Is there a God of psychoanalysts or shall we accept what we well know that
Freud said as the first and last word about the relation of psychoanalysis
and religion? If we admit that our patients speak to the analyst as a guarantor of truth, a necessary Someone to whom they address the “oration”, a being who is constructed by them, the reality of the Sujet Supposé Savoir is post- and not pre-discursive.
In the analytic practice arises a specifically psychoanalytic God. What
would that God be like and how would he manifest himself? What relation
would there be between him and the God of revelation, the philosophers’ God, the God of Kant and the God denied by Freud? The answer should be sought in Lacan’s thought. A Lacan who was always loath to call himself either believer or atheist and who expressed himself in terms that enrich this subject precisely because of the provocation he cast upon the two terms of that polar opposition.
Is God the reason and the cause of the existence of the world or is He an
effect of the word that names Him and invokes Him? If the latter formula
were true, we would not necessarily be falling outside the field of
religion. We would be repeating what was already written in Patmos: “In the
beginning was the Word”. Lacan: “Before speech, nothing either is or is not
[rien n'est ni n'est pas]. Everything is already there, no doubt, but it is
only with speech that there are things which are—and things which are not”.
To which we would add: The Other as locus of the word is instituted and
drafted by the sole fact that the subject speaks. In making use of the word,
the Other is born as the locus of that word. This doesn’t mean that he is
actualised as a subject in his otherness: the Other is invoked each time
someone speaks” (but there is no Other of the Other, the Other is fatally
barred). To put it briefly: the Other does not exist, he is created by the
appeal that calls to him. And this is why Lacan can end by saying: “There is
a knowledge which is impossible to attribute to a subject who would preside
order and harmony. God does not believe in God, which amounts to the same thing as saying: there is unconscious”.
The analyst, as such, can say nothing about the existence or not of that which may be called God. He can only rely on what he himself does in a practice that ends in the dismissal of the “supposed subject of knowing”.
In the novel Madame Bovary (1857), a true watershed in the history of literature, Gustave Flaubert gives us two minor characters, two extras in the story line, Homais the pharmacist and Bournisien the priest. Homais was a purportedly Voltaireian adept of scientism, cocksure of his trite and provincial atheism, while Bournisien was a somewhat slow-witted cleric equally convinced of his own beliefs, or at least, those that his church mandated. All through the novel, the two are constantly forging a dialectic battle of low blows. Lacan (1966, pp. 176-177), in one of his first essays, comments on the impression most readers get that Homais is a clownish character, the true lunatic, while Bournisien, “just as foolish but not crazy” is less laughable. In any event, both “represent a same manifestation of being”.
The invitation to a dialogue with my two wonderful interlocutors and friends; William Richardson and C. Edward Robins, could turn into a new edition of Homais vs. Bournisien if we literally adhered to the proposal of incarnating Martha and Sigmund Freud. This idea could hardly appeal to anyone, our audience or us, even though at first we might accept the characterisation which Martha jokingly made of her husband as an Unmensch , a “monster” who did not allow her to follow the religious rites of the shabat. Freud, neither Mensch nor Unmensch, was just a man of his time, convinced of the goodness of his “scientific” Weltanschauung and who indulgently accepted the dubious distinction he attributed to himself of being a representative of the “enlightenment” against the “obscurantism” of the other, the believer.
In a climate of goodwill and acknowledgement, the same subject can be approached in a different dialogue, one that makes no use of ingenious innuendoes or low blows such as Freud (1965) held with Oskar Pfister for over thirty years, the former publishing The Future of an Illusion (Freud 1927) and the latter answering with The Illusion of a Future (Pfister 1993). However, this theatrical re-edition is likewise unenticing since we would get little further in our exchange if we begin with a priori disqualifications and intransigent side-taking which predetermine the results of the arguments each one would wield; on one side the Gotenlose Jude and on the other the shepherd of souls, the evangeliser.
A more fruitful dialogue can be had if we begin with what we hear of human suffering in an analysis, in the clinic. There we listen to the anguished appeal which, in different ways, summons psychoanalysts and priests, as well as magicians and doctors, advisors and teachers, writers of self-help books and friends.
We are all consulted in the supposition that we hold a certain knowledge about the causes of this psychic pain and the means to end, or at least mitigate, it. We are expected to have the answer. A certain theme permits us to group the vast variety of demands: the abysses of the human soul, the passions and the goals of being (dasein, being, not self). These quandaries of being were reflected upon by religion much before the arrival of the new discourse of psychoanalysis, and religion has unfolded an answer –I will confine myself to monotheistic religion and in particular to European Judaeo-Christian beliefs – suffering is due to a distancing from the superior and transcendental instance that, obeying inscrutable designs, created the world and governs its destiny. Faith, fidelity, confidence (fides) in this supreme power, are all invoked in prayer and in penance so that reconciliation (Versohnung, “re-filiation”) of the lost soul and the principle that rules the world can, through institutional obedience (ob audire), take place.
The fault, the offence, the guilt, the transgression, are the responsibility of a subject who must atone for his sins: in Christianity, for his own salvation, in Judaism for the general good of the chosen people. The subject admits his failure, his lack, and bows before God directly or through His representatives who in Catholicism descend genealogically from the word of the Saviour. The God of the religious is, in the traditional Jewish saying, the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob”, these names-of-the-father that Pascal will allude to after his mystical experience in 1654, 350 years ago, and to which he will later add the “God of Jesus Christ”. This Seigneur demands recognition, orders his remembrance, imposes trials on his faithful, judges, finds wanting and punishes or finds goodwill and rewards. In other words, as François Regnault (1985, p. 38) said, he is a “God not-all”. An only and jealous God who meddles in the affairs of men.
Beside or facing this God who makes Himself known through the Revelation Scriptures, there is “the other half of God” (Regnault, cit.) which is the God “of scholars and philosophers” also recognised, recognized and rejected, by Pascal himself on that same night of 1654. He is the God of Spinoza and of Einstein who does not require invocations, deaf and blind to the demands made of him. Einstein would say that he is a God indifferent to human affairs. He is, unlike the first “God not-all”, “the God all”, comparable to nature (Deus sive Natura, Spinoza), unmoved guarantor of the ordered functioning of the universe.
To these two conceptions of God in religion and philosophy we might add a third, one that does not conform exactly with either of the other two. In effect, for Kant, God cannot be encompassed by pure reason which is unable to say anything about Him; the mystics are unable to transmit to others their experience of Him and He is insubstantial if upheld by the institutions that claim to speak in his name, or by the role that the idea of a superior being has played in history. Nevertheless, He is considered indispensable as “a postulate of practical reason” that assures reverence for the law. For the man from Königsberg, “…It is absolutely necessary that one should convince oneself that God exists; that his existence should be demonstrated, is not so necessary” . Note that Kant’s decisive argument for obtaining practical results is Überzeugung (conviction), just as in the final part of Freud’s work (Freud 1938) it is the patient’s conviction that assures the therapeutic results of the psychoanalytic construction.
In contrast to the “two halves of God” and the God of practical reason, Freudian psychoanalysis positions itself on the side of a scientific conception of the world (Freud 1936) that, like Laplace in his famous response to the Emperor, considers God a dispensable hypothesis. It is not necessary to waste much virtual ink in reminding ourselves that Freud considers religion as: (a) a collective form of individual obsessional neurosis, (b) an invocation to the father protector that assures survival after death, (c) an illusion, a belief born of desire, (d) a fragment of unaccepted historical truth that consists in the murder of the primitive Father who monopolised the jouissance of the tribe’s women (the myth of the Urvater, taken up again in the myth of the murder of Moses by the Jewish people). The mythical crime would be followed by the guilt of the sons who would then organise themselves as a society, formulate laws and turn the assassinated father into an idealised image under the successive forms of the totem, the gods of the tribe and the God of all men. This is equivalent to a delirium of wish fulfilment and offers a convincing construction. Human beings can thus attain the assurance that their lives have meaning in the world, not very different from what is produced in individual deliria, or from the conviction that psychoanalytic constructions can generate (Freud 1938, p. 271). Kant’s God of practical reason also has a place in Freudian thought under the form of the superego which is one of the atheist names for “moral conscience”, recognized centuries ago by religious thought as an emanation of the divine conscience.
Is there a God of psychoanalysts or shall we accept what Freud said as the first and last word about the relation of psychoanalysis and religion? If we admitted the existence of a specifically psychoanalytic God, what would that God be like and how would he manifest himself? What relation would there be between him and the God of revelation, the philosophers’ God, the God of Kant and the God denied by Freud? The answer should be sought, can only be sought, in Lacan’s thought. A Lacan who was always loath to call himself either believer or atheist and who expressed himself in terms that enrich this subject precisely because of the provocation he cast upon the two terms of that polar opposition.
Lacan’s thought flows from his knowledge of theology and from the only spring to which he has direct access: the clinic, such as was founded by Freud, centred around the act of listening to his patients’ suffering from a position that is not guided by preconceptions of any kind and that defers to the subjective positions of their demands. In the clinic, he is able to verify Freud’s discoveries, two of which are essential to our present argument: the unconscious and transference. Lacan reformulates both: (a) the unconscious is structured like a language and (b) transference has a concrete substratum: the supposed knowledge the psychoanalyst has of the truth underlying his analysand’s word. The unconscious has no ontological existence, neither does it pre-exist the spoken word. It is not something that the subject owns but rather something he produces as a consequence of his speaking when his word finds a willing ear and an answer. In the particular circumstances of the analytic relationship this listener is the object of transference.
The subject in analysis is able to establish his subjective division in relation to knowledge, the split between what he is able to say about himself and the knowledge that escapes him and which appears anyway in his saying. This knowledge that is revealed to the other of the transference is the unconscious. The analysand addresses the other (who assumes the function of the Other) and bows to him (lies on the couch). Being the one spoken to, this Other is invoked as guarantor of the truth of existence and the one that will imbue meaning to the confused speech, symptoms and dreams; he will give the interpretation that will enlighten the dark forest of words. The subject reveals himself in the act of speaking. He is represented by a signifier (S1) and for another signifier (S2), or Sq in the Lacanian matheme of transference (Lacan 2001c, p. 248). The truth speaks through the analysand’s mouth but needs the confirmation that comes from the one who listens with benevolent neutrality and free-floating attention. The analyst becomes the guarantor of the truth in the discourse. We must say that “guarantor of truth” is a pleonasm. Ethimologically, “guaranty” comes from the Latin verus, which passes into German as wari, from there to Warheit, reaching English as “warrant”, and back into Latin languages and English as garantie, garantía and guaranty. So one can only guaranty truth.
The paradigm of the philosophers’ God, is the God of Descartes, and if He doesn’t cheat (He couldn’t cheat and be God) He is the guarantor of existence, the correlative instance to the fact that Descartes thinks. For a psychoanalyst “I speak, therefore I am” would be the first certitude in his/her practice. A further step would then be the well known “I think, therefore I am”. Thought –the unconscious- is not the cause of speech but rather it’s effect. Because I say, I think, I ex – sist to my saying. This representation of myself, as secondary to my word, is never solipsistic; it always points in the direction of the Other who listens, to the guarantor.
In analysis it is the analysand’s word which constructs and ratifies at each moment the “subject who is supposed to know” (Lacan 1978, p. 224), although I prefer to say the “supposed subject of knowing”, an expression that depersonalises and depsychologyzes the subject of the transference and marks him as the correlative of an impersonal function, of a substance which is “knowledge without subject”. A word, every word is an invocation to the Other. Each one of us becomes and begets the Other at the moment of speaking. A word always implies an answer and that answer (answer –sword) is a promise (spondeo – respondeo) and an oath that bespeaks the truth the moment it is given. We could say that every sentence spoken is a prayer. Oratory –oration, adoration.
The subject is summoned to “say anything that comes to his head”, and he aspires to be believed, to be given credit, to be given faith (“believe” which comes from the German beglauben, Glaube, [faith] and also gives way to “love”). The subject in analysis—only when in analysis?—produces the Other who will believe him, who will have faith in him. This Other, the guarantor of the word, more than a person, is a function implicit in the act of speaking itself. If we keep to the before mentioned formula of transference, the subject of the symptom, of the unconscious, of the suffering, represented by S1 addresses Sq, the signifier impersonated by any other, and transforms him in the object of transference, the holder of inaccessible knowledge that will be “revealed” in the cure. In this process the subject fades away at the same time that he is signified by his word. This signified isn’t there from the beginning but will be constituted in the course of the analysis as a set of signifiers (S1, S2, S3 … Sn). This set is what was “repressed”—in Freud’s concept—and what aspires to be recognised through the Other of transference. The unconscious is thus unveiled in the process of addressing the Other. What is this unconscious that we are speaking about? The knowledge that is unavailable to the subject, appearing as parenthesis next to the signified (s), i.e., the subject himself. The subject is what is present as signified (s) under the bar of the message that is produced by the agent (S ) in his discourse towards his other (Sq).
S ———————————————- Sq
s (S1, S2, S3… Sn)
And God? There, precisely there, would be the God of psychoanalysts if we accept “the true formula of atheism” since “God is unconscious” (Lacan 1978, p. 59). Lacan’s sentence, stated in seminary XI, 1964, will be expressed with utmost clarity ten years later: “The Other, the Other as the locus of truth, is the only lieu, irreducible, where we can place the term God… God is properly the place where, if you allow me the play on words, le dieu – le dieur –le dire is produced. At the lightest little thing, saying becomes God (le dire ça fait Dieu). And, as long as something is being said, the hypothesis of God will be there.” The fact is that in invoking the Other the suppliant confers him existence. Aren’t we reminded of Nietzsche (1889) saying “I am afraid that we shall never free ourselves from God inasmuch as we continue to believe in grammar”?
It is the word (oratio) in itself that willy-nilly invokes this God of psychoanalysts, this third presence meddling in all exchange langagier, the supposed knowledge of the meaning of all speech, the holder of the ultimate and definitive interpretation, the conveyor of missives of healing (health, holy) and redemption that in a mysterious way reveal his concealed existence. It is clear that he is not a God of ontological existence, just as the unconscious lacks ontological existence. He is a God that is created and uncreated in the flow of the discourse and that is destined to disappear at the end of the analytical experience, when he becomes inane and useless. It is the remains of the process, a residue, something that belongs to the real and therefore the opposite of the ideals that demand capital letters. A remainder that to Lacan is the object a. “A letter, a litter”, Lacan (2001b, p. 11) says, invoking Joyce.
God’s existence? The existence of the unconscious? “It is and it is not” as we might say of the horizon, for the unblemished Other, absolute guarantor of our saying is the inaccessible horizon of the word which continuously runs ahead of us in our speech. A subject absent from the statement, unavailable to all and any, a pure manifestation of the subject of the enunciation that ventures into the forest of signifiers seeking guaranties.
It is at this point where our friend and Lacanian psychoanalyst William Richardson (S.J.)(1992) calls our attention to a question that takes into consideration the three Lacanian registers of the symbolic, the real and the imaginary: in which one of them might God, the God who is the object of our patients’ belief, dwell? Richardson doesn’t hide his annoyance with the idea of “illusion” that religion and God have in the work of almost all analysts, beginning with Freud and continuing with the emblematic figures of Winnicott and the French, Lacanian and atheist Julia Kristeva. With this disqualification, argues Richardson, analysis is transformed into a process of reductionism whereby belief is cut to the shape of a Procust’s bed by a theory and a practice that reduce God and religion to a (supposed) illusion. Thus they are seen as a fantasy, a merely subjective phenomenon, lacking transcendental reference and objectivity. If Freud starts from the declaration of an atheism that he imposes as a presupposition of his clinical practice, Richardson adopts a framework, totally irreconcilable with Freud’s: the idea of “God as genuinely transcendent”.
This God could not belong to the field of discursive phenomena and be included as an object of the discourse in the symbolic register—a group of signifiers endowed with meaning—nor could we consider him as an imaginary agent able to respond to our demands, a sort of Cosmic Teddy Bear. In these two possible and lame options “we can never really understand analytically those who, despite analysis or even because analysis, still believe”. What is lacking according to Richardson? He himself tells us: what is lacking is what Lacan calls the Real: “The Unknown and the unknowable, the Unimaginable and the Ineffable… that Mysterious Power that refuses to be named, that we cannot look upon and live and that many call God. If that were the case, there would be some way to understand why the God of those who believe is so often a ‘hidden’ or ‘silent’ or ‘absent’ God, a God that can be affirmed only by the leap of faith [our italics]. I shall not belabour the point, but it seems to me that only if we accept this dimension of the analytic experience can we avoid a sheer reductionism and leave room for the transcendence of God. Whether, and how, such a God reveal himself/herself to an individual or to a community, is not our business”.
Our friend is advancing over a terrain that is as sure as it is slippery. God, he tells us, belongs to the register of the Real. But this Real that Lacan (1973) “invented”, as Lacan himself tells us, and in the measure that it escapes from imaginary perception and discourse, it is impossible to say anything. We can only name it. Just as with God, it must be said, all discourse about this Real betrays it. Even the name “Real” doesn’t belong to the Real because the moment the word “Real” itself is pronounced it tends to become charged with meaning, a meaning which is found in the intersection of the symbolic and the imaginary in the Borromean knot (Lacan 1975a). Do we not find here the limit of what a word can do? A halt to thought that can only be overcome by the “leap of faith”? And if this is so, how can we speak about the Real? How can we include it in an experience that is—and psychoanalysis is—une pratique de bavardage (Lacan 1977a)? The fact, the curse if you will, is that every discourse, including the religious one, particularly the religious one, tends to impregnate itself with meaning as soon as it is spoken and to the degree that someone is there to listen.
Richardson himself brings up the antinomy that Lacan set out between psychoanalysis and religion when, towards the end of his life Lacan (1975b, pp. 27-28) declared that “You will see that humanity will be cured of psychoanalysis by drowning it in meaning, in religious meaning, of course: they will succeed in repressing the symptom”.
This is the point of culmination in the teaching of Lacan: the symptom as something that is fed by meaning, by religious meaning, “of course”, a sense that relies on an ultimate Meaning which is the same as the idea of a Creation endowed with purpose – if not why would there be a Creator and a Creation?. At this point religion runs counter to the psychoanalytic project which is to “shave meaning”. For Lacan (2001a, p. 473), “what is vexing is that the being [parlêtre] in itself is meaningless”. “The goal of psychoanalysis is to transcend meaning… In the practice of psychoanalysis you do not work with meaning except to reduce it. Thus you are working with the equivocal” (Lacan 1974b). This antinomy between meaning and the real is central to Lacan. I could go on quoting him on this subject endlessly as I already did in an earlier presentation at Nomos in New York, but let me end here with just one last quote: “There is no truth about the Real because the Real presents itself devoid of meaning” (Lacan 1977b).
I think this “leap of faith” required by William Richardson is a “leap into emptiness” if we admit that the Real and the speaking being are devoid of meaning, that there is no transcendental Meaning and that the meaning we encounter in psychoanalysis is outside the real, that is, in the intersection between the symbolic and the imaginary. A meaning that faced with uncertainty claims a guarantor of truth, a Someone to whom address the “oration”, a being who is constructed as a reality post- and not pre-discursive.
This is why Lacan’s discourse is marked by affirmations that deny the existence of transcendental entities. In other words the teaching of Lacan is apophatic and that would lead us to consider the relation between Lacan’s sayings and negative theology, something we cannot do today. Let us remember the final conclusions of that teaching and the decisive importance they hold for understanding the relation between religion and psychoanalysis: “There is no sexual relationship”. “The Woman does not exist”. “There is no Other of the Other”. “There is no meta-language”. “There is no Universe of discourse”. “Truth cannot be all said; there is only half-saying (mi-dire)”. “No statement could ever abolish the subject of the enunciation”. The fate of the analyst as the supposed subject of knowing is to be discarded at the end of the analytic experience, inasmuch as his existence is always only a supposal within speech, but inexistent as such.
Let us try to show what this God of the psychoanalysts is and how he can be added without contradiction to the list of the “other gods” (philosophers’, Abraham’s, Kant’s). Is God the reason and the cause of the existence of the world or is He an effect of the word that names Him and invokes Him? If the latter formula were true, we would not necessarily be falling outside the field of religion. We would be repeating what was already written in Patmos: “In the beginning was the Word”. In Lacan’s words “Before speech, nothing either is or is not [rien n’est ni n’est pas]. Everything is already there, no doubt, but it is only with speech that there are things which are –and things which are not” (Lacan 1991, p. 228.). To which we would add (Lacan 1998, p. 475):”The Other as locus of the word is instituted and draught by the sole fact that the subject speaks. In making use of the word, the Other is born as the locus of that word. This doesn’t mean that he is actualised as a subject in his otherness: the Other is invoked each time someone speaks” (but there is no Other of the Other, the Other is fatally barred). To put it briefly: the Other does not exist, he is created by the appeal that calls to him. And this is why Lacan (1974a) can end by saying: “There is a knowledge which is impossible to attribute to a subject who would preside order and harmony… God does not belief in God, which amounts to the same thing as saying: there is unconscious”.
The analyst, as such, can say nothing about the existence or not of that which may be called God. He can only rely on what he himself does in a practice that ends in the dismissal of the “supposed subject of knowing”.
Translated from Spanish by Tamara Francés
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