Teknema 5 / "Energy and Chance"/ Fall 1999

Freud, Energy and Chance
A Conversation with Jean-François Lyotard

Richard Beardsworth

R. B.: The forthcoming issue of Tekhnema concerns relations between philosophy, the sciences and technology. To do this in as open a way as possible, but also to channel the terms of debate, it has chosen to interrogate these relations in terms of "energy" and "chance." In this context, and given that the work of Freud cuts across the problematic of these relations in powerful ways, I would like to speak with you about your interest in Freud.

This interest goes back a long way and has continually informed your thinking and your understanding of philosophy, from Economie libidinale and Discours, Figure to L’inhumain. Causeries sur le temps and Lectures d’enfance, including, indeed, your present work on Augustine ("La confession d’Augustin").1 I do not wish here to follow the detail of this itinerary, although my initial questions will allude to the difference between works like Economie libidinale on the one hand, and, on the other, Heidegger et les ‘juifs’2 in the use they make of Freud. What interests me is more general: it is the effect that the "thought" of Freud has had on:
—your conception of philosophy and the task of thinking since the second half of this century;
—your conception of philosophy’s way of thinking faced with, and situated within processes of complexification—evolutionary, technoscientific, techno-economic, etc.—in which the human instance is inscribed, of which it is the vehicle, but over which it has no absolute control, processes to which L’inhumain gives the pragmatic name of "development." In the following I wish to consider energy in the context of this relation between "thinking," on the one hand, and "development" on the other;
—finally, your conception, within these processes of, on the one hand, the practices of art and, on the other, of our political and ethical responsibilities.

These three points overlap, often joining in your recent work to form one question: what does "thinking" imply today? The large place you have given to Freud, to the energetic and to the affective, is in this regard striking and singular. Not that this question of Freud and what he entails for you is that of reducing philosophy to psychoanalysis: far from it. Rather, your question has been one of not being able to philosophize without Freud when confronted with the stakes that challenge thought today, and, more explicitly, of theorizing, with the thought of Freud, why this is so. In this context a thinking of the energetic, whatever the level and register, has always been important to you.

With these general questions orienting the discussion, and in the context, then, of a general thinking of the relation between philosophy, the arts and the sciences that uses Freud, I wish to ask you here about the relations between Freud, energy, power (puissance), processes of complexification and chance.

Let me begin by asking you first what the proper name of Freud designates for you most immediately, what negotiations does it imply, and in what perspective?

J.-F. L.: Simply put, it designates that there is remainder (qu’il y a du reste) and that it is not true that discourse can get to the end of this remainder, can, as it were, get the better of it. From this perspective, there is, within this Freudian problematic, no question of negotiation. In this sense, Freud is for me the name of what is intractable (intraitable) in terms of litigation. This intractable points to a sort of region of resistance, a presence, to be found also within discourse, that blocks the philosophical project that is, let us say, incarnated by Hegel: a process of memorization, a return upon the self, a coming to the self for the self of what is in itself that is "total" and that has as its objective, in philosophical terms, what we call "absolute knowledge." What the name of Freud turns around is, on the contrary, the principle that there cannot be absolute knowledge.

R. B.: On the question of this area of resistance, it has often been noted that there is a shift of emphasis from work in the seventies, like Economie libidinale and Discours, Figure, to work in the eighties on the critical economy of Kant and Heidegger et les ‘juifs.’ In the first, notably Economie libidinale, much use is made of Freud’s description of the primary processes in the Interpretation of Dreams (1900) and the metapsychological paper of 1914, "The Unconscious." In these latter works, as in the Three Essays on Sexual Theory (1907), Freud insists upon the mobile, unbound aspect of our libidinal drives, opposing their mobility of cathexis to the bound, temporally determined and discursively organized nature of the secondary processes. In your earlier work you engage in and use to effective critical end—especially concerning the work of Marx and the culture(s) of Marxism—the Freudian "energetic" model of the human organism at both an individual and collective level. Hence the stress in Economie libidinale on energy as a circulating power (puissance) or force which will always be disposed in particular energetic arrangements (dispositifs), but which necessarily exceeds the binding of such arrangements. In your later work—the shift is emblematic in Heidegger et les ‘juifs’—the stress falls less on the distinction between the unbound and the bound, the energetic and its dispositifs than on that between originary and secondary repression, and together with this distinction, on that between an event outside the syntheses of temporalization ("the unconscious affect") and the processes of temporalization and spatialization. With this shift from the "energetic" and its relation to time to the "affective" and its relation to time, the stress on the radically passive color of Freud’s discovery of the unconscious comes to the fore. Your focus on, and use of "originary repression" in Freud’s essay on "Repression" is important in this context.

My questions: does this shift testify in your work to a sort of "ascesis" concerning not what is possible in strict political terms (since politics is from the first, for you, a pouvoir, that is, a dispositif or channelling of puissances), but in general ontological terms, that is, what is possible in terms of puissance per se? And, secondly, what does this shift imply concerning the relations between the remainder of unconscious affect, where the human is perhaps most "energetic," and creativity and invention?

J.-F. L.: This is complex, especially the relation between energy, power (puissance) or affect, and time. We will return several times to it. Let me first clarify some things. First, "ascesis" is too big a word, for me, although I understand your point. Second, I would want initially to stress continuity. Yes, there is a shift, and focus is certainly placed on the remainder (du reste) in Heidegger et les ‘juifs.’ That said—and not to go into the distinction here between "puissance" and "pouvoir" in Economie libidinale since you’ve already alluded to it—although the notion of remainder is not clearly stated in a text like Discours, Figure, it is already implied in this text. You will recall that this work is one of an age hostile to structuralism which thought that everything could be explained in terms of structure. The "figural" was there to show that there was an opacity, one that was not the void in which oppositions, which are pertinent in terms of structure, are instituted. The figural already, then, played this role of an area that resists and makes remainder (qui fait reste).

That said, stress is undeniably placed in a text like Heidegger et les ‘juifs’ on listening to this area that is by definition inaudible, that is, untranscribable, although, of course, one does not stop trying to transcribe it, including Freud. It is precisely the task of "thinking" to try to think what it cannot think. But, as Freud adds, it is perhaps important here to make a distinction between what thought knows that it cannot think and what thought does not know that it cannot think, what it can pose as a problem and what it does not even pose as a problem.

R. B.: To clarify, what is this thinking of the remainder in Economie libidinale?

J.-F. L.: Of the remainder as "puissance." The topos is present in terms of insertion. "Puissance" retains the value it had in Aristotelian dynamism: insertion always remains the insertion of a "possible." The energetic is the possible in this sense. So, there is remainder. That said, the function of dynamism in Economie libidinale entertains no relation with the function that Aristotle gives it in his Metaphysics and Physics.

To move more directly now to your question concerning a shift of emphasis towards the passive and that of the relation between affect and time. It recalls to mind a type of discussion I have often had with psychoanalysts. Either the unconscious can be considered (and Freud opens himself to this interpretation in the Interpretation of Dreams but, above all, in his published cases) as structured like a language. The primary processes are considered in this perspective as, in a certain sense, constrained, organized according to figures. These figures are perhaps not those of articulated discourse, but they can be articulated as those of articulated discourse, in, for example, primal or originary phantasms. Either, then, stress falls on this aspect of the unconscious, and this is what the practice of psychoanalysis is concerned to unloose, to bring to the surface (one attempts to bring to the surface these blocks of meaning [sens] prior to articulation). Or, conversely, one stresses in the unconscious the primary processes as such. Freud describes this aspect as well in his metapsychological writings, that is, when he writes of the lability of the unconscious, its ability, its—and here is the word—power (puissance) to invest such and such an object in an unforeseeable manner. Freud begins to elaborate this point when he addresses the question of sublimation. Though he does not write anything definitive on the subject, Freud insists on the fact that the notion itself of "sublimation" precisely presupposes that there is the order of the primary drive, the energetic that remains unbound. Here he speaks both of unbound energy and of the fact that this energetics is put to work in literary, artistic, musical creation, indeed, in all great tasks of what we call "civilization." Here, then, we have a remainder. But, first, this remainder—to go to your second question—is, for Freud, utilizable in the processes of creation, and, second, this remainder, although utilizable because it is yearning for investment (en mal d’investissement), is nevertheless a remainder that is unfixed. In this perspective, Economie libidinale and Discours, Figure stress this aspect of the unfixed remainder, of power (puissance), as it were, awaiting its act (en mal d’acte).

R. B.: The remainder in the Freudian sense both awaits inscription and is irreducible to inscription: energy keeps circulating, it cannot be absolutely placed in the syntheses of time within which an act takes place. Energetically speaking, then, the remainder would not seem in this sense to be absolutely irreducible to the syntheses of time, as some of your writings may suggest. Stressing this, I wish to link the remainder and its actualizations, through Freud’s thinking on energy, more strongly than you might here: let me put the point differently. For Freud, as he perhaps says most strongly in Three Essays on Sexual Theory (Third essay, section on the "Libido Theory"), when it comes to humans at least, energy becomes colored qualitatively as "sexual libido." This coloring constitutes a particular, highly complex stage in the evolution of the organism called the "human." It is not, as Deleuze and Guattari risk maintaining in their reading, and use of desire in L’anti-oedipe,3 to be generalized as the energetic per se. Since Freud in this same essay stresses the passage of energy from the nutritive to the sexual, and from the sexual as such to the sublimation of the sexual, we are talking about an indeterminate quantity of energy that acquires qualitative modifications (hunger, anxiety, intellectual curiosity, etc.) at particular moments of time and in different contexts. Freud asks himself, right up to Beyond the Pleasure Principle, what this "x" is, he calls it "libido," but, leaving it to the realm of speculation to discuss it as such, he is content to trace what I have called above its "modifications." Following Freud, then, we cannot talk about this "x" except in speculative terms, but we can talk about its circulation, its economies in terms of its "effects" qua affect, sexual excitation, drive to creativity, etc. In this sense––and to return now to my opening comment—I wonder whether it is more interesting to talk about the energetics of Freud in terms of "libido" rather than "remainder" so as not to lose the relation between this "x" and its effects, a relation which is also that between energy and temporalization.

J.-F. L.: More interesting, I am not sure. I have, as you know, tried both! Yes, Freud thinks energy in terms of libido. I would however hesitate to say that libido is sexualized energy as you have just implied. Freud calls it in certain texts "the sexual," he also calls it "childhood that does not speak" (l’enfance qui ne parle pas) or the thing (la chose). In Lacanian terms, it is in fact fairly easy to situate, despite the stress on the speculative, because it does not enter into the symbolic. I will leave aside here the question of whether it has a relation to the woman or the mother because, for me, this is again to assign a residence to something that does not in principle have one.

R. B.: The establishment of such a relation would be to fix something that is "originarily" unfixed?

J.-F. L.: Yes. This "x" that worries Freud, it worries him precisely because its non-fixation makes it extremely difficult to do an anamnesis of it. This "x" can be spoken about in such a way as to make it felt, to evoke it, to make sense [sens] of it, (not to give it a specific meaning in writing itself [une signification particulière dans l’écriture elle-même]), that is, in a writing that will present itself openly as writing, as, as much as it can, unfixed, that is, uninvested in the rules of language. I cannot say that that is what I have done, but there is a tendency in my work to that side of things.

Now, if one is worried by what the nonlocalization—in terms of the topic of the unconscious, the topic of the metapsychology—of this power (puissance) brings about (your term of "effects"), then the motif of forgetting returns, since, not being localized, this area is forgotten. The motif of originary repression returns with this. Originary repression is Freud’s term (Urverdrängung), he invented it. Since the forgetting in question has nothing to do with an act of forgetting resulting from a secondary repression, it does not concern something that has taken place and that one does not remember. Rather it concerns the forgetting of something that has not taken place, but that inhabits the psyche nevertheless, without one knowing what it is. And in this sense, I would stress a "differend"—something like an abyss—between the primary processes and their insertion in acts, between the circulating energy of this "x" and the syntheses of time, between, that is, energy and temporalization.

To this must be added the following: though one does not know what this "x" is, nevertheless it drives, thereby prompting the name "drive" (pulsion, Trieb). It drives the psyche to write, to paint, to become involved with politics, etc. Whatever it drives, it drives: but, crucially, it drives without calling. For it is not the law, it is precisely not the symbolic. A distinction must be made between, on the one hand, the id in the sense above of the thing related to an originary repression which is not inscribed but which is there, and, on the other, the superego, the representation of the symbolic. As long as there is no call, one must not confuse this other with the other of the law, which is something quite different.

So in response to you in general what I would want to say is this. One can stress the sexual of this thing as what is "forgotten" (the word of course is no longer really workable here) originarily, this thing which is not absent, which is always there without ever being there, whose presence is absence in this sense. And one can insist on an attitude of thought and life which attempts to lend its ear to the thing, although it is inaudible, since the ear is not in a position to hear it, since, in a sense, there is nothing to hear. Further, one can oppose this attitude to all those attitudes that think that they can name, even define it, or at least negotiate or deal with it. Philosophy, in my eyes, participates in this kind of project in general. Therefore, two observations. First, even when philosophy is "energetic," that is, for example, even in the work of Nietzsche, such philosophy returns to metaphysics on the basis of its intelligence (nevertheless extreme in Nietzsche’s case) of the presence of this thing. You cannot have a thought of energy as such without making energy present, quantifiable, purposeful, etc. Even under the name of energy, of force, Nietzsche is, as we all know, often led to make a gesture of a metaphysical, Aristotelian type: differently, of course, but still metaphysically. Second, Freud is thus important to me regarding "thinking" as such (la pensée) since the accent is placed on the unintelligible as irreducibly present but irreducible to the syntheses of time. Here Freud points to an abyss between the "x" of energy and its temporalizations and placements. Freudian thought is in this sense not a thought of the energetic as such, but of the energetic qua remainder... Hence the continuity of my work between the seventies and eighties.

R. B.: You have been very clear on the thinking of the energetic as remainder. Let me change tack a little, although the question of the relation between energy and temporalization will return. In what way does the re-elaboration of this "x" through the notion of the death drive in Beyond the Pleasure Principle change things? Or rather, how does it help us to go on thinking this "x" of energy, its bindings and unbindings? When I ask this question I am also thinking of the way in which Freud in this essay measures his thinking in relation to biological systems as such. For Freud, life constitutes for the whole realm of the organic a deferred way of returning to the inanimate (death). This deferral constitutes in turn the complexity of evolution itself, and, from this perspective, both life and history are side-effects, as it were, of the drive back to matter. This question will therefore return, later, when we consider the relation between Freud, energy and processes of complexification in terms of life qua negentropy. For the moment, but with this perspective in view, how does the death drive make us rethink this "x"?

J.-F. L.: We should go slowly here. It is true that with the death drive what Freud calls the libidinal drive becomes from Beyond the Pleasure Principle onwards the principle of Eros, of life. Freud wants an opposition between the two, life and death, but, as you have pointed out, there is no opposition, it is much more complicated and more serious than that. The difference as such is well known, the one produces "amorous" syntheses, constructions, works, communities, the other on the contrary does not stop undoing what the first does. And yet, these are not two distinct drives. Beyond the Pleasure Principle is not dualistic despite Freud’s overt claims. What is in question is in fact rhythm, or rather the question of these two elements of drive is the question of rhythms (in the plural). Here we return to the framework of our discussion: energy.

What are these rhythms? In order to attain the meta-stable state of the organism, of the system there are two possible levels of quiescence: the first is that which is compatible with life (this is Eros), the second is that which runs directly to absolute quiescence, which is death (hence why Freud calls it the "death drive"). The difference between the two is a question of speed. Death will have, as it were, the last word, but Eros resists, opposing to it lovable, consistent totalities in which desire can take place, whereas, again, the so-called death drive is a drive which hastens to be over with everything, to obtain "everlasting peace." The death drive is a problem of haste (this is new for the Freud of Beyond the Pleasure Principle although he never developed it in depth). This means, then, that the death drive, in its relation to the drives of life, poses a problem, and that problem is precisely that of the temporality of the drives as such.

R. B.: Freud says that the primary processes are a-temporal while the temporalization of time, (time, that is, as the syntheses of past, present and future) comes with consciousness and the enlarging of the domain of the ego. Time (in the above sense) is a way of filtering energy external to the organism in such a way that the organism can survive, and ultimately live according to the pleasure principle (the avoidance of pain, quiescence in the first sense you spoke of above).

J.-F. L.: Yes, Freud says in Beyond the Pleasure Principle that time is a device which fends off excessive excitations for the psychic apparatus as a whole. Time, in other words, intervenes as what "tempers" (literally) the haste of the drive in its original organic state (qua a "piece of matter" that has been interrupted by life and "drives" back to matter, etc.). Time defers the haste of the drive, particular to the organism, towards absolute quiescence. Or, at least, time is produced through this tempering.

Before moving on in this context to the question of life qua negentropy, I want to return briefly to the relation we have spoken about at some length between the "x" of libidinal energy and its actualizations. It is precisely in the context of time, its tempor(al)ization and of circulating energy as such that one must insist upon the fact that there is no dialogue between the two in any simple sense.

R. B.: We return to our earlier discussion.

J.-F. L.: Yes, but this is where the modality of energy qua affect is crucial with regard to time and tempor(al)ization, and memory and memorization. Let us take the phenomenon of what Freud calls Nachträglichkeit. It so happens that here we are dealing with—I always refer to the example of Emma here in The Project for a Scientific Psychology—the effects of an initial affective situation which has remained unknown: a situation which is atemporal, then. These effects arrive with delay, having the value of an emotional response to a situation that was lacking when the "situation" first occurred. I am obliged here to repose the question of the qualities of affects. But, again, I leave this aside here. What is immediately important is that the example of Emma reminds us that the thing, the radical unconscious, is little concerned with time, but that it can nevertheless seize an occasion, one that is quite irrational, unjustifiable in terms of consequent discourse, in order to produce its affective effect. This is the sexual thing undergone by the child, whose agitation and shame—this singular affective complex called anxiety—only appears much later, in the course of life. And it means that this "potential," this "puissance," that of the thing, has remained intact, that it has energetically crossed time without becoming older or younger to become actual twenty years later in an unforeseen way. This is of the first importance.

Freud’s odd, monstrous, genial analyses show that it is precisely the affective that is obtained by the memorizing of a working-through, of an anamnesis, and that this affectivity cannot be obtained by memory as such, that, therefore, affective power (la puissance affective), the quantity of power as it were, remains intact, for example, for twenty years. In this sense I could not say that there is anything like a "dialogue" between this "x" of energy qua affect and tempor(al)ization and memorization. The thing marks itself in the course of time. But, I stress, it marks itself strangely, "irrationally," precisely because it does not belong in the first place to the linkages making up the continuum of this course (temporalization). It marks an effect within time that is an effect of... nothing.


R. B.: I don’t wish to go over ground already covered in the discussion, so I will be brief. It seems to me, that, for Freud and psychoanalysis as a whole—and here the relations between this practice and philosophy must be more unstable than you perhaps allow, although I would not know how to figure this instability—, it seems to me, then, that the derivatives or effects of an unconscious affect, while strange and unexpected (and here is our theme of chance), are not without reason, without motivation. In this sense I do not understand your use of the term "irrational," except strategically. But, less locally, more importantly, this means there is a certain continuity between the radically unconscious affect and the life of the organism that has "forgotten" it, and that, therefore, the relation between energy and time, for humans at least, is constantly being "negotiated." One sign of this negotiation is the fact that, for Freud and for psychoanalysis as a whole, as a result of anamnesis a patient may have more energy at his or her disposal than previously and that this "plus," while obviously not quantifiable, can be in a sense "measured" in terms of time. That is, the patient through analysis is less riveted to its infantile desires, to the past, is more open, therefore, to the futurity of the future. Here, I would argue, the binding, unbinding and rebinding of energy appears as the subject’s relation to time. Hence my continued unwillingness to put an abyss between energy and time, although your point about the "intact-ness" of the affective through the linkages of the temporalization of time is crucial. The term "abyss" however risks making too little of what is philosophically (and scientifically) interesting behind the phenomenon of psychoanalytic cure. For it underplays, at the very least, the energetic disposition of organisms that, in becoming human, have temporalized themselves, have "invented" time (through particularly their technical relation to the environment) but which are constantly caught out as dependent infantile beings (your understanding of energy as infantia) by their energetic disposition. "Caught out," because life becomes a tension between affect and time.

What this exactly means for philosophy, I am unsure, but it certainly implies in the first that the term "originary repression" has to be handled prudently by philosophy—if philosophy wants to make use of it—as something that is neither static nor homogeneous. In this sense I would disagree with you that the effects are ones of "nothing."

J.-F. L.: I understand what you are saying. I wish to stress, however, that despite your term of "negotiation" there is no dialogue between the unconscious and memorization. The relation is always displaced: in this sense the term of negotiation is, for me, excessive. I would say, to be brief as well, that everything here turns around transference. That is to say, it is not a question of becoming conscious of, qua realizing, something, then to be rid of this thing and to turn towards the future. This is the quaint hermeneutic reading. It is a question on the contrary, thanks to the transference—because the accent in the talking cure is precisely placed on the relation to the other, present, actual—it is a question, then, through transference of bringing to the surface, in an uncontrolled manner (hence why it is a "working-through"), elements of an unknown past. I won’t say more for the moment, whether this past is "originary" or not, and so forth. This relation to myself is liable to capture things which, when I am alone, cannot be captured, things that I cannot say to myself and which are going to escape me in my relation to the other thanks to, precisely, the fact that we are concerned with affects, that this relation is almost constituted by them. The relation to the actual other in transference is thus a relation of demand, the other is invested as an object of demand, of simultaneous love and hate. In this relation, then, there will be an accumulation of affects, and it is through this painful disorder of these positive and negative investments that former, forgotten, noninscribed investments are going to be able to actualize themselves...

R. B.: ...there is thus a certain continuity between the unconscious affect and the syntheses of time, between energy and time...

J.-F. L.: ...Yes and no. Transference signals that the work through the affects is a working-through, now. It is not a prise de conscience, but an unpacking. Affect means unpacking, an unpacking that takes place in the present. This last point is what is important. The modality of anamnesis has nothing to do with a hermeneutics, and it is neither a dialogue nor a negotiation precisely because the past does not become actual, actualize itself as past, but as present. It is now. Hence, precisely, or paradoxically if you wish, the distinction in my work between something like a past that is there, but is not present, and the syntheses of time.

On the basis, afterwards, of this vast mass of silence and words which are not exchanged, but which pass from analysand to analyst, the analyst tries to construct a sketch of the picture that was missing. That is of course the concern of the psychoanalyst. I don’t know whether it helps or not, as if the criminal had been found, and, thus, the reason for the anxiety, guilt or (dis-)pleasure found as well. I presume it depends. Here I would not allow myself to bring a judgment to bear upon this technique of (re)construction. But what I do see is that it is in this almost atemporal actuality of affective voicing that this elsewhere can, perhaps, and provisionally, finds its fixation on the person of the analyst and is going perhaps to replay what he has already played out earlier without noticing anything. The relation between this affect and time is thus very particular, very strange. This affective past actualizes itself within the syntheses of time as not past. In its very actualization, it remains an absolute past, in its very actualization. Yes, it is up to the analyst to put this past in its place, so to speak—since I insist on its radical nonlocalizability—in the construction. But, failing anything better.

R. B.: Failing anything better…. Here, I would rather argue for something like a genealogy of the energetic organism called the "human" in order to seize the terms of this past more, although I respect your point about the specific modality of the actualization of the affective. The color of this past remains for each one of us. This is perhaps a place of disagreement. [Laughter.] Well, before returning to the question of energy, life and negentropy, can I ask you in the context of this discussion, where you place the arts, literature, writing (écriture) with regard to the absolute past?

J.-F. L.: This is quite different. These exercises of writing, of painting, of music-making, etc. do not not involve anamnesis. This anamnesis is, however, not one of the subject, it is an anamnesis of the art that is itself in question. What is important to Van Gogh when he applies his colors to canvas, is to work the past of painting, the tradition of painting, a tradition which is given like that in its evidence in the old history of art and is to be worked to say something else. Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, etc., they are all able to say something that was not known and which had never been marked. So, a work of anamnesis, but one which works on the matter itself. It is the same thing for a writer: his or her relation to language is an anamnesis of language in that language can always say more than what it actually says.

R. B.: Thinking of your work on Kafka in Lectures d’enfance, I wonder in this context whether the concept of "enfance," infantia is indeed a good term to speak about this artistic, literary work on tradition when you are presently arguing that the notion of infantia concerns the sexual and the absolute past of affect? There seems to be a hesitation here, unless one desists from saying that the past of concern to psychoanalysis and that to the arts is "quite different," the difference being that one is not inscribed (the affective) and the other is inscribed (tradition). In a history of the energetic organism one could not make such distinctions...

J.-F. L.: I hold to the notion of childhood, of infantia, even in the case of the arts or literature. For the precise reason that there is an inscribed past, but that what one calls language—whether it be artistic, musical or specifically of the order of language—only retains what has been inscribed. But, even so, is there not in what we call language, the language in which we bathe, from which we emerge, without ever properly emerging, is there not a remainder, is there not always a remainder which is not inscribed in the tradition? Are there not powers (puissances) of language—chromatic, sonorous, linguistic—which are there, but for which nobody as it were cares, and which it is beholden to art, precisely, to actualize, without the artist knowing in the least what is going on? It must be done to be known. Here again, despite the difference, there is a relation in the experience itself of the practice of art: it cannot be deduced. The theorization, the construction comes later. It is here that we can speak about the infantia of art, the absolute past of its tradition that emerges, unexpectedly, through artistic invention.

R. B.: Can we turn now to the question of energy in terms of negentropy in order to relate our discussion up to now, including these last thoughts on the difference between the anamnesis of the subject and that of art, to processes of complexification, what you call in L’inhumain. Causeries sur le temps "development"? To frame my questions, let me first give a minimal definition of negentropy in Freudian terms. Negentropy would be, in terms of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the principle of life qua the deferral of the immediately inorganic. Above and beyond any figure of energy qua "will" (whether this will be individual, theological, providential or, as in the nineteenth century, historical qua the "laws" of history), life constitutes a process of self-organization that, in organizing itself against the excitations of the external world in order to remain as quiescent as possible, necessarily defers absolute quiescence, becoming as a result more and more differentiated and complex. In this sense, life, the organic, is nothing but deferred matter.

Now, what is of interest here is that Freud’s thinking of the relation between "life" and "death" anticipates recent biologists’ moves to consider organic systems not as systems that move away from entropy or quiescence ("equilibrium" in their terminology) but, rather, as systems that, in resisting being removed from a state of equilibrium by inputs of external energy, utilize all avenues available to counter this input. This effort appears as greater and greater self-organization, as the ability to oppose, within a dynamic universe, further movement from equilibrium. This restatement of the second law of thermodynamics describes the development of complex systems, and this development could be described, in turn, as the process of complexification. In this sense what you said earlier concerning the nonoppositional nature of the drives of life and death in Beyond the Pleasure Principle can be here recast as the movement of complexification as such of life processes…

J.-F. L.: …not just of organic life. Even the formation of the sun, and therefore of all stars, is a negentropic process. The sun is the constitution of a body as a result of which particles cannot remain dispersed. This is the mystery of attraction, of adherence.

R. B.: As, for example, in descending order of particle-formation, gravitational, electromagnetic, nuclear and sub-nuclear forces. Your point highlights that life is nothing but a complexification of matter. I think here of your "Postmodern fable" on complexification.4 Hence the interest, here, of Freud—despite the fact that he only thinks energy at the level of a highly developed organism, at the level of affect—for thinking energy as a tension, or rather a rhythm between entropy and negentropy. In this perspective, the human constitutes a moment within this tension, a set of rhythms within this movement of rhythm in general. I am going too quickly to get to my question, but I think the sense is clear.

This said, three questions for you: first, if negentropy describes the movement of complexification of energy as such, why in your work L’inhumain. Causeries sur le temps do you oppose the "inhuman" of affect (inhuman since it cannot be negotiated as such) to the "inhuman" of the techno-sciences? Why, that is, oppose "Freud" to complexification when affect is a moment within it? Second, if art and technics are differentiations within the same movement of complexification, why do you oppose the inhuman of the arts and literature to the finality of the techno-sciences (the performance of development)? And, finally, if the tension between these two (or three) orders of the inhuman are indeed inscribed within the same process of complexification, then should we think of "what remains of politics today" (Preface to L’inhumain) as a "resistance" to the inhuman of the techno-sciences? Is there, rather, not a lot to be, precisely, "negotiated"?

J.-F. L.: The question has been posed. And I would not disagree, despite a certain, as you put it, "logic of resistance" in a book like L’inhumain. But to say what you are saying, one must place oneself at a theoretical level that is not mine. What do I mean?
There is indeed a process of complexification, in particular one taking place on the surface of the earth, but also perhaps elsewhere in other galaxies—it is what we are waiting to learn about, with a certain impatience!—a process that is to say the least strange (the mystery of adherence!), because, despite what you have just said, it is against all the rules of the second law of thermodynamics. It can easily be shown that technics (la technique)—which is itself a word that designates a certain complexity in the apparatus and functioning of a system—is inscribed within, indeed presupposes the very essence of the living, that is, the fact that this living does not stop making use of supplements of energy from outside, that without doing so, it will break down, and that as long as it can procure such supplements for itself, it can resist entropy. Of course, a particular system dies, but the species itself (to employ an old term) does not die. In a certain sense, then, firstly, yes, the living is already technical, indeed is technics itself. The living is technics itself par excellence and in an extraordinarily complicated way, because the degree of complexification of a living performance is enormous. As you know, this is being noticed and appraised more and more especially with the differentiation of, and work between the sciences. We are far from done with all the adjustments that this already implies.

So, we are in a highly developed stage of negentropy. It is easy to think this as such. Indeed, it is thought almost ready-made (de la pensée presque toute faite), as is often the thought of energy, to show that, starting from the formation of this preeminence of the technical, communities become possible, that is to say, the attempts at different communities, successively classed as human history but which appear like that, almost by chance, in relation to the existing opportunities, are made. And of course, as with species, selection is made between these attempts. Thus, we are now in a system generally admitted as the least bad in which to live together, which can be called something like "soft democratic liberalism" (the name has little importance, although it is to be discussed since what is the least bad system preoccupies us, it is not easy). That said, it would seem at least that the hypotheses of other communal systems, other modes of performativity, have been eliminated, little by little, akin to the process of elimination among living species—at the cost, of course, of many wars, of crimes, of immense human suffering.

R. B.: In this light the struggle between organizational systems could be considered as basically the same, though more complex—one at a higher level of technical organization—as that between living systems (species). The one is an extension of the other.

J.-F. L.: Yes. From within the present state of this process—what Marx called "Capitalism" in the nineteenth century, and although we are speaking of the same thing, today the technical, techno-scientific aspect of capitalism has come to the foreground and has become predominant, allowing us to go further—it appears that the human species, the human itself, will have only been a moment in this process of complexification. It is indeed important to go as far as this, and to say this, since the notion of development calls on us to do so. That said, then, we are moving towards a degree of complexity which has every chance of exceeding the conditions of functioning of technicity linked to human organization, to the human species such as we know it. I mean by that that we have not yet come across a system more complex than the brain, but that one can at least imagine a system that would be more supple, more effective, and which would not be related to the maintenance of the body, in terrestrial conditions. This has to be thought because we are without doubt destined to leave the terrestrial system at some point in the future, for lack of energy supplements crucial to the counter-rhythm of negentropy. Indeed, in a sense, this is now all that we are thinking about. So, yes, the human is simply the vehicle (porteur) of something that goes on developing. And in this sense the "inhuman" now prevails. One cannot be humanist within the system of development. That is one side.

Now, when I speak of childhood, infantia as "inhuman," I am speaking of something which does not appear to me to be related to this movement of complexity, or rather is only linked to it indirectly, with hitches. It is of course related to complexity as the vehicle of development and by the fact, as you say, that human childhood already constitutes a very developed stage in evolution. The human child is, that is (and precisely), born "prematurely," before being in possession of its means. A foal, once out of its mother’s womb, takes six hours to start grazing. I simplify. The human child takes two years to begin to speak. This is a huge zone, constituting a delay which explains, perhaps, or which at least gives us to understand analogously, that something is going to happen, that something will have happened in this dumb zone where the child nevertheless hears, hears a music. Something is going to happen that cannot be marked, because it cannot be symbolized (yet) in a language. This presents the occasion for an affective mass to gather which will remain in attendance of its expression. These are the two sides of the inhuman. I have gone quickly, but I think it is clear.

R. B.: Keeping to the two-sided logic of what you are saying, let me ask you then how you reflect upon the extinction of the "sexual" given that the sexual nevertheless forms part of a technically mediated energetic organism that one day, as you say, is destined to leave the terrestrial system? Can one keep to two utterly distinct sides here? Or rather, could one not retort that the "sexual" in your thought remains, ironically, the preserve of nihilism, or at least of cynicism? For why not simply place oneself as a thinker on the other side, on the side of development, if the sexual is both the site of "resistance to development" and yet is equally to be extinguished by it? My questions imply, again, a wish to articulate the "relation" between the two sides. One might say that this is one task of "thinking" that your own strong thinking on the "inhuman" poses.

J.-F. L.: Nihilism, no. We are beyond good and evil. The thinking here is that of the least bad. Cynicism, no: there is the question of what is tolerable and of what is just. Even so, concerning your point overall, I don’t know. My response will have to be provisional, in the form of two or three remarks concerning what you have just said.

First, to be clear, the sexual is not a form of technics. Following the gist of what you were saying, a step in complexification was made when reproduction passed from scissiparity to the result of the difference between sexes. Reproduction became here sexuated (sexuée)—which of course is not the sexual. Now, there was no necessity for this modification. Scissiparity worked tremendously well. We are in the domain again of the improbable, of chance. If it seems that the modification was indispensable for the reproduction of superior species, obviously this is just a retrospective judgment on the part of those belonging to sexuated organisms. Although we have little choice in thinking otherwise, the modification itself is highly unlikely. And although the modification is unlikely, we belong to such a history and can only think from within it. In this sense it can be said that the sexuated—but not the sexual—is one of the aspects of these highly developed apparatuses that we are. The sexuated is in this sense a fairly good instrument or technique for complexification in so far as it allows for the exchange of genes and therefore the formation of new things. Not only, then, is every individual system novel, singular (with its own genetic profile), but also, since the sexuated allows for permutations at a much more "probable" rate than within the process of scissiparity—where the appearance of a permutation depends upon factors that are extremely unlikely, chancy—then the sexuated allows for many eventualities. And this is inscribed now within the combinatory system of the sexuated, it is no longer a question of external factors like the wind or other "vehicles" of transport.

R. B.: The order of "chance" shifts with the shift from scissiparity to sexual reproduction.

J.-F. L.: I take your point. All this allows one to think the sexuated as a developed technical moment, but what Freud says with regard to the sexuated, in relation to the difference of sexes is something else, a something that really bothers the system, but about which it could not care in the least. And that something is precisely sexual difference. What is sexual difference? It is at least the fact that the species (let us stay within a techno-scientific terminology) is divided into two sexes, that reproduction is inscribed in each of these sexes in the form of sexual desire, and that this sexual desire gives rise to necessary forms of regulation and control for the human community (the prohibition of incest, etc.) that are very complicated apparatuses where there have been, again, a thousand attempts to delimit and channel. Now, the junction of both sexual desire (the most banal related to reproduction and which is programmed in the difference between the sexes, as in all species) and prohibition imposed by the rules of the human community—, this combination gives rise to traumatism, to unhappiness, to constitutive disappointment: it is this disappointment that exerts its silence from the earliest age of childhood. And this takes us to what Freud means when talking of the "sexual."

I say "disappointment" in the sense in which the Jews maintain that nobody has heard the voice of Yahweh; there are written traces of it, but nothing in the form of a voice. There is, of course, a great risk involved in giving voice to what is written, to letters in the shape of squares. It is a huge risk to decipher this voice, but, whatever, this voice has not been heard. Here, for me, there is a region of silence, inscribed necessarily in the reading of the Torah, just as there is a region of silence that is inscribed necessarily in the reading of symptoms. It is in this sense that I cannot accept that childhood is "inhuman" in the same sense as I think inhuman the perspective of breaking camp and leaving earth.

R. B.: I don’t follow the analogy between the reading of the Torah and psychoanalytic interpretation, although I am aware that you have been several to pursue their possible interrelations. The figures of energy and of affect are not, for me at least, the same as figures of writing. On the basis, however, of what you have just said, could you explain to someone, hesitant with this analysis like myself, how your thinking of the two sides of the inhuman (infantia on one side, "development" on the other) does not necessitate an abyss between the two that your own account of the process of complexification, of negentropy and of the technics of the living in a sense undermines?

J.-F. L.: I do not see how the originarily repressed unconscious, the thing, is effective. What I do see is that since it drives, since it makes us unhappy, since it brings about effects, then it is indeed the source and material for inventivity. It is the source of "benefits" in a way that is quite extraordinary. Here, again, is our theme of chance. In this sense you are right to imply that this thing, the sexual, childhood drives to complexification. It is part of negentropic processes in this sense. We have to carry out the anamnesis of chromatic, sonorous and literary language, an anamnesis, as we have discussed, that creates works. This is true. It is also true, however, that the perversions remain. The perversions as well are a part of complexification: this is not to be forgotten. This is one thing then. But, on the other hand, performativity, that is to say, the maximization of the input/output relation—for that is what performativity concerns—demands, as it were, that this zone of resistance be reduced. It is one of the hesitations of the system, falling under the name of culture. The system does not simply produce objects intended solely for consumption. It entertains at the same time a certain creativity and, to do so, rests, relies on the sexual. It remains nevertheless true that the most performative machines are remarkable in that they are not sexuated and have no childhood. Things become simpler without the latter, in the name of performativity. "Development" takes this into account.

R. B.: Is this an argument from someone thinking what the terms of development are (Marvin Minsky’s "nanotechnologies" for example, but also more immediately artificial life), but who is thinking this development while moving exclusively on the other side?

J.-F. L: I hear your question. It is true that the tendency is to do away with the body, with becoming-human in general, but notably with the body, and, consequently, in the body, the sexual inscribed in the body. This is not a big mystery, whether it be in the form of hysteria, neurosis, psychosis or of the unhappiness of the writer or the painter. We have spoken at length about this. There is indeed a tendency to eliminate it because, quite simply, it is not very performative, indeed it gets in the way. But this is not my job. I am responding to your question: I cannot give this whole question of development my approval.

R. B.: But there is nothing that could be "put in its place," either.

J.-F. L.: No, that is not the question.

R. B.: You have said that complexification, together with the performativity that accompanies it, can take purchase on the sexual. Can, in your terms, the sexual and the effects of the sexual contribute to an as yet unknown complexification of this process of complexification? Is this a possible future?

J.-F. L.: No, I do not think so. We can speak about a history of the sciences. In such a history (and I am by no means saying that the sciences are for idiots, far from it) there is an accumulation, there are, more by chance and less by chance, junctions between technical processes, manipulations (almost in a culinary or medical sense) and, then, theories (the theoretical tradition of mathematics, of physics, and then the appearance of chemistry and biology in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). A history can be traced, it can be shown how today there are more scientific "discoveries," that is, more construction in the apparatus, in its superior efficiency—for this is what a scientific "discovery" means—than three centuries ago. In this sense, there is a real accumulation of knowledge and performativity. This is, however, absolutely not the case for the arts and letters. It is quite impossible to say that Van Gogh is a better painter than Rembrandt. Such a judgment has no sense to it. Here, then, the notion of development (or "progress" to employ an older term) would be absurd. In this sense there is no history of art, music or literature. Temporality is again at stake given that the thing or the sexual remains impassive to the temporalization of development. On the one hand, there is a source of undeniable creativity, which drives to invention, to inventivity, but, on the other, at the same time, it is not a question of these "products" being inscribed under the criteria of a good, or the better, performance. We return to our previous distinction between the "absolute" past and the syntheses of time as well as to the thematic of the indeterminate and chance. If there is nothing more likely than entropy, if there is nothing more unlikely than negentropy and attraction, both from the beginning quite mysterious, then there is also nothing less likely than a work of art. Nobody can explain why Rembrandt appeared at such and such a time. It can always be said afterwards that this is the context, etc., but never does a context explain works of art. A work is in the context but it is not of it. Art is an extreme form of improbability, of what we have called "chance."

R. B.: In the second volume of his Technics and Time, Bernard Stiegler5 makes the comment that your logic of "resistance," together with this kind of thinking of art, condemn you to making an opposition between, let us say, "art" and the cultures of digitization. As a result of which, if I understand him correctly, you ignore the technicity of all art. And yet this technicity is to be thought first so as to disallow an "oppositional" logic. I do not want to go into Stiegler’s own concerns and project here. The hesitation would be akin, nevertheless, to my persistent suggestion here that in opposing the sexual to the new technologies ("bits of information" as you characterize them in L’inhumain) you are opposing one form of energy and time—be it, for you, precisely, formless and time-less—to the figuration and the temporalization of energy qua time.

J.-F. L.: We must distinguish culture and art here. There are works of art, that these works pass through informational multimedia, indeed circulate in virtual memory is evident. All such operations are however second in relation to the appearance of the work of art, they are operations to which I would reserve the name of "culture." I have nothing against this: how could anyone? But culture is not art: art often does not enter the circuit for fifty years, and so forth. Again, it is just not the same temporality. That said, this does not mean to say in the least that with the new informational, digital machines one cannot create works of art. Why not? Artists have always used every possible kind of support, every possible kind of material, every possible kind of tool. There is no opposition here, but a question of stress. For it is in the nature of the sexual, as Freud argues in the Three Essays, to use everything and nothing.

R. B.: This is an interesting clarification of your arguments in L’inhumain. There the thought of the sexual is consistently named as the thought of what is "without support."

J.-F. L.: Yes, but this is why all supports seem to the sexual either good or bad. Again the power of creativity is irreducible to its supports. The drive drives. This is why artists are always extremely dissatisfied with what they do. So, to come back to your first point, it is clear that artists are going to complicate the "bit" of information, the digital. This is already happening, as you know. The electronic—video, television, film, the digital—is not negligible in itself. Here is a support that allows for the most astonishing, strange, unexpected operations.

Maybe L’inhumain lends itself to an oppositional thinking. Even so, what I would always want to insist on is the fact that a work is enigmatic. A work is absolutely there where one finds remainder. There is silence, a remainder, even in a book (perhaps more in a book than elsewhere, although it uses language). It is not true that a reading can exhaust the force of a work, that it can precisely draw it out in informational terms. This is because it partakes of a secret. The affective force of a work consists precisely in the fact that it will never be exhausted (in informational terms, for example). One may try to measure a work, in terms of its success, for example: this is culture. The power (puissance) of a work consists in this work reserving this silence of the sexual which drove it to being produced in the first place.

R. B.: I appreciate what you say about the distinction between art and technics in general. I wonder whether this distinction is at the risk, however, of offering a very "informational" notion of culture as secondary circulation, whereas I was looking for a series of differentiations (technics, culture, art) within a general complexity. Such a search can run the risk of losing, in turn, however, the improbable, the admirable, as you have carefully stated.

To turn to my last question. We have spoken of dialogue and negotiation, and of their absence, we have spoken of processes of complexification, and of the insistence of development, whatever the human may want (which is in fact necessarily unclear). We have spoken of individual unhappiness and suffering, of a more broad process of selection, and of a logic of the "least bad." From the perspective of the two sides of the inhuman, would you still speak, as you do in L’inhumain, of politics as meaning a "resistance" to the inhuman of development? If this is too oppositional in its formulation, where does politics lie between these two aspects of the inhuman?

J.-F. L.: Politics is the art or technique (here I am happy to conflate the two) of making the demands of development tolerable for the human community. With this, it constitutes also a whole type of relation with what one calls opinion, the public (itself becoming very complicated with the ever more pervasive technologies of the twentieth century), a relation which does everything to ensure that the conditions of development are held to, but to ensure at the same time that the course of this development does not revolt human beings. And there is much reason to be revolted. Take for example the economic and social question of unemployment: the question actually proves, as we all know, that the human is in the process of being made superfluous within processes of production. But this is to be made tolerable by and for humans at an economic, social, moral and psychic level. Easy politics consists in saying "away with development, long live humanity"…

R. B: ...or "away with humanity, long live development."

J.-F. L: The political question today, what pertains to the political as an art or a technique, is to make development tolerable for humans, and for the human community. This is very difficult.

R. B.: Here we are speaking of negotiation between the human and the inhuman, according to the least bad.

J.-F. L.: Absolutely. For the politics of revolution, it was not about the "least bad," but about freedom, emancipation or progress. This is, in an absolute sense, over. That said, politics today is necessarily aporetic. To what extent, for example, is complexification compatible with the demands of the human such as it is, with the human community such as it is? Can these go on modifying themselves in such a way as to remain compatible with processes of complexification? These are open questions. Nevertheless, the aporetic takes nothing away from the fact that, all the same, we all guard, including the most dissolute and skillful politician, an idea, one that is in the end simple and empty, of what is just and of what is not just. We remain all the same—and it is the other aspect that we have not had time to go into here—under the law of the symbolic. The law has no figure and tells us nothing as to its content: be just and decide what is just. We all know that we have to do so, with or without the processes of complexification. This has always been the case, and it will continue to be so. Again, another temporality. It is for each one of us to decide (philosophy can articulate, make explicit, but it can add nothing new here) where he or she is with justice. This does not belong to development either. "Be just" remains.

R. B.: Jean-François Lyotard, thank you very much.

November 1997
Translated by R. Beardsworth


* The reader should be aware that, with this conversation taking place at the end of November 1997, Jean-François Lyotard did not have the occasion to look over and edit his own comments before his death early the following year. The conversation is in this sense incomplete.
1 J.-F. Lyotard, Economie libidinale, Paris: Minuit, 1974 (trans. into English by Iain Hamilton Grant, Libidinal Economy, London: Athlone, 1993); J.-F. Lyotard, Discours, Figure, Paris: Editions Klincksieck, 1978; J.-F. Lyotard, L'inhumain. Causeries sur le temps, Paris: Galilée, 1988 (trans. into English by Rachel Bowlby and Geoff Bennington, The Inhuman. Reflections on Time, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992); J.-F. Lyotard, Lectures d'enfance, Paris: Galilée, 1991; published posthumously as J.-F. Lyotard, La confession d'Augustin, Paris: Galilée, 1998 (trans. into English by Richard Beardsworth, The Confession of Augustine, Stanford: Stanford University Press, forthcoming).
2 J.-F. Lyotard, Heidegger et les 'juifs,' Paris: Galilée, 1988 (trans. into English by Andreas Michel, Heidegger and the "Jews," University of Minnesota, 1990).
3 G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, L'anti-oedipe. Capitalisme et schizophrénie, Paris: Minuit, 1972 (trans. into English by R. Hurley, M. Seem, and H. R. Lane, Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London: Athlone Press, 1984).
4 In J.-F. Lyotard, Moralités postmodernes, Paris: Galilée, 1993 (trans. into English by George Van Den Abbeele, Postmodern Fables, University of Minnesota, 1997); see also "The Wall, the Gulf and the Sun: A Fable," in J.-F. Lyotard, Political Writings, trans. Bill Readings and Kevin Paul Geiman, London: UCL Press, 1993).
5 Bernard Stiegler, La technique et le temps. Tome 2: la désorientation, Galilée, Paris: 1996 (trans. into English by George Collins, Stanford University Press, forthcoming).