The Place Of Das Ding – Psychoanalysis, Phenomenology, Religion, Part 2 (John Panteleimon Manoussakis)

The following is the second installment of a two-part series.  The first part can be found here.


The Place of das Ding.

The foregoing has been an effort to inscribe das Ding within a philosophical genealogy that begins with Plato and extends all the way to Kant, Heidegger, and Marion, connecting psychoanalytic discourse with that of philosophy and phenomenology in particular. Let us trace this connection a little more closely. Lacan, in his effort “to return to Freud,” moved beyond Freud, insofar as the “return to Freud” took the form of a Husserlian “return to the things themselves” or at least to the “thing itself,” das Ding an sich. The Kantian influence on Freud is noted by Lacan as much as it is by Becker in his paper.4

Thus, Lacan writes: “That is something which emerges in the philosophy of someone who, better than anyone else, glimpsed the function of das Ding, although he only approached it by the path of the philosophy of science, namely, Kant.”5 Kant’s categories, namely quality, quantity, relation, and modality, provided Marion with the index according to which he organized the phenomenon of saturation. The event overflows quantity, the idol quality, the flesh overcomes relation, and the icon resists modality.6  So Marion writes:

If  we  follow  the  guiding  thread  of  the  Kantian  categories,  we locate, according to quantity, invisible phenomena of the type of the event (collective or individual); according to quality, phenomena the look cannot bear (the idol and the painting); according to relation, absolute phenomena, because defying any analogy, like flesh (Leib); finally, according to modality, phenomena that cannot be looked at, that escape all relation with thought in general, but which are imposed on it, like the icon of the other person par excellence.7

Marion’s re-writing of the Kantian categories of epistemology is not the first such attempt. Nor is Kant’s classification of any possible judgment with respect to any phenomenon in general under those four categories without precedence. By tracing the genealogical connection of both Freud and Marion, of both psychoanalysis and phenomenology, to Kant we have glimpsed at a philosophical tradition which counts up  to four. Access to the fourth is provided by Lacan who writes:

I have already asked the question here as to what the critical conceivable minimum is for a signifying scale, if the register of the signifier is to begin to organize itself. There cannot be a two without a three, and that, I think, must certainly include a four…8

He, then, goes on to recommend to the attendants of his seminar Heidegger’s lecture given in 1950 under the title Das Ding. Heidegger’s guiding question in this lecture is the seemingly simple question: “what is a thing?” In search of an answer, Heidegger takes up the example of a jug. To know what a jug is it would seem enough to know that it was made—made by a potter, made by earth, made for the purpose of containing, made in the form of a jug.9

Thus, Heidegger rehearses Aristotle’s four causes: efficient (the potter), material (the earth), final (the task of containing), and formal (the form of a jug). Yet, in a characteristic Heideggerian twist, Heidegger re-writes Aristotelian causality by calling attention to “the emptiness, the void” of the jug. “The empty space, this nothing of the jug, is what the jug is as the holding vessel.”10 In creating the jug, the potter does not create a thing, or rather it creates a thing only to the extent which, in a manner of a creation ex nihilo, “he shapes the void. For it, in it, and out of it.”11 Thus, “the vessel’s thingness does not lie at all in the material of which it consists, but in the void that holds.”12

The void of the jug, however, is a void saturated with givenness. For “to pour from the jug,” Heidegger 1280px-Still_Life_with_a_Stoneware_Jug,_Berkemeyer_and_Smoking_Utensils,_Pieter_Claesz_-_Indianapolis_Museum_of_Art_-_DSC00700continues, “is to give.” “The nature of the holding void is gathered in the giving.”13 “The jug’s jug-character consists in the poured gift of the pouring out.” “In the gift of water, in the gift of wine, sky and earth dwell. But the gift of the outpouring is what makes the jug a jug.” So, in conclusion, Heidegger arrives in a  new definition “the pouring jug occurs as the giving gift.”14

Marion’s indebtedness to Heidegger here is beyond question. It should be added that Heidegger’s quest to think the thingness of the thing is framed by a discussion on nearness and distance along the very lines we find in Marion’s study from 1977 The Idol and Distance. It is in this book, as well as in its companion God Without Being—both quite noticeably under Heidegger’s influence—that the terminology of idol and icon, one of the two pairs of saturated phenomena, was first developed.

Furthermore, the fourfold of saturation—the event, the flesh, the idol, and the icon—is Marion’s own attempt to re-write Heidegger’s now famous Geviert—earth, sky, mortals, and gods—as it was first developed in the lecture Das Ding. Plato’s tetralogy of dialogues, Republic, Timaeus, Critias, and Hermocrates, is in both cases (Heidegger’s and Marion’s) condensed so much as to fit into four corresponding concepts.

In their respective endeavors, both thinkers, Heidegger and Marion, attempt to re- think reality. Yet, one could not hope to make much progress in this attempt without confronting, or rather without being confronted, by the thing. After all, reality is above all the realm of the res. In Greek reality, πραγµατικότητα, is the domain of the thing, of the πράγµα. Heidegger, in the same lecture we have been discussing, offers a thoughtful lineage of the various transformations and transmutations which such words as res and causa underwent through history.

For us here, however, it is enough to note that the secret of the reality-principle is held by the thing, by das Ding,15 insofar as it comes to signify an exteriority by far more alien to the subject than the external world which is, at the same time, more intimate than the subject is to itself: hence, Lacan’s term extimacy.16 The whole of the psychoanalytic project has often been summarized in Freud’s phrase: Wo Es war, soll Ich werden—which Becker translates for his purposes as “Where idol is, there shall flesh give!”17—and which, in another language and in another narrative, was known as “ubi tu, ibi et ille,” that is, “where [your] mother is, there shall you be.”18

Yet, how could one occupy the mOther’s place? That is, what does it mean to occupy the place of the das Ding? What we were thinking in speaking of a place in relation to das Ding?19 Can we assign it a place, unless, of course, this phrase: “the place of das Ding” is nothing but an infelicitous metaphor, a manner of speaking. Yet, if for one fleeting moment, we were to take ourselves seriously, wouldn’t we be surprised by the implication of what we had said without explicitly saying it—wouldn’t we come to realize that what is left unsaid, yet inescapably implied, in speaking of “the place of das Ding” is that it, as a the thing par excellence, insofar as of all things it alone is only a thing and nothing else, a thing and nothing more, a thing without qualities or attributes, as “a plentitude that is empty,”20 as an excess of nothingness, then it, if it is to take place, must be something bodily, if not the body? This phrase, then, which we have chosen as the title of our presentation, already announces from the outset its central intention, namely, the body as das Ding.

The Broken Body

 “[F]leeing from the flesh,” writes Becker with reference to the title of his paper:

is like fleeing from the scene of a crime in which one will inevitably became caught, the facticity of the flesh cannot be undone, and will give itself all the more indubitably in the ego’s attempts to run away from it. 21

Omne corpus fugiendum esse: this saying, attributed to Porphyry (Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XXII. 26) suggests that, in order to attain happiness, the soul must flee from the bodily. I would like to make a bold assertion here and say that such “flight from the flesh” is indeed impossible; insofar as the body is the “flight from the flesh,” to a flesh one is always bound to return.

broken bodyFor both psychoanalysis and phenomenology the soul, in its most profound and fundamental understanding, which is also the less understandable, is somatic or, better yet, sarkic (from sarx), that is, flesh. I have in mind here Freud’s observation about the “somatic influences” of the id,22 and Husserl’s distinction between, on the one hand, a body (Körper), organized by language, and, on the other, the in-articulable flesh (Leib).23 Flesh is that which remains unsaid and unsayable, more  intimate to me than my body, yet irreducible to any form of signification or reflection. The flesh as l’ impossible á dire,24 as the intimacy of exteriority, as extimacy, occupies  the place of das Ding.25

“The flesh puts the self ‘under house arrest,’ by delivering the ego to itself,”  writes Becker. The metaphor of self-captivity here is suggestive and it invites, by a way of an illustration, the telling of a story as we find it in Pirandello’s Undici Novelle. The story is not about Heidegger’s jug but about an oil jar. It is the story of a miscarried attempt to repair—one could even say “heal”—a crack that inexplicably has split the jar into two halves. A tinker is called to repair the broken jar and we are presented with two possible solutions. One is a “miraculous” resin cement that the tinker himself has invented; the other is the more traditional method of opening holes along the crack and holding together the two halves of the jar by applying rivets. The owner of the jar, Don Lollò, prefers that latter method.

In the process of mending the broken jar, the tinker rivets himself inside the jar— “imprisoned, imprisoned there, in the jar he himself had repaired.”26 Don Lollò, fearing that freeing the tinker could only mean breaking the jar once more, decides to keep him there, in spite of his lawyer’s warning that such an action would amount to “illegal confinement,”27 unless, of course, the tinker is willing to pay him for the value of the jar. But this is the problem: for the tinker the jar is already broken and, thus, it has no value,  at least not the value that its owner would wish. So the tinker refuses to leave his confinement and remains within the jar.

There are some points of interest for our discussion of this story. The confinement of the tinker within the jar came as a result of the owner’s insistence. As one of the farmhands observes: “the man on top gives orders…and the man on bottom is  damned!”28 The comment is about Don Lollò, the man on top, and the employed tinker, Dima Licasi, who, as the man on bottom (and soon to find himself on the bottom of the

jar quite literally) follows orders. Yet, we wonder whether the man on top and the man on bottom might not be the same man. To say this is not only to pay homage to Heraclitus’s saying “the way up and the way down is one and the same” (Fr. 60), but to think of the artificiality—Plato’s noble lie—of such stratifications whether in the Republic or in the dynamic operation of the psyche. There is no secret about the secret alliance between the super ego and the id on the ego’s expense. Seeing it under this light, the tinker’s confinement inside the jar is self-inflicted.

More importantly, the central idea of this story seems to be that somehow a short, ugly tinker who, as we are told, looks “like the old stump of a Saracen olive tree,”29 comes to occupy the place of the jar’s void. The complication, the story’s complex, if you wish, is that a man looking like an olive-tree takes the place where olive oil should have been. A metonymic substitution: the olive tree for the olive oil.  “Oil oozes out,” as Don Lollò observes, anticipating perhaps the filling of the jar with something that cannot simply been poured out.

Finally, something about the jar itself. By becoming confined within it, the jar becomes the tinker’s outer shell, a thicker skin and an extension of his body, a second body (Körper). We said that he is imprisoned there by Don Lollò’s insistence to follow his orders, that is by the “top man” in him and, in spite of his initial demands to be liberated, the imprisoned tinker, decides to “take up residence in the jar.”30 He becomes identified with this second body—the body-idol in Becker’s terms. If Dima the tinker is to come out—if the olive-tree looking like man is to “ooze out” like oil—then, he has to be pressed, crashed like an olive in order to flow like oil.

The Brothers Taviani narrated this story as part of a film structured by five stories under the common title Kaos. The title is interesting as it allows us to make a connection between the film and Lacan’s reading of the Heideggerian jug as a paradigm of creation ex nihilo: from chaos to cosmos.31 In more than one way, Lacan’s three registers are organized in the image of the jug, with the symbolic and imaginary orders structured around the nothingness of the real, as means of both coping with it and protecting from it. Das Ding, then, occupies the place of an excluded fourth, at once exterior and interior to the subject, and the origin of an original trauma that allows us “to consider the manner in which the other is constitutive of my subjectivity.”

The reason is that das Ding is at the center only in the sense that it is excluded. That is to say, in reality das Ding has to be posited as exterior, as the prehistoric Other that it is impossible to forget—the Other whose primacy of position Freud affirms in the form of something entfremdet, something strange to me, although it is at the heart of me…32

Finally, to Heidegger’s jug and to Pidandello’s jar, let us add a third example, that of the Eucharistic Art communionchalice. It is by means of a trauma, like the pressing of the grapes and of olives, that the nothingness of the void inside the chalice is filled with the wine that is offered both to God, like Heidegger’s libations, and to all who participate in the  Eucharist. The pouring out of the Eucharistic chalice presupposes a previous kenosis, that of Christ’s self-emptying.

It is by virtue of that self-emptiness that the word became  flesh, and subsequently this flesh became a body wounded and crucified, a broken body, which will be continuously broken, like the oil-jar around the same Dionysian celebration in order to release the flesh from its self-confinement inside its bodily jar.

At the culmination of this celebration, the celebrant invokes over the void of the chalice the Holy Spirit, re-enacting thus the original and originary moment of creation ex nihilo, when the Spirit of God hovered over the chaotic abyss. Creation begins again, endlessly, as a gift that keeps giving itself in excess.

John Panteleimon Manoussakis is Associate Professor of Philosophy, College of the Holy Cross in the United States and Honorary Fellow of the Australian Catholic University, Australia.  He is the recipient of a Templeton Foundation grant. He is the author of three books, editor of five volumes and he has published over thirty articles in English, Greek, Russian, Serbian, and Ukrainian.  His books include God After Metaphysics: A Theological Aesthetic (Indiana University Press, 2007) and For the Unity of All: Contributions to the Theological Dialogue Between East and West (Cascade Books, 2015).


4 Ibid. See the section “Freud’s Kantian Project,” pp. 3-6 in the manuscript.

5 Jacques Lacan, Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, translated by Dennis Porter (New York: Norton, 1992), p. 55.

6 See Kevin Hart’s introduction to saturated phenomena in Jean-Luc Marion: Essential Writings (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), pp. 76-7.

7 Jean-Luc Marion, In Excess: Studies of Saturated Phenomena, translated by Robyn Horner and Vincent Berraud (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), p. 112.

8 Jacques Lacan, Seminar VII, p. 65.

9 Martin Heidegger, “The Thing” in Poetry, Language, Thought, translated by Albert Hofstadter (New York: Perennial Classics, 2001), pp. 165-6.

10 Ibid, p. 167.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid, p. 169.

14 Ibid, p. 170.

15 “It is in this way that another typology is established, the typology which institutes the relation to the   real. And now we can define this relation to the real, and realize what the reality principle means.” Jacques Lacan, Seminar VII, p. 66.

16 Lacan, Seminar VII, p. 139.

17 Brian Becker, “Flight from the Flesh,” p. 17 in the manuscript.

18 See, Augustine, Confessions, III.11.20 (p. 90); the reference is to an interpretation of Monica’s dream.

19 Jacques Lacan, Seminar VII, p. 66: “The Other of the Other only exists as a place.” And again, “I mean that the whole development at the level of the mother/child interpsychology—and that is badly expressed in the so-called categories of frustration, satisfaction, and dependence—is nothing more than an immense development of the essential character of the maternal thing, of the mother, insofar as she occupies the place of that thing, of das Ding” (p. 67, emphasis added).

20 Paul Moyaert, “Lacan on Neighborly Love: The Relation to the Thing in the Other Who Is  My Neighbor” in Epoché 4, 1 (1996), p. 7.

21 Brian Becker, “Flight from the Flesh,” p. 14 in the manuscript, with reference to Marion’s In Excess, p.100.

22 Freud, New Introductory Lectures, p. 91.

23 This distinction is made most clearly in Crisis, §28, p. 107, although frequently employed in his earlier works.

24 Lacan, Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, translated by A. Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1978).

25 Further evidence in support of this connection can be gleamed from Merleau-Ponty’s insight that thebody in its ambiguous state (neither consciousness nor a thing of the world) is phenomenology’s closest approximation to the Freudian unconscious. See his Preface to A. Hesnard, L’Oeuvre de Freud et son importance pour le mode modern (1960), cited by Ricoeur in Freud & Philosophy, p. 417, note 99. See also, Emmanuel Falque, God, the Flesh, and the Other: From Irenaeus to Duns Scotts, pp. 117 and ff.

26 Luigi Pirandello, “The Oil Jar” in Undici Novelle, translated by Stanley Appelbaum (New York:   Dover,1994), p. 103.

27 Ibid, p. 105.

28 Ibid, p. 101.

29 Ibid, p. 99.

30 Ibid, p. 109.

31 Jacques Lacan, Seminar VII, p. 121: “And that is why the potter, just like you to whom I am speaking, creates the vase with his hand around this emptiness creates it, just like the mythical creator, ex nihilo, starting with a hole.”





[Close with a clip from Kaos:­‐blRmnke7sg]








32 Ibid, p. 71.

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