Lacanian Review Online: Real and Meaning:Trained to Do That

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I was cautioned to surrender
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LRO 203
22nd January 2020




The Choice of Psychoanalysis (*)
Fred Baitinger
 

“Since the beginning, religion has been all about giving meaning to things that previously were natural. It is not because things are going to become less natural, thanks to the real, that people will stop secreting meaning for all that. Religion is going to give meaning to the oddest experiments, the very ones that scientists themselves are just beginning to become anxious about. Religion will find colorful [truculent] meaning for those.[1]

Jacques Lacan, The Triumph of Religion

 

 

Freud, in a text called “Analysis Terminable and Interminable” (1937) argued that the position of the analyst, just like the one of the politician and the educator, is impossible. Similar to the position occupied by a politician or an educator who both have to know what is the common good, or what is a proper educated child, an analyst has to know what is a “healthy” mind.[2] But as Socrates and Plato already knew, such  knowledge, which is required for these activities to take place, does not exist. Quite to the contrary, even, one could say that the “knowledge” that guides politicians, educators and most psychoanalysts is a knowledge that is not only lacking a proper scientific foundation, but also a knowledge that is only supported, in the end, by the authority of a Tradition.[3]

Lacan, however, opposing certain post-Freudians, declared in a conference titled The Triumph of Religion that “governing and educating are quite different from analyzing in that they have been going on since time immemorial. And they are everywhere: governing and educating never stop. The analyst, on the other hand, has no tradition. He is a total newcomer. Thus, among the impossible positions, a new one happened to arise. Few analysts are especially comfortable occupying this position, given that we have but one short century behind us to help us get our bearings. The novelty of it reinforces the impossible nature of it.”[4] As such, one could conclude that if it is true to say that psychoanalysis is, as Freud argued, an impossible position, it is nonetheless important to add, for Lacan, that it is the only position that  remains aware of its impossibility, while the two others are constantly trying to hide theirs behind the authority of Tradition.

Moreover, and despite what one is generally tempted to think, it is also important to underline, for Lacan, that the position occupied by science today is no less impossible than the one occupied by psychoanalysis, even though “science does not yet have the slightest inkling that it is [impossible], which is lucky for science. Scientists are only now beginning to have anxiety attacks.” If most scientists remain unaware of the impossible nature of their position, it is because they keep refusing to accept the idea that their activity is slowly changing the very essence of the reality that they are studying. And if a couple of them are finally starting to have anxiety attacks, it is precisely because they are no longer able to repress or deny the fact that their practice is currently affecting the very nature of the climate, of human sexuality, of human exploitation and, by implication, the very nature of reality itself.

But if scientists are finally becoming aware of the impossibility that lies at the very core of their practice, it does not mean, in return, that they are well equipped to deal with it. This is why, for Lacan, it is no less important to understand that only psychoanalysts are in a good position to understand the anxiety provoked by the disruptions that the scientific discourse is introducing in reality. And if they are better equipped, it is because the discourse of psychoanalysis, unlike the discourse of science, is not a discourse about reality as such (about a Nature governed by laws) but a discourse about what does not work in reality. Commenting on this specificity of the psychoanalytic discourse, Lacan said, “I don't know if you are aware of this, but psychoanalysis is concerned especially with what doesn't work. Because of this, it concerns itself with what we must call by its name—I must say that I am still the only one who has called it by this name—the real.”

As such, between the reality that science studies and the real that psychoanalysis takes as its object of study, there is at once a correlation and an opposition. While reality is what is governed by a set of laws that scientists are trying to discover, the real that psychoanalysis studies is precisely the space opened by all the disruptions that the discourse of science keeps introducing in reality. The real, in that sense, is what is produced by the discourse of science, and what escapes at the same time the discourse of science. This is why, for Lacan, the only question at stake when it comes to the real that the discourse of science is introducing in reality is the one of its interpretation, and more specifically, the one of its possible religious interpretation. Commenting of this delicate point, Lacan suggested that

“Somebody is going to have to give meaning to all the distressing things science is going to introduce. And they [the religious discourses] know quite a bit about meaning. They can give meaning to absolutely anything whatsoever. A meaning to human life, for example. They are trained to do that. Since the beginning, religion has been all about giving meaning to things that previously were natural. It is not because things are going to become less natural, thanks to the real, that people will stop secreting meaning for all that. Religion is going to give meaning to the oddest experiments, the very ones that scientists themselves are just beginning to become anxious about. Religion will find colorful [truculent]meaning for those.”

There is thus, for Lacan, a strict opposition that needs to be made between the real produced by science, which is a real that is “without law,”[5] and the real that the religious discourse pretends to be able to repress or interpret by asserting the authority of its Tradition. This is why, when it comes to the real and the anxiety that it provokes, one has to make a choice. It is either the choice of religion and meaning, and thus the choice of repressing the anxiety contained in the real, or the choice of psychoanalysis, which implies sustaining the anxiety contained in the real, and to make of its meaninglessness the point of departure of a new relationship to science, and all the disruptions its discourse introduces in the world.

 


(*) “The Choice of Psychoanalysis” is the third part of a series of articles titled Lacan and the Posthuman.

[1] Jacques Lacan, The Triumph of Religion, Preceded by Discourse to Catholics, Lacan, Jacques. Cambridge, Polity, 2015.

[2] “Analysis Terminable and Interminable,” Sigmund Freud, The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. (1937-1939) Vol. 23, Vol. 23. London: Vintage. See also  Psychoanalysis – The Impossible Profession, Malcolm, Janet. 2018.

[3] See, in particular, Plato's Republic: A Dialogue in 16 Chapters, Alain Badiou, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2016.

[4] The Triumph Of Religion, Preceded by Discourse to Catholics, Lacan, Jacques. Cambridge, Polity, 2015.  All the other quotes by Lacan are taken from the same text.

[5] “The Real is Without Law,” Jacques-Alain Miller, Trans. Frederic Baitinger & John Wallace, Lacanian Ink, #47, 2016, pp. 50-78.

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