The Case of the Mystic

Perhaps we can understand something of the desire of the analyst if we look at historical cases. At one point Lacan calls Socrates the first psychoanalyst. Socrates cannot really be called a philosopher. Plato is the philosopher who tries to establish ideas and uses Socrates as a character to do so. Following on from that Aristotle and his descendants will solidify the academy and university as a discourse of knowledge in the West to accompany the long standing discourse of the master found in prophets and kings of all cultures. Socrates however questions. Socrates questions the other’s assumptions and certainties. He takes the position of the analyst who holds to no truth but inquiry. While he is located in the position of the master that others might attribute to him he abdicates it, refusing to proclaim the truth. Yet he is not content to remain cynical. He questions the sophist’s manipulation of the truth by establishing its core basis of unconscious choice or desire. Thus analysis was already born in the Greek epoch of the West amidst the philosophers. But Socrates does not uphold the truth of the state. Rather he is condemned to death for corrupting the youth – by causing them to question the truth and their desire.

Buddha likewise is not considered a philosopher. We do not have texts by him proclaiming the truth. What we have are various texts issued in his name by followers. The indian Vedic interpretation and presentation of Buddha’s ideas fostered a religion of beliefs and practices which established Buddhism as if it were a coherent doctrine of enlightenment for personal transcendence. However the Mahayana tradition developed especially in Tibet, China, and Japan evolved in contrast to this – presenting the practice of the bodhisattva as one who is driven by the illumination and salvation of others. Could we read in this “illumination and salvation” the elimination of suffering through desire and awareness. Like the Socratic position, the bodhisattvic position bears a striking resemblance to the desire of the analyst. But only if we read its truth through the lens of Lacan’s idea of the desire of the analyst. For the bodhisattva’s position is often referred to as a sacrifice or delay of one’s own enlightenment until others are brought there. This implies that there is a truth for all and denies the idea that taking the position of the bodhisattva or analyst may be a desire in itself. Or that the link between analyst and analysand, between the position of the analysand and desire of the analyst are inseparable – even within one person.  Buddha claims that suffering comes from desire and advocates a practice of refining it through meditation and contemplation. In Chan or Zen buddhism this process is taken to the extreme that matches Lacan’s technique where humor, poetics, nonsense, and surprise are the methods by which the bodhisattva seeks to bring the other to illumination.

If Socrates and Buddha inform us about the position of the analysand and the desire of the analyst, Christ gives us a picture of the sinthome. It is no coincidence that Lacan linked Joyce and the sinthome to the Christian mystics. For in this case the suffering is withdrawn from the symptom as passive response and complaint to the other and refined into inner experience and speech delivered in the midst of the people. In fact the message is one of sovereignty removed from the position of the master and assumed by the subject who neither looks for the truth in the other, nor proclaims the truth to the other, nor seeks recognition from the other, but speaks. The experience of Christ in the desert of the interior and exterior leads to a dissolution of the symbolic through desetre or unbeing, and a return to the symbolic with new signifiers which have nothing to do with the political or religious law of his milieu but do borrow from the experience and language of human subjectivity to deliver a new message of being. Far from recognition by the group, Christ like Socrates is condemned to death and derision. But no matter, the message is all.