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it is in a way the theory about the resistance against itself. Concerning this crucial point, the situation today is entirely different than, almost the opposite of, that of the ’60s and early ’70s when “marginal” disciplines (like the cultural studies’ version of psychoanalysis) were perceived as “anarchic,” as liberating us from the “repressive” authoritarian regime of the standard academic discipline. What cognitivist critics of cultural studies play upon is the common perception that, today, (what remains of) the cultural studies’ version of psychoanalysis is perceived as sectarian, Stalinist, authoritarian, engaged in ridiculous pseudo-theological factional struggles in which problems over the party line prevail over open empirical research and rational argumentation. Cognitivists present themselves as the fresh air that does away with this close and stuffy atmosphere—finally, one is free to formulate and test different hypotheses, no longer “terrorized” by some dogmatically imposed global party line. We are thus far from the anti-academic/establishment logic of the ’60s: today, academia presents itself as the place of open, free discussion, as liberating us from the stuffy constraints of “subversive” cultural studies. And although, of course, the “regression” into authoritarian prophetic discourse is one of the dangers that threatens cultural studies, its inherent temptation, one should nonetheless focus attention on how the cognitivist stance succeeds in unproblematically presenting the framework of the institutional academic university discourse as the very locus of intellectual freedom.


You Cannot, Because You Should Not!

So, how does Lacanian theory enable us to avoid the impasse of cultural studies and to confront the challenge of the cognitivist and/or evolutionary naturalization of the human subject? In Andrew Niccol’s futuristic thriller Gatacca (1998), Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman prove their love for each other by throwing away the hair each partner provides to be analyzed in order to establish his or her genetic quality. In this futuristic society, authority (access to the privileged elite) is established “objectively,” through genetic analysis of the newborn—we no longer have symbolic authority proper, since authority is directly grounded in the real of the genome. As such, Gatacca merely extrapolates the prospect, opened up today, of the direct legitimization of social authority and power in the real of the genetic code: “by eliminating artificial forms of inequality, founded on power and culture, socially egalitarian programs could eventually highlight and crystallize natural forms Lacan between Cultural Studies and Cognitivism of inequality far more dramatically than ever before, in a new hierarchical order founded on the genetic code.”7 Against this prospect, it is not enough to insist that the democratic principle of what Etienne Balibar calls egaliberté has nothing to do with the genetic-biological similarity of human individuals, but aims instead at the principal equality of subjects qua participants in the symbolic space. Gatacca confronts us with the following dilemma: is the only way to retain our dignity as humans by way of accepting some limitation, of stopping short of full insight into our genome, short of our full naturalization, that is, by way of a gesture of “I do not want to know what you objectively/ really are, I accept you for what you are”?

Among the modern philosophers, it was Kant who most forcefully confronted this predicament, constraining our knowledge of the causal interconnection of objects to the domain of phenomena in order to make a place for noumenal freedom, which is why the hidden truth of Kant’s “You can, therefore you must!” is its reversal: You cannot, because you should not! The ethical problems of cloning seem to point in this direction. Those who oppose cloning argue that we should not pursue it, at least not on human beings, because it is not possible to reduce a human being to a positive entity whose innermost psychic properties can be manipulated—biogenetic manipulation cannot touch the core of human personality, so we should prohibit it. Is this not another variation on Wittgenstein’s paradox of prohibiting the impossible: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence”? The underlying fear that gains expression in this prohibition, of course, is that the order of reason is actually inverted, that is, that the ontological impossibility is grounded in ethics: we should claim that we cannot do it, because otherwise we may well do it, with catastrophic ethical consequences. If conservative Catholics effectively believe in the immortality of the human soul and the uniqueness of human personality, if they insist we are not just the result of the interaction between our genetic code and our environs, then why do they oppose cloning and genetic manipulations? In other words, is it not that these Christian opponents of cloning themselves secretly believe in the power of scientific manipulation, in its capacity to stir up the very core of our personality? Of course, their answer would be that human beings, by treating themselves as just the result of the interaction between their genetic codes and their environs, freely renounce their dignity: the problem is not genetic manipulation as such, but the fact that its acceptance signals how human beings conceive of themselves as just another biological machine and thus rob themselves of their unique spirituality. However, the answer to this is, again: but why should we not endorse genetic manipulation and simultaneously insist that human beings are free responsible agents, since we accept the proviso that these manipulations do not really affect the core of our soul?

Why do Christians still talk about the “unfathomable mystery of conception” that man should not meddle with, as if, nonetheless, by pursuing our 74 Penumbra biogenetic explorations, we may touch some secret better left in shadow—in short, as if, by cloning our bodies, we at the same time also clone our immortal souls?

So, again, we are back at the well-known conservative wisdom that claims that the only way to save human freedom and ethical dignity is to restrain our cognitive capacities and renounce probing too deeply into the nature of things. Today’s sciences themselves seem to point toward a way out of this predicament. Does contemporary cognitivism not often produce formulations that sound uncannily familiar to those acquainted with different versions of ancient and modern philosophy, from the Buddhist notion of Void and the German Idealist notion of reflexivity as constitutive of the subject up to the Heideggerian notion of “being-in-the-world” or the deconstructionist one of différance? The temptation arises here to fill in the gap by either reducing philosophy to science, claiming that modern naturalizing cognitivism “realizes” philosophical insights, translating them into acceptable scientific form, or, on the contrary, by claiming that, with these insights, postmodern science breaks out of the “Cartesian paradigm” and approaches the level of authentic philosophical thought. This short-circuit between science and philosophy appears today in a multitude of guises: Heideggerian cognitivism (Hubert Dreyfuss), cognitivist Buddhism (Francisco Varela), the combination of Oriental thought with quantum physics (Capra’s “Tao of physics”), up to deconstructionist evolutionism. Let’s take a brief look at the two main versions of this short-circuit.

1. Deconstructionist Evolutionism There are obvious parallels between the recent popularized readings of Darwin (from Gould to Dawkins and Dennett) and Derridean deconstruction. Does Darwinism not practice a kind of “deconstruction,” not only of natural teleology, but also of the very idea of nature as a well-ordered positive system of species? Does the strict Darwinian notion of “adaptation” not claim that, precisely, organisms do not directly “adapt,” that there is stricto sensu no “adaptation” in the teleological sense of the term? Contingent genetic changes occur, and some of them enable some organisms to function better and survive in an environment that is itself fluctuating and articulated in a complex way, but there is no linear adaptation to a stable environment: when something unexpectedly changes in the environment, a feature which hitherto prevented full “adaptation” can suddenly become crucial for the organism’s survival. So Darwinism effectively prefigures a version of Derridean différance or of the Freudian Nachträglichgkeit, according to which contingent and meaningless genetic changes are retroactively used (or “exapted,” as Gould would have put it) in a manner appropriate for survival. In other words, what Darwin provides is a model explanation of how a state of things which appears to involve a well-ordered teleological economy (animals doing things “in order to …”), is effectively the outcome of a series of meaningless changes.

Lacan between Cultural Studies and Cognitivism The temporality here is future anterior, that is, “adaptation” is something that always and by definition “will have been.” And is this enigma of how (the semblance of) teleological and meaningful order can emerge from contingent and meaningless occurrences not also central to deconstruction?

One can thus effectively claim that Darwinism (of course, in its true radical dimension, not as a vulgarized evolutionism) “deconstructs” not only teleology or divine intervention in nature, but also the very notion of nature as a stable positive order—this makes the silence of deconstruction about Darwinism, the absence of deconstructionist attempts to “appropriate” it, all the more enigmatic. Dennett, the great proponent of cognitivist evolutionism, himself acknowledges (ironically, no doubt, but nonetheless with an underlying serious intent) the closeness of his “pandemonium” theory of human mind to cultural studies deconstructionism in his Consciousness Explained: “Imagine my mixed emotions when I discovered that before I could get my version of the idea of ‘the self as the center of narrative gravity’ properly published in a book, it had already been satirized in a novel, David Lodge’s Nice World. It is apparently a hot theme among the deconstructionists.”8 Furthermore, a whole school of cyberspace theorists (the best known among them is Sherry Turkle) advocate the notion that cyberspace-phenomena render palpable in our everyday experience the deconstructionist “decentered subject.” According to these theorists, one should endorse the “dissemination” of the unique self into a multiplicity of competing agents, into a “collective mind,” a plurality of self-images without a global coordinating center, that is operative in cyberspace and disconnect it from pathological trauma—playing in virtual spaces enables individuals to discover new aspects of “self,” a wealth of shifting identities, and thus to experience the ideological mechanism of the production of self, the immanent violence and arbitrariness of this production/ construction.

However, the temptation to be avoided here is precisely the hasty conclusion that Dennett is a kind of deconstructionist wolf in the sheep’s clothing of empirical science. There is a gap that forever separates Dennett’s evolutionary naturalization of consciousness from the deconstructionist “metatranscendental” probing into the conditions of (im)possibility of philosophical discourse. As Derrida argues exemplarily in his “White Mythology,” it is insufficient to claim that “all concepts are metaphors,” that there is no pure epistemological cut, since the umbilical cord connecting abstract concepts with everyday metaphors is irreducible. First, the point is not simply that “all concepts are metaphors,” but that the very difference between a concept and a metaphor is always minimally metaphorical, relying on some metaphor.

Even more important is the opposite conclusion, that the very reduction of a concept to a bundle of metaphors already has to rely on some implicit philosophical, conceptual determination of the difference between concept and metaphor, that is to say, on the very opposition it tries to undermine.9 We 76 Penumbra are thus forever caught in a vicious circle: true, it is impossible to adopt a philosophical stance freed from the constraints of naïve, everyday life-world attitudes and notions; however, although impossible, this philosophical stance is at the same time unavoidable. Derrida makes the same point apropos of the well-known historicist thesis that the entire Aristotelian ontology of the ten modes of being is an effect/expression of Greek grammar. The problem is that this reduction of ontology (of ontological categories) to an effect of grammar presupposes a certain notion (categorical determination) of the relationship between grammar and ontological concepts which is itself already metaphysical-Greek.10 We should always bear in mind this delicate Derridean stance, through which the twin pitfalls of naïve realism and direct philosophical foundationalism are avoided: “philosophical foundation” for our experience is impossible, and yet necessary—although all we perceive, understand and articulate, is, of course, overdetermined by a horizon of pre-understanding, this horizon itself remains ultimately impenetrable. Derrida is thus a kind of metatranscendentalist, in search of the conditions of possibility of this very philosophical discourse. If we miss this precise way in which Derrida undermines philosophical discourse from within, we reduce deconstruction to just another naïve historicist relativism. Derrida’s position here is thus the opposite of Foucault’s.

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