1973 Lacan claims that the hole itself is called the big Other. Philosophy and psychoanalysis thereby elaborate a common concern of thinking the relation between Truth and the void/negation. Dialectics is the name that we give to the general relation between Truth and negation. In this sense, contemporary philosophy is dialectical in nature. (Badiou makes the blanket claim: except for Deleuze). Psychoanalysis is also dialectical in nature insofar as it also involves the discovery of new ways of thinking about the relation between truth and negativity.
Badiou believes that the entire problem can be summed up as a question of the localization of the void. All good theory proposes a possible localization of the void. And this localization of the void makes possible or authorizes truth. This is somewhat different from Francois Laruelle’s claim that a choice is made which founds philosophy as a transcendental system. Whereas Laruelle does not name this choice one of localizing the void – a claim which I maintain in my own work in a different way – Badiou does. For example, one possible, and extreme, version of localizing the void is the claim that there is no void at all. This claim maintains that there is no place for the void. So, to summarize, Badiou’s incredible insight here is that we can map a topology of the negativity within the general field of philosophy precisely because there are a multitude of ways in which the void can be localized.
For Lacan, the void is not at all on the side of being. In my own way, I have claimed that most readings of Lacan position the void on the side of knowledge. So, my modification of Badiou’s thesis is the following: for some Lacanians, the void is not at all on the side of being. Rather, the void is located on the side of the Subject. Badiou believes, therefore, that Lacan has been an enemy to ontology. This will most likely strike many readers as both true and false. Recall, for example, that what made Miller such an impressionable young disciple of Lacan was his question to Lacan: “What is your Ontology?” To which Lacan claimed, somewhere else in his seminars, something to the effect of: “I have an ontology, like anybody else, and why shouldn’t I?” In any case, the situation of Lacanian thought is certainly as Badiou claims it to be. This is the point around which Badiou maintains that Lacan was an anti-philosopher. Certainly, Lacan himself claimed this title for himself.
Culminating with Hegel’s philosophy, being itself thinks. This is a central axiom for philosophical thinking. Being itself it supposed to think. But this axiom is unacceptable for Lacan and it marks a point of divergence between psychoanalysis and philosophy. For psychoanalysis thinking must be an effect of the subject with a supposition concerning being. Thus, the transference guides the process of psychoanalysis and those who believe it is possible to speculate about being qua being are presumably naive and non-psychoanalytic. In the case of some psychoanalysts, they would perhaps even claim that it is anti-psychoanalytic. My own position, which I have written about for an upcoming issue of Umbr(a) Journal is that it is possible to be both psychoanalytic and non-psychoanalytic. The two positions are supplementary.
But Badiou maintains that a conflict or rivalry between psychoanalysis and philosophy is inevitably based on the way in which the triad of subject, truth, and Real are arranged. Lacan’s conviction was that ontology, or the speculation of being qua being, is a profoundly philosophical question. Moreover, for Lacan, the localization of the void by philosophy is problematic right from the beginning. However, Badiou is once again opportunistic in his reading of Lacan – he claims that Lacan’s final judgement contradicted this basic anti-philosophical insight.
We have two questions: first, is it true that the localization of the void on the side of being qua being – as an ontological organization of the void – necessarily produces the consequence that being thinks?, and; second, is Lacan’s anti-philosophical position – that the void is located on the side of the subject – consistently maintained? I have argued that the response to the second question is undoubtedly negative: Lacan was not consistent in his anti-philosophical position. Badiou’s point is quite similar.
To begin with, Badiou maintains that the localization of the void within the subject is also a philosophical position. This is profoundly interesting and it would have been beneficial if Badiou examined this question with diligence. In any case, we can begin to imagine the possibilities in the work of Sartre and others. The presupposition that Badiou is making regards the ontological status of the subject itself. Badiou cites a passage from Lacan in 1973 which reads something like: “the ideal or goal of psychoanalysis is that on the basis of its experience, a knowledge of the Truth can be constituted.” Recall that the word “experience” carries strong connotations of being qua being and the void for Badiou (see here). The very core of Lacan’s teaching is that being can not be known. Those who have read Bruce Fink’s brilliant example of this in many of his texts – using the concentric circles or the example of the vel (cf., this). On the other hand, concerning Lacan’s core teaching, one can obtain a knowledge of truth. Psychoanalysis can obtain a knowledge of the Truth but can not obtain a relation to being. There is a contradiction here. The goal of psychoanalysis is to constitute a knowledge of Truth but where is the knowledge of truth if the truth is something which can not be known?
How, then, can there exist a knowledge of the truth of the void? Within psychoanalysis, what can not be known ends up being the knowledge of the truth. When we go toward that which can not be known we are necessarily moving toward the knowledge of truth. The classical thesis of Freud therefore seems to hold up: the unconscious thinks in the same way that being thinks. Within the field of psychoanalysis, the unconscious is within the position of the field of being as it is within philosophy. In Badiou’s opinion, Lacan is essentially stating the philosophical position that being thinks. Thus, it is possible that psychoanalysis is also a shared space of thinking with philosophy.
Lacan claims: it thinks. The it whom thinks is not really all that different from the being whom thinks within philosophy. The philosopher thereby takes as his axiom: being thinks and psychoanalysis takes as its axiom, at some level, that it thinks. But after that a decision is made which localizes the void differently. Badiou wants to work toward a peace treaty between philosophy and psychoanalysis by underlining the moment before the decision of psychoanalysis. For psychoanalysis, it thinks because there is something within the subject which is unconscious and which is the being of (or as) the Subject. In order to localize the void psychoanalysis and philosophy require founding axioms or decisions. The philosophical axiom is that thought must be able to be understood at the ontological level and the psychoanalytic axiom is that there are unconscious thoughts. Finally, at some level, there is no difference between these two axioms.
What is the importance of mathematics or formalization? For Lacan, as well as many contemporary philosophers, mathematics avoids the experiences of the consciousness or the ego. Mathematics allow for an inscription – letter, symbol, or number – which touches the [first order] Real. Mathematics obeys the ideal of formalization and this is why it was so appealing for Lacan. Mathematics is the apparatus which localizes the void. In other words, between the first order Real and the mathematical inscriptions, there is nothing. It is an integral transmission. This is why Lacan claims that mathematicalization is the goal or ideal of psychoanalysis: because mathematics is the science of being qua being. This is yet another bridge between psychoanalytic thinking and philosophical thinking. Psychoanalysis and philosophy have the shared ideal or common bond of the matheme. The matheme is integral because it does not transmit the distortions or signification of the imaginary. For this reason, Badiou believes that it is a purely academic exercise to entertain discussions about what the signification of the subject or the real is within this or that philosophy. Within my own work, I often get asked what is meant by the Real or the Subject, and so on – and I also typically refuse to answer. The questions lack relevance. The better question is the following: how do psychoanalysis and philosophy approach the matheme (i.e., the integral transmission without residue)?
“Okay, you keep saying “the Real”, but what is your conception of the Real?” – Graduate Student
This question is loaded insofar as it asks for a signification or meaning. The more important question is thus avoided:
“What is the location of the void within your philosophical system?” -Wise Person
This opens up a number of questions, including: what is the relationship between the formulae of sexuation and the distinction between opinions and truth? Is philosophy necessarily the idea of the big One and therefore linked to the fantasy of the woman? In contemporary philosophy, of course, the big One does not exist; god is dead. Is the philosophical ideal of the One analytically the same as the affirmation of the Lacanian existence of the One as fantasy of the woman? These are key questions – and most of us, supervisors, Lacanians, graduate students, authors, etc. – assume the answer before giving it its proper thinking. Is there a relationship between the death of god and the question of feminine jouissance? Surely, there must be a relationship between the movement of the death of god within philosophy and the movement of the infinity of feminine jouissance within psychoanalysis? What is the relationship of the analyst’s discourse to the discourse of philosophy?
My belief is the following: psychoanalysis is a philosophy but philosophy permits the psychoanalystic field to exist; but psychoanalysis is nonetheless committed to a dialecticization of the second order real rather than a notion of the emergence of the subject from without the phallic structures of knowledge. This is the task of radical philosophy today.