Responsibility to the Other

The Struggle

The superego appears to police one’s identity in the socio-symbolic world. The Other that invades the subject’s jouissance is filled with too much pressure, but, importantly, it is this pressure that has already been processed as a superego demand. The superego already organizes these relations as impossible; it shuts the door by preventing psychic agency. In The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, the superego is an imperative of the Law, which Lacan develops in his lecture, “Kant with Sade.” Superego consists of a demand to fulfill the Other in so far as the Other demands the subject to enjoy – an oppressive call that only results in a pervasive feeling of guilt.

As we have developed, the Other within the I and the Other itself posses an enigmatic core, and this ground creates a sort of collective struggle in the realm of the symbolic. The “struggle” revolves around how to translate these messages and how to form a common ground of struggle – a possibility that Santner argues forms the very basis of intersubjective realtionality. Struggling through the material scraps of the excess of meaning that creates Santner’s “validity in excess of meaning” becomes the basis of how we assume our place among the meaningless of socio-symbolic value systems that keep us tied to the Other’s fantasmatic enigmatic thing-ness.

To push beyond into the “blessings of more life,” Santner incorporates Rosenzweig’s concept of “revelation” by which he refers to the capacity for space to be opened on the basis of a relational surplus in myself and in my neighbor. Revelation is an opening of space organized around the claims made upon me by the Other in-so-far as he or she is singularly out-of-joint with respect to the social intelligibility produced by this inscription of law.

These moments of “revelation” capture the basis of our social relations, and they transform our biopolitical undeadness into a new potentiality, and form the basis for an opening into the beyond. By “beyond,” Santner means beyond the fantasies that sustain our biopolitical undeadness. These unconscious fantasies keep us at a distance from actually living life, and it is this distance that must be traversed. The goal then is not to revolutionize the social relations (as we find in Žižek) as such, but to Santner, a la Rosenzweig, the goal is to de-animate the undeadness (and undeadness is defined as a looming metaphysical loneliness) of biopolitical life and to convert the undead matter into a form of new social relations, new ways of both transgressing the excess and denying it simultaneously.

There is a paradox to this system, in that there is a certain pressure exerted by the law of the superego and transgression to the Law is central to its very command. What holds a community together most deeply, Žižek notes, “is not so much identification with the Law that regulates the community’s normal everyday circuit, but rather identification with a specific form of transgression of the Law, of the Law’s suspension (in psychoanalytic terms) with a specific form of enjoyment.

Every induction of the subject into the socio symbolic field consists of a sort of “seduction” whereby one’s solidarity with the family/community/institution is always in part sustained by a transgressive enjoyment structure sustained by fantasy.
Another moment of release from the hold the Other has on one’s superego can be found via shrugging off the other. Rosenzweig’s solution is similar to Zizek, in order to release the subject from the excitation of the superegoic demands, the time and space of this release ends up becoming the very time and space of the ethical encounter. Rosenzweig’s ethical encounter is an opening of space where new possibilities of being-together, of responsiveness to the Other, can arise.

Žižek version of “shrugging off the fantasy of the other,” or “desublimation” can result in a traumatic situation, as “the gap separating beauty from ugliness is thus the gap that separates the real: what constitutes the real is the minimum of idealization the subject needs to sustain the horror of the real.” This ugliness of proximity of the neighbor ends up requiring a sublime distance to maintain the neighbor’s fantasy frame. Once the neighbor approaches their status of ugly existence in the real, Zizek characterizes the encounter as traumatic.

What we find then is that psychoanalysis lies outside of a teleology in favor of embracing the singularity of the subject, what Santner refers to as the ethics of singularity, or what Jonathan Lear has referred to as “taking advantage of the disruption of previous attempts to construct a teleology.” To Santner, what is crucial in the move beyond our intersubjective surrender to the Other and moving beyond biopolitical undeadness is the process of:


“an opening of what seems most fatefully demonic and what sticks out from our predicative being; it is paradoxical because it involves both an affirmation and a negation of this predicative core.”

Rosenzweig’s “Divine Love”

Santner’s biopolitical life is dominated by undeadness, the superego ban, and lack. He looks to the Star of Redemption to seek Biblical and religious resources to combat the undeadness. The possibility of un-deadness, or to reawaken – what Santner refers to as “exodus” is coterminous with revelation, as described earlier. On one hand, the subject is interpellated via symbolic investiture and on the other, the subject is excluded based on being a part of symbolic identity, which is no part, containing no teleology, and these two poles are linked.

The only way out is through the game of “divine love,” as developed in the Star. Divine love is a psychoanalytic technique of identification that is similar to revelation, but it consists of a moving beyond from the institutions that create the “undeadness of biopolitical life.” Moving beyond involves transforming the institutional flux of that interpellate the subject and bring that subject into the midst of life, in relation to their neighbor.

This movement beyond is what Rosenzweig refers to as “falling in love,” a situation that involves more than just positive affirmation of being – falling in love, or might we say “loving thy neighbor as thyself” is a subsumption into the too muchness itself. Falling in love is a subsumption into das Ding itself, but it is a das Ding that inhabited by an inherent positivity, having been negated the institutional flux of biopolitical dead matter.

This form of divine love is ultimately a form of singularization, a form of singling out of the subject, but not of excluding.
Rosenzweig’s “divine love” is an opening up of possibilities, a facing up to the “too muchness” – which is in large part organized by the fantasies that bind us to social reality. Here, Rosenzweig’s subject becomes a meta-subject and out ethics become a matter of meta-ethics as we are creating an ideal intersubjective relation. The excess materiality of the human subject Rosenzweig refers to as the “germ cell” – a particular point that stresses a remnant of humanity that remains able to think through the “too muchness” – a part of the self will always remain a complete singularity. When looking we are being touched by the remnant of the self, and this left over remnant, Santner refers to as the “germ cell.” While this leads Santner to conclude that the self in its biopolitical undeadness is actually not part of the whole – the self is a singularity – beyond their generic-ness, it is this “metaethical” quality of the self that is most important to Santner to preserve. The self remains through the excess, “a stain on the horizon of social intelligibility.” Zizek, in a similar vein recognizes the singularity of the metaethical self:

“That which, in me, resists the blissful submergence into the Good is… not my inert biological nature but it is the very kernel of my spiritual selfhood, the awareness that, beyond all particular and physical features, I am ‘me’, a unique person, an absolutely singular point of spiritual self reference.”

This meta-ethical self that we have developed up to this point is a self stripped of all its trappings of “too muchness of life.” It isn’t an inert thing, but rather, the left over, metaethical self is a tautological point of self-reference – a breach in the chain of being. Yet, any encounter towards loving one’s neighbor must be dealt with in terms of their death-driven singularity – as an encounter with my neighbor as das Ding. The question remains: is the germ cell and metaethical self merely a version of embracing das Ding?The intense form of desire as das Ding that Lacan urges one not to renounce indicates that, when we act in conformity with our desire, we fall into the “heroism as lack,” position that acts on the presupposition of the lack in the Other. Žižek rejects these Lacanian influenced theorists who prefer a fundamental renunciation of desire as a condition of access to desire. What’s unclear in Santner’s ethics is whether he is assuming this very renunciation of lack and desire and practicing what Žižek considers the false and ultimately misguided “heroism of lack.” Žižek argues that such an ethical act is antithetical to Lacan’s ethical theory and to the very discovery of Freud’s death drive:

“To desire something other than its continued ‘social existence,’ and thus to fall ‘into some kind of death,’ to risk a gesture by means of which death is ‘courted or pursued,’ indicates precisely how Lacan reconceptualized the Freudian death drive as the elementary form of the ethical act.”

To Žižek, this is the entire point of the Antigone reading in The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, as Antigone risks her entire social existence to defy the socio-symbolic power of the City embodied in the ruler (Creon), thereby she ‘fell into some kind of death,” i.e. her act of suicide sustained a symbolic death that enabled her to remain excluded from the socio-symbolic space. By offering nothing new but insisting on her unconditional demand, Antigone broke the cycle of desire and performed a truly ethical act. To Lacan and Žižek, the main point of the authentic act is to gain “free action,” and in so doing, to renounce the “transgressive fantasmatic supplement” that attaches us to any given social reality. It is clear that what differentiates Santner from Zizek and Lacan is that they opt for a radical break with the entire socio-symbolic system in order to reinstitute a fundamentally new ground.

Whether Santner’s divine love is a matter of “existing as lack,” or if it promotes a “heroism of lack”? A reading into Zizek’s ethical position on love may shed some light. When faced with the ethical situation induced by Lacanian ethics, Zizek, however is ambivalent. In some cases, he identifies only two available ‘options:’

“Is not Lacan’s entire theoretical edifice torn between these two options: between the ethics of desire/Law, and lethal suicidal immersion into the Thing?”

Is there yet a third way, however, offered by Žižek? As Frances Restuccia has suggested in an excellent discussion of Lacanian ethics through film in Amorous Acts, Zizek opens up a third way to the ethical impasse – that of love. To pass through the ethical impasse into a form of Pauline agape, Žižek claims the subject arrives a sort of mystical communion, but the subject has “to pass through the zero-point of night of the world.” It is this intense confrontation with negation that Žižek credits Christianity’s agape love as promoting. St’ Paul’s ethics were more of an “unplugging” from the symbolic desire system, similar to that of Antigone. Paul’s “unplugging” is achieved only by “throwing the balanced circuit of the universe off the rails.”

To fully appreciate how love enters the psychoanalytic system, we must first differentiate love from desire. With desire “there is always a gap between the object of desire and its cause, the mediating feature or element that makes this object desirable” whereas with love the object is not split off from its cause. With love, “the very distance between the object and cause collapse.” The most frequent example Lacan refers to is that of courtly love, they way in which the lady is brought to the level of das Ding, her proximity is denied of its jouissance.

Žižek waivers between preferring to simply “exist as a lacking subject” over and above the Antigone version of desire induced symbolic suicide. As we see from the Plague of Fantasies, Žižek’s ethical position

“in no way condones suicidal persistence in following one’s Thing; on the contrary, it enjoins us to remain faithful to our desire as sustained by the Law of maintaining a minimal distance to the Thing – one is faithful to one’s desire by maintaining the gap that sustains desire, the gap on account of which the incestuous das Ding forever eludes our grasp.”

The core ethical question for Zizek revolves around immersion into the Thing or allegiance to the ethics of desire/Law. “Unplugging” in the Pauline version offers the kind of radical break with the symbolic coordinates via love that Zizek finds satisfactory to completely change the coordinates of the fantasmatic supplement of the desire system. “Unplugging” is what Rosenzweig and Santner refer to as “revelatory conversion,” or an opening to and an acknowledgement of the Other qua stranger, the Other who’s face manifests a “spectral aura” of jouissance. Unplugging results in a freeing of jouissance where the Other is externalized, a process that in psychoanalytic terms is actually a freeing of psychosis.

We find two very different, but complimentary ethical outcomes of the neighbor as das Ding in Santner and Žižek. Santner’s divine love posits a radical intersubjective sort of love through negation, where the Other is simultaneously embraced, but the institutional flux of undeadness is negated. Žižek’s more radical break with the Only by totally “throwing the balanced circuit off the train tracks” does the subject come to open up a clear third way forward, a position that Lacan never seemed to recognize as possible.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s