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Sex and Nothing

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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 Jottkandt, Cristina Soto van der Plas, Jelica Sumic, Samo Tomsic, Gabriel Tupinamba, Daniel Tutt, Slavoj iek, and Alenka Zupancic.

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Chapter One - Sexuality within the Limits of Reason Alone

ePub

Alenka Zupančič

The state of sexual things

When we think of the original outrage provoked by the Freudian notion of sexuality (which included infantile sexuality)—it is very easy, from today's point of view, to miss what was and still is going on in this particular resistance, and to attribute the violent reaction to the Victorian morals of Freud's time.1 We have learned to “tolerate” a lot and to speak of sexuality quite openly; we know that “sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of”, and that it is even good for our (mental and physical) health. We also think that Freud's discoveries about the determinant role of the “psychosexual” in our development have become largely integrated in the therapeutic practices of psychoanalytical lineage, even if in somewhat diluted form. So it might come as a big surprise to learn that this is far from being the case. In 2009, Shalev and Yerushalmi published a stunning study concerning the status of sexuality among contemporary therapists involved in psychoanalytic psychotherapy (Shalev & Yerushalmi, 2009). The results of this study prompted Kaveh Zamanian to publish an article in which he sums up some results of this study in the following way:

 

Chapter Two - Officers, Maids, and Chimneysweepers

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Mladen Dolar

Søren Kierkegaard (1843), in his astounding book on repetition, a book that everyone should read, at some point discusses the proposal that the entire humankind can be divided in just three categories, and only three: officers, maids, and chimneysweepers.

One can immediately appreciate the brilliance and the craziness of this proposal, it possesses the cheek and the wit, boldness and audacity, nonchalance and imagination. If one makes a quick opinion poll among one's friends, philosophers, and non-philosophers alike, one can see that the suggestion immediately produces laughter, enthusiasm, approval, and good humour. It is more difficult to see where precisely lies the brilliance of it.

One can imagine the protestation, or a mock protest: officers, maids, and chimneysweepers, all right, but where am I in this? Which category do I belong to? The first answer could be: are you an officer? A maid? A chimneysweeper? Sorry, then you are not part of humankind. Why do you think you qualify as human? On what basis? You should reconsider your automatic presupposition. And do you believe that one can be part of humanity without belonging to any of its categories? If you don't fit in any of these, which one do you think you fit?

 

Chapter Three - Events through Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real

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Slavoj Žižek

In his Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin quotes the French historian André Monglond: “The past has left images of itself in literary texts, images comparable to those which are imprinted by light on a photosensitive plate. The future alone possesses developers active enough to scan such surfaces perfectly” (Benjamin, 1999, p. 482). The first name that jumps up here is Shakespeare, whose ability to prefigure insights which properly belong to the later epochs often borders on the uncanny. Was not, well before Satan's famous “Evil, be thou my Good?” from Milton's paradise Lost, the formula of the diabolical Evil provided by Shakespeare in whose Titus Andronicus the unrepentant Aaron's final words are: “If one good deed in all my life I did,/I do repent it from my very soul?” Was not Richard Wagner's short-circuit between seeing and hearing in the last act of Tristan, which is often perceived as the defining moment of modernism proper (the dying Tristan sees Isolde's voice) clearly formulated already in Midsummer Night's Dream? In act V scene 1, Bottom says: “I see a voice; now will I to the chink, To spy if I can hear my Thisbe's face.” (The same thought occurs later in King Lear: “Look with thine ears.”) And what about the extraordinarily modern definition of poetry, also from Midsummer Night's Dream, act V scene 1, where Theseus says:

 

Chapter Four - The Unsoundable Decision of Being

ePub

Jelica Šumič

Nowadays we are used to seeing contemporary thought inscribed under the heading of “the End”: the end of politics, the end of history and, accordingly, the end of philosophy. Yet the very possibility of a contemporary revival of philosophy, a return to philosophy, as has been proposed by contemporary thinkers, such as Alain Badiou in France, testifies to the fact that the end is by no means destiny of thought. For this gesture of the return, as demonstrated by Badiou himself, requires as its pre-condition a supplementary gesture: that of finishing with the issue of the End. The revival of philosophy would thus depend on its capacity to put an end to this “end business”, in particular as it appears to inevitably lead to the exaltation of finitude. This decision to finish with the end does not suggest finishing with the beginning, for that matter; on the contrary, it radicalises the issue of the beginning. Not, of course, in the sense of some supposed purity of origin, but rather in the sense of the audacity to take upon oneself a beginning without support or ground. This double gesture of finishing and re-commencing, while denouncing the imaginary character of these two stopping points, the beginning and the end, constitutes the perspective from which we propose to tackle Schelling's unrelenting struggle with the true beginning of philosophy. The aim of our inquiry into Schelling's thought is twofold: first, to show that all “true” beginnings imply an Ent-Scheidung, a violent interruption and intervention into a phantasmatic prehistory; second, to show that such a gesture of interruption remains inseparable from an “unsoundable decision of being” (Lacan, 1946/2006, p. 145), to borrow Lacan's somewhat enigmatic formulation, which in and of itself constitutes a “double birth”: that of the subject and that of the Other. In light of this “double birth” we will argue that the originality of Schelling's approach resides in his turning the question of the beginning into the question of the Other. It should be noted from the outset, that there is no unambiguous figure of the Other in Schelling. Indeed, there are two figures of the Other that can be distinguished in Schelling's thought:

 

Chapter Five - Psychoanalysis and Antiphilosophy: The Case of Jacques Lacan

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Samo Tomšič

Why antiphilosophy?

In 1975, when Lacan positioned his teaching under the title of antiphilosophy, the word was perceived as yet another provocation coming from this structuralist enfant terrible. Its negative connotation immediately suggests that we are dealing with a simple rejection, degradation, or mocking of philosophy coming from the pessimistic orientation of Lacan's later seminars.1 However, as soon as we place it in the broader context of his teaching, such simplistic reading comes up short. Despite his perpetual criticism of particular philosophers and of the structural features of philosophy (recall the identification of philosophy with the master's discourse), he repeatedly associates Freud with unsurpassable thinkers such as Socrates, Descartes, Hegel, and Marx. Thus, one cannot ignore the importance of Plato in thinking transference (Seminar VIII), of Hegel and Marx when it comes to situating the political dimensions of psychoanalysis (Seminar XVII), and most crucially, of Descartes in determining the philosophical importance of the subject of the unconscious, as Lacan's “epistemological” seminars at the École Normale Superieure (Seminars XI–XVI) demonstrate repeatedly. Of course, Lacan's readings of philosophers always amount to counter-intuitive results and interpretations, but precisely therein lies their conceptual value and philosophical relevance.

 

Chapter Six - The sexual Compact

ePub

Joan Copjec

The numbers game

In the mid-1970s a global warming began to melt the icy resistance of feminists to psychoanalysis, thanks to the publication in England of Juliet Mitchell's Psychoanalysis and Feminism; the upsurge in France of a group of “New French Feminists”; and the work in the US of Shoshana Felman, who made a persuasive argument for a feminist-friendly “French Freud”. For approximately a decade, psychoanalytic feminism flourished as one of the most exciting and productive discourses of its time. While never completely uncritical of Freudian theory, feminists nevertheless deeply appreciated the fact that it was unique in according a fundamental status to sexual difference and feminine sexuality and thus in making the experiences of women an issue of far-reaching importance, one capable of throwing into question some of the basic assumptions underlying philosophical theories of the subject and political theories of community.

 

Chapter Seven - Mathematics in the Bedroom: Sex, the Signifier, and the Smallest Whole Number

ePub

Sigi Jöttkandt

“For this shall never be proved, that the things that are not are; and do thou restrain thy thought from this way of inquiry.”

—Plato, Parmenides

“The expression ‘not-man’ is not a noun. There is indeed no recognized term by which we may denote such an expression, for it is not a sentence or a denial. Let it then be called an indefinite noun.”

—Aristotle, On Interpretation

Several times during his teachings in the mid-sixties, Lacan makes use of a paradox, what he calls a “logical enigma”, to demonstrate something critical about the difference between writing and speech. “Madame”, he requests his assistant at one point, “take this little piece of chalk, make a rectangle, write 1, 2, 3, 4, on the first line, […] and then write: the smallest whole number which is not written on the board.” The parenthetical laughter noted in the seminar's transcript suggests that his assistant fell for the trap. Lacan was not asking Madame to chalk up the number 5 (i.e., the next smallest number once 4 has been notated), but rather to write the sentence “the smallest whole number which is not written on the board”.

 

Chapter Eight - Ich-psychologie Und Massenanalyse: A Žižekian Reading of Lacan's Impasse

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Gabriel Tupinambá

The following pages are an attempt to retroactively read certain crucial moments of Jacques Lacan's trajectory from the standpoint of a short passage found in Slavoj Žižek's book The Parallax View—namely:

[…] when Lacan introduces the term “desire of the analyst”, it is in order to undermine the notion that the climax of the analytic treatment is a momentous insight into the abyss of the Real, the “traversing of the fantasy”, from which, the morning after, we have to return to sober social reality, resuming our usual social roles—psychoanalysis is not an insight which can be shared only in the precious initiatic moments. Lacan's aim is to establish the possibility of a collective of analysts, of discerning the contours of a possible social link between analysts […]. The stakes here are high: is every community based on the figure of a Master […], or its derivative, the figure of Knowledge […]? Or is there a chance of a different link? Of course, the outcome of this struggle was a dismal failure in the entire history of psychoanalysis, from Freud to Lacan's later work and his École—but the fight is worth pursuing. This is the properly Leninist moment of Lacan—recall how, in his late writings, he is endlessly struggling with the organizational questions of the School. The psychoanalytic collective is, of course, a collective of (and in) an emergency state. […] so what if, in the constellation in which the Unconscious itself, in its strict Freudian sense, is disappearing, the task of the analyst should no longer be to undermine the hold of the Master-Signifier, but, on the contrary, to construct/propose/install new Master-Signifiers? (Žižek, 2006, pp. 305–306)

 

Chapter Nine - The Aesthetic Process as Reversal

ePub

Christina Soto van der Plas

“Anovel is a mirror you turn this way and as you go down a path” (Stendhal, 1991, p. 80), reads the epigraph at the beginning of chapter thirteen of The Red and the Black, one of the first and most famous novels within the realist movement. Stendhal attributes the phrase to Saint-Réal, a seventeenth century French historian, but in fact this quote is nowhere to be found in his work. Most likely, Stendhal uses the historian's name only to ironically set the phrase in the mimetic framework that, at the same time, he is trying to construct, implying the founding principle of the kind of naïve “saintly” realism that was about to become the major novelistic trend during the second half of the nineteenth century. Thus, under the paradoxical attribution of the phrase to an historian whose name means “saint of the real”, Stendhal defines a way in which a work of fiction simply reflects the external world through its characters, plotting, and inner thrust. And yet, later in the novel, the narrator returns to the image in a long parenthesis adding that “a novel is a mirror going along a main road. Sometimes it reflects into your eyes the azure of the sky, sometimes the mud of the quagmires on the road. And the man carrying the mirror in the basket on his back gets accused by you of being immoral! His mirror shows the mire, and you accuse the mirror!” (Stendhal, 1991, p. 371) This phrase indeed signals the way in which realism (Jameson, 2013)1 has been historically conceived both as a technique or mode that demystifies the principle of an intentional, symbolical or allegorical representation (it can “reflect” either the sky or the mud of the quagmires, without distinction since there is no longer a pre-established hierarchy), and as being part of the bourgeois construction of values and ideology (the man being accused of immorality, the novelist itself, and how he structures bourgeois society through its perpetual revolutionising (Zupančič, 2008, p. 151)2 and re-axiomatising of relationships). In this sense, the realist novel Stendhal is aiming at would not simply be a kind of reflection capable of conveying particular fragments of reality, but more significantly, the road or path narrative can pave to critique what it is reflecting. The other issue that comes up in the quote is the problem of the relationship between art and reality, mediated by ideology in the mimetic or representational act since, according to the first quote, art would simply be the mirror held up to the world. But, in fact, what realist art often mirrors is not only the image reality itself but also “themes and myths of ideologies through which human beings lived their relations to historical reality” (Montag, 2003, p. 19).

 

Chapter Ten - Love, Psychoanalysis, and Leftist Political Ontology

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Daniel Tutt

In his essay, “Potentialities,” Giorgio Agamben divides philosophy into two lines, what he names the line of “transcendence” and the line of “immanence”. He writes of “a line of immanence (Spinoza, Deleuze, Foucault, & Nietzsche) and a line of transcendence (Kant, Husserl, Levinas, Derrida)” (Agamben, 1999, p. 23). What characterises each group are a common set of theoretical tendencies in how they theorise ontology, or being qua being. Procedures of division, antagonism, or contingency characterise the sphere of ontology in the camp of transcendence, and their concepts tend to rely upon a strong theory of the act/event. For the immanence camp, on the other hand, ontology has completely absorbed the sphere of the political and a rupture with ontology is typically rendered impossible. In the Empire series, Hardt and Negri are clearly working within the immanence camp. For example, they conclude that ontology has absorbed the political completely; therefore, all that is political is also biopolitical (Hardt & Negri, 2000, p. 26). Similarly, Agamben's own political ontology has drawn out the consequences of this immanence-based orientation towards ontology as his thinking examines the subjective and juridical status of human life outside of the hegemonic juridical order. Yet for Agamben, homo saccer, or the excluded citizen, is both within and outside of the biopolitical order, inhabiting the threshold between bare life and socio-political life. Every effort to re-think this political space must come with a clear awareness that we no longer know anything of the classical distinctions between zoe and bios. Agamben argues that we must think ontology and politics beyond any relation of difference, which is why he aims to think the political as a non-relation and goes even further than Heidegger in seeking a “new non-foundational and non-relational ontology” (Strauthausen, 2006, p. 22). This makes a theory of the event nearly impossible in Agamben's work, and this tendency is common amongst the immanence camp more generally.

 

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