For Lacan, modern man is someone who has lost the sense of tragedy. This does not mean, of course, that the current existence of the speaking being is not traversed by tragedy, nor that civilization has reached a state of welfare that surpasses the previous one, nor that suffering does not continue to be one of the main ingredients of the human condition. It means, rather, that modern man begins to lose the meaning of all of this, that is to say, he begins to stop reading in pain the signs of truth. It means that modern man has ceased to conceive a distance between his facticity and the possibilities of realization of his dreams, because not only does contemporary civilization not demand of him a renunciation, it also inoculates in him the conviction that happiness is available to anyone.
What was tragedy in antiquity? It was, above all, a lesson in humility. It was the acceptance that the meaning of human life, even that of history, was governed by forces that did not depend entirely on the will or the efforts of man, who is overcome by the action of a destiny imposed by the gods in an inevitable manner. “Know yourself”, the celebrated moral imperative augured by the temple of Delphi, is the formula of a wisdom that consisted in nothing other than being prepared to realize destiny to its end. The greatness of the Greeks, those on whom the civilization that is today reaching its twilight was founded, consisted in knowing that the power of man is both infinitely smaller and greater than his destiny.
How different the world seems to us today, when we see that the gods have abandoned the temples, the fountains and the statues. Destiny, that is to say, the message of the beyond, of that Other place that obliged the man of antiquity to question himself about the truth, is now a vain concern, a pastime of horoscopes and scratch-card lotteries. Destiny has been replaced by a continuous present in which we are only invited not to lose the eternal opportunity to be happy. Because not even anatomy is destiny anymore, we would say today, correcting the conviction of Napoleon Bonaparte, since anatomy is now also part of the list of consumer goods offered to the subject’s whim.
This is the reason why Lacan, unlike Freud, had the intuition that the new paradigm of subjectivity should be thought in reference to psychosis. The entire effort of his teaching converges towards a final conclusion that questions the very root of our clinical and epistemic principles. The conclusion is that the essence of modern man is the absence of a question. In place of the question, the answer anticipates itself in the form of a certainty that closes the door to the unconscious. The unconscious is the distance that exists between our actions and our understanding of their meaning. That distance, which constituted the core of Freudian man’s unhappy consciousness and impelled him to revive the Delphic imperative in the renewed form of psychoanalysis, is about to close.
It is for this reason that psychosis, in the singular, beyond the variations that pluralize the way in which they present themselves to the clinician’s gaze, is from now on the model of man. And it is for this reason that Lacan mysteriously predicted that psychosis is normality, that is to say, the norm. Because normality, normality as the absolute triumph of the worldview that governs the current era, is no longer simply the result of an ideological construction. It is also the product of an empirical verification: man ceases to believe in his symptom, he is ceasing to suppose that the symptom has something to say.
Translated by Florencia F.C. Shanahan