Below is the third of a series of three posts occasioned by my recent reading of French psychoanalyst Jacques André’s Les désordres du temps (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2010). I thank Barbara Kowalczuk, one of my readers, for calling my attention to that work.
III. Being Human
The human being–the single, solitary human being, who can only die alone–is the after-birth of time, the place time takes to cross over from endlessly passing by, and at last first comes again to strike the hour.
Put a bit differently, a human being is a place that time takes when, having put itself at risk there, it wins its wager. If the wager is lost, time passes on, and passes away, and with it passes the opportunity that another human being might have come to have been born, but never was. What is born at one’s birth is the richest of opportunities, an absolute opportunity, so to speak: the very opportunity that there might come to be any genuine opportunities at all! Once missed, however, the absolute opportunity that is birth becomes no more than just one more common entry on the infinite list of missed opportunities; and, like all missed opportunities, it altogether vanishes. Even the fact that there ever was an opportunity at all vanishes. The door–open once, for a moment, but a moment that never came—closes again, and so does the very possibility of there being any memory of the door having once swung open, if only for that moment, or even of there ever having been any door there at all. That one was ever even born then becomes debatable, to understate the case sarcastically, however much it rends. Time does not stop for that, of course. It only passes on, still waiting for its hour to strike.
To use categories made familiar to us by Freud and psychoanalysis, the human being, as what I am calling here the after-birth of time, is the point at which time and the ego (the “I”) cease to by-pass one another like two ships that pass in the night, and instead cross paths with one another. It is the point at which one’s daily living crosses paths with one’s life itself, and as such the point beyond which—but only “beyond” which, or “after” which—one can begin actually living life, rather than just living it out.
“The birth of time,” writes Jacques André (page 92), “is permitted by the permanence that the ego [le moi] conquers in the course of its first experiences.” Time hazards itself at such birth, as such birth. It puts itself into play there, risks itself. Yet it may well lose its wager, as I have put it. Thus, André immediately qualifies his remark by adding that although the birth of time is “permitted” by the ego’s establishing of its own permanence through its conquests of its early experiences, such newborn time is not yet able to “constitute itself.” It is not yet able to “differentiate itself” (emphasis in original). For that to occur, for time to “differentiate” itself, is for it to separate itself out into what we call its three dimensions. It is for time to cleave or rend itself into past, present, and future. However, a time that does not yet rend itself into past, present, and future is no time at all. Thus, to “differentiate” itself into its three dimensions is for newborn time itself to become what it was born to be—time itself, as such.
In turn that cannot occur–time itself canot be given time to become time: for the time of time to come—“unless,” André continues, “certain things occur.” Only if they do occur, can time itself be given time to take place: “It is at that point, the hour of the event, that the shock and the after-shock [le coup et l’après-coup]”—the striking of the hour as such, and its continuing to sound in its echoes, its re-soundings, in the sense of its soundings-again—“make their contribution.” Indeed, “that point,” the very point of “the hour of the event”–which means not just any old occurrence that may happen to occur, but the good hap wherein occurs the taking place of what becomes the very place of all occurrence—is itself also the point where that hour then continues to resound.
There, at last, and only there, does the hour of the event, the hour of time itself, resound, in the sense of “filling a place with sound, being loud enough to echo,” as the dictionary says, but also in the sense of being celebrated, coming to have such fame or reputation that it comes to “be much talked of.” That most of the talk all too often all too quickly drowns out the sound of what goes on resounding there, to besmirch the fame and sully the reputation of what is being so much talked about, leaves the underlying point unaffected, the resounding of the sound still there, just dimmed, like the peal of a bell by snow.
On the very next page (93), André returns yet again to an issue he has already repeatedly addressed from various angles before, the issue of the crucial importance in psychoanalytic therapy, especially as informed by Lacan, of the “failures” of the analyst. That is, he is concerned to underline the importance of the inevitable failures of the analyst properly to fill the role expected of the analyst by the analysand. Those same expectations, indeed, are fostered by the entire analytic “set up,” in effect: the analysand on the couch and the analyst sitting silently behind, offering only cryptic grunts and prompts to “go on” and the like; the analyst occasionally offering annoying interruptions by way of bizarre, outlandish, sometimes long-winded interpretations based on no more than what appear to be trivial glitches in what the analysand is saying; and so on.
By André’s own deft analysis in his book, it is precisely in and through such very failures of the analyst that anything like a “cure” can occur. As Lacan taught, the analyst in the therapeutic situation occupies the position of (indeed, literally sits in the chair of) the presumed “master,” the position of “the one presumed to know.” The analyst is the one presumed to know what is really happening, really going on, with the suffering analysand who has sought the analyst out and submitted to a lengthy (if not interminable) analysis. The analysand even pays the analyst large sums for session after session in the analyst’s office. The analysand or patient is paying the analyst such hefty fees precisely for the analyst to bring all the analyst’s presumed knowledge, expertise, and mastery to bear on helping the patient solve the many besetting problems that brought the patient to the analyst in the first place. The patient does all that, only to have the analyst time after time test the patience of the patient by failing to deliver on the presumed promise of mastery and knowledge. The analyst just keeps on bungling the job.
Yet, as André insists, it is just and only in such repeated ungainly failure to know that the analyst–given good fortune or fortunate hap: the sheer blind luck even the least gifted, knowledgeable, masterful, or lucky among us can sometimes fall into—can, to everyone’s total surprise (especially that of the analysand and the analyst themselves), occasionally hold up a no-longer-distorting mirror, wherein the truth, of the analysand, the analyst, and the entire scene, at last can be seen. And that truth, at least, does set one free, as might always be added. For one thing, it frees the analysand to terminate the analysis. That is because it frees the analysand at last to see, insofar as it can be seen at all, just what once did happen, what blow, what coup, was really once struck, thereafter to keep on restriking again and again, repeating itself endlessly and unconsciously in the everyday life, choices, and behaviors of the analysand, until at last, “in” the moment of vision or flash of insight triggered by yet one more failure of the analyst and the seemingly endless analysis it finally takes place—taking place at last, to use André’s own terms, “in the psyche.” What first happened long ago, and has compulsively repeated itself again and again ever since, is finally, at and in and as that very moment, allowed to take place, to take place now, “in reality” (which does not entail that the behaviors, choices, or daily life of the analysand will necessarily change, it is important to note).
Only insofar as it has so truly “taken place” by coming to be there at and as that very place can what has now taken place, be con-fronted by, that is, brought face-to-face with, the analysand as such. Only there does the analysand at last stop running, and turn to face the time that will not pass—not in the sense that the time of boredom seems never to pass, but as the time of trauma will not pass by, or let one pass it by–but insists instead on happening again ever anew, thereby opening the truly lasting “now,” which never passes. And thus eternity blooms.
It is an “eternity,” however, not of anything “supra”-temporal or “extra”-temporal–unless it be in the sense of being even more temporal than temporality itself: being extra-temporal, to paraphrase what Chogyam Trungpa once said of the “ordinary” and the “extra-ordinary”—but of the truly temporal. Even Husserl said of temporality that it was the never-passing form of passing itself; and the eternity of what strikes only once, and strikes once only, then keeps on striking ever again, nevermore after that to pass on by, is that eternity, the eternity of time itself.
That is the same eternity as what André tellingly calls the a-temporality of the unconscious itself. It is the eternity of life, as opposed to the eternity of death—a never-ending-ever-beginning eternity, rather than an endlessly ever-ongoing one. Of the former, the eternity of the a-temporality characteristic of the unconscious itself, André writes (page 107) that it “carries the trace of infancy, that ‘time’ before time, when the latter was not yet psychically constituted,” but only trembling, newborn, on the verge thereof.
André contrasts the eternity of such a-temporality–the a-temporality of infancy, seeking to find its ripening place, and then to take it for itself—with the eternity that (page 108) “lies outside of time, a continuous present without start or end.” That latter eternity is “outside” time—outside, that is, the time that takes place only in an event, a time that happens, and in which alone there can then be any story or history of what happens besides. Insofar as eternity is what lies outside such time, the only time that happens, the time of eternity itself is an altogether different time, one which is “[a] time without shock, without after-shock,” a time “which hates nothing so much as change.” The time of any such supra-temporal, unchanging eternity is a time only of deadness and of death. It is time as an eternity where everything always remains the same. It is therefore the time, as well, of identity, from Latin idem, the same: “Identity, the quality of what remains the same, substantial identity, is the dream of [such supra-temporal] eternity” (page 109).
The eternity of endless identity, of self-same sameness, is also in secret, silent league with another a-temporality, appropriately different itself from the a-termporality of infancy. The endless eternity of the identical, the ever self-same, has the a-temporality, instead, as André will write a bit later (page 144), “which characterizes the repressed.” The a-termporality of the repressed is one that in effect “ignores time, in the sense of wanting to know nothing of it: to desire is to attain, the desire is satisfied without delay, without interval of time” (emphasis in original). In contrast, in the a-termporality of infancy–or of the “unconscious strike” of “precocious” trauma, we might well add–time is (page 145) “less ignored than not [yet] constituted.” Such a time of the ignoring of time is the time before time of “infancy.”
Only a newborn who is born already called upon eventually to speak is truly an “in-fant.” A new-hewn statue or new-minted coin is no such thing. In that sense, only the human child—if being human is defined as being called to language, to speech—goes through any “infancy.”
Infancy, that time before time, is the “first time,” when time first strikes its hour, sending out its first shock-waves of sound, which cannot even yet be heard, since there is no one there yet to hear them—nor could there yet be. The very “one” time needs, if the striking of time’s own hour is ever to be heard, and thereby to come fully into its own sounding and resounding, is only formed from the impact of that first not-yet-fully-struck strike, after and in response to it, in (literally “in”) the resound and re-sound of the sound of it. What is more, the first formulation, as it were, of that “one” is as an “I,’ an ego—an ego ensconced in its “identity,” that self-same subsistence of the subjective substance as which the newly emergent ego has so cautiously (“dubiously,” we might say, to be mindful of Descartes) secured itself.
No wonder, then, that the figure of Narcissus takes on such importance within psychoanalysis! As André writes playfully late in his book (page 136): “The unitary point of view in psychoanalysis pays heavy tribute to the demands of Narcissus. The point of view of the One [de l’Un] is his point of view.” Identity is the realm of Narcissus—the “ego” completely absorbed in itself, as all egos must always be, endlessly fascinated by their own images in the mirror.
As the myth tells us, the self-absorption of Narcissus proves always to be deadly. Nor can the ego ever free itself from that deadly absorption. That is because the ego is itself nothing but the illusion, the very image of himself, that so absorbs Narcissus that he has no attention left over to give to anything else, losing himself in it as though fallen to drown into a depthless pond. For the self-destructive self-absorption of Narcissus ever to be interrupted, the smooth, reflecting surface of the pond must be broken, the fascinating, phantom image broken up and made to vanish amid the troubling ripples. The mirror must be shattered, dispelling the illusion of the ego (the illusion that is all the ego is), by a blow delivered from some source “outside” the ego and its self-absorption, some Other than the One, if one will. In that blow, the ego finally crosses paths with time—in a collision the ego cannot itself survive.
In short, to save one from one’s own ego and its narcissism, an event must occur, something must come to take place and set itself up and at work there, at that place. That can only come as a bolt from the blue, altogether unexpected, casting light into the darkness to dispel all the shadows that absorb one there. There must be a Heideggerian stoke of in-sight, an Ereignis. As André himself writes (page 142) in echo of Heidegger—conscious or unconscious, matters not (at any rate, André does not cite Heidegger as a source for his remark): “Ereignis, the German word to say event, takes its source in eräugen, when something brings itself before the eyes [Augen in German].”
How such a stroke of luck may come about cannot be foreseen. For one it may come in the bungling of one’s therapist in psychoanalysis; for another it may come from being struck off one’s steed on the road to Damascus; for a third, it may come from the light through the window striking one’s shoes in a peculiar way when one is tying one’s shoelaces again one otherwise dreary day, just as one does drearily every day, to begin the deadly boring round of a thankless daily grind. It is all a matter of luck—of chance, fortune, or happenstance.
But if, by sheer good luck, good fortune, or good hap, such a happening happens, then, however that event may transpire, the one, whoever that one is, who was once born an infant is at last given speech, and thereby set free finally–once and for all–to emerge from infancy and come forth to say just who that one was always born to be.
No easy thing!