The zero of real conflict
Monique David-Ménard, Deleuze et la psychanalyse: L’altercation, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2005. 186 pp., €22.00 pb., 2 13 055081 9.
As its subtitle indicates, this book stages an ‘altercation’ between Deleuze and psychoanalysis. The psychoanalysis in question is that of Freud and Lacan. Monique David-Ménard’s first book, L’hystérique entre Freud et Lacan: corps et langage en psychanalyse (1983; translated as Hysteria from Freud to Lacan: Body and Language in Psychoanalysis, Cornell University Press, 1989), re-examined Freud’s and Lacan’s ideas about psychosexual drives in the light of ancient and modern philosophical thought about the body. Her 1990 book La folie dans la raison pure: Kant lecteur de Swedenborg (1990; translation forthcoming, SUNY Press) reversed the relationship between psychoanalysis and philosophy, investigating the ‘horror’, mingled with attraction, felt by Kant upon reading Swedenborg’s Celestial Mysteries. David-Ménard claims that it was Kant’s encounter with the theoretical ‘delirium’ of Swedenborg’s speculative metaphysics that led him to perceive a delirium in the Leibnizian idealism to which he subscribed at that point, and to seek a way out of the deadlock of rationalism and empiricism in a new critical philosophy.
In Deleuze et la psychanalyse, philosophy and psychoanalysis meet again, and the manifest ‘altercation’ between Deleuze and (Lacanian) psychoanalysis implicates or enfolds the ‘real’ altercation – the ‘real conflict’, to use David-Ménard’s terms: the quarrel between philosophy and psychoanalysis themselves, with David-Ménard conducting a dispute with Deleuze over his attempts, notably in Difference and Repetition and later in Capitalism and Schizophrenia, at a mediation in this ongoing altercation. The book gives an elegant and informative account of Deleuze’s main psychoanalytic ideas, as well as serving as a further chapter in a distinctive and profound attempt to map the boundaries between philosophy and psychoanalysis. The guiding problem, as stated in the first chapter, ‘Clinique et philosophie’, concerns the conflict between two opposing ways of conceiving the nature of human desire: in terms of lack and negativity or as productive and positive. David-Ménard situates Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of the use of the concepts of lack and negativity in Lacanian psychoanalysis in the wider context of Deleuze’s philosophical critique of the concept of negativity in general. ‘Before taking the form of a critique of psychoanalysis, the thought of Deleuze took the shape of a critique of negativity in Hegel.’ As the book proceeds, a meditation on the theme of negativity in psychoanalysis and philosophy unfolds, culminating in a final chapter, ‘Kant and the Negative’, which may at first sight appear out of place in a book on Deleuze and psychoanalysis, but whose inclusion is justified by the trajectory of the book, as well as by a clear impulse to cut through the more mystificatory, abstract conceptions of negativity and the ‘void’ that prevail in contemporary Lacanian theory, and to determine more precisely their nature and scope. Mediating not just between Deleuze and Lacanian psychoanalysis, but between philosophy and psychoanalysis in general, David-Ménard attempts to avoid taking sides in the conflict of interpretations by invoking the ‘critical’ path of identifying the source of the conflict and ‘objectivating’ the dimensions of the problem. She claims that the key text in the modern philosophy of negativity is Kant’s 1763 Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy, which, as well as providing a fundamentally new conception of the relation of negation and reality (one which, David-Ménard suggests, is a key condition of Kant’s critical epistemological break), provides a means for learning ‘how to think sadness’ without ‘overcharging’ thought with abstract and potentially illusory ideas about negativity. This Kantian approach to negation, she argues convincingly, is consistent with Deleuze’s best ideas.
The psychoanalyst has to deal with multiple manifestations of apparent negativity: resistance, repression, guilt, denial, and in general with ‘ce qui cloche’ – whatever does not ‘function’ or ‘work’ in human sexual relationships. The aim of psychoanalytic practice is to find a register for the inadequacy of objects of desire in relation to sexual ‘satisfaction’. But in the process of thinking through the logic of negation involved in this inadequacy, David-Ménard argues, psychoanalytic theory tends to ‘transform inadequation into a lack, …