YouTube: From Adam’s Navel to Dream’s Navel
Welcome to Lecture 18 of Alenka Zupančič’s What Is Sex?. In this lecture we will be focused on the Conclusion of the book which is titled “From Adam’s Navel to Dream’s Navel”.
Alenka Zupančič wants to leave us with the three main theses of this book. The first thesis is that something is missing (“fallen out”) in being. If we think to our most basic phenomenology, we must confront this deep seated feeling of “something missing”, something “not quite right” in the very nature of our being. Of course, for Zupančič, this “something missing” is paradoxical, because it is something missing which we never had in the first place. It is as if we lost something that we never had to begin with. In the context of the phrasing here, the idea of the “something missing” haven “fallen out”, we have reference to the idea of “the fall” in the Abrahamic tradition, that we have fallen out of the garden of Eden, out of the heavenly paradise. But again, we were never in Eden, we were never in a heavenly paradise, and we have enough scientific evidence to know this now. Nevertheless, the feeling persists.
This brings us to the second thesis: that unconscious knowledge, that takes centre stage in psychoanalysis, relates to an impossibility of being itself. If we go back to Freud’s idea of the unconscious, we have to confront the unconscious knowing as a wish-fulfillment, but this wish is impossible as it relates to traditional ontology, or being qua being. The difficulty in going through analysis, the difficulty in being with analytic knowing, is that one has to confront this impossibility of our very being, that we wish for the impossible.
Finally, the third thesis: that sexuality is the location of the structural incompleteness of being itself. The reason why sexuality is so important to us, and at the same time, the reason why sexuality is so difficult to us, is because it is the very frontier where we feel the deepest aspect of our being, and consequently, the aspect of our being that most deeply reflects the impossibility of our being, to be precise, the impossibility of the completeness of our being. This reflects Zupančič’s contribution to the larger Slovenian philosophical tradition, that of the positing of ontological incompleteness.
Where do these three theses leave us? To be quite plain they leave us in a disturbing location. They leave us with the knowledge that something is missing at the core of our being, that this something missing relates to the unconscious knowledge of a wish, and that this wish, on the level of libido, is the very location of the incompleteness of being itself.
Zupančič, true to the Freudian tradition, then reminds us of Freud’s central contributions to these conclusions. Freud discovery of the unconscious knowledge, has huge consequences for the theory of knowledge in general. To be specific, Freud knew there was no original drive for knowledge, we do not intrinsically want to know, we only want to know as an epiphenomenal after-effect of existential difficulty. Without confronting the existential difficulty first, we do not actually have an intrinsic drive for knowing.
Freud also knew, as a consequence of there being no intrinsic knowledge drive, that questions of being, fundamental philosophical questions, have a negative character since they will never “quench our thirst” so to speak, for our own self-knowing. Moreover, and to make things more complicated, neither will sexuality. In fact, it is the very impossibility of sexuality that drives us to knowledge in the first place; leaving us with the fact that sexuality itself leaves us no anchor or answer in-itself to our problem with being.
What are we to do in this bind? Sexuality is not the answer, neither is knowledge.
Zupančič seems to suggest that we must first realize that sexuality as a gap-void in being, at the location of the incompleteness of being, must be recognized as the first mover, so to speak. Consequently, all of the knowledge structures we build in civilization are defences or constraints placed around this central gap-void in being. Thus, we cannot simply deconstruct family structures for an authentic and full primary being. When we deconstruct family structures we get only the gap-void in being. So we can mature our knowledge if we first recognize the gap-void in being, as the location where we build. Both sexuality and knowledge are structured around a fundamental negativity. The only thing to do here is anchor properly, which offers us at least a truth that can mature our sexuality and our knowledge. Thus, Zupančič does not offer us any idealistic or romantic vision, only the cold offer to confront truth and mature our understanding of what sex and knowledge in fact are.
Now to the fundamental metaphysics. Zupančič asks us the question: Did Adam and Eve have navels? She notes that in many artistic representations, not only did artists not represent Adam and Eve’s genital regions, but they also left it as an open-ended question whether they had navels, or belly buttons. Of course, the navel or belly button would be evidence that they were born from the process of sexual reproduction, that they had gone through a developmental phase inside the womb of a woman. But since they are children of God, and not another human, it would make sense that they do not in fact have navels. Zupančič is here trying to point towards how we can think of the unconscious as the navel.
To quote Zupančič (1):
“In Freud (in The Interpretation of Dreams) the famous, as well as curious, expression: “the dream’s navel,” related not to what we can know, but to the hole in the very net of knowledge that can be laid out in the analytic interpretation: “There is often a passage in even the most thoroughly interpreted dream which has to be left obscure; this is because we become aware during the work of interpretation that at that point there is a tangle of dream-thoughts which cannot be unraveled and which moreover adds nothing to our knowledge of the content of the dream. This is the dream’s navel, the spot where it reaches down into the unknown.” I would suggest that we should read the term “unknown” not as referring to something “unknown to us,” but in a stronger sense of the gap in knowledge coinciding with the gap in being. We do not know, because there is nothing to know. Yet this “nothing” is inherent to being, and constitutes its irreducible crack; it registers a peculiar (“negative”) epistemological score, it registers as a peculiar form of knowledge: the unconscious.”
Thus, if sex and knowledge are not the answer as positive features of being, what she does suggest is a re-doubling of negativity, the negativity of being itself (where our sex fails), and the negativity of epistemology itself (where our knowledge fails). In the re-doubling of the failure of sex and knowledge, we have the capacity to bring to our awareness that there is nothing to know in being or inside ourselves. Perhaps, if anything, that idea can bring us some capacity to endure the vicissitudes of both sexuality and knowledge.
And that concludes What Is Sex? If you have been following from the beginning, thank you very much for your time and attention. For future reference, here is a complete playlist of the series, and a complete blog of the series.
(1) Zupančič, A. 2017. Chapter 4 – Object-Disoriented Ontology. p. 143.