Lourens du Plessis’s lesson: love, politics and psychoanalysis in the age of the narcissist

  • Jaco Barnard-Naudé, Prof. University of Cape Town, South Africa

Abstract

This article is a psychoanalytic, primarily Lacanian, reading of Lourens du Plessis’s chapter on Calvin and Calvinism in Hugh Corder’s (in)famous 1988 edited collection, Essays on law and social practice in South Africa. The piece turns on two  reference points, namely the political critique of fraternity in recent critical theory, and narcissism in the psychoanalytic literature. I argue that Du Plessis’s text holds these reference points in a constant aporetic / contradictory tension that reflects not only the fundamental aporia of Eros and Thanatos in the approach of psychoanalysis to civilisation, but also the primordial ambivalence of narcissism and, ultimately, what Gillian Rose calls the Janus-face of universality as such. The political contention of the piece is that apartheid can and must be understood as a regressive and, hence, aggressive narcissistic fraternity for which the spatial shorthand is Carl Schmitt’s nomos as the ‘man-ring’. Du Plessis’s lesson of 1988 is that it is only by way of the appeal to and for universal love that we can think a transformed maternal fraternity / sorority which is below and beyond the law, but to which constitutional democracy nonetheless provides what Jean-Luc Nancy calls ‘a point of approach’ and, as such, a creative breach of the ‘man-ring’.

‘I have long mistrusted the liberation movements even of our democratic societies. I always fear they may have hidden totalitarian aims’ (Kristeva 2008: 353).

‘[I]t is clear that the promotion of the ego in our existence is leading, in conformity with the utilitarian conception of man that reinforces it, to an ever greater realization of man as an individual, in other words, in an isolation of the soul that is ever more akin to its original dereliction’ (Lacan 2006: 99).

‘The point is not to preach concord between individuals, cultures, customs and languages, but rather to face up to discord and the potential impossibility of resolving it. This impossibility itself needs to be viewed as a non-exhaustive but formative condition of universality’ (Nancy 2014: 23-24).

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Published
2019-05-24
Section
Articles