il n’y a pas de grand Autre

We can see now why Lacan’s motto “il n’y a pas de grand Autre” (there is no big Other) takes us to the very core of the ethical problematic: what it excludes is precisely this “perspective of the Last Judgment,” the idea that somewhere -even if as a thoroughly virtual reference point, even if we concede that we can never occupy its place and pass the actual judgment- there must be a standard which would allow us to take the measure of our acts and pronounce on their “true meaning:” their true ethical status. Even Derrida’s notion of “deconstruction as justice” seems to rely on a utopian hope which sustains the specter of “infinite justice,” forever postponed, always to come, but nonetheless here as the ultimate horizon of our activity.

The harshness of Lacanian ethics lies in its demand that we thoroughly relinquish this reference to the big Other -and its further wager is that not only does this renunciation not plunge us into ethical insecurity or relativism (or even sap the very fundamentals of ethical activity), but that renouncing the guarantee of some big Other is the very condition of a truly autonomous ethics. Recall that the exemplary dream Freud used to illustrate his procedure of dream analysis was a dream about responsibility (Freud’s own responsibility for the failure of his treatment of Irma) -this fact alone indicates that responsibility is a crucial Freudian notion. But how are we to conceive of this responsibility? How are we to avoid the common misperception that the basic ethical message of psychoanalysis is, precisely, that we should relieve ourselves of responsibility and instead place the blame on the Other (“since the Unconscious is the discourse of the Other, I am not responsible for its formations, it is the big Other who speaks through me, I am merely its instrument”)? Lacan himself pointed the way out of this deadlock by referring to Kant’s philosophy as the crucial antecedent of psychoanalytic ethics.

Slavoj Žižek 2012 Less Than Nothing, page 127


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