Marie-Hélène Brousse interviews Ruth Ronen about her book “Lacan with the Philosophers”
MHB: What is the place of Philosophers in Lacan’s trajectory ? Is it a dialogue, a mere free use, or something else?
RR: Lacan with the philosophers is neither a dialogue nor a one-sided borrowing. What is it then?
Lacan’s use of philosophy centers on philosophical signifiers that are presented as necessary for Lacan: it is shown why Lacan needs Aristotle’s soul to talk about the psyche, why he needs Pascal’s wager to clarify a dimension of ethics, why Kant is essential to understanding the one of being, and in what way is Hegel a key to the psychoanalytic discourse of death. So from the side of Lacanian psychoanalysis, philosophical signifiers make psychoanalytic building blocks.
From the other side, that of philosophy, Lacan’s reading of philosophers makes a difference as it changes the way these philosophers are read: it is Lacan’s reading that can explain the radicality of Cartesian subjectivity, that exposes Socrates as a subject supposed to know (and not as one who knows), that explains how the Other in Hegel assumes unconscious desire and determines the fate of the Hegelian project. This book also stresses the consequences of Lacan’s reading of philosophy for philosophy.
So over and above the need to account for Lacan’s unorthodox readings of philosophy, these readings that assume neither reciprocity nor dialogue, produce fertile moments of exchange between two modes of thought. When philosophy is being used by Lacan it remains distinct yet productive for Psychoanalysis.
MHB: Truth with Plato, Soul with Aristotle, Thinking with Descartes, Wagers with Pascal, Erotics and Morality with Kant, and Hegel with…? What made you choose these master-signifiers?
RR: These master signifiers lie at the core of Lacan’s use of each of the philosophers discussed. My initial aim was to provide full elucidation of Lacan’s references to philosophy, neither from an exclusively philosophical nor from a psychoanalytic perspective. But this elucidation turned out to include an exposition of the logic of philosophical discourse at the points at which Lacan chooses to “interfere” in it. In this way places where Lacan diverts from the philosophical context become clearer, and so are the intricacies of his involvement with philosophy.
Each of the signifiers chosen is hence a key to a given philosophical scene.
MHB: Why not Spinoza? The conatus is not without relation with Desire…
RR: Why not Spinoza’s conatus? Why not Kierkegaard’s anxiety? Schopenhauer’s will? Leibniz’ Monade?
My book concentrates on philosophers that appear to occupy a crucial place within Lacan’s teaching and that he himself indicates a proximity between a psychoanalytic signifier and a concept used by that philosopher. There are other philosophers not discussed in the present volume, among them philosophers of the 20th century mentioned by Lacan: Sartre, Derrida, Foucault, Nancy. I should stress with regard to the question of “choosing philosophers”: this book does not offer a bird eye study on Lacan and philosophy so it cannot exhaust the relations between philosophical concepts and psychoanalysis, nor does it aim to prove that the parlêtre draws from Heidegger or that Lacanian anxiety is similar (or dissimilar) from that of Kierkegaard. My book studies how, through Lacanian teaching, philosophical moments are isolated to create an encounter with desire, with the object of identification, with the subject of ignorance, etc.,
MHB: How does this book on Lacan with the philosophers, differ from other studies on the subject?
RR: By presenting Lacan’s audacious and creative use of the discourse of philosophy a different understanding of how two modes of thought, which absolutely differ, can productively relate to each other without being reduced the one into the other. This study finds the psychoanalytic object in philosophy and finds the philosophical dilemmas in psychoanalysis even if these are two distinct, non-overlapping pursuits.
This book shows that while Lacan takes the philosopher to be essentially concerned with the same questions as the psychoanalyst, he uses philosophy without directly participating in philosophical discourse. Descartes, Pascal, Kant and Hegel, constitute crucial underpinnings to Lacanian thought, being intimately linked to its development. And yet Lacan remains critical of philosophy, when he points, for instance, at a proximity between the philosopher’s position and the master who believes himself in possession of knowledge, and who holds truth to be attainable. Lacan is intensely engaged by the question of the philosopher’s desire for truth as a desire susceptible to produce philosophical oversights and even blindness. This research exposes the depth and nature of this intimacy and this intense criticism, and studies their consequences both for psychoanalysis and for our understanding of the philosophers Lacan chooses to relate his thought to.
Lacan with the philosophers by Ruth Ronen, Universtity of Toronto Press, 2018.
Inspired by Lacan’s resistance to philosophy, Ruth Ronen addresses Lacan’s use of philosophy to create a fertile moment of exchange. Straddling the fields of philosophy and psychoanalysis with equal emphasis, Lacan with the Philosophers develops a unique interdisciplinary analysis and offers a new perspective on the body of Lacan’s writings.