I believe that it is inoperative to say that there are no races. For there to be no races, for us to be able to say “we men,” there would have to be the Other of man… So there are races, races that are not physical. There are races that respond to the definition given by Jacques Lacan: “A race is constituted by the mode in which symbolic places are transmitted by the order of a discourse.” Races are effects of discourse, it is the use of jouissance in the order of a discourse that makes the differences.

Jacques-Alain Miller, Extimité, lesson of 27 November 1985

This short text imposed itself on me slowly. It is always like that. Scattered impressions produced by the cacophony of ambient discourses; the insistence of certain assertions; the repetition of positions that seem to emerge from individuals who believe themselves to be autonomous––all these come to constitute a sort of symphony of signifiers creating the atmosphere of an epoch that rolls over us like a wave, even submerges us. The trigger for the text in this particular case was a signifier from the USA that spread like a watchword: “Woke,”[1] the flagship of identitarian thinking.

Because of the historical coordinates of my birth, the notion of race is foreign to me. Worse, it is lethal. Going to the USA and having to fill in a questionnaire on the race to which I belonged was a surprise, a bad surprise. I answered by ticking all the boxes. Later, a discussion with French academics working on the deportation of workers by the French authorities confirmed that they too engaged in very political work and refused to use this notion, which arose with the development of what was to become capitalism. Lacan, evoking the opposition between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in 1969, evokes: “a little memory that I’m giving you… this lovely woman (who) said to me––I am of pure proletarian race.”[2]

It so happens that psychoanalysis is my compass and that I spend my life listening to what I will call here “analysands’ words.” Identity in psychoanalysis is characterized by the division or the bar: S barred, A barred––what I am escapes me, returns to me in the mode of surprise in the different forms of interpretation that the unconscious produces. But [in French] with “Identitarian” [Identitaire], you also hear, I think, the imperative verb “to keep quiet” [taire]. Precisely, be silent but listen to what is being made clear [claironne] here, by confronting the ego and the superego.

Lacanian Political Orientation

A Mutation in the Subjectivity of the Epoch

In 1972, in the seminar … or Worse, Lacan said: “Since, nevertheless, it’s not just about painting a rose-tinted future, you should know that what is on the rise, the ultimate consequences of which we have still not seen and which is rooted in the body, in the fraternity of bodies, is racism. You have not heard the last of this.”[3] In 1974, in “Television”, this time in response to a question from Jacques-Alain Miller about his confidence in prophesying the rise of racism, he said:

Because it doesn’t seem funny to me, and yet, it’s true. In the distraction of our jouissance, there is only the Other who locates it, but only insofar as we are separated from this Other. Whence certain fantasies–––unheard of before when we didn’t interfere.

Leaving this Other to his own mode of jouissance, that would only be possible by not imposing our own on him, by not taking him as an underdeveloped.

Adding to this the precariousness of our own mode, which from now on only locates itself as surplus enjoyment [plus-de-jouir], which can no longer be expressed in any other way, how can we hope that the humanitairerie of order with which we clothe our exactions can continue to last?”[4]

Let’s first remember this formula: “When we didn’t interfere.” Today, and in a way that has never been seen before, we are mingling; migrations and comings and goings are turning the whole planet upside down. If it is fair to say that exchange and borrowing have always been the operating rules of the transformations in the social bond, their magnitude in space and their rapidity in time are factors unknown until recently. I would also emphasize Lacan’s inversion of colonialism: humanitarianism as a veil masking the exaction, the theft in this case. This unveiling, operated by Lacan, should make us wary of all so-called humanitarian actions, because one cannot exist without the others. Just think of Coppola’s brilliant film Apocalypse Now.

New forms of racism are being invented today, without replacing racism in its inherited forms. They are rooted in the rise of a brotherhood of bodies. This rise correlates with the fall of the Father and therefore of the Name. The brother replaces the father. The body replaces the Name. Jacques-Alain Miller pinpoints this change by inventing the concepts of the “real unconscious” and the “speaking body.” On the other hand, by lodging our jouissances in objects produced by this Other of the capitalist economy (which is no longer the Other defined on the basis of the Name and the no) these objects, lathouses, overproduced, clutter us up and throw the objects cause of desire into a panic, so that the fantasy, whence they operate, breaches the barrier that separates everyday reality (let’s say everyone’s delusions) from the real.

Psychoanalysis, as Lacan practiced it, allowed him to predict the future. This term seems to me to be more accurate than that of prophecy. It is indeed a prediction made possible by a scientific discipline.

What I am saying here is a bit provocative. But I borrow it from Jacques-Alain Miller, who begins his 1985-1986 course, entitled Extimité, by echoing, with regard to psychoanalysis, a question asked by Fabrizio del Dongo in The Charterhouse of Parma: “Is there anything real in this science?” The sessions from 13 November 1985 to 18 December 1985 include long expositions on racism and also sexism, Jacques-Alain Miller having spoken at SOS Racisme [a movement of anti-racist NGOs, founded in 1984] during this period. The answer is therefore yes. Yes, psychoanalysis is a science that manages to touch something real. Miller then shows that what the extimate names is that which, at the most intimate heart of oneself, remains perfectly unattainable by the speaking subject. Extimacy, defined in this way, opens up a path that allows him to take up the subject of racism in a new way.

The work in the Lacanian orientation on racism did not stop with these texts. On 25 January 2014, Éric Laurent published a fundamental article in which he drew out the logic at work in racism, thus tearing it away from its reduction to the affect of hatred of the other, which is always invoked, never demonstrated, and certainly has the effect of reducing what is a logical mechanism to the dimension of pathos.[5] The recourse to hatred is always attractive, never false, but completely irrelevant when it comes to racism.

On the basis of these reminders, it seems to me, however, that we are witnessing today, in 2021, in all areas––for example, with the Woke movement in the field of politics, but also with the debates on gender and more recently the aspirations of the trans population––a fundamental mutation that affects the knotting of the three dimensions of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary (R S I). This mutation of the knotting produces effects that are manifested in all applications of discourses and practices. Let us recall Lacan’s formulation: “The unconscious is politics.”[6]

My aim is therefore to carry out an aggiornamento of the concept of racism on the basis of the data that we have just seen appear very recently. These new data are closely linked to the rise of communitarianism. Today, they reign everywhere over what we call the social bond proper to speaking bodies. Thus, very recently, Jacques-Alain Miller took the initiative of a long conversation with Éric Marty on the occasion of the publication of the latter’s work on Judith Butler, famous for her ability to become the sounding board for dominant opinions in the USA.[7] Marty’s work reveals the postulates of this approach. Our community has been at work (a colloquium at the University of Paris viii, texts published in our journals, an event organized by Hervé Castanet in Marseilles a few years ago), and we have noticed that since the end of 2015 there is a conjunction between the development of communitarianism and the rise in power of approaches to sex by gender. This latter has become one of the figures of identity, and the trans phenomenon has become linked to the definition of sex by the organism, which implicates biological sex. All these contemporary approaches ignore speaking bodies’ modes of jouissance. They separate the two terms: the body on the one hand, speech on the other.

What is the relationship today between generalized communitarianism and the multiplication, even the institutionalization, of forms of racism that are now emerging as a result of the replacement of the Father by the brothers?

To be continued…

Translated by Janet Haney

[1] Thanks to Florencia Shanahan for the reference to a satirical book by Andrew Doyle, a Catholic writer with a degree from Oxford University, UK, entitled Woke (Constable, 2019). In it he develops the adventures of a character, Titania McGrath––a reference to the Titania of A Midsummer Night’s Dream––in which he brings the Woke ideology to its comical height!

[2] Lacan, J., Seminar Book XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (1969-70), trans. R. Grigg, London/New York, Norton, 2007.

[3] Lacan, J., Seminar Book XIX, …or Worse (1971-72), trans. A.R. Price, Cambridge, Polity, 2018, p. 211.

[4] Lacan, J., “Television”, trans. revised, in Television: A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment, ed. Joan Copjec, New York: Norton, 1990, pp. 32-33.

[5] Laurent, É., “Racism 2.0”, trans. A.R. Price, Hurly-Burly 11, 2014, pp. 217-222.

[6] Lacan, J., Séminaire XIV, La logique du fantasme, lesson of 10 May 1967 (unpublished).

[7] Marty, É., Le sexe des modernes, pensée du neutre et théorie du genre, Paris, Seuil, 2021.