Thursday, December 13, 2007

Excessive Religion, Part 4: Faith as Libidinal Investment

Part 3

Recap of Part 3: Religion is the attempt to sublimate lack through respect, as opposed to art or science which deal with lack in their own way.

This description of religious sublimation is adequate so far as it goes, but it needs to be expanded in two ways.

Alenka Zupančič describes the two basic ways in which Lacan speaks of sublimation. The first kind of sublimation is the sublimation that operates on the level of the drive; it allows the drive to find a satisfaction in an object that is different from its aim. For example, the oral drive’s aim is food, but the pleasure of the mouth can be found in another object. The second kind of sublimation works on the level of desire. This sublimation appropriates a particular object and elevates it to the level of the Thing, that which will close the gap in the subject and satisfy desire. This kind of sublimation finds an object and attempts to use it to fill the gap in the subject. It is this second form of sublimation that religious experience relies upon. The object of sublated desire is God. God becomes a figure of libidinal investment, the entity whose own desire is seen as having the ability to satisfy the subject’s own desire.

The second necessary expansion upon Lacan’s 1960 view of religious sublimation is to be found in the eleventh seminar, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Here, Lacan describes part of the artist’s work as attempts to “arouse the desire of God.” Religious rituals, then, can be seen as attempts to earn the desire of the other. They are actions that are repeated, following upon one another in a linear, temporal series. Each one is an attempt to move forward along the chain of signifiers towards the master signifier, God, who will suture the gap in the subject and satisfy desire. These rituals stage jouissance - in other words, this is a fantasmic arrangement. A narrative and a structure is developed, with specific circumstances to be achieved; a relationship to desire is staged through repetition and metonymic movement along the signifying chain.

To tie the foregoing thoughts together: religion is a structure that is built around the empty space of the subject and the attempt to satisfy the desire this emptiness causes. One particular object - God - is taken as the object capable of filling this desire.

This description of sublimation is intended to replace the concept of faith as epistemological supplement. Faith is a libidinal investment in God as the object that will satisfy desire; it involves a metonymic movement into the future, the repetition of actions that will arouse God’s desire. Faith continuously moves forward in the belief that access to God’s jouissance is possible. This is a picture of the religious life in secular time, or as Bataille might have it, under “common conditions.” God operates in the position of the Autre, the subject supposed to know and that satisfies desire. The faithful relationship to God, then, is the ultimate fantasy. The movement of desire carries the subject into the future, into the repetition of acts designed to gain access to God’s jouissance. It is this God that one may dance before; under what other conditions can explosive joy be felt except in the presence of the (however fantasmic) jouissance of the Autre?

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