‘Beyond Interpellation’ by Mladen Dolar

There is something very extraordinary about the fate of Althusserian ideas (apart from his personal fate which is extraordinary beyond measure). The first period of vogue and of scandal in the sixties and the seventies when the mere mention of Althusser’s name was certain to raise the heat and to cause havoc was followed, without much transition, by a period of silence where the wild debates seem to be forgotten and only raise a smile at the most. Themes and topics, widely discussed two decades ago, have passed into oblivion since, while the only point of interest remains confined to the notoriety of his personal life (scandalous enough to produce even bestsellers). I think this theoretical amnesia is not simply due to his coming out of fashion, it is not that his ideas have been simply superseded or supplanted by better ones. It is perhaps more a case of forgetting in a psychoanalytic sense, a convenient forgetting of something disagreeable and uncomfortable. If Althusser always produced either zealous adepts or equally zealous adversaries, if he could never be dealt with in an academic way, this was due to an utter impossibility to situate him – he did not fit in the western Marxist tradition and even less in the soviet type of Marxism (despite the attempts to squeeze him into both), and neither did he belong to any non-Marxist current. That is not to say that Althusser was right, but rather that he was on the track of something embarrassing, or even unheimlich, to use the Freudian word, that everybody would be relieved to do away with. There is a symptomatic passage from notoriety to silence, which are finally two ways of evading crucial issues.

In the present paper I am not pleading for a return to Althusser, but rather for sticking to that uncomfortable part of the Althusserian position, for avoiding the easy comfort of its suppression. I think that the best way to do this is to reconsider its relation to psychoanalysis and to try to articulate it in particular to the Lacanian conceptual framework. In order to do this, I propose to go back to the famous ‘Althusserian notion of interpellation and try to rethink its relation to the psychoanalytic account of subjectivity.

The clean cut

There is in the Althusserian position a fundamental idea of a clean cut which can be followed on different levels, It is perhaps most obvious in the epistemological realm, where numerous discussions have abundantly focused on the notion of the epistemological break, the rupture between the real object and the object of knowledge as well as the rupture between ideology and science. But the famous formula of interpellation – “the ideology interpellates individuals into subjects” – implies a clean cut as well. There is a sudden and abrupt transition from an individual- a pre-ideological entity, a sort of materia prima – into the ideological subject, the only kind of subject there is for Althusser. One becomes a subject by a sudden recognition that one has always already been a subject: becoming a subject has always a retroactive effect, it is based on a necessary illusion, an extrapolation, an illegitimate extension of a later state into the former stage. There is a leap, a moment of sudden emergence.

If we take Althusser’s argument as a whole, it appears that there is also a clean cut between the two parts of Althusserian theory of ideology: roughly speaking, between his insistence on the materiality of state apparatuses, on the fact that ideology always has material existence on the one hand, and the interpellation on the other, between the exteriority and the constitution of an interiority. How exactly would materiality entail subjectivation? Why would interpellation require materiality? One could say that materiality and subjectivity rule each other out: if I am (already) a subject, I am necessarily blinded in regard to materiality. The external conditions of ideology cannot be comprehended from within ideology, the institution of interiority necessarily brings about the denial, or better, a disavowal of its external origin. The grasping of materiality would thus presuppose the suspension of subjectivity, and this can only be provided by the Althusserian notion of science. But science is not a subject position and the extraordinary implication of this view is that the theoretician who sees through this ideological mechanism cannot himself escape it – in his non-scientific existence, he is as much of an (ideological) subject as anybody else, the illusion being constitutive for any kind of subjectivity and thus ineluctable. His only advantage is to see the necessary limitation of his advantage.

So there is an either-or alternative: either the materiality or the subjectivity; either the exterior or the interior.

Why is this (admittedly rough) description of subjectivity inadequate and insufficient? If there are moments that it does not cover, where exactly should one situate them – in the exterior, in the interior, or is the demarcation line itself faulty? And how does this view of subjectivity match the psychoanalytic concept of the subject -after all the central category in psychoanalysis?

The Althusserian notion of a cIean cut – a break, a rupture, a sharp edge, a sudden emergence, whatever the level of its application -has been exposed to a great deal of criticism. The traditional critics were mostly saying that the transition is in principle always gradual, they protested, in different ways, in the name of gradualism that sharp edges and abrupt” emergence were not dialectical. No date can be fixed, the argument would go, e. g., when Marx suddenly abandoned his alleged humanist ideology in favor of science. – But this is perhaps not where Althusser´s deficiency lies: quite the contrary, 1 think we should hold to the idea of sudden emergence and” abrupt passage as a deeply materialist notion; and even, why not, the idea of creatio ex nihilo.1 Althusser has only pursued, with a rare consequence, one of the basic structuralist insights. The structure always springs up suddenly, from nothing, without any transitional stages, as Lévi-Strauss has very wel1 seen in the pioneer days of structuralism.

The real problem arises elsewhere: with the fact that this sudden passage is never complete – the clean cut always produces a rest. To put it roughly, in the simplest way and fol1owing Althusser’s own diction, there is a part of individual tat cannot successfully pass into the subject, an element of “pre-ideological” and “presubjetive” materia prima that comes to haunt the constituted subjectivity. There is a part of external materiality that cannot be successfully integrated in the interior. Interpellation was based on a happy transition from a pre-ideological state into ideology: its success wipes out the traces of its origin and results in the belief into the autonomy of the subject, its interiority and self-transparence, the experience of the subject as a causa sui, which is an inescapable illusion once the operation is completed. The psychoanalytic point of departure is the rest produced by the operation is completed. The psychoanalytic point of departure is the rest produced by the operation, its necessary incompleteness –it doesn’t not deny the cut, it only adds a rest. The clean cut is always unclean, it cannot produce a flawless interiority of an autonomous subject, and the psychoanalytic subject is coextensive to that very flaw in the interiority. (One could say that the psychoanalytic symptom, the starting point of analysis, is its most obvious manifestation). To put it in a short formula the subject is precisely the failure to become the subject, that is, the psychoanalytic subject is the failure to become an Althusserian one. For Althusser, the subject is what makes ideology work, for psychoanalysis, the subject emerges where ideology fails. The illusion of autonomy may well be necessary, but so is its failure; the cover-up never holds fast. All the psychoanalytic apparatus takes it’s starting point there: different subjective structures that the psychoanalysis has discovered and described – neurosis (with its two faces of hysteria and obsession), psychosis, perversion – are just so many different ways to deal with that rest, with that impossibility to become the subject. And on the social level as well, on the level of discourse as a social bond, the four basic types of discourse pinpointed by Lacan are four different ways to tackle that rest. Interpellation, on the other hand, is a way of avoiding it: it can explain its proper success, but not how and why it does not work. The failure is not accounted for in its conditions.

It is essential for psychoanalysis that the Althusserian alternative is not exhaustive – the alternative “either the materiality or the subjectivity, either the exterior or the interior”. At this point, we can use an analogy with another well known piece of post-Althusserian criticism: in the tricky subject of subjectivity, we have to make an analogous step as Laclau and Mouffe have done when introducing their crucial concept of antagonism (Laclau & Mouffe 1985, p. 122 ff.). They criticize Colletti’s view which has divided the world into two kinds of entities: on the one hand, the opposition in the real (the Kantian Realrepugnanz), on the other the contradiction confined to the realm of thought and concepts (it can be seen as a kind of new version of the old bipartition into res extensa and res cogitans). Laclau and Mouffe have convincingly argued that this division is not exhaustive either: antagonism can be grasped precisely as an impossible intersection of the two, as something at first sight invisible in the division which seemed to cover the whole, but still something within it. The rest produced by subjectivation is also invisible from the point of view of interpellation, but it does not come from somewhere else, it is not situated on some third locality outside the two Althusserian ones. This is the essential point: the rest is neither exterior nor interior, but not somewhere else either. It is the point of exteriority in the very kernel of interiority, the point where the innermost touches the outermost, where the materiality is in the most intimate. It is around this intimate external kernel that subjectivity is constituted.2 – Lacan has, as always, coined a fine word for it: extimacy, extimate.3

Let me now try to put the two views of subjectivity into a wider perspective. Althusser’s adherence to the basic structuralist ideas can also be seen with the notion, essential for him, of a process without a subject. It is embedded in the general strategy promoted by structuralism, which one could, in a simplified manner, outline as an attempt to put forward the level of an a-subjective structure as opposed to subject’s self-apprehension. There is a non-subjective “symbolic” dimension of which the subject is but an effect, an epiphenomenon, and which is necessarily overlooked in subject’s imaginary self-understanding. This basic approach was applied in a number of different ways: Lévi-Strauss’s structure as the matrix of permutations of differential elements regulating different mythologies, rituals, beliefs, eating habits etc.; Foucault’s episteme, discursive formations and strategies, or in hi later work, dispositives of power; production of “textuality” as opposed to imaginary sense; Derrida’s notion of writing, or difference, etc. In spite of great differences between those attempts and their sometimes sharply opposed results, there was a common tendency to see the structure as a dimension “behind” or “underneath” or “anterior to” the subject and opposed to it, the very notion of the subject falling thereby into a kind of “disrepute” and becoming synonymous to “self-deception”, a necessary illusion, or an essential blinding as to the conditions that have produced it. The structuralist revolution has thus seen itself as a break away from the humanist tradition centered on the subject (cf. Foucault’s rather massive slogan about the “death of man”) and particularly as a radical rupture with the philosophical tradition based on cogito.

Lacan’s view sharply differed from this model by clinging firmly to the notion of the subject and “rescuing” it all along. His talk about the subject of the unconscious was certain to provoke some astonishment.4 He saw the unconscious, along the general structuralist lines, as a structure – “structured as a language”, as the famous slogan goes -, discovering in it, by a tour de force, the Saussurian and Jakobsonian operations of metaphor and metonymy etc., but as a structure with a subject, although a subject conceived as opposed to consciousness. So for Lacan, at whatever level we look at the matters, there is no process without a subject, the subject is necessarily implied by the supposedly a-subjective structure.5 He went even further with the baffling suggestion that cogito was the subject of the unconscious, thus turning against some basic assumptions (shall one say prejudices?) of that period.6 So there is a huge gap that separates Lacan from the rest of the structuralist generation, which defined itself as basically anti-Cartesian (and anti-Hegelian),regardless of many differences between proposed theories, whereas Lacan saw himself rather as a heir to both Descartes and Hegel. This divide ultimately depends on the different ways to grasp subjectivity.

If Lacan is so keen to retain the subject, he can do so only by submitting its traditional notions to severe criticism. The subject is something other than, and opposed to, consciousness, which entails the issue of recognition/miscognition. One can see a point of agreement between Lacan and Althusser that this is indeed what defines consciousness. Whether it be the recognition in one’s mirror image, as in early Lacan, or recognizing oneself as the addressee of an injunction or a message of the Other, it is the act of recognition that constitutes consciousness, and it involves in the same time a miscognition, recognizing is intrinsically a blinding. That link reconnaissance méconnaissance defines, for Lacan, the Imaginary, and it is defined by Althusser himself as “specular”. For both Lacan and Althusser, it is sharply opposed to cognition, or knowledge (le savoir), which demands a transition to a different register. Agreement on this point could make them allies in the common battle against “ego-psychology”, “homo psychologicus” and self-centered consciousness. But here the ways part. For Althusser, the recognition is the necessary and sufficient condition of subjectivity, which is thus necessarily an ideological notion, something one has to be rid of in order to proceed to science7. For Lacan, however, the subject emerges only at the point of a non-recognition: all the formations of the unconscious have this in common, they are accompanied by “this is not me”, “I was not there”, although they were produced by the subject. They depend on the emergence of an “alien kernel” within subjectivity, an automatism beyond control, the break-down, in certain points, of the constituted horizon of recognition and sense. The symptom is its most striking manifestation, and for Lacan, it is something that ultimately cannot be dissolved or reduced to sense, it persists even if its meaning is deciphered in analysis.8 This nonintegration is constitutive for the subject, although it appears as its limit, reduction, or failure. The interpellation presents the part of success, the emergence of sense and recognition: “This is me,” along with world that makes sense -which is a precondition of ideology, but it cannot account for the emergence of the symptom (in the widest sense), unless by introducing concepts from without its scope and which would demand a different theory of the subject.9

Falling in love

Lacan’s view of the subject, so far presented in the most general outlines, can find ample support in Freud. There are numerous instances where Freud speaks, e. g., about the introjection of the object as essential to subjectivity, of an ‘object within the subject’ as constituting the subject, to take things on a minimal level. In his Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921) (Freud 1985), for example, perhaps the best and the most systematic piece of evidence to that ~effect, he describes two basic types of subject’s ties with other people: identification and the object-relation (or simply, love). Both of them are founded on the introjection of the object – the passage of an exterior object into a certain place in the interiority of the subject, and it is this very passage which actually produces the division into an interior and an exterior. Their major difference consists in “whether the object is put in the place of the ego”, as in identification, “or of the ego ideal”, as in love and in object relations in general (ibid., p. 144). The ego itself can thus be seen as ultimately constituted by this difference between the ego and the ego ideal, one could say that it is finally nothing else but this difference, this “differentiating grade in the ego” (p. 161),10 where both of them are conceived as place s to be filled with a series of external objects, mother and father to begin with. So love is on the one hand opposed to identification (which it presupposes and combines with in the same time), and on the other hand, it is put in the same line with hypnosis and the group formation – all three are based on placing an object in the position of the ego ideal and only differ by the degree of sexual inhibition.

I will not pursue here the fascinating task of exploring the various instances where Freud makes use of this introjection of the object in his argument and examining their ramified implications. The examples range from the incorporation of the object by devouring it in the oral phase to the formation of hysterical symptoms and from the genesis of homosexuality to the analysis of melancholia etc. I would like to follow just one thread, that of falling love, which can perhaps best demonstrate the point I am trying to make: the junction of the contingent exterior to the intimate interior as essential to the concept of the subject. My assumption is that we can thus learn a lot about how the subject works as well as about the formation of a social tie. Freud has seen very well that falling in love is in a way of the same stuff as the group formation (should one say “falling into ideology”?).

Let us first consider the simplest example, a paradoxical kind of social requirements that could be called “injunctions of love”, such as: love your parents, your family, your home, your native soil, your country, your nation, love your next door neighbor. The paradox is, of course, that love is prescribed where there is actually no choice as to its object (one cannot choose one’s parents or native soil etc.). The contingent circumstances of one’s birth are transformed into an object of love; what is unavoidable becomes ethically sanctioned. The given is tacitly assumed to be an object of possible choice and of one’s inner consent -the choice that one has never made, or better, that has always already been made. If there is a choice, it is a forced one; it is decided in advance. These injunctions actually preserve the content the given and change only its form, but this purely formal difference is essential: the natural links (the bonds of substantiality, to use the Hegelian language) are undone as natural, but they are tied together as the signifying ties The subject can only be liberated from its natural bonds by being tied to the chains of the signifier (the current neutral term “the signifying chain” is perhaps not so innocent).

This common process can be seen as a triple device of subjectivation -three things happen simultaneously: first, the passage from a contingent exterior into the interior; second, the purely forma change where the contents remains the same; third, the forced choice where the given is presented as what one has chosen. The forced choice is not simply an absence of choice: the choice is offered and denied in the same gesture, but this empty gesture is what counts for subjectivity.

One of the most famous formulations of the forced choice was given by Lacan in his seminary on the Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (Lacan 1973, p. 193)As Althusser has illustrated the mechanism of interpellation recurring to the most trivial experience (such as responding to someone calling you on the street or being interpellated by the police), so Lacan also takes a very drastic example (though fortunately not so common as the Althusserian ones), that of being presented with a choice of: “Your money or your life” (“La bourse ou la vie”). The peculiar in this choice is that there is no choice at ~all: one can only choose to hold to one’s life and thus lose only the money; holding on to the money would entail losing both. One can only choose one alternative, the life, and even this one is curtailed (the life deprived of money), whereas the other alternative is void. In any case, one loses the intersection of both (the life with the money).

The formal side of this model may serve as a pattern of subjectivation: one is presented with a choice which is decided in advance, and by choosing, one meets with a loss. To put it roughly, the subject, in its insertion in the social, is subject of a choice, but a forced one, and of a loss. This experience is very common, not confined to dark and solitary alleys. Love, in its many various 9 forms,11 has this mechanism of forced choice always attached to it.

I have started with the simplest and the most general example, something that everybody has to undergo to become a social being. But love in its most emphatic and glorified form, true love, ‘sexual’ love, the traditionally celebrated love between a man and a woman’ (leaving aside the more recent awareness about the heterosexual bias), involves precisely the same device. It would seem that there has to be an autonomy of a free choice -indeed one cannot speak of love if there is no freedom of choice (if the choice is made, e. g., by parents as the common practice had it until quite recently). Yet to take a closer, or even a very superficial, look at the centuries of effusions about love, it is obvious that love and autonomy of the subject rule each other out. All melodramas know that; the pattern could be described as follows: A young hero quite by coincidence and through no endeavour of his meets a young girl in some more or less extraordinary circumstances. What happened unintentionally and by pure chance is in the second stage recognized as the realization of his innermost and immemorial wishes and desires. The contingent miraculously becomes the place of his deepest truth, the sign of Fate given by the Other. It is the Other that has chosen, not the young man himself who was powerless (and who has to face heroically, in the third stage, the consequences of his non-choice: the opposition of the parents or society, the intrigues, the bad fortune, the illness etc., with various possible combinations and outcomes). It turns out that the pure chance was actually no chance at all: the intrusion of the unforeseen turned into Necessity, the tyche tumed into the automaton. The moment of subjectivation is precisely that moment of suspension of subjectivity to the Other (Fate, Providence, Eternal plan, Destiny, or whatever one might call it), manifesting itself as the pure contingency of the Real. Indeed, that strange force of love reputedly rules out any other considerations, it does not permit deliberation, the balance of gains and losses, pondering the advantages of a certain choice – it just demands the unconditional surrender to the Other.12

The situation is contradictory since it presupposes the freedom of an autonomous choice and demands its suppression. This contradiction is reconciled in a strange logic of post festum: the young man has chosen only by recognizing that the choice has already been made, regardless of his freedom of choice; he could only endorse and corroborate the decision of the Other by accepting the unavoidable as his own inner essence. In other words, the choice is a retroactive category, it is always in the past tense, but a special kind of past that was never present. The~ moment of choice can never be pinpointed, it passes directly and immediately from a “not yet” to an “always already”. It is past by its very nature. Falling in love means submitting to the necessity – there is always the moment when the Real, so to speak, begins to speak, its opacity turns into transparence; the subject has only to recognize it after the fact.

Lots of examples immediately spring to mind. One could imagine the alluring task of setting up a catalogue of that precise moment of falling in love, taking the world literature, plus the cinema, from its highest to its lowest forms, as the evidence in the matter. The task was actually remarkably accomplished, at least for the bulk of French literature, by Jean Rousset (1984) who has undertaken an extensive phenomenology of “the scene of the first sight in the novel” (as the subtitle of his book goes, the title being Their eyes met). 1 must leave the matter with the reference to his work which could be pursued further in many different directions and on other material.13

But perhaps the paramount case which offers the clue to the matter is the one discovered by psychoanalysis: the case of transference in the psychoanalytic cure. In 1915, Freud has written his famous “Observations on transference-love” (S. E. vol. XII), analyzing that extraordinary love which is a kind of by-product of the analysis that surprised Freud himself. It emerged as an artefact disturbing the smooth development of the analytical cure, and for quite a long time its implications were not seen. This love of the patient for the analyst (in the beginnings, psychoanalysis had mostly to do with hysterical female patients) springs up with an astonishing, almost mechanical regularity from the analytical situation, regardless of the person of the analyst and that of the patient. It is a love artificially produced, only a function of the analytical situation, its infallible consequence, but nevertheless the true love, as Freud insists, in no way different from a “genuine” one, although experimentally induced. If it seems pathological, one should keep in mind that love itself is a highly pathological state. The only difference lies, at the most, in the utter predictability of its appearance in the transference, not in its nature. Its structure is bared in a more obvious way as in its “normal” counterpart. It is here, in this Laboratory situation, that this mechanism can be best studied in its pure form – the psychoanalysis itself can be seen as ultimately the analysis of this mechanism.

The analytical situation is extremely simple: the patient, stretched on a couch, not seeing the analyst, is invited to tell freely whatever passes through his/her mind – the only rule in analysis is precisely the absence of a rue, this non-rue being generality known as “the ground rule”. Why should this elementary expedient, this external ambiguity (not even by sight, a presence only surmised) ineluctably produce a relation of Love? Yet one can be certain to find this Love in every cure, a love which nobody called for and which can be highly embarrassing for the analyst. There are three possible outcomes, Freud says: the interruption of the cure (but the patient would start another one and run into the same predicament there); the marriage (which would be, as Freud puts it, a great success for the patient but a disaster for the cure; Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night is a great Itinerary evidence for the point); or a Love affair (nothing wrong with that, but not exactly Freud’s idea of analysis). If ail three solutions are bad, the only thing that remains is to handier it: using it as a lever, as it were, of the cure, analyzing it as another formation of the unconscious, a pathology that the cure itself has produced. So the analysis, paradoxically, ultimately turns into analysis of a pathological state, the transference, which it has itself created and which did not exist before the cure.

It is remarkable, says Freud, that this transference-Love usually appears as a kind of resistance: it is usually at the moment when the analysis touches upon some particularity painful areas or subjects that the patient responds with love. Yet, transference was to start with the very opposite of resistance, it was what started off the analysis at all. The ground rule implied a promise that resistances could be Lifted, the repressed could come to Light. The minimal mechanism of transference was embedded in the very basic function of speech as addressed to the Other, the Other as an instance beyond all empirical interlocutors. This dimension allows for the function of the analyst who is placed exactly in that special position of the Other beyond intersubjectivity. Transference necessarily arises from the speech addressed to the Other, it is inscribed in the basic dimension of Language. This is the function which Lacan subsequently called “the subject supposed to know”.

Transference thus initially appears as the opening of the unconscious – this is the side by which the “ground rule” triggers off the flow of “free associations” and the ensuing process of remembering, repeating and reconstructing the repressed. The Other to whom this flow of words is addressed is present as the figure of the analyst as the supposed addressee of the messages of the unconscious, the symptoms, the dreams – the Other supposed to hold the key to their solution, to solve the enigmas posed by the unconscious, decipher their meaning, the “subject supposed to know”.

But then there is this other aspect of transference, the emergence of transference-love that spoils the game. It emerges as a halt of repetition, when the free flow is cut short, when the words fail, as a resistance, or, as Lacan puts it, as the closing of the unconscious. This halt that manifests itself as love brings forth a different dimension. Transference, in this new and unexpected sense, appears as an obstacle.

“From the very beginning Freud warns us that transference is essentially resistant, Übertragungswiderstand. Transference is a means by which the communication of the unconscious is interrupted, by which the unconscious is closed. Far from being a surrender of authority to the unconscious, it is, on the contrary, its closure.” (Lacan 1973, p. 119 and passim)

It is in this resistance, in this closing of the unconscious, that transferential love is situated, love as the opposite pole of the unconscious:

“What emerges in the effect of transference opposes revelation. Love appears [..o] in the function of deception. Love is no doubt an effect of transference, but it is its side of resistance. In order to interpret we must wait for this effect of transference, but we know at the same time that it closes the subject to the effect of our interpretation.” (pp. 228-9)14

So the “dialectics of transference” involves two different and opposed movements: one could say that transference opens the unconscious and transference closes it, it sets off the free associations and it causes their running out. Being the lever of analytical cure, it proves to be at the same time its major hindrance. It opens two perspectives, two different views on human condition: the infinite chain of signifiers, with the subject gliding along it in an unending process each signifier only represents it for other signifiers, that is represents it badly since the very failure of representation is what pushes this process of infinite metonymy and infinite repetition, with no final word, no ultimate signifier that could close or found it. But on the other hand, there is a side which doesn’t speak, the dimension of a mute presence, a silent being -the part presented first by the silent and embarrassing presence of the analyst. The analyst is ultimately the one who stands in the way , – of the free flow and hinders the repetition of the signifier. With his massive presence, he puts himself in the place of the object that arrests the symbolic, something that cannot be symbolized and around which the symbolic revolves. He remains “ein fremder Mensch“, as Freud puts it, a stranger and a foreign body. It is this mute being that calls for the response of love on the part of the patient who offers him/herself as the object of the unfathomable desire of the Other. The unnamable object spoils the game of the free flow and repetition, and its is this break, in this inert and unspeakable being, that the subject’s jouissance can be situated.15 Where the signifier is arrested, one offers one’s being, in this lack of words there is the silent being of the subject manifesting itself as love.

Let me dissipate two possible misunderstandings. First, there is nothing irrational or ungraspable in this being beyond words, it is not something that would call for casting away the language as insufficient or for some kind of a direct seizure of the immediacy, intuition or whatever. What is beyond language is the result of language itself. Only in and through the language there is the unspeakable- that rest produced by the incidence of the symbolic order into the Real. Second, what is beyond signifier is not beyond reach, it is not something that one could not influence or work upon. Psychoanalysis is precisely the process designed to touch that being, that elusive object, and since it is the product of the impact of language it can only be tackled through words (by a “talking cure”), and not by any other, supposedly more direct means.

I have started with the assertion that there is a rest involved in the mechanism of interpellation, a left-over of the clean cut, and that this rest can be pinpointed in the experience of love. Love, however, is not a symptom, or rather, its symptom-value is covered by the emergence of sense: the contingent and the senseless is miraculously transformed into the point of the highest sense, the realization of one’s most intimate wishes, not something imposed and alien. Thus far, one could see it as largely comparable with the mechanism of interpellation, the transformation of contingency into necessity, the external into the internal, the retroactive extension, and one might right1y ask where is the difference. Could one say that love is what we find beyond interpellation? The point is that psychoanalysis, with the mechanism of transference, makes love appear as a symptom. It produces the transference love as a “necessary illusion”, a new pathology and its major 1ever,but it is a process of baring the mechanism which produced it, thus making it appear in its very contingency, The ana1ytical process can be seen as a demonstration that involves a dimension “beyond interpe11ation”. Its conc1usion is precisely the rea1ization of the contingency of the object that has up to then covered “the lack in the Other” (hence one of Lacan’s descriptions of that conc1uding moment as “the fa11ingout of the object a” embodied in the analyst; or the maximum distance between the point “I” (the ego ideal) and the a in the formula proposed in Lacan 1973, p. 245). – The analyst occupies precisely the position of the rest. The contingent bit of the Real that was covered up by the narcissistic deception of love appears as such.

Love and ideology

Perhaps it is there, in that experimentally produced pure form, that we can touch upon some fundamental implications of love as an ideological mechanism. Adorno speaks somewhere of “the blindspot of the unquestionable acceptance of the given” merely because it is given, the obedience to the unavoidable “which can be psychically brought about only through love” (Adorno 1973, p. 222).16 There is, in this acceptance of the given as the most intimate, a blind spot of the ideological construction, a point beyond the signifier where the subject silently submits, responds to the Other by offering his being. It is a point beyond the rational or faulty arguments that ideology presents, beyond the analysis of its nodal points, floating signifiers, subject positions, open identities etc. -if there is an openness of every subject identity form the first point of view (the infinite chain without an ultimate foundation), then, from the second point of view the being of the subject is limited, fixed and inert in its jouissance -as a sort of ultimate foundation, but unable to found the signifying chain; there is no conjunction between the two.

Love can function as a mechanism of ideology, it can serve as a link between the most private and a social bond, only because it can successfully produce that passage from the outer into the inner and at the same time cover it up. Love masks the external origins of subjectivity, concealing it not behind the illusion of an autonomous subject as a causa sui, but quite the contrary, by offering one’s being to the Other, offering one’s own particularity in response to the external contingency. The rest of the Real beyond the signifier demands the offering of that rest in the subject, the part of the “individual” that could not be subjectified, the object within the subject, and with that gesture, the rest is dealt with and the Other is sustained. The opacity of the Other is made transparent by love, the lawless becomes the lawful.

Let us go back to interpellation once again and try to match this view of ideology with Althusser’s. The two differ in another essential aspect: the question of the lack.

The basic and minimal mechanism of interpellation is described as a relation between two subjects, a specular imaginary relationship between a subject and a Subject. The Other, the Subject, is the bearer of social injunctions, convocations, addresses etc., an agency that has to utter at least a “Hey you!”, whereupon the individual can only answer by a “Here I am”, “It’s me”, recognizing him/herself as the addressee, thus turning from an individual into the subject. In psychoanalysis, this relationship is troubled by the fact that both entities, the Subject and the subject, are hunted by.

First, the subject, prior to recognition in the Other, is not simply the individual. There is an “intermediary” stage in that passage from the (real) individual into the (imaginary) subject, the stage where the process of symbolization opens n empty space, a crack in the continuity of being a void which is not yet filled by the imaginary subjectivity. This empty space can be illustrated with the mechanism of forced choice I have mentioned above. The forced choice entails a loss and opens a void. The advent of the symbolic presented by the forced choice brings forth something that did not “exist” before, but which is nevertheless “anterior” to it, a past that has never been present. It “creates” something that cannot be symbolized – this is what Lacan called the Real – and which at its “first” appearance is already lost. The retroactivity entails a loss of something that was never possessed. This is also the major difference between Lacan’s forced choice and the one involved in interpellation: the Lacanian forced choice is such that not only one is forced to choose one of the alterative (the other being impossible), but that the chosen one is already curtailed (écorné, says Lacan). The scheme of the intersection of two circles (Lacan 1973, p. 192-3) is designed to show that one loses the intersection anyway (the life with money in the drastic example). The example is meant to illustrate the price one has to pay for the entry into symbolic. It can be misleading insofar that one can actuality believe to have possessed the “life with money” before being presented with the choice, whereas with the entry into symbolic, the intersection is produced by choosing – as something one never had, but what one lost anyway.17 In Althusser’s model, there is no place for the loss, the price for becoming a subject. Interpellation transforms the loss into a gain (just like the mechanism of love) and thus makes the part of void invisible. There is no place for a lack, an empty space; the being is continuous either in the real or in the imaginary, the symbolic is ultimately eluded. (In this respect Althusser follows his master, Spinoza.) – It is in that moment of loss that psychoanalysis situates castration as the entry into the theory of the unconscious.

Second, the Subject as the Other is also subject to deficiency. One could say that there is an analogous “anterior stage” of the Other preceding the positivity of injunctions in which the individual can recognize him/herself. The difference already appears with the Other as embodied by the analyst which presents the Other in its purest form precisely because it is not a bearer of any injunctions (the famous rule of abstinence): the analyst can ultimately impersonate the Other at the best when he says nothing. The subject cannot simply respond to the call of the Other for the good reason that there is no call, but that makes the Other all the more present. The presence of that Other has to be supplied by the subject him/herself; s/he has to make it exist first, not just recognize him/herself as the addressee. It exists only by subject’s belief in it, the belief that there is a subject supposed to know, or if belief is too strong a word here, by subject’s supposition. The psychoanalytic Other is that surmised Other, conjectured Other which exists only through supposition; the Other that does not address the subject, but to whom the subject addresses his discourse and his 10ve -can one seduce him, rejoin him by offering one’s being?

In a (rather implicit) way, the Althusserian Other has also to be supplied by the subject: the Subject only exists through subject’s recognition in it, its retroactive existence is correlative to that illusory “always already” of the subject. Nevertheless, there is a step in the emergence of both the subject and the Other that Althusser leaves out and that can perhaps be best illustrated by Althusser’s own example. To elucidate the transition between the external materiality of state apparatuses (institutions, practices, rituals etc.) and the interiority of the ideological subjectivity, Althusser borrows a famous suggestion from Pascal, namely his scandalous piece of advice that the best way to become a believer is to follow the religious rituals (although they appear completely senseless to a non-believer) – the creed will follow by itself with an inescapable necessity. So where does the creed come froin? In the first stage, that of following the senseless ritual, there is no established authority of the Subject, no direct convocatiori or address, no specular relationship etc. – merely a string of nonsense. The subject has to make exist the Other first, s/he does this with a supposition ascribed to that senseless chain, a supposition that it means something even if one does not know what, a belief that there is something lo believe in.

There is an invisible dividing line between “the first materiality” (following the ritual before the advent of creed) and “the second materiality” (the same ritual supported by inner belief), which are separated by the “empty gesture” of subjectivation. The crucial question concerns the status of the subject attached to “the first materiality”. What made him/her follow the ritual at all? Why did s/he consent to repeat senseless gestures? Clearly not the creed since it was to be the product of the situation. Yet, there is already a belief involved in it, not the catholic faith, but a minimal supposition that there is something to believe in, that there is a “subject supposed to know” which can make sense of the string of nonsense.18 There is a subject already present before subjectivation and recognition, a subject “independent of consciousness” (to use a Marxist phrase), there is an unconscious belief embodied in the ritual, a “belief before belief’, as Zizek put it (1989, p. 40). So if we count materialities, one should perhaps also count empty gestures: there is a “first empty gesture”, the minimal and purely formal gesture of consent, the purely formal belief with no content, but which is enough to give rise to the Other, and its formality is enough to give support to the unconscious. Then there is a “second empty gesture” which is a formal act of recognition giving rise to belief and inner acceptance. The first gesture is the step that Althusser leaves out. Does the theory of interpellation allow for a status of the subject before and “independent of” recognition? Can one be a subject without knowing it? It is her that one has to introduce the symbolic structure and the subject as an “empty space”.

This is also why Althusser’s ardent insistence on materiality is insufficient. The Other that emerges here, the Other of the symbolic order, is not material, and Althusser covers up this nonmateriality by talking about the materiality of institutions, practices etc. (and one can see a difficulty when he gets rather entangled trying to sort out different modalities of materiality). If subjectivity can spring up from materially following certain rituals, it is only in so far as those rituals function as a symbolic automatism, that is, in so far as they are governed by an “immaterial” logic, supported by the Other. This Other cannot be discovered by scrutinizing the materiality, however closely one looks at it. Althusser admits this in a way when indicating that the material practices, at their core, have to be regulated by rituals, that is, they have to be “symbolically codified”, and one would just have to insist on it: what counts is ultimately not that they are material, but that they are ruled by a code, a repetition etc. What one would need here, and what I think lacks in Althusser, is the conceptualization of the relationship between the materiality an the symbolic (the relationship – not a resorption of materiality into symbolic or the other way round). For Althusser, there is either the materiality which does not make sense for the subject, or the same materiality endowed with sense by the gesture of subjectivation. Yet, first, the sense and the subject, did not spring up from materiality, but from the symbolic that regulated it; and second, there is no space for the rest produced in the operation, the “nonsensical” .materiality existing for the subject as the limit of sense.19 There is a paradoxical materiality which persist after the advent of sense – as something that “does not make sense” – and which is the only support of jouissance.

This bit of the Real is dealt with in the Lacanian concept of fantasy which correlates precisely the symbolic subject (the one not based on recognition, the empty space that Lacan marks $) and the objectal surplus (objet a), precisely the two entities not covered by the mechanism of interpellation (or one could say that they were both produced and repressed by interpellation as the constitution of the Ego). The two are also connected in the symptom, although in a different way – Lacan gave it much thought in his last phase through the notion of sinthome. Symptom and fantasy are the two ways to establish a link between the $ and the a, and they are both “beyond interpellation”. They form a conceptual pair, both opposed and complementary.20

So to summarize in a broad outline: within the imaginary subject of interpellation based on the specular relationship between the Subject and the subject, there is the symbolic subject defined by an empty space, a void produced with the introduction of the symbolic order, a void metonymically gliding along the signifying chain. But within this subject, there is finally a piece of “external” materiality, a paradoxical object that comes to fill the empty space as the intimate – extimate – kernel. In the core, we find the outside (hence the topological endeavour of Lacan’s later period to produce a suitable model for it).

The trouble arises because that paradoxical internal materiality can not successfully fill the void and the effort of every ideology is precisely to fit an element into an empty space. Love is one of the mechanisms of doing it, of accomplishing that miraculous passage from exterior into interior. The deceptive formations that ideology takes hold of are situated in an irreducible gap which cannot be healed. Whatever comes to fill this gap has no natural or legitimate affinity to it; it is in this impossibility that the ideology and its critique are situated.

One could pursue the analysis of the same basic model following other paths: the path of identification (which Freud suggests as complementary and opposed to love), the formation of symptoms, the path of fantasy (with its impossible articulation between the void of the subject and the object). It is by pursuing the analysis along those different lines that one could eventually come to a more elaborated theory of ideology “beyond interpellation”. I assume that all these paths converge in this basic point: that every ideology, in its reduced form, can be defined as an attempt to make the impossible junction of two minimal elements that by their very nature do not fit.

The rest, that bit of the real which could not pass into the symbolic structure, plays an essential part in the matter (beyond the “discursive strategies”, the analysis of nodal points and the articulation of floating signifiers), since it is only this part of the real, this eluding little object, that provides jouissance (as opposed to pleasure). That little bit of surplus is finally the motor of any ideological edifice, its fuel, the award elusively offered to the subject for entering into the ideological turmoil. The structural problem of ideology is ultimately that this fuel cannot be integrated into the edifice, so it turns out to be at the same time its explosive force.

Psychoanalysis is profoundly anti-ideological in its attempt to put asunder what ideology has united. Its very starting point is the failure of a happy union of two heterogeneous elements; but the remedy that analysis has to offer is not a promise of some other happy union or another harmony. It only shows that no such harmony is possible (or desirable), a paradoxical remedy since it offers a greater evil to heal a smaller one, showing that the disease that the subject suffers from is incurable, but that this incurable disease is another name for the subject, that it founds the very possibility of human experience.


  1. Cf. Lacan 198, p. 146-7.
  2. It is strange how Althusser himself, with his fundamental theoretical attitude, came to occupy a position comparable to that rest – the position that could not be situated and did not fit on either side, but haunting both from the side.
  3. Extimacy, Extimité, was also taken as the title of Jacques-Alain Miller’s course in 1985/86 to which I am greatly indebted.
  4. Michel Pêcheux, one of Althusser’s most perspicacious pupils, expressly deemed the formulations “subject of the unconscious”, “subject of science” as an “idealist reinscription” of Lacan committed by Lacan himself (Pêcheux 1975, p. 122).
  5. Althusser’s opposition to Lacan is most obvious in the brief remark: “Let me remark in passing that the process without a subject is also at the basis of the whole work of Freud.” (Althusser 1972, p. 70)
  6. I can be shown that this type of subjectivity is also at stake in Hegel’s philosophy (what Hegel had in mind with his “substance is the subject”). Althusser has at a certain point come closer to Hegel, otherwise his arch-enemy, by claiming that one can detect in Hegel precisely the process without a subject, although distorted by teleology (Althusser 1972, pp. 70, 87-8) – which, I think, is a major misunderstanding. Cf. Dolar 1998
  7. E. g.: “But to speak of the process without a subject implies that the notion of the subject is an ideological notion. … 1 – the concept of process is scientific; 2 -the notion of subject is ideological; …” (Althusser 1972, p. 70)
  8. Althusser uses the term symptom in his “lecture symptomale”, but in a very different meaning: l. it is not something that imposes itself as alien, but something that the reading has to “dig out”, a gap that has to be produced in what seemed like a seamless universe saturated with sense; 2. once it is dug out, it can be fully dissolved by the conceptual network, the gap is filled. The discourse of science fills in the symptoms.
  9. Michel Pêcheux was very well aware of the problem, speaking of “the lack of connection between ideology and the unconscious” (Pêcheux 1975, p. 122), or “the overbearing absence of an elaborated conceptual articulation” between the two (p. 136). He tried hard to fill the absence by some provisional formulas which mostly made the problem worse. Cf. pp. 123, 141, 147, 157-8, 162 etc.
  10. We are aware that what we have been able to contribute towards the explanation of the libidinal structure of groups leads back to the distinction between the ego and the ego ideal and to the double kind of tie which this makes possible – identification, and putting the object in the place of the ego ideal. (Freud 1985, p. 162)
  11. “Even in its caprices the usage oflanguage remains true to some kind ofreality. Thus it gives the name of ‘love’ to a great many kinds of emotional relationship which we too group together theoretically as love; but then again it feels a doubt whether this love is real, true, actuallove, and so hints at a whole scale of possibilities within the range of the phenomena of love. We shall have no difficulty in making the same discovery from our own observation.” (Freud 1985, p. 141)
  12. The decision about love can never be freely and autonomously taken by the subject him/herself. This is illustrated in a very amusing way in a Somerset Maugham’s short story, “A Marriage of Convenience”: a marriage advertisement by an eligible bachelor is answered by thousands of letters. The man has to face the utter impossibility of a choice and has to use another stratagem to make a decision – to put up at least some pretence of a choice made by Fate.
  13. Let me just briefly hint in a footnote to a paramount American example. The relation between love and free choice is one, of central themes in the work of Henry James. Many Jamesian plots turn around this point: if love comes from the Other, in that miraculous instant passage from external contingency into the intimate, if it does not spring from an inner decision, then it can be also artificially produced. There is something automatic, almost mechanical about falling in love, which can be used and abused. – A young girl, beautiful, rich and intelligent, comes from America to Europe to take her time and fully enjoy the freedom of her choice of a husband. But it is precisely at her most free and autonomous that she is trapped: what she considered to be the sign of Fate deciding about her marriage is revealed to be the result of a nasty intrigue. Her free choice was brought about artificially and since she had made her decision in complete autonomy, it is only by persevering in it that she can be portrayed as a lady. – Cf. e. g. also the short story “Lord Beaupré” which demonstrates the case with utmost clarity.
  14. Cf. “Thus we can say that love is a demand – even though it remains unanswered – a demand addressing the being [o..]. Love addresses that point of speech where the word failso” (Silvestre 1987, p. 301) The paper by Michel Silvestre on transference, “Le transfert dans la direction de la cure”, originally published in Ornicar? vol. 30, 1984, and then included in his posthumous volume (Silvestre 1987), is the best account of the transference in psychoanalysis that I know of.
  15. I do not think that enjoyment, to enjoy (as opposed to pleasure) are good English equivalents of la jouissance, jouir as used in psychoanalysis. It is very common in English to use the imperative form “Enjoy yourself!” or even the first person singular “I am enjoying myself’, whereas in French, it is practically impossible to use the imperative “Jouis!” (the Lacanian imperative of the Superego) or the first person singular “Je jouis” (unless under rather special circumstances when one is generally not inclined to speak). I prefer to follow the practice of many English authors to retain the French word.
  16. “That something is loved only because it exists -that follows from the obedience to the given, to the unavoidable; such obedience can be psychically brought about only through love. To accept what there is has become the strongest glue of the reality – instead of ideologies as specific, even theoretically justifying representations about the being. The blind spot of the unquestionable acceptance of something existing which happens to be in its place is one of the invariants of the bourgeois society.” (Adorno 1973, p. 222)
  17. Both what Lacan calls the logic of alienation and that of separation function according to that model (though I cannot develop it here), the first one accounting for the curtailment of sense (the , ,part of nonsense entailed by gaining sense), the second one accounting for the object, the part of being that one has to pawn in the operation (the object being placed in the intersection of the subject and the Other, that is, at the point where the lack of the subject coincides with the lack of the Other). Cf. Lacan 1973, p. 191 ff., 199 ff.
  18. Pascal in a way admits this by the circularity of his argument in the fragment 233: the wager on faith makes sense only if one already believes, before accepting faith, that it makes sense, that one will gain by it. Cf. also Zizek’s discussion of Pascal and the Althusserian use of it -Zizek 1989, 36- 40.
  19. Zizek proposed a theory of ideology, in the Lacanian view, based precisely on this point: “The last support of the ideological effect […] is the nonsensical, pre-ideological kemel of enjoyrnent. In ioeology ‘all is not ideology (that is, ideological meaning), but it is this very surplus which is the- support of ideology -(Žižek 1989, p. 124) From there, one can propose a different kind of account of ideology, structured not around meaning, but its limit or beyond, around its own impossibility (cf. Žižek’s attempt to reinterpret the classical case of anti-Semitism, ibid., pp. 125-9).
  20. The point could be demonstrated in a more technical way by Lacan’s “graph of desire”. While the first stage of the graph could be taken to present the mechanism of interpellation, the second stage deals with the dimension “beyond interpellation”. It introduces the entities not covered by interpellation and correlates them in the formula of fantasy, $ a.