PsychoanalysisLacan Volume 5
Being, Body and Discourse: A review of Discourse Ontology: Body and the Construction of a World, from Heidegger through Lacan. By Christos Tombras, 2019, The Palgrave Lacan Series.
Heidegger and Lacan
In her biography of Lacan, Roudinesco (1997, p. 226) recounts an anecdote from an occasion when Jacques Lacan and Sylvia Bataille played host to the Heideggers, Martin and Elfriede. Lacan sped through Chartres on a ‘lightning visit’ to the cathedral. The French and Germans did not speak each other’s languages well enough to converse fluently, but evidently, Lacan’s driving style elicited a volley of complaint from his guests, at which point, Roudinesco tells us, he ‘only drove the faster’. The anecdote could function as a synecdoche of the Lacan-Heidegger relation, of close proximity giving way, ultimately, to irreducible difference. Their respective projects had points of contact, but only questionable overlap, and it would be understating things to say that Lacan and Heidegger responded rather differently to the spirit of their times.
Nonetheless, Lacan maintained a personal correspondence with Heidegger for years, and at one point, translated one of Heidegger’s texts (‘Logos’). Other philosophers are more prominent in Lacan’s teaching, especially the trio of Plato, Descartes and Hegel, and many more have received critical examination from within the perspective of Lacan’s oeuvre. Lacan’s engagement with Heidegger, however, has received relatively little attention, and it is this lack which Christos Tombras’ book is addressing.
Tombras’ project is not a synthesis of the two thinkers, so much as a survey of their respective positions, and, toward the latter part of the book, a development of their points of connection. As Tombras puts it (p. 186), ‘It is not easy to read Heidegger together with Lacan’. Many of the philosophers invoked by Lacan are traditional metaphysicians skewered for their assumptions and prejudices, or are deployed for pedagogical purposes as counter-examples. There are other philosophers and philosophies, however, which are not mere foils for Lacan, but which provide substantial inspiration for Lacan’s teaching. Plato’s dialogues (especially the Symposium and the Parmenides) and Frege’s work are important in Lacan’s teaching, and Hegel’s dialectical presentation, especially as rendered by Kojeve, remained a lasting influence on Lacan’s own teaching. Chinese philosophy is another understated influence, particularly in the later seminars. The work of Heidegger, however, does not particularly fit into any of these categories in terms of its legacy within Lacan’s teaching. Heidegger’s influence on and relation to Lacan remains complex and ambiguous, and Tombras wisely eschews ambitions of grand synthesis or a Daseinanalyse.
After an introduction, Tombras moves to an elaboration of Heidegger and the question of Being, with particular emphasis on Heidegger’s positions from his influential masterwork, Being and Time. From here, Tombras proceeds to an exposition and critique of Freud through a Heideggerean lens, in which Freudian psychoanalysis is situated within a broader scientistic and crudely-mechanistic worldview. In Tombras’ arc, Lacan’s teaching emerges as a non-reductionist version of psychoanalysis which is immune to the Heideggerean critique. The book ends via a weaving of various points of intersection between Lacan and Heidegger, with Tombras developing an ontology founded on discourse, covering topics as varied as time, consciousness, and the construction of a world. Given the breadth of its discussion, no consideration of the intersection of Lacan and Heidegger should ignore this book.
Freud and scientism
Central to Tombras’ reading of Heidegger is the latter’s critique of Freud, which posits the first psychoanalyst as an innovative thinker, but one who was ultimately limited by his own 19th Century scientism. As Tombras puts it, ‘Freud operated within the mechanistic/scientific (i.e. Cartesian) world view whereby the human being is to be reduced to an occurrent object and can be studied scientifically. Because of this, he failed to give an adequate account of the human being as a world-forming being’ (79). Upon one reading, there is ample evidence to support this view. Freud (1933), in his New Introductory Lectures posited that the Weltanschaaung of psychoanalysis was that of science, and Lacan himself claims that Freud’s work was wedded to ‘the scientism of his time’ (Lacan, 1966/2006, p.728). Freudian scientism would appear to be an established fact.
On the other hand, however, Freud’s written work – especially accounting for his prolific epistolary efforts – is vast. In the final couple of decades of Freud’s life, in particular, there is a marked ’speculative’ turn which is not self-evidently reducible to scientistic concerns. Are works such as Totem and Taboo, The Uncanny, Civilisation and its Discontents, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, and others, really best understood as accounts of human psychical life on the model of 19th Century billiard-ball mechanics? It is true that the scientistic worldview still dominates that of contemporary mental health discourse, which aspires to take its place among the ‘hard’ sciences, and which Tombras does an excellent job of skewering. (Page 68 in particular presents an incisive case against contemporary attempts to quantify human feeling). Tombras singles out Stephen Hawking for particular opprobrium here, but Hawking is but one of a network of scientific reductionists who commit egregious philosophical (and political) idiocies when outside of their narrow specialisations (Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker are other cases in point). This reductionism, however, is arguably not to be found in Freud. Even in the Entwurf, an early, ‘scientific’ project mainly of interest nowadays to Lacanians and those seeking a Freudian rapprochement with neuroscience (such as Eric Kandel, or Mark Solms), Freud’s positions are irreducible to Cartesian discourse, hydraulics or mechanics. As Lacan noted (1992, p. 39), even in this early psychoanalytic period, Freud’s work can be read, inter alia, as a text on ethics. Note the attention paid in Seminar VII to Freud’s inclusion of the Nebenmensch, one’s fellow human being, or that which Lacan terms ‘the Other’, as constitutive of subjectivity. Not only are Freud’s concerns in this period ethical, properly speaking, they also implicitly contain a relational ontology, constructed and mediated via language. Introjection, the incorporation of objects, identification, overdetermination, and the social production of designated erogenous zones are the proof of this.
Consequently, whilst it may be possible, with some strain, to attempt to read Freud as a philosophically-naive determinist of the sort whom Heidegger ‘did not really respect’ (75), one could ask whether such an interpretation involves reading Freud at all. Indeed, Tombras concedes the likely possibility that Heidegger’s ‘reading’ of Freud was nothing more than a secondhand account transmitted via Medard Boss that involved no direct reading at all. I declare from the outset my bias here, in that I would much prefer a Freudian critique of Heidegger than the inverse, but all the same, when Tombras asserts (53) that ‘the implicit aim of the modern scientific method is, according to Heidegger, the control and use of nature’, then Freud, even at his most hydraulic, is innocent of this charge. If he was not, if he was, as Heidegger posited a dogmatic scientific reductionist, it is probable that Lacan would have found very little in Freud to which he could viably stage a ‘return’.
A good portion of Tombras’ book is dedicated to an exegesis of Lacanian concepts. Tombras provides an excellent introduction to Lacan, a task which is more difficult than it may appear. Language and jouissance are key topics here. I was surprised that Heidegger’s notion of the ‘equiprimordial’, which he uses to describe the elements constitutive of man’s being-in-the-world, and which is mentioned by Tombras, was not similarly applied to Lacan’s three registers. Lacan himself, with his Borromean knots and topological models, suggests an equalisation of the registers. Tombras, by contrast, grants primacy to jouissance, and thereby the real, stating that ‘without jouissance there would be no signifier’ (135). Tombras is not alone in granting logical, structural or temporal primacy to the real and to jouissance, but there are some problems with this view. First, it suggests the possibility of the real as something which pre-dates human subjectivity, merely sitting around waiting to be symbolised. On the contrary, as soon as Lacan theorised the real it is clear that it cannot exist independently of a symbolic. Animals, as beings outside of language, do not inhabit the real, but only the imaginary. As Lacan learnt from Spinoza, determinatio est negatio, and as he learnt from Hegel, this negatio is a determinate negation. The advent of the signifier, and of representation as an imaginary-symbolic amalgam necessarily implies the real as its determinate negation, but precisely not as a pre-existent or independent phenomenon. Second, the opposition and inverse correlation between jouissance and the signifier, which Lacan maintains up to a certain point, is undermined by his notion of lalangue, in which both elements are to be found unified in the same place. Third, and most troublingly, from a practical point of view, is the risk of turning jouissance (or the real) into an onto-theological term. In this iteration, all is mere semblant other than the jouissance of the One-all-alone, with this latter taken to be the ultimate subject of psychoanalysis. The social bond, the Other, once taken to be constitutive of the Lacanian subject, is now derided as a sham. Transference is relegated to a role of peripheral importance, sublimation is now illusory, and one is left with a psychoanalytic theory indistinguishable from Thatcherism, in which society does not exist. It is not that Tombras himself advances these positions in his text, but the implications of a real-centric psychoanalysis have been drawn out by others and are contested. Braunstein (2020), for example, put it as follows:
One cannot say which came first, whether jouissance or the word. They both delimit and overlap in a way that the experience of psychoanalysis shows to be inextricable. There is only jouissance for the being who speaks and because he speaks…words make jouissance possible even as they restrict and denaturalise it. (p. 13).
I shall return subsequently to the issue of Heidegger and Lacanian politics, but for now, I suggest that the relative primacy of the real, or of jouissance, and the manner in which these elements are articulated is not some scholastic digression but at the heart of Lacanian praxis.
The place of science and technology in the respective works of Lacan and Heidegger makes for a set of interesting comparisons and contrasts. Psychoanalysis was not, for Lacan, a science, even if its subject emerged from scientific discourse. The risk for psychoanalysis, institutionally speaking, is that it lapses into a discourse of the university, namely, a discourse that disciplines through discipleship. The discourse of the analyst is a bulwark, of sorts, against this tendency. Lacan was sufficiently prescient to see that science would not proceed on the basis of pure epistemophilia, but would be recuperated by capital as technology and ‘gadgets’ (see, for instance, the discussion of the lathouse in Seminar XVII, p. 162). The symbolic order declines in importance relative to the other registers over the course of Lacan’s teaching, and one could argue that this decline mirrors the diminution of the symbolic order as such. To the extent that psychoanalysis remains a living discourse, it is oriented to handling the consequences of this decline. Tombras spends a good deal of his book elucidating the problems with scientism, and what one might call Lacanian ideology is by no means immune to these problems. Tombras (167) writes well of the failed attempts to turn Lacan’s Borromean models into scientific dogma.
Heidegger deals with these questions most strikingly in ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ (Heidegger, 1977). As diagnostician, Heidegger is not so far from Lacan’s position in theorising that which technology captures within its frame, leaving subjects ‘unfree and chained’ (Heidegger, 1977, p. 4). There is a remarkable similarity between the two thinkers on this question as when, for instance, Lacan in Seminar VII discusses the different relation that men and women of antiquity had to the world of nature qua signs:
Isn’t it strange, paradoxical even, that it was the observations of shepherds and Mediterranean sailors of the return to the same place of an object which might seem to interest human experience least, namely a star, that revealed to the farmer when he should sow his seeds? Think of the important role that the Pleiades played for Mediterranean navigators…it was the observation of the return of the stars to the very same places that, repeated over the centuries, led to the structuralisation of reality by physics. (p. 75).
However, there was a ‘decisive step in the history of science’ in the modern era, leading to the formulation that the stars were not incorruptible, and that for us moderns, ‘they might not be in the same place’. ‘For a long time, a world soul existed’ (p. 92), and the symbols and images of humans had a rapport with the non-human world. By now, the falcon no longer hears the falconer. Sappho (in Fragment 168B) could mark her insomnia by the setting of the moon and the Pleiades; we have only the abrasive light of the mobile phone.
Lacan sets about developing a clinical praxis that takes account of the irreparable breaches induced by science. In contrast to Lacan, Heidegger had little that resembles a praxis, and, as with many of his political persuasion, shrunk from the shock of modernity, preferring a romantic nostalgia for lederhosen and the plough. Moreover, whilst some have argued that psychoanalysis is a technology of sorts, a mode of biopower deployed at the level of the transference, this is not universally true. Yes, the ego psychologists and their descendants often made it an explicit aim of analysis that the analysand identify with the analyst’s ‘healthy’ ego, or attempt to discard their ‘perverse’ sexuality in favour of social conformism, ‘maturation’ and coital convention, but this was not Freud’s position, nor that of several other analysts. (Winnicott, who was trenchant in his criticisms of behaviourism, comes to mind here). Lacan was the psychoanalyst who explicitly situated his field in the ethical domain, giving the latter primacy over ontology in the first instance, and secondly, denying that psychoanalysis was a science at all. This is a complete reversal of the positions of the mental health disciplines, in which practitioners determine what is in the ‘client’s’ best interest and implement these aims in an authoritarian fashion with psy-technologies, justifying it all with recourse to the discourse of science.
I would like to conclude this discussion of Tombras’ book with three important topics that I feel arise from it. These topics range from politics, to ontology, to epistemology, as well as their trefoil knotting.
Politics Heideggerean and Psychoanalytic
The first topic requires a critical standpoint, and it relates to Heidegger’s Nazism and anti-Semitism, the evidence for which seems to mount with every passing decade. The one great oversight of Tombras’ book, to my mind, was the lack of treatment of this delicate subject. Tombras’ position is as follows:
This question is straightforward: Is there anything at all in Heidegger’s phenomenology that would suffice to expose it as harbouring Nazi assumptions and ideals? Would we be able to discern anything problematic in his fundamental ontology if we were not made suspicious by his silence regarding Nazi crimes?…I do not think that this is the case. (p. 10).
This dispenses rather breezily, then, with the question of Heidegger’s politics. Tombras is not alone in his position here, and whilst I would not claim that Heidegger’s philosophy is reducible to Nazism, there are nevertheless a few pertinent questions to be raised. First, which Heidegger are we discussing here? If, following Tombras, we stick to Heidegger’s phenomenology, then we are probably dealing with Being and Time, which is to say, with a period in which Heidegger’s fascism was merely nascent. Even then, however, it is arguably possible to discern the brown shoots of incipient Nazism, for instance, in what Adorno would denounce as the ‘jargon of authenticity’ (Adorno, 1973). Moreover, if we skip but a few years later into Heidegger’s oeuvre, for instance, the Introduction to Metaphysics (Heidegger, 2000), and the fascist tendencies (anti-Semitism, anti-communism) are not exactly well-hidden. Heidegger is not a mathematician or scientist, and his political concerns cannot be neatly insulated from his properly philosophical output.
Again, this question is not one of empty academicism. Lacanian psychoanalysts are not exactly unified on political matters, and any rapprochement with Heideggerean thought is bound to have ramifications for Lacanian politics. Of the two most prominent Lacanians, in France, at least, one – Colette Soler – disavows political discourse altogether, considering it ‘demagoguery’ (Soler, 2014, p. 217). The other – Jacques-Alain Miller – accepts that psychoanalysis is inherently political, but explicitly aligns himself with ‘cynical’ liberal individualism (Miller, 2012). Both are particularly poor positions from within psychoanalysis from which to grasp fascism, the first, because of its political naivety, the second because of liberalism’s proximity to and complicity with fascism. For ageing Parisians in the more pleasant arrondissements, liberalism may evoke nostalgia for courageous opposition to the Church and absolute monarchy, but its more enduring legacy (in France, above all) is a catalogue of apologias for slavery, the suppression of popular democracy, the exacerbation of poverty and extensive colonial genocide. Insofar as both political philosophies are chained, uncritically, to capitalism, both proceed from what Lacan called a Verwerfung at the level of castration (Lacan, 2017, p. 90). The consequences of a politically-naive integration of Heideggerean philosophy may not be benign for psychoanalysis.
Mitsein and the Death of the Other
The first half of Being and Time (Heidegger, 1962) focuses, appropriately enough, on being, prior to Heidegger’s subsequent introduction of the temporal dimension. There are several important claims made by Heidegger in this section of the text, and chief among them is the argument that there is no ‘wordless’ subject. ‘Being-in-the-world’ (In-der-Welt-sein) is composed of many constituent elements, of which one is ‘Being-with’, or Mitsein. To translate this somewhat into psychoanalytic language, the Other is the fundamental basis of any Being; even solitude is but one particular mode of Mitsein. There are some possible exceptions to this. Death, for instance, whilst universal, is approached singularly, but on the whole, one is dealing with a relational ontology in Heidegger. On this point, he is linked with both Freud and Lacan.
In contemporary interpretations of Lacan’s teaching, especially those undertaken by clinical practitioners, ontological questions tend to remain latent, but to the extent that they exist at all, they are clearly disputed. The ‘classical’, structuralist moment of Lacan’s teaching, like Heidegger’s Mitsein, places the Other (and discourse) at the heart of the psychoanalytic enterprise. The disputation surrounds varying exegeses of Lacan’s ‘later’ teaching. In particular, the Millerian reading of Lacan’s later seminars proposes what I would call the death of the Other. The Other – and practically everything other than jouissance – turns out to be a mere semblant. Focus on the Other, on the autonomy of the signifier, for instance, appears misguided in this perspective, and one ends up with a series of dualisms and implicit hierarchies. There is jouissance (the true aim of interpretation) and mere semblant (the lures of representation). There is the transferential unconscious (facile, also ensnared in the signifier) and a real unconscious (the true aim of analysis). The subject of the unconscious is replaced with the One (pace Parmenides), and there is no longer full or empty speech, but merely a One who conducts ‘autistic monologues’, according to Miller, who, like Tombras, affirms the primacy of jouissance (for instance, see Miller, 2020, p. 171). Miller goes further:
The subject does not speak to the Other and, equally, the Other does not speak to him. What is called the Other is rather that the subject speaks to himself through the Other. In this vein, the Other is the puppet of the subject. You have to be psychotic to think otherwise. (Miller, 2020, p. 173).
This is a strong claim, because it ventures far beyond the assertion that the subject has particularised relations to the Other (i.e. as persecutor, master, etc), but instead reduces the Other solipsistically, to mere puppet. One can certainly find textual evidence for this position in Lacan, but to take it as Lacan’s definitive account of the matter is to take the latter’s dialectical presentation and reduce it to a series of dualisms and dogmatic orthodoxies. For instance, whilst it is true that Lacan takes the One of Parmenides (or more precisely, of Plato’s Parmenides) as a point of departure in his discussion on jouissance and sexual non-rapport, he likewise adds that ‘Parmenides was wrong and Heraclitus was right’ (Lacan, 1998, p. 114) on questions of being. The Other is Other qua hole, but this hole is a depository for speech and is the counterpart of the sexual non-rapport. Lacan does not appear, therefore, to be doing solipsism or liberal individualism, or still less some rendition of ‘autistic’ satisfaction. Likewise, in the unpublished Seminar XXIV, Lacan does indeed affirm that ‘the One dialogues all alone’, but only after having already claimed that lalangue is established communally, and that a psychoanalysis is not an ‘autism á deux’. This suggests that Lacan himself did not regard the Other to be quite as dead as some contemporary Lacanians, excluding the possibility that he was, in Millerian terms, psychotic, with Freud and Heidegger equally mad. One can grant jouissance its ‘opacity’ without necessarily going so far as to regard it as entirely unmediated by the Other.
In addition, Tombras touches on the status of the body in Heidegger’s phenomenology. Whilst Heidegger never quite arrives at anything like a notion of jouissance, there are intriguing possibilities suggested by his analysis of a range of (implicitly embodied) affects, such as anxiety and guilt in Being and Time, and boredom in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics (Heidegger, 1995). Sartre regarded Heidegger’s Dasein as ‘asexual’ (Sartre, 1958, p. 383) but Tombras insists on the centrality of the corporeal for Heidegger. ‘For Heidegger, the question of the body is extremely important but latent’ (p. 205), especially inasmuch as the body is the means by which space is ‘disclosed’ to Dasein. As much as this may be true, the sort of body at issue in Heidegger’s phenomenology is of a very metaphysical nature, and the body’s possibilities for satisfaction and suffering, so important in psychoanalysis, are not necessarily negated, but are certainly underdeveloped.
The Construction of a World and the Problem of Totality
One final question provoked by Tombras’ meditations of psychoanalysis and Heidegger concerns the status of the ‘world’ in the latter’s philosophy. As Tombras notes, human subjects in Heidegger’s philosophy are ‘world-forming’. This world is a constituent element of Being, and Being stands for the fact that ‘the world is intelligible’, according to Tombras (p. 14). This point is the key argument for Tombras that justifies a Heideggerean critique of psychoanalysis: ‘Psychoanalysis fails to grasp the totality of the phenomenon of being-in-the-world, which led to its failure to draw out a complete account of the human being in his or her historicity’ (p. 81).
There are at least two possible responses to this position that problematise Heidegger’s totality, one philosophical, and the other psychoanalytic. The first, philosophical response is the refutation that the world qua totality exists. This is precisely the critique of Heidegger enacted by German philosopher Markus Gabriel, who claims that Heidegger’s definition of a world, namely, the ‘domain of all domains’, does not exist, as there can be no all-encompassing, all-inclusive totality (Gabriel, 2015). There are several lines of argument that Gabriel introduces to defend his claim, drawn from Frege, Russell, and others, that there is no ‘super-object’ that constitutes a totality, but rather, only disconnected ‘fields of sense’.
One could go further in this vein and suggest that Lacan’s famed ‘anti-philosophy’, far from being a generalised rejection of metaphysical thought, was only a rejection of such thought insofar as it is founded upon the conceit of a totality. Tombras has a thoughtful discussion on precisely this point (see p. 176), and it is clear that irrespective of Lacan’s reservations about specific philosophies, he did not hesitate to deploy philosophical thought to the ends of psychoanalytic praxis. The problem of philosophical worldviews – or for that matter, scientific – is that they can sometimes involve the theoretician as a kind of stamp-collector, amassing S2s in the aim of completing the set. Except that there is no complete set, a fact which Lacan repeatedly observed, and which a few philosophers since Heidegger seem to have noticed also. Lacan’s teaching is not a completed system, as Tombras rightly notes (p. 12), and when, for example, one encounters Lacan-inspired readings of Hegel, to take one example, the emphasis is always on the system being incomplete, leaving something unsynthesised, containing internal rupture, void, negativity, and so on.
This leads to the psychoanalytic critique of Heidegger’s totality. In the ‘classical’ theory of psychosis from the 1950s, the psychotic subject has a hole in the symbolic order, a void correlative to the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father. Subsequently, however, this hole in the symbolic is generalised. The ‘treasure-trove of signifiers’ link the drive to that which constitutes the Other, but this turns out not to be a complete set. This incompleteness is one of the meanings of castration, that of a loss or refusal of jouissance. The Lacanian subject, in contrast to the Heideggerean, must live with lack as a structural condition of his or her existence, but this very lack can have a preservative function insofar as it can sometimes, at least, be positivised not only as a limit or impasse, but as a desire.
 For example, one can think of the reference to Kant’s ‘Categorical Imperative’ as being analogous to Sadean morality, and therefore the superego; or to Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, which excludes ‘barbarity’ and ‘perversion’, which is to say, precisely the things of interest in psychoanalysis.
 I lack the space to address here any comparison with the work of Levinas, who engaged at length with Heidegger’s corpus but who, like Lacan, gave the ethical priority over the ontological.
 As an aside, is not the emphasis on an ‘authentic’ being-towards-death little other than an obsessional symptom par excellence? Lacan repeats, in Seminar III and elsewhere, that procreation and death have no representation in the symbolic other than that of mythos. An ‘authentic’ relation to one’s death resembles nothing so much as an ‘authentic’ sexual rapport, when perhaps the best that one can achieve is to deal with a necessarily ‘inauthentic’ and divided relation to mortality.
 I am not referring to ancient history here. The massacre of Algerians in Paris in 1961 must be within the living memories of the older generation of Lacanian psychoanalysts. Police murdered Algerians as retribution for the war of independence, with the bodies of Algerians being removed handcuffed from the Seine. Perpetrated by the far-right, and ignored by ‘liberals’, it was opposed principally by the communists, the trade unions, some errant Catholic priests and, naturally enough, the Algerians themselves.
 Let nobody object here with the rejoinder that Lacan spoke of the ‘jouissance of the idiot’: this idiot, etymologically-speaking, is a ‘private’ citizen, and this ‘private’ capacity is always already a specific subset of relations to the Other in (public) social life, just as loneliness is always already one possible mode of Mitsein.
 The Marxist philosophical tradition has extensive discussion and debate on the concept of ‘totality’, but there is no engagement with this tradition by Heidegger, and practically none by any Lacanians to the best of my knowledge.
 Hegelian commentators such as Rebecca Comay and Stephen Houlgate are exemplary here.
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