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Ruti's Reinventing the Soul
is a brilliant move in the game of soul-searching that philosophers have been
engaged in for centuries to know what human life is and how one should live one's
life. Her move is largely guided by Lacanian psychoanalysis and the philosophy
of Heidegger and Nietzsche. Two of the important contributions for which this
book can last long as an influential work in academics are worth mentioning.
One, it contributes to post-structuralism, critical thinking and post-modernism
by making the meaning of 'soul' compatible to these frameworks and, thereby,
making these frameworks relevant for an exploration into the interiority of
subjectivity. Second, it contributes to psychoanalysis by highlighting the ways
in which the posthumanist soul is well understood and supported by
psychoanalytic explorations. Combined together, it can open a new direction in
philosophical anthropology that reflects on the nature of human life.
The soul Ruti talks about is
neither theological nor metaphysical but psychoanalytic. Her objective is to 'reinvent
the soul rather than to perpetuate its conventionally humanistic definitions' (p.
18). The reinvention consists of inventing narratives that enables the subject's
psychic life to grow and experience its potentiality to get itself transformed out
of 'lack', 'nothingness', 'loss', 'pain', and 'melancholy'. Heidegger,
Nietzsche, Foucault, Freud, Lacan, Kristeva, Irigary and Cixous are the
prominent figures Ruti has commented on to develop her idea of a posthumanist
soul. She is less concerned with who (of the thinkers) is right or wrong, but
with 'what each thinker can bring to the table that is useful' (p. 25) for
psychic transformation, for the elucidation of a psychic potentiality to
overcome the impediments to its sense of agency.
"Lack", "Past" and "Pain" are the five chapters
succeed an Introduction that briefly outlines the theme of the chapters and
elaborately answers why and how Ruti has undertaken this project of reinventing
the soul. Drawing a parallel between Nietzsche's 'poetic life' and Foucault's
understanding of 'art of living', in the first chapter, Ruti develops an
affirmative alternative to post-Foucaultian conceptualization of subjectivity
(subjected to hegemonic power). Following Nietzsche, Ruti holds that
mythologies do structure and restructure our realities such that the artistic
constitution of self has got the potentiality to create its mythology no less
than that the hegemonic power does for its survival. Ruti explains how 'the
pervasiveness of disciplinary power is for Nietzsche only half of the story'
(p. 51). The narrative of self in the light of Nietzsche's 'poetic life' is,
for Ruti, consistent with and contributive to the deconstructive move against 'collective
mythologies that maintain fixed and wounding conventions not only of gender and
sexuality but also of class, race and ethnicity' (p.51).
Ruti's talk about the soul is
philosophical as well as psychoanalytic. Having concentrated on the views of
philosophers like Nietzsche and Foucault in Chapter 1, she switches on to Freud's
psychoanalysis to put forth a theoretical stronghold of her idea of a
posthumanist soul. Linking soul with Freud's notion of psychic energy, she
characterizes constriction of psychic life as a 'loss of soul' (p. 79). Making
the distinction between fixed and mobile forms of psychic energy, she
illustrates how the former leads to psychic pathologies and the latter to
liberation from the wounding effects of the excessive familial, societal and
Although 'autonomy of the self' and
'socio-culturally determined self' seem to conflict each other, for Ruti,
neither of the two really matters and we can overcome this conflict insofar as
self-actualization is concerned. Going beyond 'autonomy' and 'sociality', Ruti
emphasizes on 'existential intensity' and suggests that 'self-actualization in
the end has less to do with the choice between autonomy and society than with
the intensity with which we are able to experience the various dimensions of
our life- the autonomous and the social alike' (p. 101). To explain this
overcoming of the conflict between 'autonomy' and 'sociality', Ruti adopts
Audre Lorde's conception of Eros as a source of energy that permeates our
entire existence. Her explanation follows her disagreement with Willett's
excessive orientation towards community and her discussion on Oliver's criticism
of Butler's 'performance theory'.
In Chapter 3, comparing Lacanian
notion of 'lack' with Heidegger's concept of 'nothingness', Ruti demonstrates
how lack, being a precondition of our existence, gives rise to innovative
capacities and enables us to actualize ourselves as beings o f psychic
potentiality. In her attempt to extract a theory of creativity from Lacanian
psychoanalysis, she has dwelt on the Lacanian conception of 'signifier' -- 'the
gift of speech', 'the humanizing principle'. Ruti's reading of Lacan puts the
signifier 'as the posthumanist counterpart to the humanist soul' (p. 1550. The
posthumanist soul animates the subject's psychic life, makes the subject
innovative. Unlike the humanist soul, it never ensures psychic unity and
wholeness, nor does it allow the subject to transcend 'the realm of human'.
Lack gives rise to desire and
desire finds its expression through symbols. In employing symbols, accessing to
signifiers, human subject exercises its creative potentiality to give new
meanings and values to its life. For this creative expression of desires
through signifiers, Ruti upholds the importance of a 'poetic dwelling', and equates
true speech with what 'carries the meaning of the subject's desires' (p. 136).
The desire she talks about is not surface pleasures but a kind of psychic
inscriptions that arise out of lack; hence, she finds problem with Grosz's
conception of desire that overlooks the distinction between erotic experience
and desire. Moreover, Ruti reads Lacanian psychoanalysis as an ally, not an
enemy, of feminist and queer theory.
Ruti maintains that self is a site
of infinite complexity; it aims at psychic, bodily and intersubjective
realities. Without lack the self cannot achieve these realities. For lack gets
the self as well as the world space to move, enables them to prevent themselves
from becoming 'deadly standstill'. In Ruti's words, "Without lack, there
would be no space for movement, and without movement, there would be no space
for transformation. There would be no psychic life. And there would be no soul"
Melancholy and psychic pain are the
two other psychoanalytic topics besides lack that Ruti takes up in support of
her thesis of a posthumanist soul. Chapter 4 highlights on the creative
potential of melancholy, chapter 5 on that of psychic pain and suffering.
Common to both the chapters is the concept of love that mediates between the
loss that engenders melancholy or psychic pain and the signifier through which
psychic potentially gets represented in innovative ways to render soulfulness,
new meaning and value to life. Of course, chapter 5 concentrates on Nietzsche's
philosophy of amor fate- love of fate- and chapter 4 on the kind of love
that a subject develops by working through melancholia.
Ruti's exposition of Lacan's theory
of melancholy and Kristeva's insights on meaning production indicates the strong
relation she wants to underline between melancholy and signifiers. Further, an
employment of Cixous's idea of 'writing' as the flow of words without effort,
inseparable from love and sustaining 'the absent other as a living presence'
(p. 181) suggests that there is one more way out of soullessness, namely, love.
Beyond melancholia, the state of welcoming the other as other is a state of
love, not a fusion-love but the love that preserves the "twoness" of
the two individuals in love, the other is welcomed but the self is 'simultaneously
respecting its integrity and wholeness, (p. 185). Accounting Luce Irigary's 'dynamics
of passionate love' and Silverman's analysis of 'active gift of love', Ruti
succeeds in revealing that self's genuine love others is a development of
working through melancholia.
In chapter 5, after drawing a
distinction between the pain that debilitates and the pain that transforms, Ruti
argues that the psychic pain and suffering that Nietzsche upholds in his
affirmative epistemology of suffering has got the transforming potentiality. In
this connection, she contrasts Nietzsche's stand-point with Schopenhauer's
asceticism and interprets Nietzsche's philosophy of amor fate as a
consoling philosophy of life that provides a narrative for soulfulness.
One lacuna I find with this book is
that, compared to what Ruti has said for her thesis of a posthumanist soul, she
has said nothing about the antithesis, namely, the humanist soul. The least she
could have taken up to avoid this lacuna is a discussion on soul as being depicted
by Descartes in Meditations and by Kant in "What is enlightenment?".
Although Ruti does not refer to
Wittgenstein, the philosophers of language persuaded by later Wittgenstein
should seriously think now, if a private language can be reinvented parallel to
Ruti's reinvention of the soul. Philosophers of mind and cognitive scientists
can be invited too to reflect on the idea of a reinvented mind, parallel to
Ruti's reinvented soul, which is neither Cartesian nor biological but a psychic
energy responsible for mental activities.
Academically, this book is a
valuable contribution to Lacanian psychoanalysis, critical thinking and
philosophical anthropology. It can also be appreciated by scholars working in
the area of postmodernism, feminism, philosophy of love, philosophy of
language, philosophy of mind, Freudian psychoanalysis, Nietzsche's philosophy
of suffering or Heidegger's philosophy of nothingness. It is lucid in style and
well organized; thought provoking for people seriously engaged in critical
thinking, quite educative for the soul-searching public.
© 2007 Laxminarayan Lenka
Dr. Laxminarayan Lenka, Department
of Philosophy, North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, India, 793022.