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The Triumph of Religion

Preceded by Discourse to Catholics
Jacques Lacan, Bruce Fink (trans)


Ladies and Gentlemen,

When Canon Van Camp came to ask, with his typically refined courtesy, if I would speak at the Faculte Universitaire Saint-Louis about a topic related to my teaching, I found, by God, nothing simpler than to say I would speak on the same topic I had chosen for the academic year that was beginning - this was back in October - namely, the ethics of psychoanalysis.

I am recounting here the circumstances or con­ditions of my choice essentially in order to avoid a few misunderstandings. When one comes to a talk by a psychoanalyst, one generally expects to hear once again a defense of psychoanalysis, which is so disputed, or a few insights regard­ing its virtues that are obviously, in theory, as everyone knows, of a therapeutic nature. That is precisely what I will not provide this evening.

I thus find myself in the difficult position of basically having to lead you into the midst of what I have chosen to discuss this year with an audience that is necessarily better trained for this research than you can be — regardless of your attraction to the topic and the attention I can see on all of your faces - since those who attend my seminar have been doing so for about seven or eight years.

My teaching this year is thus focused explicitly on a theme that is generally avoided: the ethical impact of psychoanalysis, of the morals that psy­choanalysis can suggest, presuppose, or contain, and of the step forward psychoanalysis would perhaps allow us to take - how audacious! - in the moral realm.

 To be quite frank, the person before you entered psychoanalysis late enough to have tried before -upon my word, like anyone who has been trained or educated - to orient himself in the realm of ethics. To orient himself theoretically, I mean, if not also, perhaps, by God, through several experiences often referred to as those of youth.

Nevertheless, he has been involved in psycho­analysis long enough to be able to say that he will soon have spent half his life listening to lives that are told, that are confessed [s'avouent]. He listens. I listen. Regarding these lives that, for almost four septenaries, I have listened to as they are confessed to me, I am in no way qualified to weigh their worth. And one of the goals of the silence that constitutes the rule of my listen­ing is precisely to silence love. I will thus not betray their trivial and unique secrets. But there is something to which I would like to attest.

In the position that I occupy, and where I hope to finish out the remainder of my days, is something that will remain palpitating after me, I believe, as a waste product in the place I will have occupied. What is involved is, so to speak, an innocent questioning, or even a scandal, that can be formulated more or less as follows.

How does it happen that these good and accom­modating men or neighbors, every one of whom props up a certain knowledge or is propped up by it, who are thrown into this business - to which tradition has given various names, that of exist­ence being the latest in philosophy - into this business of existence (and what is lame about it is, I will say, what remains most confirmed), let themselves go to the point of falling prey to captivation by the mirages by which their lives, wasting opportunity, allow their essence to escape, by which their passion is toyed with, and by which their being, in the best of cases, only attains the scant reality that is affirmed only insofar as it has never been anything but disappointed?

This is what my experience shows me. This is the question I bequeath regarding the sub­ject of ethics, where I muster what for me, as a psychoanalyst, constitutes my passion.

Yes, I know that according to Hegel all that is real is rational. But I am one of those who think that the converse is not to be disparaged - that all that is rational is real. There is only one small problem with this: I see that most of those who are caught between the one and the other, the rational and the real, are unaware of their reassuring compatibility. Will I go so far as to say that those who reason are to blame? One of the most worrisome applications of this much talked-about converse is that what profes­sors teach is real and has as such as many effects as any other real - interminable, indeterminable effects - even if their teaching is false. This gives me pause for thought.

Accompanying a patient's enthusiastic rush toward a bit of reality [reél], I begin skidding with him on what I will call the creed of stupidities about which it is difficult to say whether contem­porary psychology is the model or the caricature. Namely, the ego, considered to be a function both of synthesis and of integration; conscious­ness considered to be the culmination of life; evolution considered to be the pathway by which the universe of consciousness comes into being; the categorical application of this postulate to the individual's psychological development; and the notion of behavior, which is applied in a unitary fashion in order to break every bit of dramatic tension in human life down to the most ridicu­lous degree. All of this camouflages the following: nothing in the concrete life of a single individual allows us to ground the idea that such a final­ity directs his life and could lead him - through the pathways of progressive self-consciousness undergirded by natural development - to har­mony with himself as well as to approval from the world on which his happiness depends.

Not that I don't recognize the effectiveness of the jumble that concretizes — on the basis of collective successions of what finally seem to be corrective experiments — under the heading of modern psychology. One finds there light forms of suggestion, so to speak, that are not without effect, and that can lead to interesting applica­tions in the field of conformity and even of social exploitation. The problem is that this register has no hold on an impotence that merely grows to the extent that we have ever more occasion to implement the said effects. Man is ever more impotent to meet up anew with his own desire, and this impotence can go so far that he loses its carnal triggering. Even when the latter remains available, this man no longer knows how to find the object of his desire and no longer encounters anything but unhappiness in his search, living in an anguish that progressively shrinks what one might call his chance to invent.

What happens here in the shadows was sud­denly shed light on by Freud at the level of neurosis. Corresponding to the eruption of his discovery into the basement was the advent of a truth. The latter concerns desire…