Her, the Swimmer, translation by Russel Williams

Freely inspired by “Subversion du sujet et dialectique du désir”, Jacques Lacan,  BIL BO K International, n°1 SUBVERSION, may 2010

The subversion in this very truthful tale clings closely to its etymology: reversal. Unraveled to reveal its secret spring it surges, at the very moment we least expect it, in its process of radial reversal. The subversion doesn’t only appear to be paradoxical, it is actually the exact opposite of what we believe it to be. Plunging to the heart of the psyche, being even what founded it, the subversion here can serve as a frame of reference for all subversion.

Immersed, the swimmer merged with the water. Water and swimmer made one. Their movements, perfectly coordinated since there was no distinct body, but an openness of being where the swimmer and the water mixed in complete bliss. In an immense underwater grotto, vaster than the largest ocean. A bliss to last until the end of time…But one day a strong tempest arose that shook and started to separate them. The swimmer tore herself from the elements, turning upside down. Her head plunged towards an opening at the very bottom of the grotto. On touching the depths, and reaching the entrance to the tunnel, the head was seized by spasms. Already, she had stopped swimming…My mother expelled me from herself. The swimmer was me, my Id, before me. When I was perfectly joined with the water. That would never be forgotten, even if, out of the water, after the fall, I would forget….I had come to the world. All I could do was the first thing I did – cry. The air suddenly rushing into my lungs caused me so much pain. The air that, everywhere in my chest, told me: you are no longer in the symbiosis of the primitive sphere. The wonderful sphere, where you, yourself, aren’t. A prodigal unity, making one with the nothingness. You are no longer of the nothingness, now you live…
Nevertheless, I kept this flavour of nothingness in me: I didn’t speak. I sensed that my mother was the world, and her and I made one. You could say that life and I were united. Without memory, without past or future, I only lived in the pure moment. The pure moment was me. I was nothing else but that. But the poison had already infiltrated inside. Had it not fallen on me, even before my birth? The poison of language. A first name was chosen for me, I received my name. I burst into a universe where language had spun countless webs. At the same time, could my mother see how I felt? Did the signals she sent to my little being by way of response to my signs, always correspond to what I was? If it didn’t correspond, denting the primitive symbiotic sphere. Unity with nothingness. Making one – where strength comes from.
All my life, I’ve kept a nostalgia for something that has never existed. This place where I would like to live forever, where I made one with myself, not separated from other things. This place where life is felt in its brutal purity, without words, without pictures. To be immersed inside, life and I, the same thing. When there is nothing to look for, to attain, neither before or after. When everything is there, given, in a sudden movement, with nothing else to say than this: you are in life because you are in life and the only reason for your existence is your life. Supreme legitimisation that has no reason outside itself. When the cause and my flesh made one. Just like before birth, the universe and the swimmer made one. When my being and the nothingness were the same thing…I say to myself without saying: that’s life, that’s what I am. This improbable state, nevertheless is the only thing worth a human looking for because it is, for everyone, the flavour of their life. What Jacques Lacan calls Jouissance. The natural meaning of life.
Impossible. It is primal attachment; the radical immersion in the indissoluble mixture. The world has language. Language is a blade. It cuts everything. Of course it is language that allows me, through its mediation, to not kill other people, and to not be killed by them, as would happen in the natural state as humans; we are ferocious beasts. Of course it is language that also gives me this wonderful illusion of drinking mother’s milk. Milk that I loved because it was the memory, of the underwater grotto, of my weaving with the water. Liquids transformed into words that roll in my throat and into my ears.
Language is a blade that introduces death. Since I can give a name to something that isn’t there, so will you be able to name me when I am dead. And I will be dead for a very long time, indefinitely. You can name me even whilst I’m alive, this name indicates my death. If there were no words, names, who would remember, who could speak of the dead? Death wouldn’t exist, as it doesn’t for animals, mountains, seas, plants and very young children. All of which don’t speak. Of course it is language that that allows me to write this fable, which is true…But for that, it pays a heavy price. Contact with immediacy is broken. Jouissance is impossible. The meaning of life is far from me, far from you, ferocious human beasts transformed into talking animals. I will only find it in my life for brief moments. An artifice: when genuine words communicate between beings; when communication is made by flesh. Authentic words and flesh are the same thing. The individual dies, the contours dilute and merge into each other. I call passion.
But I am no longer in the symbiotic bubble where nothingness and I made one. Living, I must come and go, continue. To last, if possible, as long as I can. Not to stay too long in Jouissance where life grants me its meaning with sparkles of passion. Because, if it endures for too long, I’ll fatally dissolve in the absolute attachment, the complete mix of things, of beings. In one phrase: the real life. Whose own nature will kill me. Wonderful dissolution…If I felt who I am, who I really am as a living thing, holding the meaning of life between invisible hands, I would immediately be dead. So, to last, I do everything I can to not feel that, to not enjoy, to not know who I am. And I reflect, I think, I desire, I project…Nevertheless, it is when I don’t think that I am truly living, fusion of the swimmer of whom a trace remains, something in her than cannot be spoken about or seen. The only thing in me that makes me living and loving, my Cause. But which, if I knew it, would kill me. It’s compltely tragic, the meaning of my life will kill me…Because the meaning of life is to be diluted inside, to die.
This impossibility of Jouissance through language combines with the barrier of pleasure. Pleasure, this gentle state where things reach me with lightness, where in relation to the world and myself I am not in a state of aggressive confrontation nor mixture where I would be diluted. I speak, and I want to continue…
To continue what started that fateful moment. When the swimmer, carried between contracting walls was rejected from the maternal vagina. Expelled from the waters, the swimmer became an individual body, me. Whilst the waters settled, my mother appeared. A separate body to which, despite everything, I was still merged, but without truly being merged any more. She kept watch over and provided for me, since I was incapable of supporting myself with life’s essentials. Her gestures, looks, her voice, the contact of her skin, even the lightest touches were worn by me as marks of love. These marks left their implacable imprints on me. Hollowed, I was completely filled by them. And as flowing water hollows the bed of a river, they hollowed out the bed of love in me – the bed of my love. From that moment, the bed of my love started to demand the flow of love. An absolute and fatal request. Now I cried out in love…She hollowed a raging hunger in me. Fatally, this made her the all-powerful being in my infantile eyes, I was incapable of managing without her. Yes, she had to be the absolute Other, who held the key to the Treasure: filling in the gaps that the simple fact of my birth had left in me. But she was also good and loving, considering that she was also human, therefore inevitably deprived, vulnerable, limited and mortal, how could she have satisfied me totally, pacified me and comforted me absolutely? No human could…That’s why from the first months of my life, infallible infantile sensitivity knew itself to be at the very beginning of Tragedy, the source of all ills: the absolute Other, beyond the human that can bring the universal satisfaction demanded by our mediocre and unhappy nature, doesn’t exist. I was caught in a pincer movement between two inevitabilities which trapped me between them until I was anxious. The first inevitability made me experience my mother as all-powerful, raging, ready to grab me if things went too far. So at the same time, I could only collide with the other inevitability, this divinity that would totally fulfil me didn’t exist. That was the source of my terrifying anguish. I cried often, as very young youths do, former swimmers pulled from the waters. These tears, a bitter expression of my anguish provoked by those two contradicting facts, continued to hollow the bed of a strange river. A river that could only flow twisted, whose waters flow against themselves, driven by the this original and fatal contradiction.
Then, something unheard of happened. The non-existence of this mother to which I would be merged in exclusive love, but who actually doesn’t exist (the impossibility of full Jouissance, making one with the pure moment, merging totally with life when one only merges with death) made me find my bearings and look to attach myself to things other than her. I had to attach myself, divided up inside, to substitutes. So, in my hollowed bed, desire started to flow. Desire is contradictory. It is both acceptance that no happy solution will be found in the search for love (are we sure the one we love loves us at every moment?) yet despite that, it is the force that pulls us towards points of attraction that can appease, soften the raging hunger of the search for love. Desire has calmed my anguish by bringing attractors to me who, arousing my interest, have distracted me from my unappeasable fascination with the all-powerful Other. For me, this was mostly a brown teddy bear, for you, I don’t know.
It is through the birth of desire that the original law is formed, this banned fusion with the mother. But this law reveals its true nature: if the mother is forbidden then she is, as all-powerful and undefined ocean with which to merge, IMPOSSIBLE. Impossibility comes first. The impossibility of absolute love, of complete fusion with the mother, with life (swimmer merged with water), hence the impossibility of Jouissance, squeezed by anguish, has created oxygen, desire. From desire, the Law is born, the two of them inextricably linked. Since desire means to go other than the mother, and since not merging with the mother is the Law, the Law and desire are the same thing. If happiness in this world is impossible, it’s not, as those idiots think, the fault of poor social organisation, but because we are living, individualised and speaking…That’s to say straightaway subjected to the Cut. The Cutting away of Fusion and Jouissance. But a natural Cut, in fact. Simply, the way in which desire attaches itself to the Law. In this paradoxical river composed of contradicting currents that flow against themselves, I collided when I started to speak, with the first spring of the secret mechanism of subversion. Something which only forms in a struggle against its opposite pole. That which grows stronger through fighting. Is there anything more contradictory than that, desire born specifically in creating the forbidden? From where my little swimming being has been, has become a speaking and desiring being. A process that surged into the mind, unknown to the self. A template process for all subversion.
From then, I felt my fundamental guilt. Ceaselessly thinking of prisons, anxious of being shut up, in my turn, I had to be guilty of something, What crucial lack, was I liable for? I still wanted to cry. But I didn’t cry, because I felt that no cry could be powerful enough to express the life in me that, pulsating, wanted to nakedly express itself. Raw and naked. Guilty of not heeding the enigmatic call of Jouissance, the meaning of life that always escapes us, to its absolute point. Unable to totally experience myself in this world, not able to express Jouissance fully, only being able to feel sporadically, in fits and starts, between the lines (she is inter-dite) and, since the absolute Other (the entity that really could do anything) doesn’t exist, it’s me who is…it’s you who is…it’s everyone of us who is…responsible for it. The meaning of life for everyone, is to make it happen, to experience it, to unfurl it. Guilty of not taking full control. Some people have called this early guilt the original sin. Freud, more clearly, called it the ‘castration complex’. He called it that because of the phallus that can be cut off, is a symbol of punishment. If you have really understood this fable, you’ll have seen that guilt also troubles women with frantic thirst for love and the impossibility of Jouissance, you will have also grasped that when it comes to total love, and full Jouissance they are isolated, guilty and, so, castrated. In which case the whole explosion of Jouissance is subverted in Law. Law built on desire, an artificial rule fixed on an impossibility. By taking this route, I’ve discovered along the way that my father existed. In my eyes, it was him that had kept me apart from my needed return to the original bubble where me-the-swimmer and my sea-mother made one, by coming between us. In doing, he forbade her to me (inter-dite, still remaining despite the entre-dits, between the lines, sporadically). In this way, he introduced Law: You will stop the deadly fusion with her, because being in total fusion is dying as an individual being. My father who, like my mother, doesn’t have a full body, being not containing himself, sketching for me the indefinite dimension of…infinity. The only place that bliss can come from. His body is make of peaks, spiked and closed in on himself in the way he came full-footed into the world. Through him, the intrinsic impossibility of Jouissance became something else, took a different colour. Stood up to the Forbidden. Life had to go on, to do that, it was necessary to push through these closed bodies, to forget the magic maternal infinity.
The fundamental tragic impossibility, has thus become…the forbidden.
How wonderous the forbidden is! It makes something seem possible, and all the more so because it is forbidden. If it, Jouissance, is forbidden, then it exists, then it can only be experienced without the forbidden. Supreme illusion. This supreme illusion is the secret spring of subversion. One which overturns the normal set-up. If desire is subversive, then its not in the usual way: saying go against the law, the established order. On the contrary, desire IS the subversion in that it established the law. That’s why to go against something, makes that thing exist more fully…If I can’t live, that’s to say die, within the perfect mix where I dilute myself, I will not have to stop trying to reach the beings and things that will, little by little, tempt me, whilst totally distracting me.

I shouldn’t forget, yet the whole tragedy forgets itself very quickly. Precisely the same desire that creates subversion is that which blocks me from Jouissance. By definition.

Why then believe in the law of the father, with his prohibition, which is only a masquerade. A masquerade of the quasi-natural impossibility of Jouissance. The little rebel in me, not having forgotten her past – before time – as a swimmer endlessly recalling that subversion is only sleight of hand, spits on the subversive. In order to receive something new, passion. Passion that says a full ‘yes’ to tragedy. A woman of passion is perverse. Something in my being has taken the Law into its engine, punishment, to turn it into its opposite. And punishment, which in the established order is a sanction of the Law becomes a condition of Jouissance. Subversion turns back on itself and in doing so, starts to unravel. And everything turns upside down. From that moment, the state of symbiosis is no longer in the past, but to come. It is still to be created. The mother is to create, she who is the Law. Is it her who beats, or her who is beaten? What does it matter? Those that play different roles mixing whilst subversion unravels, that which fixes the arrangement in the order of desire which diverts the essential waters. As she unravels, then everything can circulate freely. Bodies melt into each other. In passion.