Critical Theory Psychoanalysis

Love, Psychoanalysis, and Leftist Political Ontology, Part 2 (Daniel Tutt)

The following is the second installment of a two-part article by Daniel Tutt entitled “Love, Psychoanalysis, and Leftist Political Ontology.”  It has been published concurrently as part of an anthology entitled Sex and Nothing: Bridges from Psychoanalysis to Philosophy, edited by Alejandro Cerda-Rueda (New York: Karnac Books, 2016).  The first part of the article as it appears in Religious Theory can be found here.


As we have developed at the outset, the concept of transcendence is what constitutes a break from the domain of the social, and as we find in Lacan’s work, love is an ethical procedure that both severs the knot of imaginary servitude to the Other and humanizes the monstrous jouissance of the Other.

If we consider Hegel’s political and ethical thought, we also find a political ontology that develops out of the master slave dialectic. The master slave dialectic is a theory that accounts for a mode of coming into being with the Other. In Jean-Luc Nancy’s reading of Hegel, The Restlessness of the Negative, he argues that love is the operative term in the encounter with the Other for Hegel. But love, Nancy notes, is a tautology in Hegel, as the work of the negative must manifest itself as struggle, and love becomes the truth of struggle.

Love is a tautology because love is what realizes love—in a dialectical fashion—through the upheaval of its own struggle over the appropriation of the common.[1] To apply this dialectic to leftist ontology, love is what opens a wedge between the two domains of the social and the political, opening the space of the common, or the sphere of the political. When Hegel writes that the absolute is close to us,[2] this is an indication of Hegel’s Christian integration of love into his larger philosophy. Love is central to Hegel’s theory of becoming, as “love designates the recognition of desire by desire,” and since “desire is the tension of the coming of the Other as the becoming of the self” love is a negativity-for-itself.[3]

Desire, unlike love, demands nothing but the Other, whereas love is a source of becoming itself. This is why Hegel defines the position of love as beyond any notion of alterity and he grounds his theory of love on the reciprocity between two agents. Perhaps Hegel’s most precise definition of love is, “having in the other one’s own subsistence,”[4] – i.e. love maintains an ethical status in relation to his larger theory of ethical life.

Nancy’s conception of the common in the Inoperative Community is formed by subtraction, and we must read this as a revision of Hegel: that the community is subtraction itself.[5] Nancy’s conception of subtraction is a revision of Hegel as it thinks the “we” with no reference to Hegelian objective spirit, and thus unlike Hegel, Nancy posits a non-relational ontology, through a re-interpretation of Heideggerian Mitsein (being-with). Nancy’s non-relational ontology collapses alterity, and in its wake, otherness is stripped bare, and what emerges in this space of break is love. As Nancy writes: “The encounter with the Other only takes place with the stripping bare of every cultural predicate: love is indissociable with the nudity of the other’s taking place.”[6]

In his masterful essay, “Shattered Love” Nancy writes that love is that which exceeds the sublime. Love is an act of transcendence that fulfills nothing: it cuts, it breaks, and exposes so that there is no domain or instance of being where love would fulfill itself. Love happens endlessly in the withdrawal of its presentation:

The love break simply means this: that I can no longer, whatever presence to myself I may maintain or that sustains me, pro-pose myself to myself (nor im-pose myself on another) without remains, without something of me remaining, outside of me. This signifies that the immanence of the subject (to which the dialectic always returns to fulfill itself, including in what we call “intersubjectivity” or even “communication” or “communion”) is opened up, broken into – and this is what is called, in all rigor, a transcendence.[7]

From a Lacanian perspective, love is thought as a mode of transcendence. As Alenka Zupančič writes, the true miracle of love consists in, “preserving the transcendence in the very accessibility of the Other.”[8] Desire would be what we might intuitively think of as love, which is the transformation of some banal object into a sublime object,[9] but with love there occurs a montage of two semblances: the banal and the sublime object. Zupančič writes:

The miracle of love consists in “falling” (and in continuing to stumble) because of the real which springs from the gap introduced by this “parallel montage” of two semblances or appearances, that is to say, because of the real that springs from the non-coincidence of the same. The other that we love is neither the two semblances (the banal and sublime), but neither can love be separate from them. Love is nothing other than what results from a successful (or “lucky”) montage of the two. In other words, what we are in love is this other as minimal difference of the same that can itself take the form of an object.[10]

Love is always the reverse of a fetish whose logic goes: “I know very well that this object is a normal object, but I still nonetheless believe that it has magical powers.” The logic of love, as it pertains to the fetish, is rather: “I know very well that this beloved is just another human being, but I still believe that she is just another human being”. For Nancy, love is a constant withdrawal from the field of immanence and signification, meaning that there is always some-thing outside of me in love. Similarly, Zupančič’s Lacanian influenced conception of love results in the objective outside of the subject through a minimal 360px-marx_and_engelsdifference of the same.

Žižek’s Radical Love

Žižek links love to his larger revision of Lacan’s psychoanalytic act. Love is tied to Žižek’s act insofar as the passage, or traversal of the fantasy entails an affirmation on behalf of the subject that the big Other does not exist. Love emerges at this abyssal point of non-identification. To examine Žižek’s theory of radical love, I aim to place his work into relation with psychoanalyst Eric Santner, as it provides a helpful counterpoint position where Žižek’s theory becomes clearer. In Santner’s theory of love, he argues that subjectivity, or what he calls “seduction” is one that consists of a negative solidarity with the family/community/institution and these attachments are always sustained by a transgressive enjoyment structure sustained by fantasy.

Santner’s ethics is less politically engaged that Žižek’s, and it seeks different ways to release from the hold the Other has on one’s superego in this situation of seduction. In order to release the subject from the excitation of its superego demands, the time and space of this release ends up becoming the very time and space of the ethical encounter. Santner’s ethical encounter is an opening of space where new possibilities of being-together, of responsiveness to the Other, can arise.[11]

In the three-part essay collection The Neighbor, Santner applies a reading of the Jewish mystical philosopher Franz Rosenweig’s conception of “divine love.” By invoking divine love, Santner is concerned with re-animating the death-driven deadness of the socio-symbolic order, or life that has been thrown by the crisis of symbolic identity and investment into institutions. Similar to Žižek’s project in Christian materialism, Santner looks to religious sources, mainly the seminal twentieth century Jewish mystical text by Rosenzweig, Star of Redemption. The possibility of reawakening the subject is what Santner refers to “divine love”, a psychoanalytic technique of identification that consists of moving beyond the “undeadness of biopolitical life.”

Like sublimation, Santner’s divine love is thus the name for an ethical strategy that resembles that of Žižek’s albeit diverts from it in terms of the way it handles the engagement with the symbolic. Divine love is a moving beyond that entails a transformation of the institutional flux that interpolates the subject and brings that subject into the midst of life, i.e. 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. Divine love is a subsumption into das Ding, but inhabited with an inherent positivity, having negated the institutional flux of biopolitical dead matter. Santner’s divine love is ultimately a form of singularization, a form of singling out of the subject, not of excluding.[12]

Žižek argues that Santner’s divine love is in fact aligned with a “heroism of lack” mode of ethics, which he identifies as an improper reading of Lacan’s ethics. Žižek’s version of “shrugging off the fantasy of the other,” or “desublimation” in contrast to Santner is one that results in a traumatic situation. As Žižek notes, “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, Žižek characterizes the encounter as traumatic. This shrugging off, or de-subjectification from the Other must also be understood intersubjectively.

To understand Žižek’s key divergence with Santner, we must turn to his re-definition of love based on his reading of St. Paul’s foundation of the Christian community. As Žižek states, “Lacan’s entire theoretical edifice torn between these two options: between the ethics of desire/Law, and lethal suicidal immersion into the Thing?[13]” and as such, love is what emerges as the third option to get the subject out of the ethical impasse at the core of Lacan’s ethics. To pass through the ethical impasse into a form of Pauline agape, Žižek claims the subject arrives at a sort of mystical communion involving, “a passing through the zero-point of night of the world.[14]

It is this intense confrontation with the Hegelian “night of the world” and negation that Žižek closely aligns with the radical acts that St. Paul’s community of believers enacted. St. Paul’s ethics presents the paradigm for “unplugging” from the big Other’s hold on the socio-symbolic, which is after all the primary aim of Žižekian ethics. Paul’s “unplugging” is achieved only by “throwing the balanced circuit of the universe off the rails.”[15] Love is linked to Christianity and to the Christian community that Paul founded as love is non-dialectical, serving as the ground-level abyss of the Christian community. As Žižek notes, love is for Hegel a term that designates the mediation of opposites, love thus shows that there is no third that mediates two struggling opposite forces.[16]

As stated above, with desire, there is always a gap between the object of desire and its cause, whereas with love the object is not split off from its cause. With love, “the very distance between the object and cause collapse,”[17] and 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. 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.[18]

jacques-lacanThe core ethical question for Žižek revolves around immersion into the Thing or allegiance to the ethics of desire/Law. Unplugging in this Paulinian mode offers the kind of radical break with the symbolic coordinates via love that Žižek 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.[19]

Badiou: Love as Minimal Communism

In Badiou’s conception of love he radically eschews prior definitions of love that were held at the level of consciousness, as we find in romanticism, hermeneutics and religious discourses of love, is overturned with a conception of love as linked to the subject and what Badiou calls ‘truth effects.’ Badiou argues that if love is “consciousness of the other as other” as we find in Hegel and Lacan, then the other is necessarily identifiable in consciousness as the same. In contradistinction to this position, for Badiou, love is of the “scene of the Two,” which means that love is not about a learning of the sexes, but is about “thought and identification with thought.” Since no subject can occupy male or female love produces a truth founded upon a disjunction of Lacan’s maxim “there is no sexual relation.” That there is no rapport at the level of sexual difference is for Badiou the site of love as the production of a new law.

As he remarks in his text on St. Paul: “Love is a-cosmic and illegal, refusing integration into any totality and signaling nothing. It delivers no law, no form of mastery.”[20]

Love is always an un-binding and a break from the social bonds that are tied to the Law of the symbolic. Love is exposed in its resistance to the law of being and thus, far from ‘naturally’ regulating the supposed relation between the sexes, love is what makes truth of the [social] un-binding.[21] Therefore, love “produces a truth of the situation in such a way that the disjunction is constituted as law. The truth composed by love proceeds to infinity”[22] – and paradoxically, “the scene of the two” that love emerges from, has no third. Similar to Badiou’s atheism, there is no third mediation point (the big Other, God, etc.) that situates or establishes the meaning of love in its own field of expression. Love always remains tied to the logic of the two.

As one of Badiou’s four ‘truth conditions,’ love is what might include religion and psychoanalysis, two discourses that Badiou claims are incapable of producing new truths. But love on the other hand, produces new truths because it is a subjective encounter. Love is what Badiou calls a “minimal communism,”[23] Because love is a process-oriented encounter, grounded in the scene of the two, the implication is that love is no longer a solitary and private-intimate experience but is elevated to a universal experience. As Badiou states:

From the moment that a truth of the situation proceeds as disjunct, it also becomes clear why every truth is addressed to everyone and guarantees the uniqueness of the humanity function H(x) in its effects. For, as soon as it is grasped in truth, it immediately re-establishes that there is only one situation.[24]

Similar to Lacan’s theory of sexuation, the feminine position appears on the side of truth, and the feminine destination targets being as such, whereas the masculine targets “the changing of the numbers, the painful fracture of the One by the supposition of the Two, and this is essentially logical.”[25] The conflict of knowledge that love opens thus shows that the One of a truth is also exposed simultaneously as logical and as ontological at the same time.

For Badiou, the feminine position is what knots the four generic procedures together of politics, art, science and love. In each of these conditions, or generic procedures, truth is tied to a process of fidelity to an Truth-Event centered on a naming process. While the naming of politics always involves a fidelity to the name of equality, it is the name of humanity that love names for Badiou. Thus, the condition of love is based on the declaration that humanity exists![26]

But does Badiou’s positing of sexual difference relegate man to the same phallic position as many accused Lacan’s idea of sexual difference as promoting? In Badiou’s conception of sexual difference, he maps sexual difference onto his larger, process-based approach to evental truth production, and this superimposition of sexual difference runs less of a risk of falling into a static conception of sexual difference. I argue that Badiou complicates Lacanian sexuation by his very definition of subjectivation, where a subject is presented that is capable of thinking beyond the polarized masculine/feminine dichotomy.

As Lindsay Hair points out, in defense of Badiou’s subtle position on this question:

Badiou’s project to explore the notion of love as a Thought specifically attempts to exclude all elements of identificatory appropriation, whether imaginary or phenomenological, yet the fragments of experience constructed by the fidelity of the amorous pair remain sexed, despite the fact that the “truth” of the encounter, as participating in a universal, is of course unsexed, and does not fall under the structuring laws of the symbolic.[27]

In all the writings of Beckett, one feature remains unchanged: love begins in a pure encounter, which is neither destined nor predestined except by the chance crossing of two trajectories. Prior to this meeting, there is only solitude. No Two, in particular no sexual duality, exists before the encounter. Sexual difference is unthinkable, except from the point of view of the encounter as it unfolds within the process of love. There is no originary or prior difference that conditions or orients this encounter. The encounter is the power from which the Two, and thus love itself, originate. This power, which nothing precedes in its proper order, is practically without measure. It is, in particular, incommensurable with the power of feeling and the sexual and desiring power of the body.

The feminine polarity combines both wandering and narrative. It concurs not with the fixity of the name, but with the infinity of its unfolding in the world, in the narrative of its unending glory. It does not stick to the sole prescription without proof, but organizes the constant inquiry and verification of a capacity. To be a “woman,” in the context of love, is to move about under the custody of meaning, rather than of names. This protective effort implies the wayward fate of inquiries, as well as its perpetual recounting in a story. Happiness is not in the least associated with the One — the myth of fusion. It is rather the subjective indicator of a truth of difference, of sexual difference, that love alone makes effective.

Badiou and Lacan: Love and Subjectivation

 To understand the different conception of love in Lacan and Badiou it is important to start with un-packing their different conceptions of the subject. Lacan’s conception of the subject remains limited for Badiou as it is still conceived in terms of the individual. For Badiou, “the individual, in truth, is nothing,” whereas the subject should be understood in a wider sense, “as a network of capabilities that allow you to think, create, share, act collectively to go beyond the singularities – one body, one identity, social position, drives—but that is not reducible to it.”[28]

Badiou’s subject is thought in the context of what he refers to as a “world,” and not solely in terms of language as we find in a93598b7efde81732407e2924060f6e0Lacan. In “Meditation 36” on Descartes and Lacan in Being and Event, Badiou presents what is perhaps his most crucial departure from Lacan, which has to do with the notion of truth as cause of the signifier. Lacan returns to Descartes because the subject of psychoanalysis is the subject of science, and through Descartes, Lacan maintains his attachment to the “enunciation as subject”—in other words, Badiou’s subject is no longer tied to the “cause of the signifier” as we have in Lacan.[29]

In Being and Event the subject is thought along the status of a procedure – of a configuration in excess of the situation. The subject is “at the intersection of knowledge and truth via language, but is suspended by a truth whose finite moment it is.”[30] This moment of suspension, what Badiou refers to as “fidelity” to an event, is what shifts the coordinates of truth; making the subject a producer of the truth itself. This is why, in Being and Event, Badiou defines subjectivation as the “interventional nomination from the standpoint of the situation, that is, the rule of the intra-situational effects of the supernumerary name’s entrance into circulation.”[31] Subjectivation is thus a special count; distinct from what Badiou calls the “count-as-one” that orders presentation, just as it is from the state’s re-duplication. What subjectivation counts is “what ever it (the subject) faithfully connected to the name of the event.”[32]

At the end of analysis, love arises at the moment of rest after what Lacan calls the ‘pass.’ Mladen Dolar compares subjectivation in Althusser and Lacan, by noting that Althusser cannot think in his notion of ideological interpellation is precisely the two moments of subjectivity in Lacan. The first is a moment of rest, which is one amidst subjectivation, and the second is a moment of being a subject prior to recognition, and it is this crucial moment that Althusser leaves out. But the important question Dolar asks as it relates to our question is where does love enter in these two movements of subjectivation in Lacan? As is often the case, Lacan points the way to a new conception of love, this time thought as the moment of rest in the process of subjectivation.

Here is a quote from Dolar that articulates Lacan’s theory:

Love can function as a mechanism of ideology; it can serve as a link between the most private and a social bond, only because it can successfully produce that passage from the outer into the inner and at the same time cover it up. Love masks the external origins of subjectivity, concealing it not behind the illusion of an autonomous subject as a causa sui, but quite the contrary, by offering one’s being to the Other, offering one’s own particularity in response to the external contingency. The rest of the Real beyond the signifier demands the offering of that rest in the subject, the part of the “individual” that could not be subjectified, the object within the subject, and with that gesture, the rest is dealt with and the Other is sustained. The opacity of the Other is made transparent by love, the lawless becomes the lawful.[33]

For Lacan, love arises at the moment of rest, in the first movement of subjectivation, whereas for Badiou, love is a break with the state of the situation (representation). My claim is that for Badiou, as with Žižek and Nancy, love is what permits the break (or transcendence) with the domain of the social. Love-as-transcendence is the transition from the social to the political, making love more than an affective procedure, but the crucial link to a theory of subjectivation.

Daniel Tutt is a philosopher, filmmaker and interfaith activist. Daniel received his Ph.D. from the European Graduate School in August 2014, where he studied continental philosophy, media studies, and psychoanalysis. His dissertation invokes the concept of community in contemporary continental philosophy through a comparative analysis of four influential thinkers including Alain Badiou (advisor and chair of dissertation), Slavoj Žižek, Ernesto Laclau and Jean-Luc Nancy. He is the Director and Co-Producer of a documentary film in the making entitled “Insurrections” that explores the role of philosophy and thinking since the period of intensified rioting and protests beginning in August of 2010 in London and then continuing to Arab regions, before igniting in the Occupy Wall Street movements globally. The film will feature interviews with important thinkers in philosophy today, including Jodi Dean, Alain Badiou, Cornel West and Farhang Erfani. It will additionally interview leading activists from different parts of the world who played prominent roles in insurrections.


[1] Hegel, G.W.F., The Phenomenology of Spirit Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1977, 535.

[2] Nancy, Jean-Luc Hegel: The Restlessness of the Negative New York, NY: Verso, 2010, 88.

[3] Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1991, 63.

[4] Ibid. 86 – 87

[5] Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1991, xxx.

[6] Ibid. xxvii

[7] Ibid. 97

[8] Zupančič, Alenka Investigations of the Lacanian Field, (Durham, NC: Polygraph : An International Journal of Culture and Politics Number 17 (2005), 133 – 134.

[9] Ibid. 144.

[10] Ibid. 135

[11] Santner, Eric On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life: Reflections on Freud and Rosenzweig, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 20001, 103 – 104.

[12] Santner, Eric My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber’s Secret History of Modernity, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996, 65 – 67.

[13] Žižek, Slavoj, The Ticklish Subject, New York, NY: Verso, 1999, 201.

[14] Ibid, 165.

[15] Ibid,165.

[16] Žižek, Less Than Nothing, New York, NY: Verso, 2012, 112.

[17] Žižek, Slavoj, The Ticklish Subject, New York, NY: Verso, 1999, 165.

[18] Ibid, 121.

[19] Ibid, 86.

[20] Badiou, Alain St. Paul and the Foundation of Universalism trans. by Ray Brassier Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997, 42.

[21] Badiou, Alain Conditions New York, NY: Continuum, 2008, 187.

[22] Ibid, 194.

[23] Badiou, Alain Praise of Love, New York, NY: Verso, 2011, 90.

[24] Badiou, Alain Conditions, New York, NY: Continuum, 2008, 189.

[25] Ibid. 194.

[26] Ibid. 196 – 197.

[27] Hair, Lindsay “The Philosophy of Alain Badiou” Polygraph, “I Love (U)” (Durham, NC: Polygraph: An International Journal of Culture and Politics Number 15/16 (2004), 39.

[28] Badiou, A. and Roudinesco, E. (2012) Faut-il brûler la psychanalyse?, Le Nouvel Observatuer

[29] Badiou, Alain Being and Event New York, NY: Continuum, 2005, 431.

[30] Ibid, 392.

[31] Ibid. 393.

[32] Ibid. 393.

[33] Dolar, Mladen, Beyond Interpellation (Vol. 6, No. 2 (Spring/Summer 1993), pp. 75-96 Published by: University of Nebraska Press), 83.

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