Abraham, the Bride of God:

The holocaust
Community and Violence

Translated from french by Ingrid Scheeler

The Sultan’s Harem

Since formulating his theory of the primitive horde in Totem and Taboo, Freud has placed psychoanalysts in an embarrassing position.  His theory seems so abstract and disconnected from reality that many agree it addresses a collective state that never existed.  However, Freud’s theory deserves to be credited for bringing to light the birth of the law. 

When Freud says that the father of the horde possessed all the women, everyone understood that he slept with all of them and thus deprived all of his sons of this possibility.  The theory of the horde has been likened to the harem of an Ottoman Sultan, or like the ultimate Oedipal situation.  Instead of a son and a mother, there would be a group of sons and a group of mothers.

This simple understanding of the facts does not do justice to Freud’s concept.  It remains superficial and does not allow for our grasping its depths.  A slight adjustment in perspective allows us to find its perspicacity again.  

That the father of the horde has all the women – so be it!  But this implies more than his just sleeping with all of them.  This concept becomes much more easily understood if we accept that each son sleeps with one woman, but does so in the Name of the Father, which then means that the father of the horde has all the women.  Thus, this possession is truly a property right of the father, who has no relationship with the jouissance that each son draws from the woman allotted to him.

In the Name of the Father

Thus, each son would be placed in a position of procreating in the name of the father.  This version of the facts has, by far, much more anchoring in reality.  It corresponds, one will easily guess, to tribal structure.  The ancestor of the tribe gives his name to everyone in the group.  Each son must then exercise his jouissance in the name of the ancestor and thus find himself dispossessed of the instrument of this jouissance: namely, the phallus.  The pleasure which he draws from “his” woman is a jouissance for the Other – namely, the ancestor.  Already, since “his” woman is possessed by the ancestor, the son must, in turn, offer up his own jouissance.

Logically, the situation is quite comparable with that of the capitalist as described by Marx.  The capitalist owns all the machines, but he is unable to work on all of them.  He must hire workers who will offer their labor, subject to payment from him.  From this payment the capitalist draws a profit: the surplus-value.

For the son of the horde, enjoying “his” woman is the same as the worker’s laboring on the capitalist’s machine.  In both cases, the son/worker gets jouissance from his energy, whether vital, sexual or mechanical, not from “his” woman or “his” machine, but from the owner of one or the other.

Admittedly, like the worker, the son of the horde will receive certain wages; namely, his jouissance in the achievement of his labor.  From these wages, however, a certain quantity of surplus jouissance will be taken, which will leave him in a state of dissatisfaction consequent to his not being entirely compensated for his efforts.

In this state of dissatisfaction, the worker will then go forth to his job, working even harder, endlessly, trying in vain to find that which he has lost – the surplus jouissance. 

The proletarian of the community structure

Seen from this angle, the myth of the primitive horde acquires an unexpected reality.  It is quite simply a description of the structure of a community.  Each man belonging to the community works spontaneously for its reproduction and improvement.  As such, each man is a proletarian as the factory worker is a proletarian.  This is the case, not only because he belongs to a capitalist structure, but also because, etymologically, a proletarian is the one who proliferates.

While giving up a share of his jouissance or a share of his work, i.e., the surplus jouissance or the surplus value, either sexual or economic, the proletarian takes and contributes his surplus to the group’s construction and expansion.  This “little bit more” (of the surplus) is, all-in-all, a pivot point in the working-class system.  This notion of surplus has been the object of innumerable reflections and debates, in the fields of Psychoanalysis as well as Marxism.

It was clear that Freud, until his last writings, found dissatisfaction to be the price of survival of the sexual drives.  For Lacan, it became necessary to engage in the struggle against those who claimed that it was possible to reach a satisfactory sexual maturity during the genital phase.  Lacan restored dissatisfaction in a spectacular fashion by naming it “surplus jouissance,” which was not insignificant in the France of 1968.

Marx, on the other hand, had a grudge against the surplus value, a symbol, in his opinion, of the capitalist system.  He did everything in his power to return to the worker what he was due.  But unfortunately, by doing this, it resulted in the disappearance of the desire to produce.  That is to say it removed the worker’s share of stimulating dissatisfaction.  That there no longer exists any difference between the work of the worker and his wages leads to an imaginary situation – basically a mirroring effect.  For example, there is no difference between Narcissus himself and what he sees in the mirror, namely his image.  Immobility, fascination and, potentially, death, become imminent: when caught in the mirror one confronts the death of desire.

Without this “little more (or ‘surplus’)” lacking, or without the lack of this “little more,” there is no longer any difference between the proliferatarian and the system within which he obtains his jouissance.  The worker belongs to the capitalist system and the son belongs to both the community and the religious system.  The group exists in its totality and each proletarian organically forms a part of the group and, in fact, becomes a part of the whole that is without any surplus.

The Small Difference

Marx believed that this extra bit, this surplus, was unjustly taken from the worker by the capitalist, for the capitalist’s profit.  He made the world truly believe that this extra was to be restored to its legitimate owner.  This small error had incalculable consequences, all of them tragic.  Fortunately, this was not the case for Freud or Lacan.  Freud clearly understood that the surplus jouissance must have been intended for the father and not for the mother.  And Lacan reiterated the idea that, according to the father’s status, this deduction could take the form of a deprivation, a frustration or a castration.

To get out of a state of totality without any lack, in order to escape totalitarianism, it is important that this little bit extra be invested in a third; invested in the sense of depositing, or assigning, to this third a certain quantity of value and also in the sense of honoring the third, to raise it to a certain status.  It is, all in all, a question of investing the little bit extra with a third, in order to invest it with the power of being capable to get us out of a state of totality without a lack.  

As you may have guessed, this third is, in a rather obvious way, none other than God.  God is invested with the burden of providing the little bit extra, in order to get us out of being held captive, or locked up, within our communities, whether they be religious or more simply institutional in nature, which could become dangerously hermetic.

In this case it is clear that God and religion are two completely distinct things.  Without God, religion is trapped in the literality of the sacred text or in the meticulousness of the traditional ritual.  With God, on the other hand, a religion can keep its vitality and be renewed unceasingly, reinventing itself all over again.

Abraham’s Engagement to God

The story of Abraham can be enlightening in this regard.  From beginning to end it clearly shows the alternative between adherence to the dimension of the maternal community, on one hand, and the paternal and divine threat, on the other.  As a father, Abraham had difficulties procreating, as if he was not able to seed his wife with a child because of the overly strong adherence to the maternal.

Subsequently, once the alliance of Beersheba with Yahweh was contracted, Abraham changes status.  As a patriarch he, himself, is pregnant with a million future descendants.  Yet, it is still necessary that somebody manages to induce him to let go.  Otherwise, if not, he is likely, like Sarah, to let this adherence to the maternal be at play.  In order to achieve his legacy, to bring this god into existence (a God who will breech the pregnancy of the maternal), Abraham must pay a little bit more, by sacrificing one of his sons, either Isaac or Ishmael.

In the alliance which binds him to Yahweh, he is on the side of the feminine.  He is the one from whom a child or children will be taken.  He is the one who must swear fidelity.  And the alliance is tied around the well of Sheeba, as if to signify, by this geologically female organ – the well – the truly feminine nature of Abraham.  In spite of his venerabilis barbaca, Abraham must sacrifice his virginity, like a bride, by offering his son on a promontory incarnating the divine phallus.

The “little-bit-more,” unfortunately, ends up being only symbolic.  Both Isaac and Ishmael escape from the ordeal.  As such, the position and existence of Yahweh remains vacillating.  It is clear that if a tribute is not offered, there is no reason for God to be faithful to his engagements.  Thus, He can abandon his people for long periods, leaving them traumatized and prisoner of the patriarch’s jouissance or prisoner of any other person or organization incarnating a totality without lack.  The uncertainty which loads the tribute is thus reflected in the uncertainty of the divine presence.  One could be tempted to believe that, if the tribute were offered with certainty, it would then guaranty the protective presence of God.

Ancrer Dieu à la quille de la mort

C’est probablement ce qu’a pensé Jésus-Christ.  En s’offrant certainement à Dieu dans la rédemption, il assurerait la présence pérenne de Dieu.  Remplaçant l’incertitude de la vie et de la mort par une double certitude, celle de sa mort et celle de sa résurrection, soit de la présence de Dieu.  Dieu étant le pasteur de l’humanité toute entière, sacrifier un seul homme pour assurer la pérennité de la présence de Dieu était un coût relativement modeste pour un si important résultat.  À cet avantage s’ajoute le fait que la présence de Dieu ne dépendant plus du comportement des hommes, ceux-ci acquièrent désormais la liberté de bien faire ou de mal faire sans que leurs actes n’aient de conséquences.  La rédemption prend ainsi tout son sens de racheter tous les péchés du monde, en assurant que Dieu ne se détourne jamais des hommes, pour cette raison ou pour une autre, du reste.

Anchoring God to the KEEL of death

This is probably what Jesus-Christ thought.  In offering Himself without question to God, in redemption, He ensured the perennial presence of God.  He replaced the uncertainty of life and death by a double certainty – that of his own death and that of his resurrection – namely, the certainty of the presence of God.  God, as Pastor of the very whole of humanity, sacrificed only one man to ensure the continuousness of the presence of God.  This was a relatively modest cost for so important a result.  To this advantage add the fact that God’s presence is no longer dependent upon man’s behavior.  Namely, from now on, man can have free will, and thus the ability to act without consequence.  The redemption attempts to buy back all the sins of the world by ensuring that God never turns away from man (in one way or another). 

God-the-Father Becomes God-the-Mother

The surprising result of this approach to Jesus-Christ, perhaps as he had envisioned, was that we are witnessing the feminization of Yahweh.  An angry God, able to let the Philistines hack the Jews to pieces, became infinitely good and benevolent, like a mother.  Promoting good to the detriment of evil is neither luck nor the will of Jesus-Christ.  Rather, it is the result of an inexorable logic placing all that is certain on the maternal side, while all that is uncertain is placed with the paternal side.  If someone passes from uncertainty to certainty it will change his or her status and, whatever the gender, father becomes mother, if only because uncertainty allows the possibility of a choice.  The possibility (or rather the obligation) to choose, or not, to have a father, is perhaps the essence of paternity.

By way of the redemption, Jesus-Christ introduces God as being omnipresent.  Even when He would be rejected He remains present and loving.  We can say that we are as certain of God’s presence as we are of Christ’s death.  The characteristic signs of maternity are secondary to certainty.  One could say that the maternal character of God is the phenotype of an essential core characterized by the certainty of His on-going presence.

The presence of an infinitely maternal and caring God becomes smothering very quickly.  A quick solution is required to restore, if only temporarily, the paternal dimension.  It becomes, then, a question of repeating the certainty of the sacrifice.  The sacrifice revives the presence of God-the-Father but, unfortunately, at the same time, He becomes God-the-mother.  It is necessary, then, to start all over again.

All religions of Abrahamic origin are likely to produce the same repetitive mechanism that seeks to realize God’s presence in His paternal dimension.  Those who feel abandoned by their own God are likely to practice or emphasize this type of sacrifice to revitalize God’s presence.  One can think of the first Christians who offered themselves in holocaust, even though the sacrifice of Jesus should have been enough.  Jews and Muslims are also likely to develop a similar behavior.

The Holy Ghost

Instead of continually repeating the sacrifice, it is possible to invent a concept to holding the place of the paternal dimension.  The Christians worked out the concept of the Holy Ghost, which comes to triangulate the relationship between mother and son (wrongfully called father and son).  The Holy Trinity seems to be a good way of saving the paternal dimension from being a little too feminized by the certainty of the presence of God (by reintroducing uncertainty). 

One could give to all that I have just said a different perspective by reformulating it with psychoanalytical concepts.  Throughout this text, I primarily worked around the concept of the “foreclosure of the name of the father”.  The question was put forth from the very beginning to the sons of the horde as follows: “Is it necessary to screw in Abraham’s name or in God’s name?”  There is foreclosure of the name of the father when the answer is: “In the name of Abraham.”

When surplus jouissance or surplus value can no longer be transferred to a third, there is equalization between the subject and the Other.  At this point, the symbolic opposition between the subject and the Other risks breaking down.  The subject is then stuck in his community.  He risks being completely absorbed by the symbolic community system.  He is nothing but one anonymous member of his community, without any margin of freedom.  Even the capacity of making sense disappears, because the word is glued to the thing.  In as much as the word is glued to the thing, it can also be extracted from that very thing.  In which case, the subject can be distinguished from the Other.

Removing the Word from the Thing

The only freedom left lies in dying, hoping thus to pay God so that He returns.  In extracting the word from the thing, the only solution left is that of becoming a thing.  To die is a way of showing that the word, and thus the symbolic system, is not all powerful and omnipotent.  The dead body that appears is proof that the thing exists and that the father exists as well since He has succeeded in slicing the word from the thing.

The self-mutilating violence of the psychotic and the sacrificial violence of communities is a mystical violence that aims at realizing the existence of God the Father.  Curiously however, at the end of this sacrificial process of bringing God into existence, it so happens that this process becomes reversed.  The jouissance obtained from the symbolic system is such that it incites the subject or the community to use the very new presence of the father by killing Him out of Oedipal rivalry.

To die to revive the presence of God, then to kill Him to return to a maternal jouissance, is the cycle which characterizes community violence.  The flare-ups of intercommunity conflict exist as much for dying as for killing.  There are explosions unto death, where each plays the part of the father for the other.