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The Humanities Conference 2003

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The Sublime Encounter of Kant and Sade in DeLillo's 'The Names'

Shuhui Tsai.

After Jacques Lacan's publication of a controversial essay "Kant and Sade," it has fostered a heating debate over the issues of aesthetics and ethics, which turn out to be no great differentiation. Kant's aesthetics with its focus on judgment of taste has diverted
into the question of the subject; the sublime for Kant is well-connected with the priori, the pure reason, namely, the metaphysics of morals.
What connects Kant with Sade is the Lacanian discovery of the matrix of the empty subject, the existence of the real, and the sublime jouissance of death drives, which can quite well explain the sadistic phenomenon of Marquis de Sade's enjoyment. From this convergence of philosophy and psychoanalysis, what I attempt to discuss is to question the universality of morality. Obviously, the architecture of morals can
be entirely collapsed if there is no distinction between aesthetics and ethics. If transgression is an inherent part of the structure, then sadism might be considered as an inverted part of the morality, its inherent part of Kantian pure reason. To Kant, the beautiful is related to the moral, the good. Yet, different subject has different taste of the beauty; it leads to an inference that a universal standard of the good is an impossibility or even worse, the supreme good to one party might become supreme evil to the other party. Evil is, from another perspective, a simulation of the good. I think I will try to use a contemporary American novelist's work to explain my whole argument here. Don DeLillo's novel, The Names,
with its detailed description of the cults of terrorists might be a good example here to show how evil and good can be somehow mixed up and turn out to be indistinguishable.


Shuhui Tsai  (Taiwan)
English Department
Southern Taiwan University of Technology

I am a lecturer in the English Department of Southern Taiwan University of Technology, offering courses like fiction studies, contemporary theories and film, and 20th century literature. And I am also a Ph.D. candidate in National Taiwan University and will receive the degree in June, 2003. The topic of the dissertation is "The Empty Face: Postmodern Sublime in Don DeLillo and Paul Auster" My major academic research field in Ph.D. programs has been focusing on Post-Freudian theories, especially Lacan and Kristeva and Zizek. I am also a poet, with a collection of poetry under the name of "The Height of Dreams", sponsored by the National Culture and Arts Foundation.

  • Kant
  • Sade
  • Lacan
  • Sublime
  • The Death Drives
  • Jouissance
  • Empty Subject
  • The Pure Reason
  • The Practical Reason
  • The Real
  • The Imaginary
  • Fantasy
  • Evil
  • Ethics
  • Aesthetics

(Virtual Presentation, English)