Serendipity : to outwit or to be outwitted ?
Sérendipité : du rôle du hasard dans les découvertes
Avec l’autorisation de Danielle Treton, son texte sur la Sérendipité :
Serendipity is a word that does not exist in French. I ran into it in a comment upon a Japanese experiment on rats. They were testing memory under a particular drug (FR 121196), trying to obtain a substance to cope Alzheimer disease. One discovered that rats developed an increasing libido, to be accurate : a constant erection in addition to an effect on memory.
Serendipity is to find something by chance, looking for something and discovering something else.
As the international scientific language tends more and more to be English, the french word should be : Sérendipité. But in English the noun serendipitist exists, so shouldn’t the psychoanalyst be a serendipitist ? Serendipiditly.
When studying scientifically dreams and jokes, Witz in German, Freud discovered sexual drive i.e. libido, while he was searching for the nature of the inconscious, Unbewust i.e. what is ejected from our consciousness. What is repressed resists to the attempt to decipher it, like translation between languages, « traductore, tradittore » as Freud mentions it.
Let us start with the notion of in between two countries there is a Channel. In French we say canal. In « Die Traumdeutung », Freud’s book on the interpretation of dreams, a woman says to Sigmund Freud : « There is nothing about your book on wits for my dream-left except the word « Kanal ». You won’t be able to make anything out of it ». Later on, next session, when the woman associates, she stumbles across a joke she heard. During the crossing between Dover and Calais an english man said to a famous writer « from the sublime to the ridiculous there is only one step » -un pas in French- and the writer answers : « Yes le Pas de Calais ! » . That is the name for this canal : the Channel is « Le Pas de Calais ».
For Freud it was an example of resistance, this woman wished to challenge Freud. Lacan – his name is an anagramme of the word : Canal - remarks the common ground between dream, pun and resistance. « The elaboration of the dream continues in the account. » after the joke we have an explaination for that alone word left from a dream.
It is Lacan’s step to have equated the very structure of the unconscious with a play on language : a pun. « The unconscious is structured like a language » is the Lacan’s key. In his book Ecrits ( p.378 ) he writes : « l’élaboration du rêve en tant qu’elle se poursuit dans le récit lui-même, c’est à dire le rêve, ne vaut que comme vecteur de la parole ».
Freud’s libido is equated to a joke, a desire is translated into a strange if not foreign language, that of dreams, the language of dreams is a talk.
Condensation, displacement are common in dreams, wits or puns and freudian slips of the tongue, they belong to the real Inconscious.
This alliance of the sublime and the ridiculous allows the obscene to come out in another place, area, stage (scène in French), l’autre scène du rêve, the other stage of dream, Lacan speaks about « l’obroscène », how could we say that in English ? It’s a portemanteau word (i.e. mot-valise) condensing obscène and autre scène, so it’s impossible to translate it.
What does exactly wish this woman offering a canal, channel, to Freud, thinking he wouldn’t do anything with it ?
It is that form Lacan’s re-reading of Freud wishes to utter, to create « Lalangue », the speech or the language with the tongue, spelt in one word instead of « libido » for unconscious working in progress. The mark of the unconscious desire condensed into puns, freudian slips and dreams whose interpretation is the psychoanalyst”s job, is submitted to the same laws, these of language and « ob-other-scene ».
That is to say the fundamentally sexual repression of language. The repression of all sexual references is lying in speech referenced to enjoyment blotted out of the most ordinary sentences. They might be admitted in them but only in the way of puns and dreams.
So, from individual repression which is after all not exempted, the failure of language to signify le rapport sexuel is the impossible mathematic function between men and women. How can we translate : sexual intercourse, sexual report, connexion, sexual account ? There is no sexual account, it keeps not being signified, spoken.IT, the Id Ça in French remains constantly unspoken, IT (my personal word for Id) never stops not being inscription. The fundamental law of the symbolic erects an unconscious of which everyone is the subject in spite of himself. Outside the consciousness of transference that is to say, rather Lacan would have said it : à savoir, that’s means it is to know and get it, it’s displaced.
To highlight this displacement which takes place by/in a language concerning sexual use, enjoyment, pleasure, fulfillment, stamps from the rule of sexual abstinence within the cure, and its displacement : « saying everything that comes to mind ».
« Did you come ? » in English where in French after sex we ask « as-tu joui ? », du verbe jouir. To enjoy has not this meaning. Nevertheless J’ouïs in ancient French sounds like « I hear ! » du verbe ouire : entendre, to hear .The lacanian psychoanalytic concept of Jouissance has no translation in English than “Jouissance”.
The fundamental rule of the cure is « Say everything that comes », an other way of putting it is « Say just anything » or just « Say », « Talk ». As far as the psychoanalyst is concerned, the corollary notion is that of undirected (suspended) attention which allows the analyst to hear anything. Included in the borrow those unexpected utterances, those incongruous slips, those condensations which come out in the shape of wits, puns, treat words like trite or trivial portmanteau from where is hanging the desire of the subject. He does not know himself but seeks himself and only finds a split operated by language itself.
What is expected from the psychoanalyst ? just analysis. What the ear of an psychoanalyst hear ? Words which resist to sex and bumping into each other following the maze of a peculiar language : a style.
The only form of the psychoanalyst’s practice which consists in liberating desire which is itself submitted to the play on signified, the three aspects of words. The arbitrary which severs the sign into two parts, signifier and signified, is cancelled, thwarted in the pun. You could say that the unconscious outwits the subject. There is not translation in French for outwit, it is a gap, in French, and by the way we also miss a word for « gap ».
So I will resort to an allegory : the Koan of the goose, in French : Koan de l’oie. Law in French sounds like goose « l’oie », Loi minds Law. A koan is a short zen enigma and a lesson too. The master asks his disciples : « How can I get this big fat live goose, out of this demi-john without breaking the bottle or killing the goose ? »
The answer seems to fit the psychoanalyst’s ethos. The right answer is : « with words, the way you got it in ».
As far as desire is concerned, the psychoanalyst should let it come out with words as it got in.
« Ne pas céder sur son désir » and « bien dire », not to yield to one’s desire and talk in a fair way will form, compose, the ethics according to Lacan, disregarding morals. At the beginning of his seminar in nineteen sixty on psychoanalysis’s ethics Lacan said « I have brought back this precious word Ethics, from ethos ». A word that you English keep from greek philosophy when we use in French the word morale.
There is but one goal to psychoanalysis, the art of telling, attempting repressed desire, the absence of sex intercourse, sex ratio, sex account, which is clinging us, clutching at the language coming to grip to stamp the language. To cling and clutch from/to « lalangue », a Lacan’s portmanteau, from witch we derive enjoyment of word puns, slips and slides, where the sublime and ridiculous are coupled or copulated ?
We are the English man on that steammer which transfers us from one own country -of language- to another one : the Other, Autre in French. Something like “Outwit” or with psychoanalysis to be outwitted ?
From « Ethics, the desire of the analyst
and clinical consequences » London, 1995 April 29/30,
AMFB Liverpool, 2010 September 30.
Dr Danielle Treton
Marie-Noëlle Charles, Ces petits hasards qui bouleversent la science, Le Papillon rouge, 290 p.
Les Mardis de l’Institut Curie