‘The Wagnerian Sublime: Four Lacanian Readings of Classic Operas’ by Slavoj Žižek

Published by August Verlag in 2016. Download link updated on 23. June 2021.

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In four compelling essays on classic opera, Slavoj Žižek examines how certain structural motifs repeatedly dominate the narratives by putting desire, as pure and captivating as possible, into music and on stage. Wagner’s heroes, for instance, suffer from unbearable longing (Parsifal), an excessive yearning for the absolute (The Flying Dutchman), a deadly surplus of pure love (Tristan and Isolde). But why is desire’s satisfaction fenced off through pain and failure? Why is the unification with the loved one indefinitely postponed? While the impossibility of the sexual relation and postponed fulfillment are crucial moments in Wagner’s dramatic art, Žižek detects similar motifs, along with structures of libidinal antagonism, in the operas of Léo Janacek, Peter Tchaikovsky, and Arnold Schoenberg.


Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian Marxist philosopher, psychoanalyst and cultural critic. He is a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in London. Together with Dominik Finkelde, he is editor of the series “Lacanian Explorations” published by August Verlag.

‘Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty: A New Sophism’ by Jacques Lacan

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory, 1931

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A famous paper by Jacques Lacan from the 1940’s as published in his Écrits, dealing with the logical puzzle of three prisoners upon which he develops the three modalities of logical time.

‘Infancy and History: The Destruction of Experience’ by Giorgio Agamben

Published by Verso in 2007 (first published 1978)

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How and why did experience and knowledge become separated? Is it possible to talk of an infancy of experience, a “dumb” experience? For Walter Benjamin, the “poverty of experience” was a characteristic of modernity, originating in the catastrophe of the First World War. For Giorgio Agamben, the Italian editor of Benjamin’s complete works, the destruction of experience no longer needs catastrophes: daily life in any modern city will suffice.

Agamben’s profound and radical exploration of language, infancy, and everyday life traces concepts of experience through Kant, Hegel, Husserl and Benveniste. In doing so he elaborates a theory of infancy that throws new light on a number of major themes in contemporary thought: the anthropological opposition between nature and culture; the linguistic opposition between speech and language; the birth of the subject and the appearance of the unconscious. Agamben goes on to consider time and history; the Marxist notion of base and superstructure (via a careful reading of the famous Adorno–Benjamin correspondence on Baudelaire’s Paris); and the difference between rituals and games.

Beautifully written, erudite and provocative, these essays will be of great interest to students of philosophy, linguistics, anthropology and politics.

‘Lectures on the Philosophy of World History’ by Georg W. F. Hegel

Download link updated on 22. June 2021.

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(includes different translations)


Lectures on the Philosophy of History, also translated as Lectures on the Philosophy of World History (LPH; German: Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der WeltgeschichteVPW), is a major work by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), originally given as lectures at the University of Berlin in 1822, 1828, and 1830. It presents world history in terms of the Hegelian philosophy in order to show that history follows the dictates of reason and that the natural progress of history is due to the outworking of absolute spirit.

The text was originally published in 1837 by the editor Eduard Gans, six years after Hegel’s death, utilizing Hegel’s own lecture notes as well as those found that were written by his students. A second German edition was compiled by Hegel’s son, Karl, in 1840. A third German edition, edited by Georg Lasson, was published in 1917.

‘Life with Lacan’ by Catherine Millot

Published by Polity in 2018.

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‘There was a time when I felt that I had grasped Lacan’s essential being from within – that I had gained, as it were, an apperception of his relation to the world, a mysterious access to that intimate place from which sprang his relation to people and things, and even to himself. It was as if I had slipped within him.’

In this short book, Catherine Millot offers a richly evocative reflection on her life as analysand and lover of the greatest psychoanalyst since Freud. From time in Paris to his country house in Guitrancourt, Millot provides unparalleled insight into Lacan’s character as well as his encounters with other major European thinkers of the time. She also sheds new light on key themes, including Lacan’s obsession with the Borromean knot and gradual descent into silence, all enlivened by her unique perspective.

This beautifully written memoir, awarded the Prix de littérature André-Gide, will be of interest to anyone wishing to understand the life and character of a thinker who continues to exert a wide influence in psychoanalysis and across the humanities and social sciences.

‘Lacan and the Limits of Language’ by Charles Shepherdson

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This book weaves together three themes at the intersection of Jacques Lacan and the philosophical tradition. The first is the question of time and memory. How do these problems call for a revision of Lacan’s purported “ahistoricism,” and how does the temporality of the subject in Lacan intersect with the questions of temporality initiated by Heidegger and then developed by contemporary French philosophy? The second question concerns the status of the body in Lacanian theory, especially in connection with emotion and affect, which Lacanian theory is commonly thought to ignore, but which the concept of jouissance was developed to address. Finally, it aims to explore, beyond the strict limits of Lacanian theory, possible points of intersection between psychoanalysis and other domains, including questions of race, biology, and evolutionary theory.

By stressing the question of affect, the book shows how Lacan’s position cannot be reduced to the structuralist models he nevertheless draws upon, and thus how the problem of the body may be understood as a formation that marks the limits of language. Exploring the anthropological category of “race” within a broadly evolutionary perspective, it shows how Lacan’s elaboration of the “imaginary” and the “symbolic” might allow us to explain human physiological diversity without reducing it to a cultural or linguistic construction or allowing “race” to remain as a traditional biological category. Here again the questions of history and temporality are paramount, and open the possibility for a genuine dialogue between psychoanalysis and biology.

Finally, the book engages literary texts. Antigone, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Hamlet, and even Wordsworth become the muses who oblige psychoanalysis and philosophy to listen once again to the provocations of poetry, which always disrupts our familiar notions of time and memory, of history and bodily or affective experience, and of subjectivity itself.

‘From Desire to Drive: Why Lacan was not Lacanian’ by Slavoj Žižek

1

The predominant reading of Jacques Lacan reduces him to a kind of “philosopher of language” who emphasized the price the subject has to pay in order to gain access to the symbolic order – all the false poetry of “castration,” of some primordial act of sacrifice and renunciation, of jouissance as impossible; the notion that, at the end of the psychoanalytic cure, the analysand has to assume symbolic castration, to accept a fundamental, constitutive loss or lack; etc. To such an approach, one has to oppose its obverse, which is usually passed over in silence: the trouble with jouissance is not that it is unattainable, that it always eludes our grasp, but rather that one can never get rid of it, that its stain forever drags along – therein resides the point of Lacan’s concept of surplus-enjoyment: the very renunciation to jouissance brings about a remainder/surplus of jouissance. This surplus-enjoyment complicates the problem of responsibility. The subject can exonerate himself of responsibility with regard to the symbolic network of tradition which overdetermines his speech; he is justified in claiming that “I am not the true author of my statements, since I merely repeat the performative patterns I grew into – it is the big Other which effectively speaks through me” (say, the author of a racist injury can always evoke the network of historical sedimentations in which his speech act is embedded). However, the subject is fully responsible for the little bit of enjoyment he finds in his aggressive racist outburst.

This predominant reading of Lacan is not a simple misreading, external to what Lacan effectively accomplished: there certainly is an entire stratum of Lacanian theory which corresponds to this reading; the easiest way to isolate this stratum is to focus on the shifts in Lacan’s formulas of the conclusion of the psychoanalytic cure. Crucial here is the shift from subjectivization to subjective destitution. Insofar as the status of the subject as such involves a certain guilt and/or indebtedness – the philosophical topos from Kierkegaard to Heidegger readily accepted by the Lacan of the ’50s – the gesture of “subjectivization” at the conclusion of the cure means that the subject has to fully assume his constitutive guilt and/or debt, which is obfuscated in his “inauthentic” everyday existence; inversely, “subjective destitution” at the conclusion of the cure means that the subject has to do away with his guilt and/or debt. We thus arrive at two opposed readings of Freud’s wo es war, soll ich werden. “Subjectivization” qua the assuming of guilt implies that the analysand “subjectivizes,” fully assumes, “internalizes,” his contingent fate, i.e. it points towards a tragic/heroic gesture of amor fati, whose exemplary case in literature is provided by Oedipus: although Oedipus was not guilty of his crime – his acts were predetermined by the contingency of fate well before his birth – he nonetheless heroically assumed full responsibility for his horrible deeds, i.e. he took upon himself his fate, “internalized” it and lived it to its bitter end…. “Subjectivization” thus consists in the purely formal gesture of symbolic conversion, by means of which the subject integrates into his symbolic universe – turns into part and parcel of his life-narrative, provides with meaning – the meaningless contingency of his destiny. In clear contrast to “subjectivization,” “subjective destitution” involves the opposite gesture: at the end of the psychoanalytic cure, the analysand has to suspend the urge to symbolize/internalize, to inerpret, to search for a “deeper meaning;” he has to accept that the traumatic encounters which traced out the itinerary of his life were utterly contingent and indifferent, that they bear no “deeper message.”

What, then, are the basic contours of this false (mis)reading of Lacan? The moment we enter the symbolic order, the immediacy of the pre-symbolic Real is lost forever, the true object of desire (“mother”) becomes impossible-unattainable. Every positive object we encounter in reality is already a substitute for this lost original, the incestuous Ding rendered inaccessible by the very fact of language – therein resides “symbolic castration.” The very existence of man qua being-of-language thus stands under the sign of an irreducible and constitutive lack: we are submerged in the universe of signs which forever prevents us from attaining the Thing; the so-called “external reality” itself is already “structured like a language,” i.e. its meaning is always-already overdetermined by the symbolic framework which structures our perception of reality. The symbolic agency of the paternal prohibition (the “Name of the Father”) merely personifies, gives body to, the impossibility which is co-substantial with the very fact of the symbolic order – “jouissance is forbidden to him who speaks as such.”

This gap that forever separates the lost Thing from symbolic semblances which are never “that,” defines the contours of the ethics of desire: “do not give way as to your desire” can only mean “do not put up with any of the substitutes of the Thing, keep open the gap of desire.” The homology with Kant’s philosophy is crucial here: in Kant, one has to avoid two traps, not only the simple utilitarian-pragmatic limitation of our interest to the object of phenomenal experience, but also the obscurantist Schwaermerei, i.e. the dream of a direct contact with the Thing beyond phenomenal reality; in a homologous way, the ethics of pure desire compels us to avoid not only debilitating contentment with the pleasures provided by the objects of phenomenal reality, but also the danger of yielding to fascination with the Thing and of being drawn into its lethal vortex, which can only end in psychosis or suicidal passage a l’acte. In our everyday lives, we constantly fall prey to imaginary lures which promise the healing of the original/constitutive wound of symbolization, from Woman with whom full sexual relationship will be possible to the totalitarian political ideal of a fully realized community. In contrast, the fundamental maxim of the ethics of desire is simply desire as such: one has to maintain desire in its dissatisfaction. What we have here is a kind of heroism of the lack: the aim of psychoanalytic cure is to induce the subject to heroically assume his constitutive lack, to endure the splitting which propels desire. A productive way out of this deadlock is provided by the possibility of sublimation: when one picks out an empirical, positive, object and “elevates it to the dignity of the Thing,” i.e. turns it into a kind of stand-in for the impossible Thing, one thereby remains faithful to one’s desire, without getting drawn into the deadly vortex of the Thing…

This reading of Lacan also involves a precise political attitude. The field of the political is characterized by the radically ambiguous relationship of the subjects towards the public Thing (res publica), the kernel of the Real around which the life of a community turns. The subject, qua member of a community, is split not only between his “pathological” urges and his relationship to the Thing; his relationship to the Thing is also split: on the one hand, the law of desire orders us to neglect our pathological interests and to follow our Thing; on the other hand, an even higher law (Baas writes it with a capital L) enjoins us to maintain a minimum of distance towards our Thing, i.e. to bear in mind, apropos of every political action which purports to realize our Cause, that “this is not that /ce n’est pas ca.” The Thing can only appear in its retreat, as the obscure Ground which motivates our activity, but which dissipates in the moment that we endeavor to grasp it in its positive ontological consistency: if we neglect this Law, sooner or later we get caught in the “totalitarian” self-destructive vicious cycle…. What lurks in the background, of course, is the Kantian distinction between the constitutive and the regulative aspect: the Thing (freedom, for example) has to remain a regulative ideal – any attempt at its full realization can only lead to the most terrifying tyranny. (It is easy to discern here, the contours of Kant’s criticism of the perversion of the French Revolution in the revolutionary terror of the Jacobins.) And how can we avoid recognizing reference to the contemporary political landscape here, with its two extremes of unprincipled liberal pragmatism and fundamentalist fanaticism?

In a first approach, this reading of Lacan cannot but appear convincing, almost a matter of course – yet it is the very ease of this translation of Lacanian concepts into the modern structuralist and/or existentialist philosophemes of constitutive lack, etc., which should render it suspect. To put it somewhat bluntly, we are dealing here with an “idealist” distortion of Lacan; to this “idealist” problematic of desire, its constitutive lack, etc., one has to oppose the “materialist” problematic of the Real of drives. That is to say, for Lacan, the “Real” is not, in the Kantian mode, a purely negative category, a designation of a limit without any specification of what lies beyond: the Real qua drive is, on the contrary, the agens, the “driving force,” of desiring. In short, Lacan’s point here is that the passage from the radically “impossible” Real (the maternal Thing-Body which can be apprehended only in a negative way) to the reign of the symbolic Law, to desire which is regulated by Law, sustained by the fundamental Prohibition, is not direct: something happens between the “pure,” “pre-human” nature and the order of symbolic exchanges, and this “something” is precisely the Real of drives – no longer the “closed circuit” of instincts and of their innate rhythm of satisfaction (drives are already “derailed nature”), but not yet the symbolic desire sustained by Prohibition. The Lacanian Thing is not simply the “impossible” Real which withdraws into the dim recesses of the Unattainable with the entry of the symbolic order; it is the very universe of drives.

2

Against this standard (mis)reading of Lacan, the first thing one should do is to focus on the paradoxical achievement of Lacan, which usually passes unnoticed even amongst his advocates: that is, on the very behalf of psychoanalysis, Lacan returns a “decontextualized” rationalist notion of the subject to the Modern Age. That is to say, one of the commonplaces of today’s American appropriation of Heidegger is to emphasize how he, along with Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, and others, elaborated the conceptual framework which enables us to get rid of the rationalist notion of the subject as an autonomous agent who, excluded from the world, in a computer-like way processes data provided by the senses. Heidegger’s notion of “being-in-the-world” points towards our irreducible and unsurpassable “embeddedness” in a concrete and ultimately contingent life-world: we are always-already in the world, engaged in an existential project within a background which eludes our grasp and forever remains the opaque horizon into which we are “thrown” as finite beings. And it is customary to interpret the opposition between consciousness and the unconscious along the same lines: the disembodied Ego stands for rational consciousness, whereas the “unconscious” is synonymous with the opaque background which we cannot ever fully master, since we are always-already part of it, caught in it…. Lacan, however, in an unheard-of gesture, claims the exact opposite: the Freudian “unconscious” has nothing whatsoever do to with the structurally necessary and irreducible opaqueness of the background, of the life-context in which we, the always-already engaged agents, are embedded; the “unconscious” is, rather, the disembodied rational machine which follows its path irrespective of the demands of the subject’s life-world. It stands for the rational subject insofar as it is originally “out of joint,” in discord with its contextualized situation: the “unconscious” is the crack on account of which the subject’s primordial stance is not that of “being-in-the-world.” This way, one can also provide a new, unexpected solution to the old phenomenological problem of how it is possible for the subject to disengage itself from its concrete life-world and (mis)perceive itself as a disembodied rational agent: this disengagement can only occur because there is – from the very outset – something in the subject which resists its full inclusion into its life-world context, and this “something,” of course, is the unconscious, as the psychic machine which disregards the requirements of the “reality-principle.”

One of the names for this disengagement is “madness,” and we know that the prospect of madness haunts the entirety of modern philosophy from Descartes onwards. When Hegel defines madness as withdrawal from the actual world, the closing of the soul into itself, its “contraction,” the cutting-off of its links with external reality, he all too quickly conceives this withdrawal as a “regression” to the level of the “animal soul” still embedded in its natural environs and determined by the rhythm of nature (night and day, etc.). Does this withdrawal, on the contrary, not designate the severing of the links with the Umwelt, the end of the subject’s immersion into its immediate natural surroundings, and is it, as such, not the founding gesture of “humanization”? Was this withdrawal-into-self not accomplished by Descartes in his universal doubt and reduction to cogito, which, as Derrida points out in his “Cogito and the history of madness,”[1] also involves a passage through the moment of radical madness? Are we thus not back at the well-known passage from Jenaer Realphilosophie, where Hegel characterizes the experience of pure Self qua “abstract negativity,” the “eclipse of (constituted) reality,” the contraction-into-self of the subject, as the “night of the world:”

“The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity – an unending wealth of many representations, images, of which none belongs to him – or which are not present. This night, the inner of nature, that exists here – pure self – in phantasmagorical representations, is night all around it, in which here shoots a bloody head – there another white ghastly apparition, suddenly here before it, and just so disappears. One catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye – into a night that becomes awful” [2].

And the symbolic order, the universe of the Word, logos, can only emerge from the experience of this abyss. As Hegel puts it, this inwardness of the pure self “must enter also into existence, become an object, oppose itself to this innerness to be external; return to being. This is language as name-giving power…. Through the name the object as individual entity is born out of the I.” [3] – What we must be careful not to miss here is how Hegel’s break with the Enlightenment tradition can be discerned in the reversal of the very metaphor for the subject: the subject is no longer the Light of Reason opposed to the non-transparent, impenetrable Stuff (of Nature, Tradition…); his very kernel, the gesture which opens up the space for the Light of Logos, is absolute negativity qua “night of the world,” the point of utter madness in which fantasmatic apparitions of “partial objects” err all around. Consequently, there is no subjectivity without this gesture of withdrawal; which is why Hegel is fully justified in inverting the standard question of how the fall-regression into madness is possible: the true question is, rather, how the subject is able to climb out of madness and to reach “normalcy.” That is to say, the withdrawal-into-self, the cutting-off of the links to the Umwelt, is followed by the construction of a symbolic universe which the subject projects onto reality as a kind of substitute-formation destined to recompense us for the loss of the immediate, pre-symbolic real. However, as Freud himself asserted apropos of Schreber, is not the manufacturing of a substitute-formation that recompenses the subject for the loss of reality the most succinct definition of paranoiac construction as an attempt to cure the subject of the disintegration of his universe? In short, the ontological necessity of “madness” resides in the fact that it is not possible to pass directly from the purely “animal soul” immersed in its natural life-world to “normal” subjectivity dwelling in its symbolic universe: the “vanishing mediator” between the two is the “mad” gesture of radical withdrawal from reality which opens up the space for its symbolic (re)constitution. It was Hegel, already, who emphasized the radical ambiguity of the statement “What I think, the product of my thought, is objectively true” – this statement is a speculative proposition that simultaneously renders the “lowest,” the erratic attitude of the madman caught in his self-enclosed universe, unable to relate to reality, and the “highest,” the truth of speculative idealism, the identity of thought and being. If, therefore, in this precise sense, as Lacan put it, normalcy itself is a mode, a sub-species of psychosis, i.e. if the difference between “normalcy” and madness is inherent to madness, in what does the difference between the “mad” (paranoiac) construction and the “normal” (social construction of) reality then consist? Is “normalcy” ultimately not merely a more “mediated” form of madness? Or, as Schelling put it, is normal Reason not merely “regulated madness”?

3

The Lacanian name for this “regulation of madness” is the symbolization of the real by means of which the formless, “ugly,” real is (trans)formed into reality. Contrary to the standard idealist argument which conceives ugliness as the defective mode of beauty, as its distortion, one should assert the ontological primacy of ugliness: it is beauty which is a kind of defense against the Ugly in its repulsive existence or, rather, existence tout court, since, as we shall see, what is ugly is ultimately the brutal fact of existence (of the real) as such [4]. The ugly object is an object which is in the wrong place, which “shouldn’t be there.” This does not mean simply that the ugly object is no longer ugly the moment that we relocate it to its proper place; the point is rather that an ugly object is “in itself” out of place, on account of the distorted balance between its “representation” (the symbolic features we perceive) and “existence” – ugly, out of place, is the excess of existence over representation. Ugliness is thus a topological category; it designates an object which is in a way “larger than itself,” whose existence is larger than its representation. The ontological presupposition of ugliness is therefore a gap between an object and the space it occupies, or – to make the same point in a different way – between the outside (surface) of an object (captured by its representation) and its inside (formless stuff). In the case of beauty, we have a perfect isomorphism in both respects, while in the case of ugliness, the inside of an object somehow is (appears) larger than the outside of its surface-representation (like the uncanny buildings in Kafka’s novels which, once we enter them, appear much more voluminous than what they seemed when viewed from the outside).

Another way to put it is to say that what makes an object “out of place” is that it is too close to me, like the Statue of Liberty in Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent: seen from the extreme proximity, it loses its dignity and acquires disgusting, obscene features. In courtly love, the figure of die Frau-Welt obeys the same logic: she appears beautiful from the proper distance, but the moment the poet or the knight serving her approaches her too closely (or when she asks him to come close to her so that she can repay him for his faithful service), she turns her other, reverse side to him, and what was previously the semblance of a fascinating beauty, is suddenly revealed as putrefied flesh, crawling with snakes and worms, the disgusting substance of life, as in the films of David Lynch, where an object turns into the disgusting substance of Life as soon as the camera gets too close to it. The gap that separates beauty from ugliness is thus the very gap that separates reality from the Real: the kernel of reality is horror, horror of the Real, and that which constitutes reality is the minimum of idealization which the subject needs in order to be able to sustain the Real. Another way to make the same point is to define ugliness as the excess of stuff which penetrates through the pores in the surface, from science-fiction aliens whose liquid materiality overwhelms their surfaces (see the evil alien in Terminator 2 or, of course, the alien from Alien itself), to the films of David Lynch (especially Dune), in which the raw flesh beneath the surface constantly threatens to emerge on the surface. In our standard phenomenological attitude towards the body of another person, we conceive the surface (of a face, for example) as directly expressing the “soul” – we suspend the knowledge of what actually exists beneath the skin surface (glands, flesh…). The shock of ugliness occurs when the surface is actually cut, opened up, so that the direct insight into the actual depth of the skinless flesh dispels the spiritual, immaterial, pseudo-depth.

In the case of beauty, the outside of a thing – its surface – encloses and overcoats its interior, whereas in the case of ugliness, this proportionality is perturbed by the excess of the interior stuff which threatens to overwhelm and engulf the subject. This opens up the space for the opposite excess, that of something which is not there and should be, like the missing nose which makes the “phantom of the opera” so ugly. Here, we have the case of a lack which also functions as an excess, the excess of a ghostly, spectral materiality in search of a “proper,” “real” body. Ghosts and vampires are shadowy forms in desperate search for the life-substance (blood) in us, actually existing humans. The excess of stuff is thus strictly correlative to the excess of spectral form: Deleuze has already pointed out how the “place without an object” is sustained by an “object lacking its proper place” – it is not possible for the two lacks to cancel each other. What we have here are the two aspects of the real, existence without properties and an object with properties without existence. Suffice it to recall the well-known scene from Terry Gilliam’s Brasil, in which the waiter in a high-class restaurant recommends the best offers from the daily menu to his customers (“Today, our tournedos is really special!” etc.), yet, what the customers are given on making their choice is a dazzling color photo of the meal on a stand above the plate, and, on the plate itself, a loathsome excremental paste-like lump: this split between the image of the food and the real of its formless, excremental remainder perfectly exemplifies the two modes of ugliness, the ghost-like substanceless appearance (“representation without existence”) and the raw stuff of the real (“existence without appearance”).

One should not underestimate the weight of this gap, which separates the “ugly” Real from the fully-formed objects in “reality:” Lacan’s fundamental thesis is that a minimum of “idealization,” of the interposition of a fantasmatic frame by means of which the subject assumes a distance from the Real, is constitutive of our “sense of reality” – “reality” occurs insofar as it is not (it does not come) “too close.” Today, one likes to evoke the manner in which we are – more and more – losing contact with the authentic reality of the external, as well as with our internal nature – say, apropos of milk, we are so accustomed to aseptic, pasteurized milk, that contact with milk directly milked from a cow is unpleasant – this “true milk” necessarily strikes us as too dense, disgusting, undrinkable….

This gap between the bodily depth of the Real and the pseudo-depth of Meaning produced by the Surface, is crucial for any materialist ontology. It is also easy to see the connection with Freud, who defined reality as that which functions as an obstacle to desire: “ugliness” ultimately stands for existence itself, for the resistance of reality on account of which the material reality is never simply an ethereal medium which lends itself effortlessly to our molding. Reality is ugly, it “shouldn’t be there” and hinder our desire. However, the situation is more complicated here, since this obstacle to desire is at the same time the site of the unbearable, filthy, excessive pleasure – of jouissance. What shouldn’t be there is thus ultimately jouissance itself: the inert stuff is the materialization of jouissance. In short, the key point not to be missed is that in the opposition between desire and the hard reality opposing its realization (bringing pain, unpleasure, preventing us from achieving the balance of pleasure), jouissance is on the side of “hard reality.” Jouissance as “real,” is that which resists (symbolic integration), it is dense and impenetrable – in this precise sense, jouissance is “beyond the pleasure-principle.” Jouissance emerges when the very reality which is the source of unpleasure, of pain, is experienced as a source of traumatic-excessive pleasure. Or, to put it in yet another way: desire is in itself “pure,” it endeavors to avoid any “pathological” fixation. The “purity” of desire is guaranteed by the fact that desire resides in the very gap between any positive object of desire and desire itself – the fundamental experience of desire is “ce n’est pas ça,” this is not THAT. In clear contrast to it, jouissance (or libido, or drive) is by definition “dirty” and/or ugly, it is always “too close:” desire is absence, while libido-drive is presence.

4

All this is absolutely crucial for the functioning of ideology in the case of our “everyday” sexism or racism: the problem of both is precisely how to “contain” the threatening inside from “spilling out” and overwhelming us. Are women’s periods not the exemplary case of such an ugly inside spilling out? Is the presence of African-Americans not felt as threatening precisely insofar as it is experienced as too massive, too close? Suffice it to recall the racist caricatural cliché of black heads and faces: with eyes bulging out, too-large mouths, as if the outside surface is barely able to contain the inside which is threatening to break through. (In this sense, the racist fantasmatic duality of blacks and whites coincides with the duality of formless stuff and shadowy-spectral-impotent form without stuff.) Is the concern with how to dispose of shit (which, according to Lacan, is one of the crucial features differentiating man from animals) not also a case of how to get rid of the inside which emerges out? The ultimate problem in intersubjectivity is precisely the extent to which we are ready to accept the other, our (sexual) partner, in the real of his or her existence – do we still love him when she or he defecates, makes unpleasant sounds? (Think of the incredible extent to which James Joyce was ready to accept his wife Nora in the “ugly” jouissance of her existence.) The problem, of course, is that, in a sense, life itself is “ugly:” if we truly want to get rid of the ugliness, we are sooner or later forced to adopt the attitude of a cathar for whom terrestrial life itself is a hell, and God – who created this world – is Satan himself, the Master of the World. So, in order to survive, we do need a minimum of the real – in a contained, gentrified condition.

The Lacanian proof of the Other’s existence lies in the jouissance of the Other (in contrast to Christianity, for example, where Love provides this proof). In order to render this notion palpable, suffice it to imagine an intersubjective encounter: when do I effectively encounter the Other “beyond the wall of language,” in the real of his or her being? Not when I am able to describe her, not even when I learn her values, dreams, etc., but, only when I encounter the Other in her moment of jouissance: when I discern in her a tiny detail – a compulsive gesture, an excessive facial expression, a tic – which signals the intensity of the real of jouissance. This encounter of the real is always traumatic, there is something at least minimally obscene about it. I cannot simply integrate it into my universe; there is always a gap separating me from it. This, then, is what “intersubjectivity” is actually about, not the Habermasian “ideal speech situation” of a multitude of academics smoking pipes at a round table and arguing about some point by means of undistorted communication: without the element of the real of jouissance, for here the Other ultimately remains a fiction, a purely symbolic subject of strategic reasoning, as exemplified in the “rational choice theory.” For that reason, one is even tempted to replace the term “multiculturalism” with “multiracism:” multiculturalism suspends the traumatic kernel of the Other, reducing it to an asepticized, folklorist entity. What we are dealing with here is – in Lacanese – the distance between S and a, between the symbolic features and the unfathomable surplus, the “indivisible remainder” of the real; at a somewhat different level, Walter Benn Michaels made the same point in claiming that:

“The accounts of cultural identity that do any cultural work require a racial component. For insofar as our culture remains nothing more than what we do and believe, it is impotently descriptive…. It is only if we think that our culture is not whatever beliefs and practices we actually happen to have but is instead the beliefs and practices that should properly go with the sort of people we happen to be, that the fact of something belonging to our culture can count as a reason for doing it. But to think this is to appeal to something that must be beyond culture and that cannot be derived from culture precisely because our sense of which culture is properly ours must be derived from it. This has been the function of race…. Our sense of culture is characteristically meant to displace race, but … culture has turned out to be a way of continuing rather than repudiating racial thought. It is only the appeal to race that makes culture an object of affect and that gives notions like losing our culture, preserving it, stealing someone else’s culture, restoring people’s culture to them, and so on, their pathos…. Race transforms people who learn to do what we do into the thieves of our culture and people who teach us to do what they do into the destroyers of our culture; it makes assimilation into a kind of betrayal and the refusal to assimilate into a form of heroism” [5].

The historicist/culturalist account of ethnic identity, insofar as it functions as performatively binding for the group accounted for and not merely as a distanced ethnological description, thus has to involve “something more,” some trans-cultural “kernel of the real.” (The postmodern multiculturalist only displaces this pathos onto the allegedly more “authentic” Other: Stars and Stripes give him no thrill; what does give him a thrill is listening to some ritual of native Americans, of African-Americans…. What we are dealing with here is clearly the inverted form of racism.) Without this kernel, we remain caught in the vicious cycle of the symbolic performativity which, in an “idealistic” way, retroactively grounds itself. It is Lacan who – in a Hegelian way – enables us to resolve this deadlock: the kernel of the real is the retroactive product, the “fall-out,” of the very process of symbolization. The “Real” is the unfathomable remainder of the ethnic substance whose predicates are the different cultural features which constitute our identity; in this precise sense, race relates to culture like real relates to symbolic. The “Real” is the unfathomable X which is at stake in our cultural struggles; it is that on account of which, when somebody learns too much of our culture, he “steals” it from us; it is that on account of which, when somebody shifts allegiance to another culture, he “betrays” us; etc. Such experiences prove that there must be some X which is “expressed” in the cultural set of values, attitudes, rituals… which materialize our way of life. What is stolen, betrayed… is always objet petit a, the little piece of the Real.

Jacques Ranciere [6] gave a poignant expression to the “bad surprise” which awaits today’s postmodern ideologues of the “end of politics:” it is as if we are witnessing the ultimate confirmation of Freud’s thesis, from Civilization and its Discontents, on how, after every assertion of Eros, Thanatos reasserts itself with a vengeance. At the very moment when, according to the official ideology, we are finally leaving behind “immature” political passions (the regime of the “political:” class struggle and other “outdated” divisive antagonisms) for the post-ideological and “mature” pragmatic universe of rational administration and negotiated consensus, for the universe free of utopian impulses in which the dispassionate administration of social affairs goes hand in hand with aestheticized hedonism (the pluralism of “ways of life”); at this very moment, the foreclosed political is celebrating a triumphant comeback in its most archaic form as a pure, undistilled racist hatred of the Other, which renders the rational tolerant attitude utterly impotent. In this precise sense, the contemporary “postmodern” racism is the symptom of the multiculturalist late capitalism, bringing to light the inherent contradiction of the liberal-democratic ideological project. Liberal “tolerance” condones the folklorist Other which is deprived of its substance (like the multitude of “ethnic cuisine” in a contemporary megalopolis); however, any “real” Other is instantly denounced for its “fundamentalism,” since the kernel of Otherness resides in the regulation of its jouissance, i.e. the “real Other” is by definition “patriarchal,” “violent,” never the Other of ethereal wisdom and charming customs. One is tempted to reactualize the old Marcusean notion of “repressive tolerance” here, reconceiving it as the tolerance of the Other in its asepticized, benign form, which forecloses the dimension of the Real of the Other’s jouissance, the excess of this jouissance which, in our everyday racist attitude, appears as the specific feature of the Other which “bothers us.” Let me recall a rather personal experience, that of my own mother. Her best friend, as the saying goes, is an old Jewish lady; after some financial transaction with her, my mother said to me: “What a nice lady, but did you notice the strange way she counted the money?” – in my mother’s eyes, this feature, the way the Jewish lady handled the money, functioned exactly like the mysterious feature in science-fiction novels and films which enables us to identify aliens who are otherwise indistinguishable from ourselves (a thin layer of transparent skin between the third finger and the little finger, or a strange gleam in the eye…).

5

This feature serves as the “material support” of the fantasies about the Other. What, then, is fantasy? One should always bear in mind that the desire “realized” (staged) in fantasy is not the subject’s own, but the other’s desire. That is to say, fantasy, fantasmatic formation, is an answer to the enigma of “Che vuoi?” (“What do you want?”), which renders the subject’s primordial, constitutive position. The original question of desire is not directly “What do I want?”, but “What do others want from me? What do they see in me? What am I for others?” A small child is embedded in a complex network of relations; he serves as a kind of catalyst and battle-field for the desires of those around him; his father, mother, brothers and sisters fight their battles around him, the mother sending a message to the father through her care for the son, etc. While being well aware of this role, the child cannot fathom what it is precisely, he cannot grasp the exact nature of the games they are playing with him… and fantasy provides an answer to this enigma. At its most fundamental, fantasy tells me what I am for my others. It is, again, anti-Semitism, the anti-Semitic paranoia, which exemplarily renders visible this radically intersubjective character of fantasy: fantasy (the social fantasy of the Jewish plot) is an attempt to provide an answer to “What does society want from me?” i.e. to unearth the meaning of the murky events in which I am forced to participate. For that reason, the standard theory of “projection,” according to which the anti-Semite “projects” the disavowed part of himself onto the figure of the Jew, is not sufficient: the figure of the “conceptual Jew” cannot be reduced to the externalization of my (the anti-Semite’s) “inner conflict;” on the contrary, it bears witness to (and tries to cope with) the fact that I am originally decentered, part of an opaque network whose meaning and logic elude my control.

The crucial point here is that fantasy does not dissimulate reality: rather, fantasy serves as the screen which enables us to confront the Real – as such, fantasy is on the side of reality, it guarantees the distance between (symbolically structured) reality and the horrifying Real. The main Freudian name for this Real is the “death drive.” For Freud, the death drive is not merely a decadent reactive formation – a secondary self-denial of the originally assertive Will to Power, the weakness of the Will, its escape from life, disguised as heroism – but the innermost radical possibility of a human being. Let us take the case of Wagner. When one says “death drive and Wagner,” the first association is, of course, Schopenhauer, Wagner’s principal reference concerning the redemptive quality of the longing for death. Our thesis, however, is that the way the longing for death effectively functions within Wagner’s universe is much closer to the Freudian notion of the “death drive.” The death drive is not to be confused with the “Nirvana-principle,” the striving to escape the life-cycle of generation and corruption and to achieve the ultimate equilibrium, the release from tensions: what the death drive strives to annihilate is not the biological cycle of generation and corruption, but rather the symbolic order, the order of the symbolic pact which regulates social exchange and sustains debts, honors, obligations [7]. The death drive is thus to be conceived against the background of the opposition between “Day” and “Night” as it is formulated in Tristan: the opposition between the “daily” social life of symbolic obligations, honors, contracts, debts, and its “nightly” obverse, an immortal, indestructible passion which threatens to dissolve this network of symbolic obligations. One should bear in mind how sensitive Wagner was to the borderline that separates the realm of the Symbolic from what is excluded from it: the deadly passion defines itself against the everyday public universe of symbolic obligations. Therein resides the effect of the love-potion in Tristan: it is in its capacity as the “drink of death” that it acts as the “drink of love” – the two lovers mistake it for the drink of death and, thinking that they are now on the brink of death, delivered from ordinary social obligations, feel free to acknowledge their passion. This immortal passion does not stand for biological life beyond the socio-symbolic universe: in it, carnal passion and pure spirituality paradoxically coincide, i.e. we are dealing with a kind of “denaturalization” of the natural instinct which inflates it into an immortal passion raised to the level of the Absolute, so that no actual, real object can ever fully satisfy it.

More precisely, there is a dimension of life which the death-drive would annihilate, but this life is not the simple biological life: it must be located, rather, in the uncanny domain of what Lacan called “between the two deaths.” In order to elucidate this notion, let us recall the other big enigma of The Ring: since the gold – the ring – is finally returned to the Rhine, why do the gods nonetheless perish? We are obviously dealing with two deaths: the biologically necessary demise and the “second death,” the fact that the subject died in peace, with his accounts settled, with no symbolic debt haunting his memory. Wagner himself changed the text concerning this crucial point: in the first version of Erda’s warning in the final scene of Rheingold, gods will perish if gold is not returned to the Rhine, whereas in the final version, they will perish anyway; the point is merely that prior to their demise, the gold should be returned to the Rhine, so that they will die properly and avoid the “irretrievable dark perdition”…. What we encounter in this uncanny space between the two deaths is the palpitation of a life-substance which cannot ever perish, like Amfortas’ wound in Parsifal. Suffice it to recall Leni Riefenstahl who, in her unending search for the ultimate life-substance, focused her attention first on the Nazis, then on an African tribe whose male members allegedly display true masculine vitality, and finally on deep-sea animals – as if it was only here, in this fascinating crawling of primitive life forms, that she could finally encounter her true object. This underwater life seems indestructible, like Leni herself: what we fear when we are following reports on how – well into her nineties – she is diving in order to make a documentary on deep-sea life, is that she will never die – our unconscious fantasy is definitely that she is immortal…. It is crucial to conceive the notion of the death drive against the background of this “second death,” as the will to abolish the indestructible palpitation of life beyond death (of the Dutchman, of Kundry and Amfortas), not as the will to negate the immediate biological life cycle. After Parsifal succeeds in annihilating the “pathological” sexual urge in himself, it is this precisely which opens up his eyes to the innocent charm of the immediate natural life cycle (the Magic of the Good Friday). So, back to Wotan; he wants to shed his guilt in order to die properly, in peace, and thus to avoid the fate of an undead monster who, unable to find peace even in death, haunts the common mortals – this is what Bruenhilde has in mind when, at the very end of The Twilight of Gods, after returning the ring to the Rhine-maidens, she says: “Rest now, rest now, you god! / Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott!”

This notion of the “second death” enables us to properly locate Wagner’s claim that Wotan raises to the tragic height of willing his own downfall: “This is everything we have to learn from the history of mankind: to will the inevitable and to carry it out oneself.” [8]. Wagner’s precise formulation is to be taken literally in all its paradoxicality – if something is already inevitable in itself, why should we then actively will it and work towards its occurrence, one might ask? This paradox, central to the symbolic order, is the obverse of the paradox of prohibiting something impossible (incest, for example) which can be discerned in Wittgenstein’s famous “What one cannot speak about, thereof one should be silent.” If it is, in any case, impossible to say anything about it, why add the superfluous prohibition? The fear that one would nevertheless say something about it is strictly homologous to the fear that what is necessary will not occur without our active assistance. The ultimate proof that we are not dealing with futile logical games here is the existential predicament of predestination: the ideological reference which sustained the extraordinary explosion of activity in early capitalism was the Protestant notion of Predestination. That is to say, contrary to the common notion according to which if everything is decided in advance, why bother at all, it was the very awareness that their fate was already sealed up which propelled the subjects into frantic activity. The same goes for Stalinism: the most intense mobilization of the society’s productive effort was sustained by its awareness that it was merely realizing an inexorable historical necessity….

6

At a different level, Brecht gave poignant expression to this predicament in his “learning plays,” exemplarily in Jasager in which the young boy is asked to accord freely with what will in any case be his fate (that is, to be thrown into the valley). As his teacher explains to him, it is customary to ask the victim if he agrees with his fate, but it is also customary for the victim to say yes…. All these examples are far from exceptional: every belonging to a society involves a paradoxical point at which the subject is ordered to embrace freely, as the result of his choice, what is anyway imposed on him (we must all love our country, our parents…), i.e. at a certain point, each of us was ordered to choose freely what was already imposed on her or him. Our point, however, is that all these paradoxes can only occur within the space of symbolization. The gap on account of which the demand to embrace the inevitable freely is not a meaningless tautology can only be the gap that forever separates an event in the immediacy of its raw reality from its inscription into the symbolic network…. To freely embrace an imposed state of things simply means to integrate this state of things into one’s symbolic universe. In this precise sense, the gesture of freely willing one’s own death also signals the readiness to come to terms with one’s death on the symbolic level, to abandon the mirage of symbolic immortality.

This paradox of “willing (choosing freely) what is necessary,” of pretending (maintaining the appearance) that there is a free choice (although effectively there isn’t) is closely connected to the splitting of the law into Ego-Ideal (the public-written law) and superego (the obscene-unwritten-secret law). Since, at the level of Ego-Ideal, the subject wants the semblance of a free choice, the superego injunction has to be delivered “between the lines.” The superego articulates the paradoxical injunction of what the subject, its addressee, has to choose freely; as such, this injunction has to remain invisible to the public eye if the Power is to remain operative. In short, what the subject effectively wants is a command in the guise of freedom, of a free choice: he wants to obey, but simultaneously to maintain the semblance of freedom and thus to save face. If the command is delivered directly, bypassing the semblance of freedom, the public humiliation hurts the subject and can induce him to rebel; if there is no order discernible in the Master’s discourse, this lack of a command is experienced as suffocating and gives rise to the demand for a new Master who is capable of providing a clear injunction.

We can see, now, how the notion of freely choosing what is inevitable anyway is strictly codependent with the notion of an empty symbolic gesture, a gesture – an offer – which is meant to be rejected: the one is the obverse of the other, i.e. what the empty gesture offers is the possibility to choose the impossible, that which inevitably will not happen (in Brecht’s case, think of the impossibility of the expedition turning around with the sick boy, instead of getting rid of him by throwing him into the valley). Another exemplary case of such an empty gesture is found in John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany: after the little boy Owen accidentally kills John’s – his best friend’s, the narrator’s – mother, he is, of course, terribly upset, so, to show how sorry he is, he discretely delivers a gift of his complete collection of color photos of baseball stars (his most precious possession) to John; however, Dan, John’s delicate stepfather, tells him that the proper thing to do is to return the gift.

What we have here is symbolic exchange at its purest: a gesture made to be rejected. The point, the “magic” of symbolic exchange, is that, although at the end we are where we were at the beginning, the overall result of the operation is not zero, but a distinct gain for both parties, the pact of solidarity. And is not something similar part of our everyday mores? When, after being engaged in fierce competition for a job promotion with my closest friend, I win, the proper thing to do is suggest to him that I will retract, so that he will get the promotion, and the proper thing for him to do, is to reject my offer – this way, perhaps, our friendship can be saved…

On a more global level, suffice it to recall the current relationship between the great Western powers and Russia: in accordance with the silent pact regulating this relationship, Western states treat Russia as a great power on the condition that Russia doesn’t (effectively) act as one. One can see how the logic of the offer which is made to be rejected (Russia is offered the chance to act as a great power, on the condition that it politely rejects this offer) is connected with a possibility which has to remain a mere possibility: in principle, it is possible for Russia to act effectively as a great power, but, if Russia is to maintain the symbolic status of a great power, it must not take advantage of this possibility… (Of course, the problem is: what if the other to whom the offer being made to be rejected, actually accepts it? What if, in Brecht’s Jasager, the boy would have said “No” and refused to be thrown into the valley? What if, upon being beaten in the competition, I were to accept my friend’s offer to get the promotion instead of him?

A situation like this is properly catastrophic: it causes the disintegration of the semblance (of freedom) that pertains to social order – however, since, at this level, things are – in a way – what they seem to be, this disintegration of the semblance equals the disintegration of the social substance itself, the dissolution of the social link. Ex-Communist societies present an extreme case of such a forced free choice: in them, the subjects were incessantly bombarded with the request to express freely their attitude towards Power, yet everybody was well aware that this freedom was strictly limited to the freedom to say “Yes” to the Communist regime itself.

For that very reason, Communist societies were extremely sensitive to the status of semblance: the ruling party wanted to maintain the appearance (of the broad popular support to the regime) undisturbed at any cost whatsoever. In short, far from standing for an empty Romantic hyperbole, Wagner’s notion of freely embracing the inevitable points towards a feature constitutive of the symbolic order.

7

In order not to miss the paradoxical status of the death drive, it is crucial not to confound drive with desire. Insofar as, according to Lacan, at the conclusion of the psychoanalytic cure, the subject assumes drive beyond fantasy and beyond (the Law of) desire, this compels us to confront the question of the conclusion of the cure in all its urgency. If we discard the discredited standard formulas (“reintegration into the socio-symbolic space,” etc.), only two options remain open: desire or drive. That is to say, either we conceive the conclusion of the cure as the assertion of the subject’s radical openness to the enigma of the Other’s desire, now no longer veiled by fantasmatic formations, or, we risk the step beyond desire itself and adopt the position of the saint who is no longer bothered by the Other’s desire as its decentered cause. In the case of the saint, the subject, in an unheard-of way, “causes itself,” becomes its own cause: its cause is no longer decentered, i.e. the enigma of the Other’s desire no longer has any hold over it. How are we to understand this strange reversal? In principle, things are clear enough: by way of positing itself as its own cause, the subject fully assumes the fact that the object-cause of its desire is not a cause which precedes its effects but is retroactively posited by the network of its effects: an event is never simply in itself traumatic, it only becomes a trauma retroactively, by being “secreted” from the subject’s symbolic space as its inassimilable point of reference. In this precise sense, the subject “causes itself” by way of retroactively positing that X which acts as the object-cause of its desire…. This loop is constitutive of the subject, i.e. an entity which does not “cause itself” is precisely not a subject but an object. However, one should avoid conceiving of this assumption as a kind of symbolic integration of the decentered Real, whereby the subject “symbolizes,” assumes the imposed trauma of the contingent encounter of the Real, as an act of its free choice. One should always bear in mind that the status of the subject as such is hysterical: the subject “is” only through its confrontation with the enigma of “Che vuoi?”, “What do you want?”, insofar as the Other’s desire remains impenetrable, insofar as the subject doesn’t know what object it is for the Other. Suspending this decentrement of the cause is thus strictly equivalent to what Lacan called “subjective destitution,” to the de-hystericization by means of which the subject loses its status as subject.

The most elementary matrix of fantasy, of its temporal loop, is that of the “impossible” gaze by means of which the subject is present at the act of his/her own conception. What is at stake in it, is the enigma of the Other’s desire: by means of the fantasy-formation, the subject provides an answer to “What am I for my parents, for their desire?” and thus endeavors to arrive at the “deeper meaning” of his or her existence, to discern the Fate involved in it. The reassuring lesson of fantasy is that “I was brought about with a special purpose.” Consequently, when, at the end of the psychoanalytic cure, I “traverse my fundamental fantasy,” the point of it is not that, instead of being bothered by the enigma of the Other’s desire, of what I am for the others, I now “subjectivize” my fate in the sense of its symbolization, of recognizing myself in a symbolic network or narrative for which I am fully responsible. Rather, the point is that I fully assume the uttermost contingency of my being. The subject becomes the “cause of itself” in the sense of no longer looking for a guarantee of his or her existence in another’s desire. One cannot overestimate the radical character of this move of Lacan: here, Lacan abandons what is usually considered the very hard core of his teaching, the notion of the irreducibly “decentered” subject, the subject whose very emergence is grounded in its relationship to a constitutive alterity.

Another way to put it is to say that “subjective destitution” changes the register from desire to drive. Desire is historical and subjectivized, always and by definition unsatisfied, metonymical, shifting from one object to another, since I do not actually desire what I want – what I actually desire is to sustain desire itself, to postpone the dreaded moment of its satisfaction. Drive, on the other hand, involves a kind of inert satisfaction which always finds its way; drive is non-subjectivized (“acephal”) – perhaps, its paradigmatic expressions are the repulsive private rituals (sniffing at one’s own sweat, sticking one’s finger into one’s nose…) which bring us intense satisfaction without us being aware of it, or, insofar as we are aware of it, without us being able to do anything about it, to prevent it. In Andersen’s fairy-tale “The Red Shoes,” an impoverished young woman puts on a pair of magical shoes and almost dies when her feet won’t stop dancing; she is only saved when an executioner cuts off her feet with his ax. Her still-shod feet dance on, whereas she is given wooden feet and finds peace in religion…. These shoes stand for drive at its purest: an “undead,” partial object which functions as a kind of impersonal willing – “it wants,” it persists in its repetitive movement (of dancing), it follows its path and exacts its satisfaction at any price, irrespective of the subject’s well-being. This drive is that which is “in the subject more than herself:” although the subject cannot ever “subjectivize” it, assume it as “her own” by way of saying “It is me who wants to do this!”, it nonetheless operates in her very kernel. Lacan’s wager is that it is possible to sublimate this dull satisfaction: this is ultimately what art and religion are about.

Although there is no intersubjectivity proper in drive, drive nonetheless involves its own mode of relating to otherness: desire addresses itself to the symbolic big Other, it seeks active recognition from it, while drive addresses itself to the silence in the Other – the Other is here reduced to a silent witness, to a mute presence which endorses the subject’s jouissance by way of emitting a silent sign of acknowledgment, a “Yes!” to drive. In order to exemplify this status of the Other in drive, let’s not be afraid to reach for the lowest of the low – Lassie Comes Back. At the very end of the film, the dog, though wounded and tired, nonetheless proceeds along the streets of the small town towards the school, in order to be there when her master’s (the young boy’s) classes end. On her way, she passes the workshop of the local blacksmith; when the blacksmith, an old, bearded man, catches sight of the blood-stained animal approaching the school exactly on time, he nods silently, in agreement…. This silent nod is a Yes! to the Real of the drive, to the dog’s uncompromising drive to “always return to her place” (see Lacan’s definition of the Real as “that which always returns to its place”). And, perhaps, therein resides also the last gesture of the psychoanalyst recognizing the conclusion of the cure: in such a silent Yes!, in the pure gesture of acknowledging that the analysand has traversed her/his fantasy, that she/he has reached beyond the enigma of Che vuoi?, and turned into a being of drive….

Or, to put it in yet another way: desire as the desire of the Other remains within the domain of transference and the (big) Other; the ultimate experience here is that of anxiety, i.e. the experience of the opaque trauma of the Other’s desire, of what does the Other want from me (Che vuoi?). Drive, on the contrary, is outside transference and the reference to the Other (for that reason, the dissolution of transference is tantamount to the passage from desire to drive: there is no desire without transference). At the level of desire, the encounter with the Real occurs as the encounter of the Other’s desire; at the level of drive, the Real is directly drive itself. Or, to put it in yet another way: desire is the desire of the Other, while drive is never the drive of the Other. With respect to literary references, this move “beyond desire” (to drive) is also a move beyond Kafka: the work of Kafka probably gives body to the experience of Che vuoi?, to the enigma of the impenetrable desire of the Other, at its most extreme, while drive involves the suspension of the dimension of the Other’s desire – the Other who says “Yes!” to drive is not the Other of Che vuoi?.

Another way to formulate the opposition between desire and drive is to say that desire stands in relation to interpretation as drive does in relation to sublimation: the fact that sublimation is, as a rule, mentioned apropos of drive, not of desire (Freud himself never speaks of the “sublimation of desire”), while, on the other hand, one also never speaks of the “interpretation of drive” but always links interpretation to desire, bears witness to a profound theoretical necessity. The title of Lacan’s seminar from 1958-59 (“Desire and its interpretation”) is to be taken as a direct assertion of their ultimate identity: desire coincides with its own interpretation, i.e. when the subject endeavors to interpret (its or, originally, the Other’s) desire and never finds the ultimate point of reference, when it forever slides from one reading to another, this very desperate attempt to arrive at “what one really wants,” is desire itself. (Or, to elaborate: insofar as the coordinates of desire are provided by the “fundamental fantasy,” and insofar as this fantasy emerges as an attempt to provide an answer to the enigma of Che vuoi?, of the Other’s desire, in short: as the interpretation of this desire, of what the Other “effectively wants from me,” desire as such is sustained by interpretation.) In a strictly homologous way, drive is its sublimation: there is no “direct” drive which is afterwards sublimated, since the “nonsublimated drive” is simply the biological instinct: “drive” designates the moment when an instinct is “sublimated” – cut off from its natural point of satisfaction and attached to an object which acts as the stand-in for the impossible Thing – and, as such, is condemned to the repetitive movement of encircling – never directly “swallowing” – its object. (This difference between instinct and drive also overlaps with the difference between the two French terms for knowledge, connaissance and savoir: instinct is an innate knowledge which tells the animal organism how to act (how to copulate, where to fly in winter, etc.), while humans lack such a knowledge and therefore have to rely on symbolic tradition – see, for example, Longinus’ Daphnis and Chloe, in which the two lovers must resort to the knowledge of older, experienced people so as to learn how to copulate: relying on their instinct, or imitating animals, doesn’t help much….)

We can see, now, how we are to conceive the opposition between desire and drive. Insofar as desire remains our horizon, our position ultimately amounts to a kind of Levinasian openness to the enigma of the Other, to the imponderable mystery of the Other’s desire. In clear contrast to this attitude of respect for the Other in its transcendence, drive introduces radical immanence: desire is open to the transcendence of the Other, while drive is “closed,” absolutely immanent. Or, to put it in a slightly different way, desire and drive are to be contrasted as are subject and object: there is a subject of desire and an object of drive. In desire, the subject longs for the (lost) object, whereas in drive, the subject makes herself an object (the scopic drive, for example, involves an attitude of se faire voire, of “making-oneself-seen,” not simply of wanting to see). Perhaps this is how we are to read Schelling’s notion of the highest freedom as the state in which activity and passivity, being-active and being-acted-upon, harmoniously overlap: man reaches his acme when he turns his very subjectivity into the Predicate of an ever higher Power (in the mathematical sense of the term), i.e. when he, as it were, yields to the Other, “depersonalizes” his most intense activity and performs it as if some other, higher Power is acting through him, using him as its medium – like the mystical experience of Love, or like an artist who, in the highest frenzy of creativity, experiences himself as a medium through which some more substantial, impersonal Power expresses itself. The crucial point is to distinguish this position from that of the pervert, who also undergoes a kind of “subjective destitution” and posits himself as the object-cause of the Other’s desire (see the case of the Stalinist Communist who conceives himself as the pure object-instrument of the realization of the Necessity of History). For the pervert, the big Other exists, while the subject at the end of the psychoanalytic process assumes the nonexistence of the big Other. In short, the Other for whom the subject “makes herself… (seen, heard, active)” has no independent existence and ultimately relies on the subject herself – in this precise sense, the subject who makes herself the Other’s object-cause becomes her own cause.

from Atlántica de Las Artes 14 · Otoño 1996.
http://www.caam.net/caamiaaa/cgi-bin/articulo.asp?idArticulo=231&idioma=EN.


Notes

[1] See Jacques Derrida, “Cogito and the history of madness,” in Writing and Difference. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978.)
[2] Quoted from Donald Phillip Verene, Hegel’s Recollection. (Albany: Suny Press, 1985.) pp. 7-8.
[3] Verene, op.cit., p. 8.
[4] We rely here on Mark Cousins, “The Ugly,” AA Files Nos. 28 and 29, London, 1994.
[5] Walter Benn Michaels, “Race and Culture,” in Critical Inquiry. (Summer 1992, pp. 682-685.)
[6] See Jacques Ranciere, On the Shores of Politics. (London: Verso, 1995.) p. 22.
[7] See Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. (New York: Routledge, 1992.) pp. 210-214.
[8] Quoted from William O. Cord, An Introduction to Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelingen.” (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1983.) p. 125.

‘Key Concepts of Lacanian Psychoanalysis’ by Dany Nobus

Published by Other Press in 1999.

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In this classic work, eight crucial Lacanian ideas are explained through detailed exploration of the theoretical and/or practical context in which Lacan introduced them, the way in which they developed throughout his works, and the questions they were designed to answer. The book does not presuppose any familiarity with Lacanian theory on the part of the reader, nor a prior acquaintance with Lacan’s Écrits or seminars. Originally published in 1998, the ideas within are more relevant than ever and this newly reissued volume will prove invaluable to today’s scholars of Lacanian thought.


“By detailing the constitutive incompletion of the Lacanian project, the contributors have guaranteed the success of their book, which will remain a major reference for a long time to come.”

-Joan Copjec

‘Interface Fantasy: A Lacanian Cyborg Ontology’ by André Nusselder

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Cyberspace is first and foremost a mental space. Therefore we need to take a psychological approach to understand our experiences in it. In Interface Fantasy, André Nusselder uses the core psychoanalytic notion of fantasy to examine our relationship to computers and digital technology. Lacanian psychoanalysis considers fantasy to be an indispensable “screen” for our interaction with the outside world; Nusselder argues that, at the mental level, computer screens and other human-computer interfaces incorporate this function of fantasy: they mediate the real and the virtual. Interface Fantasy illuminates our attachment to new media: why we love our devices; why we are fascinated by the images on their screens; and how it is possible that virtual images can provide physical pleasure.

Nusselder puts such phenomena as avatars, role playing, cybersex, computer psychotherapy, and Internet addiction in the context of established psychoanalytic theory. The virtual identities we assume in virtual worlds, exemplified best by avatars consisting of both realistic and symbolic self-representations, illustrate the three orders that Lacan uses to analyze human reality: the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. Nusselder analyzes our most intimate involvement with information technology—the almost invisible, affective aspects of technology that have the greatest impact on our lives. Interface Fantasy lays the foundation for a new way of thinking that acknowledges the pivotal role of the screen in the current world of information. And it gives an intelligible overview of basic Lacanian principles (including fantasy, language, the virtual, the real, embodiment, and enjoyment) that shows their enormous relevance for understanding the current state of media technology.

‘Oedipus: The Most Crucial Concept in Psychoanalysis’ by Juan-David Nasio

Published by State University of New York Press in 2010.

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In this long-awaited book, Juan-David Nasio, one of France’s leading Lacanian psychoanalysts, argues that the Oedipus complex represents the core of psychoanalysis as well as the fundamental constitution of the human being. Defying contemporary claims of an alleged “death of psychoanalysis,” and in contrast with recent attempts to minimize the relevance of Oedipus for the psyche, Nasio approaches Oedipus as a legend that helps to make sense of the origins of sexual identity and neurotic suffering. Nasio makes the provocative claim that the entirety of the psychoanalytical corpus, all of its concepts, including repression, sublimation, the theory of the drives, desire, as well as the phantasm of the phallus and castration anxiety, revolves around the idea that the child desires the parents. However, insofar as such desire is bound to be contradicted, frustrated, and repressed, Nasio redefines psychoanalysis in light of Oedipus as a discipline concerned with the very limits of human desire.

Included in Oedipus is a fascinating interview with Nasio, which was conducted by the translators for this book.


Juan-David Nasio is a psychoanalyst who lives and works in Paris and was the first psychoanalyst to be inducted into the prestigious French Legion of Honor.

David Pettigrew is Professor of Philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University.

François Raffoul is Professor of Philosophy at Louisiana State University. Their many books include translations of Nasio’s Five Lessons on the Psychoanalytic Theory of Jacques Lacan and The Book of Love and Pain: Thinking at the Limit with Freud and Lacan, both also published by SUNY Press.

Deconstructing Normativity? Re-reading Freud’s 1905 Three Essays

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Deconstructing Normativity? brings together a unique collection of chapters in which an international selection of contributors reflect on the fundamental and often very radical ideas present in Freud’s original 1905 edition of the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.

The book has three aims: the contextualization of the text, the reconstruction of its central ideas and the further philosophical reflection of the contemporary relevance and critical potential of the 1905 edition. The authors challenge mainstream interpretations of the Three Essays, generally based on readings of the final 1924 edition of the text, and of the development of Freudian thought: including, most importantly, the centrality of the Oedipus complex and the developmental approach relative to a tendency towards heteronormativity. Deconstructing Normativity? makes an important contribution in rethinking Freudian psychoanalysis and reopening the discussion on its central paradigms, and in so doing it connects with queer and gender theories and philosophical approaches.

This book will be essential reading for psychoanalysts in practice and training, as well as academics and students of psychoanalysis, philosophical anthropology, continental philosophy, sex, gender and sexualities.

‘Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality’ by Sigmund Freud

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Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (German: Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie), sometimes titled Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, is a 1905 work by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, in which the author advances his theory of sexuality, in particular its relation to childhood.

‘Sex and the Failed Absolute’ by Slavoj Žižek

Published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2019. Download link updated 20. June 2021.

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Sex and the Failed Absolute provides nothing short of a new definition of dialectical materialism. Radical new readings of Kant and Hegel sit side by side with lively commentaries on film, politics and culture. And in forging this new materialism, Žižek doesn’t shy away from taking on and analyzing important recent philosophies such as the work of Alain Badiou, Robert Brandom, Quentin Meillassoux and everything from popular science and quantum mechanics to sexual difference and analytic philosophy. The book also clarifies Žižek’s relation to Jacques Lacan while also giving an extensive view of his interpretation of Lacan’s difficult oeuvre. This is Žižek’s most rigorous articulation of his philosophical system up to this point.

Sex and Nothing: Bridges from Psychoanalysis to Philosophy

Published by Routledge in 2018.

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From its etymological roots, sex is related to a scission, Latin for sectus, secare, meaning “to divide or cut.” Therefore, regardless of the various studies applied to defining sex as inscribed by discursive acts, i.e. merely a ‘performatively enacted signification,’ there is something more to sex than just a social construction or an aprioristic substance. Sex is irreducible to meaning or knowledge.

This is why psychoanalysis cannot be formulated as an erotology nor a science of sex (scientia sexualis). Following this argumentation, in the final class of his eleventh seminar, Lacan asserts that psychoanalysis has proven to be uncreative in the realm of sexuality. Henceforth, sex does not engrave itself within the symbolic: only the failure of its inscription is marked in the symbolic. In this matter, sex escapes the symbolic restraints of language; however, it is through its failure that it manifests itself through the symbolic, e.g. symptoms or dream life. So, what is sex? Sex and Nothing embarks upon a dialogue between colleagues and friends interested in bridging psychoanalysis and philosophy, linking sex and thought, where what emerges is a greater awareness of the irreducucibility of sex to the discourse of knowledge and meaning: in other words, sex and nothing.

With contributions by Joan Copjec, Mladen Dolar, Sigi Jöttkandt, Cristina Soto van der Plas, Jelica Šumič, Samo Tomšič, Gabriel Tupinambá, Daniel Tutt, Slavoj Žižek, and Alenka Zupančič.

‘The Last Days of Immanuel Kant’ by Philippe Collin

Film Les derniers jours d’Emmanuel Kant published in 1995. Download link updated on 22. June 2021.

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Based on an 1850s essay by Thomas De Quincey, this little-known drama chronicles a short period in life of the great professor/philosopher in his native Konigsberg, leading up to his 1804 demise at age 80. The story looks more at the great thinker’s odd, obsessive lifestyle than it does his philosophies. Kant, an old gentleman, had his life entirely punctuated by habits he has acquired for so many years, and he cannot bring himself to escape the rites that govern his days. At night he slept in a mummy-wrap while during the day he imbibed tremendous amounts of coffee at rigidly prescribed intervals. The whole town was expected to keep a respectful distance when Kant took his daily walks. Melodrama enters the philosopher’s life after his loyal servant for the past thirty years suddenly leaves.



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‘Mythology, Madness, and Laughter: Subjectivity in German Idealism’ by Marcus Gabriel & Slavoj Žižek

Published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2009. Download link updated on 24. June 2021.

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Mythology, Madness and Laughter: Subjectivity in German Idealism explores some long neglected but crucial themes in German idealism. Markus Gabriel, one of the most exciting young voices in contemporary philosophy, and Slavoj Žižek, the celebrated contemporary philosopher and cultural critic, show how these themes impact on the problematic relations between being and appearance, reflection and the absolute, insight and ideology, contingency and necessity, subjectivity, truth, habit and freedom.

Engaging with three central figures of the German idealist movement, Hegel, Schelling, and Fichte, Gabriel, and Žižek, who here shows himself to be one of the most erudite and important scholars of German idealism, ask how is it possible for Being to appear in reflection without falling back into traditional metaphysics. By applying idealistic theories of reflection and concrete subjectivity, including the problem of madness and everydayness in Hegel, this hugely important book aims to reinvigorate a philosophy of finitude and contingency, topics at the forefront of contemporary European philosophy.

‘How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read’ by Pierre Bayard

First published by Bloomsbury in 2007. Download link updated on 26th July 2021.

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I never read a book I must review; it prejudices you so. —OSCAR WILDE

If civilized people are expected to have read all important works of literature, and thousands more books are published every year, what are we supposed to do in those awkward social situations in which we’re forced to talk about books we haven’t read? In this delightfully witty, provocative book, a huge hit in France that has drawn huge attention from critics around the world, literature professor and psychoanalyst Bayard argues that it’s actually more important to know a book’s role in our collective library than its details.

Using examples from such writers as Graham Greene, Oscar Wilde, Montaigne, and Umberto Eco, and even the movie Groundhog Day, he describes the many varieties of “non-reading” and the horribly sticky social situations that might confront us, and then offers his advice on what to do. Practical, funny, and thought-provoking, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read is in the end a love letter to books, offering a whole new perspective on how we read and absorb them. It’s the book that readers everywhere will be talking about-and despite themselves, reading-this holiday season.

‘Lacan: A Beginner’s Guide’ by Lionel Bailly

Published by by Oneworld Publications in 2009.

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Jacques Lacan was one of the most important psychoanalysts ever to have lived. Building upon the work of Sigmund Freud, he sought to refine Freudian insights with the use of linguistics, arguing that “the structure of unconscious is like a language”. Controversial throughout his lifetime both for adopting mathematical concepts in his psychoanalytic framework and for advocating therapy sessions of varying length, he is widely misunderstood and often unfairly dismissed as impenetrable.

In this clear, wide-ranging primer, Lionel Bailly demonstrates how Lacan’s ideas are still vitally relevant to contemporary issues of mental health treatment. Defending Lacan from his numerous detractors, past and present, Bailly guides the reader through Lacan’s canon, from “l’objet petit a” to “The Mirror Stage” and beyond. Including coverage of developments in Lacanian psychoanalysis since his death, this is the perfect introduction to the great modern theorist.

‘Jacques Lacan’ by Anika Lemaire

Published by Routledge in 1977.

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The work of Jaques Lacan, eminent French psychoanalyst and influential thinker (1901-1981), is recognized as being of vital importance to psychoanalysts, philosophers, and all those concerned with the the study of man and language. Its value is not limited to the field of psychoanalysis alone, but provides the basis for a new philosophy of man and a new theory of discourse. It is, however, notoriously difficult for the non-specialist reader to come to terms with Lacan’s reading of Freud and his investigations of the unconscious. This general exposition of his work, translated and revised from the French edition, is designed to provide the conceptual tools which will enable the reader to study Lacan using the original texts.

‘My Teaching’ by Jacques Lacan

Published by Verso in 2009.

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Bringing together three lectures presented to the public by Jacques Lacan at the height of his career, My Teaching is a clear, concise introduction to the thought of the influential psychoanalyst. Drawing on examples from popular culture and common sense, this lively book explores a range of Lacan’s most important ideas, including his debt to Freud, linguistic unconsciousness and sexuality in its relation to psychoanalytic truth.

‘The Triumph of Religion: Preceded by Discourse to Catholics’ by Jacques Lacan

Published by Polity in 2013.

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Bruce Fink has provided us with a first-rate translation of two transcripts which many of us in the English world have not had the luxury of reading from Jacques Lacan. The first transcription, entitled “Discourse to Catholics”, was extracted from a short talk that was “open[ed] to the public” and given on March 9th and 10th of 1960 in Brussels. Among other things, the talk discussed, in a rather curious way, the relevance of the Freudian discovery—the Freudian “Thing” and its relation to the ethics of psychoanalysis—for religious practitioners. Lacan noted, as if to elicit a longing of interest in the topic, that those devoutly religious members of the audience ought to judge the value of his talk by how it strikes their minds at the end, rather than by how it immediately presents itself to their ears. It was as if to displace their conclusions on the topic, so as to keep them in the time for thinking, that he confessed in his final few remarks that it was prudence which kept him from speaking any further on the matter.

The second transcription, entitled “The Triumph of Religion”, was an interview conducted between some Italian journalists and Jacques Lacan in Rome on October 29th, 1974. The elocution is muddy and the discussants appear to be at odds with one another. One detects a latent hostility within the conversation and perhaps even some sarcasm on the part of Lacan. The point is that the questions were asked with such opacity and with such deep seated conviction (conviction that, for example, answers are necessarily forthcoming) that one ought not reproach Lacan for taking liberties with his responses. As we now know, every question has within itself the seeds of an answer and, therefore, a question about the relationship between psychoanalysis and religion seems to me to be at the heart of the religious question itself.


‘I am the product of priests’, Lacan once said of himself. Educated by the Marist Brothers (or Little Brothers of Mary), he was a pious child and acquired considerable, personal knowledge of the torments and cunning of Christian spirituality. He was wonderfully able to speak to Catholics and to bring them around to psychoanalysis. Jesuits flocked to his school.Freud, an old-style Enlightenment optimist, believed religion was merely an illusion that the progress of the scientific spirit would dissipate in the future. Lacan did not share this belief in the slightest: he thought, on the contrary, that the true religion, Roman Catholicism, would take in everyone in the end, pouring bucketsful of meaning over the ever more insistent and unbearable real that we, in our times, owe to science.

— Jacques-Alain Miller

‘A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique’ by Bruce Fink

Published by Harvard University Press in 1999.

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“The goal of my teaching has always been, and remains, to train analysts.”

—Jacques Lacan, Seminar XI, 209


Arguably the most profound psychoanalytic thinker since Freud, and deeply influential in many fields, Jacques Lacan often seems opaque to those he most wanted to reach. These are the readers Bruce Fink addresses in this clear and practical account of Lacan’s highly original approach to therapy. Written by a clinician for clinicians, Fink’s Introduction is an invaluable guide to Lacanian psychoanalysis, how it’s done, and how it differs from other forms of therapy. While elucidating many of Lacan’s theoretical notions, the book does so from the perspective of the practitioner faced with the pressing questions of diagnosis, what therapeutic stance to adopt, how to involve the patient, and how to bring about change.

Fink provides a comprehensive overview of Lacanian analysis, explaining the analyst’s aims and interventions at each point in the treatment. He uses four case studies to elucidate Lacan’s unique structural approach to diagnosis. These cases, taking up both theoretical and clinical issues in Lacan’s views of psychosis, perversion, and neurosis, highlight the very different approaches to treatment that different situations demand.

‘A Clinical Introduction to Freud’ by Bruce Fink

Published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2017.

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Often overlooked because he is so easy to mock, ridicule, or just plain misunderstand, Freud introduced many techniques for clinical practice that are still widely employed today. Yet surprisingly, there has never been a clinical introduction to Freud’s work that might be of use to students and professionals in their everyday lives and careers. Until now.

Bruce Fink, who is his generation’s most respected translator of Lacan’s work and a profound interpreter of Freud’s, has written the definitive clinical introduction to Freud. This book presents Freud in an eminently usable way, providing readers with a plethora of examples from everyday life and clinical practice illustrating the insightfulness and continued applicability of Freud’s ideas.

The overriding focus is on techniques Freud developed for going directly toward the unconscious, illustrating how we can employ them today and perhaps even improve on them. Fink also lays out many of Freud’s fundamental concepts—such as repression, isolation, displacement, anxiety, affect, free association, repetition, obsession, and wish-fulfillment—and situates them in highly applicable clinical contexts.

The emphasis throughout is on the myriad techniques developed by Freud that clinicians of all backgrounds and orientations can draw upon to put in their therapy toolbox, whether or not they identify as “Freudians.”

With references ranging from Star Trek and the Moody Blues to hard drives and unicorns, Bruce Fink’s elegant writing brings Freud into sharp focus for clinicians of all backgrounds. To readers who ask with an open mind “Does this approach allow me to see anything that I had not seen before in my clinical work?” this book will offer many new insights.

‘Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique’ by Bruce Fink

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What does it mean to practice psychoanalysis as Jacques Lacan did? How did Lacan translate his original theoretical insights into moment-to-moment psychoanalytic technique? And what makes a Lacanian approach to treatment different from other approaches? These are among the questions that Bruce Fink, a leading translator and expositor of Lacan’s work, addresses in Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique by describing and amply exemplifying the innovative techniques (such as punctuation, scansion, and oracular interpretation) developed by Lacan to uncover unconscious desire, lift repression, and bring about change.

Unlike any other writer on Lacan to date, Fink illustrates his Lacanian approach to listening, questioning, punctuating, scanding, and interpreting with dozens of actual clinical examples. He clearly outlines the fundamentals of working with dreams, daydreams, and fantasies, discussing numerous anxiety dreams, nightmares, and fantasies told to him by his own patients. By examining transference and countertransference in detail through the use of clinical vignettes, Fink lays out the major differences (regarding transference interpretation, self-disclosure, projective identification, and the therapeutic frame) between mainstream psychoanalytic practice and Lacanian practice. He critiques the ever more prevalent normalizing attitude in psychoanalysis today and presents crucial facets of Lacan’s approach to the treatment of neurosis, as well as of his entirely different approach to the treatment of psychosis.

Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique is an introduction to psychoanalytic technique from a Lacanian perspective that is based on Fink’s many years of experience working as an analyst and supervising clinicians, including graduate students in clinical psychology, social workers, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and psychoanalysts. Designed for a wide range of practitioners and requiring no previous knowledge of Lacan’s work, this primer is accessible to therapists of many different persuasions with diverse degrees of clinical experience, from novices to seasoned analysts.

Fink’s goal throughout is to present the implications of Lacan’s highly novel work for psychoanalytic technique across a broad spectrum of interventions. The techniques covered (all of which are designed to get at the unconscious, repression, and repetition compulsion) can be helpful to a wide variety of practitioners, often transforming their practices radically in a few short months.

‘Lacan to the Letter: Reading Écrits Closely’ by Bruce Fink

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To read Lacan closely is to follow him to the letter, to take him literally, making the wager that he comes right out and says what he means in many cases, though much of his argument must be reconstructed through a line-by-line examination. And this is precisely what Bruce Fink does in this ambitious book, a fine analysis of Lacan’s work on language and psychoanalytic treatment conducted on the basis of a very close reading of texts in his Écrits.

As a translator and renowned proponent of Lacan’s works, Fink is an especially adept and congenial guide through the complexities of Lacanian literature and concepts. He devotes considerable space to notions that have been particularly prone to misunderstanding, notions such as “the sliding of the signified under the signifier,” or that have gone seemingly unnoticed, such as “the ego is the metonymy of desire.” Fink also pays special attention to psychoanalytic concepts, like affect, that Lacan is sometimes thought to neglect, and to controversial concepts, like the phallus.

From a parsing of Lacan’s claim that “commenting on a text is like doing an analysis,” to sustained readings of “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious,” “The Direction of the Treatment,” and “Subversion of the Subject” (with particular attention given to the workings of the Graph of Desire), Fink’s book is a work of unmatched subtlety, depth, and detail, providing a valuable new perspective on one of the twentieth century’s most important thinkers.

‘Badiou’: A film by Gorav Kalyan & Rohan Kalyan (2018)


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Nietzsche wrote that any philosophy is always a biography of the thinker. Alain Badiou’s life suggests that the opposite can also be true.

From his birth in Morocco, to the events of May 1968 in Paris, to his twilight years as a nomadic public intellectual, philosopher Alain Badiou’s own biography is perhaps his most complex and thought-provoking work yet.

With intimate access, Gorav and Rohan Kalyan have produced the first feature-length documentary about one of the world’s great living philosophers.

By addressing the contradictions in Badiou’s life through cinema, the filmmakers confront the inherent contradictions of cinema itself: thought and action, interiority and exteriority, presence and absence. In order to bring a sense of empathy, clarity, and critique to their complex subject, they must ask a question as old as the medium itself: “Can cinema think?”

Žižek’s Jokes: Did you hear the one about Hegel and negation?

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“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.

‘The Adventure of French Philosophy’ by Alain Badiou

Published by Verso in 2012

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The Adventure of French Philosophy is essential reading for anyone interested in what Badiou calls the ‘French moment’ in contemporary thought.

Badiou explores the exceptionally rich and varied world of French philosophy in a number of groundbreaking essays. Included are the often-quoted review of Louis Althusser’s canonical works For Marx and Reading Capital and the scathing critique of ‘potato fascism’ in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. There are also talks on Michel Foucault and Jean-Luc Nancy, and reviews of the work of Jean-François Lyotard and Barbara Cassin, notable points of interest on an expansive tour of modem French thought.

Guided by a small set of fundamental questions concerning the nature of being, the event, the subject, and truth, Badiou pushes to an extreme the polemical force of his thinking. Against the formless continuum of life, he posits the need for radical discontinuity; against the false modesty of finitude, he pleads for the mathematical infinity of everyday situations; against the various returns to Kant, he argues for the persistence of the Hegelian dialectic; and against the lure of ultraleftism, his texts from the 1970s vindicate the role of Maoism as a driving force behind the communist Idea.

‘On Beckett’ by Alain Badiou

Published in 2003 by Clinamen Press Ltd.

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This collection of Alain Badiou’s essays on Samuel Beckett is a deliberate intellectual challenge to conventional Beckett scholarship. These essays trace the development of Beckett’s art—from his first works through the claustrophobic world of The Unnameable to a final engagement with questions of Other and Love. Badiou rejects the stereotypical view of Beckett as the dark existentialist; rather, he claims that the lesson of Beckett is one of moderation, precision, and courage.

The ‘Beckett on Film’ Project

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The hugely ambitious Beckett on Film project gathered together 19 different directors to turn the 19 stage works written by Samuel Beckett into films. The range is vast—from the 45-second Breath to the two hours of his most famous play, Waiting for Godot—but all the works reflect Beckett’s penetrating obsessions with memory, regret, and the simple, excruciating experience of being. Not every film succeeds-—like all great theater, Beckett’s plays demand interaction with a live audience to express their full intent—and though scholars tout Beckett’s every word as genius, several works are slight (CatastropheOhio Impromptu, or What Where will leave many viewers unimpressed). But all the plays feature Beckett’s uniquely distilled language; the greatest of them—including Waiting for Godot (in which two tramps pass the time while they wait for someone who may never come), Endgame (in which a blind man and his lame servant bicker and joke as the world declines), and Play (in which a love triangle is bitterly recalled by two women and a man in urns)—are astonishing in both their potent humor and piercing grief.

‘The Unnamable’ by Samuel Beckett | AudioBook

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The Unnamable is the third novel in Beckett’s trilogy, three remarkable prose works in which men of increasingly debilitating physical circumstances act, ponder, consider, and rage against impermanence and the human condition. Without doubt the most uncompromising text and it is read here in startling fashion by Sean Barrett.

Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind


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Philosophy of Mind is the third and final part of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, the collection in which Hegel (1730-1831) offered an overview of his life’s work. Though originally written in 1817, he revised it in 1830, thus providing a finished form the year before his death. 

Hegel used the three parts of the Encyclopaedia – Science of LogicPhilosophy of Nature and Philosophy of Mind – as a basis for lectures at the Universities of Heidelberg which he joined in 1816, and in Berlin in 1820. 

Philosophy of Mind is itself divided into three parts. Section 1 is titled Mind Subjective – The Soul (with subsections Anthropology, Phenomenology of Mind, and Psychology); section 2 is titled Mind Objective (with subsections Law, The Morality of Consciousness and the Moral Life); and Section 3 Absolute Mind (Art, Revealed Religion, Philosophy).

So Hegel follows the development of the human mind through the various layers of consciousness, then institutions and structures of society and finally through art, religion and philosophy. The classic translation by William Wallace is based on Hegel’s final 1830 version.

‘The Century’ by Alain Badiou

Published by Polity Press in 2005. Download link updated on 28. June 2021.

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The 20th century has been judged and condemned as the century of totalitarian terror, of utopian and dangerous ideologies, of empty illusions and mass genocides. In this major book Badiou undertakes to re-examine this century through an immanent investigation of the century itself in its unfolding.


Contents

  1. Search for a Method
  2. The Beast
  3. The Unreconciled
  4. A New World. Yes, but When?
  5. The Passion for the Real and the Montage of Semblance
  6. One Divides Into Two
  7. Sex in Crisis
  8. Anabasis
  9. Seven Variations
  10. Cruelties
  11. Avant-Gardes
  12. The Infinite
  13. The Joint Disappearances of Man and God
    ‘European Nihilism’ and Beyond: Commentary by Alberto Toscano

‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ by Georg W. F. Hegel

This translation by A. V. Miller was published by Oxford University Press in 1977.
Download link updated on 20. June 2021.

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Perhaps one of the most revolutionary works of philosophy ever presented, The Phenomenology of Spirit is Hegel’s 1807 work that is in numerous ways extraordinary.

It begins with a Preface, created after the rest of the manuscript was completed, that explains the core of his method and what sets it apart from any preceding philosophy. The Introduction, written before the rest of the work, summarizes and completes Kant’s ideas on skepticism by rendering it moot and encouraging idealism and self-realization. The body of the work is divided into six sections of varying length, entitled “Consciousness”, “Self-Consciousness”, “Reason”, “Spirit”, “Religion”, and “Absolute Knowledge”.

A myriad of topics are discussed, and explained in such a harmoniously complex way that the method has been termed Hegelian dialectic. Ultimately, the work as a whole is a remarkable study of the mind’s growth from its direct awareness to scientific philosophy, proving to be a difficult yet highly influential and enduring work.


“Hegel’s deadline for submitting the manuscript was October 18, 1806. Shipping the text from Jena to Bamberg would take five days, so October 13 was his last day to take the package to the post office. On October 8 and 10, Hegel sent the bulk of the manuscript to Bamberg. On October 9, war broke out between France and Prussia. Hegel still had to send the concluding part of the book, but the postal service was no longer functioning. On the morning of October 13, French troops occupied Jena. “The hour of fear”—that’s what Hegel called this moment. Soldiers burst into Hegel’s house. He tried to be friendly, inviting them for a glass of wine, but he soon had to flee—with the remaining parts of the manuscript stuffed in his pockets. In another house where he took refuge, he spent a few hours organizing these papers and putting the finishing touches on the manuscript. Only on October 20 was he able to send it to the publisher, who, in spite of this delay, paid him what was due, as Hegel was broke and his house plundered.

This is the story of how Phenomenology of Spirit, one of the most difficult philosophical books ever written, came into the world.”

—Oxana Timofeeva, Now is Night

‘On Being Normal and Other Disorders’ by Paul Verhaeghe

First published by Other Press in 2004.

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Winner of the 2005 Goethe Award in Psychoanalytic Scholarship

The central argument of On Being Normal and Other Disorders is that psychic identity is acquired through one’s primary intersubjective relationships. Thus, the diagnosis of potential pathologies must also be founded on this relation. Given that the efficacy of all forms of treatment depends upon the therapeutic relation, a diagnostic of this sort has wide-ranging applications.

Paul Verhaeghe’s critical evaluation of the contemporary DSM-diagnostic shows that the lack of reference to an updated governing metapsychology impinges on the therapeutic value of the DSM categories. In response to this problem, the author sketches out the foundations of such a metapsychology by combining a Freudo-Lacanian approach with contemporary empirical research. Close attention is paid to the processes of identity acquisition to show how the self and the Other are not two separate entities. Rather, subject formation is seen as a process in which both the subject’s and the Other’s identity, as well as the relationship between them, comes into being.

By engaging this new theoretical approach in a constant dialogue with the findings of contemporary research, this book provides a compass for the practical applications of such a differential diagnostic. Post-modern categories of anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorders are approached both through the well-known neurotic, psychotic, and perverse structures, as well as through the less familiar distinction between an actual pathology and a psychopathology. These two outlooks, which involve the role of language and the subject’s relation to the Other, are spelled out to show their implications for treatment at every turn.

The merchant’s freedom: Žižek’s theory of the market in Less than nothing.

In a chapter in Less than nothing titled “Hegel versus Nietzsche”, pages 194-199, and later continued into “Struggle and Reconciliation”, pages 199-206, we’re able to find and read a few suprising passages by Žižek regarding a theory of the market. The term merchant itself is mentioned just three times in the entirety of this book spanning over 1010 pages, with two occurrences of it appearing in these two sub-chapters, which according to my knowledge ultimately comprise nothing less than Žižek’s theory of labor and consequently also the market as it relates to the Hegelian notion of freedom.

Now the specific section as developed in the book is by itself framed as a longer comment on the French philosopher’s Gérard Lebrun’s L’envers de la dialectique. The entire insertion of Friedrich Nietzsche’s thought into Less than Nothing thus stems from a reading of Lebrun. Anyone previously acquainted with Žižek’s work might be aware that he’s not considered as the biggest admirer of Nietzsche, although he approves of the efforts made by his fellow philosophers who can be said to be deeply engaged with Nietzsche’s thought at one point or another in their work, such as his friends Alenka Zupančič, the author of The Shortest Shadow, or the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, who authored Nietzsche Apostle among many other works relating to this well-known German “anti-philosopher”.

His French philosophical friend Alain Badiou is also known for an extensive commentary in his various Lectures on Nietzsche delivered throughout the years, where Badiou has provocatively explicitly positioned himself “politically as centrist” with regard to the name of Nietzsche. With no surprise, his reason is the same as Žižek’s, to support the work of his fellow philosopher-friends who build their academic careers with a reference to Nietzsche’s work. But why do I designate this comment by Badiou as consciously provocative? Because I believe that anyone acquainted with the radical Leftist tradition into which both Badiou and Žižek very often ascribe themselves into, to the extent of explicitly self-designating themselves as Communist thinkers and famously organizing many different public conferences around the Idea of Communism in various urban centers of capital across the entire globe – London, Paris, New York, Seoul, etc. – should know that in the jargon of the radical Left “political centrism” is nothing more than a cover-up term for nothing less than the representatives of capitalist interest as such, whose politics is looked upon as often verging on fashistoid tendencies. For example, in Slovene parliamentary political space for example have a recently formed Party of the Modern Center occupying many parliamentary seats (even though it’s founder has officially resigned by now), together with a social-democratic president whole sole boring political import in the political space seems to be that of trying to “unify” different opposing political tendencies and discourses in a nationalist manner. His theory boils down to nothing more than the apolitical stance which says that political disagreements are in themselves counter-productive for the future of the country, thereby obfuscating any real political antagonisms of class division as they ultimately always emerge in any really existing capitalist society. In any case, an older great text by Badiou simply titled ‘Who is Nietzsche?’ also deserves to be mentioned at this point.

I’ve also recently stumbled upon a brief comment made online by someone which claimed that Žižek had an approving reading of Bruce Ellis Benson’s work Pious Nietzsche: Decadence and Dionysian Faith, although I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of this book just yet. This would led us to think that for Žižek, Nietzsche could also be considered as a deeply theological thinker, especially with regards to the famous Nietzschean idea of “The Death of God” as the main diagnosis of the entire predicament of the modern era, which is usually read as an atheist and not a pious claim. I find this insight very productive to think Nietzsche philosophically and the very same accusation of disavowed religiosity could ultimately also be aimed at Martin Heidegger’s work, another well-known philosophical reference in Žižek’s work throughout the decades.

Žižek has in the past made surprising brief comments that “he got rehabilitated about Nietzsche” by the philosophical work of his friends, although it’s not exactly clear if these remarks should be taken as merely ironic in nature or expressed and meant in a more serious manner. Why is this stance of his not so immediately clear? Because he also made reference in other places of his various lectures available online about the role Nietzsche’s work played in the 20th Century Nazi Germany, and how Nietzsche was elevated actually there to the status of “an official state philosopher”, something that can’t simply be downplayed in silence, just as the revelations made in the so-called Black notebooks by Heidegger can’t simply be shushed and swept under the table. I have myself had the unfortunate case of locally encountering a few individuals many years ago who approached me with the vague claim to be interested in Nietzsche and who intended to engage some kind of a dialogue with me, but turned out to be quite deeply invested in heavily right-wing political outlooks, with the town I live in actually still bearing the scars of the memory of the Nazi occupation here that occurred during WWII, so the seeming popularity of Nietzsche here struck me as something deeply worrying and problematic at the time. In any case, as far as my reading is concerned, Less than Nothing is, as far as I’m aware, one of the few places in Žižek’s philosophical work where he explicitly deals with Nietzschean thought, together with a few approving comments made in the recent work Like A Thief In Broad Daylight about Sloterdijk with regards to the notion of “philosophical prodding” also coming to mind.

As already mentioned, Žižek’s main interest in this specific part of Less than Nothing seems to be more specifically about a reading of Lebrun’s book about the German philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel than it would really be about Nietzsche himself, but the lines of thought as developed in this specific section more precisely deal with the relations between the philosophical notion of freedom as Hegel developed it explicitly apropos the theory of the market in his Philosophy of Mind, with the expected reference to Marx’s critique of political economy also arising, and with the name Nietzsche itself being as more a detour through which to deal with his different popularized ideas of “The will to power” and “The Übermensch”, etc., something which can be ultimately subsumed under the name of “Nietzschean amoral ethics” as positioned against the notion of “The Last man”, who is supposedly still caught up in everyday morality. This entire passing through the name of Nietzsche then allows Žižek to develop a more precise general reflection on the nature of Hegelian dialectics and its seemingly overwhelming and all-consuming method of notional mediation. Another book by Žižek titled Disparities also begins with a quotation of Nietzsche himself, more specifically one that allows us to see the antagonistic nature of his work towards Hegel more explicitly:


“I believe there has been no dangerous vacillation or crisis of German culture this century that has not been rendered more dangerous by the enormous and still continuing influence of this philosophy, the Hegelian.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History


In any case, Žižek is known to have aligned his thought and attitude more towards a “moralist” kind of philosophy in the tradition of Immanuel Kant and his philosophical notions of duty, personal responsibility and the categorical imperative, together with Georg W. F. Hegel’s theory of morality (and already a quick glance at his Phenomenology of Spirit with regards to the notion of Bildung allows us to see he was very heavily invested upon this topic) than the more transgressive a-morality as advocated by Nietzsche. But what I’m trying to focus upon more here is how precisely Žižek uses the theoretical couple of Hegel versus Nietzsche which is then developed into the duality of “Nietzschean” Struggle and “Hegelian” Reconciliation in the next sub-chapter through the famous Hegelian “Master-Slave dialectics” to deliver us a completely unexpected theory of labor and the market. Lets just quote the entire passages by Žižek from the two sub-chapter found in Less than Nothing:


“The same insight underlies Hegel’s analysis of the passage from labor to thought in the subchapter on Master and Servant in the Phenomenology of Spirit. Lebrun is fully justified in emphasizing, against Kojève, that Hegel is far from celebrating (collective) labor as the site of the productive self-assertion of human subjectivity, as the process of forceful transformation and appropriation of natural objects, their subordination to human goals. All finite thought remains caught in the “spurious infinity” of the never-ending process of the (trans)formation of objective reality which always resists the full subjective grasp, so that the subject’s work is never done: “As an aggressive activity deployed by a finite being, labor signals above all man’s impotence to integrally take possession of nature.” This finite thought is the horizon of Kant and Fichte: the endless practico-ethical struggle to overcome external obstacles as well as the subject’s own inner nature. Their philosophies are the philosophies of struggle, while in Hegel’s philosophy, the fundamental stance of the subject towards objective reality is not that of practical engagement, of confrontation with the inertia of objectivity, but that of letting-it-be: purified of its pathological particularity, the universal subject is certain of itself, it knows that its thought already is the form of reality, so it can renounce enforcing its projects upon reality, it can let reality be the way it is.

This is why my labor gets all the more close to its truth the less I work to satisfy my need, that is, to produce objects I will consume. This is why industry which produces for the market is spiritually “higher” than production for one’s own needs: in market-production, I manufacture objects with no relation to my needs. The highest form of social production is therefore that of a merchant: “the merchant is the only one who relates to the Good as a perfect universal subject, since the object in no way interests him on behalf of its aesthetic presence or its use value, but only insofar as it contains a desire of an other.” And this is also why, in order to arrive at the “truth” of labor, one should gradually abstract from the (external) goal it strives to realize.

[…] Labor is simultaneously the (trans)formation of external objects and the disciplinary self-formation/education (Bildung) of the subject itself. Hegel here celebrates precisely the alienated and alienating character of labor: far from being a direct expression of my creativity, labor forces me to submit to artificial discipline, to renounce my innermost immediate tendencies, to alienate myself from my natural Self:

Desire has reserved to itself the pure negating of the object and thereby unalloyed feeling of self. This satisfaction, however, just for that reason is itself only a state of evanescence, for it lacks objectivity or subsistence. Labour, on the other hand, is desire restrained and checked, evanescence delayed and postponed; in other words, labour shapes and fashions the thing.

As such, labor prefigures thought, it achieves its telos in thinking which no longer works on an external stuff, but is already its own stuff, or, which no longer imposes its subjective/finite form onto external reality but is already in itself the infinite form of reality. For finite thought, the concept of an object is a mere concept, the subjective goal one actualizes when, by way of labor, one imposes it onto reality. For speculative thought, on the contrary, thought is not merely subjective, it is in itself already objective―it renders the objective conceptual form of the object. This is why inner Spirit, certain of itself, “no longer needs to form/shape nature and to render it spiritual in order to fixate the divine and to make its unity with nature externally visible: insofar as the free thought thinks externality, it can leave it the way it is (kann er es lassen wie es ist).”

This sudden retroactive reversal from not-yet to already-is (we never directly realize a goal―we pass from striving to realize a goal to a sudden recognition that it is already realized) is what distinguishes Hegel from all kinds of historicist tropes, including the standard Marxist critical reproach that the Hegelian ideal reconciliation is insufficient, since it leaves reality (real pain and suffering) the way it is, and that what is needed is actual reconciliation through radical social transformation. For Hegel, the illusion is not that of the enforced “false reconciliation” which ignores the persisting divisions; the true illusion resides in not seeing that, in what appears to us as the chaos of becoming, the infinite goal is already realized: “Within the finite order, we cannot experience or see that the goal is truly achieved. The accomplishment of the infinite goal resides only in overcoming the illusion [Täuschung―deception] that this goal is not yet achieved.”

In short, the ultimate deception lies in the failure to see that one already has what one is looking for―like Christ’s disciples awaiting his “real” reincarnation, blind to the fact that their collective already was the Holy Spirit, the return of the living Christ. Lebrun is thus justified in noting that the final reversal of the dialectical process, as we have seen, far from involving the magical intervention of a deus ex machina, is a purely formal turnaround, a shift in perspective: the only thing that changes in the final reconciliation is the subject’s standpoint―the subject endorses the loss, re-inscribes it as its triumph. Reconciliation is thus simultaneously both less and more than the standard idea of overcoming an antagonism: less, because nothing “really changes”; more, because the subject of the process is deprived of its very (particular) substance.


To any reader somehow still designating themselves as “Communist”, “Marxist” or automatically ascribing to Žižek purely some kind of a naive anti-capitalist and thus automatically anti-market stance in the classical Marxist vein, as it often happens in the online commentary upon is work, these couple of passages from Less than Nothing should strike him or her as surprising and counter-intuitive at least, and prove his theoretical stance to be much more carefully refined in this area. What we get here is a variation of Žižek, who through a reading of Lebrun develops a positive account of the market, an unexpected turn in the development of his political thought.

Now of course these passages display no simple advocacy of the capitalist enterprise and we should always take Žižek’s assertion and desire for a “New 21st Century internationalist” kind of “Communism” seriously to some extent, as long as we remember that what he calls Communism is ultimately nothing more than a purely negative signifier which allows us to see the falsity of our every day capitalist ideology.

In short, the term Communism as it appears in Žižek’s work more closely resembles those kind of “ideology-critique sunglasses” as they appear in the cult-film They Live! from 1988, a reference to which Žižek often likes to return to. The main function of Žižek’s Communism is therefore to act as a kind of a suturing master-signifier, which discursively enables us to develop a real critique, to position ourselves in to an “alienating” distancing point from the spontaneous ideological frame of everyday ideology as sold to us by those in power, giving us the tools to develop a real kind of anti-capitalism which would ultimately not be able to be simply subsumed in the inner logic of the monstrous machine of the global capitalist enterprise. Or in other words, Žižeks work gives us nothing less than a ladder which enables his readers to climb out of Plato’s cave.

‘Less than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism’ by Slavoj Žižek

Published by Verso in 2012. Download link updated on 22. June 2021.

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For the last two centuries, Western philosophy has developed in the shadow of Hegel, an influence each new thinker struggles to escape. As a consequence, Hegel’s absolute idealism has become the bogeyman of philosophy, obscuring the fact that he is the defining philosopher of the historical transition to modernity, a period with which our own times share startling similarities.

Today, as global capitalism comes apart at the seams, we are entering a new period of transition. In Less Than Nothing, the product of a career-long focus on the part of its author, Slavoj Žižek argues it is imperative we not simply return to Hegel but that we repeat and exceed his triumphs, overcoming his limitations by being even more Hegelian than the master himself. Such an approach not only enables Žižek to diagnose our present condition, but also to engage in a critical dialogue with the key strands of contemporary thought—Heidegger, Badiou, speculative realism, quantum physics, and cognitive sciences. Modernity will begin and end with Hegel.

‘Both the hard right and liberal left are steeped in racism and its legacy. The hope for change comes from elsewhere by’ Slavoj Žižek

Text as published on https://www.independent.co.uk/ 2 days ago

The world order as we knew it is disintegrating. Countries are cutting links with the World Health Organisation and other international bodies. They are revoking old armament agreements. Donald Trump announced his intention to use the US army on the streets of his own cities; China talks about a possible military invasion of Taiwan; Valdimir Putin says that Russia may use nuclear arms even if it’s attacked by conventional arms.

In this situation, nationalist populists were expected to seize the opportunity of the Covid-19 pandemic and change their countries into isolated fiefdoms directed against foreign enemies. But it didn’t work. Their bravados instead turned into a display of blatant impotence and incompetence.

Let’s take the three big authoritarian populists. As Angela Dewan put it: “Trump, Putin and Bolsonaro find their populist playbooks are no match for coronavirus.” (And, for that matter, neither is Boris Johnson’s, as he too plays a populist card.) “The coronavirus pandemic could have been a moment of glory for the world’s populist leaders. This is a period of heightened fear and anxiety – emotions that typically allow them to thrive. Instead, some populists are finding themselves powerless against the outbreaks ravaging their countries. The US, Russia and Brazil now have the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, and as their death tolls continue to rise, their economies are taking devastating blows.”

Trump found himself in a special predicament when the Covid-19 crisis was coupled with the protests against the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police. The two have echoes of one another. A much higher percentage of black people are affected by police violence, and by the Covid-19 infection.

In this mess, Trump is simply out of his league, unable to impose a unifying vision, to perform the gesture of a leader in a situation which calls for a leader: a sincere description of the gravity of the situation with some kind of hope and vision.

As Robert Reich wrote: “You’d be forgiven if you hadn’t noticed. His verbal bombshells are louder than ever, but Donald Trump is no longer president of the United States.” When he threatened, if police and National Guard could not bring calm, to send regular troops in to crush protests with its “infinite force”, he became the agent and instigator of a civil war.

But what exactly is this war?

One thing about the ongoing protests in the US is not emphasised enough, though it is absolutely crucial: there is no place for the dissatisfaction which fuels the protests within the space of the “culture war” between the liberal left and populist neo-conservatives.

The left’s stance towards the Black Lives Matter resurgence is that dignified peaceful protests must be encouraged, but there should be no extremist destructive excesses and looting. In some elementary sense that is right, of course, but it misses the true meaning of violent excess: a reaction to the fact that liberal, peaceful and gradual political change has not worked and systemic racism persists in the US. What emerges in violent protest is an anger that cannot be adequately represented in our political space.

This is also why so many representatives of the establishment, not only liberals but also conservatives, are openly critical of Trump’s aggressive stance towards the protesters. The establishment desperately wants to channel protests into the coordinates of the eternal “struggle against racism”, one of liberalism’s endless tasks. They are ready to admit that we didn’t do enough, that there is a long and difficult work ahead, just to prevent a quick radicalisation of the protests, not towards even more violence but their transformation into an autonomous political movement with a platform clearly demarcated from the liberal establishment.

Violent protests are the return of the repressed of our liberal societies; a symptom which enacts what cannot be formulated in the vocabulary of liberal multiculturalism. Usually, we accuse people of just speaking, instead of doing something. These protests are the exact opposite: people act violently because they don’t have the words to express their grievance within our political structure.

To paraphrase yet again Brecht’s good old saying: “What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a new bank?” What is a direct racist obscenity compared to the obscenity of a liberal who practices multiculturalist tolerance in such a way that it allows him or her to retain racist prejudices?

The result is a culture which leaves a sad choice for the oppressed black citizen: either you are considered subjectively deficient (racism) or you are a product of objective circumstances (the conclusion of the politically correct liberal). How to break out of this deadlock? How to transform that blind rage into new political subjectivity?

The first step in this direction was made by some members of the police themselves. Many police officers, including NYPD’s chief Terence Monahan, “took the knee” alongside the protesters – a practice which was introduced decades ago by American athletes when they won a gold medal and the national anthem was played at sporting events. The message of this gesture is to signal racial injustice in their own country, and since it is a sign of disrespect towards the national anthem, it means that one is not ready to fully identify oneself with the US – “this is not my country”.

No wonder the Chinese gleefully report on the protests in the US, reading them as a repetition of the Hong Kong protests. One of the main demands of the Chinese authorities was that Hong Kong should not allow disrespectful treatment of the Chinese national anthem and of other state symbols of China.

Taking the knee also has another meaning, especially when it is done by those who act on behalf of the repressive apparatus of power: it is a signal of respect for the protesters, even with a touch of self-humiliation.

If we combine this meaning with the basic message – “this America, for which it is my job to act, is not my country” – we get the full meaning of the gesture: not the standard anti-Americanism, but a demand for a new beginning, for another America.

So is the US still the world’s moral leader, as CNN asked this week? No, not after Trump’s actions. But what we now see clearly is that the US never was the world’s moral leader, since to achieve that it would need a radical political renovation way beyond the left’s vision of tolerance.

In my books, I often quote an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic. A German worker gets a job in Siberia. Aware that all his mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: “Let’s establish a code, if a letter you get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false.”

After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink: “Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theatres show films from the west – the only thing unavailable is red ink.”

This is what the protest movement should look for: the “red ink” to properly formulate its message. Or, as Ras Baraka, the mayor of Newark and son of the great black poet Amiri Baraka, put it, we cannot win with guns. To have a chance to win, we have to use books.

‘American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army’ by Fredric Jameson & Slavoj Žižek

Published by Verso in 2016. Download link updated on 27. June 2021.

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Fredric Jameson’s pathbreaking essay An American Utopia radically questions standard leftist notions of what constitutes an emancipated society. Advocated here are—among other things—universal conscription, the full acknowledgment of envy and resentment as a fundamental challenge to any communist society, and the acceptance that the division between work and leisure cannot be overcome.

To create a new world, we must first change the way we envision the world. Jameson’s text is ideally placed to trigger a debate on the alternatives to global capitalism. In addition to Jameson’s essay, the volume includes responses from philosophers and political and cultural analysts, as well as an epilogue from Jameson himself.

Many will be appalled at what they will encounter in these pages—there will be blood! But perhaps one has to spill such (ideological) blood to give the Left a chance.

Do people still read? A minor reflection.

Remembering recent proclamations in the local media about the dying of book culture, I believe that this is an interesting phenomena to some extent; while literacy has on the one hand exploded and the general population receives a relatively high degree of education, with just about everyone out there waving a diploma these days, although of comparably questionable quality to those from previous decades, it is at the same time immersed in the cyber sphere through the role of the new tech and media. Do people still read books, and read them properly today? I do not know, and am not sure if I am to trust the so-called self-proclaimed people of culture, as far as they represent today’s bourgeoisie, a bunch mostly resembling a universalized Madame Bovary.

What probably did happen though is the decline of literacy not in this general level of simply being able to read and comprehend in an abstract way, since today’s world is ruled by abstractions of the virtual and financial kind and everyone is somehow immersed in those, but in the more deeper sense of critical theory. If one would pose the question ‘is it possible to be a philosopher today?’, in the majority of cases the answer would be negative, with just a few privileged individuals coming to mind, those whose sole purpose is to act as the exception to the rule (Žižek, Badiou, Sloterdijk, etc.). And even they are getting old.

Perhaps it would be fruitful to connect this decline of critical theory together with philosophy as such with a more general fascination with images and sound, with the so-called imaginary realm. One could get back to Hegel’s criticism already found in his Phenomenology of Spirit, which is all about how one must first move away from the beginning standpoint of sense certainty to be able to deal with philosophical issues at all. That was apparently his entire reason for writing the book and it’s sole use, to be discarded like a used condom later, with the punchline being that that entire effort of the path achieved through it’s reading is the standpoint of absolute knowledge at the end. What this means for me is that while people are generally literate, they do not necessarily make this general philosophical move away from the direct unmediated experience of being, being in the world. Do we need a new Phenomenology?

What we basically got today is the passage from the modern ‘passion of the real‘ (Badiou) as represented in the XXth century, with its direct destructive assertion, into what I would call the post-modern ‘passion for the image‘, of the escape into aesthetisation. Philosophy might be dying, as it always has been, many might already proclaim it dead, but there is no doubt that poetry of various kinds continues to thrive, which could be seen as the victory of the aesthetic against the more modern ‘rule of reason’ as we’ve been used to in the previous century or two.

So what is to be done? While taking both psychoanalytic theory and philosophy as the starting point, both seem to provide inadequate answers to the problem. Psychoanalysis via Freud’s and Lacan’s work unfortunately often seems to resemble nothing more than mere sophistry, when looked at from the philosophical perspective. Let me just note in passing the often evoked and quite obvious point that analysts earn money in the clinic with their profession, so the financial impetus is also present – with sophistry being designated already in Plato’s time as the profession of those who attempt to conjure money by empty rhetoric. Now this is a commonplace criticism and I’m not mentioning anything new. On the other hand, philosophical endeavors as seen from the theoretical lens of psychoanalytic thought most often resemble nothing more as different kinds of a narcissistic libidinal economy of the obsessional type. And to back this point it’s easy to mention in passing how Freud connected obsessional neurosis with the religious dimension of thinking, i.e. the vulgar common charge of ‘magical thinking’ could easily be set against various different kinds of philosophers, or at least those proclaiming themselves to be such today.

So both of the huge intellectual projects of the past, be it of the philosophical variant as we’re able to find in the German classical philosophy of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which already looks like an antiquated fossil of human cultural endeavours from today’s standpoint, or the kind we find in the psychoanalytic clinic of the Freudian and Lacanian variety throughout the entire 20th century, seem to be inadequate and always-already outdated from their very beginning, or somehow strangely contentiously dying at least from their very inception. But what is the alternative? Maybe a new field of theoretical endeavor will eventually have to be invented, somehow by someone, one that will establish new standards for today’s era, or at least stop the trend of a general recession in thinking.

Now a close reader of the assertions written here might notice that it’s not my purpose to simply reject either philosophy or psychoanalytic theory and practice – they have their place and purpose, if nothing more then at least to act as a springboard from where to begin from. What I’m simply afraid of is that theoretical endeavors of both the academic and the extracurricular kind will have to reinvent themselves in order for any kind of thought to survive at all. From today’s perspective it could be said that what we’re witnessing is nothing more than the dying of an entire era of humanity, but with the death of that era together with its so-called cultural achievements we seem to have gotten nothing more than a stillborn baby.

What does this mean? This means that what we’re probably witnessing today is something akin to a new dark era with an entire world order simply disintegrating while nothing genuinely New seems to be able to replace it. And this is quite a dangerous situation, not just for the so-called people of culture and those who dabble in seemingly difficult theoretical obscurities, but consequently for everyone else as well. It could be said that there is no necessity for the general eclipse of thought as engendered in world literature, yet it is still somehow occurring as a tendency right in front of our eyes. Who will be the new big public figures of thought for the 21st century? Unfortunately, I know of no candidates.

‘Nietzsche Apostle’ by Peter Sloterdijk

Published by MIT Press in November 2013. Download link updated on 29. June 2021.

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Peter Sloterdijk’s essay on Friedrich Nietzsche and the benefits and dangers of narcissistic jubilation.

For Peter Sloterdijk, Friedrich Nietzsche represents nothing short of a “catastrophe in the history of language”—a new evangelist for a linguistics of narcissistic jubilation. Nietzsche offered a philosophical declaration of independence from humility, a meeting-point of sobriety and megalomania that for Sloterdijk has come to define the very project of philosophy.

Yet for all the significance of this language-event named Nietzsche, Nietzsche’s contributions have too often been elided and the contradictions at the root of his philosophy too often edited out. As Sloterdijk observes, “Never has an author so insisted on distinction and yet attracted such vulgarity.” Nietzsche Apostle, drawn from a speech Sloterdijk gave in 2000 on the hundredth anniversary of Nietzsche’s death, looks at the ways in which Nietzsche has been branded over the years through selective compilation, and at the ways in which Nietzsche turned himself into a brand—a brand announced by his proclaimed “fifth Gospel,” Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

For Sloterdijk, the focus should not be on the figure of Zarathustra or on the “will to power” often used as a kind of philosophical shorthand to sum up Nietzsche’s work, but on Zarathustra’s act of “speaking” itself. Nietzsche Apostle offers a brief history of self-praise and self-affirmation, an examination of the evolution of boasting (both by God and by man), and a very original approach to Nietzsche, philosophy’s first designer brand of individualism.

‘Love in a Time of Loneliness: Three Essays on Drives and Desires’ by Paul Verhaeghe

First published by Other Press in 1999.

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In Love in a Time of Loneliness, Paul Verhaeghe goes in search of the things that motivate us most yet paralyze us at the same time: love and sexuality. What has changed over recent decades in the ways the two sexes relate to each other? That question is the starting point for three critical treatments of contemporary sexual relationships between men and women, the aim being to identify those things that have not changed at all.

Verhaeghe looks into the differences between male and female sexual fantasies and recasts the Freudian anti­thesis, Eros and Thanatos, as a contrast between two different forms of sexual pleasure. The fact that this conflict between the forces of life and death largely plays itself out between men and women shows that the difference between the sexes goes much deeper than habitual role patterns, which are always tied to specific eras. And what do the Oedipus complex and power have to do with all this? Lastly he investigates why cultural changes, such as those introduced by the sexual revolution, have not only liberated male-female relationships but made them more problematic as well.

Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the Ecole Freudienne

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Psychoanalysis is certainly one of the most contested areas of debate within feminism. This book presents articles on feminine sexuality by Lacan and members of the ecole freudienne, the school of psychoanalysis that Lacan directed in Paris from 1964 to 1980.

The question of feminine sexuality has divided the psychoanalytic movement since the 1920s. Despite their opposition to each other, contemporary psychoanalysis and feminism both reject Freud’s phallocentrism. This book forcefully reasserts the importance of the castration complex in Freud’s work and of the phallus in the work of Lacan, offering them not as a reflection of a theory based on male supremacy and privilege but as the terms through which any such privilege is exposed as a fraud. Lacan’s rereading of Freud is seen here to reveal, in a way that no other account has been able to do, the arbitrary and fictional nature of both male and female sexual identity and, specifically, the fantasy behind the category “woman” as the dominant fetish of our culture. These texts reveal that women constantly exceed the barriers of the definition to which they are confined.

In Dora’s Case: Freud, Hysteria, Feminism

Published by Columbia University Press in 1990

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Freud invented psychoanalysis between 1895 and 1900 on the basis of his clinical experience with hysterical patients, most of them women. The most provocative and intriguing of these patients was Ida Bauer, whom Freud named Dora when he published her case history as Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.

This anthology of twelve stimulating articles places Dora’s case at the center of the contemporary debate about the role of sexual difference in interpretation. The essays raise such controversial issues in psychoanalysis as the relative importance of the oedipal father and the preoedipal mother, the function of transference and countertransference, and the Lacanian emphasis on the psychic analogues of linguistic structure. More broadly, they suggest a critique not only of Freud’s assumptions about the nature of femininity and female desire but also of still’pervasive cultural expectations regarding the relation of gender to power. Finally, many of the essays analyze the particularly literary qualities of Freud’s writing, showing, for example, how his brilliant use of modernist narrative strategies threatens to undermine the scientific status of his inquiry and to subject his text to his own diagnosis of hysteria. Full of intricate twists and turns, Dora exposes Freud as revealing more than he knows and thus becoming a central character in this drama that escapes his control.

Three of the articles gathered here are by analysts, one by a historian, and the rest by literary critics, many of whom use and critique analytic methods developed by contemporary French feminist theorists. The editors’ substantial introductions sketch the history of the medical treatment for hysteria, provide an overview of Freud’s thinking on the subject prior to his writing of this case, and discuss the critical methods and intellectual contexts of the contributors to the volume. In Dora*s Case thus offers a rich variety of interpretive material to help elucidate this most compelling of Freudian texts. Demonstrating the productive interplay of psychoanalysis, literary analysis, and feminist criticism, this book presents an exciting and challenging cross-disciplinary response to Freud’s famous question, “What does a woman want?”

‘The Unconscious’ by Sigmund Freud

Published by Penguin in 2005

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One of Freud’s central achievements was to demonstrate how unacceptable thoughts and feelings are repressed into the unconscious, from where they continue to exert a decisive influence over our lives. This volume contains a key statement about evidence for the unconscious, and how it works, as well as major essays on all the fundamentals of mental functioning. Freud explores how we are torn between the pleasure principle and the reality principle, how we often find ways both to express and to deny what we most fear, and why certain men need fetishes for their sexual satisfaction. His study of our most basic drives, and how they are transformed, brilliantly illuminates the nature of sadism, masochism, exhibitionism and voyeurism.

‘The Wolfman and Other Cases’ by Sigmund Freud

Published by Penguin in 2002.
Download link updated on 21. June 2021.

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When a disturbed young Russian man came to Freud for treatment, the analysis of his childhood neuroses—most notably a dream about wolves outside his bedroom window—eventually revealed a deep-seated trauma. It took more than four years to treat him, and “The Wolfman” became one of Freud’s most famous cases.

This volume also contains the case histories of a boy’s fear of horses and the Ratman’s violent fear of rats, as well as the essay “Some Character Types,” in which Freud draws on the work of Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Nietzsche to demonstrate different kinds of resistance to therapy. Above all, the case histories show us Freud at work, in his own words.

‘The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance’ by Bruce Fink

Published by Princeton University Press in 1996

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This book presents the radically new theory of subjectivity found in the work of Jacques Lacan. Against the tide of post-structuralist thinkers who announce “the death of the subject,” Bruce Fink explores what it means to come into being as a subject where impersonal forces once reigned, subjectify the alien roll of the dice at the beginning of our universe, and make our own knotted web of our parents’ desires that led them to bring us into this world.

Lucidly guiding readers through the labyrinth of Lacanian theory—unpacking such central notions as the Other, object a, the unconscious as structures like a language, alienation and separation, the paternal metaphor, jouissance, and sexual difference—Fink demonstrates in-depth knowledge of Lacan’s theoretical and clinical work. Indeed, this is the first book to appear in English that displays a firm grasp of both theory and practice of Lacanian psychoanalysis, the author being one of the only Americans to have undergone full training with Lacan’s school in Paris.

Fink Leads the reader step by step into Lacan’s conceptual system to explain how one comes to be a subject—leading to psychosis. Presenting Lacan’s theory in the context of his clinical preoccupations, Fink provides the most balanced, sophisticated, and penetrating view of Lacan’s work to date–invaluable to the initiated and the uninitiated alike.


“The Lacanian Subject not only provides an excellent introduction into the fundamental coordinates of Jacques Lacan’s conceptual network; it also proposes original solutions to (or at least clarifications of) some of the crucial dilemmas left open by Lacan’s work.”
—Slavoj Žižek, Journal for Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society

“Fink provides the first clear, comprehensive, systematic account of Lacan’s work in English. The influence of this book is certain to be immense on theorists and therapists alike as it provides the fully articulated foundations for a Lacanian pedagogy, and makes generally available a radically new understanding of the analyst’s role. A magnificent piece of intellectual synthesis, an imposing and original contribution to psychoanalytic thought.”
—Richard Klein, Cornell University

‘Why Todestrieb is a Philosophical Concept’ by Slavoj Žižek



Sigmund Freud introduces his notorious concept of the ‘Todestrieb’, the ‘death drive’ in his famous essay ‘Jenseits des Lustprinzips’ (‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’) of 1920. This text has intrigued and puzzled many readers as it relates the death drive to both the so-called ‘Nirvana principle’ aiming at a state without tension and the repetition compulsion, the almost mechanical kernel of the drive itself.

If Freud’s death drive stands here philosophically between negation (Schopenhauer) and affirmation (Nietzsche) of the will, Slavoj Žižek insists that  we should not confuse the death drive with the craving for self-annihilation, for the return to the inorganic absence of any life-tension.

As his The Parallax View states, the death drive is, on the contrary, ‘the very opposite of dying – a name for the “undead” eternal life itself, for the horrible fate of being caught in the endless repetitive cycle of wandering around in guilt and pain.’

In Žižek’s Lacanian reading, the (death) drive represents a ‘diabolic’ dimension of human beings in opposition to a desire for the lost object that would overcome all differences and tensions. Its articulation as a philosophical concept is certain to lead us also to a deeper understanding of the concept of tension.


Slavoj Žižek is Professor in the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and member of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. He has gained wide recognition with his characteristic combination of high and low, of Lacanian theory, pop cultural issues, and Post-Marxism. He has published many books, edited several collections, and published numerous philosophical and political articles.

‘The Psychology of Love’ by Sigmund Freud

Published by Penguin in 2006

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Freud’s landmark writings on love and sexuality—including the famous case study of Dora—newly translated and in one volume for the first time. This original collection brings together the most important writings on the psychology of love by one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century. Sigmund Freud’s discussions of the ways in which sexuality is always psychosexuality—that there is no sexuality without fantasy—have changed social, cultural and intellectual attitudes toward erotic life. Among the influential pieces included here are On Female Sexuality, The Taboo of Virginity, A Child Is Being Beaten, and the widely cited case history of the eighteen-year-old Dora, making The Psychology of Love essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Freud’s tremendous legacy.

‘Civilization and Its Discontents’ by Sigmund Freud

It was written in 1929 and first published in German in 1930 as ‘Das Unbehagen in der Kultur‘, this edition published by Penguin in 2002.
Download link updated on 21. June 2021.

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In what remains one of his most seminal papers, Freud considers the incompatibility of civilisation and individual happiness, and the tensions between the claims of society and the individual. We all know that living in civilised groups means sacrificing a degree of personal interest, but couldn’t you argue that it in fact creates the conditions for our happiness?

Freud explores the arguments and counter-arguments surrounding this proposition, focusing on what he perceives to be one of society’s greatest dangers; ‘civilised’ sexual morality. After all, doesn’t repression of sexuality deeply affect people and compromise their chances of happiness?

‘Lacan & Science’ edited by Jason Glynos

Published by Routledge in 2002.

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The current volume represents an exciting collection of essays critically examining the relation between modern science and Lacanian psychoanalysis in approaching the question of mental suffering. Lacan & Science also tackles more widely the role and logic of scientific practice in general, taking as its focus psychic processes. Central themes that are explored from a variety of perspectives include the use of mathematics in Lacanian psychoalanysis, the importance of linguistics and Freud’s text in Lacan’s approach, and the central significance attached to ethics and the role of the subject. Constituting an invaluable addition to existing literature, this comprehensive volume offers a fresh insight into Lacan’s conception of the subject and its implications to scientific practice and evidence.


Contents:

Introduction by Jason Glynos and Yannis Stravrakakis

  1. Theory and Evidence in the Freudian Field: From Observation to Structure by Jason Glynos
  2. Psychoanalysis Operates Upon the Subject of Science: Lacan Between Science and Ethics by Jason Glynos
  3. A Matter of Cause: Reflections on Lacan’s “Science and Truth” by Dany Nobus
  4. Causality in Science and Psychoanalysis by Paul Verhaeghe
  5. Elements of Epistemology by Jacques-Alain Miller
  6. Knowledge and Science: Fantasies of the Whole by Bruce Fink
  7. From Mathematics to Psychology: Lacan’s Missed Encounters by David Corfield
  8. Postures and Impostures: On Lacan’s Style and Use of Mathematical Science by Jason Glynos and Yannis Staurakakis
  9. What Causes Structure to Find a Place in Love? by Bernard Burgoyne
  10. A Lacanian Approach to Clinical Diagnosis and Addiction by Rik Loose
  11. Lacan Between Cultural Studies and Cognitivism by Slavoj Žižek

‘What Happened in the 20th Century?’ by Peter Sloterdijk

Published by Polity in 2018. Download link updated on 28. June 2021.

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When we look back from the vantage point of the 21st century and ask ourselves what the previous century was all about, what do we see? Our first inclination is to focus on historical events: the 20th century was the age of two devastating world wars, of totalitarian regimes and terrible atrocities like the Holocaust – ‚the age of extremes‘, to use Hobsbawm’s famous phrase. But in this book, philosopher Peter Sloterdijk argues that we will never understand the 20th century if we focus on events and ideologies. Rather, in his view, the predominant motif of the 20th century is what Badiou called a passion for the real, which manifests itself as the will to actualize the truth directly in the here and now.

Sloterdijk interprets the actualization of the real in the 20th century as a passion for economic and technological ‚antigravitation‘. The rise of consumerism and the easing of the burdens of human life by the constant deployment of new technologies have killed off the kind of radicalism that was rooted in the belief that power would rise from a material base of production. If the 20th century can still inspire us today, it is because the fundamental shift that it brought about opened the way for a critique of extremist reason, a post-Marxist theory of enrichment and a general economy of energy resources based on excess and dissipation.

While developing his interpretation of the 20th century, Sloterdijk also addresses a series of related topics including the meaning of the Anthropocene, the domestication of humans and the significance of the sea. The volume also includes major new pieces on Derrida and on Heidegger’s politics.

‘In the World Interior of Capital: Towards a Philosophical Theory of Globalization’ by Peter Sloterdijk

Published by Polity in 2013. Download link updated on 28. June 2021.

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Displaying the distinctive combination of narration and philosophy for which he is well known, this book by Peter Sloterdijk develops a radical account of globalization at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The author takes seriously the historical and philosophical consequences of the notion of the earth as a globe, arriving at the thesis that what is praised or decried as globalization is actually the end phase in a process that began with the first circumnavigation of the earth and that one can already discern elements of a new era beyond globalization. 

In the end phase of globalization, the world system completed its development and, as a capitalist system, came to determine all conditions of life. Sloterdijk takes the Crystal Palace in London, the site of the first world exhibition in 1851, as the most expressive metaphor for this situation. The palace demonstrates the inevitable exclusivity of globalization as the construction of a comfort structure that is, the establishment and expansion of a world interior whose boundaries are invisible, yet virtually insurmountable from without, and which is inhabited by one and a half billion winners of globalization; three times this number are left standing outside the door.


Peter Sloterdijk is Professor of Philosophy and Aesthetics at the Karlsruhe School of Design.

Hegel and Resistance: History, Politics and Dialectics

Published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2017

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The concept of resistance has always been central to the reception of Hegel’s philosophy. The prevalent image of Hegel’s system, which continues to influence the scholarship to this day, is that of an absolutist, monist metaphysics which overcomes all resistance, sublating or assimilating all differences into a single organic ‘Whole’. For that reason, the reception of Hegel has always been marked by the question of how to resist Hegel: how to think that which remains outside of or other to the totalizing system of dialectics.

In recent years the work of scholars such as Catherine Malabou, Slavoj Žižek, Rebecca Comay and Frank Ruda has brought considerable nuance to this debate. A new reading of Hegel has emerged which challenges the idea that there is no place for difference, otherness or resistance in Hegel, both by refusing to reduce Hegel’s complex philosophy to a straightforward systematic narrative and by highlighting particular moments within Hegel’s philosophy which seem to counteract the traditional understanding of dialectics.

This book brings together established and new voices in this field in order to show that the notion of resistance is central to this revaluation of Hegel.


Table of contents

1. Editors’ Introduction

Part I: Method

2. Hegel, Resistance and Method
Frank Ruda (Bauhaus University Weimar, Germany)
3. Resistance and Repetition: Freud and Hegel
Rebecca Comay (University of Toronto, Canada)
4. Dialectics as Resistance: Hegel, Benjamin, Adorno
Rocío Zambrana (University of Oregon, USA)

Part II: Nature and History

5. The Spirit of Resistance and its Fate
Howard Caygill (Kingston University London, UK)
6. Subjectivity, Madness and Habit: Forms of Resistance in Hegel’s Anthropology
Kirill Chepurin (HSE Moscow/Humboldt University Berlin, Germany)
7. Inertia and Obsolescence in Hegel’s Theory of Social-Historical Development
Bart Zantvoort (University College Dublin)

Part III: Politics

8. Freedom and Dissent in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
Karin de Boer (University of Leuven, Belgium)
9. Stages of an Inversive Right to Resistance in Hegel
Klaus Vieweg (University of Jena, Germany)
10. Does the rabble resist Hegel’s Philosophy of Right?
Louis Carré (FRS/FNRS/Centre for Political Theory Brussels, Belgium)

Hegel, Logic and Speculation

Published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2019

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This book offers new critical perspectives on the relationship between the notions of speculation, logic and reality in Hegel’s thought as basis for his philosophical account of nature, history, spirit and human experience. The systematic functions of logic and pure thought are explored in their concrete forms and processual progression from subjective spirit to philosophy of right, society, the notion of habit, the idea of work, art, religion and science. Engaging the relation between the Logic and its realisations, this book shows the internal tension that inhabits Hegel’s philosophy at the intersection of logical (conceptual) speculation and concrete (interpretative) analysis. The investigation of this tension allows for a hermeneutical approach that demystifies the common view of Hegel’s idealism as a form of abstract thought, while allowing for a new assessment of the importance of speculation for a concrete understanding of the world.

‘Kant’s Life and Thought’ by Ernst Cassirer

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First published in 1918, Kant’s Life and Thought has become a classic of its kind. Now available for the first time in English, this edition of Cassirer’s study includes an introduction by Stephan Körner which places it in the context of contemporary Kant scholarship.


“Here is the first Kant-biography in English since Paulsen’s and Cassirer’s only full-scale study of Kant’s philosophy. On a very deep level, all of Cassirer’s philosophy was based on Kant’s, and accordingly this book is Cassirer’s explicit coming to terms with his own historical origins. It sensitively integrates interesting facts about Kant’s life with an appreciation and critique of his works. Its value is enhanced by Stephen Körner’s Introduction, which places Cassirer’s Kant-interpretation in its historical and contemporary context.”―Lewis White Beck

“Kant’s Life and Thought is that rare achievement: a lucid and highly readable account of the life and work of one of the world’s profoundest thinkers. Now for the first time available in an admirable English translation, the book introduces the reader to two of the finest minds in the history of philosophy.”―Ashley Montagu

“The first English translation (well done by James Haden) of a 60-year-old classic intellectual biography. Those readers who know Kant only through the first Critique will find their understanding of that work deepened and illuminated by a long explication of the pre-critical writings, but perhaps the most distinctive contribution is Cassirer’s argument that the later Critiques, and especially the Critique of Judgment, must be understood not as merely applying the principles of the first to other areas but as subsuming the latter into a larger and more comprehensive framework.”—Frederick J. Crown, The Key Reporter

‘Ambedkar and Other Immortals: An Untouchable Research Programme’ by Soumyabrata Choudhury

Published by in 2018. Download link updated on 29. June 2021.

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Ambedkar and Other Immortals produces urgent interpretive realignments which provoke in us the capacity to receive a new, vital wound of thinking: the wound of Ambedkar-thought. In the same way Althusser’s work marked a philosophical return to Marx, and Lacan’s to Freud, Choudhury makes a ‘return’ to Ambedkar guided through by Alain Badiou’s philosophical system.

Ambedkar, the activist and politician, is upheld as a thinker with supreme fidelity to the “norm of equality”, a figure in a long line of immortals from Pericles and Abbé Sieyès to Toussaint L’Ouverture. This wager on equality is undeterred by its continuous absence on the ground, and claims that recognizing the persistent logic of subjugation itself opens up the space for a universal articulation for emancipation.


Soumyabrata Choudhury is Associate Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He has authored Theatre, Number, Event: Three Studies on the Relationship between Sovereignty, Power and Truth, and articles on ancient Greek liturgy, the staging of Ibsen, psychoanalysis, Nietzsche, Schiller and Hegel.


“I cannot praise this project enough. Not only is it, as far as I can see, a crucial intervention into Indian ideologico-political debates—what fascinated me is how it breaks out of the confines of the ‘East–West’ dichotomy by placing Ambedkar in series with Pericles, Aristotle, Abbé Sieyès and others, as an exemplar of radical egalitarian logic.

What we get is a reading of Ambedkar through Badiou, and I love the Maoist formulation of ‘Ambedkar–thought’, a universal thought actualized through an individual, a universal thought with a singular name of a person. The egalitarianism also holds for the relationship between East and West (and other parts of the world): they are a priori posited as equal. The struggle is not between East and West, it is internal to each culture—in India, it is between Ambedkar’s universalism and brahminic tradition, in the same way that in France, the struggle was between ancien regime and the new revolutionary order.

The way in which Soumyabrata Choudhury defines Ambedkar as ‘Europeanist’ is for me the most radical rejection of Eurocentrism: Ambedkar is (what we usually associate with) ‘Europe’ (European emancipatory legacy), but re-invented in India in an autonomous and unique manner.

Finally, I find incredibly forceful the idea of the community of ‘immortals’—mortal people personifying an immortal Idea.”

—Slavoj Žižek, Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana

‘The Open: Man and Animal’ by Giorgio Agamben

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The end of human history is an event that has been foreseen or announced by both messianics and dialecticians. But who is the protagonist of that history that is coming—or has come—to a close? What is man? How did he come on the scene? And how has he maintained his privileged place as the master of, or first among, the animals?

In The Open, contemporary Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben considers the ways in which the “human” has been thought of as either a distinct and superior type of animal, or a kind of being that is essentially different from animal altogether. In an argument that ranges from ancient Greek, Christian, and Jewish texts to twentieth-century thinkers such as Heidegger, Benjamin, and Kojève, Agamben examines the ways in which the distinction between man and animal has been manufactured by the logical presuppositions of Western thought, and he investigates the profound implications that the man/animal distinction has had for disciplines as seemingly disparate as philosophy, law, anthropology, medicine, and politics.

‘The Animal That Therefore I Am’ by Jacques Derrida

Published by Fordham University Press in 2008. Download link updated on 20. June 2021.

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The Animal That Therefore I Am is the translation of the complete text of Jacques Derrida’s ten-hour address to the 1997 Cérisy conference entitled “The Autobiographical Animal,” the third of four such colloquia on his work. The book was assembled posthumously on the basis of two published sections, one written and recorded session, and one informal recorded session.

The book is at once an affectionate look back over the multiple roles played by animals in Derrida’s work and a profound philosophical investigation and critique of the relegation of animal life that takes place as a result of the distinction—dating from Descartes—between man as thinking animal and every other living species. That starts with the very fact of the line of separation drawn between the human and the millions of other species that are reduced to a single “the animal.” Derrida finds that distinction, or versions of it, surfacing in thinkers as far apart as Descartes, Kant, Heidegger, Lacan, and Levinas, and he dedicates extended analyses to the question in the work of each of them.

The book’s autobiographical theme intersects with its philosophical analysis through the figures of looking and nakedness, staged in terms of Derrida’s experience when his cat follows him into the bathroom in the morning. In a classic deconstructive reversal, Derrida asks what this animal sees and thinks when it sees this naked man. Yet the experiences of nakedness and shame also lead all the way back into the mythologies of “man’s dominion over the beasts” and trace a history of how man has systematically displaced onto the animal his own failings or bêtises.

The Animal That Therefore I Am is at times a militant plea and indictment regarding, especially, the modern industrialized treatment of animals. However, Derrida cannot subscribe to a simplistic version of animal rights that fails to follow through, in all its implications, the questions and definitions of “life” to which he returned in much of his later work.

‘Understanding psychoanalysis’ by Matthew Sharpe & Joanne Faulkner

Published by Acumen Publishing in 2008

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Understanding Psychoanalysis presents a broad introduction to the key concepts and developments in psychoanalysis and its impact on modern thought. Charting pivotal moments in the theorization and reception of psychoanalysis, the book provides a comprehensive account of the concerns and development of Freud’s work, as well as his most prominent successors, Melanie Klein and Jacques Lacan. The work of these leading psychoanalytic theorists has greatly influenced thinking across other disciplines, notably feminism, film studies, poststructuralism, social and cultural theory, the philosophy of science and the emerging discipline of neuropsychoanalysis. Analysing this engagement with other disciplines and their key theorists, Understanding Psychoanalysis argues for a reconsideration of psychoanalysis as a resource for philosophy, science, and cultural studies.

‘Function beyond Function? Reflections on the Functionality of the Autonomous’ by Mladen Dolar

WAGNER: MANUSCRIPT, 1866. Orchestral score for Act II (‘cudgel scene’) of Richard Wagner’s ‘Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg,’ 1866.
Download link updated on 23. June 2021.

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What purpose does music serve? Of all the arts, music has always seemed to be the most autonomous, free from the bonds and limits of representation. Hence its functionality within this very autonomy or non-functionality: its link with the sacred, elevation over the economics of survival, its ritual value. This traditional view was brought to a crisis in the nineteenth century with the autonomy of art within the autonomization of different social spheres. This demanded a redefinition of autonomy and function which, through a radicalization, eventually led to modernism.


Mladen Dolar is Professor and Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana since 1982 and has served as the Advising Researcher in Theory at the Jan Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, Netherlands. He is also Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. His principal areas of research are Psychoanalysis, Modern French Philosophy (Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, Badiou, et. al.), German Idealism, and Art Theory, especially Musicology. With Žižek and others, Dolar was the co-founder of the Ljubljana Society of Theoretical Psychoanalysis, whose main aim is to read late 18th cent. and early 19th cent. German Classical Philosophy through the frame of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. His main field of expertise is the philosophy of Georg W. F. Hegel, on whom he has written several papers, including a two-volume interpretation of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit first published in Slovene between 1990 and 1991. Dolar has lectured extensively across many different Universities in Europe and the United States and is author of hundreds of papers in different scholarly journals and in various collected volumes. Apart from over twelve monograph publications in Slovene, his books published in English most notably include A Voice and Nothing More and Opera’s Second Death, both of which were translated into several languages. His new book The Riskiest Moment is forthcoming with Duke University Press.

‘Hegel on Possibility: Dialectics, Contradiction, and Modality’ by Nahum Brown

Published in 2020 by Bloomsbury Academic

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Providing a clear interpretation of Hegel’s characterizations of possibility and actuality in the Science of Logic, this book departs from the standard understandings of these concepts to break new ground in Hegelian scholarship.

The book draws out some of the implications of Hegel’s view of immanent possibility, especially as it relates to Leibniz’s thesis of modal optimism: his view that this world is the best of all possible worlds. Reading Hegel as a philosopher of possibility, against a tradition that has conceived of him primarily as a philosopher of necessity, rationality, and finitude, Nahum Brown demonstrates the historical background and philosophical traditions from which Hegel’s concept of possibility emerges.

Systematically outlining Hegel’s conceptions of positive and negative freedom, Brown reveals the Hegelian underpinnings of our conception of reality and what it is to be in the world itself. Original and convincing, this book is crucial for philosophers approaching modality from any tradition.

‘Disparities’ by Slavoj Žižek

Published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2016. Download link updated on 25. June 2021.

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The concept of disparity has long been a topic of obsession and argument for philosophers but Slavoj Žižek would argue that what disparity and negativity could mean, might mean and should mean for us and our lives has never been more hotly debated.

Disparities explores contemporary ‘negative’ philosophies from Catherine Malabou’s plasticity, Julia Kristeva’s abjection and Robert Pippin’s self-consciousness to the God of negative theology, new realisms and post-humanism and draws a radical line under them. Instead of establishing a dialogue with these other ideas of disparity, Slavoj Žižek wants to establish a definite departure, a totally different idea of disparity based on an imaginative dialectical materialism. This notion of rupturing what has gone before is based on a provocative reading of how philosophers can, if they’re honest, engage with each other.

Žižek borrows Alain Badiou’s notion that a true idea is the one that divides. Radically departing from previous formulations of negativity and disparity, Žižek employs a new kind of negativity: namely positing that when a philosopher deals with another philosopher, his or her stance is never one of dialogue, but one of division, of drawing a line that separates truth from falsity.

‘Marx: Towards the Centre of Possibility’ by Kojin Karatani


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Originally published in 1974, Kojin Karatani’s Marx: Towards the Centre of Possibility has been amongst his most enduring and pioneering works in critical theory. Written at a time when the political sequences of the New Left had collapsed into crisis and violence, with widespread political exhaustion for the competing sectarian visions of Marxism from 1968, Karatani’s Marx laid the groundwork for a new reading, unfamiliar to the existing Marxist discourse in Japan at the time.

Karatani’s Marx takes on insights from semiotics, deconstruction, and the reading of Marx as a literary thinker, treating Capital as an intervention in philosophy that could be read as itself a theory of signs. Marx is unique in this sense, not only because of its importance in post-68 Japanese thought, but also because the heterodox reading of Marx that Karatani debuts in this text, centered on his theory of the value-form, will go on to form the basis of his globally-influential work.

‘Machiavelli and Us’ by Louis Althusser

Published by Verso in 1999.

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“We do not publish our own drafts, that is, our own mistakes, but we do sometimes publish other people’s,” Louis Althusser once observed of Marx’s early writings. Among his own posthumously released drafts, one, at least, is incontestably neither mistake nor out-take: the text of his lecture course on Machiavelli, originally delivered at the École Normale Supérieure in 1972, intermittently revised up to the mid-1980s, and carefully prepared for publication after his death in 1990.

Though only appearing as an occasional reference in the Marxist philosopher’s oeuvre, Machiavelli was an unseen constant presence. For together with Spinoza and Marx, Machiavelli was a veritable Althusserian passion. Machiavelli and Us reveals why, and will be welcomed for the light it sheds on the richly complex thought of its author.

‘Machiavelli in the Making’ by Claude Lefort

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Machiavelli in the Making is both a novel interpretation of the Florentine’s work and a critical document for understanding influential French scholar and public intellectual Claude Lefort’s later writings on democracy and totalitarianism. Lefort extricates Machiavelli’s thought from the dominant interpretations of him as the founder of “objective” political science, which, having liberated itself from the religious and moralizing tendencies of medieval political reflection, attempts to arrive at a realistic discourse on the operations of raw power. Lefort ultimately finds that Machiavelli’s discourse opens the “place of the political” which had previously been occupied by theology and morality.


Claude Lefort (1924–2010) taught at the University of São Paulo, the Sorbonne, and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. His books include The Political Forms of Modern So­ciety: Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism (1986), Democracy and Political Theory (1989), Writing: The Political Test (2000), and Complications: Communism and the Dilemmas of Democ­racy (2007).

‘Not Even a God Can Save Us Now: Reading Machiavelli after Heidegger’ by Brian Harding

Published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2017. Download link updated on 29. June 2021.

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The interplay between violence, religion, and politics is a crucial problem societies have to deal with, which has attracted the attention of various philosophers, including Martin Heidegger, Jacques Derrida, and René Girard. Centuries earlier these same problems drew interest of Niccolò Machiavelli during the Italian Renaissance.

In a new and highly provocative approach, Not Even a God Can Save Us Now argues Machiavelli’s work anticipates and often illuminates contemporary theories on violence and develops his specific accounts of sacrifice, truth and religion, while remaining cognizant of the historical and cultural context of his writings, placing them in the history of philosophy and in dialogue with contemporary continental thought.

In detailed discussions of Machiavelli’s The Prince and Discourses on Livy, as well as his Florentine Histories, The Art of War, and other less widely mentioned works, Harding interprets Machiavelli as endorsing sacrificial violence that both founds or preserves a state, while censuring other forms of violence. The reading clarifies many obscure themes in Machiavelli’s writings, demonstrating how similar ideas are at work in the work of recent thinkers.

‘Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche: or, the Realm of Shadows’ by Henri Lefebvre

Published by Verso in 2020. Download link updated on 29. June 2021.

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Lefebvre pioneered a French reading of Nietzsche that rejected the philosopher’s appropriation by fascism, bringing out the tragic implications of Nietzsche’s proclamation that ‘God is dead’ long before this approach was followed by such later writers as Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze. Forty years later, in the last of his philosophical writings, Lefebvre juxtaposes the contributions of the three great thinkers, in a text whose themes remain surprisingly relevant today.

Although within the Marxist tradition, he consistently saw Marx as an ‘unavoidable, necessary, but insufficient starting point’ and always insisted on the importance of Hegel. But he also ascribed a significance to Nietzsche, in the ‘realm of shadows’ through which philosophy seeks to think the world. Lefebvre proposes here that the modern world is at the same time Hegelian in terms of the state; Marxist in terms of the social and society; and Nietzschean in terms of civilization and its values.

‘The Birth of Theory’ by Andrew Cole

Published by University of Chicago Press in 2014. Download link updated on 20. June 2021.

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Modern theory needs a history lesson. Neither Marx nor Nietzsche first gave us theory—Hegel did. To support this contention, Andrew Cole’s The Birth of Theory presents a refreshingly clear and lively account of the origins and legacy of Hegel’s dialectic as theory. Cole explains how Hegel boldly broke from modern philosophy when he adopted medieval dialectical habits of thought to fashion his own dialectic. While his contemporaries rejected premodern dialectic as outdated dogma, Hegel embraced both its emphasis on language as thought and its fascination with the categories of identity and difference, creating what we now recognize as theory, distinct from systematic philosophy. Not content merely to change philosophy, Hegel also used this dialectic to expose the persistent archaism of modern life itself, Cole shows, establishing a method of social analysis that has influenced everyone from Marx and the nineteenth-century Hegelians, to Nietzsche and Bakhtin, all the way to Deleuze and Jameson.
           
By uncovering these theoretical filiations across time, The Birth of Theory will not only change the way we read Hegel, but also the way we think about the histories of theory. With chapters that powerfully reanimate the overly familiar topics of ideology, commodity fetishism, and political economy, along with a groundbreaking reinterpretation of Hegel’s famous master/slave dialectic, The Birth of Theory places the disciplines of philosophy, literature, and history in conversation with one another in an unprecedented way. Daring to reconcile the sworn enemies of Hegelianism and Deleuzianism, this timely book will revitalize dialectics for the twenty-first century.

‘Valences of the Dialectic’ by Fredric Jameson

Published by Verso in 2008. Download link updated on 27. June 2021.

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After half a century exploring dialectical thought, renowned cultural critic Fredric Jameson presents a comprehensive study of a misunderstood yet vital strain in Western philosophy. The dialectic, the concept of the evolution of an idea through conflicts arising from its inherent contradictions, transformed two centuries of Western philosophy. To Hegel, who dominated nineteenth-century thought, it was a metaphysical system. In the works of Marx, the dialectic became a tool for materialist historical analysis.

Jameson brings a theoretical scrutiny to bear on the questions that have arisen in the history of this philosophical tradition, contextualizing the debate in terms of commodification and globalization, and with reference to thinkers such as Rousseau, Lukács, Heidegger, Sartre, Derrida, and Althusser. Through rigorous, erudite examination, Valences of the Dialectic charts a movement toward the innovation of a “spatial” dialectic. Jameson presents a new synthesis of thought that revitalizes dialectical thinking for the twenty-first century.

‘The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two’ by Alenka Zupančič

Published by The MIT Press in 2003. Download link updated on 29. June 2021.

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The Shortest Shadow counters the currently fashionable appropriation of Nietzsche as a philosopher who was “ahead of his time” but whose time has finally come — the rather patronizing reduction of his often extraordinary statements to mere opinions that we can “share.” Zupančič argues that the definitive Nietzschean quality is his very unfashionableness, his being out of the mainstream of his or any time.

To restore Nietzsche to a context in which the thought “lives on its own credit,” Zupančič examines two aspects of his philosophy. First, in “Nietzsche as Metapsychologist,” she revisits the principal Nietzschean themes — his declaration of the death of God (which had a twofold meaning, “God is dead” and “Christianity survived the death of God”), the ascetic ideal, and nihilism — as ideas that are very much present in our hedonist postmodern condition.

Then, in the second part of the book, she considers Nietzsche’s figure of the Noon and its consequences for his notion of the truth. Nietzsche describes the Noon not as the moment when all shadows disappear but as the moment of “the shortest shadow” — not the unity of all things embraced by the sun, but the moment of splitting, when “one turns into two.”

Zupančič argues that this notion of the Two as the minimal and irreducible difference within the same animates all of Nietzsche’s work, generating its permanent and inherent tension.


Alenka Zupančič is a Slovene philosopher and psychoanalytic social theorist. She works as Senior Researcher at the Graduate School of Philosophy, Scientific Research Center for the Slovene Academy of Arts and Sciences (ZRC SAZU) in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She is also Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. She is the author of numerous articles and books on psychoanalysis and philosophy, including What is Sex?Why Psychoanalysis?, The Odd One In: On Comedy and Ethics of the Real: Kant and Lacan. Her books have been translated into many languages.

‘Why Marx Was Right’ by Terry Eagleton

Published by Yale University Press in 2011. Download link updated on 25. July 2021.

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In this combative, controversial book, Terry Eagleton takes issue with the prejudice that Marxism is dead and done with. Taking ten of the most common objections to Marxism—that it leads to political tyranny, that it reduces everything to the economic, that it is a form of historical determinism, and so on—he demonstrates in each case what a woeful travesty of Marx’s own thought these assumptions are. In a world in which capitalism has been shaken to its roots by some major crises, Why Marx Was Right is as urgent and timely as it is brave and candid. Written with Eagleton’s familiar wit, humor, and clarity, it will attract an audience far beyond the confines of academia.

Terry Eagleton is distinguished professor of English literature, University of Lancaster, and the author of more than fifty books spanning the fields of literary theory, postmodernism, politics, ideology, and religion. He lives in Northern Ireland.

‘The Unnamable’ by Samuel Beckett

Published 1958 by Grove Press

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The Unnamable is a 1953 novel by Samuel Beckett. It is the third and final entry in Beckett’s “Trilogy” of novels, which begins with Molloy followed by Malone Dies. It was originally published in French as L’Innommable and later translated by the author into English. Grove Press published the English edition in 1958.

‘Who is Nietzsche?’ by Alain Badiou

Text as published in Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy Volume 11 (2001): Nietzsche: Revenge and Praise

What is the true centre of Nietzsche’s thought? Or: what is it that Nietzsche calls “philosophy”?

I believe it is essential to understand that, for Nietzsche, what he calls “philosophy” is not an interpretation, is not an analysis, is not a theory. When philosophy is interpretation, analysis, or theory, it is nothing but a variant of religion. It is dominated by the nihilist figure of the priest. In The Antichrist, Nietzsche declares that the philosopher is “the greatest of all criminals.” We should take this declaration seriously.

Nietzsche is not a philosopher, he is an anti-philosopher. This expression has a precise meaning: Nietzsche opposes, to the speculative nihilism of philosophy, the completely affirmative necessity of an act. The role that Nietzsche assigns himself is not that of adding a philosophy to other philosophies. Instead, his role is to announce and produce an act without precedent, an act that will in fact destroy philosophy.

To announce the act, but also to produce it: this means that Nietzsche the anti-philosopher is literally ahead of himself. This is exactly what he says in the song from Thus Spake Zarathustra entitled: “Of the Virtue that Makes Small”. Zarathustra introduces himself as his own precursor:

Among these people I am my own forerunner, my own cock-crow through dark lanes.

Thus what comes in philosophy is what the philosopher bears witness to. Or, more accurately: the philosophical act is what philosophy, which nevertheless coincides with it, can only announce.

Straight away, we are at the heart of our examination of Nietzsche. For his singularity is entirely contained in his conception of the philosophical act. Or, to use his language, in his conception of the power of philosophy. That is to say, of anti-philosophy.

In what do this act and this power consist?

It is by failing to place this question at the threshold of any examination of Nietzsche that both Deleuze and Heidegger partially missed his absolute singularity, the one that ultimately both fulfils and abolishes itself under the name of madness.

Deleuze begins his book, Nietzsche and Philosophy, with this declaration: “Nietzsche’s most general project is the introduction of the concepts of sense and value into philosophy.” Now, I believe that the philosophical act according to Nietzsche does not take the form either of a project or of a program — rather, as in Sarah Kofman’s title, it could be called an explosion. Neither is it a question for Nietzsche — of introducing concepts. For the name of the philosophical event can be nothing other than a figure, and ultimately a proper name. The proper of the event deposes the common of the concept. To do this, it supports itself on the opacity of the proper name. Nietzsche’s philosophical thought is given in a primordial network of seven names: Christ, or the Crucified, Dionysus-Ariadne, Saint Paul, Socrates, Wagner, Zarathustra, and finally the most obscure of all the names, the name “Nietzsche”, which recapitulates the others.

Of course, Deleuze is aware of these names, the meaning of which he interprets. One can, as he does with virtuosity, read in these nominal series the coding of types of force, analyse them according to the grid of the active and the reactive. But in this case, the network of proper names is brought back to the commonality of sense, and Nietzsche is absorbed into the stream of interpretation. What is lost in Deleuze’s strong reading is this: it is through the opacity of the proper name that Nietzsche constructs his own category of truth. This is indeed what assigns the vital act to its nonsensical, or invaluable, dimension. Nietzsche’s last word is not sense, but the inevaluable.

The common name of the supreme act, the one that puts an end to Christian enslavement, is “the reversal of all values,” or the transvaluation of all values. But the reversal of all values does not itself have a value. It is subtracted from evaluation. Certainly, it is life itself against nothingness, only that, as Nietzsche will say in The Twilight of the Idols , and it is a decisive axiom:

The value of life cannot be estimated.

To enter into Nietzsche, one must therefore focus on the point where evaluation, values, and sense all come to falter in the trial posed by the act. Thus where it is no longer a question of values or of sense, but of what actively surpasses them, what philosophy has always named “truth”.

In my view this is what Heidegger fails to grasp when he thinks that Nietzsche’s program of thought is the institution of new values. We know that Nietzsche analyses the old values as a triumph of the will to nothingness. They exist in virtue of a principle that for Nietzsche is the supreme principle, which is that man prefers to will the nothing, rather than not to will at all. For Heidegger, Nietzsche, in reversing the old values, in proposing the noon of affirmation over against the will to nothingness, actually intends to overcome nihilism. Now, Heidegger will say that by so doing, by willing to overcome nihilism, Nietzsche’s thought separates itself from the very essence of nihilism, which is not in fact the will to nothingness. This is because for Heidegger, if nihilism is the will to nothingness, it is then intelligible in its essence on the basis of the figure of the subject. But in truth nihilism is not a figure of the subject; nihilism is the history of the remaining-absent of being itself, as historiality. Nihilism is a historial figure of being. It is this that comes to be concealed within a Nietzschean program of thought, which consists in the overcoming of nihilism. As Heidegger will say: “The will to overcome nihilism [which he attributes to Nietzsche] does not know itself, because it excludes itself from the evidence of the essence of nihilism, considered as the history of the remaining-absent and thus prohibits itself from ever knowing its own doing.”

Is Nietzsche really so ignorant of his own doing? We find ourselves brought back to the question of the act. We must begin by asking if this Nietzschean doing represents itself as an overcoming, in the metaphysical form of the subject. It seems to me that there is here, on Heidegger’s part, a critique which Hegelianises Nietzsche before judging him. Because I believe that for Nietzsche the act is not an overcoming. The act is an event. And this event is an absolute break, whose obscure proper name is Nietzsche.

It is to this link between an act without concept or program and a proper name, a proper name that is his own only by chance, that one must refer the famous title of one of the sections of Ecce Homo: “Why I am a Destiny.” I am a destiny because, by chance, the proper name “Nietzsche” comes to link its opacity to a break without program or concept.

I am strong enough to break up the history of mankind in two.
(Letter to Strindberg of the 8th of December 1888)

I conceive the philosopher as a terrifying explosive that puts the entire world in danger. (Ecce Homo )

Nietzsche’s anti-philosophical act, of which he is at once the prophet, the actor, and the name, aims at nothing less than at breaking the history of the world in two.

I would say that this act is archi-political, in that it intends to revolutionise the whole of humanity at a more radical level than that of the calculations of politics. Archi-political does not here designate the traditional philosophical task of finding a foundation for politics. The logic, once again, is a logic of rivalry, and not a logic of foundational eminence. It is the philosophical act itself that is an archi-political act, in the sense that its historical explosion will retroactively show, in a certain sense, that the political revolution proper has not been genuine, or has not been authentic.

It follows from this that in Nietzschean archi-politics the word politics is sometimes reclaimed and validated, and sometimes depreciated, in a characteristic oscillation. In the draft of a letter to Brandes from December 1888, Nietzsche writes:

We have just entered into great politics, even into very great politics… I am preparing an event which, in all likelihood, will break history into two halves, to the point that one will need a new calendar, with 1888 as Year One.

Here Nietzsche proposes an imitation of the French revolution. He assumes, as a fundamental determination of philosophy, the word “politics”. Moreover, this imitation will go so far as to include images of the Terror, which Nietzsche will adopt without the least hesitation. Many texts bear witness to this. Let us cite the note to Franz Overbeck from the 4th of January 1889, where Nietzsche declares:

I am just having all anti-Semites shot…

On the other hand, in the letter to Jean Bourdeau from the 17th of December 1888, the word politics is subjected to critique:

My works are rich with a decision with regard to which the brutal demonstrations of calculation in contemporary politics could prove to be nothing more than mere errors of calculus.

And, in a draft letter to William II, Nietzsche writes this:

The concept of politics has been completely dissolved in the war between spirits, all power-images have been blown to bits, — there will be wars, like there have never been before.

The Nietzschean anti-philosophical act, determined as archi-political event, thinks the historico-political, sometimes in the figure of its broadened imitation, sometimes in the figure of its complete dissolution. It is precisely this alternative that gives legitimacy to the act as archi-political.

If the act is archi-political then the philosopher is an over-philosopher. Letter to Von Seydlitz of February 1888:

It is not inconceivable that I am the first philosopher of the age, perhaps even a little more. Something decisive and doom-laden standing between two millennia.

Nietzsche is first of all the chance name of something, something like a fatal uprising, a fatal, archi-political uprising, which stands between two millennia. But what then are the means of such an act? What is its point of application? And finally, what is an anti-philosophical event that would be archi-political in character?

To address this problem, we must examine the Nietzschean critique of the Revolution, in its political sense. This critique consists in saying that, essentially, the Revolution did not take place. What we should understand by this is that it has not happened as revolution, in the sense that archi­politics conceives it. It has not taken place, because it has not truly broken the history of the world in two, thus leaving the Christian apparatus of the old values intact. Moreover, the equality to which the Revolution lay claim was nothing more than social equality, equality as the idea of being the equal of another. And this equality, in Nietzsche’s eyes, is always commanded by ressentiment.

In The Antichrist we can read the following:

‘Equality of souls before God’, this falsehood, this pretext for the rancune of all the base-minded, this explosive concept which finally became revolution, modern idea and the principle of the decline of the entire social order — is Christian dynamite.

It is not at all for Nietzsche a question of opposing some sort of wisdom to Christian dynamite. The fight against Christianity is a fight amongst artillerymen, or amongst terrorists. In October 1888, Nietzsche writes to Overbeck:

This time — as an old artilleryman — I bring out my heavy guns. I am afraid that I am blowing up the history of mankind into two halves.

Archi-politics is thus the discovery of a non-Christian explosive .

Now, it is at this juncture that Nietzsche will have to pay with his person, for it is clear that he will apply himself to the radical impasse of any archi-politics of this type. But he will apply himself the more deeply and the more sincerely because he has defined archi-politics not as a logic of foundation, but as the radicality of the act.

Here everything rests on Nietzsche’s conception of the archi-political event, of the event in which anti-philosophy breaks the history of the world in two.

At this point it must be said that this event does not succeed in distinguishing itself from its own announcement, from its own declaration. What is declared philosophically is such that the possibility of its declaration alone proves that the history of the world is broken in two. Why is this? Because the truth at work in the archi-political act is exactly what is prohibited, and prohibition is the Christian law of the world. To pass beyond this prohibition, as the declaration attests, is enough to make one believe in an absolute rupture.

One day my philosophy will win, because until now no one has, in principle, prohibited anything but truth. (Ecce Homo)

But all of a sudden, since what Nietzsche declares is also the event itself, he is caught, ever more manifestly, in a circle. I pointed out, above, that Nietzsche says: “I prepare an event”. But the declaration concerning the preparation of an event becomes progressively more indiscernible from the event itself, whence an oscillation characteristic of Nietzsche between imminence and distance. The declaration will shatter the world, but that it is going to shatter it is precisely what it declares:

Foreseeing that I will shortly have to address to humanity the gravest challenge that it has yet to receive, it seemed to me indispensable to say who I am. (Ecce Homo)

This book belongs to the very few. Perhaps none of them is even living yet. (The Antichrist)

On one side the radical imminence that constrains me, as the only living proof, to declare who I am. On the other, a stance that leaves in suspense the question of knowing whether a witness of this act has been born yet or not. I think that this circle is the circle of any archi-politics whatsoever. Since it does not have the event as its condition, since it grasps it — or claims to grasp it — in the act of thought itself, it cannot discriminate between its reality and its announcement. The very figure of Zarathustra names this circle and gives the book its tone of strange undecidability with regard to the question of knowing whether Zarathustra is a figure of the efficacy of the act or of its prophecy pure and simple. The central episode in this respect is the song entitled “On Great Events.” This song is a dialogue between Zarathustra and the fire-dog. But who is the fire-dog? Rapidly, it becomes clear that the fire-dog is nothing but the spokesperson, the agent, or the actor of the revolutionary political event itself, of revolt, of the collective storm. Let us read a passage of the dialogue with the fire­dog.

Zarathustra speaks:

“Freedom,” you all most like to bellow: but I have unlearned belief in “great events” whenever there is much bellowing and smoke about them. And believe me, friend Infernal-racket! The greatest events — they are not our noisiest but our stillest hours. The world revolves, not around the inventors of new noises, but around the inventors of new values; it revolves inaudibly. And just confess! Little was ever found to have happened when your noise and smoke dispersed. What did it matter that a town had been mummified and that a statue lay in the mud!

The opposition here is between din and silence. The din is what attests externally for the political event. The silence, the world pregnant with silence, is instead the name of the unattested and unproved character of the archi-political event. The archi-political declaration misses its real because the real of a declaration, of any declaration, is precisely the event itself. Thus it is at the very point of this real, which he lacks and whose presence and announcement he cannot separate, that Nietzsche will have to make himself present. And it is this that will be called his madness. Nietzsche’s madness consists in this, that he must come to think of himself as the creator of the same world in which he makes his silent declaration, and in which nothing proves the existence of a break in two. That in some way he is on both sides; that he is the name, not only of what announces the event, not only the name of the rupture, but ultimately the name of the world itself.

The fourth of January 1889, Nietzsche situates himself as “Nietzsche”, as a name:

After [and this after is necessary] it has been averred as irrevocable that I have properly speaking created the world.

A sincere archi-politics madly unfolds the phantasm of the world, because it is the process of the undecidability between prophecy and the real. It mimics, in folly, the intrinsic undecidability of the event itself; it is this undecidability turning upon itself in the figure of a subject. Whence this harrowing declaration from the last letter, the letter to Jakob Burckhardt of January 6, 1889, after which there is nothing more:

Actually, I would much rather be a Basel professor than God; but I have not ventured to carry my private egotism so far as to omit creating the world on his account.

Yes indeed, this statement is a statement of madness, but of madness coming at the real point of a lack, when the announcement fails. This ordeal takes place in three stages: the ambition of radical rupture, of archi­politics, is indeed that of creating a world, of creating the other world, the world of affirmation, the world which in fact is no longer the world, or the man that is no longer man, and whose name is “overman.” But to create this world, the everyman must also be seized by its creation. Only this everyman can certify the appearance of the overman. And what would have been preferred, or preferable, is that the professor, in Basel, be seized as such and traversed by this unattested event. But since this is not the case, since this legitimate preference is not verified, the anti-philosophical hero is forced to declare that he will create this world. That he will create it, and not that he has been seized by its triumphal appearance. This world is thus a program, but one that antecedes itself. And so one is a captive of the circle. And in the end to break this circle one needs the disinterested fiction of an integral creation, not only of a new world, but of the old world as well.

At this point, nothing but madness.

Upon what does archi-politics itself come to break? Upon the unavoidable necessity of politics. Of politics, which demands patience. Which knows that it is pointless to announce the event. That one must think and act with chance, and in circumstances that one does not choose. Of a politics which has had to renounce the idea of breaking the history of the world in two. A politics that is content — which is already a lot, and very difficult — with being faithful to a few new possibilities.

Equally, anti-philosophy comes to break upon the permanence, upon the resistance, of philosophy. Philosophy, which knows that its act, as act of truth, does not have the power of abolishing the values of the world. And that the labour of the negative may not be dissolved in the great Dionysian affirmation.

Is this to say that Nietzsche’s force, his sincerity, his sacrifice, are of no use? That the idea of an archi-politics is a vain folly? I do not think so.

For there is in Nietzsche an extremely precious indication. An indication concerning a decisive question for any philosophy whatsoever. The question of the relationship between sense and truth. On this question of sense and truth there are, I think, three primordial stances. First, there is the stance that holds the idea of a rigorous continuity between truth and sense. I call this stance religion. There is a stance that unilaterally establishes the supremacy of sense and attempts to destroy the religious stance. This is Nietzsche’s struggle. And finally there is the philosophical stance. It is in rupture with anti-philosophy because it both retains and develops, by means of a rational critique, the idea of truth. But it is also in rupture with religion, because it refuses to identify truth with sense; it even willingly declares that in any truth there is always something of the nonsensical.

But what happens historically is that the second stance, the anti- philosophical stance, is almost always what points the third stance, the philosophical stance, towards its own modernity. Anti-philosophy puts philosophy on guard. It shows it the ruses of sense and the dogmatic danger if truth. It teaches it that the rupture with religion is never definitive. That one must take up the task again. That truth must, once again and always, be secularised.

Nietzsche was right to think that his primordial task could be named the Antichrist. He was right to call himself the Antichrist. And in his role as radical anti-philosopher he pointed philosophy to the very place of its modern task. From Nietzsche, we need to retain what he designated as the task of philosophy: to re-establish the question of truth in its rupture with sense. Nietzsche puts us on guard against hermeneutics.

Therefore, I believe that Nietzsche is someone that one must at once discover, find, and lose. One must discover him in his truth, discover him in the desire of the act. One must find him, as he who provokes the theme of truth towards a new demand, as he who forces the philosophical stance to invent a new figure of truth, a new rupture with sense. And finally, of course, one must lose him, because anti-philosophy must, when all is said and done, be lost, or lost sight of, once philosophy has established its own space.

This discovery, this find, this loss: I often feel them with regard to all of the century’s great anti-philosophers; with Nietzsche, with Wittgenstein, and with Lacan. I think that all three — but Nietzsche’s case is without doubt the most dramatic — in the last instance sacrificed themselves for philosophy. There is in anti-philosophy a movement of putting itself to death, or of silencing itself, so that something imperative may be bequeathed to philosophy. Anti-philosophy is always what, at its very extremes, states the new duty of philosophy, or its new possibility in the figure of a new duty. I think of Nietzsche’s madness, of Wittgenstein’s strange labyrinth, of Lacan’s final muteness. In all three cases anti­philosophy takes the form of a legacy. It bequeathes something beyond itself to very thing that it is fighting against. Philosophy is always the heir to anti-philosophy.

This is why I am so touched, in one of the last notes to Brandes, by this very Pascalian phrase of Nietzsche, which immediately speaks to me of this singular and intricate relationship to the great anti-philosophers of the century.

Once you discovered me, it was no great feat to find me: the difficulty is now to lose me …

And it is true that the great difficulty for us all, that which demands of us a creation, is not to discover and to understand Nietzsche. The difficulty is to know, philosophically, how to lose him.

Translated by Alberto Toscano

‘Ninotchka’ (1939) by Ernst Lubitsch

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Ninotchka is a 1939 American comedy film made for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by producer and director Ernst Lubitsch and starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas. It was written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, and Walter Reisch, based on a screen story by Melchior Lengyel.

Ninotchka is Greta Garbo’s first full comedy, and her penultimate film. It is one of the first American movies which, under the cover of a satirical, light romance, depicted the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin as being rigid and gray, in this instance comparing it with the free and sunny Parisian society of pre-war years.

‘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.

‘The Philosophy of Marx’ by Étienne Balibar

Published by Verso in 1993.

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In The Philosophy of Marx, Étienne Balibar provides an accessible introduction to Marx and his key followers, complete with pedagogical information for the student to make the most challenging areas of theory easy to understand. Examining all the key areas of Marx’s writings in their wider historical and theoretical context—including the concepts of class struggle, ideology, humanism, progress, determinism, commodity fetishism, and the state—The Philosophy of Marx is a gateway into the thought of one of history’s great minds.

‘A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works’ by Benedictus de Spinoza

Published by Princeton University Press in 1994.

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This anthology of the work of Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677) presents the text of Spinoza’s masterwork, the Ethics, in what is now the standard translation by Edwin Curley. Also included are selections from other works by Spinoza, chosen by Curley to make the Ethics easier to understand, and a substantial introduction that gives an overview of Spinoza’s life and the main themes of his philosophy. Perfect for course use, the Spinoza Reader is a practical tool with which to approach one of the world’s greatest but most difficult thinkers, a passionate seeker of the truth who has been viewed by some as an atheist and by others as a religious mystic.

The anthology begins with the opening section of the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, which has always moved readers by its description of the young Spinoza’s spiritual quest, his dissatisfaction with the things people ordinarily strive for — wealth, honor, and sensual pleasure — and his hope that the pursuit of knowledge would lead him to discover the true good. The emphasis throughout these selections is on metaphysical, epistemological, and religious issues: the existence and nature of God, his relation to the world, the nature of the human mind and its relation to the body, and the theory of demonstration, axioms, and definitions. For each of these topics, the editor supplements the rigorous discussions in the Ethics with informal treatments from Spinoza’s other works.

‘The Mana of Mass Society’ by William Mazzarella

Published by University of Chicago Press in 2017.

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We often invoke the “magic” of mass media to describe seductive advertising or charismatic politicians. In The Mana of Mass Society, William Mazzarella asks what happens to social theory if we take that idea seriously. How would it change our understanding of publicity, propaganda, love, and power?
 
Mazzarella reconsiders the concept of “mana,” which served in early anthropology as a troubled bridge between “primitive” ritual and the fascination of mass media. Thinking about mana, Mazzarella shows, means rethinking some of our most fundamental questions: What powers authority? What in us responds to it? Is the mana that animates an Aboriginal ritual the same as the mana that energizes a revolutionary crowd, a consumer public, or an art encounter? At the intersection of anthropology and critical theory, The Mana of Mass Society brings recent conversations around affect, sovereignty, and emergence into creative contact with classic debates on religion, charisma, ideology, and aesthetics.

‘Lenin, Religion, and Theology’ by Roland Boer

Published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013

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This book pursues the implications for linking Lenin with theology, which is not a project that has been undertaken thus far. What does this inveterate atheist known for describing religion as ‘spiritual booze’ (a gloss on Marx’s ‘opium of the people’) have to do with theology? This book reveals far more than might initially be expected, so much so that Lenin and the Russian Revolution cannot be understood without this complex engagement with theology.

It also seeks to bring Lenin into recent debates over the intersections between theology and the Left, between the Bible and political thought. The key names involved in this debate are reasonably well-known, including Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek, Giorgio Agamben, Antonio Negri, Terry Eagleton, Ernst Bloch, Theodor Adorno, Louis Althusser, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Boer has written concerning these critics, among others, in Boer’s earlier five-volume Criticism of Heaven and Earth (Brill and Haymarket, 2007-13). Lenin and Theology builds upon this earlier project but it also stands alone as a substantial study in its own right. But it will be recognised as a contribution that follows a series that has, as critics have pointed out, played a major role in reviving and taking to a new level the debate over Marxism and religion.

The book is based upon a careful, detailed and critical reading of the whole 45 volumes of his Collected Works in English translation – 55 volumes in the Russian original. From that close attention to the texts, a number of key themes have emerged: the ambivalence over freedom of choice in matters of religion; his love of the sayings and parables of Jesus in the Gospels; his own love of constructing new parables; the extended and complex engagements with Christian socialists and ‘God-builders’ among the Bolsheviks; the importance of Hegel for his reassessments of religion; the arresting suggestion that a revolution is a miracle, which redefines the meaning of miracle; and the veneration of Lenin after his death.

Slavoj Žižek’s formula for saving the world

Text as published yesterday on haaretz.com

This is not an easy time for Slavoj Žižek. Quite the opposite, and he’s the first to admit it. Reoccurring panic attacks incapacitate him for hours at a time and, unlike in the past, the nights have stopped providing him with an easy escape. His sleep is wracked by nightmares of what the future holds for humanity. There are days when he fantasizes about being infected by the coronavirus. At least, that way all of the uncertainty would come to an end, or so he imagines. Finally, he would be able to cope with the virus concretely, instead of continuously being haunted by it, as some sort of a spectral entity.

Our conversation begins with him in the interviewer’s seat. “What’s happening there? How do you survive? Do you stay in the apartment? Do people go out? How is it in Israel, can you swim again?” His questions come in rapid-fire succession, and then stop as quickly and abruptly as they started, and then he apologizes: He’s worried that his anxiety won’t allow him to complete the interview. But gradually he hits his stride.

We’re speaking in the wake of the publication last month of his new book, “Pandemic! COVID-19 Shakes the World,” which he wrote at lightning speed, in just a few weeks. It’s unmistakably Žižek: Its pages are a bag full of tricks, and provocative, as always. Still, it’s not the most impressive work he’s produced. Mirroring his state of mind, the book is a conceptual maelstrom, an unpolished sprawl of fragments of ideas, not all of which are fully developed. However, criticism along those lines is liable to miss the heart of the matter: This is an attempt by one of the leading philosophers of our time to address the broadest possible public as quickly as possible, while we are still at a crossroads.

He’s one of the very few living intellectuals who need no introduction. Still, it’s hard to refrain from describing the phenomenon that answers to the name of Slavoj Žižek. A philosopher, a cultural critic, a dynamo of ideas who loathes political correctness and bashes left and right with equal abandon. He leaps between Kant and Hegel, Freud and Lacan, deconstructing everything he encounters: historical events, political movements, theological treatises, films, symphonies, technological developments and Coca-Cola ads. This is the stuff of his charismatic solo performances in interviews, lectures, documentary films and of course his books.

He’s been tagged the “Elvis of culture theory,” “the greatest philosopher of the New Left” and “the most dangerous philosopher in the West.” He has plenty of advocates, but also no few critics who have wondered if he isn’t just a philosopher clown, “the Borat of the philosophers,” as one journalist once suggested. Be that as it may, in the past decade he has featured on Foreign Policy magazine’s list of the world’s 100 leading thinkers. He is that rarest of phenomena: a celebrity philosopher.

Not getting it

At age 71, Žižek is currently closeted in his home in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, with his fourth wife, the Slovene writer and journalist Jela Krečič, who is three decades younger than him. During the past couple of weeks the epidemic seems to have faded in his country, with only two or three new cases being reported daily. But Žižek, who spoke to Haaretz via Skype, is in no hurry to breathe a sigh of relief.

Let’s start with how you’re feeling these days.

“Still alive. I’m so-so, depressed as always.”

What is it that worries you so much?

“What worries me lately is what I would call similar mass psychological mood shifts in different places. Until just recently there was quarantine paranoia, and suddenly the atmosphere magically changed: ‘Oh, maybe it’s not so serious, maybe it’s not so bad.’ The right-wing nationalist government in Slovenia wants to score points from this, as if life should be allowed to return to normal. The prime minister, Janez Janša, who is a close friend of Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, presents himself as the father of Slovenian independence. Now his motto will be, ‘I saved Slovenia two times – from communism and from the virus.’”

Sounds familiar.

“Yes, I understood something similar is happening in Israel. I think this is a dangerous moment. I detect a sinister logic behind it. It’s something like, ‘Who knows what will be in the autumn with the second wave, so let’s live the little bit of freedom we can get now.’ It’s a ‘Kill Bill’ moment, as I noted in my book.”

A bushfire in Australia, January 2020.Credit: SAEED KHAN / AFP

Žižek likens the coronavirus crisis to the concluding scene in Quentin Tarantino’s film “Kill Bill: Volume 2.” During the final confrontation, the heroine strikes the evil Bill in several places, causing his heart to explode after he takes a few steps. According to Žižek, the moment that elapses between the blows and the death resembles the state of the global capitalist system now, after the blows it took at the height of the pandemic.

On the other hand, in many places the epidemic has in fact faded.

“We are more and more disoriented. There is a little good news, but at the same time there are new dimensions to the virus, and new variations that might turn out to be more dangerous. We now have this fake return to normal. The really frustrating thing is this lack of basic orientation. It’s the absence of what [the philosopher and literary critic] Fredric Jameson calls ‘cognitive mapping’ – having a general idea of the situation, where it is moving and so on. Our desire to function requires some kind of clear coordinates, but we simply, to a large extent, don’t know where we are.”

You write in your new book, “There is no return to normal, the new ‘normal’ will have to be constructed on the ruins of our old lives.” But what if the peak of the epidemic is behind us? Maybe the world won’t change so fast.

“It’s so frustrating, all these myths we desperately tried to cling to. First ‘the summer heat will make it better,’ then ‘in the fall there will be a vaccine,’ then ‘we will achieve herd immunity.’ All that is disappearing, and the virus looks like it is here to stay. What happens if there is a second wave at the same time that there’s a flu wave? We had the illusion that ‘one month of quarantine and then life will go back to normal.’ That is over, so now we’re confronting the real problem: how to build a new world in these conditions.”

‘I don’t agree with those who claim that now is no time for politics, that we should mobilize to survive. No! Now is a great time for politics, because the world in its current form is disappearing.’

In his book, Žižek recalls the warnings of scientists after the SARS and Ebola epidemics. Persistently, we were told that the outbreak of a new epidemic was only a matter of time, but instead of preparing for the various scenarios we escaped into apocalypse movies. Žižek enumerates different scenarios of looming catastrophes, most of them consequences of the climate crisis, and calls for tough decisions to be made now.

In the end, all roads lead to global warming.

“I want to quote the French philosopher Bruno Latour, even though philosophically, I’m not on his side. He said that the coronavirus crisis is just a dress rehearsal for future problems that await us in the form of global warming, epidemics and other troubles. I don’t think this is necessarily a pessimistic view, it’s simply realistic. So many people have been warning us about this – there will be epidemics and ecological disasters – and now we know what it looks like. We need to stop thinking through a capitalist prism. I don’t agree with those who claim that now is no time for politics, that we should just mobilize to survive these dangers. No! Now is a great time for politics, because the world in its current form is disappearing. Scientists will just tell us, ‘If you want to play it safe, keep this level of quarantine,’ or whatever. But we have a political decision to make, and we are offered different options.”

Let’s talk about what you suggest.

“What if we will need another lockdown, even longer? Or multiple lockdowns? It’s a sad prospect, but we should get ready to live in some kind of permanent state of emergency. What we should fear now is a perfect storm: a health, economic and mental health crisis. You know, Marxists like to make fun of the state mechanisms of oppression and domination, but we desperately need an efficient state apparatus. I think we’re entering a new era. This virus doesn’t mean everything is over, but we need to reorganize our social life.”

What will that societal reorganization look like?

“We should focus on what is crucial, which is, first, health care. The coronavirus epidemic is a universal crisis. In the long term, states cannot preserve themselves in a safe bubble while the epidemic rages all around. We need coordinated efforts, centralized at least in some sense, and we need to get ready for long periods of infection. We shouldn’t think in terms of money when it comes to health. Materially, we have the means to organize some kind of global health care. If we don’t, our global unity is liable to disappear, and it could be the end of globalization as we know it. People will continue to die in certain places, at the same time that others try to continue functioning as isolated bubbles. Australia and New Zealand are trying to establish their own joint bubble, but I don’t think this will work. Every country has a right to protect its citizens, but it’s dangerous to see this approach as a solution, because in this way the long-term threat will remain.”

What is the solution?

“Globalization today shouldn’t mean abolishing quarantines and so on, it should mean tightly coordinating procedures and helping each other. That’s the life-and-death question: Will we be able as humanity to coordinate our resources in order to confront together what looms ahead, or will this logic of bubbles continue to predominate?”

Away with fashion

For starters, Žižek believes that international bodies need to be strengthened, among them the much maligned World Health Organization. In this spirit, he decided to donate all the royalties from his new book to the organization Doctors Without Borders.

“The next serious problem I see is a food shortage,” he continues. “States are aware of it and I hope they’re getting ready. At the moment, we are living off old stocks. Now it’s the spring harvest, and in Europe they have a problem. In France, for example, most of the spring harvest is done by people from other European countries, but now borders are closed. Who will do the work? The WHO is constantly warning that the pandemic could lead to mass starvation, so we need to reorganize our agriculture and food distribution.”

One thing that riles Žižek is the concern being shown by many for nonessential industries. “People say we need to revitalize the economy, and I say: Forget about the economy we have now. We have to treat simply as irrelevant things like the fashion industry, the need to have a new car every two years, or whatever. It’s tragic, I know, that all kinds of big companies are in deep shit, but are they worth saving?”

In your book you suggest reinventing communism, such that it will provide a solution to all our problems, now and in the future. Can you elaborate on this?

“The formula proposed by Marx and Engels was, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’! Yes! But this will not be in the way Marx meant it, where everyone will have a comfortable life, with whatever they need, and choose their creative job and so on. My formula is much more brutal, and darker. The state should simply guarantee that nobody actually starves, and perhaps this even needs to be done on an international scale, because otherwise you will get refugees. For our part, we need to forget about cars, air travel, fashion – and everyone should give back to society according to their ability. This means, for one thing, that the state should be given a certain right to mobilize people when needed. Can you imagine any other way to solve the problems we face?”

‘Materially, we have the means to organize some kind of global health care. If we don’t, our global unity is liable to disappear, and it could be the end of globalization as we know it.’

I’m not sure that idea will get much support, especially not in the individualistic West.

“I am not some evil old communist, and I don’t have any great communist dreams. We don’t need a communist party exercising tight control for this. I hope it’s clear that I don’t mean what we usually associate with 20th-century communism, or the weird hybrid forms that exist in countries such as North Korea and Cuba, or the fusion between despotic communism and brutal capitalism that is practiced in China and Vietnam. That’s why I use the expression ‘war communism,’ to describe a situation in which society is on the edge and the point is to organize a minimal, decent survival.”

If we examine the new left – those who recognize the seriousness of the climate crisis and promote such ideas as universal medical insurance and a basic income for everyone – there is truly a momentum of ideas that were once considered off the wall. But it seems to me that, even so, the road to the dark communism you are proposing is still very long.

“People tell me, ‘You’re crazy, you exaggerate,’ but aren’t governments already thinking in these terms, already doing it? Look at what even Trump had to do. He gave billions to ordinary people, and despite the fact that he gave even more to save corporations, we should be aware that this is no longer capitalistic market logic; we changed the horizon and it’s difficult, it’s a risky experiment.”

There was a rescue package in 2008, too, but more than a decade later capitalism is still very much alive.

“We live in a time when many things are possible and more strange things will happen. The economic problems will compel those in power to take actions that before this crisis appeared to be radically leftist measures. Even conservatives are having to do things that run against their principles. There are some radical things that only a right-winger can do – if a left-winger does them, he will be considered a traitor. Nixon made peace with China, and de Gaulle accepted Algerian independence – while the socialist government before him didn’t dare do it. Take Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un: If Obama had done it, he would have been branded a communist puppet.”

That’s an argument that Israelis can relate to, because we remember that it was right-wing leaders who removed the settlements in Sinai and the Gaza Strip. On that note, do you share the view that the epidemic will serve as a cover for Israel to annex areas of the West Bank and deepen the occupation?

“Maybe I’m too much a humanist utopian, but secretly I hope that the coronavirus crisis will scare the shit out of Israelis and Palestinians and seduce them into, ‘Okay, let’s try a little bit more of collaboration and mutual help.’ I know that now, in Gaza, textile factories are working full time making masks even for Israel. In this regard I’m almost a classical liberal capitalist – ‘commerce is good,’ you know? You begin by exporting masks to Israel, who knows what can happen… I don’t expect a big peace conference, let’s begin slowly by developing commercial links, without thinking in terms of total peace or a fight to the death. Let’s say, ‘Yes, maybe there will be a point in the future when we’ll try to kill each other, but until then – why don’t we sell you some masks, you’ll sell us some water or whatever?’ I believe in short-term pragmatic gestures, which can lead to something. I’m not a complete utopian, but maybe.”

The China syndrome

Although Žižek speaks of the need for a strong state, he is disturbed by the possibility that the West will follow China’s example with regard to citizen surveillance and the elimination of privacy.

“As I always said, even before the coronavirus, with all these new techniques of digital control, we’re approaching a new model. I can smell it in the air. You’re not openly controlled, you still appear to retain your personal freedoms, you order this and that food, you can do whatever you want in your own little isolated world, you can have your personal perversions. But in practice the control isn’t any less tight than in the Chinese model – maybe even more so. In China at least nobody has great democratic illusions, you know you’re tightly controlled by the party, the state apparatus and so on. The mechanisms of control in the West don’t work like that; I am very wary of the authorities’ cooperation with Google.”

Perhaps you could explain your concern, because as I understand it, you’re not just talking about surveillance and the infringement of privacy.

“I’m talking about what Naomi Klein calls the ‘Screen New Deal.’ The big technology companies like Google and Microsoft, which enjoy vast government support, will enable people to maintain Telexistence. You undergo a medical examination via the web, you do your job digitally from your apartment, your apartment becomes your world. I find this vision horrific.”

So those who see this change as an act of liberation are wrong?

“First, it’s class distinction at its purest. Maybe half the population, not even that, could live in this secluded way, but others will have to ensure that this digital machinery is functioning properly. Today, apart from the old working class, we have a ‘welfare working class,’ all those caregivers, educators, social workers, farmers. The dream of this program, the Screen New Deal, is that physically, at least, this class of caregivers disappears, they become as invisible as possible. Interaction with them will be increasingly reduced and be digital.”

In the book you take note of the price that the privileged class, too, will pay in this situation.

‘It’s tragic, I know, that all kinds of big companies are in deep shit, but are they worth saving?’

“The irony here is that those who are privileged, those who, in this scenario, will be able to live in this perfect, secluded way, will also be totally controlled digitally. Their morning urine will be examined, and so on with every aspect of their life. Take the new analysis capabilities that can test you and provide results [for the coronavirus] in 10-15 minutes. I can imagine a new form of sexuality in this totally isolated world, in which I flirt with someone virtually, and then we say, ‘Okay, let’s meet in real life and test each other – if we’re both negative, we can do it.’”

Perhaps above all, Žižek is uneasy about the power that will be concentrated in the hands of the few. “Can you imagine how much power will be concentrated in the hands of the digital giants when they enjoy state collaboration? As Julian Assange wrote, we will get a privately controlled combination of Google and something like the NSA. So this is another reason that I am against the Screen New Deal; they will totally control our lives, and democracy in any meaningful sense will thereby be abolished. Maybe we need some sort of mechanism to cope with the pandemic, but it should be controlled publicly and transparently, because it’s our money. That can be done.”

Žižek enunciates each syllable of that last sentence separately, as though he were speaking in the town square. Possibly he misses the period when he addressed large audiences and forgot momentarily that he was speaking with one individual.

“We can be opposed to this [monitoring] without engaging in any health risks,” he continues. “I’m not saying, ‘No control, walk in the parks freely, embrace each other and so on.’ But it’s not necessary for this system that tracks us and so on to function in this nontransparent way.”

Suddenly he recalls an interview he read with the entrepreneur Elon Musk, and once again he’s fired up. “He talked about the progress being made by his company, Neuralink [which seeks to enable a direct hookup between computers and the human brain]. He said that 10 years from now we will no longer need spoken language, because we’ll have direct, brain-to-brain, computer-mediated communication. I am skeptical about the scientific feasibility of this. But I think the timing of the interview is highly significant, during the coronavirus crisis, because the tendency is the same as with the Screen New Deal: to bypass material reality, and to establish a kind of digitally mediated direct communication in the virtual universe.”

And you see this as a perverse idea.

“This is what I really fear, the combination of viral and ecological catastrophes and the subsequent self-isolation, with these escapes into a digital world, where we’re directly connected to a computer. Combine this with Neuralink and you get a Matrix-like vision of our future.”

So people who may think things are bad now don’t know what’s in store for them.

“I like to use Stalin’s ridiculous answer, when he was asked which deviation was worse – right wing or left wing. He answered, ‘They are both worse.’ You know this nonsense?” Žižek asks, with rolling laughter. “So, if you ask me which way is worse, the Trump way – brutal capitalism – or the Screen New Deal, I think both are worse. As I said, the problems we’re facing are desperate, aren’t they? But excuse me for talking too much.”

Screen fatigue

In his book “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” Freud referred to an enigma that troubled him deeply: Soldiers who returned wounded from World War I were more successful in processing their traumatic experiences than those who came back without a scratch. The soldiers who were physically unscathed tended to have recurring dreams about the war’s horrors. In “Pandemic!,” Žižek takes a Lacanian approach and proposes that a distinction be made between reality – the social and material space we inhabit – and the real, “a spectral entity, invisible and for that very reason appearing as all-powerful.” According to Žižek, it is only when the real becomes part of our reality – for example, in the case of infection by the virus – that it becomes “something we can deal with.”

Accordingly, Žižek divides workers during the crisis into those who encounter the virus and its consequences as part of their daily reality – medical staff, welfare-service people, farmers, the food industry – and those who are secluded in their homes, for whom the epidemic remains in the realm of the Lacanian spectral and omnipresent. Yet, both groups are condemned to weariness: the essential workers because of their high-stress work and its dangers, and the people confined to their home because of the lassitude that engulfs those who observe the end of their familiar world, as it is projected from the screens.

As for Žižek himself, his new book appears to be not only an attempt to sound his voice and be counted in the category of the essential workers, but also a personal struggle against symptoms that were observed in people who were locked down at home during the recent confinement. To a certain extent, he is already practiced in this. He opens the appendix to the book with a “personal confession”: He likes the idea of being confined to his apartment. Even when he travels, he prefers “to stay in a nice hotel room and ignore all the attractions of the place I’m visiting.” He would rather read a good essay about a famous painting than see the painting in a crowded museum. Still, “being obliged to confine myself [is] more difficult.”

“The fact that everyone is behaving like me doesn’t make it easier,” he tells me. “Paradoxically, it is even more painful and more troubling for me. In the meantime, as I warned you, I am already exhausted. You see, this is exactly my problem – I get too excited and then comes a bout of depression.”

Then perhaps one last question, please. In the book you call for a philosophical revolution. What will be the future of academia in general and philosophy in particular in the brave new world that awaits us?

“I don’t know what will happen with academia. Will humanities survive and so on? Humanities professors in the United States tell me that many of their students feel that the world is falling apart, so why should they now be interested in 19th-century literature and philosophy? It’s a sad world.”

Although he had wanted to conclude the conversation, Žižek gets carried away momentarily: “It sometimes makes me cry to watch old films, because they take place in a world that, at least for some time, will not be here. It’s a lost world. How will literature and cinema reinvent themselves? Will they still try to fake the old reality?”

What about philosophy?

“I think philosophical reflection will be needed, even if for no other reason than because the reality in which we’re living is dissolving. It’s no longer the same world, so people are totally at a loss. Look at what’s already happening in the United States, all this racism exploding, and of course antisemitism. Philosophy, or whatever you want to call it – reflections on the meaning of life – will have to be there to allow people to orient themselves in the new world.”

Slavoj Žižek: “The ordeal we face is not lockdown and isolation, but what happens when our societies start to move again”

Authoritarians are exploiting this crisis, writes Slavoj Žižek. If China succeeds in Hong Kong, the violent takeover of Taiwan could be the next step – then a full scale Pacific war

Article text as posted on The Independant, 14th May 2020

In a documentary on life in the Chernobyl zone after the accident, an ordinary farmers’ family is shown simply continuing to live in their hut, defying the orders to evacuate and forgotten by the state authorities. They don’t believe in any mysterious nuclear rays – nature is there and life just goes on for them. They were lucky, they said: radiation didn’t seriously affect them.

Does their stance not recall the famous scene from The Matrix in which Neo is given the option to take the blue pill or the red pill? The blue pill would allow him go on living in our common reality, while the red pill would awaken him into the true state of things: our reality is a collective virtual dream manipulated by a gigantic artificial intelligence, and our bodies are actually used as human batteries to provide the energy for the AI machine.

The Chernobyl farmers chose the blue pill, and got away with it… or did they? From the perspective of the farmers, it is the world around them which swallowed the blue pill and believed in the grand lie about radioactive rays while they refused to be seduced by this panic and remained firmly rooted in their daily reality.

One cannot but notice how the metaphor of choosing the red pill and rejecting society’s grand lies is now predominantly used by the new populist right, especially with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic. Elon Musk recently joined their ranks, calling the predominant response to it a “panic” and “dumb.” He exhorted his Twitter followers to “take the red pill,” and his comment was quickly embraced by Ivanka Trump who announced that she has taken the pill already.

One should notice the irony that Musk who advocates return to normality at the same time publicizes his project of “neuralink” – all of us immersed into a collective wired brain where our minds directly communicate, bypassing the need for language. Is this vision not the ultimate version of taking the blue pill from Matrix, with humans isolated in cocoon beds, together floating in a shared virtual space?

Paradoxically, the populist new right is here joined by some radical leftists who also see in the Covid-19 panic a conspiracy of the state to impose total control over population. Here is an extreme case: Giorgio Agamben claims that “professors who agree to submit to the new dictatorship of telematics and to hold their courses only online are the perfect equivalent of the university teachers who in 1931 swore allegiance to the fascist regime.”

In the US, the polemics about continuing lockdown is turning into culture war: some stores hung signs “Entrance forbidden with masks!” (not without, but with); Trump ordered all churches, synagogues and mosques to open.

My aim here is not to score cheap points against those who disavow the reality of viral epidemics but to bring out what pushes them to this disavowal. The coronavirus pandemic threatens to develop into a perfect storm, the combination of three (or even four) storms that multiplies their effects. While the first two storms – health catastrophe, economic crisis – are widely debated, the other two – international crises and wars, mental health costs – are much less covered.

We often read that the pandemic was a shock which changed everything, that nothing is the same now. True. But at the same time nothing really changed. The pandemic just brought out more clearly what was already there.

Libertarians critique the use of phone signals to locate you, trace infected individuals and prevent the spread of the disease, yet state apparatuses were already for years registering all our digital communications and phone calls. Now, at least, they are at least using this ability to control us publicly, openly, and to our benefit – and to ascertain one single data (where we move).

Much more dangerous that that is the new turn in tensions between China and the US, which were growing already before the outbreak of coronavirus. China is now making moves to tighten its control over Hong Kong. A new security law is being discussed which would allow Beijing to take aim at the protests that have roiled the semiautonomous city.

This measure, the most aggressive one since Beijing took over Hong Kong in 1997, should be read together with another fact much less reported in our media: for the first time since Xi Jinping took over in 2013, the Taiwan section of the State Council annual report does not include any mention of the “1992 Consensus”, “One Country Two Systems”, “peace” or “peaceful unification.”

This is a major departure from the past which might mean that Beijing has given up the idea of a peaceful unification with Taiwan. If China succeeds in Hong Kong, the violent takeover of Taiwan could be the next step – and this could lead to a full scale Pacific war. Yes, Taiwan and Hong Kong are parts of China, but is this the moment to pose military threats?

And so it goes on elsewhere: Israel plans to annexe parts of West Bank; the US is considering to restart nuclear weapons tests; many other states are using coronavirus to pursue even more ruthlessly their aggressive politics as usual. We live in a mad world where nobody seems ready to do the rational thing and obey a truce in the time of a public health crisis.

Madness brings us to the fourth, no less ominous, storm: collective madness itself, the threatening collapse of our mental health.

Signs are already multiplying. In northern Italy, up to 80 percent of adult men are mentally affected; in Spain, half of the children in metropolitan areas have nightmares; in the US, tens of thousands of suicides are expected.

This trend should not surprise us when the very fundamentals of our daily lives are disappearing. In an essay entitled The Moon under Water, writer George Orwell describes the atmosphere of his ideal pub. For Orwell, pubs were the key element of socialising for the working classes, the place where their common mores were asserted – and now, after coronavirus, it is doubtful if the pub life will ever return as we once knew it. One should never underestimate the shattering effect of seeing one‘s daily customs collapse.

The true ordeal is not so much the lockdown and isolation, it is what happens next, when our societies are start to move again.

I have already once compared the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the global capitalist order to the “five point palm exploding heart technique” from the final scene of Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2. The move consists of a combination of five strikes with one’s fingertips to five different pressure points on the target’s body. The target can go on living and talking if he doesn’t move, but after he stands up and takes five steps, his heart explodes. Is this not how Covid-19 has affected global capitalist? Lockdown and isolation are relatively easy to sustain, we are aware that it is a temporary measure like taking a break; but problems explode when we will have invent a new form of life, since there is no return to the old.

Taking the true red pill means to gather the strength to confront the threat of these storms. We can do it because, to a considerable degree, they depend on us and on how we act and react in these difficult times.

Let’s not dream about a return to the old normality, but let us also abandon those Matrix-esque dreams about entering a new post-human era of collective spiritual existence.

The ongoing pandemic makes us aware that we are rooted in our individual bodies – and it is here that we should engage in the struggle.

‘Sovereignty, Inc.: Three Inquiries in Politics and Enjoyment’

Published by The University of Chicago Press in 2020.

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What does the name Trump stand for? If branding now rules over the production of value, as the coauthors of Sovereignty, Inc. argue, then Trump assumes the status of a master brand whose primary activity is the compulsive work of self-branding—such is the new sovereignty business in which, whether one belongs to his base or not, we are all “incorporated.”

Drawing on anthropology, political theory, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and theater, William Mazzarella, Eric L. Santner, and Aaron Schuster show how politics in the age of Trump functions by mobilizing a contradictory and convoluted enjoyment, an explosive mixture of drives and fantasies that eludes existing portraits of our era. The current political moment turns out to be not so much exceptional as exceptionally revealing of the constitutive tension between enjoyment and economy that has always been a key component of the social order. Santner analyzes the collective dream-work that sustains a new sort of authoritarian charisma or mana, a mana-facturing process that keeps us riveted to an excessively carnal incorporation of sovereignty. Mazzarella examines the contemporary merger of consumer brand and political brand and the cross-contamination of politics and economics, warning against all too easy laments about the corruption of politics by marketing. Schuster, focusing on the extreme theatricality and self-satirical comedy of the present, shows how authority reasserts itself at the very moment of distrust and disillusionment in the system, profiting off its supposed decline. A dazzling diagnostic of our present, Sovereignty, Inc., forces us to come to terms with our complicity in Trump’s political presence and will immediately take its place in discussions of contemporary politics.

‘The Royal Remains: The People’s Two Bodies and the Endgames of Sovereignty’ by Eric L. Santner

University of Chicago Press, 2011

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“The king is dead. Long live the king!” In early modern Europe, the king’s body was literally sovereign—and the right to rule was immediately transferrable to the next monarch in line upon the king’s death. In The Royal Remains, Eric L. Santner argues that the “carnal” dimension of the structures and dynamics of sovereignty hasn’t disappeared from politics. Instead, it migrated to a new location—the life of the people—where something royal continues to linger in the way we obsessively track and measure the vicissitudes of our flesh.
 
Santner demonstrates the ways in which democratic societies have continued many of the rituals and practices associated with kingship in displaced, distorted, and usually, unrecognizable forms. He proposes that those strange mental activities Freud first lumped under the category of the unconscious—which often manifest themselves in peculiar physical ways—are really the uncanny second life of these “royal remains,” now animated in the body politic of modern neurotic subjects. Pairing Freud with Kafka, Carl Schmitt with Hugo von Hofmannsthal,and Ernst Kantorowicz with Rainer Maria Rilke, Santner generates brilliant readings of multiple texts and traditions of thought en route to reconsidering the sovereign imaginary. Ultimately, The Royal Remains locates much of modernity—from biopolitical controversies to modernist literary experiments—in this transition from subjecthood to secular citizenship.
 
This major new work will make a bold and original contribution to discussions of politics, psychoanalysis, and modern art and literature.

‘The Neighbor: Three Inquiries in Political Theology’ by Slavoj Žižek, Eric L. Santner & Kenneth Reinhard

Published by The University of Chicago Press in 2006.

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In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud made abundantly clear what he thought about the biblical injunction, first articulated in Leviticus 19:18 and then elaborated in Christian teachings, to love one’s neighbor as oneself. “Let us adopt a naive attitude towards it,” he proposed, “as though we were hearing it for the first time; we shall be unable then to suppress a feeling of surprise and bewilderment.” After the horrors of World War II, the Holocaust, and Stalinism, Leviticus 19:18 seems even less conceivable—but all the more urgent now—than Freud imagined.

In The Neighbor, three of the most significant intellectuals working in psychoanalysis and critical theory collaborate to show how this problem of neighbor-love opens questions that are fundamental to ethical inquiry and that suggest a new theological configuration of political theory. Their three extended essays explore today’s central historical problem: the persistence of the theological in the political. In “Toward a Political Theology of the Neighbor,” Kenneth Reinhard supplements Carl Schmitt’s political theology of the enemy and friend with a political theology of the neighbor based in psychoanalysis. In “Miracles Happen,” Eric L. Santner extends the book’s exploration of neighbor-love through a bracing reassessment of Benjamin and Rosenzweig. And in an impassioned plea for ethical violence, Slavoj Žižek’s “Neighbors and Other Monsters” reconsiders the idea of excess to rehabilitate a positive sense of the inhuman and challenge the influence of Levinas on contemporary ethical thought.

A rich and suggestive account of the interplay between love and hate, self and other, personal and political, The Neighbor has proven to be a touchstone across the humanities and a crucial text for understanding the persistence of political theology in secular modernity.

‘A Discourse on Method’ by René Descartes


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The Discourse on the Method is a philosophical and mathematical treatise published by René Descartes in 1637. Its full name is Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Searching for Truth in the Sciences (French title: Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison, et chercher la verité dans les sciences). The Discourse on Method is best known as the source of the famous quotation “Je pense, donc je suis” (“I think, therefore I am”), which occurs in Part IV of the work. (The similar statement in Latin, Cogito ergo sum, is found in §7 of Principles of Philosophy.) In addition, in one of its appendices, La Géométrie, is contained Descartes’ first introduction of the Cartesian coordinate system.

The Discourse on the Method is one of the most influential works in the history of modern science. It is a method which gives a solid platform from which all modern natural sciences could evolve. In this work, Descartes tackles the problem of skepticism which had been revived from the ancients such as Sextus Empiricus by authors such as Al-Ghazali and Michel de Montaigne. Descartes modified it to account for a truth that he found to be incontrovertible. Descartes started his line of reasoning by doubting everything, so as to assess the world from a fresh perspective, clear of any preconceived notions.

The book was originally published in Leiden in French, together with his works “Dioptrique, Météores et Géométrie”. Later, it was translated into Latin and published in 1656 in Amsterdam.

Together with Meditations on First Philosophy (Meditationes de Prima Philosophia), Principles of Philosophy (Principia philosophiae) and Rules for the Direction of the Mind (Regulae ad directionem ingenii), it forms the base of the Epistemology known as Cartesianism.

‘Philosophical Essays and Correspondence’ by René Descartes

Published by Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. in 2000.

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This volume includes all major works by Descartes in their entirety, important selections from his lesser known writings, and key selections from his philosophical correspondence. The result is an anthology that enables the reader to understand the development of Descartes’s thought over his lifetime. Includes a biographical Introduction, chronology, bibliography, and index.

‘The Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes’

Published by University Of Chicago Press in 2007.

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Between the years 1643 and 1649, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia (1618–80) and René Descartes (1596–1650) exchanged fifty-eight letters—thirty-two from Descartes and twenty-six from Elisabeth.

Their correspondence contains the only known extant philosophical writings by Elisabeth, revealing her mastery of metaphysics, analytic geometry, and moral philosophy, as well as her keen interest in natural philosophy. The letters are essential reading for anyone interested in Descartes’s philosophy, in particular his account of the human being as a union of mind and body, as well as his ethics. They also provide a unique insight into the character of their authors and the way ideas develop through intellectual collaboration.

Philosophers have long been familiar with Descartes’s side of the correspondence. Now Elisabeth’s letters—never before available in translation in their entirety—emerge this volume, adding much-needed context and depth both to Descartes’s ideas and the legacy of the princess. Lisa Shapiro’s annotated edition—which also includes Elisabeth’s correspondence with the Quakers William Penn and Robert Barclay—will be heralded by students of philosophy, feminist theorists, and historians of the early modern period.

‘Introducing Descartes: A Graphic Guide’ by Dave Robinson & Chris Garratt

Published by Icon Books; Reprint edition (December 14, 2010)

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René Descartes is famous as the philosopher who was prepared to doubt everything―even his own physical existence. Most people know that he said ‘I think, therefore I am‘, even if they are not always sure what he really meant by it.

René Descartes: ‘Meditacije o prvi filozofiji’

Izdala Slovenska matica v Ljubljani, 2004

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Sicer obvezno učno čtivo vsakega dijaka, ki na gimnazijski maturi izbere predmet filozofije, Dekartove Meditacije o prvi filozofiji veljajo za temeljno in izvorno delo moderne dobe v zahodni filozofiji.

Poslovenil Primož Simoniti; uvod napisal Mirko Hribar.

‘The Communist Manifesto’ by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

This edition published in the Penguin Classics series in 2002.
Download link updated on 20. June 2021.

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A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Communism. All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcize this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police spies. . .


Originally published on the eve of the 1848 European revolutions, The Communist Manifesto is a condensed and incisive account of the worldview Marx and Engels developed during their hectic intellectual and political collaboration. Formulating the principles of dialectical materialism, they believed that labor creates wealth, hence capitalism is exploitive and antithetical to freedom.


Born in Trier in the Rhineland in 1818, Karl Marx was the son of a Jewish lawyer, recently converted to Christianity. As a student in Bonn and Berlin, Marx studied law and then philosophy. He joined with the Young Hegelians, the most radical of Hegel’s followers, in denying that Hegel’s philosophy could be reconciled with Christianity or the existing State. Forced out of university by his radicalism, he became a journalist and, soon after, a socialist. He left Prussia for Paris and then Brussels, where he stayed until 1848. In 1844 he began his collaboration with Friedrich Engels and developed a new theory of communism to be brought into being by a proletarian revolution. This theory was brilliantly outlined in The Communist Manifesto. Marx participated in the 1848 revolutions as a newspaper editor in Cologne. Exiled together with his family to London, he tried to make a living writing for the New York Herald Tribune and other journals, but remained financially dependent on Engels. His researches in the British Museum were aimed at underpinning his conception of communism with a theory of history that demonstrated that capitalism was a transient economic form destined to break down and be superseded by a society without classes, private property or state authority. This study was never completed, but its first part, which was published as Capital in 1867, established him as the principal theorist of revolutionary socialism. He died in London in 1883.

Born in Westphalia in 1820, Friedrich Engels was the son of a textile manufacturer. After military training in Berlin and already a convert to communism, Engels went to Manchester in 1842 to represent the family firm. A relationship with a mill-hand, Mary Burns, and friendship with local Owenites and Chartists helped to inspire his famous early work, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. Collaboration with Marx began in 1844 and in 1847 he composed the first drafts of the Manifesto. After playing an active part in the German revolutions, Engels returned to work in Manchester until 1870, when he moved to London. He not only helped Marx financially, but reinforced their shared position through his own expositions of the new theory. After Marx’s death, he prepared the unfinished volumes of Capital for publication. He died in London in 1895.

‘Jacques, the Sophist: Lacan, Logos and Psychoanalysis’ by Barbara Cassin

Published by Fordham University Press in 2019

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Sophistry, since Plato and Aristotle, has been philosophy’s negative alter ego, its bad other. Yet sophistry’s emphasis on words and performativity over the fetishization of truth makes it an essential part of our world’s cultural, political, and philosophical repertoire. In this dazzling book, Barbara Cassin, who has done more than anyone to reclaim a mode of thought that traditional philosophy disavows, shows how the sophistical tradition has survived in the work of psychoanalysis.

In a highly original rereading of the writings and seminars of Jacques Lacan, together with works of Freud and others, Cassin shows how psychoanalysis, like the sophists, challenges the very foundations of scientific rationality. In taking seriously equivocations, jokes, and unfinishable projects of interpretation, the analyst, like the sophist, allows performance, signifier, and inconsistency to reshape truth.

‘Cogito and the Unconscious’ edited by Slavoj Žižek

Published by Duke University Press in April 1998. Download link updated on 22. June 2021.

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The Cartesian cogito—the principle articulated by Descartes that “I think, therefore I am”—is often hailed as the precursor of modern science. At the same time, the cogito’s agent, the ego, is sometimes feared as the agency of manipulative domination responsible for all present woes, from patriarchal oppression to ecological catastrophes.

Without psychoanalyzing philosophy, Cogito and the Unconscious explores the vicissitudes of the cogito and shows that psychoanalyses can render visible a constitutive madness within modern philosophy, the point at which “I think, therefore I am” becomes obsessional neurosis characterized by “If I stop thinking, I will cease to exist.”

Noting that for Lacan the Cartesian construct is the same as the Freudian “subject of the unconscious,” the contributors follow Lacan’s plea for a psychoanalytic return to the cogito. Along the path of this return, they examine the ethical attitude that befits modern subjectivity, the inherent sexualization of modern subjectivity, the impasse in which the Cartesian project becomes involved given the enigmatic status of the human body, and the Cartesian subject’s confrontation with its modern critics, including Althusser, Bataille, and Dennett.

In a style that has become familiar to Žižek’s readers, these essays bring together a strict conceptual analysis and an approach to a wide range of cultural and ideological phenomena—from the sadist paradoxes of Kant’s moral philosophy to the universe of Ayn Rand’s novels, from the question “Which, if any, is the sex of the cogito?” to the defense of the cogito against the onslaught of cognitive sciences.

Challenging us to reconsider fundamental notions of human consciousness and modern subjectivity, this is a book whose very Lacanian orthodoxy makes it irreverently transgressive of predominant theoretical paradigms. Cogito and the Unconscious will appeal to readers interested in philosophy, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, and theories of ideology.

Contributors: Miran Božovič, Mladen Dolar, Alain Grosrichard, Marc de Kessel, Robert Pfaller, Renata Salecl, Slavoj Žižek, Alenka Zupančič.

‘Meditations’ by René Descartes

Published in Penguin Classics in 1998. Download link updated on 20. June 2021.

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Widely regarded as the father of modern Western philosophy, Descartes sought to look beyond established ideas and create a thought system based on reason. In this profound work he meditates on doubt, the human soul, God, truth and the nature of existence itself.

‘The Seminar of Alain Badiou: Nietzsche’s Anti-Philosophy I, 1992-1993’ by Wanyoung E. Kim

Unofficial translation published in 2015.

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It is common knowledge that Nietzsche is very critical of traditional philosophy and strongly opposes a number of (if not all) philosophers, but Alain Badiou goes beyond this claim to interpret and classify Nietzsche as an “antiphilosopher.” As such, Badiou’s interpretation belongs to the vast literature focusing on Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics and truth. However, Badiou goes a bit further and develops a notion of “antiphilosophy” that not only is critical but also has a positive impact: Nietzsche is not only a critic of metaphysics, but he is also an antiphilosopher like Pascal or Rousseau. Nietzsche. L’antiphilosophie I is the transcript from a seminar Badiou gave in 1992–93 and, as the title suggests, is the first of a series of seminars on antiphilosophers (which includes Wittgenstein, Lacan, and Saint Paul).

Badiou’s interpretation of Nietzsche is a first step in establishing his concept of “antiphilosophy,” which he introduces by posing three interrelated questions: “My strategy in this seminar will be to intertwine three interrogations: topical, on the status of the Nietzschean text; historical, asking whether the century was Nietzschean and in what sense; and generic, on the germane question of art”. Even though these “interrogations” are indeed intertwined, the first half of the book focuses more on the first question, and the second half focuses on the third. Badiou’s first task is to define Nietzsche’s philosophy—and that means to define what the Nietzschean text is—in order to establish and stabilize his notion of “antiphilosophy.”