File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2000/habermas.0007, message 23

Subject: Re: HAB: RE: habermas and brandom
Date: Sun, 23 Jul 2000 14:43:33 -0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)

On Mon, 24 Jul 2000 00:05:06 +1000 Rob Schaap <> 

> Well, we needn't read "nonobjectively present" as "objectively absent", so, 
thankfully, we don't have to conclude that meaning can not exist.

Meaning does not objectively exist, which isn't to say that it does not exist 
"for us." Meaning is purely subjective (we might say that meaing is the 
"fantasy-frame" through which we view 'reality' - but at the same time we 
should not be so silly as to assume that it does not "lean on" (anaklisis) 
objective reality.

> What is the point of coming up with this autonomous category of 'imaginary'? 
Perhaps I misunderstand you, but we do not imagine with the things and events we
are imagining, so with what do we imagine?  Or are you heroically defending the 
(logically presocial) autonomous subject here?

I think it is important to note the language is situated within a field of 
meaning. In other words, language 'in-itself' has no meaning (unless it is 
translated into our native tongue). This field itself is only comprehensible 
within language but not exhausted by it. The crucial idea here is that 
consciousness is grounded both linguistically *and* imagistically (we can 
detect in Habermas's essays on Kant and Hegel his real point of identification 
- Kant - where Kant's transcendental "I" is reformulated into a transcendental 
"we"). The problem Habermas faces is quite similar to the Sadeian trap that 
Kant falls into (as Horkheimer and Adorno and, independently, Lacan have 
pointed out). Any attempt, in discourse, to exhaust this rich imaginary will 
end in failure - which is why, in my last post of Kant, I attempted to argue 
for a shift in emphasis from consensus to the process of signification (the 
ongoing project of generating new 'metaphors' and forging new 'images'). 
Castoriadis talks about the "monadic core of subjectivity" which also includes 
an autonomous moment for the imaginary. There is something both true and false 
about this. First, these images don't come from just anywhere - they are 
assimilated through formative intersubjective processes. Second, at the same 
time, we can't pin the imaginary down linguistically (not completely anyway).
So I wouldn't say that I'm defending a presocial autonomous subject here. The 
point would be that subjectivity is a "forced choice" - either one is 
socialized or one cannot become a subject, but the choice must be "constituted" 
by the subject as a free choice (failure to do so result in what Lacan calls a 
failure it internalize a master signifier - ie. an inability to situate oneself 
coherently in language - which is the definition of psychosis). Here we have 
freedom creating itself out of itself - hence my comment about creation ex 

Let's take a simple example: chair. If I say "chair" we both likely have a 
pretty good understanding about the objectivity of chairs. But the meaning of 
the word, apart from the definition, is quite different for both of us - there 
is a web of associations --> hair, care, air as well as a series of images that 
appear to us the moment we try to picture a chair - wooden, steel... and all of 
the extremes of what we might consider a chair - a sofa, a couch, a table, a 
foot-stool, a the head of a department, a CEO... and so on. In effect, although 
we can agree that a chair is a chair, in this instance - a sitting apparatus - 
the "meaning" of "chair" has both conscious and unconscious associations that 
we can explicate to each other only to a certain degree. Ultimately, our 
"chair" is completely "our own" which "our own" pointing to the fact that what 
is "ours" is really the "Others" since the definition of chair was given to us, 
as children... and all of the associations stem from our subjectivization and 
significationization (ouch) of objective reality.

In short, any agreement we reach about the "meaning" of a chair requires a 
double deception: first, we will quickly see that defining a chair is 
impossible, which then becomes instrumental in falling for the second 
deception, which is the definition of a chair that we agree on (we know it is 
impossible, but we suspend this difficulty anyway). In a sense, we tell the 
truth as if it were a lie. This double deception is operative in relation to 
the truth claims we make about chairs: which is understood not in terms of a 
formal system of semantics as corresponding with reality, but rather in terms 
of the existence of the Other, an ideal witness who transcends the 
particularities of intersubjective relations. Our agreement about the 
definition of a chair can only be purchased by suspending its meaning, which we 
know to be a deceptive lure, albeit constitutive of defining "chair" in the 
first place. There is a nice discussion of this paradox in Henry Krips book 
Fetish: An Erotics of Culture.


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