Summary of Reinhard’s There is Something of One (God): Lacan and Political Theology


[This was such an excellent essay that i wanted to write a summary. It appeared in the latest of Political Theology, and I’d also recommend Malabou and Crockett’s essay on plasticity and theology]

The choice between the One and the multiple is one that has divided philosophers for centuries. Badiou’s ontology certainly endorses multiplicity, as ‘the one is not’. The decision that the ‘one is not’ grounds his theory of the event in which something absolutely new and revolutionary irrupts. If “being were fundamentally unified, then events would only be modifications of what is” (44) nothing new could ever occur. However, in both Lacan and Badiou “there is something of one, some “Oneness” even if only secondary, the operation of counting at the root of symbolization” (44). In Lacan’s system, the One is simply the signifier of the symbolic that anchors the discursive system, but it not an ontology but an act. Reinhard wants to understand the political and ultimately religious implications the One has on Lacan’s analytic discourse, which will be “an essential conjunction of political and religious understandings of sovereignty, subjectivity, and collectivity” (45).

Reinhard’s wager is that psychoanalysis can helps us rethink a political theology of the neighbor. Schmitt already understand that theological implications of sovereignty, in which the characteristics of the One God are attributed to the One Sovereign. Ultimately, what unites both figures is “the freedom each has to declare an exception…to the rule of law” (45). Quite readily, one can see the strong parallel that exist between Schmitt’s theory of the exception and the Freud’s description of the primal horde in Totem and Taboo. Recall, that Freud imagined a parricide in which the sons ganged up to murder the father who had originally denied his sons access to all of the females in the tribe. Now, remember that in Lacan’s theory of male sexuation, all men are subjected to castration, but there is also a man who is not castrated. This singular exception is the mythical Father who is not subjected to the law of incest. In fact, man can only accept the law if they can likewise assume that there once was such a subject who was not castrated. “Thus, like Schmitt’s political theology, Lacan and Freud’s account of the Primal Horde produces a model of collectivity in which membership is based on structural similarity and difference vis à vis a topologically ambiguous indeterminately inside and outside the “horde” it constellates” (46). However, Schmitt did not incorporate the idea of jouissance (enjoyment) into his political theology. Using Lacan’s discourse of the master will help illustrate what’s going on here:

S1 (sovereign) →  S2 (symbolic field, e.g. nation)
$ (subject) //        a (plus de jouir, surplus value, objet petit a)

“Lacan identifies the plus de jouir with Marx’s notion of surplus value—and it is indeed its excessive role in the structure of political-economic discourse that makes discursive shift or even revolutionary transformation possible” (47).

Now, let’s move on the female theory of sexuation. According to Lacan, there is no female not subjected to castration, and yet not-all woman is subject to castration. Hence, each woman exists as a singularity, and this set of women is an “open set of women which constitutes an infinity rather than a totality” (48). There is no great Mother that would help close the set of women, and also no universal predicate common to all women. Because of the different ways in which men and women relate to larger groups there exists an incommensurability between man and woman that makes a sexual relationship impossible. Lacan believes that only love can bridge this impasse between man and woman. Reinhard argues that there are two different modes of love that ground political theology. The masculine love is related to the injunction to the love God, which is linked to the Schmitt’s model of the exceptional sovereign. Perhaps, neighbor love, the second greatest commandment, can open up new horizons to think of political theology along the female theory of sexuation. Reinhard writes, “[m]y larger argument is that neighbor-love constitutes the other side of political theology, both decompleting and supplementary to the political theology of the sovereign, and that the link between it and the commandment to love God must be restored in political-theological thinking” (49).

In Seminar XIX, Lacan argues that the One is the condition for the masculine ontology, which reduces the phallus to master signifier S1. “The One “makes being” in the sense of constituting the ontological support or alibi for the wholeness of the community of men” (49). I’m going to bypass the set theory in the paper. Whereas in classical logic, Lacan’s logic of sexuation would have been contradictory, Cantorian logic helps us think the One as real as opposed to a single element of reality (e.g. one cat, etc). Reinhard believes this shift from classical logic to Cantorian logic is also a shift from the masculine to the female logic of sexuation. The feminine logic offers us a new understanding of the One as the “something of One” that begins with the void, the empty set, and in Lacan’s thinking is now located on the side of the woman, in the not-all” (52). This move also challenges philosophies of representation that are contingent on the singularity of the One. Lacan also raises political concerns of the similarity that unites the group of all men, because ultimately the group is unified based on racism. “In order to avoid the violence, the racism and terror that this “fraternity of the body” would unleash, it is not enough to depose the father; the brother too must be “transfigured,” and this requires a radical discursive shift, and a supplementary political theology of the neighbor” (53).

In Seminar XX, Lacan needs monotheism to help flesh out his idea of the impossibility of sexual relationships. This is because the Jewish break with the ancient world was emphasizing the absolute, wholly otherness of God. Although man may be made in God’s image, there is no continuity between man and God.

Lacan writes, “Aristotle’s whole concern was…to conceive of being as that by which beings with less being participate in the highest of beings. And Saint Thomas succeeded in reintroducing that into the Christian tradition…But do people realize that everything in the Jewish tradition goes against that? The dividing line does not run from the most perfect to the least perfect. The least perfect there is quite simply what it is, namely radically imperfect” (Seminar XX, 99).

[I’m reminded of Barth criticism of analgoia entis as being the invention of the antichrist] The love of God commands man to love God above all, and no mystical union can bridge this divide between man and God. In Lacan’s schema, the God of monotheism is the S(barred A) on the woman’s side of sexuation.

“Lacan suggests that the supplementary jouissance of a woman instantiates a supplementary function of the Other: this is something additional to or subtracted from the function of the Father of the Primal Horde, the unbarred Other whose singularity suspended the community of men in his thrall. This is the Other now as decompleted, no longer simply One in quite the same way, and by no means Two—but perhaps something of One, some element of Oneness: not the signifier of primal repression, but the signifier that holds open the lack in the Other, the signifier of the hysteric, pointing out the master’s inability to transgress his own law—pointing not at the obscenity but the impotence of the father” (56)

The God who is unconscious and experienced by the woman’s jouissance of the Other that is lacking can help us rethink this new political theology. Here are the discourses.

Lacan’s political theology of the sovereign (discourse of the master)

Love of God     S1 (primal father) →      S2 (symbolic order)
(knowledge)     $ (subject)                       a (surplus jouissance)

This political theology is grounded on the sovereign master signifier. Also, this sort of political theology prevents any sort of neighbor love because of the “blocked fantasmatic relationship of a subject and an object” (58).

Lacan’s political theology of the neighbor (discourse of the analyst)

love of neighbor (traversed fantasy; I am my neighbor) ←→

a (self) →           $ (neighbor)        love of God (God/knowledge link broken)
S2 (lalangue)      S1 (Yad’lun)

The S1 could also be represented by the lack of the Other [S (barred A)]. In this other schema, the “love of God that functions here as the structure of sovereignty is the result of love of the neighbor, not its guarantor. The fantasy has also been traversed, and in this theology the subject now is the neighbor. Finally, the truth of this discourse is lalanguage, insubordinate signifiers that refuse to be concertized and congealed in the symbolic order.

Also, for more on female sexuality and God in Lacan, I’d refer you to this post, and for more Lacan’s four discourses go here


3 Responses to “Summary of Reinhard’s There is Something of One (God): Lacan and Political Theology”

  1. clayton crockett Says:

    Jeremy, I think this is an incredible essay, and it’s brilliant of Reinhard to align Lacan’s distinction between fem. non-all and masc. exception with pol. theology of neighbor and sovereign. So you get an alternative to Schmitt and a connection to Badiou thrown in along with it! Great stuff.

    Hey part of me selfishly wishes you were doing your grad work in theology/religion, since the stuff you’re doing on your blog is so amazingly good and so incredibly clear.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    Thanks for the kind words. Sometimes I wish I was studying religion/theology as well. Ideally, I’ll be licensed as a clinical psychologist by the age of 26, so if things don’t work out at least I’m young!

    Also, I should note that Rubentsein’s essays on capitalism and Christianity is excellent. It made me want to begin reading the Strange Wonder as soon as possible.

  3. clayton crockett Says:

    Strange Wonder is incredible. I’ll be on a panel responding to the book at the AAR in Atlanta.

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