File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0112, message 131

Date: Wed, 26 Dec 2001 20:50:19 -0600
Subject: libidinal ethics


I will freely grant you that Kant in the conventional sense is what
Badiou is attacking, but what I am proposing is reading Kant in 
the unconventional sense. 

My argument is that if Kant is re-interpreted in this way, then there
are some strong similarities with Badiou.

What I want to open up for discussion here is a psychoanalytical reading
of ethics. You have alluded to this yourself, but so far you haven't
gone into this in any great detail.

In the "Ethics of the Real" Alenka Zupancic points out that Kant's
categorical imperative cannot simply be reduced to the superego. 
Instead, what is significant about Kant's radical break with traditional
ethics is that Kant sees ethics as the demand for the impossible. The
question of the possibility of fulfilling one's duty is irrelevant from
a Kantian perspective. This links the categorical imperative to the
structure of desire. Both act in ways that ignore the reality principle.

The second breakthrough is that Kant rejects an ethics based upon the
distribution of goods, an ethics that is based on what is good for
others.  From Aristotle to Bentham, the stance of ethics to desire had
always been to make desires wait, to invoke ethics as a kind of delaying
tactic; a bridle upon the wild horses.

Kant introduces the dimension of desire into ethics and brings it to its
pure state. As Zupancic puts it, "In relation to the smooth course of
events, life as governed by the reality principle, ethics always
apprears as something excessive, as a disturbing interruption."

This is in line with what the translator of Badiou's Ethics, Peter
Hallward, states as well in the introduction.  "Since 'normal' conscious
life (your psychological status quo) is structured around the repression
of this Real, access to it must be achieved by the essential encounter
(i.e. what Badiou will call an event, a happening which escapes all
structuring 'normality'.) Ethics is what helps the subject to endure
this encounter, and its consquences."

This links Badiou's ethical project to Kant's because "like Badiou, Kant
abstracts questions of ethics from all 'sensibility', and also like
Badiou, he posits the universal as the sole legitimate basis for
subjective action, that the familar command to 'act on a maxim that at
the same time contains in itself its own universal validity for every
rational being;.  It was Kant who first evacuated the ethical command of
any substantial content, so as to ground ethical 'fidelity' in nothing
other than the subject's own prescription."

"Kant's very procedure-the evacuation of all heteronomous interests and
motives, the suspension of all references to 'psychology' and 'utility',
all allusion to any 'special property of human nature', all calculation
required to obtain 'happiness' or 'welfare' - bears some resemblance to
Badiou's. What remains paramount for both is a specifically subjective
(and explicitly 'infinite') power."

What I would like to discuss is this very possibility of linking
psychoanalysis with ethics in order to create a libidinal ethics in
which the categorical imperative is reconfigured as a drive, based upon
desire.  (I will, therefore I can.... I can't go on, I will go on). 

Also, how does ethics in this sense link to Lyotard's reading of the
ethical in general and of Kant specifically? What is the relation of the
ontological sublime (as opposed to the merely aesthetic sublime) to
ethics in this sense?

Is there a way to re-read Kant that does not merely construe him as the
spokesman for universal human rights and a slavish devotion to duty,
that would restore some of Kant's radical potential for reconfiguring



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