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(1991) 'the Legacy of the Enlightenment - Foucault and Lacan'

(1991) 'the Legacy of the Enlightenment - Foucault and Lacan'

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01/31/2013

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Mladen
Dolar
THE
LEGACY
OF
THE
ENLIGHTENMENT:
FOUCAULT
AND
LACAN
MyobjectiveistotrytoshowhowtheFoucauldianprojectononehandand
the
Lacanianon
the
other-twomajortheoreticalendeavours
of
our
time
-
situatethemselvesinrelationtomodernityandto
the
legacy
of
the
Enlighten
ment.
The
problemisobviouslytoolargetobetackledinasinglearticleand,apartfromthat,itisformulatedintermswhicharetoovagueor
ambiguous,giventheratherwilddebatesgoingonabout(post)modernism
wherethosetermsareusedinsuchavariety
of
waysthat
they
havealmost
lostanymeaning-or,rather,theyhavebecomeprivilegedemptysignifiers
whicharetheverylocus
of
thebattle,thefield
of
acampaigntoinclude
them
indifferentcompetingdiscourses.1SoIproposetonarrowdownthequestion
andtoconcentrateononesingleissue,onthereading
of
one
text
-thetext
thatFoucaulthimselfsingledoutasessentialtotheveryidea
of
modernity:
ashortpaperbyKant,writtenin1784,whichbearsthetitle'Whatis
Enlightenment?'ThiswasmeanttobeaprogrammatictextandFoucault
himself
takesitas'emblematic',ashesays,andin
many
waysdecisivefor
anoutline
of
the
fundamentalattitude
of
modernity.Iwill
try
toshowwhat
implicationsFoucaultdrawsfromitandhowthoseimplicationsmatchthe
assessmentthatLacanmade
of
Kant'sposition-
which
heviews,asdoes
Foucault,asessentialforthemodernconditionandfortheverydiscovery
of
psychoanalysis(Lacangoesevensofarastoimplythattherewouldbeno
psychoanalysis
withoutthe
Kantianturn).Iwillstart,however,
with
somegeneralconsiderations.
Both
psychoanalysis
andFoucaulthaveastrongandatthesametimelargelyambiguous
link
with
modernity.Forpsychoanalysis,thislinkseemstobeevidentenoughonthe
threelevels
of
epistemological,artisticandpoliticalmodernity.
Onthe
firstlevel,
the
connectionmanifests
itself
inFreud'srelentless
commitment
totheEnlightenmentideals
of
scientificity,theuniversality
of
scienceagainstany
kind
of
irrationalism.Hesawhimselfasawarrioratthe
outpost
of
science,inthoseobscureregionsnotyetclarifiedbythelight
of
reason:thosesmallmarginalphenomena
of
dreams,slips
of
the
tongue,
symptomsetc.whichcouldbeseenasanemergence
of
thecontingentnot
accountedfor
by
sufficientreason,thatLeibniziancore
of
scientificexpla
nation.
They
presentedtherealm
of
therest,theleft-overbeyondtheUmit
of
scientificrationality.
Yet
Freudneverconsideredgiving
up
the
Enlightenment
attitudeinfavour
of
some
kind
of
mythicalorpara-scientificknowledge;he
43
 
proposedinsteadtoextenditbeyondthatlimit.2Thisextensionimmediatelyraisedthequestion,notonlyofwhetherpsychoanalysiswasreallyascience
(scientiststendtoremainlargelysceptical)butalsothequestion
of
thevery
nature
of
scientificityassuchanditsunderlyingassumptions.
Onthesecondlevel,that
of
aestheticmodernism,thistoagreaterorsmaller
extentembracedpsychoanalysisasthetheory
of
itsownartisticpractice.One
needonly
think
of
the
firstSurrealistManifesto,where
Breton
hailed
Freud
asthehero
of
theimaginationagainstrationalistcivilization,therebelfighting
inthename
of
thatwhichreasonhadtosuppress.WhereasFreudsawhimself
asarigorousman
of
science,alargepartoftheaestheticavant-gardegreeted
psychoanalysisasananti-rationalistendeavour,whichopenedthewayto
unconsciousproductivity.Freud,ratheraconservativeinhisartistictaste,
remainedlargelyscepticalandsawthewholethingasamisunderstanding.
Hisownanalyses
of
artratherpointtotheassumptionthat,for
him,
'tra
ditional'artwasbetterplacedtodemonstratethemechanisms
of
the
uncon
sciousthanmodernistpractice,withitsattempttorelaythosemechanisms
immediatelyanddirectly.
Inthethirdrespectaswell,thepoliticalone,thepositionofpsychoanalysis
washighlyambiguous.Itclearlyhadsubversiveeffects;itcorrodedauthori
tarianpracticesandbroughttolightanastonishingamount
of
material
repressedbysocialdomination.Inthissense,itseemedtojoinhandswithleft
movements,demandingtheliberationofdesireetc.In1968,psychoanalysis
massivelywalkedthestreets
of
Paris.Buttherewas,ontheotherhand,a
deepmark
of
pessimism,aprofoundscepticismaboutthenotion
of
progress
andthepossibilities
of
liberation,whichmadeitdifficulttorangepsychoanalysisunproblematicallyonthesideofthestrugglefordemocraticprogressand
producedanuneasinessabouttakingpsychoanalysisforatrustworthyallyin
left-wingpolitics:itratherseemstoimplyalimittothe
progress
ofdemocracy.
Soinallthreerespects,psychoanalysisseemstobedeeplyambivalentin
itsrelationtomodernity,beingbothitsvanguardanditscounterpoint.But
perhapsonecouldarguethattheambiguouspositionofpsychoanalysisis
actuallyasymptom
of
adeepambiguitywithinmodernityitself-theambi
guitywhichwasembeddedallthetimeinmodernityfromtheveryoutset
andwhichpsychoanalysismerelyhighlightedinaparticularlytellingway.
The
adherencetotheideas
of
theEnlightenment-theuniversality
of
reason,
scientificrationality,liberation,aswellasthetypeofsubjectivitythatgoesalongwiththese-wasconstantlyaccompaniedbyacritique
of
thoseideas
presentedpowerfullynotonlybywritersfromNietzsche,Heidegger,Horkhei-
merandAdornotothe(post)structuralists,3but,lessobviously,alreadyby
Kant
andHegel.Soonecouldarguethatmodernitywasfrom
the
outset
caughtinacontradictionbetweentheclaims
of
theuniversality
of
reasonand
itsinternallimit;or,toputitsimply,thatmodernityfromtheverybeginning
includedorimpliedapost-modernity.
If
thereisasensetoall
the
massive
amount
of
talkaboutpostmodernism,itisperhapsbesttackled
not
asa
rejection
of
modernityoragoingbeyondit,
but
asmaintainingthecontradic
tioninherentinmodernityitself.Psychoanalysisoffersperhapsthebestway
of
doingthis.(InLacaniantheory,onecanpresenttheissueinperhapsthe
44
NEW
FORMATIONS
 
simplestandmostrevealingterms.Toputitinasimple
slogan:
psychoanalysis
combinesinthesamegesturethemodernconcept
of
thesubject-$-with
apostmodernconcept
of
theobject-whatLacancalls
objeta.)
ForFoucaulttoo,modernityisahighlyproblematicproject.Onecould
seeallhisworkasanendeavourtoshow,throughdifferentandveryconvinc
ingexamples,
how
theuniversalprinciples
of
reasonandfreedomwereunder
pinnedbytheirveryopposite-atightlyknitsystemofdisciplineandcontrol,
amicrocosmos
of
domination,adisciplinaryinstitutionalnetworkbasedon
themodels
of
theasylum,prison,clinicetc.Foucaultplacedhimselfin
thecounter-Enlightenmenttraditionasadisciple
of
Nietzsche(andalso
of
HorkheimerandAdorno,ashesomewhatsurprisinglypointedoutinsome
of
hislastinterviews).
But
what
Iaminterestedinhereis
what
could
be
calledhis'rehabilitation'
of
theEnlightenmentinhislaterwritings(astepwhichhasparticularlyrejoicedHabermas,cf.1985,126ff.),especiallyinthe
twolecturespublishedjustbeforehisdeath(Foucault
1984a
and
1984b).4
Onecouldsaythatitisonlyherethatheappearsnotonlyasacritic
of
the
Enlightenment,
but
asitsheir.Theissueforhimisnolongersimplyto
critiquenewforms
of
enlightenedslavery,buttodisseminateapositivemessagethatwe
must
holdonto;thathecanseehimselfnotmerelyasadisciple
of
Nietzsche,
but
of
Kantaswell,andthattheEnlightenmentcanbeassessednotonlyasadisease-because
of
itsprofoundcomplicitywiththedisciplinarysystem-
but
alsoasaremedy.ThereisintheEnlightenmentitselfperhaps
the
bestantidoteto
the
disease
of
the
Enlightenment.
Soboth
the
psychoanalyticandtheFoucauldianviewpinpointanessential
ambivalencewithintheEnlightenment.
Yet
attheverypointwherethesetwoperspectivesseemtoconvergemostclosely,theyareperhapsattheirfurthest
apart.
The
key
questionaroundwhichtheirdifferencecirculates,isthis:what
kind
of
subjectivitybelongstomodernity?ForFoucault,therehabilitation
of
theEnlightenmentdependsonthepossibility
of
not
takingtheEnlightenment
enbloc,
wholesale;thatis,
not
falling
into
the
trap
of
choosingbetweenalternatives:
either
the
defence
of
the
prin
ciples
of
reason,progress,freedometc.,
or
theirrejectionasinsufficient,
the
highlighting
of
their
hidden
repressivecharacteretc.
The
first
of
thesealterna
tiveshasbeendefended
by
variousproponents
of
scientificandpolitical
progress,
the
otherpromotedinvariousways
by
aseries
of
thinkersfromNietzsche
to,
finally,Foucaulthimself.
But
toacceptthisalternative,Foucaultpoints
outnow,
wouldmean
tobesubjecttoacertain'blackmail'
by
the
Enlightenment
(Foucault1984b,42-3):oneis
pushed
against
the
walltobeeitherforitoragainstit.
Even
those
who
questionedandcriticizedithavethemselvesfallen
into
the
trap
of
believing
theEnlightenment's
myth
aboutits
own
natureasacoherent,unitaryproject,
which
can
only
beeitheraccepted,orquestioned
intoto.
The
dividinglineisforFoucault
now
quite
different:itisdrawninside
the
Enlightenmentitself.
Kant
is
thus,
according
to
Foucault,
at
the
source
of
two
different
traditions
which
can
bothbe
seen
as
the
legitimateheirs
of
the
Enlightenment
(Foucault1984a,39):
onthe
one
hand,what
Foucaultcalls
'theanalytique
of
truth9
-
the
analysis
of
the
conditions
of
anyknowledgewhichhaspretensionsto
truth,
ananalysisaiming
THE
LEGACY
OFTHE
ENLIGHTENMENT:
FOUCAULT
AND
LACAN
45

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