[Note: This article originally appeared in Le Point. Translation by Asunción Álvarez.]
Illuminating. What Lacan would have said about our times, by his son-in-law and intellectual heir, psychoanalyst Jacques-Alain Miller.
The little notebook where Lacan wrote down his dreams while he was in analysis. It starts on November 26th 1934 (left). Jacques-Alain Miller in his Paris office, August 10th 2011 (right) © Éric Garault for “Le Point”
Le Point: Jacques Lacan throws light on one of the things that runs through our democratic society: the dominance of individualism. Can we talk about the tyranny of the “One”?
Jacques-Alain Miller: Our times are marked by the growing hold of figures, of counting: we want to quantify everything. And the principle of counting everything is the “One”. Without the “One”, our calculations would not exist, and nowadays they are everywhere: in daily life, in politics – at least, as far as voting is concerned – in science, in medicine in economics, in libraries, in show business, in all fields of human activity. Islam is the religion that most stresses the single “One”. And yet in sexuality it was traditionally duality that was dominant. Everything was based on the complementarity of both sexes. Freud still conceived the sexual relationship on the basis of the Platonic and Gospel model: man and woman turning into one flesh.
Does not this narcissistic gangrene prove that Lacan was right: “there is no sexual relation”, given that it can do without the Other?
Lacan had deduced that the ancient model would not last, that sexuality would go from a fusional “One” to “One on one’s own”. Every man for himself! Everyone can have his or her way of enjoying! Until Lacan, this had been called auto-eroticism. And it was usually thought that it was something that was reabsorbed, as both sexes are made for each other. Not at all! This was a prejudice. At the basis, in the unconscious, your jouissance isn’t complementary with that of anyone else. Social constructions used to hold all this imaginary stuff in place. Now they totter, as the push of the “One” on the political plane means an “everything goes” democracy: everyone’s right to his or her own jouissance has become a “human right”. In the name of what would my jouissance be less legal than yours? This can no longer be understood. That’s why the general model for daily life in the 21st century is addiction. “One” enjoys drugs on his or her own, and any activity can become a drug: sport, sex, work, smartphones, Facebook…
And yet, to survive, the human species must reproduce!
This concerns the complementary relation between sperm and ova. It’s not the same level as the level of speaking beings. And speakers are clearly gaining the upper hand over nature. Nowadays, they manipulate reproduction through science according to their desires and phantasms. Legal discourse is following this trend. This has only started: last years the first synthetic genome was created. Nature won’t last much longer! Hence the long-felt sense of ecological urgency.
Should be rejoice in the power of science? Lacan said that we should fear its effects…
We rejoice in and fear it at the same time. Science is a form of frenzy. It started quietly, with no fuss, in the 17th century. Nowadays it shakes all mankind, who have eaten of the apple and are lost. Its shakes become faster and faster. And it’s impossible to stop it, as the supremacy of the “One” comes from language itself. Lacan used to equate this frenzy with the death drive. No nostalgia will stop it, not ethics committee. Our living conditions will undergo tremendous soul-changing transformations, as the soul finds it hard to keep up. Baudelaire, at the start of the Industrial Revolution, wept for the Paris which was being erased by Haussmann. Change is certain. For better or for worse? It depends. This explains Lacan’s title.
Lacan foresaw the return of the sacred. Some seem to have found in religion an antidote to the triumph of science. And yet, are science and God not incompatible?
On the contrary, the return of religion is the necessary counterweight to the situation. See: old relations are coming undone; everyone faces the solitude of the “One”; we submit to the blind and brutal mastery of figures, which become more and more senseless, and even beyond sense. Who will deliver us from this Hell? Not the therapies promising the “One” that he or she will heal from One’s malaise on One’s own, if One becomes convinced every morning that One is the master of Oneself and of the universe. Culture, “entertainment”? Yes, but that’s not enough. One turns toward religion. There One finds specialists who have always offered meaningful life to suffering mankind. And this meaning brings a social link, a link, to the poor scattered “Ones” that we have become.
An identitarian entrenchment can be seen everywhere. And after 1968, Lacan prophesized the rise of racism.
It’s the “One”, the “One”, I tell you! The “One” is also the cult of identity from self to self, the difficulty in bearing the Other, someone who does not enjoy in the same way as we do. When “everyone was in their own home”, there was not racism, but of course there was the racism of men towards women, whose desire is visibly not the same as their own. But we had to go and disturb people who were living life in their own turn, and we are experiencing a backlash. We move around, we mix, we connect. There is no clash of civilizations, but on the contrary an extraordinary mixture of ways of life, of jouissance and beliefs, which works upon identities and claves them from within. Look at the Norwegian murderer: he’s of the “One alone” type; he killed on behalf of a largely imaginary European identity; and he killed his fellow people, not Muslims. Everything’s there. This contingent, tragic and meaningless event is a mirror of the world.
People bring up the end of authority in schools and even in families to explain the violence in our society. What would Lacan propose: a return to the “Name-of-the-Father”?
Certainly not! The supremacy of the Father clothed a way of enjoyment which is wasting away. Daddy’s Name-of-the-Father is dying. We can do perfectly well without it, according to Lacan, as long as we make use of it. Put otherwise, shouting is no good anymore. Bosses who tell people what to do are over; the time has come for the modest leader, who provides orientation. And yet his adversaries reproach Obama for his Jesuitism: leading “from behind”, without appearing too much, pulling the strings softly. Even Nicolas Sarkozy has unsuccessfully tried to do so. And where Le Pen used to roar, his daughter purrs.
We have the impression that stock exchanges have gone mad. Is the financial crisis partly the consequence of a lack of authority?
We are no longer in the time of the gold standard. The dollar, the reserve currency, is no more solid than the Name-of-the-Father. There is great disorder among the signifiers! The monetary sign is on the run, it has its own logic which no one can master, with the ensuing psychic effects: agitation, panic, anxiety. This is a matter of writing, as everything is a figure, but above all of speech. Given that nothing is fixed anymore, brokering a deal requires permanent conversation. But it’s very difficult to bring a conversation to an end, due to the high number of speaking beings involved. The euro zone comprises seventeen countries. In the American Congress, every representative is a little king, and voices are fished for one by one. And recently we have the Tea Party monetary fundamentalists: they want at least one dollar saved for every dollar of debt. These are the madmen of the “One”! Result: the worst.
How can Lacan help us to find a solution?
Lacan makes us understand the following: 1) the number of false starts towards a solution rises vertiginously as the number of agents rises; 2) they can only end in a temporary modality, that of haste. Thus the number of decision makers must be drastically cut back.
What role can psychoanalysis play in all this?
For the lost “One”, it’s always the unheard-of chance of establishing a relationship with the Other in which the misunderstandings which you have with yourself have a chance of fading away. As for analysts, they teem, like patients, and each one is more individualistic than in the past. As Lacan had foreseen, the analyst is a “One” who authorizes him or herself, through his or her analysis, before being acknowledged by a group, or by God almighty, as one of their own.
In your opinion, did Lacan have a crystal ball?
He wasn’t Nostradamus, but it’s true that our present can be deciphered in his grammar, and we can see the grimace of the future that awaits us.