Far from being the seminar of Lacan, his Ethics of Psychoanalysis is, rather, the point of deadlock at which Lacan comes dangerously close to the standard version of the "passion for the Real."24 Do not the unexpected echoes between this seminar and the thought of Georges Bataille—the philosopher of the passion for the Real, if ever there was one—point unambiguously in this direction? Is not La-can's ethical maxim "do not compromise your desire" (which, we should always bear in mind, was never used again by Lacan in his later work) a version of Bataille's injunction "to think everything to a point that makes people tremble,"25 to go as far as possible—to the point at which opposites coincide, at which infinite pain turns into the joy of the highest bliss (discernible in the photograph of the Chinese submitted to the terrifying torture of being slowly cut to pieces), at which the intensity of erotic enjoyment encounters death, at which sainthood overlaps with extreme dissolution, at which God Himself is revealed as a cruel Beast? Is the temporal coincidence of Lacan's seminar on the ethics of psychoanalysis and Bataille's Eroticism more than a mere coincidence? Is Bataille's domain of the Sacred, of the "accursed part," not his version of what, apropos of Antigone, Lacan deployed as the domain of ate?
Does not Bataille's opposition of "homogeneity," the order of exchanges, and "heterogeneity," the order of limitless expenditure, echo Lacan's opposition of the order of symbolic exchanges and the excess of the traumatic encounter with the Real? "Heterogeneous reality is that of a force or shock."26 And how can Bataille's elevation of the dissolute woman to the status of God fail to remind us of Lacan's claim that Woman is one of the names of God? Not to mention Bataille's term for the experience of transgression—impossible— that is Lacan's qualification of the Real ... It is this urge to "go to the very end," to the extreme experience of the Impossible as the only way of being authentic, which makes Bataille the philosopher of the passion for the Real—no wonder he was obsessed with Communism and Fascism, those two excesses of life, against democracy, which was "a world of appearances and of old men with their teeth falling out."27 Bataille was fully aware of how this transgressive "passion for the Real" relies on prohibition;that is why he was explicitly opposed to the "sexual revolution," to the rise of sexual permissiveness, which began in his last years:
In my view, sexual disorder is accursed. In this respect and in spite of appearances, I am opposed to the tendency which seems today to be sweeping it away. I am not among those who see the neglect of sexual interdictions as a solution. I even think that human potential depends on these interdictions: we could not imagine this potential without these interdictions.28
Bataille thus brought to its climax the dialectical interdependence between law and its transgression—"system is needed and so is excess," as he liked to repeat: "Often, the criminal himself wants death as the answer to the crime, in order finally to impart the sanction, without which the crime would be possible instead of being what it is, what the criminal wanted."29 This, also, was why he ultimately opposed Communism: he was for the excess of the revolution, but feared that the revolutionary spirit of excessive expenditure would afterward be contained in a new order, even more "homogeneous" than the capitalist one: "the idea of a revolution is intoxicating, but what happens afterward? The world will remake itself and remedy what oppresses us today to take some other form tomorrow."30
£ This, perhaps, is why Bataille is strictly premodern: he remains stuck ^ in this dialectic of the law and its transgression, of the prohibitive law 0 as generating the transgressive desire, which forces him to the debilitating perverse conclusion that one has to install prohibitions in order to be able to enjoy their violation—a clearly unworkable pragmatic paradox. (And, incidentally, was not this dialectic fully explored by Saint Paul in Romans, in the famous passage on the relationship between Law and sin, on how Law engenders sin, that is, the desire to transgress it?) What Bataille is unable to perceive are simply the consequences of the Kantian philosophical revolution: the fact that the absolute excess is that of the Law itself—the Law intervenes in the "homogeneous" stability of our pleasure-oriented life as the shattering force of absolute destabilizing "heterogeneity." On a different level, but no less radically, late-capitalist "permissive" society in the thrall of the superego injunction "Enjoy!" elevates excess into the very principle of its "normal" functioning, so that I am tempted to propose a paraphrase of Brecht: "What is a poor Bataillean subject engaged in his transgressions of the system compared to the late-capitalist excessive orgy of the system itself?" (And it is interesting to note how this very point was made by Chesterton: orthodoxy itself is the highest subversion; serving the Law is the highest adventure.)
It is only in this precise sense that the otherwise journalistic designation of our age as the "age of anxiety" is appropriate: what causes anxiety is the elevation of transgression into the norm, the lack of the prohibition that would sustain desire. This lack throws us into the suffocating proximity of the object-cause of desire: we lack the breathing space provided by the prohibition, since, even before we can assert our individuality through our resistance to the Norm, the Norm enjoins us in advance to resist, to violate, to go further and further. We should not confuse this Norm with regulation of our intersubjective contacts: perhaps there has been no period in the history of humankind, when interactions were so closely regulated; these regulations, however, no longer function as the symbolic prohibition—rather, they regulate modes of transgression themselves. So when the ruling ideology enjoins us to enjoy sex, not to feel guilty about it, since we are not bound by any prohibitions whose violations should make us feel guilty, the price we pay for this absence of guilt is anxiety. It is in this precise sense that—as Lacan put it, following Freud—anxiety is the only emotion that does not deceive: all other emotions, from sorrow to love, are based on deceit. Again, back to Chesterton: when he writes that "Christianity is the only frame for pagan freedom," this means that, precisely, this frame—the frame of prohibitions—is the only frame within which we can enjoy pagan pleasures: the feeling of guilt is a fake enabling us to give ourselves over to pleasures—when this frame falls away, anxiety arises.
It is here that one should refer to the key distinction between the object of desire and its object-cause.What should the analyst do in the case of a promiscuous woman who has regular one-night stands, while complaining all the time how bad and miserable and guilty she feels about it? The thing not to do, of course, is to try to convince her that one-night stands are bad, the cause of her troubles, signs of some libidinal deadlock—in this way, one merely feeds her symptom, which is condensed in her (misleading) dissatisfaction with one-night stands. That is to say, it is obvious that what gives the woman true satisfaction is not promiscuity as such, but the very accompanying feeling of being miserable—that is the source of her "masochistic" enjoyment. The strategy should thus be, as a first step, not to convince her that her promiscuity is pathological, but, on the contrary, to convince her that there is nothing to feel bad or guilty about: if she really enjoys one-night stands, she should continue to have them without any negative feelings. The trick is that, once she is confronted with one-night stands without what appears to be the obstacle preventing her from fully enjoying them, but is in reality the objet petit a, the feature that allows her to enjoy them, the feature through which she can only enjoy them, one-night stands will lose their attraction and become meaningless. (And if she still goes on with her one-night stands? Well, why not? Psychoanalysis is not a moral catechism: if this is her path to enjoyment, why not?) It is this gap between object and object-cause that the subject has to confront when the prohibition falls away: is she ready to desire the obstacle directly as such?31
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