Reply: What Would I Do with Lacan Today? by Betty Cannon


Thoughts on Sartre, Lacan, and Contemporary Psychoanalysis

Abstract: This article is a reply to Blake Scott’s discussion of the Sartrean critique of Lacan that I present in three chapters of Sartre and Psychoanalysis. Here I revisit those chapters, written 25 years ago, with questions about how I might approach Lacan today. I also discuss how I might approach recent developments in psychoanalysis, some of which are influenced by both Lacan and postmodernism. While I still think Lacan does not give an adequate account of agency and responsibility, there are definitely parallels between Sartre and Lacan and even a significant, though ambiguous, debt that Lacan owes to Sartre, similar to the often-neglected influence of Sartre on postmodern philosophy. The rest of the article considers the influence of postmodernism and existential phenomenology on contemporary psychoanalysis. Despite certain theoretical difficulties, the relational and intersubjective emphasis in much of contemporary psychoanalysis, combined with a rejection of drive theory, is in some ways surprisingly compatible with Sartre’s requirements for an existential psychoanalysis.

Sartre and Lacan Reconsidered

At the time I wrote Sartre and Psychoanalysis, many of the writers Scott quotes in his essay were not available in translation––or, in some cases, they had not even been published. Indeed a great deal of Jacques Lacan’s own writings had not yet been translated into English. While I do not think I would have changed the fundamental nature of my argument, I would have taken this material into account had it been available. In a sense, I was writing in a vacuum since I did not at that time even know any Lacanian analysts to ask for a critique of my ideas. The literature on Lacan was also not as extensive as it is today.

What provoked me to undertake those three chapters was my awareness of Lacan’s intellectual stature together with my appreciation of the fact that he was the only major thinker other than Sartre who (in my estimation) provided a credible challenge to ego psychology and other misconceived initiatives in psychoanalysis. I was also struck by Lacan’s use of Sartrean concepts (desire as lack of being, the look or gaze of the other, the ego as illusory object rather than subject), even if, in contrast to Sartre, he takes them in the direction of postmodernism.

The question I ask myself in looking back at those chapters is this: What would I do with Lacan if I were writing the book today? The answer may be a little surprising. I am not sure that I would undertake such a thorough critique of Lacan, since he has not proved to be much of an influence on the development of my own approach, Applied Existential Psychotherapy (AEP). Deeply grounded in the philosophy of Sartre, AEP also draws insights from classical and  contemporary psychoanalysis. Its interventions, however, are more often inspired by Gestalt therapy, body-oriented psychotherapy, and other experiential approaches. There is also an influence from humanistic psychology, especially the work of Carl Rogers.

There is very little interpretation involved in this approach. I agree with British object relations theorist D. W. Winnicott, who once observed that interpretations are more likely to serve the analyst’s vanity than the analysand’s needs. Or, as Sartre points out, interpretations, delivered as truth, can reinforce the position of the analysand as degraded object beneath the gaze of the analyst as omnipotent subject. Lacan was likewise suspicious of analysts who talked too much. I suppose one ought to be suspicious of therapists who intervene too much in any way, especially if those interventions are hierarchical and prescriptive rather than collaborative and exploratory. In the intervening years since writing Sartre and Psychoanalysis, I have found myself “returning” (to use Lacan’s famous phrase) again and again to some of the theorists discussed there––for example, to Winnicott, to R. D. Laing (who was a supervisee of Winnicott and a student of Sartre’s philosophy), and to Freud himself. I have not found myself very often returning to Lacan. In rereading some of Lacan as a prelude to writing this reply, I found myself more irritated than impressed with the obscurity of his phraseology. Although I tried to “work through” as much of Lacan as was available to me in translation at the time I wrote those chapters, I suppose I must classify myself as one of those people whom Badiou (cited by Scott) chastises for not appreciating the enormous relevance of Lacan to contemporary philosophy—or at any rate to the philosophical grounding of my own approach to therapy.

This wholesale rejection of Lacan is also probably not quite right. I still find echoes of Lacan in my work that stem from the enormous effort I put into understanding him in writing those chapters. They take the form of phrases and ideas that I sometimes reference. I likeLacan’s description of the analyst as “the subject supposed to know” but who does not know. I like his concomitant idea that while the analyst may direct the therapy, he or she should not try to direct the analysand. And I like his distinction between “full” or “true” and “empty speech” and his idea that analysis brings us closer to full speech ––though I am aware that Lacan’s definition of true speech would not be the same as mine or Sartre’s.

I also like Lacan’s predilection (like Sartre’s) for quoting Rimbaud’s line, “I is another,” as a way of exposing the illusory nature of the ego. And I like his rejection of the rigidification implied in the attempts of ego psychology to help the analysand build a more solid ego. For Lacan as for Sartre, the ego is an object based on a fundamental illusion (in Sartre’s case the illusion of substance and in Lacan’s, the illusion of a false wholeness based on taking oneself for another or an image in the mirror that forms the substratum for the ego in the “mirror stage” of development) rather than a subject or seat of reality orientation. Analysis ought to aim more at exposing or deconstructing that illusion than at constructing a better one. While we are probably not going to be free of having an ego (and while this is probably not even desirable), it is desirable not to mistake the ego as object for the subject who constructs it.

I find interesting Scott’s comparison of Lacan’s concept of “traversing the fundamental fantasy” with Sartre’s idea of uncovering the “fundamental project of being.” Both are explorations of the paths that a particular person’s desire has taken from infancy onward. Both define desire as “lack of being”––and indeed Lacan was undoubtedly influenced by Sartre in thus defining it. Both describe human reality as a temporalization attempting to move from present insufficiency to future fullness––though Lacan’s explanation for this “lack” differs from Sartre’s. And both emphasize the impact of the “look” or “gaze” of the other in human development. Lacan’s use of this concept is again influenced by Sartre, and he approvingly recommends to his students Sartre’s phenomenological account of the “look” of the other and the “conflict of consciousnesses”––though he maintains that the ultimate gaze is the look of the Other (A), the linguistic unconscious.

For different reasons, both describe the ego as a false representation of the self with which consciousness has “hypnotized” itself. In rejecting the idea that the task of psychoanalysis is to build a better ego, neither finds appealing the rejection of spontaneity implied in adhering to the “reality principle” over the “pleasure principle.” Lacan even rejects the usual translation of Freud’s famous dictum, “Wo Es war, soll Ich werden.” Translated as “Where id was, there ego shall be” in the Standard English Edition, 10 this has usually been interpreted to mean that psychoanalysis seeks to increase the dominion of the reality principle over the pleasure principle, to bring id impulses under the control and understanding of the ego. Lacan rejects this rendition, arguing that Freud did not mean that the “ego must dislodge the id.” Rather, according to Lacan, Freud meant to say, “There where it [the id or the linguistic unconscious as the conduit for desire] was, it is my duty that I should come to being.” Sartre, for his part, would say that I must dislodge the seeming solidity of the ego as a defense against spontaneity. And Lacan adds another term for pleasure as uncontained ecstasy to Freud’s idea of pleasure as emanating from the return to zero energy charge in the economic hypothesis. Lacan’s term is “jouissance”––usually left untranslated. I have sometimes  wondered if his ideas on this are related to Sartre’s idea that it is play, rather than the “spirit of seriousness,” that brings us closest to recognizing our disavowed spontaneity.

Despite these parallels, I remain unconvinced that the Lacanian unconscious subject, as Scott argues, can be responsible for its actions––or perhaps even capable of radically reorienting its way of being in the world. It still seems to me difficult to account for change from a Lacanian perspective. After all, Lacan defines the unconscious subject, the linguistic unconscious, as that which makes each of us an “effect of the signifier.” Lacanian analysis, as I read Lacan, leads not to recognizing and assuming our freedom, but to a kind of Nietzschean amor fati––an acceptance/love of the fact of being the plaything of the signifying chain that moves down to us from our ancestors. Despite Lacan’s claim that the slightest alteration in an individual’s structuration of the symbolic order changes everything, the question remains: Who changes? For Sartre, of course, it is the individual subject who effects the change. Sartre, however, would not disagree that the subject is impacted by the exigencies of language as a “practico-inert” field. This is what he meant when he said in an interview: “In my view, Lacan has clarified the meaning of ‘unconscious’ as discourse which separates through language, or if you prefer, as counterfinality of the spoken word in which verbal groupings are structured through the act of speaking into a practico-inert grouping.” The practico-inert is Sartre’s term in his later philosophy for humanized matter––the inert (in the case of language, sounds or squiggles on paper) imbued with human meaning and purpose (praxis). Sartre continues by saying, “These verbal groupings express or constitute intentions which determine me without being mine.”

In the sense that language is practico-inert, it speaks us rather than we it. It brings the meanings of an alien other into our most intimate personal relations as well as into our reflective relationship with ourselves. This includes the meanings handed down to us through the generations from ancestors long dead. In fact, Sartre’s analysis of Flaubert’s “prehistory” in The Family Idiot is an analysis of the way in which the meanings created by one’s ancestors impact one’s insertion into a particular family and culture. Of course, none of this is “unconscious” in the Freudian sense. It is simply “unknown” in the Sartrean sense of being prereflectively lived but not reflectively conceptualized. It is an aspect of “le vecu” (the lived), which constantly overflows reflective conceptualization. All this is not too different, if one does not think of it as unconscious, from Lacan’s position. The difference is that Sartre makes a place not only for language as practico-inert, but also for speech as praxis. Indeed, the practico-inert, though it is a new concept in Sartre’s later philosophy, is an extension of his discussion of the impact of facticity on an individual’s project of being in Being and Nothingness. Sartre says there that freedom has no meaning except as it is imbedded in a particular life “situation,” which he defines as a combination of what the world brings and what I make of what the world brings. Sartre does not abandon this idea in his later philosophy, where he still wishes to investigate what I as a subject make of what I am made of, but it does become more complex with the addition of the impact of the socio-material world on individual praxis. True or full speech for Sartre would not involve, as it does for Lacan, returning to and accepting that place where one is the effect of the signifier (though it would partially involve recognizing the impact of the socio-material world, including the language one speaks, on one’s project). It would instead involve taking responsibility for speaking even in a situation where one is spoken by the very language that one speaks and inherits from others long dead. Sartre’s analysis of Flaubert in The Family Idiot as a subject “badly anchored in the universe of discourse” is a description of a person who experiences himself to be more spoken than speaking.

This is so, Sartre hypothesizes, because from earliest infancy Flaubert’s mother did not recognize him as an agent, treating him as an object to be cared for and ministered to rather than a person to be loved. Flaubert thus became more passive than active and his relationship with language became one in which words were mere objects handed on by the other that could never be made to speak his unique experience. Sartre presents Flaubert as a person captured by the imaginary and unable to live in the real world where one experiences oneself as able to act on objects and other people and thereby to find paths for realizing oneself. Hence Flaubert is incapable of true speech in the Sartrean sense. According to Sartre, Flaubert’s relationship to language is that of gesture rather than act––representation and playacting rather than agency. The young Flaubert, according to Sartre, misses the “transcendental indication” in words that is an invitation to “escape from the self toward” the world 19 for the simple reason that he has never genuinely learned to act. It is the absence of intentionality in speech, an absence that Lacanian psycholinguistic theory does not recognize, that has crippled Flaubert. Hence he is interested in ceremonies of naming, as when he has Emma and Leon go through their ceremony of invoking nature in the course of the ripening of their love in Madame Bovary. Or he will note indications that others, like him, are spoken objects rather than speaking subjects—as when he collects commonplaces in his Dictionnaire des idées reçues. But he will not experience speech as praxis.

True speech, a healthy relationship to language, is for Sartre exactly the opposite of the one that Lacan envisioned. From a Sartrean perspective, Lacan has got it backward. The “symbol” does not “beget intelligent beings,” as Lacan thinks. Rather, intelligent beings beget and sustain symbols, albeit in a world already filled with symbols and in which there is no return to a prior state of nature that preexists and retains its purity outside of the cultural-linguistic order. The problem for Lacan, as for Sartre’s Flaubert, is that sensitivity to language as “thought matter” (practico-inert) eclipses recognition of speech as praxis.

On the one hand, Sartre is aware that “every pronounced speech contains within it the counterfinality that consumes it” (a point with which not only Lacan but also Derrida would agree). He also notes (and this idea is very much in accord with the ideas of structural linguistics) that the word is “a ready-made idea since it is defined outside us by its differences from other words in the verbal spectrum.” But at the same time, Sartre points out that it is equally true that in another way “we are all intelligent,” even when we express ourselves in commonplaces in situations where “by using them we move toward a thought that is always fresh.” Furthermore, praxis as genuine creativity is always striving to find new ways to express (and create through expressing) novel experience. According to Sartre, “Invention characterizes speech––we will invent if the conditions are favorable; if not, we will have badly named experiences and live them badly.” Speech, after all, is behavior, and discourse and lived experience are changed by each other.

The reader may notice that what is implied here is a very different account of the “real” than that given by Lacan. When Sartre talks about signification, he (unlike Lacan) is interested in that which the signifier signifies––the real. Lacan, on the other hand, frequently refers to the real as the “impossible.” He says it is “the accident, the noise, the small element of reality, which is evidence that we are not dreaming.” At other times, Lacan defines the real as “plenitude,” observing that there is “no absence in the real.” Here and also when he insists that the world in which we live is always a “humanized, symbolised world, the work of transcendence introduced by the symbolic into primitive reality,” Lacan sounds quite Sartrean. But then we find that Lacan identifies the real with traumas and hallucinations. Indeed, Lacan insists that the real is “that which is unassimilable” —not in the Sartrean sense that the fullness of Being always escapes us (that our awareness is always limited by the “transphenomenality of Being”) but rather absolutely unassimilable.

For Sartre, the real is that toward which I must open myself. It is imbued with imagination in the sense that we encounter the real in the context of a movement toward that which is not yet but which we wish to bring into being. But this differs from that preference for the imaginary over the real, for which Sartre indicts Flaubert. Indeed, it is on the face of the world that, for Sartre, we carve the “circuit of selfness” through which we attempt to define ourselves. For Sartre, human reality is a relationship with Being and with other people rather than a relationship with the symbolic order represented by the linguistic unconscious. That relationship is impacted by the symbolic order, by language and culture as practico-inert, but it is not reducible to it.

Sartre, Postmodernism, and Contemporary Psychoanalysis

Sartre’s objections to reducing the person to the “effect of the signifier” is, I believe, not only the place where Lacan and Sartre part company, but also the place where Sartre parts company with post-modernism and social  constructivism in general. A concept of praxis as freedom must be maintained, even as we acknowledge the impact of language and culture on the individual. We must not only understand language as practico-inert. We must also make a place for speech and other human world-making activity as praxis. If we are going to emphasize intersubjectivity, which Sartre like the postmodernists thinks we must do, it must be an intersubjectivity rooted in some kind of theory of the subject as something other than the play-thing of language and culture. This is a point well made by Roger Frie in his excellent book, Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity in Modern Philosophy and  Psychoanalysis. Frie contends that the problem with postmodernism as applied to psychotherapy is that “without a psychological agent who develops, changes, and learns, the therapeutic process appears to lose its meaning.” To be a meaningful concept, intersubjectivity must be founded in subjectivity.

Is Sartre then a throwback to classical humanism, as a number of postmodern theorists claim? Christina Howells, 34 in the essay referenced by Scott, rightly contends that postmodern theorists have not adequately acknowledged their debt to Sartre. If I wanted to be Freudian about it, I might say that Sartre is the Oedipal father against whom they are all rebelling––in part because they owe so much to him that they cannot afford to acknowledge him. In any case, remarks like Foucault’s dismissal of Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason as an “effort of a man of the nineteenth century to think the twentieth century” or  characterizations of him as a classical humanist are totally off the mark. It was Sartre (with the help of Husserl and Heidegger before him) who opened up that decentering of the substantive subject and questioning of Cartesian dualism that postmodernists have made a poster child for their theories. And it was Sartre and Heidegger who adamantly called into question the idea of the isolated individual mind of classical humanism. Also, Sartre, like Heidegger, never accepted classical humanist ideas about the inevitability of progress and so on.

These are points that Sartre makes clear everywhere in his philosophy, including the little essay “Existentialism is a Humanism” to which Heidegger objected in his “Letter on Humanism.” But “existentialist humanism,” as distinguished from postmodernism, does not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It still makes room for the decentered, non-egoical subject, for an understanding of unsubstan
tial consciousness as world-consciousness, at the heart of human experience. What must be deconstructed is not this consciousness, since it is process not content, but the ego as an object of reflective consciousness. Sartre’s position might therefore be described as lying somewhere between humanism and postmodernism while avoiding the pitfalls of both.

What then would I say about the influence of Lacan, postmodernism, and existential phenomenology on contemporary psycho-analysis if I were writing Sartre and Psychoanalysis today? To begin with, I would definitely want to consider from a Sartrean perspective the impact of Lacan and postmodernism on contemporary American “relational psychoanalysis”—especially on the work of Stephen A. Mitchell, 40 Philip M. Bromberg, Donnell B. Stern, and Jessica Benjamin. Although I like these theorists in many ways, I do not think this is always a salutary influence, especially when they privilege language over bodily lived experience and define intersubjectivity in terms of vague field that includes a merging of subjectivities in the “relational unconscious.” Furthermore, the relational analysts often accept the postmodern idea of the subject as multiple––discovering therein a variety of warring “self-states,” conscious and unconscious. While it is certainly true from a Sartrean perspective that the individual relates in a variety of (not always compatible and often conflicted) ways to the world, this does not mean that consciousness is multiple. This is so in part because consciousness is not substantive. Hence I would suggest that Sartre’s idea of the “project of being,” which is not a thing but a trajectory that shifts and changes and has multiple facets, might provide a unifying principle that is in line with postmodernist objections to the substantialized self while retaining consciousness as a center of reference for world-making.

In contrast to the postmodern leaning of relational psychoanalysis, which is undoubtedly the most influential force in American psychoanalysis today, there are other approaches in contemporary psychoanalysis that do acknowledge a debt to existential phenomenology. They include the “intersubjective psychoanalysis” of Robert Stolorow and his colleagues and the psychoanalytic approach of infant researcher Daniel Stern and his circle. While I think Stolorow and his colleagues might have done better to base their intersubjective theory on Sartre’s account of self and other, I do find very interesting and moving Stolorow’s writing on trauma from a Heideggerian perspective. And while his idea of the “prereflective unconscious” is not quite Sartrean, it is moving in that direction––making his approach close to what he himself describes as post-Cartesian psychoanalysis.”

Yet to my mind, what is far more interesting than either relational or intersubjective psychoanalysis from a Sartrean point of view, is the psychoanalytically oriented infant research of Daniel Stern and his students and colleagues. Stern’s work with infants seems to confirm the ideas of existential phenomenology regarding the lived body, intentionality, and intersubjectivity. In addition to Stern, this group includes Ed Tronick, Beatrice Beebe and her colleagues, and the participants in a group (including Stern) that has published collectively as The Boston Change Process Study Group. Many of these researchers, especially Stern and The Study Group, have been in creasingly explicit about embracing existential phenomenology, in addition to dynamic systems theory, as a theoretical base. Indeed Stern explicitly states that his idea of the “present moment” in his book by that title relies heavily on a phenomenological perspective.

Similarly, The Study Group, sounding quite existential-phenomenological, concludes that the “basic units of human communication are lived intentions”––adding that intentions are what make behavior, our own or that of others, “coherent and meaningful.” Stern and his colleagues also find that preverbal infants, like adults, have intentionality and are able to read intentionality in the facial expressions, movements, and gestures of their adult caregivers. And they acknowledge that their emphasis on the “embodied mind” owes a debt to Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty. Even their theory of change sounds existential-phenomenological, as when Stern’s idea of “now moments” seems to resemble Sartre’s idea of the psychological “instant” of radical change. Or when Ed Tronick writes: “Change for a patient means risking dissipation and experiencing fear or even the terror of annihilation and the dissolution of the self. But change also means hope.” Certainly he seems to be talking about existential anxiety.

The members of Stern’s circle have recently begun to expand their research and theory to adult psychoanalysis, perhaps presaging a major reorientation in an approach that has long conceived of itself as an exclusively “talking cure.” Beatrice Beebe, a former student of Stern, presents a remarkably Sartrean case study in which she applies the kind of frame-by-frame videotape analysis used to map infantmother interactions to nonverbal interactions with an analysand, whom she calls Delores. Beebe’s empathic face, in the course of the analysis, is finally allowed (partially through Delores’s viewing of the videotapes since she has trouble looking at Beebe) to provide a corrective experience to the faces of the original others from Delores’s childhood who were either tragically lost or monstrously abusive. Although body-oriented psychotherapy has long been familiar with nonverbal therapeutic interventions, this research could perhaps help psychoanalysts to appreciate the importance of ever-present nonverbal interactions and even begin to bring nonverbal interventions more deliberately into therapy.

In addition to these approaches, I would also want to consider the resurgence of interest in the work of Laing that has been spearheaded by my friend and Laing’s student and colleague, Michael (M. Guy) Thompson. I think this reevaluation of Laing is long overdue. Thompson’s previous work 58 provides a reappraisal of Freud that emphasizes the compatibility of existential phenomenology with the practice of psychoanalysis.

I would also need to consider from a Sartrean perspective two other research directions that are influencing contemporary psychoanalysis as well as other branches of psychotherapy. The first is a resurgence of interest in Bowlby’s attachment theory. Bowlby, as a practicing psychoanalyst, considered the role of attachment theory to be a reform of psychoanalytic theory, aligning it more closely with scientific findings (especially evolutionary theory) and with perspectives from related disciplines, such as ethology and cognitive psychology. He did not want to undermine, but to bolster psychoanalysis through this endeavor. Nonetheless, as Peter Fonagy notes, there has been a lot of “bad blood” 60 between attachment theory and psychoanalysis from the beginning and ever since: Bowlby’s challenge to Freud and Klein on the importance of drive theory and infantile fantasies versus bad parenting as explanations for the etiology of mental disturbance was neither appreciated nor rewarded. In the past 10 or 15 years, the resurgence of research on attachment theory as applied to adult problems and issues as well as to children together with some theoretical shifts in  contemporary psychoanalysis have led to more congenial relations between the two. Morris N. Eagle in Attachment and Psychoanalysis: Theory, Research, and Clinical Implications and Peter Fonagy in Attachment Theory and Psychoanalysis provide good overviews of the significance of attachment theory for contemporary psychoanalysis. Indeed attachment theory supports the growing consensus in contemporary psychoanalysis that favors relational over drive theory.

From a Sartrean perspective, this resurgence of attachment theory, like the development of relational psychoanalysis, is both good and bad news. Certainly Sartre would agree with the attachment theorists that mother-infant relations are crucial to setting the stage for adult relationships. He demonstrates the impact of childhood again and again in his psychobiographies, and he is especially attentive to the effects of mother love (or lack thereof) on an infant in his biography of Flaubert. At the same time, Sartre might find this material somewhat disquieting because of its overemphasis on safety over challenge, predictability over freedom. This is particularly evident in couples therapists (some of them psychoanalysts) who take the perspective that adult relationships can be reduced to their infantile origins and that encouraging relational safety (attachment) is more important than encouraging the couple to recognize and nourish each other’s freedom––or even to let their desire be nourished by difference and its enticements as well as its challenges.

Actually several of the analysts already mentioned in this paper criticize current attachment theory for reasons similar to the ones I imagine Sartre would make. Ed Tronick notes that attachment theory, although useful, is somewhat reductive in failing to recognize the specificity of all relationships, including the unique relationships that infants develop with their various caregivers rather than with their mothers alone. Attachment theory has tended to assume that attachment styles (secure, insecure, avoidant, anxious, disorganized), which they consider for the most part to be stable throughout a life-time, originate in the mother-infant relationship. Tronick, on the contrary, observes infants developing very different interactional patterns in different relationships––for example, with their mothers and their fathers. And, although he concedes that the mother-infant relationship may have a greater influence on later relationships, he also notes that adult relationships are not reducible to infant relationships and that “each relationship [infant or adult] is unique and dynamically changing.” As for the therapeutic dyad, he thinks it important to recognize that the “patient and therapist co-create dyadic states of consciousness of mature minds” and have many more resources to do so than simply repairing mother-infant ruptures.

Stephen Mitchell, in Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance over Time, even more directly challenges attachment theory––especially its emphasis on safety or “secure attachment” for adults. He argues that too much emphasis on safety kills desire in ongoing relationships. And while secure attachment is important for children, it is not really possible (or even desirable) to have the kind of predictability that children need in adult relationships. Actually the idea of security based on predictability of self and other is itself an illusion. Relationships based on this idea become “collusive contracts of illusory safety.” It may be natural to long for certainty and absolute safety to protect our love, but the truth is that we cannot have them and opting for the illusion of safety creates boredom and stagnation. Mitchell thinks that this illusion is fundamentally a “defense against the vulnerability inherent in romantic love.” Indeed the sense of safety is not a given, but a construction, the sought familiarity “not based on deep mutual knowledge but on collusive contrivance, the predictability not an actuality but an elaborate fantasy.” Mitchell thinks this is so because the self (from a postmodern perspective) is much more “inaccessible, decentered, fluid, and discontinuous” than we like to think. Sartre would say instead that it is because we are free that both self and other are less predictable than we like to admit––and more full of surprises if we do not try to constrain our own and each other’s freedom. It is in that potential for surprise that desire lives and thrives. Reed Lindberg and I have discussed couples therapy from a similar perspective in a chapter, “The Challenge of Being Yourself While Being Part of a Couple: Bad Faith and the Couple’s Dilemma.” Bad faith involves the pretense that I and the other are not free––with the concomitant illusion that we are ultimately reliable. While freedom and commitment are both necessary in a relationship, a paradox that Mitchell also notes, we divest ourselves of the very desire that we wish to nourish if we overemphasize safety and predictability. Our theoretical disagreements with Mitchell’s book, which is one of the most beautiful he has written, are small but important. We have much more trouble with the overemphasis on safety in adult relationships in attachment-oriented couples therapy.

One last trend in contemporary psychoanalysis that I would want to address if I were writing Sartre and Psychoanalysis today is the impact of the current explosion in brain imaging and neuroscience research on “neuropsychoanalysis.” This research, like infant attachment research, could be seen as important in supporting the relational perspective of much of contemporary psychoanalysis. For example, the discovery of “mirror neurons” provides a possible physiological substratum for intersubjectivity. And brain research suggests that it is the right versus the left hemisphere that allows us to develop human connection and “implicit relational knowing.” At the same time, however, I am a bit taken aback by the sometimes reductionist language of neuropsychoanalysis. And I am absolutely horrified by the statement of a recent neuropsychoanalyst that we are now in a position to complete Freud’s posthumously published A Project for a Scientific Psychology. After all, Freud’s avowed aim there was to reduce psychology to neurophysiology. Recognizing that the science was simply not there, he abandoned this idea in favor of grounding psychoanalysis in “purely psychological auxiliary ideas.” Even if the science were there, we would still be dealing with different levels of discourse. We simply cannot grasp and truly understand human intentionality by reducing it to neuronal pathways. Sartre says it very well:

The nerve is not meaningful; it is a colloidal described in itself and which does not have the that is, it does not transcend itself in order to means of other realities what it is. Under no nerve furnish the basis for meaning. substance which can be quality of transcendence; make known to itself by circumstances could the It is this transcendence that existential phenomenology seeks to describe and understand.

Concluding Remarks on Sartre, Freud, and Lacan

I will stop here. Although I have only just begun to elaborate my ideas about current trends in psychoanalysis from a Sartrean perspective, I realize that an adequate treatment would make this “reply” far too lengthy. In fact, it would probably require another book. So I will instead end with a few remarks intended to address Scott’s questions about the durability of Freud and Lacan for twenty-first century philosophy––and perhaps also for psychology. Freud, I think, will endure. He is a great thinker and a great writer. despite disagreements about his mechanistic metapsychology, one can always mine him for more insight and more understanding about the
human condition.

Sartre knew this––not just the later Sartre but also the earlier Sartre of Being and Nothingness. Existential psychoanalysis would certainly not have been possible without the prior invention of Freudian psychoanalysis. In Search for a Method, Sartre sums up Freud’s contribution very effectively:

Today psychoanalysis alone enables us to study the process by which a child, groping in the dark, is going to attempt to play, without understanding it, the social role which adults impose upon him. Only psychoanalysis will show us whether he stifles in his role, whether he seeks to escape it, or is entirely assimilated into it. Psychoanalysis alone allows us to discover the whole man in the adult; that is, not only his present determinations but also the weight of his history. I concur. Only psychoanalysis, or other depth therapy influenced by psychoanalysis, allows us to understand the impact of the weight of our history on our current lives.

Sartre also recognizes the importance of Freud’s attention to the elements of self-deception with which most of our lives are permeated––elements that Sartre explained differently but that he considered a great discovery. Indeed, Sartre portrays a very sympathetic Feud making a very exciting discovery of the unconscious in his posthumously published screenplay, The Freud Scenario. Interestingly, if we read that screenplay carefully, we find that the elements of self-deception that Freud discovers can be understood in two ways––according to Freud’s description of unconscious processes and according to Sartre’s ideas concerning bad faith and prereflective intentionality. Therein lie the theoretical differences between the two.

Finally, regarding Lacan and the postmodernists, it is probably abundantly clear from this reply that I do not put them in the same category as Freud. Neither, I think, did Sartre. Although he occasionally sounds more open than one might expect to Lacan, it is the insights of Freud, argued with and explained differently, that permeate his thinking from beginning to end. As Sartre’s friend, the eminent French psychoanalyst J. B. Pontalis, who edited The Freud Scenario, put the matter, “One day the history of Sartre’s 30-year-long [40-year-long by the time of Sartre’s death in 1980] relationship with psychoanalysis, an ambiguous mixture of equally deep attraction and repulsion, will have to be written and perhaps his work reinterpreted in the light of it.”

Sartre and Psychoanalysis was more of an attempt at reinterpreting classical and contemporary psychoanalysis from the perspective of Sartre than a discussion of Sartre from the perspective of psychoanalysis. But I have also taken into account there and elsewhere the impact of Freud on Sartre. 80 It is no doubt true, however, that there is a great deal more to be said on this topic.

B ETTY C ANNON , P H D, licensed psychologist, is the author of Sartre and Psychoanalysis and numerous articles and chapters on existential therapy. Her book is sometimes considered a classic in existential psychology. She is emerita professor of humanities and social sciences at the Colorado School of Mines, senior adjunct professor of psychology at Naropa University, and president of the Boulder Psychotherapy Institute. She is a member of the editorial boards of three professional journals: Sartre Studies International, Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, and Existential Analysis. She is the founder of Applied Existential Psychotherapy (AEP), a Sartrean approach to therapy that interfuses the insights of existential philosophy and psychoanalysis with interventions inspired by Gestalt therapy, body-oriented psychotherapy, and other experiential approaches. She is the literary executor for Sartre scholar and translator, Hazel E. Barnes, and her book on Sartre and Psychoanalysis is dedicated to Hazel.

Ludwig Binswanger: The Transcendence of Love by Joeri Schrijvers


Ludwig Binswanger’s phenomenological masterpiece, the Grundformen des menschlichen Daseins (1942), has long been neglected in the contemporary debates on transcendence and self-transcendence specifically and in contemporary philosophy of religion in general. This article seeks therefore to introduce Binswanger’s thought on love, the most basic and even fundamental form of Dasein into current debates on transcendence. It is for this reason that we will compare, at the end of this text, Binswanger’s work to that of Levinas and that of Derrida and Caputo.

Binswanger (1881-1966) was primarily a psychiatrist, who worked in the sanatorium Belle vue in Switzerland. This place was one of the most exciting meeting-points for people who then spearheaded intellectual and artistic life. Freud visited the place very often and Heidegger, too, has frequented the place at least one. During the early forties of the previous century the psychiatrist Binswanger digressed, so to say, into phenomenological philosophy. He had then already build a name for himself in the domain of psychology and psychiatry, notably with the books Traum und Existenz (1930), which triggered the thought of Michel Foucault, and Über Ideenflucht (1933). Already in these works, his fascination for the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl is obvious, but the publication of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (1927) proved to be, for him as for many others, a landmark and sparked him to write his phenomenology of love. The Grundformen, then, in which this phenomenology condenses, was first published in 1942.

His digression into phenomenology has not been a success. Very quickly, the Grundformen came under the attention of Heidegger who dismissed it as a “misunderstanding” of Sein und Zeit, stating that Binswanger confuses ontic and existentiell matters with matters of ontological and existential importance (Heidegger 2001, 115 and 190-2). For Heidegger, just as little as the biologist or the theologian was able to pose the question of the meaning of being, just as little could one expect from psychiatry to entertain this question. It is not to be excluded that Heidegger’s dismissal of the Grundformen caused Binswanger to abandon his straying into philosophy and returned to question of psychology. His Melancholie und Manie (1960), for instance, seems to have had a considerable impact on the field and what is now called Daseinsanalyse has arguably found a definitive form through Binswanger’s doing. It is for these reasons, too, that Binswanger’s impact on the philosophical debate has been scarce, although reception of his work has begun in France and in Italy. Yet these works mostly focus on Binswanger’s work in psychiatry and the philosophical importance of the Grundformen undiscussed (Gros 2009; Coulomb 2009; Cabestan and Dastur 2011; Basso 2011 and 2017). In Italy, in effect, very soon after the publication of the Grundformen, Danilo Cargnello published a summary and interpretation of the book in 1947 already. It has been translated into French just last year (Cargnello 2016). Cargnello too, however, argued that Binswanger’s Grundformen revealed only the ontic importance of love and therefore seems to have agreed with Heidegger’s later judgment.

Yet the question of love has not thereby been settled and one can argue that the question is, today still, legitimate: where does the phenomenon of love figure in Sein und Zeit? The question was raised earlier, notably by Karl Löwith in his Das Individuum in der Rolle des Mitmenschen (1928) which is cited by Binswanger, and later of course by Hannah Arendt. Heidegger had indeed only mentioned love once in a footnote on Augustine, where the latter states that to know God one must love God. Apart from this, it is remarkable that it is the primary negative mood of anxiety and the question of finitude regulate Heidegger’s magnum opus. One can therefore, legitimately i.e. philosophically, wonder whether or not the phenomenon of love shows a different ontology than the one Heidegger has conveyed to us. It is my contention in this article that this indeed was Binswanger’s aim and that, in fact, he has, on this score, delivered: the phenomenon of love, ultimately, shows the facticity of the ‘all with all’, the basic phenomenon of togetherness, rather than the ‘all against all’ which transpires through Heidegger’s analysis of anxiety and the Jemeinigkeit of one’s death.

Binswanger conceded much to Heidegger. In the 1962 preface to the Grundformen, he was careful to distinguish between his own phenomenological anthropology and Heidegger’s ontological quest for the meaning of being by labeling his own work famously as a “productive misunderstanding” of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit (Binswanger 1993, 5).1 Yet there is an ambivalence, it seems, in Binswanger’s admission: certainly, he agrees that his own phenomenology is an anthropology and certainly it remains, as Heidegger argues, on an ontic and existentiell level. It are these admissions that seem to prove Cargnello’s reading of Binswanger, stating that “Binswanger has always been, before all else, a psychiatrist. It is correct, we believe, to say that, when dictating his phenomenological anthropological lesson, he always had forms of alienation in mind, even when he does not speak of them explicitly or only through some allusions in this work [the Grundformen]” (Cargnello 2016, 41). I will not deny the fact that Binswanger’s phenomenology has an anthropological and psychiatric aim, but the very fact that this aim is not made explicit, or only seldom alluded to, seems to imply that the Grundformen served another goal. For this, I believe, we need to return to the preface of 1962, which Cargnello probably did not know. Here Binswanger says that “the core of my divergence with Heidegger does not so much lie in the fact that I understand fundamental ontology anthropologically but rather, conversely, in this that I seek to understand love […] ontologically. And [in this respect] too, the phrase of Szilasi proves to be true: it is on the basis of new modes of experience that we succeed in outlining new possibilities for experience” (Binswanger 1993, 5). Everything conceded, we must therefore acknowledge here already that Binswanger never really conceded that his phenomenology of love was without ontological importance. It is this importance that we will outline in the remainder of this text. First, we will briefly remind ourselves of the main characteristics of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit.


It is quite understandable that Heidegger’s book has such an impact on his contemporaries. Here was a philosopher who was able to speak about what is most common and most everyday of our lives: talking to others, reading magazines, hammering, etc. Heidegger was the first to speak about our being-in-the-world. Heidegger sparked a whole tradition of existentialism with his enquiries into the moods of fear and anxiety. Yet he always maintained that such an existential anthropology had never been his aim. His was a quest for what is most proper to the human being from an ontological viewpoint: what can we learn about ‘being’ from the human being, considering that the only being that knows about being is the human being? Here lies a difference already with Binswanger’s phenomenological anthropology which asks: what is it for the human being to be?

In a sense, then, Heidegger’s criticism of Binswanger, namely that he confuses ontic and existentiell experience with ontological questioning is correct. For Heidegger, what matters is not this or that ontic experience, but rather the very fact that we, as human beings, experience. Heidegger’s ontology, then, queries for what some have called ‘the experience of experiencing’ of, in phenomenological ontological terms, ‘the appearing of appearing’. Heidegger’s anthropological starting-point only serves this purpose because it is in each case the human being that experiences or is acquainted with appearances.

Therefore even Heidegger needed a sort of passage-way between ontic experience and ontological matters. This passage-way, as we will see, is the experience of anxiety, which serves as the bridge between our everyday being-in-the-world and what lies ‘beneath’, ‘beyond’ or ‘within’ it: the question of being and of ontology. It is on this precise point that Heidegger will be criticized by many of his famous followers. One might think here of Levinas’ infamous statement that “in Heidegger Dasein is never hungry” (Levinas 2002, 134), implying that by disregarding certain ontic experiences, such as hunger and the need of a home, Heidegger might have missed certain ontological issues about the human being and being as well. It might very well be that Binswanger was the first to pose such questions to Heidegger: what if some other ontic experiences than anxiety show us a different way of being, if they open modes of existence that teach us a different lesson about being and what it is for us to be than Heidegger taught? ‘In Heidegger’, Binswanger worries, ‘Dasein never loves’.

But a second point in Heidegger’s existential analytic, however, deserves our attention. For his quest for what is most proper to the human being has a peculiar aspect to it: could it be, argues Heidegger, that what is ‘most proper’ to the human being is usually avoided, or, in other terms, could it be that the human being most often is not himself (Cf. Heidegger 1967: 150-151? Heidegger, in effect, distinguishes between two modes of being for the human being: the one inauthentic, the other authentic. In the first mode Dasein is immersed in and absorbed by its preoccupations in everyday existence. Its existence is covered, covered over rather by its care and concern for what comes next, like when I’m thinking of making dinner later while writing this article. Heidegger has no intent of moralizing here: it is not that this ‘inauthentic’ or ‘improper’ mode is bad, it is rather that ‘something goes missing’ in this mode of existence. For here, in everydayness, Dasein identifies with what he or she does in the world to such an extent that it forgets about (the fact of) its being as a being-in-the-world precisely. In short, for Heidegger, following Aristotle’s famous dictum that ‘potentiality is higher than actuality’, what is forgotten is the fact that I am, that we are and what we can be. What I am—writer, coworker, handyman—absorbs the question what I also could be completely; what we are—Belgians, Europeans—gets in the way about what ‘Europe’, for instance, could also, potentially, be. It is to retrieve such possibilities and potentialities that Heidegger turns to anxiety and the question of finitude. Anxiety, and in particular, angst over our death, operates somewhat as a phenomenological reduction for Heidegger: it makes our everyday being-in-the-world disappear in order for our worldliness as such to appear. Angst, in effect, is not a revelation of anything grand or divine for that matter. It merely makes for the fact that the world and our preoccupations in it for a while do not longer make any sense. Yet, on the other hand, angst does reveal that there is no escape from the world either: even if the world ‘as such’ does not make sense, it becomes evident to the person in anguish that there is but this world and my being as this being-in-the-world. In this regard, anxiety shows, first, that there is world and, secondly, that I will have to be ‘my’ being-in-the-world since no one can ‘be’ in my place and, thirdly, that I can do this in my ‘ownmost’ way. The latter is where for Heidegger a liberation of sorts lies: anxiety over my being-in-the-world in this sense functions as a sort of retrieval of new potentialities for this Dasein that in each case I have to be.


Binswanger shares this primacy of being-in-the-world for philosophical reflection. It is indeed important to realize that Binswanger does not reject Heidegger’s analysis. He simply states that “this truth lacks love”—diese Wahrheit mangelt die Liebe (Binswanger 1993, 218). Heidegger’s authentic and heroic Dasein might be powerful and courageous, it knows next to nothing, Binswanger argues, of the phenomenon of love and its hints of our original being- together. It is this ontic experience of love, of my love for this very ontic you and her love for me, that puts Binswanger on track of a different ontology than Heidegger had in mind.

Even though Binswanger was one of the first thinkers to pose the question of love to Heidegger, his philosophy of our being-together has certainly had its predecessors. One need not think only of Löwith but also Martin Buber’s philosophy of dialogue is influential on Binswanger’s phenomenology, although Binswanger is mindful particularly of what happens to those others not immediately drawn into the ‘I-Thou’-relation. Levinas’ thought, too, can be aligned to where Binswanger’s was heading: the former’s conclusion of Totality and Infinity, namely that there is in being an “intersubjective curvature of space” (Levinas 2002, 291) receives in Binswanger’s phenomenology an important clarification. Such intersubjective curvature has recently also been explored by Jean-Luc Nancy who has convincingly shown that the truth of Descartes’ ego cogito, only certain of its own existence, can only be true if it is communicated to the other, to “each of Descartes’ readers” (Nancy 2000, 31): the point is, of course, that the solipsism involved in Descartes’ phrase immediately undoes itself, is rendered inoperative at the least, as soon as it is published, read, and disseminated.

Binswanger might therefore be called a forerunner of many contemporary philosophical trends, for if one of the critiques leveled against Levinas was that his priority of the Other was ultimately grounded in God and religion and if it was this critique that made Jacques Derrida (who first leveled the critique) and later Jean-Luc Nancy speak of an address and a greeting in being, a salut without salvation, then this ‘salut sans salvation’, too, seems predicted by and present in Binswanger’s phenomenology (Derrida 2005). Binswanger in effect does not speak of religion, even if his thinking might be helpful for a contemporary theology and many of his ideas stem from the Christian tradition in the first place. His account for instance of the fact that there is no love for self was developed by Augustine centuries ago: if, for the latter all love of self is sinful, for Binswanger, however, secularized thinker as he is, the love of self is deformed expression of true love, which plays between the two lovers and ultimately between us all.
Let us listen to Binswanger and turn to the phenomenology of love, which adds significantly to the contemporary debate, for if Derrida, Levinas and Nancy would all say that ‘there is no meaning for one alone’, Binswanger would contribute: ‘there is no love for one alone’ either, for it is love that dwells between the two of us and in the end all of us. Here is Binswanger’s version of the ‘intersubjective curvature’ and the greeting in being.

“But is certain that all the going and the seeking and encountering somehow belong to the secrecies of eros. It is certain that, on our wounded ways, we do not advance and push forward simply because of our deeds but are always drawn to and enticed by something [gelockt von etwas] that seemingly always awaits us somewhere yet is always veiled. There is something like a longing of and for love [Liebesgier], a curiosity of love in our striding forward even then when we seek the solitude of the forest […] All lonely encounters are intermixed with something very sweet, may it only be the encounter with a huge tree standing alone or the encounter with an animal of the forest which stops inaudibly and eyes us though the dark. As for me, it is not the embrace but the encounter that is properly decisive of the erotic pantomime. No moment when the sensual is more spiritual or the spiritual more sensual than in the encounter […] Here one finds a mutual aiming-for-the-other yet without lust [Zueinandertrachten noch ohne Begierde]. A greeting is something borderless. Dante dates his ‘new life’ back from a greeting that was imparted on him. Wonderful is the cry of a great bird, the peculiar, lonely sound, prior to the world, loud at dawn from the highest evergreen, heard somewhere by a rooster. This somewhere, this indeterminacy which is already a passionate longing, this crying out of the stranger to the stranger [dies Schreien des Fremden nach der Fremden] is what is awesome. The encounter promises more than the embrace can hold on to” (Binswanger 1993, 73).

It is this phenomenon of ‘Lockung’, our being drawn to others and otherness, which conveys Binswanger’s ontology, for if the experience of love is an ontic instance of my being drawn to this particular ontic you (and her being drawn to me), this ontic experience is only possible because of this Lockung and borderless greeting that is part of a “higher order of things” (Binswanger 1993, 73): it is, for Binswanger, part of the ontological ‘makeup’ of being. Binswanger’s agreement with Heidegger is however not to be underestimated. The experience of love is therefore played out nowhere else than our being-in-the world and grafts itself onto Heidegger’s existential analytic. Binswanger, on the other hand, argues that in the experience of love another finale insinuates itself than the experience of finitude which, for Heidegger, was the sole eschatology that could be imagined in secular times. Let us listen to Binswanger one more time:

“the problem of the human being now needs a new solution. If we can no longer look for it in ‘the transcendent’ or the eternal realm, then we will need to seek in the temporal and finite realm, in Being and Time, in being-in-the-world therefore. Yet in these realms alone not all accounts are settled. There remains a residue that does not befit finitude, the yearning [Sehnsucht] beyond the worldly finitude of Dasein for unification with infinite and eternal being” (Binswanger 1993, 368).

By enclosing the human being in its world, and the concomitant finitude, not all accounts are settles and there remains a yearning that makes us look elsewhere and for something other. Rather, this yearning is and shows itself as our enticement to others: being-in-the-world is for Binswanger, from the first, a being-with-others and an inter-esse (literally: being between) in the other. It is this interest, this desire and this yearning that makes for Binswanger’s most fundamental take on human existence.

This yearning is most clear in the experience of love, where the one obviously longs for the other and the other desires me. Here already, we need to make clear that the experience of love does not answer this yearning: love, in Binswanger, is not what ‘settles the account’ of our finite being and love, similarly, does not ‘befit finitude’. This is a first indication why we will argue that there is no ‘metaphysics of presence’ in Binswanger. Although love does not answer the longing of finitude, it does give this longing a sense of direction. In a nice German word play, Binswanger contends that love turns our wandering into a ‘walking’ in the world: the Wanderung becomes a Wandel, a striding forwards together (e.g. Binswanger 1993, 95). This experience in finitude of something that does not befit finitude, however, will for Binswanger give way to a quite particular experience of infinity: it is an experience of infinity from within finitude—in-finitude: the infinite ‘shows itself’ or attest to itself phenomenologically, i.e the ‘how’ of the experience of love cannot be described without taking its infinite and eternal aspect into account.

Before jumping to the ontology of love, however, we need to pay mind to the ontic experience of love. This experience is first of all an experience of my belonging to this very ontic you whom I love and her belonging to me. This reciprocal phenomenon, in which I give myself to her and she gives myself to me, in turn gives way to a belonging to being: our co-longing turns out to be a belonging to one another and being. It is, in Binswanger’s terms, an experience of a Heimat, a being-at-home in the world, which he carefully crafts against Heidegger’s Unzuhause. In this way, the experience of love creates a mode of existence that Binswanger calls a ‘in die Welt über die Welt hinaus sein’—a being ‘beyond’ the world whilst being-in-the- world. Here too, it is important to note that our finite being in love is accompanied by an intuition of infinity.

In this regard, one needs to show how the experience of love overrides the temporal structure of Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein. It does so by overruling both the spatial as well as the temporal aspect of the existential analytic. By doing so, the experience of love conveys an intuition of infinity beyond the established borders of the word. As for the temporal aspects, the temporality of the experience of love is such that none of the lovers is ‘ahead of oneself’, as when Dasein is concerned and preoccupied by entities within-the-world and so opened to the future. Lovers, on the contrary, are not ahead of ‘oneself’ but we are, as lovers, always and already ahead of ourselves: whatever happens, will happen to the two of us.

The spatial structure of Dasein is affected as well by the experience of love. This overturning of spatiality occurs in both a negative and in a positive manner. Negative, in that the ‘space’ of love shows itself in and through a negativity, a ‘bad infinite’ as it were of borderlessness as in the song ‘my home is nowhere without you’ or, for an older generation, ‘since my baby left me, I found no place to dwell’. But the space of love just as well turns into a positivity, in that no place is ever uncanny if you are there: the experience of love is thus positive as well because it is ‘without borders’.

This spatial and temporal aspect of overturning of love of Dasein’s world makes for the fact that love effects its own horizon, much like we today would say of Jean-Luc Marion’s saturated phenomenon or Claude Romano’s event. Peculiar to this experience of love, however, is first of all that the intuition of infinity takes place nowhere else than in the world. Yet, secondly, and even more remarkable is that thise paradisiacal state of a pure love never really seems to happen. It is here that Binswanger is a predecessor of a great many trends in contemporary philosophy, not in the least Derrida’s deconstruction and critique of a metaphysics of presence. Binswanger’s dialectic of love and world, as we will see, states clearly that this pure love, if it happens—s’il y en a, if you will—only happens in and through the impurities and adversities of the world. Its condition of possibility is therefore at the same time its condition of impossibility. Binswanger’s phenomenology of love is, then, far removed from a romantic theory of love ‘hover over the waters’.


What we find in Binswanger is then a sort of Derrida avant la lettre: the pure love only happens in and through living in the world or, to state it in Derrida’s terms: the ‘beyond’ of love is only experienced ‘in’ the world. We should recall that with such a ‘au-delà dans’, as a formal structure of transcendence, Derrida “subscribes to everything Levinas says about peace and messianic hospitality, about the beyond of the political in the political” (Derrida 1999, 117). One might then safely conclude that Binswanger not only prefigures Derrida but also Levinas’ transcendence of the other. We will come back to this in the conclusion, but now we must venture the idea of a ‘pure’ love that does not entirely coincide with itself, that shows a ‘beyond’ of the world ‘in’ the world. It is through such a discrepancy and discontinuity as well that Binswanger will evade a metaphysics of presence in his phenomenology of love: the experience of love is not, and can never be, an experience that would hold the truth of all other experiences. It will always be kept in check by the experience of world, even if the latter should be conceived as a lack of love.

Of this dialectic between life and love or between love and world, one can detect two accounts in Binswanger’s Grundformen. The first is, if you will, the life of love and the second speaks of the ‘love of my life’; the first treats how love always and already has to relate to the world, whereas the second shows how love infuses and injects the world with the spirit of love.

As for the ‘life of love’ in the world, Binswangers argues that the lovers are, dialectically, both in the world and without world at the same time—it is not a temporal succession that is at issue here. In the world, the lovers have to balance between, on the one hand, a Sorge um die Liebe (a ‘concern for love’) and being-in-love on the other. In the world, love is always and already dealing with entities-within-the-world, as when one for instance is preoccupied by who is going to pick up the children from school. As such, this ‘fall of love’ is not to be avoided, but Binswanger makes clear that, in time, these preoccupations might substitute themselves for a proper experience of love: the things in the world veil and conceal the ‘us’, you and me, who are born from love. The other fall of love describes the opposite tendency: the lovers are that much involved with one another that they are unable to relate their love to the world. This happens, for instance, when the lovers lose friends over their relationship. The experience of love here becomes what Levinas has called a solitude à deux.

Love is about the proper balance between world and love itself. Here is Binswanger again:

The ‘true’ relation between ‘love and world’ shows itself neither in you and me retreating from the world nor in us dissolving in the world. Yet [the relation] is not a simple switch between both ‘movements’ as in some sort of succession between ‘sufficing to one another’ and ‘having enough of each other’. It is not these ‘real’ possibilities that are intended but the fact of the possibility of the permeation of the world of concern and sollicitude with the spirit of love on the one hand and the transparency of the world of concern through this spirit on the other. Herein lies the dialectic of love and world (Binswanger 1993, 85)

Here again we see that, for Binswanger, love cannot be without the world. Its existence is such that it is as this ‘back and forth’ between world and love. The experience of love therefore is not an experience like a religious experience of sorts which supposedly conveys the ‘beyond’ of the world in such a way that once and for all the truth of this world would be revealed. On the contrary, love’s very movement, its dynamic, is to go out to the world, reveal itself there and fuse the ‘lack of love’ so clear in the world with the ‘spirit of love’.

This is even more clear if we examine Binswanger’s account of ‘the love of my life’, his take on this very ontic you whom I love. Binswanger here insists on the difference beteween this ontic you (Du) and togetherness (Duhaftigkeit ûberhaupt). Even though it is through my love for this empirical you over here that I am finally to imagine the fact that love extends to all and that I am put on track on this enticement, this gelockt werden von etwas that rages through being, there never is any final identification between this lover here and love ûberhaupt: even though I transcend myself in my love for here and she transcends likewise, we both discover that love, similarly, transcends the both of us. Even though we experience the truth of who we are and who we can be in our love for one another, our experience of love is not the truth of love altogether. In our belonging to one another, what we experience is that love cannot be contained and limited to us and that it is of the essence of love that, in principle, anyone can (and should) be loved and that it therefore extends to all beings. It is this difference between ‘my’ love and ‘love überhaupt’, between the ontic embrace and the ontological encounter that reveals the infinity proper to love to me, to us. Yet here too, for Binswanger, it is the ‘back and forth’ between the empirical and the ontological that is most important: without our being drawn to one another, we would have not had the idea of such an ontological communion just as without this communion raging through being it would not be possible for me, for us to love in the first place.

There are several examples of this dialectic between ‘love’ and world in Binswanger’s work, not the least of which is his wariness of religious love. This love, Binswanger states, is defective because it loves someone or something ‘up on high’ but is unbalanced by an ‘ontic you’ down here in the world. Such a fusion with a divine source so misses the fact that love is only by attending to world and asserting itself there. But, similarly a love that sticks with the ‘ontic you’ misses the point and dismisses the fact that love cannot be contained and that ‘thing between us’ desires to be stretch out the world over. This is most obvious by one of the more intriguing examples Binswanger gives of the discrepancy between my ontic love and the ontological idea of love in general. The “compulsive question of many young brides”, for instance, “‘why this one and no one else, why now and not some other time, why at all and not never?’” makes “the ontical fact” clear that “loving primal encounter and this encounter here have not (yet) coincided [nicht zur Deckung gelangt sind]” (Binswanger 1993, 75n.28). Binswanger argues for several reasons for such a non-coincidence: some pertain to the particular ‘you’—it might not be the right one, the bride may have some stress disorder that keeps her from affirming the ‘we— others pertain to the primal togetherness—the loving Dasein as ‘We’ cannot ‘pronounce’ itself at all here, it does not ‘speak’ to the lovers.

What to make of such an example? First of all, in order not to upset female readers, it goes without saying that these questions pretty much pertain to everyone. Even apart from the context of marriage, it would be simply awkward if such questions would never pose themselves and ever stop being posed. Philosophically one might argue that such non- coincidence is the rule rather than the exception. One might legitimately wonder whether such a coincidence every actually occurs and whether or not, a dogmatic certainty in this regard (I love you for this and this reason) would not end love altogether. The indications of temporality seem in effect to indicate that, in the spirit of Derrida and a certain phenomenology, it takes a life-time to coincide which means, simultaneously, that in love this coincidence never ‘coincides’ properly, i.e. is never attained once and for all. This is what the dialectic of love and world shows: true love needs time—it takes the world to get to know your lover and you need time to learn to love.

Love, then, for Binswanger has a history (Binswanger 1993, 129): it shows itself only ‘in’ the world and in history, but shows itself there as not entirely ‘of’ the world. This also makes for Binswanger’s rather progressive standpoint that love is not dependent on the tradition: what is ‘of’ this world will be lived differently throughout the various ages. In this way, different forms of love, as for instance same-sex marriages, add to the idea of love rather than diminish this idea. “The spirit of human love does not hover over the waters, it does not merely offer us heaven, but also expands onto and into the world which it conquers” (Binswanger 1993, 85). It is this back and forth between love and history that Cargnello misses by insisting solely on “the suprahistorical level” of love and by relegating all of love’s march to and in the world, to that which is not love and displays a lack of love, to the domain of care (Cargnello 2016, 89 also 79-80). Yet the overcoming and overturning of any rigid distinction between love and care, letting the latter be fused and injected with the spirit of love, is exactly Binswanger’s point and why he occupies an exceptional position in contemporary philosophy, let alone theology—who else has described the incarnation of love in the world, its march towards that which lacks love, in such a compelling manner? In philosophy, however, we have, after Derrida and after a new phenomenology, been waiting for an account of the passage-way between the ontic and the ontological, the empirical and the transcendental or between historical ‘meaning’ and metaphysical ‘signification’, to recall Jean-Luc Nancy’s distinction, only to find that, back in 1942 Binswanger had given us precisely this passage-way. It is urgent then to compare Binswanger’s breakthrough to other developments in contemporary philosophy.


We would like to conclude by comparing Binswanger’s account of love to more contemporary versions of thinking transcendence in contemporary philosophy. Love is an experience of infinity within the limits of the world. In love, the lovers embrace and kiss one another, but this embrace only ever serves as the starting-point of an imagining an encounter and a love of all for all. The transcendence of love so conserves but does not contain the encounter with infinity. This encounter therefore still exceeds the ontic embrace of the lovers and transcends their reciprocal transcendence to the entirety of beings, to ‘the animal eyeing us through the dark in the forest’ for instance. In turn, there is not one experience of love that holds the truth of love ‘in general’: many forms of love need to be included and make for the essence of love.

This differs from, for example, Levinas’ account of the transcendence of the Other, where finitude and immanence conserve and contain transcendence. Levinas’ ethical transcendence keeps transcendence as it were in check within the face, within, that is, the borders of a certain humanism. If we turn to Derrida and Caputo’s account, who exploit a possibility already present in Levinas, than we need to state that here finitude and immanence conserve nor contain the experience of transcendence. Here, in effect, tout autre est tout autre, and since ‘every other is every bit as other’ my responsibility towards this immanent and ontic other is always and already an injustice towards the transcendent other over there, at least toward the ‘other next to this other’ here—the third. In this way, Derrida and Caputo seem to erect a free-floating transcendence of sorts, that is, one that that never actually seems to happen.

Of these three accounts of transcendence, the transcendence of love, of the Other and of the Tout Autre, we might safely say that Binswanger’s account is to be preferred: it not only shows us the passage-way from the ontic to the ontological, from the empirical to the transcendental, all the while taking both the ontic and the ontological serious (something which cannot be said of Heidegger), it also gives us a sense of the today much sought for ‘incarnation of meaning’, of the intertwining of meaning and materiality, so outwitting and overruling, I would say, the ‘trace of an absence’, dominant in deconstruction.


Basso, Elisabetta. 2011. Ludwig Binswanger: Kierkegaard’s Influence on Binswanger’s Work. In: Kierkegaard’s Influence on the Social Sciences, 29-53, Jon Stewart, ed. Farnham: Ashgate. Basso, Elisabetta, 2017. The Clinical Epistemology of Ludwig Binswanger (1881-1966). Psychiatry as a Science of the Singular. In: The Ethics of Care. Moral Knowledge, Communication and the Art of Caregiving, Alan Blum and Stuart J. Murray, eds. London: Routledge.

Binswanger, Ludwig. 1993. Grundformen und Erkenntnis menschlichen Daseins, in Ausgewählte Werke 2, Max Herzog and Hans-Jürg Braun, eds. Heidelberg: Asanger.
Brescia, Fransesca. 2015. Heidegger and Binswanger. Just a Misunderstanding?. The Humanistic Psychologist 43, 3: 278-296.

Cabestan, Phillippe and Françoise Dastur, eds. 2011. Daseinsanalyse. Paris: Vrin.
Cargnello, Danilo. 2016. Les formes fondamentales d la présence humaine chez Binswanger, trans. L. Fenyrou. Paris: Vrin.
Coulomb, Mireille. 2009. Phénoménologie du Nous et psychopathologie de l’isolement. La nostrité selon Ludwig Binswanger. Paris: Vrin.
Derrida, Jacques. 1999. À Dieu to Emmanuel Levinas, trans. P.-A. Brault and M. Naas. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Derrida, Jacques. 2005. On Touching—Jean-Luc Nancy, trans. Christine Irizarry. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Gros, Caroline. 2009. Ludwig Binswanger. Entre phénoménologie et psychiatrie. Chatou: Éd. La transparence.
Heidegger, Martin. 1967. Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. San Francisco: Harper and Row.

Heidegger, Martin. 2001. Zollikon Seminars. Protocols—Conversations—Letters, trans. Franz Mayr and Richard Askay. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
Levinas, Emmanuel. 2002. Totality and Infinity. An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. 2000. Being Singular Plural, trans. Robert Richardson and Anne O’Byrne. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Schrijvers, Joeri. 2016. Between Faith and Belief. Toward A Contemporary Phenomenology of Religious Life. Albany: SUNY Press.

Freedom of Speech


On December 9, 1893 the French anarchist, Auguste Vaillant, attacked the Chamber of Deputies with a home-made bomb. He was attempting to injure (but supposedly not kill) as many deputies as he could in revenge for his infamous guillotined comrade, Ravachol. By this point in time, the Third Republic had become fed-up with anarchists bombing and assassinating authorities. Two days following Vaillant’s attack, the French government began passing a group of laws that are pejoratively known as the “Villainous Laws,” the Lois Scélérates.

These three laws were specifically created to suppress anarchists, and consequently the anarchists’ speech:

  1. A modification of the 1881 law on freedom of the press which had punished only direct criminal provocation. Now indirect provocation and apology also became punishable. A judge could order the seizure of literature and even order preventive arrests.
  2. Criminal associations were made illegal, particularly anarchist groups, which were then numerous and very active. The law aimed to indict any member or sympathizer without distinction. It also encourages the denunciation, snitching: “Persons who are guilty of the crime, mentioned in this articles, shall be free from any penalty if, before any prosecution, they have disclosed to the constituted authorities the agreement established or make known the existence of the association.
  3. The most striking for the anarchists is this third law. It targets anarchists directly by naming them and forbidding them any kind of propaganda. As a result of this law, many anarchist newspapers were banned. This law lead to thousands of searches and arrests, including the Trial of Thirty.

The villainous laws lasted on the books for a century… finally being repealed in 1992.

The Lois Scelerates weren’t the first, nor the last series of laws to censor speech. Even today, debates within and beyond anarchist circles regarding freedom of speech are still prominent. In not too distant memory for example, Mary “Tipper” Gore co-founded the Parents Music Resource Center with three other “Washington Wives” . Their explicit aim was to increase parental control over the access of children to music deemed to have violent, drug-related or sexual themes. The PMRC worked closely with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the British Phonographic Industry to impose advisory stickers on cassettes and CDs, advising potential parents that the content was not suitable for young ears. As a result, musicians began releasing edited versions of their albums.

Similar censorial regulations go back even further in the film industry to what were called the “Hays Code;” a set of industry moral guidelines that were applied to most United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1930 to 1968. However, in the case of the Hays Code, the film industry was responding to government pressures. In 1922, after several risqué films and a series of off-screen scandals involving Hollywood stars, the studios enlisted Presbyterian elder Will H. Hays to rehabilitate Hollywood’s image. Hollywood in the 1920s was badgered by a number of scandals, which brought widespread condemnation from religious, civic, and political organizations. Many felt the movie industry had always been morally questionable. Political pressure was increasing, with legislators in 37 states introducing almost one hundred movie censorship bills in 1921. Faced with the prospect of having to comply with hundreds, and potentially thousands, of inconsistent and easily changed decency laws in order to show their movies, the studios chose self-regulation as the preferable option.

Parental Advisory stickers, film industry guidelines, and other such guidelines come from a long tradition of often Christian censorship of speech. Yet, today what we debate in our society is the less intuitive censorship of speech that is motivated by values held by the secular left-wing. As each example I gave earlier had been in response to various circumstances where social groups have feared the activity and influence of their adversaries, left-wing censorship has been no different. The most familiar history of censorship from the Left took place in the Soviet Union. Communist paranoia and totalitarian political strategies had suppressed speech at least as much, if not more than the historic censorship from the religious right-wing. But today the regulation of speech that we are discussing doesn’t come from the dictates of the Party; it is closer to the Tipper Gore variety of examples that I have provided.

What we debate now is the morality of speech on college campuses, in corporate offices, on social media, and in the streets. Our censors come in the form of individual do-gooders, Antifa, internet forum moderators, or Human Resources departments. The motivations range from the promotion of multiculturalism and spaces that feel safe for minorities to express themselves, to the fight against an ascendant authoritarian nationalism. While the former has more in common with the moral crusades of religious mothers afraid that rap and rock n’ roll will seduce their children to evil and degeneracy, the latter categorically finds itself closer to the Third Republic’s motivations in passing the Lois Scelerates.

In other words, what Antifa and other militant group actions are responding to is a legacy of terrorism from the Right that has taken the form of building-demolishing explosions, in the case of the Oklahoma City Bombing, to more recent mass-murders at Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues. Individual murders have also been a consistent theme in far-right terrorism; whether it’s the under-reported killings of minorities and anti-racists, or the more widely broadcast murder of Heather Heyer’s death from the White Nationalist’s hit-and-run on counter-protesters during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

What these contemporary progressives and quasi-socialists are responding to is rather different. It is a dysfunction in discourse and organization management that recognizes so-called “hate speech” as a powerful, affective act that is thought to be a form of verbal abuse. The common issues that inspire this censorial response are various, but tend to be much less lethal. These liberals seek to regulate such things as cultural appropriation, mis-gendering, sexist and racist speech, and other sorts of harassment of minorities. Examples of liberal strategies to regulate this speech come in the form of the firing of professors from colleges and universities, online exposition campaigns (sometimes in the form of doxxing), de-platforming public figures from social media websites (such as Alex Jones), and attempts to dis-invite or shut down on-campus presentations through demonstrations.

Often enough, political pundits on TV, or podcasts, or in their blogs and news articles fail to distinguish between the militants and the liberals. And in reality the agents of censorship from the Left seem to find it difficult to make such distinctions as well. This could be due to the fact that an individual could just as well be motivated and responding in both of these styles simultaneously. However, I intend to demonstrate why the distinction is worth maintaining.

While both the right-wing and the left-wing have and still do advocate for freedom of speech, it is the left-wing that is especially prone to a sense of hypocrisy when those associated with them become censorial. This is the case because very often, freedom of speech is not defended on the same grounds by the left and right-wing. The right-wing defends freedom of speech on a constitutional basis; therefor, it is predicated on notions of citizenship and belonging to the same society, or the same race, or on some kind of merit. The left-wing, though sometimes for the same reasons, tends towards defenses of free speech on a humanist basis; recognizing freedom of speech as a universally applicable right. There are advocates for freedom of speech in both camps that believe protecting speech from censorship is instrumentally important for the broader project of making thoughts transparent and accessible to everyone, claiming that this is necessary to provide evidence in a rational quest for facts and truths. Regardless of that defense, it is the humanism of the left-wing that makes censorship unjustifiable universally, thus causing embarrassment by becoming associated with their own censors.

Now as anarchists, many of us share these humanistic sympathies with the Left and suffer from the same embarrassments. What we do not share with the liberals or conservatives, however, is the idea that we ought to be objectively associated with those we deeply disagree with by any external system of authority. In this sense, the constitutional basis of conservatives is similar to some anarchists’ views that freedom of speech is only applicable within a subsection of humanity: that is, within those groups that we have freely chosen to become part of and are free to leave should our minds change. It is from this emphasis on freedom of association that anarchists often make the case for suppressing the speech of those both within and outside of their groups. From the inside, as the actualization of group accountability. Towards the outside, as barriers to entry into the group and/or harassment of those they find intolerable. All of that said, I believe that the most salient point we anarchists could be making within today’s discourse around free speech is often missed…

The first question it would make sense for us to be asking is, ‘what is speech, anyway?” Through examining the details of speech itself, its various forms and purposes, its evolution and its social significance, we should be able to point out that there is an inherent difference between the activity of the liberal activists’ (like “de-platforming” transgressive individuals), and the militants’ conceptions of community self-defense. Instead of pointing towards said difference, anarchists have at times referred to the defensive nature of militants’ actions; yet, something very important is left missing and their justifications come out confused. Among many anarchist defenses of actions by militants, the case is still based on the idea that such actions have anything to do with speech to begin with. This is a completely unnecessary concession to their critics’ framing of the issues. Though it is a more subtle set of arguments than the activists’ no-platform thinking, the arguments remain roughly circumscribed by the idea that speech is an activity with consequences anarchists are attempting to defend themselves and others from. This sort of defense takes the form of arguments such as: the consequences of a National Socialist Movement rally encourages violence against minorities by emboldening those who would carry out violence locally to act up. Speech is still considered the cause, and suppression of speech is considered the solution.

Put simply, the missing fact about the activity of attacking neo-Nazis and other enemies of anarchists is that it isn’t speech that is being attacked explicitly. Rather, speech is consequently disrupted by such attacks because what is being attacked is the speaker. It doesn’t make a difference if the person anarchists are attacking hasn’t been saying anything at all, or, if they’re a popular voice in contemporary discourse. Speech may be the way that such persons disclose their identities and political aspirations, giving themselves away as an enemy; but, it isn’t at all necessary that speech be involved in the situation. If by other means than listening, we were to learn that someone is our enemy -be it from directly witnessing their activities, or recognizing their name in the membership accounting of their organizations- the motivation to attack them would remain. To honor the notion that this is a form of censorship is just as absurd as to argue that when Seal Team 6 assassinated Osama Bin Laden, it was an intentional form of censorship, rather than an act of combat in an ongoing war. For us anarchists, we have been on the losing side of a war that has lasted quite some time, and when there is a viable opportunity to combat our enemies, their mostly incoherent rhetoric isn’t the target… it is the persons themselves.

After making this distinction between attacking speech itself as opposed to attacking someone because of who they are or what they do, we can not at least set that class of activity aside and begin to answer, “what is speech?” From that basis it will then become possible to think about free speech and its obstacles. Given the length I want to keep this under, I won’t provide the most rich accounts of speech, freedom, and so on. Though I hope that the accounts I provide are fulfilling enough to carry this essay forward.

Speech as Expression

Language development is a process starting early in human life. Infants start without knowing a language, yet by 10 months, babies can distinguish speech sounds and engage in babbling. Some research has shown that the earliest learning begins in utero when the fetus starts to recognize the sounds and speech patterns of its mother’s voice and differentiate them from other sounds after birth.

Typically, children develop receptive language abilities before their verbal or expressive language develops. Receptive language is the internal processing and understanding of language. As receptive language continues to increase, expressive language begins to slowly develop.

Usually, productive language is considered to begin with a stage of pre-verbal communication in which infants use gestures and vocalizations to make their intents known to others. According to a general principle of development, new forms then take over old functions, so that children learn words to express the same communicative functions they had already expressed by proverbial means.

Speech production is the process by which thoughts are translated into speech. This includes the selection of words, the organization of relevant grammatical forms, and then the articulation of the resulting sounds by the motor system using the vocal apparatus. Speech production can be spontaneous such as when a person creates the words of a conversation, reactive such as when they name a picture or read aloud a written word, or imitative, such as in speech repetition. Speech production is not the same as language production since language can also be produced manually by signs.

In ordinary fluent conversation people pronounce roughly four syllables, ten or twelve phonemes and two to three words out of their vocabulary (that can contain 10 to 100 thousand words) each second.[1] Errors in speech production are relatively rare occurring at a rate of about once in every 900 words in spontaneous speech.[2] Words that are commonly spoken or learned early in life or easily imagined are quicker to say than ones that are rarely said, learnt later in life, or are abstract.[3][4]

Normally speech is created with pulmonary pressure provided by the lungs that generates sound by phonation through the glottis in the larynx that then is modified by the vocal tract into different vowels and consonants. However speech production can occur without the use of the lungs and glottis in alaryngeal speech by using the upper parts of the vocal tract. An example of such alaryngeal speech is Donald Duck talk.[5]

The vocal production of speech may be associated with the production of hand gestures that act to enhance the comprehensibility of what is being said.[6]

The development of speech production throughout an individual’s life starts from an infant’s first babble and is transformed into fully developed speech by the age of five.[7] The first stage of speech doesn’t occur until around age one (holophrastic phase). Between the ages of one and a half and two and a half the infant can produce short sentences (telegraphic phase). After two and a half years the infant develops systems of lemmas used in speech production. Around four or five the child’s lemmas are largely increased, this enhances the child’s production of correct speech and they can now produce speech like an adult. An adult now develops speech in four stages: Activation of lexical concepts, select lemmas needed, morphologically and phonologically encode speech, and the word is phonetically encoded.

Three stages

The production of spoken language involves three major levels of processing: conceptualization, formulation, and articulation.[1][8][9]

The first is the processes of conceptualization or conceptual preparation, in which the intention to create speech links a desired concept to the particular spoken words to be expressed. Here the preverbal intended messages are formulated that specify the concepts to be expressed.[10]

The second stage is formulation in which the linguistic form required for the expression of the desired message is created. Formulation includes grammatical encoding, morpho-phonological encoding, and phonetic encoding.[10] Grammatical encoding is the process of selecting the appropriate syntactic word or lemma. The selected lemma then activates the appropriate syntactic frame for the conceptualized message. Morpho-phonological encoding is the process of breaking words down into syllables to be produced in overt speech. Syllabification is dependent on the preceding and proceeding words, for instance: I-com-pre-hend vs. I-com-pre-hen-dit.[10] The final part of the formulation stage is phonetic encoding. This involves the activation of articulatory gestures dependent on the syllables selected in the morpho-phonological process, creating an articulatory score as the utterance is pieced together and the order of movements of the vocal apparatus is completed.[10]

The third stage of speech production is articulation, which is the execution of the articulatory score by the lungs, glottis, larynx, tongue, lips, jaw and other parts of the vocal apparatus resulting in speech.[8][10]

Written language is an evolutionarily recent human invention; consequently, its neural substrates cannot be determined by the genetic code. How, then, does the brain incorporate skills of this type? One possibility is that written language is dependent on evolutionarily older skills, such as spoken language; another is that dedicated substrates develop with expertise. If written language does depend on spoken language, then acquired deficits of spoken and written language should necessarily co-occur. Alternatively, if at least some substrates are dedicated to written language, such deficits may doubly dissociate. We report on 5 individuals with aphasia, documenting a double dissociation in which the production of affixes (e.g., the -ing in jumping) is disrupted in writing but not speaking or vice versa. The findings reveal that written- and spoken-language systems are considerably independent from the standpoint of morpho-orthographic operations. Understanding this independence of the orthographic system in adults has implications for the education and rehabilitation of people with written-language deficits.

speech and writing are lateralized functions in the brain

Spoken language has a mean range of 4-to-5-hertz, which correlates with the 4-5 hertz range of the brain’s motor cortex.

This is a big question to ask and people who have tried to answer it have filled volumes upon volumes of theory about it. You have my personal invitation to consult any of those volumes outside this text. To get to the bottom of what speech is, I will need to quickly demystify some things first. Mainly, I will need to situate speech realistically…

Speech comes from somewhere and that somewhere it comes from is us. By “us,” I mean conscious human beings that perceive sounds, sights, thoughts, nice aromas, bad weather, and significance. This perception is at the foundation of our existence. Perception is something our bodies are actively doing all of the time. And perception is happening in general before it becomes divided by our consciousness into selves, objects, worlds, and others.

This status of perception prior to these conscious divisions is central to understanding speech because speech comes from our actively perceiving, significance learning bodies. Speech is not simply an amalgamation of biological motions, sounds, syntactical rules, and signs. Speech happens in the context that is perceived by our bodies. Bodies that live in a world and share that world with others. And bodies that consciousness distinguishes from other bodies, dividing perception into subject(ive) and object(ive) structures, and differentiating between a world out there and our internal, private world within.

While speech is itself a type of expression, we privilege its status above other forms of expression because speech makes us aware of the subjectivity of others. Speech is how we not only communicate among ourselves, but also how we come to experience ourselves as a we to begin with. While the gaze of another makes us aware of ourselves as objects in a world when otherwise we experience our world subjectively, speech allows for that special something that makes it possible to go beyond the experience of the gaze and recognize shared goals that can unite us as subjects in our activities.


Because we are provided the legal definitions of speech so readily via search engine, allow me to just directly quote a few paragraphs from a possibly authoritative source:

“The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. Although adopted as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791, most First Amendment doctrine is a result of twenty-century litigation. The Supreme Court interprets the extent of the protection afforded to these rights. The First Amendment has been interpreted by the Court as applying to the entire federal government even though it is only expressly applicable to Congress. It wasn’t until 1925, in Gitlow v. New York, that the Supreme Court extended the First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause.

The government may regulate obscenity. Speech defined as obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. Obscenity is speech that the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, taken as a whole, to appeal to the prurient interest; depicts or describes in a patently offensive manner specifically defined sexual conduct; and lacks as a whole serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Nor is speech likely to incite violence, lawless action, or danger to the nation’s security protected. Commercial speech is protected under an intermediate level of scrutiny and the government can ban deceptive or illegal commercial speech.

The right to free speech includes other methods of expression that communicates a message. As new methods of communication are developed, they have presented unique challenges to First Amendment doctrine.”

Language and Writing

Censorship and Representation

One can take away another’s ability to speak brutally, say, by removing their tongue. But through censorship what isn’t suppressed is the ability to speak; what is suppressed through censorship is the ability to be heard. As we have shown earlier, to be seen and not heard is to remain an object for the consciousness of others. Censorship, ensuring that one is not heard, doesn’t fulfill the requirements for making them seen. For this, representation is required. Through representation, we are shown the silent. And if the silent is also to be censored, their existence for others can only be that of an object.

Censorship is also deprives the audience of its muse. In this sense, intellectual property is also a form of censorship.

Institutions of Silence

Objectification and Violence