Lacan and Monotheism:
Psychoanalysis and the Traversal of Cultural Fantasy


Kenneth Reinhard

University of California--Los Angeles

Copyright © 1999 by Kenneth Reinhard, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S.Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

  1. "Comment, pourquoi, Freud a-t-il eu besoin de Moïse?" Why did Freud need Moses? What exigency or demand did Freud respond to in writing Moses and Monotheism? So Lacan returns in his 1969-70 seminar L'envers de la psychanalyse to a question that has troubled psychoanalysis and cultural criticism ever since Freud's publication of Moses and Monotheism in 1939. Perhaps more than any other of his works, this final book in Freud's oeuvre raises questions not only about its meaning, but about what Freud meant in writing and publishing it - why he ended his career with a piece of such tenuous and tendentious cultural criticism which, even if it were true, it is implied, ought not to have been published. In Moses Freud grafted arguments and evidence from recent biblical scholarship onto several earlier moments in his own thinking in order to make two psycho-historical claims: first, that the Israelites, far from being grateful, had killed Moses after escaping from bondage in Egypt with his assistance. And secondly, that there was not one Moses, but two: the original Moses, an Egyptian follower of the monotheistic pharaoh Akhenaten, and the Semitic desert-dweller who replaced him after his murder, combining the more atavistic worship of a local volcano deity known by the letters YHVH with his original message, the rational knowledge of a single God. Although Freud's "historical novel," as he called it, seems to confirm and elaborate on the story of the Primal Horde from twenty-five years earlier in Totem and Taboo, the crucial difference is that this time the murder is not of the tyrannical and obscenely-enjoying "bad" father who keeps all jouissance to himself, but of the rational, liberating "good" father, who leads his children out from both their physical and moral slavery.[1] Many readers have been troubled by Freud's last articulation of the agency of the father, insofar as it appears both to rob Judaism of the claim to have uniquely invented monotheism and to reinforce the Pauline superannuation of Judaism as mere foreshadowing, insufficiently dialecticized, of the Christian redemptive sublation of death via resurrection. [2] Moreover, given the dark times of its publication in the late 30s, Freud's Moses seemed almost perversely to lend weight to the familiar antisemitic accusation that the Jews had themselves murdered their (and the world's) savior. [3] Much of the copious recent criticism of Moses approaches these difficulties by historicizing its scene of writing in various, often compelling, ways, understanding it as a product of its situation on the verge of the destruction of European Jewry or as a symptom of Freud's personal ambivalence about both Judaism and his father. [4] Yet even the more sympathetic of these contextualizations tend to take an apologetic tone, seeming to feel called on to explain Freud's book as the product of some deeper ambivalence or contradiction, personal or cultural.
  2. Freud was not unaware that his evidence appeared paltry and that Moses might discomfit many readers, whether for the Pauline or Lamarckian strains in its reasoning; his frequent acknowledgments of the essay's faults shift in tone between apologetic defense and impatient dismissal. It is indeed with a certain bravado that he asserts that, far from requiring demonstration, his theory that pre-historical cultural events can be transmitted between individuals from generation to generation "almost carries the weight of a postulate" for psychoanalysis (SE 23:80). [5] Finally, Freud is not so much concerned to defend his book on epistemological or historigraphical grounds as for its practical and technical efficacy:
  3. If we are clear in our mind that a procedure like ours of accepting what seems to us serviceable in the material presented to us and of rejecting what does not suit us . . . if we are clear that a technique of this kind can give no certainty that we shall arrive at the truth, then it may justly be asked why we are undertaking this work at all. The answer is an appeal to the work's outcome. If we greatly tone down the strictness of the requirements made upon a historico-psychological investigation, it will perhaps be possible to throw light on problems which have always seemed to deserve attention and which recent events have forced upon our observation anew. (SE 23: 105)

    Freud anticipates the question of "why Moses?"--why take the risk of dealing with such inflammatory material in such a speculative fashion?--by shifting from criteria of "certainty" and "truth" to those of "serviceablilty" and the "outcome" [Ergebnis]. Freud's emphasis on the book's performative rather than descriptive value, its result or effect--signals that the question of the significance of Moses and Monotheism must be considered not only as cultural criticism, but in clinical terms as well. What kind of "technique" does Freud have in mind here, and what is the relationship, more generally, between the techne of cultural criticism and that of psychoanalytic practice, the therapeutic interventions that make up the analyst's tools and methodologies? By taking up these problems in the company of Lacanian theory we may be in a better position to understand what Freud hoped to do in publishing such a speculative work with so many factual and theoretical "gaps" as his last work--a work that would inevitably be read as Freud's last will and testament. What does Freud's reading of Moses say that had not yet been articulated in psychoanalysis? In what sense was the Moses story in Freud's appropriation of it not just another cultural artifact that lent itself to psychoanalytic reading, but a kind of psychoanalytic act, something that, as Lacan's suggests, psychoanalysis needed to do to to conclude an unfinished aspect of its business?

  4. Lacan addresses the question of Freud's two Moses at length on two separate occasions in his seminar, first in 1960 in The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, and then again ten years later in his 1970 L'envers de la psychanalyse (roughly translated, "the seamy other side of psychoanalysis"). These two years of the seminar are the ones most centrally devoted to social issues--Seminar VII, on ethics, and Seminar XVII on the "four discourses" that underlie the political and institutional landscapes of capitalist society and its organs of induction (the discourses of the Master and the University), as well as their "other sides"(the critical discourse of the Hysteric and the transformative discourse of the Analyst). In both seminars Lacan turns to Freud's account of Moses as an exemplary act of analytic intervention aimed at the fantasies that underlie culture--as an act, I want to argue, of precisely what Freud calls construction. Lacan's comments on Moses and Monotheism suggest that we need to consider it not only as another of Freud's applications of psychoanalysis to cultural criticism (as part of a Freudian sub-genre often taken to be of only minor importance to theoretical and practical psychoanalysis), but as a signal contribution to the psychoanalytic enterprise as a whole--cultural, theoretical, and most importantly clinical.

  5. But why have so many readers taken Freud to task for his "wild" cultural interpretation and his bad taste or bad timing in Moses and Monotheism, while so few have taken Freud seriously when he calls his book a construction, as he does on numerous occasions in the text, using a term for a technique that he had been using and refining for the previous twenty years and that he was in the process of giving its definitive articulation at precisely the moment of thinking through Moses?[6] Freud's conception, writing, and publication of "Constructions in Analysis" neatly divides the composition of the two halves of Moses and Monotheism. In his diary for 1937, Freud wrote that he had finished the second of the three essays that would make up Moses on August 8th, although in a letter to Marie Bonaparte he expressed some dissatisfaction with his thinking on the topic of Moses so far (Diary 33).[7] On the next page of his diary, Freud recorded the following note: "Thurs. 23/9 Idea about delusion and construction"(34); in December of 1937, Freud published the essay "Constructions in Analysis" in the Internationale +Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, in which he explored this relationship of delusion and contruction--the linkage that completed his thinking on the technique. Freud returned to his book on Moses the following April, just before the escape to England, writing to Jones that Moses remained "a ghost not laid" for him, and only completed the book after emigrating to London, in July 1938 (Diary 240). Thus Freud's characterization of Moses and Monotheism as a "construction" should be taken literaly, in the precise clinical sense that he announced in "Constructions in Analysis." This is to suggest that, on the one hand, we can understand Freud's writing of "Constructions in Analysis" as the key clinical discovery that allowed him to complete Moses and Monotheism as the final statement in his work of cultural criticism. On the other, it is as if the experiment with cultural construction he initiated in the first half of Moses was the thinking that made possible Freud's final clinical aperçu, as a way beyond the apparent deadends of psychoanalytic interpretation. Whereas both cultural and clinical analysis must begin with the piecemeal work of interpretation, Freud's last clinical essay presents construction as a way to act directly on the real embedded in fantasy--the "bedrock" of castration and penis envy, as Freud figured it in "Analysis Terminable and Interminable," the recalcitrant residue of trauma that cannot be cathartically expunged or dissolved by interpretation.
  6. At least as early as his analysis of the Wolf-Man in 1918, Freud refers to an analytic method he calls "construction," a technique which is at first not fully distinguished from interpretation. Based on the Wolf-Man's dreams and symptoms, Freud "constructs" an account of the famous primal scene in which the Wolf-Man as a young child witnessed his parents performing "coitus a tergo"--a scene whose truth or "psychic reality," according to Freud, is indifferent to the distinction between reality and fantasy. In his reflections on his use of this "construction," Freud writes that he is "anxious not to be misunderstood"; the narrative of this traumatic primal scene is neither an arbitrary confection that the analyst "could have put . . . into the patient's head" nor is it a representation with empirical truth value:
  7. It does not necessarily follow that these previously unconscious recollections are always true. They may be; but they are often distorted from the truth, and interspersed with imaginary elements [phantasierten Elementen], just like the so-called screen memories which are preserved spontaneously. All I mean to say is this: scenes, like this one . . . are as a rule not reproduced as recollections, but have to be divined - constructed - gradually and laboriously from an aggregate of indications. (SE 17:51/Studienausgabe VIII: 169)

    There are two points to be made here. First, the ambiguity in Freud's formulation of the locus of agency is crucial--is it the analyst or the analysand who does the constructing? Freud's argument is that "construction" cannot be understood as the representation of a repressed memory--something that the analyst could coax the analysand to remember through the evidence of symptoms, dreams, associations, or other distorted elements. Nor should we think of it as merely the product of the analyst's imagination (and psychoanalytic narratival assumptions) that is imposed onto the analysand via suggestion. Rather, the analysand and analysand together "divine" [erraten] the narrative, approaching it as a third element that enters their discourse between them, and as if coming from outside.[8] Secondly, we should pay heed to Freud's description of the discursive material on which the construction is based as "indications" [Andeutungen]--that is, indices of another scene, traces not necessarily connected to it through the rhetorico-logical modes of unconscious distortion: condensation (or metaphor) and displacement (or metonymy).[9] The construction is not a mimetic or symbolic representation of the primal scene, nor is the scene it points to a lost biographical episode subject to empirical evaluation, an historical event existing prior to the construction and whose contents marks the origin of symptom formation. The "aggregate" [Summe] of the indexical elements that make up the construction contains what Freud will call in "Constructions" and Moses "fragments of historical truth": bits of representational detritus without representational value, "pieces" not symbols of a truth that comes as if divined, from beyond both analyst and analysand (e.g., SE 23: 268).

  8. That is, the construction bundles together elements that refer immediately, without the swerves of rhetorical figuration, to the fantasy embodied in the primal scene, as raw fragments seemingly torn directly from the real. The construction is made up of shards of language that don't signify a semiotic content, but embody a strange jouissance, one that belongs to neither member of the analytic dyad, but is the jouissance of the Other. That this fantasmatic construction of the primal scene is the vehicle, in Lacan's expression, in Seminar XI, of an "extimate" jouissance--one in the child but not of the child--becomes evident in Freud's essay, "A Child is Being Beaten," published the year after the Wolf-Man case. Freud comments there that the analysis of the common fantasy "a child is being beaten" invariably reveals a middle phase that can be formulated "I am being beaten by my father." This moment of the fantasy, Freud writes, is an analytic construction; although it never appears or is recalled as a discrete scenario, it is "the most important and the most momentous [level of the fantasy] of all": "But we may say of it in a certain sense that it has never had a real existence. It is never remembered, it has never succeeded in becoming conscious. It is a construction of analysis, but it is no less necessary on that account" (SE 17:185).[10] It is not simply that the truth of the fantasy "a child is being beaten" is a pleasurable-traumatic hence repressed memory of being beaten by the father or even a hidden masochistic desire to have been beaten by him, too deeply repressed to ever be recalled. Rather, such a scene has, Freud indicates, a logical necessity in the structure of fantasy, which acts as a screen both blocking and encysting another desire; as Slavoj Zizek points out, "the fact that this phase 'never had a real existence,' of course, indicates its status as the Lacanian real" (Plague 36). The "real" of this intermediary moment of the fantasy is the jouissance of the father, who is staged as enjoying the act of beating, and whose jouissance supports this fantasy, and the subject's desire in relation to it.[11] Moreover, this logical moment of the fantasy's "construction" leads Freud to the theory of what he calls primal fantasy [Urphantasien]--fantasy that is unconscious as such, perhaps even inherited from one's parents or ancestors, and which provides the originary template for the unconscious structure of the subject. As Laplanche and Pontalis point out, this notion of an original fantasy is linked with a specific content: the fantasy of origins--sexual, ontological, indeed cultural.[12] For Freud, the scene of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt is just such a fantasy of origins, from slavery to freedom, nationhood, organized cultic monotheism, the inhabitation of a promised land. Such a scene of origination ex nihilo lies at the heart of the fantasy that Western Civilization has about itself, and Freud's re-construction of that fantasy in Moses and Monotheism attempts to directly act upon or rewrite it, to insert a gap in place of its unary signifier. For Lacan, the technique of construction is conceived as both a version of fantasy and as acting on fantasy, and the traumatic fragment of jouissance distilled in the object it contains, rather than as a form of interpretation that traces the signfier's declension through the diplacements and condensations in the unconscious: for Freud to act on the Moses story is to work on the originary fantasy/the fantasy of origins of the West. Just as unconscious desire and its interpretations are "structured like a language," so both the primal encounter with the Other's jouissance and its later constructions, we could say, are structured like a fantasy. That is, construction must be conceived in radical opposition to interpretation as Freud's attempt to encounter the real of fantasy, beyond the endless circulations of the unconscious signifier.
  9. The idea of construction reappears in Freud's case history of the homosexual girl a few years later, but it is not until the last years of his life that Freud fully theorizes construction as a clinical technique distinct from interpretation and strangely aligned with delusion. In "Constructions in Analysis," Freud begins with a rejoinder to the familiar accusation against psychoanalysis, that it is irrefutable, operating according to a "heads I win, tails you lose" logic in which the analyst's interpretation is always correct, since the patient's protest against it is understood as a sign of resistance that merely confirms its truth (SE 23: 257).[13] Freud responds to this charge by clarifying the distinction between the two aspects of psychoanalytic work: interpretation, which involves following an isolated symbolic element along an associative path determined by the discourse of the unconscious (and where, it is implied, a reading could rightly be rejected as "wrong"), and construction, in which the analyst fabricates an entire narrative, complete with primal scene and fantasy, and presents the analysand with it in all its jarringly crude literalness. Freud's example of a construction is an almost grotesquely generic and clichéd psychoanalytic explanation: "'up to your nth year you regarded yourself as the sole and unlimited possessor of your mother; then came another baby and brought you grave disillusionment . . . etc." (SE 23: 261). A construction is an analytic coup in which the otherwise taciturn analyst surprises (perhaps even embarrasses) the analysand by suddenly becoming overly talkative, providing what seems to be a too-formulaic, too-synthetic explanation of his or her symptoms and anxiety. The analysand may reluctantly accept the construction as plausible, embrace it as an authentic revelation, or reject it as a shocking imposition and misconstrual.
  10. None of these responses, however, have the slightest consequences for the process of the analysis. The value of the construction lies in its therapeutic efficacy rather than its fidelity to a hypothetical historical event: the construction is not true or false, but must be understood in terms of its results, the extent to which it leads to an alteration in the analysand's symptoms, dreams, or transference (decrease or increase, disappearance or displacement). Freud writes, "the analyst finishes a piece of construction and communicates it to the subject of the analysis so that it may work upon him" (SE 23:260; emph. added).[14] Hence whether the analysand enthusiastically agrees with the construction or firmly repudiates it is equally (and literally) immaterial, and each response is just as likely as the other to be a defensive reaction that signals the construction's failure. An interpretation may indeed by right or wrong, but, to use Austin's terminology, a construction can only be considered "felicitous" or "infelicitous"--it either "happily" makes something happen, or, unhappily, it doesn't.[15]
  11. The construction is the most material element of psychoanalytic work insofar as it attempts to instantiate and make present the cause of the subject's desire, to re-present rather than represent the cyst of trauma concealed in the heart of fantasy, the residues of which cling to the analysand's speech (as what Lacan calls lalangue) or are insistently traced by his or her circumlocutions at the level of the signifier. The construction is not an interpretation of the complex of unconscious significations in the symbolic order, but more like a re-citation or re-quotation of some element in the analysand's phonetic patterns and signifiers, a narratival confection that aims not at understanding the real, but at materializing it.[16] Freud repeatedly refers to this as the "element of historical truth" at the heart of the construction; rather than attempting to convince the patient of the counter-factuality of his beliefs, the analyst recognizes their "kernel of truth." The work of construction involves, Freud writes, "liberating the fragment of historical truth from its distortions and its attachments to the actual present day and in leading it back to the point in the past to which it belongs" (SE 23:268). The "fragment" of truth preserved in the neurotic's fantasy and the psychotic's delusion and "liberated" in the construction is something that is fundamentally missing from the past: it is the residue of the traumatic exclusion of a thing or event from the symbolic order, an exclusion that, insofar as it is constitutive of the subject and its fantasy, cannot be sutured or restored. In "leading it back to the point in the past to which it belongs" the analyst is not completing a story that was missing some crucial detail of plot or character, but restoring it as lacking, as a discursive gap in which the real momentarily emerges as the abyss that itself contitutes the traumatic truth of the subject. Moreover, by hitting upon some non-symbolic fragment encased in the analysand's language, the analyst is intervening in the temporality of the subject: not only in the mnemic traces of the past inscribed in the discourse of the unconscious, but in the gaps which mark where something did not fully occur, and which as such inform the subject's experience of temporality. We will return to the question of the construction's temporality in the next section.
  12. Although Freud had early on linked construction with fantasy, the connection that enabled his final account of the technique was that with psychotic delusion, as we saw in his diary entry. Freud writes, "The delusions of patients appear to me to be the equivalents of the constructions which we build up in the course of the analytic treatment" (SE 23: 268). Both the psychotic hallucination and the therapeutic construction, he continues, contain a "fragment of historical truth," both involve the emergence of a "fragment of reality" in the place where an element of subjective structure was originarily missing. Neither delusion nor construction has interpretive or mimetic verisimilitude, but each contains a "truth" that in Lacan's terms we can call a piece of the real: some strange residue of jouissance lodged in the psyche that makes it not equal to itself, fundamentally lacking something--not a "missing piece" whose restoration would allow for the suturing of a broken mnemic or associative chain, but a piece of non-signifying language that does not fit and can never be fully integrated into any symbolic narrative. [17]
  13. After having drawn this analogy between psychotic delusion and analytic construction (and recall that Freud ends his account of the psychotic Dr. Schreber by wondering whether there is more delusion in psychoanalytic theory or truth in Schreber's delusion), [18] Freud concludes the essay by proposing a further speculative connection between the individual's delusion (and, by extension, the analyst's construction) and the delusive constructions of larger social groups, indeed "mankind" as such:
  14. If we consider mankind as a whole and substitute it for the single human individual, we discover that it too has developed delusions which are inaccessible to logical criticism, and which contradict reality. If, in spite of this, they are able to exert an extraordinary power over men, investigation leads us to the same explanation as in the case of the single individual. They owe their power to the element of historical truth which they have brought up from the repression of the forgotten and primaeval past. (269)

    Just as both psychoanalysis and psychosis involve the manipulation of fragments of the real, bits of traumatically isolated "psychical reality," elements of "historical truth," so human history includes virtually psychotic "constructions" that are no less persistent and effective for being pure fabulations. The group can incorporate, and indeed is incorporated upon, delusions with enormous sway over human life--fantasies which we might call "cultural constructions," if we remove the sense of "debunkability" the expression usually carries, since, as Freud writes, these delusions are fundamentally "inaccessible to logical criticism." The constructions that underlie social formations and political discourse are not "ideology" in the weak sense of a fiction or illusion that we could distance ourselves from or be disabused of, but are more akin to Lacan's understanding of fantasy as a structure with three overlapping functions: 1) to prescribe and limit the specific possibilities of enjoyment (the conditions of the object); 2) to figure and conceal the categorical necessity of self-division and the subjection to the desire of the Other (the barring or castration of the subject); and 3) to both materialize and resist the constitutive impossibility of the social and sexual relationships (the radical disjunction and asymmetry between subject and object). Moreover, a corollary to Freud's argument in the last words of the essay on constructions--that culture is based on delusions that contain something real--would be that, just as an analyst may deploy a construction, hoping that it will have been efficacious for a particular subjective fantasy, Freud seems to be suggesting that it may also be possible to act on the group's fantasies, the fantasies that underlie its dominent discursive modality, by means of another such construction, to change some aspect of the primal fantasmatic scenario that organizes and limits culture. And this is precisely Freud's gamble in Moses and Monotheism: to attempt to hit on the real of fantasy with such a "cultural construction."

  15. As was suggested earlier, Freud's tone throughout Moses and Monotheism hesitates between the two senses of "apology," sometimes regretting the lacunae in his argument and at others seeming almost pugnacious in his defensiveness; these alternations circulate around his reference to the work as a construction:
  16. It must be admitted that this historical survey has gaps in it [historische Übersicht lückenhaft] and is uncertain at some points. But anyone who is inclined to pronounce our construction of primaeval history [Konstruktion der Urgeschichte] purely imaginary would be gravely under-estimating the wealth and evidential value of the material contained in it. Large portions of the past [Große Stücke der Vergangenheit], which have been linked together here into a whole, are historically attested. . . . Other portions have survived in excellent replicas. . . . There is nothing wholly fabricated in our construction, nothing which could not be supported on solid foundations. (SE 23:84; Kulturtheoretische 532; emph. added)

    If it is not as "history" but as a construction of history that Freud defends his book on Der Mann Moses: what is the difference? Despite the fact that his account is fragmentary and full of regrettable holes [lückenhaft] as cultural history, Freud insists that it contains "large pieces of past times"--Große Stücke der Vergangenheit: it is as if the gaps that riddle the project in its gesture of historical overview are supplemented or surplanted by the pieces of the past itself that Freud has gathered together with elements of mimetic simulacra [Repliken] and "constructed" into a story, as if the gaps in the narrative mark the precise points where some bits of "bygone times" have materialized. In asserting that there is nothing "wholly fabricated" in his "construction," Freud implies that it has not been made up of whole cloth, but perhaps stitched together from fragments of the past: that is, assembled but not synthesized, still fragmentary, and with its sutures plainly in evidence. As a construction, it must still stand by itself, based on "solid foundations" of and as technique, rather than those more tenuous ones of historical fidelity. And the criteria for judging the success of that technique are ultimately more clinical than critical.

  17. The editors of the Standard Edition point out that Freud's speculations about cultural delusion in the final paragraph of "Constructions in Analysis" reflect his discussion of "the emergence of the idea of a single great god" in Moses and Monotheism, where Freud writes,
  18. an idea such as this [of one god] has a compulsive character: it must be believed. To the extent to which it is distorted, it may be described as a delusion; in so far as its brings a return of the past, it must be called the truth. Psychiatric delusions, too, contain a small fragment of truth and the patient's conviction extends over from this truth on to its delusional wrappings. (SE 23:130)

    Monotheism is at once a mass delusion and the repository of something truthful, some "fragment of truth" that forms the kernel of the obsessive behavior that for Freud characterizes religious practice. But the "truth" of monotheism is not a question of "believing" in the existence and singularity of God, understood either as an intellectual choice or a leap of faith beyond rationality; rather, there is a "compulsive character" of monotheism: "it must be believed" [sie muß Glauben finden (575)]. It is not in the doctrine that it commands, but in the fact of the commandment itself, in its compulsive character--reiterative, insistent, unreasonable, mastering--that its truth lies.

  19. In June 1937, while he was working on the first half of Moses and shortly before writing "Constructions in Analysis," Freud wrote "Analysis Terminable and Interminable," where he returns to the problems of the time and timing of analysis, in an apocalyptic tone. Freud re-assesses the outcome of his analysis of the "Wolf-Man" (1918), where he had first attempted to accelerate the interpretive and clinical work by summarily fixing a date for its conclusion (a procedure that no doubt influenced Lacan's practice of the so-called "short session").[19] The success or failure of such clinical manipulations (or, in Freud's expression, "blackmailing devices"), Freud writes, are entirely a question of timing, of the precise moment in which the analyst acts: "it is effective provided that one hits the right time for it" (SE 23: 218). The analyst must carefully calculate the time for the intervention, but "hitting" it also requires some luck; we might even say a "lucky break." Moreover, such clinical interruptions or punctuations intervene in subjectivity at the level of temporality through the logic of nachträglichkeit or "deferred action," insofar as they happen in a particular moment that reinflects not only the unfolding history of the analysis but subjective temporality as such, by rescuing some traumatic "event" from its mere virtuality, and retroactively allowing it to have happened. The question of "timing" thus is crucial for construction, not only in terms of the strategically best moment to intervene, but in two other respects: on the one hand, construction acts on what was pre-originarily past, revoking a law or erasing a symbolic structure whose necessity was written in the unconscious as if in stone; while on the other, a construction brings into existence something that otherwise would never have "happened," not merely in the sense of uncovering a repressed part of subjective history, but bringing it into being--"creating" it, we might say, as if ex nihilo.
  20. Such a temporal intervention is, of course, impossible--it cannot function within the parameters of logical possibility; it involves moreover an encounter with the real which Lacan defines precisely as "the impossible," that is, as the trauma left in the symbolic order when its functional necessity momentarily and contingently breaks down. Not only does such an intervention require luck, but the kernel of fantasy at which it aims is itself constituted as the chance encounter with trauma that Lacan calls (after Aristotle) the tuché, the accident. For Lacan, tuché is the interruption of the automaton, the automatic self-reiteration of the symbolic order's regular functioning, the moment when it happens to fail, where some purely contingent irruption derails its normative operations with something strictu sensu impossible, and the vertiginous gap at the heart of primal fantasy momentarily emerges. [20] In this sense, "bad timing" is not only a question of the dangerous clumsiness or unluckiness of the analyst--Lacan writes that it "can be fatal to the conclusion towards which [the analysand's] discourse was being precipitated, or can even fix a misunderstanding or misreading in it" (Écrits 99) - but is constitutive of the relationship between necessity and impossibility in the structure of the unconscious. Recall that, despite the fact that Freud withheld publication of Moses precisely because he feared that its appearance at that particularly historical moment would further jeopardize the delicate position of the largely Jewish Austrian psychoanalytic organization, it is precisely for the untimeliness of his book that Freud is frequently reproached: how could Freud release such a book at such a time? It is my contention that the timing of Freud's book is in every way intentional, that it is in fact precisely timed as an act of bad timing, as an intervention whose efficacity or "outcome" (Ergebnis) depends on its untimely irruption onto the historical scene.

  21. How does Lacan understand the relationship between interpretation and the analyst's non-interpretive intervention? A key concept that Lacan introduces into analytic practice is that of scansion. To "scan" the analytic work (like "scanning" a poem into its metrical units) is to reconfigure the flow of its significations by strategically inserting a space, rupture, or obstacle into the discourse of the unconscious and its interpretive productions, as a kind of punctuation mark that reinflects and redirects the analytic work.[21] To scan a session by abruptly breaking it off or by breaking into the silence of the analytic listening with a sound, comment, or interpretation is both to reinflect its signification and to rearrange the elements of the fantasy that underlies it. In "The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis" (1956), Lacan characterizes the analyst as a kind of "scribe" who, by listening to the analysand's discourse, guarantees its value for the Other; the analyst must, however, transcend the role of a secretary receiving unconscious dictation by actively intervening in that discourse at certain moments, and taking on the role of editor or redactor, who manipulates the text he transcribes.[22] Lacan compares the moment of scansion when the analyst cuts the session short to the editing of an ancient text:
  22. It is a fact, which can be plainly seen in the study of the manuscripts of symbolic writings, whether it is a question of the Bible or of the Chinese canonicals, that the absence of punctuation in them is a source of ambiguity. The punctuation, once inserted, fixes the meaning; changing the punctuation renews or upsets it; and a faulty punctuation amounts to a change for the worse. (Écrits 98-99)

    The unconscious is like a text without punctuation written in unfamiliar characters and a foreign language, a sacred or revealed text, moreover, in the sense that the discourse it speaks comes from the outside, from the Other, and bears the marks of its strange desires and cruel imperatives. The interpretive work of analysis is not to translate it so much as to rearticulate it, to respeak and repunctuate it components: here a stop or blockage separating two morphemes or phonemes is elided, there an associative connection is severed ; or perhaps an isolated and intransigent signifier in the unconscious stream, the pole star of a discursive constellation or "complex," is put into significative motion, and another falls out of circulation, as a newly fixed and unspeakable center of gravitation.

  23. The goal of such a therapeutic intervention is to get beyond the potentially infinite proliferation of trivial (albeit "significant") signifiers that the analysand inevitably produces as the defensive tactic or screen that Lacan calls "blah-blah-blah," to break through the wall-like structure that language erects, and directly approach the fragment of unsymbolized trauma that it conceals, the little bit of the real that forms the kernel of a fundamental fantasy. For Lacan, this fantasy is not a daydream or wish-fulfillment in which the subject imagines itself as achieving full satisfaction by obtaining the object of its desire. Rather, the fundamental fantasy--equivalent to Freud's notion of a "primal fantasy"--is an unconscious representation of the basic configuration of the subject vis à vis the traumatic object that causes its desire; were such a scenario to emerge as fully conscious, it would elicit only terror or disgust. The object lodged in fantasy, the object-lost-as-such which Lacan calls objet a, is the residue of the jouissance that the subject suffers in the maternal body, a surplus that persists after its originary cancellation by its entry into the symbolic order of language. The objet a protrudes anamorphically into the interstices of the symbolic world of the subject, causing desire, dissembling the irrecusable fact of castration, collecting as symptoms, and distorting the Cartesian coordinates of subjectivity. The function of the fundamental fantasy is to hypostatize the impossibility itself of the subject directly encountering this traumatic object in a scenario that, we might say, both screens and strokes it, and in the process, establishing the conditions of the particular formations of the unconscious that mediate between a subject and the Other. In his seminar of the Seventies, Lacan graphs this quadratic structure as what he calls "the discourse of the master":[23]
  24. The relationship between the subject and this object is organized on the lower half of the diagram as the fantasy which establishes the ways in which the subject negotiates the specific trauma of its disjunctiveness or "castration" as well as the universal trauma of the impossibility of a fully intersubjective social relationship (a strictly logical impossibility correlative with the impossibility of the sexual relationship which derives from Lacan's claim that the Other, the symbolic order as such, "does not exist," or, is fundamentally incomplete). Hence, fantasy not only defines the scenarios in which the subject's little bit of jouissance is contained and the abyss of castration is sutured, but also underlies the possible modalities of social discourse left over from the impossibility of a full intersubjective "I-Thou" relationship, thus forming the key theoretical link between the individual and the group in Lacan's thought, as well as between the "clinical" (intrasubjective) and "cultural" (intersubjective) aspects of Freud's work. If the pathologies that underlie and mediate between the symbolic orders of the subject and society result from an impasse in jouissance, a particular sclerosis or occlusion of the discourse of the Other, the end of analysis is marked by what Lacan calls "traversal" or the pass, where the object and S1 and the subject and S2 undergo a fundamental rotation or transposition in their relative orientation that allows jouissance to flow once again. It is only through the production of such a shift by means of the construction or re-construction of a fundamental fantasy that psychoanalysis can hope to pierce the screen of its own significations. Otherwise, it is left with no other role than that of interpretor, which ultimately is to collaborate with the ego's defenses, reproducing its historical alibis with explanations that cannot pass beyond the intrasigent jouissance at the foundations of individual fantasy and cultural ideology. [24]

  25. Hence the ultimate goal of Lacanian analysis is not to disabuse the subject of his or her fantasy, to "debunk" it by putting it into contact with the reality principle and by retrieving a repressed memory or revealing a hidden wish, but to reconfigure this fundamental fantasy in which the object-cause is embedded, to reorient the subject within its own fantasy. Scansion and construction serve the ultimate (perhaps unattainable) goal of Lacanian analysis, the so-called "traversal of the fantasy," in which the subject identifies with the traumatic object-cause of its desire:[25]

    Early in his experience of hysteria and obsessive neurosis, Freud realized that his original strategy of "enlightenment" or making-conscious was no match for the unconscious, which could maintain the full pressure of repression despite what appeared to be successful remembering, interpreting, and understanding. The phenomena of transference that emerged as obstacles and lures with which the analyst must reckon presented both evidence of the intrasigence of the fundamental fantasy and potent tools for its traversal. Lacan points out that the key which Freud discovered to transference is the fact of "the desire of the analyst": not the analysand's love for the analyst, but the centrality of the question of what the analyst desires. The gap introduced by scansion reiterates and insinuates the question of this desire: why did the analyst interrupt the session at that particular point? where did that interpretation come from? what did I say? what does he want (me to say)?

  26. Moreover, if the function of scansion in general is to make an opening in which the subject may interrogate and ultimately take responsibility for his or her desire (precisely as the desire of the Other), the particular aim of the construction is to bring the subject to encounter the traumatic object which embodies and causes that desire, and ultimately, in the extreme moment of "traversal," to come to identify with it. In Lacan's retranscription of Freud's famous declaration of the psychoanalytic imperative, Wo Es war, soll Ich werden, the subject must come to be "there" where "it," the residue of its jouissance, was. Rather than a mode of being, however, the subject-as-object suffers a process of de-ontologization that clears the way for it to act. Lacan's commentary on Moses and Monotheism helps us to understand Freud's book as an attempt at cultural scansion by means of a construction, as a "moment to conclude" psychoanalysis, in which Freud hazarded a last act of both deconstruction and reconstruction, a therapeutic intervention into the history of western culture that hopes to reinaugurate the work of traversing its fundamental fantasy. [26]

  27. Lacan discusses Moses and Monotheism in Seminar VII in relation to Freud's respect for, if not belief in, monotheism, and presents an account of the emergence of "the monotheistic message" as an event that not only changed the world forever after, but also, via nachträglichkeit, rewrites all of western history preceding it:
  28. The fact that Freud was an atheist doesn't make any difference. For the atheist that Freud was, if not necessarily for all atheists, the goal of the radical core of this message was of decisive value. On the left of this message, there are some things that are henceforth outdated, obsolete; they no longer hold beyond the manifestation of the message. On the right, things are quite different. (SVII: 172)

    Lacan argues that Freud understands monotheism as an intervention into a "pagan" world history permeated with noumenon, as the cancellation of the animate substance of a pantheism that "weaves human experience together" in an imaginary continuity and fundamentally sexual relationship of spirit and matter (SVII: 172). Hence Freud's interest in Moses does not lie in the Bible's supposed monotheistic "message," but in its effective history, its entry into and alteration of history before and after it by means not of its doctrine or belief systems, but via the structure and function of its letter, which forever separates spirit and matter. It is what Lacan calls "the goal [visée] of the radical core" at the heart of the message that interests Freud--the aim, end, the intention to act that is the animating kernel of its letter hidden within the message. The work of Moses is to introduce a new signifier into this animistic world, a signifier that will reconfigure the entire network of significations that preceded it--not as the addition of a new meaning to the world history of ideas, but as an act of punctuation, a spacing or gap like a comma or period that has the effect of radically transforming the function of an utterance and retroactively rewriting its entire direction. And if Moses was the first psychoanalyst to practice "cultural construction," to invent the possibility of a world ex nihilo, Freud's Moses and Monotheism attempts the mammoth task of continuing that invention by reasserting the cut introduced by monotheism into the world in order to traverse the scabrous fantasy of origins that accumulated around that cut.

  29. Lacan theorizes Freud's distinction between the two Moses, the "Egyptian" and the "Midianite," for his seminar:
  30. Moses the Egyptian is the Great Man, the legislator, the politician, the rationalist . . . it is he who chooses a small group of men and leads them through the test that will make them worthy to found a community based on his principles. . . . On the other hand, there is Moses the Midianite, the son-in-law of Jethro, whom Freud also calls the one from Sinai, from Horeb, and Freud teaches us that this one was confused with the other. It is this one who claims to have heard the decisive word emerge from the burning bush, the word that cannot be eluded, as Freud eludes it . . . "I am what I am." Or, in other words, a God who introduces himself as an essentially hidden God. This hidden God is a jealous God. . . . Moses the Midianite seems to pose a problem of his own--I would like to know whom or what he faced on Sinai . . . we will simply say at this point that the burning bush was Moses' Thing, and leave it there. In any case, we still have to calculate the consequences of that revelation. . . . And that's where things stand. We have the dissociation between the rationalist Moses and the inspired, obscurantist Moses, who is rarely ever discussed. (173-174)

    In Freud's account, the Egyptian Moses is the prophet of the monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten; his murder by the Israelite slaves whom he leads to freedom seems to anticipate the sacrificial death of Jesus, in what Lacan calls "Freud's strange Christocentrism" (176). As Lacan points out, Freud's argument is not only that this narrative is itself repeated over history, but that it instantiates the processes and structures of cultural transmission as such as the after-effects of this primal crime. In the figure of this Moses, Freud's narrative seems to take up the typological accounts of interpretation and history inaugurated by Saint Paul and fulfilled in Hegel, in which history entails the translation and fulfillment of the past - the Hebrew Bible becomes the "Old Testament" which always already pointed at the New Dispensation that vitiates its laws. In Freud's version of this meta-narrative of Culture as the death and rebirth of the past, the father's law (in this case, "the monotheistic message") is preserved and reiterated by the sons' very attempt to reject it. But there is something left over from this account, Lacan points out, something that refuses to be sublimated into Christian interpretive historiography: the fact of Moses the Midianite, the Moses of Revelation, who encounters the Burning Bush, the unbearable jouissance of das Ding, face to face on Mount Horeb before he is reincarnated in the place of the Egyptian Moses, who returns there to receive the law, and who replaces the rational Egyptian Moses. This Moses does not enter into the tradition of the Great Man and the transmission of the law that defines Western culture, nor does he disappear from psychoanalytic theory, but remains as the traumatic affect that gives the law its force.

  31. Hence for Lacan, the two Moses are figures of two faces of the superego that emerge in the wake of the primordial muder of the obscene Father, and remain as the two aspects of the Law in cultural history. On the one hand, Moses the Egyptian is the father of rationality, the father who says "no" to primitive paganism in the name of the Name - the nom-du-père, that is, the primordial singular signifier which anchors the unfolding and self-replication of the symbolic order. This is the normative superego as "ego-ideal," who regulates and limits the subject's jouissance via its fully symbolized incarnation: the phallus. On the other hand, there is Moses the Midianite: the trace of a primitive element that survives after the murder of the phallic father, and remains as an irritant and stimulus in the symbolic structures in which it is secreted, encased, virtually buried alive. This version of the superego is a manifestation of those elements of the drives that have survived symbolization, but are now stripped of their primeval jouissance, and act in the service of the law, as the pure force of will that prohibits enjoyment. As Slavoj Zizek writes,
  32. in Moses the father who is 'betrayed' and killed by his followers/sons is NOT the obscene primordial Father-Jouissance, but the very 'rational' father who embodies symbolic authority, the figure who personifies the unified rational structure of the universe (logos). Instead of the obscene primordial pre-symbolic father returning after his murder in the guise of its Name, of symbolic authority, we have now the symbolic authority (logos) betrayed, killed by his followers/sons, and then returning in the guise of the jealous and unforgiving superego figure of the God full of muderous rage ... The crucial point is that this God is NOT the same as the obscene primordial father-jouisseur: in contrast to the primordial father endowed by a knowledge of jouissance, the fundamental feature of this uncompromising God is that He says 'No!' to jouissance - it is a God possessed by a ferocious ignorance. ("Whither Oedipus")[27]

    Freud's construction in Moses and Monotheism involves the addition of a third version of the father to his previous two. The father first represented a single entity in Freud, an "oedipal" structure that restricted access to the mother and inserted the child into the paths of symbolic substitution; in Totem and Taboo, Freud divided this father into two: the original father of the primal horde, who kept all enjoyment to himself, and his return after his death in the inter- and intra-subjective symbolic agencies that perpetuated his prohibition of jouissance in social edicts, religious guilt, and neurotic symptomology. Now, in Moses, it is precisely this rational father who is murdered, the symbolic name-of-the-father, the Egyptian Moses of the logos; and this murder does not signal a return to the pre-symbolic jouissance of the originary father of the Primal Horde, but the emergence of a new father, who in fact radicalizes the ordinances of the symbolic father by his absolute and "ferocious" ignorance of the jouissance represented by the primal father and the pagan gods.

  33. Lacan's reading suggests that, by dividing Moses, the primal Father of monotheism, into two fathers, Freud's Moses opens up a fissure in Judeo-Christian culture, separating elements whose conflation has produced not only theoretical confusion but also social malaise, the figures Lacan will call le père (the father) and le pire (the worse); and the distinction between these two aspects of the superego had already appeared in Seminar I:
  34. The superego is an imperative . . . it is consonant with the register and idea of the law, that is to say, with the totality of the system of language, insofar as it defines the situation of man as such . . . on the other hand, one should also emphasize, as a counter to this, its senseless, blind character, of pure imperativeness and simple tyranny. . . . [T]he super-ego is at one and the same time the law and its destruction. . . . [T]he super-ego ends up by being identified with only what is most devastating, most fascinating, in the primitive experiences of the subject. It ends up being identified with what I call the ferocious figure, with the figures which we can link to primitive traumas the child has suffered, whatever these are. (Seminar 1: 102)

    By distinguishing the father who articulates the law and guarantees its symbolic transmission from the father whose pure will enforces the law, tyrannically, without justification or explanation, Freud creates a gap or empty space between them in the affective history of Moses in Western culture--a nihil around which the fundamental fantasy of origins may be reorganized and re-constructed. Freud's separation of the two paternal aspects opens up a "breathing space" for the subject of monotheism, allowing it to distinguish between the father's reasonable, socially justifiable ordinances and the unreasonable, "ferocious" demands that drive them to an extreme. Freud's account of the Moses story is a scansion of the primal scene of western culture that inserts a gap into its discursive production by means of a therapeutic "construction": a patently fictional narrative that is meant not to interpret its desire, but to get at the cause of its desire, to encounter and reconfigure the fantasy that is at its core, its fantasy of origins. As a "construction," Moses and Monotheism is not just another element in the string of psychoanalytic interpretations of culture that came before and after it, another attempt to get at the "historical truth" of western culture; rather, in calling a halt to his cultural analysis, Freud is attempting to reconfigure the structure of its fantasy.

  35. In the context of his discussion of Moses and Monotheism in Seminar XVII, Lacan presents a definition of Midrash and draws a parallel between it and the work of analysis:
  36. Midrach . . . s'agit d'un rapport à l'écrit soumis à de certaines lois qui nous intéressent éminemment. En effet, comme je vous l'ai dit, il s'agit de se placer dans l'intervale d'un certain rapport entre l'écrit et une intervention parlée qui y prend appui et s'y réfère. L'analyse tout entière, j'entends la technique analytique, peut, d'une certaine façon, élucider cette référence, à être considérée comme un jeu--entre guillemets--d'interprétation. Le terme est employé à tort et à travers depuis que l'on nous parle de conflit des interprétations, par exemple--comme s'il pouvait y avoir conflit entre les interprétations. Tout au plus les interprétations se complètent, elles jouent précisément de cette référence. Ce qui importe ici, c'est ce que je vous ai dit la dernière fois, le falsum, avec l'ambiguïté qu'autour de ce mot, peut s'établir la chute du faux, j'entends du contraire du vrai. A l'occasion, ce faux d'interprétation peut même avoir sa portée de déplacer le discours. (SXVII: 156-57)

    Like Midrash, analytic technique follows certain interpretive rules, vis à vis the relationship between the written word (whose unconscious traces are reflected in the symptom, dream, or parapraxis) and the spoken intervention - the rabbi or analyst's interpretation or construction. Like Midrashic readings of biblical texts, multiple, even apparently contradictory readings, may exist side by side without vitiating each other. Indeed, even the patently counter-factual interpretation--that is, a construction--may lead to "la chute du faux," the downfall of the false, or the traversal of the fantasy. As Freud writes in "Constructions in Analysis," quoting Polonius, "our bait of falsehood had taken a carp of truth" (SE 23: 262). And occasionally the effect of this "false interpretation" is literally to displace discourse, to initiate a shift from one fundamental discursive structure to another. In this sense, the construction does not rewrite the primal fantasy, but alters the subject's position in it, shifts the orientation of the fundamental terms.

  37. Not only does Lacan align analytic interpretation and construction with the protocols of biblical exegesis; ultimately, the work of the reader--whether hermeneut or analyst--partakes of the logic of monotheistic creation ex nihilo. Lacan frequently call himself a "creationist" and warn his audience to beware of the scientistic lures of "evolutionary" thinking. The opposition first of all is between an Aristotelian notion of the eternity of the universe of matter and the Biblical account of creation ex nihilo:
  38. The idea of creation is cosubstantial with your thought. You cannot think, no one can think, except in creationist terms. What you take to be the most familiar model of your thought, namely evolutionist, is with you, as with all your contemporaries, a form of defense, of clinging to religious ideals, which prevent you from seeing what is happening in the world around you. But it is not because you, like everyone else, whether you know it or not, are caught up in the notion of creation, that the Creator is in a clear position for you. (Seminar VII: 126)

    The evolutionisms of both Aristotle and Darwin involve a timeless infinity of matter that, although in constant motion and metamorphosis, is also constantly becoming more thoroughly symbolized, increasingly penetrated by human knowledge, a cosmos ever more fully mapped onto earthly coordinates. These assumptions underlying evolutionism, however, make it a fundamentally theological system insofar as the world we see in the image of the human mind is ultimately more fully permeated by spirit, as merely the reflection of our own "enlightened" rationality. The idea of creation is "atheistic," in the sense that it involves a world that has been emptied of all theism, a world for which the gods are dead, a world that is both missing something and which bears within it something extra, something foreign to it. Biblical creation is of course a linguistic act, but it is not an act of symbolization, but rather of de-symbolization: creation no doubt allows for symbolization to occur in its wake, but its primary gesture is the creation of a void, a "nihil" around which the world of things and symbols accretes.

  39. For what is creation ex nihilo, Lacan asks, but the introduction of a gap into the world? And what is Freud's division of Moses into two, but another such introduction of a gap, a nothing, a spacing--an act of construction ex nihilo? Just as the potter Heidegger describes in his essay "Das Ding" makes his jug, a prototypical "thing," by fashioning it around a hole, a "nothing" that was not there until he began, so the biblical act of creation is the articulation of a surplus and a lack. There is a well-known midrash that asks, why does the Torah tell us that on the seventh day of creation God finished working (Genesis 2:2)? Didn't God complete the universe on the sixth day, and devote the seventh to rest? The rabbinic response is that God still needed to create rest on the seventh day; the world was not fully "made" until God inserted a moment of emptiness into it, a moment when the symbolically invested world literally stops working. The gap in time constituted by the sabbath is the nothing around which the rest of the week circulates, the temporal punctuation mark that brings historical time into being and into human consciousness. For Lacan, the world that emerges ex nihilo is one for which God is dead-as-such, always already (re)born from his pre-original assassination by the subject of historical time, and always bearing the trace of the primitive jouissance that emerges in that rift in the symbolic universe. The Other, Lacan insists in his later seminars, doesn't exist: there is always something missing from the symbolic order, a gap where a signifier has dropped out, and where the plus-de-jouir that is left over, le reste by which the monotheistic universe is always both (x)-1 and (x) +1. Despite the despairing tone of "Analysis Terminable and Interminable," Freud also has recourse there to the language of "creation" to describe the effects of analysis: "Is it not precisely the claim of our theory that analysis produces a state that never does arise spontaneously in the ego and that this newly created state [dessen Neuschöpfung] constitutes the essential difference between a person who has been analysed and a person who has not?"(SE 23: 227; emph. added). Freud's separation of the two Moses is neither a debunking of Jewish mythology nor a repetition of Christian typology, but an act of creation ex nihilo, an act that does not "interpret" cultural ideology as much as construct cultural fantasy, attempting to hit upon the fantasmatic object and reconfigure cultural discourse around it.
  40. In the years intervening between his two major discussions of Moses and Monotheism, Lacan recast Freud from the position of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt--a figure that Freud fashioned for himself during his "exodus" from Nazi Austria, and that became a central part of the Freudian hagiographia ever since--to Moses leading the Israelites to the verge of the promised land:
  41. The status of the unconscious, which, as I have shown, is so fragile on the ontic plane, is ethical. In his thirst for truth, Freud says, Whatever it is, I must go there, because, somewhere, this unconscious reveals itself. . . . Of course, this led us to many other things in the field in which we were taken by this initial approach, by the discontinuity constituted by the fact that one man, a discoverer, Freud, said, This is the country where I shall take my people. (Lacan, Seminar XI: 33)

    In Lacan's prosopopoeia of Freud as Moses leading his people into the promised land, the Freudian imperative wo Es war, soll Ich werden, "where it was I shall come to be," not only signals psychoanalysis' ethical dedication to the truth of the unconscious, but also the special status in that search of a call that must be situated in a religious discourse--a field to which Freud attributed neither ethics nor truth, but the radical creation of a signifier ex nihilo. By putting Freud in the position of Moses in the wilderness, Lacan not only casts him as a heroic pioneer blazing the way into the undiscovered country of the unconscious, but also as the prophet who follows an irrecusable imperative that points him to a goal from which he is forever barred. The ethicality of Freud's discovery involves the encounter with a certain heteronomy that determines the disjunction between "knowing" and "being" that Moses embodies. The place of the Es towards which Freud and Lacan after him directs us is not a land that flows with milk and honey where the subject could settle and flourish, but a Canaan torn by competing prehistoric drives, caught between the cruel imperatives of the superego and the imaginary colonialism of the ego. It remains a "there" not fully known, an enigmatic gnosis never fully possessed, but nevertheless the object-cause of a transcendental ethics. Like Moses, whose quest to enter the promised land came to grief on a rock in the desert--"and Moshe lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice" (Num. 20:11}--so for Freud psychoanalysis is condemned to founder on the "bedrock" of castration anxiety and penis envy: "at no other point in one's analytic work does one suffer more from an oppressive feeling that all one's repeated efforts have been in vain, and from a suspicion that one has been 'preaching to the winds'" (SE 23: 252).

  42. In its position as Freud's last major text, Moses and Monotheism functions as the denouement of psychoanalysis rather than its summation or extension: an act of "unknotting" or cutting short that forces us to reconsider our assumptions about the relationship between the descriptive power, therapeutic efficacy, and social implications of psychoanalysis. Indeed, the "cultural," "clinical," and "theoretical" aspects of Freud's work have overlapped and synergistically combined from its beginnings, as Freud's attention pivoted between theoretical syntheses of caes histories and the re-dialectization of theory in relation to culture. And whereas Moses and Monotheism has been received as a more or less powerful or flawed work of cultural criticism that extends the theory of the subject to reflections on the nature and history of the group, its singularity lies in its attempt to unfold and enact the cultural implications not only of psychoanalytic interpretation, but also of the technical and practical strategies discovered by psychoanalysis. Lacan's remarks on Moses imply that Freud's book should be read as intervention in the history of western civilization at the level of its originary fantasy --its fantasy of monotheistic origins--rather than as a historical or even mythical account of those origins. Moses and Monotheism is a construction in Freud's methodological sense of the word, and as such, it constitutes a scansion in the fifty-year long session that was Freud's clinical and critical analysis of western civilization.


  1. On Moses and Monotheism as constituting a third account of the father, beyond those of Oedipus and the Primal Horde, see Zizek, "Whither Oedipus," and Michel Lapeyre. Back

  2. As Freud writes, "The killing of Moses by his Jewish people . . . thus becomes an indispensible part of our construction, an important link between the forgotten event of primaeval times and its later emergence in the form of the monotheist religions. . . . If Moses was this first Messiah, Christ became his substitute and successor, and Paul could exclaim to the peoples with some historical justification: 'Look! The Messiah has really come: he has been murdered before your eyes!' Then, too, there is a piece of historical truth in Christ's resurrection, for he was the resurrected Moses and behind him the returned primal father of the primitive horde" (SE 23: 89-90). Back

  3. Freud first withheld publication of the complete text of Moses because of historical circumstances (the possible consequences for the [largely Jewish] Vienna psychoanalytic community), and then published it, again because of a specific historical situation [the 1938 invasion of Austria) and personal events [exile to England]: "I had scarcely arrived in England before I found the temptation to make knowledge I had held back accessible to the world" (SE 23: 103). Back

  4. For the best examples of such criticism, see Yerushalmi and Boyarin. Back

  5. Cf. SE 23: 27 fn. 2. On the Lamarckism of Moses and Monotheism, see Yerushalmi 30-33 and 87-90. Back

  6. Freud refers to his book as a "construction" in SE 23: 29, 49, 81, 84, 89, 103, 121, 131; he uses the term "reconstruction," which appears to be synonymous with construction, in his essay "Constructions in Analysis" in SE 23: 33, 41, 93, 130. Back

  7. Quoted in The Diary of Sigmund Freud, 221. Back

  8. Lacan describes analytic work as "une collaboration reconstructive avec celui qui est dans la position de l'analysant" (SXVII: 100, emphasis added). Back

  9. See the extraordinary construction (although not characterized as such) fabricated on the basis of the Wolf-Man's dream by Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok, which they stress is not to be understood in terms of rhetorical transformation. Back

  10. Cf. Lacan's discussion of this second moment of the fantasy as a "construction" in which the subject's entire being is realized in its primoridal masochism, the possibility of radical subjective cancellation (Seminar VI: Le desire et ses interpretations. January 7th, 1959). Back

  11. See Seminar SXVII: 73-74. Lacan there calls truth, the "sister of jouissance." Back

  12. See "Fantasme originaire, fantasmes des origines, origine du fantasme." Back

  13. The best single work on Freud's essay is Sarah Kofman's book Un métier impossible; the most thorough examination of the clinical and philosophical implications of Freud's distinction between construction and interpretation is Gérard Pommier's book Le dénouement d'une analyse. Also see my essay "The Freudian Things: Construction and the Archaeological Metaphor." Back

  14. Freud continues, "If in accounts of analytic technique, so little is said about 'constructions,' that is because 'interpretations' and their effects are spoken of instead. But I think that 'construction' is by far the more appropriate description. 'Interpretation' applies to something that one does to some single element of the material, such as an association or a parapraxis. But it is a 'construction' when one lays before the subject of the analysis a piece of his early history that he has forgotten" (SE 23: 261). Back

  15. For J. L. Austin's distinctions between "performative" and "constative" utterances, and the "felicity" or "infelicity" of performatives, see How To Do Things With Words. In Seminar VII: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan connects "happiness" as such with the hap encounter that is tuché: "Certainly Freud leaves no doubt, any more than Aristotle, that what man is seeking, his goal, is happiness. It's odd that in almost all languages happiness offers itself in terms of a meeting--tuché. Except in English and even there it's very close. . . . 'Happiness' is after all 'happen'; it is an encounter. . . . " (SVII: 13). Back

  16. Bruce Fink describes construction as "an example of interpretation 'hitting the real.' . . . The real is that which has not yet been symbolized, not yet put into words. . . . Insofar as interpretaion hits the real, it does not so much hit the truth as create it. For truth exists only within language" (A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis 158). Back

  17. I discuss the relationship between psychotic delusion and analytic construction at some length in "The Freudian Things." Lacan describes the psychotic mechanism of foreclosure as the failure to take on a fundamental signifier of lack (the father's name)--as the rejection of a symbolic element which reappears in the real, hideously materialized, de-signified. Back

  18. Cf. SE 12: 79. Back

  19. In the "Introductory Remarks" of From the History of an Infantile Neurosis Freud wrote, "Under the inexorable pressure of this fixed limit his resistance and his fixation to the illness gave way, and now in a disproportionally short time the analysis produced all the material which made it possible to clear up his inhibitions and remove his symptoms" (SE 17: 11). Back

  20. Lacan remarks in Seminar XI, "No praxis is more oriented towards that which, at the heart of experience, is the kernel of the real than psycho-analysis. . . . Where do we meet this real? For what we have in the discovery of psycho-analysis is an encounter, an essential encounter--an appointment to which we are always called with a real that eludes us. . . . First, the tuché, which we have borrowed . . . from Aristotle, who uses it in his search for cause. We have translated it as the encounter with the real. The real is beyond the automaton, the return, the coming-back, the insistence of the signs, by which we see ourselves governed by the pleasure principle. . . . If you wish to understand what is Freud's true preoccupation as the function of phantasy is revealed to him, remember the development, which is so central for us, of the Wolf Man. He applies himself, in a way that can almost be described as anguish, to the question--what is the first encounter, the real, that lies behind the phantasy?" (53-54). Back

  21. See Bruce Fink's acounts of "punctuation" or "scanding" in The Lacanian Subject (66-68) and A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis (15-19) in relation to Lacan's "variable-length session." Back

  22. Lacan writes, "As a witness called to account for the sincerity of the subject, depository of the minutes of his discourse, reference as to his exactitude, guarantor of his uprightness, custodian of his testament, scrivener of his codicils, the analyst has something of the scribe about him. But above all he reminas the master of the truth of which this discourse is the progress. As I have said, it is he above all who punctuates its dialectic. . . . The suspension of a session cannot not be experienced by the subject as a punctuation of his progress" (Écrits 98). Back

  23. These graphs appear in various places in Lacan's seminars, including Seminar XVII: L'envers de la psychanalyse. For exegeses of these diagrams, see Bruce Fink's The Lacanian Subject (129-137) and Mark Bracher. Back

  24. See Jacques-Alain Miller, "L'interprétation à l'envers," on the notion of construction as the envers of interpretation, distinct from analytic punctuation and decoding, a radical act of coupure, akin to the separation of S2 and S1 in the bottom half of the graph of the analyst's discourse. Back

  25. Towards the end of Seminar XI Lacan asks, "How can a subject who has traversed the radical phantasy live the drive? This is the beyond of analysis, and has never been approached" (273; translation modified). Back

  26. I have argued for the association of the technique of construction with the traversal of fantasy and the encounter with object a in my essay "The Freudian Things." Back

  27. Lacan writes, "Il est bien clair que, si c'est l'esprit de Moïse qui revient là, il ne s'agit pas précisément d'un meurtre qui a engendré l'accès à la jouissance" (SXVII: 134). Back

Works Cited

Abraham, Nicolas and Maria Torok. The Wolf Man's Magic Word. Trans. Nicholas Rand. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986.

Austin, J. L. How To Do Things With Words. Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1962.

Boyarin, Daniel. Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man. Berkeley: U of California P, 1997.

Bracher, Mark. "On the Psychological and Social Functions of Language" Lacan's Theory of the Four Discourses." In Lacanian Theory of Discourse: Subject, Structure, and Society. Ed. Mark Bracher, et al. New York: New York UP, 1994. 107-128.

Freud, Sigmund. The Diary of Sigmund Freud, 1929-1939: A Record of the Final Decade. Trans. by Michael Molnar. New York: Scribner's, 1992.

---. Kulturtheoretische Schriften. Frankfort: S. Fischer Verlag, 1974.

---. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. and Trans. James Strachy. 24 vols. London: The Hogarth Press, 1953-74.

---. Studienausgabe Eränzungsband. Schriften zur Behandlungstechnik. Frankfurt am Main: Verlag, 1982.

Fink, Bruce. The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995.

Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966.

---. Le séminaire, livre I: Les écrits techniques de Freud. Text established by Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Éditions de Seuil, 1975.

---. Le séminaire, livre VI: Le desire et ses interpretations. Unpublished photocopy.

---. Le séminaire, livre VII: L'éthique de la psychanalyse. Text established by Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Éditions de Seuil, 1986.

---. Le séminaire, livre XVII: L'envers de la psychanalyse. Text established by Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Éditions de Seuil, 1991.

Lapeyre, Michel. Au-dela du complexe d'Oedipe. Paris: Anthropos-Economica, 1997.

Laplanche, Jean, and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis. "Fantasme originaire, fantasmes des origines, origine du fantasme." Les Temps Modernes (1964) 19:215. Translated as "Fantasy and the Origins of Sexuality" in Formations of Fantasy. Ed. by Victor Burgin, James Donald, Cora Kaplan. New York: Methuen, 1986.

Lupton, Julia Reinhard and Kenneth Reinhard. After Oedipus: Shakespeare in Psychoanalysis. Ithaca NY: Cornell UP, 1993.

Miller, Jacques-Alain. "L'interprétation à l'envers." La Cause freudienne. 32:1996.

Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim. Freud's Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable. New Haven: Yale UP, 1991.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Plague of Fantasies. New York: Verso, 1997.

---. "Whither Oedipus." The Ticklish Subject. New York: Verso, 1999. Forthcoming.

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