The following attempts an ethnographic transcription of Lacan’s Seminar X: Anxiety (1962) by situating his “transcendental ethics” in the cultural politics of the mid-20th century. The introjected voice of the Other expresses categorical imperatives which circumscribed subjective individuality, and it will be shown in an ethnographic frame how this voice-object is negotiated between romantic and modernist values. The conclusion will this transcription affects 21st century politics.
“the original function of the object o as cause of desire, signifies the transference of the question of the category of causality, from what I would call with Kant the transcendental aesthetic, to that which – if you are willing to agree to it – I would call my transcendental ethics”
J-A Miller attests that the transcendental ethics of Seminar X is part of a move away from phenomology, with its models of intentional relations with the other, that switches emphasis onto the subject’s self-relations. The defining feature of object o is its mobility, and transcendental ethics begins with subtracting its effects from perception, and ends with its expression through an introjected voice object. Hamlet is the theatrical character who expresses this model on stage because of how his power to act is afforded by an isolation which exposes him to the open where he is determined by his existential finitude. The spectators of the play are afforded the opportunity to work through the logic of action, a concept which includes a spectrum of many layers that runs from the symbolic acts of sex and crime, to the more passive acts of perception and thought, and between them is distributed the distinguished action of work, the valuable action worthy of fleshy goods. The vocal object is the last of five organic phases, and the result of a traversal through the mouth, anus, phallus, and image phases. It is the introjected (Ferenzi’s term) vocal object which accomplishes the symbolic act of expressing the categorical imperatives which determine subjectivity. This is an Aaronic paradigm of introjection. Theories of causality have an obscure history in France running back to Main de Biran, who introduced Humean discourse during the 1820’s. His doctrines were influential among the architects of the educational institutions of the Second Republic like Victor Cousin, and his terms would be taken up by Henri Bergson. Next to these Second-Republic Humean models, Aristotelian causality figures more explicitly in Lacan’s theory, and as he explores the classical and medieval legacies of the church fathers and the theologians he experiments with the perverse consequences of object o, as though he had found a “devil’s elixir”. Aristotle’s Metaphysics is remarkable for its comprehensive theory of causality, and the versatility of that system was diminished to the narrow causality of modern physics, which limited itself to the level of efficient cause. This reduction was an event in object relations which resulted in the scoptophilic tendencies of modern subjectivity, and so a restoration of Aristotle and Kant held the promise of symbolic value, and Lacan want not obliged to mention the obscure Humean tradition behind his thinking. His theory interprets final cause through the scholastic terms of sufficient reason and ontological proofs on the Anslem paradigm which gets expressed categorically on the Kantian model. Humean causality is hidden as repressed incest in the basement of this classical edifice with where the seminar’s object o swarms amidst the most unsymbolic of simulacra.
Seminar X proposes to locate an unsymbolized object as the invisible cause of the subject’s desire. This corresponds with a Kantian form of ethics, where it is no longer a question of conforming to a model of behavior as in classical ethics, but of what makes a person act, so the criteria for goodness is that subjectivity must become an effect of the law as opposed to a mirror of the law. (Zupancic: 1998) The role of the object in this sense coincides with Aristotle’s final cause, and this way the unsymbolized object o could be identified with the law itself. This is the kind of relationship that appears in exceptional models of sovereignty, where the power of the law distinguishes itself as that to which the law is not applied. (Agamben: 1996) Lacan mentions “the comedy of the law… demonstrating once more that the norm of desire and of the law are one and the same thing”. His ethical strategy moves the object o from the field of the other into the place of the subject, and this could be translated into a Promeathean sacrificial paradigm, where the subject seeks to appropriate some divinity from the gods. Hamlet’s object-cause becomes available through the mouse trap scene – the play within the play where he stages the murder of his father – whereby he somehow recognizes himself in the role of the one who kills Claudius. In this case there is an optical dimension involved in the expression of the imperative, and the introjection of the voice of the Other is caused by an aesthetic experience, and so light works as a cause of voice. The stage has a form which distributes the characters in their symbolic relations, and the introjection of the voice corresponds with taking of symbolic places on that stage. Hamlet is descendant from the Sophoclean dramas which provided psychoanalysis with Oedipus and other figures, and drama has played a singular role in the modeling of subjectivity more generally speaking.
It is remarkable how analytical theory has focused on the Theban characters, instead of other Sophoclean figures like Philoktetes or Ajax. These heroes are caught existentially alone in terrible situations, and these plays have furnished literature with symbols for representing the alienation of individuals, such as the isolation of Young Werther or Madame Bovary. The evolution of these aesthetic models is relevant for the transcendental ethics of individuality, and this evolution can be considered as the spatial teleology of a vocal object whose duplicity is reflected in the pair of German words Stimme (voice) and Stimmung (mood). This is how space-time can become effective as an aesthetic cause of categorical expression. The aesthetic operates here as the opening of the space through which words are expressed, so the clearing of space and the sound of the voice are two sides of the same coin. Consider what Lacan says about the vase:
“in these vases there is everything, that this is enough, that the relationship between man and the object and desire is here completely tangible and surviving… If woman, we are told, is originally a weaver, man undoubtedly is the potter…. the woman, of course, presents herself under the appearance of a vase. And obviously this is what deceives the partner, the homo faber in question, the potter. He imagines that this vase may contain the object of his desire’’’
These Edenic sentences evoke the specular image, which is “closed, it is Gestalt-like, namely marked by the predominance of the good shape…” The spectral image functions to mask the object o, and the danger the subject must avoid is for it to give way to object o. Object o is unconscious and cannot appear empirically, and so its appearance implies the failure of vision, and the appearance of the gaze, the empty “it appears” of whatever, or the minimal event of passive looking without subjectivity. Traditional ethics concerned the proper relation between the subject and object of desire, and in his earlier seminars it was a matter of maintaining adequate relations with the Other, whereas in Seminar X desire is caused by the subject’s relation to object o, and not its relation to the objects which it perceives. Anxiety and desire share this same object – which becomes an object of desire in one location, and an object of anxiety in another – and this raises the problem of this topology. This object can be here or there, and good or bad, and the transcendental ethics suggests that it is more likely to be good if it is here, because that relieves it from splitting and allows it to gather together in one place for the composition of a whole object in a representable sense.
The role of anxiety in the process of individuation is highlighted in the theories of Gilbert Simondon, whose dialectical models can be similar to Lacan’s. Simondon describes how a constituted individual is troubled with some excessive pre-individuality, which is disturbing because it indicates the failure of the individual’s own constitution. This preindividuality abjects the individual, and this initiates a quest for authentic subjectivity, a dialectic that proceeds between individual and collective. In this context Simondon refers to Zarathustra’s encounter with the fallen tightrope walker, and mentions a trans-individuation between them. Just as the tightrope walker falls to the ground, the crowd departs and Zarathustra approaches the fallen acrobat. This solitary approach demonstrates the role of mourning in authentic object relations. In Lacanian terms, the mourning of the other is a transition from o to O, whereas melancholy results when this process fails and instead of a properly distanced relation with the dead – where they are represented in the symbolic order – there is only the o. But here we must never forget that this o is invested with something, and that it is the melancholic fantasy which rejects it. The work of mourning may be needed to ensure that the dead enter into the O, or else they can return as the o, and let us note how this relation to connects to religion at an unconscious level. This is not about what the subject thinks they may believe, but rather how they relate unconsciously. The integrity of the symbolic order seems to depend on thanatological relations with the dead on one hand, and the erotic relation at stake in the phallus on the other. There is a Hellenistic paradigm for the nexus between these occurs in the episode where Odysseus meets his mother in Hades.
Lacan’s transcendental ethics posits the moral value of the voice, which accrues through how love and death are expressed together in the form of categorical imperatives. To explain this in terms of object o, consider Rilke’s Malte Notebooks (1910), a novel about a poet who moves to Paris and succumbs to a strange form of disorientation. There are scenes of houses without people and people without houses. The poet is disoriented by crowds, and the force behind this disorientation which flows through the unstable drifting urban population has similarities with object o, as the dangerous energy of the crowd threatens to possess the hero. Rilke’s romantic disposition contrasts with the demeanor of Lacan, who is closer to Arthur Dedaulus from Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, written six years later. Rilke’s novel does contain at least one strange comedic scene which is worth quoting at length because it presents a phenomenology of obsessional neurosis as symptom of a degenerate urban life, and shall allow us to consider what is at stake in the modeling of object o qua symptom:
“I was sure there was nothing laughable about this man’s clothing or behavior, and was already trying to look past him down the boulevard, when he tripped over something. Since I was walking close behind him I was on my guard, but when I came to the place, there was nothing there, absolutely nothing. We both kept walking, he and I, with the same distance between us. Now there was an intersection; the man in front of me hopped down from the sidewalk on one leg, the way children, when they are happy, will now and then hop or skip as they walk. On the other side of the street, he simply took one long step onto the sidewalk. But almost immediately he raised one leg slightly and hopped on the other, once, quite high, and then again and again. This time too you might easily have thought the man had tripped over some small object on the corner, a peach pit, a banana peel, anything; and the strange thing was that he himself seemed to believe in the presence of an obstacle: he turned around every time and looked at the offending spot with that half-annoyed, half-reproachful expression people have at such moments… then I noticed that something else had begun to annoy the man. His coat collar had somehow popped up; and as hard as he tried to fold it back in place, first with one hand, then with both at once, it refused to budge…Then I saw, with boundless astonishment, that in his busy hands there were two distinct movements: one a quick, secret movement that flipped up the collar, while the other one, elaborate, prolonged, exaggeratedly spelled out, was meant to fold it back down.”
The narrator is an observer describing this strange behavior, and this third-person framing facilitates symbolic inscription. Symptoms cannot be represented in the first person, because they cannot be contained within the perspective of whoever experiences them directly, which means that only the symptoms of other people can be objects of perception. Transference facilitates objectification and acting-out is the sublimation process of converting symptoms into objects, because the symptoms can be perceived by the neutral person of the analyst. In the course of analysis there is exchange of organs which can be modelled as an economy of introjection, incorporation and projection. The symptom is the direct appearance of object o, or rather the disaster of object o disrupting appearance, whereas what he later called the sinthome is where that appearance is masked, and this staging (framing, objectifying) which prevents the direct appearance of object o is considered to have therapeutic value. Framing the symptom in a symbolic relation could cause a detumescence because energy is transferred to an invisible object-cause for the expression of imperatives, an in the case of a vocal phallus energy is transferred from the genitals into the voice. This transfer coincides with the working-through of the structure of the situation towards the point of expression, which coincides abstractly with a phallic cut, such as the blowing of a shofar in a synagogue. In the passage of Rilke sited above, the objective perception of this man’s ticks, for instance, might reveal something of the reality of a situation, and the experience of that manifestation would transfer energy towards the expression of an ethical imperative.
“for it can domesticate the wild transference, how one gets the wild elephant into the enclosure or how one can get the horse into the ring, where one makes him turn round, in the circus”
Kantian anthropology provides concepts by which the human voice expresses humanity, and this may be what’s at stake in getting the horse into the ring: getting the voice of humanity expressing itself authentically. The voice object is the fifth level in Lacan’s model of object o, and this categorical voice is a super-ego which transcribes ethnographically into a center of conflict which might be compared to what Ferenczi called the “confusion of tongues”. The struggle for expression involves the transfer of energy between desire and anxiety, where the categorical form is the symbolic determination and separation of individuality as a represented object of desire. The appearance of object o indicates a failure in representation linked to the failure with the historical decline of individuality with the rise of industrial society. Rilke’s novel includes an episode leading up to the death of the hero’s paternal grandfather, which is portrayed as the last “truly individual death” of his family line. This decline of the individuality of death was developed further by Walter Benjamin, who described the institutional uniformity of modern death when hospitalization became the norm. It has been suggested by Eric Santner (2012) that Rilke’s novel stages the historical death of symbolic individuality. Again I will quote the novel at length because it demonstrates several points about the introjection of the vocal object:
“The long, ancient manor-house was too small for this death; it seemed as if new wings would have to be added on, for the Chamberlain’s body grew larger and larger, and he kept wanting to be carried from one room to another, bursting into a terrible rage if, before the day had ended, there were no more rooms that he hadn’t already been brought to… There was a voice, the voice that, seven weeks before, no one had known: for it wasn’t the Chamberlain’s voice. This voice didn’t belong to Christoph Detlev, but to Christoph Detlev’s death… it was his death that demanded to be carried, demanded the blue room, demanded the small salon, demanded the great banquet-hall. Demanded the dogs, demanded that people laugh, talk, play, stop talking, and all at the same time. Demanded to see friends, women, and people who had died, and demanded to die itself: demanded. Demanded and screamed… during that time it was master, more than Christoph Detlev Brigge had ever been; it was like a king who is Called the Terrible, afterward and for all time. . . . This was not the death of just any old man with dropsy; this was the sinister, princely death which the Chamberlain had, all his life, carried inside him and nourished with his own experiences. Every excess of pride, will, and authority that he himself had not been able to use up during his peaceful days, had passed into his death, into the death that now sat squandering these things at Ulsgaard.”
The process of introjection here is linked to the movement towards the finality of death, and this is a form of super-egoic possession. Categorical ethics is where the voice of the Other takes possession of the subject through its own determination, as though the powers of the unconscious were aligned into symbolic form by the singular finality of an individual’s limit. This voice issues from an imperative to fill the house, and it expresses an aesthetic ideal – what Lacan would call an ideal ego – which is expressed in the maxim “the house must be filled”. The categorical is how an individual expresses their relation with their own limits, and Christoph Detlev’s final imperative is an abysmal variation on Nietzsche’s “go the limit of what you can do” or Deleuze’s “become adequate to whatever befalls you”. In the case of Malte’s grandfather, there is a misalignment where the subject is dying without having discovered their limits, and so they are struggling frantically to establish them in futility. This is a model of bourgeois inauthenticity, which can also be considered more singularly. The structure of Christoph Detlev’s imperative recalls a pedagogical demonstration performed for business students, where the instructor fills an aquarium with some large rocks, and asks them if they can fill it further. When they agree that it is impossible to fit any more of the rocks into the aquarium, he fills the gaps with smaller rocks and finally water. The students typically express the moral as an industrial maxim, such as “you can always fit more activities into a day”, but the answer is the philosophically more interesting, “make sure to fit the large objects which are most important for you into your life first before you fill it with smaller objects”. This imperative has a Lacanian resonance, with the large objects and the small objects, and it illustrates why the limits of the individual are at stake in categorical ethics.
George Baitalle published an essay in 1948 that links chivalry to object relations in a way similar to how Lacan does in his 1959 seminar on Ethics. They both propose the troubadour as a model of sublimation, where desire is awakened through the opening of chastity symbolized by the rose separating the lovers in their bedchamber. Bataille proposes that the knight – emphasizing that chivarly was always quixotic and never taken seriously – emerged as a symbolic solution to the church’s problem of subordinating unruly Germanic Mannerbunds to the priestly codes of divine transcendence. This essay, from the period when he wrote Inner Experience (1948), connects chivalric reverie with a metaphysics of honor, where the renunciation of the sexual act was linked to the honor of defending the church in war, and to the promise that the church was not going to have you killed. In order to combine this model of chivalry with transcendental ethics, let’s consider the play Prince of Homberg (1810) by Heinrich von Kleist. This well-structured play features an irresponsible prince during the Thirty Years War, who swoons in vain reveries of love and martial glory while ignoring his military commands. One day during battle he is dreaming as usual, and as a result of his insubordination his commander apparently gets killed. When he sees his leader fallen, the prince explodes into a fury and leads his troops on a forceful drive which forces a full retreat of the Swedish enemies. After the battle, it turns out that his commander had survived, and announces that the prince will be executed for insubordination. When the peasants hear of the impending execution of their glorious prince, they stage a popular rebellion and force the commander to cancel the execution, who then leaves it up to the prince to decide his own punishment. In his stately pomp, the prince insists that the matter be decided according to the letter of the law, and when he discovers that his actions would rightly receive capital punishment, he proudly marches off to get executed. This play, with its satisfyingly comedic conclusion, is closer to Lacanian transcendental ethics than to the Rilkean disaster of industrial life. Kleist broke with romanticism and acceded to modernist abstraction and structural efficiency prefiguring the plays of Brecht and Beckett. Categorically is how an individual expresses their own symbolic structure, and the artists of each age reach their own forms of determination working under the particular conditions of their time.
Hamlet was written under historical conditions which may be relevant for understanding the introjection of vocal objects. It was written at a time when the Tudor dynasty was thriving, and yet painfully conscious of its vulnerability. England was ascendant and contending with Spain for world domination, and that ascent brought with it an existential dread over the vicissitudes of succession. Elizabeth was a virgin queen, and that lack of children relates to the power of symbolic expression in the play. In the decades leading up to her death, jurists obsessed over the metaphysics of succession, which led them to dig up the Roman doctrine of the king’s two bodies, which allowed them to account for the ontological existence of the state in the event that there was no sitting monarch. (Kantarowitz 1926) The regime had ascended to some degree of symbolic recognition, and we know the machines of desire were functioning because of the wealth of cultural production in that period, but that good fortune was accompanied by a consciousness of the fragility. Shakespeare was writing Hamlet right at the time of Elizabeth’s death, and in his book Hamlet and Hecuba (1966), Carl Schmitt proposed that the angst surrounding the succession enters into the play on an aesthetic level, where the historical event is neither represented nor referred to in any way, but disrupts the play as an unspoken trauma. This is a way of reading the play as a theatrical expression of the conditions of structural fragility. Also relevant for understanding the course of Lacanian vocal introjection is how Hamlet fits into the course of Shakespeare’s career as a playwright. The development of his work follows a complex dialectical path, moving from historical plays to the dreamy romantic comedies set in Italy, and then the tragedies and tragi-comedies. This is a course of sublimation which begins confronting the raw reality of the problem of symbolically constructing the regime, and then moving these theatrical problems away from the real by making them the problems of others who were silly imaginary Italians who would never be taken seriously, and then returning to a more abstract and less historical tragedy through a series of cultural alterities – the Celtic Lear, the Scottish Macbeth, the Danish Hamlet – and then finally to combine the two genres in his most complex plays like Othello. This process bears resemblance to the Lacanian praxis where the object o is concealed with the image, and his clinical paradigm itself might be related with the elaborate costuming and masquerade of the Baroque stage, and in this sense the masking process of Lacan’s spectral image coincides with the fold as elaborated by Deleuze (1986).
“the lost member of Osiris, such is the object of the quest and of the protection of the woman. The fundamental myth of the sexual dialectic between man and woman is here sufficiently accentuated by a whole tradition”
Besides this puzzling remark, he also mentions that Moses received the neolithic tradition of circumcision from the Egyptians. In order to interpret these remarks, I want to consider how psychoanalysis was implicated in mythico-political struggles over European nationalism. Oedipus was a Theban king from the house of Atreus, and so he was a descendant of Agamemnon who led the Greeks in the sacking of Troy. The ancient people of Thebes are what archeologists call Mycenaean, and their city was excavated in the late 19th century by Heinrich Schliemann, who also led the excavation of Troy. These archeological digs were especially concerned with finding symbols to confirm the legacies of European cultural traditions, and were accompanied with the fevered jouissance of fetishistic nationalism. There were cases where authentic ancient artifacts turned up engraved with swastikas, and the symbols had obviously been drawn by zealous fascists eager to appropriate the artifacts as confirmation of the antiquity of Aryan nationalism. (Gere, 2009) The struggle over sovereign power had been waged on an archeological front, and Lacan’s Egyptological remarks can be read as engagements in a broader polemic. While he was presumably distant from, archeological romanticism, which was out of fashion by the 1960’s, his comments can be connected with the archeological modernism of Arthur Evans, which was influential among the avant gaarde. There was a general agreement across the political spectrum at that time that the original civilization was Egypt, and so the ethno-political debate was over the identity of the first Europeans who inherited that symbolic legacy. In Lacanain terms, you would say the Other had an Egyptological dimension, and in this political context the archeological truth becomes less important than relations with the Other. In this respect, consider how Aurthur Evans excavation of the palace of Knossos on the island of Crete influenced modernist aesthetics. The Minoans at Crete were said to have practiced a maternal nature religion, and they were seen as an intermediary in the dissemination of an ancient civilization from Egypt to the Mycenaeans at Thebes. The avante gaard resistance to Fascism adopted an Egyptian genealogy that ran through the Theban monarchy to the supposedly liberal culture of the Minoans, which provided an ancient precedent for their modern liberalism. This way Oedipus somehow became the recipient of an ancient matriarchy, and this aesthetic politics was elaborated in the novels of Hilda Doolittle (H.D.). While Minoan Modernism is not directly mentioned by Lacan in Seminar X, this concept can help us to interpret some of his esoteric remarks. The symbolic constellation surrounding the labyrinth at Knossos includes certain mythical figures – Dionysus, Ariadne, Theseus, medusa, Narcissus, and the minotaur – and this constellation is associated with bull-fighting, as in the famous paintings where Picasso depicted Ariadne as a matador. Minoan modernist influences appear in the seminar when Lacan’s model of transference takes on labyrinthine and matadorian forms, but his emphasis on the missing phallus separates him from feminist mytho-politics.
Lacan’s mytho-politics, which coincided with his therapeutic strategy, aimed to surpass Minoan modernism dialectically. Where fascism asserted a phallic father, the avant gaarde responded with a maternal alternative, and Lacan rejected this feminism as perverse, because it was disadvantaged regarding the introjection of vocal objects. He proposed a third way that asserted an essentially castrated father whose phallus that was essentially lost. This would explain why he mentions Osiris but not Isis, who must find a way to copulate with her dead husband. In his later seminars he developed the structural aspects of feminity, and in this regard it would be interesting to consider Nu, the night goddess who swallows the sun through her mouth at dusk and passes it through her vulva at dawn. And while we are on this topic of archeological feminism, let’s mention how Lacan’s reference to Diana, the goddess of the hunt – who he connects with Dora – is probably a reference to James Frazer’s Golden Bough (1890), another important source for modernist archeology, and one of Freud’s favorite books. Classical psychoanalysis reached an impasse concerning female sexuality which arose from how castration was feminized. Freud fell into a fallacy of a really castrated mother that was damaging for his late theories of fetishism (Bass, 1998). Ways out of this problem have been devised more recently by female analysts, and I am thinking specifically here of Daniel Quidonoz, though her approach is perhaps not so unique. She emphasizes the anatomical symmetry between the penis and clitoris as two parallel phallic correlate. The abstract phallus itself, in Lacan’s theory, is a structure of empty reversability – a glove that can be pulled inside out – which is the missing relation between male and female. Anything can become a phallus, and the problem is the structural relation between female phalluses and male phalluses. Before leaving this discussion of gender relations in psychoanalysis, let me quickly mention one suggestive tangential anecdote on this matter. When James Joyce toured Celtic archeological sites in Normandy with his wife and daughter in 1926, he requested that the tour guide not mention anything about the phallic quality of the statues, because he thought it was not appropriate for the women. (Bowker, 2013)
On December 5th Lacan discussed how enjoyment relates to the desire of the Other, and in this context he mentioned Freud’s essay on the Uncanny, and the Devil’s Elixir by E.T. Hoffman. That gothic romantic novel provides some helpful clues about the ethnographic context for the Lacanian paradigm of desire. Meridus the monk cannot resist consuming an elixir which has been entrusted to him, and which inspires him to perform Sadean acts. The dark plot spirals on through murders, dopplegangers and illicit loves, but the most climactic scenes are the monk’s attempts at repenting. The novel is written in the first person expressly for that purpose, as an attempt at inscribing himself back into the symbolic order of the church from which the effects of the elixir had exiled him. There is a perverse Catholic logic where transgression is part of a strategy of inscription, and this relates to the biblical parable of the prodigal son, which helps to explain the Lacanian alterity between anxiety and desire (“there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous” Luke 15:7) The transgression of the prodigal son also reflects the paradoxes of sovereignty, where power is invested into the one who excludes themself. Hoffman’s tales were influential in the mid-20th century because they were staged as operas written by Jacques Offenbach in the 1880’s. These performances were an important source for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, about an industrial distopia where a wizard controls the people with the aid of a femme-bot, and also for Hans Bellmer’s doll photographs, where the limbs are mis-attached. This is an area of aesthetics where gothic romantic literature transitioned into modernism, and this is where I want to consider the object Lacan calls objet cessible. The concept is introduced as an offspring from Winnicot’s transitional object:
“cedable objects (objets cessibles)….. the transitional object… not an investment of o, but what I might call an investiture…. it is this relationship of o with respect to something which secondarily reappears after this disappearance”
Interpreting the transitional object in this way moves from a nursery model, where the paradigm was usually something like a toy or a blanket, to an historical or ethnographic model. There is also a shift from the term “investment”, implying a bourgeois libidinal economy where the subject calculates to make sure that he gets maximum interest, to the term “investiture”, which refers us to a controversy that began in the 1100’s when popes and kings competed for the capacity to elect clergy and which eventually led to secularism. There also is a transition involved where romantic attachments are given up – which include moral attachments to good and bad objects – in order for the subject to fit into the equivocal symbolic order of the modern world. Cedibility is an ontological characteristic that reflects an industrial structure, and the entrance into this structure involves changes in the concept of authenticity:
“the spare part, is it not something which deserves to be dwelt on and something which brings a profoundly new dimension to every noetic interrogation concerning our relationship to the object?”
This “dwelling” is like a Heideggerian hesitation or sojourn, and his question here poses the problem of anxiety and desire historically. The spare part represents the dimension of exchangeability in industrial society, which is a source of existential anguish. This is connected to the doppleganger in literature, but this is not exactly about meeting one’s own double – as in the mirror stage – but rather a paradigm of replaceability that effects subjectivity in unknown ways, and which may refer to mirror stage scenarios. The spare part provokes anxiety because it is evidence that things are generally replaceable, and this new structure reflects an evolution of the symbolic Other, especially the rise of the values of wealth over those of property which defined the modern world for Hannah Arendt, or what Hegel described as a “grey world”. In Lacanian terms, we might consider this an evolution of the other’s desire, which implies a shift in the topology around which object o circulates, so that the affects it produces in different positions fluctuate over time. These historical processes may be relevant for clinical analysis, where therapy involves converting anxiety into pleasure. Political questions of mourning can be posed in relation to the equivocity of the uncanny.
“the human drama is not tragedy, but comedy: they have eyes in order not to see”
Lacan’s insistence that human drama is comic and not tragic could be expressed categorically. Tragedy is associated with the scoptophilic intention to behold reality in the field of the other and with the historical disaster of the real. Comedy on the other hand is limited to a present of short temporal distance, and is essentially ahistorical because it only happens within a narrow time frame, whereas a tragic curse may continue for centuries. An ethno-historical framing of object o, as has been attempted here, could be said to reflect a tragic vision. The bourgeois have always experienced historical realism as an alluring romance which threatens their subjectivity if taken too seriously. Liberal capitalism refuses to recognize its own existence within an historical frame, and this possibility tends to provoke fatigue or vertigo. Historical realism has been culturally associated with Germany, and with the organic civics of communist and nationalist regimes, which the proponents of liberal capitalism encountered it as an adversary in WW2, which led to the neoliberal refusal of historical ontology, which it resists as a devil’s elixir. Lacan’s decision for comedy may reflect political allegiances in a context which no longer exists, and his “not to see” may be exploited as a defense for negligence. Today anti-realist cynicism – where the comedic subject triumphs through their blindness – is exploited through an industrial comedic praxis. Capital accumulation in neoliberal institutions generates cruel obsessional humor as its by-product, and this is where the codes of work disrupt the work of mourning which leads to splitting and anal projection. This process has been described in academic literature (the article escapes me). This way the dialectic of tragedy and comedy models the ongoing disintegration of western culture, where cheap comedy is an effect of inauthenticity which becomes a weapon. So there is a serious question about whether Lacan’s privileging of comedy is complicit in the disaster of neoliberalism, and this connects to remarks made by Gilles Deleuze in his late essay Post-Script for a Society of Control (1992), which highlight the importance of comedy in a neoliberal milieu. Deleuze had followed Lacan in privileging comedy – which he linked with the power of nonsense – but in this late essay suggests a reevaluation in light of industrial development through the 1980’s. So Lacan’s ethics may be outdated in the sense that it does not reflect the more recent structural changes in political economy. To qualify this critique, let me emphasize again that transcendental ethics concerns how an individual resonates within their own singular limits, how their life fills out the shape of a symbolic context, and how their voice finds a symbolic position within the material space-time of the surrounding world. Lacan’s transcendental ethics may have expressed the singular conditions of his life, but the authentic expression of today’s living conditions would result in other imperatives.