Jacques Lacan’s sayings on or near ‘pandemic’

by Julia Evans on June 21, 2020

These were given by Julia Evans to the 21st June 2020 meeting  of a New Lacanian School of Psychoanalysis, cartel (http://www.amp-nls.org/page/gb/33/catalogue-des-cartels), Cartel 35 – Pandemic & being Lacanian, a Flash Cartel (from April until July 2020) 

Members and their topic were : Ganesh Anantharaman – To examine what the ‘new normal’ of social distancing means for how we engage with the world inside and outside of us. : Gözde Kilic – To inquire into how we can position the coronavirus vis-à-vis the Symbolic and the Real? : Julia Evans – Between THE PANDEMIC & a pandemic – an exploration. : Paul Melia – How to practice that attentional stance Freud refers to as ‘evenly-suspended’ with few or no appointments during Covid-19? : Josephine Rostron – To consider the nature and impact of the virus and to elaborate on the presence of the body within Lacan’s structure of the psyche. 

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Seminar IV : 30th January 1957  :  para 18  : p157 : See Seminar IV : The Object Relation & Freudian Structures 1956-1957 : begins 21st November 1956 : Jacques Lacan or here : Translated by by the Earl’s Court Collective : Alma Buholzer, Greg Hynds  (http://gwh.xyz), Jesse CohnJulia Evans    

Again and again, authors addressing distinctively fetishistic phenomena speak of something through which the subject declares his relationship to sex. Here Freud makes us take a step further. Take note that we are still concerned with structure. We will discover later on why this occurs, why this is necessary. But as always we are too much in a hurry. We start by asking why and we immediately get into a kind of pandemonic chaos, with different [clinical] orientations crowding around to explain why the subject may be more or less distant from the object and feel arrested or threatened, or feel convicted. Let us first look at this structure. Here it is in the relation of the ‘beyond’ and the veil on which we can in some sense project ourselves, establishing for ourselves – as imaginary capture, as the seat of desire – this relation to a ‘beyond’ which is fundamental for any establishment of the symbolic relation. The descent of the ternary rhythm subject-object-beyond into the imaginary register, is fundamental for the symbolic relation This projection of the object’s provisional status into the function of the veil… this is what is at stake. Before going further, we may glimpse another axis on which a symbolic relationship is established in the imaginary. This is not yet about demand, which makes the subject need the veil. Here is the second step I would like to take. You will recognize what I said last time regarding the perverse structure as such. 

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Seminar VII : 16th March 1960 : See Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: begins 18th November 1959 : Jacques Lacan or here 

: p172 of Denis Porter’s translation – Lacan uses pandemonium rather than pandemic : In opposition to this we have the monotheistic message. How is it possible? How did it rise to this level? The way in which Freud articulates it is crucial if we are to appreciate the level at which its progress is to be situated.

For him everything is founded on the notion of Moses the Egyptian and of Moses the Midianite. I believe that an audience of people like you, eighty per cent of whom are psychoanalysts, should know this book by heart [the Iliad].

Moses the Egyptian is the Great Man, the legislator, the politician, the rationalist, the one whose path Freud claims to discover with the historical appearance in the fourteenth century B.C. of the religion of Akhenaton – something that has been attested by recent discoveries. This religion promotes a unitarianism of energy, symbolized by the sun from which it radiates and spreads out across the earth. This first attempt at a rationalist vision of the world, which is presupposed in the unitarianism of the real, in the substantive unification of the world centered on the sun, failed. Hardly had Akhenaton disappeared, when religious ideas of all kinds begin to multiply again, especially in Egypt; the pandemonium of the gods returns to take charge once more and utterly wipes out the reform. One man keeps the flame of this rationalist cause alight, Moses the Egyptian; it is he who chooses a small group of men and leads them through the test that will make them worthy to found a community based on his principles. In other words, some- one wanted to create socialism in a single country, except, of course, there was in addition no country but just a bunch of men to carry the project through. 

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Seminar VII : 4th May 1960 : See Seminar VII: The ethics of psychoanalysis: 1959-1960: begins 18th November 1959 : Jacques Lacan or here  :

p210-211 of Denis Porter’s translation – note Lacan uses plague rather than pandemic : Sade lays out for our benefit the theory that it is through crime that man collaborates in the new creations of nature. The idea is that the pure force of nature is obstructed by its own forms, that because the three realms present fixed forms they bind nature to a limited cycle, that is, moreover, manifestly imperfect, as is demonstrated by the chaos and abundance of conflicts as well as the fundamental disorder of their reciprocal relations. As a result, the deepest concern that can be imputed to this psychic subject that is Nature is that of wanting to wipe the slate clean, so that it may begin its task once more, set out again with a new burst of energy.

This discussion is completely literary, in the sense that it is not scientifically founded, but is rather poetic in character. In this luxuriant hodge-podge, from time to time one comes across what some people might take to be tedious digressions. But as you will see, they are entertaining to read. Thus, although reading always risks distracting one’s audience’s attention, I am going to read a passage from Sade’s system:

Without destruction the earth would receive no nourishment and, as a result, there would be no possibility for man to reproduce his species. It is no doubt a fateful truth, since it proves in an invincible way that the vices and virtues of our social system are nothing, and that the very vices are more necessary than the virtues, because they are creative and the virtues are merely created; or, if you prefer, the vices are causes and the virtues no more than effects. . . . A too perfect harmony would thus be a greater disadvantage than disorder; and if war, discord and crime were banished from the earth, the power of the three realms would be too violent and would destroy in its turn all the other laws of nature. The celestial bodies would all stop. Their influences would be halted by the excessive power of one of them; there would be neither gravitation nor movement. It is thus men’s crimes that introduce disorder into the sphere of the three realms and prevent this sphere from achieving a level of superiority that would disrupt all the others, by maintaining the perfect balance Horace called rerum concordia discors. Thus crime is necessary in the world. But the most useful crimes are no doubt those that disrupt the most, such as the refusal of propagation or destruction; all the others are worthless or rather only those two are worthy of the name of crime. Thus only the crimes mentioned are essential to the laws of the three realms and essential also to the laws of nature. A philosopher in antiquity called war the mother of all things. The existence of murderers is as necessary as plagues; without both of them everything in the universe would be upset. . . . such dissolution serves nature’s purposes, since it recomposes that which is destroyed. Thus every change operated by man on organized matter serves nature much more than it opposes it. What am I saying? The service of nature requires far more total destructions . . . destructions much more complete than those we are able to accomplish. Nature wants atrocities and magnitude in crimes; the more our destructions are of this type, the more they will be agreeable to it. To be of even greater service to nature, one should seek to prevent the regeneration of the body that we bury. Murder only takes the first life of the individual whom we strike down; we should also seek to take his second life, if we are to be even more useful to nature. For nature wants annihilation; it is beyond our capacity to achieve the scale of destruction it desires.

I presume that you have grasped the significance of the core of this last statement. It takes us to the heart of what was explained last time, in connection with the death drive, as the point of division between the Nirvana or annihilation principle, on the one hand, and the death drive, on the other – the former concerns a relationship to a fundamental law which might be identified with that which energetics theorizes as the tendency to return to a state, if not of absolute rest, then at least of universal equilibrium.

The death drive is to be situated in the historical domain; it is articulated at a level that can only be defined as a function of the signifying chain, that is to say, insofar as a reference point, that is a reference point of order, can be situated relative to the functioning of nature. It requires something from beyond whence it may itself be grasped in a fundamental act of memorization, as a result of which everything may be recaptured, not simply in the movement of the metamorphoses but from an initial intention.

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Quote from The Zombie Epidemic: Hypermodern Version of the Apocalypse : 25th September 2013: New York: Jorge Assef See here : In 1975, Lacan visited the United States. In his conference at Yale he said: “What is called history is the history of epidemics.” To Lacan, the plague is what becomes established as the social discourse of a time. 

From questions and answers following Yale University: 24th November 1975: ‘Kanzer Seminar’: Jacques Lacan or here,  p17-18 of Jack W. Stone’s translation : 

MS. TURKELL – How would you articulate the idea that psychoanalysis aspires to the status of science to what you have called an epidemic? In a sense, it is a social phenomenon . . .

J. LACAN – An epidemic is not a social phenomenon, at least not in science’s case. 

MS. TURKELL – What is a scientific epidemic?

J. LACAN – It is when something is taken as a simple emergence when in fact it is a radical rupture. It is a historical event that has propagated itself and has greatly influenced the conception of what one calls a universe, which itself has a very narrow base, except in the imaginary.

PR HARTMAN – You have devoted a lot of time and wisdom . . .

J. LACAN – Since I have benefited from your attention, I will try to say a little more about this tomorrow.

PR HARTMAN – You ended your presentation with the word “destiny” and we will now end with the word “epidemic.” You have, in fact, answered an epidemic of questions and we very much appreciate it.

– Like Miller, we might say: “This is all coherent and implies a devotion to science in the face of which even our conquering Catholicism backs off (…) such devotion to science is called scientism.” In fact, as we have already declared God dead, we have science left. Paradoxically, here lies the root of what Lacan announced as “The Triumph of Religion”.  

Note: The “Triumph of Religion” comes from a press conference held in Rome on October 29th 1974, at the French Cultural Centre, whilst Lacan was there for a conference: See Press Conference at the French Cultural Center, Rome (The Triumph of Religion) : 29th October 1974 : Jacques Lacan or here 

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Quoted in The Covid-19 Does Not Exist By Leigh Tennant | 21st October 2020 | LRO 250 (Lacanian Review Online 250)

See Freud Forever – An Interview with Panorama : 21st November 1974 (Rome) : Jacques Lacan with Emilia Granzotto  or here 

p20-21 of David Broder’s translation : See here : What relationship is there today between science and psychoanalysis?

For me the only true, serious science worth following is science fiction. The other, official science with its altars in the laboratories gropes its way forward without reaching any happy medium. And it has even begun to fear its own shadow.

It seems that the experts will soon be facing anxious moments. Donning their starched shirts in their aseptic laboratories, these rather elderly toddlers playing with unknown things, making ever more complex devices, inventing ever more obscure formulas, begin to ask themselves what might happen tomorrow, what these ever‐novel research projects might bring to bear. Enough, I say! And what if it’s too late, biologists and physicists and chemists now ask themselves. I think they are mad.

They are already changing the face of the universe, and it only now occurs to them that perhaps this might be dangerous. And if everything blew up in their faces? If the bacteria so lovingly raised in their shiny laboratories transformed into our mortal enemies? If hordes of these bacteria overran the world as well as all the crap that lives there, starting with these laboratory experts themselves?

In addition to Freud’s three impossible positions – government, education, and psychoanalysis – I would add a fourth, science. But the experts are not expert enough to know that their position is untenable.

So you have a rather pessimistic view of what they call progress…

No, it’s something else entirely. I am not pessimistic. Nothing is going to happen. For the simple reason that man is a good‐for‐nothing, not even capable of destroying himself. Personally, I would find the idea of an all‐ encompassing plague, produced by man, rather marvellous. It would be the proof that he had managed to do something with his own hands and head, without divine or natural intervention.

All these bacteria overfed for amusement’s sake, spreading out across the world like the locusts in the Bible, would mark the triumph of mankind. But this isn’t going to happen. Science happily saunters through its crisis of responsibility: everything will return to its natural place, as they say. And as I said, the real will win out, as always. And we’ll be as fucked as we ever were.

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Related Texts 

On pandemic/coronavirus/plague    here    

An Extimate Experience : 25th July 2020 : Ganesh Anantharaman  or   here   

Jacques Lacan’s sayings on or near ‘pandemic’ by Julia Evans on 21st June 2020, or here    

Encounter with the Coronavirus : we, analysts, are mortal : 10th May 2020 : Nelson Feldman or here   

THE PANDEMIC versus a pandemic – Cartel Opening Statement by Julia Evans on 25th April 2020  or here  

Summoned! : 17th April 2020 : Jean-Daniel Matet or here    

Coronavirus as Metaphor : 6th April 2020 : Gözde Kilic or here   

We shall build up again… : 31st March 2020 : Jorge Assef  or  here

Life Over Death : 26th March 2020 : Thomas Svolos  or here  

The Other that Does Not Exist and Its Scientific Committees : 23rd March 2020 : Éric Laurent  or here  

Coronavirus and the Hole in the Big Other : 14th March 2020 : Thomas Svolos or here    

The Zombie Epidemic: Hypermodern Version of the Apocalypse : 25th September 2013: New York: Jorge Assef or here  

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Note : If links to any required text do not work, check www.LacanianWorksExchange.net. If a particular text or book remains absent, contact Julia Evans

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Julia Evans    

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, Kent & London

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Further texts

On pandemic/coronavirus/plague    here    

On cartels here    

Of the clinic  here 

Lacanian Transmission  here 

Some Lacanian History  here 

Topology  here 

From LW working groups  here

By Sigmund Freud here 

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud  here 

By Jacques Lacan here        

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here 

By Julia Evans here