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Being ravished means being taken away, being displaced, being raptured, being dispossessed. The “of ” in The Ravishing of Lol V. Stein is not without ambiguities. Is it an objective or subjective genitive? As objective, we could understand “of ” as Lol being ravished by the scenes that she witnesses, including both the passively observed encounter between Michael Richardson and Anne-Marie Stretter, as well as the amorous meetings she actively does not see between Jacques Hold and Tatiana Karl. If we read “of ” as a subjective genitive, this implies that Lol is the one who ravishes others, or is at least the cause of others’ ravishment. Quite clearly, at the level of the narrative, it is Jacques Hold who has been ravished. From this second perspective, the relation between Jacques Hold and Lol is similar in many respects to the relation between female mystics and their confessors, in which the female subject is ravished and the male confessor, for his part, is ravished by this ravishment, only to subsequently attempt to guide her in such ravishment.

When Love is the Law But this guidance is ambiguous: while based on trust in the divine truth of the mystic inspirations, the confessor often attempts to bring the inspirations into conformity with existing theology. Or, as in the case of Fénelon and Madame Guyon, the male confessor struggles to formulate new theological theses and defend them in relation to an existing tradition.7 The title of Duras’ text is open to these possible readings, and with the title everything is made present: one person causes/is overwhelmed by ravishment. In this respect Lol V. Stein is a turning point in Duras’s oeuvre (which eventually leads her to construct one-scene works like Agatha, The Malady of Death, and The Man Sitting in the Corridor). The scene Lol witnesses at the Casino, which structures the entire novel, is not simply the starting point of a narrative, nor simply its traumatic origin, but has within it the power to render any narrative impossible: like a black hole it absorbs each of the characters and their histories. The scene has an implosive effect, making any attempt at spatial or temporal expansion extremely precarious. It was Foucault

who compared the characters in Duras’ récits to the figures painted by Bacon9:

rendering the space of a void, or exposing an open mouth, both reveal the disappearing or dissolution of the body.9


One could use the expression “absence of time” to describe this eternal moment in which Lol is caught. The narrative that follows the scene at the Casino is nothing but the description of this timelessness. What do we mean, however, when we say “timelessness”? Positing an opposition between the presence and absence of time would be much too easy, especially since it would take for granted that we know what “time” is. Lacan, in “Logical Time,” describes three modalities of time: the instant of the glance, the time for comprehending, and the moment of concluding. It would be a mistake to think that one can “be” in one of these moments. As it becomes clear in Lacan’s presentation, it is only retroactively, after one has concluded, that it makes sense to differentiate between the three modalities.

To demonstrate this retroactive differentiation of the three modes, Lacan analyzes a logical problem.10 A prison warden can free one of three prisoners, and decides to subject them to a test. He shows them five disks—three white and two black—and tells them that he is going to put one disk on each of their backs. They cannot see which one it is, and are not allowed to communicate in any way with the other prisoners. The first to come to him and tell him what color disk he has on his back will be freed. But the warden adds another condition. The conclusion must be based on logical, and not simply probabilistic reasons. That is, the prisoners cannot just make a lucky guess, but must give sound reasons for why they have come to their conclusion.

The warden proceeds to put a white disk on each prisoner’s back. How do they come to the right solution? Let’s give the three prisoners names—A, 158 Penumbra B, and C—and let’s adopt A’s perspective. A sees two whites, and knows there are five disks in play: three white and two black. If A saw two blacks, then he would know right away that he is white. But A sees two whites. From this situation, nothing can be concluded directly. So, he is forced to make a hypothesis. He supposes that he is black, and then considers what B and C would see, and what kind of hypothesis they would make in this case. If A is black, and if, for example, B supposes that he were black, then C, according to B, would be able to leave immediately, because C would see two blacks. Now, because C does not leave immediately, B should arrive at the conclusion that he is white (supposing A is black). But B also does not leave, thus A is able to conclude that he is white.

The “solution” of this problem, however, can only be qualified as “sophistic,” since, strictly speaking, none of the prisoners can conclude anything concerning their identities (the color of the disk each is wearing on their back) when confronted with two white disks. The logical reasoning is only possible on the basis of an interpretation of the situation. What Lacan calls the instant of the glance concerns what one sees at the beginning: two white disks. If the two other prisoners were wearing black disks, then the time to come to a conclusion would indeed only last an instant, “a lightening-flash time, so to speak, being equal to zero.”11 Since one cannot come to an immediate conclusion, one has to think and make a hypothesis about one’s own identity as it is perceived by the others. Lacan’s major point is that this time for comprehending is, in itself, endless and can only be put to an end by making a conclusion.

This conclusion is based on a necessary but insufficient logical reasoning.

The active intervention by the prisoners consists in understanding the other’s standing still as a hesitation. This addition to the initial hypothesis (and what can be derived from it) is motivated by an anxiety which seizes the prisoner. This anxiety cannot be attributed to the thought that one could possibly lose the game (and remain imprisoned), but the realization that the entire process of reasoning is based on the other’s standing still. As a consequence, as soon as they move, each one must not only stop thinking, but must understand that a conclusion is no longer possible.12 The importance of the analysis of this sophism resides in the specific way that time, identity, and intersubjectivity are thought together. Lacan’s thesis is that one can only acquire an identity through a decisive subjective act based on the introduction of time into an intersubjective dynamics. This action consists in “pulling a certitude out of anxiety.”13 The dimension of time is anticipatory: one anticipates a conclusion for which there are no sufficient reasons. It is only the act of conclusion that will make it possible to investigate afterward whether or not the reasoning was sound. The one who does not conclude has nothing to investigate.14 When Love is the Law LOL V. STEIN The resemblances between the game the prisoners have to play and the scene at the Casino in S. Thala are striking.15 Both situations involve three people, and the telos seems to reside in an escape. In the “Logical Time” situation the prisoner supposes him/herself to be black, which is different from the two others, who are white. As we have seen, this supposition is the first step of a reasoning that will create the conditions within which a decisive act can be made (since if one supposed him/herself to be white, like the others, nothing could be deduced). At the same time this supposition brings about anxiety, since if one were really black the others have to make one fewer suppositions. This is why Lacan gives the following account of the act: “I hasten to declare myself white, so that these whites, whom I consider this way, do not precede me in recognizing themselves for what they are. We have here the assertion about oneself through which the subject concludes the logical movement in the making of a judgment. The very return of the movement of comprehending, before which the temporal instance that objectively sustains it has vacillated, continues on in the subject in reflection. This instance reemerges for him therein in the subjective mode of a time of lagging behind the others in that very movement, logically presenting itself as the urgency of the moment of concluding.”16 The act (as the moment of concluding) comes down to making a performative declaration: identifying oneself with a signifier. It is this act that puts an end to the time for comprehending, effectively grounding sense and meaning. If one misses the moment of concluding then the time for comprehending is reduced to its initial moment of the hypothesis concerning how the others see me—a black object under their gaze. The initial hypothesis links me qua object to the gaze of the others, but delinks me from them qua subject, for I am what they are not.17 It is in this moment of the initial hypothesis that Lol appears to be caught.

From the moment that Anne-Marie Stretter enters the Casino, Lol is ravished, and everything else loses significance—to the extent that even in regard to Michael Richardson, her fiancé, Lol can state, “from the first moment that woman walked into the room I ceased to love [him]” (126). We have seen how the starting point, of finding oneself opposite two others, returns just before the last moment, the moment of concluding. The anxiety evoked in being the object of two others, which is the anxiety of being left behind18—like a “dead dog on the beach at high noon, this hole of flesh”—could potentially propel one to make a decision.19This decision requires the making of an anticipatory identification with a signifier.20 One could say that this identification is an imagined identity based on an intersubjective dynamics. Lol appears to be aware

of this possibility but does not know how to make use of it, as when she says:

“I have plenty of time, oh, how long it is” (19). Or, for instance, when Michael Richardson and Anne-Marie Stretter are about to leave, Lol tries to convince 160 Penumbra them to stay longer, since “it wasn’t late it was only the early summer dawn that made it seem later than it really was” (12). She has the infinite time of one who is convinced of the absence of the single word, the one signifier, which could represent her in a symbolic universe. She never ceases to await the arrival of this signifier. What was effectively revealed in one moment casts a

shadow on Lol that is longer than life. As the narrator21 describes it:

Again it begins: the windows closed, sealed, the ball immured in its nocturnal light, would have contained all three of them, and they alone. Lol is positive of that: together they would have been saved from the advent of another day, of one more day at least. What would have happened?

Lol does not probe very deeply into the unknown into which this moment opens. She has no memory, not even an imaginary one, she has not the faintest notion of this unknown. But what she does believe is that she must enter it, that that was what she had to do, that it would always have meant, for her mind as well as her body, both their greatest pain and their greatest joy, so commingled as to be undefinable, a single entity but unnamable for lack of a word. I like to believe—since I love her—that if Lol is silent in her daily life it is because, for a split second, she believed that this word might exist. Since it does not, she remains silent. It would have been an absence-word, a hole-word, whose center would have been hollowed out into a hole, the kind of hole in which all other words would have been buried.

It would have been impossible to utter it, but it would have been made to reverberate. (38) This absence of the word, a signifier that would represent Lol in a symbolic universe, coincides with a radical detachment from all others. As Lol says to Jacques Hold: “When I say that I no longer loved him, I mean to say that you have no idea to what lengths one can go in the absence of love” (126-127).

LOVE Thus far analogies have been made between “Logical Time” and Lol V.

Stein: an intersubjective triangular scheme, time as a logical factor, and the event as a prior and necessary condition for any subjectivity. This has allowed us to highlight an essential point in the logic of reasoning that is presented in “Logical Time”: a subjectivity is only gained through “inventing” or “jumping to” a subjective position from out of an object position. At the moment I presuppose a reasoning in an other, and thus secretly identify myself with this other, I will be confronted with an initial hypothesis—my difference from the other. This difference is not only factual, but is fully implied in the logical process that unfolds, and it is on the basis of this difference that the others can come to a decision and leave me behind. The drama does not consist in being left behind, then, but in the fact that one is left behind as an object. Even further, this object in the drama is effectively a non-object to the extent that in order for it to truly be an object one needs the gaze of others.22 An exchange When Love is the Law between Jacques Hold and Lol testifies to this: “‘For ten years I’ve been under the impression that there were only three people left: the two of them, and me.’ I ask again: ‘What is it you wanted?’ With precisely the same hesitation as before, the same interval of silence, she replies: ‘To see them’” (96).

This triangular dynamic leads to an impossible position, which in its very impossibility is the only way of arriving at a subjectivation. Lacan’s publication of “Logical Time,” and his frequent return to it throughout his oeuvre, stems from the underlying question of how such a subjectivation is possible, and how it is possible for one to think, or conceptualize its occurrence. It was in the 1950s that Lacan emphasized the necessary condition of a symbolic order. Briefly put, the intervention of the symbolic castrates the object from itself, leaving the “itself ” only to be found in the interval between the elements that constitute this order. Despite this “solution” the question still remains whether it is final, or even sufficient.

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