Ethic 128

Ethic 128
The Ethics of Psychoanalysis

Jacques Lacan
χ Marginal comments
第十章 边缘的评论





Es 的原初性

I am not this morning in the state of readiness I consider necessary for me to
conduct my seminar in the usual manner. And this is especially the case,
given the point we have reached, when I particularly want to be able to present
you with some very precise formulas. You will thus allow me to put it
off until next time.


The break caused by my absence of two weeks comes at a bad time, since
I would have liked to go beyond what I announced last time that I would be
dealing with – after having dealt with it, of course.


Courtly love is, in effect, an exemplary form, a paradigm, of sublimation.
We only have essentially the documentary testimony of art, but we still feel
today the ethical ramifications.


If on the subject of courtly love, apart from the lively archaeological interest
in the matter, we still only have the documentary testimony of art in a
form that is almost dead, it is obvious that its ethical ramifications are still
felt in the relations between the sexes.


The long-lasting influence of the effects of a phenomenon that one might
think is little more than an issue of aesthetics is thus of a kind to make us
aware of the importance of sublimation – something that psychoanalysis has
specifically foregrounded.


I would like to be at the top of my form in order to show you how the
question has been posed historically, and how it is posed from the point of
view of method, for I believe that there again we are in a position to throw
some light on admitted difficulties that historians, Romance scholars, philologists,
and various specialists who have approached the problem have
encountered. They apparently recognize that they have in no way managed
to reduce the phenomenon of courtly love in its historical emergence to an
identifiable form of conditioning.


The recognition of the fact is common, and I would say almost uniform.
One encounters a paradoxical phenomenon, one that is almost taken for
granted; in every example of this kind scholars have often been led to examine
influences – something that in many cases is only a way of displacing the
problem. They tell us that the origin of the problem is to be found in the
transmission of something that happened somewhere else. Yet we still need
to know how that happened somewhere else. But in the event that is precisely
what gets lost.


In this case, the recourse to influences is far from having illuminated the
problem. We will try to approach the problem at its very center, and we will
see that Freudian theory is of a kind to shed a certain light there. Thus in
this way I take up the problem not only for its value as example but also for
its value relative to method.


To start out from this very specific point doesn’t mean that everything that
concerns sublimation is to be considered from the perspective developed here,
namely, from the point of view of the man / woman relation, of the couple. I
do not claim to reduce sublimation to that, nor even to center it on that. I
believe on the contrary that to start out from this example is essential in order
to arrive at a general formula, whose beginnings we can find in Freud, if we
know where to look for it – and I don’t mean search for this or that detail.


If I proceed sometimes by emphasizing one of Freud’s sentences, an isolated
formula, or, I was about to say, some gnomic proposition, then I am
very conscious of making that gnomic proposition work for me. When I give
you a formula such as “The desire of man is the desire of the Other,” it is a
gnomic formula, although Freud didn’t seek to present it as such. But he
does so from time to time without doing it on purpose. Thus I once quoted
a very short formula which brought together the respective mechanisms of
hysteria, obsessional neurosis and paranoia with three forms of sublimation,
art, religion and science. At another point he relates paranoia to scientific
discourse. These clues will help us articulate in all its generality the formula
in which we will in the end order the function of sublimation with reference
to the Thing.


This Thing is accessible in very elementary examples, which are almost of
the type of the classic philosophical demonstration, including a blackboard
and a piece of chalk. I referred last time to the schematic example of the vase,
so as to allow you to grasp where the Thing is situated in the relationship that
places man in the mediating function between the real and the signifier. This
Thing, all forms of which created by man belong to the sphere of sublimation,
this Thing will always be represented by emptiness, precisely because
it cannot be represented by anything else – or, more exactly, because it can only be represented by something else. But in every form of sublimation, emptiness is determinative.


I will point out right away three different ways according to which art,
religion and the discourse of science turn out to be related to that; I will point
this out by means of three formulas that I don’t say I will retain at the end,
when we have completed our journey together.


All art is characterized by a certain mode of organization around this emptiness.
I don’t believe that that is a vain formula, in spite of its generality, in
guiding those who are interested in explaining the problems of art; and I
believe I have the means of illustrating that to you in a variety of striking


Religion in all its forms consists of avoiding this emptiness. We can illustrate
that in forcing the note of Freudian analysis for the good reason that
Freud emphasized the obsessional traits of religious behavior. Yet although
the whole ceremonial phase of the body of religious practices, in effect, enters
into this framework, we can hardly be fully satisfied with this formula. A
phrase like “respecting this emptiness” perhaps goes further. In any case, the
emptiness remains in the center, and that is precisely why sublimation is


As for our third term, the discourse of science, to the extent that it finds
its origin in our tradition in the discourse of wisdom or of philosophy, the
term Freud uses in connection with paranoia and its relation to psychic reality,
the term, Unglauben, finds its full meaning there.

至於我们第三个术业,科学的辞说,甚至它找到它的起源,在我们智慧或哲学的辞说的传统。弗洛依德使用的术语,关于偏执狂与它跟心灵现实的关系,Unglauben(不信仰) 这个术语在那里找到它的充分的意义。

I emphasized this fact in passing in a recent Seminar; Unglauben is not the
negation of the phenomenology of Glauben, of belief. Freud never returned
to the subject in a comprehensive and definitive way, yet it nevertheless runs
throughout his work, and he gives extreme importance to this function in the
Entwurf. The phenomenology of belief remained for him an obsession to the
end; thus Moses and Monotheism is constructed in its entirety in order to
explain the fundamental phenomena of belief.

在最近的研讨班,我顺便强调这个事实:「不信仰」并不是「信仰」的现象的否定。弗洛依德从来没有回到这个主题,用完整而明确的方式。可是它仍然偏佈在他的著作里。他非常重视Entwurf (架构)的这个功用。对于他而言,信仰的现象学始终是一种著迷。因此「摩西与单一神教」完整地被建构,为了解释信仰的基本现象。

More profound and more dynamically significant for us is the phenomenon
of unbelief. It is not the suppression of belief, but it has to do with man’s
relationship to the world and to truth that is specific to man, a relationship
he inhabits.


In this connection you would be wrong to trust in summary oppositions or
to think that history has known sensational turning points, such as the supposed
passage from the theocratic age to so-called humanist forms of liberation
of the individual and of reality. The conception of the world is not decisive
here. On this occasion, it has nothing to do with something resembling a
Weltanschauung – and certainly not mine. I am only pointing the way here, I
am only trying to help you orientate yourself in the bibliography of significant
works on the subject, works by specialist who in their different fields are
equipped with some talent for analysis. I advise you to look up the work of
an historian, Lucien Febvre, who is the author of the widely accessible, The
Problem of Unbelief in the Sixteenth Century. It is a work that enables you to
see how the thoughtful use of historical methods allows us to pose more precisely
the question of the forms of development of thinking on the subject of
problems of faith.


If you have the time and you would like to read something amusing, you
should read a little book by the same author that is supplementary but not
secondary, not a little boat bobbing in the wake of a ship; it is called Concerning
the Heptameron. The author of the Heptameron is Marguerite de Navarre,
whom, I hope, you will not mix up with Queen Margot, the wife of Henry
IV. She is not just a libertine author, but turns out to have written a treatise
that is mystical in kind. But that is not something which excites the astonishment
of the historian.


He tries to show us what the collections of tales that go under the title of
the Heptameron might mean in the context of the time and of the psychology
of their author. And he does it in such a way as to allow us to read that work
with not so much a more informed eye as an eye that doesn’t censure the text
or, in particular, the reflections of each of the characters after each of the
tales that are supposed to be true, and that certainly are for the most part.
The thoughts of the respondents that belong to the register of moral and even
formal religious reflection are usually censured because one assumes at the
beginning that they are no more than the accompanying sauce. But that is
something it is important not to get wrong – in any dish it is the sauce that
is the essential ingredient. Lucien Febvre teaches us how to read the Heptameron.
Yet if we knew how to read, we wouldn’t need him.


As far as unbelief is concerned, it is from our point of view a place in
discourse that is to be conceived precisely in relation to the Thing – the
Thing is repudiated or foreclosed in the proper sense of Verwerfung.


In the same way that in art there is a Verdrangung, a repression of the
Thing, and in religion there is probably a Verschiebung or displacement, it is
strictly speaking Verwerfung that is involved in the discourse of science. The
discourse of science repudiates the presence of the Thing insofar as from its
point of view the ideal of absolute knowledge is glimpsed, that is, something
that posits the Thing while it pays no attention to it. As everyone knows, this
point of view has historically proved in the end to be a failure.


The discourse of science is determined by this Verwerfung, and, in the light
of my formula that what is foreclosed in the symbolic reappears in the real,
this is probably why it leads to a situation in which, at the end of physics, it
is something as enigmatic as the Thing that is glimpsed.


I will postpone until next time a discussion of my paradigm of courtly love,
an example of sublimation in art whose vital effects we still come across. We
will take note of them after I come back from my trip; we will take a sampling of these traces, of the indisputable effects of the primary signifying construction that is determinative in the phenomenon of courtly love. And we will attempt to recognize in contemporary phenomena something that can only
be explained through recourse to such an origin.


Since I am engaged in marginal commentary today, let me point out in
passing that you would be wrong to think that this concept of the Thing to
which I am giving a new development this year wasn’t, in fact, immanent in
our discussions of previous years.


Moreover, since there are those who question certain characteristics of my
style, let me remind you for example of the expression “The Freudian Thing”
that was the title of something I wrote, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you
to look it up. That text and that title surprised because if one starts to analyze
my intentions from a philosophical point of view, one comes to relate them
to a concern that was very popular at one time, namely, the resistance to
reification. Of course, I never said anything about reification. But intentions
can always be wrapped around a discourse. It is clear that if I chose such a
title, I did so deliberately. If you reread the text, you will see that I am
essentially speaking of the Thing. And I speak about it in a way that was
evidently the cause of the undoubted discomfort the text provoked at the
time. The fact is I sometimes make the Thing itself speak.


February 3, I960


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