San Lorenzo by the sea. A windy September afternoon, frayed clouds scudding by. From where I sit at the beach’s edge, with the village behind me, the sea is a violet ribbon, raveling and unravelling endlessly. I have been here, quite still, for maybe over an hour. In the sheltered spot where I’ve set up my deck chair, there is only an occasional gust of wind. I’ve slipped into a languid state. I would rather be lucid, active, productive... pick up my ideas of these past months, dig through my notes, my books, delve into my dissatisfaction. Something’s needed to overcome this state of inertia, to stimulate my intellect...I continue to be mesmerized by the ribbon of sea.
This conversation, conducted by Sergio Benvenuto, took place in Paris, in May 1994, at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, for the Multi-Media Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences, directed by RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, Enciclopedia Treccani and the Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies. We thank RAI and the Multi-Media Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences, and in particular its director Renato Parascandolo, for having permitted us to publish this text.
I had just finished a two-year post in a modern psychiatric center in Montreal, which had nearly as many doctors as patients, and where relations with the directors were quite amicable. But to enter Sainte-Anne was to penetrate another world: with its vast grounds, ancient buildings, great past and complex hierarchy it resembled more a fortified town. While in Montreal patients and doctors had been indistinguishable in their street attire, at Sainte-Anne it was impossible to mistake the one for the other. Arriving at work each morning, I was required to don a marine-blue redingote which assured that everyone recognized my duties and my place in the hierarchy. Of course the patients donned their asylum garb.
Francesco -- one of my patients in the Mental Health Service of Naples, Italy, where I work as a psychiatrist -- was born in 1953, the son of a poor hod carrier and a very rich young girl, disinherited by her father because of this marriage. He is the oldest of three brothers. He is cripples as a reuslt of poliomyelitis, which he contracted at two years of age. When he was six, his mother suffered a violent psychotic episode and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Francesco remembers visiting her there: he is in his father's arms, watching from a distance his mother, who is agitated as though possessed; an asylum attendant orders the child taken away; his father says: "She's his mother"; his mother shouts: "A child doesn't want me, doesn't help me", and cries; little Francesco turns away.
* This text has appeared as a chapter in Psychanalyser and On tue un enfant, published by Stanford University Press, and is used with the permission of the publisher. No portion of the translation may be reproduced without the permission of Stanford University Press. [Original French version c 1975 by Editions du Seuil. This reprinting is published with their permission.]
What wouldn't Lacan have said! What didn't he say! This is is an exclamation rather than a question: an attempt to find the right tone, an experiment prior to beginning this attempt at an idiomatic conjunction of negation, of denial (dénégation), of the condition and future perfect (or, future in the past). The hypothesis here being that these grammars can play alternatively, simultaneous and successively, the role of screen and mirror in the forms of the since (depuis), which will have determined Lacan's relationship to the philosophers - certain philosophers. These brief observations on temporal forms would also be influenced by the incidence of Stephen Melville's observations on "narration" (1) and - subsequently - on history (l'histoire), on the "temporal shifts", and also on the possiblity of a Kehre and a turning point in Lacan following the Ecrits, which would be during the period 1966-1967.
In March 1985, while writing my history of psychoanalysis, I visited Jacques Derrida to discuss his itinerary. After welcoming me warmly, he asked: "How will you discuss the events in which you have participated? Will you use the first person?" Derrida's question was not easy to answer. I had been involved since 1970 in the structuralist controversy, and therefore knew that as soon as I began to tell the story of that historic period I would be obliged to confront the difficult issue of the first person narration. Until then, I had managed to avoid the first person by restricting myself to the generalized use of the historical present for narration. In advancing a hypothesis, I used the traditional academic we, and I said that I would continue in this way, so as to avoid confusing my personal "ego" with my position as a historian. He then pointed out that for my purposes the use of the first person was necessary. He was right. I realized later that I could not skirt the question of my own participation, and that my much-dreaded use of the first person in no way prevented me from narrating the events as history.
"To posit oneself corporeally is to touch an earth, but to do so in such a way that the touching finds itself already conditioned by the position, the foot settles into a real which this very action outlines or constitutes -- , as though a painter would notice that he is descending from the picture he is painting." (Emmanuel Levinas)
(Conversation held in Paris, 17.5.94 - Translated from the French by Gianmaria Senia) (Emmanuel Levinas)