‘Descartes/Lacan’ by Alain Badiou

translated by Sigi Jöttkandt with Daniel Collins, Umbr(a): A Journal of the Unconscious: On Badiou (1996): 13—16.

[The cogito], as a moment, is the aftermath (défilé) of a rejection (rejét) of all knowledge, but it nevertheless claimed to establish for the subject a certain anchoring in being.

— Jacques Lacan, “La science et la vérite”


It can never be sufficiently emphasized that the Lacanian watchword of a return to Freud is originally coupled with an expression of Lacan’s which goes back to 1946: “the call for a return to Descartes would not be superfluous.” The means by which these two injunctions are connected is the dictum that the subject of psychoanalysis is nothing other than the subject of science. But this identity can only be grasped by attempting to think the subject in its own place. That which localizes the subject is at the same time the point at which Freud is intelligible only through the lineage of the Cartesian gesture, and where he subverts, through de-localization, the pure coincidence of the subject with itself, its reflexive transparency.

What renders the cogito irrefutable is the form which one can give to it where the where insists: “Cogito ergo sum,” ubi cogito, ibi sum. The point of the subject is that there where it thinks that thinking it must be, it is. The connection of being and place founds the radical existence of enounciation as subject.

Lacan exposes the chicanery of place in the disorientating utterances of the subject that supposes that “I am not, there where I am the plaything of my thought: I think of what I am where I do not think to think.” The unconscious designates that “it thinks” there where I am not, but where I must come to be. Thus the subject finds itself decentered [excentré”] from the place of transparency where it announces its being, without failing to read in this a complete rupture with Descartes, which Lacan indicates by saying that the subject does not “misrecognize” that the conscious certainty of existence – the home of the cogito – is not immanent but transcendent. “Transcendent” because the subject can only coincide with the line of identification that proposes this certainty to it. More precisely, the subject is the refuse of this certainty.

There, in truth, is the whole question. Cutting quickly through what this implies as to the common ground between Lacan, Descartes, and what I propose here, which ultimately concerns the status of truth as a generic hole in knowledge, I will say that the debate rests upon the localization of the void.

What still links Lacan (but that “still” is the modern perpetuation of sense) to the Cartesian epoch of science is the thought that it is necessary to hold the subject in the pure void of its subtraction if one wishes that truth be saved. Only such a subject lets itself be sutured in the logical, integrally transmissible form of science.

Yes or no – is the empty set the proper name of being as such? Or must we believe that this term more appropriately applies to the subject – as if its purification from all substance that one could know should deliver the truth (which speaks) through de-centering the null point in eclipse in the interval of the multiple that, under the name of “signifiers,” guarantees material presence?

The choice here is between a structural recurrence, which thinks the subject-effect as the empty set, so exposed in he uniform network of experience, and a hypothesis of the rarity of the subject, which defers its occurrance to the event, to the intervention, and to the generic paths of fidelity, referring back and founding the void on the function of the suturing of being for which mathematics exclusively commands knowledge.

In neither case is the subject substance or consciousness. But the first road conserves the Cartesian gesture, its decentered dependence with regard to language. I have proof of this, since Lacan, in writing that “thought only grounds being by knotting itself in speech where every operation goes right to the essence of language,” maintains the design of ontological foundation that Descartes encounters in the transparency, both void and absolutely certain, of the cogito. Certainly, he organizes the turnings very differently, since the void for him is delocalized, no pure reflection can give us access there. But the intrusion of the outside term – language – does not suffice to reverse this order which implies that it is necessary from the point of the subject to enter into the examination of truth as cause.

I maintain that it is not truth which causes the suffering from false plenitude when the subject is overcome by anxiety (“does or doesn’t what you [analysts] do imply that the truth of neurotic suffering lies in having the truth as cause?”). A truth is that indiscernible multiple a subject supports the finite approximation of. In result, its ideality to come (the nameless correlate of the name an event would have if it could be named) is the truth from which one may legitimately designate a subject – that random figure which, without the indiscernible, would only be an incoherent continuation of encyclopedic determinations.

If one would point to a cause of the subject, it is less necessary to return to the truth, which is above all the stuff of the subject, or to the infinite, for which the subject is the finite, as to the event. Consequently, the void is no longer the eclipse of the subject, being in relation to Being such that it has been summoned up by the event as the errancy in the situation by sin intervening nomination.

By a sort of inversion of these categories, I will arrange the subject in relation to the ultra-one (l’ultra-un), even though it would itself be the trajectory of multiples (the inquiries), the void in relation to being, and truth in relation to the indiscernible.

Besides, what is at stake here is not so much the subject – save to free that which still, by the supposition of its structural permanence, makes Lacan a founder among those who echo the previous epoch. Rather, it is the opening on a history of truth finely totally disjointed from what Lacan, with genius, called exactitude, or adequation, but what his gesture, too welded to a single language, allowed to survive as the reverse of truth.

A truth, if one thinks of it as being only one generic part of the situation, is the source of the veridical from the moment that the subject forces an undecidable into the future anterior. But if the veridical touches language (in the most general sense of the term), truth only exists there as undifferentiated; its procedure is generic insofar as it avoids the entire encyclopedic hold of judgments.

The essential character of names, the names of the language-subject, attaches itself to the subjective capacity of anticipation, by forcing (forçage) that which will have been veridical from the point of a supposed truth. But names only create the appearance of the thing in ontology, where it is true that a generic extension results from the placing-into-being of the entire system of names. However, even there, it is just a matter of simple appearance. For the reference of a name depends upon the generic part which is implicated in the particularity of the extension. The name only founds its reference under the hypothesis that the indiscernible will have been already completely described by the set of conditions that, in other respects, it is. In its nominal capacity, a subject is under the condition of one indiscernible, thus of one generic procedure, thus of one fidelity, of one intervention and ultimately of one event.

What is lacking in Lacan – even though this lack would only be legible to us having first of all read in his texts that which, far from lacking, founded the possibility of a modern regime of the true – is the radical suspension of truth in the supplementation of a Being-in-situation by an event, separator of the void.

The “there is” (il y a) of a subject is, by the ideal occurrence of a truth, the coming-to-be of the event in its finite modalities. Moreover, we always have to understand that there was no “il y a” of the subject, that this “il y a” is no more. What Lacan owes to Descartes, the debt whose account must be closed, is the assumption that “il y a” was always there.

When the Chicago Americans shamelessly utilized Freud to substitute the re-educative methods of a “consolidation of the ego” for the truth from which a subject proceeds, it was with just cause, and for the salvation of all, that Lacan opened against them this merciless war that his true students and heirs have continued to prosecute. But they have been wrong to believe that -things remaining as they are – they could win.

Because it was not a matter of an error or of an ideological perversion. It is obviously what one could believe, if one supposed that there were an “always” of the truth and of the subject. More seriously, the people in Chicago acknowledged in their own fashion what the truth withdraws from and, with that, the subject which authorizes it. They are situated in a historical and geographical space where fidelity to the events – of which Freud or Lenin or Cantor or Malevich or Schoenberg are the operators – is no longer practicable apart from the ineffective forms of dogmatism or orthodoxy. Nothing generic could ever be imagined in this space.

Lacan thought that he redressed the Freudian doctrine of the subject, but in fact, new-comer to the Viennese shores, he has reproduced an operator of fidelity postulating the horizon of an indiscernible, and we are persuaded again that there is, in this uncertain world, a subject.

If we now examine what is still allowed us in philosophical traffic in the modern dispensation, and consequently what our tasks are, we can make a table like this:

a. It is possible to reinterrogate the entire history of philosophy since its Greek origin under the hypothesis of a mathematical ordering of the ontological question. One will thus see taking shape at the same time a continuity and a periodization very different from that deployed by Heidegger. In particular, the genealogy of the doctrine of truth will lead us to pinpoint, by singular interpretations, how the unnamed categories of the “event” and of the “indiscernible” work throughout the text of metaphysics. I believe I have given several examples of this.

b. A close analysis of the procedures of logico-mathematics since Cantor and Frege will make it possible to think what this intellectual revolution (a blind return of ontology onto its own essence) conditions in contemporary rationality. This work will make it possible to undo, on its own ground, the monopoly of Anglo-Saxon positivism.

c. As regards the doctrine of the subject, this particular examination of each of the generic procedures will open up to an aesthetics, to a theory of science, to a political philosophy, and finally to the mysteries of love, to a non-fusional conjuncture with psychoanalysis. All of modern art, all of the uncertainties of science, all of the militant tasks still prescribed by a ruined Marxism and finally, all of that designated by the name of Lacan will be re-encountered, reworked, gone through, by a philosophy brought up to date through clarified categories.

And we will be able to say in this voyage, at least if we have not lost the memory of that which the event alone authorizes, that Being – that which is called Being – founds the finite place of a subject who decides: “Nothingness gone, the castle of purity remains.”

‘A Brief Introduction To Psychoanalytic Theory’ by Stephen Frosh

Published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.

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Psychoanalytic theory remains hugely influential to our understanding of the mind and human behaviour. It provides a rich source of ideas for therapeutic practice, while offering dramatic insights for the study of culture and society. This comprehensive review of the field:

  • Explores the birth of psychoanalysis, taking the reader step by step through Freud’s original ideas and how they developed and evolved.
  • Provides a clear account of fundamental psychoanalytic concepts.
  • Discusses the different schools of psychoanalysis that have emerged since Freud.
  • Illustrates the wider applications of psychoanalytic ideas across film, literature and politics.

Written by a highly respected authority on psychoanalysis, this book is essential reading for trainees in counselling and psychotherapy, as well as for students across the arts, humanities and social sciences.

‘Memoirs of My Nervous Illness’ by Daniel Paul Schreber

Published in 2000 by NYRB Classics.

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In 1884, the distinguished German jurist Daniel Paul Schreber suffered the first of a series of mental collapses that would afflict him for the rest of his life. In his madness, the world was revealed to him as an enormous architecture of nerves, dominated by a predatory God. It became clear to Schreber that his personal crisis was implicated in what he called a “crisis in God’s realm,” one that had transformed the rest of humanity into a race of fantasms. There was only one remedy; as his doctor noted: Schreber “considered himself chosen to redeem the world, and to restore to it the lost state of Blessedness. This, however, he could only do by first being transformed from a man into a woman….”


The wonderful Schreber…ought to have been made a professor of psychiatry and director of a mental hospital.

— Sigmund Freud

‘My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber’s Secret History of Modernity’ by Eric L. Santner

Published by Princeton University Press in 1996.

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In November 1893, Daniel Paul Schreber, recently named presiding judge of the Saxon Supreme Court, was on the verge of a psychotic breakdown and entered a Leipzig psychiatric clinic. He would spend the rest of the nineteenth century in mental institutions. Once released, he published his Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (1903), a harrowing account of real and delusional persecution, political intrigue, and states of sexual ecstasy as God’s private concubine. Freud’s famous case study of Schreber elevated the Memoirs into the most important psychiatric textbook of paranoia. In light of Eric Santner’s analysis, Schreber’s text becomes legible as a sort of “nerve bible” of fin-de-siècle preoccupations and obsessions, an archive of the very phantasms that would, after the traumas of war, revolution, and the end of empire, coalesce into the core elements of National Socialist ideology.

The crucial theoretical notion that allows Santner to pass from the “private” domain of psychotic disturbances to the “public” domain of the ideological and political genesis of Nazism is the “crisis of investiture.” Schreber’s breakdown was precipitated by a malfunction in the rites and procedures through which an individual is endowed with a new social status: his condition became acute just as he was named to a position of ultimate symbolic authority. The Memoirs suggest that we cross the threshold of modernity into a pervasive atmosphere of crisis and uncertainty when acts of symbolic investiture no longer usefully transform the subject’s self understanding. At such a juncture, the performative force of these rites of institution may assume the shape of a demonic persecutor, some “other” who threatens our borders and our treasures. Challenging other political readings of Schreber, Santner denies that Schreber’s delusional system—his own private Germany—actually prefigured the totalitarian solution to this defining structural crisis of modernity. Instead, Santner shows how this tragic figure succeeded in avoiding the totalitarian temptation by way of his own series of perverse identifications, above all with women and Jews.


Eric L. Santner is the Harriet and Ulrich E. Meyer Professor of Modern European Jewish History at the University of Chicago, where he teaches in the Department of Germanic Studies. He is the author of Stranded Objects: Mourning, Memory, and Film in Postwar Germany.

Reading Capital: The Complete Edition


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Thirty years ago today marks the death of the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser (1918–1990).

Originally published in 1965, Reading Capital is a landmark of French thought and radical theory, reconstructing Western Marxism from its foundations. Althusser maintained that Marx’s project could only be revived if its scientific and revolutionary novelty was thoroughly divested of all traces of humanism, idealism, Hegelianism and historicism. In order to complete this critical rereading, Althusser and his students at the École normale supérieure ran a seminar on Capital, re-examining its arguments, strengths and weaknesses in detail, and it was out of those discussions that this book was born.

Žižek’s Jokes


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For decades, a classic joke has been circulating among Lacanians to exemplify the key role of the Other’s knowledge: a man who believes himself to be a grain of seed, afraid that a chicken will eat him, is taken to a mental institution where the doctors do their best to convince him that he is not a grain of seed but a man; however, when he is cured (convinced that he is not a grain of seed, but a man) and allowed to leave the hospital, he immediately comes back, trembling and very scared—there is a chicken outside the door, and he is afraid it will eat him. “My dear fellow,” says his doctor, “you know very well that you are not a grain of seed, but a man.” “Of course I know,” replies the patient, “but does the chicken know it?”

Therein resides the true stake of psychoanalytic treatment: it is not enough to convince the patient about the unconscious truth of his symptoms; the unconscious itself must be brought to assume this truth. The same holds true for the Marxian theory of commodity fetishism: we can imagine a bourgeois subject attending a Marxism course where he is taught about commodity fetishism. After the course, he comes back to his teacher, complaining that he is still the victim of commodity fetishism. The teacher tells him “But you know now how things stand, that commodities are only expressions of social relations, that there is nothing magic about them!” to which the pupil replies: “Of course I know all that, but the commodities I am dealing with seem not to know it!” This is what Lacan aimed at in his claim that the true formula of materialism is not “God doesn’t exist,” but “God is unconscious.”


Žižek as comedian: jokes in the service of philosophy. “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.”—Ludwig Wittgenstein

The good news is that this book offers an entertaining but enlightening compilation of Žižekisms. Unlike any other book by Slavoj Žižek, this compact arrangement of jokes culled from his writings provides an index to certain philosophical, political, and sexual themes that preoccupy him. Žižek’s Jokes contains the set-ups and punch lines—as well as the offenses and insults—that Žižek is famous for, all in less than 200 pages.

So what’s the bad news? There is no bad news. There’s just the inimitable Slavoj Žižek, disguised as an impossibly erudite, politically incorrect uncle, beginning a sentence, “There is an old Jewish joke, loved by Derrida…“ For Žižek, jokes are amusing stories that offer a shortcut to philosophical insight. He illustrates the logic of the Hegelian triad, for example, with three variations of the “Not tonight, dear, I have a headache” classic: first the wife claims a migraine; then the husband does; then the wife exclaims, “Darling, I have a terrible migraine, so let’s have some sex to refresh me!” A punch line about a beer bottle provides a Lacanian lesson about one signifier. And a “truly obscene” version of the famous “aristocrats” joke has the family offering a short course in Hegelian thought rather than a display of unspeakables.

Žižek’s Jokes contains every joke cited, paraphrased, or narrated in Žižek’s work in English (including some in unpublished manuscripts), including different versions of the same joke that make different points in different contexts. The larger point being that comedy is central to Žižek’s seriousness.

‘Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation’ by Paul Ricœur


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Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation (French: De l’interprétation. Essai sur Sigmund Freud) is a 1965 book about Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, by the French philosopher Paul Ricœur. In Freud and Philosophy, Ricœur interprets Freud’s work in terms of hermeneutics, the theory of the rules that govern the interpretation of a particular text, and discusses phenomenology, a school of philosophy founded by Edmund Husserl. He addresses questions such as the nature of interpretation in psychoanalysis, the understanding of human nature to which it leads, and the relationship between Freud’s interpretation of culture and other interpretations. The book was first published in France by Éditions du Seuil, and in the United States by Yale University Press.

Ricœur explores what he considers a tension in Freud’s work between an emphasis on “energetics”, which explains psychological phenomena in terms of quantities of energy, and an emphasis on hermeneutics. He compares Freud to the philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche, describing the trio as a “school of suspicion”, and explores similarities and differences between psychoanalysis and phenomenology. He also compares Freud’s ideas to those of the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, criticizes Freud’s views on religion, discusses language, and further develops ideas about symbols explored in his earlier work The Symbolism of Evil (1960). In response to criticism of the scientific status of psychoanalysis by philosophers such as Ernest Nagel, Ricœur argues that psychoanalysis should be understood not as an observational science, but as an “interpretation” that resembles history rather than psychology. He criticizes psychoanalysts for failing to adopt this as their response to arguments that psychoanalysis is unscientific.

Commentators have praised Ricœur’s discussion of Freud’s theories, his exploration of usually neglected aspects of Freud’s work, his comparison of Freud to Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, and his discussion of phenomenology. However, Freud and Philosophy became controversial. While the work was well received in France, it was also criticized there because phenomenology had become unfashionable by the time it was published. The work angered the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who accused Ricœur of borrowing his ideas without attribution; although scholars have rejected the accusation, Lacan’s followers attacked Ricœur.

Freud and Philosophy received positive reviews upon the publication of its English translation in 1970. The book was described as one of the most important discussions of psychoanalysis and Ricœur was praised for his discussion of symbols. He was also credited with convincingly criticizing Freud’s views on both symbols and religion generally.


“Paul Ricœuer…has done a study that is all too rare these days, in which one intellect comes to grips with another, in which a scholar devotes himself to a thoughtful, searching, and comprehensive study of a genius…The final result is a unique survey of the panorama of Freudian thought by an observer who, although starting from outside, succeeds in penetrating to its core.” –American Journal of Psychiatry

“Primarily an inquiry into the foundations of language and hermeneutics…[Ricœur uses] the Freudian ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ as a corrective and counter-balance for phenomenology and create a ‘new phenomenology’…This important work…should have an impact upon serious thinking in philosophy, theology, psychology, and other areas which have been affected by Freud studies.”—International Philosophical Quarterly

“A stimulating tour de force that allows us to envisage both the psychoanalytic body of knowledge and the psychoanalytic movement in a broad perspective within the framework of its links to culture, history and the evolution of Western intellectual thought.” – Psychoanalytic Quarterly 


Paul Ricœur (1913–2005) was a distinguished French philosopher of the twentieth century, one whose work has been widely translated and discussed across the world. In addition to his academic work, his public presence as a social and political commentator, particularly in France, led to a square in Paris being named in his honor on the centenary of his birth in 2013. In the course of his long career he wrote on a broad range of issues. In addition to his many books, Ricœur published more than 500 essays, many of which appear in collections in English. The Ricœur Archive in Paris has made many of those originally published in French available online through its website.

‘The Ordeal of Civility : Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss & the Jewish Struggle with Modernity’ by John Murray Cuddihy

Published by Beacon Press in 1987.

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Suggests that the analytical ideologies developed by Freud, Marx, and Levi-Strauss were direct rebellions against the culture and demands of a Gentile-dominated Europe.

National Book Award finalist (Philosophy), 1975.

Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic Thought

Published by Basic Books in 1996.

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Freud’s concepts have become a part of our psychological vocabulary: unconscious thoughts and feelings, conflict, the meaning of dreams, the sensuality of childhood. But psychoanalytic thinking has undergone an enormous expansion and transformation over the past fifty years. With Freud and Beyond, Stephen A. Mitchell and Margaret J. Black make contemporary psychoanalytic thinking—the body of work that has been done since Freud—available for the first time. Richly illustrated with case examples, this lively, jargon-free introduction makes modern psychoanalytic thought accessible at last.

‘Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain’ by Antonio Damasio


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Joy, sorrow, jealousy, and awe—these and other feelings are the stuff of our daily lives. In the seventeenth century, the philosopher Spinoza devoted much of his life’s work examining how these emotions supported human survival, yet hundreds of years later the biological roots of what we feel remain a mystery. Leading neuroscientist Antonio Damasio—whose earlier books explore rational behavior and the notion of the self—rediscovers a man whose work ran counter to all the thinking of his day, pairing Spinoza’s insights with his own innovative scientific research to help us understand what we’re made of, and what we’re here for.