The Hole in the Whole
Lacan's real is always traumatic it is a hole in discourse; Lacan said "trou-matique" [literally "hole-matic"]; in English one
could perhaps say "no whole without a hole"? I would be inclined to translate Lacan's "pas-tout"—one of his categories—by (w)hole.
See also Elizabeth Grosz, Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction 64–65 (1990); Bice Benevenuto & Roger Kennedy, The Works of Jacques Lacan: An Introduction 130 (1986); Stuart Schneiderman, Jacques Lacan: The Death of an Intellectual Hero 22, 99 (1983); Jean-Luc Nancy & Phillipe Lacoue-LaBarthe, The Title of the Letter: A Reading of Lacan 30, 121–27 (F. Raffoul & D. Pettigrew trans., 1992).
One might now be tempted to argue that my comparison of Hegelian and Lacanian subjectivity is inept because Hegel was the theorist of the "whole" and Lacan was the theorist of the "hole."
Hegel was, of course, a totalizing philosopher. To the casual reader this might suggest that, even if he argued that no individual moment of subjectivity could adequately encompass human consciousness, we have the potential to be part of an adequate whole—that is, the totality of Geist (of which subjectivity is but one moment). The creation which we call the human subject is, according to this analysis, simultaneously true as a moment of the whole and yet false and inadequate because it is merely part of the whole.
In contrast, one might be tempted to argue that Lacan rejected Hegel's totality. Like Hegel, Lacan thought that subjectivity, or even human consciousness, standing alone, is inadequate to the task of explaining personhood because it is only one moment of the psyche. But unlike Hegel,
Lacan did not think that there was an adequate whole in which the inadequate subject could participate. Lacan thought there was an unfillable hole—an unresolvable lack—at the center of the human psyche. There is no totalizing unity with Geist . This argument distinguishes Hegel and Lacan. For example, according to Edward S. Casey and J. Melvin Woody,
Hegelian phenomenology and Lacanian psychoanalysis part company here. For Lacan would forswear such a claim to absolute knowledge, emphasizing that the analyst must abjure any comparable assertion of omniscience. And this is surely not because of any modesty on Lacan's part, but because of his conviction that there is no final insight or definitive version of truth to be had.
Consequently, one might try to maintain that Hegel was ultimately profoundly optimistic while Lacan remained profoundly pessimistic. The inadequacy of the Lacanian subject remains inadequate; the creation remains mere fiction. Thus,
the subjection of man to culture foredooms him to what Hegel called 'the unhappy consciousness,' the consciousness of self as a dual-natured, merely contradictory being. Lacan reinforces Freud's grim conclusion that the contradiction is insuperable, that history can promise no final reconciliation, no splendid synthesis, not even an arena for the attainment of authenticity: cuttings and splittings, human lives in tatters, are all that remain in this darkened vision.
That is, a Lacanian might concede that the proof of a theory of the subject is the role it plays in the complete totalizing whole of Geist . But, insofar as there is always a hole in the middle of any potential whole, he cannot make a claim for the essential truth of his theory by definition .
Unfortunately, this analysis presents a misleading dichotomy between Hegel and Lacan. It misstates Lacan's conception of the split subject as well as Hegel's conception of his totality.
When Lacan asserted that the subject is "split," he was making precisely Hegel's point that the subject is not the self-sufficient, atomistic individual of liberalism. Rather, subjectivity is created in part from external forces. Whether or not the human infant has an innate capacity for
speech and desire, this capacity can only be actualized through the relationships with other persons and by submission to an existing symbolic order of law, language, exchange, and sexuality. Lacan emphasizes that one implication of this process is that, at one moment, that which is most ourselves—our subjectivity—is externally imposed upon and therefore alienated from ourselves. This sense that part of ourselves is not ourselves but is somehow cut off from ourselves is one aspect of what Lacan called "castration."
As we shall see, this parallels Hegel's understanding that the abstract person can only actualize his capacity by submitting to other persons and a regime of law, exchange, and property. These institutions are created by mankind generally but are imposed on each man individually. Our legal subjectivity is, therefore, both internal and external to ourselves. Consequently, even though the Hegelian concept of totality relates to the whole, the Hegelian system is radically incomplete at the level of the individual subject, in the same way as Lacan's is. If a Hegelian were to stay with the Lacanian at her level of analysis—that is, of the subject—he would also present a similar picture of an incomplete, split, and radically negative subject. On this analysis, Hegel's theory seems optimistic only in the abstract sense that one might find intellectual satisfaction in the thought that Geist is working through the world. The theory, however, presents a fundamentally negative image of the individual as a moment separated from Spirit.
Moreover, Hegel's totalizing unity is a dynamic process based not only on the incomplete negative subject but on sublation—which I shall merely introduce here but discuss in detail later. In sublation, contradictions are not merely negated. They are also preserved. And yet there is always implicitly an unsublated trace, a vanishing mediator, an unaccountable fourth, which implicitly remains after the triadic operation of the dialectic. The resulting whole of sublation is, therefore, simultane-
ously contradictory. Slavoj Zizek,[*] probably the most forceful proponent of the Hegelian influence on Lacan, insists that negativity lies at the heart of Hegel's totality:
The picture of the Hegelian system as a closed whole which assigns its proper place to every partial moment is therefore deeply misleading. Every partial moment is, so to speak, "truncated from within", it cannot ever fully become "itself', it cannot ever reach "its own place", it is marked with an inherent impediment, and it is this impediment which "sets in motion" the dialectical development. The "One" of Hegel's "monism" is thus not the One of an Identity encompassing all differences, but rather a paradoxical "One" of radical negativity which forever blocks the fulfillment of any positive identity. The Hegelian "cunning of Reason" is to be conceived precisely against the background of this impossible accordance of the object with its Notion; we do not destroy an object by mangling it from outside but, quite on the contrary, by allowing it freely to evolve its potential and thus to arrive at its Truth: . . .
To Zizek,[*] the difference between Kant and Hegel is not, as is usually thought, that Kant identified a hole at the center of our understanding and concluded that we were incapable of grasping the thing-in-itself directly while Hegel developed a new form of logic which enabled him to get to the thing-in-itself. Rather, Hegel used the same reasoning as Kant but came to a startlingly different conclusion: the hole is part of the thing-in-itself, the totality requires an intrinsic emptiness.
In this analysis, Hegel's system is like Lacan's—closure does not imply fullness. The hole that lies at the center of the Hegelian totality is reflected in the emptiness at the heart of the Lacanian split subject. If one finds the Lacanian subject depressing, then one should find the Hegelian subject equally dreary. On the other hand, if the Hegelian dialectic of subjectivity reflects the possibility of the actualization of human freedom, then one should find Lacan similarly optimistic. I shall argue that it is precisely the negativity at the heart of the split Lacanian subject that opens up the possibility of radical freedom. This radical negativity is the impossible Feminine—Vesta, the hidden goddess.
The Hegelian dialectic is easily misconstrued as a crushing teleologi-
cal necessity that inexorably leads humanity forward toward union with Geist . In the political context, the result is seen as union of the individual citizen with the state. Hegel's metaphor for the totality of the state, "the march of God in the world," can suggest foreboding pictures of goose-stepping storm troopers to a late-twentieth-century reader. Hegel's notorious formulation of the necessity that logic be objectified in the world—"what is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational" —can sound like a depressing combination of grim determinism and a Panglossian defense of the status quo. These are serious misconceptions.
The progression of the dialectic is logically, but not empirically, necessary. The logic of intellect—Geist —works its way through the world, but not necessarily in any specific, preordained way. Any number of events, including, most importantly, the free acts of human subjectivity, can affect the course. The lack of inevitability is, paradoxically, logically necessitated. If, as Hegel argues, the progression of Geist is the actualization of human freedom, then, even at its highest development in the state, there must remain a moment of pure, free, and arbitrary subjectivity. I will argue that this moment of radical freedom which must be created and preserved is the Feminine.
The necessity of the dialectic is retrospective rather than prospective—
it looks backward rather than forward. The retroactivity of the dialectic is reflected in Hegel's famous metaphor in his preface to The Philosophy of Right:
When philosophy paints its grey in grey, a shape of life has grown old and cannot be rejuvenated, but only recognized, by the grey in grey of philosophy; the owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the onset of dusk.
Only at the end of the day can we retrospectively examine events. No external "natural" standard exists by which one can judge the truth of Hegelian totality. In Hegelian philosophy, truth claims rest on the explanatory power of the resulting whole.
One might agree or disagree as to the similarities and consistencies between Hegel's philosophical system and Lacan's psychoanalytical theory taken as wholes. My principal point, however, is the similarity between two aspects of their theories which at first blush might seem widely diverse—Hegel's theory of the role of property and Lacan's theory of the role of the Feminine as Phallic Mother. Both theories explain the role which the exchange of the object of desire plays in the constitution of subjectivity as intersubjectivity mediated by objectivity.
This seemingly narrow point, however, leads us inevitably back to the broader one. Both men believed that their respective theories of the creation of subjectivity were inextricably linked to the rest of their theories. One cannot understand or accept this one aspect of their theory, except in the context of the complete theoretical system of which it is an essential part. Consequently, similarities between the Hegelian and Lacanian accounts of the creation of subjectivity are some evidence for the propo-
sition that there is a broader, necessary consistency between their respective theoretical systems.
And so I now turn to explications, first, of Hegel's theory of property and, second, of Lacan's theory of the Phallus .