Archive for March, 2010

Summary: Based on the understanding of revelation put forth in the first few parts of chapter four, we are ready to connect the importance of Rosenzweig (following Freud) to the claims about violence and monotheism that Santner alludes to at the beginning of the book. Rosenzweig’s contribution to a psychoanalytical understanding of monotheism is thus that, rather than the ultimate religion of the superego, Judaism as the first religion of revelation is exactly the opposite: the form of revelation is a therapy against the excesses and demands of the superego.

As Santner notes, this claim actually puts Rosenzweig’s work at odds with the typical understanding of the superego in Freudian analysis. In conventional Freudianism, the superego is what truly makes the subject answerable. But Rosenzweig argues that answerability under the pressure of the superego is only answerability in the third person–as an it, he, or she, rather than as an I. But revelation as opening up to the “too muchness” of the Other’s presence provides the possibility of organizing my responsibilities on something other than my own (super)ego. Drawing once again on Jonathan Lear, Santner posits that Rosenzweig helps us see the difference between accepting responsibility for one’s actions and holding oneself responsible. The latter can turn responsibility into a pathology, when understood under the sovereignty of the superego’s policing of identity.

Santner recalls Freud’s Moses and Monotheism before expounding on the peculiar historical situation of the Jewish people. Freud understood the unconscious passage of guilt through generations as constitutive of a “stuckness” at the core of spiritual life. Freud understood this guilt to be because of the murder of Moses, and argued that this guilt is what guaranteed the survival of the Jews as a people. For him, this murder repeats the Oedipal structure of the murder of the primal father, thereby entering the Jews into a form of life marked by a haunting of the law.

Robert Paul has offered an interesting reinterpretation of Freud on these claims that Santner takes up as helpful here. Paul recasts Pharaoh as Moses’ father, suggesting that Moses’ rebellion is what structurally inserts guilt into the legacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Moses’ rebellion and murder of Pharaoh is at once a patricide, deicide (Pharaoh is a living God), and a regicide (Pharaoh is a king). Mosaic Law requires a social reciprocity of one-for-one. Since this debt is uncollected, the Israelites are in some sense guilty by the very events that lead up to the Exodus from slavery and promulgation of the Law. This, then, has led to a compulsive superegoic guilt in Jewish ethics.

Rosenzweig’s writings on Judaism actually emphasize loss, separation and deterritorialization as things that constitute the Jewish people even more than Freud. Santner argues that, if effect, Rosenzweig grants that the anti-Semitic arguments of someone like Richard Wagner are correct. Jews do lack a passionate attachment to objects that characterize other peoples. These are not just any objects, but rather “primary libidinal objects” that constitute other historical the vitality and endurance of other historical peoples: land, territory, architecture, laws, customs, intuitions, and so on. In Rosenzweig’s understanding, the difference is structural–for Jews, the objects of desire are deemed holy and therefore the desire for them is infinitized. This infinitization of desire is an affirmation of an impasse; the holiness of the objects of desire prevents all feeling from being lavished on everyday life. In this view, the Jews are out-of-sync with the socio-symbolic relations that constitue the being-in-history of other nations and peoples.

Note that this particularity is not linked to any conceptualization or singularity about Jews as a people-in-history, but rather to the enigma of election. This experience of election can open “on to an order of experience ‘beyond the pleasure principle,’ beyond the teleological strivings that constitute the historical life of nations. As Rosenzweig would later put it, ‘There is no essence–that would be ‘concept’–of Judaism. There is only a Hear O Israel.'” (112)

From the perspective of this new kind of thinking about Judaism, Jewish destiny is best understood neither as simply historical nor simply ahistorical, but rather “meta-historically, articulated with the remnants immanent to history.” (113) Santner reads Rosenzweig in conjunction with the prophetic notion of the remnant of Israel, or the idea that Israel “will remain.” Freud’s mistake in Moses and Monotheism, from the perspective of Rosenzweig here, was to reduce this prophetic notion to a “stuckness” based on unconfessed guilt. In essence, to equate this notion with a specifically Jewish superego. Instead, Rosenzweig is able to make the case that the remnant is a conversion or unplugging from “normal” superegoic pressure, or a remaining addicted to the Egyptomaniacal labors that sustain our attachment to libidinal objects.

Returning yet again the the Kafkan/Agambenian (among others) conception of modern revelation, Santner suggests that the messianic task for Judaism is throwing light on the law’s foundation of an excess of validity over meaning. Revelation can turn us towards the undeadness that Santner has talked about throughout the book, and by calling us to accept responsibility for it, convert ideological captivation into suspension and interruption.

In Judaism, it is precisely the liturgical calendar of holidays that is able to anticipate a world of justice, or a world opened up with hospitality to the stranger.

What distinguishes the holiday from the everyday is, as I have been arguing, precisely a certain suspension of fantasy–call it the exodus or Sabbath from the “Egyptomania” that burdens everyday life, constrains our capacities to respond to the Other–rather than some sort of escape from the ordinary into a wish-fulfilling realm of fantasy or ecstatic “state of exception.” Such an exodus or Sabbath, thus, points not to a new and completely different life elsewhere but rather to the “small adjustment” which, as Benjamin suggests in his essay on Kafka, opens us to new possibilities of community here and now. (122)

In closing, it is important to note that Rosenzweig is not offering a philosophy of religion–he is concerned rather with the historicity of thinking. The Star of Redemption is largely taken up with how human beings move out into the world, in relationships of production and exchange, on behalf of revelation. It is this possibility of a holiday that Santner hopes Rosenzweig’s philosophy of revelation opens up.

Questions/comments: I’m not sure what to say to get discussion going. I have found this book to be thoroughly enlightening, and I think that Santner definitely answers the challenge of certain critiques of monotheism that he alludes to at the beginning of the book. More than that, however, I think this book becomes aimed at making Rosenzweig’s philosophy better known, and arguing for a constructive entrance into politics based on it.

Santner does take up some concern for political communities in the final part of chapter four, but I found the preceding sections to be among the best in the book, so I chose to keep the summary focused on them. Perhaps this constructive project is further taken up in books such as The Neighbor? I have been reading another of his books, On Creaturely Life, this week, and he alludes to some of the same themes in Rosenzweig there, but so far hasn’t addressed politics as explicitly. For me, the questions of contemporary political theory are some of the most interesting ones addressed in the book, and I hope to read more from Santner in this regard soon.

I hope any readers have enjoyed this discussion, and that if you are a lurker without the book, you’ve been compelled to take up and read.


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Summary: Santner begins chapter 4 by noting that Rosenzweig, following Schelling, connects the irreducible materiality of the Other with the concept of human freedom. When we encounter the Other in his or her singularity, we are able to encounter the characteristic way that the Other “contracts” his or her predicates of Being. This characteristic mode testifies to the fact of human freedom–what for Schelling is the moment that human being can truly say “I.” In other words, what makes me me is human freedom.

As Santner points out, Rosenzweig’s claim in the Star of Redemption is that the “I” is only manifest “in and through the response to the passionate call of one’s proper name.” (87) Without this cause and response, freedom remains impacted. But in the moment of this call/response, our attachment to existing social reality, the identifications through which we find our place in the world, are suspended.

Rosenzweig’s point in all of this is about love itself, especially love of God. Insofar as love is conceived on the model of relationship, then God remains in the register of a “third person.” Rosenzweig seeks to contract the model of love-as-relation to love-as-encounter. The first, which is the third-person model, thinks love on the basis of “predicative being”–in other words, on the knowable essence of another person. By contrast, the encounter model (what Santner following Rosenzweig labels ‘revelatory love) conceives of the encounter as one “with the Other in his or her death-driven singularity”–or better, in the specific locus of human freedom.

This conceptualization of revelation seemed to be one of the key moments in the book so far:

The paradox of revelatory love —as opposed to what we can refer to as relational surrender —is, thus, that it in some sense reveals nothing. It is a love in whose light no new predicate, no new content, becomes manifest beyond the “nothing”—in Schelling’s terms, the nonbeing —of the demonic, tautological self-sameness testifying to our freedom. Rosenzweig’s argument is, in essence, that the anamnesis of this freedom, vividly conceptualized above all by Kant and Schelling as that which cannot be captured in “relationships,” can become the basis of a specifically modern and philosophically rigorous renewal of the concept and experience of revelation. (90)

Rosenzweig’s point in all of this is about love itself, especially love of God. Insofar as love is conceived on the model of relationship, then God remains in the register of a “third person.” Rosenzweig seeks to contract the model of love-as-relation to love-as-encounter. The first, which is the third-person model, thinks love on the basis of “predicative being”–in other words, on the knowable essence of another person. By contrast, the encounter model (what Santner following Rosenzweig labels ‘revelatory love) conceives of the encounter as one “with the Other in his or her death-driven singularity”–or better, in the specific locus of human freedom.

What this understanding of revelation amounts to is a specific sense of being-in-the-midst-of-life–it is a particular was of openness and response to the Other. According to Santner, Rosenzweig does not understand this revelatory opening to be part of typical human development; rather, it is an event of the ‘psychotheology of everyday life.’

Santner makes an economic comparison to reiterate this point. The formulation of comparing oneself to the Other is similar to Marx’s understanding of commodity value, whereby one value (the relative value) is contingent on the use value of a second commodity (the equivalent value). This does not mean that the valus is fixed–the original commodity’s value could be compared to other commoditiy’s than the second one, ie a C, D, or E value, etc. This endless linkage of possible values leaves s atrapped in a relativism of value. But the solution to this is what Marx terms the general equivalent, or the value that speaks for all other values, and as such is on a different level of being.

Jean-Joseph Goux points out that this is where commodity exchange enters the realm of logos and reason, because as an arbiter, the general equivalent also has the measuring capabilities of reason itself. For Marx,the general equivalent gains objective fixity when this becomes one commodity–the gold standard. But, as Santner points out, both Rosenzweig and Marx remind us that this symbolic system of representation does not run smoothly. It always is stuck with a remainder, a surplus for which no equivalent value can be thought. This surplus is what functions as a possible break from the dominance of the sovereign/general equivalent. Indeed, for Rosenzweig, this opening is revelation–“an intervention into the very syntax by which values are determined and to which we are bound in our life with values. … Revelation is a paradoxical mode of opening to what seems most fatefully “demonic” about us, what “sticks out” from our predicative being; it is paradoxical because it involves both an affirmation and a negation of this demonic core.” (97)

For Santner, this revelatory moment opens up a demand to change direction in one’s life. Challenging or intervening into the rigidity of being–a pulse of undeadness–in order to release us from a repetition compulsion is a shared, fundamental concern for Freud and Rosenzweig. This possibility is what Santner identifies as a change of direction in one’s life. “It happens when we find ourselves, if only momentary, in what we might call the void of our character, its element of tautological self-reference, its B = B.” (98)

This change of direction requires a re-thinking of happiness. As Jonathan Lear points out, psychoanalytically speaking, reflection on happiness shows that it is literally a “lucky break.” It’s a happenstance moment of good luck, an existential sabbath from the relations of production and exchange that constitute life before the change in direction. Moments of happiness are those, Santner argues, in which the superego’s demands are revealed as bits of nonsense that cannot be meaningful, consistent communication.

This can also be put in terms of our understanding of human loneliness. Ronsenzweig doesn’t have in mind a conversion beyond loneliness, but rather loneliness as an opening/openness to what is other. Revelation is thus our conversion to this kind of loneliness. This is the deanimation of the undead, where undead is understood as persistent metaphysical loneliness. This change in direction of being allows us to enter the Kingdom of God–but this entering does not presuppose a transcending of social relations but rather an intervention into and a conversion of our mode of captivation. “Revelation is ultimately nothing but a clearing away of the fantasies that confine our energies within an ultimately defensive protocosmic existence–our various forms of “Egyptomania”–that keep us at a distance from our answerability within everyday life and, to use Lear’s formulation, from the possibilities for new possibilities that are all the time breaking out within it.” (101-02)

Revelation thus opens up a release from the superego’s constant demands to translate its babblings into meaningful communication (ie legislation of its demands). This is what is at work in the heroes of Kafka’s novels; it is superegoic pressure and excitation that envelopes them. For Rosenzweig, this new face of revelation releases the subject from this “Egyptomania.” This is the time and space of an ethical encounter–a space where new possibilities of being-together can arise.

Questions/reflection: At times I felt that the beginning of this chapter was pretty dense, but I hope this doesn’t come through in my summary. Santner’s prose seems to gravitate between a very technical language and a very pristine formulation.

Clearly the dominant topic of this part of the chapter is revelation. I think we may still have some to talk about with regard to the “nothingness of revelation” that has been a consistent reference point throughout the book. Here I think that this understanding still relates, but through Rosenzweig, it has been subjectivized to be the truth of the subject–all of the stuff about the tautology at the center of the self. I’m wondering how this understanding of revelation compares with understandings in modern theology, as I’m not really well-versed enough to say. Generally, I have found this to be a pretty thoughtful meditation, opening up a possibility of an intersubjective being-with. This is something that I know others, such as Marcel and Levinas, address, but I’m not sure if it’s done in terms of psychoanalysis as it is here.

Finally, please comment if something needs to be clarified. I have tried to rely on my notes and important quotes that I have taken from the book, and I hope I haven’t sacrificed fluidity in my summary because of this. The reference to Kafka’s novels is particularly helpful for me, as The Trial is one of my favorites. Maybe some passages from The Trial could be helpful here?

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The second portion of Santner’s third chapter reiterates the reason for his long discussion of Schreber’s memoirs, outlined in the previous posting, which he believes serves as helpful backdrop to Franz Rosenzweig’s magnum opus The Star of Redemption. Santner feels that the Star should be understood, “not only as a systematic analysis of those ‘conditions contrary to the Order of the World’ that cost Daniel Paul Schreber his sanity but also as an elaboration of the philosophical and theological resources through which one might open a path beyond them” (55). Rosenzweig, Santner claims, was himself concerned was the various appearances of sovereign exception, and the law that ceaselessly exudes its “obscene undeadening supplement through which we all potentially become, though obviously in radically different manners and degrees, homines sacr”(55).

Santner then begins a discussion of Rosenzweig’s conception of sovereignty, which he observers generally follows Walter Benjamin’s better known conceptualization. Santner notes that we could even understand Benjamin’s view as a meditation on Schreber’s experiences with the violence that is immanent to law. Central to Benjamin’s meditation is an acknowledgment to a certain self-referentiality of legal institutions, which is most obviously evident in the notion of the death penalty. Benjamin, Santner notes, recognizes that this is an exercise of violence over life and death that, in its violence, runs “rotten,” as it were, of law itself. But this rottenness illustrates that law is, in fact, without ultimate foundational justification, with the force and violence that sustains this law acting in place of these missing justifiable foundational premises.  In the end, law is sustained not by reasoned premises alone, but also by violence best expressed in the tautological formulation that “the law is the law.” For Benjamin, this is the source of all “chronic institutional disequilibrium and degeneration” (57).

As Santner delineates, Benjamin in fact distinguishes between two aspects of this “outlaw” dimension of law: law making violence and law-preserving violence. The former posits the boundaries between what will or will not be regarded as lawful or unlawful, while the later refers instead to those acts that serve to maintain these boundaries once they have been established. To this end, Santner notes that Benjamin in fact devotes significant portions of his analysis of violence to police, whom Benjamin claims are a “spectral mixture” that can no longer guarantee through the legal system the empirical ends that it desires or, alternately, where “extra-legal” violence upon the rule of law is most readily observed. In democratic societies, where there is usually an open and pronounced disavowal to such forms of “extra-legal” violence. The “open secret” of sanctioned police violence can be somewhat disturbing.

Switching from one intellectual to another, Derrida’s view that Benjamin’s task was to expose extra-legalities demonstrated in post-revolution Weimar parliamentarians can, Santner claims, be subsumed into his discussion of the Schreber case, particularly with an understanding of the general notion of the performative utterances of speech acts. A performative utterance is one that brings about its own propositional content, thereby establishing new social facts, just by the setting it was enunciated in. For example, as when a judge (to again use Schreber’s position as an example) declares a couple “husband and wife.” These performative utterances are themselves part of a chain of nested sets of relations that are prefatory to their eventual functioning. For example, before a judge can be recognized as a judge, his effectivity as a social agent (i.e. his judegship, in this case) must be first established and recognized, with power symbolically transferred to him by other performatives that announce his judgeship. Santner explains that Benjamin’s claim is that, at a certain point, this chain of performativity transference bottoms out, encountering a “missing link to the origin of the symbolic capital circulating through it” (58). To certain perceptive people, this missing link is actual everywhere present, as something “rotten” in the law. For Benjamin, it is in fact this “rottenness” actualized by the missing link that drives the symbolic machinery of the law, infusing it with its characteristic violence and compulsion.

In the third portion of this chapter, Santner analyzes Rosenzweig’s critique of violence, found in the third volume of the Star, which emphasises the temporality of the “self-conserving repetition” as the heart of sovereignty. For Rosenzweig, sovereignty is a jurdico-political “solution” to the problem of establishing lasting meaning against the inexorably forward oriented onrush of time. In a paragraph-length expert from The Star, Rosenzweig indicates the world’s people are as life running downhill broad stream. If the state is to provide them with eternity, this stream must be halted and damned up to form a lake. It must, in other words, turn the constant alterations of their life into preservation and renewal.  When the state intervenes and provides law on the change, there now exists something; if everything is decreed, everything endures. Santner aptly relays that Rosenzweig’s theorizing on political ontology ultimately comes down to a meditation on two meanings of the word succession. In once sense the state introduces “standstill, stations, epochs” (63) in an attempt to overcome the meaningless succession of time. This mode of overcoming, though, merely transposes the homogeneity of temporal succession into the ceaseless violence of hegemonic succession: the succession of empires, rules, etc. In the end, Santner contends that Rosenzweig’s ultimate purpose with his detailed reflections on political ontology was to how Judaism and Christianity, though in quite different and even diametrically opposed ways, can allow us to detach or unplug ourselves from this ceaseless pattern of succession, “We might even say that The Star of Redemption . . . is nothing but an attempt to give a rich philosophical account of this gesture of unplugging as well as of the apparent necessity of its splitting into divergent—Jewish and Christian—modalities or idioms” (63-64). This unplugging need not signify a radical break with social reality; rather, it signifies a suspension of the, “undead” additions to the law, a “‘sabbatical’ interruption not of work per se but of a surplus, fantasmatic labor at the core of the sovereign relation” (64). Santner relays that the possibly of an awakening – or, a deanimation of undeadness – is, for Rosenzweig, conterminous with the event of revelation, which is to be understood as a violent intrusion into the order of human life. The key to understanding Rosenzweig’s project, Santner claims, is to recognize the difference between two types of interpellation and their objections; to grasp the difference between being identified as a part of a large social whole (what Santner earlier called symbolic investiture) and being part of something that is no part. As related by Santner, Rosenzweig suggests that these two modes of interpellation are linked, “one can be singled out, Rosenzweig suggests, only on the basis of an impasse within the logic of identification, on the basis, that is, of a symptomatic remnant generated by ‘identificatory’ interpellation. (65).”

For the forth portion of the chapter, Santner engages in an interesting interaction with Rosenzweig’s notion of deity, including the notions of revelation and love. For Rosenzweig, Santner notes that the lover imperative emerges out of God’s protocosmic being as the way in which God’s essence comes to seize a human life, thereby assuming an agency in need of a response rather than passive contemplation, acknowledgement rather than a claim to pursue this knowledge (in this way, he moves beyond the intellectual vicissitudes of academic theology). Rosenzweig argues that God must be more than a mere creator; he must also fall in love with his creation: “. . . divine love in Rosenzweig’s view is nothing but the opening up of possibilities of facing up to – of in some sense countenancing” – that in the subject which is ‘more’ than the subject, the ‘too much’ of pressure, the excess of reality that is, in large measure, organized in the fantasies that bind us to social reality” (71).

Santner then moves on to account for Rosenzweig’s view of the individual; what accounts, in other words, for the singularity of the individual human and what ultimately makes a human life irreplaceable. For Rosenzweig, this is not some determinate predicate, but rather the “utter alterity of death which installs in life a fundamental nonrelationality, a dense core of existential loneliness that in some sense is who we are” (72). Death, then, is what distinguishes the singular from the All. Santner outlines Rosenzweig ‘s death-driven singularity” of the metaethical self in some detail, which he distinguishes from the concept of personality, noting Rosenzweig’s equation of B = A, “signifying the entrance of what is particular, individual, distinctive [das Besondere] into the general or universal [das Allgemeine]” (73). The self signifies the part that is in fact no part. As Santner himself demarcates, when one reads personal ads in newspaper, one typically finds a listing of positive attributes that someone is seeking in partner, attributes such as: likes long walks on beach, yoga, piña coladas, etc. The typical abbreviation SWF (single white female) outline the generality of hate object being addressed. However, all such attributes belong, strictly speaking, to the personality. Any number of people would identify with this general resume as a list of traits. However, when one truly loves a person, one loves what is precisely not generic about them, what cannot be substituted for by someone else; something that is, in fact, irreplaceable. As Santner elaborates, this singular ‘something’ that Rosenzweig calls the (metaethical) self and that resists generic identification – that has no general equivalent – is not some other, more substantial self behind the personality, not, that is, some sort of true self that, say, assumes a distance to the social roles of the personality; it is, rather, a gap in the series of identifications that constitute it . . . we might understand the self as a limit concept of the personality, as the personality at the zero-point of its ( predicative) content.”

Santner ends the third chapter with an overview of Rosenzweig’s conception of shame, especially related to the shock of love. For Rosenzweig, the “shock” of love, is in some sense a shame with regard to these very dignities, that is, a shame at their propensity to assume the quality of dense mechanisms against “indignity” or, to borrow Schreber’s term, Ludertrum, produced by every symbolic investiture: “In some sense, then, love makes it possible to suspend, if only momentarily, our defences with respect to this unnerving by- product of the processes and procedures of our socio-symbolic authorization. At such moments, the persuasive consistency of positive Being, the world of social relations (and its distribution of dignity), shines forth in the illumination of its contingency” (85).

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Santner begins his third chapter of On the Psychotheolgy of Everyday Life with a lengthy excurses to the memoirs of the Saxon Supreme Court judge Daniel Paul Schreber, which he holds to be a fertile junction of psychoanalytic and theological thought. Schreber, whose paranoid delusions were interpreted by Freud to be “fantasmatic elaborations of a homosexual panic” (46) in one of his more well-known case-studies, felt that God was changing him into a woman (viz. to encourage Schreber to promote the development of his own feminine jouissance) via the transformative effect of divine rays. This psychosis struck Schreber at an acute time in his life, when, in fact, he was to assume the highest position in the Saxon Court of Appeals; a time, anyway, when he was well into middle-age. At this point in his life, Santner notes that this break-down occurred when Schreber would have been rather sensitive to the dilemmas of symbolic investiture, that is, “those social acts, often involving a ritualized transferral of a title and mandate, whereby an individual is endowed with a new social status and a role within a shared symbolic universe”(47) . Santner notes that symbolic investiture establishes predicative authority in two senses. Firstly, the utterances conferring the title (in the case of Schreber the title of Senatspräsident, lit. Senate President) merely establishes and recognizes Schreber’s already manifest qualifications for the position (or else he would have not been selected to be a candidate for the position of a Supreme Court Justice in the first place). Secondly, however, symbolic investiture also includes a second level of what Santer phrases as a “linguistic effectivity” (Ibid.), whereby the “in itself” is converted to a “for itself,” or, rather, when the attributes necessary for judgeship is transformed into the attribution of judgeship itself. This conversion, as it were – it adds no predicative attributes other than the title – is, as Santner quotes Pierre Bourdieu, “the principle behind the performative magic of all institutions” (48). Santner hypothesizes that Schreber’s somewhat apocalyptical sense that the world had been destroyed, i.e. ceased to matter – what Schreber himself called “soul murder,” – was in fact “grounded in a fundamental impasse in his capacity to metabolize this performative magic, to be inducted into the normative space opened by it” (48). To Santner, the psychotic’s experiences of these symbolic processes should be understood as a literalization, and therefore an egregious misinterpretation, of the concept of performativity as understood by speech-act theory, i.e. a performative utterance is itself the performing of an action, not merely the saying of something. To this end, Santner notes J.L. Austin’s (the philosophical progenitor of speech-act theory) elaboration of this: the saying of “I Do” before the altar of marriage; this is not, according to Austin, reporting on marriage, but rather indulging in it. For Santner, Schreber’s notion of his “soul murder” signifies the collapse of this symbolic dimension of performative speech acts, where all speech came to be experienced as the performing of an action, what Santner calls “direct psychophysical inscription” (48).

Appropriating Harold Bloom’s conception of the benefits of authority, which derives from the foundation and perpetuation of institutions (such as the Judiciary of Saxony), Santner suggests that Schreber’s break-down was linked to a disturbance in Schreber’s ability to transfer and appropriate these benefits. To wit: “Rather than leading to an expansion and augmentation of symbolic capacities, they precipitated a deranging experience of mental and corporeal intensification” (49). For Schreber, this induction into institutional normativity was experienced as an obscene and endless seduction, a seduction by message, to use the process described by Jean Laplanche (49). Schreber’s dysfunction was related to his inability to accept a symbolic citation, unable to recognize himself as a Senatspräsiden, in other words. Essentially, Schreber discovered that symbolic investiture can introduce the subject to, as it were, unwanted surplus reality. Santner contends that the preceding reflections may lead one to complement Freud’s well-know structural model of the psyche (the id, ego, and super-ego) with another topology that Santner likes to paronomastically abbreviate as the “Ego and the Ibid” (50). As Santner describes this system, “the libidinal component of one’s attachment to the predicates securing one’s symbolic identity must also be thought of as being ibidinal: a symbolic investiture not only endows the subject with new predicates; it also calls forth a largely unconscious ‘citation’ of the authority guaranteeing, legitimating one’s rightful enjoyment of those predicates (that is at least in part what it means to ‘internalize’ a new symbolic identity)” (40). Because the authority vested in Schreber’s position is without ultimate foundation qua substantive reason, this “ibinity,” as it were, is a citation of lack, so it is never settled in a permanent or absolute sense. This “ibinity,” in fact, can in some sense be seen in the light that authority is referentially self-grounded. Every call which connotates authority to another human subject, which in itself is the presupposing of symbolic investiture, exudes what Santner calls a “surplus value of physic excitation” that holds the place of the missing foundation of the authority which issued the call in the first place. Santner notes the primary concern of Freud was relating to the trouble the human mind encounters regarding these constitutive uncertainties that plague identity in a universe of symbolic values (51).

Santner notes that one of the more interesting episodes in Schreber’s already interesting Memoirs is his description of an epiphany, an epiphany that is essentially the psycho-physical of the surplus of validity of meaning which Santner has been hitherto describing in this chapter, what  Schreber himself labelled an epiphany of noneness. Santner even includes the interesting, if slightly troubling, excerpt from Schreber’s memoirs where he describes this epiphany, which apparently allowed Schreber to confront the mental voices which had been tormenting him, voices he ostensibly addresses with the titles of Zoroastrian deities (which does seem odd to me given my understanding that Zorastrinism is, at best, a henotheistic religion, if not a proto-monotheistic religion). However, Santner notes that the appellation toward Schreber favoured by the deity in Schreber’s description – Luder – is in itself significant, signifying in German all manner of negative connotations, such as slut, whore, scoundrel, etc. The sexual significations are especially notable, Santner remarks, because they themselves are signifiers of Schreber’s psychotic fear of being turned over to others for some sort of sexual exploitation. Santner claims that what Schreber describes in his epiphany is the effects of coming too close to an excess of validity over meaning that is invariably instantiated in all institutions which control symbolic identities. This excess, Santner argues, is “the very ‘stuff’ of fantasy that is secreted within and by the procedures of investiture, procedures which, in a profound way, inform our relation to possibility and normativity” (53).

Drawing on Giorgio Agamben and Franz Kafka, Santner claims that Schreber in effect experienced both sides of the duality comprising what he calls the “state of expectation, which has the power to somehow transform Schreber into a Luder. (54). In essence, the sovereign’s act of the suspension of law, which marks a point of indistinction, is exasperated by the (un)deadening exposure to this area of indistinction (53). Santner notes the resemblance between Kafka’s writings and Schreber’s condition as outlined in his memoirs, as both authors describe the order of the proto-world from the perspective of “sacred man” (Ibid.) At the end of this long excurses, Santner iterates that what makes Schreber such an apropos witness is Schreber’s intuition that his breakdown was a crisis that affected all regions of being that constitute the All, including the divine, even thought Schreber was himself quite non-religious. The disintegration of ability of symbolic investiture to facilitate a normative connection to Schreber’s being-in-the-world – leaves Schreber in a world where “all meaningful relations among the regions of being have been effectively supplanted by purely external and nonsensical ones” (55).


As Robert noticed in the last posting, Santner begins every chapter with a digression into something that, perhaps at face value, does not have any apparent saliency to the topic at hand, somehow drawing it together by the end of the chapter. The rather long digression to the memoirs of Schreber is, I believe, the longest such example in the book, and I have fully dedicated the full post to this portion, partly because I had problems compressing this prolonged excursion any further, and partly because I thought it warranted such a large portion. (Of course, who doesn’t want to read about the fantasmatic delusions of a homosexual panic?)  The next post, of course, will deal with the remainder of the third chapter.

Again, since Jeremy is our very own in-house psychoanalyst, I wonder if he can elaborate any on the case of Schreber (or even the ratman, who is also rather interesting and weird), who I understand is a rather well known case from the files of Sigmund Freud.

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Santner begins chapter 2 with a discussion of a Harold Bloom article on Freud. Bloom argues that the “Freudian Eros” is Judaic rather than Greek because every “investment of libido” is a transference of authority ultimately with reference to the Jewish God. (25) But Bloom also argues that Freud’s concept of authority is Roman rather than Jewish because for him authority “founds and augments.” (26) Therefore Bloom suggests that Freud misunderstands the nature of authority in Judaism, where humans do not become subject to the sovereign (God) in the same way they do to the sovereignty that founds and augments institutions. Instead, the Jewish God is a master who “suspends the sovereign relation.” (27) Santner wishes to discover where to locate the “intervention of psychoanalysis.” (27) Is the analytic cure for the purpose of renewing our ability to be subject to sovereignty by assuming “the symbolic mandates that determine our identity in the eyes of the community and tradition,” or is it on the side of a break with the culture of legitimation? “The conceptual space of this inquiry can thus be thought to span the divide between the sciences of symbolic identity and an ethics of singularity.” (28)

To this end, Santner delimits Freud’s conception of unconscious mental activity in two directions. On the one hand, with Lacan, he asserts that the unconscious is “machine-like” in the sense that its activity takes place at a “psychophisical dimension of symbolization ‘below’ the level of intentionality.” So Freudian self-deception, for instance, should not be understood as hiding from oneself the true propositional reason for one’s behavior. There is something about mindedness that is nonteleological, uncapturable by our normal understandings of purposeful behavior. At the same time, on the other hand, one should not treat the unconscious as mechanical in the sense of a physiological mechanism like the beating of the heart – if this were so, then the task of analysis would be one of development rather than cure. The subject of psychoanalysis begins “where biological life is amplified and perturbed by the symbolic dimension of relationality.” Borrowing from Agamben, Santner says that psychoanalysis is concerned with “biopolitical” life. (30) His question is how to understand the “quasi-mechanical insistence” of biopolitical life. Also, whether the notion of the “blessings of more life” can be understood as an exodus from the question of a life’s legitimacy. The question of legitimacy presupposes the notion of an exception to the “space of social reality and meaning,” a beyond. Santner’s exodus would not be to the beyond, but out of the fantasies that keep us enthralled to the notion of a beyond.

Using the hybridity the terms Freud uses to describe biopolitical animation, Santner argues that Freud’s discourse is always one of relationality as well energy. For instance, “discharge,” has both the sense of discharging excess energy, and the sense of discharging one’s duty. This hybridity comes to the fore in Freud’s discussion of the uncanny compulsiveness of Jewish spiritual functioning. He describes the qualitative aspect of trauma — the too-muchness of it — using a word (Anspruch) which can mean a demand for work. But it’s related to a word (ansprechen) that means “address an other.” (32) So we might say trauma is generated by a “too much of address,” and address that is symbolically undigestible. It can’t be translated into a demand for work. In other words, for Freud desires and wishes are interpretations of pressure or “tension states,” which occasion certain activities. But interpretations always leave a remainder that can’t be satisfied, a remainder beyond the pleasure principle. The process of converting this remainder into a “support for social adaptation,” is fantasy. Santner suggests we must unbind this fantasy and the social bond effectuated by it to truly inhabit the midst of life. (33)

Here Santner turns to Jean Laplanche as one who has addressed the hybridity of Freudian terms. Laplanche defends the place of the other in constituting symptomatic agency, against a “Copernican” tendency within psychoanalysis. He does this by defending the role of “seduction,” encounter with the enigmatic presence of the Other’s desire, in the birth of sexuality. For example, in nursing the child confronts a pleasure in the m(other) that it cannot understand or circumscribe. Why, it asks (as it were) does the breast want to suckle me? What Laplanche is describing is “nothing short of the birth of the drama of legitimation as constitutive of human subjectivity.” (34) This is not merely a quest for biological origins, but a defense of the role of the Other in establishing one’s crisis of legitimation early-on. Thus one’s “induction into the socio-symbolic order” has more to do with encountering this enigma than with learning language: it is not just cognitive, but existential. Santner calls this kind of unconscious transmission, being neither enlivening nor deadening, an undeadening (yes, that’s supposed to ring a bell). Thus, the destructive “face” of the death drive “comes to human being by virtue of its thrownness amidst the enigmatic messages.” (37)

Santner suggests that another way to understand the difference between the merely cognitive and the existential inscription into social relations is by referring to a modern notion of “revelation” as the de-signified signifier. The de-signified signifier is a surplus of address over meaning, of signification as such over what it signifies. Kafka’s fiction is exemplary of this. His protagonist’s are in thrall to a “(hindered) revelatory force” that has validity without meaning. (39) Yet this also gives meaning to their lives. This dilemma points “to the fundamental place of fantasy in human life.” Fantasy organizes this surplus into our own personal world-distorting viewpoint. Yet this “torsion” sustains our sense of the “consistency of the world and our place in it.” (40) Because both Freud and Rosenzweig’s projects attempt an intervention into these fantasies, “What is at stake in both projects is the possibility of recovering, of ‘unbinding,’ the disruptive core of fantasy and converting it into ‘more life,’ the hope and possibility of new possibilities.”

Now Santner draw in Agamben and the notion of the sovereign’s “moment of exception,” which occurs when sovereign authority suspends the law to preserve the state, when “sovereign authority continues to be in force while all particular laws and regulations are declared to be suspended.” Sovereignty’s function is partially traumatic, then. So Santner is proposing that what is “undeadening in human life is. . . not exposure to lawlessnes as such but rather to the meta-juridical dimension of the law,” that in modernity becomes chronic. (42) (The messianic task thereby becomes more difficult, as the messiah must confront a law that is in force without signification!) What “calls for suspension” (as the outcome of analysis) is not, therefore, the law itself, but the surplus excitation that sutains the paralyzing force of juridical normativity. Santner, via Bloom, connects this goal with that of the prophets Elijah and Amos, who seek a “freedom in our time.” (43) Consequently, psychoanalysis and theology should be thought together.

Santner concludes with a “coda” to point out that the efficacy of enigmatic signifiers is not limited to the parent-child relation, but that we are always surrounded by the “remainders of lost forms of life.” He uses the loss of the capacity to pray as an example, in which case “God” assumes “the status of a designified signifier.” (44) The Jewish dimension of psychoanalytic thought, then, is that the cure is a kind of exodus — out of Egyptomania; that is, out of the undeadness of our paralysing fantasies.


There was so much of interest in this chapter. One thing that begins to become clear at this point in the book is the genius of Santner’s presentation: he begins each section within a chapter on a seemingly unrelated tangent, nonetheless bringing it to bear upon his central thesis for that chapter. The rhetorical form has a sort of pin-wheel spiral shape to it, in which each section begins at the end of one arm of the spiral and curves inward to touch the conclusions of the rest. (In thus summary, each paragraph corresponds to one section.)

One reference in the chapter that I would like to explore in greater depth is when Santner quotes Agamben on the “legitimation crisis” of law. He (Agamben) mentions, among others, Christian dogma as an example of this law. I’m curious to understand how it, in particular, functions as a Nothing of Revelation and why this should be so more in modernity than earlier? Maybe it’s my unfamiliarity with Agamben’s understanding of Christianity, but I fail at this point to see how it exists in a state of exception…

I deeply appreciated this first exposure to the notion the intersection of the biological and the significant, according to Laplanche. Santner says that in his narrative we find “the birth of the drama of legitimation as constitutive of human subjectivity.” The implication is that the drama of legitimation continues to constitute human subjectivity? Or does the latter have other dimensions?

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Santner’s first chapter begins with a summary of two stories.

The first is by Robert Walser, the story of a child who decides to run away to the end of the world. As it runs, the child fantasizes about what the end of the world will be. Finally it meets a farmer who points it to a nearby farmhouse called “End of the World.” The child goes there, is taken in by the family that lives there, first as a maid, but with the promise of future adoption. “Never did the child run off again, for it felt at home.” (12)

The second story is by Franz Kafka, the story of a philosopher who studies children’s tops, believing that “the understanding of any detail, that of a spinning top, for instance, was sufficient for the understanding of all things.” (12) The philosopher’s project assumes “the aspect of an interminable repetition compulsion,” and eventually he begins to act like a top himself.

Santner retells these stories because they introduce us to one of the central preocuppations of both Freud and Rosenzweig: the problem of inhabiting the middle of life. Both the child and the philosopher are indulging fantasies which correspond to “the ways in which Kant defined metaphysics in his critical writings.” Both of them search for some “’beyond’ of the space of meaning that would nonetheless be a possible object of (meaningful) experience.” (13-14) In other words, their fantasy is one of standing, impossibly, outside their being-in-the-world.

Rosenzweig makes a distinction in which he seems to “span the idioms of Walser’s and Kafka’s narratives,” between his notion of being-in-the-midst-of-life and the philosophical search for the arche or telos, between the revealed world and the conceptualized world. He lived this distinction by his turn from an academic career. For him the entire academic life was a defense against being-in-the-world. The road out of this bind involved rediscovering his Judaism. (16) He called this influence his “dark drive” (“that I merely name by calling it ‘my Judaism’”). (17) Ruled by his dark drive, he became “more firmly rooted in the earth” and reduced cognition from an end to a means.

Rosenzweig’s transformation happened by way of “passage through and beyond a certain fantasmatic structure.” — An academic discipline gains autonomy in its questioning, “which like a vampire drains him whom it possesses of his humanity.” (18) Liberation from the “spell” of a repetitive and insatiable prusuit is effected by a dark drive. (18) The initial pursuit is an “uncanny animation,” an “undeadness,” in contrast to the vitality and humanity of the new dark drive which is “correlative to a deanimation of the undeadness” of scholarly pursuits. (18-19)

Rosenzweig explicitly links his project “to a therapeutic paradigm.” (19) He is diagnosing and prescribing for a disease which he himself suffered: “apoplexia philosophica.” (20) He describes in general terms a cure that enabled him personally to escape the spectres of academia.

This is the disease: “to hold oneself at a distance from life and its temporal flow.” (20) The error involves refusing to let go of experiences of wonder, being unable to wait for a natural solution to such wondering. Rather, the philosopher becomes addicted to wonder “as the promise of a key to the All, to Being in its totality.” (20) Santner gives the example of sexual difference, to which Rosenzweig writes that the normal solution is the experience of love. When two people love each other “they are no longer a wonder to each other; they are in the very heart of wonder.” (20) The philosopher can’t wait for such solutions.

This refusal to let go of wonder is the birth of metaphysical thinking. It wouldn’t matter if only professional philosophers were addicted to it, but no man is immune to the disease. “Everyday life is itself congenitally susceptible to this mode of thinking.” (21)

Rosenzweig argues that metaphysical thinking leads one to stand “outside of life.” (21) — and this is ultimately an expression of death anxiety. Fearful of life’s end man chooses “death in life,” the “paralysis of artificial death.” (22) “We are dealing here with a paradoxical kind of mental energy that constrains by means of excess.” (22) But Rosenzweig’s cure doesn’t involve eliminating but “tarrying with this unassumable excess. . . to use a Freudian formulation, it will involve a certain readiness to feel anxiety.” (22)

The central similarity between Rosenzweig’s and Freud’s projects is that humans, as self-interpreting animals, can become enmeshed in interpretation that painfully hinder life. Human life produces “fundamental fantasies” and these fantasies can be understand as “defensive structures.” Also, both thinkers associate their therapeutic projects with their judaic inheritance.

Santner’s book is an attempt to bring these two projects into sustained conversation, with these results: a new awareness of the theological dimensions of Freudianism; a new awareness of Rosenzweig’s contributions to the theory of drives; a new awareness of “the affect-laden process of traversing and dismantling defensive fantasies, the structured undeadness that keeps us from opening to the midst of life and the neighbor/stranger who dwells there with us.” (23) Together, Freud and Rosenzweig can help us “think the difference between holding ourselves responsible for knowing other minds and accepting responsibility for acknowledging other minds in all their insistent and uncanny impenetrability.” (23)

Santner’s discussion will move between two men’s respectively investigated fantasies: from Rosenzweig’s “metaphysical thinking” to Freud’s individual fantasies that mark “an individual’s fateful passage from the straits of oedipal normativity.” (24)

This is all about how humans ignore the claims of that which is in their midst.


Santner opens his book with a very relatable example of a fantasy that keeps us from the midst of life — relatable because most of his readers are part of the undead structure Rosenzweig inveighs against. Of course one of the most striking incidental effects of this chapter was to make me want to examine my own academic life to see whether I’m a zombie. I’d be interested to hear commenter’s thoughts on this. Is Rosenzweig’s diagnosis applicable to all academia, or just to his own case?

While I am unfamiliar with the discourse of psychoanalysis, I think Santner makes an excellent case for why it should take Rosenzweig into consideration. One thing that confused me was how it was paradoxical that one be liberated from the undead excess of animation in academic life by a dark drive. Is the paradox that one form of drivenness is overcome by another? Except that isn’t accurate, since Santner argues that one should come to tarry with the excess. In which case, is this the paradox: that a drive (the dark drive) should cause one to tarry?

The double source for all these fantasies that Santner says the book will deal with seem to be (1. evasion of responsibility for that which is in our midst, the other and the world I assume, and (2. fear of death. I got all kinds of Pascalian resonances from from this wide-angle take on fantasies — it would be interesting to relate diversion and fantasy.

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Santner begins his book by assessing work of scholars in our pluralist, globalized society who have investigated the origins of intolerance and its relationship to religion. Schwartz’s The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism is an exemplary case. According to her, Yahweh’s elected people Israel define themselves negatively against other local peoples. This “system for the making of distinctions, introduced into the world through the Hebrew Bible [that] a new symbolic machinery for the production of extreme forms of enmity and violence entered human history” (2). Throughout Genesis, the different authors trace out the genealogies of Israel’s foes through Esau (father of the Edomites) and not Jacob, through Ham (father of the Canaanites) and not Shem. To receive the blessing, the other brother must be cursed. Unsurprisingly, she invites us to embrace “multiplicity instead of monotheism” (3). Jan Assman also critiques monotheism for disrupting the cross-cultural communication by disrupting the flow of shared rituals and traditions. Monotheism distinguishes between the true God and false gods whereas polytheistic cultures are welcoming of the Other and hence more accepting of difference.

Santner suspects that something is missing from these various accounts of monotheism and intolerance. His work is an attempt to read Rosenzweig’s the Star of Redemption with Freud to open up new possibilities of thinking about the Other, responsibility, and difference. Schwartz and Assman conceive of cultural pluralism as being contingent on a realization of the global consciousness, that is to say everyone is essentially like me despite the cultural differences. Santner argues for the exact opposite. We can only think of a global consciousness once we recognize that the neighbor is absolutely strange. In fact, the neighbor is a profound mystery unto herself. He wagers that Freud and Roseznweig can help us think of the “strangeness as well as the forms of life open to it, indeed of strangeness itself as the locus of new possibilities of neighborliness and community” (6). As Hegel would remind us “[t]he enigmas of ancient Egyptians were also enigmas for the Egyptians themselves” (7). Santner wants to challenge us to recognize our own internal otherness, and that this realization can help us be open to fully enter the midst of life. Once we can dwell in this porous space then we can fully encounter our neighbor in their own uncanny singularity day in and day out (hence a psychotheology of everyday life).

This work is a challenge to rethink the ethics of everyday life. Santner claims that the ethics underlying both psychoanalysis and Rosenzweig’s reading of the Judeo-Christian tradition is an accountability “to my neighbor-with-an-unconscious” (9). The Other’s presence is an unsettling one, and she is often unaware of her own internal alienness. Too often, we are closed off to this overwhelming presence, and this defense prevents us from opening ourselves up to the very midst of life. In this theology, God is the name that calls and pressures us to be open to the Other and the world we inhabit. Only once we can shatter the fantasy that shelters us from this internal otherness can we be cured and freed to live openly in our world. Freud and Rosenzweig open up new horizons to think of the very too-muchness of everyday life after the death of God (i.e. the dissolution of transcendence), which can offer us new ways to think of an immanent transcendence internal to life itself.


In recent times, monotheism has often been criticized as a theology that is intolerant of differences and is easily abused by the absolute sovereign. This criticism of monotheism does not merely stem from people outside of the three religions of the book, but a criticism that has been raised by many Christian theologians who believe the Trinity offers us a way out of the logic of the one. Moltmann writes, “For monotheism was, and is, always a ‘political problem’ too. Strict monotheism has to be theocratically conceived and implemented, as Islam proves. But once it is introduced into the doctrine of the Christian church, faith in Christ is threatened: Christ must recede into the series of the prophets, giving way to the One God, or he must disappear into the One God as one of his many manifestations…The Christian church was therefore right to see monotheism as the severest inner danger, even though it tried on the other hand to take over the monarchical notion of the divine lordship” (The Trinity and the Kingdom, 131). Social Trinitarians would rather us think that God is in absolute egalitarian relation with Himself. Notice how Moltmann goes so far as to understand monotheism as only leading to monarchism, and he cannot imagine monotheism as being thought outside of the confines of the sovereign. In fact, monotheism is a denial of Christ, which ultimately leads to the de-deification of Christ or into some Trinitarian heresy.

Do you think this Trinitarian emphasis can really obviate Moltmann’s concerns? Is it even theologically sound?

What are the theological implications of the unconscious (i.e. of recognizing there are parts of ourselves that we do not know)? I think one conclusion to draw is that this obsession with conscious belief as being definitive for how one identifies oneself religiously is tenuous given the multiplicity of forces and connections of which one is not aware. The desire to convince someone to ascribe to certain theological statements would be akin to the psychoanalyst only working on the conscious, manifest behaviors of the client without addressing the emergent, unconscious themes that drive these behaviors.

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