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The powers of emptiness

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Foucault is often considered to be the commensurate theorist of power. His late work provides an impressive array of concepts that enables a multi-dimensional analysis of the historical, material, and discursive facets of power. What is missing from this approach, however, is the factor of passionate attachments, or what we might term the sublime motivations that underlie any regime of control. Lacan’s ethical thought prioritizes precisely the issue of the sublime, and, more to the point, the process of sublimation which establishes an effective “short-circuit” between socially valorized objects and direct drive satisfactions of individuals. Key here is the notion of das Ding, the place of the absent object of primordial satisfaction that generates libidinal enjoyment and draws the subject toward the pinnacle of social valorization. Lacan thus shows us what Foucault cannot theorize. That is to say, if sublimation consists of a relation to the real of das Ding, then it cannot be limited in the terms of its activation to the powers of discursive domain alone; it remains a self-initiating and self-regulating form of power.

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