My question is where is Lacan amongst the many faces Malabou lists in §2? Why is he not listed with the other “transformational masks”? Admittedly, this question is not entirely fair. For, while Lacan is not cited in Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing, What Should We Do With Our Brain?, or The Future of Hegel, I believe that Les nouveaux blessés (a book I have not read) is where she devotes herself to the question of psychoanalysis. And, furthermore, I imagine her forthcoming book with Adrian Johnston will assess directly what possible intersections there are to be found between Lacanian thought and recent neurobiological research. That said, in reading Malabou’s interpretation of the end of history, the last moment of Hegel’s Absolute Spirit, as an opening, I could not help but draw certain parallels with Žižek’s Lacanian reading of Hegel’s Absolute Knowledge as “the “All” itself which is non-All, inconsistent, marked by an irreducible contingency” (Parallax View, 79).
But beyond the possible explanatory strengths of the Lacanian schema for understanding Hegel, in §9 and §10 Malabou is dealing explicitly with the imaginary! Indeed, with Lacan on my mind, I was puzzled by Malabou’s claim that Levinas was the only philosopher to appreciate the philosophical significance of the fantastic (32). I doubt this is a simple oversight and I am genuinely curious as to what reasons might be given for his absence here. Nevertheless, I think that Lacan might be particularly useful to read in conjunction with Malabou’s critique of Levinas’s attempt to escape form.
Let us start with what Levinas is concerned with, the supposed totalizing nature of form and its ethical consequences. Say, for the sake of discussing a concrete example, we were to take as the political paradigm of this totalization the cultural imperialism that accompanies colonialism. In the colonizer’s efforts to assimilate the colonized to the customs of the metropole, the task turns to producing a replica of the metropole through the enforcement of its laws and customs in order to abolish significant cultural differences. The goal here is the elimination of dissent through the creation of mimic-men and mimic-women, colonized subjects willing to adopt the form of the colonizer. But in order to negate the colonized’s alterity, the colonizer must present an image of himself to hold up as a standard. But, when adopted, there is always something off, something unsettling, about this presented image. Contra Levinas then, the image produced by this “totalizing” form actually subverts its totalization with a fantastic uncanniness. But this subversion is not through some transcendent fleeing of form, but through its very articulation. As Mladen Dolar writes, this image itself “provokes a hesitation and an uncertainty and the familiar breaks down” (“I Shall Be With You on Your Wedding Night,” October, Vol. 58). This is the antagonistic sense in which we can understand Lacan’s description of mimicry:
The effect of mimicry is camouflage, in the strictly technical sense. It is not a question of harmonizing with the background but, against a mottled background, of becoming mottled – exactly like the technique of camouflage practiced in human warfare. (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, “The Line and Light,” 99)
In a tense scene in Pontecorvo’s film Battle of Algiers we see three women, soldiers of the FLN, step into French clothing, the very image of assimilation presented by their colonizers. These mimic-women are then able to move through the crowd and into the Casbah with their bombs while everyone else is searched. It is this that unsettles the colonizer’s dream of a static totality: the attempt to assimilate everything actually produces the very disruption of this totalization. With any scheme’s production of its image, Malabou writes, “it sees itself and can therefore miss (itself)” (33). The image is inassimilable to immobility. Here we can recall Lacan’s similar claim that “what I look at is never what I wish to see” (“The Line and Light,” 103). In fact, isn’t this the exact process that Lacan describes in his discussion of the mirror stage in Écrits as the identification with and disavowal of one’s own image? Does his description of the jubilance and frustration of seeing one’s heterogeneous double not describe a similar transformation of form?