Red Leaves on the Mountain, Modern Painting by Singapore artistA recent discussion over at Another Heidegger Blog with Ghost has gotten me thinking about what, precisely, it is that I hope to preserve through onticology. The discussion did not start out in these terms. Rather, Ghost had asked why the clinician should be interested in object-oriented ontology. By this, I take it, Ghost was asking what relevance object-oriented ontology might have to the clinic. This discussion morphed into the question of what relevance the clinic might have to philosophy.

The interesting thing about the Lacanian clinic is the absence of theory in that setting. One might imagine that, upon entering analysis, talk would be punctuated by references to objet a, transference, the diagnostic categories and so on. After all, Lacan’s work is among the most elaborate and intricate psychoanalytic theories about. The surprise is that all of this disappears, at least in my experience. There is no talk of “the symptom”, transference, objet a, the diagnostic categories, the Other, the imaginary, symbolic, and real, castration, the name-of-the-father or any of the other categories that make up the bestiary of Lacanian theory. No. Instead the clinical setting completely revolves about the speech of the analysand. In my own analysis, for instance, I was never once situated in one of the three diagnostic categories. And why would such a subsumption be relevant anyway. The entire experience consisted of babble.

And this, ultimately, is, I think, the greatness of Lacanian practice. Rather than subsuming analysand’s under the technology of a category– categories too are technologies even if they seem to contain no machines –instead the clinic attends to the rustle of the analysand in the analysand’s singularity. If there is any word to characterize this experience, whether from the side of the analyst or the analysand, it is that of surprise. Not only is the clinical setting in which the analysand is surprised by her own speech, it is a setting in which the analyst is surprised by her speech and by the speech of the analysand. It is a lumpy, knotty space, where language no longer has univocal sense, but instead practices the art, as Lacan puts it in Seminar 22, RSI, of the equivoce, where certain moments in speech, whether on the side of the analytic act or where the analysand manages a moment of full speech, spiral out in a plurality of different directions without the ability to pin down sense and where, like Borges’ famous garden of forking paths, different destinies are present without being actualized. Above all it is a space where the subject can never be subsumed under a category or type. As I argued over at Paul’s blog, analysis is a “working through” of correlationism, where the analysand begins as a correlationist without knowing it, and ends up as an object-oriented subject that respects the rustle of subjects.

If onticology seeks to preserve anything, it is this rustle of being, its excess over all categorizations, language, history, social forces, power, mind, and all the rest. It wants to attune the ear to this rustle, its singularity, and the capacity for surprise. Far from wishing to capture being in a grand metaphysical system that puts everything in its place (here the homonym should be observed), it instead wishes to know nothing and stay stupid in the sense described by Dany Nobus and Malcom Quinn as described in the book by the same title. It is not by mistake that the central chapters of Difference and Givenness are punctuated by a discussion of the encounter or that which shatters the coordinates of correlation and which functions as the true “transcendental epoche”. It is often said, following Aristotle, that there can be no science of the individual. Alternatively, this statement could be translated as the statement that there can be no science of existence. If being and existence are opposed to one another, then this is because the former is the domain of the category, of what is knowable through reason as Meillassoux puts it in describing his own project contra Harman, whereas existence is always singular and therefore subsumable under any category or concept. Granted. But while existence may not be knowable, there is nothing to prevent it being thinkable. And all too often those that would seek to preserve the singularity of existence against the tyranny of the concept end up forgetting that very singularity. It is this rustle of existence, however, that is to be preserved.

If I am indebted to Lacan, then this is with respect to the incompleteness of every system, the objet a as that object that cannot be integrated or swallowed, the distrust of totalizing systems, but above all the analytic stance that respects this singularity of the analysand’s speech. It is an ontology that strives to keep its ear close to this rustle of being, maintaining the space of uncertainty and surprise, rejecting the pacifying or dominating tendencies of correlationisms that always strive to make us at home, to render the world heimlich, by subordinating it under something human.

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