Adrian Johnston and Catherine Malabou defy theoretical humanities' deeply-entrenched resistance to engagements with the life sciences. Rather than treat biology and its branches as hopelessly reductive and politically suspect, they view recent advances in neurobiology and its adjacent scientific fields as providing crucial catalysts to a radical rethinking of subjectivity. Merging three distinct disciplines--European philosophy from Descartes to the present, Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis, and affective neuroscience-- Johnston and Malabou triangulate the emotional life of affective subjects as conceptualized in philosophy and psychoanalysis (...) with neuroscience. Their experiments yield different outcomes. Johnston finds psychoanalysis and neurobiology have the potential to enrich each other, though affective neuroscience demands a reconsideration of whether affects can be unconscious. Investigating this vexed issue has profound implications for theoretical and practical analysis, as well as philosophical understandings of the emotions. Malabou believes scientific explorations of the brain seriously problematize established notions of affective subjectivity in Continental philosophy and Freudian-Lacanian analysis. She confronts philosophy and psychoanalysis with something neither field has seriously considered: the concept of wonder and the cold, disturbing visage of those who have been affected by disease or injury, such that they are no longer affected emotionally. At stake in this exchange are some of philosophy's most important claims concerning the relationship between the subjective mind and the objective body, the structures and dynamics of the unconscious dimensions of mental life, the role emotion plays in making us human, and the functional differences between philosophy and science. (shrink)
Slavoj Žižek is one of the most interesting and important philosophers working today, known chiefly for his theoretical explorations of popular culture and contemporary politics. This book focuses on the generally neglected and often overshadowed philosophical core of Žižek’s work—an essential component in any true appreciation of this unique thinker’s accomplishment. His central concern, Žižek has proclaimed, is to use psychoanalysis to redeploy the insights of late-modern German philosophy, in particular, the thought of Kant, Schelling, and Hegel. By taking this (...) avowal seriously, Adrian Johnston finally clarifies the philosophical project underlying Žižek’s efforts. His book charts the interlinked ontology and theory of subjectivity constructed by Žižek at the intersection of German idealism and Lacanian theory. Johnston also uses Žižek’s combination of philosophy and psychoanalysis to address two perennial philosophical problems: the relationship of mind and body, and the nature of human freedom. By bringing together the past two centuries of European philosophy, psychoanalytic metapsychology, and cutting-edge work in the natural sciences, Johnston develops a transcendental materialist theory of subjectivity—in short, an account of how more-than-material forms of subjectivity can emerge from a corporeal being. His work shows how an engagement with Žižek’s philosophy can produce compelling answers to today’s most vexing and urgent questions as inherited from the history of ideas. (shrink)
Critically engaging with thinkers including Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Catherine Malabou, Jean-Claude Milner, Martin Hagglund, William Connolly and Jane Bennett, Johnston formulates a materialist and naturalist account of subjectivity that does full just.
Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek together have emerged as two of Europe’s most significant living philosophers. In a shared spirit of resistance to global capitalism, both are committed to bringing philosophical reflection to bear upon present-day political circumstances. These thinkers are especially interested in asking what consequences the supposed twentieth-century demise of communism entails for leftist political theory in the early twenty-first century. _ Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations_ examines Badiouian and Žižekian depictions of change, particularly as deployed at the (...) intersection of philosophy and politics. The book details the origins of Badiou’s concept of the event and Žižek’s concept of the act as related theoretical visions of revolutionary happenings, delineating a number of difficulties arising from these similar concepts. Johnston finds that Badiou and Žižek tend to favor models of transformation that risk discouraging in advance precisely the efforts at changing the world of today that these uncompromising leftists so ardently desire. _Badiou, Žižek, and Political Transformations_ will surely join Johnston’s _Žižek’s Ontology _as an instant classic in its field. (shrink)
Introduction; "One surely will be found one day to make an ontology with what I am telling you": the road to a post-Lacanian materialism -- Part One. Jacques Lacan: between the sacred and the secular -- 1. Conflicted matter: the challenge of secularizing materialism -- 2. Turning the sciences inside out: revisiting "Science and truth" -- 3. On deep history and psychoanalysis: phylogenetic time in Lacanian theory --Part Two. Alain Badiou: between form and matter -- 4. What matter(s) in ontology: (...) the Hebb-event and materialism split from within -- 5. Phantom of consistency: Kant troubles -- Part Three. Quentin Meillassoux: between faith and knowledge -- 6. The world before worlds: the ancestral and Badiou's anti-Kantian transcendentalism -- 7. Hume's revenge: a Dieu, Meillassoux? -- Postface: from critique to construction: toward a transcendental materialism. (shrink)
Immanuel Kant is one of Alain Badiou’s principle philosophical enemies. Kant’s critical philosophy is anathema to Badiou not only because of the latter’s openly aired hatred of the motif of finitude so omnipresent in post-Kantian European intellectual traditions—Badiou blames Kant for inventing this motif—but also because of its idealism. For Badiou-the-materialist, as for any serious philosophical materialist writing in Kant’s wake, transcendental idealism must be dismantled and overcome. In his most recent works, Badiou attempts to invent a non-Kantian notion of (...) the transcendental, a notion compatible with the basic tenets of materialism. However, from 1988’s Being and Event up through the present, Badiou’s oeuvre contains indications that he hasn’t managed fully to purge the traces of Kantian transcendental idealism that arguably continue to haunt his system—with these traces clustering around a concept Badiou christens “counting-for-one”. The result is that, in the end, Kant’s shadow still falls over Badiouian philosophy—this is despite Badiou’s admirable, sophisticated, and instructive attempts to step out from under it—thus calling into question this philosophy’s self-proclaimed status as materialist through and through. (shrink)
Adrian Johnston offers a first-of-its-kind sustained critical response to Slavoj Zizek's Less Than Nothing and Absolute Recoil, in which Zizek returns to Hegel. Johnston develops what he calls transcendental materialism, an antireductive materialism capable of preserving and advancing the legacies of the Hegelian, Marxian, and Freudian traditions.
Although not mentioning Žižek specifically, Adrian Johnston's "The Quick and the Dead: Alain Badiou and the Split Speeds of Transformation" is referred to in detail by Žižek in this Issue's opening article and so is included for the sake of completeness and as a useful resource for scholars of both Žižek and Badioiu.
Alain Badiou credits Jacques Lacan with the formulation of an idea of love that demands to be granted a central place in the structure of any contemporary philosophy worthy of the name. However, at the same time, Badiou is understandably wary of the psychoanalytic tendency to dismiss the amorous as epiphenomenal in relation to the libidinal, to treat love as disguised lust. In both avoiding the indefensible move of strictly partitioning the amorous and the libidinal by situating them as two (...) poles of a mutually-exclusive opposition as well as refusing to reduce one to the other, it must be asked: How does desiring something occasionally become loving nothing? The true challenge for a joint philosophical-psychoanalytic delineation of the amorous is to develop the basis for an explanation of how love miraculously emerges from lust, that is, of how the interplay between various libidinal factors creates the amorous seemingly ex nihilo via ontogenetic processes in the midst of which transpires what appears as a dynamic of transubstantiation elevating lust to love.". (shrink)
Despite Jacques Lacan's somewhat deserved reputation as an adamant antinaturalist, his teachings, when read carefully to the letter, should not be construed as categorically hostile to any and every possible interfacing of psychoanalysis and biology. In recent years, several authors, including myself, have begun exploring the implications of reinterpreting Lacan's corpus on the basis of questions concerning naturalism, materialism, realism, and the position of analysis with respect to the sciences of today. Herein, I focus primarily on the efforts of analyst (...) François Ansermet and neuroscientist Pierre Magistretti to forge a specifically Lacanian variant of neuropsychoanalysis (as distinct from Anglo-American variants). Taking up Ansermet and Magistretti's interlinked theories of drive (Trieb) and autonomous subjectivity, I develop an immanent critique of their project. Doing so in a manner that is intended to acknowledge and preserve this neuropsychoanalytic duo's significant insights and contributions, I seek to bring into sharper relief the exact set of necessary, as well as sufficient, conditions for what Ansermet, Magistretti, and I all are commonly pursuing: an account of the genesis of denaturalized subjects out of embodied libidinal economies, itself situated within the framework of a nonreductive, quasi-naturalist materialism synthesizing resources drawn from psychoanalysis, neurobiology, and philosophy. (shrink)
One of the more superficially perplexing features of Lacan’s notion of objet petit a is the fact that he simultaneously characterizes it as both non-specularizable (i.e., incapable of being captured in spatio-temporal representations) and specular (i.e., incarnated in visible avatars). This assignment of the apparently contradictory attributes of visibility and invisibility to object a is a reflection of this object’s strange position at the intersection of transcendental and empirical dimensions. Indeed, this object, which Lacan holds up as his central psychoanalytic (...) discovery, raises important philosophical questions about the transcendental-empirical distinction, arguably short-circuiting in interesting, productive ways this dichotomy and many of its permutations. This article seeks to achieve two aims: one, to clarify how and why Lacan situates object a between the specular and the non-specular; and, two, to extract from the results of this clarification a preliminary sketch of a post-Lacanian transcendentalism that is also thoroughly materialist. (shrink)
Schelling argues that the Kantian transcendental apparatus lacks the ability to systematically ground itself. He insists that one must account for the prior emergence of experiential reality in addition to delineating this reality’s structure once constituted, and he presents his genetic model of epistemological subjectivity as a supplement completing the Kantian edifice. Although he never finally arrives at a satisfactory system of his own, Schelling repeatedly attempts, in various ways, to strike a productive compromise between transcendental and historico-genetic approaches to (...) subjectivity. Given that contemporary thinkers are still wrangling with the problem of how to adjudicate between those who make claims regarding the existence of invariant features of subjectivity and those who reject the notion that there are non-empirical, ahistorical constants defining human cognition, Schelling’s struggle with these same issues promises to furnish today’s readers with instructive lessons about the potentials and pitfalls of the endeavor to resolve this impasse. (shrink)
This article is an installment in an ongoing debate between me and Hägglund. Both here and throughout our exchanges, I argue on behalf of Freud and Lacan against Hägglund's Derrida-inspired critique of psychoanalysis. Prior to the appearance of Hägglund's 2012 book Dying for Time, the back-and-forth between us centered primarily around the issue of just how atheistic Freudian-Lacanian analysis really is in light of the Derridean-Hägglundian ‘radical atheism’ delineated by Hägglund's 2008 book of that title. In this piece, which focuses (...) on the final chapter of Dying for Time, I carry out two interrelated tasks. First, I highlight what I allege to be certain limitations to Hägglund's Derridean ‘chronolibidinalism’ preventing it from doing full justice to the multiple dimensions of psychoanalysis both theoretical and clinical. Second, I offer interpretations of Freud and Lacan sharply contrasting with the readings of these two figures presented by Hägglund in Dying for Time as well as his other texts engaging with analysis. Moreover, in the process, I defend my version of Freudian-Lacanian drive theory as per my 2005 book Time Driven: Metapsychology and the Splitting of the Drive in the face of Hägglund's explicit criticisms of it. (shrink)
Herein, I distinguish between two basic, fundamental conceptions of the sorts of negativity associated with subjectivity throughout modern European philosophy up to the present: on the one hand, a mystical vision in which the unexplained explainer of a mysterious nothingness is appealed to as a ground-zero given; on the other hand, a materialist idea according to which the real privative causes of absences and antagonisms are internally generated out of precisely specifiable natural and human historical processes involving accumulations of multitudes (...) of concrete elements and features. Arguing against the former as complacently resting upon the dogma of a “myth of the non-given” (to borrow a phrase from Wilfrid Sellars so as to refer to the notion of the factical givenness of negativity as itself non-given), I plead for the latter and sketch a dialectical-speculative “more is less” dynamic in which surpluses of positivity immanently give rise to negativities. This dynamic is an essential part of a non-reductive materialism including within itself lacks and conflicts as causally efficacious factors. I flesh out these lines of thought through reinterpretations of the transition from the organic to the anthropological in Hegel as well as the mirror stage as an account of ego- and subject-formation in Lacan. (shrink)
Not only is Lacan’s repeatedly advanced assertion that Freud categorically denies the existence of unconscious affects a misleading oversimplification of Freud’s various ambivalent discussions of this issue—Lacan’s own circumnavigations around the topic of affect are much more nuanced and subtle than either he or many of his commentators often acknowledge. What’s more, such complexities aren’t confined solely to the tenth seminar of 1962-1963 devoted to a sustained discussion of anxiety, a seminar to which Lacan sometimes appeals in response to criticisms (...) according to which he reduces the psychoanalytic unconscious to the lifeless formal skeleton of pure linguistic-symbolic units alone. Through analyzing Lacan’s explorations of the distinction between signifiers and affects as articulated across the full span of le Séminaire, this essay seeks to complicate and problematize the standard picture of Lacan’s metapsychology of affective life. In so doing, it strives to clarify hitherto obscure remarks made about affects by Lacan as well as, through this work of clarification, to lay down foundational elements for the construction of a much more accurate and systematic rendition of a Lacanian theory of affects. (shrink)
This is a letter written in January 2008 by Adrian Johnston to Slavoj Žižek after the former had read a pre-publication draft version of the manuscript of In Defense of Lost Causes. Herein, Johnston outlines a series of his responses to various lines of argumentation contained in In Defense of Lost Causes.
Recent philosophical reexaminations of sacred texts have focused almost exclusively on the Christian New Testament, and Paul in particular. _The Book of Job and the Immanent Genesis of Transcendence _revives the enduring philosophical relevance and political urgency of the book of Job and thus contributes to the recent “turn toward religion” among philosophers such as Slavoj Žžk and Alain Badiou. Job is often understood to be a trite folktale about human limitation in the face of confounding and absolute transcendence; on (...) the contrary, Hankins demonstrates that Job is a drama about the struggle to create a just and viable life in a material world that is ontologically incomplete and consequently open to radical, unpredictable transformation. Job’s abiding legacy for any future materialist theology becomes clear as Hankins analyzes Job’s dramatizations of a transcendence that is not externally opposed to but that emerges from an ontologically incomplete material world. (shrink)
Ever since Alexandre Kojève’s famous seminars on the Phenomenology of Spirit during the 1930s, Hegel has served as a central reference point for the philosophical developments occurring in twentieth-century France. Such luminaries as Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Lacan absorbed Hegel through Kojève, making the now familiar themes of dialectics, negativity, and alterity into key pieces of their own intellectual edifices. Later, Jean Hyppolite became the principal scholar and disseminator of Hegelian ideas in Paris, translating Hegel’s works and publishing commentaries that set (...) the tone for discussions of Hegel for another generation of French thinkers. Jacques Derrida is by far one of Hyppolite’s most famous and successful students. However, Derrida’s relation to Hegel is extremely complex and colored by a great deal of ambivalence. (shrink)
Both Marx and Freud are children of the Enlightenment in certain manners. As such, they each display a qualified but firm optimism about history inevitably making progress in specific desirable directions. Freud predicts that continuing scientific and technological advances eventually will drive religiosity from human societies once and for all. Marx likewise forecasts the withering away of religions. Moreover, he treats this predicted process as symptomatic of even more fundamental socioeconomic developments, namely, his famous anticipations of subsequent transitions to socialism (...) and communism. However, the past century of human history has not been kind to any sort of Enlightenment-style progress narratives. My intervention on this occasion takes inspiration especially from Lacan’s reckoning with a “triumph of religion” defying Freud’s expectations of relentlessly broadening and deepening secularization. I argue that socio-political phenomena of the past several decades bear witness to religious superstructures having infused themselves into economic infrastructures. (shrink)