Is the Mentor supposed-to-know?

An unlikely series of proposals this week have me reflecting on the nature of mentorship.

In the first case, a young student who took a class with me began to meet me at the cafe often. She was interested in receiving scholarly advice from me and yet the discussion seldom strayed from her own personal (romantic and mental health) issues. Of course I was happy to oblige until the situation escalated and I was forced to inject some distance between us. I’m not sure to what degree this could be a case of transference.

In the second case, a woman from the other side of Canada asked me to be a mentor to her after she friended me on facebook. She refuses to reveal her identity and she speaks often of her struggle to socialize with others. She is concerned about the fact that she has no ‘spirit’ or ‘passion’. She is concerned about her own inabilities as a student and thinker, and yet she carefully crafts her sentences with expensive words. I have found some ‘spirit’ in her when I deliberately provoke her, when I confront her with her own words and plays on words.

In the third case, an older man, older than myself, who has been a facebook friend for quite some time has approached me for mentoring. He insists on paying me and on my imposing upon him a strict system of milestones. He further insists that he requires somebody to be very harsh on his writing. He wants somebody to impose a reading routine on him so that he can get his work done – he feels he needs lose something (money, time, etc) in order to progress in his work.

Here, I am prone to argue that the task of the mentor is resolutely not to impose knowledge or curricula. Neither is it to necessarily assist a student with their writing, their marketability, their know-how, and their professional development. Certainly, some degree of that is necessary, but far more important is it to regularly confront the student with their own desire.

Of the three students, I can feel, already, some ‘spirit’ coming out of the second student. This is a student I would have least suspected of change – indeed, she least suspects herself capable of change. I believe that the first student needs distance from mentors, for fear of deepening the transference beyond analytic intervention. Unfortunately, I responded to the lures much too soon and this is what accounted for the breaking of the relationship.

All of this is simply to suggest that the first responsibility of a mentor is not to be a subject supposed to know.

Notes – Lacan’s Seminar on Anxiety (X): 12 December 1962

Note: It is important to point out at the beginning that these notes should not be read as independent blogs. They are to be read in order, beginning at the first set of notes for the first class of this seminar on anxiety.

Who’s afraid of object a? Lacan seems to intimate that there is a relationship between the void and object a. The English word “void” has a close relationship to the word “vacuum” (vacuus in Latin, for “void”). It makes sense, then, that Lacan finishes the seminar by mentioning Blaise Pascal’s courage when faced with the void. Indeed, it seems that Pascal carried out his experiments on the vacuum precisely because he was interested at some level in his own desire. I called his pursuit “courageous” for two reasons. First, because it lends itself to a Badiouian analysis of the subject’s relationship to the void:

We must also have an affect which goes against anxiety, and this affect is courage. Courage gives the human animal the means to go beyond anxiety. There is a dialectical relationship between courage and anxiety and it is at the very core […] [of subjectivation]. Anxiety is something like a new subjective knowledge of the situation, and courage is the affect that goes against anxiety in the direction which exists by the anxiety itself. […] Only when anxiety exists can the therapy for anxiety provide us with courage (Alain Badiou, The Subject of Change).

Courage, as a political, existential, and, indeed, clinical category was developed with considerable energy by Alain Badiou. I find this compelling and I want to pursue it in the Lacanian context. Second, I use the word “courage” here because it brings us back to Lacan’s discussion of Freud. Recall that Lacan described Freud as “courageous” precisely because he, unlike Breuer, made use of his anxiety (it was in 5th of December 1962 seminar). Pascal’s courage was therefore the courage to go beyond the anxiety that others had when faced with ‘nature’. Okay, okay – but what is this “nature”? Lacan adopts a broader definition of nature (broader than the standpoint of physics). “Nature abhors a vacuum,” Pascal famously stated. Lacan groups all of human civilization into “nature” such that Pascal was up against everything and everybody in his articulation of the void; nature, then, is something like the reality principle. It pressures us to change our path of pleasure. The abhorrence of the void – which, to be sure, is a desire – came from all learned men surrounding Pascal. Indeed, there is always atmospheric pressure when faced with the void.

The same pressure exists within the psychoanalytic community – and, indeed, within the academic community. There is a tremendous anxiety concerning the void. Rather than face the void, rather than face the “spare part” as such (Lacan called object a a “spare part” in the previous class), scholars obsess themselves with scholastic junk. I recall an article from a high impact journal that made a distinction between the “museum of ideas” and the “garage sale of junk”. At the time I thought this was displaced snobbery (a resurgence of the “high art” / “low art” division). However, now, after having spent more than 14 years in the world of higher education, I notice the prevalence of junk scholarship. It brings to mind Baudelaire’s rag-picker: we pick up the refuse of our times and with so much passion we “pour our hearts out into stupendous schemes”. Similarly, and more to the point, students of culture today promote, with excessive pride and principle, the virtues of bricolage research (eg., the students of Denzin & Lincoln, and Levi Strauss): the aim is to pick out spare parts from the junk pile of theory and collect them into a bag that sits atop our frail backs, until the weight is too much to continue to bear. And then what?: we turn to our masters for support, because we become the spare parts of higher education and, indeed, neo-liberal capitalism.

Are they not surprised when they find exactly what they’ve been boasting for so many years, namely that there are no masters to be found? The point is that there is no cure for anxiety. Lacan states this as a provocation. Indeed, he extends the principle: a cure is an “additional bonus” of treatment. This troubled people considerably, but only because they missed the crucial point: the longing for a cure is sometimes precisely the principle by which the subject can avoid his truth, namely that the pill – the easy way out – is his way of escaping from the study of that which matters most: his anxiety. Lacan does not want the subject to turn back after consuming the pill and say to himself: how easy it all was, was it worth it? The point is that the methodology, our style of writing/teaching/analyzing must ensure that the subject can not cheat (his) truth.

We now have a certain congruence of concepts: anxiety is occupied by minus-phi and constitutes a certain void. And if, through our methodology, we replace an encounter with the void for an encounter with the pill, we by necessity allow the subject to avoid the route of proper subjective advancement – until the weight is too much to continue to bear. I write “we” here because it is we, as analysts (teachers, writers, etc) who are implicated in the possible route around anxiety that the subject takes. Lacan is very clear at this point: we can not write ourselves out of the experience of analysis. Analysts occupy the position of the big Other – we are a part of that which provokes anxiety in the analysand (and also in ourselves through the analysand). We need to make sure that our desire does not make this dimension, the dimension of the big Other, shrink such that the analysand can cheat truth.

Even Pavlov demonstrates that dogs react to a stimulus which belongs in a different register. Lacan called this a “different register” because it is distinguished from the register of reaction. That which reactions is distinguished from that which provokes the reaction. The big Other is in a different register than the subject. If you press the system hard enough it will no longer respond – this occurs even with animals. This is why we need to be away of our relationship to the analysand. The big Other is there in every dimension. This is a radical claim. Lacan is not claiming that somehow we as human animals are there at all dimensions. Rather, it is the function of the big Other, of that which provokes anxiety – the possibility for change itself – in a subject, which is always there. It is there at the level of animals, of Pavlov’s dog, but also at the level of objects, of plants, trees, particles, etc. To summarize this point: we must note our own presence in the experiments of animals. And wasn’t this the break-through of the ‘observer principle’ derived from Heisenberg in quantum mechanics during the late 1920s? This might be refuted by stating that the animal or rock knows nothing about the dimension of the big Other. Lacan’s response is powerful: it is the same for us as subjects, we do not know anything about what constitutes us.

This is why the subject-supposed-to-know position is always a deceptive one. This states nothing about its necessity. The point is that there is no subject radically transparent to itself, that knows its own object, its own anxiety, enough to master it and to, therefore, master another subject’s object. Something always remains, something is always impossible to imagine, and this is the object of anxiety. Lacan makes a giant step and asks why it is that psychoanalysts rarely discuss nightmares? He hazards to suggest that nightmares involve the anxiety felt as the Other’s jouissance. We note this in the figure of the incubus or succubus, which is, as Lacan puts it, “the creature that bears down on your chest with all its opaque weight of foreign jouissance, which crushes you beneath its jouissance.” What’s more, Lacan claims that the incubus weighs down on the subject via the asphyxiating imposition of a question (and, moreover, a question that can not be answered, a riddle).

Incubus

The incubus thus constitutes the overwhelming dimension of the Demand of the big Other, when it is too much to bear. 

Next, Lacan discusses the signifier as that which represents a subject for another signifier. He names it an “effaced trace.” I tried to figure out why these words were chosen: effaced means “erase a mark from a surface” but it also could imply “effacement” as if the process through which the cervix prepares for delivery. All of this concerns the signifier. On the other hand, there is a sign. A sign is what represents something for somebody.

signifier: what represents a subject for another signifier

sign: what represents something for somebody.

You can see the difference between a signifier and a sign. Whereas a signifier involves displacement, a sign involves condensation. The sign presumes to represent something for somebody. Things are coherent and in their place. A signifier represents a subject but only for another signifier. The subject is represented by something which came before for something which comes after. What is at stake in all of this is the following: the subject is anxious because he has a relationship to something lost, something which came before.

The effaced trace is something that animals do – not just humans. Cats, for example, are involved in complex behaviors surrounding their shit. They bury it as if ritualistically. Lacan says: “one part of animal behavior consists in structuring a certain field of its umwelt [environment], its surroundings, by way of traces that punctuate this field and define its limits for the animal. This is what is called the constitution of territory” Thus, to “efface a trace” must mean something like erasing (by presuming to give birth to) one’s own desire. I am presuming, then, that Lacan means by “trace” that “spare part” which he has more formally named object a.

Effacing Trace

 

How do we distinguish between animals/objects and – without necessarily giving primacy to – humans? Even here, we are distinguishing between only certain humans, namely, neurotic humans [otherwise referred to as ‘normal humans’]. Lacan does something very clever here. He notes that animals can not lay “false traces” that make us believe they are false. To provide an example: a cat can not cover his shit so that we will see his shit. But humans can do this: very often we cover ourselves up in a mask precisely so that we can hide from the fact that the mask is of our actual face. As Lacan puts it: “that’s where the limit is [between neurotic humans and the rest of the world].

At the beginning there is an object, object a. There is also a big Other. The subject, via his birth through the signifier, is barred and produced. All of the subject’s life he will attempt to conquer what has been lost, the unknown dimension. He will do so with the help of the big Other. He makes a demand to the big Other and this demand always carries some anxiety with it. Any false response to this demand also has some anxiety to it. Every demand carries with it a void which is neither positive nor negative, but simply void. The source of anxiety occurs when this void is filled in.

Finally, Lacan introduces the matheme of the drive: $<>D [to be read: barred-S in relation to Demand]. We also have the matheme of fantasy: $<>a. There is some relationship between the two mathemes. The matheme of drive or demand is privileged in neurosis somehow. We can quickly see that this is a topic to which Lacan will now spend considerable time. He will most likely keep returning to the topic of the drive for, minimally, the next few years. First of all, it is important to distinguish drive [triebe] from instinct. Some translations have incorrectly conflated these terms.  Lacan has no problem with the concept of instinct, but rather with the way in which the dimension of drive has been occluded. Drive has nothing to do with instinct.

We see the dimension of drive in Hegel when he claims, in the Phenomenology of Spirit, that language is work. It is precisely through language that the subject makes his “inside pass outside” (as Hegel put it). But it is clear, Lacan claims, that Hegel means “inside-out”. One imagines a glove turned inside out. Lacan points out that at each stage of inverted the glove there is always a residue, a part of the glove, which can not be turned inside out. These are “partial” elements of the glove, like partial drives. The object a is also this partial drive. We see it similarly in the mouth and the anus: it is the ring itself. Object a as the ring itself secures the enjoyment of the cut. The decisive function of the sphincter is that it “cuts the object” – and this is on the side of identity itself, the subject’s identity.

Playdough Sphincter as Object “a” of the Drive

Notes on Lacan’s Seminar at Sainte-Anne [1] – Nov. 4th, 1971

Lacan opens his first seminar at Saint-Anne by addressing the “interns” within the audience, of which there were unfortunately few in number. It would be a worth-while exercise to sort out why it was that Lacan dedicated such precious words – paragraphs of his delicate speech – to spotting the interns from his audience. To begin speculating: those who are in-terns are those who are  turned-in to the ‘trade secrets’. Interns are formally admitted to the ‘inside’ ring of skilled workmen, albeit with suspicion. The word intern is very close to the word apprentice, and so, in either case, the point is that a certain threshold has been passed by the candidate. Now, having been permitted, they, still with so much obscuration, are departed sensitive knowledge. You can see clearly Lacan’s mysticism.

Lacan made a passing reference to the noted mystic Nicholas of Cusa who, like Augustine of Hippo, defended de docta ignorantia, “learned ignorance” or “scientific ignorance”. For Lacan, ignorance is indeed linked to knowledge. The question is the extent to which this link is maintained. Augustine of Hippo wrote: Est ergo in nobis quaedam, ut dicam, docta ignorantia, sed docta spiritu dei, qui adiuvat infirmitatem nostram” [“There is in us a certain, so to speak, learned ignorance that is the Spirit of God, who helps us in our weakness”]. Put differently, the working of the holy spirit, the working of men among men [sic], is the working of learned ignorance. (Lacan does seem to care about work in this seminar. Indeed, he opened it with a claim that he is working very hard this year.) One wikipedia article puts this rather well: docta ignorantia means that since mankind can not grasp infinity through rational knowledge, the limits of science need to be passed by means of speculation. Finally, Augustine of Hippo’s claim, then, is that learned ignorance is the very highest form of knowledge.

The question then turns toward the concept of revolution. Lacan distances himself from such a notion precisely because revolution is always, from the standpoint of enjoyment, the affirmation of man’s knowledge. We have a roundabout way of arriving at this claim. Through Lacan’s style of speech he demonstrates the effect of revolution: all revolutions are forms of returning/repeating something primordial. Knowledge, then, as form rather than knowledge as content (eg., knowledge of this or that), that is, knowledge as such, is always made up of a correlate of ignorance. This is because, clearly, knowledge never gets outside of itself.

And neither do revolutions.

Certainly, there are concepts that account for such ignorance: for example, “non-knowledge”. Georges Bataille, during a lecture on “non-knowledge”, did not utter a single word. Lacan claimed that this was a good display of non-knowledge. But then the people who attended seemed somewhat self-satisfied, as if non-knowledge was itself a transgression. But “they were wrong because now non-knowledge is chic.”

To return to the point, non-knowledge is there within the teachings of mystics as ignorance. Perhaps it even came from the mystics.  But we must distinguish between knowledge and truth: truth is not knowledge, and so truth is, then, non-knowledge. This is basic Aristotelian logic: everything which is not black is not-black. Where does this leave us? Non-knowledge is truth, and non-knowledge, as ignorance of the content of knowledge, is high knowledge (knowledge as knowledge).

Analytic discourse is therefore situated on the frontier between truth and knowledge. It is not necessarily non-knowledge, but neither is it, strictly speaking, knowledge. It seems to me that the best way to understand this is to draw up a continuum of concepts:

truth/non-knowledge  <–> analyst’s discourse / knowledge of knowledge (non-knowledge of content) <–> knowledge of content / non-truth.

If this continuum confuses, please ignore it.

The point is that non-knowledge is not inherently a bad thing. But it can rally those who are improperly ignorant, those who are lazy, and so on. It is as if there are two types of non-knowledge. There is non-knowledge as such, but which is still truth. And there is an awareness of non-knowledge, which is an awareness of truth – and this is the analyst’s discourse.

But there is another threat which comes from the institutionalization of non-knowledge. Lacan says:  “And then there are certain forms of institutionalisation, the concentration camps of the good Lord, as people said in the past, within the University, here these things are well received, because it looks chic. In short, a whole dumb show is carried out, is it not?” In any case, for analysts and University dwellers alike, non-knowledge is discovery. But the truth is different for each (as those familiar with the four discourses will no doubt note).

From this point on Lacan will write lalangue as one word. This is to clarify an important point: Lacan did not claim that the unconscious was structured like the dictionary but rather that it was structured like a language. What is at stake for the unconscious is precisely grammar which has to do with repetition.

This returns us to the question of revolution. Freud made a mistake in one of his articles from the late 1910s: against resistance we ought not think revolution. It is not revolution of knowledge which is at stake but the bringing into play of a function of knowledge. And so we can amend our understanding of the analyst’s discourse. The analyst’s discourse is further distinguished from base non-knowledge on the basis of its knowledge of the function of knowledge. Revolutions do not operate according to this base-knowledge. The Copernican revolution, for instance, was and still is commonplace within University knowledge, even at the time of Freud’s writing. University textbooks have stated that Copernicus made a revolution by putting the sun at the center and by putting the earth at the periphery.

But we have gone from geo- to helio- centrism! This was supposed to have given a blow to cosmological narcissism, but it has, in effect, recharged it.

So what is the knowledge of psychoanalysis? The knowledge of psychoanalysis, that is, the profound novelty of psychoanalysis, comes from its expression of unknown knowledge (knowledge we do not know that we know, i.e., unconscious knowledge). We have knowledge of this form of knowledge: it is in the form of a language but is not itself language. Revolutions are designed to mask the unconscious: in any revolution man is still at the center precisely because of knowledge – all revolutions are designed to encourage man to invent a new discourse.

We can see that knowledge, which is of the order of enjoyment, is still at the center of revolution. But, in a striking passage, Lacan maintained that “[i]t is in no way sufficient to understand something for anything whatsoever to change.”  This position, which is the topic of Fink’s recent two volumes, is said to be prominent in Lacan’s later period. I’ve been drawn to this position for quite some time and yet I’ve always found myself a Lacanian of the earlier period. Finally, we can claim that the knowledge of the analyst has to do with a knowledge of what place one must be at to sustain knowledge. And what type of enjoyment is the enjoyment of revolution if not the enjoyment of inventing the new discourse so that one might usher in the new master: “What is striking in what Freud sketches out about pre-Copernicus, is that it imagines that man was quite happy to be at the center of the universe and that he believed himself to be the king of it. This is really an absolutely fabulous illusion! If there was something that he got an idea of in the eternal spheres, it is precisely that the last word about knowledge was there. […] And this is indeed why knowledge is associated, from its origins, with the idea of power.” We’ve seen this with the Enlightened who had as their goal a knowledge unencumbered by power but who, through terror, instituted a new race of masters more ferocious than all that one had seen at work up until then (the French Revolution).

The Critique of Critique: Critical Theory as a New Access to the Real

Note: I, Duane Rousselle, have selected the title for this transcription of a talk that Alain Badiou gave to students of the Global Center for Advanced Studies on the morning of January the 8th, 2014. I have taken some minor liberties in my transcription so as to facilitate better comprehension. Alternatively, the reader may choose to watch the lecture rather than read it. This can be done by clicking on the following link: Alain Badiou, Live at GCAS.

The Critique of Critique: Critical Theory as a New Access to the Real

By Alain Badiou

The word “critique” has a very long history. In the old language, we have the word “krinein(κριτική)* and the meaning of “krinein” (κριτική) was ‘to sort, or to separate, something which is good from something which is bad.’ So there is always a relationship between the idea of “critique” and the idea of “judgement”; judgement concerning very different things; judgments concerning the true and the false, concerning the good and the bad, concerning what is appropriate and what is not, and so on. So, the philosophical history of the word “critique” is also the history of that sort of mental activity which consists of the separation between two values. Maybe the clearest example of critical enquiry is with Plato whom made the fundamental distinction between opinion and knowledge, and, between what is without philosophical interest and what is inside of the field of philosophical interest.

This is a very important point: critique is not reducible to a purely negative activity. Very often the word “critique” has a close relationship to something like negativity, and finally to a sort of skepticism. (Skepticism, in the sense of a purely negative conclusion or a negative activity.) But this is not exactly the meaning of the word “critique”. We must say that critique always has a negative part which is the negative determination of some activity, some mental disposition, or some orientation of thinking. But there is also always something which is good, which is the result of the separation between two forms of thinking, of knowledge, and so on.

As you know, another meaning of “critique” has a close relationship to the work of Immanuel Kant (in The Critique of Pure Reason, and so on). And so, it is very important for us to clearly understand the meaning of “critique” in the work of Kant. I think we can say something like this: with Kant, critique is not exactly the pure separation between what is true and what is false, it is more about the idea of a limit. Kant’s role was to determine the limit of pure reason, the limit of knowledge. So, the separation is not exactly between something true and something false but much more between what is possible and what is impossible. It is different from the original sense of the word “critique”. We have now passed from the idea of separation, the distinction between what is true and what is false, between opinion and clear knowledge, and so on, toward something of a different nature which is the knowledge of what is possible for human knowledge. And I think that this sort of transformation of the word “critique” is also the transformation of the function of negativity within knowledge itself.

For Kant, finally, the negative function of “critique” was to determine that something is impossible for human knowledge, that something can not be really known by humanity. And this is the idea of the limit. It is something like a radical critique of what Kant names dogmatism. Dogmatism is in some sense classical metaphysics. There was something in Kant which formed the real beginning of what I can name the modern tradition. The modern tradition is different from the old fashion of philosophy, under the name of metaphysics (when we are in the Heideggerian style), dogmatism (when we are in the classical style), and nonsense (when we in Wittgenstein’s style). But in any case, with Kant, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger, we have the idea of something completely inappropriate, something obscure, and finally, with no value concerning knowledge within a large part of the philosophical tradition. And with the negative designation, under the name of dogmatism, nonsense, or metaphysics. A large project of human thinking is finished. Critics say something like that. The idea of critique is to transform the historical idea of something like the end of a philosophical style.

This transformation is very important because if critique in a primitive sense is the exercise of practical and theoretical separation between true and false, opinions and truth, and so on, then practically all philosophers must admit that activity is in some sense a metaphysical one. Because inside metaphysics, inside skepticism, inside critical theory, and so on, we have always some separation between that which is true and that which is false, or truth and accident, and so on. There is no thinking without the work of separation. But if critique takes the modern meaning of something which is historically accomplished or historically finished and if the meaning is that philosophy must accept the limit of its proper activity, then this is something different. It is something different because it is not a general characteristic of philosophical activity, but it is a philosophical proposition. And a philosophical proposition can be discussed and can be refused, and so on. At this point I can say something like that.

We have two meanings of critique. First, in some sense a weak meaning: which is only the activity of separation between what is possible within philosophy and what is outside the world of philosophy. And, in this case, the point is only what is the extension, the dimension, of negativity. We can begin from the Platonic position, which is that we can, after a good critique, we can have an idea of Truth, toward the skeptical position, which is that we have no idea of Truth. But in any case, the separation is the point and the separation is active and affirmative, finally, in the case of Plato, and the separation is completely negative in the sense of skepticism. It is the classical meaning of critique, if you want. But now, in the modern time we have a strong meaning of critique which is the idea that a large part of philosophy, the destiny of philosophy, must be determined as something which is finished, something which is historically finished.

We can say some words about the latter position [about the strong modern meaning of critique]. I am in some sense against the modern meaning of “critique” if this modern meaning is a judgement concerning the complete history of philosophy. I don’t agree with the idea that after some centuries of dogmatic power [in philosophy] we are now in the field of “critical” possibility and that we know the limits of reason. And, why? It is because I think that in fact we can not know something that limits reason. So it’s my critique of critique. We can not know the limit of reason because human reason is in some sense the infinite dimension of our existence. And “infinite” must be understood in the strong sense. “Infinite” means that we can not know precisely the limit of what we can know, of what we can understand, and so on. And so I think the true modern idea of critique, on the contrary, is to assume that we can not understand, we can not have a clear idea, of what is an “end” or a “limit” of reason.

My position is contrary to the modern sense of critique as the determination of something impossible. Why? On this point, I am Lacanian. I think that the impossible is precisely the name of the Real. So when we say, “okay, I know the limits of reason, I know what is impossible for reason to know,” and so on, I am saying, finally, “I am not able to understand the Real at all.” After all, this is the position of Kant: that being-as-such and the Thing-as-such, can not be known, precisely. Maybe it concerns the field of practical reason, but in the field of knowledge we can not know it. And so there is a close relationship between Kant and Lacan on the topic of the Real; the Real, precisely as being-as-being [being qua being], being-as-such, can not be known, and so it is a point of impossibility. The Real is also something impossible. That’s a conclusion. It’s not that it is completely impossible to have access to the impossible. We can perfectly have the conclusion that something of the Real can be known under the condition of a displacement concerning the limitations of possibility and impossibility. Part of what is impossible can be known if the separation between what is impossible and what is possible changes. And, it is my conception, basically, that something which satisfies the limit between impossibility and possibility opens a new access to the Real as such.

Finally in that sort of context, what is the possible definition of something like “critical theory”? The definition would be something like this: “critical theory” is the opening up of the new possibility to think the Real through the possible modification of the separation between what is possible and what is impossible. In some sense, the goal of “critical theory” is always to know, to have an understanding (to have a new form of understanding), of what is impossible to know. So it is something which accepts the Kantian idea concerning the relationship between the Real and the impossible. That is the Lacanian part. To be on the side of Kant and also on the side of Lacan is precisely on the point of this close relationship to the Real. Although we can accept all of that, the conclusion concerning critical activity is that the field of critical activity is always to work at the limit of the possible and the impossible with the idea that this limit is not a stable limit, it is a limit which in some sense can be modified, can be transformed.

The work of critical thinking is precisely the work on this limit. So, as a retroactive conclusion, my vision is first to accept the classical meaning of “critique”: “critique” is always a question of separation and so of a limit between, classically, the good and the evil, and so on. I also accept the modern meaning of “critique”: that is the meaning given by Kant, which is that the question of the limit is the question of the limit between the possible and the impossible. But my conclusion is not a negative position, my conclusion is an affirmative one. That is, that we can open up a new access to the transformation of the limit itself. So, it is not only the activity of the defining of the limit but the activity of the change of the limit itself.

* Thanks to Simon Gros for providing this more correct Greek version of the word.

The Courage of GCAS

Many humans decide for a moment to go in the direction of the new possibility but they are inevitably interrupted by anxiety. We must also have an affect which goes against anxiety, and this affect is courage. Courage gives the human animal the means to go beyond anxiety. There is a dialectical relationship between courage and anxiety and it is at the very core of the construction of the new subjectivity. In some sense, anxiety is a necessity to indicate to the subject that there really is something new in the situation. Anxiety is something like a new subjective knowledge of the situation and courage is the affect that goes against anxiety in the direction which exists by the anxiety itself. Anxiety claims “oh, there is something new! And it is terrible!” Courage claims, “I will go in this direction, I will go beyond anxiety!” So, there is a dialectical relationship between anxiety and courage. Only when anxiety exists can the therapy for anxiety provide us with courage (Alain Badiou, The Subject of Change).

I have researched the history of the Global Center for Advanced Studies, by returning to a time when it was really still just the seed of an Idea. Can you believe that Creston shared the idea with us so few months ago? Yet, within a week it will inaugurate its very first seminar on the crisis of higher education!

I discovered that I made a number of mistakes in my understanding of the school. For example, I maintained that the university once advertised itself as a “tuition free” institution. The fact is that it never advertised itself as a “tuition free” university. The earliest indication of my error came from the first week of Creston’s new facebook page when he announced that the school would aim toward free tuition. I clearly confused aim with reality. The reality is that the school offers an extremely competitive tuition model (one third the cost of an average American education). Imagine: you can get an education from all of those thinkers that you admire so much, all in one place, and for much cheaper than a traditional university. The fact that the aim of the school is toward “free tuition” seems consistent with the principles of those who run the school, those that teach at the school, and, more than likely, many of those who will attend the school. This is to state that while I very much trust and admire the efforts of Creston Davis and Jason Adams, I also believe that those who do not know them like I do will be forced to admit that the pressure of the thinking that goes on in the school will be enough to promise the steady movement toward the aim of free tuition.

This brings me to the question: why did I have so many mis-perceptions about the school? Why have I been growing more suspicious of the school?

The fact is that new things provoke anxiety and uncertainty. When we are provoked by anxiety we sometimes turn into cowards and return to the traditional subject position. In my case, I was growing suspicious of the model, I think, because I did not understand it. The point is that new subject positions are always formed out of great uncertainty. We must begin there. It seems to me that the courage of the administrators of GCAS was that of advertising a school which they did not yet themselves fully understand. This is absolute courage. We should all be so courageous.