Killing me softly with his song

Killing me softly [1]


It is a theme inscribed in the preparations of our Study Days on the sexual assault: the intimate unveiled. The expression in its simplicity implies a definition of the intimate, as that which is not unveiled. In any case, that which should not be unveiled, and whose exposure, whose disclosure is a transgression. It contains also an element of which we know the cultural importance: the veil. Modesty is the name of the sentiment which accompanies the effort of those who want to maintain the veiling. Impudence is the attitude of those who do not respect the modesty, unveiling the intimacy of others, and immodesty is the attitude of those who expose their own intimacy. The Greeks had a word that we know the fortune of, to designate the display of what should not be shown: ob-scene, that is to put at the forefront of the scene that which should not be displayed. What the veil must keep out of sight may just as well be a material object, essentially the body, and particularly certain parts of it which are struck by a special interdiction. It is about parts of the body which refer to reproduction or which are linked to sexual life. But the object may also be intangible, as are feelings or thoughts, which refer to desire. The intimate defines a zone which must be preserved from the gaze and the knowledge of others, at least of those who are not familiar. That which is under the veil is the object of taboo, and the function of the veil is precious enough to have come into play in cults, habits and customs which refer to the regulation of jouissance, of desire and of its alliances, if not of love. The object is veiled because it is sacred – that is to say untouchable – inasmuch as it is sacred because it is veiled, in the sense that this concealment removes it from the gaze and extracts it from the image; this is what confers to it this particular dignity. The veil phallisizes what it hides. We are tempted to say that it sublimates the object it steals from the gaze, that it raises its quality, it transcends it and covers it with mystery, even when that which is veiled is ultimately only a lack, an absence, nothing.

I said cults: it is that the game of veiling and of unveiling enters into the erection of the sacred, as shown by what we know from the ancient mysteries, associated with the display of the phallus, as sign of desire and of life. It is also because what is displayed or hidden has an essential role in the religious and social treatment of sexuality and of exchanges between the sexes. The debatable and discussed etymology of the truth in the Greeks, A-letheia, in the sense of the lifting of the veil, does not contradict these remarks; on the contrary. A crucial passage from the passion of the Christ (Mathew 27:51) dramatises his agony: at the moment of his death, “the veil is torn”. It is that of the Temple, which separates the faithful from the Holy of Holies. This incident does not stop generating questions for the readers. Blaise Cendrars, in Easter in New York notes: “what was seen behind, nobody said.” Claudel also indicates it, to underline that “it is not interpreted”. How better to say, in fact, the weakening of semblants, if not that this tearing bares the impossible to say?

Two vignettes will serve me to give an idea of what we encounter in analysis, and which concerns the unveiling of the intimate. They do not derive from the clinic under transference, but borrowed from one of the richest textbooks on sexual assault and perversion: the Bible. These are the accounts of Cham and Shoshana respectively, in the Book of Genesis 9-18 and 10-32, and in chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel.

Cham is one of the three sons of Noah, brother of Sem and Japheth. All three will receive the Father’s mission to repopulate the earth, for the worse, as we know. After saving a few samples from the animal kingdom, including the human species, from the Flood, Noah got involved in farming. This is how he came to plant vines, harvest the fruits and produce his wine. He who says wine says drunkenness. So Noah, under the influence of alcohol, had retired to his tent, the canvas of which protected him, he believed, from all indiscretion. He was naked in his drunken sleep. Cham, lost by the father’s jouissance, wanted to see the nakedness of his body and sought to associate his brothers with his indiscretion. So he went in to see what shouldn’t be seen. Sem and Japheth only do it afterwards reluctantly, so as not to transgress the law and to cover Noah’s body with the coat he had removed. Cham was cursed for having seen what should not have been, and his brothers, blessed until their descendants, for having respected the Name-of-the-Father, despite the sin of Noah.

Shoshana, more often known to us as Suzanne, was Joachim’s wife. Her Hebrew name means Lys, which speaks well for her grace and rings in our ears as an indication of her purity. She had retired to her walled garden, not far from her house, and intended to take a bath there. Two old men above all suspicion, as police reports say, were infatuated with her beauty and wanted to enjoy her youth with impunity. Entering the garden, they threatened to accuse her of adultery if she did not sacrifice her virtue to them. They would say they caught her fornicating with a young man. The young woman stood firm and was sentenced to death by the local court, convinced of the good faith of the two criminals: they were beyond reproach, having been recently elected judges on their excellent renown for wisdom; and her beauty evidently argued against her. A young man inspired by God, Daniel himself, ready to enter his career as a prophet, unmasked the culprits and made the modesty of Suzanne triumph.

These two stories are consonant with the clinic under transference and what the analytic experience brings to light. It should be emphasised that the setting of the treatment is itself closed and preserves what is said there, exclusively, from any external ears and eyes. This closure is an indispensable condition for the unveiling, by the subject and for the subject, of his truth and his relation to the most private of his jouissance. This is necessary so that the analysand can elaborate, beyond the facts and his complaint, what his encounters with these bits of real of his existence, necessarily traumatic, entail. All the more so since the intimate which is thus revealed is what Lacan describes as extimity, to say that what is most specific to the subject is at the same time what is most foreign and most unacceptable to him. This interiorintimomeo, which is not so much divine as Augustine says, but a demon as Socrates maintains, is that in which everything incites me not to recognize myself: it is different, even opposed to my ideals and my principles, and that’s why I repress it or reject it. This zone under the veil of semblants is the never-ending blaze of the jouissance of the living, the fatal water of the Acheron that the analyst knows how to move.


Translated by Peggy Papada


Originally published in DESaCORPS, Newsletter of the 50th Study Days of the ECF, No 1, 2nd June 2020.  Available online.

[1] The Fugees, Killing Me Softly, Norman Gimbel/ Charles Fox, Album : The Score, Colombia, Col. 483549 2, 1996.