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The Real Of Religion And It's Relation To Truth As Cause

The Letter, Issue 13, Summer 1998, Pages 69 - 81


Stephen J. Costello

There is nothing doctrinal about our office. We are answerable to no ultimate truth. We are neither for nor against any particular religion.[1]

Introduction: Lacan and Religion

Lacanian psychoanalysis has strong theological overtones. Witness Lacan's concept of the 'name-of-the-father', his epistemological triumvirate of the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary orders which remind us of the Trinity. Indeed, in Desire and Its Interpretation[2] he relates the Trinity to the Oedipus complex and its three moments. Clinically there are three structures - neurosis, psychosis and perversion. He describes his expulsion from the International Psychoanalytic Association as an 'ex-communication'. He talks of the Other, and in The Formations of the Unconscious[3] he instructs us to go out into the world 'as apostles of my word, to introduce the question of the Unconscious to the people who have never heard it spoken of, words reminiscent of Christ's injunction. He holds that in the beginning was the Word, which has echoes of St. John. There are innumerable other examples we could cite. Critics have pointed to the 'high Priesthood' of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Throughout, Lacan seems to be saying re: his position on religion: 'It's for me to know and you to find out'.

Lacan's epigrammatic and enigmatic allusions to religion are scattered throughout the corpus of his works, from Desire and Its Interpretation (1958-9) to Le sinthome (1975-6),[4] at least. In what follows, we shall attempt to elucidate Lacan's reflections on religion which remain those of a psychoanalyst. Where Lacan stands on the question of God, it is almost impossible to say. He was brought up a Catholic and his brother, Marc-Frangois Lacan, has spent most of his life as a Benedictine monk, having been ordained priest in 1935. No doubt, theists and atheists alike will project their belief and unbelief onto Lacan. In my opinion, it is better to read him in the same light as Heidegger - impossibly agnostic, ambivalent or perhaps understandably withdrawn and caustically cunning. Probably, I have misread, misunderstood and misinterpreted him. So much the better. Only in misreading Lacan can a reading of him take place but always against the backdrop of meconnaissance. Whatever he is, he is, above all else, a psychoanalyst of Freudian hue, a post-Freudian psychoanalyst, talking to fellow analysts about psychoanalysis, as he himself always insisted. And as an analyst (medicin), he is like a saint, almost a saint, half a saint (medi-saint), as he points out in Television.[5]

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