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/ December

God in Global Capitalism (the Slave,
the Masters, Lacan, and the Surplus)
Macalester College

In truth, however, value is here the active factor in a process, in which, while constantly
assuming the form in turn of money and commodities, it at the same time changes in
magnitude, differentiates itself by throwing off surplus-value from itself; the original
value, in other words, expands spontaneously. For the movement . . . is its own movement . . . is automatic expansion . . . able to add value to itself . . . living offsprings . . . golden eggs . . . an independent substance. . . . It differentiates itself as original
value from itself as surplus value; as the father differentiates himself from himself qua
the son, yet both are one and of one age: for only by the surplus value of 10 does the 100
originally advanced become capital, and so soon as this takes place, so soon as the son,
and by the son, the father, is begotten, so soon does their difference vanish, and they again
become one, 110.3.
Marx (1967, 1:171-73)
The future must no longer be determined by the past. . . . Anticipation is imperative . . . in
order to be more than herself . . . impossible subject, untenable in a real social framework. . . . But secretly, silently, deep down inside, she grows and multiplies . . . she goes
and passes into infinity. . . . Heterogeneous, yes . . . she does not cling to herself; she is dispersible, prodigious, stunning, desirous and capable of others, of the other woman that
she will be, of the other woman she isnt, of him, of you . . . she is everywhere, she exchanges . . . in the exchange that multiplies. . . . She does not know what shes giving,
she doesnt measure it . . . she finds not her sum but her differences. . . . In one another we
will never be lacking.
Cixous (1986, 309-20)
If God is dead, everything is permitted, then the conclusion imposing itself within the text
of our experience is that the response to God is dead, is nothing is any longer permitted.
Lacan (1991, 139)
It is therefore absolutely impossible to control capitalism from the metalevel, because
capitalism itself is deconstructive.
Karatani (1995, 71)
POLITICAL THEORY, Vol. 27 No. 6, December 1999 789-839
1999 Sage Publications, Inc.



POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999


Other differences notwithstanding, major epistemological theories
explicitly or implicitly underlying the postmodern discourse, such as deconstruction, constructionism or discursive determinism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis, share one truth as their grounding principle: there is no Other of the
Other (Lacan 1998, 81). For all of these postmodern epistemologies, this
notorious contemporary truth expresses the logical ungroundedness of a
secular discourse upon a metadiscursive principle, such as God or any transcendent Truth. Yet, an irreducible gap separates deconstruction and all constructionist hypotheses of the constitution of meaning and subjectivity from
Lacanian psychoanalysis. The latter shifts all emphasis on the entailed truth
that this negative or deprivative principle does not justify us in ignoring its
implicit positive assumption that there is an Other of the Other. It is this
assumptionalbeit an illogical beliefthat necessitates the negation of the
Other of the Other in the first place. Lacan (1981) himself articulates the persistence of this belief by means of another, perhaps equally notorious but less
universally regarded, truth: God is unconscious (p. 59).
This psychoanalytic difference has very concrete political reasons.
Regarding the workings of ideology and political power, psychoanalysis
argues that the epistemological fact that the Other of a secular society is not
logically grounded hints not to any liberation of the subject from it. Rather, it
is an indication of the nonrepresentable, subliminal, and unconscious character of the containment of the subject within the social Other. When reason and
representation fail, belief takes overbelief in something irrational, not
accountable by means of reason, and as such absolute. For a belief that transcends reason is, cognitively and socially, not only elusive but also surreptitiously decisive. Psychoanalysis sees in this unconscious ground of irrational
belief the God of the secular subject and discourse. This is a point of central
concern within Lacanian theory and subtends, I argue, the commonly held,
virtually a priori, and much more limited enlightened position that not only
the postmodern but all secular discourses have always been, even if generally
unbeknown to them, logically ungrounded and hence inconsistent. Psychoanalysis argues, then, that secular discourses by definition cannot be legitiAUTHORS NOTE: Many of the ideas presented in this article have been informed, clarified, or
improved through the discussions with the students of two courses, The Subject in the Film
and Modernity and the Unconscious, offered at Macalester College in fall 1998 and spring
1999, respectively. I am thankful to all of these students for finding passionate interest in these
questions, tirelessly challenging me, and bringing their thoughtful and intriguing perspectives
into the classroom. Finally, I want to thank one of these students in particular, Jen Neuber, for
doing the final editing.



mately and consciously grounded on God but need to be so unconsciously,

precisely because they are logically inconsistent. Secular discourses are
indeed logically ungrounded and inconsistent and, for that matter, more
deeply grounded (on irrational belief).
The argument about this irreducible difference between psychoanalysis
and the canonical postmodern discourse is a claim not about the formers
originality but about its position within a specific Western philosophical tradition. Not surprisingly, this seemingly pre-, post-, or anti-Enlightenment
tradition is part of the Enlightenment, including its predecessors and origins
at least since the seventeenth-century secularizing attempts to establish reason as the autonomous ground of Western identity. I turn here to four master
figures within this philosophical tradition to examine the relevance of their
articulations of the ungroundedness of the Other (or of the failure of reason to
provide logically grounded secular narratives) for Lacanian psychoanalysis
and for a possible theory of ideology deriving from it: (1) the Spinozian tautology, (2) the Kantian paradoxes or antinomies of pure reason, (3) the Hegelian genus-species logic, and (4) the Marxian surplus value.

The failure of reason to ground its own discourse is by definition a secular
issue, since within theocratic discourses any gap or insufficiency of the
human ability to reason is always legitimately filled in by divine omniscience
or its cognates and surrogates. In other words, theocratic is that discursive
paradigm that does not impose on human reason the task of grounding its own
discourse and, consequently, of giving word for any discursive contradictions
and inconsistencies. If not the first, God remains the more or less surreptitious last recourse always invoked to fill in the ultimate gap that a system of
reasoning structurally produces as the question of the last origin or cause.
In theocracy, God is legitimately and consciously representable. A limit case
is Descartess articulation of the cogito, oftenrightly and notreferred to
as the philosophical grounding of modern subjectivity. Here, reason claims to
ground itself even as it eventually takes last recourse in its being grounded by
God. The first conscious philosophical attempt to comprehend the structural
gap involved in any system of secular reasoning, that is to say, to acknowledge and represent the logical inevitability of a transcendent recourse, is
offered by the introduction of the Spinozian distinction between tautology
and syllogism.


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

Spinoza articulated tautology in opposition to apodeixis or syllogism. The

difference between them lies in that apodictic or syllogistic reason ignores
whether or not inadvertently is irrelevantits own leap or error in its selfrepresentation. The error may even be represented, but it is not legitimately
representable. Representability depends on epistemological legitimacy, not
on ontological or epistemological ability. This is why the error can be represented and yet not seenas is the case in Descartes. By contrast, tautological
reason comprehends its own gap, knows it, and represents it as a legitimate
part of itselfeven as it eventually has to disavow it by means of some irrational belief. It has been pointed out more than once that a logical gap or error
is inherent in the Cartesian proof of the existence of the subject as cogito.
Insofar as this error does not constitute a legitimate part of the Cartesian
proof, the latter does not stricto sensu represent secular reasoning. For, epistemologically speaking, the moment of the secularization of the Western discourse is nothing less than the moment of the comprehension of this gap as a
legitimate part of the proof. To be sure, after the comprehension of its own
error, the proof is no longer a proof. Rather, it is a tautological, circular
reasoning that begs the question about the possibility of logically grounding
the secular cogito. But this epistemological degradation of the proof into a
tautology does not in the least mitigate its efficacy as the support of discourse.
The history of Descartess cogito testifies to this. The Cartesian gap is due to
the fact that the subject is grounded on its radical doubt (including the doubt
of God), but it soon turns out that this doubting subject ultimately requires
God for its grounding. Logically speaking, this last twist should effect the
refutation of the Cartesian cogito. But, as we know, the Cartesian cogito, far
from being dismissed as an error, grounds secular subjectivity. It does so
despite all critical logical attacks against itor, more precisely, the more it is
attacked and vilified, the more it grounds secular subjectivity.
First among the hordes of Cartesian disqualifiers (and hence also indirect
qualifiers) comes Spinoza, who already offers the reason why the Cartesian
cogito, despite its logical error, is immune to any logical critique. In doing so,
Spinoza (1985) also articulates the founding logic of the secular modern discourse: gaps are there to be recognized and represented as false moments
within reasoning so that they can also be disavowed, thereby yielding truth.
Or, to let Spinozas own voice be heard: Truth is the standard both of itself
and of the false [veritas norna sui, & falsi est] (p. 479; Ethics, II, prop. 43,
schol.)which is also to say that truth is the standard both of syllogism and
of tautology.
But, if both theocratic syllogism (grounded on an absolute metalanguage)
and secular (ungrounded) tautology invariably produce truth, are we then to
assume that the so-called radical shift from theocracy to the secular era is yet



another mirage (error) in need of rectification? Speaking from within the

secular discoursea discourse that has obliterated rectification for the sake
of disavowalit would certainly be anachronistic to argue so. The shift is
real, but far from being a shift from a discourse grounded on God to a discourse grounded on human reason, it is a shift from a discourse consciously
grounded on God to one that disavows its being grounded on God and that is
thus unconsciously grounded on God. And this kind of shift is much more
radical than what it may at first appear. In fact, it is even more radical than the
one implied by the canonical understanding of the shift to the secular era as
the substitution of an omnipotent God for a Nietzschean dead God. For a
dead God is a God whose status of existence is deathand there is no theory or experience that can claim that the dead do not existbut, dead or alive,
it is still the same God. By contrast, the shift from acknowledgment to disavowal means a shift from one type of God to another. The theocratic God
was the first and last cause of the entire series of the causes and effects that
constitute the universe of earthly and divine reality. He was the first and last
cause of that linear and teleological causality that Spinoza (1985) called
transitive causality (p. 428; Ethics, I, prop. 18). Everything is created by
God and will return to Him. The secular God, however, is not the representable first or last cause of all effected reality but the nonrepresentable cause
that each and every single effect presupposes as its own cause. Already in
Descartess cogito, God is not the grounding cause within his syllogism,but
a cause that in the process is illegitimately invoked (i.e., represented but not
representable) to ground retroactively what was at first presented as not
requiring Gods grounding (i.e., the subject). It is not an external, pregiven,
and autonomous cause, but a cause immanent in its effect, always already
presupposed by it and not existing but in its effect, which is why the secular
God, unlike Its theocratic counterpart, is the immanent, not the transitive,
cause of all things [Deus est omnium rerum causa immanens, non vero transiens] (Spinoza 1985, 428; Ethica, I, prop. 18).
Bringing together the two Spinozian insights about God and truth, we
obtain the two major formulas of secularization: (secular) truth is the standard of itself (the secular discourse in which there is no Other of the Other),
and secular truth is the standard of the false (God is unconscious, i.e., an
immanent cause, a cause that does not exist but in Its effects). The canonical
reception of the Enlightenment wants Enlightenment and itself to be
grounded only on the first formula, while relegating the second formula to the
Baroque, Romanticism, and generally those secular discourses of a rather
questionable reputation, traditionally resisted by the canon. For this reason, I
now leave the Baroque philosopher Spinoza to turn to the representative philosopher of the Enlightenment, Kant.


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999


Kant articulated the syllogistic gap or tautology within reason by means of
his notorious antinomies of pure reason. In recent years, specifically since
Lacans A Love Letter (une lettre dmour), presented in 1973, these Kantian antinomies have experienced a relative revival.1 In his attempt to define
sexual difference in a nonanthropomorphic, purely formal way, Lacan gendered Kants two antinomies and argued that the dynamic antinomy represents the way in which reason fails in the male way, while the mathematic
antinomy represents the female mode of the failure of reason. Ever since,
most readings relate the two Kantian antinomies exclusively to Lacans formulation of sexual difference.
Against this, I argue that the most basic conceptual schemes within the
Lacanian theoretical edifice are postlinguistic, post-Freudian, and poststructuralist rearticulations of the two Kantian antinomies. In other words, I argue
that the Kantian antinomies are central to the entire Lacanian conceptualization of the formation of the subject and of discourse, not only to the identification of human sexual difference. Or, alternatively, human sexual difference
is a reflection (i.e., at once cause and effect) of the sexually differentiated
(antinomic) failure of the secular discourse. I deal initially with two cornerstones of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory: on one hand, the distinction
among the three registers in which the Lacanian subject is inscribed (real,
symbolic, imaginary) and, on the other, our familiar cluster of the two
antinomic statements that there is no Other of the Other and that God is
unconscious. To see the relation between the latter and the Kantian antinomies, however, we should pass through their underlying theory of structural
At the core of Lacans theory lies the conceptualization of the speaking
subject as an effect of the unconscious. This position is identical with the central structuralist principle as formulated by Lvi-Strauss (1963) in his Structural Anthropology: the purpose of myth is to provide a logical model capable of overcoming a contradiction (an impossible achievement if, as it
happens, the contradiction is real) (p. 229). This real contradiction (the
Lacanian unconscious) concerns the most rudimentary subjective and cultural question, which D. W. Winnicott called the question of origin: do we
come from one or from two? Since the problem is irresolvable in the most
ultimate cases, Lvi-Strauss concludes that the function of myth lies in negotiating the conflict by means of its displacement onto another, less implacable
conflict. Commenting on the Oedipus myth, he argues that



the myth has to do with the inability, for a culture which holds the belief that mankind is
autochthonous . . . to find a satisfactory transition between this theory and the knowledge
that human beings are actually born from the union of man and woman. Although the
problem obviously cannot be solved, the Oedipus myth provides a kind of logical tool
which relates the original problemborn from one or from two?to the derivative
problem: born from different or born from same? (p. 216)

To be sure, even on this level the myth does not succeed in solving the problem logically. Instead, it allows a theoretically infinite number of slates [to]
be generated, each one slightly different from the others (p. 229). LviStrauss articulates the fact that there is no Other of the Other (i.e., no logical
solution that could ground the text meant to guarantee social cohesion) by
pointing out that the myth solves the problem precisely by not solving it
(logically). Instead, it produces the possibility of theoretically infinite displacements and substitutions.
We need only assume that two opposite terms [e.g., life and death] with no intermediary
always tend to be replaced by two equivalent terms [e.g., food and warfare] which admit
of a third one as a mediator [e.g., animal-hunting]; then one of the polar terms and the
mediator become replaced by a new triad, and so on. (p. 224)2

In Lacanian terms, Lvi-Strausss point reads as follows: the entrance of the

subject into the symbolic (myth) promises to solve the real opposition
(which in this context is the opposition between the human as animal and the
human as subject to the signifier, produced by this very entrance). But the
symbolic order always fails to keep its promise. Instead, it displaces through
metaphorical substitutions the real opposition onto more or less negotiable
contradictions, thereby providing the subject, more or less successfully, with
imaginary solutions to the original opposition.
In terms of political theory, it is worth noting that Lvi-Strausss conceptual distinction between real and derivative contradictions is analogous
to the Kantian distinction between real opposite and contradictory opposite. Contradictory opposite is two objects or concepts that somehow tolerate one another or are more or less negotiable. Real opposite is, by contrast, two objects or concepts the juxtaposition of which would lead to
immitigated confrontation. Kant (1992) illustrates what he means:
An example of the first would be, e.g., those medicamenta that do not help at all but also
do no harm[;] these can often be prescribed[; this] is appropriately compared with the
contradictory opposite of healing[;] but those medicines which not only have no use but
also do harm have the real opposite of healing. (p. 47)3


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

Kants conceptual distinction between real oppositions and contradictions

becomes particularly interesting when he passes into the realm of cognition.
For, he assures us, So too is it in cognition (p. 47). Of all possible examples,
Kant chooses the following to illustrate the difference in question within the
realm of cognition:
The imperfection that is the contradictory opposite is called a lack[,] and the imperfection that is the real opposite of the perfect is called a mistake. Thus, e.g., ignorance of the
immortality of the human soul is the contradictory opposite, but the mistake, where one
believes the human soul is not immortal, is the real opposite of the cognition of immortality of soul. Ignorance lacks only grounds[;] hence it can easily be helped. With error,
however, there are real grounds that are opposed as opposing grounds to the true cognition. A mistake must therefore be much more avoided than a lack. (p. 47)

Known at least as much to Kant as it is to Lvi-Strauss, social cohesion is

what is at stake in the avoidance of mistakes (errors) or real oppositions.
Kants advice with regard to the maintenance of social cohesion is to allow
discourse to produce ignorance, since, due to its lack of grounds, it can
easily be helped; that is, it can easily be led to any desired knowledge: it can
easily be manipulated. By contrast, mistake or error, that is, the grounded
knowledge that opposes an established knowledge and its grounds, is much
more difficult to be refuted and must therefore be much more avoided than a
lack. That lack (of grounds) is more malleable (for purposes of social
cohesion) than mistake seems relevant to the Western secular attempts to
discipline hegemonically rather than coercively. At least since the Enlightenment attempts to establish modern democracy (i.e., societal organizations of
willed obedience or noncoercive coercion), the Western discourse increasingly produces and acknowledges lack while gradually rendering mistake epistemologically impossible. Spinoza was one of the major pioneers
in this epistemological enterprise, which Kant brought to perfection. His Critique of Pure Reason is above all the seminal elimination of all possible
grounds that would support any knowledge about metaphysical (nonempirical) questions, such as the immortality of the soul, the existence of God, the
finitude or infinity of the world, the determining causes of all historyin
short, everything that cannot constitute an empirical cognitive object. And
when the possibility of knowing the truth about something is eliminated as
epistemologically impossible, so is the possibility of committing a cognitive
error about it. The maintenance of social cohesion, Kant argues, depends crucially on the maintenance of a rudimentary lack of cognitive grounds, on a
gap within knowledge, on a space of unconscious within consciousness.
Democracy is impossible without unconscious.




To the great relief of the proponents of democracy, the unconscious, just
like deconstruction, is not something external that one has to introduce into
knowledge and the texts that articulate it. It is already in the text, simply lurking for our attention. Take, for instance, the real opposition suggested by
Lvi-Strauss between the concepts death and life. If gazed appropriately,
what at first seems to be a real, clear-cut opposition may as well be a pair of
two mutually supplemented concepts (in precisely the Derridian sense). The
question is whether death is indeed the opposite of life (in which case, human
experience is determined by two distinct principles, that of life and that of
death) or whether death is part of life (in which case, human experience is
determined by one principle, that of life, which comprehends death, and vice
versa). In other words, the question concerns the meaning of the copula
and in the phrase death and life. Is this and inclusive (both life and
death) or exclusive (either life or death)? (The same would be the question if
we had instead taken the expression life or death.) Whether and or or,
what we are asking is, Is human thought determined by deconstructive supplementarity or by essentialist oppositions?
And we know that if it were Derrida whom we are asking, we would
receive the response that human thought is essentially determined by supplementarityeven as it pretends that the opposite is the case. The programmatic praxis entailed in this response is enlightenment: if we all learn to see
the truth of the supplementary character of our reasoning, we will be freed
from the hierarchies produced by our ostensible oppositions. The fatal irony,
however, is that Kant and his interlocutors had a very different idea of what
Enlightenment, and hence enlightenment, is abouteven as they pretended
to pretend that they repress supplements under ostensible oppositions. If it is
lack of grounds, rather than error, that guarantees social cohesion, then the
real value of producing clear-cut dichotomies lies in their unfrustratable
promise to reveal themselves, sooner or later, as ungrounded. Kant did it
sooner, and Derrida later, but the fact remains that the opposites exclusion
and inclusion are also supplements, and hence opposites only in an
ungrounded way. But this, far from inducing a Derridian collapse of hierarchies (something that presupposes the self-contradictory assumption that
hierarchy has a clear-cut opposite: egalitarianism), safeguards the impossibility of any real opposition against established true cognition. For it opens
up the precious possibility of helping ignorance by providing arbitrary
grounds where they are logically lacking.


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

It follows, then, that the supplementary determination of human cognition

is only an index of the immense and immensely arbitrary function of metaphysics in politics. This is another way to say that the fact that there is no
Other of the Other is only an index of the fact that God is unconscious. This is
what secular and enlightened democracy is about.


Logical ungroundedness as political factor is also Lvi-Strausss concern.
The solution provided by the myth does not presuppose a decision as to
whether and in the phrase life and death is inclusive or exclusive. On
the contrary, the mythic solution has to comprehend that language itself not
only fails to provide us with a solution to this problem, but is inherently
ambivalenteven as it ceaselessly pretends to produce opposites. Language
does notand, as D. W. Winnicott put it, nor should weanswer the ultimate question: do we come from one or from two? Myth is structured like
the unconscious; it knows no no: both one and two go.
To ground the ungroundedness of empirically opting for any of the two
alternatives (one or two), Kant articulated two antinomies: the dynamic
and the mathematic. Transposing Kants dynamic antinomy onto LviStrausss real opposition between life and death, we obtain the following thesis: there is no death (as opposed to life) but everything in life happens
according to the laws of life (part of which is death). The antithesis opposing
this thesis would read: life is not the only life from which everything in life
can be derived. A death by way of life is also necessarily required to explain
everything in life. According to Kant, both statements are logically true.
The thesis expresses the truth of deconstructive supplementarity, the antithesis the truth of essentialism. However, Kant goes on to argue, albeit logically
equally true, the two statements cannot apply to one and the same empirical
world. The thesis and the antithesis of the dynamic antinomy are both logically true but mutually contradictory or incompossible within one and the
same world. One and the same world, discourse, and subject are viable only
insofar as they exclude one of the two statementsdespite the fact that both
statements are equally logically true. The discourse (and the subject) has to
produce a gap in knowledge in order to sustain itself. The two statements are
not mere opposites, but also supplements. This means precisely that the
knowledge that has to be excluded continues to supplement the acknowledged knowledge. The unacknowledged knowledge does not exist as such
within the system of knowledge in question, but it exists in its effects on the



acknowledged knowledge. It is, in other words, an unconscious knowledge.

Once this unconscious gap is produced, the discourse (and the subject) may
continue to act and speak as if no gap existed. The two truths are mutually
exclusive within one and the same world, but one and the same world is
always two (antinomic) worlds: one conscious and one unconscious.
Transposing now onto Lvi-Strausss opposition Kants mathematic
antinomy, we obtain the thesis life has a beginning and an end in time and
space and the antithesis life has no beginning and no end in time and
space.6 Here, Kant argues, we cannot accept either statement as logically
true, because life cannot be totalized and rendered a possible object of cognition. Nor, then, could it in the case of the dynamic antinomy, you may
object. But the difference is that in the case of the dynamic antinomy life
does not need to be totalized because in this case we are seeking not knowledge as to the extension of life but knowledge as to the causality that determines life. Here, by contrast, we are after the limits of lifeand these limits have to be presupposed as known in order to assume that we know what we
mean when we say life. The knowledge of the limits of life is the precondition for life to constitute a cognitive object in the first place. Yet, the limits of life is exactly what we seek to know in these statements that are
formed as if life were a cognitive object, that is, as if we already knew what
the limits of life are. Hence, Kant concludes, both the thesis and the antithesis of a mathematic antinomy are false precisely because the mathematic
antinomy is forced to take into account the dilemma about whether or not the
concept life includes its own beginning and end (death). In other words, the
mathematic antinomy is an expression of the radical ambiguity and supplemented character of language.
It is because reason fails in the mode of the dynamic antinomy that Descartes can ground his logically ungrounded cogitothe thesis that I am
because I doubt everything (there is no Other of the Other)on the unrepresentable (excluded) antithesis that I am because I am grounded by God
(God is unconscious). Dynamic antinomy is the failure of reason that allows
apodictic proofs to appear convincing despite their logical gap. But it is
because reason fails in the mode of the mathematic antinomy that Spinoza
can argue that it is false to ground my existence only on the fact that I doubt
everything, because I can doubt everything only insofar as I am certain that
God exists (just as I can question the limits of life only insofar as I already
know them). Mathematic antinomy is the failure of reason that guarantees the
possibility of producing circular or tautological reasoning. Logically, this
means that that I am because I doubt everything (there is no Other of the
Other) is as false as is that God certainly exists. But, if A is as false as B, then,


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

when A is true, B is also true. Empirically, then, if I am a secular, enlightened,

and democratic subject, who by definition is the subject who can doubt everything, then God certainly exists (God is unconscious).
To recapitulate: antinomic (i.e., secular, nontranscendentally grounded)
reason does not entail a decision or solution with regard to the dilemma about
whether truth lies in a thesis or in its entailed antithesis. On the contrary,
because secular opposites are supplements, the only possible secular choice
is one between either both of the opposites being equally true, whereby one of
them has to be repressed (dynamic antinomy), or both of them being equally
false, whereby the empirical appearance of the one as true or false guarantees
the respective truth or falsity of the other (mathematic antinomy).
More crucially, the ultimate ungroundedness of any secular discourse
(and hence its potential for noncoercively coerced social cohesion) lies in the
impossibility of solving the ultimate dilemma: is a given secular discourse
undergirded by a mathematic or a dynamic antinomy? Regardless of what
any given discourse itself claims on that matter, is the ground of this discourse
the principle that there is no Other of the Otherwhereby there is of course
an Other (God) that grounds this principle, but it is not representable? Or is its
grounding principle a representable Other (God) whose existence grounds
the existence of the discourse as much as the discourse grounds this Others
existence? This is our Winnicottian question, which has to remain unanswered. For democratic (i.e., noncoercively coerced) social cohesionthe
mode of social cohesion historically corresponding to the economic organization of capitalismdepends on the supplemented relation of these two
antinomic principles, which is why in order for democracy and capitalism to
constitute a viable system, God must be both necessarily existent and necessarily unrepresentable. Were God repressed as nonexistent, the discourse
would be grounded only on the dynamic antinomy. This would threaten capitalist democracy because it would impede its potential of assimilating its own
repressed opposition (which could then return). Were, on the other hand, God
representable, the discourse would be grounded only on the mathematic
antinomy. This would impede capitalist democracy, not because it would
reveal the arbitrary and tautological grounding of its laws, as deconstruction
would have it, but because it would reveal the necessity of God for the possibility of arbitrary, tautologically grounded laws. In other words, it would
reveal essentialism as the underlying precondition of both capitalist democracy and deconstruction. It was already known to Marx, who, as Kojin
Karatani (1995) put it, has already shown that capitalism itself is deconstructive (p. 71), but it is particularly late, postideological, global capitalism that makes it increasingly visible that it is not its arbitrariness that capital-



ist democracy endeavors to conceal. Rather, as our contemporary abundant

ethnic conflicts testify, it is the essentialist ground of its deconstructive
character that capitalist democracy strives to exclude from its own selfrepresentation.
That there is no Other of the Other is what belongs to us. As for God, thats
their business. I argue that both Kant and Lacan argue against deconstruction
and offer us the cognitive means to represent the fact that their God is the
effect and precondition of our business.


If the above is the logical structure that articulates the relation of the
ungroundedness of any secular discourse to its effectiveness as a means of
noncoercively coerced social cohesion, then this structure must also be constitutive of the secular subject. Or, conversely, only a conceptualization of
modern secular subjectivity that accounts for the subjects noncoercively
coerced obedience to the values and laws of the inconsistent discourses in
which it is imbedded is adequate to the complexity of the questions it endeavors to respond. I argue that the Lacanian conceptualization of the constitution
of the subjectas a being inscribed in the three registers of the imaginary, the
symbolic, and the real, and as governed by the death drive and the pleasure
principleis an adequate articulation of the above social, collective, and discursive logical structure on the level of subjectivity. Its adequacy lies in its
ability to account for the antinomic simultaneity of (1) the subjects irrational
obedience to inherently irrational systems of meaning, values, and laws and
(2) the self-misrecognition of both the subject and the discursive systems in
question as rational.
Lacanto be precise, the late Lacan constructs human subjectivity out
of two stages (mirror stage and castration, i.e., the introduction of the subject
into the symbolic order) that differentiate themselves out of one originary
state (the level of the drive). All three stages, I argue, constitute rearticulations of the Kantian paradoxes or antinomies (the dynamic and the mathematic) of pure reason. The originary single state constitutes the assumed
prelinguistic stage of the drive in which the dynamic and the mathematic
antinomies coexist in harmony. The two subsequent stages emerge out of the
conflict of the two antinomiesa conflict caused by the introduction of what
can be described as the split between sensation and form or between exis-


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

tence and signifier. The mirror stage represents the split in terms of sensation
versus form; the introduction of the symbolic order represents it in terms of
existence versus signifier. And we will see why this split has to be introduced
On the prelinguistic and prereflective (literally mirrorless) level of the
drive, the subject is assumed to live within the absolute harmony of the one
that does not distinguish between the subjects pure (extrasemantic) existence as an animal and itself as a thinking being. This is logically possible not
because the infant (be it human or other animal) is assumed not to think, but
because it is assumed to think in a radically uncompromised way that does
not force the thought to fit into any pregiven signifier. The Lacanian infant
does not speak any language because it itself is languagespecifically, a literally bodily language that signifies needs transparently and without any
loss. Lacan conceives of any bodily function on the level of the drive not as a
biological function but as a signifying act. Eating, for instance, is a signifying
bodily act that means that what is eaten has become for the subject a nothing
something for which the subject no longer cares, something from which the
subject is now weaned. At the oral level, Lacan (1981) says, the object is
the nothing, in so far as that from which the subject was weaned is no longer
anything for him (pp. 103-4). This is a rearticulation of the fundamentally
Hegelian thought that the subject eats only that with which it does not care to
develop or sustain a relation. As long as you eat the bone, you are a doga
slave, as Hegel would say; when you stop consuming it and start relating to it
somehow, you cease to be the slave and ascend to the level of the master
whether the Kubrickian ape-master, who discovers that the bone can be an
effective killing weapon; the capitalist master, who sells bones to be eaten
only by others; or the artistic master, who paints the bone to be seen also by
others. In this sense, whatever it eats, the Lacanian infant always eats the
nothing. The pathological case of anorexia nervosa, in which what the
child eats is [literally] the nothing (pp. 103-4), is, in properly psychoanalytic
fashion, only the symptom that shows the truth about the normal case. On the
level of the drive, existence and signification do not relate antinomically to
each other because the subject does not consist of a body that eats and a mind
that thinks, but rather of a body that thinks by eating or eats by thinking.
The next stage, known as the mirror stage, consists of the separation of
thought from the body and its attachment to the image. It is, then, also an
account of the Western fixation on vision as the primary cognitive sense. Qua
separation, this stage introduces the two into the economy of subjectivity,
thereby substituting the harmony of the level of the drive with an antinomic
conflict. The reason for this transition is, in empirical terms, the discrepancy
between, on one hand, the infants experience of its body as an infinity of sen-



sations and uncoordinated movements and, on the other, its image in the mirror as a finite and uniform whole. In logical terms, we encounter yet again the
old conflict between one and two or infinity and finitude. The harmony of the
one, which characterizes the infant on the level of the drive, is disrupted as the
infant is offered a mirror image that represents to it the prematurely whole,
uniform, and limited total form of the body (Lacan 1977, 2)a body that
nonetheless continues to be experienced fragmentarily. This anticipation of
the self as one distinct and whole form is given to him only as a Gestalt, that
is to say, in an exteriority in which this form is certainly more constituent than
constituted, and which stands in contrast with the turbulent movements that
the subject feels are animating him (p. 2). This is the first identification in
the life of the subject in the full sense that analysis gives to the term,
namely, as an external arbitrary introduction of an other that the subject
(mis)recognizes for itself so that its I is precipitated in a primordial form
(p. 2). Thus, the moment of the subjects first self-identification coincides
with the subjects self-alienation and, hence, cognition with miscognition
But, this imaginary, specular misrecognition notwithstanding, the subjects antinomy lies precisely in the fact that it cannot fully identify either
with the image in the mirror (finitude) or with the movements animating the
body (infinity). In the first case, it would lose its body (fragmentarity); in the
second, it would lose its total form (unity). Like Marxs capital, the Lacanian I emerges in the no-mans-land, the void, between (the) insufficiency (of
the fragmented body) and (the) anticipation (of the total bodily form). The
mirror stage is a drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from insufficiency to anticipation (Lacan 1977, 4). And like Kants world in his mathematic antinomy, the Lacanian I can form a cognitive object neither in the thesis (I am these movements/I am infinite) nor in the antithesis (I am this
image/I am finite)for either statement begs the question and presupposes the knowledge of the Is limits that it purportedly asks. The mirror stage
represents the entrapment of the I within the mathematic antinomy and its circular or tautological logic, just as it represents the implicit Lacanian argument that it is the structure of capitala societys means of exchange, rather
than its means of production or its superstructurethat determines the constitution of the subject.
So it is that, contrary to common wisdom, the mirror stage involves much
more than the identification of the subject with its mirror image and, hence,
much more than the introduction of the imaginary register within which such
identification can take place. The imaginary register cannot constitute itself
without the parallel constitution of the symbolic register. The mirror stage is
the stage that produces both registers in their antinomic relation. In the first


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

place, the mirror stage is a mathematic antinomy that consists of the thesis I
am these infinite movements and the antithesis I am this finite image. Neither statement can be truesince both beg the question of the limits of the I
by presupposing them as knownand, consequently, neither of them can
become this with which the I can identify. This means that the mirror stage is
a state in which the I at once produces itself in anticipation by misrecognizing
itself as something other than itself (mirror image) and excludes identification as a possibility for the I. In other words, castration and the law of the
father, which are assumed to be the agency that breaks down the imaginary
identification of the mirror stage and to force the subject to recognize difference, are in a sense redundant myths. The myth of the mirror stage suffices to
represent misrecognition and imaginary identification as well as the logical
impossibility of this identification. The registers of the imaginary and the
symbolic are antinomic, which is also to say, they supplement each other and
are the inseparable effects of the originary single real.
Now, the impossibility of the Is identification is tantamount to the introduction of the death drive and the symbolic order. That the I cannot identify
with either of the statements of the mathematic antinomy means that the I is
compelled to repeat ceaselessly its oscillation between these two alternatives.
The death drive manifests itself as repetition compulsion insofar as the subject, trapped as it is in its no-mans-land between body and mirror image,
compulsively repeats the gesture of the comparison between the two poles
that sustain its logical nonexistence in any positive space. Here, Lacan (1988)
diverges from Freud in that he equates repetition compulsion not only with
the death drive but also with the symbolic order: The death instinct is only
the mask of the symbolic order (p. 326). If the mirror stage enthralls the subject within repetition, then it is already the subjects introduction to the signifier and its symbolic order.
The primary characteristic of the signifier is its radical ambiguity, that is,
the fact that it throws the subject into the endless search for unambiguous
meaning, since the formalism of the signifier guarantees the production of
ambiguous, mutually exclusive, meaningsas Kant, de Man, and Karatani,
among others, have shown. It seems, then, that the mathematic antinomy with
its radical ambiguity and undecidability suffices to provide the matrix for
both the imaginary and the symbolic registers. Except for one crucial thing:
the mathematic antinomy articulates radical undecidability with regard only
to untrue statements, that is, statements that are not possible representations
of reality. This means that, even if the ambiguity of the signifier were somehow resolved and a decision in favor of one of the two statements of the antinomy were made, the statement could still not represent reality because it is
inherently untrue, an impossible representation of reality. What is yet lacking



is the possibility of representation itself as the precondition of representing

truth. And it is in this sense that the myths of castration and the law of the
father are not redundant: they prohibit the impossible, thereby rendering it
possible. It is only when flying away is prohibited to the imprisoned Icarus
that flying becomes humanly possible. Thus, the mathematic antinomy
becomes a dynamic antinomy. Now both statements are equally true, even
though only one of the two can represent realitythe other statement being
To explain this paradoxical transformation of the mathematic into a
dynamic antinomy, let us take a notorious parable that deals precisely with
this logical problema problem so crucial to ethics (and politics) that Spinoza concluded his Ethics with it. When God commanded Adam saying,
You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you
shall die (Genesis 2:15), Adam could have heard one of the following two
possible meanings that Gods statement produces: (1) It is an eternal truth
that I am offering you now, not a moral command. The nature of this fruit is
opposite to yours; if you eat of it, it will decompose your nature and you will
consequently perish. This death will not be a punishment for something evil
you have done but the inevitable effect of the fruit whose function is to be
utterly bad for your health, to cause your death. (2) I prohibit you to eat of
this fruit, for to do so will be an evil act, an act of which I, the embodiment of
goodness, disapprove. The difference of the two statements is expressed by
the distinction between, on one hand, good and bad, and, on the other, good
and evil. Spinoza sees the later as a moral, teleological, and as such fictional
or ideological truth, whereas the former constitutes for him an eternal truth
about the fruit as a cause of a certain effect (death), like those truths produced
in mathematics. It is as true that you shall die if you eat of this tree as it is that
all sides of a square are equal. But, as Deleuze (1988) puts it, because Adam
is ignorant of causes, he thinks that God morally forbids him something,
whereas God only reveals the natural consequence of ingesting the fruit
(p. 22). Setting aside the fact that secularization entails, as Descartes has
amply shown us, the paranoiac radical doubt that God may want to deceive
me (God is not moralizing, alright, but he nonetheless may tell me a lie with
regard to the fruits effect on me), Spinozas thought here is inherently antiSpinozian. From the perspective of a Spinozian (1992) nonteleological
monism, in which Nature has no fixed goal and . . . all final causes are but
figments of the human imagination (p. 59; Ethics, Part I, app.), indeed no
natural phenomenon (including the worst possible catastrophe) can be
judged as bad. Things [are not] more or less perfect to the extent that they
please or offend human senses, serve or oppose human interests (p. 62; Eth-


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

ics, Part I, app.). In other words, I can judge as bad, say, an earthquake that
may cause my death only if I think teleologically, my supreme end thereby
being my own survival. But in a nonteleological and nonevaluative monism,
both life and death are parts of life and hence neither should be valued more
than the other. If this is the case, I cannot, then, even justify that my death
would be something badnot in the moral sense of evil but bad in the
sense of an eternal truth. My interest is in itself a fictional teleology, and outside any teleology and fiction, there is no reason why my death should be
worse than my life. In other words, no metalanguage is possible, or, in Zizeks
(1993) words, in terms of speech-acts-theory, [no reduction] of performative to constative is possible (p. 217). Every statement always entails a certain fictional teleology and system of values. In Lacanian terms, it entails the
paternal metaphor, the signifier of a prohibition, the Master Signifier,
which, as Zizek puts it, brings about the closure of an ideological field by
way of designating the Supreme Good (God, Truth, Nation, etc.) (p. 217).
It is the introduction of this moral prohibition to see all ends as equally
goodallowed by the imaginary identification with the paternal metaphor
that enables the subject to cease its repetitive search for meaning. We cannot
avoid teleologyHegel is the underside of Spinoza. What we can avoid,
however, is to forget that Spinoza is the underside of Hegel, that is, that teleology is an ideological fiction, albeit necessary. Albeit an ideological fiction,
teleology is necessary, for only it can extricate us from the logically irresolvable dilemma between antinomic meanings and hence from repetition compulsion, which is why the imaginary register (the field of teleological fictions) is that which sustains the symbolic order (the field of repetition
compulsion) and gives it the sense of reality. The interpellation by an ideological prohibition is required for the subject to abandon the undecidability
between untrue statements and to enter the realm of antinomic, yet true, statements. Having identified with the prohibition, however, the subject does not
encounter in this realm an antinomy but only one true statementthe other is
prohibited (excluded) by the introductory prohibition itself. In this way the
subject passes from the repetition compulsion of its death drive to the pleasure principle of its restitutive tendency: the imposition of the law, the fixation
on one determining metaphor that provides the possibility of unambiguous
meaning, extricates the subject from the exhausting loop of repetition and its
excessive expenditure of energy. Now Adam has no irresolvable dilemma to
resolve but simply to choose between sinning and not sinning. In the event,
Adam has only one choice: to sin. Eve makes sure that the other alternative be
prohibited, if Adam is to become what he is destined to become: a (sinful)



The moment of imaginary identification with the paternal metaphor, the

ideological prohibitive stuff that fills in the subjects logical gap (which psychoanalysis calls object a), coincides with the castrative moment of the introduction of difference (Eve) into ones imaginary identification with the mirror image (Adam), as well as with the moment that shows the insufficiency of
(full and transparent) bodily language and the subjects dependence on the
pregiven system of (teleological and ideological) signification. In short, the
imaginary identification with the paternal metaphor coincides with ones
introduction to the symbolic orderan order that functions according to the
dynamic antinomy, which is another way to say that no mathematic antinomy
is possible without being supplemented by the dynamic antinomy, and vice


The supplementary relation between the two Kantian antinomies (mathematic and dynamic), and consequently the two Lacanian registers (imaginary
and symbolic), is the reason why the empirical manifestation of the real has
always two sides. Zizek (1989) has argued that the two sides of the real are
jouissance (enjoyment) and plus-de-jouir (surplus enjoyment). The former,
enjoyment, is the hard, impenetrable kernel resisting symbolization; the
latter, surplus enjoyment, is a pure chimerical entity which has in itself no
ontological consistency. Having said this, Zizek exemplifies this conceptual
distinction with a scene from Fellinis Roma:
the workers digging tunnels for a subway find the remnants of some old Roman buildings; they call the archaeologists, and when they enter the buildings together, a marvelous view awaits them: walls full of beautiful frescoes of immobile, melancholic figures
but the paintings are too fragile, they cannot withstand the open air and immediately
begin to dissolve, leaving the spectators alone with the blank walls. (p. 170)

The rhetoric of the passage follows Fellinis visual rhetoric. It constructs a

world that ultimately is two worlds: that of the plain and strenuous labor of
the workers who dig tunnels, and who, at another time in history, must have
built the blank walls with which the spectators are left at the end of the
scene, and that of the marvelous view of the beautiful frescoes that interest the archaeologists. What is meant not to be seen, the blank walls under
the frescoes, is the world of an enjoyment that resists symbolization (is
unrepresentable and hence invisible), unless the other world on the surface,


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

that of the beautiful frescoes or surplus enjoyment, is approached too

closely. Then the latter is destroyed, thereby loosing its sublime character. It
becomes an ordinary vulgar object (p. 170), which allows, in its destruction, the world of enjoyment to show its plain, otherwise unrepresentable,
Now, since the beautiful frescoes are part of the system of representation (the symbolic order), they cannot in this allegory represent surplus
enjoyment qua real. They must pertain to a different ontological category
than the blank walls, which, with their lack of any representation, stand,
however loosely, for the real and its enjoyment. By ignoring this difference
and hastily declaring both concepts as the two sides of the real, Zizeks
scheme also elides the relationship of enjoyment and surplus enjoyment to
the third knot of the Lacanian articulative cluster of enjoyment, namely,
enjoy-meant or enjoyment of meaning (jouis-sense), whose importance Zizek
acknowledges, but only in a different context. Jouis-sense, enjoyment of
meaning, is, in Zizeks (1989) words, the traumatic, senseless injunction,
by means of which the subject, as Althusser would say, is interpellated by the
ideological state apparatus, the Pascalian machine (p. 43). However, as
again Zizek has pointed out, unlike Althussers interpellation, Lacanian
interpellation is grounded not in a consistent system of ideology, but in its
ungroundedness and inconsistency. It is not the sense but the sensual enjoyment I find in a certain meaning (as opposed to another) that causes the interpellation of the subject. Speaking, like any other bodily activity, produces
also sensual enjoyment, and this linguistically produced sensual enjoyment
is what is called enjoyment of meaning (jouis-sense).
With jouis-sense, Lacan introduces the materialist idea that the subjects
identification with a certain meaning (and the involved exclusion of other
meanings) cannot be exhausted by nor reduced to the subjects capacity of
reasonas idealism and Cartesian rationalism want itbut is also informed
by irrational sensual enjoyment, the bodily reaction to any meaning. Meaning or sense does not stand in an exclusive relation to meaninglessness, or
sensual pleasure, but instead comprehends the latter as the precondition of its
own possibility, even as it excludes it as its own limit. Just like and and or,
or pleasure principle and death drive, sense and sensation also relate to each
other antinomically.
This enjoyment of meaning is a residue, a leftover, a stain of traumatic
irrationality and senselessness sticking to [meaning], and . . . this leftover, far
from hindering the full submission of the subject to the ideological command,
is the very condition of it (Zizek 1989, 43). For it provides the instance and
agency of blind belief and obediencea prerequisite for the absence of subjective mediationwhich guarantees the uncritical and full submission of



the subject to the interpellation of the social Other. If I effectively like and am
interpellated by the Roman frescoes, it is not merely because of my having
been ideologically brainwashed by a certain cultural canon. The ideology of
this canon would leave me entirely indifferent, if there were not something
that exceeds the canons rational aesthetic and historical justifications and
that is required in the first place in order for these justifications to appear convincing to me despite their inconsistency. This something is enjoyment of
Thus, the frescoes cannot be directly reduced to surplus enjoyment (plusde-jouir), a concept synonymous to real insofar as it indicates that any
enjoyment (jouir) is always, by structural necessity, a surplus enjoyment
just as the real is always, by structural necessity, a surplus (beyond representation). Surplus enjoyment is precisely the real and enjoyment is something
whose ontological status cannot be anything else but that of surplus. Being
pure surplus, the real and enjoyment have no ontological consistency: they do
not manifest themselves as ontologically positive categories. However, they
manifest themselves in their effects or symptoms, the two ontologically positive categories of enjoyment (jouissance) and enjoyment of meaning (jouissense). In Fellinis Roma, these positive categories are represented by the
blank walls and the frescoes, respectively, whereas the ontologically inconsistent surplus enjoyment in itself is something that can only be inferred from
them, not represented by anything.
To articulate Lacanian enjoyment qua surplus, all three concepts
enjoyment, enjoyment of meaning, and surplus enjoymentare required.
And although many would tend to see enjoyment (jouissance), that which is
unrepresentable, as the sign meant to stand in for the real, I now argue that this
sign is surplus enjoyment (plus-de-jouir). By contrast, enjoyment (jouissance) and enjoyment of meaning (jouis-sense) are the two modes in which
the real (plus-de-jouir) erupts within ontologically positive reality. The real
qua surplus enjoyment is not the unrepresentable (this which cannot be legitimately represented), but the surplus effect of representation, which is of a
different ontological status than representation, including its two entailed
alternatives, the representable and the unrepresentable. This ontological differentiation of surplus enjoyment, as we shall see, is determined by the model
on which Lacan draws in order to articulate the paradoxes of enjoyment:
Marxs conceptualization of the paradoxes of capital.
Although in his reading of Fellinis frescoes Zizek reduces these three
concepts to two (as if both plus-de-jouir and jouissance were positive manifestations: frescoes and walls), it is he who has both stressed the ontological
inconsistency of surplus enjoyment and made largely known that it derives
from Marxs concept of surplus value. Lacan (1991) states explicitly the


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

analogy between his surplus enjoyment (plus-de-jouir) and Marxs surplus

value (Mehrwert) in his Seminar XVII, Lenvers de la psychanalyse, 19691970. There Lacan argues that, nonetheless, there is a difference between surplus enjoyment and surplus value. This is the comptabilisation to which
Marxconceptually, and hence in a legitimately anachronistic way
subjects plus-de-jouir, thereby reducing it to surplus value and grounding
Si, par cet acharnement qui est le sien de se castrer, il navait pas comptabilis ce plusde-jouir, sil nen avait pas fait la plus-value, en dautres termes sil navait pas fond le
capitalism, Marx se serait aperu que la plus-value, cest le plus-de-jouir [If he had not,
by this tenacity which is his mode of castrating himself, reduced to accounting this surplus enjoyment, if he had not made the surplus value, in other words, if he had not
founded capitalism, Marx would have perceived that surplus value is surplus enjoyment]. (p. 123)

Most Marxist readings of surplus value identify it as something whose ontological status is inconsistent only insofar as it is heterogeneous to the ontological status of jouissance, the vulgar reality of the conditions of production. Thus, Marxists have always capitalized on the injustice involved in the
excess or surplus of unpaid labor and its underside, the excessive profit of
those who can appropriate this labor because they possess the means of production. Although Marx defined surplus value in terms of its structural function in the constitution of capital itself, the emphasis in Marxism is displaced
onto surplus as surplus labor and profit. Without doubting the truth of this
reading, Lacan wants to foreground the unnoticed or neglected fact that Marx
defined surplus as the structural precondition of the transformation of money
into capital and of the latters circulation and proliferation. The precondition
of the chain of the circulation of capital is not only its ontological other, the
system of production with its exploitation of labor. There is also another precondition within the chain of circulation of capital, which nonetheless is
ontologically heterogeneous from both capital and production. This is surplus value: neither labor or means of production nor capital. For surplus is
simultaneously within capital, and yet, without it.
In simple circulation, C-M-C [Commodity-Money-Commodity], the value of commodities attained at the most a form independent of their use-values, i.e., the form of money;
but that same value now in the circulation M-C-M, or the circulation of capital, suddenly
presents itself as an independent substance, endowed with a motion of its own, passing
through a life-process of its own, in which money and commodities are mere forms
which it assumes and casts off in turn. Nay, more: instead of simply representing the relations of commodities, it enters now, so to say, into private relations with itself. It differentiates itself as original value from itself as surplus-value; as the father differentiates



himself from himself qu the son, yet both are one and of one age: for only by the
surplus-value of 10 does the 100 originally advanced become capital, and so soon as
this takes place, so soon as the son, and by the son, the father, is begotten, so soon does
their difference vanish, and they again become one, 110. (Marx 1977, 154)

Surplus value is differentiated from capital, just as the son is differentiated

from the father, yet, capital would be merely money (100) and not capital
(100, which is always already 110), if the difference between father and
son did not vanish, so that they again become one. In one word, surplus is
extimate to the chain of circulation of capital. And the same applies to the
chain of circulation of the semantic equivalent of capital: the signifier. Surplus enjoyment is extimate to the signifier: it is produced by it as its effect,
and yet, being sensation rather than sense, is not of the same ontological
status. Lacans conceptualization of surplus qua surplus enjoyment, I argue,
is a return to the Marxian text that pays all due emphasis on surplus value as
the extimate or ontologically heterogeneous and inconsistent function within
circulation. And, as Marxs text points out, it is because of this surplus qua
surplus enjoyment that the circulation of capital succeeds in acquiring an air
of autonomy or independence from commodities and production.
To see how commodities and the process of production fail to be represented within the chain of the circulation of capital, let us return to the above
passage from Marxs Capital. There is the father, and there is the son, but
there is no blood relation (use value) to embody their relationwhich thus
becomes a surplus relation, a relation of no ontological consistency. To be
sure, we know today from discursive and literary analysis that surplus often
finds itself embodied in something seemingly ontologically positivefor
instance, in woman. But this ideological gesture eventually results in denying
womans ontological consistency (reducing her, man, and consequently gender difference into something of no ontological consistency) rather than giving ontological consistency to the relation between father and son. As we
know since structural anthropology, incest with the mother is prohibited not
because of its threat on genetics (a biological concern) but because she is the
property of the father. Incest is a legal (symbolic), not a biological (real), prohibition. In fact, maternal incest is the grounding moment of the symbolic
system, its precondition, insofar as it constitutes the first (logically, not
chronologically) erasure of blood and its substitution by the signifier (law).
Thus blood (need) is turned into law (demand), just like labor is turned into
money, and potentially into capital. Butand this is the Lacanian intervention into Marxismthis further allows coercive submission (demand) to turn
into voluntary submission (desire), just as use value yields to surplus value.
For the system of law is a system of representation in two senses: (legal) rep-


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

resentation of power, and representation as a system of meaning and hence of

enjoyment of meaning. Law is also enjoyment of meaning, unlike meaningless blood, which is pure, vulgar, jouissance. Ensnared in meaning, the subject (including, if not primarily, the laborer) desires more enjoyment of
meaning (and hence, also more law). Law is the underside of desire.
Being double-sided, surplus enjoyment is at once enjoyment, ce que . . .
le matre reoit du travail de lesclave [that which . . . the master receives
from the slaves labor] (Lacan 1991, 204), and also enjoy-meant, that is,
Lobjet a . . . ce qui permet dintroduire un petit peu dair dans la fonction du
plus-de-jouir [the objet a . . . which permits the introduction of a little air into
the function of the surplus enjoyment], in one word, desire, which succeeds
in rendering lexploitation plus ou moins tolrable [the exploitation more
or less tolerable] (p. 207).


I will now argue that this understanding of the Marxian notion of surplus
value is the ground of the entire Lacanian conceptualization of the constitution of the subject as an effect of the unconscious (succinctly articulated in
what Lacan calls the L-schema). In order to exemplify this claim, I return to
the third part of crits I, The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or
Reason since Freud (chap. 5 in the English translation). Lacan uses a literary
example to do something of which Paul de Man would strongly disapprove,
namely, to show both the conceptual difference between metonymy and
metaphor and their function within the ideological interpellation of the subject. In Lacans (1977) own words, this function is to signify [by means of
metaphor] something quite other than what it [metonymically] says . . . the
function of indicating the place of this subject in the search for truth (p. 155).
The example is a short line from Victor Hugos Booz endormi:
Sa gerbe ntait pas avare ni haineuse.
[His sheaf was neither miserly nor spiteful.] (p. 156)10

A signifier (S1)a proper name in our case, Boozis presupposed as, in

Lacans words, the greedy and spiteful owner of the sheaf, that is, as him
who is situated in a possessive and/or, linguistically speaking, metonymic
relation to the sheaf. This S1 is absent and only implied in the above line by
another signifier (S2)His sheafwhich takes Boozs place by means
of a metaphorical substitution, justifiable on the grounds of the metonymic



relation between Booz and his sheaf. Thus, although it is the sheaf that is
characterized as neither miserly nor spiteful, there is no question of the
sheafs having either the merit or demerit of these attributes, since the attributes, like the sheaf, belong to Booz, who, once his sheaf has thus usurped
his place, . . . can no longer return there, and he himself has been swept
away by the sheaf, and hurled into the outer darkness where greed and spite
harbor him in the hollow of their negation (Lacan 1977, 157). The law (and
vulgar reality) of property is negated by the displacement of the attribution
of munificence from Booz to His sheaf, which, coming from nature,
knows neither our reserve nor our rejections, and even in its accumulation
remains prodigal by our standards (p. 157). In the free play of the chain of
signification, the old man, Booz (like Fellinis blank walls) can in his
invisible harbor slide unhindered from metaphor to metaphor, up to his
accession to paternity (p. 157). One word for another: that is the formula
for the metaphor (p. 157).
The crucial point that Lacan, after Roman Jakobson, makes is that metonymy, the articulation of the relation of possession, and hence of power relations, is only the one side of the effective field constituted by the signifier, so
that meaning can emerge there (Lacan 1977, 156). In the other side, he goes
on to say, is metaphor, namely, the enjoyment of meaning derived from the
poetic license, provided to us by the so-called free playof the signifiers. The
play is freeprecisely insofar as it is incomprehensible, insofar, that is, as the
reason for any metaphorical substitution exceeds our understanding or
rational justification of these metaphorical substitutions. Yielding not only
meaning of a certain use value (the function of the signifier to convey certain
information), but also surplus enjoyment qua enjoyment of meaning, the
chain of signification is guaranteed to be free. This free play has, initially
due to the rationale provided by the metonymic relation between Booz and
his sheaf, placed the sheaf belonging to Booz in the position of Booz. It then
permits attributes that cannot logically pertain to the sheaf to appear next to it.
This permission, this license, and the beauty it produces, is surplus value in
the field of language, surplus enjoyment. Thus, the sheaf is no longer Boozs
possession, it becomes autonomous, and acquires a natural airthat is further
transferred to the Booz to whom the attributes, miserly and spiteful,
belonged in the first place. Now, Booz, in his natural air, can be endowed
with any attributes, including the opposite of his original: neither miserly
nor spiteful. And all this without the poem ever claiming explicitly that
Booz is neither miserly nor spiteful. It is because of the function of enjoyment of meaning that the well-known phenomenon of the naturalization of
ideological construals can take place as a primary mode of ideological


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

Surplus enjoyment, just like the accumulation of surplus value in Marx, is

ambivalent, double-sided, a locus where the opposites coincide. On the one
side, it is the precondition of abundance and lavishness (of capital or metaphors); on the other, it is the precondition of deprivation and lack for some
and of wealth for others (property or metonymy). It is in its capacity to designate lackthe accumulation required for wealth entails, seen metonymically, somebody elses deprivationthat the plus-de-jouir introduces the
jouissance of the two, the vulgar reality of the discrepancy between master and slave. It is in its capacity to present itself to perception as a mere existent and as the pure phenomenon of a naturally accumulated amount of
cereal or grain (i.e., sheaf in its pure Being, irrespective of the empirical con11
ditions that bring about this Being) that surplus enjoyment introduces the
enjoyment of meaning derived from the harmony of the onewhere everything is substitutable by everything else, including the master and the slave,
as Hegel has emphatically pointed out.12
The Lacanian L-schema represents the subject of the unconscious as an
effect of the signifier (surplus enjoyment) in its double function as metonymy
(enjoyment) and metaphor (enjoyment of meaning):
Enjoyment of meaning
Trauma (question):
What is a master (paternity/Booz)?



representable self

Surplus enjoyment
Master signifier:
neither miserly nor spiteful
Hegelian dialectic between
master and slave

Antinomy (answer):
Miserly and spiteful
neither miserly nor spiteful?
(fecundity or property?)
Real opposition between
master and slave

Once one is within a system of symbolic rather than real property (capital
rather than land), the spite and greed pertaining to him who has real power
(Spinozas potentia; French puissance; German Vermgen), and effecting



him who does not have any, become invisible under the mirage of thinking or
imagining that one has power (Spinozas potestas; French pouvoir; German
Macht).13 The master has puissance (real power), whereas, Lacan argues, the
slave has jouissance (enjoyment). Specifically, the slave derives enjoyment
from the sacrifices he has to make in order to produce ever more enjoyment of
meaning, that is, in order to sustain and intensify his illusion that it is he who
has the power (e.g., I am poor not because I am exploited but because I am
honest; it is, in other words, my choice to be poor, and hence I am my own
master). Because this kind of enjoyment stands in direct opposition to the
healthy, self-interested pleasure of the pleasure principle, it is deemed to be
always a perverse enjoyment in the precise sense that it disempowers the subject who derives it.
The initial signifier, the master (Booz), like Marxs initially advanced
capital, has no specific original semantic value. Rather, it is a question: What
is a master? The surplus enjoyment, like Marxs surplus value, adds itself to
this unspecified original value, thereby specifying it. Characterized as neither miserly nor spiteful, the master is now unambiguously the embodiment
of fecundity. Like Marxs capital, the signifier acquires an equivalent value
(signified) in the paradoxical temporal mode that, through surplus value,
leaps from insufficiency (the traumatic gap in the chain of positive meaning,
manifest as a logically unanswerable question) to anticipation (the logically
ungrounded certainty of an answer). The sheaf qua paternity is double-sided:
both Being, free circulation of capital, potestas; and Dasein, being as the
commodity at the disposal of a possessor and his pontentia. The effacement
of the possessive or metonymic relation constitutes the precondition of the
possibility of the chain of the enjoyment of meaning (metaphors) in the first
place. In Heideggerian terms, ontology (the organization of metaphors) has
to be blind to the ontic (the metonymic system) in order to be a properly decisionistic ontology. Or, inversely, ontology would be something that remains
blind and perverted from its own most aim [decisionism], if it has not first
adequately clarified the meaning of Being [beyond any ontic determinations], and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task (Heidegger
1962, 31; emphasis in the original, brackets mine). The metonymic determination of the metaphorical substitutions has to be preceded, predetermined,
by an absolute metaphor that determines the possibilities of metonymic
determination itself. Surplus enjoyment (the Master Signifier) not only presupposes and, hence, guarantees a Master (a real power, and consequently a
slave and his enjoyment), but is also the precondition of the effacement of this
real power from representation by means of the enjoyment of meaning. The
advent of the latter opens up the dialectics that allows not only the sheaf to
substitute his master, but also the master to substitute the slave. For,


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

ultimately, it is neither masters nor slaves, neither capital nor commodities,

nor, for that matter, any identifiable positive meanings, let alone entities, that
circulate and are exchanged but only surplus value itself:
both the money [read: jouis-sense] and the commodity [read: jouissance] represent only
different modes of existence of value itself [read: plus-de-jouir], the money its general
mode, and the commodity its particular, or, so to say, disguised mode. . . . In truth, however, value is here the active factor in a process, in which, while constantly assuming the
form in turn of money and commodities, it at the same time changes in magnitude, differentiates itself by throwing off surplus-value from itself; the original value, in other
words, expands spontaneously. For the movement . . . is its own movement . . . is automatic expansion . . . able to add value to itself . . . living offsprings . . . golden eggs. . . . But
the money itself is only one of the two forms of value. Unless it takes the form of some
commodity, it does not become capital . . . value . . . an independent substance. (Marx
1967, 1:171-73)14

Whether in the form of ten English pounds (10) or of a pound of flesh

the objet a or organ . . . from which the subject, in order to constitute itself,
has separated itself off (Lacan 1981, 103)the itinerary of the surplus
passes from Marxs Mehrwert (surplus value) through Lacans plus-de-jouir
(surplus enjoyment) to return to us as both economic and semantic surplus.
Capitalism requires for its sustenance both economic surplus and the semantic surplus of ideology. And the analysis of both requires that we place equal
emphasis on the favorite Marxist fact that unless it takes the form of some
commodity, [money] does not become capital and on the favorite Lacanian
fact that in truth, however, value is here the active factor in a process, in
which, while constantly assuming the form in turn of money and commodities, it at the same time changes in magnitude, differentiates itself by throwing off surplus-value from itself. In other words, to analyze the function of
the surplus we have to realize that the process of production is not more real
or true than the ideological superstructure. The content of the latter is determined by the Master Signifier or metaphor, the fantasmatic content that can
irrationally and arbitrarily fill the objet a, the void of the subject qua
Insofar as the subject as the effect of the signifier is submitted to the same
laws that govern value, be it economic or semantic, Lacan urges that, when it
comes to meaning and the subject, the interpretation must be prompt in
order to meet the terms of the interloan [enterprt]between that which perdures through pure dross, and the hand that draws only from Dad to worse
[De ce qui perdure de perte pure ce qui ne parie que du pre au pire] (Lacan
1990, 46), or schematically put:



that which (the hand)
(ce qui)





What is veiled on the level of Marx is that the master, to whom is owed the surplus enjoyment [plus-de-jouir], has renounced everything, and above all enjoyment [jouissance],
since he has exposed himself to death. . . . There is no doubt that he has deprived the slave
of the disposition over his own body, but this is nothing: he has left him jouissance.
(Lacan 1991, 123)15

This passage reveals the connection between enjoyment (jouissance) and the
notorious Hegelian fear of death as that which defines the slave. Both belong
exclusively to the slave. The slave fears mortality and has exclusive access to
enjoyment, whereas the master has puissance (real power) and disregards
mortality, as if he were immortal. The immortality of the theocratic and precapitalist master was guaranteed by his status as the earthly representative of
God (the king). By contrast, the democratized immortality of the capitalist
master is guaranteed by the immortality of capital itself. Immortality is the
eternal deferment not only of biological death but also of the last instance
known as the Final Judgment. Capital is immortal precisely because the judgment about its value is eternally deferred. One hundred pounds are always
already 110, and they are, in turn, always already more poundsand this ad
infinitum. In one word, capital is immortal because it essentially is credit.
And so is the signifier, a fortiori the differential, postlinguistic, deconstructed
signifier, the semantic value of which is eternally deferred, since it is always
relegated to the value of ever more signifiers that come to frame or graft (in
the Derridian sense) its value.
Being the subject of the signifier and of capital, the secular subject is also
the subject of value, surplus, and hence immortality. This is the catch of both
capital and secular meaning (i.e., meaning not fixed by the scripture but subject to free interpretation and hence originator of enjoyment of meaning).


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

Enjoyment of meaning (just as capital) is the secular placeholder of divine

immortality. Consequently, to insist that capital is possible only insofar as
money is at a certain moment in the chain of circulation exchanged for a commodity, is to insist calling on people to face and accept not only the mortality
of capital but also their own mortality. But, as Marx (1975) put it, To call on
[people] to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to
give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo
(p. 244). This is a remark that follows Marxs notorious statement that religion is the opium of the people (p. 244). Kojin Karatani (1995), motivated
by the extent to which this remark has been misinterpreted in the Marxist tradition, comments,
Marx attempts to say that it is impossible to dissolve any religion unless the real suffering upon which every religion is based is dissolved. There is no reason to criticize religion theoretically, because it can only be dissolved practically. . . . Religion, albeit as
Schein, has a certain necessity inasmuch as man is an existence of passivity (pathos); it
functions regulatively as a protest against reality, if not a constitution of reality.
Although communism as well is a mere Schein, to criticize its illusion means no
more and no less than to call on [people] to give up a condition that requires illusions.
And religion will be upheld so long as this state of affairs endures. (pp. 187-88)

Karatanis intention is to use the well-known derogatory equation between

communism and religion in order to guarantee that, despite any criticism, the
former is bound to be upheld as much as is the latter. For the time being, however, given that only capitalism is historically and globally upheld, nobody
cares to criticize communism, while there is still some interest in criticizing
capitalism. But capitalism itself is a religion, in the event much more so than
communism, because, unlike the latter, it capitalizes in fulfilling the subjects
desire for immortality. The problem of communism was precisely that,
appearances to the contrary, it failed to be a religion.
Capitalism undoubtedly sustains itself because it succeeds in eliminating
from its chain of circulation the moment of the exchange of capital with the
commoditybut the reason why it succeeds in doing so is the subjects desire
to remain blind to this moment. This desire is a metaphysical desire transcending capitalism itself. Capitalism only makes use of it, by displacing the
fear of death onto the fear of being the slave, that is, he who is forced in the
position of selling (his labor) and not of buying (as is he who has capital). And
so does the deconstruction of any fixed meaning (which, like commodity, is
also eliminated from the chain of the circulation of the signifier), by displacing the fear of death onto the fear of finding oneself in the position of fixed
meaning and identity. Thus, capitalism and postmodern subjectivity find



themselves on the opposite side of religious fundamentalism. But in reality,

both are the two possible and antinomic responses to the same question and
Just as there is no reason to criticize religion theoretically, because it can
only be dissolved practically, there is no reason to use Marxism (or, for that
matter, any theory) to criticize capitalism, because it can only be dissolved
practically. But this presupposes that something else be able to assume its
religious function with regard to the fear of death. You may want to argue, as
Spinoza would, that the fear of death itself is an ideological construal. Indeed,
there is no logical reason why one should be seized by fear rather than, say,
excitement in the face of this unknowable thing called death. But whether you
attribute it to fear or to excitement, the transhistorical and transcultural omnipresence of the theme of immortality in all its possible variations bespeaks to
the fact that, even if fear of or excitement about death are ideological, the irrational belief in immortality is not. The real political question is, then, whether
the metaphysical desire deriving from the belief in immortality can be fulfilled in a way other than those so far offered by the capitalist economy and
discourse. Can something other than capital (and the unfixed signifier as the
reflection of the capitalist means of exchange on the level of signification)
function as religion in a secular society?


The distinction between the transhistorical desire for immortality and its
historical and ideological appropriations (as fear of death, fear of being in the
position of the slave or in the position of a fixed identity, and so on) is
reflected in Lacanian theory by the distinction between the unbarred or metaphysical Other and the barred or social Other. The unbarred Other is the
hypothesis of the harmonic compossibility of the two antinomies: if it makes
no difference whether death is part of life or its limit, then I am already dead
and immortal. By contrast, the barred Other is any inconsistent, historically
given ideological discourse that fulfills the function of the Lvi-Straussian
myth. It has to negotiate the incommensurable gap between the absolute
belief that I am already dead and immortal and the conspicuous empirical evidence that I am a living mortal. The conceptual collapse of the unbarred and
the barred Other, I argue, misses the doublesidedness of the real and the surplus. This doublesidedness is the function of the surplus to be paradoxically
both a social Other (historical reality) that has no metaphysical Other to


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

ground it and the (hypothesis of this) metaphysical grounding of the social

Other (God is unconscious). This conceptual collapse lapses into phenomenological idealism, with grave consequences for the analysis of ideology, as
we shall see.
This doublesidedness or antinomic coincidence of the two antinomies, or,
of jouissance and jouis-sense, is condensed in psychoanalysis in the contested concept of the phallus, also known as the phallic function (x).
Referring to St. Augustine and a common joke, Zizek (1989) explains the
privileging of this concept as the representative of antinomic coincidence.
According to Augustine, If man has a strong will and self-control, he can
master the movement of all parts of his body except one, the phallus, which
thus comes to mean
the part of mans body which escapes his control, the point at which mans own body
takes revenge on him for his false pride. Someone with a strong will can starve to death in
the middle of a room full of delicious food, but if a naked virgin passes his way, the erection of his phallus is in no way dependent on the strength of his will.

The other side of the paradox is articulated by the joke: What is the lightest
object on earth?The phallus, because it is the only one that can be elevated
by mere thought. As Zizek concludes,
to obtain the true meaning of phallus, we have to read both examples together: phallus
designates the juncture at which the radical externality of the body as independent of our
will, as resisting our will, joins the pure interiority of our thought. . . . To use the traditional Hegelian terms, phallus is the point of the unity of opposites: not a dialectical
synthesis (in the sense of a kind of mutual completion) but the immediate passage of one
extreme into its opposite. (p. 223)

The moral deriving from the correlation of the two stories, Zizek continues,
is that EVERYTHING depends on methe point of the riddlebut for all
that I can do NOTHINGthe point of St. Augustines theory (p. 223). In
other words, the moral of the two stories can be expressed only by means of
two antinomic statements, that is, a thesis and an antithesis, which cannot
both be possible representations of one and the same world: Either the world
is one in which everything depends on me or one in which I can do nothing.
Now, you may be tempted to see both theses as extremes and to opt instead for
the wisdom of the middle: Some things depend on me, while I can do nothing about others. But this moderate reasoning, far from constituting a third
alternative, is already represented by the one of our two alternatives, St.
Augustines phallic and phallocratic position: I can control some things,
including my body and its physical needs, while I can do nothing about one



bodily part, my penis. Inversely, my will and the field it controls are the
exception to the phallus absolute and autonomous will and power. As Zizek
(1994) puts it, phallic function is the very splitting between the domain of
[uncontrollable] phallic enjoyment and the desexualized public field that
eludes it [and is controlled by my will]that is to say, phallic is this selflimitation of the Phallus, this positing of an Exception (p. 153).
Each of Zizeks stories offers us a version of the same phallic and phallocratic position: that of the St. Augustinian middle and that of idealism, if
not solipsism: I am in control of everything, including my penis. One and
the same world, a phallocratic world, can consider both statements as true,
exclude or repress one of them, and thus become either a moderate or an
extreme idealist world. The phallocratic world is structured according to the
dynamic antinomy. The real alternative to this world, a nonphallic, nonphallocratic world, can emerge only by considering both statements to be false.
This would be a world structured according to the logic of the mathematic
antinomy. This is the case when I and my will are considered to be not totalizable cognitive objects and hence not objects that can be clearly distinguished
from everything else. In other words, in the case of the mathematic antinomy, I and my will cannot control everything not because I have no will but
because this will is always already controlled by everything, just as everything is always already controlled by me and my will. This is no harmonic
synthesis between human will and everything in the world but the recognition
that either is impure and supplemented by its other. It is the recognition of
both a gap in me and my will (the gap of the unconscious) and a gap in the
autonomous contingency of everything in the world (the gap of the intervention in the world by the subject qua real). In other words, I control everything,
with no exception, but there is always an exception, a gap, in my controlling
power itself. I control everything but I cannot control how (to what end) I control it.
The exception of phallic enjoyment (jouissance), posited by the dynamic
antinomy, allows for the constitution of the public field as a system of absolute human control (and, consequently, in the case of democracy, as a system
of equality and universal exchangeability), which is however possible only
on the ground of an exception: the private field of sexual enjoyment (and,
consequently, the exception of those who even in a democracy do not make it
to the public field). A notorious such world split in two is the Hegelian world
of the male public field and the female private domaincriticized by Hanna
Arendt among others. The public field of this world represents itself as the
world of the harmony of the one, where everything is exchangeable or substitutable for everything else (all citizens are equal, and so on). It is the field of
the free circulation of metaphor, the field of the enjoyment of meaning


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

(jouis-sense). But it is possible only insofar as everything that does not

partake in this universal exchangeability is excluded from representation as phallic enjoyment (jouissance). Publicly, there is no Other of the
Other that controls everything, while God (that which exceeds social control)
is negated. By contrast, the nonphallic world, posited by the mathematic
antinomy, is again a world of enjoyment of meaning (jouis-sense), which,
however, acknowledges its supplementation by phallic enjoyment and
metonymy (the inexorable determinism of the things in the world, beyond
human control) as the precondition of its own possibility. Nothing is excepted
from its own self-representation. In the nonphallic world, there is no Other of
the Other only insofar as the fact that God is unconscious is acknowledged
even if only to be fetishistically disavowed. The phallic world negates and
excludes God from its self-representation; the nonphallic acknowledges and
then disavows God. To put it in epistemological terms, following Spinozas
distinction, phallic is the Cartesian apodictic world that effaces its own logical gaps, whereas nonphallic is the tautological world that comprehends
within itself its own gap or error. In phallocracy, the phallus qua God or real
() is not represented, whereas in a nonphallocratic system of representation
the phallus is represented by a symbol of lack, that is to say, of the phallus,
not as such, but in so far as it is lacking [] (Lacan 1981, 103)insofar as
it is a gap.
In Marxian terms, nonphallic is the knowledge and subsequent disavowal
of the commodity as a necessary moment of exchange in the chain of circulation of capital. This allows for the wholesale disavowal of the process of production (enjoyment) and the creation of the illusion of the autonomous free
circulation of capital (enjoyment of meaning). To the detriment of the equation of capitalism and patriarchy, capitalism is inherently nonphallocratic
and fetishistic. By contrast, totalitarianism, whether of the theocratic or the
Stalinist type, which acknowledges the process of production (jouissance)
and negates surplus (in all its possible forms, from surplus value to surplus
enjoyment, including desire as a process mediated by the cognitive surplus of
the imaginary), is a phallocratic system that needs to coerce constantly the
prohibition of its negations from its system of self-representation. It is an
exclusionary system, which, for that matter, is more easily subvertible than
the all-inclusive (i.e., really totalitarian) capitalism.
In his nonanthropomorphic articulation of sexual difference in terms of
pure logical formalism, Lacan genders the dynamic antinomy as the male
mode of the failure of reason or male sex (since sex is precisely the real, i.e.,
that which exceeds reason and representation) and the mathematic antinomy
as the female mode of the failure of reason or female sex. This move is tanta-



mount to gendering the real, or, more precisely, to articulating the real as a
coincidentia oppositorum, where maleness and femaleness meet not in the
sense of a harmonizing sublation of their difference but, on the contrary, in
their antagonism. The fact that it is specifically the signifier phallus that is
employed within psychoanalysis as the marker of this locus of antagonistic
coincidence of the two sexes that I seein opposition to much of feminist
criticismas a consequence, and an indication, of the specifically political
character of psychoanalysis. That is, the site of the sexual antagonism is
notand should not berepresented by a neutral sign (and its entailed
metalanguage) if it is to represent both its phallic, patriarchal negation of
femaleness (its exclusion from representation) and its nonphallic capitalist
By this last statement, I hint to the fact that a nonphallic world is not necessarily a world of sexual or other equality, as I will argue more extensively in
the next section.


To distinguish negation (dynamic antinomy) from disavowal (mathematic
antinomy), Lacan uses the concept of as ifa concept whose long itinerary
passes through Pascal, Vaihinger, Bentham, Mannoni, and others. To exemplify the politico-ideological function of the as-if logic, Zizek (1989) uses
as an example bureaucracy: I may know very well that bureaucracy is not
all-powerful, nonetheless (quand mme), my effective contact in the presence of bureaucratic machinery is already regulated by a belief in its
almightiness (p. 36). Hence, I act as if bureaucratic machinery were
almighty. Social reality, Zizek continues, is supported by a certain as if,
the ideological fantasy, which is not to be conceived at a psychological
level, but as the external, nonsensical machineautomatism of the signifier, of the symbolic network in which the subjects are caught, and which
determines what we call the interiority of our reasoning (p. 36).
However, there are two ways in which social reality can be supported by a
certain as if something that Zizek does not take into account. In either
way, a society and its discourse are supported on the ideological fantasy
that its bureaucracy is almighty because something that transcends our control takes care of its well functioning. But this something may be conceived as
a transcendental telos, an end toward which society mysteriously progressesas we know it already from the theocratic concept of divine provi-


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

dence or its quasisecular versions of the Hegelian Spirit of History and Adam
Smiths Invisible Hand of the Marketor as a process that, albeit infallible
and almighty, does not know its own end, does not have any predetermined
goal. We could call the latter the post-Marxist and postmodernist version of
the invisible hand of the market, which moves the strings with absolute certainty, regardless of whether its destination is the perpetuation of the market
or its miraculous self-collapse (represented by contemporary theorists as
diverse as Deleuze and Baudrillard).
The political advantage of the latter version of the as-if logic is precisely
that it allows the social system to include any possible development as always
already part of itself. It is a system organized according to what Spinoza
called immanent causality, as opposed to transitive (teleological) causality.
The characteristic of this causality, as we have seen, is that in it Truth is the
standard both of itself and of the false (Spinoza 1985, 479; Ethics, II, prop.
43, schol.). Nothing can be a disqualifying error in a system that incorporates
error as a legitimate part of itself, a system that does not hide its ungroundedness or inconsistency and that does not fix itself to any meaning or identity.
Far from acknowledging its belief in a God (and hence a telos), this system
justifies itself by invoking the very argument that there is no Other of the
Other. Which is why God is unconscious (consciously assumed to be
dead) only when everything (true and false) appears to be permitted.
In both versions of the as-if logic, obedience to the Law is due precisely
to the fact that there is no Other of the Other, that the ideology of the state
apparatus that interpellates us is inconsistent, and that, consequently, epistemologically it does not exist. If this traumatic tautology, on which the
lawand the irrational belief in the almightiness of the system, which
induces obedience to the lawrests, is suddenly lost, Zizek (1989) argues,
then the very texture of the social field disintegrates (p. 36). But this belief
can be lost only in the first, teleological version of the as-if logic. This is
the moment of disillusionment, historically caused by the conspicuous discrepancy between actual and promised reality. By contrast, the logic of
immanent causality, in which everything (truth and error) reconfirms and
reinforces the truth of its system, the belief in it cannot ever be lost because no
actual reality can falsify a system whose promised reality is one that does not
differentiate between truth and falseness and whose future, consequently,
permits everything.
To show how the difference between these two versions of the as-iflogic
manifests itself historically, I now turn to Zizeks representation of three
actual social phenomena: (1) multiculturalism, (2) gender difference, and (3)
class difference. To describe the logic of multiculturalism, Zizek (1994)
invokes the King in absolute monarchy:



beyond those who are indifferent to laws, those who break laws while remaining integrated into the system of law and order, and those who stick strictly to the letter of the law,
there are those at the very top whose acts are always in accordance with the law, not
because they obediently follow the law but because their activity determines what is law
in a performative waywhat (ever) they do simply is the law (the King in an absolute
monarchy, for example). This point of inversion is the exception that founds the Universal. (p. 158)

Zizek goes on to parallel the principle of universal subjugation to the law

under the absolute authority of the monarch to the grounding principle of
actual multiculturalism can emerge only in a culture within which its own tradition, communal heritage, appears as contingent; that is to say, in a culture that is indifferent
towards itself, towards its own specificity. For that reason multiculturalism is, stricto
sensu, Eurocentric: only within modern-age subjectivity is it possible to experience
ones own tradition as a contingent ingredient to be methodologically bracketed in
the pursuit of truth. Herein resides the paradox of the Universal and its constitutive
exception: the universal notion of the multiplicity of peoples, each embedded in its particular tradition, presupposes an exception, a tradition that experiences itself as contingent. (p. 157)

Although Zizek is right to observe that both phenomena are grounded on an

exception, the structures of absolutist authority and of the democratic multiculturalist principle, I argue, are not epistemologically identical. In Kantian
terms, their difference lies in that the exception in the case of absolutism is
organized according to the dynamic antinomy, whereas the exception in multiculturalism is organized according to the mathematic antinomy. As Zizek
remarks, for absolutism to establish itself, its exception has to remain a public
secret. Yet, Zizek omits to remark, the exception in multiculturalism is publicly open. The Kings exceptional and arbitrary authority has to be hidden
for universal equality to be accepted as truth, but multiculturalism does not
need to hide the exceptional and contingent character of the Eurocentric identity. On the contrary, as we can see in just about every product of the Eurocentric discourse, from pop culture to the majority of academic production, it
constantly propagates it.
So it is that the Eurocentric tradition (which claims that any tradition is not
an eternal truth but a contingent, fictional construal), by representing itself as
the embodiment of the sole proper attitude to tradition, becomes the sole
legitimate, and hence dominant, traditionjust like the King is the sole lawgiver in his kingdom. However, by ignoring the above epistemological distinction, Zizek cannot account for the fact that, unlike the King, the Eurocentric tradition does not represent itself as the sole embodiment of power and of


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

the privileges it entails. Determined to ignore this difference, Zizek describes

the King as if He were already His full-fledged development into the
president of a democracy or as the Eurocentric tradition itself, rather than
the still fear-inspiring King of absolute monarchy. Undoubtedly, in positing the recognition of cultural otherness as a fundamental principle of its
own constitution, the Eurocentric tradition poses itself as the same,
while every noncontingent tradition becomes the other, in the very sense of
other-than-tradition. But the catch of the Eurocentric tradition is that the
other traditions are generallythough not alwaysseduced to treat their
noncontingent tradition as contingent, that is to say, effectively to identify
with the Eurocentric tradition, while simultaneously believing that they
remain another and an other, yet equal, tradition. The Eurocentric postulate
that tradition is contingent (a concrete historical articulation of the secular
epistemological postulate that there is no Other of the Other) necessarily
entails the exclusion of noncontingency from the status of tradition. In other
words, the statement any tradition is contingent, which at first sight seems
to admit any tradition, is possible only under the precondition of the exclusion of one type of tradition, the noncontingent traditionthat is, all historically known traditions up to the emergence of the Eurocentric multicultural tradition. And the determination to carry out this exclusion is
multiculturalisms disavowed teleological belief (God). In general terms, the
sociohistorical realization of the mathematic antinomy entails the displacement of its corollary dynamic antinomy, and not the latters magic elimination, as many naively or cunningly assume.
So it is that noncontingent traditions are no longer acknowledged as traditions, but demonized as something radically other, called nationalism, religious fanatism, and so on. And one does not need to be European or American to participate in this demonization. The purported, theoretically infinite,
pluralism of contingency is limited logically by noncontingency. But empirically, noncontingency may as well, at a certain point, be entirely eliminated
as tradition. It is then that the one, epistemologically nontotalizable, empirically impossible world of the mathematic antinomy will nonetheless have
realized itself in history. The statement tradition is not noncontingent, is the
unconscious belief or God of the contingent Eurocentric subject, which
potentially is already any worldwide subject. For this statement is not a prohibitive secret; it is a publicly known and disavowed belief within the globalizing discourse of multiculturalism.
The exceptionthe King and the Eurocentric tradition, respectivelyis
posed differently in absolute monarchy than in multiculturalism. In the
former, it is posed as prohibition, whereas in the latter, as impossibility. The



prohibited exclusion must remain secret, whereas the impossible exclusion

obviously has no reason to be secret, since an impossibility cannot be questioned or raised, as a prohibition may be. The Eurocentric subject experiences
the concept of an essentialist, noncontingent tradition not as prohibited
something with which it is not allowed to identifybut as impossible
something with which it cannot identify. The deconstruction of any identity
grounds belief (in the contingent character of tradition) far more effectively
than the prohibition (of any noncontingent tradition).
Consequently, whereas it is clear that a social system grounded on a prohibition cannot succeed in presenting this prohibition as an impossibility, one
can justifiably ask whether a social system (ostensibly) grounded on an
impossibility has already succeeded in presenting as an impossibility what in
reality is a prohibition. Multicultural democracy may be the veil of an effectively absolute totalitarianism, whereas absolutist monarchy only the facade
of a frail prohibition that, as history has repeatedly shown us, can after all be


In philosophical terms, Zizek misrepresents multiculturalism as merely
another historical version of absolute monarchy because he projects both systems to the Hegelian genus-species logica logic that does not differentiate between mathematic and dynamic antinomy. Indeed, as Zizek argues,
both in absolutist monarchy and in multiculturalism, one species (the King
and the Eurocentric tradition, respectively) presents itself as the genus (the
universal), thus elevating itself to a higher status than the other species (the
Kings subjects and the noncontingent traditions, respectively). But this
shared logic is structured differently in each case. The Kings monarchy consists of two worlds: on one hand, the overt world, within which it is
declared that the law applies to everybody, and, on the other hand, the
secret world, within which the King constitutes an exception to this declaration by posing through His acts the law, which is thus subject to Him, unlike
everybody else who is subject to the law, and hence to Him. By contrast, multiculturalism epistemologically consists of no world whatsoever; it is a metaworld that stands outside the world of the others, looking at it from high
above. Unlike the King, who could not ever say to his subjects, Your problem
is your immature obedience to my law; why dont you become like me, posing your own laws? the dominant Western multicultural tradition does not


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

say anything to the noncontingent traditions but, Your problem is your

immature (if not savage) belief in your tradition; why dont you become like
us, believing only in the disbelief towards any tradition (except for the tradition of this disbelief)? Absolute monarchy, and for that matter, any exclusionary system, is a social articulation of the genus-species logic in terms of
the secretive and prohibitive dynamic antinomy, whereas multiculturalism is
a social articulation of the genus-species logic in terms of the allencompassing mathematic antinomy. The two Kantian antinomies become in
Hegel one genus-species logic, with, I repeat, grave consequences for our
understanding of the workings of ideology and politics.
Nonetheless, as Zizek rightly argues, the appropriation of the genus by
one species is empirically inevitable because on the level of experience there
is no universal genus (metalanguage) but only species. There is no Other of
the Other but only concrete historical Others. The discrepancy between the
metaphysical/epistemological need for a universal genus and its empirical
nonexistence by logical necessity leads to the demand that one species appropriate the function of the genus. But there is no logical necessity forcing us to
represent, as is usually the case nowadays, the lack of the universal genus, of
the grounding Other, only in terms of the mathematical antinomythat is, in
terms that valorize the statement that there is no Other of the Other and disavow the simultaneous and antinomic irrational belief in an Other, required
for the social Other to function despite its logical inconsistency. If it is the
terms of the mathematic antinomy in which we present the lack of the universal genus, it is only because these are the terms in which fails the dominant,
multicultural discourse from within which we speak. Speaking, however,
from the perspective of the contingent tradition(s), the lack of a universal
genus is presented in terms that foreground the fact that, precisely because
there is no Other of the Other, an irrational belief is necessary for this logically ungrounded system to sustain itself. The emphasis shifts from the truth
that there is no Other of the Other to the truth about the function of irrational
belief (God) as the effective and efficient substitute of the lacking logical
grounding of the Other. A universal genus and a metalanguage are indeed
empirically impossible, but it is not empirically impossible to represent both
reasons (i.e., both failures of reason) because of which universal genus and
metalanguage are impossible. Ideological is precisely the unilateral representation of this failure.
A metalanguage is impossible, but a negative metalanguage, a metalanguage of the failure of metalanguage, is possible. That there is no
universal tradition means that there is a universal failure of tradition. This
is a contingent-noncontingent-traditionthat is, the hypothesis of a full



tradition (a tradition that is at once all possible traditions, including their

negation)which empirically fails to manifest itself as such either in the
mode of a contingent or in the mode of a noncontingent tradition. The importance of such a negative metalanguage crucially lies in that it forces the selfrepresentation of any tradition-species as either contingent or noncontingent to make explicit and account for its entailed underside. The contingent
has to represent its noncontingency (God is unconscious), and the noncontingent its contingency (there is no Other of the Other). This at least precludes the species from naturalizing its appropriation of the status of the
genus; it shows the arbitrariness and constructedness of this process and
reveals the covered struggle for power.


To exemplify the analytical advantage of a negative metalanguage, I now
turn to Zizeks (1994) presentation of class and sexual difference.
When, for example, we say Rich people are poor people with money, this definition is
not reversiblewe cannot say Poor people are rich people without money. We do not
have a neutral genus people, divided into its species, poor people and rich people:
the genus is poor people, to whom we must add the differentia specifica (money) in
order to obtain its species, rich people. Psychoanalysis conceives of the sexual difference in a somewhat homologous way: Woman is a castrated man. Here also, the proposition cannot be inverted into Man is woman with phallus. (p. 159)

Here we encounter a moment in which the appropriation of the status of the

genus by the species of the rich people and of Man, respectively, is naturalized, whereby the underlying struggle for power is denied. The metaphysical structural void of the genus provides historical factuality with an empty
space that a factually existing species can occupy. But nothing metaphysical
or ontological determines who or what can fill this void. This is even empirically evidenced by the historical fact that the proposition Woman is a castrated man is possible only within certain readings of psychoanalysis, such
as the traditional, patriarchal interpretation of Freud, according to which
female sexuality is a sheer retrogression of sexuality from the healthy (read:
malelike), teleological stage of clitoris back to the diffuse sexuality of the
pansexual infantile body.18 But Man is woman with phallus is also a possible statementas is the statement Poor people are rich people without
money, as we know from Christianity. In fact, the statement Man is woman
with phallus is an actually existing statement of successful marketability


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

within current readings of psychoanalysis and beyond, as Zizek, unbeknownst to himself, testifies. His statement that phallic is the positing of an
Exception, is possible only if we conceive the male, desexualized, social
public field as an initially undifferentiated female space in which sexuality
permeated everything, until an exception was posed effecting the distinction
between public and private spheres. The same is true of the individual male
subject, who is also assumed to emerge out of the undifferentiated female
subject through castration, as the latter is understood within the postmodern
discourse: the fear of the loss of the phallus in the face of its female
absencean absence that, as such, posits the phallus as presence in the first
place. Man and public space, just as everything that in contemporary theory is
conceived as constituted by means of the addition of the phallus to an originary lack, are therefore woman with phallus. In contrast to modernism,
postmodernism naturalizes woman as the genus and defines any species as
woman with phallus. Not least among the embodiments of the genus of
natural woman is multiculturalism, which, lacking any essentialist identity,
produces species by adding to itself phallic essentialist identities. Like
Marxs surplus value, the genus obtains its own movement . . . [its own]
automatic expansion, being able to add value to itself, to change in magnitude . . . [and to] differentiate itself by throwing off surplus-value from
This is possible insofar as the genus-species logic allowsor rather
coerces, albeit often in an ostensibly noncoercive wayone of the empirical
manifestations of the genus-surplus, namely, the species of female surplus
enjoyment, to appropriate the status of surplus and thus to reduce the other
species, namely, male phallic enjoyment, to its radical other. This means that,
although the mathematic antinomy is the mode of the failure of reason that
allows one to experience ones own gender or ethnic identity as a contingent
ingredient to be, as Zizek put it, methodologically bracketed in the pursuit of truth, nothing prevents the female logic of the enjoyment of meaning
from seeing the male logic and its noncontingent sexuality as radically
otherthat is, as no logic at all. Hence, both the male (essentialist) and the
female (deconstructionist) versions of the genus-species logic can lead to
the appropriation and exploitation of the other. Publicly open secrets do not
necessarily lead to a more egalitarian world than do hidden secrets. They do
not even lead to a more subvertible world, since essentialist formations
appropriate the other by means of infringeable prohibitions, while nonessentialist, cynical or concensual formations do it by means of considerably more
intractable impossibilities.
Having become radically other, enjoyment (just as its economical equivalent: the process of production, the labor it requires, and the commodities it



produces) becomes something whose representation is impossible. More

specifically, it becomes epistemologically unrepresentable, which is to say,
not legitimately representable. Which is something entirely different and
more powerful than a thing whose representation needs to be prohibited
(for reasons of social cohesion). Even when it succeeds in representing itself,
its representation is disavowed as epistemologically illegitimateas
By contrast, what becomes exclusively legitimate and possible is the representation of the species qua genus, of woman qua surplus. Compare the
aforementioned description of surplus value by Marx to the following
description of woman by Hlne Cixous (1986):
The future must no longer be determined by the past. . . . Anticipation is imperative. . . . Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it. . . . It is
time to liberate the New Woman from the Old . . . in order to be more than her
self . . . (I-woman, escapee) . . . impossible subject, untenable in a real social framework. . . . For when the Phallic period comes to an end . . . admirable hysterics . . . women
are body. More body, hence more writing. . . . Now, I-woman am going to blow up the
Law: . . . in language . . . to blow up the law, to break up the truth with laughter. For once
she blazes her trail in the symbolic, she cannot fail to make of it the chaosmos of the personal . . . as that person capable of losing a part of herself without losing her integrity.
But secretly, silently, deep down inside, she grows and multiplies . . . she goes and passes
into infinity. . . . Heterogeneous, yes. For her joyous benefits she is erogenous; she is the
erotogeneity of the heterogeneous: airborne swimmer, in flight, she does not cling to herself; she is dispersible, prodigious, stunning, desirous and capable of others, of the other
woman that she will be, of the other woman she isnt, of him, of you . . . shes everywhere,
she exchanges. . . . And well keep on becoming! . . . a love that rejoices in the exchange
that multiplies. . . . She doesnt know what shes giving, she doesnt measure it . . . she
finds not her sum but her differences. . . . In one another we will never be lacking.
(pp. 309-20)

This passage from The Laugh of the Medusa, although originally published in 1975, remains remarkably symptomatic of a dominant strand of
feministand not onlydiscourse in the 1990s. This discourse celebrates
the free flow of feminine jouissance, a term vaguely comprehending both
plus-de-jouir and jouis-sense. Perhaps both to this contemporary discourse
and to Cixous, just like to Marxand for that matter, to any articulation of the
transcendental preconditions of any system, mine not excludedapplies the
same set of antinomic judgments: on one hand, we are gravely deluded in seeing ourselves as opposing the whole history of men and . . . [the] biblicocapitalist society (Cixous 1986, 316). For we do no less than showing (a verb
that has not only constative but performative function), occasionally even
celebrating (e.g., Cixous), the very precondition of patriarchal capitalism, the


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

surplus, with which in this century we have come to identify woman. On the
other hand, by doing so, welike Descartesbring this otherwise dead (but
nonetheless effective) mechanism to the level of the statement and the unconscious. Thus, it can be brought to the level of the enunciation and consciousnessjust like Descartess gap (God), repressed in his syllogism, becomes
conscious in Spinozas definition of tautology, which is why the surplus is
also politically double-sided. It is that which sustains the system that produces it (e.g., Descartess theocratic discourse) and that which, for better or
worse, opens up the possibility of its subversion (Spinozas secular, capitalist
The tormenting question, however, remains: what does it mean to say
thatwhen we participate in and foster the representation of the species qua
genus, the appropriation of a specific empirical body by the transcendental
precondition of the societal organization (i.e., the structure of its means of
exchange)we serve both sides of the surplus? This response may be nothing more than an evasion, a way to beg, yet again, the question about the
meaning of our action, as long as we do not know what this both means: the
one and the other side, or, either the one or the other side?
As long as we do not know the answer to this question we also do not know
how to be effectively critical of the galloping uncontrollability of the contemporary capitalist secular discourse without at the same time opposing womens
and for that matter, any othersdemand for rights within a society and a discourse that succeeds in producing the rhetorical coincidence between body,
writing, woman, love, and excess (surplus). How can the hegemonic
discourse be challenged when it has established the rhetorical coincidence of
the precondition of its own possibility (surplus) with nothing other than her
who would have reasons to challenge it, namely, the slave?

1. Published in Lacan 1975, 73-82; for an English translation see Lacan 1998, 78-89.
2. Brackets within citations, unless otherwise indicated, are mine. Here, they are inserted by
me but they introduce the examples Lvi-Strauss himself uses in other passages in order to illustrate this point.
3. Brackets belong to the original.
4. Note that this recapitulates one central problematic within Freudian theory, namely, that
of the mutual relation and function within psychoanalytic theory of the pleasure principle and the
death drive. Gilles Deleuze (1994), in his Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty, rearticulated the
Freudian problem in favor of the inclusive meaning, according to which the death drive is not an
umbrella term for the exceptions to the [pleasure] principle but . . . its foundation (p. 113). This
articulation of the relation between death drive and pleasure principle accounts for the



transcendental or metaphysical precondition for the pleasure principle to constitute the empirical principle, according to which everything in life can (phenomenologically) be explained on
the grounds of the striving for pleasure. For there must be something which falls outside it [the
pleasure principle] and is not homogeneous with itsomething, in short, beyond, namely, the
death drive, which accounts for the necessary compliance of the field with the empirical principle [the pleasure principle] (p. 112). Thus, Deleuze offers a reading of Freud compatible with its
rearticulation in the late Lacan, insofar as he opts for a monistic (inclusive) conceptualization of
the psychoanalytic theoretical inventory. In the late Lacan, this is manifest in his derivation of all
registers from one, the real, which simultaneously is their effect. See also Marie-Hlne Brousse
(1995a, 1995b) The Drive (I) and The Drive (II).
5. I am paraphrasing Kants (1990) second example of the dynamic antinomy in his Critique of Pure Reason (B472/A444B473/A445).
6. I am paraphrasing Kants (1990) first example of the mathematic antinomy in his Critique of Pure Reason (B452/A424B455/A427).
7. See also note 8, below.
8. One of the most interesting rearticulations of certain aspects of Lacanian theory is
Marie-Hlne Brousses account of the concept of the drive. Nonetheless, although she places
all due emphasis on the fact that the drive is assumed to pertain to the register of the signifier, her
articulation misses the fact that, on the level of the drive, the signifier is further assumed to coincide with the body. Brousse (1995b) rightly identifies the shift from the early to the late Lacan
with the articulation of the real as an effect (and cause) of the symbolic and the imaginary, but
then she proceeds to infer that, therefore, the drive is the pure symbolic: But what changes in
Lacans work after Seminar XI is the definition of the drive, which is purely symbolic
here. . . . Thus there is no room for the real in this presentation (p. 114). What evades Brousse in
Lacans articulation of the drive is that faeces and phallus are objects, as a matter of fact,
bodily parts. The body per se does not exist in Lacan, as they say, in the sense that the commodity per se does not exist in Marx. The body and its exclusion form the very precondition of
the possibility of the symbolic and the imaginary, just as in Marx commodity and its exclusion
are the very preconditions of the circulation of capital. On the level of the drive, there is no space
for the real only in the sense that the real cannot be distinguished from the symbolic, something
that could be possible only through the mediation of the imaginary. The level of the drive is precisely the level of the absolute coincidence or indistinguishability between real and symbolic.
Brousses statement can be accepted only insofar as its contrary statement (the antithesis)
there is no place for the symbolic, for all there is here is realis also accepted. The hypothesis of
a being structured as the coincidence of the dynamic and the mathematic antinomies articulates
the level of the drive or of the full signifier. Here, meaning and bodily pleasure (the pleasure principle) do not stand in a conflictual relation, for the body is assumed to derive its very pleasure
from its functioning as a signifier. In eating nothing, the infant or the anorexic finds pleasure in
signifying his or her weaning from that which no longer counts for him or her, namely, survival
(guaranteed by means of eating), since the question of the survival of the bodyas a purely
extrasemantic existentis excluded together with the exclusion of the question about existence,
imposed by the negative judgment. On the other hand, however, the body is omnipresent in this
mode of deriving pleasure, not only because it is its ultimate recipient, but also because it constitutes the very means to this derivation of pleasure. It is the body itself that functions as a signifier,
thereby allowing for the derivation of pleasure out of the act of exchange that constitutes the phenomenon of signification (faeces in place of the phallus).
9. Note the not-all logic of the triad enjoymentsurplus enjoymentenjoyment of meaning
as the three constituents of one concept enjoyment, which is nonetheless repeated in its constituents. This is a further analogy between Lacanian theory and Marx, in whose articulation of


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

capitalism production is at once the set of all stages of production and one of its members: production, exchange, circulation, consumption.
10. Lacan, as he himself notes, uses the same line in his seminar on the psychoses in order to
exemplify the concept of metaphor (see Lacan 1993, 228).
11. Surplus enjoyment is that which at once joins and allows for the distinction between, in
Heideggerian terms, being-there (Dasein) and Being (Sein), ontic and ontological, metonymy
and metaphor. And, as Heidegger has also emphatically pointed out, the function of the ontological Being (metaphor) is to predetermine what the ontic Dasein (metonymy) can produce as its
own (ontological) Being (metaphor). It is the ontic (metonymy) that determines what is its Being
(metaphor), but not in a deductive way (see Heidegger 1962, 31). For a proper ontology (organization of metaphors) will always already have determined what the ontic (metonymy) can determine as its Being (metaphor). The task of ontology is purely decisionistic. It is to produce a
genealogy of the different possible ways of Being (which is not to be constructed deductively)
(Heidegger 1962, 31). The ontological (metaphor) allows for the occlusion of the ontic (metonymy), so that ontology is not blinded by it. Not everything is reversible. Only the ontic is
occluded; only the ontological occluds; and only ontology is, in the first and last analysis, not
12. The double function of the plus-de-jouir as the precondition of the compossibility of the
one and the two within the Lacanian theory requires by logical necessity the revision of the
Hegelian master-slave dialectic, thereby leading to Lacans critique of its readings by both JeanPaul Sartre and Alexandre Kojve, encapsulated in Lacans distinction between the desire of
the other and the desire of the Other, whereby mans desire is the desire of the Other.
The desire of the Other is the very element Kojves reading of the Hegelian dialectic does
not take into account, according to Lacan, precisely because it articulates desire as the effect of
an intersubjective interaction between two conscious subjects, two others, without the mediation
of the unconscious (read: surplus), a second degree Otherness within each subject. This is clear,
for example, in the following argument by Kojve (1980):
Desire is humanor, more exactly, humanizing, anthropogeneticonly provided
that it is directed toward another Desire and an other Desire. To be human, man must act
not for the sake of subjugating a thing, but for the sake of subjugating another Desire (for
the thing). The man who desires a thing humanly acts not so much to possess the thing as
to make another recognize his right . . . to that thing, to make another recognize him as the
owner of the thing. (p. 40)
Kojve does not account here for the generation of the desire for the thing in the first place, that is,
he does not answer the question what is it that, first, makes the subject believe that possession of a
thing is tantamount to subjugation, and, second, that the possession of this thing as opposed to
another will lead to the subjugation of the other human. The Lacanian answer to the question presupposes the unconscious belief that this is what the other desires. That this belief is unconscious
means that it is not rationally grounded, that there is no rational evidence manifest in the intersubjective interaction between the one and the other subject, that this is indeed what the other
desires. This belief is produced by a radical Otherness, an effect of the ambivalence inherent in
any intersubjective interaction insofar as the latter takes place in, and by means of, the signifier.
Hence, for Lacan (1981), mans desire is the desire of the Other (p. 235).
It is this subjugation of oneself to the (barred) Other, the determination of ones desire by the
Other, and the fact that the subject is an effect of the unconscious (surplus, that is, gap in the
barred Other), which requires the further introduction of the logic of the scopic field in the



Lacanian theoretical edifice. The scopic field articulates the intertwining of the retroactive logic
of desire, or the gaze (that which escapes the subjects cognition in the intersubjective interaction), with the linearity of seeing (that which constitutes the subjects field of cognition in the
intersubjective interaction), in the theoretical articulation of the subject. In other words, the
scopic field, the field in which desire emerges via both the retroactivity of the gaze and the linearity of the cogito, allows us to understand that intersubjectivity is not a relation merely between
two Cartesian cogitos, but also between two subjects that are the effect of a collective unconscious in the sense of an absolutely ambiguous linguistic system. However, this is far from
implying that the dialectics of desire should be read as the direct dialogue between two unconsciousnesses, either. The narrativization of the dynamics of desire, either only in the terms of the
cogito and seeingness or of the gaze, is partial (both quantitatively and qualitatively, that is, ideologically) and cannot account for the overall situation, for each is voiced only from one side.
Both narratives have to be taken into account, not in and by a third neutral metanarrative
(which does not exist), but within their transferential relation. Lacans conceptualization of the
scopic field, which includes both modes of causality and/or desire (i.e., linear vision and retroactive gaze), could serve as a useful scheme toward the attempt to articulate the two modes of
Furthermore, the Lacanian conceptualization of the gaze in terms of a second-degree Otherness leads to the critique of the Sartrean account of the Hegelian dialectic in terms of mutually
gazed subjects. A gaze, Lacan objects, cannot possibly produce shame or, for that matter, any
feeling whatsoever, in me unless I already have the desire to be seen in a certain way by the gazing subject, which means that it is my desire that renders the others gaze a subject and thus
allows the gazing subject to objectify me. Moreover, this further means that my desire within
the intersubjective interaction always ultimately involves the desire to be objectified. Consequently, to resist the others look is tantamount to resisting ones own desire. For, if to be objectified is the elementary kernel of the desireas my shame, or any other feeling under the gaze of
the other, testifiesthen the avoidance of this desire is nothing other than the desires underside,
namely, the law that prohibits the fulfillment of this desire. Hence, to avoid any objectification
tout court is tantamount to total submission to the law, to ones own superego, to being totally
preoccupied by a single desire, namely, not to desire, or, as Sartre would say, not to be
objectified. In other words, Sartres definition of freedom coincides with the Lacanian definition of psychosis insofar as the latter is identified as a psychic economy marked by the absence of
desire, that is, by the absence of any fantasmatic relation within the economy of subjectivity. This
is the very economy of the master, identified within the Lacanian logic with the psychotic par
excellence (S) insofar as the master is the only one who renders impossible that articulation that
we indicated elsewhere as the fantasm, insofar as it is the relation of the a with the division of the
subject($ a) [est le seul rendre impossible cette articulation que nous avons pointe ailleurs comme le fantasme, en tant quil est relation du a avec la division du sujet($ a)]
(Lacan 1991, 124).
13. For Spinozas distinction between potentia and potestas, see Michael Hardts (1991)
Translators Foreword: The Anatomy of Power (pp. xi-xvi) in Negris The Savage Anomaly.
Lacans two registers, the symbolic and the imaginary, are rearticulations of Spinozas potentia
and potestas.
14. The problematic that I am trying to articulate in this essay is already visible in this passage in its rhetorical articulation of perspectives with regard to truth. When the passage
states that the commodity is the disguised mode of representing value, the perspective of the
narrative voice is that of the free circulation of capital. It is the same perspective that in the next
sentence continues to state that In truth it is only value, and not money or the commodity, that


POLITICAL THEORY / December 1999

is the active factor in the process in question. But, when the passage reaches the statement, But
the money itself is only one of the two forms of value. Unless it takes the form of some commodity, it does not become capital, the perspective no longer lies within the realm of the free circulation of capitalwhich knows nothing of the commoditybut within the realm of the commodity itself, in its ontological opposition to capital. After this leap into the outside of the chain of
circulation of capital, the narrative voice returns into the interior of the chain to continue the
articulation of the impossibility to differentiate between capital and surplus valuethereby,
moreover, already employing the rhetorics that would become common in nineteenth-century
Romanticism (compare Wordsworths The child is father of the man, in My Heart Leaps Up)
and twentieth-century psychoanalysis.
Moreover, as far as truth is concerned, from the identification of jouissance with what
Lvi-Strauss identifies as the real conflict or the factual binary opposition that the human mind
cannot bear (life versus death, or possessor versus commodity), and from the identification of jouis-sense with what he calls the myth, or with what Zizek describes as the narrative
marked by an inconsistent, nonsensical gap, it follows that truth lies on the side of jouissance.
This is indeed so, but only partially. Truth is indeed jouissance insofar as it is a flat fact that one is,
say, either dead or alive, either a possessor of commodities or commodified labor, either master
or slave, to use the Hegelian terminology, and so on. As Lacan (1991) put it,
Ce qui est masqu au niveau de Marx, cest que le matre qui est d ce plus-de-jouir a
renonc tout, et la jouissance dabord, puisquil sest expos la mort, et quil reste
bien fix dans cette position dont larticulation hglienne est claire. Sans doute a-t-il
priv lesclave de la disposition de son corps, mais, cest un rien, il lui a laiss la jouissance. (p. 123)
But in addition to the factual truth, the fancies of the myth, of jouis-sense, the imaginary mirage
of desire is also constitutive of truth and, as such, addresses also the slave. What Lacan, drawing
on Wittgenstein (see Lacan 1991, 61-77), practically says here, to the detriment of Nietzsche, de
Man, and others, is that the fact is not so much that there are no facts but only interpretations, but
rather that interpretations are also facts. The factual truth is jouissance, but the so-called factual
truth is not all the truth because the nonsensical, tautological, and arbitrary statements of the
myth, the jouis-sense, are also facts by dint of the mere fact that they are posited. This is precisely
the function of tautology: to posit facts. And the worst trap with regard to truth is precisely to
assume that either jouissance or jouis-sense in isolation can make up for the entirety of truth,
even as this entirety remains arguably not representable.
15. Ce qui est masqu au niveau de Marx, cest que le matre qui est d ce plus-de-jouir a
renonc tout, et la jouissance dabord, puispuil sest expos la mort. . . . Sans doute a-t-il
priv lesclave de la disposition de son corps, mais, cest un rien, il lui a laiss la jouissance.
16. For the Lacanian formulas of sexuation, see Lacan, 1975, particularly the chapter Une
Lettre dmour, (pp. 73-82). For an English translation, see Lacan 1998 (pp. 78-89). Rearticulations of the Lacanian formulas of sexuation, which, one way or another, have informed my
reading are: Badiou, 1996; Copjec, 1994, particularly the chapter Sex and the Euthanasia of
Reason (pp. 201-36); and Zizek, 1994, particularly the chapter Otto Weininger, or Woman
Doesnt Exist (pp. 137-64).
17. The as-if principle draws on the so-called Philosophy of the As If, first articulated by
the neo-Kantian philosopher Hans Vaihinger (see Vaihinger 1924). Vaihinger acknowledged
Jeremy Bentham as the predecessor of the Philosophy of the As If. Lacan frequently refers to
Benthams The Theory of Fictions and the therein developed concept of fictitious as that which
articulates the fact that every truth has the structure of fiction (Lacan 1992, 12). Lacan



compares Benthams epistemological contribution to that of Freud insofar as both showed that
pleasure lies on the side of the real, which, however, is nothing but the effect of the fictitious. In
other words, pleasure lies on the side of the real only insofar as it lies on the side of the fictitious. This conceptualization of pleasure presupposes that the fictitious is not understood as
the imaginary but as the symbolic (language), which is grounded as a system of truth on the
a s - i f moment of an a priori, logically inconsistent, assumption.
Benthams effort is located in the dialectic of the relationship of language to the real so as
to situate the good-pleasure in this case, which . . . he articulates in a manner that is very
different from Aristotleon the side of the real. And it is within this opposition between
fiction and reality that is to be found the rocking motion of Freudian experience. Once the
separation between the fictitious and the real has been effected, things are no longer situated where one might expect. In Freud the characteristic of pleasure, as that dimension
which binds man, is to be found on the side of the fictitious. The fictitious is not, in
effect, in its essence that which deceives, but is precisely what I call the symbolic.
(Lacan 1992, 12)
On Lacans reading of Benthams concept of the fictitious, see also Lacan 1981 (p. 163).
Octave Mannoni has further developed the concept of the as if as the logical structure of the je
sais bien, mais quand mme . . . (see the chapter Je sais bien, mais quand mme . . . in Mannoni 1968). Of course, it is Blaise Pascal who first developed the idea of acting as if one believed
so that belief ultimately comes to the subject; see The Wager, in his Penses (Pascal 1966,
121). The Pascalian conception of the as-if structure has become largely known by Louis
Althussers reelaboration of the concept as the elementary function of ideological interpellation
(see Ideology and Ideological State Aparatuses, in Althusser 1971, pp. 127-86). Slavoj Zizek
reelaborates the relation between the as-if structure and ideological interpellation drawing on
all, Pascal, Lacan, Mannoni, and Althusser, whom he thereby critiques (see, e.g., Zizek 1989, the
chapters Law is Law and Kafka, Critic of Althusser, pp. 36-47).
18. Compare the third chapter in Freud, 1985, titled Die Umgestaltungen der Pubertt
(pp. 78-113). This is a point in Freud that has obviously attracted a lot of attention within feminist

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A. Kiarina Kordela received her Ph.D. from the Department of German Studies at Cornell University and is currently teaching in the Department of German Studies and Russian at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her work focuses on the relations
between philosophy, psychoanalysis, literature, and popular culture and includes the
articles Trauma on Credit forthcoming in New German Critique and Exteriority to
Metaphor in Japanese translation in Hihuo kukan (Critical Space).