jueves, 5 de mayo de 2011

Zizek, Sexuation, Hegel: The Materialist Object of Desire

 The Materialist Object of Desire

Some thoughts following Zizek’s seminar from last Thursday at UCLA…

Lacan’s formulae of sexuation have always been enigmatic. The second chapter of Zizek’s Tarrying With the Negative, indebted to the work of Joan Copjec, develops the reading of Lacan’s positioning of the sexes in isomorphy to the famous Kantian antinomies of pure reason. Whether Zizek/Copjec do justice to Kant, I cannot, unfortunately, determine. In the presentation Zizek offers, it is difficult to understand how the alleged isomorphy between the Kantian antinomies and the Lacanian formulas of sexuation is to be mapped out, specifically at the level of the Lacanian distinction between fantasy and symptom. To clarify this, we have to trace back the argument to the reading of the famous Kantian antinomies.

     This is no small matter, as Hegel will tell you, as it places immediately before us also that inadequate treatment of contradiction which led Kant to simply develop schemas on the basis of the categories, to construct possible instantiation of the object. This inability to properly deduce the possible content of the object from the Concept itself inhibits the critical project from realizing the workings of contradiction as the base ontological principle of the Hegelian dialectical process. Antinomies reduce contradictions to mere possible objectual figures within a specific domain, which obtain between logically possible schematic  objectual individuations of the Idea. These however remain fairly independent, and merely form distinct classes of possible instantiations of objects.  Against this, contradiction must be for Hegel developed so that we can see that the…

“…true and positive significance is that everything actual contains opposed determinations within it, and in consequence the cognition and, more exactly, the comprehension of an ob-ject, amounts precisely to our becoming conscious of it as a concrete unity of opposed determinations.” (E Logic, Pg. 93).

     We may perhaps summarize Hegel’s contention as saying that contradiction cannot merely be a possible contingent simultaneity of certain schematic applications on the basis of a presupposed categorical framework. The object is not merely contradictory insofar as it finds itself in possible antinomic individuation with respect to certain categories. Rather, contradiction itself is indissociable to understand where the placing of the object stands before the self-development of the Concept; how from the latter contradiction comes to install itself from the start and all-pervasively. But let us simply recall the following crucial enunciation by Hegel himself:

”It may also be remarked that, as a result of his failure to study the antinomy in more depth, Kant brings forward only four antinomies. He arrives at them by presupposing the table of categories just as he did in the case of the so-called paralogisms. While doing this he followed the procedure, which became os popular afterwards-, of simply subsuming the determinations of an ob-ject under a ready-made schema, instead of deducing them from the Concept… antinomy is found not only in the four particular ob-jects taken from cosmology, but rather in all objects of all kinds, in all representations, concepts, and ideas.” (Hegel E L, Pg. 92)

    We must be clear to differentiate the scope of the manifold concepts “within which” antinomies are found with the general claim according to which contradiction functions as a general principle of the Concept, i.e. the logico-metaphysical motor of dialectics which leads from the immediacy of Being to the full historical movement of the Spirit, where Nature is prized free of the understanding's burden of mediation. But in any case, we bear witness to an interesting limitation Hegel sees in the Kantian use of contradiction. The crucial question, for Zizek, is how to reconcile the Hegelian understanding of contradiction as ontological principle which affects “all objects”, with Lacan’s  indexing of the sexed positions of the subject as antinomic, like Kant. Zizek’s solution / general strategy is roughly as follows: the four Kantian antinomies are ‘grouped’ into two basic kinds, and the latter come to stand as instantiationg the two basic sexed positions for all subjects. If the subject is the very possibility of being positioned with respect to the basic disjunction of the sexed antinomies, then it follows that all mediated objective content is distributed along the two axes that express the non-relation of the two sexes, and the distinctness of their position. Of course, these two positions finally concern the status of the repeating of desire under the lure of a formally empty object cause, which eludes its possible appropriation (of the barred subject thwarted by his circuitous loop around objet petit a). We shall concern ourselves with explicating the connection between the two sexual positions and the basic monotony of desire in general as we go along.

One might worry at this juncture that under strict Hegelian terms the sexuation of the subjective positions would already constitute an schematic objectification of the subject, as opposed to the fully fledged Concept which knows nothing of sexuation. Since Hegel thinks of the categorical form which generates this antinomies as limited in its restriction to the four cosmological possible objects, there is a sense in which we can say that sexuation seems to be “cosmologized”.

    Or is it the other way around? If indeed the cosmological antinomies can be explained in their more basic dyadic division into dynamic and mathematical antinomies, then we may understand how they do not only constitute a “ready-made” schematic framework for objects, but actually explaining these as inherent structures of the subjective movement of negativity: of contradiction as basic ontological principle. We all know how this triggers a peculiar frame for historicity (the Hegelian movement of Spirit) which needn’t concern us right now. This is the basic crossbreed: the Kantian cosmological antinomies, the Hegelian primacy of contradiction as ontological principle and objectively pervasive, and the Lacanian sexuation of the subjective positions across a masculine and feminine axis.
But let us return briefly to the Kantian antinomies. As said above, Zizek separates the four possible resulting antinomies which devolve from the conditions for ‘cosmological objects’ into two classes:

1)      Dynamic antinomies
2)      Mathematical antinomies

   These correspond to two possible contradictory relations which emerge in consideration of how the phenomenal relates to the noumenal. In the first case, that of dynamic antinomies, involves finding an exception within the phenomenal order to the rule established by the universal (categorical framework) framework of causes and effects. So there is a possible contradiction which obtains in the logical interconnection of the elements in the phenomenal order as exceptions to the rule. They thus involve the intellectual framework of the categories of the understanding as universally admitting of an “antinomic” presentation of a contradictory phenomenon. And this, in the Kantian account, is what precisely opens the space for the radical possibility of freedom qua noumenal act, precisely in exception to the phenomenal order of causal nexuses and connections. The dynamic antinomy thus designate the occasion where contradiction negates the phenomenal order in the form of an exception which is situated “beyond” the phenomenal; a positivized occasion of something whose being appears as absolutely contingent, and truly “free”. The emblematic entities which fall under this category consist precisely in their allotment to an ontological realm in exception to the universal submission to the causal order of phenomenal necessity: God, the Soul… Zizek puts it rather nicely: “logical connection of the phenomena in the universal causal nexus necessarily involved an exception, the noumenal act of freedom which “sticks out,” suspending the causal nexus and starting a new causal series “spontaneously”, out of itself.” (TN: Pg. 55)

Mathematical antinomies are, on the other hand, a negation of the possibility of ever conceiving of the totality of phenomena themselves: the phenomenal realm is limited, and can only be encountered partially under certain determinations. This amounts to saying that no object is ever given as the Totality of possibilities, since some of these possibilities are inherently contradictory. There is an impossibility of grasping a single possible comprehensive phenomenal occurrence which gives a single object under all possible determinations. Certain schema themselves contradict each other structurally, and thus constitute a limit to phenomena, rather than a beyond indexed to a noumenal outside the phenomenal. The emblematic object is the object of “the universe as a Whole”. It is this ‘whole’, this Totality, which is precisely unthinkable, it is that which indicates where exception themselves would find themselves as excluded. This is of particular interest, since Zizek will argue that there is a certain ontological priority of the mathematical antinomy (feminine). But for now let us simply grant this basic construal of the Kantian position and assess the Lacanian account on sexuation, as read by Zizek.

   Although no reference to Kant is made on this point by Lacan himself, he does nevertheless associate the Lacanian ‘antinomic’ positions of the sexes as related to the Aristotelian conception of enstasis, an ‘obstacle’ of some kind. Keeping in mind the dynamic obscacle of the noumenal as a Beyond, and of the mathematical as a phenomenal Limit, let us proceed to read both sexed sides in the Lacanian formulas.

The two formulas on the left column designate the male position, while the two on the right column designate the female position. In order to read these formulas, we should first attempt to explain them elementarily:

The Masculine Side
(Vx): man-as a whole (the universal)
(фx): "is castrated" (function of incompleteness, phallic function)
(Vx) фx "man as a whole, is castrated" (the incomplete universal)

We can read the formula:
(Vx) фx: All men are submitted to the phallic function.

Man "as a whole" acquires his inscription through the phallic function. However, as Lacan stresses, this universal can be inscribed only on condition that there is an exception. To inscribe to exceptional supplement, we must observe the second formula from the masculine side:

(Зx): The father (The complete universal)
⌐ (фx): “is not castrated” (function of completeness, negation of the phallic function)
(Зx) ⌐(фx): “The father is not castrated / The father posesses the phallus” (the complete universal)

We can read this as:

There is exists someone who is not submitted to the phallic function.

The exception to the incomplete universal is indeed the father-figure, who possesses that which makes All men incomplete, i.e. he is not castrated, he has the phallus, he is complete. The Oedipal logic of the insertion of the subject into the dialectic of desire around a lost object cause is transparently rendered here: the subject can only assume a full, ontologically consistent identity paradoxically as incomplete, as inevitably submitted under the injunction of trying to recuperate a primordial loss upon his insertion to the symbolic. This “lost object” is of course the phallus which indexes the loss or ‘crack’ inherent to the universal complemented by positioning its exception. Just like in the Kantian dynamical antinomy, the antinomy embodies an existential affirmation of a “Beyond” in exception to the Universal rule or principle, in proper excess to that which the universal can trigger. Since the ‘all’ is submitted to the phallic function, it is confronted by an exception intrinsic to itself, and this is designed to index the irreducible ontological incompleteness inscribed in any universal, and how the latter only operates in radically not-coinciding with its content. This non-coincidence is precisely what is negated in the position of the exception, so that if every one man is “non-coincident” with all men (men as a Whole), the father-function is precisely the position of a fully coincident universal, which not missing the phallus can assume the free and unrestrained enjoyment of the maternal body.

       Therefore, the father comes to occupy a strange “exception of exception”, since every particular individuation of the universal is designed to fail to “fully coincide” with it, what supports the possibility of the universal itself is a position of exception, which will be, of course, index an impossibility for the subject. This impossibility is the circuit of desire into which the subject is submitted, and which imagines the phallus as restoring the ontological homeostasis of form and content, of the universal with its particular instantiations. It designates the space of a (noumenal) subject no longer aghast before the sublimity of its beyond, but fully occupying this place of exception to the universal, the lifting of the paternal superego Law which bombards the subject with the burden of the failure of assuming its universal position. That it is condemned to fail, that this object be strictly speaking impossible, filled by metonymic stand ins perpetually displaced, only attests to the stupid monotonous repetition of jouissance and the subject’s desire.

   Badiou’s formula from Theory of the Subject articulates perfectly this position of the universal “tormented” by its incompleteness, by its exception, to the vanishing of force from its intellective straightjacket: "everything that belongs to the whole is an obstacle to this whole insofar as it is included in it".  But the interesting supplement of the father-function is then an exception of the exceptions! There is the part of no-part, the one which is not an exception, but precisely the exception of exception, the positivization of a fully complete universal concentrated in a “little piece of the real”: the phallus itself, the missing chunk which the father enjoys and suspends the imposition of the external law, a true act not designed to fail, but which can cease from having to inscribe itself and fail. This double negation comes to stand for the “absolute status” of negativity as truly universal itself: the antinomic masculine position indexes this “beyond the word” as a place of pure jouissance that is possible to occupy, and the phallus is “the sign”. Of course, the twist is that it is only in the morbid superego enjoyment of failure against the Law that has woven Lacan’s association of the Kantian Law with the Sadistic self-flagelation. Desire wants itself, it is designed to fail. This superego enjoyment underlies every symptomatic designation of the “phallus” within the masculine logic, just like for Kant the Universal demand weighs on the shoulder of the noumenal subject with the pressure to follow its demand.

Because this final coincidence of the exception is also the necessary counterpart of the castrated universal as a singular structure, there is something in the sexed position which fails.  Something impossible prevents the universal full actualization (phallus as object of desire), the individuation of a fully autonomous act which paradoxically coincides with the universal position of Man-as-a-whole (This symbolic Otherness which quilts the signifier chain with a semblance of ‘meaning’ and endows ontological consistency to the imaginary others is what elsewhere Lacan designates as the Ego-Ideal; the radical symbolic place of identification where one feels identified with the Other’s demand) The (universal) subject thus comes to function as a subject for another signifier (the father), instating the miniml dilation of the signifier chain:
“This feature [of identifying the subject with the symbolic Big Other] is the one which, according to the Lacanian definition of the signifier, “represents the subject for another signifier’; it assumes concrete, recognizable shape in a name or in a mandate that the subject takes upon himself and/or that is bestowed upon on him.” (SO, pg. 116)

 This lost-object, the phallus which never arrives, would thus also be that which upon recuperation would allow the whole to regain its consistency, to resolve its antinomy. But this resolution is impossible, which targets the endlessness of desire. The father-function must be thus read as targeting this existent exception, the universal with a phallus which, precisely by being an exception to the castrated whole, doomed to never coincide with its particularizations, comes to take the place of the universal qua noumenal beyond itself, the “non-castrated-whole” who is fully and only in-itself. What it fails to see is that there can only be whole on the condition of its non-wholeness. There is always more in the particular than in the universal itself, which means that the universal is never just in-itself, but in-and-for-itself, never fully coincident with itself, it has to come-out-of-itself to constitute itself and this change of position never constitutes a mere return, but indexes its infinite self-development:

“A figure of consciousness is not measured by an external standard of truth but in an absolutely immanent way, through the gap between itself and its own exemplification/staging.”

 The fiction of the complete universal is tethered to the Other which possesses the unfathomable stasis of an act of “pure freedom”, which escapes the fractured domain of the universal itself. We may formalize this supplementary content inherent in the universal by the masculine position thus in the following “schematic” formula

Function of incompleteness:
(Зx) ⌐(фx)
( (фx) / (Vx) (z) (y ε x -> z ε x & ⌐(z ε x) )


(Vx) (Зz) Fx -> ( y ε x -> z ε y & ⌐(z ε x) )

(for all x, if x is under the phallic function, then if y belongs to x, then there exists a z such that z belongs to y but z does not belong to x).

This coarse formalization in set theory is perhaps much more rigorously developed in set-theoretical strictures themselves, which as we know Badiou has developed quite thoroughly in his meta-ontology. Specifically, the impossible coincidence of a set with its elements, or of a set with its singleton (basically the distinction between α and {α}) allows for this asymmetry). We can understand this constitutive “excess to the universal” as consequential with what the axiom of foundation and the axiom of extensionality teach us: it is impossible for a set to belong to itself, and every set differentiates itself from others and thus obtains its identity by distinguishing which elements belong to it from those which don’t. Without getting too engrossed in this issue (the first 12 Meditations of Being and Event remain crucial in this aspect), let us just say that these principles give the following result: the set which “counts-as-one” set α, the ‘singleton of α’ which contains α as its single element, is obviously going to be distinct from α itself, since the latter cannot have itself as its own element. There will thus be at least one dissimilar element between what α consists-in, α “as a whole” (it being counted as one), and what α consists-of, or what it presents, i.e. its elements.

       In this sense the set-theoretical ontology is in good account preserving the Hegelian/Lacanian breach between the universal taken as a counted term, and its exemplifications, that which the universal presents or gives. Since this difference is inscribable all the way onto the indefinite series of non-denumerable infinite magnitudes of variable cardinal order, the set-theoretical infinity positivizes the latter as a transparently generic set. This banal genericity of the infinitely proliferating multiple is thrown out of balance only by the interruptive short-circuiting set forth in subjective intervention; what is inscribed in the sexed positions only under the emblem of the phallic exception (as a kind of Hegelian 'bad infinity'). This exception is the plenitude of the One which would stop the gap between the universal and itself. It  designates the (impossible) position of the “free subject”, i.e. the non-castrated father which remains the symbolic-imaginary basis of the Ego-Ideal for Lacan, and the illegal rupturing of ontological stasis for Badiou in the event. We will return to Badiou later, but for now let us simply grant Lacan this undoubtly Hegelian moment: everything that belongs to a universal brings 'more' to it than itself. Or in it's Lacanian version: the universal is always missing that which would make it fully coincide with itself. The phallus is precisely this metonymic inscription of the imagined possibility of such a coincidence, masking the vacuous intentionality of desire against the infinite displacement of the non-self-identical object which precisely can never be identified with any positive content, object petit a.Isn't then the impossibility of objet petit a nothing but the non-existence of the universal 'whole' which, under the lure of the phallus, imagines its recuperation and severance? Desire's monotonous stupidity succeeds only circling around the wound by the spear of primary alienation. And this spear traverses diagonally, after all, the subject as such. The subject is precisely not an individual since in being stapled to the lure of objet a it chases after the confirmation of its own void.

     Let us return to the formulas to clarify their contents. Since in the Lacanian masculine position we have (Vx) фx , and (Vx) фx also implies (Зx) ⌐фx in the sense of 'non-castrated being', then there is one who is "not not-all" (there is an all, who can fully identify with its presentation, it is where it thinks). This is the constitutive symbolic fiction of the Ego-Ideal at its purest: there a position of enunciation where there is nothing more in the example than in the universal; thereby embodying a truly noumenal exception to the order of the incompleteness Zizek identifies with the movement of Hegelian negativity itself, raising contradiction to the very heart of the ontological principle. Without the fiction of fullness in such a “Beyond”, the logic of desire disintegrates. The necessity for this fiction is coded as the universal who is no longer “cracked”, but locates symbolically the 'missing piece' of his crack in the Name-of-the-Father, indexed in the father-function which inscribes a position of totalizable freedom from suffering lack, freedom from the pressure of the non-coincident universal attempting to render itself adequate to itself in act. This exception to the all woven of exceptions, this exception to the monotonous failure of the desiring circuit by which the desiring circuit fantasizes, this pure Beyond of the phallus that presumably endows man with a “noumenal dignity”, finally only stages the void of the subject’s stupid monotonous desire. Circulating around a loss for which every semblance is a fiction, the subject is condemned to circulate around the purely impossible object of desire itself, the “phallus” which would endow it with ontological consistency, whose “count-as-one” would coincide with its presentation-to-thought, a pure in-itself, and not the proper in and for-itself, the outside of self of the for-itself of pure the Hegelian pure negativity.

     The impossibility of occupying this place, the cracked universal itself, is what prevents the latter from ever being fully actualized. The universal fails because it is simultaneously incomplete, and this implies its exception as an imaginary decentered point, the "Beyond" of the symbolic injunction of the Father who enjoys as non-castrated full being endowed with the phallus, and installs the semblance of this possibility. In this precise sense the phallic function as exception to the incompleteness entails the imaginary position of the complete Universal: 'must be a phallus' elsewhere, the incompleteness is localizeable, as an existent piece which can be reintegrated. That this position of a non-castrated being which wields the phallus qua lost-case object of desire is imaginary is not the least of matters. There is an important sense in which this 'semblance of meaning' produced by language's failure entails that a certain impossibility inscribes itself in the very core of language itself. This obviously means that for man phallus is ' objet petit a':

Woman is precisely one of the Names-of-the-Father, one such imagined decentered place of inscription:

"If I base myself now on the inscriptions on the blackboard, it is assuredly revealed that it is in the opaque place of jouissance of the Other, of this Other insofar as woman, if she existed, could be it, that the Supreme Being is situated - this Supreme Being that is  manifestly mythical in Aristotle's work, this unmoving sphere from which all movements"

This is crucial, the phallus and the father must be disassociated: the father stands for the imaginary fictional figure of a non-castrated being, while phallus is the symbolic localization which metonymically “fills in” the formal emptiness (and thus non-self-identity) of the impossible lost cause-object. The father is precisely this semblance of integral unity which remains impossible. In its metonymical stand-in, phallus occupies a place within the symbolic-order, precisely as the Other, or as the Master Signifier, or Name-of-the-Father (S1) which starts by itself, like Aristotle’s “Supreme Being”, allows the signifying chain to “differentiate itself”. Lacan says this much:

"The aim of my teaching, insofar as it pursues what can be said and enunciated on the basis of analytic discourse, is to dissociate a and A [The Other] by reducing the first to what is related to the imaginary and the other to what is related to the symbolic" (E, Chapter 7)
So we originally have two positions (just like in Hegel for whom Being and Nothing succeed each other as the minimal indiscernible moment of the Concept): the minimal figure is of course S1-S2, the Master-Signifier and its Other, the Universal exception-of-the-exception (the ontological consistent “first mover”) which is the inscription of the non-castrated being (phallus as object a is inscribed within the Otherness of language in a metonymic stand-in); and the bare universal of the castrated ‘all’, man-as-a-whole itself.  This is why finally I(O) is not simply equivalent with the imaginary i(o) to which the ego directly relates. Rather, the imaginary semblance becomes when tethered to the alienating function of insertion onto the symbolic produce the form of an ego place by the inscription in the Other, whose superego demand torments the subject with closing the gap that will allow to fit this prescribed place, to raise worthy to the Other’s desire.

The Other thus comes to occupy the position of what symbolically inscribes the originary gap in the position of the sexed subjects vis a vis their relation to the universal. In the masculine side, this is the gap between the incomplete universal and its complete exception; the castrated subject aspiring to the phallic Ideal of a free being, fully identical to its position of enunciation. That this impossible bridging is precisely what sets the barred subject’s libido in motion is obviously implied all-throughout.

     We have now seen how Lacan articulates the dynamic, masculine “antinomic” position. What about the female position; the “mathematical side” which as he hinted to above acquires a certain ontological precedence, and which sets the Limit for the Beyond itself. Let us follow the same procedure as before, analyzing the two formulas in their contradictory placement. The basic move here consists in denying the universal, denying the Wholeness or All man sees as possible. Woman, Lacan writes, “…inscribes itself there, it will not allow for any universality -it will be a not-whole”.

⌐(Vx): “Woman” (the non-all)

фx: "The phallic function."
⌐(Vx) фx “Not-all are submitted to the universal” (the impossibility of real totalization)

The trick in this formula consists in acknowledging the not-all are x does not imply some are ⌐x. If the universal can only be accepted on condition of its exception (the Father), by the same token, the non-all entails in turn that there is no exception (to the phallic function). Thus the second formula reads:

⌐(Зz): “No one” (every-one)
⌐фx “is not castrated” (is not a father)
⌐(Зz) ⌐фx “there exists no one who is not submitted to the function of castration"

This can be read as:

The “primal-father” does not exist; every one (which is not to say all) is submitted to the function of castration.

That the father does not exist means that his command is rendered inoperative: woman does not enjoy from assuming the symbolic place from where one’s imaginary identity Ego-Ideal mandates an impossible identity. This finally means that the female position of sexuation is in an important sense outside the “phallic jouissance” under which man hopes to recuperate the lost object, there is no symbolic inscription of this radical phallic all (thus Lacan’s formula for woman’s jouissance denies the symbolic inscription of the phallus: S (A)). There is no imaginary semblance of fullness except that of the Other’s projection onto S. However, as subject, feminine jouissance remains tethered to the non-cognitive, non-intentional fiction of the object in the Other, precisely as entirely delivered in occupying the place of enjoyment for this desiring Other. That is, in a sense woman knows there is no lost object, and as a result can only enjoy by herself being desires as the object, her desire is the desire of the Other precisely insofar as she can only occupy this inconsistent point for the desire of the Other to ‘fill in’ the limit imposed by the non-all. Here the logic of the Kantian antinomies allows one to see a certain priority of the mathematical negation of the all: it is not the inscription of the Beyond to the phenomenal, but the Limit to the phenomenal, the very delimitation which allows the All to ‘fill’ this beyond-the-limit with the exceptional content of (phallic) fantasy. In others, insofar as Woman is not-all she designates a limit which then man ‘fills out’ in herself; her knowledge of her ontological inconsistency allows her to assume the place of a pure Name, a pure masculine fantasy which comes to “fill in” the void left by the Limitation.

    That there is not-All means that everyone is castrated means everyone cannot enjoy by themselves, their desire is irrevocably mediated by the desire of the Other to occupy a place within the symbolic-imaginary semblance of a unity. Woman is precisely this empty place which comes to stand in for the non-Whole. In an important sense it is not that Woman is filled out by man, but that the knowledge of man, of the Other, comes to situate in woman the object of lack. Thus Lacan can write: "What we want to know - in what constitutes feminine jouissance insofar as it is not wholly occupied with man, and even insofar, I will say, as it is not, as such, at all occupied with him - what we want to know is the status of the Other's knowledge (son savoir)." There is never, strictly speaking, a relationship between the two sexes, since there is never a “shared” object of desire: phallus stands on the one hand as the promise for the universal to rejoin itself, while in the case of woman, who doesn’t exist as such, jouissance can only come from being inconsistently filled in by the fantasy of the knowledge of man, of this Other whose discourse castrates him within the intentional vector of phallic jouissance, chasing after object a. Thus Lacan’s startling formula that "it is impossible to make love without castration"

This seems to open for the possibility that feminine jouissance in fact is not caused by objet petit a, although how the castration complex relates to the positions of sexuation remains unclear to me. Consider the following assessment of feminine jouissance by Lacan, apropos Kierkegaard:

"This desire for a good at one remove (au second degre'), a good that is not caused by a little a - perhaps it was through Regine that he attained that dimension."

The next confusing aspect concerns Zizek’s allotment of these two positions to respective figures of the cogito: the masculine side chooses the stability of being over thought, and devolves in the decentered stain of the Real which comes to occupy the place of the impossible object under the semblance of “the right view”, the imaginary Gaze which stands outside. The feminine side chooses thought over being, and assumes the impossible panoptical Gaze from outside wherein the Other’s desire comes to pour itself onto the barren emptiness of her inconsistent gap. Zizek, however, associated the masculine logic with that of the symptom, and the feminine one with that of fantasy. Does it follow then that men do not have fantasy, or that woman doesn’t have symptoms? This seems exceedingly unclear in Zizek’s and Lacan’s text. To sum up this split:

Fantasy: to gaze behind one's eyes and adopt the position of pure thought; the feminine cogito which chooses thought over being. It flees from the formless Thing of jouissance to its private cohort of pure substanceless thought, and assumes the impossible Gaze which turns the great chain of being into a parade before the screen, while the disavowed substance of enjoyment triggers 'a'. Woman is the abyss, the gap, of a thought prized free of its semblance of being. It's the mathematical sublimity of a thought without wholeness, it's non-all.

"I think, therefore it is."

Symptom: to deject thought into the substance of jouissance itself, in the form of a stain. The retreat into the cohort of being wherein one shrinks from formal emptiness of the 'I think', and from its non-self-identical sabotage of the semblance of unity. The gaze it assumes is in this case embodies the very loss of thought; objet a is not the stain of thought, but the very gaze which thinks it can render this form adequate to representation in the fixity of being. Man is the watershed, the filling, of being decentering thought for an impossible consummating gaze. It's the dynamic sublimity of the semblance of a beyond, of ontological fullness, of the symbolic weight of the Ego-Ideal in its voracious compulsion to render the Universal pervasive at the prize of the thought.

"I am, therefore it thinks"

Zizek’s Hegelian-Lacanian materialism

We should remark in passing that the non-totalizability of infinite and finite multiple series attests to Badiou’s continuity with the Hegelian movement non-totalizing of pure negativity, and with the Lacanian non-all. In set-theoretic ontological terms, no ordinal of all ordinal exists (Nature does not exist), and no cardinal of all cardinals exists (God does not exist). It is interesting to remark how Badiou de-totalization of multiple being
raises to an ontological principle what remains for Lacan the pre-ontological libidinal structure of the unconscious subject. This ontologizing of the structure of sexuation and love into the field of Truth-production is far more reaching and interesting than we can make explicit here. It should only remarked that Badiou’s general strategy, following Jean-Luc Nancy, is to attempt a positive thinking of jouissance, in which love is identified as the supplemental excess of a Truth procedure coming to compensate for the (Real) lack of a sexual connection (which Badiou identifies explicitly as the unnamable point of love itself). This is then further developed into a series of theorems and axioms concerning the sexual non-relation first, and a correspondent supplemental thinking of the axioms of love.

These needn’t occupy us now in their explicit contents, which is of immense philosophical (and perhaps psychoanalytic) interest. But this minimal observations are of particular importance here, seeing that Zizek, following Adrian Johnson, is looking to advance a positive thinking of object a as the transcendental materialist index of the infinite Real, thereby philosophizing it. Slavoj let us in on some preliminary research which tends to associate certain principles of quantum physics with the Hegelian cracked universal, and for the Lacanian non-all. A place of inscription for objet a which would precondition the entropic requirement for even the void to lay as a bedrock for the formation of bodies. The idea seems to be to explicitly identify objet a with this (Real) reservoir of negative (libidinal) ‘energy’, as a function of the material incompleteness which self-sabotages itself. This all sounds exceedingly abstract and almost far fetched, and that’s exactly what it sounded like in the lecture. In any case, this produces two possible simple diagrams:

It would be of importance to contrast in the specifics how this materialist positive inscription of a as an ontological generative principle, contrasts what Badiou has called the “minimal term” which unites the two sexed positions in the love encounter: the object inscribed by the letter u, and which is defined as a minimal set which belongs to both man and woman, and for which if any element belongs to it, this element is void (i.e. it is an atomic point; indescribable, unnamable, but which inscribes the minimal non-relation, and which allows the expansion of the ‘love-world’).

As a preliminary overview of this new materialist positivizing of a as an entropic principle for physics, I remain skeptical. Of course, we have already had an attempt to identify the kernel of the death-drive in the work of Deleuze in the work of the third synthesis of time, i.e. Deleuze’s account of psychic individuation. However, as Ray Brassier has pointed out in his excellent Nihil Unbound, this identification of the fundamental ontological individuating principle with the ‘larval’ nature of psychic systems not only entails a panpsychist inscription of thought into materiality (the pre-individual singularities of problematic virtual multiplicities in perplication as the Idea). But it more fundamentally rests on the vitalist subordination of entropy to biological negentropy, accounting for the experience of (extensional) bodies-parts, through the intensive realm of sensible organic contractions performed by ‘larval subjects’. The Zizekean thesis would move along the lines of trying to reconcile this organic principle with the entropic principles of physics, and away from the “panpsychist” biologism of Deleuze’s vitalism. However, I must say that to assign a ‘libidinal reservoir’ qua the stain of the infinity of Nature, as identified with objet a, seems to me to once again problematic, if one transposes along with this the entire Oedipal myth wherein objet a comes to appear as a function of symbolic castration, and which is the feature of the desiring (split) subject. If this reinscription of the libido qua entropic principle nevertheless requires the support of the subjective body, it cannot but remain tethered to a form of Idealism or correlationism, wherein the index of the real is the negativity of a traumatic ‘Real’ encounter upon the entrance to the symbolic. Brassier himself has attempted to reinscribe the death-drive as a cosmological principle, but it is far from clear how Zizek intends to disassociate it from its utter dependence on the (castrated) subject.

The stakes, however, are also problematic on Badiou’s side for well-known reasons, and already form his site of disadvantage in relation to Deleuze. Badiou’s ontology presupposes nothing but the void of being, inscribed mathematically by set-theory. No latent reservoir of ‘intensive multiplicities’ or of the ‘libidinal motor of objet a’ is presupposed to fuel becoming. However, Badiou needs to explain how change comes to being; and even though he can describe the generic form of Truth in the account of generic-procedures, he still needs the transcendental agency of an ‘illegal decision’ to intervene, and the entire rhetoric of the Event with it. As we know, the minimal condition for this in Badiou’s ontology operates from the explicit violation of the axiom of foundation which results upon the ‘emergence’ of a singularity, i.e. a set which belongs to itself. Badiou deposes any semblance of quality or transcendent externality from material being in its pure mathematical inscription, but still needs the agency of the subject as the human-specific agent of change which disrupts the ontological order, initiates a Truth procedure, fulfilling the rare and militant act of fidelity. For Deleuze the problem is that change happens everywhere and always, but at the cost of making thought pervasive in the ontological order, subordinating it to the psychic-biological function or organic systems. For Deleuze the problem is that the individuation of the actual is finally the prerogative of the larval selves, infused with thought in psychic individuation. Needless to say, this also concentrates the point at which Badiou’s criticism of Deleuze appears: Deleuze can only inscribe the singular Event where the entire dynamic becoming of the intensive was unchained.

But even if we disagree with Badiou in attributing to Deleuze this semblance of “the One” in his discourse, we must accept that change either occurs nowhere or everywhere, phase shifts in local physical systems are as much a function of thought as political revolutions and the explosion of stars million light years from us. This inordinate overestimation of the vitalist hypothesis doubtlessly seems at once less exceptionalist (insofar as it locates change and individuation everywhere, no longer just in   humans) and much more exceptionalist (infusing this everything with the trait of thought, making the latter the key of all material individuations). This approach has more fully been demystified in Nick Land’s work; but I should refrain from commenting on the latter.

move can be thereby anticipated as a way to crossbreed Hegel and Lacan to escape the Badiou-Deleuze impase: being or becoming, becoming at the price of a noocentric qualification of being, or pure extensional non-qualitative being at the price of an equally noocentric qualification of the Event and becoming.  IN either case, the dependence on the Ideality proper to the human, either in 'rising above the animal finitude in the Idea' (Badiou), or in making the lifeworld worthy of this viral thing called thought (Deleuze), materiality seems wed to a pradigmatic agency. Zizek's venture seems still installed within this élan.  The specific status of this libidinal energy vis a vis the material world seems on this account more Deleuzian in infusing the world with the stain of an incompleteness marked as 'the Real' from the occurrence of the castration complex. That is perhaps the crucial divergence between Brassier's approach and Zizek's: the former wants to rehabilitate the cognitive purchase of representation by way of structural isomorphy between manifest and neubiological levels to index the real, while the latter seeks to ontologically inscribe the thesis of ontological incompleteness onto the material itself, known in turn through the general structure of desire's circuitous loop, along a universal pregnant with the motor of pure negativity . This would all depend on seeing how objet a could be theorized apart from the human libidinal economy as a positive ontological principle, lest Zizek wants to build an epistemological bedrock for materialism on the basis of the ‘impossible infinite object of desire’.

    It would thus resemble Deleuze in finding change inscribed within the material access, but also Badiou in making Man required qua ‘knowing-desiring’ mediator in disclosing the purely negative index of the ontologically inconsistent material realm. This seems continuous with the Hegelian indissociability of subject and object, in the process of prizing the latter along Nature ‘free’ from the compulsion to understand. It seems in a certain way the inevitable development of Zizek’s marvelous crossbreeding of Hegel and Lacan.