I would like to begin with an almost narcissistic reflection. Why do I resort so often to examples from popular culture? The simple answer is in order to avoid a kind of jargon, and to achieve the greatest possible clarity, not only for my readers but also for myself. That is to say, the idiot for whom I endeavor to formulate a theoretical point as clearly as possible is ultimately myself: I am not patronizing my readers. An example from popular culture has for me the same fundamental role as the Lacanian procedure of the passe – the passage of analysand into the analyst; the same role as the two mediators, the two passeurs. I think it’s not an accident that the Lacanian popular quarterly in France, as you probably know, is called L’Âne – the Donkey. The idea is that in a way you must accept a total externalization: you must renounce even the last bit of any kind of initiated closed circuit of knowledge. And precisely this is for me the role of my reference to popular culture. In this full acceptance of the externalization in an imbecilic medium, in this radical refusal of any initiated secrecy, this is how I, at least, understand the Lacanian ethics of finding a proper worth.
I think that the way I refer to popular culture, this necessity that I feel that we must go through this radical, if you want, imbecilic, external medium, is a version of what Lacan, in his last phase at least, referred to as the ‘subjective destitution’ that is involved in the position of the analyst, of the analyst as occupying the place of the objet petit a. This position, I think, is far more radical and paradoxical than it may appear.
Let me illustrate it by an example in rather bad taste, a story from the American South before the Civil War. I read in some novel by James Baldwin, I think, that in the whore houses of the old South, of the old New Orleans before the Civil War, the African-American, the black servant, was not perceived as a person, so that, for example, the white couple – the prostitute and her client – were not at all disturbed when the servant entered the room to deliver drinks. They simply went on doing their job, with copulation and so on, since the servant’s gaze did not count as the gaze of another person. And in a sense, I think, it is the same with that black servant as with the analyst.
We rid ourselves of all our shame when we talk to the analyst. We are able to confide the innermost secrets of our loves, our hatreds, etc., although our relationship to them is entirely impersonal, lacking the intimacy of true friendship. This is absolutely crucial, I think. The relationship with the analyst, as you probably know, is not an inter-subjective relationship precisely because the analyst in the analytic disposition is not another subject. In this sense, the analyst occupies the role of an object. We can confide ourselves in them without any intimate relationship of friendship.
Another aspect of this subjective destitution can be grasped via a reference to the recently published autobiography, already translated into English, of Louis Althusser.
[Extract. Appeared in Agenda: Australian Contemporary Art 44, 1995. (full text).]