Lacanian Review Online: Two or Three Things

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LRO 164
26th June 2019

Encyclopedic Ignorance 
Marcela Antelo
 

Flaubert was looking for something on which to vent all his anger, something to vomit back onto his contemporaries who inspired disgust in him. In the early sixties Godard threw up this vomit onto us through objects that prostitute the city: for him objects are the medium between a man and his other. So he invites Flaubert’s fellows to 2 or 3 things I know about her.

I suggest that a human passion, ignorance, started it all. By connecting passion to ignore and desire to know Jacques Lacan nominated precisely the core of the lesson Flaubert gave us through the classic duet of Bouvard & Pécuchet, 1881, “Encyclopedic ignorance”, a duo best seen as a kind of Guinness Book of Record’s winners in modern knowledge and current clichés.

In the time of the empire of the God Google we must vindicate, as Borges suggested, this dynamic duo: a hard case of male friendship which functions as the matrix of sociability from ancient Greece to Stan and Ollie on the lab, as English translator Mark Polizzotti baptized them. Time changes its cards. Godard comes to mise-en-scène this vindication.

From Guy de Maupassant to Raymond Queneau, from Sartre to Macedonio Fernandez, from Borges to Henry Ey, from Butor to Italo Calvino, from Lacan to Godard, this satire does not stop finding its readers and joyfully found its réalisateur.

Bouvard & Pécuchet’s perennial existence is not the skull of Holbein’s Ambassadors on the throat of Western men, “the occidented”[1], is not just a grimace towards wisdom’s vanity. Borges illuminated the rough fallacy we can easily fall prey to in reading the novel: the satire is not the mockery of the sciences but the proof that two imbeciles are a better way to sum up the hole that haunts knowledge from within. Flaubert vomited it: “Yes, stupidity is wanting to conclude”[2]. Ancient Greeks generally, but Sóphocles in particular, already knew about wisdom’s limits. Godard wants to mise-en-scène this mania and its derision.

This is the central paradox of the book, an eternal introduction to a lack of conclusion. Eternal pleasure of the text provided through descriptions pursued with parsimony, opening the door to the modernist pleasure of the unfinished and disperse. Printed knowledge mise-en-abyme, vertiginous book as Barthes wrote, all knowledge as impossible[3]. Flaubert’s death leaves half of the book unfinished, a body falls, vertigo.

Flaubert, from his youth onwards, wanted to write a book about nothing. Godard confesses he wants to deliver all about her, being she the girl or she the city. But he only gets two or three things, on occasion Very Little… Almost Nothing. The passion for the All drives him not to the nothing but to something.

All knowledge is driven by an infantile passion which begins at the keyhole of mummy and daddy’s room as Freud[4] asserted. The desire to know is sexually motivated, Wisstrieb is akin to sexual curiosity, peeping gaze towards all kind of enigmas, naïve and greedy curiosity. Wissbegierde (libido sciendi) arises from infantile curiosity. The desire to know is not spontaneous and has two aspects: a passion and a desire, both irremediably intertwined. It is no surprise that Leonardo da Vinci grew up sexually frozen; to know as not to know provides the kernel of the psychopathology of everyday life.

By signifying all things around, the amount of excitation that animates our bodies finds the way to slide. It does so in the way of an asymptote, never reaching its zero degree. Nonetheless, the sliding excitation leaves an amount that we usually invest in knowledge, lost jouissance feeds the desire to know all, concupiscence of knowledge which entertains the life of these two copyists of knowledge of all kinds, on the antipodes of Bartleby lucidity. A library not to be read, that’s what, following Borges, Flaubert gave to his imbeciles, becoming Flaubert himself, developing his vocation and his allergy, his pharmakon, towards stupidity, towards endless bêtise. His plan is to confront stupidity by making it shine, use it against itself. Complaints against stupidity are the same as indignation against the rain. Bouvard & Pécuchet discuss the Sun.

To consider the book a literary aberration, a tedious epopee of human stupidity or the masterpiece of French literature is, as Borges wrote, deceitfully simplistic. Flaubert read more than one thousand books in order to give us the taste of an eternal introduction to anything that matters to these simple minded: Agriculture, Medicine, History, Literature, Religion, Education, Hydrotherapy, Spiritism, Gym, Magnetism, Magic, Philosophy, Religion, etc. A sea of empty words that haunted both Flaubert and Godard, rendered in the Dictionary of Received Ideas, his encyclopédie critique en farce, and in 2 or 3 things…, the latter just literally naming the vanity of any knowledge which pretends to be all, to conclude. Only vicinity with any knowledge which pretends to bite onto something real.

A last point concerns male partnership. As Jacques Alain Miller[5] pointed out, Flaubert founds a solution to the loneliness of the one. And the concomitant ennui, affection of the One, let’s add. Two men he says are enough to put on the horizon the Hobbesian Leviathan. Moved by the endeavor to learn, they join to consecrate to avoid the stupidity they knew the best, and finally to teach. Not only this, but they too planned to let their beards grow freely, they wanted to work on their bodies to improve their souls, to disdain facts, to evade women – imagine Plutarch’s Furies, suited in madams parisiennes – and to wait for truth to come forward. Two nobodies that become Flaubert.

As Godard quoted on the 10’37’’ of the film, it is by talking that the world reaches its limit, words end world, in a coffee cup, with his seductive whispering as soundscape and Flaubert’s discipline as landscape.

Both stories were born from ordinary newspapers, Flaubert and Godard nourished themselves on accepted ideas built by the simpleminded. They both knew that ignorance as a passion is a monster best engendered by aiming at acquiring knowledge. “All of us scribblers are monstrously ignorant”[6]. Lacan spoke about the patient compilation of imbecility that as an indestructible root characterizes the discourse of the university and its everlasting dream[7]. This discourse suffers from fear of the Witz[8]. The main passion of the speaking being is ignorance.

Flaubert, Godard, Lacan, similar desks. They inhabit language as a haunted house.

Just two or three things we know about it.

 


[1]Lacan, Jacques."Lituraterre", in Hurly Burly, International Journal of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, No 9, 2013, p. 29 -38.

[2]Preface by Raymond Queneau from Flaubert, Gustave, Bouvard and Pécuchet, Dalkey Archive Press, 2005.

[3] Lacan, J. The Four fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Book XI, W.W. Norton, 1998: “There is no truth that, in passing through awareness, does not lie. But one runs after it all the same”.

[4] Freud, Sigmund.  Freud, Sigmund. "Instincts and their vicissitudes." The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIV (1914-1916): On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. 1957. p.126.

[5]Miller, Jacques-Alain, De L’orientation lacanienne III, 13 (2011) Université de Paris VIII, leçon 2/3/2011, unpublished. Also MILLER, J-A. "La fuga del sentido", in Lo real y el sentidoBuenos Aires: Colección Diva, 2003, p. 18.

[6] Flaubert, Gustave. Letter of 7th April, 1854, in Letters.

[7] Lacan, Jacques. “Peut être a Vincennes…” in Autres écrits, p. 315.

[8]Lacan, Jacques. “Introduction à l'édition allemande d'un premier volume des Écrits” in Autres écrits, p. 555.

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