Ethic 139

Ethic 139

The Ethics of Psychoanalysis

Jacques Lacan


Courtly love as anamorphosis






Why is this example of anamorphosis on this table?’ It is here to illustrate
my ideas.


Last Time I sketched out the meaning or the goal of art in the usual sense
we give that term – the fine arts, for example. I’m not the only psychoanalyst
to have been interested in that. I’ve already mentioned Ella Sharpe’s article
on the subject of sublimation, an article that starts out with the cave walls of
Altamira, which is the earliest decorated cave to have been discovered. Perhaps
what we described as the central place, as the intimate exteriority or
“extimacy,” that is the Thing, will help us to shed light on the question or
mystery that remains for those who are interested in prehistoric art, namely,
its site as such.


It is surprising that an underground cavern was chosen. Such a site only
creates obstacles to the viewing that one assumes is presupposed by the creation
and observation of the striking images which decorate the walls. The
production of images and their viewing could not have been easy given the
forms of lighting available to primitive men. Yet in the beginning those paintings
that we take to be the earliest productions of primitive art were thrown
up on the walls of a cavern.


One could call them tests in both senses of the word, subjective and objective.
Tests no doubt for the artist, for, as you know, these images are often
painted over each other; it’s as if in a consecrated spot it represented, for
each subject capable of undertaking such an exercise, the opportunity to draw
or project afresh what he needed to bear witness to, and to do so moreover
over what had already been done before. That suggests the idea of something
like the updating of a certain creative potential. Tests also in the objective
sense, for these images cannot fail to seize us as being deeply linked both in
a tight relationship to the world – and by that I mean to the very subsistence
of populations that seem to have been composed chiefly of hunters – and to
something that in its subsistence appears as possessing the character of a
beyond of the sacred – something that we are precisely trying to identify in
its most general form by the term, the Thing. I would say it is primitive
subsistence viewed from the perspective of the Thing.


There is a line which runs from that point to the other end, infinitely closer
to us, in the exercise of anamorphosis, probably around the beginning of the
seventeenth century. And I pointed out the interest that exercises of this kind
had for the constructive thought of artists. I tried to make you understand
briefly how the genesis of this tradition might be sketched.


In the same way that the exercise on the wall consists in fixing the invisible
inhabitant of the cavern, we see the link forged between the temple, as a
construction around emptiness that designates the place of the Thing, to the
figuration of emptiness on the walls of this emptiness itself – to the extent
that painting progressively learns to master this emptiness, to take such a
tight hold of it that painting becomes dedicated to fixing it in the form of the
illusion of space.


I am moving fast and I just throw out these crumbs so that you can put
them to the test of whatever you may subsequently read on the subject.


Before the systematic establishment of geometrical laws of perspective formulated
at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries,
painting passed through a stage in which various artifices made it possible
to structure space. The double band that appears in the sixth and seventh
centuries on the walls of Santa Maria Maggiore is one way of treating certain
stereognoses. But let’s leave that aside. The important thing is that at a given
moment one arrives at illusion. Around it one finds a sensitive spot, a lesion,
a locus of pain, a point of reversal of the whole of history, insofar as it is the
history of art and insofar as we are implicated in it; that point concerns the
notion that the illusion of space is different from the creation of emptiness.
It is this that the appearance of anamorphoses at the end of sixteenth and the
beginning of the seventeenth centuries represents.

在十五世纪末与十六世纪初,被阐释的几何学的透视法的法则被系统化建立之前,图画经历一个阶段。在这个阶段,各种的人为的技巧让空间的架构成为可能。在十六与十七世纪,出现在桑塔、玛丽亚 玛吉奥瑞修女院的墙壁的这个双重的宽带,是一种处理立体触感的方式。但是让我们将那个放置一旁。重要的事情是,在某个特定时刻,我们获得幻象。环绕这个幻象,我们找到一个敏感的地点,一个病变地区,痛苦的焦点,整个历史的倒转点。因为它是艺术的历史,因我们被牵涉到它里面。那个点跟这个观念有关:空间的幻象不同于空洞的创造。在十六世纪末与十七世纪初的变形的出现,就是代表这个。

I spoke last time of a Jesuit convent; it was a mistake. I checked in Baltrusaitis’s
excellent dictionary of anamorphoses, and it is a convent of the Minim
Friars in Rome as well as in Paris. I don’t know why I also placed Holbein’s
Ambassadors in the Louvre, when the painting is in the National Gallery in
London. You will find in Baltrusaitis’s book a subtle study of that painting
and of the skull that emerges when, having passed in front of it, you leave
the room by a door located so that you see it in its sinister truth, at the very
moment when you turn around to look at it for the last time.

我上次谈到耶稣教会的修女院,那是个错误。我查阅Baltrusaitis 的优秀字典,有关变形。那是在罗马与巴黎的Minim修道院。我不知道为什么我也将霍宾Holbein的「大使」放置在罗浮宫,实际上,这幅图画是在伦敦的国家美术陈列馆。你们将会在Baltrusaitis的字典找到一个详细的研究,对于那幅图画,以及出现的头颅。当你们从它的前面经过,你们从当地的门边离开房间,你们以一个古怪的真相看见它,就在你们转过头,最后一次看见它。

Thus, as I say, the interest of anamorphosis is described as a turning point
when the artist completely reverses the use of that illusion of space, when he
forces it to enter into the original goal, that is to transform it into the support
of the hidden reality – it being understood that, to a certain extent, a work
of art always involves encircling the Thing.


This also allows us to approach a little closer to the unanswered question
on the ends of art: is the end of art imitation or non-imitation? Does art
imitate what it represents? If you begin by posing the question in those terms,
you are already caught in the trap, and there is no way out of remaining in
the impasse in which we find ourselves between figurative and so-called abstract


We can only sense the aberradon that is articulated in the unyielding position
of the philosopher; Plato places art at the lowest level among human
works, since for him everything that exists only exists in relation to the idea,
which is the real. Everything that exists is already no more than an imitation
of a more-than-real, of a surreal. If art imitates, it is shadow of a shadow,
imitation of an imitation. You can, therefore, see the vanity of the work of
art, of the work of the brush.


That’s a trap one must not enter. Of course, works of art imitate the objects
they represent, but their end is certainly not to represent them. In offering
the imitation of an object, they make something different out of that object.
Thus they only pretend to imitate. The object is established in a certain relationship
to the Thing and is intended to encircle and to render both present and absent.


Everybody knows this. At the moment when painting turns once again
upon itself, at the moment when Cizanne paints his apples, it is clear that in
painting those apples, he is doing something very different from imitating
apples – even though his final manner of imitating them, which is the most
striking, is primarily oriented toward a technique of presenting the object.
But the more the object is presented in the imitation, the more it opens up
the dimension in which illusion is destroyed and aims at something else.
Everyone knows that there is a mystery in the way Cezanne paints apples,
for the relationship to the real as it is renewed in art at that moment makes
the object appear purified; it involves a renewal of its dignity by means of
which these imaginary insertions are, one might say, repetitively restated.
The fact is, as has been noted, such insertions cannot be detached from the
efforts of earlier artists to realize the ends of art in their own way.


Obviously, the notion of historicity should not be used here without great
caution. The expression “history of art” is highly misleading. Every appearance
of this way of proceeding consists in overthrowing the illusory operation
so as to return to the original end, which is to project a reality that is not that
of the object represented. In the history of art, on the other hand, by virtue
of the necessity that supports it, there is only substructure. The relation of
the artist to the time in which he appears is always a contradictory one. It is
against the current, in opposition to reigning norms – including, for example,
political norms, or indeed, systems of thought – that art attempts to operate
its miracle once more.


With the anamorphosis I have here, we find ourselves faced with a game
that may seem futile to you, when you think of the sophisticated operational
techniques required for the success of such a little artifact. And yet how can
one not be touched or even moved when faced with this thing in which the
image takes a rising and descending form? When faced with this sort of syringe
which, if I really let myself go, would seem to me to be a kind of apparatus
for taking a blood sample, a blood sample of the Grail? But don’t forget that
the blood of the Grail is precisely what is lacking.


The argument I have been developing thus far in my lecture should be
interpreted only in a metaphorical way. I have only been following this line
of argument because I want to discuss today that form of sublimation which
appeared at a certain moment in the history of poetry, and which interests us
in an exemplary way in connection with something that Freudian thought
has placed at the center of our interest in the economy of the psyche, namely,
Eros and eroticism.


I just wanted to point it out to you at the beginning: you might almost
structure around this anamorphosis the ideas I am sketching out for you on
the subject of the ethics of psychoanalysis. It is something that is wholly
founded on the forbidden reference that Freud encountered at the terminal
point of what in his thought one might call the Oedipus myth.



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