the master’s discourse

Lacan is often compared to a Zen master by Lacanian people, since he said nonsensical things that supposedly contained hidden truths, and he behaved in socially unacceptable ways. Noam Chomsky called Lacan “a perfectly self-conscious charlatan” and he’s often compared to a cult leader, etc. In Schneiderman’s book, there are some anecdotes in which Lacan displayed ambivalence about being worshiped.

I thought about what I would do if I was constantly surrounded by uncritical, annoying sycophants, and there would be a huge temptation to start saying ridiculous things and see how far it could go. Surely this explains something about Lacan, and it probably has a lot to do with the “subject supposed to know” model of transference. For Lacan, the basis of transference is that the analysand mistakenly assumes the analyst knows deep things, when this is not the case. It’s actually a lot like Zen masters saying they have nothing to offer, and their disciples are grasping after delusions.

Zen has problems with sex scandals. Shoes Outside the Door is about Shunryu Suzuki’s successor and the sex scandal involving him. People were going out of their way to interpret the most absurd behavior as enlightened teachings. In Ordinary Mind, Barry Magid talks about this in terms of transference and the mishandling thereof. Zen masters sometimes deliberately cultivate mythology around themselves. Compare this Raul Moncayo quote:

Since the psychoanalytic cure can be viewed as a love story – as genuine and deceptive as any other – how avoidable is the conclusion that hypnosis has an important role to play in such a process? The servitude of love requires that love be demanded just as the hypnotized is begging to be ordered, healed, or satisfied. Thus, one becomes subordinate when elevating a needed Lord to a position of control and domination.

Lacanian analysands and Zen students are both accused of masochism. There’s something to this. For Lacanians, why would someone submit to short sessions, deliberate frustration, coldness, etc.? Zen stories are all about the transcendent joy of getting beaten with a stick, and getting hit with a stick is traditionally part of sitting in a meditation hall. The stillness of sitting in meditation and being tied up could be compared. Bowing is a big thing. Your answer to the koan is always wrong, and sitting for more than 20 minutes or so gets to be painful. Both identify desire as the central problem (with different solutions).

“Masochistic” would be a way of describing what it is to be a Jehovah’s Witness. The compulsion repeats.

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