Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Colophon of Doubt

Sinthome (of Larval Subjects) has shared with me a paper of his on the phenomonological implications of Lacan's theory of the subject. Lacan's way of thinking does constitute a radical critique because he takes aim directly at the Cartesian subject. Lacan summarizes his approach:

The unconscious is the sum of the effects of speech on a subject, at the level at which the subject constitutes himself out of the effects of the signifier. This makes it clear that in the term subject–this is I why I referred it back to its origin–I am not designating the living substratum needed by this phenomenon of the subject, nor any sort of substance, nor any being possessing knowledge in his pathos, his suffering, whether primal or secondary, nor even some incarnated logos, but the Cartesian subject, who appears at the moment when doubt is recognized as certainty–except that, through my approach, the bases of this subject prove to be wider, but, at the same time much more amenable to the certainty that eludes it. This is what the unconscious is.

(Four Fundamental Concepts, p. 126)

Now I have something to say to this, but first I want to clarify what Lacan means when he says that the Cartesian subject appears at the moment of doubt. Lacan writes:

Descartes apprehends his I think in the enunciation of the I doubt, not in its statement, which still bears all of this knowledge to be put in doubt. Shall I say that Freud makes one more step–which designates for us sufficiently the legitimacy of our association–when he invites us to integrate in the text of the dream what I shall call the colophon of doubt–the colophon, in an old text, is that small pointing hand that used to be printed, in the days when we still had typography, in the margin. The colophon of doubt is part of the text. This indicates that Freud places his certainty, his Gewissheit, only in the constellation of signifiers as they result from the recounting, the commentary, the association, even if they are later retracted. Everything provides signifying material, which is what he depends on to establish his own Gewissheit–for I stress that experience begins only with his method. That is why I compare it to the Cartesian method.

(p. 44).

The Cartesian subject emerges in response to a radical doubt. That much seems uncontroversial. If we take the next step and integrate the "colophon of doubt" into the text of the cogito, must we then follow the path Lacan has laid out? Personally I would balk on the grounds that Lacan's understanding of experience is too narrowly logocentric, too exclusively psychoanlytic. Here's a question, then: In Husserlian phenomenology, does the lifeworld signify merely a living substratum of the transcendental ego? Perhaps the answer depends on how we understand what it means to live. My sense is that living should be understood in the broadest sense possible, as open-ended. So the colophon of doubt is not then something that dissappears or is necessarily neglected in phenomenological analysis. There is, however, clearly a problem with the transcendental ego, and Lacanian analysis offers one way to explore that.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:01 PM.


Blogger Sinthome said...

Fido, I think these are the right sorts of questions to ask and it's not out of the question to suggest that Lacan might be unfair to phenomenological orientations. Lacan himself began with a phenomenological orientation in his earlier work, especially in his descriptions of the category of the imaginary. His position seems to be that phenomenological approaches are necessarily premised on the *transparency* of consciousness; yet as can clearly be seen by later Husserl and the work of figures such as Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, this is not necessarily the case (though with Husserl it's a vexed issue). If you haven't come across it already, you might enjoy Michel Henry's _The Genealogy of Psychoanalysis_, written by a towering figure of phenomenology in his own right (but relatively unknown in the States), and which gives a very different read of the Cartesian cogito (as non-representational potentiality and life) and likewise of Husserl. Some of Jean-Luc Marion's work such as _Being-Given_ and _Reduction and Givenness_ develops similar lines of thought, though without drawing the connection to psychoanalysis.

November 24, 2006 9:03 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Now I'm going to be busy all winter. I've requested by interlibrary loan Henry's Genealogy of Psyhoanalysis as well as his Phenomenology of the Body, and also Marion's Being Given and Reduction and Givenness. I still have several works of Lacan to dig into among my growing stack of books to read. What a wonderful resource you are, Sinthome. It's like being in graduate school again-- but without all the nonsense.

November 25, 2006 10:38 AM  

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