Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Thinking of Existence

What is ontology? Nancy writes:

"Ontology" does not occur at a level reserved for principles, a level that is withdrawn, speculative, and altogether abstract. Its name means the thinking of existence. And today, the situation of ontology signifies the following: to think existence at the height of this challenge that is globalness as such (which is designated as "capital," "(de-)Westernization," "technology," "rupture of history" and so forth).

(Being Singular Plural, pp. 46-47)

Nancy's definition of ontology here emerges in response to both Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis (which he views as symmetrical). My immediate interest in the problem stems from Lacan's argument that the unconcsious is pre-ontological, or that it doesn't lend itself to ontology (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, p. 29). What is meant by that? What could it mean? Lacan holds that the unconscious is "neither being nor non-being, but the unrealized" (p. 30). He later claims that "the status of the unconscious, which, as I have shown, is so fragile on the ontic plane, is ethical" (p. 33). He seems to suggest–but don't hold me to it if you have a better reading–that the unconscious is the product of an operation, or more broadly of a psychoanalytic praxis.

So what is the claim being made here? Is it simply that the unrealized neither exists nor does not exist? What else then wouldn't lend itself to ontology? Or is Lacan rejecting some specific way of thinking about the existence of the unconscious? "Ontically," Lacan says, "the unconcscious is the elusive" (p. 32), so it would seem that he is able to think of its existence.

A clue perhaps: Lacan writes of the unconcsious: "Rupture, split, the stroke of the opening makes absence emerge–just as the cry does not stand out against a background of silence, but on the contrary makes the silence emerge as silence" (p. 26). Cannot this phenomenon of the cry and the silence rather be understood as a co-arising, where neither the cry nor the silence is solely responsible for the emergence of the other? Well, I couldn't tell you. I only offer it as a clue to how Lacan is thinking about the unconscious.

Is Nancy right then to read into Lacanian theory a grappling with the enigma of co-ipseity (or hetero-ipseity) (Being Singular Plural, pp. 44-45)? Is his claim for ontology premised on such a reading, or does it stand to reason regardless of how he reads pyschoanalytic theory?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:59 PM.


Blogger Sinthome said...

I've always puzzled over this passage as well. Appealing to your dialogism, I think Lacan is arguing that the unconscious becomes what it was (apres coup) through the activity of being intepreted. In an earlier seminar, seminar 6, Lacan had argued that desire *is* its interpretation. Desire and the unconscious are one and the same thing, so it would follow that the unconscious is how it comes to be interpreted. If we take the "ontic" in its most vulgar sense as a being that is and that is defined by its *identity*, then the pulsations of the unconscious cannot be said to be a prior identity or thing independent of the activity of being narrated by the analysand and analyst.

November 19, 2006 11:41 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I'm glad to have you reading over my shoulder here, Sinthome, because I thought Lacan was saying something like that but wasn't sure if anybody else would take it that way. I gather you've anticipated my next question too--Is the narration of the unconscious a species of thinking? That question leads me to suspect that Nancy's reading is not far off the mark. But I'm just digging into Lacan so I'm trying not to rush to any conclusions.

November 19, 2006 5:47 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Fido, honestly I'm a bit nervous as you're digging into one of his most difficult and elusive seminars, and I worry that you'll feel I've wasted your time. I should reassure myself as I've known you to be a reader. At any rate, as for narration being a form of thinking, I think one of the interesting features of Lacan's reading of the Cogito (especially for one as influenced by phenomenology as you) is the manner in which he disconnects thinking from the immediate self-awareness of the cogito. That is, for Lacan, when we experience doubt or a parapraxes (bungled actions, jokes, slips of the tongues, etc) we know *that* something is thinking without knowing *what* is thought. I gave a phenomenological reading of this a couple of years ago in an article I was preparing but which I never sent out... if you want a gander, I'd be happy to share. Email me at the address on my blog and I'll share. I suspect we come from very similar phenomenological commitments or temperaments. Of course, it's been a while since I looked at the article, so I can't attest to where it's at as far as editing goes.

November 19, 2006 7:15 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

No worries, Sinthome. I have a lot of patience for interesting ideas, and, besides, the careful reading of difficult texts is a kind of therapy for me. (I'm trying to see whether I succumb to "racing thoughts" and whether I can actually complete the little reading tasks I set for myself.) The only pressure I feel is the due dates on interlibrary loans. You have certainly not been wasting my time. I've really enjoyed reading your blog, and I'm glad that you've found a few moments to help me along in my own perigrinations and such. I'd like to see your paper, so do check your email.

Phenomenology was the first school of philosophy that really inspired me. And it still does, I guess. I don't know. As a kid I really enjoyed existentialism but its coherence in my mind was not so much as a philosophy--that kind of appreciation came later.

November 19, 2006 7:48 PM  

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