Other Writings

  1. Sex and Cause
  2. Assignment
  3. Love


After the noir subject’s infinite withdrawal into itself, its break with any substance, revealing itself as the very synthesis, a new possibility emerges in the seemingly exact opposite way: the subject is capable of obfuscating itself with an abundance of substances, without losing its position as subject. An introductory example would be that after an obsessive analysand repeatedly emphasized that the way he or she is now is a choice of freedom, insisting on sticking to its current identity, the analyst contradicts the assertion that true freedom is the flexibility and plasticity to be anyone.

At first glance, Kant’s infamous definition of marriage — “the contract between two adults of the opposite sex about the mutual use of each other’s sexual organs” — seems to coincide with Sade, to reduce the Other, the sexual partner to a partial object, ignoring the whole as a human person. However, in Zizek’s reverse interpretation, this obscene objectification becomes the bridge to true subjectivity: “the only way to reach emancipation is to progress to the end on the path of commodification, of self-objectivization, of turning oneself into a commodity. A free subject emerges only as the remainder of this self-objectivization”.

The mysterious remainder here is what emerges as a minimal difference, or in Deleuze’s terms, a pure difference without content. To demonstrate this empty difference, we shall take a look at the dialect of the image of God. Pagan gods were anthropomorphic (say, old Greek gods fornicated, cheated, and engaged in other ordinary human passions). In contrast, the Jewish religion asserts its iconoclastic monotheism: God is One, totally Other, with no human form. The understanding that any image of God fails to represent God, and thus by prohibiting making images, proper respect can be maintained is too simple. The inadequacy of images is already well acknowledged in pagans. This is why pagans render the divinity into ridiculous exaggerations, i.e., the Hindu statues of gods with a dozen of hands. Instead, it is in the prohibition of image in Judaism that God is fully anthropomorphized. “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” (Genesis 1.26) If any image of God is always a failure, why is there any need to prohibit at all? In other words, it is because the personification of God is an all too true and faithful render of God, to the extent that any notion of this becomes traumatic, that the anthropomorphism has to be repressed in Judaism.

What happened then in Christianity? Christianity goes to the end in this direction by asserting not only the likeness of God and man, but their direct identity in the figure of Christ. Christ is just a miserable man indistinguishable from other humans. The difference between God and us is reduced to a minimal one, but at the same time an impenetrable gap is also opened up between God and us: in the ever higher affinity shines more the mysterious X that designates the absolute difference.

In the same vein, the anxiety of maintaining the distance between subject and object, i.e., whether I am objectifying others or myself, can only be truly overcome by presenting subjects as objects. This anxiety is not as simple as a patriarchal trap, but an epistemological mistake of a long history. Descartes still coincides cogito with ergo sum, a small piece in the world, an object of our perception. As long as the spirituality of the subject is thought as some internal treasure (content), the subject is in the same register with objects. The subject is only one of the objects, separated by a self-imposed fragile demarcation of their heterogeneity. This is what the common criticisms of psychoanalysis to be reductionism or determinism are unable to recognize, namely that only in the reduction of a subject into their childhood traumas, into substances where our autonomy seems nowhere to be found, we are finally able to break the repressed fixation and open up the domain of subjective freedom. In this stage, the subject is no longer haunted by the anxiety of its self-disappearance. By appearing in the guise of its opposite, of the self-externalization into objects, the subject is in a different register, not one of the objects, but the synthesis of objects. The more the subject equates itself with objects, the more the subject confirms its plasticity of freedom. Doesn’t this also explain Foucault’s obsession with SM subcultures, with the creation of pleasures?

Hence love is based on a desire to live in anguish in the presence of an object of such high worth that the heart cannot bear to contemplate losing it. The fever of the senses is not a desire to die. Nor is love the desire to lose but the desire to live in fear of possible loss, with the beloved holding the lover on the very threshold of a swoon. At that price alone can we feel the violence of rapture before the beloved.

— Bataille, ĽErotisme

Death drive is not a drive to perish. Is it not possible for us to discern that drive already presupposes the will of life? Death drive is a will to live in disregard of pleasure or pain, self-esteem or guilt, or any calculations of the outcome. It is the drive proper beyond the pleasure principle. I feel rightly to claim that love and ethics are the actualization of death drive, to love without the idealization or objectification of the partner, to act ethically without the idealization or preservation of oneself.

To be noted, death drive shall not be considered equivalent to sacrifice. People can only sacrifice for something, for the (illusionary) pleasure henceforth, for the greater good, for the integrity of the meaning of life… People only sacrifice in exchange for something they value more, sometimes more than their lives. In Freudian terms, the reality principle, according to which the subject postpones the immediate pleasure for the greater pleasure to come, is merely within the pleasure principle.

This is why the subject of love or ethics never needs to sacrifice anything. Love or ethics cannot be formulated into any political discipline, into an external goal one strives for, for which the particular and pathological of the subject has to be sacrificed. The deadlock of such formulization is that the orderness of this world is the secret companion of the notion of sacrifice, of the reality principle: “If I postpone/sacrifice this, there would be more to gain later…” On the other hand, love and ethics bear witness to the inexistence of such order, of God qua the divine Order. So death drive is not only the will of life, to be more precise, but also the will of the immortal, with which the subject ceases to occupy itself with mortal concerns within the pleasure principle, with which the subject itself becomes God…