LACAN QUOTIDIEN in English
A selection of texts from Lacan Quotidien, the daily online Lacan news bulletin
[a selection from Lacan Quotidien: 08 is attached]
Lacan Quotidien in English brings you quick translations of this vibrant and fast moving daily publication, which NLS-Messager sends in the French original on the same day.
Translations will be selective and pragmatic, in an attempt to transmit some of the abundant material and its spirit: spontaneous, of the moment, quirky, humorous and inspired!
If you can help with translations, please come forward [firstname.lastname@example.org] an
Sollers Special Issue:
[Reading without Remembering]
“I would not have missed a Seminar for the world”
“Lacan, an eminently novelistic character”
“The language of the Seminars is Miller’s”
The body comes out of the Voice
Lacan Quotidien would like to thank Philippe Sollers for having granted the request that Jacques-Alain Miller made to him by email yesterday morning to circulate this interview, with the permission of Annaëlle Lebovits-Quenehen, editor of the Diable Probablement.
In fact, we wanted to be first to give our readers the text of this important interview given by the great writer to two young collaborators from the Journal, Adrian Price (British) and Guillaume Roy (from Bordeaux).
Sollers’ presence in the pages of Lacan Daily is important, at a time when the non media friendly foot soldiers are rebelling against the moral baseness of Regina’s regime, the little marquises that surround her and the valets who serve her – Lacan Daily.
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Adrian Price: Lacan même contains interviews that you gave in 2001, to mark the twentieth anniversary of Lacan’s death. Over the last ten years, has your relation to Lacan changed in any way?
Philippe Sollers: What does it mean to say that Lacan is dead? It’s something that’s easy to verify, but what does it say about his work? In the end, death either confirms or invalidates the work. The effects produced by Lacan were imperiously shamanic; you had to attend his seminar in order to see that. When Lacan was truly in full flow, which doesn’t always appear in the text, he was strikingly humorous, with a note of fervent anarchism, like father Ubu. Jacques-Alain Miller’s version is fundamental. In truth, the Lacanian language of the seminars is Miller’s, thank god. Fortunately, it goes beyond deciphering from the hundreds of recording devices that were there, charged with noting down his every word and which I once compared to all those crutches one sees at Lourdes.
Guillaume Roy: What about Lacan’s writing, what does that mean to you?
Ph.S: That begs the question of the relation between Lacan’s speech and his writing. I have always insisted a lot on this difference and I think it is essential in order to measure how far away we are getting from the theatrical effect that Lacan produced. This is why witnesses are necessary. I sometimes appeal to people who knew him up close and I sense there is a reticence to speak matter-of-factly about Lacan’s speech. You mentioned Lacan même. I must explain something about this little book. I would go to pick Lacan up, we would dine together at La Calèche, and the conversation would be passionate, because he was not someone who ever spoke just to say nothing. Lacan contacted me because of a book: Drame. He had discovered (probably through a certain number of interviews that I had given to the press) that I’d always been and was becoming ever more interested in language. The thing that struck me straight away was that he asked me what my thesis was about. I was not doing a thesis, I was not at university. Well, he asked me to come and speak at his Seminar, which I refused to do straight away. It didn’t interest me. I did not feel, at that moment, any desire to speak at Lacan’s Seminar, which I hadn’t yet been to, but which I went to from then on.
A.P: What did you get from the Seminar back then?
Ph.S.: I was interested in literature. My project (and that of the journal that I edited, Tel Quel) had immediately been to question the thinkers of our time, convinced as we were that literature thinks beyond what they were thinking. We thus politely went and asked Foucault, Derrida, Barthes (who were the ones most favourable to our enterprise) “What do you think of literature? And what do you think it can think?”
G.R.: Did you ask Lacan what he thought about this?
Ph.S.: Immediately, because he felt called upon to answer this question. The Seminar that Lacan devoted to Joyce is a late Seminar, which corresponds to the moment when Lacan, and his play with language, fell upon the massive work that is Finnegans Wake. But it fell back again. You can clearly see that Jacques-Alain Miller himself returned to Valéry when he evoked my case in his “Postface” to Lacan même. In another text, he makes a parallel between me and Montherlant, it’s even lighter. One could attack on all fronts: there isn’t just Sade and Joyce. There could also be Céline, even today – and how!
A.P.: What do you remember from the Seminar?
Ph.S.: Above all, Lacan’s body when he was speaking. It would have been fantastic to have a video document of the Seminar in order to get across that it’s the body that comes out of the voice and not the other way round. The great importance of the physical localisation sheds light on the way he could listen or intervene in the sessions.
G.R.: How often did you go to the Seminar?
Ph. S. Every Tuesday! I would not have missed a Seminar for anything in the world. Elsewhere, philosophers read their texts and a sort of resignation reigned there, a sort of political death. Elsewhere, it was the magisterial pre-written discourse. What was special about Lacan, his most fundamental contribution, was his way of thinking when speaking.
A.P.: How did you listen? Did you take notes?
Ph.S.: Never! People copied down everything. What a mistake! I listened attentively which is something completely different.
A.P.: You were there as a listener, but as a spectator too.
Ph.S.: I observed. I observed that it was not being heard [que ça n’entendait pas].
G.R.: Do you ever re-read Lacan?
Ph.S.: I reread the Écrits from time to time. I reread the “Rome Report” which is very beautiful, especially at the end with the coat of arms and Lacan’s appeal to Sanskrit and with all the consequences that this text had. It’s marvellous! As far as the seminars are concerned, I must insist on this point: it is a real shame that you cannot see them. One could also have filmed his dismissal from the École Normale Supérieure, there were some powerful people (Althusser and Derrida, as well as the director of the E.N.S.) who took a very dim view of this commotion surrounding Lacan.
G.R.: What would that have changed on a political level?
Ph.S.: I don’t know. What I do know, on the other hand, is that everybody died at the start of the eighties. Barthes, Lacan, and a little later, Foucault. I remember a drinks party that welcomed Mitterand’s election with complete approval. I found myself with colleagues who were on the left and that night I said to them that they had sold Lacan for a mess of pottage. Politically, he was not rightwing, but he would not have been part of all that “We’ve won” nonsense. Those who went along with that were selling Lacan down the river, in the sense that Lacan did not believe in the social as such. Lacan was not one for the collective. He needed a School, without which there would have been isolation, total marginalisation, but in the end, if you listen to Lacan, there is no reason to have the slightest social illusion. Hence his occasionally dark sense of humour.
A.P.: Why do you think that was?
Ph.S.: You can’t present something as problematic as the difference between the sexes or castration and believe that it could be overcome by some kind of show of unity. You had to be there when, out of nowhere, the extraordinarily motley audience of the Seminars turned up; and feel the frisson that Lacan’s statements provoked: “The Woman does not exist”; and make a daily experience of it; to drop something like that… oh my word! And pluralise it, hence my book, Femmes. “The woman is not-all”; he says that she doesn’t exist and then follows it with the assertion that she is not-all either. Or then again: “there is no sexual relation”, a phrase bandied about by everyone without their realising that it had to do with a relation in the mathematical sense of the term. Or again: “God is unconscious”, which marks a displacement from “God is dead”. These are Lacan’s principal aphorisms. He let them fly just like that, each time provoking a particular little emotion in his audience.
I believe that the analytic effect, if it is really does exist, must produce something disturbing. And Lacan too, what a life… what audacity! Lacan was an eminently novelistic character. He had such depth about him in the way he behaved, a bunch of keys with different locks, a particular way with existence, for example taking a taxi to go a hundred metres; a thousand surprising things which showed that he was inhabited by his thought – day and night. Lacan was interesting because he had stumbled upon the necessity of leading speech back to speech as speech. What was it that had intrigued Lacan about Drame? It was this: I was leading writing back to writing as writing. I had also sent him Lois, one of my books, which is a particularly intense effervescence of language. It was a time that I was working a lot on Joyce. He acknowledged having received it with surprise. Lacan was someone very cultivated, extremely cultivated: “style is the man himself [l’homme même]”.
A.P.: Only, from what you’re saying it follows that, with the Lacan that our generation know today, from his written traces alone, part of the man and his style escapes us.
Ph.S.: Style. Let’s stick with this word. Lacan was someone with great style. A “grand bourgeois” with an aristocratic style, obliged to live among the middle classes. Was he a reactionary for all that? No, on the contrary! But now it’s a question of what Nietzsche called the higher pleb and the lower pleb. The difference is a considerable one.
A.P.: Do you miss Lacan today?
Ph.S.: No, not at all. It would be interesting to have a session of Lacan’s Seminar today. That would waltz over current issues: the financial crisis, Sarkozy, Sade, Japan, Bin Laden, Strauss-Kahn… He would invent something each time out of the situation. It’s not Lacan that I miss, but bodies that would have the same kind of insolence, liberty, in other words the grandeur of Lacan in relation to his physical functioning. There is a sort of separation between the spoken and the written in Lacan. The fact that there should be an awkwardness in this respect is striking. He was a great improviser of speech, but a bit stuck when writing.
G.R.: One could also consider that this was chosen; the choice of making it difficult to read him, with the idea that this demands a particular effort from the reader to enter into his work. This reminds me of a piece of advice that he used to give to those working with psychotic patients: “Beware understanding!”
PH.S.: You speak like Joseph de Maistre, who I adore, who said: “Those who understand nothing understand better than those who understand badly”. It is high metaphysics! What you are saying would be convincing in a time when people knew how to read. But no one reads any more [ça ne lit plus]. Or what is read is no longer remembered when one reads it. I invented a word for that, the verb oublire [to forget-read]. I am often forced to say: “you’ve forgotten-read me” [“vous m’avez oublu”]. This is a result of daily enquiry I’m giving you and I think that this is where the wager lies today.
G.R.: But the bookshops are full!
Ph.S.: I am speaking of concrete experience which consists in knowing what has been read, truly. As Boileau put it: “What is conceived well is expressed clearly, and the words to say it come easily.” You have read how Boileau is brought in at the end of Television with an obscure passage annotated as follows: “there’s always a gander to bite his gender” [Television, p.45]. Ah, Lacan! And Yes! It is not enough to read, one must hear [entendre] what is read. Something is happening which will affect psychoanalysis itself. It’s a new difficulty or one which shows itself as such: oublire. The question that poses itself for analysts and for the eventual survival of psychoanalysis (at least so that it doesn’t become a Church, a humanitarian agency) is this: are you well read or not? It’s an eminently political question. Lacan’s era was absolutely passionate about existential matters, conceptual matters, and political matters. Of a Discourse that would not be one of semblance [D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant], written on the black board by Lacan. It’s a very beautiful title. It’s what I am trying to do myself [Philippe Sollers shows one of his most recent books, entitled Discours Parfait]. In the Society of Spectacle, it is very rare. In this respect, I advise you to read Parmenides by Heidegger which has just been translated into French.
A.P.: What caught your attention in it?
Ph.S.: It’s a major work about truth, alethiea, in which Heidegger says, in a very striking way (which has not been taken up much elsewhere), that she is a goddess. She is not the goddess of truth but the goddess-Truth herself. Parmenides, borne by mares, comes to where the goddess-Truth dwells. It’s not Acteon seeing Artemis. He is someone who has travelled far from the beaten path, born by his desire and he finds the goddess-Truth herself, who receives him in a very welcoming way: “how kind of you to have come to see me”. We are thus not in the tragic vein of: “I, Truth speak”. What is it that holds back truth? It is that she is not being thought in the right way. This is what Heidegger does. He is the first and the only one. It thus occurred to me to ask what philosophers have done with Heidegger, including Lacan, because he came close to it. And one has to admit that none of them have done anything very much with it. It could be demonstrated on the blackboard. Heidegger’s seminars and lectures on Nietzsche have not been read. And please note that I’m not washing my hands of the question: “what is truth?”
G.R.: Today, psychoanalysis, which is regularly attacked, has become a political issue. Why do you rise to its defence?
Ph.S.: Reread Clausewitz. The true war is always defensive. Lacan was very strategic, and he led a defensive war in order not to be marginalised or eliminated. He had the whole world on his back: the philosophers, those in charge of the École Normale, the IPA. I was there when he was asked to leave the E.N.S.. Lacan was alone. I was there, I carried the suitcases. Lacan tried to alert the press about his being forced to leave. There was only one person who received us; she had been on his couch: Françoise Giroud. Lacan did his seduction number and he got an article from her. I speak of this, because it may not seem like much, but it is a lot.
A.P.: Do you believe that you counted for him in this war?
Ph.S.: I have not stopped taking part in it. Through my own initiative, I did what was necessary. Lacan didn’t give me any particular task to accomplish, because he wasn’t like that. He let you get on with it. You’d come up with an initiative and then “Bravo!” He was tied down like Gulliver in Lilliput. One had to cut a few strings, that was all. To finish, I would say that one must always start off from the disturbance that someone provokes. I think that one is mistaken whenever one interprets a disturbing person as if they were entirely welcome and thinks that one only has to take note of what they’ve done without worrying about it, because that’s not true. There you go!
LQ 08 – 30.8. 2011 - Translated by Philip Dravers
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