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[P]hilosophy... is essentially subtractive. Philosophy must indeed subtract Truth from the labyrinth of meaning...Philosophy is not an interpretation of the meaning of what is offered to experience; it consists in the operation of a category subtracted from the category of presence. And this operation of seizing truths indicates precisely that once seized, truths are distributed within that which interrupts the regime of meaning. This point is to my mind essential. Philosophy is above all a rupture with both narrative and commentary on narrative... [P]hilosophy contrasts the effect of Truth to the effect of meaning. Philosophy is distinct from religion because it breaks with hermeneutics.

—Alain Badiou

Historically speaking, meaning has only recently become an object of study. This is perhaps a surprising statement given the discussion undertaken in the previous chapter. It was seen how the subject’s longstanding wish to achieve meaningful understanding was addressed by the slow rise of hermeneutical theory over the course of many centuries. But a moment’s reflection confirms how this understanding has traditionally been cast with particular objects in mind. In other words, hermeneutics only ever makes withdrawals of meaning for its various textual and ontological objects. What remains to be examined are disciplines which instead explore the very nature of meaning, of meaning as such. Since this exploration requires a withdrawal from meaning, these disciplines are not mired in debates over methodology. Their projects simply necessitate using the subject-object schema of science. The extreme example is the axiomatic philosophy of Badiou. Here meaning is so objectionable that an entire project is founded on thought which unconditionally withdraws from its field, in the strictest intransitive sense of the verb. However, most withdrawals have been of a more transitive nature. These theorists not only keep the field of meaning within their sights, but they additionally investigate residual objects of meaning. Later it will be seen how Lacan’s central investigative object permits conceiving the very universality of the hermeneutical circle as paradoxically linked to the subject’s withdrawal from its sweeping turn. In the present chapter some well-known disciplines of the 20th century are taken up for the insights they provide on meaning’s internal construction, as well as its relation to non-meaning, to sense and most importantly, to nonsense.

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