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Crime and Punishment

The Letter, Issue 31, Summer 2004, Pages 1 - 8


Eve Watson

Nuts, sluts, perverts, prostitutes, slags, murderers, psychopaths, militants, muggers, rioters, squatters and scroungers are all social censures with the potential to mobilise the forces of law, order and moral purity against targeted sections of the population.[1]

In A Theoretical Introduction to the Function of Psychoanalysis in Criminology, Lacan says we would do well to recognise that it is the law and its accompanying punishment that delineates the crime. Indeed, we can understand that a person becomes a criminal not by breaking the law, but rather when s/he is caught. Saint Paul famously agreed. He said, 'where no law is, there is no transgression.' [2] Inasmuch as one cannot commit a driving infraction by speeding in the absence of a law on speeding, we recognise that punishment for transgression of the law is an anthropologic construct that requires the subjective assent of the population. Generally, the law is a social, cultural construct designed to manage a society's population by requiring everyone to give up a portion of their individual jouissance for the benefit of the group. Most forms of unbridled individual jouissance fall into the juridical realm of "crime" and thus into the provenance of the agencies of law enforcement and the judiciary, who are empowered to capture, judge and punish respectively. Crimes are punished in order for the criminal to pay a debt to the society whose very rules s/he has transgressed and in order to set an example for the community, to prevent its remaining subjects from indulging in their own transgressions. Yet, every day we have citizens transgressing the very laws that surround us with their threat of punishment. Thus we can discern that there is something beyond the law that drives the subject to transgress the law of the land.

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