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  • Love and the Debasement of Being: Irigaray’s Revisions of Lacan and Heidegger
  • Krzysztof Ziarek

In Écrits Lacan remarks: “Of all the undertakings that have been proposed in this century, that of the psychoanalyst is perhaps the loftiest, because his task is to act in our time as a mediator between the man of care and the subject of absolute knowledge” (105).1 These words are quoted at the beginning of Richardson’s 1983 essay “Psychoanalysis and the Being-question,” and taken to mean that, in developing the logic of desire, Lacan attempts to mediate between Heidegger’s critique of the subject, that is, the idea of Dasein as care, and the Hegelian notion of absolute knowledge. Noting Lacan’s proximity to Heidegger in the 1950s and disputing his later assertion that the references to Heidegger were merely propadeutic, Richardson goes on to sketch a Heideggerian reading of some of the key notions in Lacanian psychoanalysis, among them, language, desire, and the Other. He suggests that Heidegger’s redefinition of language underlies Lacan’s reformulation of Saussurean linguistics and ties the notion of desire to the ecstatic temporality of Dasein. In a way what Richardson outlines, although very briefly and not exactly in those terms, is the critical project of rethinking the subject of desire through the ontico-ontological difference, that is, through the unstable and repeatedly erased difference between being as event and beings as things or entities. What Richardson’s essay does not address is the reciprocal effect that the problematic of sexual difference might have on the question of being, on the idea of a “pre-sex” Dasein as the temporalizing structure of the human mode of being. For such a reformulation of the question of being we need to look to Irigaray, whose work should be approached, I would argue, in terms of a double re-reading: on the one hand, in L’oubli de l’air and certain other texts, particularly in An Ethics of Sexual Difference, Irigaray reconceives the question of being through sexual difference; on the other hand, and this is a point which Irigaray’s reception has almost completely missed, Irigaray revises Lacanian psychoanalysis and the role that sexual difference has played in philosophical discourse, including Heidegger’s own, through the prism of the ontico-ontological difference. What emerges from this criss-crossing critique is a rethinking of love and sexual difference, which reformulates the relation to the other outside the logic of both recognition and desire. As I argue in this essay, Irigaray’s double intervention into psychoanalysis and philosophy shifts the discussion of love and sexual relation away from negation and lack to temporality and embodiment.

This reading I am tracing in Irigaray’s work takes Lacan’s remark from Écrits at its word and situates the Lacanian subject of desire between Heidegger and Hegel, or, more specifically, between Dasein’s originary temporality and unhomeness (Unheimlichkeit) and Hegel’s dialectics of recognition. It is important to note that, at the time when interpretations of Lacan concentrate on Kant and Hegel, Irigaray’s work pursues, although critically, a decidedly post-Heideggerian path. Of the many provocative implications of Irigaray’s Heideggerian turning of Lacan, I will focus here on her rethinking of love in the context of the debasement of being and the various forms it takes in Lacan’s Encore: knowledge, truth, certain forms of love, the good, beauty. What this approach makes possible is the articulation of Irigaray’s pivotal move from the critique of the subject of desire to the reformulation of love in terms of temporality and wonder. The significance of this reformulation of Lacan through the prism of Heidegger’s revision of temporality lies in underscoring the openings in Lacan discourse beyond the logic of desire, which remains the focus of contemporary Lacanian readings. Recent innovative approaches to Lacan have tended to elaborate the logic of desire and sexual relation either in terms of the Hegelian dialectic of desire and recognition or by way of the Kantian notion of das Ding. Zizek’s interpretations of Lacan in the context of popular culture and political ideology emphasize the dependence of Lacan’s understanding of desire and the...

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