THE LETTER 23 (Autumn 2001) pages 43-62
Pascals Wager … to which, from my Rome report on, I indicated that instead of a thousand other futile occupations, psychoanalysts should turn their gaze.
Putting the title in this way is meant to reflect two things. First, that Jacques Lacan is unequivocal in his assertion that the work of Blaise Pascal, and in particular his Wager, is of ‘inestimable value’ for the psychoanalyst. And second, that it is not at all clear – not to me and not to anyone I have read – why he thinks that the seventeenth century genius should have so much to offer to a praxis that saw the light of day almost 250 years after his death. In fact, as he presents the Wager, Lacan feels the need to protest that it is not out of date, that he is not lending his support to a piece of religious obscurantism, but is restoring to its proper place one of the most extraordinary intellectual feats that has ever been undertaken.
A striking aspect of Lacan’s teaching is his use of major historical turning points in the subjectivity of Western man as a way of understanding the fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis. For example: transference love is illuminated by Plato’s Symposium; the o-object by the look in Velasquez’s Las Meninas; the tragedy of desire by Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But to none of these creative moments did he accord the explicit…