Ethic 224

Ethic 224

The Ethics of Psychoanalysis
Jacques Lacan

XVII 第17章

The function of the good



The question of the good is situated athwart the pleasure principle and the
reality principle. There’s no possibility that from such a point of view we can
escape conflict, given that we have regularly shifted the center.


It is impossible at this point not to bear witness to the following fact, one
that is too little articulated in the Freudian conception itself, namely, that
reality is not the simple dialectical correlative of the pleasure principle. Or
more exactly, that reality isn’t just there so that we bump our heads up against
the false paths along which the functioning of the pleasure principle leads us.
In truth, we make reality out of pleasure.


This is an essential notion. It is wholly summed up in the notion of praxis
in the two senses that that word has acquired historically. On the one hand,
in the domain of ethics, it concerns action, insofar as action has not just an
έργον as its goal, but is also inscribed in an ενέργεια; on the other hand, it
has to do with making, with the production ex nihilo I spoke to you about
last time. It is no accident if these two meanings are subsumed under the
same term.

这是一个基本的观念。在实践的观念,这完全地被总结。它具有那个字词在历史上具有的这两种意义:一方面,在伦理学的领域,它跟行动息息相关,因为行动并不仅拥有一个目的「έργον」,作为它的目标,而且它也被铭记在过程「ενέργεια」。换句话说,它跟形成有关系,跟我上次跟你们谈到的「从空无中创造ex nihilo」的产生有关系。假日这两个意义被视为是相同术语的次标题,这并不意外。

We must see right away how crude it is to accept the idea that, in the
ethical order itself, everything can be reduced to social constraint, as is so
often the case in the theoretical writings of certain analysts – as if the fashion
in which that constraint develops doesn’t in itself raise a question for people
who live within the realms of our experience. In the name of what is social
constraint exercised? Of a collective tendency? Why in all this time hasn’t
such social constraint managed to focus on the most appropriate paths to the
satisfaction of individuals’ desires? Do I need to say anymore to an audience
of analysts to make clear the distance that exists between the organization of
desires and the organization of needs?


But who knows? Perhaps I need to insist after all.


Perhaps I would get a stronger reaction from an audience of school boys.
They at least would realize right away that the order imposed in their school
is not designed to enable them to jerk off under the best possible conditions.
I nevertheless assume that the eyes of an analyst are made to interpret that
which runs through a certain dream world, which we call, significantly enough,
Utopia. Take Fourier, for example, since reading him is by the way such fun.
The farcical effect his work generates is instructive. He shows how distant
what is called social progress is from whatever is done in the expectation, not
so much of opening up the flood gates, as of merely thinking through a given
collective order in terms of the satisfaction of desires. For the moment we
just want to know if we can see a little more clearly here than others.


We are not the first to have gone along this road. As for myself, there is
among those assembled here an audience of Marxists, and I assume that those
who are part of it can recall the intimate, profound relationship, a relationship
woven into the lines of the text, between what I am proposing here and
Marx’s fundamental discussions concerning the relations between man and
the object of his production. To hurry things along, that brings us back to that point at which I left you in a digression of my lecture before last, namely, with Saint Martin cutting in two with his sword the large piece of cloth in which he was enveloped for his journey to Cavalla.


Let’s take up the point as it stands, at the level of different goods, and let’s
ask ourselves the question of what that piece of cloth is.


Given that with it one can make a piece of clothing, the piece of cloth has
a use value with which others before me have been concerned. You would be
wrong to think that the relation of man to the object of his production at its
fundamental level has been completely elucidated – even by Marx, who took
things very far in this respect.


I am not going to offer here a critique of economic structures. Something
very interesting did happen to me, however, one of those things I enjoy because
their meaning is to be found at a level that is within our grasp but that is
always more or less mystifying. It seems that in my last seminar I am supposed
to have made an allusion to a given chapter of the latest book of Sartre,
to his Critique of Dialectical Reason. I like the idea, since I am about to refer
to it; the only problem is that the point in question has to do with thirty
pages that I read for the first time last Sunday.


I don’t know what to say about the work as a whole because I have only
read these thirty pages, but I must say that they are pretty good. They concern
precisely the original relations of man to the object of his needs. It seems
to me that it is in this particular register that Sartre intends to take things to
their final term, and if that is his purpose, if he does manage to be exhaustive,
the work will certainly prove useful.


This fundamental relationship is defined starting from the notion of scarcity
as that which founds man’s condition, as that which makes him man in
his relation to his needs. For a body of thought that aims for total dialectical
transparency, such a final term is certainly rather obscure, whereas we have
managed to introduce into this cloth, whether rare or not, a little breath of
air which sets it floating and enables us to describe it in less opaque terms.
Psychoanalysts have given themselves plenty of room in the effort to see
what this cloth symbolizes; they tell us what it both shows and hides, that
the symbolism of clothes is a valid symbolism, without our knowing whether
at any given moment what is being done with this cloth-phallus concerns
disclosure or concealment.


The profound bivalence of the whole of analytical theory on the subject of the symbolism of clothes enables us to evaluate the impasse reached with the notion of the symbol as handled up till now in psychoanalysis. If you are able to find the large volume of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis that was produced for Jones’s fiftieth birthday, you will see an article by Flugel on the symbolism of clothes in which you will find the same impasses I pointed to, in the last issue of our journal, in Jones’s own articulation of symbolism, but in an even more striking and almost caricatural form.


In any case, all the absurd things that have been said about symbolism do
nevertheless lead us somewhere. There is something hidden there, and it is
always, we are told, that damned phallus. We are brought back to something
that one might have expected would have been thought of right off, that is to
say, to the relationship of the cloth to the missing hair – but it’s not missing
everywhere on our body. At this point we do find a psychoanalytic writer
who tells us that all the cloth we are concerned with is nothing more than the
extrapolation or development of woman’s fleece, the famous fleece that hides
the fact that she doesn’t have what it takes. These apparent revelations of the
unconscious always have their comic side. But it’s not completely screwy; I
even think that it’s a nice little fable.


Perhaps it might even contain an element of phenomenology relative to the
function of nudity. Is nudity purely and simply a natural phenomenon? The
whole of psychoanalytic thought is designed to prove it isn’t. The thing that
is particularly exalting about it and significant in its own right is that there is
a beyond of nudity that nudity hides. But we don’t need to engage in phenomenology;
I prefer fables.


The fable on this occasion concerns Adam and Eve, with the proviso that
the dimension of the signifier also be present, the signifier as introduced by
the father in the benevolent directions he gives: “Adam, you must give names
to everything around you.” Here is Adam, then, and here is the famous hair
of an Eve that we hope is worthy of the beauty that this first gesture evokes.


Adam pulls out one of her hairs. Everything I am trying to show you here
turns on a hair, a frog’s hair.2 Adam pulls out a hair from the woman who is
given to him as his wife, who has been expected for the whole of eternity,
and the next day she comes back with a mink coat over her shoulders.


Therein lies the power of the nature of cloth. It’s not because man has less
hair than other animals that we have to check out everything that down the
ages will burst forth from his industry. If we are to believe the linguists, the
problem of different goods is raised within a structure. At the beginning
everything is structured as a signifier, even if only a chain of hairs is involved.


Textile is first of all a text. There is cloth, and – let me invoke the driest
of minds, Marx, for example – it is impossible to posit as primary some
producers’ cooperative or other, unless, of course, one wants to make a psychological
fable. In the beginning there is the producer’s inventiveness, namely, the fact that man – and why he alone? – begins to weave something, something that isn’t in the form of a covering or cocoon for his own body, but something that as cloth is going to take off on its own in the world, is going to move around. Why? Because this cloth has time value.


That’s what distinguishes it from any form of natural production. One can
come close to it in the creations of the animal world, but it is originated only
when it is fabricated, when it is open to the world, to age and to newness; it
is use value, time value; it is a reservoir of needs; it is there whether one
needs it or not; and it is around this cloth that a whole dialectic of rivalry and
of sharing is organized, wherein needs will be constituted.


In order to grasp this, simply set in the distance in opposition to this function,
the word of the Messiah according to the Gospel when he shows men
what happens to those who trust in the Father’s Providence: “They weave
not neither do they spin; they offer men an imitation of the robe of the lilies
and the plumage of birds.” This is a stupefying abolition of the text by the
word. As I pointed out last time, the chief characteristic of this world is that
one has to uproot it from its text if one is to have faith in it.


But the history of humanity takes place in the text and it is in the text that we have the cloth. Saint Martin’s gesture means in the beginning that man as such, man with
his rights, begins to be individualized as soon as one begins to make holes in
this cloth through which his head and his arms can emerge, through which,
in effect, he begins to organize himself as clothed, that is to say, as having
needs that have been satisfied. What can there be behind this? What in spite
of that can he continue to desire? – I say “in spite of that” because from that
moment on we know less and less about it.


We have now reached the crossroads of utilitarianism.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: