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The phenomenological texture of desire.

1. Introduction

The main focus of this paper is the study of Hegel's treatment of the struggle to the death, the self-conscious dimension of consciousness, the identification of self-consciousness with desire, and the self-relation characteristic of desire. The literature on Husserl's affinity with formal identity and meaning ideality, his natural language semantics, his description of linguistic meaning, and his account of natural language is relevant to this discussion.

2. The Language of Desire

Adkins holds that desire (an active emotion) is one of the three fundamental emotions for Spinoza--the other two are pleasure and pain (passive emotions). Desire is the way in which we seek to be the adequate cause of our own preservation and expansion. Desire, virtue and power are equivalent terms for Spinoza. Desire is the means by which we continually make new connections in an attempt to produce something that works. Spinoza's conception of desire is a model of desire not predicated on a constitutive lack. Spinoza introduces "desire" as a primary way of affecting and being affected (one is always in some affective state related to pain, pleasure or desire). Spinoza's goal is the replacement of both pain and pleasure with desire.

Adkins says that in Heidegger's fundamental ontology desire is predicated on a lack and the incorporation of that lack into Dasein's very existence. Hegel and Heidegger share a conception of desire as acquisition, conceiving of desire as predicated on a lack. Hegel calls desire the necessity by which self-consciousness must overcome the life-system (desire seeks to appropriate the life-system for its own needs). The relation of desire between self- consciousness and the life-system is short-lived (the satisfaction of desire is dependent on the independence of the object). Self-consciousness is dependent on the object of desire. Hegel captures the axiomatized flows of capital as they capture desire and force it to produce more capital.

On Adkins's view, Deleuze and Guattari take over the language of desire as a means of criticizing Western philosophy in general and Freud in particular (desire is normalized within the confines of Oedipal sexuality and capitalist consumption). Oedipus only functions when it presupposes that desire is predicated on a lack (desire is not predicated on a lack but is productive). Capitalism completes the internalization of Oedipus and makes it the representative of desire, requiring a massive decoding of desire. Decoded flows of desire are the very nature of capitalism. The fear that haunts all societies, decoded flows of desire, is represented by Oedipus. Oedipus, the representative of desire, is the master key that unlocks every relation and explains every desire (psychoanalysis discovers Oedipus). Lack and negation are not integral to desire that has been captured by Oedipus. Oedipus is the result of the privatization of persons that follows the decoding of desire in capitalism. Psychoanalysis gives accurate assessments of the unconscious and desire. The recoding of desire that takes place within the family under Oedipal constraints and within society as a whole under capitalist constraints makes Freud's theory powerful. Deleuze and Guattari indicate the systematic misuse of the syntheses of desire by psychoanalysis, arguing for an affirmative conception of desire that is fundamentally anoedipal. Psychoanalysis supposes that desire is fundamentally Oedipal and that social structures reproduce the Oedipal unconscious (the rigid correspondence between society and the unconscious is the bi-univocal use of the conjunctive synthesis of desire), and diverts the revolutionary potential of desire through its dependence on the segregative use of the conjunctive synthesis of desire.

According to this discussion, what is forbidden is forbidden because it is desired. Desire is multifaceted and affirmative, pursuing connections with part-objects. Oedipus displaces desire in order to control it better, and is the trap of desire that diverts it from its true intention. Deleuze and Guattari call the "paranoiac machine" the particular relation between desire and its limit in the body without organs (the resistance of the body without organs to the connective synthesis of desire), imagining a system of desire (connection and disjunction) that produces its own limits (body without organs). Desire and its limits produce an additional level of complexity produced solely by the limit. We are constituted by desire (by misconstruing desire we have organized life around a lack). The death instinct is produced by the unique way in which capitalism captures desire (it is a recent invention, the result of the way capitalism constrains desire). Desire and its limits produce a particular social arrangement (capitalism). All desires are organized around the axiomatic of capitalism (desire is focused on the production and consumption of surplus within the system, whereas lack must be introduced into the heart of desire in order for capitalism to keep functioning).

Importantly, this means that the limits of desire are produced internally as the natural functioning of desire. Adkins argues that Deleuze and Guattari understand the subject as a residuum of the interaction between desire and the body without organs, articulating a complex model of desire's connections, disjunctions and consumptions (capital can be explained in terms of the same connections, disjunctions and consumptions of desire). It is highly dubious to deduce desire from prohibition, the implementation of technical advances is an example of the way that market forces constrain desire, and desire neither conceives of nor attaches itself to whole objects (desire attaches itself to part-objects). The privatized person discovers that his or her desires are uniquely connected to other family members (desire is construed universally as flowing from an unfulfillable lack, and every relation is somehow reflective of primordial, filial relations). Insofar as the subject is not constituted by desire that is predicated on a lack, it cannot be unitary, the interactions of desire with its limits produce nomadic and polyvocal subjects, and the conjunctive synthesis of desire is the "I feel" that accompanies all of our affects. "The relation between desire and its limit, however, does not remain one of repulsion. Desire begins to colonize its limit and spread across the surface of the body without organs. At this point, it appears as if the body without organs is magically producing the connections that are made along its surface. Thus, Deleuze and Guattari call this relation between desire and its limit the 'miraculating machine.'" (1)

3. Self-consciousness as Desire

van Manen claims that, for Heidegger, every moment of practical acting and knowing takes place in in-being (we are always already practically engaged in the context of life): phenomenology lacks effectiveness or utility if one hopes to do something practically useful with it, and the source of intelligibility is more mundanely the context of meaning in which our practices are embedded (the origin of meaning is found in our actions and in the tactile things of the world that we inhabit). Husserl says that the experiences that we live through (2) present themselves to us as accessible to reflection and language: (3) the primal impressional consciousness and its retentional and protentional aspects make our lived experiences potentially available in the form of intentional objects for our reflection, primal impressional consciousness manifests itself as an inexhaustible deposit of primordialities that constitute our experiential existence, and the ultimate source of intelligibility is the primal impressional stream of preconscious life that becomes interpretatively available to our understanding as lived experience. (4) Ruthrof states that Husserl turns to formal examples when he illustrates the ideality of linguistic meaning, (5) is reviving the notion of a "logical grammar" underlying all natural languages, and retains Vorstellung as an indispensable component of the semantic process. Husserl's semantic ideality makes the speech community superfluous. Husserl's emphasis on mental acts in the performance of linguistic meaning remains indispensable. Meanings are "ideal unities" characterized by "identity." Identity is conceivable as a characteristic of a species. Meaning is an intentional act rather than part of an expression. The "intimating function" consists in the way "inner experiences" are conveyed to the hearer. (6)

Pippin points out that Hegel treats the project of human self-knowledge as a matter of Geisfs "actuality," its historical and social development: Hegel discusses consciousness as a "negation" of the world's independence and otherness, specifies the distinctive character of desire that counts as "self- consciousness," assembles the central, minimal elements of genuinely human sociality among self-conscious beings, and is interested in a self-relation in relation to objects (we cannot treat as satisfactory any picture of a monadically conceived self-conscious desiring consciousness). Self-consciousness is "desire uberhaupt." Self-conscious desirers desire in the light of the other things they desire. We need to understand self-consciousness as a unity to be achieved. Consciousness and desire can be closely linked (consciousness is desire). Pippin emphasizes that by using the word desire, Hegel introduces the topic of desire as a continuation of his discussion of consciousness. The self of self-consciousness is not an object. The unity of consciousness "must become essential" for the subject ("self-consciousness is desire itself)." Practical reason is a kind of interchange of attempts at justification among persons. Consciousness itself is essentially a rational phenomenon.

From this, it is evident that self-consciousness is desire, and finds its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness. Pippin notes that Hegel understands life as the immediate object of desire, refers to "desire" as an ellipsis for distinctly human desire, considers the distinct normative status of human subjects as bound up with an inevitable and distinct form of social conflict, and thinks of human freedom as a historical and social achievement (the truth of self-certainty is not a matter of self-certainty). In being aware of a desirous me, I am not reporting an affective state. Desire is a manifestation of a natural process. Under some forms of normative self-regulation some community prevents and denies itself a proper responsiveness to defeasibility, challenging constitutive of proper or successful experience. The physiological components of perception are distinguishable from the norm-following or interpretive elements (the physiological and the normative aspects are inseparable in perception itself). The relation between subject and sensible object generates a "dissatisfaction" that can be resolved in the relation between a subject and other such subjects. The model of "mind and world" obscures the nature of the self-consciousness essential to consciousness (desire is a manifestation of a natural process).
   The identification of self-consciousness with desire occurs at a
   very early stage, as Hegel begins to assemble the various
   dimensions and elements he thinks we will need in order to
   understand the self-conscious dimension of consciousness. Initially
   Hegel is only saying: we have at least to understand that
   self-consciousness must be understood as mere desire. It will prove
   impossible to consider such self-consciousness as merely desire and
   nothing else. [...] Everything changes when our desires are not
   just thwarted or impeded, but challenged and refused. [...] The
   projected self-sentiment of a merely living self is realized by the
   "negation" of the object of desire necessary for life, part of an
   endless cycle of being subject to one's desires and satisfying
   them. (7)

4. Husserl's Doctrine of Immanent Transcendence

As Alweiss puts it, Husserl affirms the quest for certainty, evidence, and the return to subjectivity. Husserl's doctrine of immanent transcendence (8) affirms that nothing can be outside transcendental subjectivity. The stability of the "hereness" of the earth stands apart and makes possible the experience of myself and others (it is possible to experience truth, what is given in experience is far more than sensible intuition, we experience a temporal event prior to any association or fantasy, whereas the pure Ego is the permanent and self-identical correlate to all experience). Husserl describes immanent experience (9) as absolutely given by virtue of retention and pretention (retention is possible only if it is preceded by an impression): there is a certain prioritization of protention over retention insofar as the movement points toward the future. The now that we experience is a now that is folded into the movement between retentions and protentions. Any moment is structured by its chain of retentions and protentions. "Husserl emphasizes that the primal impression constitutes the unity of the stream, insofar as it is the centrifugal point that structures the manifold of retentions and protentions." (10)

Alweiss insists that Husserl distinguishes between the noesis (the real act) and the noema (the object that is meant or intended, precisely as it is intended). It is necessary to differentiate between the real contents of an act and its intentional content. "Object" in the first instance means something about which meaningful statements can be made. The fact that an expression has no actual object does not mean that it has no reference to an object or that it is non-referential. It is impossible to gain adequate evidence from the perception of objects in the external world. Even an expression that has no actual object has signification, and any act of perception strives for fulfillment in the object as it is intended. For object perception, an embodied psyche accompanies all my representations.

5. Conclusions

We are specifically interested in how previous research investigated the distinctive character of desire that counts as "self-consciousness," Spinoza's conception of desire, Husserl's stipulation of identity and ideality as necessary, and features of linguistic meaning. Thus, the overall results provide strong evidence for the nature of desire, the primacy of Oedipus as the representative of desire, the relation between desire and its limits, Husserl's mentalism of meaning acts, and intentional consciousness and its implications for Hegel's phenomenology.


(1.) Adkins, Brent (2007), Death and Desire in Hegel, Heidegger and Deleuze. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 134.

(2.) Bacalu, Filip (2012), "The Brain Mechanisms of Language," Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 11: 85-90.

(3.) Radulescu, Adina (2012), "Taking Logophobia Seriously," Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 11: 147-152.

(4.) van Manen, Max (2007), "Phenomenology of Practice," Phenomenology & Practice 1(1): 11-30.

(5.) Vrahimis, Andreas (2011), "Nonsense and Absurdity: Carnap's Use of Husserl's Theory of Meaning," Review of Contemporary Philosophy 10: 133-140.

(6.) Ruthrof, Horst (2012), "Husserl's Semantics: Mending Husserl and Husserl," Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 11: 11-41.

(7.) Pippin, Robert B. (2011), Hegel on Self-consciousness: Desire and Death in the Phenomenology of Spirit. Princeton, NJ-Oxford: Princeton University Press, 14, 20, 37.

(8.) Constantin, Ion (2012), "Husserl on the World as an Ontologically Dependent Correlate of the Transcendental Subject," Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 11: 103-108.

(9.) Mircica, Nela (2011), "Husserl on the Relationship between Intentionality and Knowledge," Review of Contemporary Philosophy 10: 184-189.

(10.) Alweiss, Lilian (2003), The World Unclaimed: A Challenge to Heidegger's Critique of Husserl. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 46.

[C] Matei Georgescu


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Author:Georgescu, Matei
Publication:Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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