Is life but a Pascalian dream? A commentary on Lacan’s louvain lecture

This article provides a detailed commentary on Lacan’s statement that “death belongs to the realm of faith” and relates it to a dream discussed briefly yet repeatedly in his work. This nightmare by one of his patients is qualified by Lacan as ‘Pascalian’, which allows for a discussion that takes into account Pascal’s famous pensée on ‘the wager’ and Lacan’s analysis of it in Seminar XVI. From this, the conclusion is drawn that the life of the conscious individual may be experienced as finite and mortal, but the life of the subject (of the unconscious) is immortalized by an infinite, repetitive signifying order. This idea is further explored via both Pascal’s argument that life is something one can wager and the Lacanian notion of object a.

The joke of psychoanalysis

Lacan’s notion of “objet a” designates the paradox of an object which gives body to a surplus over all determinate objects, an object which gives body to a lack constitutive of desire. What happens with this object at the end of the psychoanalytic treatment? The text proposes a parallel between the final moment of the treatment and the final reversal in telling a joke: in both cases, the sudden shift of perspective enacts what Lacan called the fall of the object, its change from a fascinating mystery to an excremental remainder.

The plague: Freud, Lacan & the crisis of critique

During its long history, psychoanalytical theory has developed a criticism dealing with almost the entire domain of human culture and civilization. That theory lays bare the unconscious motives and structures which, on the conscious level, can have all kinds of pernicious effects. The weak point of that criticism, however, consists in its awareness that the unconscious motives and structures it brings to consciousness, after its critical analysis, will remain unconscious and repressed. In that sense, psychoanalytical theory performs a critique of criticism as such. Unmasking falsity and lies does not necessarily result in establishing truth.

This essay outlines the contours of such a psychoanalytical ‘critique of criticism as such’, as well as its implications for contemporary critical thought in general. The essay more precisely focuses on the right-wing cultural criticism, which makes use of criticism’s newly discovered ‘tragic condition’ in order to support a conservative ethical, cultural and political programme. This essay proposes a few points of reference replying to these tendencies in contemporary critical thought.

The Wanderings of Jouissance, with the Object a in the Pocket: On Differential Diagnosis in Psychosis

In clinical practice, when confronted with a suspected psychosis, it is critical that, beyond simply providing a label, the diagnosis is verified and further specified with regard to the particular psychotic structure: paranoia, schizophrenia, mania, melancholia or autism. Each psychotic structure requires a specific kind of treatment. When this is clarified, it will allow us to take up an appropriate position in the transference and it to orient ourselves in relation to treatment. One approach is to determine the status of the object a and the jouissance within the logic of the case. For example, the paranoiac situates the jouissance in the Other, the schizophrenic will struggle with the jouissance in the body and the autistic subject will have troubles with language and the Other. In the case of melancholia we see that the subject fully identifies with the object a and finally, in mania, the object a will no longer function. Clinical examples of each of these structures are provided.

Pasolini’s “Teorem”: Psychoanalysis of a “New” Subject

Pasolini describes himself as a “scandal of self-contradiction” (Pasolini, 1957). He brings a subject who assumes the radical split that runs through the subjective field. With his poetry of permanent dissidence he taunts power in which desire and her laws are inscribed. By postponing the exemplary symbolic suicide his subject manages to avoid the deadlock of turning a blind eye and alienation in the symbolic other. Terence Stamp embodies this subject in Teorem in the role of mysterious guest. Pasolini’s theorem seems to be that, via regression to pre-genital forms of sexuality (a pre-symbolic state), one not only escapes to a mythic (poetic) reality, but also takes possession of a weapon one can use against the oppressor. Desire emerges in disturbances that shred the symbolic order and release the Real. Filmic truth is exposed as a core of pure nonsense and sexuality appears as the root of a perverted society.