A Brief Note on the Importance of the Concept of the Subject and Its Affects

I want to distinguish between three approaches to the question of the Subject within contemporary philosophy. The first approach begins with the subject as its point of departure and supposes an object, or, if you like, objet a, as something that occurs in some association to that subject. It is here that we have the object of the real as that which limits the all-too-human world of the Subject. An object is an object because of what it is for or to the Subject. Therefore, the first approach is forced by necessity to discuss the Object or objet a in terms of its relation to the Subject precisely because the Subject is there at the beginning, as the foundation of the world. The second approach – one that has gained ascendancy within the very recent past – begins with the Object so that one can be rid of the question of the Subject entirely. It seems to me that this position is playing a game of make-believe inasmuch as the Object nonetheless has a potency of being which erupts to give birth to a new truth (in this respect, a number of concepts have occupied the place of the subject: emergence, autopoeisis, etc). This brings me to the more honest third approach which begins with the Object but only so as to sustain a real thinking about what precisely is a Subject and from where precisely a Subject emerges. It is the third approach that I find most seductive today. This approach retains the concept of the Subject and refuses to make-believe that it does not exist (theories of emergence and auto-poeisis are also theories of the Subject, however problematic). Whereas the first approach focuses on the centrality of the Subject, the second approach focuses on the impossibility of the Subject; finally, the third approach, focuses on the importance of the concept of the Subject.

If there is a Subject then we can also retain a theory of Affect (though not those which were in vogue during the 1990s). This is among Badiou’s most recent genius: whereas Lacan focused only on two affects (anxiety, as the central affect, and love-transference), Badiou focuses on four affects of the Subject: terror, anxiety, courage, and justice. These categories are not mutually exclusive but rather mark rites of passage for the constitution of a new subjective truth. First there is terror, and then anxiety, finally, with any luck, we have the courage to work through that anxiety, and this, inevitably, produces a notion of justice. Traditionally I confined my analyses to two affects: courage and cowardice. Both of these affects were necessarily reduced to the primary affect of anxiety because they were both subjective responses to the anxiety of an event. I now see that this is problematic. Badiou’s model affords the possibility of cowardice to occur without necessarily suggesting that one has to remain within that response. In the face of terror, we are all cowards.

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One thought on “A Brief Note on the Importance of the Concept of the Subject and Its Affects

  1. Pingback: A Brief Note on the Importance of the Concept of the Subject and Its Affects | Research Material

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