In her keynote address at the Philosopher’s Rally, Elisabeth von Samsonow made a striking observation. The incest prohibition, she remarked, is not so much a family knot, as it is an ontological knot. Moving into the third millennium, she contended, would require that we overcome the incest prohibition. My jaw dropped to the ground. Was she advocating for all of us to have sex with our mothers and sisters?
Yet in claiming that the incest prohibition is an ontological knot, that it is not an issue of family romances, it was quite clear that she was– I think –talking about something quite different. What she seemed to be saying was that the philosophical discourse of ontology has hitherto been organized around the incest prohibition and, in particular, a structure of masculinity. In chapter 6 of The Democracy of Objects, I attempt to demonstrate that philosophy is organized around the masculine side of the graph of sexuation (the left side above). This is the basic structure of ontotheology and theism, where one term is privileged above the others as present to itself, without division and split, and as the sovereign that both legislates over all the others and as the origin of all the others. This structure is what I playfully refer to as “phallusophy”. \
Drawing on Lacanian psychoanalysis, I try to show how the masculine side of the graph of sexuation is the side of semblance or illusion and how it is the feminine side of sexuation that presents us with the truth of being. In Seminar 17, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, Lacan opposes the discourse of the analyst to the discourse of the master. The master is associated with the masculine side of the graph of sexuation and is characterized by the barred subject perpetually trying to both regain and eradicate the remainder (a). Indeed, we see the unconscious fantasy of the master appear in the lower portion of the graph of sexuation in the relation between $ and a. A subject united with the objet a would be an object in complete possession of itself, completely transparent to itself, without anything within itself or the world escaping from it. It would be both a sovereign legislator and the master of all within itself and about it.
This fantasy, then, would be the unconscious fantasy of phallusophy. Sometimes this fantasy will take the form of the Cartesian subject that is completely transparent to itself, at other times it will take the form of the Baconian lord of nature, at other times it will take the form of the Hegelian subject where subject and substance are identical to one another. In all instances there will be the repression, eradication, and disavowal of the objet a or remainder that escapes mastery. Yet as the graph teaches us, the remainder always returns or repeats, always coming back. Phallusophy thus finds itself endllessly repeating as it tries to master and regain this fleeting remainder that always escapes.
This fantasy that animates phallusophy would be one of the reasons philosophy endlessly tends towards idealism. Already, in the beginning, we witness Parmenides declaring that thought and being are identical (a claim that will later be repeated by Hegel and Badiou). If the phallusopher is so eager to claim the identity of thought and being, to declare the conceptuality of being, then this would be because such an identity would guarantee the mastery of all being and our ability to have and know being in advance without having to take detours through the world, sensation, and materiality. For after all, what is that which is given to the subject if not thought, conceptuality (which Kant calls “spontaneity” and activity), text, and intentionality? It is in these domains that the subject is present to itself, identical to itself, and in mastery of itself. Phallusophy will then become the drive to tame the world in terms of this self-possession so that we might become little gods or sovereigns.
It is here that we encounter the incest prohibition as an ontological knot as described by von Samonsow. In this pursuit of mastery philosophy will have to probit all of that that doesn’t fit the schema of transparency and self-possession: sensation, matter, work, technology, engineering, cooking, interpersonal relations, the body, etc. Already we see it happening in Plato with his general degradation of the body, senses, and the work of the servant boy in Meno. Everywhere these things that are anterior to thought, that cannot be mastered in advance by thought or a priori, will be prohibited or reviled in philosophy. And not by mistake, all of these things will be equated with femininity. The body prohibited in the incest prohibition will be the body of mother earth. And if woman (what I call the “queer”) becomes so anathema to the phallusopher, then it is because she is a perpetual reminder that the truth of the discourse of the master is $, the divided subject, or that the self-possessed subject, the transparent subject, the master, and the sovereign is always a sham, imposter, illusion by virtue of being mediated by all these things that have been excluded by phallusophy. If phallusophy is to become philosophy, to move beyond the discourse of the master and phallusophy, then the first step would consist in redeeming all of these allegedly “irrational” surds.