Bringing back the is freud left behind.
Bringing back the is freud left behind.
In the case of the dream-work it is clearly a matter of transforming the latent thoughts which are expressed in words into sensory images, mostly of a visual sort. Now our thoughts originally arose from sensory images of that kind: their first material and their preliminary stages were sense impressions, or, more properly, mnemic images of such impressions. Only later were words attached to them and the words in turn linked up into thoughts. The dream-work thus submits thoughts to a regressive treatment and undoes their development; and in the course of the regression everything has to be dropped that had been added as a new acquisition in the course of the development of the mnemic images into thought. [SE XV: 180-181]
The philosophical issue here is in how one understands the relation of sense impression, mnemic images (traces) and “words.” If words are not simply “attached” to traces but rather “inhabited” by the trace—i.e. are given consistency within a system of play and deferral just as sense impression is—then this necessitates thinking a different relation of sense to word than “attachment” or a “linking” of words to sense. This is Derrida’s fundamental and most misunderstood argument. Words, signifiers, are only ever given consistency within a system of differential traces, of force. Their strange unity, which we experience as self-aware consciousness, is precisely located above when Freud begins his argument with “our thought originally arose from sensory images,” but, whose thoughts—our thoughts? If speech, the possibility of “words” is, as Freud here argues, in a certain “unheard” sense, already in the world, rooted in a passivity called “sensible” then speech can not be thought of as a “species” of the sensible. Both the sensible and speech must be thought of as a species of difference. And this means that there is no natural hierarchy of speech and sense. Indeed, both the sensible and speech must be thought of as a species of the differential play of spacing and temporalization. This means that language, and in general every semiotic code are therefore effects, effects of the play of the world, but their cause is not a subject, a substance, or a being somewhere present outside the movement of this play. This play, which is the play of temporization and space, necessitates that perception, intuition, etc. are always deferred. The subject, the conscious and speaking subject, depends on this movement of deferral, is constituted only in becoming space, temporizing and deferral—is constituted, that is, only in being divided from itself. This economic aspect of temporization and spacing necessitates what can only be thought of as a not conscious calculation within this field. This inscribes non-intuition, the space where the Other is marked, inside consciousness. No One inhabits our thoughts.
If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.
— C.S. Lewis
Speaking of wind in the trees…
Of Mere Being
The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze distance.
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.
— Wallace Stevens
“But now we ourselves, we philosophers of the present—what can and must reflections of the sort we are carrying out mean for us? Do we just want to hear academic orations? Can we simply return again and again to our vocational work on our “philosophical problems,” that is, each of us to the further construction of our own philosophy? Can we seriously do that when it seems certain that philosophy, like that of all our fellow philosophers, past and present, will have its fleeting day of existence only among the flora of ever growing and ever dying philosophies?
Precisely herein lies our own plight—the plight of all of us who are not philosophical literati but who, educated by the genuine philosophers of the past, live for truth, who only in this way are and seek to be in our own truth. But as philosophers of the present we have fallen into a painful existential contradiction. The faith in the possibility of universal knowledge, is something we cannot let go. We know that we are called to this task as serious philosophers. And yet, how do we hold on to this belief, which has meaning only in relation to the single goal which is common to us all, that is, philosophy as such?”
- Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenonenology
This will orient what follows. Is this faith in the possibility of universal knowledge necessary to engage in “serious” philosophy? Is philosophy a single goal that all of us, here in this room, share? For Husserl, and arguably for us, these are questions that go to the very root of our choice, our “motivation,” to be in this room. To take this text seriously is to question seriously the very project we are engaged in.
In its first published version, Husserl begins the Crisis with a note explaining that the work is an attempt to show the “unavoidable necessity of a transcendental-phenomenological reorientation of philosophy.” Unavoidable necessity because a “reflection upon the origins of our critical scientific and philosophical situation” reveals that science and most of philosophy have abandoned what was essential to their origins, and what must remain essential to their practice, if they are to embody a rigorous rationalism. They have abandoned, to put it bluntly, the ideal of a universal philosophy. Which for Husserl means a philosophy that takes the question of the meaning of science for life, spiritual life, seriously. Which is to say a philosophy that orients itself toward the question of “true being,” an orientation that Husserl feels may only be striven towards via the path of “reason.”
This abandoning of what was essential to their origins had effects far beyond philosophy and the sciences themselves, and was the basis for the support and widespread acceptance of a philosophical and ideological positivism. This acceptance “decapitated” philosophy and left “Europe” (understood as the unity of a spiritual life which finds its origins in Greece) to drift with ever increasing “intensity” into a spiritual void. “Blinded” by the material prosperity science produced, philosophers, scientists and culture in their wake turned away from the questions which are decisive for a genuine humanity, “Merely fact-minded sciences make merely fact-minded people.”
The only way out, Husserl will argue, is to overcome scientific naturalism and bankrupt objectivism through a heroism of reason. I.e. a transcendental-phenomenological reorientation of philosophy that will revive what was essential to philosophy in its origins, and “apodictically conquer the will.” In a nutshell we as philosophers are called upon to choose: either the object or the cogito.
So much for a broad overview on what is after all, already a sweeping text. And indeed, in what must have been a rhetorical choice born of felt necessity, Husserl paints the Crisis in broad strokes. This is an interpretation of philosophy and the history of its development through the lens, some might say coarse lens, of transcendentalism vs. objectivism. The dark times he lived in, and the subject he was called upon to address, “the mission of philosophy in our time” seems to dictate this tone which sacrifices subtlety for a kind of manhandling of history with its corresponding rhetorical punch.
Moving from ancient Greece to the Renaissance to his modern day world, Husserl notes three “re-orientations” of what he calls “attitude.” It is worthwhile to recall his articulation of this in the Vienna lecture:
“Attitude, generally speaking, means a habitually fixed style of willing life comprising directions of the will or interests that are prescribed by this style, comprising the ultimate ends, the cultural accomplishments whose total style is thereby determined. The individual life determined by it runs its course with this persisting style as its norm. The concrete contents of culture change according to a relatively closed historical process. Humanity (or a closed community such as a nation, a tribe, etc.), in its historical situation, always lives under some attitude or other. Its life always has its norm-style and in reference to this.”
For Husserl the greatest reorientation of attitude, a reorientation that he claims is “archontic for civilization as a whole”, arrived with “a few Greek eccentrics” and their orientation towards theoria. (civilization here being the title for western civilization) These eccentrics, and Greece in their wake, he believes, were the first to break away from a mythical attitude and leave the practical immediate world behind in favor of pure theoria, or an orientation towards a “truth in-itself,” a truth valid for all, both supertemporal and supernational. A truth that attempts to overcome the difference between multiple world representations and the actual world. This “peculiar universality” of the philosophical stance, means that the Greeks were the first to be “receptive to motivations which are possible only in this attitude, motivations for new sorts of goals for thought and methods through which, finally, philosophy comes to be” (VL: 285) Man becomes a philosopher, and a “New Humanity” is born.
(I want to simply flag the word motivations here, because it is not at all clear to me what ontological status they occupy, what relation they have to embodiment…which for me is where the stakes lie.)
And because “Unlike all other cultural works, philosophy is not a movement of interest which is bound to the soil of the national tradition,” philosophy radiates outward from Greece, effecting an “immense cultural transformation” on a global scale. Henceforth “European” existence “must receive its norms not from naïve experience and tradition of everyday life but from objective truth. Thus ideal truth becomes an absolute value which, through the movement of education and its constant effects in the training of children, brings with it a universally transformed praxis.” (VL: 287) Naturally there is resistance, but “ideas are stronger than any empirical power.” (VL: 288)
This then is the firs re-orientation and the first birth of a new humanity. A humanity that has intrinsic to its purpose an orientation towards “objective truth,” or the universal.
Fast forwarding, or perhaps more properly jumping to a later scene in the Philosophical DVD, Husserl argues that with the Renaissance a new re-orientation takes place. Renaissance thinkers initiate a “new philosophy” and again a “new humanity” by turning towards, or returning to, what was essential, claims Husserl, to Greek philosophy. In this sense “it is at once a repetition and a universal transformation of meaning” What is repeated is what he calls the “hidden teleology” of western philosophy, to wit an orientation of philosophy toward a theoretical telos, towards universality, or the infinite. More than some “accidental acquisition of merely one among many other civilizations and histories,” “Greek humanity” is “the first to break through to what is essential to humanity as such, its entelechy whereby humanity seeks to exist and find its truths through philosophical reason.”
What is “new” or transformed in the Renaissance is that the meaning of this “Greek” turn towards the universal, is elevated:
“In a bold, even extravagant, elevation of the meaning of universality, begun by Descartes, this new philosophy seeks nothing less than to encompass, in the unity of a theoretical system, all meaningful questions in a rigorous scientific manner, with an apodictically intelligible methodology, in an unending but rationally ordered progress of inquiry. Growing from generation to generation and forever, this one edifice of definitive, theoretically interrelated truths was to solve all conceivable problems—problems of fact and of reason, problems of temporality and eternity.”
Hence, “A definite ideal of a universal philosophy and its method forms the beginning; this is, so to speak, the primal establishment of the philosophical modern age and all its lines of development. But instead of being able to work itself out in fact, this ideal suffers an inner dissolution.” It turns out this “second” new Humanity can not live up to its own transformation. It looses “the inspiring belief in its ideal of a universal philosophy and in the scope of the new method” and there occurs an “essential change, a positivistic restriction of the idea of science” Why? It turned out that this method could bring unquestionable successes only in the positivistic sciences. But it was “otherwise in metaphysics, i.e., in problems considered philosophical in the special sense.” “The immense success in the knowledge of nature” could not be replicated when it came to knowledge of spirit. And this because all attempts at explaining spirit were lead back to the physical. And for Husserl “the reality of the spirit as a supposed real annex to bodies, its supposed spatiotemporal being within nature, is an absurdity.” This movement of dissolution is most clearly stated in the Vienna lecture:
“Someone who is raised on natural science takes it for granted that everything merely subjective must be excluded and that the natural-scientific method, exhibiting itself in subjective manners of representation, determines objectively. Thus he seeks what is objectively true even for the psychic. …But the researcher of nature does not make clear to himself that the constant fundament of his—after all subjective—work of thought is the surrounding life world; it is always presupposed as the ground, as the field of work upon which alone his questions, his methods of thought, make sense. Where is that huge piece of method subjected to critique and clarification [-that method] that leads from the intuitively given surrounding world to the idealization of mathematics and to the interpretation of these idealizations as objective being? Einstein’s revolutionary innovations concern the formulae through which the idealized and naively objectified physis is dealt with. But how formulae in general, how mathematical objectification in general, receive meaning on the foundation of life and the intuitively given surrounding world—of this we learn nothing; and thus Einstein does not reform the space and time in which our vital life runs its course.”
Thus the positivistic concept of science in our time is, historically speaking, a residual concept. It has dropped all the questions that had been considered under the now narrower, now broader concepts of metaphysics, including all questions vaguely termed “ultimate and highest.” Examined closely, these and all the excluded questions, have their inseparable unity in the fact that they contain, whether expressly or as implied in their meaning, the problems of reason—reason in all its particular forms.
Hence, the crisis of European science is “is a crisis which does not encroach upon the theoretical and practical success of the special sciences; yet it shakes to the foundations the whole meaning of their truth” This distress is felt vaguely as spiritual distress and ultimately is felt within science as distress concerning method. Spiritual distress because the primal establishment of the new philosophy [which is abandoned by positivistic science], is, according to what was said earlier, the primal establishment of European humanity itself. The loss of faith in [European man’s] capacity to form rational meaning for his existence, “means nothing less than the loss of faith “in himself,” in his own true being.”
In short the rationality of science, its methods and theories, are thoroughly relative. “It even presupposes a fundamental approach that is itself totally lacking in rationality.” Because “the intuitively given surrounding world, this merely subjective realm, is forgotten in scientific investigation.” And with this the subject is forgotten, repressed.
But for Husserl this leaves hope for the “third” reorientation, which “once seen, apodictically conquers the will.” In striking “through the crust of the externalized ”historical facts” of philosophical history, interrogating, exhibiting, and testing their inner meaning and hidden teleology…possibilities for a complete reorientation of view will make themselves felt, pointing to new dimensions. Questions never before asked will arise; fields of endeavor never before entered, correlations never before grasped or radically understood, will show themselves. In the end they will require that the total sense of philosophy, accepted as “obvious” throughout all its historical forms, be basically and essentially transformed. Together with the new task and its universal apodictic ground, the practical possibility of a new philosophy will prove itself: through its execution. But it will also become apparent that all the philosophy of the past, though unbeknown to itself, was inwardly oriented toward this new sense of philosophy.”
This is the way of phenomenology.
A question for the seminar:
A year before Husserl began work on the Crisis a dialogue of sorts was published by the Permanent Committee for Literature and the Arts of the League of nations that took up the question, Why War? In this exchange, initiated by Albert Einstein, we catch something of the flavor of the time. Einstein invited by the League of Nations to have an exchange with anyone he wishes on a “subject calculated to serve the common interests of the league of nations and of intellectual life” feels pressed address the question of War, or more precisely, why war? No doubt this was related to the horrors of modern warfare and the nascent development of rocketry and Physics role in ever increasingly destructive modern weaponry. Perhaps Einstein even intonated the explosions to come. Indeed, a decade later at Los Alamos the leading physicists of the day actually calculated the, admittedly small, percentile chance of the world being destroyed upon detonation of the first atomic bomb. It is doubtful even Husserl would believe that thirty years after his thought experiment of the destruction of the world, physicists would be factoring into their equations the real probability of man’s factual destruction of the planet.
I bring this up not only to show that the sense of Crisis Husserl is talking about was very palpable at the time, but also because I think Freud’s response implies a criticism that can be leveled at Husserl. Freud, in answering Einstein, returns to Beyond the Pleasure principle and his speculation on the existence of a death drive. Freud states, “the phenomenon of life arise from the concurrent or mutually opposing action of both.” Eros and the death drive, and that he, Freud, is indeed guilty “of the heresy of attributing the origin of consciousness to” the diversion inward of the death drive.
Now this life is not simply physiological life but conscious life, subjective life, life of the spirit. In this sense Freud’s theory of subjectivity, of the motivations driving both individual and cultural history, are rooted in the world as play of life and death drives. Spirit, and its individual manifestations as human Psyche, in its “unconscious” aspect is nature, nature as living, as creative-destructive activity. Husserl, it seems to me, in accusing objectivism of deracinating man, performs and even more radical deracination, in favor of a subject whose motivations to me seem profoundly rootless.
In order to describe an ontology that takes its origins in the play of life and death drives, difference, or what have you, in order to read the traces of “unconscious” in every subject, perhaps the language of Husserlian phenomenology, in particular its emphasis on authenticity and clarity, is inadequate….
Hence for me the importance of linking subjectivity to a sexual unconscious.
Who speaks, writes and reads today? The human subject of course. But who, what and where is this “human,” “subject?” This question, much like Descartes’ wax, seems as ungraspable as ever. Burning throughout human history, melting away and reshaping itself with each historical epoch, at times almost on the verge of disappearing “like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea”—and yet, as Descartes would surely say, for all that the question of the human subject remains. And if what remains is enigmatically the human voice, it has fallen to our time to witness the disembodiment of this voice. A voice which has escaped its biological confinement and now speaks to us from all sides—emanating from radios, telephones, televisions, computers, and, alas, even taxis. A voice so adrift and subjectless that shortly the first radio waves ever to carry it will leave our galaxy, continuing their journey into deep space.
It seems that this liberation of the voice fuels the relentless interrogation of the conceptual status of the “human,” the “body,” and “language” we are witnessing this century. In this light my work is driven by a deceptively simple question: Who is speaking? Whether addressed to an individual subject, a group, or a community acting collectively this question demands a theory of subjectivity and methodological principles. Here I believe that psychoanalysis has a privileged position in relation to other disciplines. Indeed, as a theory which claims to shed light on what precisely it means to become human, to wit the entry of the “human” animal into a symbolic world and the constitution of the human object and body, how can we avoid psychoanalysis? And yet, more then one hundred years after the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, the conceptual status of psychoanalysis remains profoundly obscure.
My thesis is that this obfuscation of the theoretical specificity of psychoanalysis is due to a forced choice, found everywhere in our culture and thought today, that continues to rely on the classical philosophical division of the subject and object. This division, which forces one to choose between a Cartesian theology of a subject present to itself in its representations or the domain of empirical positivity which would precede consciousness and exist independently of it, simply cannot explain consciousness in the human. A psychoanalytic and philosophically informed meditation on the human subject’s relation to language should challenge this juxtaposition and reveal what I will risk calling an essential ontological fragility in the human subject. A fragility that manifests itself in all discourses that involve subjectivity, whether they be ethical, juridical, or political.
Indeed, I believe this mediation confronts us with a sort of structural crossroads that any understanding of the human subject must face. Either one begins, as so often is done, with an infant that, however theorized, is human from the get go, or we take a path that begins with language and hence an origin that is not an origin of any being, whether animal or human. Of course, if one defines language in such a way that it is reserved for the human, there is nothing to say. But if we attempt to think the possibility of language and the human in a fashion that does not simply reduce one to the other, and reinscribe language as being, in a certain sense, in-human, we effectively mark the meaning of both words irreducibly from the inside, and everything changes. Everything changes. Once it is demonstrated that the way in which we can try to mean or make meaning is dependent upon linguistic properties that are not simply made by us, and often operate independently of any wish or desire we might have, how can we ignore that this knowledge touches our understanding of everything which is inside language which means, once again, it touches our understanding of everything that concerns the human world?
In this sense the horizon of my work marks a belief that the theoretical specificity of psychoanalysis is effaced when understood within conceptual frameworks that insist on maintaining categories of thought that are being explicitly challenged. The most sophisticated criticisms, while acknowledging a dehiscence in the heart of the human, continue to link subjectivity to what is all too quickly called human, man, individual, infant, etc. But this link is precisely what is at stake. I believe that any attempt to think the origins of human subjectivity must, at the very least, pass through a thinking that encounters the in-human of language.
 This felicitous phrase is of course Foucaults’.
As I see it, the fundamental difference between the hard sciences (what I will call Science) and the humanistic sciences (what I will call Philosophy) is how each understands the biological organism and its relation to language and the world. Science necessarily must think that language (here thought roughly as the multiple functions of the act of signifying and their interrelationships) poses no fundamental difficulties when it comes to understanding the human organism’s relation to the world and self. Science must believe that through skill, luck and hard work it will eventually map or represent everything there is to represent concerning the world, and in this case the ‘human’ world. Neurotransmitters will all be logged, the genetic code cracked, any conceivable brain pattern reduced to a mathematical expression of 0s and 1 – in short any physical substance that is measurable will be mapped and presumably open to endless manipulation. Philosophy really has no problem with this line of thinking accept for one small question:
Manipulatable by whom?
For, no matter how reductive Science is in its search for the universal, meaning is always a meaning for someone. Where and who is this someone—be it an individual, group, or community acting collectively? In what sense does this someone want something and what does s/he want? Or: Who decides, and for what purposes?
Alas, for the scientist these and other questions one could ask of Science—what it says or does not say about the one who knows and about his or her mode of being—must all be assigned to the oblivion of a response that parrots an already decided mode of world interpretation: grasp everything according to plan and calculation and do so with a view to the best possible answer to an input output equation. The question of truth can not be posed; it can not even be asked to the extent that one could reply, “This question has no meaning.” Of course, a question of correctness or exactitude is raised: Are the results correct? Are the observations accurate? And, most especially: Are these observations consistent with, and do they correspond to, what one was looking for? Do they meet the “accepted body of beliefs,” the body of scientific beliefs considered in each instance as established (whether provisionally or not). At this real, effective level, scientific activity becomes a technopragmatic exercise designed to manipulate objects, instruments, algorithms, and concepts and to assure itself that all this “works” somehow or other. In limiting itself thus, it forbids any kind of self-interrogation or any questions about the conditions of its success. Thus, of all human activities, Science would be the sole one simply to resolve questions without raising any, it would be released from the need for questioning as well as from any burden of responsibility. A divine innocence it would possess, a marvelous form of extraterritoriality.
I do not like this haste. What it hurries, and crushes, is what I believe we must struggle to preserve: the unharmonizable, the unmeasurable, the trembling at the heart of the experience of being human. This unharmonizable is encountered anytime we confront the following unbreachable abyss: in thinking our relation to language it is language that brings itself to language. If we are to do justice to this aporia, then, we may never say of language that it names, but rather that it gives—language does not arrive to name the “world,” sitting on it like some cap on a thing, language itself gives world. And if the world that language gives is the human world—indeed ‘the human’ seems inseparable from language—perhaps language, as that which gives, is itself not reducible to, or inseparable from, the human. Perhaps language is, in an originary sense, other than human.
No doubt, at first blush, this sounds mystical, “metaphysical,” even poetic. At most a private and spiritual thought, one that does not concern the scientist and his or her method.
I beg to differ. What is involved in this insight is a refusal to see the problem of language against a background of a theory where sign represents the idea which itself represents the perceived thing. This paradigm of a threefold representational conception of the sign (words refer to ideas which refers to things) is as old as Aristotle and the Stoics and about as tenable today as Aristotelian physics. At the beginning of the last century Ferdinand de Saussure liberated us from this naive approach and showed it is illusory to believe that the word naturally binds a thing and an idea into some kind of atomic unity: words are constituted and understood only in relation to the difference they have from other words—there is no “natural” relation to the thing. Saussure argues persuasively, and against intuition, that the relation established by the word is between a signifier [the acoustic image] and a signified [ideal meaning] that are inseparable from one another, they are two sides of one and the same production. The word is thus already a constituted unity, an effect of the somewhat mysterious fact that “thought-sound” implies divisions.
To avoid the most common confusion it must be understood that for Saussure the signifier is not the sound itself, not the real sound in the world, but a sound-image, the psychological imprint of a sound. The signifiers: tree, arbre, and baum though different in terms of their acoustic properties all refer to the same signified, to the same ideal meaning. But this means, and this is where the Sausserian break occurs, that it “is impossible for sound, the material element, itself to belong to language” and that “in its essence it [the linguistic signifier] is not at all phonic.” In short, the word (signifier/signified) has no material existence other than as a differential relation. As Saussure says “Everything that has been said up to this point boils down to this: in language there are only differences. Even more important: a difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without positive terms.…The idea or phonic substance that a sign contains is of less importance than the other signs that surround it.”
The first consequence of this is that the signified concept is never simply present in and of itself, in some kind container that would refer only to itself, a container that has always been thought and experienced as the word effacing itself before consciousness. Essentially and lawfully, every signifier is inscribed in a chain or in a system within which it refers to other signifiers by means of a systematic play of difference. In language there are only differences. Which is to say that neither the signified or “real world” are ever reached in themselves—they are only ever given consistency via the differential relations of the play of difference. One cannot refer to a “thing” except in an interpretive experience and this “experience” neither yields meaning nor assumes it except in a movement of differential referring. Neither the signified nor the “real world” are ever present to us in some kind of undecomposable immediacy of conscious experience. The strange conclusion we are forced to draw is the following: given the structure of language, the intention which animates utterance will never be completely present in itself and its content. The difference which structures it a priori introduces an essential dehiscence in the heart of presence and the desire to efface this difference harbors a lure—the teleological lure of consciousness. To the extent that we long to refer to something present outside of language, whether a “prelinguistic” or “extralinguistic” or “supralinguistic” existence, we erase the fact that this amounts to a subordination of difference in favor of some presence somewhere that is more original than it, which exceeds and governs it. But this “transcendental signified,” this presence outside of difference does not exist. Presence will always be marked by the trace of another term—indeed only on this condition could it signify. There is no synthesis without difference meaning that synthesis always miscarries—it always leaves a remainder and a structural other.
If there is to be self-consciousness (experience, mind, subject, discourse, sense of self, etc.) it has to be susceptible to phenomenalization. But since the phenomenality of experience cannot be established a priori, it can only occur by a process of signification. For Descartes, what the I think is directed towards, in so far as it lurches into the I am, is a subject that exists for itself and in itself, outside of all difference. But this ego cogito is only ever experienced in and through language. As beings always already in language the phenomenal and sensory properties of signs, namely signifiers, have to serve as guarantors for the certain existence of the signified and, ultimately, of the referent or thing. And while the phenomenality of the signifier, as sound, is unquestionably involved in the correspondence between the name and the thing named, the link, the relationship between the word and the thing, is not natural or phenomenal, but conventional. This gives the language considerable freedom from referential restraint, but it make it epistemologically highly suspect and volatile, since its use can no longer be said to be determined by considerations of truth and falsehood, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, or pleasure and pain. There is no “transcendental signified” that can anywhere arrest the play of difference or act as ground. In short, when talking about self-consciousness we must take into account the referential function of language prior to designating the referent (in this case the “I” of “I think”). We have to consider reference as a function of language and not an intuition transparent to itself. Intuition already implies a referential relation to self and other.
The thinking of this “deconstruction” of consciousness is uneasy and difficult, especially since the ontology of this thought escapes, exceeds and breaks out of traditional Scientific logic. But to say that difference is irreducible means only that we must attempt to think responsibly what this entails. Above all this in no way suspends reference to concepts such as reality, to the world, to history, to being, and especially not to the other, since to say of reality, of the world, of history, that they always appear in an experience, hence in a movement of differences and hence of referral to the other, is simply to recall that alterity (difference) is irreducible. But it is precisely in this recognition of a structural alterity in any relationship—relationships that are often difficult to think through—that responsibilities jell, political responsibilities in particular. Indeed, once it has been demonstrated that the exclusion of difference (of divergences, contaminations, impurities, etc.) cannot be justified by purely theoretical-methodological reasons, how can one ignore that the practice of exclusion, or this will to purify, to reappropriate in a manner that would be essential, internal, and ideal in respect to the subject or to its objects, translates necessarily into a politics and ethics?
Hence, Science forgets that the scientific method is not: I can prove something because reality is the way I say it is; but rather: as long I can produce proof, it is permissible to think that reality is the way I say it is. It is permissible to think this because we all agree on the rules governing the question at hand. The scientific method can be summed up in saying that not every consensus is a sign of truth (e.g. Science once believed that the sun revolves around the earth); but it is presumed that the truth of a statement necessarily draws a consensus (e.g. Science now believes the earth revolves around the sun). But if scientific truth is determined through proof, and proof is located by consensus, a surprising result is that the production of proof falls under a different goal than truth. Proof’s goal is performativity–that is, the best possible answer to an input/output equation. In a word, efficiency.
Yet even slight reflection reveals that the object of Philosophy, namely the meaning humans give to life-death, has its own consistency which depends on a conceptual elaboration which is pertinent to the realities it addresses. Realities that often escape narratives of efficiency. For example, in psychoanalysis these realities consist of relationships among terms which can be conceptualized but not objectified: subject (of desire), (unconscious) thought, object (of the drive). Hence, psychoanalysis is a systematic approach to a space made up of dimensions other than those which account for the geometry of a three or four dimensional world. The reality of this no less “natural” space is made of “dimensions” (memory, forgetting, drives, desires) for which the categories of quantity and measure are not pertinent. Psychoanalytic concepts derive from phenomena such as repetitions, resistances, memory lapses, reminiscences, etc., that are very difficult to conceive without recourse to temporal and spatial schemes that belong more to fictional narratives than to the phenomenal world as understood by Science. This is what I find so compelling about Philosophy, it reminds us that the facts of human psychology cannot be conceived without thinking through the implications of subjectivity as defined by the effect of language, and not the reverse. In sum, Philosophy is not in the business of debunking Science or the scientific method but of refusing to see its practitioners as somehow being more in touch with the non-human, hard facts of the world—as being somehow closer to a ‘truth’ that the human sciences can only aspire to in so far as they adopt the hard goals of prediction and control. In particular, to argue that psychoanalysis suffers because it is not scientific is to misunderstand the project of psychoanalysis. Indeed, I believe that the importance of psychoanalysis is that it embodies a scientific spirit not grounded in or legitimized by efficiency.
And yet everywhere this view is crushed, abandoned in favor of a Science that sees the meaning of humanity as prediction and control. This application of efficiency as a criterion necessarily entails that any work or endeavor not governed by this mode is not tolerated. Efficiency demands that you are operational, that you conform to its ideal which in this day and age means you “add value” that you “increase efficiency” or you—sometimes quite literally—disappear. In scientific research, the State and/or private sector which funds it (almost exclusively) have to abandon narratives of Justice and Truth that are not reducible to a narrative whose telos is efficiency. Any attempt to articulate a truth not based on the optimization of performance is abandoned because it is not obvious how it can increase power or wealth. In a world where success means gaining time, thinking has a single, but irredeemable, fault: it is a waste of time.
Apologies to Cornelius Castoriadis, Hélène Cixous, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Serge Leclaire, Jean-François Lyotard, and Richard Rorty for plagiarized text.
 At least the Scientific logic of Descartes where mathematics is the means of insuring certitude and subjectivity its grounding principle. While 20th Century physics has done much to explode this paradigm, one rarely finds scientists reflecting on what this might mean for subjectivity.
 Freud of course labeled this space ‘psychic reality’: “a particular form of existence not to be confused with material reality.” (SE V: 620)
One of the more remarkable coincidences one discovers in reading Husserl, Freud and Merleau-Ponty side by side is their inevitable protestations over basic, yet blindly insistent,misreadings of their work. Time and again we find all three authors adding postscripts, footnotes and introductions that plead with the reader to recognize the transformative nature of their respective systems. In other words, each thinker highlights, in their own fashion, the difficulty in properly grasping their system of thought without at least entertaining the possibility that certain of their foundational claims necessitate a complete reworking of received foundational concepts. Concepts that usually are assumed as self-evident. Such as perception, subject/object…in short an inherited ontology that has its titular roots in Descartes and Kant. These exortations are made all the more remarkable in that they still seem to have no effect on the majority of readers!