Hysterical identification is the source of our intelligence. Only through identification and introjection can we escape the prison of our own unspeakable jouissance. Gifted children distinguish themselves from regular, ungifted children by their capacity to put themselves in the place of the other (and then triangulate to the Other). Hysterical identification is the source of empathy, which, pace certain hard-line Lacanians, exists (cf., Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary). But hysterical identification is a double-edged sword. To identify with the other is not only to share in his experience; it is always also to impose our own experience on him and in so doing alienate him from himself.
A tendentious but perhaps enlightening example. There is a scene in Charles Willeford’s masterpiece Cockfighter (a novel that every psychoanalyst should read) in which the hero, Silent Frank Mansfield, tests one of his roosters, a Mellhorn Black, for gameness. He chops its legs off with an axe, sets it on the ground, sprays it with lighter fluid, sets it on fire with a match, and releases another gamecock into the pit. Although legless and burning, the Mellhorn Black attempts to fight his opponent, valiantly pecking at him until the very moment of death, thereby proving the quality of his and his brothers’ bloodline.
Silent Frank Mansfield watches this gruesome spectacle without flinching. His partner, a neophyte cockfighter named Omar Baradinsky, excuses himself; the scene is too cruel for him to bear.
Omar identifies with the tortured gamecock. Mansfield’s identifications are more obscure. It is possible that he derives masochistic satisfaction from identifying with the burning cock (which would make him a sadist). But Charles Willeford does not give us full access to Frank. In this scene, I believe he is attempting to depict a state of post-analytic desire. Mansfield is not a sadist but a man who has learned that identification with the other is always in a certain sense to violate him. In La Vie Avec Lacan, Lacan’s mistress Catherine Millot insists that Lacan always refused to treat others as he wished to be treated. He treated them as he wished to treat them, thereby liberating them from his own projections. (Here Lacan rejoins Deleuze, who states bluntly that “if you’re trapped in the dream of the other, you’re fucked”.)
Omar is a neurotic. By projecting suffering onto the rooster, he gets a boomerang contact high. Mansfield, on the other hand, has traversed his neurotic demand for the Other. By refusing to identify with the Mellhorn Black, Mansfield refuses his own death drive. Where does that leave the Black itself? Lacan speculates inconclusively about the jouissance of an oyster or a tree. What is the jouissance of a burning, legless rooster? Does not the fact that he pecks even when burning (I would not peck under such conditions) indicate that there is something impenetrable about its interiority, something that refuses our attempt to identify with it?
The clinic of psychosis illustrates that our self-experience is always mediated by the hypothesis of the Other’s jouissance. I remember encountering a young autistic patient who could not feel temperature. He was capable of going out in sub-zero temperature in a T-shirt and not realizing that anything was wrong. The psychotic failure to triangulate through the (cold) Other cut him off from the sensations his own skin was sending to his brain.
However, like training wheels on a bicycle, the Other must be abandoned once we have outgrown it. We must know how and when not to identify, even — perhaps especially — in the case of suffering. To empathize indiscriminately with the suffering of the other is to impose our own masochistic jouissance onto someone who neither wants it nor needs it. The jouissance we must abandon in analysis is therefore not our own, but that of the Other. We unsubscribe from the Other concretely by refusing hysterical overidentification. Silent Frank Mansfield may or may not understand this; Willeford is subtle and refuses to let him off the hook too easily. Perhaps he is not a psychoanalyst but a simple sadist. After all, there is no way to unsubscribe completely from our unconscious and the masochism that lies at its heart. As we Lacanians steamroll everyone in our path in the ruthless pursuit of our desire, we might occasionally consider surveying the swath of destruction we leave behind us and asking ourselves just how free we really are from our compulsion to repeat trauma. Once again, in the words of Gilles Deleuze:
Many dream of becoming traitors. Yet they are nothing but petty cheaters. What cheater has not said to himself: finally I am a real traitor! But what traitor does not say to himself, in the dark: after all I was nothing but a cheater. Because to be a traitor is difficult. It is to create. You must lose your identity, your face. You must disappear, become unknown.
This detour through hysterical identification leads us to the question at hand: the dialectic of love and hatred.
Love without hatred is sterile and meaningless. We must learn how to hate ethically — without identification — if we have any hope of loving. This sophisticated, difficult discipline — ethical hatred — is today being lost somewhere on the Internet along with every other refinement our civilization has ever produced.
What is love? It is the recognition that all is one in God. In Lacanian terms, it is the recognition that all is Real, that even the signifier is in its last essence a mode of appearance of the Real. We must not conceive of this identity in static, atemporal terms — Lacan never insists enough on this fact — but rather dialectically, as a process of self-determination over time. Only by alienating itself in the signifier — the necessary moment of hatred in the dialectic of love — can the Real rejoin itself at a higher, more concretely determined level. This is the sense of the late Lacan’s lapidary assertion that topology is time: structure demands to be actualized.
Freud theorized that hate precedes love in the child’s libidinal economy. As it is precisely this hatred that is later transformed into love, it already is love in a certain speculative sense. We must have the courage to remain faithful to the necessity of hatred incarnated by the signifier in the dialectic of love. Love is not a permanent state. It is the bloom on the tree of hatred that falls to the ground as soon as it appears, perhaps not to return for another year. And between blooms, we must ruthlessly cleave to our hatred, our love of negativity, our active desire to divide the world from itself; we must introduce conflict and even strife — because, concretely, dialectically, this is precisely the way love’s work is done on Earth. In the words of Theodor Adorno, “He who is not malign does not live serenely but with a peculiarly chaste hardness and intolerance. Lacking appropriate objects, his love can scarcely express itself except by hatred for the inappropriate, in which admittedly he comes to resemble what he hates.” (Minima Moralia, aphorism 4). The blocked dialectic of hatred results not in love but in resentment. (I believe that Adorno’s “hatred for the inappropriate” corresponds not the the fecund hatred found in the unconscious but rather to the resentment that is an emergent property of the imaginary axis.)
Beautiful Souls across the world are wringing their smooth hands over Donald Trump and his message of hatred. Yet he is closer to the truth of desire than they are. Desire resembles hatred more than it resembles love. This is absolutely crucial for an analyst to understand. Otherwise he can only collude with the repressions of his patients and strengthen the superego. Yet it is equally crucial to understand that this detour through the desert of hatred and desire is necessary precisely because only such a traversal can prepare the ground for the emergence of the subject in a blinding flash of love, one that indicates that topology has been touched by time and modified by it.
The hatred expressed by Trump has an authentic hysterical quality that is lacking from standard Republican (non-dialectical) resentment. We must recognize this and interpret Trump’s campaign as we might a dream — as the coded expression of a legitimate wish. In these end times, the necessity of division and conflict, in short, the principle of ontological difference incarnated by the signifier, has been repressed in favor of the soft fascism of universal tolerance — a non-concept with no consistency that belongs strictly to the imaginary register. In such a wasteland, the repressed truth of love can only begin to emerge in a grotesque, distorted symbol like a wall between the US and Mexico. Such an exaggerated, stereotyped image must be traversed if we are to unlock it. Trump may be dangerous, but the truth he incarnates — the necessity of borders, conflict and division — has to be recognized as such if we are to move from the univocal image of the wall — that which excludes — to the properly anasemic symbol of the fence, which simultaneously excludes and joins. Without this symbol love is impossible. Let us note that the passive-destructive fantasy of a world without borders is nothing but the strict inversion, and therefore the ethical equivalent, of Trump’s wall. Masochism is sadism. Contra Merkel and the ideology of guilt she represents (guilt is a form of jouissance) we must maintain our borders, for only borders allow us to exist inwardly; this inwardness itself is a precondition for an authentic encounter with the other. When we fall into the trap of summarily condemning Trump, our moral beauty is exhibited and our narcissism is gratified, but we neglect the analytic ethic, which demands that we listen to the discourse of the hystericized patient — the United States as it speaks through Trump — with the analytic ear that alone will allow the patient’s unconscious to leave behind walls and guns and evolve towards a more sophisticated symbology. If we repress the truth that is trying to speak through Trump now — the perhaps impossible necessity of restoring not national borders so much as the Symbolic tout court — we can only aggravate the damage in the long term.
A facetious but nonetheless telling aside — of all the Republican presidential candidates, Trump is the only one with a sexy wife. Yes, with her plastic surgery and her exaggerated red carpet pout there is something monstrous and hyperreal about Melania, but she nonetheless possesses a kernel of real sex appeal — which is to say, a kernel of authentic hysteria — that is absolutely lacking in other Republican wives, who must be considered the least sexy women on the planet.
Cruz and those like him must be ruthlessly silenced, but Trump must be listened to. The truth speaks through him in 2016, in a mutilated form that it is up to us to decipher. Otherwise the spark of love it conceals will never emerge.