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Lacan s Medievalism

review on
Erin Felicia Labbie. Lacan"s Medievalism
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. - 264 p.)

It has been the tradition in the geneology of psychoanalytical reconstruction to search for the ancient foundations of any conception. It is the tradition not to trace the historical roots of the concept, but to find a gap between two contexts, two discourses, and to discover the difference in the meanings of the same concept. Following this tradition, Erin Labbie"s book is linked to Jose Attal"s book, because both compare Spinoza"s and Lacan"s excommunication from the psychoanalytic association to a certain extent. Labbie investigates an influence of medieval doctrines on Lacan"s theory of psychoanalysis, and we can trace a conceptual shift from scholastics to Lacan following all the similarities in the terms and categories. Our task is to understand not only common but also peculiar features for each culture, because it is not a historical research, "Lacan"s medievalism" is a metaphor, which shows both similarities and differences between medieval scholastic and early Lacan`s theory. Our aim is to understand how that metaphor works.
Any comparison is based on the distinguishing of several features, which are common or different for both objects of comparison. In the case of cultural comparison it turns into simpification of the epoch and its understanding of some ideas, which are useful for the research. In such a way Erin Labbie reduces Medieval worldview to the short list of scholastic ideas, like textuality, dominance of the symbol, "a concern with philology and wordplay that is central to psychoanalysis is also dominant in much medieval criticism" [Labbie, 4] and "scene the reading the psyche like the text". Thus she proposes a very simple and poor model of medieval worldview and Lacan"s theory, which is more wide and complex than the idea that "the text and psyche are structures in a similar manner and must be allowed to convey significance openly and with multiplicity" [Labbie, 7]. Psychoanalysis is not a part of philosophy and interpretation is not a linguistic game, that is why it is easy to find a precipice between medieval and psychoanalytical consideration of the text and psyche. On one side, the text belongs to the Other: to God (in medieval philosophy) or to the dead father (in Freud), to that transcendent unconscious instance which rules human desires. However, in the medieval picture of the world the text and knowledge belongs to God, and trust is a condition and a source of cognition, and God cannot lie. Also, Psychoanalysis, deals with the splitted Other (for Lacan the Other exists as an instance of fraud and lies, which is impossible for the medieval world). Therefore the psychoanalytic position is an agnostic one, which means that in order to learn something about oneself one should doubt the desire of the Other, the master signifier of the discourse. A short, medieval viewpoint was based on the idea that God knows truth, Lacan"s theory was founded on the hypothesis that the Other always lies. So, Lacan"s epistemological method is Cartesian rather than medieval: knowledge is the result of doubt, but not of cognition and accumulation of studies (schola). Moreover, the unconscious always destructs the knowledge systems by producing nonsense and strangeness and makes us doubt in all the conclusions. That is why Lacan often turnes to Descartes`s seminars to illustrate that "Descartes"s and Freud"s approaches are one and the same" [Lacan, lecture on 29 Jan. 1964, 40] That doubt in higher knowledge is impossible for the medieval picture of the world, because there was no subject of unconscious at that time. Gue Le Gaufey agrues that transference, resistance, removement and distortion, and other psychical effects arises only in the subject of cogito, i.e. in Cartesian subject [Le Gaufey, 55].
Erin Labbie analyses literaure, but not a structure of the subject in medieval thought. What subject is she talking about? Erin's thesis that "the unconscious is already within the speaking subject" [Labbie, 9] is quite disputable, because she makes Lacan"s thesis absolute, however in his understanding the unconscious is structured like a language, he does not say that unconscious is a language and we could find unconscious in any symbolic system. In computer languages, for example, there is no unconscious because the computer has no desire and there is no splitting betwen Ego and the desire of the Other, the cybermachine could not be alienated in language and could not consider its lingual activity as a psychical trauma. Like ancient and medieval people, who really did not pay serious attention to the problem of language and the shortage of desire, because there was no Ego and the desire was not lost in a language. The unconscious is not already within any speaking subject, but it arises in a desired and therefore split subject, with the alienation of the subject from himself and from humankind, like in Marx. That is why the subject of unconsious emerges not within the language in the human being, but within the self and its alienation in a language, which creates a speaking subject in the XVIth century. The medieval subject, on the contrary, does not consider his speech as the reason of his alienation from the desire for the Other, he did not feel the shortage of the Ego (because there were neither ego no cogito); and the signifier was not the master of their being. So, the aim is not to discover, but to invent the unconscious, to make a symbolic castration, the source of truth about subject, like Freud has done. That is why Lacan said that psychotics, who have no split and no alienation from the phallic enjoyment, are not the subjects of unconscious. To become a subject of unconscious one should go though the challenge of castration, loss, and alienation of desire.
"Desire is the essence of human being", according to Spinoza, and this fact distinguishes him from ancient and medieval subjects. One of Labbie"s central point is similarity between nominalism and earlier Lacan, who also argues that psychoanalysis is a treatment and interpretation of desire through the symbolic order. However he has shifted from that position in the 1960s, when he has conceptualized Das Ding (the piece of the reading that was lost in the symbolic) and argued that psychoanalysis works not in symbolic, but in the real and looks for an analytical act, but not only the language game with the signifier. In his mind, the unconscious - the main concept of psychoanalysis - emerges because of the split between symbolic and the real (which for St. Augustine is the same as the world in the God"s text), because of the separation between subject and the Other; unconscious is the effect of the doubt of the word. Therefore, psychoanalysis deals not with the words and symbols (it is not part of linguistics), but with the subject, whose desire deals with the words and takes part in symbolic order for the purpose to achieve the reality. The author restricts herself by analysis of literature and ideas, she does not speak about the desire represented in text.
Labbie"s idea of coincidence of ontogenesis and philogenesis, according to that which Freud follows Greek legacy and "focused on classical epoch", Lacan follows Medieval doctrines (in such a way Slavoy Zizek could be called a Barocco thinker because of his symbolical superplus and ungovernable shallow interest to everything), and looks very clear, but is too vulnerable, because it is easy to disprove it. Lacan used a lot of resources to illustrate his theses (and devote half of his seminar on the ethics of psychoanalysis to Medieval poetry), but it is not reason to consider him as Medieval thinker. It could be interesting to reconstruct the religious roots of Lacan"s theory and to structure of psychoanalysis like a church, because "Intellectuals don"t want to acknowledge the theological and Christian side of Lacanian theory: Lacan"s is a re-writing of Freud"s psychoanalysis in a Christian key". [Green, 7]. Although such comparative approaches try to be prolific, the author limits Christianity by a medieval epoch and did not put the question about desire of the medieval subject and his relation to the symbolic order and the real order.
Attal J. Le non-excommunication de Jacques Lacan quand la psychanalyse a perdu Spinoza. Paris: Cahiers de l"Unebevue, 2010
Green A. Against Lacanism / Journal of European Psychoanalysis. No. 24, 2007
Lacan J. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (The Seminar, Book 11). N.Y.: W. Norton, 1998
Le Gaufey G. L"incompletude du symbolique : de Rene Descartes а Jacques Lacan. P.: Epel, 1991
Dmitry Olshansky, M.Phil, M.Psy
psychoanalyst, fellow of the Institute of Clinical Medicine (St. Petersburg) and Institut des Hautes Etudes en Psychanalyse (Paris)
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