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Lacan: A Reply to Rée

can also draw on a vertical account of the
development of structures of interaction.

Despite this enrichment, however, critical
theory – in so far as it is a theory of contemporary society – retains its essentially historical
and practical nature (12).

The question whether McCarthy is correct in
believing that Habermas’ later writings do represent an adequate integration of that which is historical and that which is general cannot be answered on
the basis of the above depiction of Habermas’ later
writings. Rather what I hope to have illustrated in
the above is merely the nature of the issues with
which Habermas is dealing. The reason I have
proceeded along this path is because I believe that
whatever the validity of Habermas’ specific claims,
in his later as in his earlier works, the issues are
crucial. To paraphrase Sartre on Marx: Habermas
is dealing with problems we have not yet gone
beyond. Whether Habermas has adequately provided

us with a critical social theory, he has at least
provided us with an important description of its
necessary components. Most importantly, he has
helped elaborate the conception of social inquiry
as fundamentally a process in which ‘all are participants’ and whose object is the transformation of
our lives.

1 Thomas McCarthy, The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas,- cambridge,
Mass., 1978. The book is reviewed in the Reviews section of this issue of
Radical Philosophy.

2 Jurgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, Boston, 1971.

3 ibid, p. vii.

4 Jurgen Habermas, Theory and Practice, London, 1974, p285 n38. See also
McCarthy’s discussion of this issue in op. cit. pp110-25.

5 Jurgen Habermas, ‘A Postscript to Knowledge and Human Interests’,
Philosophy of the Social Sciences, vol. 3, no.2, p176.

6 Knowledge and Human Interests, pp52 -53.

7 ibid, p55.

8 Theory and Practice, p32.

9 A good discussion of this point is in Charles Taylor, The Explanation of
‘Behavior, New York, 1964, Chapters VI and VII.

10 Knowledge and Human Interests, p217.

11 The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas, pp94-95.

12 ibid, p270. Note McCarthy’s more extended discussion of this issue on

I won’t comment on Jonathan Ree’s harsh and
over-personalised attack on Coward and Ellis
(Radical Philosophy 23) except to say it was at the
least unfraternal – whatever the inadequacies of
Coward and Ellis’ position it is not one that offers
much comfort to Sir Keith Joseph and his like. But
it was a pity that Lacan, about whom we are sure
to hear a lot more, should first surface in Radical
Philosophy in this context. He deserves better. It
may be that people trained in modes of representation (e. g.literary criticism) find Lacan easier
meat than those trained in philosophy. Ree honestly
confesses his difficulties; he finds Lacan’s relation
of signifier and unconscious ‘particularly obscure’

and cannot tell whether his theory of ego formation
is superior to Freud’s. Rather than run through an
irritating list of disagreements with Ree it would
be more constructive to attempt a positive if
simplified and abbreviated summary of two main
areas in Lacan’s projected integration of Saussurian linguistics and Freudian psychoanalysis, the
construction of the subject in language, the entry
of the subject into language (‘subject’ because
‘thrown under’ and into a pre-existing process
rather than ‘individual’, the self-sufficient subject
from Latin individuus, ‘undivided’).

That the ego is in and for itself (‘I think therefore
I am f), owing nothing to anyone, dependent upon
nothing but itself and thus freely owning commodities, freely exchanging labour power for wages,
acting freely according to or against the law, freely
choosing its political representatives – all this is
the central support in bourgeois ideology, as
Althusser (under the influence of Lacan) tries to
argue in the ISA’s essay. Lacan offers to explain
how the ego comes to conceive itself in an autonomy,
to think itself as a source of meaning. It really is

very hard to root out the idea (it saturates our
language) that there is somehow an’!’ already
there prior to or back from its ‘expression’

(expression means to make outward what was
inward without altering its nature). For example,
M. A. K. Halliday in Language as Social Semiotic
In essence, what seems to happen is this. The
child first constructs a language in the form of
a range of meanings that relate directly to
certain of his basic needs. As time goes on
the meanings become more complex, and he
replaces this by a symbolic system – a semantic
system with structural realizations – based on
the language he hears around him; this is what
we call his ‘mother tongue’.

Here we are shown a little man at work – he has
needs, replaces them, he hears language. The
subject is already there prior to language. And
sexed. On Lacan’s showing 1 don’t speak since the
‘1’ which speaks only exists within language; I
don’t learn to talk since this ‘I’ we persist in
referring to only comes into existence in learning
to talk. In other words you can’t step over your own

The Subject in Language. Saussure demonstrated
the relation of signifier (‘sound image ‘) and signified (‘concept’) as arbitrary not inherent. Obviously
the meaning holding together signifier and signified
is social, a semantic organisation ideologically
constituted. Yet there must be a process by which
language is internalised in and for the subject, how
the signifier is lined up with the signified for the
subject to intend meaning. Because signifiers
relate only to each other in a system of differences
(‘each linguistic term derives its value from its

opposition to all the other terms’, Saussure, p88},
there is ‘an incessant sliding of the signified under
the signifier’ {Lacan, p154}. However, Saussure
distinguishes the syntagmatic axis of language from
the paradigmatic or associative. Syntagmatic is the
linear dimension of language most apparent in the
sentence, the ‘horizontal’ chain in which meaning
is sequentially differentiated so that ‘I like Ike’

means something different from ‘I like honey’ or
‘I like Benn’; paradigmatic is the ‘vertic aI’ dimension of possible substitutions and associations
dependent on a term in the syntagmatic chain
(instead of ‘like’ there are ‘hate’ / ‘smite’ / ‘fight’

and ‘dislike’ / ‘will like’ / ‘liked’ / ‘have 1iked’ and
‘strike’/’bike’/’tike’ etc etc). Meaning inheres in
the syntagmatic chain (‘it is in the chain of the
signifier that meaning “insists”‘, Lacan, p153) but
only becomes intended there as meaning through
exclusion of the paradigmatic associations. The
coherence of the subject, its ability to intend
meaning, is constituted along the syntagmatic chain
as a ‘single voice’ sustaining meaning and so itself
sustained in this ‘linearity’ (p154 again). The
Freudian ego is developed as a split in the subject,
Cs/Uos: the Lacanian ego is developed as this
split between meaning intended in the syntagmatic
chain and the whole resonating mass of associated
and associating signifiers which are excluded for
meaning to take place in and for the subject. The
whole difficulty of trying to say this is that our
language and culture would commit us to description either of an objective and subjectless process
(it happens this way – abstract nouns and passive
verbs) or how people originate meanings (we do this
– personal pronouns and active verbs). For Lacan
as for Caudwell ‘object and subject. .. come into
being simultaneous’ and the attempt to force this on
our language accounts for some seemingly baroque
c ircumlocutions.

Language Entry. In Beyond the Pleasure Princ iple
Freud describes a child (his grandson) who at 18
months repeats the game of lost and found with a
cotton reel, each time saying ‘fort’ (‘gone’) and ‘da’

(‘there’). Freud interprets the repetition as the
child mastering the absence of his mother by speak-

ing of it. Lacan perSistently comes back to this,
the Fort/Da game, as exemplum of language entry.

It is not that the absence, the meaning ‘mummy
gone’, was always there for the child who suddenly
recognises it (and who was there to recognise it);
it is rather that entering language the infant enters
a presence/absence system in which the lack of the
mother is brought into being as such – ‘the child’s
whole universe is divided whereas previously it was
wholly and without mediation, satiety or void’ (see
Coward and Ellis, p96). On the one hand absence
because signifiers relate only to each other in a
system of differences with no ‘positive’ content
(the ‘0’ of fort and the ‘A’ of da define each other
as opposing phonemes); on the other hand presence
since meaning ‘insists’ in the syntagmatic chain, is
the coherent progression from ‘fort’ (‘gone! ‘) to
‘da’ (‘there! ‘). Language brings into being for the
subject a gap, a ditch on the frontier of its domain,
which it tries to fill with the kind of meaning
language also makes possible.

None of this is so far away from our common or
garden experience of how babies grow. For
example Spock (Baby and Child Care, para 348)
describes how a 3 month old who smiles at everyone
becomes a 5 month old who cries when a stranger
approaches. He adds, not surprisingly, ‘Probably
the main cause of this behavior is that he is now
smart enough to distinguish between friend and
stranger’. As the distinction between friend and
stranger, mummy and not mummy, opens up for
the infant, so it enters language; and vice versa.

For Lacan the consciousness of the subject
depends upon its being (in language) and cannot
exist apart from this. This is, at the least, not
incompatible with historical materialism and
contrary to Ree gives Lacan an inte:cest and
importance well beyond the clinical.

Rudolph Bahro, The Alternative in Eastern Europe,
New Left Books, 1978, £9.50 hc
Bahro’s book is the most significant normative
work yet to emerge from the experience of post1945 Eastern Europe. It is, in addition, probably
the most important Marxist discussion in decades
of the reJation of the ultimdte goals of socialism to
the interlocking hierarchies of scientific knowledge,
political power, and economic advantage which
dominate what Bahro calls ‘actually existing
socialism ‘. The Alternative is also a book which,
by the very breadth of its enquiry, necessarily
contains a number of contradictions and inadequacies. As it has been fairly widely reviewed, 1 will

try to concentrate on those areas which have not
been the subject of much attention elsewhere.

What does merit reiteration, however, is that
Bahro’s critique of Soviet-style socialism is
written from the inside of the system, with a view
to rendering it more Marxist rather than simply
less authoritarian. Bahro’s education in philosophy,
and experience as a party member, economist,
journalist, and trade -union functionary in East
Germany have given him a much richer perspective
than that often found in dissentipg criticism.

Though he now resides in exile in West Germany,
following his recent release from prison, Bahro’s
writing was done over a period of four years while
he was still an employee of the state, and he is

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