scandal in the U.S. and France

While America has the Kardashian divorce, which brings together so many American traditions – a little Horatio Alger, a little Daisy Miller, a little Debbie does Dallas – France, too, is hosting a scandal that brings together those two great French things: psychoanalysis and grammar. I’m talking, of course, of the wonderful libel trial going on right now that pits one of Lacan’s daughter, Judith Miller, against Elizabeth Elisabeth Roudinesco. Miller is suing over a paragraph in Roudinesco’s Lacan, envers et contre tout (Seuil, 2011) (and Roudinesco is countersuing Miller). The paragraph goes like this:

« Lacan mourut sous un faux nom, le 9 septembre 1981, à la clinique Hartmann des suites d’un cancer du colon qu’il n’avait jamais voulu soigner. Bien qu’il eût émis le vœu de finir ses jours en Italie, à Rome ou à Venise, et qu’il eût souhaité des funérailles catholiques, il fut enterré sans cérémonie et dans l’intimité au cimetière de Guitrancourt. »
Or: “Lacan died under a false name on September 9, 1981, at the Hartmenn clinic due to the effects of a colon cancer that he never wanted to treat. Although he had emited the wish to finish his days in Italy, in Rome or in Venise, and he would have wished for a catholic funeral, he was buried without ceremony in the intimacy of the Guitrancourt cemetery.”

My translation is to the French what a mut is to a pure breed greyhound – but such is the fate of translation. In any case, the day of the hearing was packed. All the Lacanians were there. And of course, the whole case came down to how to interpret qu’il eût souhaité… The lawyers fell into a controversy about this that must have brought all those in the courtroom back to their school days – for what kind of verb tense are we talking about here? Maitre Kierjman, in a brilliant summary of the evidence of the case, appealed to the heart and soul of all present by plunging into this issue:

« Le plus-que-parfait du subjonctif marque généralement une proposition à valeur conditionnelle. Son emploi est dicté par la conjonction « bien que » (« bien qu’il eût souhaité »), qui introduit une proposition dite « concessive » qui peut être lue comme ayant valeur indicative ou conventionnelle. Mais, ce qui doit être souligné ici, c’est la concordance des temps et le fait que le plus-que-parfait vient marquer une action révolue et antérieure à celle de la proposition principale »

Well, that settles that! However, Assoulline’s numerous commenters (his article received a Kardashianistic 325 responses) plunged as Frenchly as possible in disputing this interpretation:

“Débat grammatical qui rappelle « Le barbier de Séville » mais Me Kiejman possède moins bien sa langue que Beaumarchais. « Bien que » introduit une concession, c’est à dire une opposition, pas une condition (confusion avec le conditionnel passé 2 ?). D’autre part il s’agit dans le choix du temps, « eût souhaité » et non pas » souhaitât », de logique et non de concordance des temps : « souhaitât » eût marqué (valeur conditionnelle) une simultanéité impossible puisqu’on l’enterrait à ce moment là.”

For those who’ve fought their way through the French conditional and subjunctive, having only English – the language of servants! - as their guide, it is good news that the French themselves have a hard time understanding how they are using it.

Kierjman also told the jury that he had consulted Poe’s Purloined Letter and Lacan’s essay on it in composing her defense. Miller is of course defending herself like an Antigone who just happened to defy her brother’s wishes – or did she know those wishes better than Roudinesco? The Millerian faction is claiming that Roudinesco is suffering from the delusion that she is somehow related to Lacan – maybe the true daughter! – which, such is the work of the unconscious in the courtroom, was symbolized by Kierjman’s slip when he called his client « Mme Lacan”.

I predict that this case will be of the kind that Freud called Interminable analysis.