Curated by Alejandra Seeber

Styles of Life
Eric Laurent

Author’s Bio

translated by Gabrielle Shorr

Sublimation, Sublimierung, the word is in Freud, taken from his discourse on the art of his time. After Kant, the sublime was distinguished from beauty by the tension that persisted in it while subsiding in beauty. Thus Freud proposed: this tension reveals the direct satisfaction of a drive in aesthetic activity. The artist, by his apparent renunciation of direct sexual satisfaction, against nature, invents a specific, direct satisfaction to the components of drives, split off from sexuality. The artist elevates the most intimate paths of the formations of his unconscious to the level of artworks recognized by all, thereby finding the avenue of the most authentic recognition. The Freudian conception willingly admits to being part of the “fin de siècle” symbolist and positivist horizon. Most often, we would only see yet another doctor affirming that all human activities, from those most openly engaged in the heaviness of the matter to the most ethereal, find their foundation in man’s vital appetites. Furthermore, psychoanalysts managed therein to renew the perspective of Sainte-Beuve, searching for other traces more intimate than those revealed by the artwork itself. This offered an applied psychoanalytic literature, too assiduous, where the enigma of the artist’s “don merveilleux” was always unraveling, and the present state of the theory was always being illustrated.

A recurring torment animates this literature. If the sublimatory satisfaction is so perfect, why is the artist unhappy? Why does he not sublimate enough to liberate himself from his darkest hours, and why doesn’t he heal himself of his nervous, psychotic, or perverse afflictions? Why is it that the one who finishes by being recognized and accepted in his art doesn’t find in it peace and sufficient support? Why does the artist continue to suffer, as numerous suicides, or equally numerous losses, continually remind us? In this way psychoanalysis doesn’t easily resolve the discourse that preceded it on the “melancholy” of the artist, his Saturnian genius, his proximity to madness, the sadness and the morbid and fecund shifts of his essence (sentiment vital).

Therefore we’re critical of sublimation, as no one uses the word anymore; and the Freudian scandal, which added an important dimension to the drive, has abated.

The reception of a psychoanalytic discourse on sublimation has changed. We no longer expect from it a revelation on the relations of intimate life and creation. No one doubts that there are some. On this topic, it’s no longer a discussion of Proust versus Sainte-Beuve. It’s Proust and Saint-Beuve together. On the one hand, there’s the inflation of life stories where all the smallest “petits papiers” of the artist are included, even, if possible, the transcript (le texte) of his therapy sessions; on the other hand, there’s the most detailed examination of the act of creation, tracking down the smallest repentance, or in the most recently discovered manuscript, a new perspective on the “don merveilleux.” It’s both the death of the author and his apotheosis. Psychoanalysis accompanied this movement. With Proust, psychoanalysis could follow to a tee the transposition and translation of the obsessions of every artist in a language that is his own. With Sainte-Beuve, psychoanalysis could accept the most precise details of the modes of jouissance particular to each artist, without making them seem prudish. Psychoanalysis has surely contributed to reigning in the limits of the genre.

A question remains: what should we do? It’s here that Lacan’s reading of Freud introduces a new perspective. The analyst doesn’t precede the artist, who would be reduced to the role of a foil by the nice theory of the transference (transposition) of drives. The analyst follows the artist as his shadow, imbued with the idea that the artist is the herald of malaise in civilization. He emphasizes and announces that which shows itself only as veiled. The artist renounces nothing of himself, and by the same, rejoins the horizon of his time, ours, which is not what certain people believe is a quest for meaning, but the search for an ethics of desire.

Kojève had formulated the first perspective, that, at the end of history, the only choice left will be to live, not according to an ideal, but according to an aesthetics of life. He called this “snobbism.” He became enchanted with Japan; he discovered its rituals, understanding it not as empire of signs, but as a country of 80 million snobs. We are no doubt less convinced that Kojève will live to see the end of history, but we know with him that what remains by science alone, of all spheres of human activity, leaves each person without a guide on how to live. It’s difficult to define a moral asceticism that allows each person to feel One. We can infer the disenchantment of the world and the externalization of provisory morals.

A conception of psychoanalysis as a path for de-idealisation could also add to this perspective an alleviation of the weight of the Ideal. Every subject ought to inform himself of the conditions of jouissance through the experience of analysis and then content himself with slipping into the present forms of moral life. From an amusing perspective, the American philosopher Richard Rorty describes well a world emptied of ideals but peopled by personalities, figures of the vocabulary of moral reflection, to the point where there is only “the magnanimous one, the real Christian, the honest one, the loose one, the one who believes in God, the hypocrite, the Roman, the saint, a Julien Sorel, a timid gazelle, a hyena, a depressive, a grande dame, a man of respect, a Bloomsbury…” He also accepts the reduction of the ideals of the time to three figures realized by his colleague Alasdair MacIntyre, “the Aesthete, the Manager, the Therapist,” and he would imagine himself happy to live in a world thus remedially defined, except he would maximize happiness along the precepts of John Rawls. It’s the reduction of the world to Styles of Life. In our field of thought, the search for a modern stoicism has wanted to respond to the same demand. It’s the perspective adopted by the DSM-IV, the clinical and statistical manual, in the description of perversions without lawful medical records. Under the pressure of gay lobbies, the American Psychiatric Association judged it the most democratic to represent homosexuality and its neighboring sadomasochism as “alternative styles of life.” This is only a clinical variation of the trend.

In opposition to this orientation, this serial presents a series of studies on four artists, who were men of truth, following with a commentary of Jacques Lacan’s first study on Gide. Their work, which takes jouissance literally, is not sublime, it is symptôme.

What does psychoanalysis then retain? It’s simple. Psychoanalysis refuses all disenchantment and is opposed to a perspective of disillusionment. If we must learn something from the artist, it’s that he makes himself the one responsible for the truth of his mode of jouissance. He makes it happen in the reality of his existence and, by that, he elevates himself to the ranks of a man of truth. What must resolve itself in psychoanalysis is not the fall of ideals, their mourning and renunciation. What must resolve itself is desire, insomuch as it doesn’t content itself with modes of collective renunciation to the truth of each person. Psychoanalysis is more Augustinian than one thinks; it deliberately proposes an ethics founded on desire. No God is on its horizon, but there is a respect for ideals that the psychoanalyst has, that one “can only transcend (s’en passer) by first obeying (s’en servir).”


Facebook Comments