Lacanian Review Online: Tr@uma

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LRO 245
23rd September 2020

 




Memories of Sex
Philippe Hellebois

 

If God exists, he certainly invented sex to torment us. But then again, he was the first to be bothered: Zeus did nothing other than to cast a spell on ravishing mortals, and after him, Christ chose to be admired for eternity in a most dubious costume. His sexuality is now proven even though he clearly preferred to avoid copulation. Let us remember these words of Lacan in Encore: “In everything that followed from the effects of Christianity, particularly in art […]  everything is exhibition of the body evoking jouissance […] but without copulation.”(1) And it’s not for nothing, he specifies, but because it is out of place, made only of fantasies. Nowhere, in any other religion, has this exclusion of the sexual act been admitted to more nakedly, the art that inspires Christianity is therefore obscene and even perverse since the father is at stake.

God is only there to remind us how much sex leads us astray: we only know how to speak about it, when to do it, when it is not the memory which abandons us since we are not always certain about what we have done or suffered. Sex transforms us into sleepwalkers surveying the hole that it had previously dug in knowledge and in truth. If sexual complications are everywhere, they manifest themselves electively on the issue of trauma. Indeed, the chance of our reading makes us oscillate like a pendulum between more or less painful anecdotes or inevitable structural fact. The early Freud, reread by J.-A. Miller, nevertheless allows us to find our way around.(2) From his letters to Fliess, he already noted that the sexual always arose like an indigestible accident with excessive effects. Above all, he also noted that this excess of sexuality left behind something that he qualified as untranslated into verbal images and whose reactivation did not have psychic but physical consequences under the species of conversion phenomena: “surplus of sexuality impedes translation.”(3)

In writing these lines, Freud was visited by grace because he succeeded in locating things on two planes at the same time: diachrony and synchrony. There are lived anecdotes that we repress, that is, what we both forget and remember at the same time – isn’t the unconscious the memory of what we forget? – and also the structural fact which touches on a real from which one defends oneself. J.-A. Miller has shown how Lacan distinguishes these two registers which arise from different memories: remembrance and reminiscence. The first, created as much from history as from hysteria, constitutes hystory; the second relates to the real which excludes truth as much as it excludes meaning and time; one manifests itself through memory, the other presents what is already there, all alone, eternal, immemorial.

There is therefore trauma and what Lacan called trouma, a fact of history and another of structure. Structure here means that when it comes to sex things always go wrong. The question is no longer to have had a good or a bad encounter, but to realize that sex is for the speaking being a permanent failure: when one starts well like the obsessional, it is too good since what follows will be disappointing, and the unhappy one finds himself jaded before his time; a failed first time, to which the hysteric testifies, is certainly no funnier, since she finds herself married for the rest of her life to permanent dissatisfaction.

This obviously does not mean that things are of equal merit and that the structure justifies all past and future traumas. Some are inevitable, others less so, and psychoanalysis does not herald Sade’s reign by putting the two on the same plane. It can be illustrated by a case known to all, that of Gide, which Lacan wrote about.(4) Unwelcome, resentful, mortified child, he was seduced by his aunt who embodied for this austere Protestant family an unacceptable jouissance. It was for the child Gide, son of a mother for whom love was reduced to the commandments of duty, a trauma whose coordinates Lacan situates as follows: he only knew the version of the word [parole] that protects and forbids, having been deprived, due to the premature death of his father, of the version which humanizes desire; his primary jouissance was then reduced to certain elementary forms: destructiveness, masturbation, etc. Lacan nevertheless specifies that this trauma was life-saving, the extinguished child finally beginning to live because he became, for the first time, by this means, the desired child.

Reading and re-reading the scene of seduction described by Gide, particularly in Strait Is the Gate, one does not see what even an obtuse mind could reproach the lady in question for, who contented herself with fixing his shirt collar, tickling him in an area beyond all suspicion, and make fun of him a little. Yet that was enough to make him run for his life and much later to develop an immoderate taste for little boys – more precisely for the little boy he was in his aunt’s arms. The mode of jouissance, masturbation, therefore remained the same, but he had found a place to locate himself. In other words, the structural trauma was not a tragedy.

Nevertheless, it must be said that what Gide did with it afterwards was nothing, to call it by its correct name, but a form of paedophilia. And it was only because of his prudence, and above all, because of the indulgence that those times (of the French Empire and the African colonies) showed towards the masters, that he was never bored. This is where we have to make a difference for which what is at stake is ethics. Assault is said in more than one sense: one is due to the illness of the speaking being so parasitized by language that sex can only disturb him by leaving him perpetually restless; the other relates to the mode of jouissance of a relatively cynical master. One has to do with psychoanalysis, the other a matter of justice.

Translated by Peggy Papada

 


Originally published in French, 30 July 2020, for Boussoles Cliniques, towards the 50th Study Days of the ECF,. Available Online:  https://www.attentatsexuel.com/memoires-du-sexe/

1. Lacan, J., Seminar xx, Encore; On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge 1972-1973, text established by J.-A. Miller, transl. B. Fink, London/New York, Norton, 1998, p. 113.
2. Miller, J.-A., The Lacanian Orientation. Cause and Consent (1987-88), teaching delivered within the framework of the department of psychoanalysis of the University of Paris 8, lessons 6 and 13 January 1988, unpublished.
3. Letter from Freud to Fliess, 30 May 1896, The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, edited and translated by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 1985, p. 188.
4. Lacan, J. (1966), “The Youth of Gide, or the Letter and Desire, Écrits, transl. B. Fink, 2006, New York/London, Norton, pp. 623-644.

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