Slavoj Zizek (zizek) wrote,
Slavoj Zizek

The Truth Arises from Misrecognition Part I

The Truth Arises from Misrecognition Part I
Slavoj Zizek

From Lacan and the Subject of Language. Ed. Ellie Ragland-Sullivan and Mark Bracher. New York and London: Routledge, 1991.

I The Dialectics of the Symptom

Back to the future

The only reference to the domain of science fiction that we find in Lacan's work concerns the time‑paradox. In his first Seminar, Lacan uses the metaphor, invented by Norbert Wiener, of the inverted direction of time, to explain the symptom as a "return of the repressed."

Wiener posits two beings each of whose temporal dimension moves in the opposite direction from the other. To be sure, that means nothing, and that is how things which mean nothing all of a sudden signify something, but in a quite different domain. If one of them sends a message to the other, for example a square, the being going in the opposite direction will first of all see the square vanishing before seeing the square. "That is what we see as well. The symptom initially appears to us as a trace, which will only ever be a trace, one which will continue not to be understood until the analysis has got quite a long way, and until we have discovered its meaning" (Seminar I, 159).

Analysis is thus conceived as a symbolization, a symbolic integration of meaningless imaginary traces; this conception implies a fundamentally imaginary character of the unconscious. It is made of "imaginary fixations which couldn't have been assimilated to the symbolic development" of the subject's history; consequently, "it is something which will be realized in the symbolic or, more precisely, something which, thanks to the symbolic progress which takes place in the analysis, will [retroactively] become what it was" (future anterior: aura été) (I, 158, translation modified). The Lacanian answer to the question, from where does the repressed return, is then paradoxically: from the future. Symptoms are meaningless traces; their meaning is not


discovered, excavated from the hidden depth of the past, but constructed retroactively. The analysis produces the truth, i.e., the signifying frame which gives to the symptoms their symbolic place and meaning. As soon as we enter the symbolic order, the past is always present in the form of historical tradition, of interwoven traces which constitute a synchronic network of signifiers. The meaning of these traces is not given; it changes continually with the transformations of the signifier's network. Every historical rupture, every advent of a new master signifier, changes retroactively the meaning of all tradition, restructures the narration of the past, makes it readable in another, new way. Thus things which don't make any sense suddenly mean something, but in an entirely other domain. What is a journey into the future if not this "overtaking" by means of which we suppose in advance the presence in the other of a certain knowledge‑knowledge about the meaning of our symptoms.

What is it, then, if not the transference itself? This knowledge is an illusion. It does not really exist in the other, the other does not really possess it. It is constituted afterwards, through our‑the subject's‑‑signifier's working. But it is at the same time a necessary illusion, because we can paradoxically elaborate this knowledge only by means of the illusion that the other already possesses it and that we are only discovering it. If, as Lacan is pointing out, the repressed content in the symptom is returning from the future and not from the past, then the trans transference ‑‑ the actualization of the reality of the unconscious – must transpose us into the future and not into the past. And what is the journey into the past if not this retroactive working‑through, the elaboration of the signifier itself: a kind of hallucinatory mise‑en‑scène of the fact that, in the field of the signifier and only in this field, we can change, we can bring about the past? The past exists as it is included, as it enters (into) this synchronous net of the signifier, i.e., as it is symbolized in the texture of the historical memory. That is why we are "rewriting history" all the time, retroactively giving the elements their symbolic weight by including them in new textures. It is this elaboration which decides retroactively what they "will have been (auront été)."

The Oxford philosopher Michael Dummett has written two very interesting articles included in his collection of essays, Truth and Other Enigmas: "Can an Effect Precede its Cause?" and "Bringing About the Past." The Lacanian answer to these two enigmas would be "yes", because the symptom as a "return of the repressed" is precisely such an effect which precedes its cause (its hidden kernel, its meaning). In working through the symptom, we are precisely "bringing about the past." That is, we are producing the symbolic reality of the past, long-


forgotten traumatic events. One is then tempted to see in the time-paradox of science-fiction novels a kind of hallucinatory apparition in the real of the elementary structure of the symbolic process, the so-called internal, internally inverted eight: a circular movement, a kind of snare where we can progress only in such a manner that we "overtake" ourselves in the transference, to find ourselves later at a point at which we have already been. The paradox consists in the fact that this superfluous detour, this supplementary snare of overtaking ourselves (voyage into the future) and then reversing the time‑direction (voyage into the past) is not just a subjective illusion/perception of an objective process taking place in so‑called reality, independently of these illusions. This supplementary snare is rather an internal condition, an internal constituent of the so‑called "objective" process itself. It is only through this additional detour that the past itself, the “objective" state of things, becomes retroactively what it always was. Transference is then an illusion, but the point is that we cannot by pass it and reach directly for the truth. The truth itself is constituted through the illusion proper to the transference‑"the truth arises from misrecognition" in Lacan's words.

If this paradoxical structure is not yet clear, let us take another science‑fiction example, the well‑known story by William Tenn, The Discovery of Morniel Mathaway. A distinguished art historian takes a journey with a time‑machine from the twenty‑fifth century to our days to visit and study nl vivo the immortal Morniel Mathaway, painter not appreciated in our time but who was later discovered to have been the greatest painter of our era. When he encounters him the art historian finds no trace of a genius, just an imposter who is megalomaniac and even a swindler who steals his time‑machine from him and escapes into the future, so that the poor art historian stays tied to our time. The only thing open to him is then to assume the identity of the escaped Mathaway and to paint under his name all his masterpieces that he remembers from the future. It is himself who is really the misrecognized genius lie was looking for!

This is then the basic paradox we are aiming at. The subject is confronted with a scene from the past that he wants to change, to meddle with, to intervene in. He takes a journey into the past, intervenes in the scene and‑it is not that he "cannot change anything, quite the contrary‑‑it is only through his intervention that the scene from the past becomes what it always was. His intervention was from the beginning comprised, included. The initial “illusion" of the subject consists in simply forgetting to include in the scene his own act, i.e., in overlooking how "it counts, it is counted, and the one who counts


is already included in the account" (Lacan, Seminar XI, 20; translation modified).

This introduces a relationship between truth and misrecognition/misapprehension by which the truth, literally, arises from misrecognition, as in the well‑known story about the "appointment in Samarra" (from W, S. Maugham's play Sheppey)

Death: "There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it and he dug his spurs in its flanks and he went as fast as the horse could gallop. Then the merchant went down to the market‑place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Before we ask ourselves what this story has to do with psychoanalysis, we ought to remind ourselves that we find the same structure in the myth of Oedipus. It is predicted to Oedipus's father that his son will kill him and marry his mother, and the prophecy realizes itself, "becomes true," through the father's attempt to evade it. He exposes his little son in the forest, etc., and Oedipus, not recognizing him twenty years later when he encounters him, kills him. In other words, the prophecy becomes true by means of its being communicated to the person it affects and by means of his or her attempt to elude it. One knows one's destiny in advance, one tries to evade it, and it is by means of this attempt itself that the predicted destiny realizes itself. Without the prophecy, the little Oedipus would have lived happily with his parents and there would be no "Oedipus Complex."

Repetition in history

The time‑structure with which we are concerned here is such that it is mediated through subjectivity: the subjective "mistake," "fault," “error," "misrecognition," arrives paradoxically before the truth in


relation to which we are designating it as "error," because this "truth" itself becomes true only through‑‑or, to use a Hegelian term, by mediation of‑‑the error This is the logic of unconscious cunning, the way the unconscious deceives us. The unconscious is not a kind of transcendent, unattainable thing that we are unable to take cognizance of'. It is rather‑‑to follow Lacan's word play‑his translation of Unbewusste‑‑une bévue, an overlooking: we overlook the way our act is already part of the state of things we are looking at, the way our error is part of the truth itself. This paradoxical structure in which the truth arises from misrecognition also gives us the answer to the question: why is the transference necessary? Why must the analysis go through it? The transference is precisely an illusion by means of which the final truth (the meaning of a symptom) is produced.

We find the same logic of the error as an internal condition of truth with Rosa Luxemburg, with her description of the dialectics of the revolutionary process. I am alluding here to her argument against Edward Bernstein, against his revisionist fear of seizing power too soon, "prematurely," before the so‑called "objective conditions" had ripened. This was, it is well known, Bernstein's main reproach to the revolutionary wing of social democracy: they are too impatient, they want to hasten, to outrun the objective logic of historical development. The answer of Rosa Luxemburg is that the first seizures of power are necessarily "premature". The only way for the working class to reach its "maturity," to await the arrival of the "appropriate moment" for the seizure of power, is to form itself, to educate itself for this act of seizure. And the only possible way of achieving this education is precisely by "premature" attempts. If we just wait for the "appropriate moment," we will never live to see it, because this "appropriate moment" cannot arrive without the subjective conditions of the maturity of the revolutionary force (subject) being fulfilled. That is, it can arrive only after a series of "premature," failed attempts.

The opposition to the "premature" seizure of power is thus revealed to be opposition to the seizure of power as such, in general. To repeat the famous phrase of Robespierre, the revisionists want a "revolution without revolution." If we look at this argument closely, we perceive that what is at stake in Rosa Luxemburg's argument is precisely the impossibility of metalanguage in the revolutionary process. The revolutionary subject does not "conduct," "direct" this process from an objective distance. He is constituted through this process, and because of this‑‑because the temporality of the revolution passes through subjectivity‑‑we cannot "make the revolution at the right moment" without previous "premature," failed attempts. Here, in the opposition between Bernstein and Luxemburg, we have the opposition


between the obsessional (man) and the hysterical (woman): the obsessional is delaying, putting off the act, waiting for the right moment, while the hysterical, so to speak, overtakes herself in her act and thus unmasks the falsity of the obsessional's position. This is also what is at stake in Hegel's theory of the role of repetition in history: “a political revolution is generally sanctioned by the opinion of the people only when it is renewed" (Hegel)—i.e., it can succeed only as a repetition of a first failed attempt. Why this necessity of a repetition?

Hegel developed his theory of repetition through the case of Caesar's death. When Julius Caesar consolidated his personal power and strengthened it to imperial proportions, he acted "objectively" (in itself) in accordance with historical truth, historical necessity. The Republican form was losing its validity, and the only form of government which could save the unity of the Roman state was monarchy, a state based upon the will of a single individual. But it was still the Republic which prevailed formally (for itself, in the opinion of the people). The Republic "was still alive only because she forgot that she was already dead," to paraphrase the famous Freudian dream of the father who did not know that he was already dead. (We find the same paradoxical place "in between two deaths" occupied by Napoleon at Elba: his role was already finished, i.e., he was already dead without knowing it, and that's why he had to die for the second time: at Waterloo, he died also "for himself'"). To the "opinion" which still believed in the Republic, Caesar's amassing of personal power, which was of course contrary to the spirit of the Republic, appeared an arbitrary act, an expression of contingent individual self‑will. The conclusion they drew was that if this individual (Caesar) were to be removed, the Republic would regain its full splendor. But it was precisely the conspirators against Caesar (Brutus, Cassius, etc.) who—following the logic of the "cunning of reason "‑attested the truth (i.e. the historical necessity) of Caesar. The final result, the outcome of Caesar's murder, was the reign of Augustus, the first caesar. The truth thus arose from the failure itself. In failing, in missing its express goal, the murder of Caesar fulfilled the task which was, in a Machiavellian way, assigned to it by history: to exhibit the historical necessity by denouncing its own non‑truth, i.e., its own arbitrary, contingent character.

The whole problem of repetition is here: in this passage from "Caesar" the name of an individual to "caesar," title of the Roman emperor. The murder of Caesar, historical personality, provoked as its final result the installation of caesarism: Caesar‑person repeats itself as caesar‑title. What is, then, the reason, the driving force of this repetition? At first sight, the answer seems to be clear: the delay of


consciousness of the "objective" historical necessity. A certain act through which the historical necessity breaks through is perceived by consciousness (the "opinion of the people") as arbitrary, as something which also could have not happened. Because of this perception, people try to do away with its consequences, to restore the old state of things, but when this act repeats itself, it is finally perceived as an expression of the underlying historical necessity. In other words, repetition is the way historical necessity asserts itself in the eyes of “opinion."

But such an idea of repetition rests upon the epistemologically naive presupposition of an objective historical necessity, persisting independently of consciousness (of the "opinion of the people") and asserting itself finally through repetition. What is lost in this notion is the way so‑called historical necessity itself' is constituted through misrecognition, through the initial failure of opinion to recognize its true character, i.e., the way truth itself arises from misrecognition. The crucial point is here the changed symbolic status of an event. When it erupts for the first time; an event is experienced as a contingent traumatism, as an intrusion of a certain non‑symbolized real. It is only through its repetition that this event is recognized in its symbolic necessity‑i.e., that it finds its place in the symbolic network, that it is realized in the symbolic order.

But as with Moses in Freud's analysis, this recognition‑through‑repetition necessarily presupposes the crime, the act of murder. To realize himself in his symbolic necessity, i.e., as a power‑title, Caesar has to die as in empirical, flesh‑and‑blood personality, precisely because the "necessity" in question is a symbolic one. It is not, then, only that people need time to understand, to grasp, it is not only that in its first form of appearance, the event (for example Caesar's amassing of individual power) was too traumatic for people to grasp its real signification. The misrecognition of its first advent is immediately "internal" to its symbolic necessity, it is an immediate constituent of its final recognition. To put it in a traditional way: the first murder (the parricide of Caesar) opened up the guilt, and it was this guilt, this debt, which was the real driving force of the repetition‑the event did not repeat itself because of' some objective necessity, independent of' our subjective inclination and thus irresistible, but because its repetition was a repayment of our symbolic debt. In other words, repetition announces the advent of the Law, of the Name‑of‑the‑Father in place of the dead, assassinated father. The event which repeats itself receives its law retroactively through its repetition. That is why we can grasp Hegelian repetition as a passage from a lawless series to a lawlike series, as the inclusion of a lawless event in a lawlike


series‑‑i.e., as a gesture of interpretation par excellence, a symbolic appropriation of a traumatic, non‑symbolized event. (Lacan says somewhere that the interpretation always proceeds under the sign of the Name‑of‑the‑Father.) Hegel was thus probably the first to articulate the delay which is constitutive of the act of interpretation. The interpretation always sets in too late, with some delay, when the event which is to be interpreted repeats itself. The event cannot already be lawlike in its first advent. This same delay is also formulated in the preface of Hegel's Philosophy of Law, in the famous passage about the owl of Minerva (i.e. the philosophical comprehension of' a certain epoch) which takes flight only in the evening, after this epoch has already come to its end.

The fact that the "opinion of the people" was to see in Caesar's action an individual contingency and not an expression of historical necessity is then not a simple case of delay of consciousness in relation to effectivity. The point is that this necessity itself which was misrecognized by opinion in its first manifestation‑i.e., which was mistaken for a contingent self‑will‑‑constitutes itself, realizes itself through this misrecognition.

And we should not be surprised to find the same logic of repetition also in the history of the psychoanalytic movement: it was necessary for Lacan to repeat his split with the IPA. The first split (the one of 1953) was still experienced as a traumatic contingency. Lacanians were still trying to patch things up with the IPA, to regain admission to the IPA, but in 1964, it also became clear to their "opinion" that there was a logical necessity in this split, so they cut their links with the IPA and Lacan constituted his own School.

Hegel with Austen

Jane, not John L.: it is Jane Austen who is perhaps the only counterpart to Hegel in literature: Pride and Prejudice is the literary Phenomenology of the Spirit, Mansfield Park the Science of Logic, and Emma the Encyclopaedia. No wonder, then, that we find in Pride and Prejudice the perfect case of this dialectics of truth arising from misrecognition. Although they belong to different social classes‑‑he is from an extremely rich aristocratic family, she from the impoverished middle class‑‑Elizabeth and Darcy feel a strong mutual attraction. Because of his pride, his love appears to Darcy as something unworthy; when he asks for her hand he confesses openly his contempt for the world to which she belongs and expects her to accept his proposition as an unheard‑of honor. But because of' her prejudice, Elizabeth takes him for an ostentatious, arrogant, and vain type. His condescending


proposal humiliates her, and she refuses him. This double failure, this mutual misrecognition, possesses a structure of a double movement of communication where each subject receives from the other its own message in inverse form. Elizabeth wants to present herself to Darcy as a young cultivated woman, full of wit, and she gets from him the message, "You're nothing but a poor empty‑minded creature, full of false finesse." Darcy wants to present himself to her as a proud gentleman, and he gets from her the message, "Your pride is nothing but a contemptible arrogance." After the break in their relations, each discovers‑‑through a series of accidents‑‑the true nature of the other: she the sensitive and tender nature of Darcy, he her real dignity and wit. The novel ends as it should, with their marriage.

The theoretical interest of this story is in the fact that the failure of their first encounter, the double misrecognition concerning the real nature of the other, functions as a positive condition of the final outcome: we cannot go directly for the truth, we cannot say "if, from the very beginning, she had recognized his real nature and he hers, their story could have ended at once with their marriage." Let's take as a comical hypothesis that the first encounter of the future lovers was a success, i.e., that Elizabeth had accepted the first proposal of Darcy. What would happen in this case? Instead of a couple bound together in true love, they would become a vulgar everyday couple, a liaison of an arrogant rich man and a pretentious empty‑minded young girl. If we want to spare ourselves the painful roundabout route through the misrecognition, we miss the truth itself: only the "working through" of the misrecognition allows us to accede to the true nature of the other and at the same time to overcome our own deficiency--for Darcy, to free himself of his false pride, and for Elizabeth, to get rid of her prejudices. These two movements are interconnected because Elizabeth encounters in Darcy's pride the inverse image of her own prejudices and Darcy in the vanity of Elizabeth the inverse image of his own false pride. In other words, Darcy's pride is not a simple positive state of things existing independently of his relationship to Elizabeth, an immediate property of his nature: it takes place, it appears, only from the perspective of her prejudices. And vice versa, Elizabeth is a pretentious empty‑minded girl only for Darcy's arrogant view. To articulate things in Hegelian terms: in the perceived deficiency of the other, each perceives‑‑without knowing it‑the falsity of his/her own subjective position. The deficiency of the other is just an objectification of the distortion of our own point of view.

The two Hegelian jokes

There is a well‑known, very Hegelian joke that illustrates perfectly the way truth arises from misrecognition, i.e., the way our path towards


truth coincides with the truth itself. In the beginning of this century, there were a Pole and a Jew sitting in a train, facing each other. The Pole was shifting nervously, watching the Jew all the time. Something was irritating him. Finally, being unable to restrain himself anymore, he exploded: “Tell me, how do you Jews succeed in extracting from people the last small coin and in this way accumulate all your wealth?" The Jew replied: "Okay, I will tell you, but not for nothing; first give me five zloty" (Polish money). After receiving the required amount, the Jew began: "First, YOU take a dead fish; you cut off her head and put her entrails in a glass of water. Then, around midnight, when file moon is full, you must bury this glass in a churchyard." "And," the Pole interrupted him greedily, "if I do all this, will I also become rich?" "Not too quickly," replied the Jew, "this isn't all you must do; but if you want to hear the rest, you must pay me another five zloty!" After receiving the money again, the Jew continued his story. Soon afterwards, he again demanded more money, etc., till finally the Pole exploded in fury: "You dirty rascal, do you really think that I didn't notice what you were aiming at? There is no secret at all! You simply want to extract the last small coin from me!" The Jew answered him calmly and with resignation: "Well, now you see how we, the Jews . . ."

In this little story, all is to be interpreted, starting with the curious, inquisitive way the Pole looks at the Jew. It means that from the very beginning, the Pole is caught in a relationship of transference, i.e., that the Jew embodies for him the "subject supposed to know"‑‑to know the secret of how to extract money from people. The point of the story is of course that the Jew has not deceived the Pole: he kept his promise and taught him how to extract money from people. What is crucial here is the double movement of the outcome, i.e., the distance between the moment when the Pole breaks out in fury and the final answer of the Jew. When the Pole blurts out, "There is no secret at all! You simply want to extract the last small coin from me!" He is already telling the truth without knowing it. That is, he sees in the handling of the Jew a simple deception‑what he misses is that through this very deception, the Jew kept his word, delivered him what he was paid for (the secret of how the Jews ... ). The Pole's error is simply his perspective: he looks forward for the "secret" to be revealed somewhere at the end. He situates the narration of the Jew as a path to the final revelation of the "secret," but the real secret is already in the narration itself, in the way the Jew, through his narration, captures the desire of the Pole, in the way the Pole is taken in by this narration and is prepared to pay for it.

The "secret" of the Jew lies then in our own (Pole's) desire: in the fact that the Jew knows how to take our desire into account, That is


why we can say that the final turn of' the story, with its double scansion, corresponds to the final moment of the psychoanalytic cure, the dissolution of transference and "going through the fantasy." When the Pole breaks out in fury, he has already stepped out of the transference, but he has yet to traverse his fantasy. This is achieved only by realizing how, through his deception, the Jew has kept his word. The fascinating “secret" which drives us to follow carefully the narration of the Jew is precisely the Lacanian object petit a, the chimerical object of fantasy, the object causing our desire and at the same time‑‑this is its paradox‑‑posed retroactively by this desire. In "going through the fantasy," we experience how this fantasy‑object (the "secret") only materializes, positivizes the void of our‑ desire.

It is usually overlooked how another well‑known joke possesses exactly the same structure. We are referring, of course, to the joke about the Door of the Law from the ninth chapter of Kafka's Trial, to its final turnaround when the dying man from the country asks the doorkeeper: "Everyone strives to attain the Law‑‑how does it come about, then, that in all these years no one has come seeking admittance but me?" The doorkeeper perceives that the man is at the end of his strength and that his hearing is failing, so he bellows in his ear: "No one but you could gain admittance through this door, since this door was intended only for you. I am now going to shut it."

This final turn is perfectly homologous to that at the end of the story about the Pole and the Jew: the subject makes the experience of how he (his desire) was from the very beginning part of the game, how the entrance was meant only for him, how the stake of the narration was only to capture his desire. We could even invent another ending for Kafka's story to bring it nearer to the joke about the Pole and the Jew. After the long wait, the man from the country broke out in fury and began to scream at the doorkeeper: "You dirty rascal, why do you pretend to guard the entrance to some enormous secret, when you know very well that there is no secret beyond the door, that this door is intended only for me, to capture my desire!"‑‑and the doorkeeper (if he were an analyst) would answer him calmly: "You see, now, you've discovered the real secret: beyond the door is only what your desire introduces there."

In both cases, the nature of the final turn follows the Hegelian logic of surmounting, of abolishing "bad infinity." That is to say, in both cases, the starting point is the same: the subject is confronted with some substantial Truth, Secret from which he is excluded, which evades him ad infinitum‑‑the inaccessible heart of the Law beyond the infinite series of doors the unattainable last answer, or the last secret of how the Jews extract money from us, awaiting us at the end


of the Jew's narration (which could go on ad infinitum). And the solution is in both cases the same: the subject has to grasp how, from the very start of, the game, the door concealing the secret was meant only for him how the real secret at the end of the Jew's narration is his own desire‑‑in short, how his external position in relation to the Other (the fact that he experiences himself as excluded from the secret of the Other) is internal to the Other itself. Here we encounter a kind of "reflexivity" which cannot be reduced to philosophical reflection: the very feature which seems to exclude the subject from the Other (his desire to penetrate the secret of the Other‑‑the secret of the Law, the secret of how the Jews ... ) is already a "reflexive determination" by the Other. Precisely as excluded from the Other, we are already part of its game.

A timetrap

The positivity proper to the misrecognition‑i.e. the fact that the misrecognition functions as a "productive" instance‑‑is to be conceived in an even more radical way: the misrecognition is not only an immanent condition of the final advent of' the truth, but it already possesses in itself so to speak a positive ontological dimension, It founds, it renders possible, a certain positive entity. To exemplify it, let's refer again to science fiction, to one of the classic science‑fiction novels, The Door into Summer, by Robert A. Heinlein.

The hypothesis of this novel (written in 1957) is that in 1970, hibernation has become an ordinary procedure, managed by numerous agencies. The hero of the novel, a young engineer by the name of Daniel Boone Davis, hibernates himself as a professional deception for a period of 30 years. After his awakening in December 2000, he encounters‑among other adventures‑‑the old Dr. Twitchell, a kind of "mad genius" who has constructed a time‑machine; Davis persuades Dr. Twitchell to use this machine on him and to transpose him back into the year 1970. There our hero arranges his affairs (by investing his money in a company that lie knows‑‑from his voyage to 2000‑will be a great success in 30 years time, and even by arranging for his own wedding in 2000; he also organizes the hibernation of his future bride), and then hibernates himself again for 30 years. The date of his second awakening is April 27th 2001. This way, all ends well. There is just a small detail annoying the hero. In the year 2000, the newspapers publish, beside "Births," "Deaths," and "Marriages," also the column. "Awakenings," listing the names of all persons roused from hibernation. His first stay in the years 2000 and 2001 lasted from December 2000 till June 2001; this means that Doc Twitchell has


transposed him back to the past after the date of his second awakening in April 2001. In the Times for Saturday, 27 April 2001, there was of course his name in the list of' those awakened on Friday, 25 April: "D. B. Davis." Why did he, during his first stay in 2001, miss his own name among the "Awakenings," although he had all the time been a very attentive reader of this column? Was this an accidental oversight?

"But what would I have done if I had seen it? Gone there, met myself‑‑and gone stark mad? No, for if I had seen it, I wouldn't have done the things I did afterward‑'afterward' for me‑‑which led up to it. Therefore it could never have happened that way. The control is a negative feedback type, with a built‑in 'fail safe,' because the very existence of that line of print depended on my not seeing it; the apparent possibility that I might have seen it is one of the excluded ‘not possibles' of' the basic circuit design. 'There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough‑hew them how we will.' Free will and predestination in one sentence and both true."

Here we have the literal definition of the "agency of the letter in the unconscious'': the line "the very existence of [which] depended on my not seeing it." If, during his first stay in 2001, the subject. had perceived his own name in the newspaper, i.e. if he had perceived‑during his first stay‑‑the trace of' his second stay in 2001, he would have acted thereupon in a different manner (he would not have traveled back into the past, etc.), i.e., he would have acted in a way that would have prevented his name from appearing in the newspaper. The oversight itself has then, so to speak, a negative ontological dimension: it is the “condition of the possibility" of the letter that it must be overlooked, that we must not take notice of it‑its very existence depends on its not being seen by the subject. Here, we have a kind of inversion of the traditional esse percipi: it is the non‑percipi which is the condition of esse. This is perhaps the right way to conceive the "pre‑ontological" status of the unconscious (evoked by Lacan in his Seminar XI): the unconscious is a paradoxical letter which insists only insofar as it does not exist ontologically.

In a homologous way, we could also determine the status of knowledge in psychoanalysis. The knowledge that is at work here is knowledge concerning the most intimate, traumatic being of the subject. It is the knowledge about the particular logic of his enjoyment. In his everyday attitude, the subject refers to the objects of his Umwelt, of the world that surrounds him, as to some given positivity. Psychoanalysis brings about a dizzying experience of how this given positivity exists and retains its consistency only insofar as somewhere else (on another scene, an einem anderen Schauplatz) some fundamental non‑knowledge


insists. It brings about the terrifying experience that if we come to know too much, we may lose our very being. Let us take, for example, the Lacanian notion of the imaginary self. This self exists only on the basis of the misrecognition of its own conditions. It is the effect of this misrecognition. So Lacan's accent is not on the supposed incapacity of the self to reflect, to grasp its own conditions, i.e., on its being the plaything of inaccessible unconscious forces. His point is that the subject can pay for such a reflection with the loss of his very ontological consistency. It is in this sense that the knowledge which we approach through psychoanalysis is impossible‑real. We are on a dangerous ground: in getting too close to it, we observe suddenly how our consistency, our positivity is dissolving itself.

In psychoanalysis, knowledge is marked by a lethal dimension: the subject must pay for the approach to it with his own being. In other words, to abolish the misrecognition means at the same time to abolish, to dissolve, the "substance" which was supposed to hide itself behind the form‑illusion of misrecognition. This "substance"‑‑the only one recognized in psychoanalysis‑‑is, according to Lacan, enjoyment (jouissance). Access to knowledge is then paid for with the loss of enjoyment. Enjoyment in its stupidity is possible only on the basis of certain non‑knowledge, ignorance. No wonder, then, that the reaction of the analysand to the analyst is often paranoid: by driving him towards knowledge about his desire, the analyst wants effectively to steal from him his most intimate treasure, the kernel of his enjoyment.1
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