Shards: June 2021 – outings in the here and now
by Christos Tombras
At the end of May 1938, Sigmund Freud, 82, and his family were anxiously awaiting the final details to be worked out before they could leave their country for good. There was no longer Austria. Its annexation in March to Nazi Germany had just been approved by an overwhelming majority by plebiscite on April 10: 99.7%.
For the rest, it was a very difficult and dangerous time. At one point, Freud’s daughter Anna was ordered to report to the Gestapo headquarters in Vienna. Not quite sure what to expect there, she has equipped herself with enough Veronal to take care of things if needed.
With a lot of help from influential friends locally and abroad, and a lot of resilience, the Freud were finally able to overcome bureaucratic hurdles, one by one. Towards the end of May, Freud had to sign a final paper, in which he was to declare that the authorities had not mistreated him or his family. Freud signed, adding this comment: “I can highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone. “
The irony was lost on the SS officer taking the statement, and the Freud were finally allowed to board their train on June 4. They arrived in London, via Paris, on June 6.
Three decades later, in Paris, things were far from settled. It was a tumultuous time both in the general context of French society and politics, but also in the narrower context of French psychoanalysis.
The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan had already given his Seminar for several years. The 1969-70 seminar will be the one where he will present his theory of discourse.
What he was proposing was really radical. Relying on Freud’s discovery of the functioning of the unconscious, he described the speaking being as always – and inevitably – eccentric: in everything you say, in everything you do, pushed as you do. You are by what motivates you, you simply live in a facade, a fabricated identity on which the Other is reflected. There is no way to escape it. The position you hold is always a pruned position for you within the network of discursive structures in which you find yourself. By speaking, you reveal yourself as the subject of the ultimate Other: language. It is the situation of the speaking being, says Lacan. Once inside, always inside. Your only hope, if there is one, is do not to be found in the breaking of the halter of language. It won’t happen anyway.
One of the favorite pastimes of Nazi crowds before the war was burning books. They also burned Freud’s books. “What progress we are making,” he reportedly commented. “In the Middle Ages, they would have burned me. Now they just burn my books.
Humor, however, is of limited use in dark times. As war approached, Nazi extremism and anti-Semitic atrocities were already inspiring all over Europe and Britain. In November 1938, the editor of Time and tide The magazine contacted Freud, now based in Hampstead, north London, and invited him to contribute to a discussion on anti-Semitism. Freud was unwilling to participate. Here is what he wrote in response:
“I came to Vienna as a 4 year old from a small town in Moravia. After 78 years of diligent work, I had to leave my home, in view of the Scientific Society that I had founded, dissolved, our institutions destroyed, our printing press (“Verlag”) taken over by the invaders, the books I had published confiscated or reduced to pulp, my children were expelled from their professions. Don’t you think you should reserve the columns of your special issue for statements by non-Jews, less personally involved than me?
On December 3, 1969, Lacan was invited to speak at the University of Paris VIII-Vincennes. When he arrived, the amphitheater was almost full.
Many wanted to hear what he had to say; others intended to take the opportunity to protest. Addressing each other as a “comrade”, they protested against everything: authorities, cops, society, university credits, psychoanalysts, priests. Lacan was not spared. Someone called him a clown and demanded that he do his public self-criticism immediately. Someone else suggested turning the lecture into “wild love” and started to strip.
“If the university is to be overthrown,” we hear, “it will only be from the outside, with others who are outside”.
“So why are you inside?” They ask him.
“I am inside comrade because I want people to leave. I have to come in and tell them.
“You see!” exclaims Lacan, seizing the opportunity. “It’s all there my friend. To make them leave, you enter.
“Lacan, let me finish! It is not all there. […] If we think that by listening to Lacan’s speech, or someone else’s, we will obtain the means to criticize the ideology they are making us swallow, we are making a big mistake. I claim that we have to look outside to find ways to overthrow the university.
“And what else? Do you think that when you leave you become aphasic? Bad luck my friend. Even after you leave you keep talking. That is, you keep being inside.
The lecture continues, as do the shouting.
The event was drawing to a close. “If you had a little patience,” Lacan was saying now, “and if you really wanted our impromptu to continue, I would tell you that always, the revolutionary aspiration has only one possible outcome: to end up as a discourse of master. . This is what experience has proven.
The reaction, captured in a surviving recording of the conference, is noisy: applaud, laugh, shout.
“What you aspire to as revolutionaries, continues Lacan, barely audible now, is a master. You will have one.