Welcome to the Summer 2005 issue of The Letter. We have had enormous pleasure in assembling this issue which brings to the reader articles from writers who have published previously in The Letter along with articles from newcomers to these pages. We have cast our net far and wide and the result is – if not exactly a ‘mixed grill’ as Lacan refers to the ingredients of his seminar on Ethics – then something that will equally arouse the appetite. Most of these articles are expanded versions of work presented at conferences, symposia or clinical meetings.
The issue opens with two articles concerning Lacan’s treatment of Antigone. Firstly we have Calum Neill’s consideration of the ethical significance of Antigone. Calum will argue that it is not so much the case that Antigone’s act functions as the quintessential ethical act but rather, that the ethical significance of the play lies in the manner in which it would relate to the desire of the spectator. A new writer for The Letter, Calum is a lecturer in Social Psychology at Napier University in Edinburgh. His research interests lie in Lacanian theory, ethics, decision-making and enjoyment. … Continue reading
THE LETTER 34 (Summer 2005) pages 1-28
Antigone, Medea, Selma Jezkova, Mary Kay Letourneau, Andrea Yates… Zizek has over the years utilised a number of characters, both fictional and existent, and usually female, to illustrate various aspects of his Lacanian-derived conception of ethics. The contexts in which these characters are to be located and the actions they engage in determine them, for Zizek, as suitable ethical examples. This article will focus on one such example, perhaps the most obvious: Antigone.
For Zizek, the crucial aspect of both Sophocles’ Antigone, the play, and Antigone, the character within the play, lies in what he, following Lacan,1 terms her ‘act’.2 The term ‘act’, in Lacanian theory, is differentiated from the sense of “mere behaviour”3 by the location and persistence of desire. This is to say that the act is necessarily a subjective undertaking and that it can be understood to be coterminous with the assumption of subjectivity and the responsibility entailed in such an assumption, the Freudian Wo Es war, soil Ich werden. Where behaviour would describe the response to needs, for example, the act is defined by the impetus of desire. Desire makes the subject act and as such the weight of responsibility for the act committed lies with the subject. Desire cannot be treated as a given which would determine the subject’s act without the subject’s volition. The very subjectivity which would be taken to act cannot be described without the manifestation of desire which would allow its constitution. But such desire must always be particular to the subject; it is the subject’s desire. The act would be the moment of subjective assumption in which…
THE LETTER 34 (Summer 2005) pages 29-47
The quicker it comes the better.
I want to hurry death.
I want to be free of the dread
Of waking in the morning.
Waking up at night.
All I pray for now
Is the dawn of my last day.
Whatever the field of work, no-one whose door is fully open to the suffering subject will be able to avoid the encounter with the full deadweight of this tragic appeal to the possibility that death presents, and represents, as a release from – an ante-dote to – life. (From the obsessional to the suicide). The quotation given above will inevitably call someone to the mind of the practitioner here today, or perhaps it will echo something closer to home, a friend, a loved one, one’s own self even. Many of the participants here today will still have fresh in their minds the Dublin experience of the Joyce-Lacan Symposium, which one entered under the gaze of the unbearable lightness (21 grams to be precise) of the many hanging collars representing the many, many suicides. I take it that it is this tragic subject which the Forums invite us to consider here today in relation to Lacan’s seminar on Ethics, a seminar in the course of which, as the Forums noted in their preliminary statement to us, Lacan doesn’t give…
THE LETTER 34 (Summer 2005) pages 48-62
Freud and Lacan on Japan Freud was born when Japan was still in its pre-Meiji isolation from the outside world, and during his younger days, information on Japan remained scarce. It is therefore hard to imagine that he encountered discourses that would have aroused his interest in the island nation. Nonetheless, Freud touches briefly on Japan in Totem and Taboo.
In this work, Freud cites Frazer’s quotation of Kaempfer’s 1727 description of the Mikado as an example of how outrageous taboos have been imposed on kings. Freud reproduces and comments on Kaempfer’s description as follows:
…”The idea”, writes Frazer, “that early kingdoms are despotisms in which the people exist only for the sovereign, is wholly inapplicable to the monarchies we are considering. On the contrary, the sovereign in them exists only for the subjects; his life is only valuable so long as he discharges the duties of his position by ordering the course of nature for his people’s benefit. . . “An account written more than two hundred years ago reports that the Mikado… “thinks it would be very prejudicial to his dignity and holiness to touch the ground with his feet; for this reason, when he intends to go anywhere, he must be carried thither on men’s shoulders. Much less will they suffer that he should expose his sacred person to the open air, and the sun is not thought worthy to shine on his head. There is such a holiness ascribed to all parts of …
THE LETTER 34 (Summer 2005) pages 63-69
There exists an epistemological tradition in which the mind is conceptualized as something that contains itself. Pascal’s reed is contained within the thinking subject. Kierkegaard’s self entails a relationship in which the self relates to itself. The Freudian subject of psychoneurosis is a being narcissistically attached to itself.
This conception of the mind as a self-containing structure originates in a period of Western history during which the presence of God withdrew, as if God had vacated his seat and gone on holiday. During this period, an awareness grew of the distance between entertaining a belief and true certitude of belief. One learned to doubt one’s own belief. Belief no longer came to one of its own accord; instead, one had to obtain it by one’s own devices, as in Pascal’s Wager.
Madness is inherent in this self-containing structure. As Pascal defined it, the thinking subject contains the entire universe, but what can this subject be, if it is not contained within the universe? Because it does not exist within the universe, it must be transcendent, and hence, divine. Yet to believe oneself to be divine is to be in proximity to madness.
Moreover, the thinking subject must be “one,” a unity, since it must have a discrete identity. But to the extent that it recognizes itself as being a reed within the universe, it is “two,” doubled between the reed and the subject that thinks of the reed. Nonetheless, it still counts itself only…
THE LETTER 34 (Summer 2005) pages 70-90
Am I a Lacanian specialist in anxiety?
I do not believe that any specialisation whatsoever makes any sense for a psychoanalyst: ‘being a psychoanalyst’ and ‘being a specialist’ are mutually exclusive. Nevertheless sometimes I am considered to be a specialist in the Lacanian theory and clinic of anxiety. Why?
Long ago I was an assistant at the Department of Psychology of the University of Ghent (Flanders, Belgium). I suppose that at that time I must have been a model representative of the university discourse, because I had this crazy idea that it should be possible to read, understand, classify and combine, everything Freud and Lacan had written and said on any subject, for instance anxiety. So, I embarked upon a doctoral thesis on anxiety.
Fortunately, in the meantime I had also started a psychoanalytic cure, for personal reasons, which of course had to do with my personal anxieties. As it happened, in the course of that analysis, something like a ‘desire to become an analyst’ surfaced. And from that moment on I developed this other, crazy idea that I should head for the analytic position on a double track: on the one hand pushing my own analysis to some kind of logical conclusion, but on the other hand I also stuck to my belief that studying anxiety was essential. Now, looking back, I realise that I was afraid that overcoming my own anxieties, in my own analysis, would not be enough to stand the anxieties I would be confronted with as an analyst. Of course, towards the end of my analysis I dropped that university desire to know everything about whatever, and especially about anxiety. Unfortunately in the meantime I had also successfully defended my doctoral dissertation, bunching ‘all Lacanian knowledge on…
THE LETTER 34 (Summer 2005) pages 91-107
…elle est comme une montagne couverte d’arbres. Settlement, des habitants des environs commencent a couper les arbres. Le bienfait de la nuit est d’apporter un nouveau foisonnement de surgeons, mais au matin, les troupeaux viennent, qui les devorent, et finalement, la montagne est une surface chauve, sur laquelle rien ne pousse.
A philosophical disease My heading here is the title of the book by Carl Elliott, an associate professor at the Center for Bioethics in University of Minnesota. He said that many of its central ideas came from Wittgenstein’s later work, Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein wrote: ‘A philosopher’s treatment of a question is like the treatment of an illness.’ He saw the questions that troubled many philosophers as symptoms of philosophical confusion,which he likened to a kind of spiritual illness.
Western philosophers liken philosophical problems to a kind of spiritual illness, and they think that the sicknesses caused by philosophical problems are cured only through a changed mode of life, not for example by the medication of the subject with a drug, such as Prozac or other antidepressants. To see spiritual illness as falling within the domain of psychiatry is a distortion that reduces existential problems to configurations of brain chemistry. Therefore, using drugs to alleviate existential angst would be a mistake or misguiding effort. …
THE LETTER 34 (Summer 2005) pages 108-113
Freud pointed many times to the potential limit of psychoanalytic theory for the consideration of aesthetics, but as you know, he did offer us the concept of sublimation. Unfortunately this concept seems obscure with regard to its relation to other psychoanalytic concepts. For psychoanalysis, the main task of which is the therapy and understanding of neurotic patients, the problem of sublimation may be probably secondary. However it seems to me that there are difficulties in the concept of sublimation itself as Lacan states it. Indeed it was sublimation that forced him to look toward the problem of the Real. I would like to trace today developments regarding this concept, from Freud to Lacan, so as to illuminate its inherent difficulties.
When I started this study, I considered sublimation from a Freudian viewpoint, one might say, basically, namely, with reference to the drive (Lacan prefers drive to instinct). I thought that I would treat sublimation in its relation to the drive, that is, to the aims, sources and objects of the drive, terms and methods introduced by Freud in his article of 1915 – Instincts and their Vicissitudes. At that time, Freud counted sublimation as one of the vicissitudes that the sexual drives produce. It is said that he wrote an article on sublimation as one of his metapsychological works as well as articles on instincts, repression and the unconscious, but he destroyed it with other texts. Ernst Jones, author of The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, explains this action in terms of his theoretical modifications produced in the twenties, which would have required a total remake of the destroyed texts. But did Freud judge that sublimation is incompatible with the point of view of metapsychology, that is, of dynamics? I would like to argue that he thought that…
THE LETTER 34 (Summer 2005) pages 114-143
In this article, I propose to investigate the logical status of Lacan’s formulae of sexuation, as expounded in Seminar XX. According to Lacan, ‘the sexed being … results from a logical exigency in speech”. But the question of the relation between “the logical demands of language” and human sexuality is the locus for a series of objections to the psychoanalytic project. According to the contemporary doxa, the individual finds himself located within the multiple language games that constitute social reality. This involves the radically contingent construction of gender identity through dramatic performances of social roles. Such critics allege that there are as many sexualities as there are language games. They oppose the “radical translation” between incompatible social worlds to sexual difference as a transhistorical reality. To insist, as Lacan does, that the relation of the subject to language necessarily includes an unconscious, masculine or feminine stance, seems, to such critics to be a naturalisation of culturally constructed gender characteristics. So do Lacan’s formulae of sexuation represent a return to biological essentialism? What are the epistemological claims raised by Lacan’s metapsychological formalisations? I depart from the assumption that a relevant indicator of…