The Violence of Right: Rereading ‘Why War?’

In this contribution, the often neglected correspondence ‘Why War?’ (Freud, 1933b) is presented as the locus classicus of Freud’s account of ‘Right and Violence’. In the discussion with Freud, Einstein’s position appears in the light of Kant’s Toward Perpetual Peace. It is exemplary of the dominant liberal conception of international law as the ultimate means for world peace. This contribution problematizes the debate between Freud and Einstein by its confrontation with the legal philosophy of Hans Kelsen, who is renown as the ‘Einstein of Law’. It is argued that Freud subscribes to Einstein’s and Kelsen’s liberalism in order to radically criticize it. Based on his own conception of right as considered to be a temporary incantation of violence, Freud scrutinizes the liberal possibility of ‘peace through international law’.

Cartesian Meditations: unconscious, truth and subjectivity

In this contribution we will offer a reading of Freud’s ambiguous therapeutic “advice” to “say more than one knows”. Starting from some preliminary reflections on the issue of confession and Lacan’s theoretical distinction between enunciation/enunciated, we will propose three successive ideas with regard to the notions of unconscious, truth and subjectivity. Firstly, a connection will be established between unconscious enunciation and Austin’s couple of performative/constative utterances. Secondly, we will offer a psychoanalytic notion of “truth” through a brief comparison with the phenomenological procedures of epoché and reduction. Third and finally, we will end with some reflections on the psychoanalytic couple of knowledge and truth.

The plague: Freud, Lacan & the crisis of critique

During its long history, psychoanalytical theory has developed a criticism dealing with almost the entire domain of human culture and civilization. That theory lays bare the unconscious motives and structures which, on the conscious level, can have all kinds of pernicious effects. The weak point of that criticism, however, consists in its awareness that the unconscious motives and structures it brings to consciousness, after its critical analysis, will remain unconscious and repressed. In that sense, psychoanalytical theory performs a critique of criticism as such. Unmasking falsity and lies does not necessarily result in establishing truth.

This essay outlines the contours of such a psychoanalytical ‘critique of criticism as such’, as well as its implications for contemporary critical thought in general. The essay more precisely focuses on the right-wing cultural criticism, which makes use of criticism’s newly discovered ‘tragic condition’ in order to support a conservative ethical, cultural and political programme. This essay proposes a few points of reference replying to these tendencies in contemporary critical thought.

On the Triggering of Psychosis. Lol V. Stein in Contrast to Freud’s Case of Feminine Paranoia

In 1965 Lacan paid tribute to Marguerite Duras and her novel The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein. In his homage Lacan claims that Duras’ art seemed to possess a certain knowledge. The authors argue that this knowledge relates to the difficulties for a speaking being of identification with the body. The novel is about the triggering of a psychosis at the specific moment when a woman is invited by a man to participate in a sexual act, while her strategy involved avoiding being positioned as object of male sexual desire. This case is compared with a case of paranoia described by Freud, in which the destabilizing factor also lies in the sexual sphere. For both women the triggering factor lies in the confrontation with the enjoyment of the Other and the impossibility to become the subject of the sexual demand of the Other.

The Scandalous Fact of Fetishism: Charcot and Magnan, Binet and von Krafft-Ebing

In this article, I discuss Freud’s theory of fetishism and the most important resources he draws on to elaborate his theory, namely, three texts from the end of the 19th century, Charcot and Magnan’s “Genital Inversions, and Other Sexual Perversions” (1882), Alfred Binet’s “Fetishism in Love” (1887) and von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis (1886). I trace their respective theorizing on fetishism, where the attempt to categorize the perversions, a fascination with raw case-material and a focus on degeneracy and heredity as causes are pivotal. I also highlight observations, ideas and concepts in their texts which, while mentioned only in passing, will be crucial for Freud’s and Lacan’s later theories. A close reading of these three texts produces a theory of fetishism that can be summarized as follows: Normal love has fetishistic aspects, but these aspects are harmoniously ordered and result in “normal” sexual intercourse. Therefore, the behaviour of the fetishist cannot be seen as the defining criterion for fetishism. Rather this is a subjective psychical state that has its roots in the association of the awakening of genital excitation with an exterior fact. This association of ideas crystallizes into a fetish, which operates as a sign in a language-based scenario that is instrumental for the regulation of sexual enjoyment in an intense, non-standard way. In fetishists, one finds an ambivalent attitude towards the fetishistic object and a specific relationship to the law. I argue that by the time Freud tackles the question of fetishism, the groundwork has already been done by the early sexologists.