Wednesday, 22 February 2006

A Draught from a Disordered Mind

There are things against which a teacher might usefully warn his students, so that they might avoid some common pitfalls of thought and thereafter lead a fruitful life: for instance, not to distribute in a conclusion a term that is undistributed in its premises, is one such useful warning; not to play table tennis in the buff, is another. Amongst French psychoanalysts, however, such warnings lack the requisite je ne sais quoi, being that they are altogether too sensible. Monsieur Jacques Lacan, for one, thought it worthwhile to warn his acolytes against the belief that doors are entirely real:
Please give this a thought—a door isn’t entirely real. To take it for such would result in strange misunderstandings. If you observe a door, and you deduce from it that it produces draughts, you’d take it under your arm to the desert to cool you down.
Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II, The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954‑1955, ed., J.-A. Miller, tr. S. Tomaselli, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 301.
I might wonder who on the banks of the Seine would be so silly that he might need to be warned against believing that a door produces draughts by itself, but then I suppose Monsieur Lacan must have known his audience. But assuming a number of sensible persons amongst them, I wonder how many would have inferred from the fact that a door does not produce draughts by itself that a door is not entirely real; for that is Monsieur Lacan’s underlying inference, as far as I can ascertain. So great a silliness hardly needs to be warned against, since it is the product of a rare and disordered mind.

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