A Father is Beaten to Death
« …he who has called himself Christian for the past two thousand years does so on the basis of a psychological misunderstanding of the self […] Looking more closely at this, despite his faith, what dominates in him alone are instincts, and what instincts!» (Nietzsche, L’Antéchrist, Gallimard, Folio, p. 53.)
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take part in this prestigious gathering which opens new perspectives on, and even reevaluations of, political tragedies, history of education, and pedagogical authority in psychoanalytic theory, starting from the crucial topic of the “dead father”. In my talk, I’ll develop a number of arguments connected to this topic in the field of culture, focusing on religion and sublimation; but I hope they will also be of relevance to our clinical concerns. I’m more than a little worried about presenting these arguments in my broken English, especially in front of such a prominent Shakespearian scholar as Professor Edward Taylor, so please accept my apologies for this. Even after many years of being invited to teach and carry out research in Columbia’s French department and elsewhere, my English is no better, even though I fell in love with American academia, and in particular with my colleagues and students at Columbia, who I would like to thank very warmly today.
The « dead father » is a clinical experience I’ve often encountered with my analysands in a number of variations that resonate in my counter-transference and which I’d like to highlight in beginning this talk. My own personal experience of this was especially strong when I lost my father in dramatic circumstances in September 1989, in my native country of Bulgaria, two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was murdered in a supposedly socialist hospital where experiments were performed on elderly patients; family members were not allowed to visit for “fear of germs”. The bodies of practicing Christians who had died were cremated to prevent religious gatherings. While mourning, I could only talk about this through writing a novel. `
On this occasion and for the first time, I found myself writing what I called a « metaphysical detective novel», a genre in which I continue to work, which combines philosophical, political, poetic and even psychoanalytical approaches. This first detective novel was entitled « The Old Man and the Wolves ». To be brief, my father’s death drove me to see society as the criminal pact described by Freud: « Society was now based on complicity in the common crime ». The other consequence of this event is the loss of inhibition I felt that enabled me to unveil the repressed sadomasochism of the lovers surrounding the novel’s “dead father”.
I won’t linger on this subject today, which has already been transposed in a mythical form through my detective novel. I only mention this story, however, because the grief and melancholy I felt after my father’s death, as well as their working through and their subsequent sublimation, underlie the reflection that I intend to speak about today, and in which you will clearly hear personal auto-analytical and counter-transferential connotations that vary according to sexual difference. In particular I will examine the fantasy of the “father beaten to death” while maintaining that this fantasy lies at the foundation of the Christian faith.
A Coptic manuscript, translated from Greek in the 3rd or 4th century, discovered in the 1970s, published a few weeks ago by the National Geographic in its April 2006 edition, and according to which Judas did not “betray” Jesus but rather “fulfilled” his wishes in handing him over to be put to death, breaks with the representation of Judas as the unfaithful disciple which has fed 2000 years of Christian anti-Semitism. The analyst, as far as he or she is concerned, has no need of this kind of “proof” in order to understand that the putting to death of the body of Christ is not just an unfortunate accident (due to some or other betrayal, or internal rivalry between Jews etc.) and is still less a Gnostic resurgence of the Platonic soul (which rids itself of the body in order to attain the idea of the Good and the Beautiful). The “father beaten to death” appears to me, to us as a logical necessity in the Christian construction of the desiring subject, which liberates this subject from the incestuous love of the father and for the father, and its associated guilt, by its projection onto passion-suffering as the only possible path for sublimation. This logical necessity begins with a displacement of prohibition of incest, or its abandonment, in the form of the punishment by and of the father, experienced as a form of passionate suffering; before finally allowing the father’s love and love of the father in the “reconciliation” through “infinite intellectual love” (Spinoza), by sublimation (Freud).
I should specify that I’m an atheist and yet convinced that psychoanalysis has the formidable privilege of being able to lend its attention to the religious sphere whose “clashes” aggravate, when they do not condition, civilization’s discontents at the beginning of the third millennium. Whether we are believers or non-believers, we are all affected by the cultural-religious environment in which we move. My conviction is that our psychoanalytic attention could lead to important advances in this field, on which will depend the future of psychoanalysis. I’m afraid however that at the moment we are still very much behind in our capacity to analyze these new variants of the « crisis of civilization », and I can only hope that meetings such as this one will help us to make progress on these issues.
Secondly, I’ll argue that the father complex is a universal which is nevertheless modulated very differently through the history of different civilizations and religions; and today, when confronted with the new methods of procreation mentioned by Eric Laurent, we need to take into consideration these different varieties of father complexes and the different kinds of dead fathers.As children of the Enlightenment, and as disciples of Freud, we have tended to rush to confirm the death of God, and were somewhat blinded to the complexities and to the paradoxes which abound in the history of religion, especially as they pertain to the role of the father, both living and dead.
My intention is to propose a new reading of Totem and Taboo inflected by an interpretation of A child is being beaten, in order to examine the guilt that underlies that underlies the murder of the father as the other side of the desire for him.
1. Freud : « A Child is Beaten » (S.E. vol.17)
When he postulates the existence of original fantasies in our unconscious, which stem from either the observation of certain events or from a “prehistoric truth” going back to “the original time of the human family”, Freud only mentions three: the primitive scene, castration and seduction. The « a child is beaten » fantasy, introduced in 1919, seems to occupy a particular, privileged place between these “original fantasies” which structure the psychoanalytical interpretation of desire and the variety of individual sexual scenarios in which the singular eroticism of speaking subjects unfolds. Half way between the “original” and the “individual”, the myth and the poetical, could the “A child is beaten” fantasy be the origin of individuation, the decisive time when the subject constitutes himself, starting with his sexual choice and as a speaking identity in the ternary structure of oedipal kinship? I, male or female, excluded from the primitive scene, look for my place between father and mother in order both to mark out my difference and find my place among the ties which are inseparably those of love and speaking, both erotic and signifying.
As I schematically sum up this text, allow me to underline that Freud insisted on distinguishing between how the “A child is beaten” fantasy is played out for the little girl and the little boy.
The young girl (and the woman) protects herself from her incestuous love for her father (1st stage of the fantasy: “He loves me”), and from her defensive masochism (2nd stage of the fantasy: “No, he doesn’t love me, he beats me”), by projecting it inversely on another, preferably someone of the same sex as the coveted paternal object (3rd stage : « He’s beating a boy »). Two questions arise here : How does this transfer occur, this delegation of feminine desire to another object, of the same or more frequently of the opposite sex, which shelters her as a subject of desire? What becomes of this reversed delegation of desire, which properly speaking is not repression but rather what I would call an introjection of the affection for the father, of the father. A redirection of yhe affect to the father, a père-version in French –from the the latin ‘versus’ meaning ‘towards’ ?
As I’ve commented elsewhere, with my analysands, the little girl experiencing her first Oedipal stage with her mother, constructs a precocious alterity, a sensitive, preverbal presence, which is at one and the same time a pole of attraction and a pole of repulsion which she will continue to compare herself with, mesure herself by and separate herself from. You or me? Such is her question from the outset, a question incapable of being posed like Narcissus, sure of his Ego and imbued with his image. The little girl puts herself outside the bounds of arousal, which nevertheless agitate her, and protects herself against her passion, which is at first, incestuous, then masochistic, by concentrating on others: “He doesn’t love you because he hits you”. Who is this “you”, this beaten second person who protects my desire which is guilty of loving and being loved?
Freud interprets : the repressed which follows desire, turns paternal love into the punishment of another person who is jealously hated. The prototype of this other beaten person is the mother, the little girl’s humiliated rival, even in the best of patriarchal families.
And yet the ambivalent love of the little girl for her mother continues to protect the envied matron and looks for other targets so as to keep the loved/hated maternal object sheltered. Thus, generally other children take the place of this beaten rival in the little girl’s fantasy. But why this displacement and this masquerade?
The founder of psychoanalysis doesn’t content himself with evoking daily observations of children with siblings or at school who are frequently submitted to paternal punishment. He suggests thinking that it is the guilt internal to the voyeur’s own repressed desire which creates the necessity for punishment, with or without observation of scenes of punishment. And to revive the inquiry: where would this guilt laden repression of the father’s love and love for the father come from? A repression which finds its acme in the fantasy of punishment or even thrashing?
A single answer imposes itself: It would be but a repetition of the repression of incest constitutive of the history of humanity and dictated by it. The foundation of the culture that specifies our species, namely the repression of incest – which underlies the original repression – necessarily and universally engenders guilt and its corollary, masochism. This prehistoric guilt can (in certain circumstances) lead to strong individual drives, strong incestuous overtones in the family, regression to anterior stages of mental development – before genitality: to the oral-anal excitation (spanking), to onanistic satisfaction or to variants of punishments-thrashings which take the entire body for an erogenous zone.
I propose we add to the Freudian vision of this endogenous masochism commanded by the original repression of incest, the fact that this very repression, pushing away incestuous desire leads to a final displacement of arousal, this time not to an other “object” (“a boy”) but to the medium of expression and communication itself: repression of incest leads to an investment of language and thought
I’m saying therefore, that parallel to the fantasy that “another is beaten” which protects me from prohibited genital satisfaction and/or the incestuous desire to be loved and to love. I, the little girl, transfer the intensity of my desire to speaking and thought, to representation and mental creativity. (I’ll not comment here on the fact that, as usual, Freud insists less on the mother as the daughter’s love for her seems to him more natural, less forbidden: to be examined in another colloquium!),
This transfer of my libido onto language and intelligence is not a simple defense against guilty genital desires, for it moreover creates a new object of desire, which becomes a new source of satisfaction, supplementary to the pleasure of the erogenous zones : simply put, it is the capacity to infinitely represent and name, to the point of giving words and meaning or non-meaning to genital and masochistic arousal itself. And this in the hope, not only to find partial substitutes to prohibited incest which would be my own activities or symbolic work, but to merit this prohibited love, made guilty and turned inside out to masochism: to merit it by this extravagant capacity of sublimation that all humans possess but which I, little girl, work hard to excel in better than anyone else.
In addition to masochistic perversity (“I take pleasure in the fantasy of being beaten”) is the sublimatory jouissance of my own capacity to say and to think for and with the beloved/loving. I want to emphasize that from the beginning sublimation accompanies this perverse defense, and perversion acts as sublimation’s double. Let’s keep in mind this sublimatory movement: we will come across it again, reinforced to the extreme in the nuclear fantasy which I see as essential to Christianity: “A father is beaten to death.”
Thus we are led to this: the final fantasy “One beats a child” erases the representation of the masochistic scene (“He beats ME) from the girl’s conscience and replaces it by a double movement. On the one hand, the sadistic version of the fantasy : « He beats HIM » ; and on the other an imaginary and cognitive hyperactivity, by a critical moral conscience identified with the parental superego, in which the feminine superego takes root, and even by an observant vigilance that can reach a point of extreme self-observation akin to delirium
We understand then, that the tension between this symbolic construction and excitability can engender the symptoms of the conflicting, doubled personalities we call hysterics, a group composed largely of women but which also includes men with similar patterns. And yet this conflict can also, in a favorable familial context, be a strong factor of stimulation for the development of women’s symbolic creativity. On a backdrop of tamed masochism, the conflict is therefore merely tempered
On the other hand, this strong identification, at once defensive and creative, of the girl with the paternal superego fused with the phallic function, transpires to the detriment of her feminine identifications. It causes the repression of the mother, reduced to castrated, sick femininity, gives rise to virile mimetism and propels the feminine subject towards a glorification of spirituality: all of which work to reunite the little girl and the woman she’ll become with the symbolic father.
Hence the admirable twistings and interminable polyphonies of the hysteric adventure! Think of how many have given up and asked the well-worn question : “What does a woman want?”
Nor does the little boy escape this sadomasochistic economy. Yet the difference here is that his punishment fantasy is, from the beginning, experienced as passive: “I am loved by the father” (implying: like a passive woman). To protect himself from this feminine position and the homosexuality it suggests, the boy superimposes his defensive fantasy (“I’m beaten by the father”) with another fantasy which represses the father by inverting the sexual attributes of the punishment’s author: “It’s not he who beats me, it’s SHE, a woman, it’s the mother.” This is the third stage of the masculine, masochistic fantasy.
The male masochistic fantasy which culminates in the scenario of the man being flagellated by a woman, protects the subject from this ultimate danger which is the father’s sadistic desire, against which the son must protect himself at all cost; for it is this very desire which persists both as an unconscious homosexual attraction and as the ultimate danger.
And although this masochistic fantasy of being beaten by a woman does not keep the man from occupying a feminine position given the nature of his passive role, it offers him a double benefit. Not only « that » does not happen between men, since I have sex with a woman, but even if I am in a passive feminine position, it’s nevertheless without having chosen a homosexual object. Moreover, the child beaten by his mother – who I now am – is not even a passive woman, because this man suffering with the mother, that is to say me, comes full circle around to the suffering that I had suspected my own father felt, this humiliated man who was always overshadowed by the power of maternal hysteria. Beaten, I join my father once again; we are united by these nuptials under the whip. After all is said and done, my man-beaten-by-a-woman masochism is the only compromise that makes me a man, perhaps belittled a bit, but who exists as I myself exist, solely through the feeling of suffering, of his suffering. My mother’s husband/lover, of course, the man I’ve always desired with a fearful desire and whose sadism I no longer have reason to fear.
Women and men in the throes and delights of sexuation, each sex suffering and dying in their own way?
On this particular point I place the “primary identification” with the father of the individual prehistory mentioned by A.Green and which I developed in Tales of Love (1983)in connection with the preverbal (semiotic) sublimation of drives and sensations.
I propose we add to the Freudian vision of this original or primary endogenous masochism commanded by the original repression of incest, the fact that this very repression, pushing away incestuous desire leads to a final displacement of arousal, this time not to an other “object” (“a boy”) but toward the medium of expression and communication itself: repression of incest leads to a new desire which is a cathexis of language and thought.
On this particular point I place the “primary identification” with the father of the individual prehistory mentioned by A.Green and which I developed in Tales of Love (1983) in connection with the preverbal (semiotic) sublimation of drives and sensations.
I’d now like to proceed directly to the figure of “the father beaten to death”.
2. A Father is Beaten to Death
« Had you recognized me you would have known the Father » (John, 14; 7-12)
Remember that for Freud the murder of the father is a foundational act, a historical reality in human civilization. In a similar way, for Christians, Christ is a historical character and it’s a real murder which believers commemorate. I take these considerations into account, whilst nevertheless distancing myself from them in what follows. I am only interested in psychic reality, which generates fantasies in the subject who believes in such events, whether or not they actually occurred.
On another point: although Christ is the Son, it’s as the Father that he is put to death (according to St Paul); and from the perspective of the Trinity it is not possible that his suffering to death not also be that of the Father.
What would happen if Jesus were not only a child or a beaten brother, but a beaten father – beaten to death?
For the little girl, this situation means that the one she loves – the father as object of maternal desire and as phallic function which supports her access to representation, language and thought – finds himself in the victim’s position similar to the position of the boy submitted to the girl’s sadistic fantasy analyzed by Freud in A child is being beaten. The fantasy of the ‘father beaten to death” could be then summarised as follows: « It’s not me who’s beaten, it’s a boy who is beaten; and yet here is a beaten father; this father is therefore a sort of boy or brother or alter ego».
By combining the son and the father, this scenario has the advantage of appeasing both the incestuous guilt that weighs on the desire for the Other (Sovereign Father) and of encouraging virile identification with this tortured man: but only under the cover of masochism promoted, even recommended by this double movement. « This beaten father and/or brother is my own kind, my alter ego, myself endowed with a male organ», says the girl or woman.
The path is thus paved in the unconscious, for the oedipal father who is usually the agent of the Law and Prohibition to be now able to fuse with the subject of the guilty amorous passion that “I” am, as a girl loved by this same father. The superman father is humanized, even feminized by the suffering he undergoes; and because of this he is at once my ideal love object and my double, an ideal ego. A complicit “us” is formed by and in the father’s passion. From here on we shall share love, guilt and punishment together. For my unconscious, such a father is not only poisitioned as an agent of the prohibition and the punishment it entails, but he is the forbidden love object suffering from prohibition and punishment like me. I dedicate to him super-ego type idealization, which permeates my feeling of being a minor excluded from the primitive scene to the point of resorbing this feeling. I thus return to the 1st phase of my oedipal fantasy : “I love him and he loves me”. Thus, because of our osmosis in paternal passion, this love expresses itself differently: “We are both in love, and guilty, we both deserve to be beaten to death. Only death will bring us together again.”
It follows that for the unconscious, these father/daughter reunions suspend the incest taboo in and by the suffering of the two punished lovers, in such a way that this suffering will necessarily be experienced as a marriage. The suffering of the father beaten to death – sexualized under the whip of faith, this love without pity (“sous le fouet du plaisir, ce bourreau sans merci”, to quote a verse from Baudelaire) – is the paradise of masochism but also its only way out: sublimation. How is masochism able to encourage sublimation? I’ll try to explain.
By placing the fantasy of the father beaten to death at the summit of the evangelical narrative, so that it calls out for our identification, Christianity does not content itself with reinforcing prohibition of desires which it also does, and in an obvious way. Christianity also, paradoxically, displaces them and opens the way to their working through or their sublimation.
Firstly, the neurotic person’s desires continue to be curbed and/or stimulated by the threats of judgement, condemnation and expiation which mutilate desires. However, being beaten as this son-father is beaten, the believer-subject’s unconscious releases his desires from guilt’s hold, and enables them to take form in what must be called sovereign, divine suffering. This is no longer the suffering of guilt which is the suffering resulting from transgression, but rather suffering as the sole way leading to the union with this ideal that is the Father. A new kind of suffering: Christic or Christian which is not the flip side of the Law but a suspension of Law and guilt to the benefit of jouissance in idealized suffering . A jouissance in calling out, in longing, in the essential failure of satisfying the desire for the father: the suffering-jouissance in the ambivalence of the longing for the father, a reorientation of desire towards the father (remember the latin “versus” from which the French vers le père and hence père-vers). Let me be clear. The father beaten to death does not make suffering commonplace or banal, nor does he authorize incest but, by the glory and grace of our suffering-together, of our com-passion, he adjusts and justifies it.
Moreover, the adoration of the beaten father leads to another otherwise fundamental consequence: with and beyond the surreptitiously accepted incestuous link with the father, it is symbolic activity itself which I am encouraged to sexualize through paternal passion. How so?
To the extent that it is by thought and language that I connect with the beaten-to-death Other, it is indeed this representation of my desires, be they frustrated, that promotes the passion for the father, or the Father as a figure of the passion which replaces the Father of the Law. The resexualization of the ideal father as Man of Passion brings about an unprecedented resexualization of representation itself, of the very activity of fantasizing and of speaking. We know that while favoring compassion, the Passion of the Father of pain invites me to act out my sadomasochistic drives, not only in everyday reality but also beyond: this is what is in fact encouraged in acts of mortification and penance. But there is something else: my sadomasochistic drives are diverted beyond the reality of suffering to death, in the kingdom of representation where language alone can move ahead to appropriate them: More than through my mere communication with the beaten-to-death Other, it’s through the thought and speech I create around the father beaten to death that I become this Other’s chosen one.
The activity of representing-speaking-thinking, attributed to the father in patrilinial societies and which connects me to him, now becomes the privileged realm of sadomasochistic pleasure, the “kingdom” indeed, where suffering opens out, justifies and appeases itself. Along with Freud, we call sublimation this displacement (metonymy/metaphore) of pleasure starting with the body and sexual organs and culminating in representation. Perversion and sublimation are the flip sides of this flexibility, if not of this fabulous suspension of the incest taboo induced by the beaten- to-death father.
3. A traversal of the death instinct?
Yet it is another essential moment of the fantasy “A father beaten to death”, which not only frees the death instinct as sadomasochistic aggression, but confronts this drive in its profound and radical Freudian sense, which implies an undoing of ties and of the living itself: déliaison in A.Green’s terminology. This is precisely what the Gospel narrative hints at when God the Father himself regains nothingness.
. This « descent/of the Father himself, after the Passion, to the deepest recesses of the earth », is referred to in Greek as kenos, with means « non-being », « nothingness », « inanity », « nullity » ; but also « insane », « deceiving» (cf. the adjective kenos means « empty », « useless », « vain » ; and the verb kenoun, « purge », « cut », « wipe out »). Beyond the beaten father’s sadomasochism, we are confronted with the suspension of the paternal function itself, which is to say the canceling out of the capacity to represent or symbolize which this function upholds in psychoanalytical theory. In theological terms, it is no more and no less than a matter of the death of God.. In philosophical terms and in reference to the death instinct as a “carrying wave” of all drives, we can say: only “Thanatos is”, as G. Deleuze wrote, meaning : only nothingness is.
It is God himself who “suffers” in Christianity and this scandal, which theology is hesitant to confront, prefigures the modern notion that “God is dead”. “God is dead. God himself is dead” is a prodigious, tremendous representation, “which presents representation with the schism’s deepest abyss ».
However, the death of the Father and/or of the symbolic function has barely been alluded to in Christianity, which seems to prefer to deny this death; for Christ’s resurrection is almost immediate. This splicing of recognized and/or desired death on the one hand (kenos), and its denial on the other (resurrection) possesses, however, tremendous therapeutic power! What a tremendous way, indeed, to restore the capacity to think and desire in this harsh exploration of suffering which takes us almost to the limits of sanity! It is because the Father and the Mind are mortal, cancelled out through the Man of Pain who thinks up to the point of his suffering to death, that they can be reborn. Thought can begin again: could this be the ultimate variant of liberty made possible by Christian suffering? Nietzsche didn’t fail to notice that this abandonment to kenos endows human and divine death on the cross with “this liberty, this sovereign detachment,/ which puts suffering/ beyond all resentment ».
We are all the result of a long “work of the negative”( according ro André Green) : birth, weaning, separation, frustration. In setting this split in the heart of Christ, the absolute subject, in presenting him as a Passion, as the resurrection’s supportive flip-side, Christianity brings to light the essential internal dramas of our becoming. It also endows itself with an immense cathartic and unconscious power. This advance toward the psychosexual variants of suffering has required the long development of the sciences, and most particularly the human sciences, up to the great leap made by Freud’s psychoanalysis; in short, it is a long road of which today, we are merely at the beginning.
We can consider that in the scenario of the Father-beaten-to-death, kenos, or nothingness, of the divine is merely a way to return to the most marvelous consciousness of its new beginning, which is the fantasy of resurrection. I say “the most marvelous” because adjacent to suffering-and-compassion, kenos’s sovereign suffering is paradoxically, a depassioning: I would say that kenos de-eroticizes suffering. Even more, the human mind’s absolute internal necessity to yearn for the Other, to desire the divine, to want to grasp meaning, suddenly becomes empty, vain, useless, mad. By this dual presence of desire as an absolute and as nothingness, Christianity reaches the limits of the religious, understood as a need to believe. I would say then, that with the kenos of the Father-Son, we are confronted not with the religious but with the sacred, understood as a traversal, by thought, of the unthinkable: of nothingness, uselessness, the vain and the mad. Mystics such as Master Ekhart have already run the risk. It was Ekhart who said “ I ask God to leave me free of God.” But perhaps Saint John of the Cross best expressed this presence of the impossible in the tension of desire and thought, this nothingness that punctuates the « vain pursuit » proper to the need to believe. Isn’t this the very sacred to which modern knowledge knowingly aspires, when trying to seek out, not new variants of the paternal function but the possibility of maintaining the very creation of meaning in a modern subject threatened by fragmentation, criminality and delirium? Isn’t this the task of psychoanalytic interpretation? In my last book, Hatred and Forgiveness, I suggest that interpretation is for-giving: not religion, nor even the sacred, but giving sense to what was non-sense, deciphering desire and/or hatred through the elucidation of transference in counter-transference.
To return to the Christian model of the Dead Father, we observe that not only is the Father’s death introjected into the believer through his identification with the Father-Son, but that it finds resolution in reconciliation, which is the Christian version of the Jewish alliance. And it is Spinoza who allows modern man to interpret this ultimate mystery: « God loves himself with infinite intellectual love », he wrote in Ethics V, thus translating what for the believer is a resorption of suffering in “the new body” of Christ “risen to heaven” at the right hand of the Father, and in the resurrection. Since “infinite intellectual love” coexists with existential suffering which it is able to elucidate, Spinoza renames it God and it is transformed into joy. By having focused, as never before, on com-passion and nothingness (kenos) as inseparable from “loving intelligence”, the genius of Christianity provided an excellent counterweight to suffering which is none other than its sublimation and its working through by psychic and verbal activity. « I», suffering because desiring/thinking, loving/loved, am capable of representing my passion to myself; this representation is my resurrection. My mind, in love with passion, recreates it in its creations of loving intelligence: thoughts, narratives, paintings, and music are the fruit of this.
To put it another way, Christianity at once avowed and denied the putting-to-death of the Father. This is precisely the specific solution which it imposed on the universal “dead father” figure proper to our human condition. Henceforth Christianity took hold of the Greco-Roman body. The beaten-to-death-Father died 2000 years ago through the passion of the Son, while post Counter-Reformation Catholicism resorbed the body of Antiquity rediscovered by the humanists, and pushed it to its limits in the Passion of Man. Painting, music and literature then developed the passions of men and women, unfurled by mystics prior to the Baroque period, and radically shook up the subject of monotheism.
The tension between desire and meaning, which specifies the speaking being and commands the sadomasochistic logic of human experience, is thus resolved in a particular way (which Nietzsche criticized by calling it “self-delusion dominated by instincts”) and which we are now in a position to summarize. I’d like to mention some features of this Christian heritage in modern culture and society:
- Christianity promoted, or tries to promote, a direct relationship with the Father (comparable to the “primal identification”, which is direkte und unmittelbare according to Freud). This is the experience of faith. We know its wonderful benefits in the domain of works of the imagination. Let me just point out very briefly that the survival of faith is also to be found in modern secular culture, in particular in the sociological need to believe, particular to the deficit of pragmatism resulting in the outburst of riots and revolutions so frequent in post-catholic countries like France, which could be interpreted as so many sadomasochistic appeals to the loving Father.
- The subject renounces incest in order to rediscover the desiring and desirable father as a loving and symbolic father and to join him by introjecting the passion of the body as well as the symbolic capacity itself.
- This new beginning (« In the beginning there was the Word ») is suffering: the speaking child must renounce his oedipal desires and make up for his guilt, the speaking child is a beaten child (see Freud’s “separation-frustration”, Klein’s “depressive position” and Lacan’s “lack”)
- And yet, by relieving this infantile, incestuous and speaking humanity – and speaking humanity is a suffering humanity -, by the suffering of the Father who is reincarnated as his Son to be beaten to death, Jesus shakes up the primary constituents of the human condition:
- On a more personal level the eroticizing of suffering makes manifest the torment of the desiring body in the human family triangle: incest with both parents and more specifically with the Father is not only an unconscious desire, it becomes a preconscious desire. For the girl: the unconsciously encouraged father/daughter incest will stimulate the cultural and social dynamism of the Christian woman. For the boy, the unconsciously encouraged fantasy of homosexual father/son love will also facilitate the social bond based on political and warlike brotherhoods, without however avoiding the risk of abuses and permissiveness.
- The splice between beaten-to-death and resurrection could also act as a double bind of inhibition, but on the basis of an optimal oedipal complex it could also stimulate the sublimatory performance of the Ego. For the girl: “rebirth has never exceeded my powers”, as Colette writes. Detective novels, as well as psychoanalytic inquiry which is not very far from the logic of detective stories could constitute the path of this kind of rebirth. For the boy: the identification with the beaten-to-death Father and his resurrection represents the threat of passivisation and feminisation which generates anxiety, while on the contrary the optimal working through of homosexuality opens up the possibility of thought, which is not mere calculation, but which is fertilized by the imagination.
- Antiquity’s heroism, and in another way, the unlimited phallic power of monotheistic man, appear to be untenable. Superman does not exist, says the beaten Father-Son, sovereignty is only possible in the symbolic dimension, and this depends on the sadomasochism of desires. The libertines of Enlightenment and up until the explosion provoked by Sade, further developed this baroque breakthrough which renewed Europe subsequent to the Counter-Reformation and which continued with the rise of bourgeois secularization and its ambivalence concerning prohibition and transgression.
- With regard to repression, there is no other way out of the père-version other than to transfer it to sublimation. Therefore, since the subject is inherently père-verse, he can only become a glorious body if he keeps to the ideal, while resexualizing it. And it is art, thought as art or art as thought, in all its variants and modulations to come that will be his element.Henceforth, perversion is in the process of being depenalized and depathologized in modern secular society.
- As for the Death of the Father that crowns this sadomasochistic course, it de-eroticizes incestuous passion and leaves open the possibility of another psychic experience : the experience of the abolition of the symbolic and/or paternal power, with the risk of mental, social and even biological disorganization that this entails and with which we are confronted in the global era. But the death of the father also confronts us with all the unknown possibilities of freedom generated by the decline of religion : on condition of reinventing new variants of this “intellectual love” which for Spinoza would be of God, and to which the love relationship experienced in the process of transference is currently our modest and difficult counterweight. Through interpretation of transference and counter-transference, the Father is infinitely dying and resurrecting in me, if and only if I’m a subject in analysis.
Freud noticed that the prohibition of incest, on which human culture is founded, begins with the discovery by the brothers that the father is an animal to be killed. Of this Totem, only the Taboo has been preserved, in order to be transformed into rules for the exchange of women, into laws, names, language and meaning. After the Holocaust, the Freudian approach was the only one which emphasized the sadomasochistic desire for the law of the father which feeds the moral order, as well as the dark eros which underpins père-version and the sublimation of homo religiosis. The beginning of the third millennium, with the collapse of paternal and political authority, and the massive return of the need to believe, allows us to notice something else : that the dead father, necessary condition for the existence of homo religiosis, died on the cross 2000 years ago, but the promise of his resurrection is to be sought neither in the next world, nor in this, but if not, where, then? The founder of psychoanalysis, who was a man of the Enlightenment, began by making love lie down on the couch. In order to return to the love of the father and the mother, and on taking the gamble (which is not a matter of faith, but rather a game) that “I” am capable of going beyond my genitors indeed beyond myself and my loves, on the condition of being subject to perpetual dissolution in analysis, in transference and counter-transference. This presupposes that there is not only a Dead Father, but also figures of paternity and of loves, in the plural, in which I take pleasure, which I kill and which I resuscitate when I speak, love and think. Quite recently, in Jerusalem, I argued in a similar way that the various needs to believe were so many impassable père-versions of the speaking being, and that the mere-versions themselves, encouraged by feminism, the pill, medicalized procreation were no exception to the rule, and that the “clash of religions” could be elucidated by our psychoanalytic attention. They offered to set up a permanent forum on the question. Would Columbia psychoanalysts participate? Would clinicians sit down and talk to religious studies specialists, or theologians? And what if this were Freud’s eternal return?
We thought that “Big Mother” had replaced the oedipean Father. This is not really the case. The Freudian analyst, whether a man or a woman, works with a new version of the “paternal function”, which is neither totemic animal, nor Laïos/Oedipus, nor Abraham/Isaac, nor again his abandoning and resuscitating Father. In the love-hate relationship of transference, the father is not only loved and hated, put to death and resuscitated, as the scriptures would have it. He is literally atomized, and nevertheless incorporated into the analysand; and this continuous dissolution-recomposition, for which the analyst stands as the guarantor, enables the analysis of drug addicts, of cases of somatization, of criminals, of border-line cases. The subject of these “new maladies of the soul” develops a paradoxical identity, which reminds me of the Brownian motion of that drip painting of Jackson Pollock called “One” (“One, Number 31, 1950). Where has the one gone? Am I the same One when I analyze and when I am analyzed? Yes, but my identity is indecidable, without a fixed centre and without morbid repetition ; I am rather a kind of serial music, an improvised dance which is nevertheless supported by an underpinning and open order.
Such is the secret, troubling fascination of European and American culture and humanity in its diversity imbued by Christianity and all its various manifestations for the past two thousand years. Psychoanalysis is perhaps the best prepared mode of thought today to offer up an interpretation of its hold as well as that of other religions that we are now in a position to approach and try to elucidate. We can thus offer a space for reflection in which the effort of clarification takes precedence over the deadly confrontation between a tendency for regression on the one hand and the explosion of the death drives on the other, which together now threaten our globalized humanity.
The Dead Father
a two-day international symposium April 29-30, 2006
Low Library Rotunda
New York, NY