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The tremor of reflection

The tremor of reflection
Slavoj Ziiek’s Lacanian dialectics
Peter Dews

In memory of Hinrich Fink-Eitel (1946-1995)

At first glance, the work of the Slovenian philosopher
Slavoj Zizek seems to offer an irresistible range of
attractions for theorists wishing to engage with
contemporary culture, without accepting the flimsy
postmodernist doxa which is often the only available
gloss on it. Zizek’s thought is still strongly coloured by
his Althusserian background, and he is therefore rightly
sceptical of the anti-Enlightenment sloganizing, and
revivals of the ‘end of ideology’ , which are the staple of
so much cultural commentary today. At the same time,
far from being dourly Marxist, his writings are informed
by a vivid and sophisticated grasp of Lacanian
psychoanalytic theory, and are enlivened by constant
reference to works of fiction, cinema, classical music and
opera. They also cheerfully disregard ingrained
oppositions between high and mass culture, without
proclaiming a pseudo-populist levelling of aesthetic
distinctions. Finally, Zizek’s East European provenance
provides a quirkily original perspective on the questions
of subjectivity, phantasy and desire, and the problem of
the resurgence of collectivist identities, which are so high
on the agenda of the Left in Western Europe and North
America today.

The very existence of this already sizeable body of
work raises many intriguing questions. Why, for
example, should the notoriously obscure and rebarbative
thought of Lacan be of political interest not just to Zizek,
but to a whole circle of Slovenian intellectuals? And why
should Zizek be interested not simply in using Lacan to
elaborate a new theory of ideology, but also to develop
an extensive re-reading and defence of Hegel – the
supposedly totalizing enemy of most contemporary
theory? In short, why should a combination of German
Idealism and psychoanalysis be seen as the most
appropriate way to develop a critical social philosophy
amidst the current upheavals and conflicts of Eastern
Europe, and of the Balkans in particular?

The historical and political answer to these questions
is to be found in the development of philosophy in exYugoslavia between Tito’s revolution and the break-up
of the country, which began in 1991 with the secession
of Slovenia. For Yugoslavian philosophical life was far
from being dominated by the creaking orthodoxies of
Soviet-style dialectical materialism, and included the far
more plausible and congenial positions of what came to
be known as the Praxis School. 1 The Marxism of the
Praxis School was in fact a counterpart to the
philosophical current known in the other half of Europe
as ‘Western Marxism’. But whereas in Western Europe
the thought of Lukacs, of Gramsci, of Adorno or
Lefebvre could scarcely be taken to represent anything
other than an oppositional and critical stance, the specific
difficulty faced by the Praxis School was that their
‘humanist’ version of Marxism, inspired by the 1844
manuscripts of Marx, became – albeit unwittingly supportive of the dominant ideology of the Yugoslavian
regime, namely the representation of the Yugoslav social
and economic system as a form of ‘self-managing
socialism’ .

This, at least, is the view of Zizek and his fellow
thinkers. In their account, the problem facing Slovenian
intellectuals in the early 1980s was how to criticize the
oppressive and manipUlative character of a system which
was itself based on the denunciation of bureaucratic
manipulation. As Zizek puts it: ‘not until the emergence
of Yugoslav self-management did Stalinism effectively
reach the level of deception in its strictly human
dimension. In Stalinism, the deception is basically still a
simple one: The power (Party-and-State bureaucracy)
feigns to rule in the name of the people while everybody
knows that it rules in its own interest … in Yugoslav selfmanagement, however, the Party-and-State bureaucracy
reigns, but it reigns in the name of an ideology whose
basic thesis is that the greatest obstacle to the full
development of self-management consists in the
“alienated” Party-and-State bureaucracy. ‘2 Pre-empted,

Radical Philosophy 72 (July/August 1995)


as it were, by the opacity of a system based on the ideal
of the transparency of a democratic and social control of
production, younger Slovenian philosophers, in the
1980s, were looking for a theoretical approach which
could function critically in their specific social context.

When the ideal of transparency congeals into an
obfuscating ideology, then perhaps the only way to
preserve a certain aspiration to transparency is by
acknowledging, rather than suppressing, an irreducible
element of opacity in all social relationships.

At the same time, Zizek and his fellow thinkers did
not wish to abandon the critical and dialectical tradition
altogether, like intellectuals in other parts of Central and
Eastern Europe, who have turned towards Hayekian
celebrations of the free market, or the bleak accounts of
modernity to be found in Heidegger or Foucault. And it
is this determination, a reminder of the uniquely
autochthonous features of Yugoslav socialism, which
explains the unexpected arrival of Lacan in Ljubljana.

For Lacan, as Zizek tirelessly reminds his readers, is no
Nietzschean or post-Nietzschean. 3 He is a theorist
influenced above all by Freud and Hegel, two thinkers
who – in their very different ways – can be viewed as
seeking to preserve the essential impulse of critical,
enlightening thought from the reductive and selfdestructive simplifications of the Enlightenment itself.

Indeed, Zizek formulates the aim of one of his books in
the following terms: ‘against the distorted picture of
Lacan as belonging to the field of “post-structuralism”;
against the distorted picture of Lacan’ s obscurantism, it
locates him in the lineage of rationalism. Lacanian theory
is perhaps the most radical contemporary version of
Enlightenment. ‘4
It is thus the political context which in large part
explains the intellectual investment of Zizek and his
colleagues in a Lacanian reading of Hegel. Against the
Left Hegelianism of the Praxis School, Zizek wants an
account of Hegel which will bring out the intricate
balance in his work between a profound adherence to the
Enlightenment goals of freedom and autonomy and the
acknowledgement of a pervasive non-transparency of
social life, which is rendered unavoidable by modem
individualism and the complex state mechanisms which
seek to compensate for it. Correlatively this reading of
Hegel may then serve, by a kind of feedback effect, to
rescue Lacanian theory, as a source of insights into the
subjective dimension of ideology, from post-structuralist
appropriations. Of course, this project of reconciling
Lacan and Hegel also helps to explain why Zizek’s work
is of more general relevance in the context of
contemporary philosophical and political debates. In
Western Europe and North America a disillusionment


with the Marxist tradition has led to types of theorizing
which, at the end of their deconstructive contortions,
often boil down to little more than the endorsement of an
existing culture of liberal pluralism. In Slovenia, and
elsewhere in Eastern Europe, however, this pluralism
cannot be taken for granted, for painfully obvious
reasons. The idea that the ‘Enlightenment project’ is the
source of all our ills can scarcely look other than callow
to left intellectuals in Ljubljana, not to mention Belgrade
or Sarajevo. And accordingly, once one penetrates
behind Zizek’ s skittish mode of presentation, it becomes
clear that there is far more than simply philosophical
coherence at stake in the assessment of his LacanianHegelian enterprise.

The Lacanian subject
One of the most powerful aspects of Zizek’ s work is its
defence of the category of the subject against poststructuralist depredations. In his critiques of
deconstruction, for example, Zizek shows that even this
most sophisticated form of post-structuralist theory
attempts to define the concept of the subject with the aid
of an inappropriate model of self-presence, to which the
movement of differance can then be counterposed.

Taking the work of Rodolphe Gasche as his example of
such a view, Zizek shows that deconstructive theorists
cannot ultimately avoid positing some substrate
(characterized by Gasche in terms of ‘infrastructures’)
which resists the reflective self-presence of the subject.

Even if this substrate is given its minimal Derridean
characterization as ‘differance’ , it must nevertheless still
be presupposed as logically prior to, and as the condition
of possibility for, the constitution of an identity which is
thus revealed as ultimately factitious. 5 Zizek therefore
argues that, ‘In a paradoxical way, Derrida remains
prisoner of the – ultimately “commonsensical” conception which aims at freeing heterogeneity from the
constraints of identity; of a conception which is obliged
to presuppose a constituted field of identity (the
“metaphysics of presence”) in order to be able to set to
the unending work of its subversion. ‘6
Against this construction, in which the reflective selfidentity of the subject is seen as excluding the ‘tain of the
mirror’ which makes this reflection possible, Zizek
argues that the identity of the subject consists in nothing
other than the continual failure of self-reflection. In other
words, there is no ‘space of inscription’ independent of
and prior to the emergence of the supplement or the ‘re-mark’ ,
which vainly attempts to encapsulate the text by means
of a self-referential twist:

Reflection, to be sure, ultimately always fails – any
positive mark included in the series could never

successfully represent/reflect the empty space of
the inscription of marks. It is, however, this very
failure as such which ‘constitutes’ the space of
inscription. … in other words, there is no
infrastructural space of the inscription of marks
without the re-mark. Re-mark does not ‘represent’ /
reflect some previously constituted infrastructural
network – the very act of reflection as failed
constitutes retroactively that which eludes it. 7
The Lacanian inspiration of this argument is clear. Zizek
thinks of the subject not in terms of the imaginary selfcoincidence of what Lacan calls the ‘ego’, but rather in
terms of the lack or gap which is the correlative of the
incapacity of the signifier to signify the subject as
signifying. In Lacanian theory, Zizek asserts, ‘the subject
is nothing but the impossibility of its own signifying
representation – the empty place opened up in the big
Other [of the symbolic order] by the failure of this
representation.’8 According to Lacan, this subject does
encounter itself at the level of phantasy in the form of the
‘objet petit a’, the object-cause of desire. But it
encounters itself not in the sense of identifying itself
reflectively, as in the mirror, but rather in the sense of
confronting its own ungraspability. As Zizek writes: ‘The
spot of the mirror-picture is thus strictly constitutive of
the subject; the subject qua subject of the look “is” only
in so far as the mirror-picture he is looking at is inherently
“incomplete” – in so far, that is, as it contains a
“pathological” stain – the subject is correlative to this
stain. ‘9 Deconstruction, and other disruptions of the
supposed ‘self-identity’ of the subject, are thus based on
a ‘metaphysical’ misreading of the subject, since they
fail to realize that differance, non-self-coincidence, does
not disrupt a subject essentially defined by its selfcoincidence, but is rather the fundamental structure of
subjectivity as such.

So far, this Lacanian riposte to deconstruction,
plausible though it is in its own terms, is not particularly
surprising. The plot thickens, however, when Zizek
claims that an account of reflection as implying an
intrinsic ‘failure’, an insufficiency which defines the
subject, is already to be found in Hegel’s Logic.

Hegel’s logic of reflection
The theory of reflection which Hegel provides in the first
chapter of the ‘Doctrine of Essence’ , the second book of
the first volume of the Science of Logic, is one of the
constant touchstones of Zizek’ s analyses. The ‘Doctrine
of Essence’ as a whole is Hegel’ s exploration of the
structure of what could be termed ‘theoretical
consciousness’ – the epistemic stance of any attempt,
whether scientific or metaphysical, to explain reality in

terms of underlying principles and processes. It follows
on from Book One, the ‘Doctrine of Being’ , where Hegel
demonstrates the internal inconsistency of the
unreflective categories of our commonsense encounters
with the world (‘one’ and ‘many’, ‘quality’ and
‘quantity’, ‘magnitude’, ‘measure’ and so on), and leads
on to the second volume, the ‘Doctrine of the Concept’,
where the problematic dualism of theoretical
consciousness, with its splits between ‘essence’ and
‘appearance’, ‘matter’ and ‘form’, ‘necessity’ and
‘contingency’, is itself intended to be resolved. The
opening chapter of the ‘Doctrine of Essence’ is of
particular interest to Zizek because it is here that Hegel
describes the fundamental processes of ‘reflection’, of
abstraction and determination, which are the means by
which the subject of theoretical consciousness gets a grip
on its object. Since subjectivity, as it is understood in the
modern period, seems to presuppose the capacity to turn
inward on oneself, to divert attention from the immediate
being of the object to the relation between the object ‘in
itself’ and the forms of awareness in which it is revealed,
the logic of reflection – so Zizek seems to assume – must
give a vital clue to what Hegel takes the subject to be.

Throughout his work, Zizek employs many examples
to illustrate the stages of reflection explored by Hegel ‘positing’, ‘presupposing’, ‘external’ and ‘determinate’

(or ‘absolute’). But one of the most accessible accounts
is still to be found in the final chapter of his first book in
English, The Sublime Object of Ideology. Here Zizek
employs the example of literary interpretation in order to
illustrate the relation between the different forms of
reflection. Thus, the initial standpoint of ‘positing
reflection’ (setzende Reflexion) would be that from which
we naively assume that the manner in which we interpret
a work of literature gives us direct access to the work’s
true meaning. But this in turn requires us to presuppose
the existence of a meaning which is objectively ‘out
there’ to be identified and grasped. Hence positing and
presupposing (voraussetzende) reflection turn out to be
intimately interrelated – indeed, are simply two sides of
the same process. This awareness of the unavoidability
of presuppositions in all positing leads to the standpoint
which Hegel terms ‘external reflection’. Zizek describes
this as the perspective from which the true meaning of
the text is viewed as ‘in-itself’, to which any specific,
historically determined interpretation can only
approximate. However, it could equally be the view that
the text is merely the material ‘support’ for a variety of
interpretations, each valid in its own terms. The tension
between these two dimensions of external reflection (one
positing, one presupposing) is finally resolved in
‘determinate reflection’, which Zizek compares with the


standpoint of Gadamerian hermeneutics; here successive
interpretations are viewed as the temporal unfolding of
the intrinsic meaning or essence of the work itself.lo
But, helpful though it is, this comparison with
Gadamer may still give rise to misunderstanding,
according to Zizek. He suggests that ‘if we grasp the
plurality of phenomenal determinations [i.e.

interpretations] which at first sight blocked our approach
to the “essence” as so many self-determinations of this
very “essence” [or ways in which the true meaning
reveals itself], it could still be said that in this way through “determinate reflection” – the appearance is
ultimately reduced to the self-determination of the
essence, “sublated” in its self-movement, internalized,
conceived as a subordinate moment of self-mediation of
the essence.’ 11 To counter this misunderstanding, Zizek
goes on to affirm that ‘it is not only that appearance, the
fissure between appearance and essence, is a fissure
internal to the essence itself; the crucial point is that,
inversely, “essence itself is nothing but the self-rupture,
the self-fissure of the appearance”.’

In order to make clear what he means by this, Zizek
takes up the case of Feuerbach’ s critique of Christianity.

He explains that, from the standpoint of external
reflection, the essence must be understood as something
radically outside and opposed to the reflecting subject.

In Feuerbach’ s account, this would be the relation
between the human being and God, understood
theologically, and of course it is precisely this standpoint


which he characterizes as that of religious alienation. The
aim of Feuerbach’s ‘Philosophy of the Future’ is to
overcome this situation by re-appropriating the divine
powers as in truth the powers of the reflecting subject,
the embodied human being.12 Zizek, however, criticizes
this Feuerbachian recipe for the overcoming of alienation
– a powerful influence on the young Marx – arguing that,
in Hegel’ s view, such a remainderless reappropriation of
hypostatized powers is not possible.

The Feuerbachian gesture of recognizing that God
as an alien essence is nothing but the alienated
image of man’s creati ve potential does not take into
account the necessity for this reflexive relationship
between God and man to reflect itself into God
himself… It is not enough for the subject to
recognize-reflect himself in this Entity as in his
inverse image; the crucial point is that this
substantial Entity must itself split and ‘engender’

the subject (that is, ‘God himself must become
More formally, Zizek argues that ‘we pass from external
to determinate reflection simply by experiencing the
relationship between these two moments – essence as
movement of self-mediation, self-referential negativity;
essence as substantial positive entity excluded from the
tremor of reflection – as that of reflection: by
experiencing how this image of the substantialimmediate, positively given essence is nothing but the
inverse-alienated reflection of the essence as pure

movement of self-referential negativity.’i4
Zizek is certainly correct to suggest that the arrival at
‘determinate reflection’ represents the achievement of a
certain plateau of stability within the overall
development of Hegel’s Logic. What Zizek does not
emphasize, however, is that the principal reason for this
stability is the emergence of a proto-intersubjective
structure, in which the interiority of the subject finds its
balancing counterpart in the interiority of the object. For
up until this point, as Hinrich Fink-Eitel has shown in his
fine commentary,15 the movement of reflection has been
determined by a tension between ‘negativity’ and
‘otherness’ which betrays the basic instability of the
structure of ‘essence’ itself. To the extent that the ‘object’

of reflection was merely posited, and therefore merely
‘negative’ (non-self-sufficient), its lack of inner
determinacy reacted back on the reflecting subject; to
decipher only the meanings one has oneself projected
into things is ultimately to confront one’s own vapidity.

Correlatively, the elusive ‘otherness’ of the object
presupposed by external reflection also threatened to
reduce the subject to a helpless state of negativity, of
epistemic exile from being, since if the object is entirely
outside of our doings and sayings, then nothing can count
as our responding to or being in touch with it.

By contrast, determinate reflection resolves this
dilemma through the relation to an ‘object’ which is
‘reflected into itself’ (which has a determinant ‘interior’),
so that its otherness is no longer cancelled by its
negativity, and its negativity by its otherness. 16 However,
in seeking to define this interior, determinate reflection
breaks apart into what Hegel calls ‘Wesenheiten’

(‘ essentialities’) or ‘Rejlexionsbestimmungen’ (‘ determinations
of reflection’/’reflexive determinations’), such as ‘identity’,
‘difference’ and ‘diversity’, which can be thus
considered as the basic structuring principles of any
theoretically constituted object-domain. In this sense, as
Fink-Eitel points out, ‘The determination of reflection is
a relation of relations (“reflections-into-self’).’ 17
Formerly the distinction between the ‘inside’ and the
‘outside’ of the object was itself directly drawn by the
reflective activity of the subject, and was therefore
radically other, a merely ‘related relation’, with respect
to the subject as ‘relating relation’. But now this relation
internal to the object is negated in its otherness, because
it turns out to be the same relating relation (or ‘reflectioninto-self’) which characterizes the subject also. In terms
of the development of the Logic we have thus reached
not only an equilibrium between subject and object, but
an adumbration of what Fink-Eitel terms an
‘intersubjective conceptual constellation’ .18 As Hegel
himself puts it: ‘The determination of reflection … has

for … [its] … ground reflectedness-into-self. Positedness
[i.e. the fact of being ‘opposed’ to the subject by the
subject] fixes itself into a determination precisely
because reflection IS equality-with-self in its
negatedness; its negatedness is consequently itself a
reflection-into-self.’ 19
It is important to remember, however, that this
‘equality of reflection with itself’ can only offer a
temporary respite. For the ‘Doctrine of Essence’ as a
whole is concerned with working through the
consequences of the fundamental contradiction or
lopsidedness in the concept of essence – the fact that
‘essence’ refers both to the distinguishing and relating of
a ‘surface’ and an ‘interior’ which Hegel regards as
central to the structuring of reality in scientific and
metaphysical thinking, and to one side of this relation the ‘interior’ side – which is given ontological and
explanatory primacy. It is this asymmetry which
resurfaces after the achievement of the standpoint of
determinate reflection, producing a movement through a
series of ‘determinations of reflection’, from identity to
difference, and thence to diversity and on to
contradiction. It re-emerges because the determinations
of reflection are not themselves understood as relational,
as the pattern of the self-articulation of essence. They
appear as equally valid (and hence as equally ‘arbitrary’)
characterizations of an otherness which ultimately
remains external to them.

Thus the logic of the determinations of reflection
replays the logic of reflection from the opposite side of
the contradictory structure of essence, as it were. Since
the other of reflection is in fact the relation of reflection
itself, the determinations of reflection will also be the
externalized or ‘posited’ forms ofthe modes of reflection.

Thus to positing reflection there corresponds the other as
the empty negativity of self-identity; to presupposing
reflection, the abstract other as presupposed difference;
to external reflection, the other as diversity; and to
determinate reflection, the other as negative but reflected
into itself, and thus as opposed. 20 But because of the basic
asymmetry – or inclusive/exclusive structure – of
essence, the more the other is specified as opposed to the
reflecting subject, the more the reflecting subject will find
itself opposed to itself. To adapt a well-known formula
of Lacan’s, reflection receives back from the other of
reflection its own message in an inverted form.21
In Hegel’ s account this process culminates in a crisis:

‘The self-subsistent determination of reflection that
contains the opposite determination, and is selfsubsistent in virtue of this inclusion, at the same time
also excludes it; in its self-subsistence, therefore, it
excludes itself from its own self-subsistence …. It is thus


contradiction. ’22 As an intersubjective constellation, this
relation can be characterized as a process of ‘excluding
reflection’ in which each subject shuts out the other
subject through whom she is constituted, and thus shuts
out herself. 23 A temporary, proleptic resolution is
provided by the shift to the final determination of
reflection, ‘ground’. For ‘ground’ refers to that which
accounts for the relation between the other, apparently
conflicting determinations, and thus, in intersubjective
terms, to an acknowledgement of commonality beyond
our singular perspectives. 24 But the ‘logic of inner
contingency’ which permeates essence, as Fink-Eitel
terms it, can only be definitively overcome with the
transition to the second volume of the Logic, the
‘Doctrine of the Concept’.

Hegel’s theory of the concept25 can be understood in
this perspective as characterizing a reciprocal relation of
recognition, which overcomes the abstracting and
subsuming modus operandi of reflective cognition. The
vicious circularity of the structure of essence cannot be
broken open by a further act of knowing, but only by the
reflecting subject when it no longer seeks to ground its
own identity by abstracting from its relation to the other.

Only by acknowledging this relation as constitutive of
its identity, just as this identity enters into the relation,
can it finally resolve the conflict between necessity and
contingency, the ground and that which is grounded. 26 At
first sight, it may appear far-fetched to interpret the
structure of the Hegelian concept in terms of reciprocal
recognition; inversely, it may not be clear why Hegel
would designate what we now term ‘intersubjectivity’ as
‘the concept’ (i.e. conceptuality). But this proposal can
perhaps be made more plausible if we consider that the
conceptuality of language, which is fundamental to
human sociality, establishes a permanent possibility of
reconciling conflicting subjective perspectives. Clashes
of immediate viewpoint typically give rise to
hermeneutically reflective conflicts, while a continuing
discrepancy between interpretive schemata will
eventually push us back to the basic shared question of
what it means to grasp something conceptually at all,
however different our orientations may be. Indeed, it
could be argued that for Hegel the ‘life of the concept’

consists in nothing other than this constant process of
rupture and negotiationY
Thus Hegel’ s account of the concept does not imply a
seamless, non-conflictual – perhaps even repressive identity of self and other. In the Encyclopaedia Hegel
himself characterizes the intersubjective relation which
is ‘the Idea that has developed into self-consciousness’

as ‘the violent diremption of mind or spirit into different
selves which are both in and for themselves and for one


another, are independent, absolutely impenetrable,
resistant, and yet at the same time identical with one
another … ‘ 28 As Fink-Eitel stresses, contingency is not
eliminated by Hegel on this account. It is precisely as
contingent, self-reflective individuals that subjects must
come to accept and affirm the commonality which binds
them. This acceptance (which we could call ‘love’) does
not cancel the acknowledgement of difference (which we
could call ‘recognition’). For if identification simply
abolished the relation of exclusion, then the result would
be an undifferentiated tautology. In this sense, ‘The
fundamental conflict of speculative logic as a whole, the
conflict between immediacy and mediation, being
oneself (Selbstsein) and othemess (Andersheit), is at the
same time the basic confl ict of Hegel’ s practical
philosophy, that between being oneself through love and
being oneself through recognition. ’29 Nevertheless, this
conflict is very different from the ruinous contradiction
of the subjective standpoint of reflection, in which the
subject struggles to objectify the intersubjective context
in which she finds herself, and continually transforms
this context in the very process. For the conflict between
subjectivity and intersubjectivity is itself constantly
under negotiation. It cannot therefore be equated with
Zizek’s opaque, irremovable stain at the core of every

Reason and contingency:

Hegel’s monarch
In his resistance to such a reading of Hegel, Zizek
frequently invokes the account of the monarchy in The
Philosophy of Right. Indeed, Hegel’s theory of the
monarchy functions in Zizek’s work as a crucial
demonstration of the fact that Hegel fully acknowledges
a blind spot at the very heart of his system, one which is
itself a systematic requirement. For Zizek, the fact that
Hegel installs at the summit of his constitution an
individual selected by the natural contingency of birth
clearly shows his grasp of the fact that ‘rational totality
clings to an inert “piece of the real” precisely insofar as it
is caught in a vicious circle’ ,30 and that the political
community therefore needs a point of transsymbolic
condensation, where it can confront the opacity of its own

Serious difficulties are raised, however, by Zizek’s
elevation of the Hegelian monarch to paradigmatic
status. First, as commentators have long pointed out, the
deduction of the monarchy in the Philosophy of Right
violates Hegel’s own procedure, inverting the usual
dialectical movement – from the universal, via the
particular, to the individual – between paragraphs 273
and 275. In the former, Hegel divides the ‘state as

political entity’ into ‘legislature’ (universal), ‘executive’

(application to the particular) and ‘crown’ (individual
power of ultimate decision), whereas in the latter he
begins with the ‘power of the crown’ , and argues that it
‘contains in itself the three moments of the whole … , viz.

(a) the universality of the constitution and the laws; (b)
counsel, which refers the particular to the universal; and
(c) the moment of ultimate decision, as the selfdetermination to which everything else reverts and from
which everything else derives the beginning of its
actuality.’ 31 As Vittorio Hasle has suggested, the
departure from Hegel’ s own method which his option
for the monarchy requires can only be seen as a
regressive irruption of a monological Subjektmetaphysik
at the summit of a system whose deepest intuitions derive
from the dynamics of intersubjectivity.32 This is made
starkly apparent by the fact that Hegel earlier argues – in
line with contemporary conceptions – that sovereignty
can only belong to the system of powers within the state
as a whole, that ‘sovereignty depends on the fact that the
particular functions and powers of the state are not selfsubsistent or firmly grounded either in their own account
or in the particular will of the individual functionaries,
but have their roots ultimately in the unity of the state as
their single self.’ 33 As Hasle indicates, this view is hard
to square with the claim that the will of the community
must ultimately be entrusted to the subjectivity of a single
individual. Furthermore, Hegel’s argument that the
natural immediacy of the head of state as an individual
requires that he be selected by the accident of birth is
laughable, as Marx – following Ruge – pointed out:

‘Hegel has demonstrated that the monarch must be born,
a truth no one has questioned, but he has not proved that
birth makes the monarch.’34 It should also be noted that
the role of the Hegelian monarch is not always limited to
‘dotting the i’ s’ , as Zizek likes to suggest. In fact, in the
main text of The Philosophy of Right the monarch is
described as having more extensive powers: he can
appoint the government, reject laws as well as endorse
them, and is responsible for foreign affairs. Indeed, Hegel
stresses that no ground can be required for the king’s
decisions. 35 But, as Hasle also argues, there are no
reasons internal to Hegel’ s system why the ultimate
power of decision should not be vested in an elected
president, or even in a collective leadership, rather than
being allotted by parentage. 36

Lacan’s critique of Hegel
The dubiousness ofZizek’s use of the Hegelian monarch
as a test case for his account of the relation between
rational system and contingency suggests that his
Lacanian reading of Hegel does not do justice to the

complexity of Hegel’s thought. For Zizek persistently
jams the dialectical movement prior to the point where
the ‘inner contingency’ of essence is overcome through
the move from essence to concept. 37 It is only this
truncation of Hegel’ s thought which enables him not only
to assert the compatibility of Hegel and Lacan, but even
to claim that Lacan’ s own critique of Hegel is in fact an
unwitting confirmation of Hege1. 38 At the same time,
however, a strong case can be made that Lacan’s
resistance to healing of the rift between universality and
particularity is justified, since the Hegelian concept despite its intersubjective traits – is ultimately the
embodiment of a domineering, sUbsumptive universality.

To read Hegel in this way would in fact mean endorsing
Lacan’s criticisms of Hegel, whereas Zizek himself
consistently suggests that these criticisms are misguided
and misplaced. So what is the basis of Lacan’s critique
of Hegel? Is it true to claim, as Zizek does, that it is no
more than naively ‘deconstructivist’ avant la lettre?

Lacan’s divergence from Hegel begins in the early
1950s. Up until this point, he had been profoundly
influenced by the notion of a dialectic of recognition
derived from Kojeve’s and Hyppolite’s interpretations
of the Phenomenology. But from the second Seminar
(1954/5) onwards, he begins to ask: how can recognition
itself be recognized? How can I ever be sure that the sign
or gesture which the other offers me is indeed an
expression of recognition? What this means, in Hegel’s
own terminology, is that the disjunction between
(subjective) certainty and (intersubjective) truth, which
drives the Phenomenology of Spirit, can no longer be
resolved in absolute knowing, any more than the
opposition of ‘being’ and ‘essence’ can be overcome in
the ‘concept’. According to Lacan, ‘Truth – for Hegelis nothing other than that which knowledge can
apprehend as knowledge only by putting its ignorance to
work. A real crisis in which the imaginary is resolved,
through the engendering of a new symbolic form, to use
my own categories.’ However, Lacan continues, ‘This
dialectic is convergent and attains the conjuncture
defined as absolute knowledge. In the form in which it is
deduced, it can only be the conjunction of the symbolic
with a real of which there is nothing more to be expected.

What is this real, if not a subject fulfilled in his identity to
himself? From which one can conclude that this subject
is already perfect in this regard, and is the fundamental
hypothesis of this whole process.’ 39 What Lacan opposes,
therefore, is what he takes to be the Hegelian
presupposition of the identity of subject and Other, the
assumption that the real is ultimately construable in terms
of the reflexive structure of self-consciousness. Indeed,
iftruth in the emphatic sense revealed by psychoanalysis


is marked by the unpredictability and unmanageability
of the real, then it can be said that ‘the ideal which Hegel
promises us as absolute knowledge’ would be the
‘perfect instrument’ for ‘shutting the bolt on truth
(verrouiller la w!rite)’ .40

In the light of this Lacanian critique of Hegel, it is
interesting to observe how Zizek attempts to reconcile
Hegel’s account of ‘absolute knowledge’ with his
Lacanian convictions. Zizek writes that ‘usually
Absolute Knowledge is understood as the phantasy of a
discourse which is full, without rupture or discord, the
phantasy of an Identity which includes all divisions,
whereas our interpretation, by bringing out, in absolute
knowledge, the dimensions of the traversal of phantasy
perceives exactly the opposite … Far from filling the lack
felt by finite consciousness, separated from the absolute,
Absolute Knowledge displaces the lack into the Other
itself. The turning introduced by Absolute Knowledge
concerns the status of lack: finite or alienated
consciousness suffers the loss of the object, and “disalienation” consists simply in the experience of the fact
that this object was lost from the very beginning, and
that any given object merely fills the empty place of this
loss. ’41 Here Zizek interprets the subject’s confrontation
with the gap-filling function of the object of desire as the
‘loss ofloss’ and equates this with the Hegelian ‘negation
of the negation’. The loss of loss, Zizek writes, ‘is the
moment when loss ceases to be the loss of something and
becomes the opening of the empty space where the object
is located’ .42 Yet the differences between this account
and that of Hegel are not hard to discern. For, as FinkEitel suggests, the negation of the negation in Hegel can
be understood as the self-destruction of the negative
relation between consciousnesses whose relation to
themselves (and thus to each other) is negative or abstract
(polarized between empirical plenitude and reflective
vacancy, or vice versa), with the result that the other
ceases to be a limit of the self. 43 In Zizek’s interpretation
of Lacan, however, the loss of loss does not involve the
cancellation, or even relativization, of a limit or lack, but
rather an acceptance of the fact that what appeared to be
a reparable loss is in fact a constitutive lack. The
resulting conclusion, that ‘subject is the nonsubstance,
he exists only as a non substantial self-relating which
maintains its distance from inner-worldly objects’ ,44 is
surely incompatible with Hegel’s claim that ‘everything
turns on grasping and expressing the True, not only as
Substance, but equally as Subject’ .45 Indeed, the
confrontation between a subject reduced to empty
reflexivity and an ontologically distinct world of objects,
which Zizek here evokes as the definitive Hegelian view,
constitutes precisely what Hegel considers to be the
contradictory standpoint of ‘external reflection’.


Reflection and being:

the Hegelian equation
So far we have found that the Lacanian theory of the
subject is not compatible with Hegel’s philosophy, as
Zizek repeatedly claims it is – with an insistence one is
tempted to interpret psychoanalytically. At the same
time, Hegel’s speculative logic of the concept (BegrifJ)
has been presented not as the theory of an abstractly
dominating universal, but rather as modelling an
intersubjectivity which overcomes the one-sidedness of
reflection – tracing a structure which renders it
hermeneutically accessible. At least to this extent it
appears to converge with Lacan’s fundamental aim: to
overcome the reified, reflective structure of the ego
through the subject’s acceptance of its position within
the order of symbolic exchange. In consequence, might
we not be driven to conclude that Lacan is indeed
compatible with Hegel, although in different perspective
from that which Zizek adopts? Here it is fascinating to
observe the convergence between Lacan’s Hegelcritique and the discussion of the problems of Hegel’ s
theory of reflection to be found in the work of
contemporary German philosophers such as Dieter
Henrich and Manfred Frank.

As we have already seen, Hegel’ s logic of reflection
concludes with determinate reflection: the structure in
which the relation between essence and appearance
within the object of reflection is no more than an
externalized mirroring of the relation between- the
reflecting subject and this object itself. In such a
perspective, essence has proved itself to be the ‘truth of
being’ ,46 transforming the latter into illusory being or
Schein. In the terms of Dieter Henrich’ s classic account,
the ‘autonomous’ or self-related negation which defines
‘essence’, and which he considers the fundamental
operation (Grundoperation) of Hegel’s philosophy in
general, has negated itself, giving rise to the immediacy
of being. Yet since this immediacy is the result of the
self-application of negation, it loses its self-sufficiency,
becoming no more than the negative pole in the selfrelation of essence. 47 However, as Henrich points out,
this argument relies on a questionable shift of meaning
(Bedeutungsverschiebung) of the term ‘immediacy’

between the ‘Doctrine of Being’ and the ‘Doctrine of
Essence’. In the former, immediacy is indifferently
opposed to mediation, whereas in the latter it becomes a
feature of self-sufficient mediation, of the negative selfrelation. 48 Henrich himself suspends judgement on
whether this shift in meaning is theoretically justified or
justifiable. But Frank, developing his argument, is
unequivocal: Hegel’ s logic of reflection falsely assumes
that the result of the self-cancellation of autonomous
negation can still be seen as the shadow of such negation,
even after it has cancelled itself, or that the relation

between reflection and the other or reflection can be
construed in terms of the reciprocal implication of
positing and presupposing within reflection itself.49
Hegel, in other words, elides the notion that positing
might be what defines immediacy as negative, without
being its originator. 5o
This insistence on the irreducibility of being to
reflection is clearly in harmony with Lacan’ s
fundamental intuitions. Yet at the same time it also seems
to block the emergence of those patterns of dialectical
interaction (whether purely reciprocal or not) with which
both Hegel and Lacan are so centrally concerned. It is
important to remember here, however, that current
‘intersubjective’ readings of the Logic, inspired by the
pathbreaking work of Michael Theunissen, do not claim
that Hegel delivers a speculative deduction of
intersubjectivity.51 Indeed, according to Theunissen,
Hegel’s account of the concept tends to reinstate
precisely the dominating metaphysics of reflection it was
intended to overcome, as when he claims that the concept
has ‘subjugated [sich unterworfen] being and essence,
which from other starting points include also feeling and
intuition and representation, and which appeared as its
antecedent conditions, and has proved itself to be their
unconditioned ground. ’52 But in contrast with this, as
Theunissen also indicates, other passages in the Logic
portray the experiential content of the concept in terms
of Hegel’s youthful terminology of ‘love’, thus implying
that the concept lies beyond the limits of theory (and so
of reflection).53 Thus, as Fink-Eitel has suggested, the
intersubjective reading of Hegel’s famous ‘negation of
the negation’ as the self-abolition ofthe negative relation
between negatively self-related individuals ‘avoids
becoming an interdeterminate tautology only because the
determinate distinction between recognition and what is
recognised is presupposed by the relation of recognition,
whose introduction is thus external to the Logic. Selfdetermined negation [Henrich’s ‘autonomous negation’]
is the premise of the logic of the concept, because its
premise is the intersubjective relation of recognition.’54
In other words, the logic of the concept is tied
hermeneutically to its practical context: ‘The medium of
intersubjective recognition is the ground of speculative

A Lacanian politics?

On the one side, therefore, we have critiques of Hegelian
‘absolute reflection’, such as that of Manfred Frank,
which block the absorption of being into reflection, but
which thereby risk perpetuating an unmasterable
contingency of being, against which reflection breaks.

On the other, we have readings of Hegel which seek to
overcome this risk by stressing that his work is inspired
by experiences – such as that of love – which transfigure

and transcend such contingency, although it also betrays
them through its tendency to deny the limits of
philosophical theory and to reinstate a metaphysics of
reflection. Paradoxically, Zizek belongs to the first camp,
while believing himself to be offering an exegesis and
defence of the unsurpassability of ‘absolute reflection’.

Zizek’s Lacanianism is thus not Hegelian; it cannot
acknowledge and incorporate the complexity and
ambivalence highlighted by the second interpretive
tradition. But if Zizek does not in fact succeed in fusing
Lacan and Hegel together, there are grounds for
scrutinizing the success with which he reconciles the
Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment impulses of
his political thinking in general.

In his article on ‘Eastern European Liberalism and its
Discontents’, for example, Zizek argues that liberal
universalism secretes an irrational attachment to
particularity as its necessary counterpart: ‘The Rawlsian
liberal-democratic idea of distributive justice ultimately
relies on a “rational” individual who is able to abstract a
particular position of enunciation, to look upon himself
or herself and all others from a neutral place of pure
“metalanguage” and thus to perceive all their “true
interests”. This individual is the supposed subject of the
social contract that establishes the coordinates of justice.

What is thereby a priori left out of consideration is the
realm of fantasy in which a community organizes its
“way oflife” (its mode of enjoyment). ’56 More generally,
Zizek claims that ‘every “enlightened” political action
legitimized by reference to some form of “true interests”
encounters sooner or later the resistance of a particular
fantasy space: in the guise of the logic of “envy”, or the
“theft of enjoyment”.’ 57 In consequence, ‘the supposedly
neutral liberal democratic framework produces
nationalist closure as its inherent opposite.’58 These
political claims follow directly from Zizek’s conception
of the subject as the counterpart of the traumatic
contingency of the Real, which remains excluded from
the regulated exchanges of the symbolic order.

It is true that Zizek sometimes presents the
attachment of the subject to the contingent ‘Thing’ which
embodies enjoyment as dissoluble. In the essay on
Eastern European liberalism Zizek argues that ‘the way
to break out of the vicious circle is not to fight “irrational”
ethnic particularism but to invent forms of political
practice that contain a dimension of universality beyond
capital’ .59 He suggests that the ecological movement may
embody such a dimension. However, since Zizek
portrays the subject as essentially split between
universality and particularity, it is not clear how the type
of universality invoked can resolve this ontological
dilemma. Similarly, when Zizek attempts to give his
position a critical edge by suggesting that we may bring
ourselves to experience ‘the collapse of the big Other’ –


in other words, of the Symbolic order – or ‘consummate
the act of assuming fully the “nonexistence of the
Other” ‘,60 he ignores the fact, which he stresses
elsewhere, that the Other is a transcendental function
for Lacan. 61 Of course, no particular holder of power can
be equated in his or her function with the ‘Master
Signifier’ , which sustains the Other of the symbolic order
as such. But, at the same time, the tendency towards this
conflation is viewed by Zizek and his school as a
profound and ineradicable feature of human sociality.

These consequences of Zizek’s position could be
summarized in the suggestion that Zizek is ultimately a
‘Right Hegelian’ masquerading – albeit unwittingly – as
a ‘Left Hegelian’ . Zizek views the modem individual as
caught in the dichotomy between his or her universal
status as a member of civil society, and the particularistic
attachments of ethnicity, nation and tradition, and this
duality is reflected in his own ambiguous political profile
– marxisant cultural critic on the international stage,
member of a neo-liberal and nationalistic ally inclined
governing party back home. Indeed, in some respects
Zizek’s stance can be compared with that of the followers
of Joachim Ritter, who powerfully reasserted the rightHegelian tradition in his classic essay on ‘Hegel and the
French Revolution’. For Ritter, ‘Hegel conceives the
dichotomy of historical existence into subjectivity and
objectivity as the form in which its unity maintains itself
and in which the modem world finds its corresponding
shape. ’62 The abstract and ahistorical principle of modem
civil society, as the sphere of interactions between
individuals pursuing their private, naturally determined
interests, paradoxically ‘sets free … the life relationships
which are not reducible to it’ , namely the corresponding
sphere of tradition in which ‘the right of subjectivity’s
particularity and freedom are preserved’ .63
Consequently, Ritter argues, ‘it becomes clear to Hegel
that the dichotomy not only does not have to lead to the
destruction of world-historical continuity, but is
precisely the condition which makes it possible and can
secure the continuance of the substantial order of
tradition within the realm of the modem world. ’64
Ritter’s interpretation of Hegel’s politics is clearly
contentious, and the members of his school have
regularly been attacked by the Left in Germany for their
political disingenuousness. Under the conditions of
contemporary capitalism, it is argued, Ritter’s ‘tradition’

could only take the form of ideological planning, the
provision of a cushion of ‘fake substantiality’, in
Habermas’s phrase, against the harshness of an
increasingly instrumentalized world. At the same time,
Ritter’s account of Entzweiung has a venerable history:

it is a version of the conservative view of Hegelian
‘reconciliation’ as insight into the inevitability of
diremption which is as old as Hegel’s philosophy itself.


Significantly, Zizek takes a similar line.

“‘Reconciliation”,’ he claims, ‘does not convey any kind
of miraculous healing of the wound of scission, it consists
solely in a reversal of perspective by means of which we
perceive how the scission is in itself already
reconciliation … ’65 Indeed, while Ritter’s position
remains true to Hegel’s intentions in so far as it seeks to
strike a balance between universality and particularity,
ahistorical form and historical content, Zizek’s account
of ideological closure explicitly prioritizes particularity
over universality, contingency over necessity, in a way
which denatures the Hegelian dichotomy, however it is
understood, and transforms all reason into
‘rationalization’, in the Freudian sense: ‘A system
reaches its equilibrium, i.e. it establishes itself as a
synchronous totality, when – in Hegelese – it “posits” its
external presuppositions as its inherent moments and
thus obliterates the traces of its traumatic origins. ’66 Thus
if the bad faith of Ritter’s conservatism consists in the
refusal to acknowledge that, under modem conditions,
‘tradition’ inevitably degenerates into ideological
fabrication, the meconnaissance of Zizek’s leftism lies
in his apparent innocence of the fact that his theory
ultimately endorses the covert cynicism of the Ritter

Love and law: tracking the objef a
It was earlier suggested – and, I hope, has been
established by this point – that Zizek’s Lacaniani§m is
not Hegelian. But I now want to ask: is it even Lacanian?

Might it not be the case that Lacan’ s own position is
closer, in its aspirations and oscillations, to the second
reading of Hegel (that of Theunissen and his followers)
than to Manfred Frank’s critique of Hegel’ s theory of

Zizek never ceases to emphasize that the subject must
be seen as the correlative of the opaque stain which Lacan
describes as the objet a. The introduction of the objet a at
the end of the 1950s was indeed the result of Lacan’s
growing realization that something fundamental to the
subject cannot be expressed by the collectively shared,
and thus universal, ‘treasure of the signifier’. As Lacan’s
thought developed, however, he increasingly came to
appreciate that the status of the objet a cannot be reduced
to brute contingency, but derives from the fact that it is
the object of the desire of the Other. Thus, in a certain
sense, the mediation between subject and Other is
restored by the objet a, for this object is phantasized as
securing the being of the subject by embodying that
mysterious part of the subject which is desired by the
Other.67 Of course this relationship, in which the objet a
serves to connect desire to desire, still leaves a
fundamental elusiveness on both sides – the
unknowability of the desire of the Other corresponds to



the unknowability of the self. But it is nevertheless
misleading to suggest, as Zizek frequently does, that the
subject must either accept its own lack (as in earlier
Lacan), or come to terms with the lack in the Other (the
Other’s incapacity to return full recognition). For the lack
of Other is its own lack, and in this sense at least the
subject and the Other are one. According to Zizek the
‘impossibility’ of absolute reflection derives from the
‘dark spot’ in the mirror which is said to be ‘strictly
constitutive of the subject’ .68 But this means that,
properly speaking, he has no account of intersubjectivity
at all. By contrast, for Hegel and – I would argue – for
Lacan, this impossibility stems from the foreclosure by
reflection of its own intersubjective (which does not
mean transparent) ground.

Thus, ultimately, Lacan’s thought can be seen as
directed towards that ‘communicative freedom’ which is
also the focus of Theunissen’ s reading of Hegel. 69 The
conflict between love and recognition (between being
with oneself in the Other, and being with oneself in the
Other) is translated by Lacan into the tension between
love and law, which is generated by the simultaneity of
the non-identity between subject and Other and the
identity implied by the non-identity between both self
and Other and the symbolically mediated relation
between them.70 Lacan faces the question of love when
he asks: what happens when the subject comes face to
face with the object of desire – when it ceases to be the
unconscious object of phantasy? In accepting the
contingency of its own desire, may not the subject be

able to pass beyond it? And at the end of his seminar on
The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis he
concludes that ‘The analyst’s desire is not a pure desire.

It is a desire to obtain absolute difference, a desire which
intervenes when, confronted with the primary signifier,
the subject is, for the first time, in a position to subject
himself to it. There only may the signification of a
limitless love emerge, because it is outside the limits of
the law, where alone it may live.’71
It is important to note that Lacan speaks of a
signification of love ‘outside the limits of the law’. For
there is a tendency in the work of Zizek and his school to
view love as merely a compensatory mirage generated
by law. It is assumed that an ‘inherent impossibility of
attaining the object’ is concealed by the apparent
hindrances to love, that ‘it is the constraint (of discourse,
of the social symbolic structure) that actually produces
love’ as a ‘dissimulation which covers the subject’s own
radical lack’.72 But when Lacan suggests that ‘what is
aimed at in love is the subject, the subject as such, insofar
as it is presupposed behind an articulated phrase, which
is organized, or can be organized, in terms of a life as a
whole’, he does not claim that this integrity ofthe subject
– however difficult – is sheerly unattainable. 73 For all his
pessimism, Lacan was far too astute not to know that an
ontology of ‘inner contingency’, of the foreclosure of
trauma, and thus of insuperable irrationality and
domination, would be no less suspect than one of eirenic
consensus. Indeed, one could claim that, in stressing the
status oflove as the ‘failure of the unconscious’ (in other


words, the paradoxical breakdown of the constitutive
inaccessibility of subjects to each other),14 the final stage
of Lacan’s work confirms Zizek’s hypothesis of the
ultimate convergence of Lacanian and Hegelian thought.

For both Lacan and Hegel can be seen as grappling with
the problem of the relation between love and law, and
thus between ethical life and morality, which is surely
one of the most desperate political questions posed to us
by the modern world. But at the same time Zizek’s
‘Lacanian’ reading of Hegel, which takes the ‘tremor of
reflection’ as Hegel’s final word on subjectivity, and thus
condemns the subject to a perpetual alienation, renders
this question, the true focus of the convergence,
impossible even to frame.

A much earlier version of this article appeared as ‘Hegel in
Analysis: Slavoj Zizek’ s Lacanian Dialectics’ in the Bulletin of
the Hegel Society of Great Britain, nos 21/22, 1990. I am
grateful to the members of the RP Collecti ve for their comments
on the present version, and to Jay Bernstein for his invaluable
marginalia. This text is included in my forthcoming collection
of essays, The Limits ofDisenchantment (Verso, autumn 1995).

1. For a representative sample of the work of the Praxis
School, see Mihailo Markovic and Gajo Petrovic, eds,
Praxis: Yugoslav Essays in the Philosophy and
Methodology of the Social Sciences (Boston Studies in
the Philosophy of Science, vol. XXXVI), Dordrecht,
Holland, Riedel, 1979. See also the journals Praxis, 196574, and Praxis International, 1980-93.

2. Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (hereafter
SOl ), London, Verso, 1989, p. 198.

3. ‘Lacan’s work makes almost no references to Nietzsche.

Lacan always insists on psychoanalysis as a truthexperience: his thesis that truth is structured like a fiction
has nothing to do with the post-structuralist reduction of
the truth-dimension to a textual “truth-effect'” (SOl, p.


Humanities Press, 1989, p. 407.

20. Cf. Fink-Eitel, Dialektik und Sozialethik, p. 114.

21. ‘Human Language … constitutes a communication in
which the sender receives back his own message from the
receiver in an inverted form’ (Jacques Lacan, ‘The
Function and Field of Speech and Language in
Psychoanalysis’, in Ecrits: A Selection, Tavistock,
London; 1977, p. 85).

22. Science of Logic, p. 431.

23. Cf. ibid., p. 432. Miller translates ‘ausschliessende
Reflexion’ more weakly as ‘exclusive reflection’.

24. As Charles Lewis points out in his pioneering, Lacaninflected reading of the Logic, ‘ground’ – as the
determination of the other determination – can thus
‘represent the totality of “Reflexionsbestimmungen”
while being one member of the totality: by ceaselessly
circulating through all the “Wesenheiten” it creates the
totality (and therefore itself) in the act of circulation.’ It
therefore inscribes the ambivalent position of the subject
within the intersubjective field of language. Cf. Charles
Lewis, Hegel’s Critique of Reason, Ph.D. thesis,
University of Cambridge, 1978, p. 175.

25. ‘Concept’ seems preferable as a translation of ‘Begriff to
Miller’s use of the traditional English equivalent ‘Notion’,
with its numinous overtones. ‘Theory’, rather than
‘doctrine’, is often the most idiomatic rendition of ‘Lehre’.

26. Cf. Dialektik und Sozialethik, pp. 193-201.

27. Cf. Christoph Menke, ‘Der “Wendepunkt” des Erkennens:

Zu Begriff, Recht und Reichweite der Dialektik in Hegels
Logik’, in Christoph Demmerling and Friedrich
Kambartel, eds, Vernunftkritik nach Hegel, Frankfurt am
Main, Suhrkamp, 1992, esp. pp. 50-51.

28. Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind. Part Three of the
Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Oxford,
Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 177 (para. 437, Zusatz,
and para. 436, Zusatz).

29. Dialektik und Sozialethik, p. 116.

30. Slavoj Zizek, Enjoy Your Symptom: Jacques Lacan in
Hollywood and Out, New York and London, Routledge,
1992, p. 88.

11. SOl, p. 214.

31. Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 1967, p. 179. This
methodological discrepancy was noted at an early date. In
1821 Nikolaus von Thaden, who had corresponded with
Hegel for many years, sent him a letter in which he
enquired why the logical order introduced in para. 273
had been dropped, and why ‘out of zeal for the princeswhen the only thing at issue is the deduction of the Idea a dogmatic constitution has been preferred to an actual
one?’ As far as we know, the hapless disciple never
received a reply. Cf. Nikolaus von Thaden, ‘Brief an
Hegel (1821)” in Manfred Riedel, ed., Materialien zu
Hegels Rechtsphilosophie, vol. 1, Frankfurt am Main,
Suhrkamp, 1975, pp. 76-80; and Vittorio Hasie, Hegels
System: Band 2: Philosophie der Natur und des Geistes,
Hamburg, Felix Meiner, 1988, p. 568.

12. Cf. Ludwig Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the
Future, Indianapolis, Hackett, 1986, esp. pp. 52-73.

32. Cf. Hegels System: Band 2, p. 570.

33. Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, pp. 179-80 (para. 278).

13. SOl, p. 228.

14. SOl, pp. 227-8.

34. Karl Marx, ‘Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State’, in
Early Writings, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1975, p. 91.

15. Cf. Hinrich Fink-Eitel, Dialektik und Sozialethik:

Kommentierende Untersuchungen zu Hegels ‘Logik’,
Meisenheim, Anton Hain, 1978.

35. ‘The personal majesty of the monarch … as the final
subjectivity of decision, is above all answerability for acts
of government’ (Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, p. 187).

4. SOl, p. 7.

5. ‘Cette alterite est me me la condition de la presence’

(Jacques Derrida, La voix et le phenomene, Paris, PUF,
1968, p. 95).

6. Slavoj Zizek, For They Know Not What They Do:

Enjoyment as a Political Factor (hereafter FTKN) ,
London, Verso, 1991, p. 88.

7. FTKN, p. 86.

8. SOl, p. 208.

9. FTKN, p. 89.

10. Cf. SOl, pp. 213-14.

16. Cf. ibid., pp. 94-5.

17. Ibid., p. 95.

18. Ibid., p. 94.

19. Hegel, Science of Logic, trans. A. V. Miller, New Jersey,


36. Cf. Hegels System: Band 2, p. 570n.

37. Another glaring example of this abuse of Hegel’s thought
is Zizek’s repeated citation ofthe phrase ‘Spirit is a bone’,
from the phrenology chapter of the Phenomenology of
Spirit, as if this were Hegel’s definitive statement on

Spirit. Cf. Sal, pp. 207-9; FTKN, p. 119, etc. The claim
that Zizek arbitrarily arrests the movement of Hegel’s
thought is of course the basis of Rodolphe Gasche’s reply
to the critique of his own position in FTKN, pp. 72-80.

Unfortunately, the issues here are almost hopelessly
tangled. Gasche is certainly right to complain that Zizek
creates ‘the deceptive impression that Hegel’s concept of
identity is always already bereft of its absolute telos’ (Cf.

Gasche, ‘Yes Absolutely’, in Inventions ofDifference: On
Jacques Derrida, Cambridge Mass., Harvard University
Press, 1994, p. 213 and pp. 278-9, n.14). However,
Gasche wants to claim both that Hegel moves beyond the
antinomies of reflection with his concept of ‘absolute
identity’ and that deconstruction can unpick absolute
identity without becoming re-entangled in those
antinomies. It is these claims which Zizek rightly rejects
as implausible. In developing a deconstruction of absolute
identity (as being constituted through its relation to an
unmasterable other, etc.), Gasche simply reproduces
Hegel’s own critical ‘logic of reflection’ . Furthermore, in
so far as he tries to place deconstruction beyond this logic
by appealing to an Otherness which would not be ‘an
Otherness in opposition to identity’ (ibid., p. 279), he sets
up a non-relation between identity and Otherness which
immediately triggers the paradoxes of reflection (e.g.

Gasche’s ‘infrastructures’ must be without relation to
identity, yet they cannot be because they are ‘quasitranscendentally’ constitutive of it, and thus inevitably
contaminated by it). But this does not mean that Zizek’s
view is ultimately to be preferred because it stresses the
unsurpassability of these paradoxes. Rather, the move
beyond reflection which Gasche terms ‘philosophical
thinking’ (ibid.) needs to be understood not in terms of a
self-defeatingly theoreticist version of deconstruction, but
in terms of the opening of thought towards the tension of
love and recognition.

38. Cf. FTKN, pp. 94-5n.

39. Both quotations are from Ecrits: A Selection, p. 296.

40. Jacques Lacan, ‘Reponses a des etudiants en philosophie
sur l’objet de la psychanalyse’, in Cahiers pour I ‘analyse,
no. 3, May-June 1966, p. 6.

41. Slavoj Zizek, Le plus sublime des hysteriques – Hegel
passe, Paris, Point Hors Ligne, 1988, p. 159.

53. ‘ … the universal is, in its other, in peaceful communion
with itself. We have called it free power, but it could also
be called free love and boundless blessedness, for it bears
itself towards its other as towards its own self; in it, it has
returned to itself’ (Science of Logic, p. 603. Cf. Sein und
Schein, pp. 42-6).

54. Dialektik und Sozialethik, p. 205.

55. Ibid., p. 142.

56. Slavoj Zizek, ‘Eastern European Liberalism and its
Discontents’, New German Critique, no. 57, Fall 1992, p.


57. Ibid., p. 45.

58. Ibid., p. 47.

59. Ibid., pp. 46-7.

60. Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying with the Negative, Durham NC,
Duke University Press, 1993, p. 237.

61. Enjoy Your Symptom, p. 103.

62. Joachim Ritter, ‘Hegel and the French Revolution’, in
Hegel and the French Revolution: Essays on the
Philosophy of Right, Cambridge Mass., MIT Press, 1984,

63. Ibid., pp. 77, 79.

64. Ibid., p. 78.

65. FTKN, p. 78.

66. Tarrying with the Negative, p. 227. For Zizek’s formal
argument that ‘Necessity arises out of contingency’, and
is thus inherently ideological, cf. ‘Why Should a
Dialectician Learn to Count to Four?’, Radical Philosophy
58, Summer 1991.

67. Zizek ignores this ‘return’ to intersubjective mediation
when he writes that ‘in his Seminar on Transference
(1960-1961), Lacan renounced the motif of
intersubjectivity: what is lost in it is the fact that, to a
subject, another subject is first and foremost an object (a),
that which prevents him from fully realizing himself. .. ‘

(Enjoy Your Symptom, p. 139). For the development of
Lacan’s theory of the object a, see Catherine Millot,
Nobodaddy: L’hysterie dans le siecle, Paris, Point Hors
Ligne, 1988,pp.87-113.

68. FTKN, p. 88.

42. Ibid., p. 154.

69. Cf. Sein und Schein, pp. 37ff.

43. Cf. Dialektik und Sozialethik, p. 203.

44. Enjoy your Symptom, p. 137.

70. This structure could thus be termed the ‘difference of
identity and difference’; its fundamental signifier in
Lacan’s work is, of course, the phallus. In a Lacanian
reading of the Logic which differs strikingly from that of
Zizek, Charles Lewis has suggested that the category of
ground, which ‘circulates’ between the two poles of
essence and thus resolves its antinomy, inscribes this
function of the phallus. Cf. Hegel’s Critique of Reason, p.

175n and note 23 above. Whether Lacan is justified in
describing this function as essentially phallic is, of course,
a highly contested issue to which I intend to return

71. Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of
Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth, Peregrine, 1986, p. 276.

72. Cf. Slavoj Zizek, The M etastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays
on Woman and Causality, London, Verso, 1994, p. 94;
and Renata Salecl, ‘Love: Providence of Despair’ ,in New
Formations, no. 23, Summer 1994 (Special issue on
‘Lacan and Love’), pp. 22, 24.

45. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller,
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, p. 10.

46. ‘The truth of being is essence’ is the first sentence of the
‘Doctrine of Essence’.

47. Cf. Dieter Henrich, ‘Hegels Logik der Reflexion’, in Hegel
im Kontext, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1971, p. 109.

Cf. Also Henrich, ‘Hegels Grundoperation’, in U. Guzzoni
et aI., eds, Der Idealismus und seine Gegenwart,
Hamburg, Felix Meiner, 1976.

48. Cf. ibid., p. 111.

49. Cf. Manfred Frank, Der unendliche Mangel an Sein:

Schellings Hegelkritik und die Anfange der marxschen
Dialektik, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1975, p. 57.

50. Cf. ibid., p. 50.

51. For a sample of Theunissen’ s approach in English, see
‘The Repressed Intersubjectivity in Hegel’s Philosophy
of Right’, in Drucilla Cornell et aI., eds, Hegel and Legal
Theory, London and New York, Routledge, 1991.

Prospective readers should be warned that the translation
is seriously garbled.

52. Science of Logic, p. 591. Cf. Michael Theunissen, Sein
und Schein: Die kritische Funktion der Hegelschen Logik,
Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1980, p. 332.

73. Jacques Lacan, Le Seminaire livre XX: Encore, Paris,
Seuil, 1975, p. 48.

74. Cf. the deliriously punning title of one of Lacan’s last
seminars: L’insu-que-sait de I’ Une-bevue s ‘aile amourre
(‘L’insucces de l’Unbewusst, c’est l’amour’). For this late
thematics of love in Lacan, cf. Serge Andre, Que veut une
femme?, Paris, Navarin, 1986, ch. 14.


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