On the Paradox of Cognition

by Ewa Szumilewicz (Author)
©2021 Monographs 128 Pages


Cognition is a paradoxical process, from the moment of the formation of human subjectivity, through its relationship with the Other (or more precisely: l'autre) and with the world, to the ontological status of the world as such. This is what this book has at stake.
The book deals with selected aspects of poststructural thought which are introduced into the language of contemporary science, prose, and poetry. Such an enterprise is possible by treating philosophy, science, and poetry as languages which can try to enter into a dialogue through metaphors. This is the ground on which the project is implemented.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter I: Paradoxical genealogy of subject
  • On the paradox
  • Deleuze – “temporality” of sense
  • Disjunctive synthesis
  • Lacan – “temporality” of sense
  • Lacan and Deleuze – the function of time
  • Tension and paradox
  • Casus Narcissus
  • Narcissus, art, Jüngers’ three-dimensionality and the paradox of the word
  • “But poets establish what remains”48
  • Chapter II: Relativity of the relation between I – Other
  • General theory of relativity and quantum mechanics – place and role of the subject
  • Cortazar’s mirror – a metaphor of the subject
  • The paradoxical concept of knowledge
  • Time according to Lacan, for the second time...
  • Time according to Deleuze
  • Structural difference?
  • Mirror – a symbol of self-knowledge
  • Tears
  • Chapter III: Paradoxical status of the I – Other relation
  • Derrida’s Narcissus
  • Ovidius’s Narcissus
  • Narcissus and a world without the Other83
  • Fort-da without Other
  • Narcissus’ call and the position of the observer
  • “Mirror and mask” – the unbearable weight of Other...
  • Chapter IV: Paradoxical ontological status of the world as such
  • Potentiality according to Agamben
  • The “cut” in the Deleuzian landscape
  • The “cut” in Quantum Mechanics. The position of the observer and the Agambenian mistake
  • The act of “cut” in the Deleuzian landscape
  • “Cut” in quantum mechanics. Observer position and Agamben’s assumption
  • Akeda: Kierkegaard’s paradox, comedy and the position of subject
  • Final conclusions
  • ENDING: Paradoxical status of subjectivity
  • Speranza error
  • Bibliography
  • Illustrations
  • Index of Names
  • Series index


Cognition is a paradoxical process. Cognition is a paradoxical process, from the moment of the formation of human subjectivity, through its relationship with the Other (or more precisely: l’autre1) and with the world, to the ontological status of the world as such. This is what this book has at stake.

I take the Deleuzian2 definition of paradox as a process of going in both directions at once.3 The landscape of my views includes language,4 understood (following Lacan and in the spirit of the linguistic turn in philosophy) as a tool that constitutes the subject and at the same time allows for the possibility of interacting with the world. The elements that will be scrutinized are: the paradoxical genealogy of the subject, the relativity of the relation the I–world, the paradoxical status of identity in the relation between the I and the Other, and the paradoxical ontological status of the world as such.

Looking at a thought conditioned by a symbolic “cut” (a concept borrowed from Jacques Lacan but understood, more broadly, as a cut as such whatsoever), which I identify with violence, the formation of a symbolic field (through the primordial “cut”), the I–Other “cut” of identity on the way to Other, or an attempt to save identity (metaphorically rendered as a casus of Narcissus with the consequences of such an act), ←11 | 12→I show that an attempt to create a stable structure requires a “cut.” But where the boundaries of cognition begin to crumble, a paradox – that which evades the principle of contradiction – shines through. I note that a similar mechanism exists in natural sciences, which I treat as a certain language. For example: the limits of the applicability of quantum mechanics are manifested in the wave function of the universe, through the function of density of probability of the appearance of a specific state. An actual state can appear only after the gesture of “cut” – after the act of choice. Thus, the actual state is subjected to the principle of contradiction only after the establishing act; only after the cut.

As protagonists I choose Deleuze, Agamben and Lacan. Deleuze is a philosopher who connects different languages (science, poetry, philosophy) in a “crystalline” way in the sense of structures of pure, logical thinking. Agamben is an example of a philosopher who connects languages in a vague and imprecise way, and at the same time whose ontological concepts are in opposition to the results of the natural sciences. Lacan, on the other hand, shows well the relationship between language and subject.

Deleuze’s and Lacan’s philosophies are two different philosophical languages that seem incompatible at first glance. This is not a difference between different structures of thinking but between different planes of reference: ethical (Lacan) and ontological (Deleuze). In the book, this relationship is reflected in numerous metaphors, and can probably be seen most clearly when we metaphorically relate Deleuze’s language to the language of quantum mechanics (QM), while relating Lacan’s language to the language of the general theory of relativity (GTR). This apparent incompatibility of the two theories is due to their different frames of reference. There is another “starting point” for observation.

I assume that Deleuze’s definition of paradox, derived from The Logic of Sense, treats it as a process that takes two opposing directions simultaneously. I will treat it as a formula, because, in my opinion, it perfectly reflects the essence of paradox. I am investigating the notion of the temporality of sense in relation to both Lacan and Deleuze. For Lacan, the time shift in relation to the articulation of trauma – the skeleton of identity – builds tension. In Deleuze’s philosophy, the particular structure of time as such introduces an element of constant disharmony. I consider Deleuze’s time based on The Logic of Sense, although Deleuze’s specific philosophical ←12 | 13→sensitivity to the notion of time is rather similar in Difference and Repetition as well. I would say that this disharmony is what both philosophers have in common. However, the relationship with Other, axial for Lacan, is what distinguishes philosophers.

But it is not the case that Deleuze’s subject is able to break the syntactical links with the world as an object of language, as shown in the essay on Robinson in Logic of Sense. What makes Deleuze so special is his sensitivity to “happening” and “becoming.” I am thinking here of a certain fragility and the related dynamics of structure, which the philosopher reflects in many metaphors, such as the metaphor of Body Without Organs (where it is worth remembering the premise of the existence of the Body as such). This metaphor reflects the dramatic dynamics of resistance to structural deadness. Or, the classic example in the Thousand Plateaux: a wasp and an orchid which, through feeding and fertilizing, create a symbiotic, emergent cell. A wasp and an orchid permeate each other: they “become,” or rather, they “are becoming.” On the margin, it is worth remembering the premise that orchids and wasps as such existed before.

For Lacan, the Other is the one who funds the stability of the world. Each relationship with the Other is based on a word. And every word spoken, as spoken, is not mine.

I think that for both Deleuze and Lacan the key is a kind of disharmonic thinking, a kind of thinking the essence of which is paradox. Deleuze is sensitive to the fragility and tenderness of structures. He’s interested in the transitional moments.

Lacan carefully watches the process of creating structures as such. It’s like a gesture from the other side. The imago’s analysis, when the child in the mirror hears the affirmative voice of the mother, “Yes it is you,” or the logical structure of Lacan’s time, are the moments when the structure is created. Lacan does not ask about the previous existence of a sequence of words as such: Symbols, Significants. He is interested in the moment of “cut,” the moment when a sequence of words, by cutting off the rest of the word, forms a sentence – a relatively stable structure.

And similarly, I see such dependencies in contemporary physics, where both QM and GTR are theories which – for example, in comparison to Newtonian physics – have a core element of paradoxicality, wherein GTR ←13 | 14→would be called a relational theory, a theory of creating structures, and QM a theory of “becoming,” “indetermination.”

Why a metaphor? Justification for the choice of methodology

The analogy on which the metaphor is based has a heuristic potential because it sketches the structure of thinking. Creating metaphors that combine different languages, such as poetry, physics and philosophy, can help one to search for links and connections between sciences. The metaphor can also become an inspiration to search for new connections.

The book has the following layout:

Chapter One: Paradoxical Subject Genealogy


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (August)
Lacan Deleuze paradox cognition quantum mechanics Agamben
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 128 pp., 8 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Ewa Szumilewicz (Author)

Ewa Szumilewicz obtained her PhD in the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. She is the author of the poetical prose ‘W Nibysłowach’ (In Neverwords), published in 2020. Her research interests include French philosophy and philosophy of physics.


Title: On the Paradox of Cognition