Unconscious and Subjectivity, intersections

Copyright © 2012
Avello Publishing Journal
ISSN: 2049 - 498X
Issue 1 Volume 2:
The Unconscious
Nicolò Fazioni University of Padova, Italy.
1. Introduction
The Žižek – Malabou debate on the neuronal unconscious, subjectivity and trauma, could be seen
as a great occasion to discuss the philosophical effect of psychoanalysis today.
Malabou, in The new wounded (Malabou 2011), criticizes the Freudian-Lacanian view of
subjectivity and the unconscious, that she finds insufficient to explain the complex and real
traumatic experience of the contemporary subject. With the help of neuroscientists brain research,
Malabou argues that psychoanalysis is not able to understand the external/contingent nature of the
traumatic wound (1) that affects and produces the subject. For her, Freud and Lacan limit their
analysis to the psychical, logical -linguistic life of the subject. They don’t pose genuine attention to
factors which are outside of the field of sense and meaning, which are irreducible to the art of the
psychoanalytical interpretation:
there is no possibility to be present at its own fragmentation or at its own wound. In contrast
to castration, there is no representation, no phenomenon, no example of separation, which
would allow the subject to anticipate, to wait for, to fantasize what can be a break in cerebral
connections. One cannot even dream about it. There is no scene for this Thing which is not
one. The brain in no way anticipates the possibility of its own damages. When these
damages occur, it is another self which is affected, a ‘new’ self founded in misrecognition.
(Malabou 2011: 235)
All traumatising events tend to neutralize their intention and to assume the lack of
motivation proper to chance incidents, the feature of that which cannot be interpreted.
Today, the enemy is hermeneutics (Ivi: 258).
In my reading, Malabou poses an interesting set of questions to Lacanian psychoanalysis and to the
Post-Lacanian philosophers of today (Badiou, Žižek etc.): Is psychoanalysis able to understand the
trauma as a real event? Thus, is psychoanalysis able to deal with the non-representative and nonlogical/symbolic events? And again, is psychoanalysis only a thought of symbolic language (or of
representation), perhaps only a interpretation even? Can we say that psychoanalysis is the last
chapter of hermeneutics final voyage into a pseudo – Fregean abyss?
From this point onwards, I receive this criticism of psychoanalysis as an opportunity to come back
to the Lacanian view of the unconscious and of subjectivity, and to discuss its possibilities in the
contemporary philosophical and neuroscientific debate. I take as my inspiration the stylish
Malabou’s utterance on Lacanian unconscious: “The unconscious is structured as a language only
insofar as the brain doesn’t talk” (Malabou 2011: 74).
For her, Lacanian practices of thought are an interpretative over-determination of the unconscious
that tries to reduce all the subjective existence to the logical-dialectical experience of meaning. The
impact of the real is sedated via psychoanalytical hermeneutic:
The French title of my latest work is Les nouveaux blessés. I think it would
need a little bit of translation. Perhaps “the new injuries,” or “new wounds”
(rather than “the new wounded” or the Newly Wounded?). So let’s call it The
New Wounds. It’s about the kind of injuries or wounds or brain damage that
psychoanalysis never took into account. It’s a reflection on brain lesion or
pathology (Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease) but also on trauma in general
(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, all kinds of what I call “social-political”
traumas). To what extent neurology today helps us to enlarge the Freudian
conception of the trauma and of the psychic suffering: such is the issue. It seems
that in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud fails to define what might exceed the
pleasure principle, what this “beyond” may exactly mean. Neurological traumas
go beyond this principle, and discover something that has nothing to do with
pleasure, but with every kind of serious trauma. This book is a reflection on
those wounds that love and hatred or internal conflict simply cannot explain. (VahanianMalabou 2008: 8)
In this explanation of her book, Malabou shows (see also Malabou 2001, 2007) us that neurological
research could identify a dimension that is truly Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Freud 1940a,
1940b). “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” is, in the Lacanian reading of Freud (Lacan 1986), the
dimension of real, non-sense and jouissance. To say that psychoanalysis doesn’t cross the “Pillars
of Hercules” of a Pleasure Principle means to say that it is not able to work with the real: the
psychoanalysis is seen not only as a logic of sense, but as a hermeneutic of meaning.
Although my reading of Lacan (Fazioni 2012a; 2012b, Brandalise-Fazioni 2012) is quite different
from the Žižekian one, I’m inclined to agree partially with the Slovenian philosopher (Žižek 2010)
that much criticism produces a dualistic view: from one hand the logical side of sens, from the other
the external real of traumatic event:
If we are able to admit that the difference between “material” and “psychic”
is very thin and even perhaps non-existing, if we agree on the absurdity of
regarding the brain and the psyche as too separate and distinct instances, then
we will have moved forward a great deal…
We know today that every kind of serious shock--it may be a wound on the
battlefield, a shell shock, but it also can be domestic trauma or moral abuse
without any physical injury--we know that every kind of serious trauma causes
destruction in what is now called the ‘emotional brain,’ which is located in the
frontal cortex. (Ibid.)
To anticipate, Lacan’s use of Hegelian dialectic is functional for the construction of an immanent
and non-dualistic thought, in which there is no border between the symbolic and the real. Of course,
the real is a category very different from the language or the concept, but its difference is totally
internal in the conceptual plane, its an internal Spaltung of the concept.
A second order of introductory questions regards the issue of science and reductionism. In Lacanian
thought there is a great attention to science (see Milner 1999, Glynos-Stavrakakis 2002, Laurent
2009, Johnston 2011b), which is seen as a creative practice. But at the same time, the psychoanalyst
criticizes the scientism of psychological knowledge as a form of representative reductionism of
subjective experience. Scientism is the most glamorous form of University discourse, as Lacan
points out in his L’envers de la psychanalyse (Lacan 1991). The Science that, in Lacan, equates to
the mathematical moment of formalization and of writing (Lacan 2001: 449-495) are very different
from the biologistic-scientistic psychology of his time, and in particular from the Behaviourism (2).
2. The Lacanian Unconscious and the split subject
I would love to start with the trite Lacanian aphorism on the Freudian unconscious: “The
unconscious is structured like a Language” (see Lacan 1966). From this point, I will try to underline
some interesting aspects of Lacanian encounters with science, psychology, brain research and the
theme of psychical energy.
Analyse the famous Lacanian utterance (see Miller 1981, Fink 1995, Nobus 1998):
1. The unconscious, Freud’s discovery, is interpreted by Lacan as a logical subjective structure that
works like a language. The nature of unconscious is a linguistic one: it is a system of differential
relationships of signifiers inscribed in two linguistics chains.
Therefore, the unconscious is structured like the language of Saussure and Jakobson.
The language, the opposition langue/parole, the difference signifiers/significance, are the modalities
of unconscious reality. Moreover, the unconscious manifests itself only via linguistic expressions:
the dreams, the lapsus, the Witz, that have many linguistic configurations (see Lacan 1988;
Shepherdson 2008). For the Lacanian analyst, the unconscious is a sort of literary text that binds
rhetorical aspects and linguistics – syntactic ones: we could think here about themes of myth,
legends and history in Lacan’s thought (see De Certeau 2002; Buchanan 2000).
We note immediately that this Lacanian translation of the Freudian unconscious produces a great
interpretative leap. We have not an unconscious as a profound and irrational place inside
subjectivity (see Althusser 1993’s critique to irrational forms of unconscious).
As the famous Freud’s image of psychoanalysis as archaeology of the human being shows, the first
common sense view of psychoanalysis equates the latter with a discourse on the subjective depth,
the inner/intimate realm. This realm is consequently seen as the receptacle of animal/irrational
instincts, and it is seen as the true reality of the subject. The subject would be from one side a beam
of instincts, needs and from the other a machine that produced objective – measurable behaviour.
On a similar image of human being, flourished the scientistic (physiological and biological)
psychology and psychotherapy of ego (the ego-analysis that Lacan defines “egocracy” or egoorthopaedics). When Lacan elaborates his theory, the scientistic psychology is the dominant
approach to the subject that is reduced to the individual (that is only the abstract representation
produced by the external knowledge) and that is studied as an object of knowledge and
Post-Freudian psychoanalysis (ego-analysis, Anna Freud’s theory…) wants to look like a
general psychology of the ego; and, in its turn, the general psychology wants to become a more
objective discourse following the model of physiology and biology, taking into account the method
of anatomy etc.
For Lacan, the clearest example of this scientistic psychology is the Behaviourism and the
behaviouristic psychotherapy. Behaviourism produces an imagery reduction of the subject that
becomes a dead and intellectual representation. On this way, the subject becomes only an object
that represents the subjective life. Then, this objective image is the base, which is decomposed,
reconstructed, studied and explained from the outside by the anatomical knowledge (see Hegel 1980
; Rametta 1992) of psychologist.
Lacan underlines in his Écrits (Lacan 1960), that the subject does not correspond to the
individual (to the image of man that belongs to the humanistic and natural law tradition), but it is
the product of a process of subjectification (see Badiou 1982) that depends on the structure, i.e., the
linguistic-formal dimension of syntactic laws (the langue of Saussure) by which we could speak of
and then enter in the social and cultural world. The linguistic structure, which Lacan equates at the
unconscious level, or, structured process (the Other), determines the “split” subject, subtracting
them to their individual closure (the fantasy of ego as the centre of subjectivity) and introducing
them into an inter-subjective space constituted by a logic-linguistic but also socio-political relations.
When Lacan speaks about symbolic dimension, he is referring to the latter structure, the plane of the
impersonal Other (or to put it into Žižekian terms, the Big Other).
The interpretation of unconscious proposed by Lacan sweeps the psychoanalysis epistemic plane
from all the image of profoundness, irrationalism and psychologism. To achieve this turning point,
Lacan uses the structuralism tools (the linguistic of Saussure and Jakobson, Benveniste and Culioli
and the ethnology of Lèvi-Strauss (see Milner).
Therefore, the first step of our reasoning is that the unconscious is not the place of irrational
instincts or our psychical inner coffer. It is a logical-dialectical system that is interpretable by the
psychoanalyst as a literary text.
2. Through his linguistic interpretation of the symbolic – theoretical mechanisms of subjectivity,
Lacan develops a theory devoid of the scientific model of psychology. He underlines psychological
and social sciences are built following the prevailing paradigm of positivistic science.
Psychoanalysis allows us to have a peculiar practice of thought that studies the structure of the
subject without sometimes bending to the model of biology or physiology. Although psychoanalysis
(Johnston) pays more attention to the latter sciences, it wants not to be homologous to them as
general psychology and Behaviourism does. Psychoanalysis is not a science of homeostatic
regulation, of objective reality (that is, for Lacan, an imagery construction): its epistemological side
is linked to another dimension of science:
a. Firstly, to the practice of formalization, the logical-mathematical side of dealing with the real (see
Badiou 1994, Brandalise 2012). b. Second, to the science as rational approach to the subject, that
eliminated each form of irrationalism and ineffable.
The connection between psychoanalysis and science that is fundamental for Lacan, does not pass
trough the neuro-biology (as in the first work by Freud), i.e., a deep insight into the mind, into the
anatomy (the plane of objective reality). Neuro-biology is at basis of a scientific approach to human
being, but is not the real concern of psychoanalysis. For psychoanalyst (as like as for a continental
philosopher), neuro-biological results are true, are not to debate; but this “true” is necessary and not
sufficient. This is the case of neuroscience. While, for Lacan, the Behaviourism and other
scientistic-cognitivistic approach to human being, are misunderstanding of the problem of subject
and of real: they are only a new form of metaphysical and naïve realism.
I would suggest that Freudian-Lacanian practice of thought have more in connection to the modern
tradition of philosophy (Lacan often draws this philosophical chain: Descartes- Spinoza-KantHegel-Freud) than to scientific psychology and its contemporary derivations. In my thought (via
Miller 1981, Badiou 1991, 1994, Žižek 1993), psychoanalysis is not linked to scientism, but to a
modality to interrogate the science, that is the modality of philosophy, and especially of classical
Germany’s one (see, Badiou 1981; Lacoue-Labarthe – Nancy 1990; Žižek 1998, 2003, 2006; Dolar
2006, 2012; Johnston 2011a). Psychoanalysis is not a philosophy and it is a critique to philosophy,
but it is linked to the desire that originally moved many dialectical thoughts.
From the same point of view, Badiou in his seminar on Lacan (Badiou 1994) shows that
psychoanalysis is a form of critique of philosophy that has built itself inside of philosophy (see
Alèman 2000), inside the realms of concept and rationality. The thought of Freud and Lacan
develops a specific dialectical manner to rework German classical philosophy’s outcomes, that is
diametrically different from the irrational thought of “feelings against concept”, “intuition against
reason” of the Romantics.
Lacan thinks that dialectical philosophy, in particular Hegel’s one, could have another chance
against its systematic closure. This chance needs a radical critique of each doctrinal / university
aspects of Hegel’s creative discourse: this critique has the function to re-activate the desiring core
of dialectics as a thought of difference that is able to deal the negativity and the contingency
without eliminating them.
3. If it is so, we can understand why Lacan argues in his Le quatre concepts fondamentaux de la
psychanalyse (Lacan 1974) that the unconscious is involved in the genesis (in the Transcendental
meaning) and the theoretical dynamics of thought.
For Lacan, Freudian psychoanalysis introduces a new theory of subject that ends the tradition of
modern - Cartesian philosophy (i.e., the Ego as foundation). Although, the Cartesian turn in
philosophy, the central focus for the theme of subjectivity, is necessary for the birth of
psychoanalysis, it is not sufficient. The psychoanalysis criticizes the foundation of Cartesian subject
because it is linked to a rejection of the unconscious. With this refusal, the subject of modern
philosophy is founded upon the ego assured by the cogito as the first and central principle of
While in the Lacanian perspective, the unconscious stresses the instability of the ego and its lack of
identity (as Lacan puts it in his famous theory of the mirror). As a matter of fact, the identity is the
product of the signifier and linguistic action of the unconscious on the subject; however, the
unconscious is not a new foundation but the differential chain of language.
The Lacanian subject is a split subject (sujet divisé): it is not the individual of modern philosophical
anthropology (see Foucault 1966, Cesaroni 2008), but a non-representable process of subjectivation
produced by the structure. A subject exists only when he has access to the linguistic and social
plane of symbolic/structure (the step of subject’s “production”). But the inscription of the subject in
the latter plane coincides with his alienation, his lack of his supposed “entirety”.
As is well known, Lacan poses a difference between the individual ego (the moi, that is an
imaginary representation) as bearer of rights and centre of juridical charge, and the subject (the Je,
which is the structural process, that combines the conscience mechanisms and the unconscious
dominant symbolical elaborations). Lacanian theory eliminates the role of the ego as the first
Cartesian step in the definition of subjectivity. The ego is only an imaginary and illusory
production. As Lacanians say, the ego is the result of our intersubjective foundation: in our
relationships with the others (in our external, social, political relationships) the ego is built as the
outcome of the identification to the others.
The ego is an image produced by another image (the image of the other, that Lacan defines as the
small other in opposition to the big Other of structure). Therefore, the subjectivity has not an
original identity or a substantial plenitude as in a philosophical tradition.
For psychoanalysis when the subject comes – i.e., when he is inscribed in the symbolical Other of
social and linguistic life -, he is originally alienated, lacked by his deficiency and his necessity of
something (the Language, the plane of otherness) that is external from him.
After Saussure, we know that the language, that is fundamental for our social life (as developmental
psychologists have to know), is never a production of the single but it is a network of syntactical
norms that we have to practice if we want to express ourselves. The Language is independent from
me, but I (while I’m writing to be understood by readers) I am too dependent from the possibilities
of Language’s structure, that I have to use. On this way, Lacan could say that Language produces
and gives shape to the subject. Moreover, the great part of our linguistic production is, for
psychoanalysis, conditioned by the unconscious (that is structured like a language).
To resume, the subject is produced and at the same time alienated by the Language. Therefore, there
is not an original moment of identity, that is later disrupted by the difference as in the scholastic
dialectics (that is not the Hegelian’s one). Furthermore, this lack of original identity proves that the
subject is not something substantial. This is a point of great exchange between Lacan and Sartre,
taken either as two great moments of the “Hegel legacy in French”.
Lacan objects to philosophy for its fantasy of suturing the lack and the split, occupying its truth
with elements of foundation and logics of representation. In Lacan’s words “philosophy” often
equates to “metaphysics”, that is, in accord with Heidegger, the history of an oblivion. For Lacan it
is the oblivion of a original and pre-ontological split within each ontological construction, the real
(réel) element of lack.
Metaphysics, therefore is the imaginary attempt to suturing the real-symbolic split, the effort of
trying a principle (the foundation, the Gründ of German classical philosophy) that holds the entire
philosophical system as a Whole, where truth is completely representable (Vorstellung). The
Lacanian reworking of Freudian unconscious allows us to deal with the traditional philosophical
issue of foundation and representation (3).
If the unconscious is not a profound place or the centre of the subjective’s truth, it is not a new form
of foundation, a form perhaps more fashionable then metaphysical ones. This use of the
unconscious as a new foundation is reproached by Lacan to Jung (see Recalcati 2003).
The Freudian view has the radical force to deconstruct the place both of the foundation and the
logical principles (identity, non-contradiction) of traditional metaphysics. Freud develops a
displacement of the consciousness (the ego or the foundation) in connection with the work of the
unconscious in each process of subjectification.
As a consequence of the unconscious, the split subject has no centre, no foundation, and no given
identity. As Žižek and Badiou show, this Lacanian “theorem” is interesting not only in philosophy
but also in political and cultural studies (4). Indeed, we have to note that the Lacanian unconscious
is a radical critique of the modern individualism (from naturalism to liberal democracy and human
rights theory) because it implies that what determined the subject (the linguistic unconscious) is not
an inner – intimate property of the subject. We have seen that Lacanian unconscious is a network of
differential, intersubjective and external relationships: to put it in Deleuzian terms, we could say
that the Lacanian unconscious is a superficial and immanent phenomena. The dimension of dualism
(profoundness essence versus superficial manifestation) is perhaps erased: this is one of the great
Hegelian legacies in Lacan’s thought. The manifestation (or with the Science of Logic - Hegel 1978
-: the Offenbarung) of unconscious is not different from the unconscious itself: it is only a linguistic
expression and work.
Lacan anticipates the Deleuze-Guattari critique of Milles plateaux (Deleuze-Guattari 1980) and He
argues, in his pivotal seminar on La logique du fantasme, that “l’inconscient c’est la politique”
(Lacan 1967: 10/05). This utterance doesn’t mean that politics is an unconscious dimension but that
unconscious is structured as an external plane of relationships that are constitutive for the subject,
that are not only closed to the family (5). Our psychoanalysis teaches us that the subject is a nonindividual category, linguistically but also socially and politically produced:
Cette réference de l’individu à chacun de tous les autres est l’exigence fondamentale de la
logique de la collection, et notre exemple démontre qu’elle est loin d’être impensable [...]
Nous dédions cet apologue à ceux pour qui la synthèse du particulier e de l’universel a un
sens politique concret (Lacan 2001: 98-99)
To clarify, in the Lacanian way of thought there is no place of foundation, and the identity is a
secondary and abstracted principle. With a joke, we have to say not that the place of foundation is
empty but that the place of foundation is the empty.
Then, the second step of our reasoning is that the unconscious is structured like a language
produces a theory of subjectivity that is free from any metaphysical category: the subject is not a
substance, as in the classical traditions of philosophy.
As Freud had already pointed out, the subject is a complex relationship of differential instances (Es,
Ego, Super-Ego) and not of substances (see Freud 1923). We have to note that the psychoanalytical
critique of substance is located in the path opened by the great Hegelian approach of
Phenomenology’s Vorrede (Hegel 1980), and the Kantian’s rational psychology (Kant 1974). To
conclude this step, I want to suggest that Lacan realizes a theoretical point, that is just realized in
Fichte’s and in Hegel’s philosophy, which is the priority of difference, of Spaltung upon the identity
(6). In order to propose a philological reading of Lacan, the unconscious is not an individual and
psychological dimension, only directed by inner factors (as in Malabou’s critique): the unconscious,
in particular in the last seminars of Lacan, is open to real Spaltung, and external, intersubjective
4. Therefore, the symbolic is the realm of language and the structure of the subject’s determination.
But, if all is significance and interpretation, Lacanian thought could be only the last and sly form of
hermeneutics, as in the Ricoeur’s (1967) prediction. But, are we sure that the introduction of an
external and meaningless force (as in the energetic, neurologic tradition) represents a clear
I am finding slightly more interesting to develop Deleuze’s thesis on unconscious. In his
Différence et répétition (Deleuze 1968), the author opposes a differential unconscious (the tradition
opened by Leibniz) to an inner unconscious. While the first is a plane of relationships more linked
with a practical transformation of philosophical thought (that culminates in the social-political
unconscious of Deleuze-Guattari 1980), the second is a substance, an ineffable principle.
To summarize, Lacan develops a definition of psychoanalysis that is external from the two sections
of Ricouer’s interpretative device of hermeneutic and of energetic: psychoanalysis as a
practice/ethics of the subject and of his desire. This is the outcome of Seminar VII (see MacolaBrandalise 2004): psychoanalysis is neither hermeneutic nor energetic. It is a practice of thought,
i.e., an attempt to break the intellectual opposition between practice and theory. Psychoanalysis is a
modality of thought in which the thought produces transformations inside the subject, inside the
relationship among the latter, the language and the real.
Accordingly to this practical definition of analysis, Lacan draws the conclusions from his theory of
the unconscious and its determination of the subject.
a. As we have seen, the unconscious is not resolved in an energetic engine: Lacan stresses the
translators misunderstanding of the German word “Triebe” (the drive, linked to the relationships
between language and real, linked to the desire) and the English “instinct”, that is the main psychobiological mechanism of animal functioning. Lacan combines here Freud and the KojèvianHegelian (Kojéve 1947) analysis of the difference between Begierde (animal need) and the
Anerkennung (the humanizing desire to be desired as the subject, the value of the other’s desire).
Lacan replaces the dimension of instinct with the signification and the signifiers. We are in front of
a logic of sense: that points to a necessary revaluation of the theoretical relationships between Lacan
and Deleuze.
b. Nonetheless, Lacan doesn’t claim that all is symbolic and signification. He introduces the
category of real (réel), that is different from reality (reality), i.e., the imaginary devoid construction
of an original objectivity disconnected from the Language. The real, that becomes a pivotal
category in the later theory of Lacan, is the impasse of the formalization process.
The basic idea is that the symbolic represents the logical formalisation (“la structure est la logique”
as said in Lacan 2011: 40), through which psychoanalysis deals with the real. In Lacan, the
formalisation encounters its impasse in the real, that is the element (immanent to the structure)
genetics of sense. The real is, in the meantime, not be represented, not be formalised. Therefore the
real is the internal space inside the logical/symbolical construction, that is not anything of ineffable,
but that is subtracted at every opportunity of calculation. This reveals the contingency that is tied
with the emergence of real:
le réel […] s’affirme dans le impasses de la logique […] Nous touchons là du doigt, en un
domain en apparance le plus sûr, ce qui s’oppose a l’ènitiere prise du discours dans
l’exhaustion logique, ce qui y introduit une béance irréductible. C’est là que nous désignons
le réel. (Lacan 2011: 41)
Therefore, the real is an element that produces an exception, a hole, a wound inside the symbolic.
The real is the wound of a conceptual-linguistic theoretical process. The real is not a noumenal
reality, a new profoundness external to the concept. Moreover, the subject deals with the real
through language and logic: the real is the non-representable point, genetic of the representation
Malabou’s seemingly paradoxical questions of inner-external wounds of subjectivity are already
very irrefutable and interesting, thus I will not expand or deepen them here. Perhaps we have two
main directions in the debate between psychoanalysis and the reflection on the subjectivity: a. The
Lacanian one that is connected to the modern philosophy, or Classical German philosophy: In this
perspective, the subject is produced by a wounded that is extime (internal and at the main time
subtracted: unheimlich) to the symbolical field. b. The neuroscientist road that focuses the wounded
and their trauma as something external to the symbolic.
To conclude, the Lacanian symbolic is entered by the real (and jouissance): the symbolic is in
itself differentiated by the real. Then, psychoanalysis is not a hermeneutics of meaning because it
has its discriminating notion in the real, as non-representable, contingent encounter (as tyche).
Miller talks about a bone of the analysis that is the real and not solvable to interpretation. Lacanian
psychoanalysis replaced the idea of interpretation (also involved with hermeneutics) with the
practice of deciphering what there is other then language, or inside the language itself.
The real is the dimension introduced by trauma (Lacan 1973), that is, in the Lacanian vocabulary,
an event which belongs “beyond the pleasure principle”, from beyond the logical regulation of
homeostasis. As in the Verneinung’s processes, trauma is a form of negativity that is irreducible to
the Aufhebung, that deconstructs from the inside the possibility of a systematic synthesis and
closure of dialectical thought. This form of negativity must not be subsumed by formal, logical
universality, is the real as the internal wounded of the concept,with its internal necessity to re-new,
and to re-start the symbolical effort (we have to note the Lacanian proximity to a TranscendentalFichtean practice of thought). The real is the jouissance (a category beyond pleasure’s and
conservation’s principle) of the dialectique and of the symbolic - it’s lack of a stable order: indeed,
Lacan in his Seminar XX (Lacan 1975 and forward) uses the category of la langue without a sign of
separation, i.e., the osmotic and non-representative plane of mutual determination of
symbolical/linguistic element and the enjoyment as in Joyce’s practice of writing (see Lacan 2005)
I advocate that psychoanalysis deals with the “Beyond of pleasure principle” as an inner element of
the dialectics. The real and the jouissance block the closure of Aufhebung, re-new the negativity and
open the symbolic: this is a point of dialogue between Lacan and Adorno.
In order to conclude, I claim that Lacanian psychoanalysis is not a hermeneutic of meaning neither
a psychology. Psychoanalysis is connected to science and to philosophy but is not homologous to
them: the analysands refuse to be reduced to a positivistic recording of behaviour or to a scientistic
knowledge of the ego and of the subject as the dead object of measurement.
The epistemological peculiarity of psychoanalysis, as well as of the high moments in philosophy, is
its ability to work with the subject without reduced it to his representation (8): psychoanalysis
shows a radical critique to the representation, and its epistemology matches its ethics (its desire to
work with a real subject). In this regard, the psychoanalyst (against the modern scientist) does not
work from an outside or aseptic place (although certain psychoanalysts seem to say otherwise). He
is involved in a situation where the transformations derived from his act are able to affect him.
From this point, I am not here to critique neuroscience concretely or neurobiology or its utilization
as the unique approach to subjectivity, as is proposed, for example, in the claims of Ramachandran
(2004). My philosophical concern is that cognitivism (9) and neurology could be seen as a
deterministic method to reduce the subject to an object (10), or to reduce the subject to his brain as
his essence. A Lacanian question to neuroscience is: could not be that our brains are being used by
neurologists as a new foundation, a new substance for experimentation?
This question has probably an ethical and political concern that is the concern of Lacan when he
talks about American psychology, as approval factor, or about University discourse as the massproduction of subjects. According to Žižekian readers of Hegel, paradoxically only a neurological
approach is decisive in the study of subjectivity, as it is equal to the unproductive claim that “the
Spirit is a bone”.
(1) For a psychoanalytic study of trauma and of subjectivity see Stolorow 2007, 2011.
(2) I am not claiming that the position of Malabou is a reductionist one. Rather, I’m finding it (in
particular in Johnston-Malabou 2011) that other continental thinkers are able to discuss
neuroscience whilst avoiding the reductionism more lucidly.
(3) The Lacanian critique of fundament and of representation are some points of contact to Deleuze
1968. On Deleuze see Colebrook 2002, Ansell-Pearson 2007.
(4) See Badiou 1982, 1992; Žižek 1989, 2006; Stavrakakis 1999; Pluth 2007; Schroeder 2011.
(5) See the interesting Kovacevic 2006.
(6) I am referring to the deconstruction of identity principle (A=A) in Fichte (see Rametta 2012)
and in Hegel (see Rametta 1992).
(7) The “late” Lacan doesn’t equate the concept of lalangue with the scientific category of
language. The language is only the representative formalization of lalangue, that is produced by
linguistic knowledge. The concept of lalangue is very closed to the practice of writing, in particular
to the Japanese’s writing (see Lacan 2001:11-20) and the idea of litura/litoral that indicates the
osmotic relationship between symbolic and jouissance. See Milner 1978.
(8)“Cognitivism is ultimately the attempt to get rid of this intruder, to re-establish the functioning of
academic knowledge – “professional”, rational, empirical, problem-solving, and so on. The
distinction between cognitivism and cultural studies…it is ultimately a much more radical
distinction between two totally different modality, or, rather, practice of knowledge, inclusive of
two different institutional apparatus of knowledge…It is no wonder that cognitivists like to
emphasise their opposition to psychoanalysis” (Žižek 2005: 94). See also Miller 2005.
(9) It is very significant that even Derrida (the greater critique of Lacanian theory of Language: see
Derrida 1975), recognizes that a Lacanian psychoanalytic approach to human theoretical structures
allows to delete the scientistic psychological creed of atavism. In his Séminaire La Bête et le
Souverain (vol. I: Derrida 2008), the philosopher shows that Lacan underlines the limits of a
deterministic approach to human agency.
I am finding interesting the quotation of French sociologist G. Tarde in Lacan 1960: in Tarde there
is a critique of the deterministic approach to human behaviour developed by Italian phrenologist C.
Lombroso (a pioneer of the neuroscience’s reductionism).
(10) Žižek stresses the difference between Lacanian subject and structuralist’s one: “But with
Lacan, we have quite another notion of the subject. To put it in a simple way: if we abstract, if we
subtract all the richness of the different modes of subjectivation, all the fullness of experience
present in the way individuals “live” their subject-positions, what remains is an empty place which
was filled out with this richness, and this original void, the lack of the symbolic: structure is the
subject, the subject of signifiers.” (Žižek 2008)
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* The unpublished Lacanian Seminars are available at www.lutecium.fr/Psychanlyse.html or at