febbraio 13, 2019

Hate in the time of ignorance

Hate and love run deep in the European psyche. If we place them on the Mobius strip, as Lacan did, we will see before eyes perhaps the best-known paradox of how I love you becomes I hate you. Passions turn, fluctuate, intensify. But how do they differ, and which one comes first? Is the newly-born infant’s cry that of love or of hate, a sign of powerlessness or of independence? Lacan did not approach passions as a historical development, starting with an origin. The experience of speech shows that the distance of origin is interwoven with the proximity of the immanent real. Lacan made his wager on the passions of the speaking body. The real unconscious that does not want to know a thing about it. It says what in saying is not said – a cry of the real. Passions do not lie. They carry the vociferousness of our being, what cannot be transmitted other than as semblant. To this extent love and hate differ. It is in this context that we encounter the immigrant, the foreigner, the new terms for the Nebenmensch.
To demonstrate the logic of the encounter with the alien Other, Lacan introduced another passion that surprised us. In what way is ignorance a passion? He evoked Empedocles who is said to have claimed that God’s ignorance is so great that he cannot even hate[1]. But since he cannot hate, he is unable to love either. It appears that at the beginning was ignorance. Much later Christianity translated ignorance into unconditional love. It was a good translation except that love got lost in it. The God of Empedocles was the ignorant God, unable to love and hate. Lacan took it up in his logic of sexuation and wrote this ignorant, impotent Other as the barred Other, (A/ ). The only speaking being who has access to the barred Other is the woman in so far as she is not whole. A woman can be drawn to the ignorant, agnostic man to light up in him the passion of lovehate, hainomaration, and she usually succeeds. In this she is more at home with her jouissancethan the man.
We can situate the coming of immigrants to Europe, and the emergence of hate towards them, starting with the passion of ignorance. The immigrants who come from outside Europe bring with them the mystery of language we do not understand. They bring pleasures of the body that awaken in us the incomprehensible foreigner. The ignorant Other of Europe today is the immigrant who is greeted with hate because he does not know and does not have to know anything that is familiar to me. In short, the immigrant does not have to participate in the subject’s modality of jouissance. He is thus desupposed of knowledge – Lacan’s formula of hate – of “our” mother tongue, and the non-participation in “our” world makes him a hated figure and a threat to “our life style”.
Lacan grappled with the conundrum of the Other that does not know and found in ignorance the analyst’s passion. Only psychoanalyst can make an alliance with the incomprehensible foreigner. The unconscious of Empedocles did not help to answer the mystery of language. His trace was lost until someone found his sandal at the foothill of Etna. It was concluded the philosopher fell into the hole. This also happened to Lacan. When staying once in a London hotel, he was told by his wife that a certain colleague, professor D., was there too. How did she know about it? She saw his shoes. It’s an amusing story. It also shows us that whether the signifier is of absence or presence, the unconscious from which truth is derived does not tell us which one.
Let’s say that between these undetermined signifiers, there exists at least one that hates. This was the Freudian way of speaking about that internally excluded real of das Ding to which Freud gave the name Nebenmensch– my neighbour. The question raised by Lacan, and so pertinent in the last few years in the UK and of what looks like the eternal end-game of Brexit, is whether the foreign, immigrant Other reciprocates hate. Lacan spoke of love as requited, but this is not the case with hate. It stands all alone, drawing its intensity from the degrees of desupposition of the Other of knowledge. But hate serves us well to cover up what we could call the fundamental passion of the subject who is all so eager to hate in order to deny that of ignorance or of welcoming the Other as speaking, i.e. as desiring.
The immigrant in Europe today is in the position of the negative of the Christian theology. The immigrants are not here to love us, of course. So, what do the immigrants want? I see no other way of posing this question than at the level of desire that responds to the mystery of language of the speaking body: If the Other as desiring is here to remind us of the profound ambiguity of ignorance, which is one of the modalities of silence, we are merely reminded, as we have been for thousands of years, that the way to respond and to mobilise desire would be first to let the object I once was for my Other drop. That the real of passion left from this operation can assume the position of a semblant evidently shows hate as unreciprocated. The formula would be: I hate you because you don’t tell me why. In effect, the satisfaction drawn from the refusal of castration can easily propel the subject to fantasy of being the object of hate. For many political figures of the right today, there is perhaps nothing more unbearable than to fail to cause the Other’s desire. Ultimately, hate is a failure to cause desire. Hence the recourse to the desupposition of the immigrant. I hate him for his ignorance, and for the pleasures of his speaking body that escapes me and leaves me anxious. But I hate me even more because of it. From the hate of the Other to self-hate then. In effect, in the political scene in Europe today, and by way of projection, hate becomes attributed to the Other, to the foreigner as the bearer of negative theology I mentioned earlier. Starting with the desupposition we are thus led back to the speaking body and to the failure to cause desire which is a failure of mourning of love lost. This would be, as far as the political discourse today is concerned, one of the causes of the fascist renaissance, of the return of the unstoppable traumatic real.
We are all ignoranti. If Lacan’s lesson on the passion of ignorance teaches us anything today, it is that the speaking body does not tell the immigrant from the native, the exile from the remainer except for the impossible to know. We are suddenly catapulted back to the Empedoclean dilemma: How to love the one who ignores me?

Bogdan Wolf


[1]J. Lacan, On Feminine Sexuality. The Limits of Love and Knowledge, Seminar XX, 1972-73, trans. B. Fink, Norton, 1998, p. 91.