A real Republic is a Republic of equality, of shared vulnerabilities and of collective capacities.

This is a time to be active rather than passive, and clear choices are opening up as to what will be the character of our Irishness. Will it be a commitment to inclusion and a shared world or a retreat to the misery of an extreme individualism.

Words matter. Words can hurt. Words can heal. Words can empower. Words can divide.[1]

In psychoanalysis we know this. Speech is a form of power as the analytic experience demonstrates. Hannah Arendt quoting C. Wright Mills, says that “all politics is a struggle for power; the ultimate kind of power is violence”. The consensus among most theorists is that power is understood to be power over, i.e. the ultimate kind of power being violence. Arendt has an interesting way of distinguishing power from violence, in fact she says that they are antithetical. Where power reigns, there is persuasion, not violence, and when violence reigns it destroys power.  For Arendt power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert[2]. “Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together”. [3]

Changing how our institutions interact with citizens is about so much more than negotiation around the allocation of scarce resources, it is about treating each person with respect, recognising their inherent value and the value of their contribution, whatever form it might take.[4]

Plurality[5] she says involves individuality, distinction, and equality. Every individual brings with them a distinctive perspective to a common world. Plurality is grounded in what she terms ‘natality’ the capacity of the human being for new beginnings, to initiate action spontaneously. “To act in its most general sense, means to take an initiative, to begin… to set something in motion”[6]. So, action and speech are intimately linked as it is through our words and our deeds that our unique distinctiveness is revealed in the company of others. Politics involves acting together is based upon human plurality and the encounter of citizens as political equals. In this public space created by acting together, citizens debate and deliberate with each other, they attempt to persuade each other about how to conduct their public affairs. Persuasion involves debate among political equals where citizens seek to clarify, test and refine their opinions. Persuasion not violence is what rules.

In the experience of analysis, we rely on the resources of discourse, which is nothing other than the bond between those who speak. Fundamentally politics is the social bond for as Lacan tells us “in the final analysis, there is nothing but that”[7]. The analytic discourse as a social bond is the other side of the political, the other side of domination[8]. As Christiane Alberti tells us “the experience of an analysis leads us to distance ourselves from mass identifications, which are always segregationist, and to consider instead the multiplicity of choices of desire or jouissance”.[9] The analytic discourse as de-segregating may lead us to bet on the idea of a collective that makes space for this plurality.

ZADIG is a signifier, a starting over, a subjective response, invented by Jacques-Alain Miller. By way of retroactive effect, he understands why he stopped giving his course in 2011. It was, as he says: “a desperate effort to escape petrification and reconnect with the real of life”.

The task is not simply the repair of an old connection broken, but rather the making of new, urgent, global conversations and the turning of words into deeds at every level and in every sector. Those conversations are ones which I, as President, look forward to supporting[10].

How to understand the place and function of ZADIG a Political Network which runs alongside the School. A particular type of grouping described as an extension of the School at the level of public opinion. What sets it apart from the School and yet at the same time allows it to be an extension of it?  ZADIG and the Forums to date I understand as responses to a series of encounters and contingent events as distinct from some pre-conceived ideology.

Closer to home, in the local context of Ireland, the question is how as a member of a psychoanalytic group can another group be formed, in other words how to form a group out of a group. A group that is not an organ of the School, not a cartel. In other words, how to be in a family but separate? How to create a group as a response to the call by Jacque-Alain Miller to make psychoanalysis exist in the political field? A group that is not an ideal and one that cannot be transformed into an imperative. A group based on inventions and initiatives, encounters and contingency. What kind of collective and locus[11] can this be?

We need new models and innovative thinking….[12]

A theme running throughout Arendt’s work is the need to think. In the prologue to The Human Condition she wrote “What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing.” “The highest and perhaps purest activity of which men are capable is the activity of thinking”. Orthodoxy implies that one stops thinking in order to follow dominant thought. The heretic is the one who chooses and as it were pays the price for this choice. In order to think one has to have a place to think, a “space of appearances”[13]. By this I mean a place to debate, discuss, converse, as we are doing this evening but to also extend it to others. Face to face action in concert.

Ideas matter and history tells us that anti-intellectualism has been, and remains, the weapon of authoritarian and anti-democratic forces in so many parts of our shared, vulnerable planet.[14]

How to ensure that heresy does not slide into orthodoxy by way of dogma? Lacan avoided it by way of a teaching that did not fall into dogma, but instead remained open to the act of each one giving something of themselves as essential. He did this by creating a collective formation, building a School, an institution founded on ‘not knowing’ what an analyst is, and therefore on the ‘not knowing’ lodged at the heart of one’s existence. He also avoided it by invention of the mechanism of the Pass and the function of the Analyst of the School whose undertaking it is starting out from his or her singular experience to reinvent psychoanalysis. Lastly, by his act of dissolution, the School as “a sum of subjective lonelinesses”[15], is where each is returned to the solitude of the analytic cause particular to his or her own desire.

So, how can practitioners and non-analysts, concerning the local context making use of the analytic discourse find a way to enter the political field “to introduce a discourse that would favour a reorientation?” as Paola Bolgiani puts it.  How can something be brought to Irish humanity at this particular moment of civilisation, how to introduce a different kind of discourse into political discourse. How do we speak? Who do we speak to? What can be done? These are not simply, banal questions for me.

At a time when democratic discourse is too often undermined or diminished, our choice must be to actively extend and deepen democracy, to express it in wider forms and in new ways. We must encourage and deliver better, more meaningful, more equal, participation in decision-shaping, decision-making, decision-taking.[16]



[1]Irish Times Newspaper online, 28th October 2018, acceptance speech of President Michael D. Higgins, following his re-election, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/words-matter-words-can-hurt-michael-d-higgins-s-acceptance-speech-in-full-1.3678585

[2] Bernstein, Richard J. Violence – Thinking Without Banisters. Polity, Cambridge UK, 2013, p.80.

[3] Arendt, H. On Violence. Harcourt Inc, New York, 1970, p.143.

[4] Irish Times Newspaper online, 25th November 2018, Inaugural Speech of President Michael D. Higgins, Dublin Castle https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/full-text-president-higgins-inaugural-speech-1.3696294

[5] Bernstein, op. cit., p82.

[6] Arendt, H. The Human Condition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1958, p.177.

[7] Lacan, J., Seminar XX, Encore, Norton, London, 1998, p.54.

[8] Alberti, C. There is Nothing but the Social Bond, Psychoanalytical Notebooks, Issue32, Lacanian Politics and Impasses of Democracy today, London, 2018, p.86.

[9] Ibid, p.87.

[10] The Irish Times online, 25th November 2018, op. cit.

[11] ‘Local’ from Latin ‘locus’, ‘a place’

[12] The Irish Times online, 25th November, 2018, op. cit.

[13] “Spaces of appearances” a concept of Arendt, a place which can be created anew whenever men come together in the manner of speech and action, a fragile space as it is actualised only through words and deeds, i.e. speech and action.

[14] The Irish Times online, 25th November 2018, op. cit.

[15] Miller, J-A, The Turin Theory of the subject of the School, http://www.amp-nls.org/page/gb/60/the-turin-theory-of-the-subject-of-the-school

[16] The Irish Times online, 25th November 2018, Op. cit.

Image: Detail of Louis le Brocquy‘s Hosting of the Táin, 1969 / Aubusson tapestry, 407 x 610 cm / Atelier Tabard Frères et Soeurs, edition 1 / Irish Museum of Modern Art