The zero of real conflict
Monique David-Ménard, Deleuze et la psychanalyse: L’altercation, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris,
2005. 186 pp., €22.00 pb., 2 13 055081 9.
As its subtitle indicates, this book stages an ‘altercation’ between Deleuze and psychoanalysis. The psychoanalysis in question is that of Freud and Lacan. Monique David-Ménard’s first book, L’hystérique entre Freud et Lacan: corps et langage en psychanalyse (1983; translated as Hysteria from Freud to Lacan: Body and Language in Psychoanalysis, Cornell University Press, 1989), re-examined Freud’s and Lacan’s ideas about psychosexual drives in the light of ancient and modern philosophical thought about the body. Her 1990 book La folie dans la raison pure: Kant lecteur de Swedenborg (1990; translation forthcoming, SUNY Press) reversed the relationship between psychoanalysis and philosophy, investigating the ‘horror’, mingled with attraction, felt by Kant upon reading Swedenborg’s Celestial Mysteries. David-Ménard claims that it was Kant’s encounter with the theoretical ‘delirium’ of Swedenborg’s speculative metaphysics that led him to perceive a delirium in the Leibnizian idealism to which he subscribed at that point, and to seek a way out of the deadlock of rationalism and empiricism in a new critical philosophy.
In Deleuze et la psychanalyse, philosophy and psychoanalysis meet again, and the manifest ‘altercation’ between Deleuze and (Lacanian) psychoanalysis implicates or enfolds the ‘real’ altercation – the ‘real conflict’, to use David-Ménard’s terms: the quarrel between philosophy and psychoanalysis themselves, with David-Ménard conducting a dispute with Deleuze over his attempts, notably in Difference and Repetition and later in Capitalism and Schizophrenia, at a mediation in this ongoing altercation. The book gives an elegant and informative account of Deleuze’s main psychoanalytic ideas, as well as serving as a further chapter in a distinctive and profound attempt to map the boundaries between philosophy and psychoanalysis. The guiding problem, as stated in the first chapter, ‘Clinique et philosophie’, concerns the conflict between two opposing ways of conceiving the nature of human desire: in terms of lack and negativity or as productive and positive. David-Ménard situates Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of the use of the concepts of lack and negativity in Lacanian psychoanalysis in the wider context of Deleuze’s philosophical critique of the concept of negativity in general. ‘Before taking the form of a critique of psychoanalysis, the thought of Deleuze took the shape of a critique of negativity in Hegel.’ As the book proceeds, a meditation on the theme of negativity in psychoanalysis and philosophy unfolds, culminating in a final chapter, ‘Kant and the Negative’, which may at first sight appear out of place in a book on Deleuze and psychoanalysis, but whose inclusion is justified by the trajectory of the book, as well as by a clear impulse to cut through the more mystificatory, abstract conceptions of negativity and the ‘void’ that prevail in contemporary Lacanian theory, and to determine more precisely their nature and scope. Mediating not just between Deleuze and Lacanian psychoanalysis, but between philosophy and psychoanalysis in general, David-Ménard attempts to avoid taking sides in the conflict of interpretations by invoking the ‘critical’ path of identifying the source of the conflict and ‘objectivating’ the dimensions of the problem. She claims that the key text in the modern philosophy of negativity is Kant’s 1763 Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy, which, as well as providing a fundamentally new conception of the relation of negation and reality (one which, David-Ménard suggests, is a key condition of Kant’s critical epistemological break), provides a means for learning ‘how to think sadness’ without ‘overcharging’ thought with abstract and potentially illusory ideas about negativity. This Kantian approach to negation, she argues convincingly, is consistent with Deleuze’s best ideas.
The psychoanalyst has to deal with multiple manifestations of apparent negativity: resistance, repression, guilt, denial, and in general with ‘ce qui cloche’ – whatever does not ‘function’ or ‘work’ in human sexual relationships. The aim of psychoanalytic practice is to find a register for the inadequacy of objects of desire in relation to sexual ‘satisfaction’. But in the process of thinking through the logic of negation involved in this inadequacy, David-Ménard argues, psychoanalytic theory tends to ‘transform inadequation into a lack, into something impossible, a particular which escapes the universal which claims to structure it’. This tendency in psychoanalysis reaches its head in ‘the Lacanian solution’, which conceives inadequation ‘in the sexual relation as the inscription of something impossible’, and consequently ends up overlooking ‘the subtleties of the drive [les subtilités du pulsionnel]’. ‘From Plato to Lacan’, the message is the same: when you desire, you are in a position of lack. ‘You can hope for nothing more than discharges of energy. You will pursue an impossible Jouissance.’
Giving a subtle and qualified affirmation of Deleuze’s critique of this tendency in Lacanianism, David-Ménard proceeds to employ Deleuze’s thought to ‘defend an epistemology of inadequation’, against both a ‘logic’ and an ‘ontology’ of negation. Deleuze’s basic philosophical task, according to David-Ménard, was to identify the ‘metaphysical errors’ involved in the use of the concept of negativity in Hegelian and post-Hegelian thought, including in the thought of Lacan, and to re-ground the apparent ontological significance of negation in a philosophy of difference and repetition. Here he is Kantian, and is accordingly focused on transcendental issues of temporal synthesis. In the ‘decisive chapter’ on repetition in Difference and Repetition, to which David-Ménard devotes some luminous pages at the centre of the book, Deleuze ‘shows how the work of the negative – lack in being, conflicts, oppositions, contradictions – masks the impact of repetition’. Beneath the local activity of repression, there is a trajectory of ‘biopsychic individuation’, articulated first in the development of habit and memory as syntheses of time, and then in the desexualizing processes of thought. Deleuze emphasizes the ambiguity of repetition in psychoanalysis: that it can be both destructive and inventive. But, according to David-Ménard, he succeeds in showing how ‘each conflict, every contradiction is a misrecognition of an inventive repetition’ weaved by ‘the living, desiring and thinking being’. She observes that for much of the late 1960s, Deleuze can be found defending the necessity of the Lacanian phallic function. Nevertheless, she stresses that the Deleuzean phallus always remains a ‘problem’, both in itself and for the child, and is not presented as a necessary solution to desire’s impasses. It is one among a number of special ‘problems’ that occupy the unconscious mind: lacks proper to need, questions about sexual identity, and problems to do with discovering the point of thinking itself. David-Ménard is particularly illuminating when discussing how the application of Deleuze’s complex theory of repetition generates increased possibilities for intervention within the transference situations involved in the psychoanalytic therapy of both neurosis and psychosis.
In the latter part of the book David-Ménard claims that, in his later focus on art and creative ‘becoming’, Deleuze abandons this fruitful line of enquiry, and in works co-authored with Guattari such as A Thousand Plateaus and What is Philosophy? ends up affirming a ‘philosophy of the infinite’, where philosophy, art and science become privileged forms of ‘becoming’ (or ‘development’ – devenir) at the expense of desire in general. David-Ménard’s resistance to the later Deleuze’s plunge into a ‘philosophy of the infinite’ echoes that of Serge Leclaire in his polemic with Deleuze. In a 1972 roundtable with Deleuze and Guattari, Leclaire contended that the analysis of the social and cosmic aspects of desire must nevertheless proceed through ‘that narrow pass that the object constitutes’, in the here and now. David- Ménard’s contention that ‘Deleuze’s polemic against the Freudian and Lacanian idea of desire as lacking its object misrecognizes that the important thing, in the function of the object, is to permit the death drives to appear’ pursues a similar line. For David-Ménard, as for Leclaire, the ‘object’ must be understood as a fundamental screen for the projection of the movement of the death drive. Although the Deleuze of Difference and Repetition has an account of an ‘object = x’ that circulates through difference and repetition, Leclaire believed that the object had disappeared in the theory of fluxes of the Capitalism and Schizophrenia project.
One of this book’s major contributions is towards a rethinking of the concept of negativity in philosophy and psychoanalysis. In his second Seminar, Lacan had engaged in a discussion on the concept of negation in Hegel and Freud with the Hegel scholar Jean Hyppolite. While the latter refused to be drawn on the internal connections between ‘negation’ and the death drive, Lacan clearly wanted to relate them somehow. His speculations on negation in this seminar provide one of the stimuli for the application to Lacanian psychoanalysis of logical and mathematical ideas about negation and zero, in the 1960s, by Jacques-Alain Miller and Alain Badiou in the journal Cahiers pour l’analyse. In the final section of the book, David- Ménard returns to Kant’s theory of negation in order to ground fundamental psychoanalytic ideas about negation. She puts into question Deleuze’s characterization of Freud in Difference and Repetition (repeated in a seminar on Leibniz in 1980) as ‘on the side of an Hegelian post-Kantianism – in other words, of an unconscious of opposition’, as opposed to the ‘differential unconscious’ of Leibniz and Fechner. Deleuze’s concept of ‘opposition’ misses the significance and novelty of Kant’s notion of real opposition or real conflict, making it a mere anticipation of Hegelian contradiction. In doing so, he misses an opportunity to rethink the primary relation of thought to the ‘Real’ that the Lacanians of the Cahiers were trying to think with their application of Frege’s conception of the distinction between the number one and zero to the problematic of primal repression and the constitution of the unconscious.
In his 1925 article on ‘Negation’, Freud had shown how the act of negation already involves a primary affirmation. When a patient says to the analyst, ‘You will think that this woman of my dreams is my mother, but it is precisely not that’, an affirmation is already implicitly made that can be exploited by the analyst in the subsequent interventions. As David-Ménard puts it, ‘in mentioning negatively the content of his idea, the patient returns to a primary exclusion’, replaying an original negation. The act of judgement itself constitutes a ‘negation of the primary magical abolition’ of reality, since it allows the thing to be negated to be included in the space of the symbolic order. Through this negation, the subject is now capable of creating and thinking through opposites; determination becomes possible. The analyst, David-Ménard notes, can take advantage of these opposites to provide exit routes from inappropriate identifications.
But how is this logic of primary exclusion to be conceived? In his courses on logic, Kant gave the indefinite judgment primacy in his definition of negation. David-Ménard appeals to J.N. Findlay’s account of Kant’s distinction between two types of negation in his Kant and the Transcendental Object: the negation of ‘the kind which simply cancels or eliminates a thought-determination’ should be distinguished from the kind ‘which makes a vaguely ‘infinite’ reference to all others, uncancelled possibilities (the Soul, for example, belongs to the infinite remainder class of not-mortal things)’. To say that the soul is ‘not mortal’ puts the soul into ‘an infinite remainder class of not-mortal things’. To negate, therefore, is not just a way of logically determining the content of a concept, but more fundamentally is also to open up an infinite ideal space.
The reason David-Ménard suggests that Kant’s 1763 Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy is a turning point in Kant’s move to critical philosophy is that its claim for the reality of negative magnitudes – for the reality of debts, deprivation and suffering – and its conception of a ‘world-whole’ based on the principle of an equilibrium of forces – allowed Kant to generate the framework necessary for a theory of the conditions of objective reality. Kant’s transcendental idealism, David-Ménard argues, as well as his conceptions about temporal synthesis, emerge as a reaction to an encounter with the ‘delirium’ of Swedenborgian and Leibnizian idealism. Left to itself, rationalism or the exercise of ‘pure reason’ leads to baroque madness. Kant’s task is therefore to ‘redefine philosophy as the science of the limits of human reason’. Dialectical conflicts (the antinomies of pure reason) must be related back to ‘real conflicts’.
Kant’s first notion of real conflict (as David-Ménard also argues in her essay ‘Sexual Alterity and the Alterity of the Real for Thought’, in Angelaki, vol. 8, no. 2, 2003) ‘introduces a negative magnitude that is distinct from either an ontological negation or a logical contradiction, [and which] allows us to understand how real objects are formed in knowledge’. The zero of indifference and the zero of equilibrium are different in kind. In logical contradiction, one thing cancels another because their concepts are incompatible. To affirm and deny something at the same time leads to an immediate cancellation of the thought of the thing. The product of a logical negation is what David-Ménard notes that tradition calls a nihil negativum. In a real opposition, by contrast, the cancellation concerns the state of another quantity of reality, and ‘the consequence is something’ (take two forces of equal quantity acting upon each other – they are really opposed, but the result is rest, which is not nothing). When a boat travels thirty miles from east to west, and then thirty miles back from west to east, ‘the understanding determines the algebraic sum of the distance travelled as a “= 0”.’ This zero, nevertheless, is not a mere non-being; nor is it the result of a contradiction (where ‘the consequence of the logical contradiction’ is ‘nothing at all’). The zero is the result of a real movement of forces. In sum, logical opposition involves an affirmation being negated, while real conflict involves two or more positivities or affirmations cancelling each other out. The result, zero, may appear to be the same in each case, but the zero of real conflict might in fact be the outcome of the equilibrium of immense forces – that is, something more than a nihil negativum.
To confuse the two processes will inevitably lead to a misunderstanding of the nature and sources of real conflict. Is displeasure, Kant asks, merely a deprivation of pleasure, or is it the result of a real conflict between positive forces (and therefore what Kant calls a ‘negative pleasure)’? Kant distinguishes between ‘evils of lack’ (mala defectus) and ‘evils of deprivation’ (mala privationis). ‘Evils of deprivation’, he says,
presuppose that there are positive grounds which cancel the good for which there really exists another ground. Such evils of deprivation are negative goods. These latter evils are greater than the former. Not giving is, relatively to someone in need, an evil; but taking from, extorting from, stealing from, are relatively to someone in need, far greater evils. Taking from is a negative giving to. (Attempt to Introduce Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy, Ak. 2:182)
Deprivation, debts and suffering are all caused by real conflict. Debts can be seen as ‘negative credits’, or credits can be seen as ‘negative debts’, according to one’s perspective: whichever is the case, however, ‘the reality of my fortune is determined by the composition of these magnitudes’.
Kant’s idea of a difference in kind between logical contradiction and real opposition was essential for his development of the question of the synthetic a priori. In his early work, the principle of ‘real’ rather than ‘logical’ determination (the principle of determining ground, Kant’s version of Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason) was that of real opposition of forces, which could be determined according to a ‘world-whole’, or ‘generally established harmony’. In the ‘Table of the Concept of Nothing’ included in the section on the ‘Amphiboly of Concepts of Reflection’ in the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant elaborates on how the concept of nothing can have a number of different meanings: it can be an empty concept without an object, an empty object of a concept, an empty intuition without an object, and an empty object without a concept. In the critical project, therefore, the Kantian zero is elaborated a priori into a fourfold determination. Now if, as Kant argues in the ‘Anticipations of Perception’, ‘an object is only determined by the understanding as real insofar as a degree of intensity characterises the intuition of its materiality’, then perhaps, David- Ménard argues, his early ideas about ‘the zero of real conflict’ can still provide the matrix for thinking through the most elementary transcendental relationship of thought and the ‘real’.
The case of ‘0’ underlies a property that Kant does not yet make explicit but that will be of major importance in the future development of his philosophy: when the algebraist writes ‘= 0’, and through that determines the reality of a state, rather than its non-being, it seems clear that his thought is distinct from that which it permits him to conceive: the zero as example of negative magnitude is both for thought and through thought. If, in his theory of negative magnitudes, Kant privileges the ‘0’, is that not because it is a matter first of all of distinguishing thought from what it conceives as real? The theory of the conflict called ‘real’ will be Kant’s first approach to what he will later call empirical realism.
Although it is not explicitly made clear, this primary transcendental zero can be related to Lévi-Strauss’s notion of mana as the ‘zero symbol’ that guarantees the relationship between signifier and signified, and to Lacan’s notion of the phallus as a ‘pure signifier’. The critical project, David-Ménard suggests, is clandestinely inaugurated by this generation of zero, which provides ‘the first Kantian formulation of the difference between thought and its object’. Referring to Gilles Châtelet’s ideas in Les enjeux du mobile (1993) about a conception of zero that ‘permits one not only to comprehend zero as a ‘milieu’, as the product of the neutralization of +A by –A, but to open zero into two branches’, she argues that the Kantian theory of zero can provide a ‘transcendental determination of the limit’ that allows for the generation of the Real on the basis of zero, and which allows one to globally yet concretely determine the intensive and dynamic basis of real conflict. Correspondingly, when thought gets caught up in ‘dialectical conflicts’, particularly when reasoning about the ‘world-whole’, it loses hold of ‘the reality of the objects about which it reasons’.
One problem with this suggestion, however, is that Deleuze and Guattari note in Anti-Oedipus that ‘the Kantian theory according to which intensive quantities fill up, to varying degrees, a matter without void, is profoundly schizoid’. Perhaps this helps explain Deleuze and Guattari’s interest in the schizoid spaces of film, theatre and psychodrama, where the processes of transference and interpretation become mediated by a range of spatiotemporal ‘dramatizations’. Nevertheless, David-Ménard’s suggestions about grounding transcendental philosophy in such a theory of the ‘real conflict’ of intensities certainly appear to be compatible with Deleuze’s earlier philosophy of difference and repetition. This, for David-Ménard, is the path that leads to a possible finitist appropriation of the message of the Spinozist infinite: that a sad passion when understood is no longer a sad passion, and can be transformed into an object of affirmation in a real conflict.
Other Reviews in RP151:
Christian Kerslake, Deleuze and the Unconscious
Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi, eds, Autonomia: Post-Political Politics
Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman, eds, Material Feminisms
Pierre Bourdieu, Political Interventions: Social Science and Political Action
Espen Hammer, ed., German Idealism: Contemporary Perspectives
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