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The Title of the Letter: A Reading of Lacan (Suny Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy) Paperback – 14 Apr 1992


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Product details

  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: State University of New York Press (14 April 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0791409627
  • ISBN-13: 978-0791409626
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.1 x 22.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,027,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The vortices of Continental Philosophy today 24 Jan 2013
By Rex Styzens - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I confess that I have finished reading this book only one time so far. It is such a convincing evaluation of Lacan's philosophical adoption of Hegelianism that I also have doubts I shall need to return for an extended study of it. Maybe that is also because this is a volume of philosophers, by philosophers and for philosophers and not for general reading. At the same time, if you are interested in the cutting edges of what is called Continental Philosophy, this may be as close as you can get and in a mere 150 total pages of text.

The original essay (which the authors' Foreword tells us has not been changed in this printing) appeared back in 1973. We then had to wait 20 years for an English translation. While philosophy does not rush around like the sciences, that 40 year span has left a lot of other comparable work gathering dust. Here, instead, the time delay witnesses to the acute insightfulness of its authors, as their work remains still ahead of its time.

This book is a commentary on one particular essay by Lacan, "The Agency of the Letter." Ecrits: A Selection There he expands on his interest in Freud, interpreted through familiarity with the inheritors of the tradition of German Idealism, in particular Hegel and Heidegger, as well as the linguistic principles of structuralism. Lacan seeks to reorient himself from his existing dependence on Heidegger to an expanded reliance on Hegel.

However, Nancy/Lacoue-Labarth's final contention is that, at least at this point in his developing thought, Lacan shows himself to have been unable to avoid a determined reliance on Heidegger. They write, "Lacan's metaphysical discourse immediately throws itself outside of itself, outside of the ontological closure within which it is nevertheless rigorously inscribed." That is a philosopher's way of saying that despite his best intentions, Lacan's architectonic is Heideggerian.

Such a critique also finds Lacan's appeal to Hegel for justification and understanding of Freud to be flawed. Lacan openly and vigorously defies Hegel's requirement that no negativities beyond the negation of a negation are legitimate. Lacan adds what N/L-L describe as "a hole." A philosophical hole, to be sure, but thereby offering a wormhole that entails almost any possible conclusion. With great philosophical respect, they write, "[A] Lacanian atheology (...)in its strategic ambiguity (...)would be a `negative atheology.'"

One can find a positive appreciation of those Lacanian complications in Zizek's defense of Lacan's work as found in a 2012 essay titled "Hegel Versus Heidegger" where Zizek defends Lacan's restatement "of Descartes' cogito ergo sum: `I am at that impossible piece of the real where I cannot think.' (...) [T]wo lacks overlap in this impossible object (...) So the real is not some primordial Being (...)the real is, on the contrary, a product (of the overlapping of the two lacks)."

Zizek's essay contradicts Hegel scholar Robert Pippin's 1997 effort to explain how Hegel is an anti-Cartesian. In Chapter 15 of IDEALISM AS MODERNISM,Idealism as Modernism: Hegelian Variations (Modern European Philosophy) Pippin writes, "[B]oth Hegel and Heidegger are, I shall claim, anti-Cartesians. (According to Heidegger, Hegel was the greatest Cartesian.)" Lacan appeals to Hegel in an effort to restore their mutual foundation in Descartes.

That confluence of influence projects the burning philosophical issues remaining today for Continental Philosophy. When Freud is added, the dimensions of existentialist concern are magnified to include the therapeutic and prescriptive. The options can be summarized as the distinction between power and strength. Freud and Hegel project power. Heidegger's thrownness is strength. They mix only as well as do oil and water.
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