Why is structuralism serious? For the serious to be truly serious, there must be the serial, which is made up of elements, of results, of configurations, of homologies, of repetitions. What is serious for Lacan is the logic of the signifier, that is to say the opposite of a philosophy, inasmuch as every philosophy rests on the appropriateness, transparency, agreement, harmony of thought with itself. There is always some part hidden, in a philosophy, an I = I, which constitutes what Lacan called at some moment ‘the initial error in philosophy,” which consists in privileging this equality and thus making one believe that the ‘I’ is contemporary with itself, while its constitution is always after the emergence of its cause, of petit a. The unconscious means that thought is caused by the non-thought that one cannot recapture in the present, except by capturing it in its consequences. This is how Georges Dandin recaptures the consequence of stopped time when he stops to say: Tu l’as voulu, Georges Dandin! (You wanted it, Georges Dandin.) He makes time stop to recapture in the consequence what was caused by the non-thought.1
The only thing one cannot fully agree with in this quoted passage concerns Miller’s (and Lacan’s) all too quick and slick condemnation of philosophy: the very German idealist who articulated the infamous I=I, the formula of the I’s self-identity Lacan is distancing himself from, Fichte, also made clear the subject’s dependence on a cause which is de-centered with regard to the subject. Fichte was the first philosopher to focus on the uncanny contingency in the very heart of subjectivity: the Fichtean subject is not the overblown Ego=Ego as the absolute Origin of all reality, but a finite subject thrown, caught, in a contingent social situation forever eluding mastery. It is important to bear in mind the two primary meanings of Anstoss in German: check, obstacle, hindrance, something that resists the boundless expansion of our striving, but also impetus, stimulus, something that incites our activity. Anstoss is not simply the obstacle the absolute I posits to itself in order to stimulate its activity so that, by overcoming the self-posited obstacle, it asserts its creative power, like the games the proverbial perverted ascetic saint plays with himself by inventing ever new temptations and then, in successfully resisting them, confirming his strength. If the KantianDing an sich corresponds to the Freudian-Lacanian Thing, Anstoss is closer to objet petit a, to the primordial foreign body that “sticks in the throat” of the subject, to the object-cause of desire that splits it up: Fichte himself defines Anstoss as the non-assimilable foreign body that causes the subject division into the empty absolute subject and the finite determinate subject, limited by the non-I. Anstoss thus designates the moment of the “run-in”, the hazardous knock, the encounter of the Real in the midst of the ideality of the absolute I: there is no subject without Anstoss, without the collision with an element of irreducible facticity and contingency – “the I is supposed to encounter within itself something foreign.” The point is thus to acknowledge “the presence, within the I itself, of a realm of irreducible otherness, of absolute contingency and incomprehensibility… Ultimately, not just Angelus Silesius’s rose, but every Anstoss whatsoever ist ohne Warum.” In clear contrast to the Kantian noumenal Ding that affects our senses, Anstoss does not come from outside, it is stricto sensu ex-timate: a non-assimilable foreign body in the very core of the subject – as Fichte himself emphasizes, the paradox of Anstoss resides in the fact that it is simultaneously “purely subjective” and not produced by the activity of the I. If Anstoss were not “purely subjective”, if it were already the non-I, part of objectivity, we would fall back into “dogmaticism”, i.e. Anstoss would effectively amount to no more than a shadowy remainder of the Kantian Ding an sich and would thus bear witness to Fichte’s inconsequentiality (the commonplace reproach against Fichte); if Anstoss were simply subjective, it would present a case of the subject’s hollow playing with itself, and we would never reach the level of objective reality, i.e. Fichte would effectively be a solipsist (another commonplace reproach against his philosophy). The crucial point is that Anstoss sets in motion the constitution of “reality”: at the beginning is the pure I with the non-assimilable foreign body in its heart; the subject constitutes reality by way of assuming a distance towards the Real of the formless Anstoss and conferring on it the structure of objectivity. What imposes itself here is the parallel between the Fichtean Anstoss and the Freudian-Lacanian scheme of the relationship between the primordial Ich (Ur-Ich) and the object, the foreign body in its midst, which disturbs its narcissistic balance, setting in motion the long process of the gradual expulsion and structuration of this inner snag, through which (what we experience as) “external, objective reality” is constituted.
The temporality of the subject’s cause is not that of the linear deployment of time (and of the corresponding notion of causality in which past causes determine the present); it is the temporality of a circular time in which “time stops” when, in a convoluted self-relating, the subject posits its own presupposed cause. Miller himself concedes this when he points out that the cause of desire is “a cause moreover which is posed by retroaction.” It is in this precise sense that subject and object are correlative: the subject’s emergence, his breaking of (cut into, suspension of) the linear causality of “reality” has a cause, but a cause which is retroactively posited by its own effect. It is this minimal retroactivity, not just some kind of structural “complexity,” which allows us to pass from linear natural causality, no matter how complex it is, to structural causality proper.
“You wanted it, Georges Dandin.” quoted by Miller is a line from Molière in which the subject is reminded that the present deadlock that befalls him is the un-intended outcome of his own past acts; Miller gives it an additional twist: the subject should recapture in the consequence that he encounters in reality the results of their absent and non-thought cause – in the case of Billy Bathgate, he should recapture in the two “real” objects, the novel and the film, the consequences of their virtual cause, the spectral “better novel.”
Deleuze characterized his reading of philosophers as guided by the tendency “to see the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery” or (it comes to the same thing) immaculate conception. I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed.”2 Deleuze is here deeply Lacanian: does Lacan not do the same in his reading of “Kant with Sade”? Jacques-Alain Miller once characterized this reading with the same words as Deleuze: the aim of Lacan is “to take Kant from behind,” to produce the Sadean monster as Kant’s own offspring. (And, incidentally, does the same not go also for Heidegger’s reading of pre-Socratic fragments? Is he also not “taking from behind” Parmenides and Heraclitus? Is his extensive explanation of Parmenides’ “Being and thought are the same” not one of the greatest buggeries in the history of philosophy?) The term “immaculate conception” is to be linked to the notion, from The Logic of Sense, of the flow of sense as infertile, without a proper causal power: Deleuzian reading does not move at the level of the actual imbrication of causes and effects; it stands to “realistic” interpretations as anal penetration does with regard to proper vaginal penetration.
[Extract. Appeared in The Symptom, Vol. 11, (2010). Full article available on lacan.com]
- Jacques-Alain Miller, “Detached Pieces,” lacanian ink 28, Fall 2007, p. 37.
- Deleuze, Negotiations 1972-1990, New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1997, p. 6.