In your opinion has the post-modern trinity of Lacan/ Foucault/ Derrida been successful in their effort
to destroy philosophy? What is your opinion about other post-modern thinkers such as Vattimo and
Levinas and predecessors such as Baudrillard and Bataille? Finally I'm very interested in your opinion
about Cioran and how you would classify him in relation to postmodernism.
First of all, nobody from this trinity tries to destroy philosophy. All of them proposed very different
ways to put the question about metaphysics.
Lacan was a psychoanalyst and he did not deal with philosophy. Of course, he influenced philosophy
also, because he was serious intellectual of his time. But we can find the marks of Lacan as both
psychoanalyst and philosopher in philosophy, and in linguistics, and in semiotics, and in sociology
and in many other spheres of humanities. So, I do not think that he had a down on philosophy. In my
mind he was very serious psychoanalyst, first of all.
Of course, reading his texts we can find the image of culture as well as education as very destructive
and aggressive forces. For example, reading his "Mirror Stage" or "The Four Fundamental Concepts
of Psychoanalysis", we learn that culture and language brings us alienation. In his opinion, alienation
is the basis point of human identification. In alienation the child receives the first experience of
separation, which becomes the crucial operation of signification. [Lacan, Jaqcues The Four
Fundamental Concepts of PsychoanalysisTrans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1981 p.214].
We can find many examples in Lacan to prove that he describes culture, language and education as
the form of alienation, violence and separation. In education, the child receives an external system,
which is intruded by the (m)other. So, culture and language is the product of other, an external and
aggressive power. To become a man, the child should decline his (her) own inner world and should
follow the (m)other's edification and receive the external rules of the game: language and culture.
"The alienation is not the specular alienation of the mirror stage but the alienation essential to
signification and the subject's relation to language. As language becomes paramount, the alienation
inherent in language also becomes paramount." [Oliver, Kelly. Witnessing. Beyond recognition
Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press 2001 p.188]. Language, in Lacan, is
alienation and the hidden violence of culture. So, I should agree that Lacan uses the rhetoric of
alienation, but we can not conclude that he ties to show all human culture as violence and evil.
In my mind, Foucault was not a postmodernist, because he died in 1984 when postmodernism had
just begun. He was rather a structuralist, who tries to conceive in human history, consistent patterns
of its development and the phenomena of culture: clinics, prison, and writing. He accomplished a shift
in historical sciences. Before him, history was the history of main events: wars, revolutions, reforms,
as well as the biographies of great persons. There were many gaps, which were not considered
important: stagnation and anticlimax. Before Foucault the historian supposed that the gaps are not
the matter of history, but Foucault proved that in stagnation we can find the appearance of new
ideology, he shows that history really is not the history of great events, but the history of development
of human's ideology. And the key periods of appearance of new forms of ideology are the gaps. In my
mind, he proposed a new dimension of history, a new historical outline.
Derrida proposed the deconstruction of metaphysics, but it is not the same as destruction. Of course,
all of these thinkers try to shift the subject matter and make philosophy into something new. So, that
is why Derrida as well as Heidegger tries to make a bridge across metaphysics. And Derrida reminds
us that his own efforts are related to Heidegger's ideology: "Among other things I wished to translate
and adapt to my own ends the Heidggerian word Destruktionor Abbau.Each signified in this context
an operation bearing on the structure or traditional architecture of the fundamental concepts of
ontology or of Western metaphysics. But in French 'destruction' too obviously implied an annihilation
or a negative reduction much closer perhaps to Nietzschean 'demolition' than to the Heideggerian
interpretation or to the type of reading that I proposed." [Derrida, Jacques 'Letter to a Japanese
Friend.' Derrida and Differenceed. Wood & Bernasconi, Warwick: Parousia Press 1985 p.1-2]. So,
the aim of deconstruction is not to destroy philosophy and deny classical metaphysics, but it is a form
of criticism and of renovation of philosophy. That is why, in my mind, Derrida proposed a new form of
criticism and tried to continue the Heidegger's tradition.
These are very brief ideas on the role and efforts of Lacan, Foucault and Derrida in contemporary
philosophy. My own ideas on the role of postmodern philosophy you can learn from my article from
Philosophy Pathways Issue 27 which you can also find on the PhiloSophos web site here:
Dmitry Olshansky Foundations of Non-Classical Thinking.
Urals State University