What follows is an edited version of a talk delivered on July 12, 2014, at the annual CFAR Conference. The theme this year was: “Sexuality: Phantasy, Discourse and Practice”. I participated in a panel on the general subject of “Sexuality and Phantasy”. My presentation was not prepared beforehand. This here is an edited transcription of a recording. As such, it tries, but fails in many ways, to capture the spontaneity and informality of what was said. But then, that’s the best I could do.
There you go.
I was wondering how to start today. I was considering the title of the panel, “Sexuality and Phantasy”, and struggled to think. What, if anything, could I add to the subject?
I realised this. I realised that whenever I find myself thinking about Sexuality, I find myself thinking of Descartes --you know, René Descartes, the philosopher.
Of course Descartes did not, as far as I know, write about sexuality as such --or about phantasy for that matter. But he did write about the mind-body problem.
This will be my starting point today.
_I was reading something on the BBC today, regarding the “decoding” by science of people’s “internal voices”. The article was about a new technique, whereby researchers are said to be able to reconstruct words, based on the brain waves of patients thinking of those words. I was reminded of an anecdote about Lacan, one of the most important post-Freudian psychoanalysts.
In 1975, during a lecture tour in the United States, Jacques Lacan spoke at MIT before an audience of mathematicians, linguists, and philosophers. Noam Chomsky, the already famous by then American linguist philosopher and activist, attending the lecture, asked Lacan a question on thought.
Lacan's reply was possibly not what Chomsky expected:
“We think we think with our brains”, Lacan said. “Personally, I think with my feet. That's the only way I really come into contact with anything, solid. I do occasionally think with my forehead, when I bang into something. But I've seen enough electroencephalograms to know there's not the slightest trace of a thought in the brain.”
I was reflecting, leaving the cinema the other day, on the very clear similarity between the film I had just watched, “Source Code” (2011), by Duncan Jones, and “Groundhog Day” (1993), by Harold Ramis. In the latter, Bill Murray’s character, a stroppy and cynical weatherman finds himself “trapped” inside this Groundhog Day, as it is called, by finding himself forced to relive every single moment of it, from morning till night.
In “Source Code”, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, an American helicopter pilot, finds himself on a commuter train, “trapped” inside someone else’s body, during the same 8 minutes before the explosion of a bomb that will kill him and everyone else in the train. And then he lives these minutes again, and again, because, it turns out, he is on a mission.
This is the sort of things you see in films or read in novels –"Johnny Took his Gun" by Dalton Trumbo or "The Patient" by Georges Simenon are but two of the examples that spring to mind– but the report that circulates all media since yesterday is very real. A paralysed Belgian man who doctors thought was in coma for 23 years was conscious all along. It was only recently that a scan showed that his brain was "almost entirely" functioning. You can read the BBC report here.
I cannot begin to grasp what it must have been this experience for this poor man, but I can very vaguely imagine. A recent book and film used the metaphor of a diving bell. You are inside your body as if you are inside a diving bell. It's alright when you can control your diving bell. You swim around and interact with all other beings in diving bells you encounter. Suddenly something happens and you loose control of the diving bell. Your life as such is not threatened; but you can't communicate any more, you can't interact. You are trapped inside.
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