Metaphysics beyond Psychoanalysis: The Unconscious, Language and Reality after Heidegger and Deleuze

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anti-philosophy / badiou / deconstruction / Deleuze / difference / heidegger / lacan / levinas / mathematics / metaphysics / negation / poetry / psychoanalysis / unity / writing


Metaphysics beyond Psychoanalysis

0: Entryways

“What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them gives you the universe?”

“Lacan never pursues purely philosophical objectives.”

Questions, not meanings, are forgotten. May we therefore at last refrain from inquiring what psychoanalysis means, or asking what it is supposed to signify? And, since this alone is clearly insufficient, could it also be possible to take a cautious step “backwards,” simply in order to ask: which psychoanalysis, and how does it work? Where, when, and how much is it thinking? Where and why does it forget (merging imperceptibly here with a mythical alien outside, or fading transparently there into an empirical illusion)? From what eerily formal abyss “must” the “truth” must be continuously salvaged? Why these specific fixations, abstract algorithms and “critical” meta-languages — and in what ways are these translated (and transformed) into applications as clinical practice?

The history of psychoanalysis is a torus, and offers few instances of non-paradoxical theoretical encounters. It is in this sense that Lacan’s project of critically deconstructing the “origins” of (post-Freudian) psychoanalysis could be said to follow analogically — or even metaphorically — from Heidegger’s project of ungrounding (Platonic) metaphysics via a “detour” through the Pre-Socratics. In a different but curiously parallel way, Deleuze’s distaste for — and now subtle, now overt subversion of — Lacan, especially his analysis of desire (bordering at times on a strange kind of “power struggle” within psychoanalysis not unlike Lacan’s own break with the analysts of his early career) can indeed be said to mirror Levinas’ tense and passionate struggle with Heidegger over the question of desire — which, not coincidentally, Heidegger also characterizes as structured around a central lack.

In terms of contemporary theory, Laruelle and Badiou’s anti- or non-philosophy could be said to present a similarly-effective overturning of literary-deconstructive methods — we find a deceptive model of this technique in the work of Derrida, and in a different sense, the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Badiou’s position could be baldly summarized as a critique of what is really a humanistic or “centralizing,” isolationist move within theory, which claims to be the opposite, or “de-centralizing” — while ancient philosophy suffered badly from a similar “axiomatic” illusion as well, it is especially modern thinkers whose theory is built starting from a promise (instead of a premise,) and so filled with convincing but misleading interpretations of facts (rather than taking a de-subjectivized scientific position capable of producing a rigorous analysis of the “facts” of the matter.) Laruelle expresses this “inhumanism,” or post-metaphysical materialism, particularly rigorously: only science is really capable of moving thought beyond the philosophical as such.

The question which we wish to pose here is not the difficulty of situating the ruptures, knots and singularities within a history of psychology, or even of reweaving these ambiguously differentiated series into a “better” genealogy. Rather, we simply wish to know: where is the eternal return of difference in this complex and heavily-implicated dialogue? More generally, in what way (if any) can a critical “genealogy” of psychoanalysis allow us insight into the problem of differential resonance as such? There are at least three major barriers here obstructing our progress.

  1. In what sense is it possible to follow these writings to their “situation”? Many serious difficulties are raised by the clear though uncanny coupling of these thinkers to one another — not to mention the even stranger knots or “pure repetitions” in their respective discursive content — but the difficulties here, while formidable, are not insurmountable as long as we resist the “natural” urge for synthesis (an absolute or pure interpretation.) However, as our reading grows closer to the burning heart of the matter (clinical practice,) we must keep close to mind the really intractable problem of situating any one of these thinkers in relation to themselves — or indeed, to any total systematic unity or ground. For each one of these thinkers — (Heidegger and Lacan, Deleuze and Levinas, Derrida and Badiou) — ceaselessly concern themselves (though ostensibly for widely divergent reasons) with the brilliant invention of better, faster and more general ungrounding and upturning machines — yet, in a sense, at one point or another, they all betray themselves, either by sacrificing difference (and silence) for unity (and writing, mathematics, love, etc.) — and so the machine itself is botched, already tearing itself to pieces: pure theory disappears, sliding down into the labyrinths of transcendental or empirical illusions. In fact there is a principle at work here, a signal for caution: psychoanalysis must be exceptionally wary of the risk it runs of consuming thought in the act of formulating ‘existence’ as a lost object or fractured (even fractal!) subject — out of which a pure difference, a pure intensity, “can” be salvaged. In other words: where non-unity and non-presence are offered as privileged signifiers, we will also find the origin of structure as “internal” differentiation, even molecular disintegration; what is really being offered here is a subjective or even moral transformation: a pure mode of non-relationality supplanting an “impure” relationality (i.e., that a structural, or “extensive,” differentiation tends to cover over an “intensive” difference.)
  2. We may choose, after all, to simply call all these “illusions” poetic disguises (and like Socrates condemn them, even while suffering more than any other from them); but it is clear this remains only an approximate way of saying that writing has here “almost” captured a thought passing between heterogeneous systems of language — that strange rarity which can only be spoken of innocently and in spontaneous poetry — in other words, an early map of a living idea which has yet to become formalized, inscribed, memorized, vivisected, made calculable. It is in this sense that Badiou, despite all appearances, is the least differential and least psychoanalytical of all these writers — mathematics is a graveyard, a religion for absolute ascetics — though to be fair there is a “legal” or lethal bone in each of these thinkers’ throats (and not only theirs…,) which is the concealed lust for a pure language, an absolute presencing of human signification, infinitely capable of endowing all activity with meaning. This suppression is signified, paradoxically, by the privileging of a-subjectification, a-signification.
  3. We are already experiencing the true difficulty underlying all of us this: How do we formulate the “real” question of their relation to one another without always already placing these dialogues into new systems of resonance? Is it necessarily a matter, in the end, of formalizing mathematically a kind of “openness” beyond the negative — an elemental or atomic differend of non-thought — which would have the consequence of supplanting metaphysics itself (not to mention psychoanalysis)? And, beyond these metaphysico-linguistic considerations, in what sense is it possible to conceive of psychoanalysis along differential, or non-oppositional, lines?

Before we attempt our genealogical sketch, allow me to briefly attempt to formulate the intuition which guides me. In the origin and destiny of psychoanalytical thought, I find an uncanny serialization, a conjuncture of disjunctions, a formal gap which endlessly supplants the old signifiers even as it conditions the new powers — in short, a variation of theme which itself becomes the unvarying eternal melody. Two instances:

(a) Deleuze’s differences with Lacan slowly seemed to “multiply” until Deleuze would finally turn more or less against Lacan in seeking a new field altogether for psychoanalysis — shizoanalysis, the science of desiring machines, following a flow of pure multiplicity through the unconscious instead of reproducing subjects virtually castrated by a mommy-daddy complex (even abstractly, and this is indeed where we have the most to be concerned about!)

(b) Levinas’ objections to Heidegger grow consistently in depth and lucidity over his career; he locates at the heart of Heidegger’s deconstructive effort a return to a more ancient mode rather than a push forward into the future. Lodged deep in Heidegger’s architecture, we will discover a fractured, abstract, minimal remnant of the hierarchical logic of the ancient system — and owing only to this tiny revenant, we discover that the whole system is compromised by a kind of “ontological imperialism,” seizing upon existents through the Void of existing and discovering only a luminous horizon, a silhouette which has lost its face (for Levinas, an existent is the very appeal addressed to comprehension; i.e., Being is “always already” an appeal to subjectivity. [on this, cf. Totality and Infinity 45])

The Author

mostly noise and glare

1 Comment

  1. For your paper (Levinas and the war machine), we should workshop this piece. So maybe one suggestion I have is to streamline, if not the Badiou then at least the conflation of Badiou and Laruelle which I don’t seem to understand. I like the ending with Levinas v Heidegger because it ends with the void and the face, i.e. something that directly reminds me of Guattari’s theory of subjectification (black hole/white wall system=the face).

    Isn’t that what’s missing here? Doesn’t the Deleuze/Lacan series make little sense without bringing in Guattari? Isn’t Guattari the displaced element in the series…the paradoxical element if you will (even Deleuze’s LoS in 69–his most Lacanian work, if you will–still implies Guattari’s presence–though not total influence no doubt–because the two met a year earlier. In any case, even when you mention “the concealed lust for a pure language, an absolute presencing of human signification, infinitely capable of endowing all activity with meaning. This suppression is signified, paradoxically, by the privileging of a-subjectification, a-signification.” Aren’t you talking about Guattari, who precisely priviliges these two realms in their positive movements of deterritorialization as catalysts of the possible? But only partly, because Guattari doesn’t have a lust for this pure language…that sounds more like Lacan’s dictum concerning the structure of the unconscious.

    I digress, but in any case I think Laruelle should be subtracted…and Deleuze and Guattari should be counterposed against Badiou (axiomatics and diagrammatics) as we have discussed. Furthermore, you say:

    “In terms of contemporary theory, Laruelle and Badiou’s anti- or non-philosophy could be said to present a similarly-effective overturning of literary-deconstructive methods — we find a deceptive model of this technique in the work of Derrida, and in a different sense, the work of Deleuze and Guattari.”

    Beyond the false conjunction of Badiou and Laruelle (Badiou ultimately still claims to be a philosopher and to uphold the notion of antiphilosophy which is not reducible or equivalent to non-philosophy), this last statement troubles me, or intrigues me even.

    In what sense is Deleuze and Guattari deceptive, in a way that at least, for you, is not exactly similar to Derrida’s own deception. You do not seem to be claiming D+G perform deconstructive literary techniques: if anything their analyses of literature serve as real vehicles for constructing their concepts. Not a deconstruction of the work, but a reconstruction through philosophy. Is this deceptive?

    Or is it because D+G are too flashy? Are they deceptive with their concepts, have they gone through the white wall of signification into the realms of absurdity (truth?).

    I only press the issue because you do something to which I take offense, and I shouldn’t because it’s not personal. But here it is.

    You claim an interest in this struggle in psychoanalysis, ultimately Lacan and Deleuze. You do not mention Guattari…except once, the quotation I gave you. So Deleuze is of interest, but Deleuze and Guattari are deceptive. Definitely paradoxical.

    Unless, again, we are going to privilege D+R and LoS over Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

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