Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Creative and Revolutionary Nature of Desire: A Critical Comparison of Some Postmodern Viewpoints

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Creative and Revolutionary Nature of Desire: A Critical Comparison of Some Postmodern Viewpoints

Article excerpt

Beginning with our ordinary consciousness in his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel intends to move his reader to the more authentic perspective of Geist, a viewpoint that will not manifest us as finite subjects in opposition to the world, but will allow us to perceive ourselves as vehicles of a spirit in which the world is no longer distinct from us. By following the dialectical movement of consciousness and the things themselves that are replete with contradiction, Hegel arrives at a discussion of self-consciousness and its dialectic of desire and fulfillment. The certainty of the self is the ground of fulfillment, which reflects our notion of ourselves and the goal of total integrity for which we work. This drive for total integrity is even evident in lower forms of life that take and incorporate needed elements for their survival from the external world and thereby cancel their otherness. More than just a basic drive for integrity, desire indicates the facticity of the need for external objects. And the dialectic of desire and fulfillment implies that self-consciousness possesses two objects: its embodiment and the object of desire. By overcoming its two objects or returning to itself, self-consciousness maintains its existence by feeding on life. But desire is not merely intentional in the sense of being for an object or other, it is also reflective because it enables the subject to discover and enhance itself.1

This philosophical scenario depicted by Hegel makes it clear that a human being is a creature of desire and not a simple self-identical being. With the continual arising of new desires, a human being alternates between being before another and being before nothing at all, an encounter with the wholly other and an incorporation of it in an attempt to satisfy one's desire and recover integrity. In order to arrive at integrity, one must find a reality whose otherness can be negated without its being annihilated. This appears to suggest that the fundamental desire of self-consciousness, a process of destroying and incorporating foreign objects, can only be satisfied by another self-consciousness, a steadfast reality that can cancel its own foreignness and yet allow one to discover oneself. This is possible in the encounter with another human being in so far as one is recognized as human by that being. Since this recognition must be mutual for both parties to achieve integrity, it is, of course, impossible within the context of the master-slave relationship for Hegel. Nonetheless, it is evident that for Hegel desire is connected with self-knowledge and the search for identity.

In reaction to Hegel's position on desire, some postmodern thinkers claim that his conception of desire is too negative, and there is rather a need to emphasize the affirmative nature of desire. Moreover, from the perspective of some postmodern thinkers Hegel's notion of desire is metaphysical because it raises the problem of human identity. By introducing an affirmative nature of desire and correcting Hegel, it will be possible to see that desire is not something negative, but it is rather something productive, creative, and even revolutionary. In the following discussion, I shall focus on the contributions of Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Lacan, Felix Guattari, and Gilles Deleuze on the topic of desire. Since Guattari and Deleuze form a team, I shall compare their position on desire to those of Lacan and Levinas with respect to the relation of desire to need or lack, the connection of desire and the self, the necessity of the liberation of desire, and the relation between revolution and desire. I will then conclude with some critical observations.

Need and Lack

Since there is an absence of an analysis of desire in Heidegger's phenomenology of Dasein, Levinas attempts to correct this oversight in his own work. By drawing a fundamental distinction between desire and need, Levinas stresses that the former is excessive, exterior, strange, other, and possesses an ability to disrupt and reorient us. …

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