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As Šumič puts it, “the semblant is a symbolic construct which, by quilting, makes us believe that it is the other of the symbolic, namely, the real.” Its function, she explains, “is solely to cover up, by its very presence, the empty place of a term which is constitutively lacking.” Designed to “mask the nothing,” semblants are the “envelopes” of nothing that conceal the fact that behind the semblant there is nothing but the void.
Another name for this void is the Lacanian real. In her essay, “Pierre Loves Horanges: Lévinas-Sartre-Nancy: An Approach to the Fantastic in Philosophy‚” Catherine Malabou extends her interrogation of what she calls “plasticity” to a discussion of the fantastic in contemporary philosophy. For Malabou, the fantastic is a means of imagining something that is utterly unimaginable, namely, the difference dividing the ontic from the ontological.
The fantastic imagination proves capable of delivering in a single image or schema the “very consistency of difference” itself, which takes form in Emmanuel Levinas’, Jean-Paul Sartre’s and Jean-Luc Nancy’s diverse readings of Heidegger as an “objectivity,” a “materiality‚” or “a-reality” emerging from within being’s own internal excess. Difference is real, Malabou concludes, insofar as existence must be thought as the reality of ontological difference.
The question of identity and difference is then reopened in Tim Dean’s essay, “Sameness without Identity.” Like Malabou, Dean turns our attention to the way thought and thinking have as their precondition the rupturing of identity insofar as “there can be no thinking, no movement of consciousness that is not divided by the unconscious.” Dean focuses his discussion around the phenomenon of the male “clone.” As he explains, this was a look adopted in the 1970s by some American gay men, which is characterized by the embrace of traditional signifiers of masculinity. In Dean’s thoughtful reading, the gay clone is found to represent something “more than a stubborn refusal to move beyond the securities of the imaginary into the grown-up world of difference.” Rather it offers a productive means for thinking through the ancient but thorny question of identity and difference in “non-imaginary terms.” To do so, Dean draws on Leo Bersani’s consideration of homosexuality as a dissolution of the habitual conceptual boundaries of self and others, seeing in the gay clone a model of “inaccurate replication” that forces a new 12 Penumbra understanding of relational being “beyond our comparatively familiar imaginary and symbolic coordinates.” The figure Dean proposes for this rethinking is analogy, which serves as the rhetorical underpinnings for a likeness or “non-imaginary form of recognition that would not be susceptible to the vicissitudes of misrecognition.” Two different but complementary approaches to the question of the Law are found in Steven Miller’s “Lacan at the Limits of Legal Theory: Law, Desire and Sovereign Violence” and Dominiek Hoens’ “When Love is the Law: On The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein.” Miller enquires into the foundation of the Law and its constitutive violence. He shows how the Law in Lacan is self-grounding, a “miracle” which is unsupported by anything other than itself except for a sovereign violence that comes into play “where the law can no longer account for its own existence.” Miller locates this sovereign violence in the death penalty which, unlike the divine violence of the rabbinical tradition explored by Levinas, emerges not from the God that gives law but “from a different god,” namely, the sovereign power of death itself once it is freed from reference to any determinate authority. For Dominiek Hoens, on the other hand, it is not real but symbolic death in the form of subjective destitution that is at issue in the foundation of the Law. Hoens plots Duras’s story along the pathways of thinking found in the sophism analyzed in Lacan’s “Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty.” The value of this comparison for Hoens lies in the way Duras helps us to see the process of subject formation in Lacan as an event of love in Alain Badiou’s sense. Like the prisoners in “Logical Time,” subject formation is shown to engage in a three-step process, ending in a moment of concluding that is based on an anticipated rather than actual certainty. To become a subject of desire, Hoens explains, involves an act of identification with a signifier that only after the event will have become a founding law. For Hoens, then—as for Miller above—love becomes Law at the moment when a “miracle” occurs, when Lol “embraces finitude by subjectifying […] infinity.” The lesson Lol teaches us, that is, is the possibility of remaining faithful to one’s primordial object position—a position of waste and destitution—even as one switches places in love’s miracle to become a subject of desire.
We encounter the vicissitudes of the Law again in Petar Ramadanovic’s “Antigone’s Kind: The Way of Blood in Psychoanalysis,” in which the theorist of memory and forgetting sheds light on a buried “logic of blood” at the heart of the identification with the Name-of-the-Father. Approaching Sophocles backwards, Ramadanovic reads against the critical grain of commentaries on Antigone that emphasize Polynices’ symbolic value to Antigone.
In Ramadanovic’s reading, it is rather a real tie, the unalterable logic of blood, that underpins her act of burial, the result of which is to make her a “true member of the accursed family of Oedipus.” For Ramadanovic, this act ultimately allows Antigone to define for herself what family is, as Oedipus Counter-Memories of the Present did originally—and as Freud and Lacan subsequently have, to the extent that they conceive of the body of psychoanalytic knowledge as a science, that is, as possessing a genos.
From Law to a place where there purports to be no law (and indeed no place, as it is classically understood), this is the topic of Juliet Flower MacCannell’s cogitations on the unconscious in “Nowhere Else: On Utopia.” This essay’s inspiration is MacCannell’s perceived need for “alternative futures,” ones proposed by art rather than putative assertions of the “end of history” and their corresponding superegoic injunctions. For MacCannell, the archetypal site of such injunctions is found in contemporary suburbia, “that special non-place where incest and murder are no longer punishable transgressions, and where the drives that fuel them need no longer be repressed or even symbolically sacrificed.” To help us imagine another place—“neither as a ‘nowhere-and-everywhere’ nor as a ‘never and forever’ but simply as elsewhere”—MacCannell looks to literature, specifically to James Joyce as he is read by Lacan. MacCannell suggests that, to the extent that Joyce managed to create “unimaginable signifiers,” his work offers a means for transmitting an experience of jouissance through the medium of language. In Joyce’s sinthome, Lacan’s term for the flooding of language with jouissance, MacCannell finds an alternative path for art, one that, like topology and the other forms of integrally transmissible inscription that Lacan utilizes in his later seminars, encompasses the serpentine S-effect of the Other’s gaze.
“An image capable of capturing the reflection of what has no image.” This phrase is from Joan Copjec’s essay, “The Censorship of Interiority,” an interrogation of affect in the work of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami.
Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us provides Copjec with the occasion for a complex meditation on the role of anxiety in modernity’s break with the past.
Copjec begins from the position that shame and guilt, rather than different cultural manifestations, represent different modes by which the subject distances itself from its own fundamental “foreignness” to itself. For as Copjec points out, rather than rendering the modern subject endlessly malleable, the famous break with the past that characterizes modernity produces an attachment to something that tugs the subject away from the deterritorializing impulses of global capitalism and towards what Lacan calls a “prehistoric Other.” In Copjec’s hands, anxiety—this experience of being attached to a pertinacious nothing that one cannot shed—becomes the Ur-affect that lurks behind both shame and guilt. These two affects accordingly map the extent of the subject’s longiquity from its interior foreignness, the subject’s “intimate distance” from something that, in offering nothing to remember, is therefore impossible to forget.
The dialectic of proximation and distancing is also invoked in my essay on the importance of the fantasies in effectuating the radical break represented by love which Lacan calls a “change in discourse.” In “Signifier and 14 Penumbra Letter in Kierkegaard and Lacan,” the fantasies are understood as modes of writing in Lacan’s sense of the word, namely, a formalization in a medium that “goes beyond speech.” Here Kierkegaard’s “The First Love” in Either/Or anticipates Lacan’s insistence that writing will prove the path to love by giving us access to an All that is not part of the desiring chain. However, this All or supplemenary One is found to be structurally dependent upon the failure of the hysteric and obsessional subjects to reach their first love.
Closing the volume is “(Marxian-Psychoanalytic) Biopolitics and Bioracism,” by A. Kiarina Kordela. For Kordela, the chief innovation of late global capitalism lies in the way commodity fetishism cultivates the illusion of immortality. In her essay, Kordela argues that this illusion has in the meantime become the object of a properly biopolitical administration, which threatens to deliver us over to a racism by which a “biorace of immortals” wages wars of varying names upon a moving target of bio-mortals. We should resist this war on death itself, she urges.
Umbr(a) was founded by Joan Copjec and the graduate student cohort at the Center for Psychoanalysis and Culture at the University at Buffalo in the summer of 1995. In the intervening years, Umbr(a) has achieved a cult status to which few academic journals can lay claim. This reputation has been gained as much for the seminal works of psychoanalytic thinkers it has published— including Jacques-Alain Miller, Alain Badiou, Jean-Claude Milner, Étienne Balibar, Serge André, Fethi Benslama, Colette Soler, Paul Verhaeghe, Leo Bersani, Henry Corbin, Christian Jambet, Moustapha Safouan, Bruce Fink, Juliette Flower MacCannell, Alenka Zupančič, Mladen Dolar, Slavoj Žižek and numerous others (for many, in their first English translations)—as for the beauty of its typesetting and striking covers under the artistic direction of Sam Gillespie until 2003. Umbr(a) is now distributed in Mexico, Turkey and Korea (in the latter cases, in Turkish and Korean translation) and is available globally through online booksellers. The out of print issues are also now freely available in digital editions from the Center’s website (http://www.
We would like to thank all of the contributors and editors who have made Umbr(a) what it is today. We are also grateful to the Office of the Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, and the English department at University at Buffalo, which have provided the journal with financial support over the years, as well as the Graduate Student Association and various Faculty Chairs. Special thanks are due to Michael Stanish for his peerless detective work in recovering the electronic files of the back issues, as well as to Paul Ashton and Justin Clemens from re.press.
Counter-Memories of the Present Notes
1. Sigmund Freud, “Sexuality in the Aetiology of the Neuroses” (1898), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans.
James Strachey, et. al. (London: The Hogarth Press, 1953-1974), 3: 511-12.
2. Deleuze is speaking of Walter Benjamin and allegory. Gilles Deleuze, The
Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, foreword and trans, Tom Conley (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1993) 125.
3. See Alan Sokal, “Trangressing the boundaries—towards a transformative
hermeneutics of quantum gravity,” Social Text (Spring/Summer, 1996) 217See also Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, Impostures intellectuelles (Paris:
Odile Jacob, 1997).
Never known for his reserved statements, it was Lacan who stated in his tenth
seminar that, “if there is anyone, I think, who does not mistake what the Phenomenology of Spirit brings us, it is myself.”1 This should hardly be surprising:
Lacan was a man of his times and, if we are to believe Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, no less under the scrutiny of Alexandre Kojève than any of his contemporaries. Yet Lacan does not, from the moment he claims to be the authority on Hegel, cease to underline the differences between Hegel and himself.
This again should hardly surprise: almost every other French intellectual of the period has sought, in some manner or another, to surpass the dead-locks of the dialectic. Lacan should come as no exception. But his tactics are not as predictable as one may think. Typically, the overturning of Hegelianism seeks to undercut the unity of the sublated whole—Hegel’s critics never stop pointing towards the difference, or remaining end products of otherness, which are refused in the Hegelian system. Examples abound: the Derridian supplément, Lyotard’s différend, the Deleuzian fold. One could assume as much from 18 Penumbra Lacan—is objet a (that “remainder of the other”) not the same as the element which disrupts a negative economy? Is it not, strictly speaking, the correlate to Derrida’s supplément? The answer, unfortunately, is both yes and no.