Interstices of the Sublime – Chapter 9 – Expressing the Real



Crockett believes that Seminar VII represents a turning point in Lacan that emphasizes efforts to symbolize the Real. This focus on the Real was culminated in the 1960’s and 1970’s when Lacan began to mathematize and sketch the Real via knots. Lacan’s last seminars struggled with the limits of language and the inexpressible nature of the Real.

Badiou and Zizek in the Shadow of Lacan

Provocatively, Crockett asks whether the radical theologian is an example of what William James would call the sick soul? We are forever trying to give voice to the Real with no assurance of any existence of the divine. In Seminar XX, Lacan experiments with strings and knots to assist in formalization. Perhaps it is Badiou who has taken up Lacan’s mathematics most seriously by appropriating set theory to map out his impressive non-linguistic ontology. Badiou’s philosophy is an attack upon the heralded linguistic turn in philosophy. Crockett criticizes Badiou for his Platonism and for his failure to recognize with Lacan that there is no metalanguage. Badiou critiques Lacan for remaining Cartesian because he still attempts to map out a theory of subjectivity. For Badiou, the subject emerges out of the unmediated event. Crockett resists this Platonic reading of Lacan, and in the final chapter he will argue for an Aristotelian legacy for Lacan. Zizek, although similar to Badiou in his understanding of politics and the singular nature of the event, does not so simply distinguish between ontology and the event. Zizek writes, “[t]he Real is thus simultaneously the Thing to which direct access is not possible and the obstacle that prevents the direct access; the Thing that eludes our grasp and the distorting screen that makes us miss the Thing. More precisely, the Real is ultimately the very shift in perspective from the first standpoint to the second” (152). Whereas for Badiou universalism is “an integral effect of the proclamation of the event” (151), for Zizek universalism is the shift in perspective from the abstract universal to the concrete particular (not the particular in and of itself).


In Seminar XX Lacan discusses feminine sexuality, love, knowledge, and God. Lacan posits the existence of woman’s jouissance beyond the phallus, which affords women a unique opportunity to relate to the Other (i.e. God) beyond the Symbolic. Zizek’s work helps us position the Real relative to the Symbolic and the Imaginary. In Lacanian terms, Kierkegaard’s ethical stage would be a shift from objet petit a (Imaginary) to the big Other (Symbolic). However, Zizek follows Kierkegaard in abandoning the universal for the sake of the particular, which would entail a reversing from the big Other back to objet petit a. The Real is simply this movement that is a “rework[ing] of the symbolic back into the fantasy of the imaginary part(icular)” (154). Lacan’s use of mathemes was necessary because “the real can only be inscribed on the basis of an impasses of formalization” (154). However he understands that mathemes do not get us outside of language because they’re still written.


Look at this
This is a Borromean knot that Lacan used to represent the interrelationship between the Symbolic, Real, and Imaginary. Notice if that any of strings ring are cut then the entire knot unravels. To remove the signification from the Real does not allow unmediated access to the Real but rather results in psychosis (because the subject is forever cut off from signification). Crockett also wants us to realize that the “ring of strings forms a chain, and this ring “is certainly the most eminent representation of the One, in the sense that it encloses but a hole”” (155). The enclosed One refers to the generation of a signifier. Although he appreciates the efforts, Crockett wants to remind that the Real cannot be expressed outside of language.

Benito Cereno & The Final Cut

I do not think I can reproduce this reading of Melville’s Benito Cereno because it would require too much background. I apologize, but this has already consumed a significant amount of my time, although I have enjoyed this exercise. Crockett lays out a reading of Melville’s Benito Cereno that focuses on the race and colonialism. He relates this novel to the Lacanian registers. In conclusion, he discusses the necessity of untying and tying again the Real. Is our attempt to represent a form of sublimation, a repetition compulsion, death drive? “Radical theology attends not simply to the tying but also to the untying, the fraying and cutting of psychosocial knots that opens up a window to the Real” (163).

I’ll post the last two posts on Saturday.


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