Lacan, Kristeva, Qohelet: Enfolding Wisdom (Part I)

This post aims to make head-way on the question of Enfolding Wisdom.

We have surpassed the anxiety of beginning to begin, and now we may at last begin. Here, we are to begin to head down the Wilderness path known to us as Wisdom. We stand at the beginning of this path, daring to begin our first steps. It is as though immediately we face an obstacle of entanglement, the obstacle of the Borromean knot in all of its instantiations, like a prickly bush blocking our way. Or, we must stop to tie our shoes. But why not wear sandals instead? Let us proceed carefully, knowing that as Foucault writes: “Knowledge is not for knowing: knowledge is for cutting”.

Following the realization of ordinary non-acrobatics, each of the many (see here) tags which pervade this post, as well as my many other posts, are now understood as reminders that we are not alone in this task.

Lacan’s psychosis:

Jacques Lacan, in Seminar XXIII on Le sinthome (see .pdf here), writes:

And what I am allowing myself, in short, to put forward, is that writing, on this occasion, changes the meaning, the mode of what is at stake, and what is at stake is this philia of Wisdom. What is Wisdom? This is what is not very easy to support otherwise than by writing, from the writing of the noeud bo itself. So that in short, pardon my infatuation, what I am doing, what I am trying to do with my noeud bo is nothing less than the first philosophy that it appears to me can be supported. [...]  So then, what does this give us if we refer to practice? The fact is that man, not God, is a trinitary compound; a trinitary compound of what we will call elements. What is an element? An element is what makes One. In other words, the unary trait. What makes One, on the one hand, and what, because of making One, initiates substitution. The characteristic of an element, is that one proceeds to a combinatorial of them. So then Real, Imaginary and Symbolic, is just as valid, after all, it seems to me, as the other triad of which, in listening to Aristotle, anyway, the gravy to compose man was made up of, namely, nous, psuche, soma. Or again: will, intelligence, affectivity.

I may agree with Lacan’s final statement of his account of the Borromean knot as being “just as valid” as Aristotle. And, in taking on the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, I myself have written on sentient intelligence (see here) and affective connaturality (see here) and briefly on “will” in my understanding of entensionality (see here) as a means of moving with-and-beyond it. In the same way, I cannot personally be satisfied with the Borromean knot, and must go further to find a way to enfold it.

Nor, therefore, can I be satisfied with Levi Bryant’s use of it in his Borromean Critical Theory (see recent video here) insofar as it remains marked as it were by the Lacanian tradition.

Despite these and related efforts, Lacan and his “Dynamic Lacanian” friends (see here) have merely isolated and identified Wisdom as such: yet they do not yet have it, or embody it.

Therefore, I cannot at present “forgive” (to use his term) their infatuation as it were with knots and knotting, in lieu of Wisdom. Put quite straight-forwardly: Lacan does not, as of this twenty-third seminar, begin to acquire Wisdom. He has only just gotten over the post-modern anxiety of “beginning to begin”, and stands like us now at the start of the path. He only goes so far as to demonstrate, and quite conclusively, that Wisdom exists as a “phenomenal actualization” of Man.

He may have, for instance, the under-pinning of a personal philosophy, but he does not yet know how to “live in the world with others” so to speak — a task which seems to greatly surpass the former realization in terms of ordinarily pragmatic importance.

To draw a comparison, Lacan has realized no more than, say, the mid-19th century American theologian Horace Bushnell, who understood “that the Godhead is instrumentally three simply as related to our finite apprehension, and the communication of God’s incommunicable nature”.

Very well!

For these honest views, however, Rev. Bushnell was nearly brought to trial for heresy. For Lacan’s part, on the other hand, we do not yet know the consequences…

I am drawn to consider the possibility of Lacan’s own psychosis, upon encountering an interview with the practicing Lacanian psychoanalyst Elizabeth Lagache, whose project is to compare the discourses of Lacan and Artaud. On the question of Lacan’s immense admiration for the “psychotic” Joyce, Lagache hints the following (see here):

So I don’t know if you’re familiar with L’s whole take on Joyce, but it would be worthwhile for you to have a look at it. Because at least in that case, there is something that is directly applied to somebody whom L admires enormously, admires and loves, Joyce. And this despite the fact that he’s psychotic, according to him. You know, L isn’t far off from suspecting himself of psychosis, at times [iv]. All those nosologies and structures, ‘who is normal’s and ‘who isn’t’s, the stuff we dwell in, in our solitary hours, and that emergence we make into some sort of daily routine with the appearance of psychic normalcy… Because A still had friends, successes, some kind of social link. He did things. He was appreciated and loved by people. His relationship with Rivière [...]

[footnote iv] Meta- thought: If Lacan hypothesizes that he is himself a psychotic, than how far off is he from suggesting that his work is his sinthome? And that psychoanalysis, as a process of symbolization (= “the act of writing down something that doesn’t exist”, as Lagache defines it several pages down”), is just that fourth knot, keep the borromean RSI (real, symbolic, imaginary) from becoming undone? And that is therefore always itself verging on the edge of psychosis? I.e., that the end of analysis could itself be an attempted reintegration of the womb, a nihilistic asceticism?

I agree with her until, well, the last three words.

In Bubbles, Peter Sloterdijk’s critique of the entire Lacanian tradition comes by way of an extended attempted reintegration of the womb, for instance.

But, the question is not of “a nihilistic asceticism”, for we have already dealt with that subject with Novalis, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche (see here). Instead, the nihilism turns in on itself, an-nihilates itself, and is experienced instead as a joyous abundance which brings forth an affirmation of life in a “second life” (see here). These “fragments of the feminine sublime”Wi are found already in the work of Schlegel and Joyce, in a book of the same name (see here).

To rid oneself of this psychosis, it becomes evident that Lacan and Lacanians alike must begin together on the road of acquiring Wisdom.

The beginning of Wisdom:

Let us not dodge the question: How, then, does one acquire Wisdom?

Or, what is the beginning of Wisdom? How does Lacan’s idea of the “unitary trait” come to be in the first place? In Proverbs, there are several verses which set us off again on the road beyond Lacan. Luckily, we do also have some words of guidance from the integrated fragments of the Qohelet (“the Assembler”) among others.

Consider for a moment the following two verses from the Wisdom literature:

Proverbs 4:7 “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”

Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

From inside the “critical” perspective, to say the least, these passages do not seem very helpful.

Can we even understand them from the vantage of critique, without standing-under or otherwise standing-before the One, without the truly under-standing rhythm of the Under-man? (see here). In any case, why should we bother exploring the limits of critique so long as our RSI-machine is working? So long as the money is rolling in, so long as we are constantly booking conferences, so long as we are winning the admiration of our peers, so long as we are selling books… so long as the machine is cutting, then why bother?

In any case, I will gladly join James Hillman in saying: No cuts! (see here and here)

But let us bracket that question for a moment.

If we are concerned at all with construct awareness (see here), or with odd-sounding Jungian jobs like “shadow work”, or if we follow through with what I’ve called pre-adumbration (see here) which is like a “meta-shadow-work” … a work on shadows before there is even a shadow to be cast … then we may learn to listen so that we may “see” with a Vision-beyond-vision (see here) the limitations of “the machine” well in advance. That is, we may recognize as does everybody else that sometimes, the machine breaks from a Crisis within the system. Sometimes, a Crisis throws a wrench in the machine from without of it.

In any event, I believe – and it is important that the “I” believes this, in trusting his or her integrity — that the Crisis commands (see here).

If we listen carefully, this concern was similarly pointed out by Julia Kristeva, who writes the following, to be explicitly taken as a remark of caution: “Current attempts to put an end to human subjecthood (to the extent that it involves subjection to meaning) by proposing to replace it with space (Borromean knots, morphology of catastrophies), of which the speaker would be merely a phenomenal actualization, may seem appealing.” (see here). Of note, Sloterdijk pulls almost excessively from Kristeva’s critique of the Lacanian tradition, so there is a certain thread we are to follow here on our pursuit of Wisdom.

Is it perhaps Lacan’s sinthome, his work itself? Do they “seem appealing” because they (often quite visibly) stand-in the place of Wisdom, acting as a substitute for it? Or, as Terence Blake puts it clearly: IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID? (see here). The answer seems to be yes.

Non-machinic intentionality:

This debate has already played itself out, revealing its implications even in the given context of Joyce (i.e. Eco calls Finnigan’s Wake a “textual machine”), in the field of semiotic theory. The “machinic” question in semiotics is posed as follows, in Kathleen O’Grady’s essay in Feminist philosophy of religion: critical readings, beginning page 154 (see here):


For more in this direction, I highly recommend her other article “The Pun or the Eucharist?: Eco and Kristeva on the consummate model for the metaphoric process” in Literature and Theology (1997) 11(1): 93-115 (see abstract here).

Moving beyond Eco’s “metaphorical machines”, Kristeva brings out the non-machinic which enfolds Eco’s machines, just as Laruelle brings out the non-acrobatic (see here) which under-stands the acrobats. Kristeva’s theory, then, can include the speaking subject in any theory of language. A consequence of this is also that she does so without violence. Levi Bryant’s machine-oriented ontology (MOO) arguably has the same kind of limitations as Umberto Eco’s metaphor-machines. As such, it still cuts the vulnerable who are without the intellectual tools to combat its topological space of Mastery. In a word, it strikes down — coup after coup — those who speak a language which is not understood by Lacanese.

With Bryant, however, the limitations of the machinic account are no longer strictly “semiotic”, but the movement instead pervades the very gesture of knotting in and of itself.

I believe, given my limited knowledge, that Levi’s tripartite Borromean Critical Theory will eventually be enfolded by a more “balanced” 4-quadrant approach, in the same way as the Christian Trinity was given a decidedly Gnostic-twist by Jung’s Quaternity in Answers to Job. That is, Levi, by comparison, still faces the looming “problem of evil” but — like the devout Christian — he does not recognize it as such because machines do not seem to produce this question. Nonetheless, the structural similarities with BCT and Christianity are striking.

In this way, I will echo recent concerns (most recently expressed here) of Bryant and his willful ignorance of the question of non-machinic intentionality. Adding the ‘h’ to Eco’s name in this way …is it a matter of what Massingnon calls “sacred hospitality”?

Back on the road to acquiring Wisdom, we find that we may articulate a fourth element already contained in the intentional performance of the three (rings):

“Jung over and over again in his writings returns to the alchemical question: “Three are here but where is the fourth?” (Edinger 189). The completion of the quaternity is seen frequently in alchemical works, even whimsically, “All things do live in the three/ But in the four they merry be” (quoted in CW 12 125) (see here).

Indeed, this feminine voice of Wisdom is also always already present in Ecclesiastes, as the Hebrew קהלת (Qohelet) is a feminine noun.

That is, already do we see several potential (notably, also more “feminine”) candidates for enfolding Bryant found in Ken Wilber’s AQAL model in Integral theory, who is currently in the process of ruthlessly critiquing Critical Realism (see here). To give one last example, Franz Bardon, a thinker of hermetic Magick known also for his resistance against Nazism, also understands a “tetrapolar magnetism”. The list, undoubtedly, may continue…

The lesson remains: I believe the “masculinity” of Bryant’s machines is overthrown by the (theo-)poetic, soft, but nonetheless radically subversive “feminine” voice of Wisdom.

Enfolding Bryant:

Wittgenstein wrote, that ‘Philosophy unties the knots in our thinking; hence its result must be simple, but philosophising has to be as complicated as the knots it unties’ (1967: Section 452).

Likewise, Kris Coffield of fractalpolitics (see here) argues that Bryant in his knotting has not accounted for the complexity of “differential becomings” of a non-systemic type – i.e. which escape the symbolic image of the Borromean knot – and as such his thought arguably remains entangled on a basic level.

Here is his short video entitled “Becoming, Object-Oriented”

We may say that Coffield here has — I think successfully — enfolded Bryant’s approach.

To enfold here means roughly: To transcend and include. Or, as my site’s tag-line reads, I prefer the phrase to move “with-and-beyond”.

Insightful and extensive discussion rages on the fruits, if any, that may turn up in the debris of SR/OOO (see here). The users there  are – I think rightfully – concluding in some capacity or another that Bryant’s model is far too simplistic, but that Lacan’s terms like sinthome and objet petit a nonetheless offer some useful “objects” for continuing movements of thought (…for “forget me knots” and “image stigmata” see here). In fact, with the work of Joseph Camosy, we already have talk of enfolding even Ken’s Wilber-5 model with a “Cube of Space” approach (see here).

Many possible questions arise: Do we designate “Wisdom” as the sinthome-to-enjoy which keeps the knots together, or do we rather give it a “quadrant” of its own. If so, then I might suggest Bryant does not seem to be dancing in Wisdom as perhaps Novalis or Nietzsche may — quite the contrary, with his “materialist” and “machinic” and “systematic” attitude.

In a Christological or otherwise theological context, the analogous question arises: How significant is this feminine Wisdom relative to the Trinity-as-construct? Ought one worship it as one would, say, the Holy Spirit? Is it a kindred spirit? Must Christians go as far as Jung’s 4-fold explicit gnosis? Is Wisdom more a matter of understanding of how to wield this tripartite ornament? Is it rather embodied, like a certain intentional stance or orientation? Do we “carry it in our hearts” so to speak? etc.

In any event, Camosy equates MOO and IT as follows:

The Real = the material.  Analogous to the UR and LR Quadrants. (it & its)

The Imaginary = images, phenomenology.  Analogous to the UL Quadrant. (I)

The Symbolic = critical theory, semiotics, Analogous to the LL Quadrant. (we)

Let it enfold you.

Lurking in the shadows of this entire post, however, is a question of vulnerability and the Vision-of-the-Body.

My friends at Archive Fire and attemptsatliving will rightly point this out, and I will conclude with some of their remarks (see here):

Where things get tricky in the translation between Levi’s model and my own distinctions here is where each of us might suggest phenomenal experience or ‘the Imaginal’  fits in. To do justice to this topic I would need a separate and much longer post, but in general I will suggest that ‘subjectivity’ or human experience is wholly Real: which is to say, material and therefore does not require ‘its’ own register. Our situated animal experience is generated from the sensual-material opening of our bodies among other bodies, and as an activity-in-the-world without ontological remainder.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, among others, was rather clear about the fundamental corporeal nature of subjectivity. In The Phenomenology of Perception he wrote, “the body is our general medium for having a world” (p.169).  Worlds open up viz. bodies. And this sensual-tangible horizon is entirely of the material-energetic plane of existence. When we perceive and experience the world we do so as sensitive-coping bodies vulnerable to being affected and able to affect the Real precisely because we partake in the consistency of structure and force that is matter-energy. We are experientially open to the world as Real because we are of it:

“Nothing determines me from outside, not because nothing acts upon me, but, on the contrary, because I am from the start outside myself and open to the world. We are true through and through, and have with us, by the mere fact of belonging to the world, and not merely being in the world in the way that things are, all that we need to transcend ourselves” (p.153).

And, with that, I will re-iterate and insist again upon this call for a concern with Crisis intervention, with trauma theory, with restorative justice, and especially with active non-violent resistance in the Gandhian fashion of satyagraha.

Let us be aware of this vulnerability so that we may stop our cutting, so that we may attend (entend) to the wounds, in enacting a simple ameliorative truth which is “as old as the hills”. A theory of agency must therefore still be in the works, and which must come from without of both the critical and the Lacanian traditions…

If you permit Wisdom to enfold you, then your life will unfold Truth in the world. I send you my best wishes.

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6 thoughts on “Lacan, Kristeva, Qohelet: Enfolding Wisdom (Part I)”

  1. Hi David. How can i reblog this?Your position especially on the Borromean knot is very close to mine and I completely agree with you. In my recent post on Psychoanalysis and its conjurations I referenced Francius Zourabichvili and Charles Stivale’s reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s psychoanalytic tracing and from there mobilized an over-all critique of the Borromean tracing as for me a space of no-exit, a space where no opening to consistency is possible which to me is typical of what modernity wants to impose on subjectivity and the project of individuation that we can learn from Nietzsche, the arch-antimodernist. There is a way out of this knotting!

    1. verrivas You may link to this post, reblog, and otherwise quote it at-will! Is there a technical “reblog” feature you are looking for that is absent?  Thanks also for the references, and for your post on Psychoanalysis. Your analysis as “space of no-exit” seems quite apt too, especially with that Nietzschean impulse behind it! I wish you all my best.

  2. For me I have to divide the whole Wisdom tradition between Greek and Hebrew. Philosophical as compared to Theological conceptions have a difference, and I think this is where you’re coming from. Obviously this is still the debate between theological and atheological conceptions. So that ultimately it depends on what fiction you support. The divide in Greece between the Sophists – who claimed to be wise – and Plato/Socrates who claimed to know nothing – but to be seekers/lovers of Wisdom was central. While for the Hebraic scholars of Israel it was central that only God was Wise, not man… but that man through God could become wise. The Greek noun sophia the translation of “wisdom” in the Greek Septuagint for Hebrew חכמות Ḥokmot. Wisdom is a central topic in the “sapiential” books, i.e. Proverbs, Psalms, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Book of Wisdom, Wisdom of Sirach, and to some extent Baruch (the last three are Apocryphal / Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament.)
    I think the divide between what you see in the Borromean and the Quadrant is the divide between those who stop with the limits of Reason, and those that seek a more than rational knowledge, a sort of gnosis of the Wisdom/Sophia/Sapientia of God. Evil is a theological concept that was not part of the Greek thought. For them mythic references within tragedy took up that theme, but they never truly bound it to some philosophical terminology. That all came later, much later…

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