Monday, June 14, 2021

I tried, and gave up. If no one gets my jokes. It's no use going anywhere else. 
I write for myself. 

I'm not even sure it's interesting that so many members of the left wing intellectual class, including those I want to like, mostly non-American, continue to refer to old figures of the high bourgeois left without reference to their heroes' class, and indulge revolutionary romance without reference to their own. It's impossible to read an angry Oxbridge academic, proud scion of the old Egyptian elite, without noticing a disconnect. Leiter and AbuKhalil were never earnest defenders of democracy. They contradict themselves openly; that was always the fun of it. But the younger crew are as oblivious, if at a higher level of "discourse", as the most self-righteous hipster. All part of the academicization of politics: authoritarianism without admitting to it.
But Sibylle does begin at the beginning: her childhood memories, her father’s infrequent visits, come early in the book and appear almost dreamlike. Thibaut nearly fell to his death during a visit to a castle in Brittany, but was saved when Lacan grabbed hold of his clothes at the last second – ‘a miracle!’ Lacan would treat Sibylle to extravagant dinners – her first taste of oysters and lobster and meringue glacée. Her memories sharpen when her barely there father turns out to be someone else’s. On the girls’ first meeting, Judith is so beguiling that Sibylle is thrown into a jealous anguish: ‘She was so pleasant, so perfect, and I so awkward and bungling. She was all sociability and poise, I was the Peasant of the Danube. She had a womanly air, I still looked like a child ... I was overwhelmed, ashamed. Moreover, she was studying philosophy and I was only studying languages.’ She was mortified to learn that Judith also went to the Sorbonne, that she had probably known who Sibylle was, had passed her in the courtyard, pretending not to recognise her. Sibylle was boyish, with a turned-up nose, short mousey hair and a brow often fixed in a furrow. She was ‘cute’, but Judith was beautiful, inheriting Lacan’s dark hair, which she wore long and held in place with an Alice band. When the girls holidayed together with their father in Italy, Judith relayed stories of her many admirers in the philosophy department, stories that Lacan seemed to take pride in hearing. At a village fête in Saint-Tropez, Sibylle watched as he and Judith danced together ‘like two lovers’. In the eyes of their father, Judith ‘was Queen’. It didn’t help that in his consulting room at 5 rue de Lille there were no photographs of ‘the Lacan children’ – indeed, no photos at all – except for one of Judith as a young girl, ‘presiding over the fireplace’ in a neat sweater and skirt....

To those familiar with Lacan’s work, it may come as no surprise that he could be vexing and cocksure – a womaniser. But what A Father does reveal is Lacan’s avarice and his tendency to treat those of a lower social class – he referred to them as ‘subalterns’ – with contempt. He was rude to waiters and would send his housekeeper, Paquita, into a frenzy: ‘a spinning top, first twirling this way, then that, to keep up with her employer’s painful demands’. Sibylle once saw him ask some passers-by to lift his car out of an especially tight parking spot: ‘He made not the slightest gesture to help, instead standing to the side and giving orders.’

Switch out Lacan for someone else, or some other kind of hero, the issue is the same: the relation of people and ideas.

Never without a book, whether bound for a tutorial or the local A&E, for decades he disappeared off for tramping holidays or conferences anywhere from Catalonia to Cuba the moment term ended. One friend, on holiday in southern Italy in 1957, saw two men in a field and said to her husband: ‘But look, it’s Eric!’ And, she recalled, ‘it really was Eric, with a peasant. He was interviewing the peasant.’

Maybe he was just talking to him. 

I like Hobsbawm. I'm a hardass not a moralist. Moralists have more friends than I do.

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