acephalic knowledge

Beginning in the late sixties, however, Lacan focuses his attention more and more on drive as a kind of “acephalic” knowledge which brings about satisfaction. This knowledge involves no inherent relation to truth, no subjective position of enunciation – not because it dissimulates the subjective position of enunciation, but because it is in itself nonsubjectivized, or ontologically prior to the very dimension of truth (of course, the term ontological becomes thereby problematic, since ontology is by definition a discourse on truth). Truth and knowledge are thus related as desire and drive: interpretation aims at the truth of the subject’s desire (the truth of desire is the desire for truth, as one is tempted to put it in a pseudo-Heideggerian way), while construction provides knowledge about drive.

Is not the paradigmatic case of such an “acephalic” knowledge provided by modern science which exemplifies the “blind insistence” of the (death) drive? Modern science follows its path (in microbiology, in manipulating genes, in particle physics) heedless of cost – satisfaction is here provided by knowledge itself, not by any moral or communal goals scientific knowledge is supposed to serve. All the “ethical committees” which abound today and attempt to establish rules for the proper conduct of gene-manipulation, of medical experiments, etc. – are they ultimately not desperate attempts to reinscribe this inexorable drive-progress of science which knows of no inherent limitation (in short: this inherent ethic of the scientific attitude) within the confines of human goals, to provide it with a “human face,” a limitation? The commonplace wisdom today is that “our extraordinary power to manipulate nature through scientific devices has run ahead of our faculty to lead a meaningful existence, to make human use of this immense power.” Thus, the properly modern ethics of “following the drive” clashes with traditional ethics whereby one is instructed to live one’s life according to standards of proper measure and to subordinate all its aspects to some all-encompassing notion of the Good. The problem is, of course, that no balance between these two notions of ethics can ever be achieved. The notion of reinscribing scientific drive into the constraints of the life-world is fantasy at its purest – perhaps the fundamental fascist fantasy. Any limitation of this kind is utterly foreign to the inherent logic of science – science belongs to the real and, as a mode of the real of jouissance, it is indifferent to the modalities of its symbolization, to the way it will affect social life.

Z 1997 Desire: Drive = Truth: Knowledge





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