07 December 2006

The Neighbor as Symptom

Blah-Feme has posted a terrific paper on the neighbor. Excerpts:

This extraordinary passage gets to the heart of the Freudian project, and does so with remarkable efficiency and candour: the disavowal of any cosy or settled notion of man as thoroughly civilised, as only aberrantly or rarely violent, constitutes for Freud a devastating complacency at the heart of the modern political economy. To rest on the laurels of modernity’s putative civilisation is to slip at any minute into the darkest chaos.

What is striking here for me is the manner in which the neighbour is made to work here as a symptom, as a figure that holds together in one place the unbearable incommensurateness of living cheek-by-jowl with the other, of being of civilisation and yet recognising that that civilisation is coterminous with the most brutal and base instincts hat have not been laid to rest, despite modernity’s best efforts.


Lacan’s reference here, of course, is to Freud’s myth of the primal horde: the primal father forbids his sons sexual access to the women of the horde. The sons come together and murder the father, thereby learning the great power of collective agency. In that moment of violence, the men overthrow the primal father and change the order of things: from then they are doomed to mourn the father, evermore burdened by the guilt of their transgression and thereby, in honour of him who has been wronged, they reinstate the dead father as the father-God, totem-God. And it is here, in the howl of this bloody transgression that the neighbour is born: love him as thyself, for never again shall ye wrong him. “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”

The neighbour, then, is a symptom… and he emerges at precisely that moment when the horde’s men fall under the sway of the father-God, when they fall under the sway of law, as they pass fully into the symbolic order into which they are hurled as its subjects, subjected, in chains. They mourn for that which is lost and yet reinstate it, put it back in place, revere it. The father returns as a symptom. It’s as if he is always hiding in the car, just out of sight, presumed dead but about to return any minute, volver, volver…
In an exceptionally precise fashion he renders the symptom as a return of the repressed. Well worth the read.

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