The effects of the coronavirus, beyond the public health questions, will leave an irreversible impact on the culture. I have been reflecting on what I have heard in recent days from the Lacanian theory of what is real, symbolic and imaginary, and especially from the last phase of Lacan’s teaching. …. Lacan said that the hole in the real is life 1
For a very long time (I think it started in my early 20s) the idea of death has scared me in ways I can’t ever explain. I can’t explain the fear to myself and I can’t explain it to others.
One time tried to explain it to a close friend. I told him, “My own death is scary, but it’s the heat death of the universe… the DEATH of everything that keeps me from falling asleep at night.”
My friend was like, “Why? You won’t be around to experience it.”
And I was like, “Duh. That does not make the idea any less terrifying.”
We left it at that.
A few weeks back I was listening to an episode of the podcast Why Theory2, I cant remember which episode exactly. Todd McGowan told a story about how the heat death of the universe came up in a class he taught, and afterwards a student came to him saying she could not get the heat death of the universe out of her head, and that was seriously fucking with her.
The knowledge of the heat death of the universe (the real) was haunting her.
McGowan said that the way some people talk about the heat death of the universe is as an “object” or a concept, these people have not integrated this idea into their subjectivity. The student was actually integrating the idea of the heat death of the universe into her subjectivity, to her it was not some external concept, it was something she had understood and taken into her self. As a result she was shaken.
When I heard that story I felt like some other person out there might have an experience similar to mine.
The infinite heat death of the universe is one name for what Lacan calls “the real”. Life (or, as Heidegger put it “The fact that there is something instead of nothing”) is a hole in this real infinite no-thing-ness.
This is one of the most profound, and for me life altering, insights of Lacanian psychoanalysis.
I can’t claim to really understand the real, I don’t think anyone really can. Be that as it may, thinking of life as a hole in the real helps me catch just a glimpse of an understanding, and that understanding helps me.
It helps me stay alive, to keep it fake, in the face of the real.