I began my lectures this year with the onerous topic of the utilitarians, but the utilitarians are quite right. They are countered with something that, in effect, only makes the task of countering them much more difficult, with a sentence such as “But, Mr. Bentham, my good is not the same as another’s good, and your principle of the greatest good for the greatest number comes up against the demands of my egoism.” But it’s not true. My egoism is quite content with a certain altruism, altruism of the kind that is situated on the level of the useful. And it even becomes the pretext by means of which I can avoid taking up the problem of the evil I desire, and that my neighbor desires also. That is how I spend my life, by cashing in my time in a dollar zone, ruble zone or any other zone, in my neighbor’s time, where all the neighbors are maintained equally at the marginal level of reality of my own existence. Under these conditions it is hardly surprising that everyone is sick, that civilization has its discontents.
It is a fact of experience that what I want is the good of others in the image of my own. That doesn’t cost so much. What I want is the good of others provided that it remain in the image of my own. I would even say that the whole thing deteriorates so rapidly that it becomes: provided that it depend on my efforts. I don’t even need to ask you to go very far into your patients’ experience: if I wish for my spouse’s happiness, I no doubt sacrifice my own, but who knows if her happiness isn’t totally dissipated, too?
Perhaps the meaning of the love of one’s neighbor that could give me the true direction is to be found here. To that end, however, one would have to know how to confront the fact that my neighbor’s jouissance, his harmful, malignant jouissance, is that which poses a problem for my love.
It wouldn’t be difficult at this point to take a leap in the direction of the excesses of the mystics. Unfortunately, many of their most notable qualities always strike me as somewhat puerile.
No doubt the question of beyond the pleasure principle, of the place of the unnameable Thing and of what goes on there, is raised in certain acts that provoke our judgment, acts of the kind attributed to a certain Angela de Folignio, who joyfully lapped up the water in which she had just washed the feet of lepers - I will spare you the details, such as the fact that a piece of skin stuck in her throat, etc. - or to the blessed Marie Allacoque, who, with no less a reward in spiritual uplift, ate the excrement of a sick man. The power of conviction of these no doubt edifying facts would vary quite a lot if the excrement in question were that of a beautiful girl or it it were a question of eating the come of a forward from your rugby team, In other words, the erotic side of things remains veiled in the above examples. (187 - 188)
Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-1960. Trans. Dennis Porter. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1992.
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Tags: Jacques Lacan