As I look through the window and see people on balconies clapping, someone sees me and appears invigorated to clap even more. He and others keep clapping in the choir that transcends countries and continents. Freud found the drive indestructible. That’s what humanity is today: indestructible as we are all in it together. What remains from this experience is a thought that politics will not go away. It will not go away outside or in analysis, during or after it, especially the latter. Politics will stay because the real is nigh. Daily proximity of the real is correlative to the distancing we are all subjected to. The further we are from one another, the more we can hear and see one another. Once we have moved from the local to the global, we can virtually hear and see in this new delusion more than ever before. But this shift also indicates that a loss takes place. Everyone is talking about it, but no one knows a loss of what or for whom. It is only indicated by a plethora of anxieties that remind us of the loss at the time when clapping reminds us of humanity as indestructible.

In the motley of aleatory scenarios, hopes and promises, scientists are pushed to the limit to provide certainty: numbers, ratios, unequivocal forecasts. Never since Heisenberg, has the principle of uncertainty sounded more certain. One thing is clear: the real that cannot be muted is not the real of science. Can a dream perhaps shed some light on what is at stake in the loss in question? In analysis, the subject tells a dream in which at night barely visible worms are crawling in the hallway through the wardrobe. He is scared and kills some, but they don’t stop coming. He catches a glimpse of his father smiling: “Need any help?” “No, thanks”. As his father goes to his room, the patient sees more worms pouring in. He needs his father’s help and goes to his room. But when he finds him asleep, he decides not to wake him up. He then closes the wardrobe and kills more worms on the floor. Then he suddenly hears himself say: “but my father is dead!”

The dream has a dividing effect on the subject. We witness a similar effect today during daily updates on the pandemic. Scientists are struck with trepidation when politicians suppose them to know the solution to the crisis. Expectations are high. In these communications everyone speaks about the loss of life that is referred to solely in numerical terms. Instead of the body there is a number, and so the experience of loss pushed out of the scopic and auditory field. Pandemic is the exact opposite of what happens at war or during natural disaster where bodies are everywhere. Today the computer screen is also the shield to protect us from the loss of life and of jouissance. Technology and capitalism have always had a big stake in erasing traces of loss, too.

It is not without difficulty that psychoanalysts confront this new trinity of science, politics and capitalism today. Psychoanalysis does not have an alternative trinity to offer and is limited to singular, sometime heretic choices. These choices are one by one contingent on responsibility that Lacan linked to sexuality. When we turn to the Other for knowledge, we gravitate towards the sexual act to guarantee our own jouissance. For Lacan, the subject can only be responsible for his own sexuality[1]. And since sexual relation cannot be realised, the subject is left floundering. Floundering is not the same as clapping that is well structured. We could say that it is the speaking body that is floundering, faced with the impossibility to respond to the loss of jouissance. By contrast, nothing is ever lost in mathematical knowledge. If there was, we would be clapping faster and louder. Politics will not go away because through the real it remains tied, extimately Lacan would say, to the perverse solutions our political leaders seek with representatives of science.

To be clear there has never been any love affair between Johnson, Trump, Hancock and the professors (Whitty, Ferguson, Fauci, Horby, etc.). In Britain, the right-wing politicians continue to redefine the idea of herd immunity despite its aim remaining the same: to link it once and for all with the new norm: live and let die. It’s not quite new but it’s a man’s norm, normale, as Lacan said. Nothing seals the connection between this norm and the surplus jouissance more effectively than the so-called “common sense” whereby all and therefore nothing is allowed. Lacan didn’t believe in the sense that would be common or in the common all that makes sense. On the one hand, then, we have a floundering corparlant, on the other, economy of recyclable jouissance parading as a need for scientific knowledge. The surplus in question has nothing to do with the real, traumatic loss because jouissance as lost is not retrievable. Since it’s lost it is also missed. It’s lost because it’s missed which supports repetition, as Skriabine noted[2]. Political leaders are thus left to prod and scapegoat apprehensive scientists because, as the poet remarked, “cowards only attack when feeling secure”. This is not what Lacan referred to as “moral cowardice” when he spoke about depression. He also referred to politicians who have no relation with truth and who believe in jouissance by denying its loss. In the end, this denial returns in the real that resides in the discourse. This brings me to the relation with scientists whose initial warnings were denied. It’s now confirmed that the UK has the highest pandemic-related count of deaths relative to population. And yet here is a paradox. Anyone can fly to the UK without checks. One can be stopped for immigration reasons but not for spreading deadly infection.

The poet’s remark was attributed to Goethe who introduced us to romanticism. His huge literary debt to Ossian puts the origin of romanticism in Ireland. Romanticism opened a dimension of the body and of new poetic insights by making suffering intrinsic to being human, to the body marked not only by the signifier but also by traumatic affects. Psychoanalysts never followed reason and are no more enlightened than romantic. It’s not that Werther brings out the extreme dimension of love as unrequited and of despair or that these appear at the backdrop to the distinction Lacan made between the melancholic solution and the function of mourning. The romantic variant reveals the body stripped bare, alone, without a pair, raptured. The impossibility to liquidate affect is extimately interwoven with a body’s history. The prolific force of romanticism, like Baroque, ended on the note of ignorance. After completing his major opus, Goethe said to Eckerman that from now on life was a bonus to him. There is perhaps something to be said for the romantic end of analysis.

What can we make of this? Whether it’s the discourse of science, politics of normality or the solitary figure faced with a void, ignorance emerges as crucial to the floundering of the speaking body and is correlative to mourning. Lacan included ignorance among passions because it sets up the subject as happy irrespective of whether the experience of loss puts him on the path of gay savoir, sadness or anxiety[3]. The happy subject is the ignorant subject. In analysis, the subject returns to this place of ignorance as the impossible to know. In science, ignorance touches on the subject and truth themselves. Natura may well have been written mathematically, but she certainly does not know how to be read. Hence Freud who by trying to reinvent science became its reject. His break with tradition follows from his “romance with truth” which was the key to open the mouths of the hysterics to the garrulity of desire. In the dream I mentioned earlier, the subject does not awaken by crawling signifiers. It’s awakened at the moment of realisation of his father’s death that is represented by the worms. The fathers can only see their sons suffering because they were also sons. But seeing does not mean knowing. It means being seen.

This opens for us at the time of plague one of the paradoxes of desire. Although the desire to know derives from science, it is not the desire for scientific knowledge that animates a desire to know the cause in analysis. Political discourse based on the denial of loss supposes the scientist to support the surplus jouissance. On the other hand, the proximity of the real to a desire to know makes jouissance singular in response to clapping Romeos. How does this difference, so crucial that we are virtually blind to it, manifest itself in the function that emerges at the very heart of the social dimension of which psychoanalysts are a part, namely the function of mourning? It’s not enough to say that fascism is a failure of mourning as the same can be said of capitalism. Nevertheless, in the time when the new norm of “let die” affirms political immunity and remains tied with the surplus jouissance, the function of mourning stands out for us.

In the early 1960s, Lacan puts “I mourn” on a par with “I desire”[4]. In 1973 he says: “I am a reject”[5]. The former refers to the experience of loss of the loved one. The latter puts on the scene the analyst who becomes the reject of humanity. First of science and then of humanity as Miller elaborated[6]. The analyst embodies here the paradox of the desire to know and of the cause of desire by coming to the point of being lost for humanity. The function of mourning comes to operate for the subject in analysis when he realises that it is not that he lost the loved one but that he is lost for the Other. With parts of humanity dying away like sparks in the light we assume to be all as one, the function of mourning appears to me as crucial and preliminary to the desire to know and, subsequently, to a desire for work.

This is where we are. Politics will stay because the political unconscious emerges when humanity falls by there being at least one less. The analyst discourse could be called the discourse of mourning to the extent that the analyst embodies the one less. In this way he allows to circumscribe the void he makes emerge by incarnating it. In mourning, “the analyst, if there is one”, Lacan adds, “represents the downfall, the reject”.  The failure of mourning during the pandemic puts the political leaders on the spot. It also confirms that in their appeal to science and technology, the experience of loss is replaced by endless recycling. Before a closure, before an ending there is already a copy, a replica, a clone, or a genetic design to give a body, after it comes to an end, an afterlife of a number. Ergo, nothing is ever lost. It’s how Joyce defined eternity.


[1] J. Lacan, The Sinthome, Seminar XXIII, trans. A. Price, Polity, London, 2016, p. 50.

[2] P. Skriabine, Some Moral Failings Called Depression, trans. Jack W. Stone, in, p. 3.

[3] J. Lacan, Knowledge, Ignorance, Truth and Jouissance, trans. A. Price, in Talking to Brick Walls, Polity, 2017, p. 4.

[4] J. Lacan, Transference, Seminar VIII, 1960-61, trans. B. Fink, Polity, 2015, p. 391.

[5] J. Lacan, Note italienne, 1973, in L’Autres écrits, Seuil, Paris, 2001, p. 308.

[6] J.-A. Miller, The Pass of Psychoanalysis Toward Science: the Desire for Knowledge, trans. S. Seth, in TLR 7, p. 77.