Interstices of the Sublime – Chapter 10 – Processing the Real



This chapter attempts to tease apart the relation between the Lacanian Real and the Aristotelian conception of substance. Ultimately Crockett wants us to conceive of Aristotle’s substance as a process, which can be understood from a Deleuzian perspective as the production of the Real. Lacan understood the term lalangue as being the “starting point of everything – nature and language” (166). The creation of para-being out of lalangue can be understood as a generation of being out of a substance that is virtually nothing.

Aristotle’s Substance

Defining Aristotle’s substance poses many problems. Philosophy deals with ““the highest sense object of knowledge, the science of substance”” (166). Heidegger’s study of ontological difference between being and beings is maintained by a reading of substance as the proper object of study for ontology. However, Aristotle’s actual definition of being has a multiplicity of meanings. For Aristotle, being can be though of as the accidental, as truth contrasted with falsity (non-being), as predication or categories, and finally as split between actuality and potentiality. Aristotle offers the individual man as specific form of being as being, but Crockett asks how does the particular “manifest being as being”? (167). Aristotle understands that there are three substances: nature (form), matter, and the particular, which is constituted by the former two. Crockett reads Aristotle as associating substance too closely with form. This focus on substance as form also “drives Aristotle to privilege energia (actuality) over dynamis (potentiality) because matter is distinguished as potential and form as actual” (168-9). Crockett intends for us to think of substance as potentiality and particular being constituted by both matter and form as opposed to a formal essence.

Spinoza’s Substance – Deleuze

Spinoza’s ontology not only overcomes Cartesian dualism but also offers a clarification of Aristotle’s substance by claiming that God is the only (infinite, absolute) substance. Deleuze praises Spinoza for laying out a system in which all existence is distributed on a plane of immanence. Against transcendence, even God himself is ““the immanent, not the transcendent cause of all thing”” (170). Spinoza intends for us to live ethically by intellectually grasping the attributes of God. Unfortunately, the mind cannot fully understand the body. Psychoanalysts cannot totally embrace Spinoza’s ontology because they presume that something does resist making itself known the conscious mind, i.e. unconscious processes. Deleuze also recognizes in Spinoza’s thought an attack against analogy. Substance manifests itself in attributes and modes directly, whereas analogy “retains the equivocity of being that delimits God as transcendent but it anchors the revelation of God in the world in an absurd and unknowable way” (171). For Crockett, “the problem with theological analogy is not what we do not know, it is what we think we know, and the leap that is made from one to the other” (172). Mapping out concepts on a plane of immanence does not lead to the equality of things, but rather the notion of identity is predicated on an understanding of difference as repetition. Deleuze’s concept of singularity offers us a helpful way to conceptualize substance because a Deleuzian singularity “refers to the “difference” within a thing that makes it what it is” (172).

Whitehead’s Process

Whitehead transforms Spinoza’s modes into actualities and thinks of substance as an internal becoming. Whitehead’s ontology describes a world in constant process to such an extent that he can equate both process and reality. Although, Aristotle prioritized actualities over potentialities, Deleuze emphasizes virtualities (potentialities) over actualities. In Deleuze’s work The Fold, he reads Leibniz through Whitehead. While Leibniz conceived of God as detached and fashioning the best of all possible worlds, Whitehead understands God as a process immanent in the world. Deleuze understands “Whitehead as radicalizing Leibniz, such that God is processed through compossibilities and even incompossibilities” (174). The compossable refers to not only to what is possible, but also to the arrangements of the various events and entities in the world. Whitehead also divided God into two natures. First, Whitehead conceived of God as primordial, which can be read through Tillich’s notion of God as “being-itself”. Also, Whitehead recognized God “as the consequence of concrescence, the sense-making of the world related to a special kind of eternal object” (174). Although, Whitehead and Deleuze are suspicious of the linguistic turn as potentially leading to a navel-gazing, narcissistic subject, Crockett believes that a linguistic ontology can be reconciled with their systems. As Derrida would remind us there is no simple “hors-texte”, which means although there are obviously things outside of language we are forced to signify these objects with language. This leads to the problem of language as a mediation of reality, i.e. representation. Deleuze and Whitehead would rather us think that language “directly expresses, actualizes, and becomes or concresces” (175).

Lacan and the Being of Language

In Seminar XX, Lacan wants to realize the impossibility of separating language and being with the terms lalangue and para-being. “The difficulty is the stubborn persistence of what Whitehead calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, which substantializes our language into being or disembodies language by supposing that being is somewhere, “out there”” (176). Lacan posits that the existence of lalangue, which is a “proto-linguistic stammering or stuttering that precedes symbolic discourse” (176). Heidegger would remind us that when we try to seize being it takes flight. Language both discloses and conceals being. Crockett goes on to equate substance with para-being. He urges theologians to recognize the death of God, which is the distance separating God (in the Real) and symbolic discourse. “Theology expresses substance: the articulation of creative and substantial language that makes being appear beside itself as para-being” (177). Crockett exhorts us to open language up and detect moments where our discourse intersects the Real. This intersection goes by many names: substance, being, lalangue.


The holy trinity of continental thinkers: Deleuze, Derrida, and Lacan are often pitted against one another. Crockett prefers to think of three as existing in a triangulation. We could think of the Lacanian registers as placing Deleuze in the Imaginary, Derrida in the Symbolic, and Lacan in the Real. Of course, these thinkers will not stay put and continually shift and rearrange themselves preventing any simple categorization. He admits (and this is the main reason I profiled this book) that he has privileged theological insights from Deleuze and Lacan. He recognizes that postmodern theology has gleaned many insights from deconstruction, and this work was an attempt to put Lacan and Deleuze in conversation with theology. Crockett finally challenges us to keep in mind the importance of doing our work in and through love. “A psychotheology sustains itself in and as theological pragmatics without thereby neutralizing the importance of language and its effects, including that of truth” (179).


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