Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology

НазваниеKant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology
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Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology

Slavoj Žižek

Duke University Press Durham 1993


Fourth printing, 1998 © 1993 Duke University Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper ∞; Typeset in Dante by Keystone Typesetting, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data appear on the last printed page of this book.


Lacking strength, Beauty hates the Understanding for asking of her what it cannot do. But the life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being.-- G. W. F. Hegel, "Preface" to Phenomenology of Spirit






1 "I or He or It (the Thing) Which Thinks"


2 Cogito and the Sexual Difference



3 On Radical Evil and Related Matters



4 Hegel's "Logic of Essence" as a Theory of Ideology



5 "The Wound Is Healed Only by the Spear That Smote You"


6 Enjoy Your Nation as Yourself!








The most sublime image that emerged in the political upheavals of the last years-- and the term "sublime" is to be conceived here in the strictest Kantian sense-- was undoubtedly the unique picture from the time of the violent overthrow of Ceauşsescu in Romania: the rebels waving the national flag with the red star, the Communist symbol, cut out, so that instead of the symbol standing for the organizing principle of the national life, there was nothing but a hole in its center. It is difficult to imagine a more salient index of the"open" character of a historical situation"in its becoming," as Kierkegaard would have put it, of that intermediate phase when the former Master-Signifier, although it has already lost the hegemonical power, has not yet been replaced by the new one. The sublime enthusiasm this picture bears witness to is in no way affected by the fact that we now know how the events were actually manipulated (ultimately it had to do with a coup of Securitate, the Communist secret police, against itself, against its own signifier; that is, the old apparatus survived by casting off its symbolic clothing): for us as well as for most of the participants themselves, all this became visible in retrospect, and what really matters is that the masses who poured into the streets of Bucharest"experienced" the situation as"open," that they participated in the unique intermediate state of passage from one discourse (social link) to another, when, for a brief, passing moment, the hole in the big Other, the symbolic order, became visible. The enthusiasm which carried them was literally the enthusiasm over this hole, not yet hegemonized by any positive ideological project; all ideological appropria-


tions (from the nationalistic to the liberal-democratic) entered the stage afterwards and endeavored to"kidnap" the process which originally was not their own. At this point, perhaps, the enthusiasm of the masses and the attitude of a critical intellectual overlap for a brief moment. And the duty of the critical intellectual-- if, in today's"postmodern" universe, this syntagm has any meaning left-- is precisely to occupy all the time, even when the new order (the"new harmony") stabilizes itself and again renders invisible the hole as such, the place of this hole, i.e., to maintain a distance toward every reigning Master-Signifier. In this precise sense, Lacan points out that, in the passage from one discourse (social link) to another, the"discourse of the analyst" always emerges for a brief moment: the aim of this discourse is precisely to"produce" the Master-Signifier, that is to say, to render visible its"produced," artificial, contingent character. 1

This maintaining of a distance with regard to the Master-Signifier characterizes the basic attitude of philosophy. It is no accident that Lacan, in his Seminar on Transference, refers to Socrates,"the first philosopher," as the paradigm of the analyst: in Plato's Symposium, Socrates refuses to be identified with agalma, the hidden treasure in himself, with the unknown ingredient responsible for the Master's charisma, and persists in the void filled out by agalma. 2 It is against this background that we have to locate the "amazement" that marks the origins of philosophy: philosophy begins the moment we do not simply accept what exists as given ("It's like that!", "Law is law!", etc.), but raise the question of how is what we encounter as actual also possible. What characterizes philosophy is this"step back" from actuality into possibility-- the attitude best rendered by Adorno's and Horkheimer's motto quoted by Fredric Jameson:"Not Italy itself is given here, but the proof that it exists." 3 Nothing is more antiphilosophical than the well-known anecdote about Diogenes the cynic who, when confronted with the Eleatic proofs of the nonexistence and inherent impossibility of movement, answered by simply standing up and taking a walk. (As Hegel points out, the standard version of this anecdote passes over in silence its denouement: Diogenes soundly thrashed his pupil who applauded the Master's gesture, punishing him for accepting the reference to a pretheoretical factum brutum as a proof.) Theory involves the power to abstract from our starting point in order to reconstruct it subsequently on the basis of its presuppositions, its transcendental"conditions of possibility"-- theory as such, by definition, requires the suspension of the Master-Signifier.

In this precise sense, Rodolphe Gasché is fully justified in claiming that


Derrida remains thoroughly a"transcendental" philosopher: notions like differance, supplement, etc., endeavor to provide an answer to the question of the"conditions of possibility" of the philosophical discourse. 4 That is to say, the strategy of the Derridean"deconstruction" is not to dilute philosophical stringency in the unrestrained playfulness of"writing," but to undermine the philosophical procedure by means of its most rigorous selfapplication: its aim is to demonstrate that the"condition of impossibility" of a philosophical system (i.e., what, within the horizon of this system, appears as the hindrance to be surmounted, the secondary moment to be subdued) actually functions as its inherent condition of possibility (there is no pure logos without writing, no origin without its supplement, etc.). And why should we not also claim for Lacan the title of"transcendental philosopher"? Is not his entire work an endeavor to answer the question of how desire is possible? Does he not offer a kind of"critique of pure desire," of the pure faculty of desiring? 5 Are not all his fundamental concepts so many keys to the enigma of desire? Desire is constituted by"symbolic castration," the original loss of the Thing; the void of this loss is fined out by objet petit a, the fantasy-object; this loss occurs on account of our being "embedded" in the symbolic universe which derails the "natural" circuit of our needs; etc., etc.

This thesis that Lacan is essentially a philosopher seems nonetheless all too hazardous, since it blatantly contradicts Lacan's repeated statements which explicitly dismiss philosophy as a version of the "discourse of the Master." 6 Did Lacan not emphasize again and again the radically antiphilosophical character of his teaching, up to the pathetic "Je m'insurge contre la philosophie" from the last years of his life? However, things get complicated the moment we recall that it is already the post-Hegelian philosophy itself which, in its three main branches (analytical philosophy, phenomenology, Marxism), conceives of itself as "antiphilosophy," "notanymore-philosophy." In his German Ideology, Marx mockingly observes that philosophy relates to "actual life" as masturbation to sexual act; the positivist tradition claims to replace philosophy (metaphysics) with the scientific analysis of concepts; the Heideggerian phenomenologists endeavor to "pass through philosophy" toward the post-philosophical "thought." In short, what is today practiced as "philosophy" are precisely different attempts to "deconstruct" something referred to as the classical philosophical corpus ("metaphysics," "logocentrism," etc.). One is therefore tempted to risk the hypothesis that what Lacan's "antiphilosophy"


opposes is this very philosophy qua antiphilosophy: what if Lacan's own theoretical practice involves a kind of return to philosophy?

According to Alain Badiou, we live today in the age of the "new sophists." 7 The two crucial breaks in the history of philosophy, Plato's and Kant's, occurred as a reaction to new relativistic attitudes which threatened to demolish the traditional corpus of knowledge: in Plato's case, the logical argumentation of the sophists undermined the mythical foundations of the traditional mores; in Kant's case, empiricists (such as Hume) undermined the foundations of the Leibnizean-Wolfian rationalist metaphysics. In both cases, the solution offered is not a return to the traditional attitude but a new founding gesture which"beats the sophists at their own game," i.e., which surmounts the relativism of the sophists by way of its own radicalization ( Plato accepts the argumentative procedure of the sophists; Kant accepts Hume's burial of the traditional metaphysics). And it is our hypothesis that Lacan opens up the possibility of another repetition of the same gesture. That is to say, the"postmodern theory" which predominates today is a mixture of neopragmatism and deconstruction best epitomized by names such as Rorty or Lyotard; their works emphasize the"antiessentialist" refusal of universal Foundation, the dissolving of"truth" into an effect of plural language-games, the relativization of its scope to historically specified intersubjective community, etc., etc. Isolated desperate endeavors of a"postmodern" return to the Sacred are quickly reduced to just another language game, to another way we"tell stories about ourselves." Lacan, however, is not part of this"postmodern theory": in this respect, his position is homologous to that of Plato or Kant. The perception of Lacan as an"anti-essentialist" or"deconstructionist" falls prey to the same illusion as that of perceiving Plato as just one among the sophists. Plato accepts from the sophists their logic of discursive argumentation, but uses it to affirm his commitment to Truth; Kant accepts the breakdown of the traditional metaphysics, but uses it to perform his transcendental turn; along the same lines, Lacan accepts the"deconstructionist" motif of radical contingency, but turns this motif against itself, using it to assert his commitment to Truth as contingent. For that very reason, deconstructionists and neopragmatists, in dealing with Lacan, are always bothered by what they perceive as some remainder of"essentialism" (in the guise of"phallogocentrism," etc.)-- as if Lacan were uncannily close to them, but somehow not"one of them."

To ask"Is Lacan one among the postmodern new sophists?" is to pose a


question far beyond the tedium of a specialized academic discussion. One is tempted to risk a hyperbole and to affirm that, in a sense, everything, from the fate of so-called"Western civilization" up to the survival of humanity in the ecological crisis, hangs on the answer to this related question: is it possible today, apropos of the postmodern age of new sophists, to repeat mutatis mutandis the Kantian gesture?


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