Fluxury by Sergio Benvenuto

The Other as Brother/Neighbor/Stranger/Enemy (2016)Jul/31/2016


           I am sure that, in choosing the title they gave to this seminar, the organizers knew very well that the various forms that the other, or Other, takes, usually tend to converge on the same person.  Our first neighbor is our brother or sister, but later can be a perfect stranger, or even an enemy.  Inversely, we might end up discovering that our fiercest enemy is none other than….our brother.

           And, in that thread which winds from our brotherly friend to our fiercest enemy, there unravels a whole series of affinities and distances that, at least in Western culture, seem to me to be catalyzed by an annoying signifier: blood.

We could say that I share my same blood with my brother or sister; that I could mix my blood with that of my neighbor or friend; that my blood is different from a stranger’s; and that my enemy is bloodthirsty, for which I must spill his blood.  In as much as an other blood, the enemy’s blood is impure.  Take La Marseillaise:

« ...qu’un sang impur abreuve nos sillons »,

« …because an impure blood waters our furrows ».  

What does it mean, to let the impure blood—that of the invaders, the enemies of France—water the furrows?  Today we might say it evidently alludes to a sort of food pollution: watering the plowed fields which grow our food, which in turn becomes blood, the foreign invader infiltrates his blood with ours.  There is the risk of a hematic contamination, a contamination that is equal, or opposite, to the blood oaths which seal a non-biological fraternity between two persons. Many societies held brotherhood rites wherein small incisions, made on the fingers, hands, or elsewhere of two men, were pressed together, mixing, symbolically and actually, their blood.

But this then raises a more delicate question, for philosophers and analysts alike: do we have any kind of relationship, or any possibility of contact, I would say, with someone other than our brother-neighbor-stranger-enemy? An other who, in ordinary language, we call “an other subject”, an absolute (absolutus) subject, disentangled from any relation with me, the other in so far as a subject like me, even when he has no relationship with me as subject?  That is what we shall see in the second part of this seminar.


           The fact that various figures of the other are condensed into the same individual was already fully enunciated in the text of Genesis, speaking of Cain and Abel. For Cain, Abel incarnates the four alterities of our seminar title, being at once his brother, his neighbor, a stranger (in the sense that Cain is a farmer while Abel is a pastor, one stable, the other constantly on the move), and eventually his enemy. But this game is not limited to just the two of them: that inconvenient third, so to speak, of God, that Other with a capital O.  It is only in so far as God is the witness to this fraternal slaughter that this fratricide assumes all of its “sublime” significance: that two individuals, whether rivals or not, can call themselves brothers not just because they came from the same womb and the same seed, but because thanks to this they are united by another Brotherhood, that is, each is Other—with a capital O—to the other. By his direct intervention in the slaughter, God turns a confrontation between two individuals into what I would call an inaugural, constitutive crime, that of the political relationship. (Freud created an alternative myth to Genesis in order to explain the passage from family to polis, the murder of the father: the myth of the Murder of the Father of the tribe in Totem and Taboo. For him, the constitutive crime of society is rather the collective murder of the father by the brothers, and not the killing between brothers.) Now, God denounces Cain by evoking precisely the signifying-key of blood.  To the assassin, he says, “The voice of the brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground”[1]. Blood, for Western tradition, “speaks”, and generates signifiers.

           It is surprising that Cain’s fratricide merits such a mild punishment by God, who admonishes him: “And now cursed art thou from the ground, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a wanderer shalt thou be in the earth.”[2]. It is notable that the ground which Cain cultivates has drunk the blood of Abel, and hence can no longer nourish the assassin.  Immediately afterwards, God prohibits that Cain be killed by anyone; Cain enjoys a sort of divine immunity.  In essence, God condemns Cain to exile.  But the Bible quickly adds that this countryless wandering was provisory: Cain quickly settled in Nod, got married, and generated a progeny.

What can we make of this relatively light punishment for what appears to be an atrocious crime? Here, it probably illustrates the fact that the fratricide provides precisely this constitutive element of society itself (of Kultur, as one called it in Freud’s time): the killing of the brother brings about an ethnic plurality.  Cain’s descendants will be different, in effect, from those of Seth, the other son whom Eve had by Adam, as substitution of Abel. Essentially, ethnic diversity—whose byproducts are conflict and war—was inaugurated by an historically fundamental initial fratricide, just as the Tower of Babel was fundamental to the diversity of tongues.  Diversity and difference, and thus conflict, have their origins in two transgressions: in one, the killing of the brother, and in the other, the desire to reach Heaven from Earth.

           Today we no longer talk about “being of the same blood” but rather say that siblings share 50 percent of their genes.  Following the same line as genetics, evolutionist psychology affirms that various cultures push brothers and sisters to love each other because they are carriers, in good part, of the same genetic material; ethical and cultural norms play on the “selfish gene”, as the Darwinists call it.  For them, love and hate, cooperation and conflict, are exclusively adaptive mechanisms[3].

           In reality, genetic brotherhood and cultural brotherhood do not necessarily always coincide.  For some cultures, fathers and their biological children are not considered to share the “same blood” (as in the case of inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands, studied by Malinowski), while for others the same applies to mothers, such as in the case of ancient Sparta.  In effect, a Spartan man was allowed to marry his maternal sister, that is, his sister with a shared mother but different father.  On the other hand, he was prohibited—it was considered incestuous—from marrying his paternal sister, that is, his sister with whom he shared a father. This meant that for the Spartans, one’s own mother was not a blood relative, and thus nor was his maternal sister. This discrepancy between biological and cultural kinship –between natural and symbolic relations, if you will—is very important for that philosophical thought which takes it inspiration from psychoanalysis, in so far as it is bets precisely on this discrepancy—that there is no isomorphism between what is biological and what is symbolic.


           In effect, it has always been accepted that while fraternal love is an ideal prescription, at its origin there is rather an acknowledged fraternal hatred (which confutes evolutionist psychology).

Lacan often cites a passage from the Confessions of St. Augustine, in a section not by chance called “The miseries of infancy” (Book I, chapter 7, 11):

“I myself have seen and known an infant to be jealous though it could not speak. It became pale, and cast bitter looks on its foster-brother.”[4]

St. Augustine states that a baby may be jealous (zelantem) but he is not envious, because even if he himself has already taken his mother’s milk, he does not permit another needy baby—his sibling—to also have some. The nursing infant is wicked.  St. Augustine, and Christians in the early centuries, did not at all share that sweet image that we—despite Freud—have of infancy. They did not believe in brotherly love, the human being considered for them evil at its origin, owing to the effects of that appropriately called original sin.

           Our earliest rivals are thus our brothers and sisters, the originary objects of hatred that Lacan will view on an imaginary basis, because it is that innate hatred that we carry for those who resemble us, or who is or should be like us—whether brother, cousin, colleague, …

           A university professor casually rubs an old bottle and out jumps a little genie who tells him that he has the power to satisfy a desire, but only one. “There is a pact, however,” he adds, “that whichever of your desires is satisfied, your colleague or friend, in the neighboring office, will receive the double of whatever you will have.  If, for example, you ask for a Nobel Prize, you will obtain it, but your colleague will receive two Nobel prizes”. The professor, a bit perplexed, and after some thought, responds , “OK.  Blind me in one eye”.

           A joke, of course, but one that helps us to understand far more tragic acts, such as suicide terrorism.  When I make myself explode to kill the people around me, to say that in so doing I will go directly to Paradise seems to me like what in psychoanalysis is called a rationalization.  True “paradise” is to die of one’s own envy, to renounce one’s own life so that the other loses his.  Both history and clinical cases teach that killing one’s own brother is also suicidal.  It is what in fantasy literature and cinema has been developed along the theme of a lookalike or double, the Doppelgänger (often a persecutor), about which Otto Rank wrote an essay.  To kill one’s own double implies killing even ourselves: it is in order to kill ourselves that one kills the other, and the killing of the other brings about our own death.


           Does this mean that this hatred for the other as an envied or persecutory double is imaginary, while brotherly love for the other is symbolic? But things are not so simple.  This is because the whole field of love and hate—feelings common to all animals—is deeply structured, and modulated, by the signifier.  Even politics, the human dimension of action, is penetrated by the signifier, in the sense that it is this for the most part that constructs friends and enemies.

This means that in the world of political relations, there are no identities, but rather only identifications.  So, for example, an Italian identity does not exist, but only an identification with the signifier “being Italian”.  And this is true for any so-called “ethnic identity”, which is always an illusion.  And in effect, Italy, “a geographic expression”, was an historical invention.  When the Kingdom of Italy was born in 1861, only a minority spoke Tuscan (the standard Italian); a Piemontese farmer and a Sicilian one couldn’t understand each other since each spoke only his own dialect.  Italian only effectively became the national language thanks to the cinema and radio.  Today, we can consider ourselves Italian because we speak the same language, but what can we say about the signifiers Belgium, Switzerland, India or Canada (countries where many different languages are spoken)? In Belgium, the Walloons refuse to learn Flemish and the Flemish refuse to speak French; they speak English amongst themselves; and yet Belgium is a respected country, with a bilingual king.  An empty, but functional, signifier.

           To say that what we take for identity are actually identification is like saying they are alienations: our claimed identity registers our alienation in the signifier. For example, identifying oneself as a Shiite or Sunni: if I “am” (that is, if I identify myself as) a Shiite I am obliged to love all other Shiites as such, and hate Sunnis.  And vice versa. But what are the differences between the two based on? These are dynastic questions going back to the 7th century which no one no longer pays any attention to, and yet which today polarize Islam, with the resultant political conflicts, wars, and terrorism. Is a Sunni kamikaze, who kills countless Shiites when he blows himself up on a square, really thinking about the fact that they claim Ali ibn Abi Talib, Maomet’s cousin and brother-in-law, as the legitimate Caliph rather than his father-in-law Abu Bakr?  To me, it seems unlikely.  What is important is that there is a difference between Shiites and Sunnis, a difference that dictates a fraternal hatred between the two.

In effect, is we have preferred the term “signifier” over the more sublime “symbol”, it is because the first is taken from Ferdinand de Saussure’s signifiant, which defined the sign as arbitrary.  What this means is that a significant part of human conflicts, throughout time, are not deeply motivated but rather merely based on the effects of signifiers.  That is, their reasons are arbitrary. This bears repeating over and over, with all due respect to the interpretations put forth by neo-Marxists, Nietzscheans, and Foucault, for whom at the base of all conflicts there is a class struggle, or will for political power, or both.  But no, conflicts based on economics and power can only partly explain history; at the basis, there is the arbitrariness of the signifier. 

           This is evident with the Shoah.  Today, all biologists are in agreement that a Jewish race does not exist, because there is no direct relationship among “races” as cultural products, that is, as signifiers, and “races” as certain distributions of genetic characteristics. So why, then, persecute Jews, or attempt to exterminate them?   I personally think that Hitler’s “biologism”—the belief that there exists a Jewish race and an Arian race—was a rationalization, a way of giving scientific objectivity to something exquisitely signifying, or arbitrary.  At a certain point, millions of human beings were polarized by a signifying opposition, Jews versus Arians.

A similar polarization divides and opposes Palestinians and Israelis, for example.  We are not talking here about a religious opposition, because Palestinians and Jews can be non-religious, and yet they are in conflict with each other.  And the love and hate that derive from this conflict are the effects of the success throughout history of this signifying opposition.  And the examples could be multiplied manifold.

Certainly each of us harbors economic interests, and certainly each of us more or less aspires to others to wield a certain power.  But the point is that, in human beings, the desire to have money or wield power—just like the desire for truth, or love—is profoundly modeled by the senseless, arbitrary game of signifiers. The four types of desire that Niklas Luhmann considers the four fundamental “means of communication” in society—money, power, love and truth—are structured by signifying oppositions.  It is what renders political and social conflicts largely “idealistic”, and thus so deadly: one combats and dies almost always for “ideals”, that is, over signifiers. Nazism was so horrendous not because it was based on a crude, materialistic biology, but because it reflected an extreme idealism, for the rest just as its esoteric symbology (starting with the swastika) demonstrates.  Purely materialistic conflicts are for the most part resolved by compromises, while idealistic ones can lead to holocausts. 

           If, for example, I hate the Rom, gypsies, it is not because I am afraid they’ll steal my wallet on the bus.  After all, it’s easy for me to think that not all gypsies steal, and for that matter that pickpockets are not only gypsies. It is the signifying identification between a gypsy and a thief, or between a gypsy and a child kidnapper (an old urban legend still hanging around), that sets off my fear and anger. It is said that people who are racist or xenophobic tend to generalize.  Right-minded people slap the racists’s hands and admonish: “One should not generalize!”  But generalization is the quantitative face, the universalizing halo, of signifying identification. In so far as we open our mouths, we all risk generalizing.

This is why it is so easy for all of us to make stupid remarks the minute we express an opinion.  We must admit that even those who avoid generalizations, who avoid racism or xenophobia, cannot escape the power of the signifier.


           For some theories—and it would seem that psychoanalysis would be among them—the other-in-and-for-itself is not part of the game: every person for the other is an object, and not an other subject; each subject is only itself.  If we love someone, that person is the object of our love. And I myself will be his object of love if he feels the same way, or a pain in the neck if he doesn’t.  The so-called “others” are the actual or potential totality of my objects. The neo-Darwinian theory’s approach is that the other is either loved or hated according to his adaptive role.  I tend to love whoever facilitates the reproduction of my genes, while I don’t love, or even hate, whoever prevents it.

Phenomenological philosophy opposes this scientific theory for which everyone is an object for the other. For phenomenology, we have a direct relationship with the other as subject, we perceive its subjectivity: the other, beyond being the object—of my affection, my expectations, my actions—relates to me the subject as subject-other-than-me. I have a direct access to the other in so far as “other” subject, because I intentionalize the other’s subjectivity. From here derives the promotion of the concept of empathy: the fact that somehow feeling the suffering of the other, or taking pleasure in what pleases the other, is affective proof of the fact that I react to the other not as to an object, more or less loved or hated, but as to an other subject, to something that is not other than a subject.  In some way I am the other. Or, as phenomenology puts it, the Dasein (the being there, the subjectivity) is a Mit-sein, a being-with (others).

But is it true that we have an immediate contact with the subjectivity of the other? If we analyze this contact, or if we dissect its components, we will see that it can be reduced to a series of objects—the proof being that we can create fake subjects, for instance, paintings or cartoons: the creators know how to imitate expressions which elicit affection, antipathy, hate, etc.  Our reactions to the other as subject depend on disinhibiting stimuli that can be totally inanimate.

           Zemeckis’ film, Cast Away, shows a man, interpreted by Tom Hanks, who manages to survive alone for four years on a completely deserted Pacific island—without even Robinson Crusoe’s Friday. Nevertheless, he manages to construct a friend from a ball with the stylized face of a friendly native drawn on it.  And when the ball falls into the water and is lost, it is a trauma for him. Fiction, yes, but we know that situations like this can actually happen. We can love things, even if not particularly beautiful, as if they were persons. The ball with the painted face is not a subject, but carries the signs of subjectivity.  For someone who is shipwrecked it is a subject, even if it is a thing. Because for analytic (or scientific) thought, all subjects that are different from me can be deconstructed as things.  

Yet many analysts (but not Lacanians) say that the therapy is essentially successful when the patient is capable of loving others, when, in short, he can believe in them not as actual object drives but as subjects. This is that saccharine phenomenology to which many analysts refer. Actually, this layout had been suggested by Freud himself in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, when he counterpointed Eros, the life drives, with Thanatos, the death drives. Freud himself took inspiration from the Platonic eros, which he described as a tendency toward the other, a tendency to join oneself to the other, making one out of two. And just as in Plato Eros aims not to something subjective, but to ousìa (actual reality), so does the Freudian Eros analogously invest not objects but the other by itself. And since life is always a conflict between Eros and Thanatos, the analyst can be nothing more than a militant of Eros, opposing himself to psychic life’s tendency to entropy.

Some Lacanians refute this conclusion of mine because Lacan did not articulate it in these terms. The analyst would not be a militant of Eros, but simply an object that unleashes the desire to be analyzed. And yet Lacan himself described the analyst’s discourse as one of the four (for him) fundamental social ties (the other three being the university discourse, that of the master-teacher, and that of the hysteric), and every social tie, for Freud, is Eros in action. Insofar as the analyst creates or catalyzes a social tie, he is a militant for Eros.  Transfer is always erotic, even if its repetitive face also renders it something deadly.

While Lacan may seem to have avoided this tendency to gloss over, we shall see that even his intention was to overcome—albeit in a more sophisticated way—the “objectivist” presupposition from which Freud started. Hence the importance attributed to the concept of narcissism, which psychoanalysis, in fact, would like to overcome or to cure. Narcissism would not be so much about loving and being interested in only ourselves and not others, because psychoanalysis has described narcissistic loves, that is, narcissistic idealizations of the other. Narcissism would be above all reducing the other to my object of love or hate, to the degree in which this other reflects my own self reduced to an object of love or hate. Because if I reduce the other to my drive object, the other will always be “my thing”, a sort of projection or extension of myself.  If the other is always, and only, my object, then the accent should be placed on my: because the object is by constitution an object-for-me-subject.  The concept of object (Freud’s Objekt) is a correlative term: if there is an object, there is a subject of which the first is object.

           The crucial question is: if the aim of psychoanalysis is to allow Eros to prevail, and to increase the individual’s capacity to love, then the point is, to love whomWhat is it that we love when we love someone—a volleyball, a dog, a cat, a human being who suffers and enjoys. That is, will the other whom we love or hate always be reduced to being a brother, a neighbor, a foreigner, or an enemy? Will the other be always, and only, an object relation? Yet, on the other hand—as we have stated—psychoanalysis claims to promote an openness to otherness.


           So, psychoanalysis situates itself ambiguously with respect to the alternative that we have just summarized, on the side of neo-Darwinism on the one hand and of phenomenology on the other. And I say this not to criticize psychoanalysis, but to grasp its ambiguity as a way of avoiding the dilemma.

           On one hand, at least for the very original Freudian theory, the other is first and foremost an object of mine, and even if the other is my ideal, he is still always an ideal object. On the other, however, psychoanalysis—in as much as a clinical practice—points to a continent about which it says nothing, but that could be interpreted as the Promised Land of the analytic cure: the overcoming of narcissism, intended as opening ourselves to others as subjects other than us. Is there then a dyscrasia between theory and practice?

           Let’s see how Lacan confronts the question.


           Lacan distinguished three “others” according to the three registers, the imaginary, the symbolic and the real. The imaginary other is the mirror image, the other human being like myself in so far as image for the other. The symbolic Other, with a capital O, is a place that in itself does not exist: it is like the line of the horizon that does not exist as a concrete line but only as the relationship between two visual spaces. As to the other real, he calls it object a (a as the first letter of autre, other), which is not the object that the drives invest according to Freud’s originary model, but rather the cause of desire, what unleashes the drives[5].

But others can put themselves in the position of the Other. The mother or analyst, for example, are two concrete human beings who take the position of the Other for a subject, whether the son or the analysand.  But does Lacan’s theory have nothing to say about the actuality of these two beings? Are we talking about pure contingencies?  Yet whoever occupies the position of Other—whether father, mother, analyst, etc.—is not irrelevant, because we are always dealing with subjects whose own desires impregnate the Other’s desire. The symbolic positions that certain others occupy, from time to time, are marked by the desires and pleasures of these others.  If, for example, a father cannot manage to maintain his position as lawmaker in the family, the son or daughter will be entirely requisitioned by the maternal desire, which will thus no longer have any paternal limit with which to confront itself. In short, even in Lacanian theory and practice, fathers, mothers, brothers, and analysts, are not just positions, but subjects with their own specific desires and acts which orient in diverse ways these positions.

The Lacanian “others” are certainly never the other subject as it is understood in average discourse, a discourse that phenomenology legitimizes: the fact of finding ourselves in a world really inhabited by many subjects. And yet the subjects as something real enter into relation with each subject that we are in proportion to whether the symbolic position that they should keep, or even determine in relation to that which they are and desire, is missing or not. And so the intersubjectivity that Lacanians threw out the front door sneaks back through the window: what is essential is that certain others occupy the position of Other.

This question poses another, that of the difference in approaches between that of the Lacanian, and the relational approaches which have taken a foothold in the psychoanalysis practiced in the International Psychoanalytic Association. Let me cite here a simple, at least in appearance, clinical example.

A forty-year-old female patient, the only child of a divorced mother, is tormented by the fact that she is still constrained not only to live with her mother, but to be largely supported by her. Despite having a degree, a diploma, and an active social life, she has in fact been unable to find a steady job, or even a companion.  “How is it possible that other women manage to find some kind of job, and almost all of them have found a companion, and me---nothing!”  But step by step she became aware that her mother, from the time she was an adolescent, had never done anything to encourage her to study, or find a job, or even a companion.  She had always accepted the fact of supporting her, and making her live at home, never giving her the minimum encouragement to make herself independent.

Personally, I think that her mother never really wanted her daughter to leave her: a diploma, a job, a companion would have distanced her daughter from her.  But this came at a cost, because the daughter has often demonstrated a deep aggression towards her. The daughter often avoided the kitchen, fearing the onset of a raptus, of taking a knife and killing her mother.  But it is evident that here we are in a relational analysis: there is the mother’s desire, which is clearly the desire to keep her daughter clutched to her as if she were socially handicapped, like an ailing appendage to care for; and the unconscious desire of the daughter modulates itself around this maternal desire. And so the daughter interrupts her studies (and even a pregnancy), never manages to form a couple, and, when she does manage to get her degree, cannot find a job, and so on. In Lacanian terms, the desire of an other—in this case, of her mother—determines the desire of the subject.  But what is missing is the Other with a capital O.

           The point is that the desire of this mother has such an unconscious weight on her daughter because the mother is occupying the position of the Other who dicates the law—a position which was never occupied by her father, whom the patient describes as a terrorist, delinquent, and anarchist.  He beat his wife and, when the daughter became an adolescent, he beat her.  He was devoted to drugs, and dark wheelings and dealings, and had abandoned the family when she was eight years old. For her, her father has always occupied the role of outLaw. Before this un-authoritative father, the only possible law became that of the Mother.  But the mother is a woman with her own specific desires, and evidently this daughter was her crutch for an essentially failed sentimental life, given that following this failed marriage she never succeeded in forming a new stable couple. But this desire of the mother as subject provoked what I would call a paralyzing impact on her daughter precisely because the Other of the law was on the side of the mother. In Lacanian terms, the maternal Law dictated that the daughter remained the phallus of the mother, and that the daughter not have the phallus—that is, that she would not seek it outside, among men.  And so yes, the patient had lovers, even for years, but she remained always frigid. Because in every man she perceived a variant of the father figure: a violent and failed man, a terrorist, and terrified.


           This ambiguity perhaps explains why Lacan, in his Seminar VII on The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, elaborated a concept that was not reducible to an imaginary and symbolic “other”, and perhaps not even to a real one: das Ding, la chose, the thing. I find very symptomatic the fact that Lacan developed this concept in only one single seminar, and afterward he abandoned this signifier altogether. It is usually noted that Lacan would go on to identify the Thing in short with object a, which, as we said, is the cause of my desire, that is, something external to my subjectivity, but which is not itself subjective. And yet the Thing as Lacan positioned it enjoyed a great success even outside of the analytic field: Lacan may have abandoned it, but others would take it up. I wonder if Lacan lost his concept of the Thing because, in a certain sense, psychoanalysis, at least as a theory, must always lose It.  Therein lies its limit, and like every limit, it is at once depressing and reassuring: the Thing limits, relativizes, and humiliates psychoanalysis, but at the same time delimits it, gives it a context, and prevents it from going overboard.

Now, for Lacan, the Thing designs the relationship with a primary, inaugural pleasure which is embedded with some Thing, and which as such cannot be repeated, and which thus remains outside of every possible string of objects (Sachen, Objekte) that can make us enjoy, or suffer. And, quite significantly, Lacan views the Thing’s appearance in our experience as essentially an ethical vocation, as an “I must do, I must…” Now, every ethical call to duty, to doing something or being something, must necessarily transcend the other “selves”, such as my objects. If it is ethical to do beneficence, this is not because I love the beneficiary. Otherwise, as Kant would say, the beneficence is “pathological”, linked to pathos, and to my love for this person and not for the ethical imperative.

The fact that in ethics the other is no longer invested as an object is demonstrated by the significance which Lacan gave to the figure of Antigone, who sacrifices herself not for love, but, I would say, for duty, for pietas for her dead brother Polynices, in as much as he is, for her—and Lacan stresses this—unique. Just like the Thing, which determines our reaction, in so far as it can be neither substituted nor replicated, but is something unique.

Now, this uniqueness is essentially a contingency.  The objects are substitutable with other objects, but the other as unique—inasmuch as in and for itself—is unsubstitutable.  And just why is a subject, inasmuch as subject for itself, unsubstitutable? In effect, I perceive myself as a unique subject because no one can live or die in my place. Through this uniqueness of the Thing, Lacan seems to open psychoanalysis to something trans-objectal, but without being reduced to phenomenological intersubjectivity, that is, to the fact that the other subject is immediately given to me as subject.

But can psychoanalysis really think about a relationship with the other as trans-objectal? Would it not betray its analytic vocation, analytic meaning to divide, to separate, to fragment? The others come to be analyzed, that is divided, into objects.

The Thing—an absolute otherness inasmuch as it is not my object—is like a narrow canyon which Lacan glimpses between two mountains on which all of us, today, set up home: on one side, the mountain of scientific objectivity (illustrated by evolutionist psychology and cognitivist theories) and on the other the mountain of phenomenological intersubjectivity. A narrow passage indeed, to the point that Lacan himself seems to end up not taking it.

           In effect, Lacan’s Thing, even if it resembles the uniqueness of every subject, itself is not a subject.  Nor is it simply an other than me. And what if the Thing were the other in the register of the Real? I use Thing as singularity, in the sense that this term assumes in mathematics and physics, as a sort of hole in the fabric of every explanation and rational calculation. The individual is a singularity, that is, an exception to “all”.

           In effect, uniqueness, outside of my subjective perception of being unique, has this specificity: that it is something unthinkable. Alfred Jarry invented pataphysics, a paradoxical science of the particular, and so of what is unique; but we know very well that every science generalizes.  Every thinkable thing, precisely because it is thinkable, is replicable. Medieval scholars were wont to say that we always have to deal with universalia, even if they are only nomina, names.  I can say that there is only one sun, but once defined the sun can be found elsewhere, and in fact, astronomy speaks about millions of suns. So we can say that only the one who is unique, the other as singular, can avoid the otherness of blood, that blood which both unites and divides us, brings us together as brothers and tears us apart. Because, if blood is the mythical name for the relation between humans, then this singular Thing is beyond every relation. The absolutely other “other” is not, in effect, a subject that relates itself to me as my object, but something that I love independently from how it relates with me. I love him or her even if they are dead, when a relation with them is no longer possible. Actually, the more they are dead, the more I love them.

But how can we say something outside of the context of any relation? Everything we say is based on propositions, which are in themselves relations. A proposition, for example, “I eat”, establishes a relation between a subject (I) and eating.  How could language ever say something specific about its not being in relation, about its avoiding this blood relation? It is analysis that usually leads to a coming to terms with one’s own singularity.


                Sergio Benvenuto

[1] Genesis, 4, 10.

[2] Genesis, 4, 12.

[3]For Darwinism, one organism is better adapted than another when it optimizes, more than this other, the probability of reproducing its own genes.

[4] “vidi ego et expertus sum zelantem parvulum: nondum loquebatur et intuebatur pallidus amaro aspectu conlactaneum suum.”

[5] At first, Lacan made object a a sort of place with imaginary, symbolic and real borders. But it is precisely this eccentricity of object a with respect to the three Lacanian registers that makes it increasingly something eminently real, given that the Real is precisely what is eccentric about every definable position.

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