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Hegelian-Lacanian Variations on Late Modernity: Spectre of Madness
Alireza Taheri Autumn 2021
Abstracts of Variations
Introduction: The Paradox of Self-Reflection
For Hegel, “nothing, either in heaven or on earth … exhibits the abstract ‘either-or’ as it is maintained by the understanding” (Hegel; 1991, 187). I define diremption as the understanding’s misrecognition of identity-in-difference as strict opposition. For Hegel, it is paradoxically by emptying or evacuating itself out into its Other that a given concept becomes what it is. Self-reflection, or “sublation”, involves an element’s entry into unity with its Other; this move paradoxically elevates it to the purity of its Notion. Herein lies the paradox of self-reflection; identity can only be reached through the positing of difference. The diremptive misrecognition of this paradox leads to deep contradictions defining the contemporary situation.
Variation 1: The Diremptive Remains
Every self-reflexive act of self-evacuating kenosis harbours a diremptive remain. The sublation of an element into its Other is never complete as something remains testifying to the fact that even the most thorough sublation is partial. A minimal diremption is a structural necessity of the dialectical process. Psychoanalysis deals precisely with those remnants that philosophy prefers to repress. More generally, the remnants of the self- reflexive process are what the psychoanalytic clinic testifies to and what the purity of theory veils over.
Variation 2: The Triumph of Dialectical “Lower” Terms
There is an asymmetry between the two elements of an opposition and this asymmetry, viewed from the standpoint of the understanding, could be misinterpreted as a hierarchical relation between a “higher” and “lower” term. According to psychoanalytic reason the “lower” term reveals itself as symptom (or “truth” of) the alleged “higher” term. The symptom testifies to an encroachment. The element that occupies this position impinges on the imagined self-identity of the “higher” term. The “higher” term faces the ethical decision of accepting or rejecting incorporation by the “lower” term. If the “higher” term resists-dirempts incorporation out of fear or conceit an unexpected triumph of the “lower” term occurs. In this case, both terms dwindle into an excessive form of the “lower”-profane element leading to tremendous suffering.
Variation 3: Speculative Topology
For Hegel, “it is speculative thought which first gets a grasp of the unity [of the object] in this very antithesis as such” (Hegel; 1970, 147). Lacan’s topological objects such as the Moebius strip, the Torus and the Klein bottle all embody paradoxes (e.g. an object that hasits centre of gravity outside itself). Only a paradoxical topology, beyond the limitations of temporal thinking, can grasp the object in its inherent contradictions.
Variation 4: Vicious Dialectical Reversals
For Žižek, vicious reversals are a necessary dialectical outcome: “in the process of the actualization of a Notion, the Notion itself changes (into its opposite). And the purer this Notion is, the more brutal the reversal” (Žižek; 2015, 36). Against Žižek, I hold that brutal reversals are avoided when the notion is held in identity with its Other. If a dialectical shift is the expression of external opposition between intention and outcome, we must remember that “external opposition is the effect of inner contradiction” (Žižek; 2010, 197). A dialectical shift is thus a contradiction consequent upon a Notion’s refusal to reach itself via kenosis into its Other.
Variation 5: Faith and Reason
For Hegel, religion is a form of knowledge and, as such, is inseparable from what we understand by cognition. Hegel thus laments the “mutual distrust” (Hegel; 1970, 141) that plagues the relation between religion and knowledge. According to Hegel, philosophy, like religion, renounces subjective opinions in order to concern itself with God (ibid: 145). By contrast to Kant who “found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith” (Kant; 1929, 29), Hegel, refusing to partake in the pseudo-religious debasement of reason, claims that “God is not the highest emotion but the highest thought” (Hegel; 1970, 184). A similar prejudice against reason is endemic of many approaches to mental health today. Among psychoanalysts, it is not rare to hear someone critique a colleague for “intellectualization”. Hegel’s “anthropomorphism” of the concept and Lacan’s “formalization” of the human subject are the best antidotes against this obscurantist diremption. Concepts and humans should stand in speculative identity rather than specular strife. To quip Heine, let us be warned: Where they burn notions, they will too in the end burn people.
Variation 6: The Paradoxes of Love
Love is the site of intense dialectical oppositions. Firstly, love’s triumph rests on the lovers’ defeat. Secondly, in love only a lack can fulfil. Thirdly, all love stands in dialectical union with hate. Love without hate is empty adoration. Fourthly, love is at once the decline of egotism and the height of narcissism. Finally, for Badiou, love represents atheistic resignation where “paradise” before sexual difference is abandoned. However, love is also deepest faith in the Other. Love’s wisdom is that of speculative reason expressing the identity-in-difference of 1) triumph-defeat, 2) lack-plenitude, 3) love-hate, 4) communism-egotism, 5) atheism-faith. Love is lost insofar when it is deprived of its dialectical unity with its contraries. The “lower” profane terms take ghastly vengeance when dirempted by the snobbery of the “higher” term’s conceit. This leads to sick love manifesting in the one-sided triumph of despondent defeat, abysmal lack, appaling hate, dreadful egotism, sinful impiety and discordant incompatibility.
Variation 7: The Paradox of Identity
For Hegel, the subject “maintains itself in being-other-than-itself”. What guarantees the minimal consistency of identification is precisely the very thing that contests it. This is the object a, that which gives the image its consistency by contesting that consistency.
We here distinguish between a diremptive and a non-diremptive mirror stage; the former is incomplete as identification is not followed by an equally important dis-identification. Shame is inoperative in the diremptive mirror stage leading to the contradiction of shameless humiliation so beautifully captured by Julien Green: “God, unable to make us humble, made us humiliated” (quoted in Goddard; 2014).
Variation 8: Subject and Collective
Only on the background of the lack in the Other is subjectivity possible. However, when Lacan claims that the “unconscious is the social”, the subject is equated with the Other rather than a gap in it. We must recognize the paradox by which one reduces the weight of the Other by joining social substance. The Other ceases to be “substance” as the “individual” approaches it less frightfully. At that “magical” point of encounter, “substance” becomes “collective” and “individual” becomes “subject”. Diremption leads to the contradiction by which individualism is today accompanied by the flattening of singularity. In Hegelian terms, where individual and substance are “pure thoughts”, subject and collective are, by contrast, notions. Once the transition to the notion takes place, the big Other ceases to be a massive obstacle to the subject’s self-realization. The vicious dialectical reversals thwarting the subject give way to milder more reasonable fluctuations.
Variation 9: Ausstossung and Verwerfung
Symbolic castration involves recognizing that integration into the symbolic (Ausstossung) and expulsion into the real (Verwerfung) belong together. For the symbolic order to have consistency it must, paradoxically, be deprived of something. The failure to fathom this constitutive paradox relegates the subject to the contradiction of psychosis, namely that of a replete and depleted symbolic order. The emergence of the subject also requires the simultaneous operation of Ausstossung/Verwerfung. Speech, through which the subject asserts him/herself, is paradoxically equivalent to the moment of ineradicable alienation. The non-alienated psychotic subject is all the less “subjectified”.
Variation 10: Symbolic Murder and Suicide
Relating to the Other requires becoming somewhat its dupe; this is the act of faith that constitutes symbolic castration. Paradoxically, this opens the way towards a possible subversion of the Other. The psychotic subject is not duped by the Other and, for this very reason, he/she remains in a passive to the Other. We must all first die by a suicidal act of faith through which symbolic castration occurs – this is Isaac submitting himself to Abraham’s knife. Only then, paradoxically, will we have successfully killed our fathers and opened for ourselves a margin of freedom.
Variation 11: Generational Difference (Parent and Child)
I consider generational difference through the lens of self-reflection. The parent-child relation can neither be conceived in terms of classical ontology nor through Kant’s ontology of real opposition. I resort to Hegel’s notion of “self-reflection” to show how the self-reflection of each term leads it to its respective Other. Moreover, it is paradoxically through this pouring into the respective Other that the specificity of each is salvaged. The sacred boundary between generations is established through the
immanence of self-reflection rather than an externally imposed limit. Lacan’s “children are the symptoms of their parents” succinctly captures the identity-in-difference here put forward. The parent who, seduced by the ideal of false freedom, resists recognizing in his/her child the symptom of his/her own being is a perverse parent, an infantile parent who through his/her diremption pushes the child into increased infantilism and stubborn defiance. Here the parent-child relation degenerates into a petulant battle of pure prestige where the specular imaginary triumphs over any semblance of communication. The child- symptom may then get motivated by angry ressentiment and become hyper-symptom of the parents precisely in his/her forceful refusal to be symptom of the parents. This is the plight of the psychotic child (heir to the perverse parent) who incarnates the contradiction of a hyper-symptom orphan child of his/her parents.
Variation 12: Power Difference (Analysand and Analyst)
Through transference to a subject supposed to know, the analysand empties his/her unconscious on the analyst. The re-appropriation of knowledge confirms that the initial evacuating was not a loss but the condition through which the subject can realize him/herself as the Other of its Other. The “cure” is here understood as a transition from a Kantian to a Hegelian conception of alterity. Following Lacan, we may quip that the analyst is the symptom of the analysand in the hope of asserting the identity of the two in a way by which their radical difference is also posited. A clinician who resists his/her dialectical unity with a patient is not a psychoanalyst though he/she may be a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Such diremption places the clinician in the position of the “higher” term and the patient in that of the “lower” without recognition of the complexities of dialectical unity. This is the hallmark of the university discourse. Only a clinical approach that takes seriously the vicissitudes of transference and counter-transference can heed to the complications of the dialectical relation. If the clinician accepts the speculative identity-in-difference then the roles are reversed from their common acceptation and the analyst comes to occupy the lower abject position (the symptom) while the analysand takes up the higher more dignified position. In the psychoanalytic setting, it is the analysand who snubs the analyst-symptom. Freud’s clinical acumen is not separable from the dignity he grants to the speech of patients. The onus falls on the analysand to not resist his dialectical unity with the analyst thereby paving the way towards subjective destitution and the universality of castration.
Variation 13: Sexual Difference (Man and Woman)
In light of Hegelian self-reflection, each gender must pass over into its Other in order, paradoxically, to become itself. In today’s liberalism, the identity-in-difference of masculinity and femininity is dirempted with the resulting triumph of the ontology of juxtaposition and the concomitant notion of diversity replacing that of difference. We have a proliferation of sexual identities with numbers increasing everyday. The self- reflection of man and woman paradoxically asserts each term in its own specificity precisely by passing it over to its Other. Lacan’s controversial “woman is a symptom of man” gives expression to this asymmetrical identity-in-difference. In woman, man encounters his own castration and must therefore choose whether he will accept or oppose this incorporation into the feminine. The explicit oppression of women is a modality of diremptive refusal. Here, the “higher” term dominates the “lower” without recognizing in her a reflection of itself. Ironically, however, this oppressive attitude, fueled by the violent repudiation of the feminine, reduces men to effeminacy and
impotence. Nothing smacks more of meekness than a man’s wrathful repudiation of the feminine; an insight that popular-colloquial consciousness arrives at when mischievously equating this wrath with feminine menstrual pain.
Variation 14: The Paradox of a Boundary Without a Limit
The three central differences structuring psychoanalytic theory all hinge on the identity- in-difference of opposed terms such that, upon self-reflection, each passes over to its Other. Paradoxically, it is this very loss of self occurring through the transfer to the Other that secures the specificity of the term in question. To state the identity-in-difference of two terms does not simply entail stating their unequivocal sameness. The self-reflection of an element does indeed lead it to its kenosis in the Other. However, this is the condition for the term’s accession to its own notion. Through its kenosis to woman, man gains his virility; emasculation (Entmannung) and feminization (Verweiblichung) occur when that specific kenosis fails. What is at stake is the question of the notion of a limit or boundary. How can we establish the separate identities of each term without establishing a diremptive boundary between them such that one term arrogantly snubs its other? Here we consider Hegel’s distinction between a limit/boundary (Schranke) and lack. Where the former is imposed externally on the two entities in question, the latter arises immanently within each term as an expression of its internal division. What is required is a “boundary” created immanently through self-reflexion rather than imposed externally from above, i.e. as the doing of the “higher” term threatened by the force of the symptomatic “lower” term. If the “higher” term receives the “lower” as its symptom then each term accedes to its notion and the required separation is established in the paradoxical modality of identity-in-the-difference. Stability can only be achieved through the immanence of the speculative.
Variation 15: Good and Evil
Žižek argues that evil contains itself only by paradoxically becoming infinite/absolute evil. As Bernstein puts it, evil is necessary for the sublation of evil (Bernstein; 2002, 68). Evil cannot be contained by a transcendent power. Evil must, rather, contain itself by instantiating infinite evil. Thus, only evil has, paradoxically, the power to properly contain evil. The good is thus, for Žižek, nothing other than a moment of evil itself (rather than an overarching higher principle controlling/containing evil from above). The stringent opposition of evil and the good is the result of the diremptions the understanding. Controversially we may say that Nazism is arguably the result of the diremption of this identity-in-difference. National Socialism sought a good that it conceived as starkly opposed to evil thereby failing to recognize an essential unity of opposites. It would be an error of common understanding to think that the problem of the Holocaust consisted of an insufficient separation of good and evil. On the contrary, the horrors of the Holocaust were consequent upon an over-stringent division. Žižek argues something of the sort when he claims that “barbarism is not the opposite of culture, but rather, it is pure culture – culture without civilization” (Žižek in Badiou; 2010, 163). As a result, Žižek holds that “it is no accident that Hitler was Austrian, fanatically devoted to Wagner and in thrall to German Kultur much more than to Prussian militarism” (ibid: 163). We thus arrive at the rather paradoxical idea that the Holocaust was the result of a good that rejected its formal unity with evil. The “higher” term’s diremption of the symptomatic “lower” term led – by the logic of the triumph of the “lower”term – to a
generalized and ubiquitous evil. What, we may ask, is more evil than the pretence to pure good?
Variation 16: Truth and Lies
Truth achieves its specificity only through self-reflection in lies: “there is no truth that, in passing through awareness, does not lie” (Lacan; 1977). Diremption reduces truth to knowledge which emerges “against a background of ignorance” (Lacan; 1992, 171). The apex of this ignorance is found in psychotic foreclosure thereby rendering paranoid the structure of knowledge. Rather than lead to a lucid vision of the world, diremption leads to the contradiction of paranoid knowledge. Modern American psychiatry, behaviourism and cognitive science attest to the degradation to knowledge-paranoia arising from the vain attempt to access a “pure” truth untainted by fiction-untruth.
Variation 17: Thrownness and Autonomy
Heidegger’s (1967) “thrownness”, as what predates the subject, represents a limit to self- determination. Thrownness is tied to the debt that structures a subject’s relation to previous generations. The obliteration of thrownness for the sake of self-sufficiency leads to actual (rather than symbolic) debts. Late modernity testifies to subjects who, rather than acquire their dignity through a relation of reverential deference to the past, are reduced to humiliating submissiveness to a literal creditor inspiring more fear than respect. In fleeing the structural necessity of thrownness, one paradoxically fulfils one’s destiny by the very effort to overcome it. Thrownness functions as the ineradicable symptom that is, at once, the obstacle to autonomomy and yet also its very sine qua non condition: (Žižek; 2015, 69). Diremption leads to the triumph of the “lower” term such that the very effort to assert unconditional autonomy paradoxically flounders into indigent dependency. The rejection of the past – American a-historicism as Lacan (2006) had it – is a feeble and puerile attempt at “freedom” which enslaves one all the more.
Variation 18: Life and Death
To maintain a relation to the future (and thus feel alive), acknowledgment of mortality is necessary. Against Badiou’s (2015) “Down with death”, one must say, “rise with death”; life always emerges after resurrection. This is Christ’s example as well as the foundation of psychoanalytic treatment. The cure involves a child being killed (Leclaire; 1975) because the subject truly lives only after symbolic death. As Žižek (2012, 994) has argued, “the awareness of one’s finitude immediately reverts into the experience of one’s true infinity”. Dirempting the coincidence of life and death, Badiou’s defiant “Down with death!” appends the subject to finitude. For life to have vigour it must accept death (the death drive) as its symptom and Other. To reject the death drive as symptom disparages life itself (the “higher” term) to lowly death; yet another instance of the triumph of the lower term consequent upon diremption.
Variation 19: The Force and Frailty of Law
Psychoanalysis reveals the “Law’s unconscious” (Goodrich and Carlson: 1998, 3) which splits it from within rendering it weak and inconsistent. Psychoanalysis also shows that the force of Law is tied to its frailty. Common understanding denies the inconsistencies of Law in the hope of establishing an “objective” law. However, an “objective” law is
deprived of force and, in a further paradoxical twist, such an “impotent” law leads to greater subjugation. This is the university discourse with its two principle contradictions:
1) an “objective” impotent Law is more tyrannical, 2) the “free” and “equal” subject of liberal democracy is more than ever constrained by “theo-technological power, which is incontrovertible [and] speechless” (Schütz; 1998, 206). Crucial here is the demise of authority consequent upon diremption. A master who accepts his/her identity-in- difference with the slave is no longer a master but a leader. The step taken to acknowledge this dialectical unity represents the shift from master to analyst discourse. The rejection of the slave is, for the master, a repudiation of self. It is akin to a father who, in rejecting his son, denies the very heart of his own being. The parent must accept the child as his/her symptom. Only this way will the child be able to free him/herself from the position of symptom. When authority does not dirempt its extimate relation to the symptom it will dwindle neither into tyranny nor libertarianism. Here authority is modeled on the analyst discourse where the frailty/inconsistency of the law is revealed precisely and paradoxically to render it more integral.
Variation 20: Madness and Sanity
The self-reflection of madness and sanity leads each to its Other. To proudly proclaim one’s untarnished sanity is the quintessential pretence of madness. Likewise, to humbly confess one’s madness is the sign of sanity. We must first posit the identity-in-difference of madness and sanity so that we may then distinguish neurosis from psychosis. Neurosis fathoms this paradoxical identity while psychosis harbours a tendency towards diremption. The prevalent continuum hypothesis in the American psychiatric model is diremptive in this regard; this has led to the contradiction of the highest pretence to scientificity accompanied by the senseless proliferation of diagnostic categories.
Variation 21: The Diremptions of Fantasy
The fantasy of castration obfuscates the identity-in-difference of lack and phallic power. The seduction fantasy hides the fact that passivity provides the basis of activity. The primal scene fantasy hinders the subject from accepting exclusion from his/her own origin in order is to partake in social co-existence. Traversing the fantasy entails relinquishing myths of origin staging an Other that deprives, assaults and excludes. It involves recognizing there is no big Other; something which paradoxically allows for relations to otherness. The subject also acknowledges that “Woman does not exist”; this enables the symbolization of femininity. Finally, it means accepting that there is no sexual rapport; a realization central to the possibility of intimacy.
Variation 22: The Untimely-Contemporary
For Agamben, those “who are truly contemporary, who truly belong to their time … are those who [do not] adjust themselves to its demands …But precisely because of this condition … they are more capable than others of perceiving and grasping their own time” (Agamben; 2009, 40). All philosophy, insofar as it makes a claim to love and to wisdom, must hold itself at the height of the decision to walk against the grain of the times in order, paradoxically, to grasp the times more profoundly. A “thinking” that is diremptive in this regard is mere ideology and doxa.
Variation 23: Religion and Atheism
Symbolic castration is a matter of faith. One must, like Tertullian, believe in the absurdity of a law contradicted by its enunciation. One must be duped by the paternal law so that one may, in turn, kill the father (dupe him) and emerge as a subject. In the psychoses, where this mutual duping is lacking, the subject is confronted with a monstrous Other. The dimension of religiosity is targeted in psychosis; do Schreber’s memoirs not testify to the most thoroughgoing perversion of religion fathomable? Atheism proper is also abolished here insofar as true atheism and religiosity belong together. Faith and atheism involve symbolic castration. Religion and atheism without castration correspond, respectively, to fanaticism and scientistic/dogmatic materialism. The escalation of religious fanaticism and new religiosities as well as the rise of vulgar materialism (represent, according to Žižek, two sides of the same coin. The plethora of new religions on the rise in our contemporary situation attests to an ontology of juxtaposition where everything loses its specificity. Lacan rejects Nietzsche’s infamous “God is dead” as “a shelter against the threat of castration” (Lacan; 1977, 27) as well as Dostoevsky’s idea that the inexistence of God would lead to everything being permitted (Lacan; 2007). Dostoevsky fears that the loss of God targets civil society while Nietzsche sees in this loss the possibility of the overman. We have Nietzsche the atheist and Dostoevsky the theist; both miss the proper dimension of religiosity-atheism. Lacan’s “God is unconscious” (1977, 59) may provide the formula for this atheism as religiosity and, concomitantly, pave the way towards symbolic castration. Only through symbolic castration can the subject achieve the paradox by which faith in the Other (religiosity) coincides with its barring (atheism).
Variation 24: The Death of God
Hegel is the philosopher of the paradox of God: “God has died … However … God rises to life again and things are reversed.” (Hegel; 2008, 323-4). By contrast, Nietzsche is the philosopher of that which resists the dialectical process: “God remains dead.” The Hegelian-Žižekian Christianity provided the first death of God while Nietzsche’s profanation grants a necessary second death. Emancipation from theological modernity requires the convergence of speculative reason and its diremptive remain. If Hegel is, for Lacan, the sublime hysteric subject, Nietzsche is, for us, the abject psychotic hyper- subject, a surplus necessary for deliverance from the slave revolt in morality.
Variation 25: The Symptom as Human Notion
Hegel is opposed to “monochromatic” formalism that applies abstract principles from above. For Hegel, formalism is “cognition naively reduced to vacuity” (Hegel; 1979, 9). When Hegel claims that “everything turns on grasping and expressing the True, not only as Substance, but equally as Subject” (Hegel; 1979, 10), he expresses the limitation of abstract formalism. Subject is the name of that aspect of substance that will not allow substance to be all substance. This recalcitrance to abstract universality is most evident in the human being, that entity that most rigorously defies its definition. For Žižek, all nature is mad and wildly contingent (something that Darwin already knew). Infinite human spirit only represents the peak and high point of that madness; it is the point at which the semblance of order is hardest to maintain. More specifically, the symptom – the marker of discomfort par excellence – testifies to this highest madness that contests most explicitly all formalism. Freud’s discovery owes everything to the hysteric symptom’s obstinate insubordination to medicine. The symptom provides the notion of
human and signals thereby the lack of a human “nature”. Conclusion: From Via Dolorosa to Gaya Scienza
The aim of this treatise has been to free thinking from one-sidedness. The inability to apprehend contradiction consists of a denial of the subject within substance. This is tantamount to reducing all to the level of things or finite nature. The failure to grasp the contradiction in identity leads to reification of the object considered and of ourselves as perceiving subjects. We are becoming more akin to finite spirit in modernity and our self- understanding reflects this reification. Despite this advent, total reification is impossible. The universal can never be abolished and subjectivity can never be entirely lost and truth totally abolished. Such psychoanalytic and Hegelian optimism requires the courage to see the world from the standpoint of the absolute. The Hegelian, Lacanian, and Freudian topology here put forward advocates (against the rarity of Badiou’s “event”) the utopia of everyday life. Every slip of the tongue, amnesia, lapsus and dream is the index of paradoxical freedom through lost sovereignty. True freedom involves the forced choice of choosing the symptom rather than maintaining self-conceit for the sake of a false freedom, which, by virtue of the triumph of the lower term, would dwindle to servile enslavement. The rejection of the symptom leads to the paranoia of being persecuted by the symptom. Hegel beckons us to “recognize reason as the rose in the cross of the present and thereby to delight in the present, this rational which reconciles us with actuality – the reconciliation which philosophy affords to those in whom there has once arisen an inner voice bidding them to comprehend” (Hegel; 2008a, 15). Philosophy affords respite to those willing to comprehend. It allows them to recognize the symptom as the rose in the cross they must bear. Indeed, philosophy (the notion) is the symptom itself with its two faces that are one, the rose and the cross. Speculative philosophy, like the symptom, is the locus of a speculative paradox; it is at once the via dolorosa and the gaya science.