© Lucas Ferraço Nassif
- To Isabel Ghirardi -
Blades is a text that wants to tension Jacques Lacan by comparing the obsessive blade of Gustav von Aschenbach's barber against the psychotic blade of Yukio Mishima and his militia. Lacan talks only once about this concept of the lamella, which is very interesting because for me — a psychoanalyst that paradoxically started my studies in psychoanalysis with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari — it is such a crucial concept.
The lamella, he says, is an organ that is the libido. Libido is an organ, the unreal organ that incarnates. It is with the lamella that we can locate the myth (and the myth is what locates the lamella). Oedipus: since it separates the baby's mouth from the mother's breast sexually: it is a blade, a layer with which we can elaborate on Das Ding. It introduces, with separation, desire... and the gap between desire and demand. Because of libido/lamella, a psychoanalytical cosmos structures itself. Monotheistic cosmos against other cosmos.
So, Mishima appears: he wants back the emperor as a god, and with him we see, read, and can work with the possibility of a blade that confronts Lacan (and Aschenbach's barber's, that is very neurotic!). Lacan will say the libido is neither somatic nor psychological: it is open. But the open is Lacanian's open. Mishima shows the trouble this open is; and fights it, stages the fight.
There is the alien, the foreigner, and the dizziness from what anxiety will show. The inside-out, the within-without. Closer to the Um-Heimlich, written like that: um and inn. Umwelt and Innenwelt. Keeping a secret shared with every body. Umheimlich: what the libido does not cover and that shows something where the lack should be (object a occupies that place). Object a falls when separation occurs and you enter language, says Jacques Lacan. Do all bodies carry this secret? Mishima shows this separation is a problem for him: it does not go that way: and maybe it did not happen. He challenges the neurotic wallpaper.
Dizziness is a theme in Blades: highlighting a cartography of desire and a compass given by anxiety and Umheimlichkeit. Mixing of outside and inside. With psychoanalysis, we should listen to dizziness: to find rhythms and tempos of the unconscious. Other senses in the nonsense. Triggering — dizziness allows talking; and a change in perspective, if heard. Colliding, conflicting trajectories in intense multiplicity could lead to the shape-shifting of lives, and institutions. What can be heard in Yukio Mishima’s and Gustav von Aschenbach’s dizziness?
I believe this work goes a little more complicated and less academic because I want to have these two scenes from Visconti and Schrader against each other in description — to make us think and feel as if they were patients in psychoanalytic practice. Therefore, I made the video with juxtapositions of images and audio from the films and myself.
We look at Venice, we look at Tadzio and we look at Gustav von Aschenbach looking. Tadzio does and does not look back; he returns and does not return his look to the one who looks at him. And Venice: does it look back? Maybe, since there is a plague spreading throughout the city; coming from the East. It is the pointing out of anxiety. It vibrates; the story’s environment will collapse with Gustav von Aschenbach. Is there an excess of metaphor? Are we saturated with representation under Gustav Mahler’s music?
Gustav von Aschenbach is in a barbershop. Previously, during the other scene, we watched his child’s funeral in a flashback. He and his wife cry while the coffin is taken to the graveyard in a carriage. The barber says Aschenbach is negligent to his appearance, that he does not take the trouble working on himself, and that he has the right to his hair’s natural color; the barber talks about being old and feeling old. So the main character lets dye his hair and beard, and put make-up on his face. This scene is in-between — one of the moments that happen between long scenes in which Tadzio is being looked at by Gustav: thus, also by us: witnesses of this process.
“I will restore what belongs to you immediately”, says the barber. “How?”, asks Gustav; “Leave it to me”. He makes no opposition to it: and accepts the pact proposed by the barber; nevertheless, does he believe: that the barber can restore what was lost? “And now you sir can fall in love whenever you want”. There are several mirrors in this scene and Aschenbach is always between being able and not being able to look at his reflection. Aschen is ashes in German: and Aschenbach will look younger and at the same time a caricature or a ghost of his appearance that was shown in the film.
Death in Venice’s last scene. Tadzio and another boy fight on a beach. Their young bodies are in struggle. Gustav looks at the fight sitting, from not so far. Ink runs down his forehead as blood: until he dies. Tadzio goes into the sea; there is a camera on a tripod in the image. Walkers see Gustav von Aschenbach faint in a chair and go for his help.
Yukio Mishima on Paul Schrader’s film — its title: Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. The chapters are beauty; art; action; harmony of pen and sword. In each of them, Mishima’s biography and some of his fiction are interspersing; the biographical parts are in black and white and the fiction parts are in color. Yet, to make things more complicated, Schrader stresses, tensions in the understanding of reality and fiction by deciding to use color for Mishima’s attempted coup d’État and following seppuku sequences.
If in Patriotism Mishima is the director and actor of a film staging of the seppuku that is on the soundtrack of Richard Wagner, the score chosen by Paul Schrader is one of intense contemporary movements composed by Phillip Glass. “Now I’ll salute the emperor”: says Yukio Mishima from the roof of a military base after talking to the personnel and the press that were seeing him. “Long life to the emperor”: three times shouting. He goes back inside the room where the base commander is made a hostage and where the other members of his militia are. “I do not even think they heard me”.
“Mishima, stop, there is no reason for you to do that”; “I am bound to do this, General”.
The main character grabs a blade, a small sword, and directs himself to a corner of the room. He knees down. The general tied up and gagged, with the other four members of the militia; they look at him. One of them holds another sword: he is the one who will cut Mishima’s head after his cut: after his disembowelment. Mishima takes off the upper parts of his uniform, keeping the headband with Japanese writings and the rising sun. In his work as a bodybuilder, he would train the upper parts of his body: the parts used during the seppuku ritual. All of them look and do not speak.
Yukio Mishima screams, and tears open his body: the score has back its speed instead of the suspense drums, and the image is frozen. So there is another cut: the film cut: which brings with itself the scenes from other fictional works written by Mishima and were shown during the projection. These are the last scenes from the stories. The film ends with the adaptation of Runaway Horses, the second installment of the tetralogy The Sea of Fertility. Fertility is at play, it is there already in the title of the tetralogy: the costs of sexual reproduction. This staging of the seppuku from Mishima’s book, in Schrader’s film, is closer to the graphic one directed by the author himself in Patriotism. “The instant that the blade tore open his flesh, the bright disk of the sun soared up and exploded behind his eyelids”.
Cosmos and Umheimlichkeit (Um-heimlich-keit), from Jacques Lacan’s Seminar 10, the anxiety one: the cosmos and the quality of strange-familiarity. The cosmos and the strange-familiarity. To move the S in cosmos, speaking my mother tongue. Almost comos: it means hows — ways, manners, modes: it alerts to multiplicity. To move the S, from the alienated subject: $? Still speaking my mother tongue: como is to eat using the first person. Strange-familiarity — here and there: English and Portuguese: fort-da: inside and outside: life and death: mucous membranes, from the mouth to the anus; libido and repression. What is strange-familiar is the rediscovery of the drive’s movement, because it indicates the action of the libido — this unreal organ — articulated to the real.
Lacan will say, also from Seminar 10: “the Freudian conquest is quite precisely disturbing, that in the unreal, it is the real which torments man”. We talk, therefore, about the articulations of unreal and real.
Wo Es war, soll Ich werden: what happens in the migration, in the shifting, in the difference between Es and Ich? From that to I. A stranger; a radical alterity resists. Opening of the I by the resistance of desire in the path of the law: the compass of anxiety. The object root of desire is an operator, a mechanism, a machine that torments at the same time that forms the balance of the structure. Studying anxiety is elaborating on a crossing from the machine to the structure.
The I is an architecture, a monument, a cripta, a monotheistic armor. The opened drive and the narcissism, and the fixated image I: the surface that is the body covered by the libido in front of the mirror. In Seminar 10’s third lesson, Jacques Lacan goes back to the mirror stage because anxiety allows him to walk through it articulated to the signifier. Anxiety points out something and makes deploy: it says something about the structure of the subject and the fallen object at alienation and separation. Language’s entrance and desire’s cartography.
What is your desire? The signifier is what represents the subject to another signifier. The neurotic tries to handle the distance between demand and desire — the signifier gap, difference, and possibility. And the psychotic makes more explicit the abyss of multiplicity in the fixated I, at the same time, opened because of the libido, the fundamental antinomy of demand and desire: being able to appear not the signifier, but the delirium: representation that refuses and thus provokes the telescoping, the derail, the collision between the Symbolic and the Real. Figures of speech and literality.
Jacques Lacan calls the libido an unreal organ, as I already briefly said. The unreal organ articulates itself to the real: it incarnates, it embodies in a way that escapes us. The libido/lamella, since it is escaping, demands a mythical representation — it goes, therefore, from the cosmos to the Umheimlichkeit: to the myth — as the monotheism, for instance. A myth that founds, that allows passing from the cosmos to the Umheimlichkeit. The libido, for being lamella, enables the foundation in the Symbolic: drive’s openness and I’s fixity on the mirror.
How to think about the openness of the drive and the I? By the libido/lamella? Lacan talks about the libido/lamella in Seminar 11, the one dedicated to psychoanalysis’ four fundamental concepts — at the axis of the transference and the drive. It is important to highlight that transference and drive are at an axis after the unconscious and the repetition axis. He does not set the drive and the repetition at the same axis; so, my understanding is that we are more on the clinic than the theory.
In the movement of drive’s openness and I’s fixity something may occur, not be covered by the libido: this is the space for a strange-familiarity. The lamella cuts, it is a blade; the lamella is a cellular layer; the lamella is a sheet between surfaces. The libido/lamella complexly separates; it is the organ that connects the unconscious to the erogenous zones: to the oral, anal, scopic, and invocative drive: drive that has the privilege of not being able to close. Libido/lamella that makes Oedipus/castration incarnate, finds the body. It is there, in immortality, in what is subtracted from the living being in its submission to sexual reproduction — what the subject loses when it is born, the deepest lost object: paradoxically losing to the inside and to the outside. Object a is a representation, a figure of this lost object; it is the root of an image from the past which we can call desire.
“Anatomy is destiny”: Sigmund Freud’s sentence contested by Jacques Lacan there also in Seminar 10. This sentence warns us, in its difficulty, not to forget the body is the subject’s concrete poiesis, the movement, the openness of the drive — the body in the clinic: more hysterical and psychotic and less obsessive. The entrance in language, the cartography of desire, and the function of the I looked by the blade: the barber’s blade, the samurai’s blade. Not to forget Yukio Mishima: who attempts to ref(o)und, to make a coup d’État, reincarnate with his flesh. “Anatomy is destiny” is theory, sentence, language: signifier which attacks the body and which is in struggle in the clinic. Not to forget the unconscious. Beyond the pleasure principle, with death drive which ties itself to the presence of the living, recognizing life. Facing Gustav von Aschenbach, who accepts the barber’s proposal of apparent restoration: dyeing his hair, making up his face, and dying. Mishima attempts to re-write drastically his destiny with his own body when producing, using his sword’s blade, one more instance of his writing.
How can we listen to that as psychoanalysts? What Yukio Mishima can tell us about psychoanalysis? How does his life/work sensitize: makes us think and feel?
For Mishima, the emperor still must be a god, a deity — the restoration looked for is one of the cosmos: chaotic: in opposition to monotheism. Tradition-contradiction. Imperial Japan against the imperialistic West — in his ambiguity: he would live in a European-style house; the most famous Japanese author; with prestigious international status, he wanted the Nobel Prize; he was influenced by Rainer Maria Rilke and read Magnus Hirschfeld. Yukio Mishima goes to the social in the coup d’État to underline the privilege of not being able to close: the tensions of movement and fixity of the I, of an ecology/economy neither psychic nor somatic of the drive: but open. Aschenbach is in obsessive mental activity and Mishima shows writing is not necessarily mental.
Mishima produces a conflict with the founding myth in his literature, inscribes himself in his words, in his body; literature which culminates at a literal staging. It is not Venice, the plague, or ink dripping on Gustav’s forehead: but the author’s blood. If Aschenbach is a composer — music is par excellence an art of non-representation —, Mishima is a writer who complexifies and oscillates his art by his experience. Transgressor as Paul Celan writing in German — the tongue of his parent’s assassins; at the same time, the tongue his mother desired for their home.
Der erkämpfte Umlaut in Unwort:
dein Abglanz: der Grabschild
eines der Denkschatten
The fought umlaut in a taboo word:
your reflection: the headstone
of one of think shadows
A lutada trema na palavra tabu:
seu reflexo: a lápide
de uma das sombras pense
The poem has no title. German, English, Portuguese. Between music and literature: neither concert nor novel. Yet novelty can be found. Fighting in a taboo word: this place implies deployment — what is not said? — if it is said, would you have to move? Are you already moving for making these questions?
I bring Paul Celan because in his poetry we read language and fighting — fighting happening inside his poetry, staged by the collision of words, by the appearance of new words, by the not much meaning or sense, by the strangeness of the German, and the difficulty of translation. The neologism marks the difference. It is a violent process the founding process of language. Celan’s use of German is like Yukio Mishima’s use of literature and maybe justifies Gustav von Aschenbach’s isolation from music by going to Venice: the make-up, the ink dripping on his face, the long and suffocating contemplation scenes, speechless, looking at Tadzio; until his final collapse. Celan and Mishima, on the other side, grab what they produce to the limit — the limit of their holding, of their productions. Dead in the same year of 1970, they talk and allow our work with desire.
Lucas Ferraço Nassif is a psychoanalyst and experimental filmmaker, Italian/Brazilian, living in Lisbon, Portugal. He has a Ph.D. in Literature from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro and is a member of the Portuguese Center of Psychoanalysis. Director and editor of the films Reinforced Concrete and Being Boring — present in several exhibitions, including the Venice International Art Biennale —; author of the book Missing Links, to be published in 2023 by Barakunan.
Abraham, Nicolas, and Maria Torok. 1986. The Wolf Man’s Magic Word: A Cryptonymy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Celan, Paul. 2014. Breathturn Into Timestead. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux.
Guattari, Félix. 2015. Psychoanalysis and Transversality. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).
Lacan, Jacques. 1995. Seminar 11: Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. New York: State University of New York.
———. 2014. Seminar 10: Anxiety. Malden: Polity Press.