Here it would be productive, I think, to read Kant's philosophy with Edgar Allan Poe.

What Lacan calls objet petit a is precisely a kind of non-pathological a priori object-cause of desire, precisely a kind of quasi-transcendental object. The problem - I cannot elaborate this, just give you a hint - as Lacan points out again and again, where it goes wrong with Kant, is the following one. Here it would be productive, I think, to read Kant's philosophy with Edgar Allan Poe. For example, in his two stories, "Black Cat' and 'Imp of the Perverse', Poe refers to a so-called 'imp of the perverse', which is what? Let me return to Kant. For Kant, we have, on the one hand, pathological acts, acts which are caused by our pathological desires, that is to say, by desires whose object is some sensible, contingent, empirical object; and then we have ethical activity, which is defined as non-pathological, that is to say, as an activity whose mobile motive is some a priori, purely formal, empty rule. Now, the nice paradox where things get complicated and here, I think, is one of Lacan's critiques of Kant, is that, of course, Kant aimed at purifying ethical activity of every pathological element, of defining pure ethical activity. But what he inadvertently did was to open up a new kind of evil, which is what Kant himself referred to as diabolical evil, which is a far more radical evil, that is a paradoxical evil that perfectly fits the Kantian conditions of good, of a good act. That is to say, of a non-pathological act, of an act unconditioned by any empirical, contingent object. Let's now briefly go to Edgar Allan Poe's 'Imp of the Perverse'.

As you probably know, in these two stories, "Black Cat" and "Imp of the Perverse", Poe speaks about a strange impulse in every man to accomplish an act for no positive reason but, simply, the formula is you must do it precisely because it is prohibited. It is pure negative motivation. Now think about it and you will see that this purely negative motivation is a priori formal in the purest Kantian sense. It's purely grounded in itself with no empirical reference. That's the problem, that a new domain of evil opened up ... OK, but that's a further development.

Slavoj Zizek, Connections of the Freudian Field to Philosophy and Popular Culture •


Illustration for "The Black Cat" by Aubrey Beardsley (1894–1895)


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