Jacques Lacan never tired of insisting that his teaching and writings were not made to be understood. Indeed, it has often been noted, the primary function of Lacan's infamous graphs and algorithms, his rigorously polyvalent concepts (the Other, the objet a, the real), and his allusive, aphoristic style was to produce misunderstandings--in French, des malentendus.1
There was plainly method to this madness. Lacan took as his starting point Freud's discovery that the truth of the psyche could only be malentendu, heard in those gaps of discourse where meaning fails, where the struggle between the unconscious and censorship allowed evil (and "illness": le mal) to be heard, but of necessity to be heard badly (mal entendu). If this were so, he reasoned, then the truth of desire, indeed truth itself, can never be wholly spoken; "words fail" (_Television_ 9/3). But it is precisely through this material failure, this lack of material, that the truth participates in the "real". The great originality of Lacan's project lay in the lengths to which he would go to mimic this lack, reproducing the equivocation and indirection of unconscious discourse in a style, both analytic and pedagogical, that he called "mid-speak" [le mi-dire]. He was ruthless, in short, in his desire to be misunderstood, and his readers have been happy to oblige.
There have been few areas where Lacan would appear to have been more consistently (and symptomatically) misconstrued than in the matter of revolutionary politics. In this chapter, and again in Chapter 5, I shall have occasion to examine the various arguments by which Lacan sought to portray the revolutionary project as a repetitive and/or recuperative impasse. And yet the political and theoretical history of post-May France testifies again and again to the ease with which the field mapped out by Lacanian theory could be recharted in explicitly political, even revolutionary, terms. Looking back to l'apres-Mai, one finds past and present followers of Lacan's seminar playing critical roles in the woman's movement (Antoinette Fouque, Luce Irigaray, Michele Montrelay), in French anti-psychiatry (Felix Guattari) and French Maoism (Jacques-Alain Miller, Judith Miller [nee Lacan]), as well as in the realm of "textual theory" (Philippe Sollers, Julia Kristeva).
At best, each of these projects involved a selective hearing of the Lacanian lesson. To be a Lacanian in the Maoist Gauche proletarienne, for instance, meant hearing echoes of the Maoist dictum that "the One divides into Two" in Lacan's critique of that falsely unifying knowledge he calls the semblant. It meant seeing the essential elements of Maoist self-criticism in the nominally self-authorizing ritual--the so-called passe--through which the Lacanian Ecole freudienne de Paris (henceforth: EFP) designated its highest ranking members.2 Above all, it meant living the adventure of Mao's China, as an ostensibly democratic society under the shadow of a larger-than-life rebel leader, from within the confines of Lacan's School.
Most decidedly, there was nothing in Lacan's work to countenance either the extreme voluntarism of Maoist political thought or the Maoist's faith in spontaneous revolution. Amidst the revolutionary fervor of the May events, however, such points of essential disagreement paled beside Lacan's remarkable ability to catalyze revolutionary aspirations. His young followers may have known better than to give credence to the rumor, subsequently reported in the New Yorker, that it was Lacan who (in late May of 1968) had smuggled student leader Dany Cohn-Bendit across the German border, in the back of his Jaguar.3 But more than anything it was their desires, their symptomatic misunderstandings of Lacanian theory, that served to perpetuate the commonplace image of Lacan as leftist radical this rumor so clearly expresses.
As the revolutionary ardor of May cooled, the temptation was great among Lacan's critics to insist upon the essentially counter-revolutionary import of his work. Within their (superficially incontrovertible) arguments, however, there was once again a significant tendency toward misunderstanding.
Consider Dominique Grisoni's introduction to her 1977 "La politique de Lacan"--the witty send-up of a conversation in which a haggard disciple asks Lacan to commit himself to Giscard or Mitterand, only to be treated to a barrage of equivocation and obfuscation. In her opening remarks, Grisoni attempts to define Lacan's politics as a form of "radical pessimism" grounded in the fatalistic belief that "the die is cast"; "[h]ence politics is only a game upon the real, to which consequently it does not accede" (25).
But Lacan's so-called politics are singularly resistant to any exercise in definition that would erase their status as a textual effect. And were they reducible to a punctual position, it would clearly not be this one: "For want of being able to change what is, better to opt for administring what is as best one can" (25). For the tail Grisoni would pin on the Lacanian donkey-that of a "manager" of souls--is precisely that which Lacan had pinned for years on an American ego psychology for which analysis was little more than a process of conformist adaptation. In other words, so as to turn against Lacan a critique of psychoanalysis that PCF theorists had begun parroting back in the late 1940s, Grisoni must forget that it was Lacan's lifelong concurrence with the terms of that critique that, among other factors, had led the Communist Party in 1970 to recognize his work as the only acceptable form of psychoanalysis.
We find a similar insistence upon the essentially counter-revolutionary thrust of Lacanian theory in Castoriadis's blistering review of Luc Ferry and Alain Renaut's La pensee 68 (1985). In the course of this review, Castoriadis attributes the increased visibility of Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, and Deleuze/Guattari after May '68 to the supposed failure of the events. What these "French ideologues" furnished retroactively, he argues, is a legitimation of the limits... of the May movement:
'You did not try to take power (you were right).' 'You did not try to institute oppositional forms of power [des contre-pouvoirs] (again you were right, because oppositional forms of power are power themselves, etc.).' With this went a legitimation of retreat and renunciation, of non-commitment or of a localized, moderate commitment: 'In any event, history, the subject and autonomy are only Western myths.' (_Mouvement_ 192-3)
Nothing could be more mistaken, Castoriadis argues against Ferry and Renaut, than to see such theoretical topoi as "the death of the subject, of man, of truth, of politics, etc." as expressing the ethos of May.4 The function of these topoi, like that of a logic of structural repetition which Castoriadis himself had unwittingly helped to ritualize ("oppositional forms of power are power themselves"), was rather to camouflage a movement of retrenchment on the part of those who had participated in the May events. Or more precisely, "the French Ideology" allowed former militants to rationalize a massive retreat into the private sphere, while it provided them with the illusion of a radical sensibility (193). Inasmuch as Castoriadis repeatedly places Lacan in the role of pied piper to this movement of self-deluded reactionism, he suggests that the malaise of contemporary political culture comes not from having misunderstood Lacan but from having understood him all too well.
In order to reach such a stable understanding of how Lacan has historically been understood, Castoriadis (like Grisoni) has to belittle a certain desire for revolution that Lacan had been prone to take quite seriously. That is to say, he has to flatten out the profound ambivalence or duplicity of Lacanian theory's take on revolutionary politics, a duplicity made manifest by Lacan's paradoxical ability to catalyze the very aspirations he had seemingly worked to debunk. The remarkable ambivalence of the historical record around the question of the revolutionary or counterrevolutionary import of Lacanian theory suggests that we would do well to track that ambivalence back to the Lacanian text, specifically as it bears the traces of a psychoanalytic pedagogy in which the transferential bond was necessarily at play.
There is a moment of apparently egregious misunderstanding in Castoriadis' text that in fact helps to open up this project. I have in mind his astonishing claim that, insofar as Derrida, Foucault and the other authors discussed by Ferry and Renaut occult analysis of the institution in general, and the distinction between de facto and de jure power in particular, they "draw essentially upon the authority of Lacan" (_Mouvement_ 192).
Behind this massive overstatement lies a rich and fascinating institutional history. A practicing analyst since 1974, Castoriadis had joined in 1969 with Francois Perrier, Piera Aulagnier, Jean-Paul Valabrega and other former members of the Ecole freudienne de Paris in founding what is variously known as the Quatrieme groupe or OPLF [Organisation psychanalytique de langue francaise]. Beyond their commitment to theoretical pluralism and to the notion that psychoanalytic doctrine must be proofed in clinical practice, the members of the Quatrieme groupe were united in their suspicion of a transferential conformism they saw to be built into the institutional structure of the EFP. Their experience of Lacan's School had been that of an institution in which a statuatory (de jure) democratism was radically undermined by a transferential fixation on Lacan as de facto "monarch" (the term is Elisabeth Roudinesco's).5
Castoriadis clearly overestimates Lacan's authority in what he sees as a widespread tendency to occult the sort of institutional analysis that might account for such discrepancies of de facto and de jure power. But the very terms of his error help us to look beyond his earlier claim that Lacanian theory conveys the illusion of radicalism without its real risk to the more fundamental question of why it was that the effect of Lacanian discourse was so often to create precisely the sort of self-mystification that Lacan was in principle so intent upon exposing. They suggest that, rather than simply dismissing Lacan's work as the vehicle of a duplicitous bad faith, we must examine a duplicity inherent to Lacan's transmission of psychoanalytic knowledge--a divorce between intents and effects that appears to have everything to do with transference love.
"It has been the endless paradox of Lacan's position," Jacqueline Rose has argued, "that he has provided the most systematic critique of forms of identification and transference which, by dint of this very fact, he has come most totally to represent" (Mitchell and Rose 53). The essential ambivalence of the Lacanian example for revolutionary politics in the post-May period reflects a similar Mobius logic. It was precisely because Lacan formulated a radical critique of the human aspiration to unity--and most especially, to the one and complete Revolution--that he came to focalize the desire for the One (Revolution).6 "From 1968 on," writes Francois Roustang, "an exorbitant belief in Lacan as the keeper of some great secret became widespread [among Lacan's students at the Ecole Normale]: He was the one who would be able to build, or rebuild, the unity of knowledge" (Lacan 12/7). Lacan was fond of citing Cardinal Mazarin to the effect that "politics is politics, but love always remains love" (SVII 374/324). But his own (paradoxical) virtuosity in the self-styled role of "subjectpresumed-to-know" guaranteed that, in the Lacanian universe, politics was never simply politics nor love simply love.
I have borrowed the title of the present chapter, "The Tragic Ear of the Intellectual," from one of the most eloquent of witnesses to the cultural phenomenon that was Lacanian psychoanalysis. To that question I have been asking thus far--what does the modern French intellectual hear (or mishear) in Lacanian theory?--Catherine Clement responds by evoking Lacan's propensity toward the tragic:
Lacan is steeped in Greek hubris, impossible exorbitance and deadlock [absence d'issue]. The Greek hero, the tragic hero, of which Lacan is a perfect stylistic and theoretical model, is situated beyond all forms of distance.... He has forgotten the lesson of myths, which are, as Levi-Strauss tells us, lessons of "appropriate distance." Keeping the right distance between yourself and the madness of impossible desire, between yourself and the real: but this distance actually exists--it is regulated on all sides by the multiple codes of so-called everyday life. As described by Lacan, psychoanalytic practice consists, on the contrary, in exacerbating distance. Let there be no misunderstanding, you wretched souls: your desire is forever cut off from its object, which is lost, and will always be undermined in the most agonizing separations. And then there are those sublime sentences of his, which catch the tragic ear of intellectuals, always willing to allow themselves to be seduced wherever the impossible is proposed as such; those sentences, whose lulling rhythm panders to a delight in the loss of the lost paradise. (cited Roustang Lacan 20/15; translation modified)
It is the very suggestiveness of a phrase like "the tragic ear of intellectuals" that ultimately necessitates a testing of its limits. What is the historical or political specificity of the intellectual who sports a "tragic ear" and how did Lacan speak to such an organ? Is the "tragic ear" indeed simply "tragic"? Or does it not imply other modes of hearing? It is to the last of these questions that I now turn, reserving the matter of historical and political specificity for Chapter 5.
Tragedy and Comedy
Since Freud wrote, in a letter to Wilhelm Fleiss dated October 15, 1897, that the "riveting power of Oedipus Rex" lay in its seizing upon "a compulsion which everyone recognises because he feels its existence within himself," the process of psychoanalysis has consistently been theorized as a confrontation with that tragic meaning which all human subjects bear within (Standard Edition 1:265). Countless references to the Oedipus cycle, to Electra and the Oresteia; countless readings of Hamlet, Lear, Medea, and Phedre all corroborate Lacan's claim that "tragedy is in the forefront of our experiences as analysts."7
Lacan discussed the exemplary role of tragedy for a rigorous understanding of the analytic experience in his 1959-1960 seminar on the ethics of psychoanalysis. The aim of analysis as he saw it was to bring the patient (or analysand) to confront the question of human existence as it is posed ("What am I there?") in that space of Law and buried jouissance he called the Other (_Ecrits_ 549/194). Thus the analysand mimics the tragic hero to the extent that he passes beyond the anxiety characteristic of the ego functions, to the level of a certain primordial horror governed by the conjoined mysteries of procreation and death. Like tragedy, analysis points to an ethical field beyond the self-interested pursuit of pleasure, beyond any concern for utility or consequent focus on instrumentality, beyond even the desire for a localisable object--to an ethical field, in short, beyond all utilitarianisms. Its aim is catharsis, understood not as "discharge" or "purgation"--concepts central to Freud and Breuer's account of the abreaction of psychic trauma in the early Studies on Hysteria--but rather as a form of ritual "purification" (286-7/244-5). Against those who would reduce psychoanalysis to a strictly therapeutic process of uncovering and working over repressed psychic material, Lacan will advocate a tragic purification of desire through the subject's assumption of what he calls, following Heidegger, "true being-for death" (357/309).
To exemplify the process of tragic purification, Lacan turns to the figure of Oedipus--not to the beleagured King of Thebes, but to the wizened and wittily defiant hero of Sophocles's Oedipus at Colonus. Wandering in a state of suspended suicide beyond all worldly "goods," in a zone between patricide and the death drive Lacan speaks of as "between two deaths" [l'entre-deux-morts], Oedipus at Colonus attains the "tragic liberty" of the hero who freely consents to his malediction "on the basis of the true subsistence of a human being, the subsistence of the subtraction of himself from the order of the world" (352-3/305-6).
In accordance with the first and foremost of Lacan's four propositions on the ethics of psychoanalysis--"the only thing one can be guilty of is giving ground relative to one's desire"--Oedipus remains "unyielding right to the end, demanding everything, giving up nothing, absolutely unreconciled" (370,358/321,310).8 His only passion (but it is an all-encompassing one for Lacan) is the passion for knowledge--or more specifically, "the desire to know the last word on desire" (357/309). The disfigured Oedipus thus proves himself a consummate practitioner of that entree-en-Je proposed as an imperative by Freud's Wo Es war, soll Ich werden, that strictly impossible imperative to accede to the truth of one's desire that grounds what Lacan calls "Freudian ascetic experience" (15-6/7). In shouldering the curse that weighs on the race of the Labdacidae, Oedipus comes to emblematize a tragic paradox at the heart of Lacanian theory, whereby the entree-en-Je Symbols in fact envelop the life of man in a network so total that they join together, before he comes into the world, those who are going to engender him 'by flesh and blood'; so total that they bring to his birth, along with the gifts of the stars, if not with the gifts of the fairies, the shape of his destiny; so total that they give the words that will make him faithful or renegade, the law of the acts that will follow him right to the very place where he is not yet and even beyond his death; and so total that through them his end finds its meaning in the last judgement, where the Word absolves his being or condemns it--unless he attain the subjective bringing into realization of being-for-death. (_Ecrits_ 279/68; emphasis added)
Paradoxically, the only means of attaining true being is through the tragic realization of a death that Lacan sees, for reasons I shall discuss in a moment, as attendant upon the double entrance into subjectivity and signification.
In many respects, Lacan reads Antigone in the very same terms he does her father. Refusing to compromise on her desire to bury the rotting body of her brother Polyneices, and thereby entering into the zone "between two deaths," Antigone gains tragic stature through her (criminal) assumption of the familial Ate [bane, ruin; reckless impulse]. Indeed, even more clearly than her parricidal father, Antigone represents that tragic paradox whereby the subject's conquest of his or her "own law," his or her entree-en-Je, always means "acceptance of something that began to be articulated before him in previous generations, and which is strictly speaking Ate" (347/300).
But Antigone quite literally eclipses Oedipus. In his reading of Antigone, Lacan insists again and again upon a fascination that hangs upon her blindingly brilliant visual image:
In effect, Antigone reveals to us the line of sight that defines desire.
This line of sight focuses on an image that possesses a mystery which up till now has never been articulated, since it forces you to close your eyes at the very moment you look at it. Yet that image is at the center of tragedy, since it is the fascinating image of Antigone herself. We know very well that over and beyond the dialogue, over and beyond the question of family and country, over and beyond the moralizing arguments, it is Antigone herself who fascinates us, Antigone in her unbearable splendor. She has a quality that both attracts us and startles us, in the sense of intimidates us; this terrible, self-willed victim disturbs us.
It is in connection with this power of attraction that we should look for the true sense, the true mystery, the true significance of tragedy.... (290/247)
For the spectator, the moment of Antigone's definitive passage into death-in-life, her realization of the horror that is Ate, is marked by the "intolerable brilliance" of a beauty whose paradoxical function is both to pose a realm of jouissance beyond earthly goods (here: beyond that conflict between family and fatherland central to Hegel's reading of the play) and to bar access to that realm. In other words, the violent luminosity of Antigone's tragic beauty constitutes a barrier that situates the spectator before "the unspeakable field of radical desire that is the field of absolute destruction," while it operates upon that spectator an "essential blindness" (256,327/216,281). By realizing what Lacan calls "a beauty that musn't be touched" [un beau-n'y-touchez pas], tragedy thus repeats the structure of the phantasm (280/239; cf. 345/298).
Lacan refers to the strictly unnamable locus of apocalyptic desire and buried jouissance beyond the phantasmatic barrier as "the analytical Thing [la Chose analytique]" (239/203). Derived from Freud's term [das Ding] for the first external element around which the infant orients his explorations, Lacan's Chose designates the space of the quintessential lost object: "the absolute Other of the subject, [which] one is supposed to find again" (65/52). In the life of the child, the Chose comes into being in several stages, beginning with that moment of "primary repression" at which the infant finds himself unable to articulate as demand his desire to recapture an original, unwilled jouissance with the mother (as paradigm for the "absolute Other") (_Ecrits_ 690-1/286-7).9
The empty site delimited by this first experience of the Other as inaccessible takes on a more definitive form with the decline of the Oedipus complex. Lacan will speak of the act that disrupts the imaginary dyad of mother and child as an eviction of the "phallic signifier"--the signifier of the child's desire to be the phallus the mother desires--by the "paternal signifier" or Nom-du-Pere.10 The resulting absence of a primal signifier--the phallic signifier or "signifier of the desir de la mere"--from that chain of signifiers that constitutes the subject as living subject of desire reinforces a splitting [Spaltung] begun with the primary repression. Thus, as the Chose develops into a negative space hollowed out around the repressed signifier of the desir de la mere, the subject finds himself increasingly decentered along the lines expressed in Lacan's Cogito: "I am not, there where I am the plaything of my thought; I think about what I am, there [in the space of the Other] where I do not think to think" (_Ecrits_ 517/166; translation modified). Among other things, the "phallus" is Lacan's name for that which bars the desire of the Other (as locus of the subject's being), and so reinforces his existence in the mode of 'lack-of-being' [manque-a-etre].
In the intolerable brilliance of Antigone's tragic beauty--"beauty in all its shining radiance, this beauty that has been called the splendor of truth"--we see recreated the apocalyptic splendor of that Oedipal moment at which the phallus had barred the (phallic) signifier of the mother's desire, and so constituted the subject as "literally at his beginning the elision of a signifier as such, the missing signifier in the chain" (256,264/217,224). Here is Lacan, paraphrasing Paul's Epistle to the Romans [7:7]:
But even without the Law, I was once alive. But when the commandment appeared, the Thing flared up, returned once again, I met my death....
The dialectical relationship between desire and the Law causes our desire to flare up only in relation to the Law, through which it becomes the desire for death. (101/83)
Lacan leaves little doubt but that Antigone's exemplarity as tragic heroine is inseparable from the rigor with which she bears within herself, "miraculously," a "signifying cut"--that which both constituted her as a subject (as subject to death) and barred that desire of the (m)Other in which the secret of her being resides:
Yet she pushes to the limit the realization of something that might be called the pure and simple desire of death as such. She incarnates that desire.
Think about it. What happens to her desire? Shouldn't it be the desire of the Other and be linked to the desire of the mother [desir de la mere]? (328-9/282-3)
There follows from this (specifically tragic) relation to being a radical suspension of "every cycle of being"--a calling into question of "everything that has to do with transformation, with the cycle of generation and decay or with history itself... " (277,331/236,285). The tragic heroine's approach to the limit of the pure desire for death as such implies a suspension of temporality, and a consequent interruption of the process of desire as the infinite quest for an impossible satisfaction. But the subjective realization of being-for-death is properly untenable; Ate, Lacan writes, "designates the limit that human life can only briefly cross" (305/262-3). It is in fact the death drive that tells us why, for Lacan, desire will always return on the far side of the experience of apocalyptic annihilation. For the death drive is fundamentally ambivalent with respect to an essential temporality. Revealed and veiled in the resolutely atemporal brilliance of tragic being-for-death, the death drive also serves as "the matrix of desire," since it provides the energy necessary to the primal repression (Lemaire 167).
To speak of the death drive as "matrix of desire" is to recall that which the death drive institutes in primal repression--namely, the (maternal) Chose. As the impossible space of a buried goodness-specifically, of that bliss that had come from serving as object to the mother's desire--the Chose serves as both the cause and the aim of desire.11 Constituted through phallic barring, it harbors the very origin of a signifying chain whose unfulfillable mandate is to effect the return to a henceforth impossible experience of satisfaction. It is both the product of that which institutes the desire for death and the matrix of a "creation ex nihilo" (252-3/213-4).
Like the death drive, therefore, the Chose implies a Mobius-spiralling linkage of the radically atemporal desire for death as such with desire as a form of temporal slippage. This linkage serves in turn to point out the limitations of tragedy in the constitution of a psychoanalytic ethic. Lacan defines the tragic action at the heart of such an ethic as the triumphant assumption of being-for-death through an act of negation identical to the subject's entrance into signification (361-2/313). In other words, tragedy implies absolute acceptance of a fatality arising from the fact that the child-subject is born into a network of symbols so total as to shape her destiny up to and beyond her death.
But the Symbolic Order is ambivalent along the lines suggested by my discussion of the death drive. Locus of the paternal Law, it is also, ineluctably, the locus of a desire capable of forestalling the specifically tragic annihilation of the forces of life. Here is what we read immediately after Lacan's evocation of a "subjective bringing into realization of being-fordeath" in the network of symbols passage of his "Rome Discourse":
Servitude and grandeur in which the living being would be annihilated, if desire did not preserve its part in the interferences and pulsations that the cycles of language cause to converge on him, when the confusion of tongues takes a hand and when the orders contradict one another in the tearing apart of the universal work. (_Ecrits_ 279/68)
If the first of Lacan's four ethical propositions--the injunction not to yield on one's desire--plainly fosters a breakdown of history and natural transformation in that archetypically tragic act of assuming one's death, his fourth and final proposition brings us back to desire as a metonymical slippage from signifier to signifier driven by the lack of an object: "There is no other good than that which may serve to pay the price for access to desire--given that desire is understood here, as we have defined it elsewhere, as the metonymy of our being" (370-1/321).
It is just this ambivalence that allowed Lacan, in the final week of his seminar on Ethics, to pose comedy and tragedy as opposite, but not incompatible, dimensions of human experience. Both are certainly defined by the alienation of desire attendant upon the subject's entry into the Symbolic Order. But whereas tragedy implies an attitude of lucid confrontation with the field of radical destruction, an arresting of historicity in the name of an essential purity, comedy resides in the perpetual flight of desire, an endless slippage of life:
[It] is not so much the triumph of life as its flight, the fact that life slips away, runs off, escapes all those barriers that oppose it, including precisely those that are the most essential, those that are constituted by the agency of the signifier. (362/314) Lacan's insistence that the Phallus "is nothing more than a signifier, the signifier of this flight" should be read to suggest that the "comic" here entails in no simple way that overcoming of external, and specifically paternal, opposition habitually associated with comic emplotment (Frye 143). Having spoken at much length on the privileged role of tragic lucidity for the advent of a psychoanalytic ethic, Lacan will in fact conclude his seminar with a brief (and at first sight surprising) claim for the exemplarity of what he calls "tragicomedy":
The pathetic side of this [comic] dimension is, you see, exactly the opposite, the counterpart of tragedy. They are not incompatible, since tragicomedy exists. That is where the experience of human action resides. And it is because we know better than those who went before how to recognize the nature of desire, which is at the heart of this experience, that a reconsideration of ethics is possible, that a form of ethical judgment is possible, of a kind that gives this question the force of a Last Judgment: Have you acted in conformity with the desire that is in you? (362/314)
In his _Metahistory_, Hayden White has written cogently on that common ground of tragedy and comedy implicit in this argument. Unlike Romance, he suggests, drawing on the work of Northrop Frye, both modes "tak[e] seriously the forces which oppose the effort at human redemption" (10). And yet they also reveal "the possibility of at least partial liberation from the condition of the Fall and provisional release from the divided state in which men find themselves in the world" (9).
In Comedy, hope is held out for the temporary triumph of man over his world by the prospect of occasional reconciliations of the forces at play in the social and natural worlds.... In Tragedy, there are no festive occasions, except false and illusory ones; rather, there are intimations of states of division among men more terrible than that which excited the tragic agon at the beginning of the drama. Still,... [t]here has been a gain in consciousness for the spectators of the contest. And this gain is thought to consist in the epiphany of the law governing human existence which the protagonist's exertions against the world have brought to pass. (9)
Lacan's work clearly situates itself within that space, common to tragedy and comedy, where the prospect of a partial release from self-division intersects with the full awareness of all that opposes human redemption. But within this space it plainly oscillates--at times promoting the epiphany of knowledge proper to tragedy, at others holding out the hope of reconciliation characteristic of comedy.12 I have shown how Lacan's ethic of psychoanalysis entails both a facing up to the desire for death as such and a giving way to desire as a process of infinite substitution; in short, that it exploits a fissure within the concept of desire itself. I would argue that this ethic is properly tragicomic insofar as it presupposes a differential rhythm running throughout the Lacanian text--a rhythm of death and life, apocalyptic annihilation and desiderative metamorphosis, absolute despair and groundless hope. Lacan's name for that nodal point of the tragic and the comic that allows for such a differential rhythm is none other than "the phallus," defined (in "La Signification du Phallus") as "the privileged signifier of that mark where the share of the logos is conjoined with, or wedded to, the advent of desire" (_Ecrits_ 692/287; translation modified).13 Not a dialectical synthesis, but rather that point at which an absolute lack of meaning passes immediately into the promise of Meaning itself, the phallus signifies, in the words of Slavoj Zizek, an "oscillation between lack and surplus meaning [that] constitutes the proper dimension of [human] subjectivity" (Sublime Object 223; Looking Awry 91). That this process of infinitely crossing and recrossing the phallic mark might itself prove an impasse is a prospect I address in Chapter 5. In the pages that follow, I focus primarily on the tragic side of the phallic equation, showing how, as early as the mid-1950s, Lacan used demonstrably psychotic forms of intellectual rigor in an effort to debunk the liberationist presuppositions common to both American and Soviet ideologies, and thus to dismiss "back to back" the parties to the Cold War.
A Trial in Rigor
Few are born into accursed, noble races. For this reason, and because it is in the very nature of contemporary culture to paper over the (to Lacan unavoidable) fact that our desires are fated to remain unsatisfied, Lacan would find himself in the position of having to reconstruct those radical impasses productive of tragic knowledge on the level of his theory. No study of the specific repercussions of Lacan's work in l'apres-Mai can fail to account for that essentially ethical gesture whereby Lacan, as transferential "subject-presumed-to-know," sought to compel his students' consent to the fundamental accursedness of human desire.
His instrument for provoking this epiphany of tragic insight was "logic," defined in the 1975 "Peutetre a Vincennes" as "the science of the real because it places access to the Real in the mode of the impossible" (cited Marini 251/243). From the logic of specular doubling in Lacan's work of the 1940s and 1950s, to the mathemes of the 1970s, there is a consistent linkage, I would argue, between the "logical" and the specific aims of Lacan's tragic ethic.
No single word better captures the intimacy of this linkage than one whose centrality to the work of both Lacan and Althusser would have a decisive impact upon Marxist (and specifically Maoist) theory in the postMay period--viz., the word "rigor" [la rigueur].14 In promoting an ethic of psychoanalysis that conjoins the requirement of logical exactitude with injunctions to ascetic self-denial, the assumption of one's fate, and even passage to a limit, Lacan points to a remarkable coherence of meaning lying beneath this term's apparent polyvalence:
RIGUEUR:... 1o Severite, durete extreme.... Arrets de rigueur.-Specialt. Morale dure, severe. Catholique de naissance..., il avait respire dans sa montagne un reste de rigueur protestant (ROMAINS)... TENIR RIGUEUR a qqn: ne pas lui pardonner, lui garder rancune.... 2o (Au plur.) Acte de severite, de cruaute. Par ext. (Compl. de chose) Les rigueurs du sort... 3o Exactitude, precision, logique inflexible... Rigueur d'un raisonnement, d'un calcul... 4o (ETRE) DE RIGUEUR: etre impose par les usages, les reglements... Il etait de rigueur de les en informer... 5o Loc. adv. A LA RIGUEUR:... Mod. En cas de necessite absolue, en allant a la limite du possible, ou de l'acceptable (Cf. Au pis aller)... ANT. Douceur, indulgence. Approximation, incertitude. (Le Petit Robert)
If there is a single experience at the heart of Lacan's conception of rigor, however, it is that of listening--or, more specifically, of listening to human desire. In his 1954-1955 seminar on role of the moi in Freudian theory, Lacan spoke of desire as a "point" at which
one can say almost anything. But this anything isn't just anything, in the sense that whatever one may say, it will always be rigorous to those who know how to listen. (SII 259/221)
Rigor is thus a quality of attention in the act of facing up to that question of human existence (the "What am I there?") as it continuously poses and reposes itself--fascinating, horrifying, never fully answerable--in the space of the Other. "The role of the analyst," Elie Ragland-Sullivan writes, "is not to 'understand' the patient,... but to surprise the liberty which resides in nonsense; to see how the analysand debates with his or her jouissance; to ascertain to what primitive discourse effects the analysand is subjected" (122).
It is on the basis of this conception of analytic listening, enjoined upon analyst and analysand alike, that Lacan operates an almost seamless conjunction of those logical and ascetic senses of the word "rigor" that a secular empiricism must read as essentially disparate. For Lacan, exactitude in the cognizance of those figures through which desire is articulated in the analysand's discourse proves to be fundamentally inseparable from an ethical severity grounded in an awareness of the essentially criminal nature of human desire, a severity that Lacan's own references ask us to liken to that of Saint Paul, Luther, the Cathares, and the Jansenists (_Ecrits_ 549/192; Marini 90/83). "Rigor" implies a faithful attention to, and structural transcoding of, the quintessentially ethical passage to a limit in "the domain and the level of the experience of absolute disarray... a level at which anguish is already a protection..." (SVII 351/304).
As the example of a Lacanian concept whose function is precisely to catalyze such an experience of absolute disarray, consider what Lacan calls the Real.15 Strictly unrepresentable, demonstrable only through its effects on desire, Lacan's Real names "this something in front of which words stop," an inaccessible realm given over to the death drive and its attendant forms of destructive expenditure (cited Marini 79/71). The Real is a domain of missed encounters--"the encounter in so far as it may be missed [manquee], in so far as it is essentially the missed encounter"--whose traumatic prototype is weaning from the mother (SXI 54/55). Thus it often appears as a menacing yet productive lack specifically figured by the feminine body: it is "'the little girl's slit' in the painting Las Meninas, the 'gap [beance] in which there is nothing to see' but 'where it [ca] looks at you'" (Marini 79/71). Or in that apodictic shorthand that predominates in Lacan's later work, allowing for the assimilation of such heterodox conceptions as the real as the unrepresentable, as the traumatically unattainable, or as the oppressively intolerable: the Real is "the impossible" (_Ecrits_ 68).
In many respects, of course, Lacan's Real is coextensive with that always-barred realm of buried jouissance he called the Chose. It is the Chose he has in mind when he speaks of the need to articulate the question of a psychoanalytic ethic "from the point of view of the location of man in relation to the real" (SVII 21/11). And yet Lacan's conception of the Real plainly exceeds that of the Chose whenever he speaks of the Real as entertaining a privileged relation with logic and mathematics--whenever the Real serves as a vehicle, in short, for Lacan's scientific pretensions.
In his provocative _Lacan, de l'equivoque a l'impasse_ (1986), Francois Roustang has sought to deflate those pretentions by arguing that the Lacanian Real derives from an unwarrented universalization of the psychotic's particular inability to assume his castration.16 Before considering this argument, I should like to recall the principal features of Lacan's work on psychosis, and specifically the concept of "foreclosure" [forclusion, after Freud's Verwerfung].
The Lacanian reading of psychosis begins with the essentially orthodox claim that the psychotic's hallucinations, often centered around castration, result from a failure of the primal repression and a subsequent blockage in that assumption of castration which resolves the Oedipal conflict. Transposed into the idiom Lacan developed in support of his insistence on the linguistic basis of unconscious functions, this is to say that psychosis issues from an abolition of the "paternal metaphor," a radical absence of the "Name-ofthe-Father" as anchor to the Symbolic Order.17 Lacan likens the metaphoric "inadequacy" triggered by this foreclosure of the Nom-du-Pere to a hole in the place of the Other. Such a hollowing out of the Symbolic provokes a corresponding hole "at the place of phallic signification"--i.e., in that Imaginary domain where the post-Oedipal subject is constituted through identification with the phallus (_Ecrits_ 558/201). Paradoxically, the psychotic's foreclosure of the Name-of-theFather, and his resultant failure to constitute himself as a subject through entrance into the Symbolic Order, results in his living at the mercy of a certain Symbolic--a Symbolic shorn of its signifying function (through foreclosure's blockage of the judgment of existence) and experienced in psychotic delirium as the Real. In short, the foreclosure of castration founds a certain repetitive logic whereby "that which has not come into the light of the symbolic, appears in the real" (_Ecrits_ 388).
Roustang's account of the slippages whereby Lacan derives his conception of the Real as impossible begins as a gloss on a passage such as the above:
Everything that is refused in the Symbolic order, since all assumption of castration by an I has for him become impossible, reappears in the Real. Or, more succinctly: What cannot be symbolized reappears in the Real. Or again: The Real is constituted by what it is impossible to symbolize. And, if 'impossible' is changed from an adjective into a substantive, the result is: The Real is the impossible--meaning, implicitly, the impossible-to-symbolize. (75/71)
Through a series of generalizations from the specific fact of the psychotic's (pathological) impotence to symbolize the real, in other words, Lacan will arrive at an essence of the real as that which precludes all symbolizations. Clearly disturbed by a glorification of symbolic impotence that he reads as an inversion of the analyst's mandate to bring repressed materials back into symbolic play, Roustang argues that it is the need to consolidate psychoanalysis as a science that ultimately forces Lacan to abandon his earlier conception of the analytic cure as "the assumption of his history by the subject, in so far as it is constituted by the speech addressed to the other" (_Ecrits_ 257/48). "But this initial view has to be rejected," Roustang writes, "since if the Symbolic is appropriated, it will no longer appear in the Real, and so there will be no science" (77/73).
The evident value of Roustang's book lies in the care with which he tracks the various "confusions," "equivocations" and "obfuscations" imposed upon Lacanian theory by the discovery, announced in the 1953 "Rome Discourse," that the unconscious is structured like a language. Having thus set off on a "wrong road" through "a glaring blunder in reasoning"--a confusing of the object of psychoanalytic inquiry with its instrument--Lacan, it is claimed, fell back into a "triumphalism of deadlock" whereby the impasses occasioned by his initial false step were repeatedly transformed into cornerstones for subsequent theorization (108-110,61,117/110-12,57,120; final translation modified). It is precisely in this "triumphalism of deadlock" that Roustang would locate the seductiveness of Lacanian discourse:
Finally, one of the most powerful elements in Lacan's seductiveness lay in the fact that he pushed the contradictions and paradoxes of psychoanalysis to the limit. In his research, the more he encountered impossibilities and impasses, the more he claimed to make them the very cornerstones of his system. This exorbitance, together with a keen sense of the tragic, made him irresistible for French intellectuals. (20/14-5)
To lay the groundwork for my discussion (in Chapter 5) of this crucial linkage between theoretical impasses, the tragic ethos and the beguilement of a certain politique du pire, I should like to return here to the question of psychosis, and specifically to some remarks Lacan made in a 1975 lecture at Yale:
Psychosis is a trial in rigor. In this sense, I would say that I am psychotic. I am psychotic for the sole reason that I have always tried to be rigorous.
This plainly takes us quite far, since it implies that logicians, who tend toward this goal, as well as geometricians, would in the final analysis share in a certain form of psychosis. (_Conferences_ 9)
With this clearly provocative reading of the logician and mathematician as practitioners of a psychotic "trial in rigor," Lacan aimed to radicalize Freud's perception, in the 1915 essay on the _Unconscious_, of an "unwelcome resemblance" between philosophical abstraction and "the schizophrenic's way of thinking" (150). I have shown that, for Lacan, foreclosure of the Nom-du-Pere as signifier of castration leads the psychotic to live that "paternal metaphor" deliriously as the Real. In the Schreber case, for instance, the foreclosed Name-of-(God-)the-Father reappears in that delusional genealogy Schreber constructs for Dr. Flechsig from the names of his ancestors: Gottfried, Gottlieb, Furchtegott, and Daniel (_Ecrits_ 580; Macalpine and Hunter x-xi). The psychotic lives the real, in other words, through a heightened attention to signifiers, or to what Lacan calls "the letter" [la lettre]. But what is this exercise in psychotic abstraction, he would reason, if not an analog to those logical and mathematical practices that refer to the real--rigorously--through formulae "expressed by means of little letters" (_Conferences_ 26). Might we not define psychotic delirium in the very terms we use to define science--as "that which holds itself together, in its relation to the real, thanks to the use of little letters" (_Conferences_ 26)?
Such an attention to the letter helps in turn to account for a dual gesture of inclusion and exclusion proper to the Lacanian "trial in rigor". Roustang speaks of Lacan's equivocations around a series of radically polyvalent concepts such as the "Real" and the "Other" as fostering "an assimilation of the most disparate elements"--unwarrented traversals of historical and disciplinary boundaries whose effect was to suggest that Lacan's work had gathered within itself "the totality of human knowledge" (114/116-7). That is to say, in less polemical terms, that Lacan's texts mimic schizophrenic discourse to strategic effect by subjecting words to the same process of condensation and displacement to which dream-thoughts are subject in the dream-work; "a single word, which on account of its manifold relations is specially suitable, can come to represent a whole train of thought" (Freud _Unconscious_ 145).
To complement this assimilationist movement proper to psychotic delirium--"since, for [the psychotic], everything is a sign of... how well-founded his thought is, as well as an opportunity for him to add to it"-Roustang will find in Lacan's text a second, and equally delirious, tendency to exclude all evidence that might threaten the coherence of its theoretical construction (115/117).
It is of course in the very nature of the scientific discipline to be founded upon an exclusionary delimitation of its field of inquiry; Saussurian semiology, it has often been remarked, is all the more powerful, all the more scientific, for its bracketing of the problem of reference. Still, there is nothing inherently "psychotic" about Saussure's highlighting of the signifier as a means of delimiting a coherent field for linguistic study. Lacan plainly inflects Saussurian semiology in the direction of a psychotic rigor when he moves, in a 1955 gloss of Saussure, from the relatively uncontroversial claim that "signification is realized only on the basis of a grasp of things in their totality" to the more radical assertion that "[t]he signifier alone guarantees the theoretical coherence of the whole as a whole" (_Ecrits_ 414/126; emphasis added). For this phrase conjoins the two component principles of psychotic rigor as Lacan would practice it--namely, attention to "the letter" and the quest for an impossible (logical) coherence.
Catherine Clement has written incisively about Lacan's lifelong fascination with psychotic style and of his use, in the later work, of "the incommunicable strangeness of the delirious text with calculated effect." Into the most hermetic, even hallucinatory of passages, Clement notes, Lacan invariably slipped "a limpid sentence or two" (Vies 73-4/59). On the one hand, therefore, Lacan used a psychotic style to militate against "the reactionary principle operant in the duality of the sick and the healer" (_Ecrits_ 403/115). To be rigorous in the Freudian sense, he insisted, was to erase the line demarcating psychic normalcy from psychic pathology, to practice a necessary complicity. "[B]y revealing itself as akin to a whole gamut of disorders, [psychoanalysis] throws light upon them" (_Ecrits_ 407/119). On the other hand, this complicity was itself strategically motivated. Unlike the psychotic, in other words, Lacan never lost sight of the dialogic situation into which his utterances would fall.
Lacan's critics have been quick to point out the theoretical advantage to be derived from a textuality that mimes psychotic logic. It is not just that his arguments are traversed by what Malcolm Bowie once called "weighty and unargued personal predilections" (_Jacques Lacan_ 148). Rather, these predilections remain impervious to critique insofar as the theory itself operates a radical exclusion of the very terms in which such a critique might be framed. By mimicking a psychotic rigor that was both radically assimilationist (to the point of apparent universality) and radically exclusionary (to the point of foreclosing critique), Lacan gave rise to an analytic theory that was, as he himself insisted, "to be taken or left" (reported in Marini 94/87; translation modified). Alongside his remarkable capacity for analytic "rigor," understood as a mode of listening to the truth of desire as articulated in the Other, we find a no less remarkable denial of that specifically collective form of "rigor" that is founded upon a process of proposition and response--a denial, in short, of theoretical answerability.
By way of illustrating the psychotic coherence of a theorization that can only be "taken or left," I should like to return to Lacan's equation of the "real" with the "impossible". That there is something unavoidably circular about the discourse this equation generates is a point few readers will have missed. For example, it is the essential circularity of Lacan's definitions of the primary process and the real--both are fundamentally "impossible"--that will make it so difficult for readers to determine which exactly he is defining here: "the primary process encounters nothing of the real other than the impossible, which remains, from the Freudian perspective, the best definition one can give of it" (_Ecrits_ 68). Lacan will repeatedly define truth (that is, the truth of the Real) as that which cannot be wholly spoken. At the same time, however, the fact that it is materially "impossible" to speak the truth-"words fail"--is said to demonstrate that truth depends upon the real: "Yet it is through this very impossibility that the truth holds onto the real" (Television 9/3). Finally, notice how much more overtly circular the following definition of the unconscious becomes by virtue of Lacan's substituting "such that in consequence" [pour que de ca] for a more banal "insofar as" [en tant que]:
The unconscious... is only a metaphorical term designating the knowledge that only sustains itself by presenting itself as impossible, such that in consequence it can conform by being real (that is, real discourse). (cited Marini 73/66; translation modified)
This circularity is never more problematic than in those instances where Lacan seeks to reconcile the apparently heterodox senses of the real as radical impasse on the one hand and the real as a suprasensible reality formulated by mathematical and physical laws on the other. One would like to know, for instance, if the privilege of logic and mathemes in the later Lacan should be read as a consequence of our inability to inscribe the real except as an impasse: "The real only manages to be inscribed through an impasse of formalization. That is why I have thought to be able to sketch out a model of it by taking mathematical formalization as my point of departure..." (SXX 85). Or does logic's value lie rather in its ability to retranscribe the real as an impasse, as Lacan suggests in "Peut-etre a Vincennes," where he defines logic as a "science of the real because it places access to the real in the mode of the impossible" (cited Marini 251/243)?
It is Lacan's tragic ethic that shows why, for Lacan, these very questions would be misplaced. For they tend to divorce two moments of that ethic that Lacan, thinking of the teaching analysis, would see as essentially linked: viz., the epiphany of tragic knowledge (the real can only be inscribed as an impasse) and the exemplification of that knowledge for another (the real reinscribed as an impasse). Strictly, I would argue, those circular arguments by which Lacan would (re)constitute the real as "impossible" have little sense apart from that pedagogical process whereby analysts are produced; "[t]he aim of teaching has been and still is," he remarked in 1964, "the training of analysts" (SXI 209/230).
The precise function of theoretical circularity within this pedagogical process was to counter what Althusser once spoke of as the "vicious circle" of ideological miscognition. By deploying a circularity that served to reinforce the specifically psychotic coherence of a theory that could only be "taken or left," Lacan sought to incite his students to an asymptotic approach to that limit of absolute disarray characteristic of the true psychotic. Or more precisely, the function of Lacan's theorizations in the mode of the all-or-nothing was to provoke an epiphany of tragic insight that would approximate psychosis to the extent that it followed a breakdown of those adaptive egofunctions Lacan accused his contemporaries of overvaluating, to ironically pathological effect. In short, Lacan's psychotic "trial in rigor" was meant to put ego psychology on trial, and with it that underlying ideology of happiness and personal liberation he associated with "the American Way of life":
However we regulate the situation of those who have recourse to us in our society, it is only too obvious that their aspiration to happiness will always imply a place where miracles happen, a promise, a mirage of original genius or an opening up of freedom, or if we caricature it, the possession of all women for a man and of an ideal man for a woman. To make oneself the guarantor of the possibility that a subject will in some way be able to find happiness even in analysis is a form of fraud.
There's absolutely no reason why we should make ourselves the guarantors of the bourgeois dream. A little more rigor and firmness are required in our confrontation with the human condition. That is why I reminded you last time that the service of goods or the shift of the demand for happiness onto the political stage has its consequences. The movement that the world we live in is caught up in, of wanting to establish the universal spread of the service of goods as far as conceivably possible, implies an amputation, sacrifices, indeed a kind of puritanism in the relationship to desire that has occurred historically. (SVII 350-1/303)
Here as elsewhere, Lacan chides the ego psychologists for conceiving analysis merely as a process of adaptation to the ever more generalized society of goods. To these "managers" of the soul-Lacan uses the English term--therapy means little more than the production of "imagoes" (i.e., imaginary representations of interpersonal relationships) that are wholly complicitous with the commodity structures and political myths of modern bourgeois society (_Ecrits_ 403/116). In repudiating or failing to recognize that "radical excentricity of the self to itself with which man is confronted," in having recourse to a (quintessentially liberal) notion of compromise that Freud is said to have evoked "as supporting all the miseries that his analysis assuages," ego psychology shows itself to be founded on an ideologically-driven miscognition of "the truth discovered by Freud" (_Ecrits_ 524/171; translation modified).
But all such miscognitions, Lacan writes, "suppose a recognition"; failure to acknowledge the self's necessary inscription within that dialectic whereby desire "burns only in relation to the Law" results, paradoxically, in desire's sacrifice on the pyre of the Law (_Ecrits_ 165). What emerges from the postRevolutionary universalization of the "service of goods"--the advent of an order grounded in selfinterest, acquisition, and the aspiration to happiness--is a paradoxical (and puritanical) "amputation" of human desire. Ego psychology's founding act of meconnaissance results in nothing less than an inversion of its official aim--i.e., the attainment of happinesss.
It is this (miscognitive) amputation of desire, pursuant to the post-Revolutionary "shift of the demand for happiness onto the political stage," that motivates Lacan's perception of American capitalism and state communism as structural doubles. In the Ethics seminar, he speaks of the "communist horizon" as subsuming "everything that has to do with the relationship of man to desire" to the service of goods--as repeating, in other words, the "bourgeois dream." Like "the American Way of life," communism simply perpetuates "the eternal tradition of power, namely, 'Let's keep on working, and as far as desire is concerned, come back later'" (SVII 367/318). That an ideology of liberation should work to precisely inverse effect is an argument whose vicissitudes I examine in the next section, which focuses upon Lacan's various pronouncements on the subject of May '68.
The Perils of Liberation
For Lacan, as for Bataille, it is axiomatic that "[t]ransgression in the direction of jouissance only takes place if it is supported by the oppositional principle, by the forms of the Law" (SVII 208/177). With her desire to know "what's at the bottom of desire," the tragic heroine seeks insight into the ways her being is shaped by a recuperative dynamic inherent to this dialectic of desire and the Law.21 What she learns is that human jouissance depends upon a transgressive movement that ultimately reaffirms the very laws, social norms or taboos against which it is directed.
Strictly speaking, what I have called the logic of recuperation begins on the near side, the all-too-human side, of this tragic insight. It begins with a liberationist flight from tragic knowledge whose effect, Lacan shows, is to aggravate the very alienation of desire it attempts to deny. The logic of recuperation begins, in other words, where the recuperative movement inherent to transgression meets that logic of Verneinung where 'no' means 'yes' and miscognition recognition.
There is a moment in Lacan's _Television_ (1974) where he appears to advance the now-widespread notion that modern capitalism is uniquely capable of appropriating contestatory impulses for the consolidation of its hegemonic power: All the less so because, in relating this misery [the misery of the world] to the discourse of the capitalist, I would denounce the latter.
I would only point out that I cannot do this in all seriousness, since in denouncing it I reinforce it--by normalizing it, that is, perfecting it. (26/13-4; translation modified)
Within a Freudian frame, however, the principal model for conceptualizing the process whereby normative structures are perfected through the recuperation of transgressive tendencies is the superego in its double role as both the agent and the product of repression. The eternalist logic of a formulation like "since in denouncing it I reinforce it" clearly owes more to this model than to more historically-grounded analyses of capitalist hegemony in the Gramscian mold.
The super-ego's centrality for Lacan's thinking on the subject of recuperation becomes apparent later in _Television_, with his critique of the hedonist detour of "sexo-leftism" (Deleuze/Guattari, Lyotard, et al.) (52/31). It is not just that liberationist ideology falsely presupposes the original innocence of a natural desire antedating cultural and familial repression, whereas Lacan will insist that the birth of desire is strictly cotemporaneous with repression. "Sexoleftism" actually redoubles "the curse on sex" to the extent that it mistakes for liberating an injunction whose true origin is the superego: "The superego is fucking articulated as an imperative: Fuck [Jouis]!" (_Television_ 52/31; SXX 10). If liberationist ideology's founding act of meconnaissance thus renders it particularly susceptible to recuperation by the order of culture (call it advanced capitalism if you will), this is because, in repeating the master's injunction, displacing (and hence effectively effacing) the real locus of enunciation, liberationist ideology veils the master's power, thereby fulfilling the foremost precondition to its continuing function as power.
Lacan had made a similar argument in his 1969 _Impromptu_ at Vincennes, when he accused the student militants of playing the role of Spartican slaves to the Pompidou regime: "You don't know what that ['helots'; in French, ilotes] means either? The regime puts you on display; it says: 'Watch them fuck' [Regardez-les jouir]... " (25/128). The liberationist rebel incarnates the plus-de-jouir--a surplus value of jouissance whose function (like that of its Marxian homologue) is to be recuperated by and for the master.22 Like the hysteric, moreover, upon whose contestations psychoanalysis had first constituted itself as a master discourse, the rebel pits his jouissance against the social order, but does so in the name of a higher law with which he unwittingly identifies (Kristeva _Polylogue_ 523). Though Lacan was careful to insist that the master's recuperation of the plus-dejouir is never total, we find him ending his _Impromptu at Vincennes_ by calling on human "experience" to vouch for the inevitable recuperation of revolutionary desires and for the master's eternal return:
If you had a little patience, and if you were willing for our impromptus to continue, I would tell you that the aspiration to revolution has but one conceivable issue, always, the discourse of the master. That is what experience has proved. What you, as revolutionaries, aspire to is a Master. You will have one. (24/126)23
This incident has a well-known epilogue from _Television_. Responding to Jacques-Alain Miller's contention that his claims for the recuperative effect of revolutionary aspirations serve to dishearten his young listeners ("Frankly, you are discouraging the young"), Lacan says:
They got on my back, which was the fashion at the time. I had to take a stand.
A stand whose truth was so clear that they've been crowding into my seminar ever since. Preferring my cool, after all, to the crack of the whip [De preferer, somme toute, a la trique ma bonace]. (53/32)
That Lacan would speak of the revolutionaries of May as coming to prefer his bonace-literally, the calm of the sea before or (as in this case) after a storm--to the cudgels of the C.R.S. clearly serves to illustrate that quest for the least malevolent of masters that Jambet and Lardreau would associate with Freudian political realism (_L'Ange_ 51). But Lacan's response also plays on the adjective bonasse: "d'une bonte, d'une simplicite excessive"; in the _Impromptu_ itself, he had provoked laughter with the unlikely, yet coherent pronouncement: "But I am simplistic!" (23/122).
In this homonymous conjunction of a placid, reflective surface with dumb simplicity (both mute and obtuse), I would read an allusion to that "pure mirror of an unruffled surface" to which Lacan had likened the analyst-pedagogue as that bearer of transferential love he called the "subject-presumed-to-know" [sujet suppose savoir] (_Ecrits_ 109/15). The militant's love for the analyst-pedagogue, Lacan implies, depends upon the latter's functioning as the "objet a incarnate"--that is to say, upon his standing in for the Other as that space where "it [ca] is known," or in this case, where the truth of revolutionary desire is supposed to reside. It is not enough to insist that knowing the truth of such desire means knowing the lack that dooms it to a relentless flight after an impossible satisfaction. Lacan's point here is a corollary of this universal structure of desire: that the knowledge of a fully self-present and potentially consummate revolutionary moment, which the militant originally supposes of the Other, can only be a narcissistic illusion, an inverted reflection of the revolutionary's ego ideal in the placid mirror of the "subject-presumed-to-know."
Let us pause for a moment to consider the place of the Other in the act of revolt, seen as a narcissistically driven process of meconnaissance. Insofar as it is modeled on the Oedipal father, the Other serves as the lynchpin of a cultural order (Lacan's Symbolic) founded on desire's essential lack. As such, it long occupied the crucial role of a impersonal third term serving to disrupt imaginary I/you dyads (mother/child, analyst/patient, etc.) and to throw both partners to the imaginary relationship "onto the axis of the symbolic" (Rose, in Mitchell and Rose 36).
By the early 1970s, however, Lacan had largely abandoned this insistence on the Symbolic's power to counteract the narcissistic effects of imaginary doublings. One effect of this development was a heightened attention to the fundamental ambivalence of the Other, whose position as guarantor of culture seemed increasingly inseparable from its function as a divisive (and hence disutopian) third party to all interhuman communication. But this in turn meant finding narcissistic specularity within that very dialogue with the Other originally thought to constitute a partial break from the Imaginary. Juliet Flower MacCannell describes this conception of the Other with exemplary clarity:
But this mutuality [of shared desire], existing perhaps only as an hypothesis, yields immediately, because of the individuated narcissistic notion of the two needed to share, to a monologic 'pseudo-dialogue' with the Other, the inverse model of the ego. The subject, now isolated within his own ego, 'gives up' or sends his desire to the system, and expects, in exchange, an increase--the same kind of surplus value communal work in the interhuman is supposed to yield: he demands the love seemingly promised by the system....
But the Other does not respond. And in the place of the love demanded, gives nothing. Or rather it gives desire back in inverted form, as an image of love. (68)
No existence in human culture can escape this relation to the Other as "an inverted image of the self," and the idealizing (or ideologizing) of the "narcissistic mode of relationship" on which it is founded (MacCannell 71). Yet it is the rebel-slave, the ilote, who realizes this essentially narcissistic rapport with the Other most acutely. For the very intensity of the revolutionary desire that the rebel sends into the communal system comes to repeat itself, on the far side of the Other's lack of response, in the rebel's love for that Other, seen by Lacan as the specular image of the rebel's ego ideal. It is the radicality of the rebel's expectation of a surplus value conferred by the system, his demand for love in the form of a confirmation of his revolutionary hope, that causes his demand to rebound most intensely as a surplus value recuperable by the Other as guarantor of the order of culture.
What this analysis suggests is that the recuperative and repetitive effects Lacan attributes to political revolt must be traced back to the intense (though not atypical) narcissism of the rebel's relation to the Other. Consider in this respect Lacan's account of the failures of that "naturalist liberation of desire" advocated by the libertines or libre-penseurs, as Enlightenment precursors of the contemporary "sexoleftists" (SVII 12/3). Likening the libertine's transgression to the ordal, that medieval mode of trial by subjection to fire, boiling water or scalding iron (and root of our modern ordeal), Lacan speaks of the summoning of God, as author of nature, to account for
the extreme anomalies whose existence the Marquis de Sade, Mirabeau, and Diderot, among others, have drawn our attention to.... He who submits himself to the ordeal finds at the end its premises, namely, the Other to whom this ordeal is addressed, in the last analysis its Judge. (SVII 12/4)
It is this recourse to God-as-Other-as-ultimate-Judge that signals a reaffirmation of the Law at the heart of the Sadean inversion: "The defense of crime only pushes him into a displaced recognition of the Law. The Supreme Being is restored in and through Maleficence" (_Ecrits_ 790). Such a recuperative reaffirmation of divine Law will in turn find its origin in a narcissism constitutive of the human subject's relation to the Other but heightened in the libertine-specifically, in the structure of the Other as an "inverse mirror-image of the narcissistic ego ideal" (MacCannell 69). The libertine is exemplary to the extent that his actions go beyond Hegelian recognition, whereby "man's desire finds its meaning in the desire... to be recognized by the other," to that desire, as Anthony Wilden writes in another context, "to TAKE THE PLACE of the Other in desire" (_Ecrits_ 268/58; System 22-3). The libertine's folly lies not in the self-alienating desire to desire through the Other, which is coextensive with human existence, but rather in his manifesting that desire while believing he has had done with God. Lacan ultimately debunks this narcissistic dream of radical self-sufficiency by evoking a logic of repetition--i.e., by arguing for the re-emergence of the divine, Paternal edict within the libertine's discourse to his victims.
In Chapter 1, I spoke of the logics of failed revolt as degraded or truncated dialectics. The following section further explores that status by returning to the neo-Hegelian dynamics of Lacan's early work, and specifically to his rewriting of Hegel's schone Seele in the 1946 "Propos sur la causalite psychique."24
Toward the Beautiful Soul
Near the end of _L'agressivite en psychanalyse_ (1948), Lacan speaks of the modern cult of the ego, and the "utilitarian conception of man that reinforces it," as culminating in "an isolation of the soul ever more akin to its original dereliction" (_Ecrits_ 122/27). The "neurosis of self-punishment" characteristic of "the 'emancipated' man of modern society" reveals, and is revealed by, an "original splitting [dechirement]" through which "at every moment he [that is, 'man' in general] constitutes his world by his suicide" (_Ecrits_ 124/28). Living his subjectivity not as a Je but as a moi, through a series of imaginary fixations that cause him to mistake the truth of his desire, so-called emancipated man repeats to the point of folly what Lacan calls a "primordial Discord between the moi and being," an ineluctable beance whose earliest lived manifestations include birth trauma, the effects of that physiological "prematurity" characteristic of the human newborn (lack of motor coordination, etc.) and the subsequent trauma of severance from the mother (_Ecrits_ 96,187/14).
Lacan had spoken to these issues two years earlier in a lecture at the Bonneval hospital entitled "Propos sur la causalite psychique." In this text, Lacan attempts to refute the organicist pathogeny of Henry Ey--and specifically Ey's conception of delirium as indicative of an individual's failed adaptation to reality--by tracing the causality of madness back to the primordial beance. We pick up Lacan's argument immediately after a passage in which he has used Freud's death drive as an associative pivot by which to move, quite vertiginously, from the primacy of visual recognition and the will to suicide in the Narcissus myth to the traumata of separation, and finally to the spool game by which Freud's grandson replayed these in a "liberating repetition." At the beginning of this process of [psychic] development, therefore, we find a linkage between the primordial, essentially alienated moi and the essentially suicidal act of primitive sacrifice--that is to say, the fundamental structure of madness itself.
Thus the primordial discord between the moi and being would be the keynote whose overtones would reverberate throughout the various phases of psychic life, the function of which would be to resolve that discord by developing it.
Any resolution of this discord through an illusory conflation of reality with the ideal would resonate to the depths of the imaginary nexus of narcissistic, suicidial aggression. (_Ecrits_ 187)
It may go without saying that the threshold between the "essentially suicidal" repetitions of the death drive in the Fort/Da game and that narcissistic self-aggression attending the illusory attempt to realize the ideal is both narrow and shifting. This passage plainly sets the suicidal and narcissistic confusion of real and ideal off from the more canny strategy of resolving the primordial discord "by developing it"--a strategy common, as I shall argue later in this chapter, to Freud's grandson and Lacan alike. But in Lacan's text, the proof of the death drive as primitive sacrifice, as the structuring principle of primary masochism, falls to that same Narcissus myth that motivates his critique of those unwitting masochists who take ideal illusion for reality. What is the status of a critique of narcissistic self-aggression, one is tempted to ask, that would appear to assume the inevitability of such aggression in the form of the death instinct?
My analysis, several pages back, of Lacan's recourse to the logic of recuperation suggests one answer to this conundrum. Lacan would reserve his critique for those who, in the frenzy of their quest for a free and self-sufficient subjectivity, tend actively to aggravate that miscognition endemic to the formation of the Ego--i.e., for those whose words and deeds obey the logic of Verneinung. His critique of Sartrean existentialism clearly operated along these lines:
But unfortunately that philosophy grasps negativity only within the limits of a selfsufficiency [self-suffisance] of consciousness, which, as one of its premises, links to the meconnaissances that constitute the ego, the illusion of autonomy to which it entrusts itself... [E]xistentialism must be judged by the explanations it gives of the subjective impasses that have indeed resulted from it. (_Ecrits_ 99/6)
From his reading of Hegel, and particularly from the dialectic of labor in the master/slave relation, Lacan will take the conviction that true liberty is possible only in dialectical relation with servitude:
... the very being of man must effect, through a series of crises, the synthesis of his particularity and his universality, to the point of universalizing that particularity itself. This is to say that, in the movement that leads man to increasingly adequate self-consciousness, his liberty becomes inseparable from the development of his servitude. (_Ecrits_ 182)
If Lacan's later work tends to avoid the Hegelian diction and paradigms of the 1946 _Propos_, it will nonetheless remain faithful to the underlying premise that human liberty, such as it is, depends upon a decisive passage through the other, epitomized by the therapeutic of crisis that is the analytic situation. Lacan's life-long critique of narcissism is coherent, in other words, to the extent that it defines the narcissist as one who denies that his desire, and ipso facto his liberty, is necessarily mediate.
But this critique is ambivalent none the less. Lacan could be merciless in his contempt for the modern ideologies of the self, and their contribution to what he once called "the 'great winged hornet' of narcissistic tyranny" (_Ecrits_ 122/27). But if the narcissist is thus the product of a specific historical moment-the age of bourgeois democratism--he is also seen to epitomize that all-too-human madness of attempting to rid human existence of the necessary mediations under which it labors. Lacan will in fact play this second, eternalist form of narcissism off against its more historicallyand culturally-bound counterpart. Thus, in the _Propos_, he deliberately ventures the card of ancient wisdom against Henry Ey's bourgeois liberationist conception of mental illnesses as affronts to, and shackles upon, human liberty:
Finally, I believe that in attributing the causality of madness to that unfathomable decision whereby the human being understands or fails to recognize his liberation, to that snare of fate that deceives him about a liberty he has not in fact won, I am formulating nothing other than the law of our becoming as expressed in the ancient phrase. (_Ecrits_ 177)
In this, Lacan's eternalist mode, the risk of madness--viz., of narcissistic self-aggression-appears as nothing less than coextensive with the human experience inasmuch as that risk must be measured by the seductive power of those imaginary identifications on which "man stakes both his truth and his being":
Far from being contingent upon the fragile nature of his organism, madness is thus the permanent virtuality of a fissure opened up in his essence.... And not only can the being of man not be understood without madness, it would not be the being of man if it did not bear madness within itself as the limit of its liberty. (_Ecrits_ 175-6)
On the one hand, as Lacan will argue against Sartre, to conceive the human project as that of fully realizing personal liberty is properly mad. But on the other, there can be no liberty, indeed no human value, except on the margins of madness. Revolutionary desire, to take the case of most interest to me here, may be pure folly. But folly of this sort is the necessary condition for "the being of man." Between these two poles--corresponding to those of tragic insight and comic flight--there is no place for the stable critique, only for an endless oscillation between the critical and the complicitous, a selfconscious playing of the limit between madness and liberty that Lacan equates with the taking of risks.
This ambivalence is particularly acute in his analyses of those scenarios of paradoxical self-punishment that he variously refers to, conflating two moments of the Hegelian dialectic of Spirit, as the "law of the heart" [Hegel's Gesetz des Herzens] or the "beautiful soul" [belle ame; in Hegel, schone Seele]. Whatever element of critique we must read into Lacan's reference to the Moscow trials as an instance of narcissistic self-aggression--"I could have... looked for the law of the heart at work in the fate that leads the old revolutionary of 1917 to the defendant's table in the Moscow trials" (_Ecrits_ 175)--must therefore be counterbalanced by his insistence throughout the _Propos_ on reading the "heart"'s infatuated identification with an ego-ideal thought to be wholly unmediated "as the human being's relationship to the very best in him, since that ideal represents his liberty" (_Ecrits_ 172). If Lacan developed the most rigorous modern critique of that narcissistic presumption, or "frenzy of self-conceit," that attends to the workings of the "heart"; if he elaborated a tragic ethic presupposing an awareness of the necessarily mediate nature of human desire, achieved through a "synthesis of [the subject's] particularity and universality"; it is nonetheless true that, both in his dealings with the institutions of psychoanalysis and through the madness of his style, he repeatedly sought to recast himself in the ostensibly unmediated role of the outcast rebel. "He was alone," Catherine Clement writes, "like the hero whose destiny he tried to explain, hero of both the law of the heart and the insanity of presumption: the rebel brigand, the Robin Hood of psychoanalysis" (Vies 127/109). It is with this ambivalence in mind that I would turn to a closer examination of Lacan's appropriation of the Hegelian paradigm.
In the _Phenomenology of Spirit_, "The Law of the Heart and the Insanity of Self-Conceit" finds its place in a dialectic whereby rational self-consciousness raises itself from mere self-certainty to the level of truth through its own practical activity. More specifically, it represents the negative or miscognitive moment in the dialectical movement from the pure singularity of the pleasure-seeker to that true consciousness of universality that is the realization of Virtue.
The specific story Hegel tells is that of a sentimental, universalist reformer, both oppressed by "a violent ordering of the world" which contradicts the dictates of his own heart and cognizant of the sufferings of "a humanity that does not follow the law of the heart, but is subjected to an alien necessity" (221). To demonstrate the excellence of his nature while promoting the welfare of mankind, the individual seeks to impose the law of his heart as a universal ordinance, as the law of all hearts. But his attempt fails when "others do not find in this content the fulfillment of the law of their hearts, but rather that of someone else" (224). Although born in reaction to the pure individuality of the hedonist (more precisely, to the paradoxical loss of individuality in the hedonist's enslavement to pleasure), the heart's project of sentimental reform therefore ends up repeating a sterile individualism to the extent that it mistakes its own being-for-self for a universal law: "Individuality is not yet dislodged from its seat, and the unity of both has not been brought about by the mediating agency of the individuality itself, has not yet been achieved by discipline" (222).
At the same time, however, consciousness learns from this experience the nature of reality as a vivified, universal ordinance; it "attains to being the alienation of itself" (224-5). As a result, consciousness finds itself athwart a contradiction: what is real and essential for consciousness in general is plainly not so for the heart. The law of the heart therefore "reveals itself to be this inner perversion of itself, to be a deranged consciousness which finds that its essential being is immediately non-essential, its reality immediately an irreality" (225). Madness begins, in other words, with the collision of two forms of essentiality, with the perception of an intolerable contradiction between reality for consciousness in general and reality for the heart:
The heart-throb for the welfare of humanity therefore passes into the ravings of an insane self-conceit, into the fury of consciousness to preserve itself from destruction and it does this by expelling from itself the perversion which it is itself, and by striving to look on it and express it as something else. It therefore speaks of the univeral order as a perversion of the law of the heart and of its happiness, a perversion invented by fanatical priests, gluttonous despots and their minions... It is the heart, however, or the individuality of consciousness that would be immediately universal, that is itself the source of this derangement and perversion, and the outcome of its action is merely that its consciousness becomes aware of this contradiction.... This its law ought to have reality; the law, then, is for it qua reality, qua valid ordinance, its own aim and essential nature; but reality, that very law qua valid ordinance, is on the contrary immediately for it something which is not valid. (226)
With this portrait of a consciousness that would impose its law as a universal, but that ultimately loses contact with reality through the outward projection of its inner perversion, Hegel anticipates later Freudian work on the mechanisms of defense typical to paranoid delirium.
The rebellious and self-certain Spirit exemplified by the heart reappears later in the Phenomenology in the guise of that base, judgmental consciousness Hegel calls the schone Seele. Hard-hearted and misanthropic where the heart was sentimental and philanthropic, far more inclined to vaporous, impotent abstractions than to grand reformist syntheses, the beautiful soul nonetheless shares with the heart an overriding will to maintain the purity of its being-for-itself:
It lives in dread of besmirching the splendour of its inner being by action and an existence; and, in order to preserve the purity of its heart, it flees from contact with the actual world, and persists in its self-willed impotence to renounce its self which is reduced to the extreme of ultimate abstraction.... (400)
It is this flight into the desert of "selfwilled impotence" that ultimately drives the beautiful soul into madness:
The 'beautiful soul', lacking an actual existence, entangled in the contradiction between its pure self and the necessity of that self to externalize itself and change itself into an actual existence... is disordered to the point of madnesss, wastes itself in yearning and pines away in consumption.... (407)
I would argue that Lacan's tendency to conflate those two negative moments in the dialectic of the Spirit that are the "law of the heart" and the "beautiful soul" derives from the way each links a certain delirious self-certainty in the face of contradiction to a miscognition whose recuperative and/or repetitive effects Hegel plainly delineates. Just as the heart's mistaking of his own pleasure for universal law caused his reformism to repeat the sterile individualism of the pleasure-seeker, so does the beautiful soul's critique of the "hypocrisy" of the active consciousness fall into "the hypocrisy that wants its judging to be taken for an actual deed, and instead of proving its rectitude by actions, does so by fine sentiments" (403). This repetition, endemic to the beautiful soul's denunciation of the other's hypocrisy, works in turn to recuperative effect. For in failing to transcend its purely individual basis, such a denunciation legitimates the (ostensibly hypocritical) law of the other:
In denouncing hypocrisy as base, vile, and so on, it [the universal consciousness of the beautiful soul] is appealing in such judgement to its own law, just as the evil consciousness appeals to its law. For the former comes forward in opposition to the latter and thereby as a particular law. It has, therefore, no superiority over the other law, rather it legitimizes it. And this zeal does the very opposite of what it means to do; for it shows that what it calls true or genuine duty and which ought to be universally acknowledged, is something not acknowledged; in so doing it concedes to the other an equal right to be for itself. (402-3)
Here, after this brief excursus into Hegel, is how the law of the heart appears in Lacan's "Propos":
This miscognition reveals itself in the act of revolt, through which the madman seeks to impose the law of his heart upon what appears to him to be the disorder of the world--an 'insane' endeavour... insofar as the subject fails to recognize in this worldly disorder the very manifestation of his actual being. What he feels to be the law of his heart is in fact nothing but the inverted, virtual image of that same being. He thus fails to recognize it doubly, and precisely in order to divide actuality from virtuality. Now he can only escape his actuality through this virtuality. His being is thus caught in a circle, unless he breaks out of that circle through some act of violence in which, striking a blow at what he takes to be disorder, he strikes himself by means of a social counter-blow.
Such is the general formula for madness as one finds it in Hegel.... (_Ecrits_ 171-2)
The madman seeks to break out of the actuality of his disordered being, which he mistakes for the disorder of the external world, through his recourse to the law of the heart. But this virtual law is nothing less than the mirror image of his actual disorder, as the madman obscurely recognizes when, with the lucidity of folly, he strikes at his own being through the intermediary of a castigating and vengeful society.
On the following page, Lacan returns to this striking linkage of specular doubling and masochistic effect--now under the aegis of the belle ame--in a discussion of that most implacable of French cultural icons, Moliere's Alceste:
The fact is that Alceste is mad and Moliere portrays him as such--quite deservedly since, within his beautiful soul, Alceste does not recognize the extent to which he himself contributes to the disorder against which he revolts.... Alceste is beside himself on hearing Orente's sonnet because he recognizes in it his own situation... and that fool who is his rival appears to him as his own image in the mirror. The madman's remarks to which he then gives vent clearly reveal that he seeks to strike out at himself. For that matter, each time one of their counter-blows shows him that he has managed to do so, he suffers its effect with great delight. (_Ecrits_ 173-5)
Lacan frequently links the self-aggression of the "misanthropic belle ame" to the narcissism endemic to post-Revolutionary, utilitarian culture. Thus, in the "Rome Discourse," he will speak of the moi of modern man as having taken form "in the dialectical impasse of the belle ame who does not recognize the very reason of his being in the disorder he denounces in the world" (_Ecrits_ 281/70; translation modified).25 Once again, however, Lacan's critique of narcissism proves fundamentally ambivalent. For it is precisely in his discussion of Alceste that Lacan will speak of "madness" as "the permanent virtuality of a fissure opened up in [man's] essence"; the "being of man," you will recall, would not be the "being of man" if it did not bear within itself madness--exemplified since Hegel by the belle ame--as "the limit of its liberty" (_Ecrits_ 176).
To gauge the full extent of Lacan's rewriting of Hegel, we need examine the ways in which his insistence, first on the specularity of the belle ame's relations with a supposedly disordered world, and second on the ultimately masochistic effect of those relations, elaborates on suggestions within the Hegelian text, while nonetheless blocking the latter's dialectical movement. I have shown that, in Hegel, the beautiful soul's denunciation of the hypocrisy of the active consciousness has the paradoxical (and potentially recuperative) result of conceding "to the other an equal right to be for itself." In the so-called logic of failed revolt, such a demonstration of recuperative effect would mark a rhetorical coup de grace. But Hegel's dialectical machine marches relentlessly onward: "[t]his judgement has, however, at the same time another aspect from which it becomes the way to a resolution of the antithesis confronting it... " (_Phenomenology_ 403). In denouncing the other's hypocrisy, the passive, universal and judgmental consciousness of the beautiful soul "places itself... alongside the first [active, individual, evil] consciousness, and the latter, through this likeness, comes to see its own self in this other consciousness" (403). Specifically, in remarking that the passivity of the judgmental consciousness places it "in contradiction with itself as the absolute will of duty," the active consciousness sees its own obtuseness to duty as reflected in an other for whom "the side of reality is [likewise] distinct from the words uttered... " (403). By seeing itself in the mirror of the other, consciousness paves the way for the univeralization of its particularity, for the discovery of its true destination within a social community governed by the consciousness of duty as a universal. For Hegel, the specular moment marks a crucial step in the preparation of the dialectical Aufhebung.
Much the same can be said of that moment in the _Phenomenology_ that authorizes Lacan's analysis of the masochism underlying the heart's oblique solicitation of society's punishment.26 Whereas for Lacan the force of society's backlash against the heart's mad remarks expends itself in the "delight" of the heart's submission to it, Hegel specifically sees a dialectical form of recuperation growing out of collective resistence to the law of the heart:
The established laws are defended against the law of an individual, because they are not an unconscious, empty and dead necessity, but a spiritual universality and Substance, in which those in whom this spiritual substance has actuality live as individuals, and are conscious of themselves.... (227)
I would argue that Lacan's refusal of such a dialectical movement, his reading of the beautiful soul scenario as a "dialectical impasse," must be seen to follow from the privileged role he accords to psychotic meconnaissance, in the formation of the Ego as in his theory as a whole. In a gloss of Lacan's claim that madness objectifies the subject "in a language without dialectic," Anthony Wilden has spoken to the extraordinary, yet surreptitious privilege of the psychotic model in founding that oscillatory movement characteristic of life in the "dialectical impasse":
For Lacan, the Language 'without dialectic' is to be found in schizophrenic or psychotic language, where a 'regression' to treating words like things leaves the speaker in the grip of an uncontrollable shifting between opposites in which binary differential elements (for example, inside, outside; good, bad; O, A) are not 'anchored' to the 'points de capiton' supposed by Lacan's theory of the paternal metaphor. (_Language_ 129)
The Hegelian dialectic avoids the multiplication of impasses by focusing neither on the self that carries out an action nor on the particular form of its act, but rather on a movement of Spirit driven by the endlessly renascent dialectic of the particular and the universal. As the result of an Aufhebung initiated by a reactive movement on the part of the unhappy consciousness's dialectical counterpart--the active consciousness for the belle ame, the hedonist for the heart--the sufferings of unhappy consciousness are ultimately taken back into Spirit itself; "[t]he wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind" (_Phenomenology_ 407). But mediating between the particular and the universal, seeing an overarching sameness at the heart of the other's difference, is precisely what the psychotic, who has a libidinal stake in maintaining his absolute difference, can never do. In the "dialectical impasse" that is the Lacanian belle ame, all wounds resemble Amafortas's, condemned to being eternally reopened, in the impotent expectation of divine grace.
The Fool and the Knave
I began this chapter by attributing a striking divergence of opinion on the political import of Lacanian theory to Lacan's paradoxical ability to inspire those same revolutionary desires whose impasses he persistently delineated. This ambivalence of effect then proved consistent with the terms of a psychoanalytic ethic that foresaw the return of a specifically comic flight of desire on the far side of tragic being-for-death; the intellectual "ear" to which Lacan spoke was thus not "tragic" so much as "tragicomic".
Following discussion of the ways Lacan sought to compel assent to the accursedness of human desire by mimicking psychotic rigor, I turned to his critique of a series of liberal and/or liberationist flights from rigor. Most notably, I showed how Lacan traced the various repetitive and recuperative effects he attributed to the liberationist project to a narcissism endemic to modern, post-Revolutionary culture. Indeed, it was the liberationist rebel's demand for a confirmation of his revolutionary hope that came to epitomize that narcissistic relation to the Other characteristic of the modern, hypertrophic Ego. At the same time, however, Lacan read the narcissistic self-aggression of the rebellious belle ame as exemplifying a madness that was both the realization of a primordial beance and the limiting condition of human liberty. Human value, he suggested, resides on the margins of such a madness.
I shall return to this final paradox in Chapter 5, where I show how Lacan's reading of the belle ame inspired the revolutionary jusqu'au-boutisme of two of his self-professed disciples, Christian Jambet and Guy Lardreau. To conclude the present chapter, I would turn once again to the Ethics seminar, and specifically to that moment in which Lacan speaks of giving "some clarification of the political meaning of this turning point in ethics for which we, the inheritors of Freud, are responsible" (214/182). Exemplary to my argument in multiple ways, this passage speaks particularly to the question of a certain duplicity inherent to the Lacanian position on transference love, and hence to that narcissistic bond uniting the would-be revolutionary to the analyst-pedagogue as "subject-presumed-to-know".
The passage I have in mind begins with Lacan borrowing two terms from Elizabethan theatre, the "fool" and the "knave," in order to say some "categorical," but nonetheless "illuminating," things about (political) "intellectuals":
The "fool" [English in the original] is an innocent, a simpleton, but truths issue from his mouth that are not simply tolerated but adopted, by virtue of the fact that this "fool" is sometimes clothed in the insignia of the jester. And in my view it is a similar happy shadow, a similar fundamental "foolery" that accounts for the importance [fait le prix] of the left-wing intellectual. (215/182)
The "knave"--again he uses the English--Lacan likens to what Stendhal's Lucien Leuwen had dubbed le coquin fieffe. Figure for the right-wing intellectual, the knave is Everyman with an extra dash of resolve, he who will not shrink before the consequences of "what is called realism--namely, the ability to admit (when necessary) that he's a crook [canaille]" (215/183; translation modified).
Having thus presented the types of the left-wing and right-wing intellectual, Lacan proceeds:
After all, a crook is certainly worth a fool, at least for the entertainment he gives, if the result of gathering crooks into a herd did not inevitably lead to a collective foolery. This is what makes the politics of right-wing ideology so apt to produce despair. (215/183; translation modified)
A certain number of the young psychiatrists in Lacan's audience at the Hopital Sainte-Anne, we can be sure, would have been pleased with this apparent wave of the left hand. For them, Lacan quickly follows with the right:
But what is not sufficiently noted is that by a curious chiasma, the "foolery" that constitutes the individual style of the left-wing intellectual gives rise quite nicely to a collective "knavery," a collective black-guardism. (215/183; translation modified)We can only imagine the frustration of those who, having anxiously waited for the master to show his political hand, would have discovered themselves in the face of a chiastic impasse.
Neither left nor right. Neither foolery (which results in collective knavery) nor knavery (which breeds foolery). By 1960, this neither/nor structure had long been associated with a series of (primarily leftist) attempts to think one's way outside political bipolarities, most recently by such forerunners of the French New Left as Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort.27 But it could be argued that dismissing the parties to the Cold War back to back, as Lacan would explicitly do later in this same seminar, was also at the time an eminently Gaullist gesture.
Ultimately, however, the neither/nor structure implicit in Lacan's chiastic impasse is only indirectly political. First and foremost, it is a reflection of the Lacan's principle of neutrality or nonintervention, his renunciation of all prescriptive therapeutics; "Ne uter," Catherine Clement reminds us in evoking this principle, means "neither one nor the other" (_Vies_ 164/141). Behind Lacan's apparent refusal to cast his lot for the fools or for the knaves, we must read that mistrust of analytic power that had led him to stress the analysand's quest for the truth of her desire over the analyst's power to effect a cure (Clement _Vies_ 165/142).
But the chiastic doubling of fools and knaves proves unstable precisely on account of its inherent stability; the chiastic impasse exists to be conjured away. No sooner has Lacan formulated his suggestion of analytic neutrality than he shifts to a more personal, almost confessional, mode of address. In the unruffled surface of the analyst as mirror, weekly magazines appear:
What I am proposing here for you to reflect on has, I don't deny, the character of a confession. Those of you who know me are aware of my reading habits; you know which weeklies lie around on my desk. The thing I enjoy most [Ce qui me fait le plus jouir], I must admit, is the spectacle of collective knavery exhibited in them--that innocent chicanery, not to say calm impudence, which allows them to express so many heroic truths without wanting to pay the price. It is thanks to this that what is affirmed concerning the horrors of Mammon on the first page leads, on the last, to purrs of tenderness for this same Mammon. (215-6/183)
We are in 1960, in a time of leftist selfcriticism--Edgar Morin's influential Autocritique had appeared in March of 1959--as well as of growing disillusionment with a Communist Party compromised by its chronically weak opposition to the Algerian war. Lacan, who was never a leftist, confesses to privileging the knavery of collected fools over the foolery of assembled knaves. Specifically, he finds a certain jouissance in the spectacle of a collective duplicity tracable to what he would later analyze as the communist subservience to the (liberal, bourgeois) "service of goods."
But the leftist spectacle is in fact doubly privileged. Alongside the communists's repetition of the "bourgeois dream," one finds the spectacle of that individual fool who, in not yielding on his political desire, proves far more seductive than the realist knave; out of the mouth of fools, Lacan remarks, operative truths are known to come.
The apparent unreadability of Lacan's "politics" derives from a certain "monstrous" coupling underlying this double predilection for the leftist spectacle. If Lacan is drawn to the leftist fool out of respect for the truth of revolutionary desire, he is no less the proponent of a knavish realism that allows him to hear the left-wing collectivity's tender "purrs". What Lacan will call a "step-by-step" approach implicit to the psychoanalytic ethic accepts a measured dose of knavish realism so as not to fall into the metaphysical knavery of those contemporaries who, "under the guise of the truth about truth, [let] a great many things by which truly ought not to be let by" (216/184).
His realism is thus strategic, but at the same time it is the condition of his jouissance. Strictly, Lacan's bliss resides neither in the spectacle of individual desire nor in that of collective duplicity, but in the gap or fissure that splits the subject caught between foolish desire and knavish realism. To those enmeshed in what Lacan sees as the narcissistic aggressivity endemic to a polarized political sphere, such a blissful coupling can only appear perverse. This would of course be precisely right, if by "perversity" one understands (with Roland Barthes) an erotic intermittence deriving from the very structure of the split subject as Lacan himself had theorized it.28
In her Jacques Lacan (1986), Marcelle Marini has argued that, of Lacan's many verbal styles, the most beautiful and forceful is the preacherly one:
He harangues his listeners, painting pictures that strike their imaginations so as the better to convert them; he apostrophizes, calls down curses, and then, at just the right moment, lets flicker in the distance the fleeting glimmer of a hope. (97/90-1; translation modified)
I would make this point in terms of the erotic gap between foolish desire and knavish realism. In his Seminars as in the _Ecrits_, Lacan will repeatedly textualize the fissure between desire and realism--or, if you will, between revolutionary hope and revolutionary despair--in a manner intended to impress upon his addressees the truth of desire itself as a perverse, tragicomic oscillation, one that temporalizes (and textualizes) the paradox of desire as an endless quest for a "way out" of the very impasse that constitutes it. Lacan's "politics" (such as they are) are unthinkable outside of such a specifically textual, vacillatory movement.
A relatively simple form of this tragicomic oscillation appears in Lacan's remarks on the question of revolutionary change in his 1969 lecture at Vincennes. When a student suggests that Lacan's project bears no resemblance to the student militants' "will to change society and, among other things, to destroy the University," Lacan insists otherwise ("Impromptu" 24/125). But having spoken of interrupting his seminar during the May events "to show my sympathy for what was astir and which continues... moderately," Lacan follows with this warning:
Contestation makes me think of something that was invented one day, if my memory is right, by my (late) good friend, Marcel Duchamp: 'the bachelor makes his chocolate by himself.' Watch out lest the demonstrator make chocolate of himself [que le contestataire ne se fasse pas chocolat lui-meme]. (22/119; translation modified)
This rhythmic conjuring of impassestructures (again, in all senses of the word "conjuring") will in fact punctuate even the most highly written of Lacan's texts. After speaking (in the "Rome Discourse") of the modern self as taking form "in the dialectical impasse of the belle ame," Lacan writes:
But a way out is offered to the subject for the resolution of that impasse in which his discourse raves. Communication can be validly established for him in the common task of science and in the posts that it commands in our universal civilization.... (_Ecrits_ 2812/70; translation modified)
As one reads on, of course, it becomes clear that Lacan is being ironic; the function of that "profuse culture" that gives modern man detective novels and group therapy "will give him the wherewithal to forget his own existence and his death, at the same time to miscontrue [meconnaitre] the particular meaning of his life in communication"--to block, in short, the eventual epiphany of tragic knowledge (282/70). Not only is the participation in culture not a "way out" of the psychotic impasse, it actually repeats it. For, like psychotics, the "hollow men" of modern culture-Lacan cites here the opening lines to Eliot's poem--do not speak, but are spoken by, language.
With this claim of repetition, the cycle begins anew:
This is not to say, however, that our culture pursues its course in the shadowy regions beyond creative subjectivity. On the contrary, creative subjectivity has not ceased in its struggle to renew the never-exhausted power of symbols in the human exchange that brings them to the light of day.... And another look, probably no less illusory, would make us accentuate this opposing trait: that its symbolic character has never been more manifest. It is the irony of revolutions that they engender a power all the more absolute in its exercise, not because it is more anonymous, as people say, but because it is more reduced to the words that signify it. And more than ever, on the other hand, the strength of the churches resides in the language that they have been able to maintain.... (283/72)
Here as before, Lacan follows the promise of an escape from confinement--in madness, in culture, in language, etc.--with a reaffirmation of that confinement justified by a logic of repetition or (as in this case) recuperation. In the subsequent paragraph, Lacan will then circle back to science, and particularly to his own hope of formalizing psychoanalysis so as to "assure our discipline its place among the sciences."
To read Lacan's text with an ear to its tragicomic rhythms is, admittedly, a crude way of proceeding--one that perforce misses the subtle particularities of Lacan's highly calculated argumentative meanders. In the passage just cited, for instance, Lacan's general statement on the "irony of revolutions"--revolutions engender a power all the more absolute for being reduced to the words that signify it--alludes specifically to the reduction of Freud's "Copernican Revolution" in those "churches" that were the established psychoanalytic societies.29 However questionable its strictly hermeneutic merit, however, this form of reading has a serious stake. For it allows us to see how Lacan mimics, as a sort of argumentative ground bass, an oscillation built into the very structure of the desiring subject.
In his Seminaire XI, Lacan speaks of a certain exercise in "alienation" in which a process of "endless repetition" will serve to manifest "the radical vacillation of the subject" (216/239). He could have been referring to the experience of hearing the tragicomic rhythms of the Lacanian text; in fact, he was speaking of the Fort/Da game. In that game, you will recall, the child's gesture of expulsion (Fort) serves to constitute the object (the mother, as figured by the spool) as other, external to the pleasure-ego, "lost"-in short, as an object of desire. As Juliet Mitchell reminds us, any satisfaction the child may subsequently attain from that object "will always contain this loss within it" (Mitchell and Rose 6). The function of Lacan's tragicomic rhythms, I would suggest, is to place his readers in the position of Freud's grandson-expelling and retrieving their hopes for a "way out" of the cultural bind, endlessly repeating (in a specifically temporalized form) the Mobius logic of a human desire that is constituted only through the impossibility of its satisfaction. It was such an experience of repetition that Lacan had in mind when, in his "Propos sur la causalite psychique," he counterposed a suicidal confusion of the real and the ideal (characteristic, he thought, of the revolutionary intellectual) with the more canny strategy of resolving the primordial beance "by developing it" (_Ecrits_ 187). Human desire is an impasse, specifically a tragicomic one. But as an impasse desire opens out onto the infinite process of its unfolding through the production of what Lacan called, in another context, "impasse-bound detourings" (SXX 16).30 The only true "solution" to the impasse that is human desire, in other words, was to "supplement" or "develop" it through deployment of specific impasses endlessly conjured forth and conjured away--in the process of training future analysts or, as Lacan would insist in the final years, in writing. It is in this sense that one could say of politics what Lacan said of sexual relations, that "insofar as it doesn't work, it works nonetheless" (SXX 34).
In an argumentative coda destined to uncover the "utility" of his "crude" or summary reflections on the fool and the knave, Lacan recounts the dream of one of his friends and patients. In this dream, which bears the traces of "some yearning or other stimulated in him by the formulations of this seminar," someone cries out, referring to Lacan: "But why doesn't he tell the truth about the truth?" (216/184). Having noted that his patients and students often express such an "impatience," Lacan concludes: "I am content to tell the truth of the first stage, and to proceed step by step" (216/184).
As an example of what he calls un pas vrai--an (un)true step; a "true" step in mid-speak--Lacan then refers back to that argument that had served as a bridge between the dream anecdote and his earlier "confession" of personal bliss--namely, his characterization of Freud as an anti-progressive humanitarian:
Freud was perhaps not a good father, but he was neither a crook nor an imbecile. That is why one can say of him two things which are disconcerting in their connection and their opposition. He was a humanitarian--who after checking his works will contest that?--and we must acknowledge it, however discredited the term might be by the crooks on the right. But, on the other hand, he wasn't a simpleton, so that one can say as well, and we have the texts to prove it, that he was no progressive [progressiste]. (SVII 215-6/183)
Having conjured away the neither/nor structure implicit in the chiastic doubling of fools and knaves with a story of personal bliss, Lacan had thus revived that structure in reference to Freud. Neither (rightist) crook nor (leftist) fool, Freud occupies the puzzlingly oxymoronic space of the anti-progressive humanitarian. As such, he serves to call attention to the narcissistic underpinnings of a post-Revolutionary leftist mythology (stunningly practiced, for example, by Jules Michelet) that had ritualized the linkage of humanitarian concern with the notion of historical progress.31
Lacan's excursus on the "political sense" of that ethic entrusted to Freud's heirs leads him therefore to the neutralizing practice of telling the truth "step by step" so as to avoid the metaphysical knavery of those who would tell the truth about truth. And yet it is a "yearning" for just such a truth, left in Lacan's patient "by the formulations of this seminar," that had prompted Lacan's reflections on metaphysical knavery. In the opening of this chapter, I suggested that it was Lacan's relentless critique of the demand for the One (truth, meaning, system, Revolution, etc.) that caused him to focalize the desire for the One; Lacan became the "subject-presumed-to-know," in other words, by virtue of his attempts to undermine the image of the analyst as one who knows.32 That he was in fact fully aware of this specific instance of Mobius logic is clear from the present passage. For by framing his critique of metaphysical knavery with the tale of a metaphysical thirst inspired by his seminar, Lacan effectively rehearses that paradoxical process whereby the analyst's critique of Imaginary totalizations (specifically, political ones) gives rise to the equally Imaginary supposition that the analyst possesses total (political) knowledge.
In his first Seminar at the Ecole Normale, just one year after an ad hoc commission of the International Psychoanalytic Association had accused him of manipulating the transference love of his students and patients, Lacan asked what is meant by the phrase, to "liquidate" the transference. Since that relationship between subject and Other that drives the transference is properly interminable, he concluded, this can only mean liquidating that "deception by which the transference tends to be exercised in the direction of the closing up of the unconscious" (SXI 241/267). The aim of analysis, in other words, is to move beyond that "narcissistic relation" whereby the analysand makes himself lovable so as to draw the analyst as Other "into a mirage relation in which he convinces him of being worthy of love" (241/267). Analysis moves toward that moment at which a fracturing of the moi's Imaginary unity turns the analysand's love for the analyst into hatred. De-supposing the analyst's knowledge, seeing the analyst once and for all as fundamentally abject, the analysand thus "passes" into an unmediated relationship with his Other (SXX 64).
There is a curious moment in the _Seminaire XI_ at which Lacan ends a reflection on transference love by recalling the legend of Actaeon surprising Diana and her nymphs at their bath:
The truth, in this sense, is that which runs after truth--and that is where I am running, where I am taking you, like Actaeon's hounds, after me. When I have found the goddess's lair, I shall no doubt change myself into a stag, and you can devour me, but we still have a little way to go yet. (172/188; translation modified)
Not the least of the many oddities in this allegory of the passage beyond the transferential supposition of knowledge is the apparent absence of Diana and the nymphs. But in fact Diana is here in at least two guises. First, Lacan has simply transformed the naked goddess of myth into her cave as the site of a truth to be approached at great cost. In the language of the Ethics seminar, she has become the Chose as locus of a creation ex nihilo. Second, Diana's presence is latent in that central act of the mythical drama that Lacan here appropriates for himself in the role of Actaeon--viz., the metamorphosis of the young hunter into a stag. As Lacan rewrites the story, it is not a vengeful Diana who causes "old stag antlers" to sprout on Actaeon's head, rendering him both abject and mute ("Now say you saw me undressed!," she cries, "if you can!"); it is Actaeon (Lacan) himself.33
The implications of this usurpation for a specifically gendered reading of Lacan's "hommosexual" allegory are clear. In one striking respect, however, this may not be the most relevant usurpation. For if we follow Lacan's allegory in relation to his theory of the "pass," it is neither Diana nor Actaeon who should effect the latter's transformation into the stag, but the dogs themselves. De-supposing the knowledge of that master who had led them on a hunt for "truth," "Actaeon's hounds" would come to see the master's fundamental abjection, in the very moment they devoured him.34
In the wake of May '68, I have suggested, Lacan's critique of the demand for one Truth and one Revolution served to perpetuate the narcissistic illusion that knowledge of a fully self-present revolutionary moment was indeed possible, and that Lacan himself was the bearer of that knowledge. Whether, and in what sense, Lacan may have actually "wanted to remain the one who was supposed to know," as Francois Roustang has argued, is a question we need not attempt to resolve (14/8). In his letter of January 5, 1980 dissolving the Ecole freudienne de Paris, however, Lacan would speak of his School as a Borromean knot, in which "it be enough for one to go away for all to be free" ("Letter" 129). Only the master could change himself into the stag. Only Lacan, "me in the role of Lacan," could cut the ring that bound all others (SXI 172/188; translation modified).
1. Lacan devoted one week of the seminar entitled "Encore" (1972-3) to arguing the proposition that "the written text, it is not to be understood [l'ecrit, ca n'est pas a comprendre]"; another to glossing an improvised graph "[which] doesn't strike me as exemplary unless it be, as usual, for producing misunderstandings" (35,73/Mitchell and Rose 149). Likewise, in the seminar on "L'Ethique de la psychanalyse" (1959-60), he insisted that his teaching had value precisely to the extent that it left his listeners "perplexed," unable to endow any one of his terms (the "symbolic", the "signifier", "desire") with the fetishistic power of an "intellectual amulet" (294/252; translation modified).
2. Roudinesco 456/449-450. Lacan conceived the "pass" in 1967 as an alternative to the more bureaucratized mechanisms of promotion common to the member groups of the International Psychoanalytic Association--mechanisms, he argued, that failed to account for that critical "knot" that is the analysand's desir de l'analyse. The pass began with the candidate recounting her training analysis--and most especially the moment in which the desire for her analyst passed over into her desire to be an analyst--before two colleagues of roughly similar training, known as "passers". The passers then presented the candidate's case before a jury composed of the director (Lacan), three "School Analysts" [Analystes de l'Ecole], and three simple Members (all but the director chosen at random). Successful candidates were accorded the title of School Analyst, not in recognition of their aptitude to perform clinical work--this was recognized by the subordinate title "Analyst Member of the School" [Analyste membre de l'Ecole]--but rather of their capacity to derive specifically theoretical insight from their training analysis. On Lacan's conception of the passe, and on the firestorm it unleashed within the EFP, see Roudinesco 450-467/443-461, Marini 138-40/133-35, and Turkle 123-38.
3. Turkle 86. For a detailed discussion of the effects of Lacanian theory on the work of the young theorists who fought on the barricades of May, see Roudinesco 483-550/478-546.
4. The essential characteristics that Ferry and Renaut attribute to la pensee 68 are marginally less banal than Castoriadis's list of topoi might be read to suggest. They include: 1) the "end of philosophy" theme (Althusser, Derrida); 2) recourse to genealogical paradigms (Foucault et al.); 3) a disintegration of the idea of truth; 4) a "historicizing of categories and the end to any reference to the universal" (Pensee 68 40-51/4-12).
5. On the Quatrieme groupe, see Roudinesco 476-82/470-477; Marini 138-9/13435; and Turkle 260-1.
6. In a similar vein, Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy discuss the "perverse effects" of Lacanian theory in their Title of the Letter, p. xxix. See also in this regard: Goux "Lacan decentre" 44; Clement in Jeune nee 259/140-1; Kristeva Revolution 92/97.
7. Seminaire VII: L'ethique de la psychanalyse, p. 285/243. Unless otherwise noted, all parenthetical notations in the present section refer to this text.
8. In the final week of the _Ethics_ seminar, Lacan advances the following four propositions "in an experimental form": "First, the only thing one can be guilty of is giving ground relative to one's desire. / Second, the definition of a hero: someone who may be betrayed with impunity. / Third, this is something that not everyone can achieve.... For the ordinary man the betrayal that almost always occurs sends him back to the service of goods.... / [F]ourth proposition: There is no other good than that which may serve to pay the price for access to desire--given that desire is understood here, as we have defined it elsewhere, as the metonymy of our being" (368,370-1/319,321).
9. Of Lacan's Other Malcolm Bowie writes: "More consistently than any other of Lacan's terms 'the Other' refuses to yield a single sense; in each of its incarnations it is that which introduces 'lack' and 'gap' into the operations of the subject and which, in doing so, incapacitates the subject for selfhood, or inwardness, or apperception, or plenitude; it guarantees the indestructibility of desire by keeping the goals of desire in perpetual flight" ("Jacques Lacan" 134). However, when Bowie comes to list the Other's various "incarnations"--"as a father, a place, a point, any dialectical partner, a horizon within the subject, a horizon beyond the subject, the unconscious, language, the signifier"--the mother is conspicuously absent (136). In putting together this account of the genesis of the Chose, I have benefited from a reading of Dor, pp. 188-9.
10. Implicit in this analysis is a concept--the so-called desir de la mere-whose essential duplicity can be illustrated with reference to Freud's spoolgame. The spool that the child sends away (or Fort) serves as a symbol: 1) for the mother as object of the child's desire, and 2) for the child himself as sole object of the mother's desire--i.e., as the phallus. With this rejection of the spool (this "murder of the thing"), the child rehearses that (Oedipal) repression of the phallic signifier, or signifier of the desir de la mere, that will both suspend him on the Symbolic and consolidate the Chose (and ultimately, the Real) as an impossible space of irretrievable loss.
11. Lacan's name for the signifier that functions as both the cause and the aim of desire is the objet (petit) a. Stand-in for the phallus and (often fetishized) guarantor of male fantasy and polymorphic perversion, the objet a is typically put into circulation by the woman in her dual role as object of desire and guardian of the phallus (SXX 67-8/Mitchell and Rose 143). Lacan speaks of it as a piece of "exquisite trash"--a glance, tear, word, body part, or bodily excretion--that seems to fall (or have been expelled) from the Other (_Television_ 40/23). In the moment of acceding to the familial Ate, Antigone will fairly glow with the luminosity of the objet a. Thus Lacan tells of the Chorus losing its head over "this visible desire that emanates from the eyelids of the admirable girl" (327/281; translation modified). It is in fact the desire of the mother, as it speaks in Antigone's gaze, that renders her so eternally fascinating. Lacan would elaborate upon this conception of woman as the phantasmatic barrier through which the Other is glimpsed in the Encore seminar, particularly pp. 61-82 and 86-88. Among the many fine critiques of this conception, see Luce Irigaray's "Cosi Fan Tutte" (in _Ce sexe_ 79-101/86105) and the Lacan chapter in Alice Jardine's Gynesis (159-172).
12. I address the question of this oscillation in the final section of the present chapter, and again in Chapter 5.
13. On the translation of this sentence, see Gallop _Reading Lacan_ 145.
14. The importance of "rigor" in the Althusser/Lacan nexus is the subject of Chapter 4 below.
15. Marcelle Marini has suggested reading the evolution of Lacanian thought in terms of Lacan's own triad of the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real. To this view, the early work on the psychoses, aggressivity and the specularity of the mirror stage bespeaks a special focus on the Imaginary dimension of human experience. This would give way in the early fifties, with Lacan's discovering the structural anthropology of Claude Levi-Strauss, to an insistence on the primacy of the Symbolic, most strikingly formulated in the conception of the unconscious as structured "like a language." Finally, it is in the 1959-1960 seminar on Ethics that Marini detects the first signs of an ascendancy of the Real that would come to fruition in the 1974-1975 seminar entitled R.S.I. (Real, Symbolic, Imaginary) (50-1/43-4).
16. To this argument, the Real would not be a byproduct of the primary repression (as was the case with the Chose), but rather the effect of its failure.
17. This emphasis on abolition would in turn ground Lacan's argument for distinguishing foreclosure, as characteristic of psychosis, from the mechanism of repression common to the neuroses. If (as Serge Leclaire has argued) the repression of symbolic material leaves open the possibility that such material might eventually be "unveiled and reintegrated into the dialectical current of experience," foreclosure precludes such a dialectic by withholding even the judgment that its object might exist (cited Lemaire 231). The notion of "foreclosure" [Verwerfung], Lacan writes, "is articulated in this register as the absence of that Bejahung, or judgement of attribution, that Freud poses as a necessary precedent for any possible application of Verneinung (negation), which he opposes to it as a judgement of existence: whereas the whole article from which he detaches this Verneinung as an element of analytic experience demonstrates in it the avowal of the signifier itself that it annuls" (_Ecrits_ 558/200-1).
18. Nearing the end of his argument, Roustang reads this passage as yet another instance of Lacan's hopeless ambition to found psychoanalysis as a "scientific delirium" (107/109). The puzzling "triumphalist" conjunction of psychotic delirium and logical rigor would represent one more Lacanian attempt to derive theoretical profit from the aggravation of a conceptual impasse-specifically here an inability to reconcile the conception of the real as unrepresentable (derived from the experience of psychosis) and a notion of the real as a supra-sensible domain structured by physical and mathematical laws. Roustang makes plain his conviction that Lacan's later work does little more than gesture towards the real in this second sense, the real as object of mathematical interpretation, and never more so than when he concludes that, "like the psychotic, the Lacanian system is cut off from life, from affects, from subjectivity, and from all appropriation" (115/118).
19. Psychosis is a "trial (or attempt) in rigor" because the psychotic always aims for an impossibly coherent phantasmatic construction. In seeking to differentiate the neuroses from the psychoses in his 1924 paper on "The Loss of Reality in Neurosis and Psychosis," Freud would argue that, whereas the neurotic protects himself against one part of reality by endowing another part with a special, symbolical significance, the psychotic gives birth to an entirely "new phantastic outer world... [that] attempts to set itself in the place of external reality" (206; emphasis added).
20. _Lire le Capital_ 1:63/53. I explore Althusser's arguments to this effect, and their debt to Lacan, in Chapter 4.
21. On tragedy's compatibility with the logic of transgression, see Bataille Le litterature et le mal 20/23. I return to Bataille's concept of transgression in Chapters 6 and 7 below.
22. That Lacan would have sought to place the student militants in the role of "sexo-leftists" is not the least of the many misunderstandings that permeate the _Impromptu_. On the institutional and political forces that helped shape this event, see Turkle 174-182 and Roudinesco 557-563/552-9.
23. As this passage might be read to suggest, Lacan was given to attacking the notion that psychoanalysis might be "progressive" in any sense. In the _Impromptu_, however, he will admit the term "in so far as it completes the circle that might perhaps allow you to situate what precisely is at stake, what it is that you are rebelling against" (25/128). Delimiting the circle against which one revolts would represent an advance in political rigor if it allowed one to avoid the structural circularity of a liberationist transgression that, in mistaking the origin of its imperative to jouissance, effectively veils "what precisely is at stake."
24. On Lacan's dialogue with the Hegel of Alexandre Kojeve, see the opening chapters of Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen's superb _Lacan: The Absolute Master_.
25. In the 1948 essay on aggressivity, Lacan spoke of the "especial delusion of the misanthropic 'belle ame'" as "throwing back on to the world the disorder of which his being is composed" (_Ecrits_ 114/20). The evolution from this mechanistic language to a full reliance on miscognition in 1953 ("does not recognize the very reason... ") is symptomatic of the emergence, in the mid-1950s, of Lacan's concept of foreclosure to designate the specific mechanism of psychosis. In thus replacing the paradigm of psychotic projection with one centered around a primal deficiency and subsequent miscognition of fundamental signifers, Lacan might be said to use Hegel against himself, deploying Hegelian miscognition against the expulsion thematic in Hegel's own analysis of the heart as "expelling from itself the perversion [Verkehrtheit] which it is itself...."
26. "Such is the general formula for madness as one finds it in Hegel, for do not think I am breaking new ground, despite the fact I have thought it necessary carefully to present this formula to you in the form of an example" (_Ecrits_ 172).
27. On the historical function of neither/nor rhetoric in the predominantly socialist "third way" tradition, as well as in the quest for a consensual centrism, see Chapter 6 below.
28. I return to Barthes's notion of "perversity" in Chapter 6.
29. Reflecting on his "excommunication" from the International Psychoanalytic Association in a seminar from January 1964, Lacan remarked: "I am not saying--but it is not out of the question--that the psychoanalytic community is a Church. But without doubt, the question arises if we are dealing with the echo of a religious practice" (cited Turkle 117). On Freud's "Copernican Revolution," see SII 11/3.
30. I have borrowed this phrase from Lacan's critique of ontology in the Encore seminar: "Everything that has been articulated on the subject of being presupposes that one can shut one's eyes to the predicate and say for example 'man is,' without saying what he is. The very status of being is intimately linked to this cutting off [section] of the predicate. Henceforth, nothing can be said of it except in the form of impasse-bound detourings [des detours en impasse], demonstrations of logical impossibility, in and through which no predicate is allowed to suffice. That which is of being, of a being that would present itself as absolute, is only the fracturing, the breakage, the interruption of the phrase, 'sexed being' [etre sexue], insofar as the sexed being has an interest in jouissance" (SXX 16). The force of this passage, read as a whole, is to take issue with ontology's dream of a return to a prediscursive (and hence pre-cultural) reality by appealing to fundamental "jouissance of being" (of God, of The Woman, etc.) (SXX 66/Mitchell and Rose 142). Whether the phrase "impasse-bound detourings" actually applies to Lacan's own ethical project is a decision the reader will have to make after reading the present chapter. My decision to appropriate it may, however, prove less paradoxical than it first appears. For not only does Lacan speak of that "jouissance of being" he would seemingly throw in the face of ontology as itself "already intimated in the philosophy of being" (in Aristotle in particular), he goes on to say that, much like that specifically tragic experience on which I have focused throughout this chapter, it is approachable only "along the path of logic" (SXX 66,69/Mitchell and Rose 142,146).
31. Asked at Yale in 1975 about the political implications of his psychoanalytic work, Lacan responded: "In any event, there is no progress. What we gain on one side we lose on the other. We think we have gained, only because we don't know what we have lost" ("Conferences" 37).
32. For a detailed discussion of these attempts, see Ragland-Sullivan 119129, and especially pp. 124-5.
33. Here is Ovid's version of the Diana and Actaeon story, in a recent translation by Charles Boer: "Bath Time As Usual for Diana: & here comes / Cadmus's grandson! tired, straying, unsteady, / woods unknown; but he finds the grove! fate brings him; / enters cave: splashing fountains, naked nymphs! / they beat their breasts: "Man!" loud outcry / fills entire woods: they surround Diana, covering / her body with theirs / / but the tall goddess towers over others / by a neck! seen undressed, Diana's face / goes scarlet dawn, sky color when / clouds deflect sun; her troops crowd round: / she, sideways, looks back, wishing / she had arrows ready: instead throws water, / soaks virile face, wets his hair, adds / to water-vengeance words promising disaster: / "Now say you saw me undressed! / if you can!" / / no more threats: she sprouts old stag / antlers on his wet head, expands neck, points / his ears, lengthens arms & legs, spots on body; / & adds fear: hero flees at his own speed / [....] / the whole pack is prey-happy: no path / impassible: rocks, boulders, closed cliffs: pursuit! / he moves through old hunting grounds: oh! / flees even his own men; aches to cry, / "It's Actaeon! can't you recognize your leader?" / words fail: the air barks.... / / [....] / / snouts all over tear master apart / a false stag; & only when dead from wounds / is angry Diana satisfied" (53-4).
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