Department of Religion and the Center for Jewish Studies, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The following is a translation of excerpts taken from a series of interviews given by Jean-Claude Milner and published as: Clartés de tout: de Lacan à Marx, d’Aristote à Mao (Milner, 2011a, 27, 31–34, 36–37, 39–42; 43–50; 171–6). In conversation with Fabian Fajnwaks and Juan Pablo Lucchelli, Milner traces his intellectual trajectory, revisiting various works from his remarkable oeuvre. If the interviews are organized around Milner’s ongoing engagement with Lacanian thought—not coincidentally, both of his interlocutors are psychoanalysts—one of their recurring themes is Milner’s discursive analysis of names or nouns (noms), in particular, the name Jew. It is this theme that guided my selection of passages, and which accounts for the title, a slight revision of that given to their second interview: Propos sur les noms et l’universel.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The reader need not be overly chagrined if he or she is unfamiliar with Milner’s name, not to mention his writings, for to date, only one of his books has been translated into English: For the Love of Language (Milner, 1990). In France, however, he is rightly established as a major public intellectual—witness the publication of his ‘dialogues’ with Alain Badiou: Controverse: Dialogue sur la politique et la philosophie de notre temps (Badiou, Milner, and Petit, 2012). He is emeritus professor of linguistics at the University of Paris VII, and a former president of the Collège Internationale de Philosophie—a post also held by the likes of Jacques Derrida and Jean-François Lyotard. His singular oeuvre spans the disciplines of linguistics, psychoanalysis, and philosophy: For the Love of Language, to take merely one example, is at once a psychoanalysis of the linguist and a philosophy of linguistics. He has also written retrospective studies of Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, and French Structuralism: L’Œuvre claire: Lacan, la science, la philosophie (Milner, 1998); Le pas philosophique de Roland Barthes (Milner, 2003a); Le périple structural: Figures et paradigme (Milner, 2008).
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Most recently Milner has written a series of trenchant and provocative analyses of anti-semitism and the ‘Jewish question’ in Europe. Three in particular are relevant here, as they provide the subject matter of the excerpts translated below: Les penchants criminels de l’Europe démocratique (Milner, 2003b), an analysis of the Nazi ‘solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem,’ and of the ‘criminal penchants’ that made this possible, perhaps inevitable; Le juif de savoir (Milner, 2006), an analysis of the function that Wissenschaft (savoir) played for the “Jew of knowledge”; and L’arrogance du présent: Regards sur une décennie: 1965-1975 (Milner, 2009), an analysis of the analogous function that radical politics (gauchisme) played for the ‘Jew of revolution.’ If Milner deals specifically with modern Europe, his discursive analysis of the name Jew provides a valuable abstract framework for examining the broader history of the Jewish question in Europe. For each historical conjuncture requires a fresh analysis of the significance of this name in relation to other names, and of the material consequences following therefrom for those who bear it. It is for this reason that these excerpts were included in this issue of postmedieval.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 While it would be a gross injustice to read his work in terms of biography, a few additional points of background information are nevertheless in order. He was born in 1941 in Paris, France, to a Jewish father. He pursued doctoral studies in linguistics at the École Normale Supérieure during the 1960s, at which point he came under the influence of Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, et al. Thanks to Roman Jakobson, he spent a year at MIT, where he attended Noam Chomsky’s linguistics courses, an encounter that would not only transform his work as a linguist, but also inform his thinking on the nature and significance of science. Most notably, he began at this time to attend — thanks in part to his friendship with Jacques-Alain Miller — the seminars of Lacan. It was around this constellation of intellectual luminaries that he, Miller and others founded the short-lived (1968–69) but remarkable journal, Cahiers pour l’analyse, the ten issues of which would come to exert great influence on subsequent generations of French intellectuals. During this period he was also, for a time, an active member of the Maoist student group, la Gauche prolétarienne—which experience informs L’Arrogance du présent.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Ultimately, it is Lacan’s “clear work” (œuvre claire) that has exerted the greatest influence on Milner’s thought. Two Lacanian notions, in particular, are crucial to these interviews and thus merit a bit of explanation: the all (tout) and the not-all (pas-tout). Around these two concepts Milner constructed what he himself described as an ‘organon.’ Recognizing that the related ideas of the ‘all’ and the ‘universal’ are obscure and confused, Lacan, Milner explains, found it necessary to distinguish between the all and the not-all. Whereas the all is limited, in that there exists something that escapes it, that limits it, there is another all, an unlimited all, for which no such limit exists. The latter Lacan named the not-all. I have attempted to render tout/tous and pas-tout consistently as ‘all’ and ‘not-all,’ respectively. The terms ‘universal,’ ‘limited,’ and ‘unlimited’ should also be understood in this light. As the reader will see, Lacan was mindful of what he called the chicanes du tout—which, based on the precedent of Bruce Fink, I translate as ‘zigzags of the all,’ but which also connotes, as he indicates, ‘deception’ (Lacan, 2006, 806). Milner relatedly constructed his organon in order to avoid what he called ‘the traps of the all’ (les pièges du tout). The name given to these interviews as a whole, Clartés de tout, implies, then, a certain optimism: Lacan can bring clarity to all.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Since many readers will be unfamiliar with Milner’s writings, I conclude this introduction by commenting on two aspects of his thought that I have found particularly valuable: his clarity, and his engagement with Galilean science. “Clarity is my symptom,” he once admitted in an interview. In fact, clarity constitutes merely half of a Cartesian motif running throughout his oeuvre: viz., clear and distinct, as opposed to obscure and confused. At a time when scholars openly celebrate ‘nuance’ (obscurity) and ‘complication’ (confusion), Milner upholds Descartes’s rather untimely ideal instead. Galilean science, on the other hand, is a notion Milner borrows from Alexandre Koyré, who maintained that what distinguishes modern or Galilean science from premodern science is that the former ‘mathematizes’ the empirical universe. Thanks to his engagement with Galilean forms of linguistics—comparative philology, structural linguistics, generative grammar—Milner came to revise Koyré’s criterion, arguing instead that what makes modern science modern is that it ‘literalizes’ the empirical—the precision of letters rather than the exactitude of measurements. Milner has also explored the implications of Galilean science for modern knowledge (Wissenschaft or savoir) in general. Just as the entire library of human knowledge must, according to Milner, be rewritten, however slightly, in light of the discoveries of Freud and Lacan, so too knowledge that would be modern must, in effect, take into account the literalization of what Galileo called the ‘book of the universe.’ Milner himself describes his radical commitment to revision as a type of intellectual infidelity. ‘Fidelity is not my forte,’ he tellingly confesses; ‘It has nothing to do with thought. An error does not become true under the pretext that one has adhered to it sincerely for a long time…. Thought is only faithful to that which has not yet been thought’ (Milner, 2009, 15–16). This infidelity derives, again, from his engagement with science, more precisely the history and philosophy of science. For science is not, as its post-modern detractors endlessly assert, ‘positivist’; it is, rather, what one might describe as ‘negativist.’ As Karl Popper famously argued, the growth of scientific knowledge consists of a process, not of verification, but of ‘falsification.’ Finally, Milner’s devotion to intellectual infidelity helps account for that exquisite sense of surprise one frequently experiences while reading his books. For as many will attest, you can never predict what he will end up saying on any given topic, which I take to be a sign of his having encountered a truth, ‘as if by chance,’ as Lacan would say. It is my hope that those who read the following translation will, as a result, be able to share in the thrill of intellectual pleasure I have repeatedly experienced thanks to Milner’s writings.
Jean-Claude Milner, “Remarks on the Name Jew and the Universal”
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Juan Pablo Lucchelli. You say somewhere that The Arrogance of the Present constitutes a ‘triptych’ with Criminal Penchants and The Jew of Knowledge. But if I am not mistaken, it is the first time that the performative is made so palpable in your oeuvre, above all in the first person, although your preceding works are notably ‘disengaged,’ to use your terms. […] You explain [this performative] with an explicit allusion to the Cartesian cogito: ‘The name “Jew” subsists as long as a subject can proclaim it affirmatively in the first person.’ Is this latest book thus detached from the series? If so, is there something at stake in this detachment?
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Jean-Claude Milner. The book is both detached from the series and, in a certain measure, constitutes it. The second book, The Jew of Knowledge, clearly made sense in relation to the first, but one didn’t necessarily see how it was a continuation of it. The third book therefore brings something to a close. Whether it will end there, I do not know. No doubt, the fact that the first person and performativity appear there goes hand in hand with the fact that it constitutes the series. But, conversely, the first person and performativity are made possible by the preceding books.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 1 Fabian Fajnwaks. In The Arrogance of the Present, you oppose ‘massive thinking,’ a term that you borrow from Walter Benjamin, and ‘detailed thinking.’ You speak of ‘progressivist massivity’ and of the ‘conmen of massivity.’ Can you tell us more about these two terms? Is ‘massive thinking’ one way of referring to what you call, in The Jew of Knowledge, the ‘facile’ universal? Is ‘detailed thinking,’ conversely, a version of the ‘difficult’ universal and of the non-interchangeable name [nom non quelconque]?
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 J.-C. M. If one takes seriously the literalization [of modern science], then thought is, one might say, a matter of a mere letter, give or take. Whether one adds one or takes one away, this could make the difference between accuracy and failure. One admits this requirement in many domains. But there are domains—I am thinking of politics, but not only of that—where one believes oneself to be exempt. For example, one will judge, without any investigation, that some aim is on the whole wrong—or right, it doesn’t matter. The dominant ideologies proceed in this way; but one has known this for a long time, and so one is mindful. One is less attentive when analogous processes are employed in the name of values of good repute. However, the danger is the same. […] Detailed thinking does not prevent one from making a decision when the moment comes; but to decide in advance that one will neglect the details, this is to enter without fail into the first mire to come along. This is why I base my method on the detail rather than the massive. Yes, the facile universal results almost inevitably in a massive thought. I would not say that detailed thought always leads to the difficult universal, but if detailed thinking leads to a universal, it is certainly a difficult universal. For there is a gap, a break, between that which detailed thought demands and that which the universal, in its current version, requires.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Among major examples of detailed thought, I will cite Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, as well as his five case histories. Freud’s language utilizes concepts inherited from 19th century psychiatry. He didn’t invent them. But these massive concepts, which are in the nosographies—hysteria, neurosis, psychosis—he approaches via details. At the end of the process, these have the same names, but their structure has changed; the universality that they support has changed as well. Of course, in Freud’s own oeuvre and in Lacan’s, the question of knowing how to move from a detail, a gesture, a word, to a proposition that aims at a form of universality, is crucial. One used to say that a single sentence of Lacan’s would clarify ten cases; this is the defining characteristic of a universal proposition. But this universal is not obtained by systematically identifying that which is common to each case. From a certain point of view, it is the opposite. The universal clarifies ten cases insofar as none resembles the others. This is the difficult universal. And so yes, my method presupposes an underlying relationship between a detailed thought and the fact that the universal is difficult.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 J.-C. M. In Indistinct Names (Milner, 1983), I mention paradoxical classes. Classes obtained, not by that which the members of the class have in common, but by that which each member of the class has that is distinctive. In a certain way, I make explicit something that remains implicit in Lacan’s texts and especially in his essay on logical time. The conclusion of this text from 1945 could not be more clear: in the procedure by which each prisoner comes to determine his color, the reader is invited to recognize the establishment of a model of the ‘process’ [démarche]—I use the term intentionally—by which, I quote, ‘Men recognize themselves among themselves as men.’ But this recognition does not cause a common kind [genre] to emerge; if there is a kind, it is founded upon separation. It has frequently been noted that the fable of the prisoners poses as the precise inverse of Sartre’s No Exit [Huis clos], which dates from 1944, thus one year earlier. Beyond the plot of the story, which is effectively inverted—permanent imprisonment in Sartre/release from imprisonment in Lacan—one can add this: the thrust of the Sartrean text is to fit the question of the ‘human kind’ [genre humain] into the Maussean model of the gift. In No Exit, each prisoner both gives something to the other two and wrests something from them; clearly, it is not by chance that one finds the Maussean model in the last sentence of The Words: ‘A whole man, composed of all men and as good as all [tous] of them and no better than any [tous]’(Sartre, 1964, 255). The ‘all’ [tous] is articulated with value, that is, with exchange. But the exchangeable descends genealogically from the commonality of properties that founds the Aristotelian kind and the facile universal. […] Lacan, by contrast, will arrive at the “human kind” by breaking the Maussean model and, at the same time, the Sartrean model. The foundation is not exchange but that which resists exchange. There are no interlocutions, looks into the mirror, as in No Exit; there are differential gestures, mute gestures, gestures of movement, of advancing, of stopping. In Indistinct Names, the idea of paradoxical classes enabled me to reformulate the Lacanian notion of logical time in terms of class. A paradoxical class is constructed out of the irreducible distinctiveness of each of its members. Insofar as the “human kind” corresponds to a real, it is a paradoxical class; conversely, to construct the human kind in terms of common traits (whether one begins or ends with these) is to fabricate an imaginary entity, and this, not coincidentally, is a massive entity. Here, then, is one way of defining the difficult universal, and the relationship between the facile universal and massivity.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 J.-C. M. In effect. As I am not a Christian, I think that one can avoid the traps [pièges] of the facile universal, that one can face head on the zigzags [chicanes] of the difficult universal (what Lacan calls the ‘zigzags of the all’); conversely, I think that one cannot engage these zigzags unless one renounces the seductions of the facile universal and renounces the Christian solution. The latter especially, because it is the most elegant by far. The Christian solution denies that there are two ways of saying ‘all,’ one limited, one unlimited. More precisely, it presupposes that both ways collapse into one, since they are synonyms, dare I say, in Christ. It is not for me to consider what that entails for the figure of the feminine.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 So if one leaves behind the seduction of Christianity, one is ultimately led to say that the Synagogue was never blindfolded and that in the New Law, relative to the Old, something was lost that touched upon the universal. The question arises, dare I say, of taking a step backward in relation to Paul of Tarsus. Or more precisely, of taking a step to the side. Which clearly comes down to the name Jew.
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F. F. The ‘return of the name Jew’ that you point out in The Arrogance of the Present, did it only take place because the Jew is the object (a) of the West, as François Regnault put it, or are there still other reasons?
J.-C. M. With your permission, I will not immediately address the return of the name Jew; we will return to that later. One cannot consider this return without first considering the name Jew in and of itself. I mean: the structure of the name. Ordinary names are spoken in the third person; the proof of this is that they take the third-person pronoun. With a few exceptions, to which it is necessary to pay the greatest possible attention. Take for example proper names, which are still sometimes called baptismal names; they are essential to each speaking being, but it is precisely my point that the speaking being receives its name before it is able to speak. It thus first has to do with a name in the second person; only afterwards, it becomes a name in the first person, but not directly, for as you well know, the subject says ‘I’; he does not refer to himself by his own name; he leaves that to others. ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane’; this formula was made to indicate that Tarzan is still at the exterior limit of human language. To be exact, the proper name refers, in the third person, to the point of possibility of the first person within the speaking being, by way of a moment in the second person. One can thus say that it ends up being a name in the first person, but as the outcome of a process. If we return to the name Jew, it is the greatness of Sartre to have emphasized that it is not said at first in the third person. Where he went wrong, where he did not fully grasp the crux of the matter, is that, according to him, the name Jew is spoken at first in the second person. In other words, the name Jew is born in the mouth of the anti-semite, in the form of an insult. For the insult is a noun in the second person. Like the baptismal name, except that the baptismal name seeks to name within the speaking being that which makes it singular and unique, whereas the insult seeks to destroy within the speaking being that which makes it speaking and unique. It is the anti-proper name. This is why one of its markers in French is the phrase ‘type of’ [espèce de]. One cannot better indicate how the insult consists of abolishing singularity, by placing it on the side of a pseudo-generality. That this moment of insult is of paramount importance for the name Jew, I do not deny; Goebbels, who knew this well, describes in detail, with glee, the destructive effects that one obtains by calling someone a Jew. However, the name Jew is another matter. The moment of the second person is perhaps revealing; it is not foundational. The foundational moment is the moment of ‘I,’ of ‘I am a Jew’; even if this moment, chronologically speaking, comes later, retroactively, other moments seem secondary. Moments in the third person (administrative categorization, sociological statistics, etc.), the moment in the second person (anti-semitic insult), all these moments can, in the course of a life, precede the moment when a subject says of himself, ‘I am a Jew’; but even then, they seem secondary in relation to the moment in the first person, assuming, that is, that this moment ever takes place. It is out of such reversals that a biography is constructed.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 In contrast to the name Jew, consider the national names used by most speaking beings, all names in the third person. The crucial moment is the moment in the third person, situated on the side of a State, an administration, an independence movement; the moment in the first person is a derived moment, usually by means of a moment in the second person. In the case of the name French, there are instances of the third person that determine what it is to be French; those who have recently had to renew their papers have gone through this bitter experience. The moment of ‘you are French’ comes later, and its validity depends upon the moment in the third person, materialized in that impersonal grimoire which is the certificate of nationality. The moment of ‘I am French’ comes still later in the thread of determinations. If it comes at all. Generally speaking, no reversal occurs in this process. One is in a process of continuous confirmation.
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 J. P. L. But what happens if one uproots from the subject his national name, as was done in Germany and France during the Second World War, specifically to the Jews? Is this not a reversal?
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 J.-C. M. I agree with you. Note, however, that the decision comes from the power of a third person — the State, most often. But it is true that the moment in the first person emerges then, like a wound. From the instant that one deprives you of it (or refuses it to you or imposes it upon you), the national name instantly becomes the name of your abolished liberty. With infinite speed, it becomes your name in the first person, insofar as your person has been crossed out by name. But, I emphasize, it becomes a noun in the first person, and becomes it, as it were, from without.
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 The system of names, as I have summarized it, holds true in the space of those languages that I describe, and that are marked, by the difference between the Old Law and the New Law. This is quite a vast space, which stretches from Russia to America. But this is not all of space.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 J.-C. M. It happens to coincide with the space of the subject of science. Probably not by chance.Within this space, the name Jew is the only name for which the moment in the first person is so foundational. In Lacanian terms, I would suggest that this name qua name is the only name that can be founded in something other than the mirror stage.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 F. F. In The Jew of Knowledge, you indicate that if there exist ‘histories of infinity, a truly critical history of the universal remains to be written.’ What then, according to you, would be the bounds, the reference points, the salient moments of this history of the universal that needs to be written?
¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 J.-C. M. Nobody doubts the importance of Aristotle. However, this reference point is less simple than it seems. Already, the word universal poses a problem. ‘[Entities] turned [tournés] by a single impulse toward,’ such is the paraphrase proposed in the etymological dictionary of Ernout and Meillett for the word universus. The Latin word seems to be based upon a conversion into One, but a conversion of what? Something that precisely is not one. In other words, the word universal, such as it is constructed, refers to the conversion of a multiplicity into a unity. The multiplicity is primary; it is in a secondary moment that an operation converts this multiplicity into a unity. Now Aristotle takes a very different path. He starts with an entity that is not presented as a multiplicity. When he says ‘every [tout] man [is mortal],’ in the singular, this is not presented as a multiplicity. What we refer to as universal Aristotle calls to katholou, from which derives the term catholic. Strictly speaking, the Aristotelian term converts into a substantive an adverbial phrase, kath’ holou, which translates literally as ‘from the point of view (kata) of the all (holon).’ The Greek word starts from the all, which it mentions by name, without mentioning the one, whereas the corresponding Latin word tends toward the all without mentioning it directly; it merely alludes to it under the guise of the one, which itself is mentioned by name. Moreover, the all mentioned by the Greek is situated on the side of wholeness [l’entièreté] or totality [l’intégralité]. Now, once you have adopted this point of view, the difference between one and many becomes irrelevant. One can speak of the totality of a multiplicity, but one can also speak of the totality of a single object: ‘It’s Venus entire and whole [toute entière] fastened onto her prey,’ wrote Racine, echoing a Latin poet in turn. The difference between Aristotelian technical language and those technical languages deriving from Latin is thus profound.
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 When we moderns speak of the universal, we tend to think of passing from multiplicity toward unity. Naturally, we can rectify this first movement, but this correction comes precisely after. Such precautions are unnecessary with Aristotle, since he starts from the point of view of wholeness. It is grasping multiplicity that comes after. A shift has clearly taken place; apparently, this shift accompanies the shift in languages, the passage from Greek to Latin — as it happens, the Latin of Cicero, then the Latin of scholasticism.
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 J. P. L. In this history of the universal, then, everything depends on passing from one language to another? As it happens, from Greek to Latin. The analysis is quasi-philological. Isn’t it too narrow?
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 J.-C. M. In addition to this question of translation from language to language, the importance of which I would be the last to deny, there is, it seems to me—this, at any rate, is what I propose in The Jew of Knowledge—a yet more radical shift. This I attribute to Paul of Tarsus.
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 He will establish Christian universality on the antinomy of a multiplicity and a singularity. I say singularity and not unity. One is very far from Aristotle, since the latter leaves singularity to the margins of logic. For Paul of Tarsus, a multiplicity, which is that of an all [tous], in the plural, is placed opposite the singularity represented by the Christ, a common noun, which he also calls by its proper noun: Jesus. Whence that famous formula, which seems to me to sum up the paradox of the Christian universal: ‘For you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3:28). As the Christ spoken of is the risen Christ, and as the resurrection is that which ancient philosophy could not admit, one sees that Christian universality depends upon that which is an impossible for Greek philosophical thought and thus for logic. The path of the Christian universal thus goes through an impossible, whereas the entirety of ancient logical justification consists of showing how the path toward the universal is possible. If it is revealed that the path toward the universal must go through an impossible, then ancient philosophy will conclude that the universal does not exist; moreover, it is not difficult to name, among the Greeks, schools of philosophy that concluded precisely this. I am thinking particularly of the Cynics. In contrast, Paul of Tarsus shows that the path toward the universal goes through an impossible, and from this, he draws the exact opposite conclusion from what Diogenes would have drawn: thanks to the impossible, the universal exists, ‘You are all one’ (subject in the plural, pantes; predicate in the singular, heis).
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 We’ve barely started, and already we perceive fractures. Between the universal propositions of Aristotle and the universal propositions of the logic of the Latin language, there is a gap, as is evident in the difference between katholou and universum. Between ancient thought, taken as a whole, and Christianity, there is another gap, in a word, the resurrection. And yet, Christianity will be spoken in Greek—katholou becomes Catholic—and in Latin: the Church claims to be universal. Not without some accompanying vagueness, since, in the majority of European languages, the adjective “catholic” is reserved for a particular branch, Roman Catholicism. Perhaps because of Henry VIII, English is an exception; in this language, catholic and all of its related words still retain, at the margins, their original universalist meaning, whereas those we call in French “Catholics” are designated in popular usage as “Romans.” But let us leave these opposed meanings, interesting thought they are. Let us stick to what is essential, which comprises a series of paradoxes. First: we use a Latin word to translate a Greek word, and these two words in no way overlap; in fact, they are opposites. Second paradox, due to Paul of Tarsus: the clash between the all and the one is attached to a miracle and a mystery, whereas the Greek and Latin projects both started from the supposition that between the all in the plural and the one in the singular, the passage must fall on the side of the possible and the thinkable. Third paradox: the Greek path toward the universal mentions the all (holon); the Latin path does not mention it; it mentions only the one and its conversion into something indeterminate: ‘One toward [Unis vers] …’.
¶ 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 J.-C. M. Certainly not. One could add many other important points. I’m thinking of the secularization of the universal, which allows moderns to make use of the universal without going through Christ at all. I’m thinking of the relation of the multiple to the one, such as Freud articulates with regard to crowds in Group Psychology and the Analysis of The Ego. I’m thinking of the growing hegemony of the statistical approach to the universal, but I’ve spoken of this elsewhere. I prefer to raise another point, which I mentioned in Criminal Penchants without adequately explaining myself. There are, in my view, events that impose material evidence of the unlimited universal by causing those representations based on the limited universal to explode.
¶ 37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 Lacan, but I don’t remember where, notes that the Athenians encountered the universal in the form of the plague. Let us interpret this in light of the all and the not-all: the Athenians were already acquainted with the limited universal, but then they went through the traumatic experience of another universal, a universal without limits, in the guise of the plague which could strike anyone. There is no x such that it cannot be struck by the plague.[…] I conclude from this that a history of the universal should lead to another history, which might be distinct from, at any rate not necessarily superimposed on this one, which would be the history of traumatic experiences of the universal.
¶ 39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 J.-C. M. Let us return once again to ‘Every man is mortal’; this proposition is not a conclusion based on experience, but belongs to the very definition of man. For Plato, for Aristotle, for a Greek, whether philosopher or poet, we can say that every man is mortal because we can say that there are entities that are not mortal—gods, stars, numbers, spirit. Logos can deal with death because it is limited: there is an x such that x does not die.
¶ 40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 In contrast to this, the experience of the plague of Athens belongs to another order. One feature that Thucydides emphasizes—and it seems that Plato and Aristotle read him closely—is that at the height of the epidemic, one no longer even practiced funeral rites; this proves that death has changed its nature, since one no longer respects in death either mortal humanity or immortal gods.
¶ 42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Precisely of this [plague] Plato says very little. There is even reason to suppose that Lucretius, in choosing to speak of it at length, proclaims thereby his systematic anti-Platonism. Conversely, one might think that Plato’s silence derives from a decision; the plague of Athens is not an event for him. Philosophy has nothing to say about it, except to cross it out (which Plato does in the Symposium). Treating the plague of Athens as an event without significance, this is a philosophical decision; treating it as a significant event, treating mortality as an encounter with an unlimited universal, rather than with a limited universal, these are by contrast radically anti-philosophical decisions; equally anti-philosophical is the possibility that this encounter might be related to the traumatic dimension of certain events.
¶ 44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 J.-C. M. We all know that for Freud, the encounter with death as unlimited, this was the war of 1914; now, no one can maintain that the war had no effect on Freudian thought. Whence the text on group psychology, which I mentioned earlier. If I am right, the war of 1914 led Freud to develop, implicitly, a new theory of the universal. Similarly, there is no doubt that Lacan’s path was somehow redirected by the gradual unveiling of what had happened in the extermination camps. If one wants to go back further, one could recall the disaster of Lisbon, which disrupted Voltaire’s thought. What is discovered in such events is the power of limitlessness, even over that which appeared to be, ever since Plato and Aristotle, the core of the limited universal, namely, ‘Every man is mortal.’ This proposition can henceforth be stated in terms of the unlimited: in certain circumstances, there is nothing of man that is excepted from death. If one wants current examples, one need only read the daily newspaper.
¶ 45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 J. P. L. If you construct such a class of events, what is left of the singularity of the extermination camps? You place this singularity at the center of Criminal Penchants. The construction of your triptych, isn’t it weakened by the approach that you are now taking?
¶ 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 J.-C. M. My answer is twofold: (a) as a class, it is paradoxical; it is based on what distinguishes each event from each of the others; (b) in the extermination camps, the limitlessness of death was planned; it was not the result of an epidemic or a natural disaster; one cannot even say that it was the consequence of the war: the war was but a means to it. Not only did death become the mark of limitlessness, instead of being the confirmation of the limit, but limitlessness became, under the regime of killing, a premise and not a consequence. I believe that this is the first time, at least in the world of science and modern technology. I also believe that since this event and because of it, a new era has begun. This conviction was widespread in the years following 1945. It has gone out of intellectual fashion, even amongst the most enlightened. So much the better. I am thereby assured that in reaffirming my conviction, my conviction is my own.
¶ 48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 F. F. […] You mention, particularly in The Arrogance of the Present, the disappearance of the ‘name’ worker in politics, and something that seems to be a counter-effect: the return of the “name Jew” as a discriminating name in politics. Could you say more about this?
¶ 49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 J.-C. M. First of all, I would like to emphasize that I do not believe in counter-effects. The expression is convenient, and I use it as such. One should not look for more in it.
¶ 50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 I come now to your question. Just as speaking politics [le parler politique] has come to concentrate within itself incommensurability, so too, within the heart of this speaking, certain words come to concentrate within themselves political dissension. They bring this dissension to its maximal intensity. Just as speaking politics has become preeminent among the different forms of speaking [les parlers], so too these words, within the heart of speaking politics, become preeminent among political words. These names I would call ‘divisors.’ In fact, I would go so far as to call them, borrowing a phrase from my old math textbooks, the ‘greatest common divisors.’ For these names that divide also gather together, but only after and as a result of division. Let us take as an example, once again, the name ‘revolution,’ which has long divided the French; for this very reason, it has gathered around itself those who identify with it, and it has gathered against itself those who reject it. One of the distinctive traits of the greatest common divisor is that it can divide a subject against itself; it places the speaking being in the position of Hercules at the crossroads. A moment later, the subject, having chosen, is gathered into what is called, quite rightly, a ‘political consciousness.’ A name is not political unless it divides speaking beings, viewed as a group, and each speaking being, viewed in isolation. Among political names, the greatest common divisors are those that comply most intensely with this definition.
¶ 51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 At the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, the name revolution was a greatest common divisor. Between the first third and the midway point of the nineteenth century, under the pressure of industrial modernity, the name worker appeared as another greatest common divisor. The entire enterprise of Marx and of some the great marxists consisted of coordinating these two great names, one to the other, even at the cost of plunging the name worker into the acid bath of the political language of the Ancients so that the proletariat might emerge from it, like a cleaned skeleton. Thus was born a swarm of great divisors: proletarian revolution, workers’ movement, workers’ revolution, workers’ state, revolutionary movement… Around these names, speaking beings gathered, opposed, and fought one another. Each speaking being was called, if he wanted to speak politics, to situate himself in relation to these names.
¶ 54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 J.-C. M. I will not repeat the history of the name Jew. I will keep to the situation created by the sequence opened up by the Enlightenment, the Revolution and the Empire. The old hatred of the Jew (Judenhass) was in some way projected onto the model of problem and solution. The Napoleonic Empire is supposed to have set the terms of a possible solution. One forgets today the considerable effect that the decisions made then had on Jewish communities around the world. I summarize them as follows: the name Jew must not divide politics, once one accepts a solution of the Napoleonic kind. Accepting or rejecting the solution, this certainly divides. But as soon as it has been accepted, the solution removes the name Jew from the list of divisive names. Accepting Jews or hating them, this becomes a private matter; politics need know nothing about it.
¶ 55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 The great novelty of Nazism must be measured by this norm. For the first time in over a century (in fact, much more than a century), the name Jew once again entered into speaking politics. Hitler placed the name Jew in the position of greatest common divisor. This is why, in his hands, the couple problem/solution, inherited from the Enlightenment, produced what was called the ‘final solution,’ which goes against the Enlightenment. For the sake of accuracy, I prefer to speak of the ‘definitive solution.’ Hitler sought to ensure the survival of what he called the German people. This survival was premised on the maximal coincidence of self to self, a quasi-organic coincidence. To this end, he needed to cross out all divisive names. The name worker was simple enough to turn into a gathering principle; the crucial part of the operation was accomplished by the war. The name Jew, inversely, was turned into the one real divisor; as a result, there was only one truly definitive solution: the extermination of those bearing the name Jew.
¶ 56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 It is my conviction that, within the space that mattered to him, Hitler won. Not only did he almost completely destroy the Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe. Precisely those that ‘posed a problem’ for Giraudoux, a high functionary of the French Republic. This I noted in Criminal Penchants. But also and perhaps above all, the name Jew has kept to the place that Hitler had assigned to it: that of the greatest common divisor. There was a latency period, rather long, since it lasted until the 1990s, more or less. I will therefore have lived most of my life under the regime of this latency, just as I will have lived under the regime of the mirages of the name worker. But today, the game is over. The only dissensions that come to divide a subject against itself, to modify the distribution of friends and enemies, to gather subjects together on both sides of a head-on opposition, these are the dissensions aroused by the name Jew. Perhaps this is clearer in France than elsewhere. If this observation is verified, I would posit a relationship between this clarity and the fact that the divisive character of speaking politics is more explicit in France than elsewhere.
¶ 57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 F. F. But couldn’t it be argued that the Islamic question today arouses more important divisions? Not only in France, but in practically all the countries of Europe?
¶ 58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 J.-C. M. To clarify the question of division, I would distinguish between two things: the question of secularism and the question of the Muslim religion. They are too often confused. The first is a political question; one can summarize it as follows: should the name of God constitute a greatest common divisor? Inasmuch as it is political, this question divides. The definitive solution—I use the word deliberately—consists of eliminating the name of God from speaking politics. Hardly anywhere but in France was this solution, for a time, applied completely and without persecution. This solution itself divides. It is increasingly contested today, but its coherence and effectiveness have never been refuted. Those countries in Europe and North America that have rejected it are involved in an inextricable muddle. It will come to the same thing in France, if the pressure of the ‘right-thinking’ prevails.
¶ 59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 I recognize that this contestation took as an opportunity the existence of many communities adhering to the Muslim religion, but the will to reintroduce the name of God into speaking politics is old. It has found and will find many other opportunities to manifest itself. As to the question of the Muslim religion, I would say, at the risk of causing offense, that here one is in the realm of the sociological and the administrative, not the political. It is only a matter of knowing whether one is dealing justly with individuals and groups who adhere to some faith. It is a question of management or even sometimes of casuistry.
¶ 60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 That being said, there certainly exists in a number of individuals an ‘anti-Muslim sentiment’—‘sentiment,’ the word is priceless. Since this sentiment is not shared by all, one gets a ‘division,’ but precisely this division, unlike the political division, doesn’t divide the subject against itself.
¶ 61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 In fact, ‘sentiments,’ anti-Muslim or others, consolidate the imaginary massiveness of each individual or each group. The ‘division’ comes in a second time, as a consequence of the consolidation of the ego. This consolidation is meant to persist, in the name of fidelity to oneself, on the principle of the imaginary. So it was with the “anti-Semitic sentiment” before Hitler. As for political division, it divides the subject against itself; consolidation, if it comes, comes afterward, and it is always precarious. Thus, there is no connection between the ‘division’ that the name Jew induces before Hitler and the division that it induces after Hitler.
¶ 62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 F. F. According to you, anti-semitism before Hitler became, because of Hitler, a source of political division. Can’t the ‘anti-Muslim sentiment’ follow the same path? Aren’t those who denounce it right to note a danger?
¶ 63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 J.-C. M. One should, at the very least, be outraged at anti-Muslim sentiment. But outrage is the most widely shared thing in the world; in other words, it does not divide. On the contrary, it aims to create consensus. I am tempted to continue my pastiche of Descartes: ‘As for outrage, everyone thinks he is so very capable of it, that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of wanting to experience more of it than they already do.’ One recognizes, distorted, the first sentence of the Discourse on Method. Even at the price of forgery, nothing can better describe the experience of the plenitude of self, whereas politics was born, in the speaking being, of the experience of a constantly possible lack.
¶ 64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 To return to the concrete situation, I maintain that as long as we remain at the level of anti-Muslim ‘sentiment,’ the worst is not yet guaranteed. Perhaps the moment will come when an important political actor will turn the name Muslim into a greatest common divisor. I dread this moment. It has not yet arrived. I am certain that we can prevent it. However, we won’t prevent it by miserabilist whining about ‘stigmatization of the other,’ ‘victimization,’ ‘demonization.’…
¶ 65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 Once one touches upon the name Jew, conversely, one is no longer in the realm of sociology, of statistics, of sentiment, of outrage; one is immediately in the realm of politics. So it has been for more than half a century. In Europe, the time for anti-semitism, such as Sartre was still describing it, is past, even if, of course, this old anti-semitism continues to abound. Such is the inertia of discourse. Concerning the name Jew, it is now a time for political blame. Against this, what’s needed isn’t outrage but refutation. The division that opens up passes between those who speak with precision and justice of the name Jew and those who speak without precision and without justice. Within each subject, it passes between truth effect and truth avoidance.
About the Author
¶ 66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 Robert S. Kawashima is associate professor at the University of Florida in the Department of Religion and the Center for Jewish Studies. He is the author of Biblical Narrative and the Death of the Rhapsode, in addition to various articles on the Hebrew Bible, literary theory, and related topics (E-mail: email@example.com).
- ¶ 67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0
-  English translations of isolated chapters from other of his books are available online through S: journal of the circle for lacanian ideology critique, volume 3 of which is dedicated to his work: http://lineofbeauty.org/index.php/s/issue/view/6.
-  In his review of Penchants criminels, Claude Lanzmann (best known as the director of Shoah) likened Milner, in view of his intellectual ‘courage,’ to a military “sapper” (Lanzmann, 2004).
-  I would be remiss not to mention here Milner’s deeply fascinating (and disturbing) interpretation of the answer Spinoza gives, in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, to the Jewish question (Milner, 2013).
-  The entire journal is now available online: http://cahiers.kingston.ac.uk. Selected articles from the journal are available in English in volume 1 of Concept and Form (Hallward and Peden, 2012); volume 2 contains interviews (including one with Milner) and essays about the journal.
-  See “Les pièges du tout,” in Penchants criminels, (Milner 2003b, 17–26); an English translation is available online: “The Traps of the All,” S 3 (2010): 22–39.
-  Ellipses in brackets indicate text that I have chosen to omit; ellipses presented without brackets are to be found in the original. All footnotes are mine, added merely as a convenience for the English reader.
-  The literal translation of quelconque (borrowed from Deleuze) would be ‘anything whatsoever.’ Translating the phrase nom non quelconque literally would amount to an act of violence against English; the point is that the difficult universal prevents one from treating names as ‘interchangeable’ words.
-  “Logical Time and the Assertion of Anticipated Certainty: A New Sophism,” in Ecrits (Lacan, 2006, 174).
-  Translation from (Sartre 1964, 255).
-  See (Regnault, 2002).
-  See (Milner, 1978, 174–197).
-  The correlation between science and Christianity, seemingly assumed here without further ado, actually alludes to Alexandre Kojève’s thesis in “L’origine chrétienne de la science moderne,” in (Cohen and Taton 1964, 2.295–306). Milner comments on Kojève’s thesis as well as Lacan’s counter-thesis in “Lacan and the Ideal of Science,” in Lacan and the Human Sciences, (Leupin, 1991, 27–42).
-  See now, L’Universel en éclats (Milner, 2014).
-  See (Milner, 2011b).
-  Parler politique is an idea Milner develops as part of his project to define politics ‘such as it is spoken’ rather than “practiced” (Milner, 2011, 8). Thus, he posits: “There is politics when it is materially possible and legally permitted to speak politics” (Milner, 2011, 9).
¶ 68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 1. English translations of isolated chapters from other of his books are available online through S: journal of the circle for lacanian ideology critique, volume 3 of which is dedicated to his work: http://lineofbeauty.org/index.php/s/issue/view/6.
¶ 69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 2. In his review of Penchants criminels, Claude Lanzmann (best known as the director of Shoah) likened Milner, in view of his intellectual ‘courage,’ to a military “sapper” (Lanzmann, 2004).
¶ 70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 3. I would be remiss not to mention here Milner’s deeply fascinating (and disturbing) interpretation of the answer Spinoza gives, in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, to the Jewish question (Milner, 2013).
¶ 71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 4. The entire journal is now available online: http://cahiers.kingston.ac.uk. Selected articles from the journal are available in English in volume 1 of Concept and Form (Hallward and Peden, 2012); volume 2 contains interviews (including one with Milner) and essays about the journal.
¶ 72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 5. See “Les pièges du tout,” in Penchants criminels, (Milner 2003b, 17–26); an English translation is available online: “The Traps of the All,” S 3 (2010): 22–39.
¶ 73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 6. Ellipses in brackets indicate text that I have chosen to omit; ellipses presented without brackets are to be found in the original. All footnotes are mine, added merely as a convenience for the English reader.
¶ 74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 7. The literal translation of quelconque (borrowed from Deleuze) would be ‘anything whatsoever.’ Translating the phrase nom non quelconque literally would amount to an act of violence against English; the point is that the difficult universal prevents one from treating names as ‘interchangeable’ words.
¶ 79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 12. The correlation between science and Christianity, seemingly assumed here without further ado, actually alludes to Alexandre Kojève’s thesis in “L’origine chrétienne de la science moderne,” in (Cohen and Taton 1964, 2.295–306). Milner comments on Kojève’s thesis as well as Lacan’s counter-thesis in “Lacan and the Ideal of Science,” in Lacan and the Human Sciences, (Leupin, 1991, 27–42).
¶ 82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 15. Parler politique is an idea Milner develops as part of his project to define politics ‘such as it is spoken’ rather than “practiced” (Milner, 2011, 8). Thus, he posits: “There is politics when it is materially possible and legally permitted to speak politics” (Milner, 2011, 9).