This paper brings together the work of Jacques Lacan, the great Christianizer of psychoanalysis, and René Girard, the speculative anthropologist whose study of sacrifice and myth led not only to his rejection of Freud and Lacan but a dramatic conversion to Catholicism and growing conviction as to the revelatory power of the Gospels to expose the myth upon which psychoanalysis is built. Despite their antipathy I bring a psychoanalytic perspective to bear on Girard’s theory, interrogating the modalities of sacrifice according Lacan’s three registers of the psyche: the imaginary, symbolic, and real. I then explore Girard’s distinction between myth and Gospel in light of Lacan’s claim regarding the impossibility of the sexual relation. I argue that the difference between sacrifice in the register of the symbolic, and sacrifice in the register of the real not only restages the impossibility of the sexual relation, it conforms to Girard’s distinction between myth and Gospel. In this way I pave the way for a more mutual reading of their enterprises, and theology and psychoanalysis more generally.
This essay challenges the widespread notion that Lacanian psychoanalysis represents a ‘Christianising’ of psychoanalysis. It argues that Lacanian psychoanalysis brings to psychoanalysis a broadly “Averroist” attitude towards religion which develops out of and transcends Freud’s position in Totem and Taboo. For Lacan, religious texts are an invaluable source of pre-psychoanalytic insight or another regal road into the champ Freudien: the dynamic of human beings’ desire, in its co-conformity with language and Law. The text focuses on trying to decipher the missing content of the Names of the Father seminar: the seminar that “does not exist” (Miller, 2006) beyond its opening, esoteric and dramatic session. The force of doing this will be to show how much, and how fundamental, the things are that Lacan thinks the bible, and the first Abrahamic monotheism in particular, can teach us about human subjectivity and the instance of the Law that shapes it – insights which go to explain Freud’s unmistakable attachment, despite himself, to the civilizational importance of his fathers.
The paper Waltharius’ Witz is an analysis of irony in the medieval epic Waltharius, based on Freud’s Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewußten and Der Humor. The intention of this research is to add further nuances to Kratz’s model for interpreting the Waltharius and its irony, which concerns the relationship between heroic and Christian codes in this epic. Instead of explaining the various examples of irony through an interpretation of the Waltharius as a whole, the opposite approach is taken: the interpretation of the entire epic is based on a close examination of the examples of irony and the tendencies that lurk behind them.
The Waltharius is introduced and the interpretative model of Kratz, in which the irony of this epic is explained as a mocking of the characters. The epic heroes are mocked because of their vitia, which prevent them from becoming Christian heroes. The analysis based on Freud’s works however, differentiates irony according to the categories mentioned in Der Witz: jokes, the comic and humour. Having uncovered these ironic tendencies and the shift from the comic to the humoristic at the ending of the epic, a new interpretation is outlined as a struggle to reach an equilibrium between heroic and Christian code, by conquering human frailty through humour. This seems to fit the monastic culture of the 10th century.
Jacques Derrida’s La mythologie blanche: La métaphore dans le texte philosophique, or the Myth and/in the Margin
In La mythologie blanche: La métaphore dans le texte philosophique (1971) rekent Jacques Derrida genadeloos af met de westerse, logocentrische vooronderstelling van een metafoorloze metafysica. Via zijn ingenieuze “wet van de supplementariteit” deconstrueert hij de vermeend tegengestelde begrippen “concept” en “metafoor” namelijk als elkaars noodzakelijke supplement. Gezien de semantische verwevenheid van de opposities metafoor-concept en mythos-logos valt Derrida’s “wet van de supplementariteit” evenwel ook op die laatste tegenstelling toe te passen. Zo kan worden aangetoond dat ook “mythos” en “logos” niet aan oppositionele essenties beantwoorden, maar dat het ene begrip telkens de semantische ruimte bestrijkt die de andere openlaat. Bij de twee meest hardnekkige vooronderstellingen binnen het mytheonderzoek – de mythe zou beantwoorden aan een logische essentie en de poststructuralistische deconstructie zou van geen enkele waarde zijn voor de mythestudie – dient bijgevolg het nodige voorbehoud te worden aangetekend.
Since Freud, psychoanalysis has recognised in mythology its own double: mythology as a discourse that gives voice, albeit encrypted, to the unconscious. In this relationship, psychoanalysis sometimes saw itself in the role of disciple, but more often and more eagerly took the role of master. This is why the original creative exchange between the two has often been reduced to more sterile, more simplistic relationships. Robert Eisner has pointed out how psychoanalysis has tended to narrow down mythical narratives to restrictive, authoritarian moulds that tend to impede, rather than to create, new meanings and possibilities. This paper sets out to demonstrate how lacanian psychoanalysis could pave the way for an alternative, more fertile approach to myth. Although Lacan, in contrast with Freud and Jung, is rarely mentioned in relation to myth, the study of mythology has played a major role in his ‘return to Freud’. It was only by drawing inspiration from the structural myth analysis of Lévi-Strauss that he conceived of the unconscious as a linguistic web, the symbolic connections of which had to be analysed and spun out rather than ‘understood’. Lacan approaches myth as he approaches the speech of the analytic patient: not as a secret to be pried open by a master, but as a network of relations, clustered around an ‘impossibility’ that asks to be explored. By engaging in the dialogue on equal terms, and by daring to acknowledge the ‘mythical’ status of psychoanalysis, Lacan breaks through the mirror between myth and psychoanalysis.
The Changing Subject and Object Positions in the Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, or Why the Matrixial Philosophy of Bracha Ettinger leads to the Backwards Glance of Eurydice?
The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has been studied for about three thousand years along the same lines, as would be expected from one of the leading patriarchal foundational narratives of the western imagination: male subject in search of female object to fulfil his emptiness and identity. Although this story originally took part in a generalized climate of mythos and could be seen as a necessary addition and supplement for knowledge generated by logos, it developed very quickly into a piece of evidence for, and an illustration of, a number of essentialist discourses. However, from the beginning of the twentieth century onwards, a number of the organising hierarchies belonging to the main structure of the plot have been questioned regarding their gendered and power orientated construction and indeed have been destablised. Due to the criticism formulated by poststructuralism, the excluded categories forced a new creativity and posed the question, amongst others, what the same myth could signify, when elaborated from a female point of view. Bracha Ettinger formulated a completely original answer to this question.