|(Part II of “The Jewish People Do Not Dream”)(1)
The possibility of a theory of sociality and the question of the position of analysis are linked for Freud to the question of Jewish identity. In Moses and Monotheism the Jewish people are constituted through the adoption of the patronymic in an operation that is simultaneously a depropriation and an identification: the founding act of nomination comes from outside. Identity then is always dissociated and never fully completed, and any origin is divided. The origin of the Jewish people follows upon a murder repeating a latency, so that historicity is repetition. Sublimation is introduced in the Jewish prohibition of representation, equivalent to the prohibition of murder as well as to the potential for recognition of others.At its extreme, the question of identity is, for Freud, the question of the identity of a dissociation.
That means, first of all (and this will be our point of departure), that the question of identity implicates and cuts into the identity of psychoanalysis itself. It is here, at least in its theoretical identity, that psychoanalysis vacillates and overflows: as we have seen, neither the path of speculation, nor that of a presumptive “application”, permit it to overtake its fundamental presupposition, the subject or the psyche. This, in any case, is what psychoanalysis itself admits when, pressed by the question of origin, it must “bridge the gulf” recognized by Freud between the individual and the species (or between individual and group psychology) and discover or decree that “the content of the unconscious” is “in any case… collective” (the phrase is in Moses and Monotheism). Freud’s interest in social or cultural phenomena is, therefore, neither secondary nor derived; nor is it a youthful “curiosity” which the aging Freud, having completed his theoretical construction, would amateurishly assuage. Psychoanalysis, at its very ground-as a science of the subject-is in reality a sociology and an ethnology (and consequently, no doubt, a “politology”). But the ground itself slips away; that is why psychoanalysis vacillates.
And that is also why, at its extreme, it paralyzes and denies itself, and falls speechless. As a practice, this time, since everything should necessarily lead it to become, as Nietzsche would put it, the medicine of civilization (that is to say, “great politics”)-were it not that this gesture, which Freud conceived as that of a generalization, is struck from the outset with its own impossibility. Almost, at least. To refresh your memory, I will quote a famous declaration found near the end of Civilization and Its Discontents:
I want to say that an attempt of this kind to carry psychoanalysis over to the cultural community was absurd or doomed to be fruitless. But we should have to be very cautious and not forget that, after all, we are only dealing with analogies and that it is dangerous, not only with men but also with concepts, to tear them from the sphere in which they have originated and been evolved. Moreover, the diagnosis of communal neuroses is faced with a special difficulty. In an individual neurosis we take as our starting point the contrast between the individual and his environment, which is assumed to be “normal”. For a group all of whose members are affected by one and the same disorder, no such background could exist; it would have to be found elsewhere. As regards the therapeutic application of our knowledge, what would be the use of the most correct analysis of social neurosciences, since no one possesses such authority to impose such therapy upon the group?(2)
The discontent here is that of psychoanalysis itself; and behind the double problem of the normality of reference and the authority necessary for therapeutic application can be seen the outline of a circle comparable to the one so commonly encountered in ethnology for internal use. Here, in fact, arises the limit question more daunting even than that of the inaugural “auto-analysis” of the founder of analysis-the question of the position of analysis: from where can psychoanalysis speak of society? From where can it diagnose social pathology, if not envisage its cure? Such is the question-radically political, and far anterior to any internal institutional problematic within which one might think it sufficient to contain the “politics of psychoanalysis”, such is the question which Freud himself could not avoid, and which honesty, rigor, and circumstances unfailingly compelled him to ask.
I quote a well-known passage from the Introductory Lectures:
In myths about the birth of heroes-to which Otto Rank  has devoted a study… a predominant part is played by exposure in the water and rescue from the water. Rank has perceived that these are representations of birth, analogous to those that are usually in dreams… In myths a person who rescues a baby from the water is admitting that she is the baby’s true mother. There is a well-known comic anecdote according to which an intelligent Jewish boy was asked who the mother of Moses was. He replied without hesitation: “The Princess”. No, he was told, “she only took him out of the water”. “That’s what she says”, he replied, and so proved that he had found the correct interpretation of the myth.(3)
I cannot now treat the question of the name with the depth that would be appropriate, nor go through the entire network or maze of the problematic of the significance of names, of the exchange of names, of the disappearance or appearance of names, etc.; in short, I cannot reconstitute in its structure and its economy the entire onomastic system within which the fable of Moses and Monotheism is inscribed, and which also underlies the book’s long preparatory text (the correspondence, the enigmatic essay on “Moses and Michelangelo”), all overdetermined, as Marthe Robert has partially shown(4), by the interplay of Freud’s identifications. Without going back to the Traumdeutung nor all the way to the specifically Jewish “Freude” evoked in a letter to Martha dating the prehistory of analysis, it is necessary to indicate at least three things:
Freud’s Moses and Monotheism seems to complement Totem and Taboo in many respects. Just as in Totem and Taboo we encounter, prior to the murder, a father and son-that is, a family-so in Moses and Monotheism we encounter, prior to the murder, the story of Moses and the Mosaic religion-that is, society. Moses plays a role similar to that of the primordial father. And the Hebrew people, deprived of their prophet, by Moses’ death, resemble the group of brothers deprived of their father after the murder described in Totem and Taboo.
As far as common denominators go, we will soon see that there is not only murder, but also figure, the radical condition of all mimesis (and a fortiori of all identification ). We will also see that if society is, in effect, presupposed (of course, one must take into account the historical character of Moses and Monotheism), a people as such, the Jewish people, is absolutely not presupposed, unlike the family in Totem and Taboo, the horde dominated by the Urvater. Nor is Mosaic relation presupposed; both of them only appear, only exist and complete themselves retroactively, at the end of a long period of latency. Moses and Monotheism does not, therefore, repeat Totem and Taboo. Much to the contrary, and the motif of “progress in spirituality”(5) specifically linked to Mosaic religion is the closest index of this: precisely because the lesson of history-the history of the formation of the Jewish people-is that recognition of the Father is belated, Freud finds himself forced to discreetly multiply his misgivings about the early version of origins and to publish certain revisions. Thus, among the murderers of… what shall we call him? still a father? the Urvater? (Moses and Monotheism only speaks, in the end, of a male übergross), only “some” of them are still said to be his “sons”. Similarly, the social tie as such, that is to say, the renunciation of rivalry with the supposed “sons” and the establishment of the first right (the properly social institution), escapes from the authority of the father, unlike alimentary prohibitions (totem) and sexual interdictions (exogamy): with it arises a “new order”, supposing the accomplishment of the murder.
Translated from the French by Brian Holmes
Lacoue-Labarthe, P., Nancy J-L.:
Robert, M. (1976) From Oedipus to Moses: Freud’s Jewish Identity, transl. by R. Manheim (Garden City: Anchor Books).
Reik, T. (1958) “The Shofar”, Ritual: Psychoanalytic Studies, translated by D. Brian (New York: International University Press), pp.221-361.
1 See part I, Lacoue-Labarthe & Nancy (1989), pp. 191-209. (All notes in the English version of the present essay were added by the translator – Ed.)
2 SE, 21, p. 144.
3 SE, 15, p. 160-61.
4 The reference is to Marthe Robert (1976), a very interesting attempt to trace the textual manifestations of fantasies composing Freud’s own “family romance” (“Familienroman” or “Roman familial”).
5 “Fortschritt in der Geistigkeit” is rendered as “advance in intellectuality” in the SE, 23, pp. 86n1; I have chosen the more literal “progress in spirituality” in order to maintain a closer equivalence with the French text.
6 The situation receives a more detailed discussion in the authors’ earlier article on Freud and sociality, “La panique politique”: “…Freud’s correspondence with Arnold Zweig permits us to discern the degree to which Moses and Monotheism was elaborated in opposition to Zweig’s plan to write a novel on Nietzsche. The Freud-Zweig rivalry, whose role in the life (histoire) of the founder of psychoanalysis was, as we know, very large… Thus there is a theoretical rivalry at stake in Moses and Monotheism, which is to say that in this book the identification of Freud himself, indissociably ‘human’ and ‘theoretical’, is at stake… With Moses, the book, Freud identifies himself, by identifying Moses, the figure-a historical figure indissociable from the artistic figure sculpted by Michelangelo-as the truth of Nietzsche’s ‘superman’” (Lacoue-Labarthe & Nancy 1979).
7 It is, first of all, Freud’s own participation in the logic of self-founding national identity-clearly visible in section B of Group Psychology’s last chapter-that is affected by the process of identification which the authors isolate in Moses and Monotheism: “Also involved in the withdrawal of the mother is, no doubt, the birth of the first epic poet, described in Appendix B of Massenpsychologie. And no doubt the fiction of a poet who fictions himself as the hero of the origin myth (of the murder of the Father) permits Freud to write that the myth ‘is the step by which the individual emerges from the group psychology’. But the double process of the recognition of others in death and in the mother institutes itself before any such ‘emergence’. The structure of language is the structure, in the strictest sense, of general identification. But the process of that which makes language possible, the incisive process of Freudian identification is, as has elsewhere been recognized, nothing other than a process of alteration (“La panique politique”, p. 55).
8 Ethics are also at stake in the theoretical rivalry between Freud and Theodor Reik, a rivalry which takes place inside the psychoanalytic elaboration of the figure of Moses: “Freud silently reproaches Reik for treating the story of Moses as an origin myth. This reproach implies at least two correlative refusals, the first, to assimilate the story of Moses to an epic schema, and the second, to assign a primitive prehistoricity to Moses, instead of situating him in the succeeding moment, that of historical repetition. What Freud contests in Reik is the application to Moses of the sacrificial schema of religion.