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St Teresa, Mysticism and 'That's Not It'

The Letter, Issue 33, Spring 2005, Pages 98 - 104


Bernard Kennedy

Where can we place a discussion about the mystic while trying also to balance the intuitive and the sensible? In his seminar Encore, Lacan devotes some thought to this area and on this I dwell for this paper. '"That's not it" is the very cry by which jouissance obtained is distinguished from the jouissance expected'[1] Lacan is involved here in a via negativa, the way of what is, by what it is not. It is a sure ground going back to many mystical writers such as John of the Cross, Juliana of Norwich, and her famous work The Cloud of Unknowing. He presents the mystical as an experiencing of ejaculation and not knowing about it.

That's not it - that is not what was expected or sought - that's not it: that's it - is when it is it: so that's not it - is its opposite. That's not it - is the acknowledgement of the limit between desire and realisation, it can posit the empty gap, the hollow of being; between the expected and realised, and realisable, comes - that's not it.

The overdrive of expectation and anticipation is not met within, in this context, the body - so it becomes: that's not it. Here it is where we look at the mystical position of Teresa of Avila and the texts of Bernard of Clairvaux.

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