I agree with the classic Deleuzian line that Lacan’s thought is a compromise formation between his monist predecessor Freud and various pluralist insights that he integrated to correct or to pluralise the system partially. So, like Freud, Lacan feeds on, without giving proper recognition to, the “other image of thought” that Deleuze explicitly links with the names of Nietzsche, Groddeck, and William James.

See here: “Lacan’s graph of sexuation was first expounded in his seminar in 1973, and was a very weak and watered down appropriation of insights that Deleuze and Guattari had elaborated over the preceding four years. This strategy of tacit annexation and adulteration was one of Lacan’s preferred modes of erudition and “creativity””.

There is something profoundly ambiguous in Lacan’s theories, and thus in Lacanian readings of other philosophers. Such notions as “There is no meta-language” and “The Big Other does not exist” seem to pull Lacan in the direction of the poststructuralists, or even beyond them, as Zizek would have it. Other themes, such as seeing the unconscious in terms of binary code, seem very reductive to me. The notion of encountering or being affected by the real as reducible to trauma is another example.

A quite different, pluralist, model of the encounter with the real can be seen in this quotation from William James’s Psychology: The Briefer Course, ch. 17

“Will you or won’t you have it so?” is the most probing question we are ever asked; we are asked it every hour of the day, and about the largest as well as the smallest, the most theoretical as well as the most practical, things. We answer by consents or non-consents and not by words. What wonder that these dumb responses should seem our deepest organs of communication with the nature of things! What wonder if the effort demanded by them be the measure of our worth as men! What wonder if the amount which we accord of it were the one strictly underived and original contribution which we make to the world!”

James affirms that the degree of effort accorded to these “dumb” prelinguistic acts of consent and of non-consent is a measure of the depth of our communication with the nature of things, of our worth as humans, and of the originality of our contribution to the world. So our being affected by the real is not reduced just to giving our yes or no, but includes the depth and effort that we accord to such giving. These are not just binary choices, but scalar values, of degrees of intensity, in accord with James’s pluralism.

In this text there seem to be three levels:

1) consents and non-consents = dumb, prelinguistic, responses = Will = (productive)  Desire, being “affected” by the real

2) the effort demanded by them (maybe this is not really a separate level, but its degree determines “our worth as men”)

3) the amount of effort we accord (this according of effort is a meta-level, assimilable to the subject’s stance, different from Lacan’s as it is on an intensive scale)

One will concede that according more or less effort to our consents and dis-consents affects their depth and the degree of their communication with the real (as opposed to their entrapment in stereotypes). I would add that not all consents and dis-consents have the same value. Consenting to oppression is not the same as consenting to liberation. Consenting to the real is not the same as consenting to the authority of philosophical constructions. Consenting to indiscipline and to heresy is not the same as consenting to discipline and orthodoxy.

Dualities should not be homogenised into dualisms, with the two terms being equivalent from the point of view of binary logic. Deleuze and Guattari point out that dualities can be qualitatively different, depending on whether they are preliminary differentiations opening on to a pluralist field or merely fixated dualisms. Lacan remains for me ambiguous in that he differentiates and homogenises at the same time.

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  1. noir-realism says:

    Excellent, Terrence! Lacan was bound to his ascetic formalism and (post)structuralist mathemes which seemed to leave him in the horizontal synchrony you so aptly problematize on your site over and over. Been reading Adrian Johnston’s new book, Prolegomena to Any Future Materialism of late and he critiques Lacan for just this lack of acceptance of the diachronous irreducible aspect of the life sciences (which brings us back to Deleuze).

    Not sure why Lacan had such a distaste for the biological sciences when Freud himself was to his final day informed by them. I know he was trying to overcome the scientism (ie., the reductionist materialism that circumscribed Freud’s thought – that could be one factor; and, his need, like Badiou after him to formalize all (anti)philosophical problems in a language that tended toward pure mathematics.

    One need not go far to see how formalism fails, even harping back to the formalist work of Marxist Georg Lukacs. Either way Lacan was lead into a blind hole as his last lecture shows, so a correction has been needed for a long while and I think Johnston is opening the door back up to the messiness of pragmatism; or, at least, to the life sciences which have been castigated by philosophy and philosophers for a while now.


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