Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Triumph of Religion by Jacques Lacan

[ Possibly the strangest Press Conferences in the history of the world, conducted with Italian journalists at the the French Cultural Center in Rome on October 29, 1974 ]

Why do you say that the psychoanalysts position is an untenable one?

I have commented that I am not the first to have said so. Someone we can trust regarding analyst’s position –namely Freud –said so.

Freud extended the fact of being untenable to a number of other positions, including that of governing. Which is already to say that an untenable position is precisely what everyone rushes towards, since there is never any lack of candidates running for office. The same is true of psychoanalysis, where we encounter no dearth of candidates.

“Analysis,” “governing,” and Freud added “educating.”

Candidates are even less scarce in this last arena.  It is a position that is even reputed to be advantageous. I mean  that, not only are candidates in no way lacking, but there is no shortage of people who receive the stamp of approval – that is –who are authorized to educate. This does not mean they have the slightest idea what is involved in educating. People don’t perceive very clearly what they are wanting to do when they educate. They try nevertheless to have some smidgeon of an idea, but they rarely reflect upon it.

The sign that there is nevertheless something that can worry them, at least from time to time, is that they are occasionally taken with something very specific, that analysts alone know very well – namely, anxiety. They become gripped with anxiety when they think about what it is to educate. There are tons of remedies for that anxiety, in particular a certain number of “conceptions of man,” conceptions of human nature. These conceptions of human nature vary quite widely, although no one seems to notice.

A recent series edited by Jean Chateau begins with Plato and then discusses a number of pedagogues. One perceives in reading it that at the root of education there lies a certain idea of what one must do to create men – as if it were education that did so.

But, frankly, it isn’t necessary to educate man. He gets his education all by himself. In one way or another, he educates himself. He must learn something, and that requires a little elbow grease. Educators are people who think they can help him. They even consider that there is a minimum to be furnished in order for men to be men and that this requires education. They are not all wrong. Indeed, a certain amount of education is necessary in order for men to manage to stand each other.

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. This novelty reinforces the impossible nature of it.

Analysts, starting with the first of them, had to discover this position, and they very clearly realized its impossible nature. They extended it to the positions of governing and educating. As they are merely at the stage of awakening, it allowed  them to perceive that people who govern and educate haven’t, in the final analysis, the foggiest idea what they are doing. Which does not stop them from doing it, and even from doing a halfway decent job. Governors are needed, after all, and governors govern –that’s a fact. Not only do they govern, but everyone is glad they do so. . .

But there is something Freud didn’t talk about because it was taboo to him – namely, the scientist’s position. It too is an impossible position but science does not yet have the slightest inkling that it is, which is lucky for science. Scientists are only now beginning to have anxiety attacks. Their anxiety attacks are no more important than any other such attacks. Anxiety is something that is altogether hollow (futile) and worthless (foireuse). But it is amusing that we have recently seen certain scientists working in entirely serious laboratories suddenly becoming alarmed, having livers (avoir les fois) – which signifies in French having the heebie-jeebies, and saying to themselves: “Suppose that someday, after we have truly made a sublimely destructive tool with all these little bacteria with which we are doing such marvelous things, someone takes them out of the laboratory.” They began to get the idea that they could create bacteria that would be resistant to everything, that would be unstoppable. . . it got them quaking in their boots . . .

I happened to come across a short article by Henri Poincare regarding the evolution of laws.  Emile Boutroux, who was a philosopher, raised the question whether it is unthinkable that the laws themselves evolve. Poincare, who was a mathematician, got all up in arms at the idea of such evolution, since what a scientist is seeking is precisely a law insofar as it does not evolve. It is exceedingly rare for a philosopher to be more intelligent than a mathematician, but here the philosopher happened to raise an important question. Why, in fact, wouldn’t laws evolve when we conceive of the world as having evolved? Poincare inflexibly maintains that the defining characteristic of a law is that, when it is Sunday, we can know not only what happened on Monday and Tuesday, but in addition what happened on Saturday and Friday. But it is not clear to me why the real would not allow for a law that changes.

It’s obvious that we get into a complete muddle here. As we are situated at a precise point in time, how can we say anything regarding a law which, according to Poincare, would no longer be a law? But, after all, why not also think that maybe someday we will be able to know a little bit more about the real? – thanks again to calculations. Auguste Comte said that we would never know anything about the chemistry of the stars and yet, curiously enough, now we have a thingamajig that teaches us very precise things regarding their chemical composition. Thus we must be wary – things get developed, thorough-fares open up that are completely insane, that we surely could not have imagined or in any way have foreseen. Things will perhaps be such that we will one day have a notion of the evolution of laws.

 Since science hasn’t the foggiest idea what it is doing, apart from having a little anxiety attack, it will go on for a while. Because of Freud, probably, no one has ever dreamed of saying that it is just as impossible to have a science that produces results as it is to govern or educate. But if we can have a slight suspicion of that, it is thanks to analysis.

Analysis is an even more impossible profession than the others. 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.

The real is the difference between what works and what doesn’t work. What works is the world. The real is what doesn’t work. The world goes on, it goes round –that’s its function as a world. To perceive that there is no such thing as a world – namely, that there are things that only imbeciles believe to be in the world – it suffices to note that there are things that make it such that the world (monde) is revolting (immonde), so to speak. This is what analysts deal with, such that, despite what one might think, they are confronted with the real far more than scientists are. Analysts deal with nothing but that. They are forced to submit to it –that is, to brace themselves all the time. To do so, they must have awfully good armor to protect them from anxiety. The very fact that they can at least speak about anxiety is quite something. . .

In your philosophy .  .  .

I am not a philosopher, not in the least.

An ontological, metaphysical notion of the real .  .  .

It is not at all ontological.

You borrow a Kantian notion of the real.

It is not even remotely a Kantian notion of the real. I make that quite clear. If there is a notion of the real, it is extremely complex and in  the sense that it is not graspable, not graspable in a way that would constitute a whole. It would be an incredibly anticipatory notion to think the real constitutes a whole. As long as we haven’t verified it, I think we would do better to avoid saying that the real in anyway whatsoever forms a whole.

There was a moment in history at which there were enough people at loose ends to deal quite specifically with what wasn’t going well and to provide a formulation of this “what isn’t going well” in statu nascendi (just as something is about to begin), as it were. All that will go round again, it will all be drowned in the same things, the most disgusting things we’ve seen in centuries, and which will naturally be reestablished.
Religion is designed for that, to cure men – in other words, so that they do not perceive what is not going well.

You are convinced that religion will triumph?

Yes. It will triumph not only over psychoanalysis but over lots of other things to. We can’t even imagine how powerful religion is.

I spoke a moment ago about the real. If science works at it, the real will expand and religion will thereby have still more reasons to soothe people’s hearts. Science is new and it will introduce all kinds of distressing things into each person’s life. Religion, above all the true religion, is resourceful in ways we cannot even begin to suspect. One need but see for the time how the place is crawling with it. It’s absolutely fabulous.

It took some time, but they (Christians) suddenly realized the windfall science was bringing to them. Somebody is going to give meaning to all the distressing things science is going to introduce. And they 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. Religion is going to give meaning to the oddest experiments, the very ones the scientists are just beginning to become anxious about. Religion will find a colorful (truculent} meaning for those. We need but look how it is working now, how they are becoming abreast of things.

If human relations have become so problematic because the real is so invasive, aggressive, and haunting, shouldn’t we . . .

The real we have thus far is nothing compared to what we cannot even imagine, precisely because the defining characteristic of the real is that one cannot imagine it.

Shouldn’t we, on the contrary, deliver man from reality (reel)? Then psychoanalysis would have no further reason for being.

If reality becomes sufficiently aggressive .  .  .

The only possible salvation when faced with this reality that has become so destructive is to get away from it.

Completely push away reality.

A collective schizophrenia, in some sense.. Hence the end of the role of psychoanalysis.

That is a pessimistic way of representing what I believe to be more simply the triumph of true religion. To label true religion a collective schizophrenia is a highly peculiar point of view. Defendable, I admit, but very psychiatric.

The symptom is not yet truly the real. It is the way the real manifests itself at our level as living beings. As living beings we are eaten away at,  bitten (mordus) by the symptom. We are ill, that’s all. The speaking being is a sick animal. “In the beginning was the Word”, the enigmatic beginning, says the same thing. It means the following: for the average Joe – for this carnal being, this repugnant personage – the  drama begins only when the Word is involved, when it is incarnated, as the true religion says. It is when the word is incarnated that things really start going badly. Man is no longer at all happy, he no longer resembles at all a little dog who wags his tail or a nice monkey who masturbates. He no longer resembles anything. He is ravaged by the Word.

One must not overdramatize. We must be able to get used to the real. The real real, as it were, the true real, is the one we can gain access to by a very precise pathway: the scientific pathway. It is the pathway of little equations. This real is precisely the one that is completely missing. Why? Because of something we will never get to the bottom of.  At least I don’t think so, even though I have never been able to demonstrate it absolutely. We will never get to the bottom of the relationship between speaking beings that we sexuate as male and the speaking beings we sexuate as women.

Regarding this point, there is no chance it will ever succeed – in other words, that we will have the formula, something that can be scientifically written. Hence the proliferation of symptoms, because everything is linked to this. This is why Freud was right to speak of what he called sexuality. Let me put it this way: for the speaking being, sexuality is hopeless.

But the real to which we gain access by little formulas, the true real, is something else altogether. Up until now, all we have gotten from it is gadgets. We send rockets to the moon, we have television, and so on. It eats us up, but it eats us up by means of things that it stirs up in us. It is no accident that television devours us. It is because it interests us all the same. It interests us by a certain number of altogether elementary things that one could enumerate, that one could make a short list of. The point is that we let ourselves be eaten. This is why I am not among the alarmists or among the anxious. Once we have had all that we can take from them, we will stop and turn our attention to the true things –namely, what I call religion.

The real is transcendent . . .Our gadgets do, in fact, devour us.

Yes. But, personally speaking, I am not very pessimistic. There will be a tapering off of gadgets. Your extrapolation, making the real and the transcendent converge, strike me as an act of faith.

What isn’t an act of faith (foi), I ask you?

That’s what is horrible, it’s always bedlam (foire).

I said “foi,” I didn’t say “foire.”

It’s my way of translating foi. Foi is a foire. There are so many faiths, faiths that hide in the corners that, in spite of it all, it can only be well said in the forum – in other words, at a fair.

“Faith,” “forum,” “fair” – this is just a bunch of plays on words.

They are plays on words, that’s true. But I attach a great deal of importance to plays on words, as you know. They seem to me to be the key to psychoanalysis.

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