There’s one more thing I wanted to note in Subjectivity and Otherness (2007), Chiesa’s book about Lacan. I’d forgotten what it was, but now it’s come back. It has to do with the primeval energy force that for Lacan is the source of creation of everything, including the unconscious: the immanent “sprite of the current” that’s perpetually active behind the scenes, assembling and setting everything in motion, including the unconscious from which human subjectivity emerges. Here Chiesa shears off from Lacan and starts linking him to Kant and Sade in a way that I found intriguing.
I’ll quote at some length from Chiesa (p. 170):
I have repeatedly pointed out that what one finds in the place of the real object that cannot be refound is not just the self-conscious representation of the objects of everyday reality, but also the unconscious Real-of-the-Symbolic (the object a); Seminar VII primarily associates the latter with the superegoic jouissance of the commandment, which is something “intemperate” in itself — since it paradoxically becomes “crueller and crueller as we offend it less and less” — and constitutes the other “obscene” side of the positive moral law. More importantly, Lacan shows how the “inner voice” of the superego which “substitutes itself” for the primordial Real — negatively represented in the Symbolic by the “dumbness” of das Ding — is its “opposite and the reverse,” yet, unexpectedly, taken at its purest, it is also “identical” to it.
(Allow me to pause briefly to let the reader savor not only the density of Chiesa’s language in explaining the already-abstruse Lacanian texts, but also the relative clarity of my own summaries (lol). Though Chiesa seems impatient with his readers’ dull-wittedness (“I have repeatedly pointed out…”), I still find his writing difficult to parse — which of course gives me liberty to rewrite his text as it suits me without anyone being the wiser.)
In his first sentence Chiesa repeats himself but he also seems to contradict himself. Earlier he said that the undead Real as a “hole” in the Symbolic is not the same as the always-already missing objet a, which acquires its meaning inside the Symbolic itself and which represents that which has been cut off (castrated) from the self through socialization (I see my clarity is already getting muddied). My understanding was that the hole in the Symbolic isn’t the lost object that’s always being sought in the Other, but rather the void through which the undead archaic Real occasionally irrupts. The void doesn’t induce the desire to find or to be the lost objet a; rather, it stimulates new creation in the Symbolic, which simultaneously swallows up and makes forever inaccessible another part of the Real. But we move on…
According to Chiesa, Lacan associates objet a with “the superegoic jouissance of the commandment.” To be embedded in the Symbolic order, the self has to be castrated from the primeval Real, a Real that is “killed” by being drained into the Symbolic. But the self derives pleasure from this painful excision, because by it the self is assigned a place the social order, an order that’s “commanded” by language imposed by the Other on the self. The command becomes “crueller and crueller as we offend it less and less,” says Lacan: this is because the more we embed ourselves in the Symbolic the more we’re cut off from the Real. Symbolic castration is a continual trauma to which we voluntarily subject ourselves. So the “law,” defined in the broadest terms as the Symbolic order itself, the “Word,” the psychosocial reality defined by language — the law claims virtue in embedding us in society, but its “obscenity” is its cruelty in leaving us cut off, with some part of us always missing or “holed.”
Chiesa says that, for Lacan, the superego substitutes for the primordial Real, both as the absence of the Real thing in itself and as the opposite of this absence. This absence and its opposite can’t be equated with the positive and negative features of the commandment, which operates within the Symbolic. Is it equated with the pleasure-and-its-opposite nature of jouissance? That doesn’t seem quite right either, since jouissance is the self’s emotional response to the bipolarity of the Symbolic commandment — which means that jouissance has to come after the Real has already been killed by the Symbolic. But “substitute” doesn’t necessarily mean “representation” or “trace”: the superego occupies the empty place that’s been vacated by the Real. So the superego needn’t resemble the Real-as-void any more than the Symbolic description of a thing resembles the thing-in-itself (see preceding post on this lack of correspondence between Real and Symbolic in Lacan).
But then we get the phrase that seems to overturn all that preceded it:
…yet, unexpectedly, taken at its purest, it is also “identical” to it.
So here is a seemingly irresolvable paradox: the superego both substitutes for the primordial Real and is identical to it. This identity suggests that the Real possesses the bipolar properties of the superego: it both incorporates and cuts off; it induces both pleasure and pain. We already observed in the prior post that, per Chiesa, Lacan regards the Real as something like the Holy Spirit, an immanent force that’s integral to the world itself. Does this mean that the Holy Spirit manifests this bipolarity of the superego? We move on to Chiesa’s next two paragraphs:
This is where Kant’s philosophy and Sade’s novels come on the scene, and reveal their utmost ethical significance and danger. According to Lacan, both Kant and Sade attempt to force their way to the Real of the Thing — and thus return to the pure jouissance of the primordial Real — precisely by radicalizing the ambivalent nature of the superegoic commandment in opposite ways, by transforming it into a universal maxim to be understood as “pure signifying system.” Indeed, such an (asymptotic) purification of the Symbolic, the complete symbolization of the Real, can eventually achieve a real-ization of the Symbolic, its disappearance…
More specifically, Kant’s ethics and Sade’s “anti-ethics” similarly endeavor to exacerbate and final break with the dialectic between law and desire as inherent transgression which Saint Paul expressed in the following way: “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin [transgression].” The lack of mediation between law and desire in favor of one of the two should hypothetically give rise to either a pure jouissance of the Law, in the case of Kant, or an — ultimately indistinguishable — pure law of Jouissance, in the case of Sade. In other words, the Kantian categorical imperative “Act in such a way that the maxim of your action may be accepted as a universal maxim” is nothing but a reduction of the law to its pure form; the Sadean imperative “Let us take as a universal maxim of our conduct the right to enjoy any other person whatsoever as the instrument of our pleasure” is nothing but the reduction of the law to its object, to the “right to jouissance.”
The idea is this: Kant regards his ethic as intrinsic to the universe, a natural universal law, so it’s natural for a human to act in accord with this ethic. Because the ethic is intrinsic to human nature, following the ethic brings pleasure in its own right — the pleasure of being at one with the universal — regardless of whatever other benefits the person might derive from ethical behavior. The Kantian ethic valorizes the kind of middle way of Aristotle and Confucius, along with the communal Golden Rule — in other words, it’s an ethic that’s familiar and sort of comforting. But Sade, whose ethic is very different indeed, shares something with Kant: he too believes that his ethic is a law of nature. According to Sade, because self-gratification naturally produces pleasure, it must be a natural law and therefore good. The forces of violence and destruction clear the way for new creation, so to act as an agent of these forces is to resonate with the universal spirit of creativity. Inflicting violence on others, or even to have violence inflicted on oneself, would therefore stimulate a natural pleasure of being in tune with the universal forces.
What’s important from Lacan’s perspective is this: the person who subscribes to the Sadean ethic derives pleasure from violating Kant’s ethic, while the follower of Kant is pleasured by violating Sade’s ethic. So what would be the result of combining the Kantian and the Sadean natural ethics, polar opposites of one another but both intrinsic to nature itself? Presumably whoever acts in accord with this bipolar ethic would simultaneously experience both pleasure and its opposite. This pleasure-antipleasure admixture would result from ethical action regardless of whether the actor is following the mandate of the Kantian pole or the Sadean. This for Lacan is the pleasure-pain of jouissance. It arises whether a person follows a law or violates that same law, because violation too operates according to law. The universal law of the real is bipolar, and so is the natural affective response.
So, to summarize (sort of): By being inscribed in the Symbolic order, the individual experiences loss of the Real. The Symbolic order operates according to a Law by which the individual becomes more and more fully incorporated into the Symbolic, more closely connected in communal bonds with others. But another Law is at work: the other who subjects the individual to the Law derives pleasure from exerting power and destroying something in the individual, and the individual derives pleasure from violating Law. To seek one kind of lawful pleasure is, paradoxically, to seek the pain of violating the inverse law. Desire is thus always infused with this ambivalent affect of jouissance. Fully pursuing this bipolar pleasure-pain of desire, becoming more and more fully inscribed in a Symbolic order that simultaneously includes its own opposite, paradoxically brings the person into closer and closer contact with the bipolar Real. Law and jouissance, emerging as replacements for the Real as the Real is progressively killed by the Symbolic, paradoxically transform themselves into a new Real that pushes through the Symbolic. It’s like a Möbius strip: you walk along one surface until eventually you find yourself on the other side.