Descartes and the Post-Traumatic Subject

  • Slavoj Žižek


If the radical moment of the inauguration of modern philosophy is the rise of the Cartesian cogito, where are we today with regard to cogito? Are we really entering a post-Cartesian era, or is it that only now our unique historical constellation enables us to discern all the consequences of the cogito? The paper deals extensively with these questions on topics introduced by Catherine Malabou's Les nouveaux blessés (The New Wounded). Malabou proposed a critical reformulation of psychoanalysis, her starting point being external shocks, brutal unexpected encounters or intrusions, due their properly traumatic impact on the way they touch a pre-existing traumatic "psychic reality". Malabou's basic reproach to Freud is that, when confronted with such cases, he succumbs to the temptation of meaning: he is not ready to accept the direct destructive efficiency of external shocks – they destroy the psyche of the victim (or, at least, wound it in an unredeemable way) without resonating in any inner traumatic truth. These cases of post-traumatic subjects show that if we take the "stories they are telling itself about itself," the narrative symbolic texture, away, something (or, rather nothing, a form of nothing) remains, which is nothing but the pure subject of the death drive. This is an idea of cogito at its purest, its "degree zero," and this is also the reason why today we so adamantly resist the spectre of cogito.


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How to Cite
Žižek S. Descartes and the Post-Traumatic Subject. FV [Internet]. 2008Jan.1 [cited 2020Aug.15];29(2). Available from:
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