“…the neuroses is a question that being poses for the subject, ‘from where it was before the subject came into the world’ (Freud’s phrase, which he used in explaining the Oedipal complex in little Hans).
….it [neuroses] poses it [a question] in place of the subject, that is to say, in that place it poses the question with the subject, as one poses a problem with a pen, or as Aristotle’s man thought with his soul.”—Jacques Lacan, “Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious” in Écrits: A Selection (168)
Take out all the psychoanalytic jargon, what is it that this quote is getting at? Simply put, Lacan’s psychoanalysis posits that there are elements of our being which lie beyond our direct control, which we access only indirectly through the ways those elements shape our life. Lacan isn’t being particularly magical here. He is describing those desires which constitute a personality as a locus of self-awareness.
There are all kinds of things we want, but when we talk about these sorts of desires, we are talking about those yearnings according to which we structure our behavior. The desire for approval takes one form, the desire to control another. The desires only ever manifest in the particular details of a person’s life, in the particular contingent circumstances through which they are able to realize themselves (remember the old fate and destiny discussions?).
Lacan highlights how we come to this already in the middle of our desires in action and that we have to proceed to make sense of them within the contingent expressions through which they manifest. We are the pen that discovers its will already entangled with the wills of another and from which we have to extract some understanding of ourselves as entangled. This is the pun at the heart of notions of the ‘subject’ and ‘subjective’—to be capable of having subjective experiences is to be subject to conditions beyond your control.
I think therefore I am, sure, but I can think only insofar as I already am, as I am thinking about some specific things, and it is only as those things impose themselves one me that I become self-aware. I think because things are, as a reflex of the things that are.
Consciousness exists as a reflex of being, and intelligences inhere within the reflex, proceeding from there to assert themselves in reaction to those imposing things. We discover something of the intelligence that we are through the pattern of those reflexes, and are able to work upon ourselves only insofar as we appreciate the specific being those reflexes reveal. We know something of a metal by how it does or doesn’t melt, how it changes under duress; so, too, with ourselves.
Which suggests that what makes humans somewhat more capable of self-transformation than other forms of consciousness has less to do with some innate quality of our spiritual being than with the specific circumstances of our material being. We are more conscious precisely because we are more subject to the things in the world, more capable of engaging in change because that awareness is anchored within a complex, receptive body that possesses a great deal of capacity to respond.
It is our bodily existence that gives life a ‘human’ character, and it is through an engagement with human bodies that our spiritual intelligence is fashioned. The less corporeal intelligences do not seem to possess this except through complex pacts with human beings, or by some historical ties to a specific human existence (i.e., by having lived as a person). Even those who possess the complexity, gradually become divorced from it. Hence the increasingly abstract forms that spirit messages tend to take.
Nonetheless, qua intelligences, they continue to play out their subjective lives, the shape of which depends upon the qualities of their subjectivity, the qualities of their pen(s). That parenthetical plural, pen(s), suggests an alternative route toward spiritual sympathies. If the pen is material existence suffused with subjective awareness, then that which pushes the pen, that which poses the question, through multiple pens, through intelligences caught up in a singular, indeterminate question.
A single life would trace its line through several such questions and there would be many relationships with spiritual intelligences which corresponded to a particular phase, a particular chain of moments. Not all sympathies are forever, some last days, weeks, months, years, or skip like a stone over the span of a life, sometimes present, sometimes not.
Which, I guess, is a long-winded way to affirm the preciousness of brief spiritual encounters, of the meetings with strange intelligences on the highways which may not come again, as well as to affirm the value of working those precious intelligences from whom it is difficult to fully separate the question of your being. In either case, it serves us well to attend to them with as much attention as we can muster, for in each case great matters may be determined.