When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender
This I could not do
(Leonard Cohen, The Partisan)
LRO – COVID-19 #111
10th June 2020
Bernard Seynhaeve, President of the NLS, in conversation with Violaine Clément, ASREEP-NLS, by Skype
Violaine Clément : You interpreted the cancellation of the NLS Congress on interpretation that was supposed to take place in Ghent on June 27 and 28 with these two words: "Dignity and silence". Could you say a bit more about what you meant with those two signifiers?
Bernard Seynhaeve : Well, for all of us, what has befallen us came out of nowhere, and it rendered us speechless. So silence is this ‘without words.’ It’s also maybe the silence of the analyst, an interpretive silence. I am well-placed to testify to the silence of the analyst: not my silence as analyst in the treatments that I conduct, but the silence of the analyst that imposed itself on me in my own analysis. Silence has something to do with that: there are no words, it overcomes you and makes a hole in knowledge. That’s a first point, and it is important to underline this, because I noticed that this hole has been immediately covered up in different ways by a lot of people, by attempts to fill it in with words, with knowledge. I’m not opposed to this, but I was not on board with it. Some people, some groups – and I am not judging them, I think everyone responds to this hole in their own way – have suggested, for example, creating places where doctors and paramedics could meet and talk about their trauma. I personally did not think this was a good idea. That’s just my opinion. And there were others who wanted to start writing in order to fill the hole. I did not want that. I wanted to consent – that’s the right word – to this real.
And that is why silence emerged with respect to what has befallen all of us, and we have to consent to it. That is why I said ‘silence’, and I can say after the fact that it just came to me like that, and I think it needs to be interpreted. This is what people have told me. Silence, true silence, is letting this hole be, consenting to this hole, and as a result we had to consent to the fact that there would not be a Congress. Not only will there not be a congress, but the theme of the Congress will not be postponed to next year. We will move on to something else. There will be a blank page, and we need to not fill it in, and just turn it. Turn the page and move on to something else. For many reasons, but always for this one: to consent to the fact that, with respect to this, there is nothing more to say, but also because our School, all its members, our whole community had been working for a year on the question of interpretation, and so many works have been produced. I no longer saw how we could put the same theme on the agenda one year later, and begin working again on this same question. No, we had to take a step, the step was taken, and we will move on to something else.
Why dignity? Because this has befallen all of us, on our bodies, and some have been more injured and afflicted by it, in their bodies. We have testimonies of this, some have suffered from it. I know several of them. Let’s be gracious and respect that, let’s respect the suffering of those whose bodies have been injured.
So silence and dignity. It seemed to me that these two words were necessary and sufficient for what has befallen us, and for the future consequences of this consent that there would not be a Congress this year.
VC : Silence evokes speech, and dignity indignity. This interpretation led me to a question: is there something indignant, insufficient about speech? Of course, everyone receives these signifiers, but they affected me with a double blow: there is nothing to say, and this step for me was a step into a void, like a suspension.
BS : We bow to death, to people who suffer. There is no interpreting their suffering…
VC : Would it be obscene to interpret ?
BS : Yes, I agree with this word. There is a dignity that needs to be respected regarding suffering. Yes, we have to bow to that. We have to welcome this ‘nothing to say.’
VC : And welcoming this ‘nothing to say’, how do you think of it today with the lifting of the shelter at home order in Belgium?
BS : Yes, today, in Belgium, as in Switzerland, in Italy and in France, everywhere, we are coming out of our confinement, and we don’t know. There is one thing certain, that we don’t know. Scientists do what they always do, they try to analyse, to see if the virus will disappear as quickly as it arrived, if a vaccine will be found. What they are trying to do currently is to prevent its circulation, to avoid contamination.
VC : We saw that Cambridge for example decided to suspend all courses until the summer of 2021. How have you continued to practice ?
BS : Do I have to talk about that? [He sighs.] During the shelter in place, I think that I was one of the first to stop, before everyone else. From the very first day I said: I stop. Stop! I got in touch with all of my analysands, and told them that it was not possible to see them anymore, and if they needed to talk, I could possibly use the phone, or Skype, but that this would not be in the context of the analytic treatment, but a conversation. Some called, but it was not systematic. Obviously, I’ve accepted that.
It’s hard to make this lead weight any lighter. In Switzerland humor has been used a lot to get through this period – including by the government, who agreed to go along with it.
VC : The other question that I asked you is about what you said in Tel Aviv, which was really good: the urgency of life.
BS : Yes, if I could do it over, I would have given the conference in Tel Aviv the title ‘The Urgency of Life.’ It’s funny how this all fits together, this last conference with the conference on interpretation, and all of it about the question of the body’s presence. It all fits together. Still, it’s surprising how very current this all is. You know the difference between chance and contingency? In contingency the subject is responsible for what happens to it. For the conference in Tel Aviv, the signifier ‘the urgency of life’ was passed on to me. It exists in Lacan, in Freud. Dominique Holvoet also used it in his teaching. It was first used by Freud at the very beginning of his work, to make a radical distinction between the satisfaction of a need and the urgency of life. Freud said that beyond the satisfaction of needs there was an urgency without an object, the urgency of life. Lacan took up the expression in his seminar on Ethics, citing Freud. So there is something that pushes beyond the satisfaction of needs: this something that pushes, and that Miller has taken up in his course.
VC : Giorgio Agamben also took up this idea of bare life, as insufficient. It is not enough to eat in order to live, and for the grandmother that I am, giving milk without giving the honey of speech is not enough… For there to be analysis there has to be a desire to speak, and not to just anyone. Hence the weight of this word, silence. You have it put there as a stone blocking my path, and paradoxically this has been very encouraging for me. I thank you for what you are saying about the urgency of life, which is an ethical question.
BS : The urgency of life draws on the very last text by Lacan, where he talks about the urgency of satisfaction, which has to do with the urgency of life. That is what an analysis can lead to. Lacan, in his very last written text, L’esp d’un laps, speaks about the urgency of satisfaction, which is completely linked to the urgency of life. They are the two sides of the same coin.
VC : Lacan said that he was a five year old. He also said that he did not often have the occasion to laugh. You are part of this Belgian School that knows how to deal with laughing. So, after receiving a text by Pierre Malengreau on interpretation, I find that laughter is part of your school’s style. Laughing as the satisfaction-side of jouissance. You brought us something instructive today about your way of handling this, in asking people to call you. That’s not nothing, it isn’t silence as a hole. It’s saying: I’m here. How do you see what comes next?
BS : What comes next ? We will see, we will have to adjust. I don’t know. For me too this is a hole in knowledge. Perhaps we will have to make do with the artificial devices available that allow us to continue our work, the analytic clinic. We’ll see, I have no idea! Will the virus disappear, peter out, no longer circulate…Will there be a vaccine? And treatment? We will have to face all of this: if necessary, we no longer travel, for the simple reason that we can’t, we can no longer get together, I don’t know… Don’t ask me what will happen, I have no idea.
VC : A psychoanalytic School is precisely a place where the question of what one does not know can be asked. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we arrange to meet each other anyway…Something about the existence of death has unveiled itself a bit, perhaps it will take some time before we put a bit of speech around it, a bit of a veil, some blah blah blah.
BS : Another point about the urgency of life and the urgency of satisfaction: I think that the urgency of satisfaction is one of the very last fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis. There have been other last concepts, like the speaking-being, lalangue. The speaking-being has taken the place of the unconscious, knotting the body and language together, but it is not emphasized enough that the question of the Pass, of the end of the treatment, is this question that is posed by the urgency of life, the urgency of satisfaction.
VC : So let’s end with this satisfaction, with this: it’s enough!
BS : I agree.
Translated by An Bulkens
Originally published in French on 26th May 2020. Blog of the ASREEP-NLS. Available online.
 Jacques Lacan, Preface to the English Edition of Seminar XI, in The Lacanian Review, Issue 6.
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