A great friend of psychoanalysis passed away last month. John Forrester was not only a true man of letters, an eminent Cambridge scholar, an international speaker and debater, not only a teacher, a professor, a guide to students through the labyrinths of history of psychoanalysis. He was also a feisty yet modest, passionate fighter to the heart for the psychoanalytic cause in the modern times, engaged, committed to reading Freud and Lacan’s teaching against the backdrop of the ego culture and its regulations. Where would we have been without his magnificent translation of Lacan’s inaugural Seminar?
What a riveting and rigorous piece of work with which to open the door to Lacan’s teaching in the English speaking world. When asked to write a few words in memoriam, I almost flinched at a lack of knowledge of his life and work, so many would do it so much better. Then two traces of his presence emerged. One relates to his book “The Seductions of Psychoanalysis”. It came out when I was working on my doctorate in 1994. It was recommended to me by Andrew Benjamin, and I quickly acquired it, charmed by its title, and then by the intransigent and intrepid developments. It was a brilliant book, a truly courageous and enlightening accompaniment to my reading of Freud and Lacan at the time, epistemologically fluent, erudite, paced in a light gait.
Its boldness was twofold, one of taking up Freud’s early theories of seduction, followed by the commentary on the feminists’ opposition, resistance perhaps, to giving credence to psychoanalysis in the consideration of rape cases, and two, standing up to the mortifications of the desire of the obsessional. After all those years I spent at the university, Forrester’s scrutiny of the obsessional’s temporality of death appeared as godsend, illuminating and enlivening. Must one write about death to find life? Here is the quote I then found irresistible: “The obsessional waits because he has entered time that is non-existent, predicated on the non-happening of an event that did happen: he has entered an impossible world, and, just as any number becomes infinite when divided by zero, any time becomes empty, becomes pure duration, when it is deprived of anything that has actually happened. This time of pure duration is the time of the pure object: the object defined by nothing more than its duration”1. Forrester immediately saw the real effects in the wrong-footing of Lacan’s variable session, rather than “when the clock informed him that he should, in accordance with a prior agreement between patient and analyst, may well have directed at a specific sort of patient: the obsessional”.2 Forrester saw in Lacan the slayer of the obsessional’s time, its duration, its circularity that imaginarises an event to happen which does not happen. He also saw in psychoanalysis a time to reflect and to act, of solitude and of collaboration.
Then came 2007, a big event, a conference on impossible professions and false promises of the State and its masters, organised by our group in London. Among the guests were John Forrester and Jacques-Alain Miller who asked the former, the moment marked in my memory, for an opinion: “What do you think, John?” His reply seemed unassuming yet accurate, inconspicuous yet authoritative, indeed as unmasterly as it gets. And this sent me back to his opus, to the seductions of life, of reflections on death, of critique of regulation of the impossible profession of the analyst, of the need of erudition in the analytic field, and of passion to drive it – in short, the seductions of life in psychoanalysis. There is no psychoanalysis without friends who speak from the cause, and John Forrester remains one of the greatest.
1 J. Forrester, “The Seductions of Psychoanalysis – Freud, Lacan and Derrida”, Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 170.
2 Ibid. p, 169.
Two weeks ago, The New York Times published an interview with three women who had escaped from the Islamic State stronghold in Raqqa, Syria. This interview provides a unique insight into the lives of the Syrian people living in Raqqa before, during and after the occupation of the “Islamic State” (IS or ISIS) – also known as The Organization – a much feared and dreaded presence in their city.
What strikes this reader is how quickly the veneer of civilization falls, once the task of saving one’s own skin comes to the fore.
According to these testimonies, many people in Syria enjoyed a relaxed, contemporary lifestyle: the majority of women were going to college, planning careers, marrying later and choosing their own spouses.
The uprising against the government of President Assad in 2011 and subsequent war did not impinge on the people of Raqqa until spring 2014 when ISIS took full control of the city: then in the words of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, ‘all changed, changed utterly’. This interview delineates the steps that led to this new social order where fear, aggression and collaboration prevailed until unable to bear the price being exacted from them, the three women chose to flee to another country to save their lives.
Readers (of this interview) may be horrified but those acquainted with Freud’s work will not be surprised: as in the last century Freud wrote in Civilization and its Discontents that men are not gentle, friendly creatures, but that a powerful measure of desire for aggression has to be reckoned as part of their instinctual endowment. The result “is that their neighbour is not just a helper or sexual object but a temptation for them to gratify their aggressiveness, to exploit his capacity for work without recompense, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and kill’1.
In the aftermath of the article, a lot of The New York Times readers commented and responded to this interview – many judged these young women and compared them to the German women who collaborated with the Nazis in the Second World War. Yet the most highly rated comments and responses are those that do not judge but seek to understand something of this very contemporary, catastrophic phenomenon that can plunge a civilized society back into the Middle Ages with the real consequences and effects that follow from this.
For full interview: www.nytimes.com
1 Freud, S. (1930). Civilisation and its Discontents. S.E. XXI
I was in Paris on the night of the terrorist attacks, which occurred on the eve of the Journées of the ECF, where 3,400 people were due to attend. Like so many in France, and around the world, I watched the terrible events unfold on the screen of a television, refracted through a reportage in which journalists were frantically trying to piece together what was happening from a variety of sources and social media, with live scenes of desperation, the enduring image of which, for me, was that of a woman, later revealed to be pregnant, hanging from an upper window of the Bataclan theatre, fifteen metres above the street below.
In the morning, after the full scale of the tragedy had been revealed, I expressed my sorrow and deep sympathy to the Parisian woman who served me breakfast. She was the only member of staff on duty and I the only customer at the time. She looked tired and exhausted and replied, "Yes, I was there.” I asked her what she meant by this and she told me that, to make ends meet, she has a second job working through an agency, and that the previous evening she had been one of the security team at the Stade de France, working at the very gate that the first terrorist tried to enter before blowing himself up. As her words welled up within her, she told me that her “chef” or supervisor, one of those involved in confronting the man and herding him away from the gate, had, as far as I understood the French at the time, lost a leg in the attack, while others were killed outright. Then a short while later a second bomb went off at another gate. She told me that three or four people died in the first attack and that seventeen people were injured, but she also told me – and this is something I have not heard reported in the news – that this first gate was the gate that gave access to the area where the VIPs were sitting. Apparently some of them came down to see what was happening after the bomb went off and she and others suddenly found it within themselves to put aside their own sense of shock and horror in order to reassure the descending dignitaries that everything was under control, while at the same time urging them to go back inside. Then later, after everyone had been safely conducted away from the stadium, the police kept all those present at the time of the attack, taking statements until 4am, when they were finally allowed to go. As she handed me my coffee and my croissant, my waitress told me that, when she returned to her flat, she did not sleep, but simply sat on her couch. She then got up to open the bar at 7.30. She was still in shock and clearly needed to speak. The next morning, when I greeted her again, she told me that all the members of her team had received thanks for their professionalism and the way they had handled themselves during the incident – and then she added that her agency had also rung her later that day to ask if she was available for work, which for once she declined.
This is a small vignette, from a night of terror which, for me, bears out something of the spirit of the French people on that terrible and devastating night. I cannot help linking this strong and courageous woman, whose manner was modest yet assertive, with the female figure that Delacroix used to embody the spirit that led to the creation of the French Republic and even, as the title of the painting suggests, the first of its underlying principles, which as Marie-Hélène Brousse reminded us in a previous post, are rendered emblematically in the three colours of French flag that she can be seen raising in her hand.
So it was Liberty at the gate then, and not simply barbarism – liberty and what today could perhaps be described as its reverse side: namely, that push-to-enjoy [pousse-à-jouir] the radicalisation of which Eric Laurent sees at the root of such appalling acts of terror.3. Which begs the question: how can psychoanalysis re-engage its revolutionary spirit to confront this push-to-enjoy, in all its forms, where we encounter it in the clinic? We are no longer in a time where we can sit back with the assurance that the dialectic will run its course as it plays itself out between truth and knowledge, but must consider new ways in which to position ourselves and our act. To put this in the form of a question, and in a reprise of what Lacan says in the Écrits, how can we "reopen the junction between truth and knowledge [and now let us add jouissance, even if it is also disjunctive in its effects] to the mobility out of which revolutions arise",4 revolutions both large and small in the lives of our patients? Whatever answers we find to this question one thing is sure: namely that, in one way or another, the solution will lie in the Liberty that wells up in speech.
1 Although I can no longer remember the exact words, it is possible that she was using an idiomatic expression that means that he was rendered utterly speechless: "ça lui a coupé la jambe", in other words, it completely floored him, but the expression also brings to the fore, if we read the implication, that any traumatic experience implies a mutilation at the level of the speaking body.
2 The title of the painting is: "Liberty Leading the People".
3 Cf. “The Unconscious and the Body Event: An Interview with Eric Laurent”, in Hurly-Burly 13. We could say that the radicalisation of this push-to-enjoy is demonstrated by the final body event to which such appalling acts tend to lead.
4 Jacques Lacan, "The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire", Écrits, p. 679.