. . . . . . • Enigmatized Coitus: A Reading of Borges •
Borges wrote a marvelous short story in which he presents the practice of an enigmatic sect. We discover at the end of the story that this strange practice is in fact coitus.
We could describe the practice of psychoanalysis in the following way: you go to an appointed place where someone is waiting for you and you find yourself at the entrance, the vestibule to the unconscious; thereupon, in this place, you copulate with the unconscious; you pay and you leave; and then you start all over again.
What jouissance has been paid for there?
By describing things in this manner, somewhat from the outside, we have a response to Lacan's question as to why psychoanalysis has not invented a new perversion. It is because analysis itself is this perversion. It is a new and singular way to find jouissance in language and to give birth to something rare.
This tale of Borges's is for me the pearl of his work. In the end, Borges places it in the collection of his short stories entitled Fictions, which we have several editions of, expanded little by little in the course of time. This tale - just five paragraphs, no more - whose title is "The Sect of the Phoenix", passes almost unnoticed.
Something of a prank
The first paragraph introduces (in the form of a parody) the sect of the Phoenix. Like much of what Borges has written, it is a sort of prank. And so, some of the phrases, probably because there is mention of Flavius Joseph, remind us of references we find in literature of another time, for instance those references to the followers of Jesus.
The indirect approach used, through things said and things written, suits the notion of sect itself in that it turns around an essentially secret knowledge, knowledge which is not in the open, knowledge which is veiled, supposed knowledge, if we adopt Lacan's term. In order to have access to the secret knowledge of this sect, which is itself supposedly secret, the knowledge of what it is, we only have fragmentary clues, taken from the literature of all times and all nations, clues that are disconnected and out of their place, and sometimes contradictory. Borges excels in the evocation of fragmentary knowledge, that of ancient chronicles, but he can just as well select a piece of a system, the systems of German idealism: the Argentine chooses here or there a short sentence that resounds and the fragment reveals itself in all its splendor.
Knowledge and secret
Borges exhibits, in all the literature he has produced, the dissected body of knowledge. He moves like a fish in water inside the S and the barred A, which is how we designate the necessarily fragmented, ruptured, displaced character of knowledge. He succeeds in engendering a poetry of prankish erudition.
Borges had read a good deal, above all the Encyclopaedia Britannica, from which he has taken some dazzling flashes, with allusions to a universal culture. In this short text, "The Secret of the Phoenix", he conjugates knowledge and secret, which appear to be two antinomic terms: on the one hand what is known and on the other what is not known. It is this allocation of knowledge and secret that nourishes the imaginary of conspiracy, very present in Borges. The existence of a conspiracy has the effect of partitioning humanity into two distinct classes: those who know and those who do not know.__
It must be acknowledged that in the beginnings of psychoanalysis, because we were then rallied around knowledge that was not shared by all, knowledge that presented a certain character of originality, which had at the same time pretensions of universality, this psychoanalytic movement was first approached, conceived as a sort of conspiracy. It is not sure that the first psychoanalysts had not themselves succumbed to the imaginary of conspiracy. Among themselves they called it the cause! It is also the Freudian conspiracy. This is the departure point for these affairs of sect and conspiracy: those who have knowledge and those who do not. On the one hand, the few, the Happy Few Band of Brothers , and then all the others.
But the twist Borges gives to the imaginary of the sect, particularly in this text, is the revelation that the few do not know any more than all the others. That does not prevent their being associated, grouped together. By what? By the signifier of the sect, a signifier that Borges shows us at once to be highly doubtful. They do not know more than the others what constitutes a secret for the others. And it is even revealed at the end of this text that those who were presented as belonging to the few are so numerous that they are all the others.
The secret for the others is also a secret for themselves, which is a response to this assertion of Hegel's in his Aesthetics concerning Egyptian art: "The secrets of the Egyptians were secrets for the Egyptians themselves". This is finally what, little by little, comes out in Borges's five paragraphs.
Two major facets of knowledge...
Two major facets of knowledge have preoccupied what we call the West, the West and the Westerners, whom Lacan calls the "Occidented": Greek knowledge and Egyptian knowledge. Greek knowledge is knowledge that is exposed and set forth in demonstrations , on the model of mathematics. The sect of mathematicians first emerged as a special sect. It met with some success. That is why it should retain the interest of psychoanalysis, a more recent sect that has not yet obtained a central place in culture such as the sect of mathematicians conquered. Mathematics is a sect that was oriented by an entirely new real, an extremely solid real, which made Lacan pale with jealousy. How can we obtain for the sect of psychoanalysts a real that has the promise of attaining the same success as the mathematic real?
On the one hand, Greek knowledge, knowledge associated with the matheme. It is begun, it is finished, you have nothing to say, it is settled; all that is left is to do it over again or integrate the results into a more comprehensible structure. On the other hand, Egyptian knowledge, crypted knowledge, mysterious, supposed knowledge. It must well be supposed if we are to have a look and try to decipher it, that is to say, to replace a certain number of signifiers by others that mean something for you and which, because of that, have the effect that the initial signifiers also mean something. Two postulations, Greek knowledge and Egyptian knowledge, which are antinomic, as the matheme is with respect to the mystery.
...that are antinomic
This antinomy was essential for the spirit of the Enlightenment. We can turn to Voltaire, to the article "Sect" in his Philosophical Dictionary. "There are no sects in geometry. We do not speak of a Euclidian, or an Archimedean. When the truth is evident, it is impossible that it give rise to parties and factions. Never did anyone argue about whether it was daytime at noon." This is obviously nave. It is perfectly possible to argue about whether it is daytime at noon. It depends, for example, on where this particular noon takes place. That is the whole spirit of the Enlightenment. Effectively, to examine all things in the light of this particular noon, and extend this noon that reigns over the mathematic model to every question concerning this world. Ah! Of course, when we examine in the light of noon those truths that only prosper in the shade, those bat-blind truths, those truths evaporate. The French Revolution sanctioned the will to go examine the foundations of the master signifiers as if they were mathematic signifiers, wishing to be demonstrative and universal in political matters.
Psychoanalysis is divided between the Greek and the Egyptian. On the one hand, it has as the object of its work knowledge of the unconscious, which is of the Egyptian type, insofar as it must be decrypted, and we know Freud's fascination for ancient Egypt, its art and its products. He surrounded himself with tokens of this crypted knowledge, and at the same time psychoanalysis tends to lead him to the matheme. Freud's reference is scientific discourse. Although his tastes and his fascination are for the Egyptian object, he nevertheless insists on the fact that psychoanalysis belongs to scientific discourse, and that the real of the unconscious must be attestable in scientific discourse.
The question is of course more difficult than what Voltaire puts forth. There are not only specialties in mathematics, there are sects too, which have a tendency in effect to turn into specialties. There is not just one geometry as it could be written in the eighteenth century, there are several geometries. And then, the intuitionist conception of mathematics emerged in the twentieth century with very marked sectarian features around a leader, Brouwer, who conceived his intuitionism effectively as a veritable crusade.
A separated knowledge
A sect is defined, insufficiently, in the Robert, as a group of persons who profess the same philosophic doctrine or as an organized group of persons who hold the same doctrine within a religion.
That does not work at all. It refers to the root of the word segui, to follow, but a sect obviously has something to do with a section, something related to sectio, which designates the action of cutting, or of separating from. The sect essentially comports a position of partiality touching the truth, a bias concerning truth. Already, accepting to be a sect means admitting that the knowledge in question, this knowledge of a doctrine, is not for everyone (either the sect holds this knowledge back or concludes that the others resist it). It is a sequestered knowledge. That is why the sect has in fact essential affinities with the secret, with the knowledge that is not available to all.
In his sect of the Phoenix, Borges begins by describing a sect from a distance, in such a way that we can approach it by what I called clues, and then, in an extraordinary glissade, he finally extends it to the whole of humanity, revealing in what way humanity itself is a sect.
Here is the first paragraph.
"Those who write that the sect of the Phoenix saw its origin in Hliopolis and have it derive from the religious restoration successive to the death of the reformer Amenophis IV, cite texts of Herodotus, Tacit and the Egyptian monuments. But they ignore, or wish to ignore, that the denomination of Phoenix barely preceded Hrabano Mauro, and that the oldest sources (let's say the Saturnalia or Flavius Joseph) only speak of Those of the Custom or Those of the Secret . Gregorovius had already observed, in the little convents of Ferrare, that mention of the Phoenix was extremely rare in the oral language. In Geneva, I conversed with artisans, who did not understand me when I asked if they were members of the Phoenix; but they immediately admitted they were members of the Secret. Unless I am mistaken, the same is true for the Buddhists: the name by which the world designates them is not the one they pronounce."
The mystery reigns, and the mention of Geneva is touching here, since it is the place that Borges chose to die, and the place in which he spent the happiest years of his adolescence. One of his last books of poetry is called The Conjured, what he calls the conjured being the union of the first Swiss cantons to form Switzerland. He evokes in a few verses this conspiracy, this initial conjuration, and the poem ends on the evocation, which seems to enchant him, of a Switzerland that might extend throughout the world.
How delicate a term "Those of the Secret"! It is the proper name of all sects of initiation. It would be wonderful to be called "Those of the Secret" rather than "psychoanalysts". He also says "Those of the Custom". This announces the place he will give in this text to a mysterious rite.
The rite is an action, a symbolized action that requires that one lend one's body to the symbol. There are individual rites that Freud describes for us from time to time, by analogy with the anthropological rite, but the rite is a social bond. In Borges's glissade, the whole of the secret involved was introduced by books and hearsay. The entire secret turns out to be concentrated in a rite.
In the second paragraph, Borges distinguishes between Those of the Secret and Gypsies. Those of the Secret are not like Gypsies, nor are they like Jews. "Sectarians cannot be differentiated from other men, which is proved by the fact that they have not been persecuted."
Third paragraph: "There hardly exists a group of human beings in which partisans of the Phoenix are not found". We have there a sect that is in a way omnipresent, which intermingles with everyone.
The fourth paragraph subtly subtracts from the notion of sect all the features that particularize a sect. They have no sacred book, no shared memory, no language that is proper to them, but only a rite. And even, "The rite constitutes the Secret".__
"I examined the reports of travelers, I conversed with patriarchs and theologians; I can certify that the observance of the rite is the only religious practice of these sectarians. The rite constitutes the Secret. The secret is transmitted from generation to generation, but according to custom it is taught to children neither by their mother, nor by priests. Initiation to the mysteries is the task of the vilest individuals. Slaves, lepers or beggars are the mystagogues. A child can also instruct another child. The act in itself is commonplace, brief and needs no description. The material is constituted by some cork, some wax, or some gum-arabic." This last sentence is there to lead the reader astray. We begin to grasp what it is about. "There is no temple consecrated specially to the celebration of the cult, but ruins, a cellar or a vestibule are considered as propitious places. The Secret is sacred, but it is nonetheless a bit ridiculous. Its exercise is furtive and even clandestine and its adepts do not talk about it." This dates from after the war. "There is no honorable word to name it, but it is understood that all words designate it or rather that they inevitably allude to it. Thus, during the dialogue I said something and the adepts smiled or else were embarrassed, for they had the sentiment that I had grazed the Secret."
I happened recently to say that Borges had been recalcitrant with regard to psychoanalysis. Which is true. He said moreover that psychoanalysis was the medical branch of science-fiction. That is formidable. But it seems he did have recourse to a few analytic sessions.
And the fifth paragraph: "I was favored on three continents with the friendship of numerous followers of the Phoenix sect. I am persuaded that the Secret in the beginning seemed to them commonplace, arduous, vulgar, and (what is even stranger) incredible. They did not want to admit that their ancestors had stooped to such vile practices. It is strange that the Secret had not been lost long ago; despite the vicissitudes of the globe, despite the wars and exoduses, it happens, terribly, to all the faithful. Someone did not hesitate to say it had become instinctive."
Borges betrays the secret
It is simply coitus. He leads us astray with some trifles like the gum-arabic, which is not indispensable to the act, but he contrives literally to enigmaticize coitus. I had in fact already mentioned this text in an attempt to enigmaticize the analytic session for us and to describe in terms of sects what is part of the daily fare of a certain number of analysands and analysts.
That is the secret of the text, which is itself presented as knowledge to be decrypted. We wonder effectively what it is about. Is the gum-arabic absolutely a part of this rite or can we leave it aside in order to grasp what it's about? The text is written in order that we wonder what it is about. What is the reference for that?
For a long time, I have had a notion about this text and its charm, and I realized that, in the remarkable Pliade edition, volume 1, page 1595, we find a note informing us that Borges betrayed his secret in an interview with an American. Borges makes a clean breast of it: "The first time I heard about this act, when I was a child, I was scandalized by the idea that my mother and father had done it. It was a stupefying discovery, wasn't it? But it must be said that it is an act of immortality, a rite of immortality, isn't it?"
The exploit of this text is to enigmaticize the sexual act, the sexual relation. It is even to push the spirit of the Enlightenment as far as it can go, to the point at which the rational real is transformed into the fantastic.
The limit point of the spirit of the Enlightenment
The spirit of the Enlightenment was first to formulate that customs exist. Our way of doing things was not the only way, there were others. Customs exist and they are diverse according to the peoples concerned and according to traditions, and humanity is partitioned between diverse customs. The fact that they are multiple shows that ours, as the others, are semblants, that they do not have a foundation necessary to humanity, that they are inventions and it is a question of choosing the best invention, the one that causes the least harm to this humanity.
We are here at the limit point of this spirit, since the custom involved is that of humanity as such. In this text, the toil of the flesh is treated entirely as a cultural fact. It is attributed to a sect, a partiality. It is by this bias that it is established as a semblant.
The old question of the Enlightenment, that of Montesquieu, "How can anyone be Persian?", is the question posed by those who adhere so closely to the customs of his place, his time, his people that he cannot grasp why the other does things differently, and he is astonished. It is the feeling of strangeness that takes hold of one in face of the customs of strangers. In the eighteenth century, the tales of travelers, the exoticism that turned daily life into a semblant, enchanted. In a way, Borges's text is preceded by Diderot's "Supplement to Bougainville's voyage", in which he is enchanted to show us that there are peoples for whom the sexual act has entirely other moral and symbolic values than those we attribute to it. The priest arrives and immediately he is offered the wife or the daughter of the chief. Diderot describes how the priest cries out in delight in response to these offers during the first moments.
How can one be a human being?
Borges leads us here to something like a question: how can one be a human being? It is the human condition that itself seems strange, enigmatic and especially for what concerns coitus. How can it be that we consent to something as incredible as what we call making love?
Borges's genius, in the sect of the Phoenix, is to approach sex by knowledge. He says "the sect of the Phoenix". The Phoenix is the phallus. The phallus is a phoenix. You are the phoenix of the hosts of these woods! The sexual act consummates the disappearance of the phallus, and then, supposedly, the phallus, after a time, a more or less long lapse, is reborn out of its ashes.
Humanity makes of sex a secret. And even when it no longer makes of it a secret, there is something of sex that is intrinsically a secret. And because of this, humanity can be described as a sect.
The paradox that animates this text is that, in it, for what concerns sexuality, everyone behaves like the few who would hide a secret from all the others, while it is the secret of all. That is why it is really a text of the epoch of psychoanalysis.
The "few apart", who are revealed finally as having turned into the "all", the universal, is one of Borges's fundamental themes. His tale called "The Congress", which he took a very long time to write, which, he tells us, had special importance for him, describes a very special conspiracy, fomented by a land owner who, because he was unable to become deputy to the Uruguayan Congress, decides to found the World Congress in which all men of all nations would be represented. It never includes any more than a little band of somewhat doubtful characters, something like the apostles or like Freud's band.__
The World Congress
What does one do when one is the World Congress? They begin to talk about anything and everything, including the most futile things. They make lists, set up a lending library. They try to find the language that would be suitable for the meetings of the World Congress: is it Esperanto, Volapk or Latin? Or rather John Wilkins's analytic language? And then, Don Alejandro gathers the books in the courtyard and burns them. He says: "The World Congress began with the first moment of the world and will continue when we will no longer be anything but dust. There is no place where it does not sit". The World Congress is everywhere, in each one, in each thing, in each event. And he takes what is left of the little group for an evening drive, in an open convertible, through Buenos Aires, not far from the cemetery of La Recoleta. It is an enchanting moment, described in just one paragraph, a sort of revelation that the World Congress is there, that there is no need for them to wear themselves out gathering books and studying languages, but that everything is already there and does not need us, does not need us to scramble about. There is then a mystic revelation. I shall only quote this one passage: "What is important is to have realized that our plan, that we had often made fun of" (the World Congress is also a sort of limit point of the spirit of the Enlightenment, a universality sustained by a conspiracy, which finally discovers it is useless), "really existed secretly, and that it was the entire universe and ourselves".
We have in the beginning this handful of alls who are set on their particularities. They want to represent everyone, and we have finally the sublime dissolution of the World Congress within the world itself. In a way, the world does not need to be represented by the World Congress and it does not need for some to devote themselves to a special task. This task is already accomplished, already there. It is the universe, the great All.
We are obliged to think here of Hegel's statement: "The absolute wants to be with us". Nothing in this Phenomenology of the Spirit could be conceived if the absolute did not want to be and was not already with us. This is the mystic moment. The universal, the universe itself, by the sole fact that it is approached by the bias of the particular, when the particular can then be abolished, is daily life. Each thing takes on then another sense. It is the essence of all mystic wisdom, to find in the most futile of events the sense of the absolute, which is here a secret sense. It is the admirable conjugation of these two words: really and secretly. It is a secret that has no content, a secret that is nothing more than the signification of the secret, just as Lacan can say that the subject supposed to know is only the signification of knowledge.
The sect of the Phoenix dramatizes the affiliation of sexuality and the secret. It is a secret that all practice and yet it remains a secret for each one. There is something secret in sexuality for each of us. Borges makes us see that it is a knowledge that is entirely contained in an act that all accomplish as a rite, that is to say, without knowing what it means.
Of all literature it is the most condensed, the most exquisite text that dramatizes what the sexual non-relationship means insofar as it is secret for those who accomplish the sexual act (and just as well for those who do not accomplish it). It is for this reason that Borges, in such a prodigious manner, indicates in the last sentence that the rite is the same as instinct, because the rite just as instinct is pre-eminently what we do without knowing why: "Someone did not hesitate to say it had become instinctive".
The refutation of time
It is precisely in the same vein that the mystic revelation, the revelation of what is without reason is inscribed. You know the quotation from Angelus Silesius: "The rose is without reason". This is the revelation that is made at the end of the Congress: the world is without reason. The world does not need us, does not need our worry, it does not need us if we are the worry, if we are the spirit of enterprise, if we are desire. This is a wisdom that rejoins that of Tao. There is no need to be so agitated. It is enough to walk around and then everything that happens is there. That is the theme of the world and of the lack, if you want. The lack is illusory. There is only what is. And even that says too much, because it evokes something else. We could say with Heidegger: "there is the 'there is'".
The world, such as it appeared at the end of the Congress, is the material world, the one we perceive during the drive. Of course, there are also imaginations, dreams, fictions. All that is too, in a way. That is why Borges ends up finally on the univocity of being. All that is too, what is on your mind, your dreams, the idea that comes to your mind, the instant.
Of course, in this perspective, time becomes problematic. This Borges is the author of a text essential for the questions we are treating this year and which comport a refutation of time. Borges is moreover the author of two refutations of time (he takes care to say it): one in 1944, the other in 1946. He pushes the malice so far as to publish these two articles together in his book carefully indicating their dates. The exact title is moreover "A New Refutation of Time". Which of course implies that there had already been refutations of time before. The malice here is that the title itself belies the thesis it exposes. It begins moreover by saying that he does not believe it, but "it often comes to haunt me at night or during the lassitude of the crepuscule with the illusory force of a first truth."
What does his text demonstrate there? That, in fact, time has been refuted. Numerous philosophers refute time, and the negations of time are negations that belong to philosophic idealism, to the imaginary or to literature. He does it in his own style, with little fragments that he gathers a bit everywhere, but in order to show that the negation of time is thinkable, that is to say, that it is the work of thought and imagination. But what is the effect? To isolate the real of time. Borges's new refutation of time shows that being refuted does not prevent time from being. It is, despite the refutation of time, that is to say it is as impossible.
In the end, it is the refutation of the refutation, the refutation in the real of the idealist refutation of time: "For our misfortune, the world is real, and as for me, for my misfortune, I am Borges.
"This is not quite the end. The text ends after this sentence by the quotation of a distich from Angelus Silesius: "Friend, it is enough. If you wish to read more, go and become yourself writing and yourself being (das Wesen)."
"I am time"
What does that introduce, if we force things just a bit in order to conceptualize them? It is because there is a Borgesian rupture of the cogito. The cogito goes off on its own. It is idealism, the refutation of the real, the refutation of time. A certain number of interpreters wished to show that the cogito only existed properly speaking in the instant. In fact, as soon as Descartes stumbles on his cogito, he poses the question: "I think, I am, but for how long?" The commentators wanted to show that this question of "how long" could only be resolved by passing by the divine great Other, because the cogito could never be assured of its being except in the instant of thought. In order for the "how long" to continue, the existence of God must be demonstrated.
As for the cogito, there is no time, and at the same time that leaves it open to omni-temporality, to the presence of everything that has taken place and will take place: by thought, "I am the universe", "I am all men". It is a theme that enchants Borges, on the side of the cogito. By thought, I deny the real, I produce literature, I refute time. But the sum plays its part aside. On the side of the sum, I belong to time.
It seems to me that no one has remarked, in as pure and precise a manner as Borges, the affiliation of this "I am" to time, an "I am" that is made up of time, and the substance time of what I am.
The mortal consumed by the immortal
It is much too simple to say, "as for me, I am just Borges". This text is completed by another, much acclaimed, a simple page of Borges's, that is called "Borges and Me". A text in which me, I speak of this Borges, who then is not me, whose name I pronounce, who does all kinds of things, who has an exciting life, while, as for me, I walk around Buenos Aires, and what's more, all I do is attributed to Borges. The "I am just Borges" that ends the refutation of time, grows pale in comparison with the sublime division, which is just suggested at the end of the refutation of time when he says: "I am the river that sweeps me along, the tiger that tears me apart, the fire that consumes me." Then, he says "I am Borges and I am what devours Borges".
It is not simply a division between being and appearance. On the one hand, Borges, the one who has the name, the writer, the being of the symbolic and at the same time the "show-off" that me considers as a somewhat questionable character. My qualities, in Borges, take on a certain theatrical accent, he says. We have on the one hand the immortal Borges, and then on the other, there is me, the support, the material of Borges, the mortal me. As the text says: "I am condemned to disappear definitively and only some instant of me will be able to survive in the other." The mortal has the feeling he is consumed by the immortal, to such an extent that he says: "I cannot, as Spinoza says, persevere in my being. Me, I am forced to persevere in Borges, and not in me, if it is the case that I am someone."
In other words, there is on the one hand a me who extends time, who is time, and then there is an other who is a signifier and who because of that is an ideality, an ideality that operates, and that makes of me moreover his waste. The me here has the feeling he is the waste-product of his own immortality.
We must however take notice of the very first sentence of this celebrated page, which is not explained: "It is to the other one, to Borges, that things happen". That means that Borges places the event on the side of the signifier. On the contrary to what a vain people might think, the event is on the side of the immortal, not on the side of the temporal flux in which I simply walk around. For something to happen, I must be on the side of the signifier.
Let's go back to the phoenix-phallus. To designate the phallus as the phoenix is to put stress on power over time, the PH. The PH triumphs over time. It triumphs since it is reborn with the power of the encore.
There is no reason to gloat over that. Time marks its presence, of course, at the level of the particular, but not if it involves the transmission of life, and precisely those two aspects that are always present in what Borges transmits to us: the immortal germen and then the bodies that waste away and perish. Life exists under these two forms: the immortal of life and then the perishable of the corporal form. I refer you to what I ponderously insisted on last year in this supposed Lacanian biology.
Thus the relationship between life and time is dual. It yields something to time but then again it traverses it. And what is left, at least in the species and as long as it lasts, is the celebration of the sexual rite, that is to say, the celebration of this non-knowledge on sex or of the sexual secret, of a non-knowledge that takes on the allure of knowledge - this is what we call a secret in these matters - of the sexual secret that is just as well shut off to its own followers. This is why we are always trying to learn more on the subject of this secret. It is because there is an essential affiliation between the sexual and the secret, because of which "encore" is a term of this quest.
The tale in five paragraphs is woven through with history, a history that comes from all sources, from the oldest chronicles to the "hearsay" picked up on voyages. But what is finally apprehended is a trans-historic fact, the mysterious repetition of the same act. We find in Borges's "New Refutation of Time" this proposal: "Is the repetition of just one term not enough to dislocate and confound the entire history of the world, in order to make it clear that this history does not exist?"
Moreover, Borges, that walking library, at the same time was making for history the same calculation as Lacan makes during the last period of his teaching: not to touch the H, the Hatchet of History. Here, the only term that is repeated, and that is of a nature to dislocate the history of the world and bring out that there is no history of the world, is the sexual rite. That is the lesson of the sect of the Phoenix, that coitus annuls the history of the world, and that nature and culture converge within it, that it is the opening to a point of infinity at which the two parallel orders unite, in secret, outside of knowledge. It can well be said with respect to this: "Pardon them because they know not what they do".
The sect of the session
I evoked the sect of the Phoenix with respect to psychoanalysis as a practice, and as a practice of the session. I could have said "the sect of the session". Psychoanalysis can obviously be treated as a sectarian practice for what concerns the analytic group. It is evident that there is a push-to-the-sect within psychoanalysis. In order to grasp this, it must be related to what psychoanalysis is concerned with, which carries the name of the unconscious. Freud could wish to make of it a real worthy of science and Lacan to capture it in the matheme, there are still things that resist it, and which Lacan has situated. The result is that sect there is, that there is matter for sectarianism in psychoanalysis. It must not be thought that internationalizing the sect changes its nature. It only produces a syndicate of sects.
This is a very simple approach to the question, because these are only the consequences of the relationship to knowledge that exists in analytic discourse. The phenomenon must be grasped at its root, that is to say, in the analytic session itself. There is an essential affiliation between psychoanalysis and the session. The session is, after all, the major form of its practice. There is no psychoanalysis without the psychoanalytic session. And a session of psychoanalysis is an encounter between Those of the Secret, Those of the Unconscious and Those of the Knowledge supposed. There, it could not be said that the propitious places for the sect of the session are ruins, a cellar or a vestibule. The propitious place is considered to be the analyst's consulting room. But Freud took a certain liberty with this. It happened that he would take walks with an analysand (exceptionally! It is out of the question that the walk should become the major form of analytic practice). It is an encounter of which it can be said, if we refer it to the sect of the Phoenix, that the people in the sect who meet regularly abstain from practicing in it the sexual rite.
This only brings into evidence the essential relationship there is between the session and the sexual relationship. What is genially called the rule of abstinence, which supplements the rule of free association. What does this rule mean except that the sexual relationship must be possible for it not to take place? It is moreover, it must be admitted, by the very presence of the bed, of this bed that we call the couch, and because of which there are subjects who cannot lie down on this bed during the analytic sessions just because the sexual connotation is unbearable for them to sustain.
You can imagine how that would be formulated by Borges's pen: they meet in a room where there is a bed, only one of the two lie on the bed so that a relationship to knowledge might be established. The relationship to knowledge mobilizes the libido, and this libido must be used for knowledge.
This article was virtually posted in the Lacanian International Review in the Autumn of 2006.
Text and notes established by Catherine Bonningue from L'orientation lacanienne, II, 3, "Les us du laps" (November 24, 1999), delivered in the context of the Département de Psychanalyse de Paris VIII. Translated from "Le coit estigmatisç. Une lecture de 'la secte du Phçnix' de Jorge Luis Borges," in Revue de Psychanalyse 70 (Avril 2000).
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