Houston Open Sky #2
We express our gratitude to NEL Miami for supporting us at the Houston Freudian Field Library with cartel’s work, also to Mr. Edgar Marín and Mr. Luis F Nino for the English translation and revision of works and to all those who one way or the other made contributions to this publication.
As a welcoming invitation to people with traveling spirits in ancient times, European farmers used to hang on their doors a “swag”, with elegant simplicity, made of everlasting flower, pines, pine nuts, and other natural limbs, many times embellished with a ribbon to tie every one of the limbs that formed it. This was done for walkers to come in and take shelter from the harshness of the cold winter wind.
The same way, the “Houston Freudian Field Library FIBOL-NEL”, as a welcoming signal, hangs the virtual publication “Houston Open Sky” on the web; this bulletin number two is the product of elaborations in a Lacanian Cartel titled “Semblant” which concluded this year at the beginning of the Summer. This publication invites, as an ancient swag, to continue with cartel activities as a way to knot ourselves, the good way, to this shelter which is the function of a Lacanian School such as it was conceived by Jacques Lacan. In English, the word “Swag” also means the back pack a walker in extreme lack carries with his scarce belongings; an image in Norman Rockwell’s 1927 and 1958 works “Still Good” and “The Runaway” illustrates this with very good humor.
We do Lacanian School in as much as we understand the metaphor of the School as a shelter where we can work one by one. We can join the activity at the device known as Cartel, Lacanian of course, where each one of us finds a way to participate.
What is the activity we do in a Cartel? It is to research, to study and above all to elaborate a product. The cartelizand, placed in a lacking position, elaborates and expresses, little by little, the written production to the Cartel colleagues and finally expounds it to the open sky.
In this edition of the Houston Open Sky we present the works product of the Cartel on Semblant that met in Houston during 2009-2010 with an introduction by the “Plus One” Mercedes Negrón-Pérez.
It is essential to point out how important it is to continue working on cartels, which are well known to be the device that propitiates School activity, one that really works.
Quoting Jacques Lacan: “Cartel works, let’s just not put obstacles…”
Next, I invite you to read the interesting works product of this Cartel:
- Marianela Bermúdez-Cuns: “Religion and Semblant”
- Edgar V. Marín: “Semblant, Partenaire and Masculine position”
- Carmen Navarro-Nino: “Being-Semblant”
- Luis F. Nino: “Semblant, Formation and Knowledge”
Carmen Navarro-Nino (Editor, Houston Open Sky).
Mercedes Negrón-Pérez (Plus One. Cartel, Semblant).
The presentation of the Cartel about Semblant, registered in NEL Florida, was made in the city of Houston the 5th of July 2010. A Cartel is a space for work transference on psychoanalysis with people decided to work on it. This is an introduction by the “Plus One” to the works of the four cartelizands. The “Plus One” is chosen by the four cartelizands and its role is fundamental in supporting their works when facing difficulties. The “Plus One” is a provoking agent to the theoretical work and written production of each cartel member.
A Cartel on Semblant made inevitable the question about what “Semblant” is in the Lacanian psychoanalytic context. Through this cartel’s production some questions were answered and some other arose as part of a typical rest of work in a Lacanian school.
Semblant is a response to treat with a Real; it comes to the place where there is no structure. Thus, before castration, the subject responds with the S1 signifier, and this will allow it to articulate to other signifiers to humanize it. Lack at being is what permits Semblant as “seeming to be” which in turn dominates being, e.g., with questions like, what does the “other” want me in?
The members of this Cartel agreed upon what difficulties there are to make semblant from any discourse. Religion occupies a place to give answers and mandates to a subject regarding what is good or bad, it could be said, Semblant of “good-saying” and of “bad-saying”. With regard to education, teachers cannot always make a teacher’s Semblant, but they should rather serve as agents to produce desire to know in students.
My particular research on this cartel was about “Partenaire as Semblant”. Each couple agrees on a particular way of “joyssance” as a result of an unconscious negotiation. In this joyssance deal, couples (in its symbolic version) are equivalent to the symptom function, with a formal wrapping that inserts it in the social and cultural order, from which it takes semblants sustained by word. Semblants come to occupy the place of completeness impossibility through couples, in other words just as J. Lacan stated: the “non sexual relation”.
Couples could be considered a symptom made of the proper lack of the “sexual relation”. Difficulty to make semblant in couples lies in that this deficiency appoints the particular way of joyssance in subjects, in relation to joyssance of the Other, Other who the neurotic brings to existence. Also, it is how there are forms to make semblant in couples depending upon what side they play on, whether the feminine or masculine side. On the masculine side, it is assumed to have the phallic object, so you have to be prudent not to take the risk of losing it. On the feminine side, the lack of it is masked, so there is nothing to lose, what allows some audacity and freedom where there are no limits. The feminine metaphor is in the act of “being”, instead of “not having” and on the masculine side it is in “having” which prevents “being”.
Finally, these questions arise: What happens at the end of analysis? How is the subject under analysis going to make an analyst’s Semblant? Answers must be looked for from the analyst’s being of desire that sustains the analytic act.
We express our gratitude to the Cartel members for their decided and sustained work and, especially to Edgar Marin for the English translation of the written works. We also thank the “Lone Star College” for allowing us to use their academic facilities for our meetings.
Next, we present the written production of each Cartel’s member.
RELIGION AND SEMBLANT
It was approximately a year ago when the Cartelizands met and committed to work. Semblant from the perspective of lacanian analysis was the selected subject. My particular interest was oriented towards reflections over Religion and Semblant.
Difficulties encountered: From the very beginning I experienced some sort of inhibition or blockage to think about both themes. Particularly about religion, which so much as it resulted very attractive and interesting, it wasn’t so easy to analyze from the psychoanalysis view. Recently I had the opportunity to share this restlessness with other cartelizands and could understand part of it. And, it is the fact that talking about religion is talking about a great Other, one that goes accompanied by signifiers related to sacred and spiritual world.
Altogether with this, the concept of Semblant has been one hard to grasp for me. I think now that it has to do also with my own analysis process.
First, what do we understand by Religion? We will use the definition given by the “Real Academia Española de la Lengua”: “Set of beliefs or dogmas regarding divinity, of feelings of veneration and fear towards it, of moral norms for subjects and social conduct and of ritualistic practices, mainly praying and sacrifice to worship.”
Religions do not respond to a uniform concept, for that reason it results useful to present a categorization of common elements to religions developed by the English author Ninian Smart, in his book “The Religious Experience of Mankind” (Cited in Philip Wilkinson (2008) New York, DK Publishing). Ninian points out to seven elements:
Doctrine, Mythology, Religious Experience, Religious Institution, the Ethics contents, the Rituals, the Objects and the Sacred places.
Religion is an ancient phenomenon in human history. In most known civilizations, religious elements have been present. Most early religions, polytheist in majority, sought by means of their gods an explanation of nature functioning: Why day and night? What causes natural phenomena like rain, seasons, illnesses? Moreover, religious practices and rituals were most times oriented to obtain protection from gods or to reduce their anger. We could say at this instance that religions arise as a form of the first sketches of science, as a search for knowledge about real and reality. This way, at their origins religions appear as linked to a quest for knowledge.
The other element of my cartel subject is Semblant. This concept, proposed by Jacques Lacan, holds a different meaning to the one we use colloquially in language. From Lacan’s 18th Seminar “Over a discourse that weren’t from Semblant” he asserts: “the effect of truth isn’t Semblant . . . truth is correlative to Semblant . . . Semblant is contrary to the artifact . . . Semblant is abundant in nature, example: a flash of lightning”. Jacques-Alain Miller speaks of three Semblants: The father, the phallus and the object “a” . . . Semblant reduces to a border, a border of Semblant that situates the nucleus of Joyssance.
From J. Lacan, What reading can we do of religion from the angle of the analytical discourse?
Religion and Discourses
Some religions fit within what Lacan called the Master’s Discourse. Thus, religions in part seek to hide the subject’s division. In Judeo-Christian and in Muslim religions, religious doctrine set forth a submission of the faithful to God (See the meaning of ISLAM: “Submission to God”). As a part of his faith the believer accepts to occupy the position of slave in the religious discourse. Prove of this are the rituals: prayers, communion, fasting, and confession.
The subject, before the experience of emptiness, seeks in religion a discourse that soothes and calms down this emptiness. A distress that arises as a result of living the unknown, death and lack at being. In religion the subject finds answers to his questions about the origin of the world, about what is after death and about the explanation of suffering. Religious mythology gives a narcissist and imaginary answer to questions about origin: humans would be made at God’s image and resemblance, and regardless of sins they may aspire to a state of perfection once freed from them (Heaven, Nirvana).
Some religions seek to regulate joyssance in subjects, through ethical precepts. It is common to find, in sacred books or in oral traditions, references to standard prohibitions and expected conduct models. Prohibitions like: “not to kill, no to steal, not to commit adultery and not to swear in vane” are repeated in diverse religious doctrines.
However, these ethical and moral elements possess a double reading. On one hand, prohibition (of sexuality and aggression) that allows to organize culture and human societies in a different way from animal groups. But on the other hand, severity of this prohibition could entail generation of joyssance and strengthening of desire and pulsion. Various religions share the requirement of abstinence among their faithful and members of the congregation, abstinence of accomplishment of desire in action or even abstinence at the thought level.
Now, returning to the theme of Semblant, by means of analysis of discourse. How are the elements of the master’s discourse present in religion?
Religions, with their doctrines and institutions, represent the Agent of Discourse: How does this agent present himself? Is it with a fierce and implacable Semblant? (Think of the Catholic Inquisition). Moreover, we can refer to some religious discourses, where the Semblant of the agents results less severe in what concerns the image of its guides. Religions like Buddhism and Confucianism don’t possess in their doctrine an image of an almighty God. They talk about “Masters” as guides in the way to self knowledge.
An interesting aspect of religion is in its relation with good-saying. Majority of religions include some section regarding the importance of not bad-saying (speak ill of, curse) while using language. This has relation with Semblant and the subject’s position towards prudence and good-saying.
Other questions: What happens to the faithful? What is the Semblant of the religion the believer loves? How does he present himself before the religion’s agent demand and discourse? As a slave, or as a subject who can identify his desire? And what is his position with respect to his religious life?
From the side of psychoanalysis, our interest is in knowing what subjective position the subject places himself about religion when he comes to analysis.
Is religion a symptom? And we think of the delirious psychotic with his mystical-religious thematic.
Or, are we talking about the obsessive structure, with its obsessions and compulsions associated with the aggression and sexuality thematic on the one hand, or guilt and punishment on the other?
Or, are we before a hysterical structure, who tells us about her mystical experiences, whether it is through visualizations or divine calls?
There it is the analyst work, to listen every subject’s singularity.
After the end of analysis, what is the position of the analyst before religion? It is well known that psychoanalysts like Freud defined themselves as atheists. As a closing statement, I include the famous comment of the Spanish film maker Luis Buñuel in his memories: “Thank god, I am still an atheist”.
- Bassols, Miquel. Algunas Observaciones acerca del Semblante.
- Freud, Sigmund. Obras Completas. Moisés y la Religión Monoteísta. Madrid, Biblioteca Nueva 1981.
- Lacan, Jacques. (2) Seminario 18: De un Discurso que no fuera del Semblante. Paidos, Buenos Aires, 2009 .
- McDowell, M. and Brown, N. World Religions at your Fingertips. New York, Alpha Books, 2009.
- Miller, Jacques-Alain. Curso de 1991-92, De la naturaleza de los semblantes, Paidós, Buenos Aires, 2002.
- Wilkinson, Philip. Illustrated Dictionary of Religion. New York, DK Publishers, 2006.
SEMBLANT, PARTENAIRE AND MASCULINE POSITION
Edgar V. Marín
The substance and the form. The thing does not suffice; form is also required. Bad form spoils everything, even justice and reason. Good form supplies everything, gilding the no, sweetening the truth and perfuming decay itself. The how has much to do with things, and manners are thieves of the heart. Carrying yourself well dresses up life and pledges a happy ending to everything.
During the last three years at least, we, the members of the Houston Freudian Field Library, have been reading various texts on the field of psychoanalysis, especially those produced by Jacques Lacan. Mid 2009 we were interested on the theme of Semblant, in harmony with the congress that would be celebrated in Paris in May 2010 over the same topic. This interest made us decide to realize a Cartel with Semblant as its central motive; thus, we could deepen our understanding of it. We have also read about what the couple relationships concerns to psychoanalysis, which is highly interesting to us all, for that reason I chose “Semblant, Partenaire and masculine position” as my cartel’s subject.
What is Semblant, is it the face? This was my first questioning.
“You have a good semblant”, we hear people say when someone looks healthy or cheerful. If this is it, it’s then quite simple, why to occupy ourselves talking about it?
Well, after having read, researched and elaborated over this Lacanian concept of Semblant at this cartel we finish today, I can remember that during a long time I could just say “I don’t understand”, it became so hard for me to understand that it wasn’t something other than the face, to associate it to something different. At some point it came the moment when I understood. Not only did I understand but I felt a subtle illumination that made me jubilant, so much that for the first time I could believe, after three years under analysis, my end of analysis is possible and near, that I can make changes in my subjective position, in how I present myself before others, in my “Semblant”. This illumination is like encountering my own essence, it’s like being without having to think, present myself such as I am, such as it is convenient to me. At the moment I didn’t find the words to describe it, the idea just vanished the same subtle way as it had elucidated to me.
It was just today when I sat to write this summary that I could describe it. For the time being, I know that I will be able to reach this state again. It is apparent that difficulties in making a good semblant have to do with some real condition that makes obstacles to it; maybe it is the unconscious which impedes the “good Semblant”. Then, analytically it would be said “You have a good Semblant, your unconscious is at its minimum”.
A solution to obstacles resulted in a very particular and unedited elaboration of this important concept within the Lacanian Psychoanalysis. The good semblant is that in which we act at ease, in accordance with the most convenience and we do it consciously; not necessarily the same as “to hold semblance” in which we, perhaps, act pretending conditions of being that are not comfortable or convenient to us. How I position myself that is my Semblant.
Partenaire  and Masculine Position
As a result of the cartel work on Semblant, Partenaire and Masculine position, it has been possible for me to write a text in the form of a poem, which helps me make an approximation to answer the initial question posed by my cartel’s subject.
A Masculine PositionI own it!I feel strong!I give it to you, then you’ll be it,So I don’t lose it,The one mine you are.Love me for who I am,
Not for what I give you…
For, by so doing, you must know,
You will be mine!
Will represent me!
Will give up your soul to me!