A mother and her future child
Women who come to undergo analysis because they suffer from sterility teach us a lot about feminine desire and the undoing of conflicts, which stop the possibility of pregnancy. With a father who often demands the sacrifice of his daughter on the altar of an idealised mother. At least, this is what these women felt as children and they cannot escape it alone.
I. Being pregnant
A recent film illustrates very well the first stage that such a woman experiences when she learns she is pregnant and asks herself “Am I going to be able to cope with this pregnancy?”
The French film ‘Le temps de l’aventure’, released in April 2013 is, for many women who have seen it and talked about it with friends or on their psychiatrist’s couch, an important work which reveals a secret yet essential part of their desire. A couple of friends1 and I strongly defended this idea against some stubborn men! Jérôme Bonnell is a young film-maker who has already shown himself to be very talented – dare I say a master, in writing a scenario which would be worthy of Racine : a unity of time and almost of place - since in seeing a meeting in a train means we don’t really leave Paris.
After an exchange of glances, which hardly conceal the nascent desire, the man asks, with a slight accent “Parlez-vous anglais, I am trying to get to Sainte Clothilde church?” The story commences and the heroin ‘stays true to her desire’ to go looking for this man. When he sees her in front of the church he asks ‘Why have you come here?’, ‘che vuoi’? Little by little he begins to recognise his desire for this beautiful woman which has been aroused by hers, and finally gives in to it fully. However, this is not a tragedy, quite the contrary.
Jérôme Bonnell wrote the scenario for the pleasure of seeing Emmanuelle Devos every day during filming. She takes on the role of a struggling actress admirably. She is radiant in her clashes with reality, with others and with herself ; she is both lost and focused and does not hesitate to plunge into an event that her entire being has waited so many years for. We will come back to this later. The director chose Gabriel Byrne to play opposite her; Coming from England in this movie, elegant, getting on in years and coping with the heartache that has come back to him as he attends the burial of a woman he had loved in his youth.
I had also recently heard the praises sung of an American TV series, called In Treatment, based on a series originally on Israeli television and dealing with psycho-analysis. However, we do not see the psychiatrist’s couch used in the same way we are accustomed to seeing it used in Europe. We see an analyst – Paul Weston – played by Gabriel Byrne as it happens, with three of his patients, whom he sees each week, as well as with his own analyst. This series of encounters is interesting in a number of ways, both in structure and in content. We are able to understand the methods employed in the US – their merits and their shortcomings – which are demonstrated with great clarity. We can easily imagine that Jérôme Bonnell had seen the last few episodes of this series. If not, then it is simply by chance that both deal with the theme of the effects nascent pregnancy in the body and the psyche of a woman can have on a romantic encounter.
Let’s talk a little about this series, which has had a lot of success. I watched the third and final season, where we see the analyst very present, very considerate and very attentive in the sessions. He is open to the subject in front of him, asking the questions necessary to enable him to weave the underlying fabric of the psyche each of us has and to translate into words the feelings, the affects, the thoughts, I would say subconscious, of his patients. The text of dreams - unconscious material - also interests him and he strives to draw out, as he must, the associations that the patients themselves evoke, before interpreting them. He wants to help his patients and does not hide from his own analyst that this vocation probably started when, as a teenager, he had to look after his own mother. The relationship between an analyst and a patient invites transfer. Listening to the intimate thoughts of others, making revealing links between the murkier areas of their lives and, moreover, not hesitating to get involved in their social and family life in the name of ethics, such are the characteristics of American psycho-therapy.
Very cleverly, this series does not conceal the fact that, in the exercise of his or her function, a therapist can have personal problems with his or her partner and/or children and can even have to accept a rather solitary life. Paul Weston’s analyst is young and attractive women and has, as he puts it, ‘a mix of total presence and intelligent distance’. What man, who likes women, would be able to resist in a one on one situation when facing such charm? Paul Weston wants to affirm that he is really a psycho-analyst by daring to express his love for her. He is not an ordinary patient. Of course he knows the theory of transfer but he wants to go beyond it, up to the moment he realises she is pregnant. There the game stops for him. She tries to challenge the narrowness of her life but Paul Watson stubbornly maintains his position. He imagines that she is alone and we, the viewers, we know he guessed correctly. We wanted this child together, he imagines; “Understand that I am ready to accept it”. Such is his position in front of this woman who does not respond in the same terms, but rather shows she is worried about certain difficult turning points in his emotional and professional life. She resists perfectly his amorous transfer but her patient’s discussions about a professional difficulty capture her attention. She is especially afraid that she hasn’t done enough to protect children from possible violence by their grandfather, one of Paul’s patients. Effects of pregnancy - and she reacts to Paul’s definitive decision to stop his therapy by taking her patient’s hand between her own… She remains in her role of psycho-therapist, while making it known… Has her desire really gone out of the window?
Moreover, Paul Watson has great difficulty to accept breaking with his patients, even when this is linked to undeniable progress in their lives. For example, the case of an adopted teenage boy contacted by his ‘blood’ family. Very quickly this boy, despite a difficult past, comes to realise that his ‘real father’ is the one who raised him. But the therapist encourages him to make contact with his original family. A failure, but a great success despite everything for this teen because the adoptive father, as the drama unfolds, takes his rightful place in his son’s life. Bizarrely, Paul Weston is devastated by this, and does not accept the significance of the symbolism in this young man’s life.
This concept of psycho-analysis, which here contains is own self-criticism, reminds me of Conrad Stein’s theory on ‘the imaginary child’ and its effects. One of my friends, whose analyst was of this school of thought, returned from holiday in Greece pregnant, not really knowing if she should keep the baby or not. I asked her:
-Who is the father?
-There isn’t one. I spent the night in a tent. I slept. That’s all.
-You’re making fun of me, I told her. What does your analyst say?
-He told me I am very annoying, that when a woman is pregnant during psycho-analysis she is pregnant in her subconscious, by her psycho-analyst. (It looks like Paul Weston’s theory, who thought that if his analyst is expecting a baby, she wants it with him).
I said nothing and thought: He should give his name to the baby! But let’s not judge too quickly. My friend gave birth. Then she met a man who adopted the baby and they had two more children. Symbolism can therefore reappear where the imaginary had first of all prevailed.
Following this American series, Gabriel Byrne crossed the Atlantic and met, with seemingly genuine surprise, what Americans call ‘The French Theory’, one of the key figures of which was Jacques Lacan. The existence of the scenario of ‘Le temps de l’aventure’ proves, it seems to me, that it has had some influence on the idea of romantic relationships in France, or rather on the way of relating them, although in a somewhat limited social milieu, it is true to say.
Before leaving for Calais Alix asks her the ‘trust question’ as a friend of my mother said when she was thinking of having a fourth child and decided to speak about it with her husband. “Antoine, I have a very important question, if we could start over, would you still choose me?” “What has this question to do with anything?” replied her partner. All day will be marked by attempts to reach each other, to speak, but this is not their day for verbal communication. Alix knows she is pregnant for the first time in her life at 42 years old. Can this particularly precious pregnancy go to its full term? Is it possible? This is the question which preoccupies her and pushes her to maintain a strong desire. She is ready to grasp this opportunity, maybe as soon as she saw this man in the train and their eyes met. She could have found herself in front of a man who said to himself “who is this mad woman!” and pushed her away without ceremony. But the man she met, who was old enough to be her father, simply asks himself why? Not so much “what does she want with me?” but simply “what does she want?” What does this woman desire? He slowly allows himself to be carried along by his own rising desire. After they have made love, Alix takes advantage of a moment when the man is dozing to leave, a man whose name she doesn’t yet know. In the street she bumps into a post, a scene which is also in the trailer, proof that it was an important moment for Jérôme Bonnell. A woman stops and says “you should put your cheek somewhere cold. So it doesn’t swell. I’m a doctor”. Alix hugs the post and presses her cheek against it. A passer-by says “what a handsome couple!” And here is the obligatory encounter for Alix, who is pregnant, with the third element – the phallus, which Lacan has taught us to spot and which the director has quite rightly made an element first of all outside the body. As babies we start in limbo. ‘The tissue of the soul’ to borrow Leibnitz’s elegant expression, surrounds us, saves us from the void. At one year old (let’s use a metaphor to explain this mystery),  a baby finds, God knows how, a stick which will lift up the flesh, straighten the tissue, raise it like a flag this will give the subject its identity that society owes it to recognise, by registering it, at birth, in the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The phallus is the third element, upright, the mysterious meeting with which enables the baby to rise up and, like every little human being, to walk. Here is the first stage of the ‘phallic function’.
I wrote that « 2001 a space odyssey »tells this moment. Reading in English about this film, I found online by Wikipedia : « When the black monolith appears, Men-apes approach it, shrieking and jumping” And so I can understand that imaginary identification of “The mirror identification” of Lacan and his jubilant position of the baby who see his reflection for the first time, is jointed to this period of childhood.
The infant joins the world of language, in the meaningful chain, and the phallus will be first of all a signifiant, sans signifié, a linguistic element which slips in furtively to mark the ‘ONE’ in its verticality. There is much ambiguity in the French language for the word ‘droit’. Starting with ‘Droit’ in the sense of ‘rights’ in the field of law, which is symbolised by the sword and scales of justice; to much later, in the field of sexual differences when the infant will discover the specificity of the male sex, able to become straight (droit) and erect. So, for the infant, but only if the parents have not seduced him or her prematurely, the phallic issue will enter stealthily into the sexual language which of course already exists in the psyche of the mother and the father raising him or her, and very soon in the language which give the difference between boy and girl.
But the infant does not immediately have, even when speaking, the idea of sexual difference. Anatomy will divide those who have it from those who do not, those who are classified according the active side of their sexuality and those classified according to the passive side. The cream on the cake for psycho-analysts, it should be said, and moreover repeated ad infinitum. The role, the function of the phallus which makes us hold on in the face of adversity is much greater. And the phallus has two aspects, like a flag; a pole which keeps it upright and the fabric which flutters in the wind.
And Alix, who is going to be a mother cannot escape from… a pole, even if up to then she has rather fled from the question of the power of the ‘all phallic’ which prescribes, and which is held on the edge of the cloth, of Lacan’s ‘pas-tout’ where one only has disappointing encounters: ‘I am the first rag and bone man of Paris’ said Picasso, sure of his genius. And who knew which side the artist positioned himself opposite the man of power or even man of action than him, clinging to this ‘ONE’ of the ‘all-phallic’.
Alix continues on her way. She needs 15 Euros. She could have asked the man she left at the hotel. This would have spoilt the sense of adventure which, resting on pure desire, is not accompanied by any demand in reality and which is expressed, at Alix’s age, through sexuality. She will ask her sister for the money, who takes advantage of this to be odious. She responds tit for tat. Several times Alix’s mother tries to reach the girls. “Oh, you are not angry with each other, wonderful”. There is no sign of the father, Alix’s sister has been craftier than her to be the ‘daddy’s girl’. But Alix is finally expecting a baby, after having suffered with sterility for so many years.
How many women – and men too – have heard their psycho-analysts utter the phrase, which can only accentuate the heartbreak “you are looking for a father figure…”
Alix will say to Doug, for this is his name, after he has asked once again “why did you follow me?” “I didn’t follow you, I came and I found you, it’s not the same”, admitting that she guessed he would be able to accept her need to be seen as desirable and loveable by the representative of a father, capable of proving that he loves not only his wife, but also his daughter and will accept that she goes her way without him. For centuries a woman could go and find a ‘Father’, a priest who had the function of occupying a third position. Nowadays, it is often the gynaecologist who has this role. In the film, oedipal sexual desire is the game, without inhibition. Monique Bydlowski, after a long study of listening to pregnant women, teaches us just how often this ‘oedipal’ sexuality arises during this very special moment in a woman’s life.
Of course, this story is not to everyone’s taste. A pregnant woman who gives herself to a stranger she met on a train, before even informing the baby’s father of her condition, does not follow the norms of morality. To put it more simply; it would be very understandable if the man who conceived the baby learned of this deviation of desire in his partner was very troubled, to say the least. Even if it is a stage that Alix must pass through to be able to transmit what, as a woman, she does not have on a sexual level – the phallus – such as it becomes after the phallic phase, the moment of discovering the sexual difference which enters stealthily, as already described, in the phallic function which up to this point was common to the two sexes. So, as much as the establishment of the phallic function is identical – or nearly so – during the three first years of life for all humans whatever their sex, the phallic phase resulting from the introduction question of phallic reality as difference in sexuality. Each subject evolves in a personal way.
In the case of this young woman who has recently discovered the beginning of her pregnancy, a new stage is starting - if she recognises it. And she asks herself “can I be a mother or not?” If she has a son she will pass on what she does not have. The love of her father will help her to accept it without too much envy or hatred. On the other hand, any baby, as it grows, will need to build itself around the phallic function. A mother must have, therefore, the feeling that she can lean on a third party. Obviously it would have been preferable for Alix that at 16 her father recognised her budding femininity and the desire she aroused in him and which he ignored because she was his daughter and he obeyed the taboo of incest. Alix probably did not have this luck but she yields to desire now; as Gilles Deleuze has said of the word ‘desire’ in his guide written with Claire Pernet – it is built.
She exercises a freedom which in fact is paradoxically an obligation linked to her project to have a child and to be able to assume the upbringing while remaining upright and capable of order, without being completely dependent regarding the baby’s father. And in this ‘time of adventure’, finally, she encounters the love of a man, which takes the place for her of the third party, so dear to André Green, and who will respect her freedom. Indeed, she will be able to remember this all her life. As for Doug, he came to bury a woman he had loved, and left with the address of a living woman, pregnant with a baby of whom he is the godfather, the symbolic father, even if the affair happened through sexual desire, so much more intense as it had an incestuous aspect. How many young women go through a period of loving an older man! The role of the Father, Lacan said, is to ‘combine desire and the law’.
Despite this affirmation, Lacan chose another way for psycho-analytical ethics. He never hid his admiration for mystical experiences which ‘one can read better’. He preferred the ‘pure desire’ of Antigone, the young woman that Sophocles created and who, before Jesus Christ, gave her life for her brother, giving up the happiness of living. The honour of this choice remains certain and we can only guess to what extent women will go; women such as Simone Weill or Mother Theresa, for an absolute love. The youngest student of Lacan, and closest to him, Catherine Millot, drew the consequences of this mystical approach in her book ‘O solitude’, whose title, for her alone, states where this choice leads. O joy of emptiness, she wrote. This choice is often, for a woman, the consequence of a father who demanded that his daughter sacrifice her sex life and her desire to have a child. This choice can also be purely personal, an independent calling.
This ethic was expressed by Lacan in his lesson of 15th January 1976, coming ‘from a person who had only notes’: “I ask you to refuse what I offer you because it’s not that… not that I ask you to accept, because I am only dealing with the knot itself”. What are these moving words about? After an affirmation, English usually questions an affirmation. In French, we go straight the interrogation. Is this the illustration of a full acceptance of sexual difference, which leaves the possibility open of the “not having” of the missing being and the fall into the hole of loss, of its part of the real? A black hole for some (men and women), a welcoming hole full of new joy for others. O solitude indeed and fallback on the richness of his own psyche. We can bet that when Lacan had finished his seminar on January 15th 1974, he turned to this ‘person who only had notes’ whose identity he never gave, and congratulated him with a certain, special look which, it seems, he knew the secret. Like a few other men, it must be said. A burning, look sparkling with the debt of having been able to go a little further into the wells of Truth, a subject he was passionate about.
As beautiful as this concept of ethics is, the psycho-analyst cannot stop there. We must, we psycho-analysts, defend another evolution of ethics, which was that of Freud, the purity of which is in no way lacking, and which allows us to join sexual desire with the Symbolic. Something on which, as a starting point, all psycho-analysts, from both the lacanian and the SPP sides agree. A point of view that is expressed in the film ‘Le temps de l’aventure’ and which is very much a subject for today. In September 2013, a debate on France Culture brought together women around the theme of love. Laure Adler, from the youngest generation of Lacan’s students chose Simone Weil’s elegy to love. A young philosopher, Catherine Malabou, picked up the ideas of the neuro-scientist Antonio Damasio about neurological plasticity which allows the subject to evolve depending on his or her environment, to be able reintroduce the ‘loving soul’ to the centre of philosophy – to counter Descartes, accused of having given too much priority to thinking. Of Freud no question… Let’s stop, however, lamenting about our era, which would be a regression and let’s look, on the contrary, at the evolution in ethics which our young director shows. A witness to the need for young girls to go through and resolve the Oedipus complex, normally around 5 or 6 years old. Then by the teenager who asks for a gift from her father. So that she can, in her turn, without too much hate, pass on what she was lacking, as she understood during the phallic crisis around 3 years old. This is what Freud called the genital phase, the oblativity of which is highlighted by American psycho-analysts. A notion which hardly has any sense as it does not specify who is the giver. Lacan criticised this a lot, although he recognised the necessity for the daughter to ask her father to give her – I would say on loan – what she does not have but will have to pass on when the time comes. Indeed, the father gives his daughter a part of his love, proof that he does not only love the child’s mother, his wife, even if she causes his desire. So when she becomes a woman she will be able to identify herself with her mother. And if the little girl does not see a father by her mother’s side? Then, like Alix, she will have to find a substitute. The little girl, the young girl – except if she is anorexic and want to prove the value of the “rien”– and then the woman, stop lamenting to address someone, as it happens their father, a person entirely apart and no longer an object. Alix, affirms her desire, “I don’t want – or I no longer want anything” a double negation which signifies the giving up of enjoying reality alone and marks the entry into the desire which passes through another, but which has limits. In following in Lacan’s footsteps, Alix finally says to the man she met “I ask you to give up, as I myself have done, what we gave each other, because what you gave me, what I was lacking, I will have to pass on in turn”. Femininity is no longer a masquerade but a work, ‘an inventing’ to use Claude-Noëlle Pickmann’s expression. Certain psycho-analysts today, just as in the past, follow this projection for the ethics of their practice, and I can personally confirm this. Lacan himself, despite his interest in mysticism, deeply respected pregnancy in women. One of the many anecdotes told about him touched me deeply. At the end of his life, he continued to present the sick from Sainte Anne Hospital with the aim of training young psycho-analysts. It was at the beginning of 1979. It was already difficult for him to speak. Near the exit, everyone was protecting themself from the sun under the plane trees in the courtyard, near the Magnan amphitheatre which they had just left. For several minutes Lacan stared at a young woman, obviously pregnant, who was wearing, as was the habit at this time, a flared pink dress with smocking and pleats. Was he ready for an affair? Certainly yes, he had had so many others!
Emmanuelle Devos said, in an interview, that she arrived on the set to film the love-making scenes with a heart beating so loudly that a technician heard it. Her heart doesn’t skip a beat.
‘Admirable shivering of time’, wrote Gaëton Picon
Admirable shivering of the body…
II. In Venice, the mother carries her baby on her lap
The baby is born. How does a mother pass from her own mental issues to the attention of her infant? A changeover completely different to the reassurance of Symbolism happened during pregnancy. We could practically write the word reverses. We have seen it, the phallic function is a construction which is built little by little. The baby, it needs to encounter the tissue of love, which in the psyche of the mother had seen itself caught on this rod, of which the newborn baby has no need. In caring for her baby she must detach herself from it.
Moreover, if the baby meets it prematurely, the pain can be so strong that he or she moves away from the mother, not to say becomes enclosed in autism. The pregnant woman, if she knits with needles, should give them up when the little jacket is finished. ‘And put down the needle when the baby jacket has the right shape.’ Nowadays, these are just metaphors… Ready to wear is now here, even for babies… But the mental process remains the same. Winnicott insisted on the ‘unhealthy’ aspect which covers the regression of the young mother, accompanied by the extreme attention which goes with it. Monique Bydlowski used paintings, well before me, to illustrate a concept she calls ‘mental transparency’. The young mother is not only turning around her baby ; she finds, Monique Bydlowski wrote, her own ‘internal object’, I would say the traces of her own love tissue which will melt due to the necessity of its transmission to the baby.
The lost look
How many ‘Madonnas con bambino’ are there in the world’s museums? We are going to focus our attention on a painter – Giovanni Bellini – and more specifically a room in the Academia museum in Venice, recently lovingly renovated in a pale duck-egg blue, which sets off the canvases perfectly. Giovanni Bellini was the son of Jacopo Bellini. And the brother-in-law of Mantegna, whose influence he came under. He was born around 1435 and died in 1516, in the middle of the renaissance, at the crossroads of Christianity and the rediscovery of the Greek world. Two paintings are currently displayed side by side – The Madonna of the Small Trees and The Madonna Enthroned Adoring the Sleeping Child.
Both have something in common. The faces are at a slight angle and the look is very special. The eyelids are lowered and the eyes turned towards the right with a movement which, if you try to do it, is painful and uses a nerve called the ‘trochlear’, the eyes do not look at the onlooker but at a mysterious, invisible point.
Firstly, these paintings must be placed in the theological discourse which was their source and their sponsor. Fra Angelico, after Giotto, had painted marble under his holy characters. Mystery of the divine tissue, of this tissue which, for the Virgin more than for any other woman must represent the essential object which made her exist as a woman to the extent that she accepted to conceive a child coming from the divine love of a father who only made himself known through a messenger – the archangel. This common point, this look of pathos was the means used by Monique Bydlowski to illustrate what she called ‘mental transparency’, particularly active during pregnancy. This experience has no equal and which awakens all the necessities and the conflicts, but also does the necessary work of removing inhibition. But the transparency is of a very special type since ‘the internal object’, the tissue of love is only seen in the shadows, or is even invisible. Thus, a new reason to lower the eyes; it is not a question of seeing, but of finding a sort of primary narcissism which is not of a specular nature. When Narcissus is looking at his reflection in the water, he is lost; since his being is of another kind than a simple reflection.
The stick raises the tissue of love, which weaves the background of the unconscious and receives the written traces of desire and the texts of the unconscious dream. A pregnant woman, after needing to reassure herself of the possibility of counting on the phallic force external to her, will have to detach her own mooring from the ‘all phallic’. It is very interesting that Monique Bydlowski saw in this ‘pathetic’ look a trait which has a universal value, showing a particularity of the look that a woman brings to bear on herself, her deep, essential self, of invisible essence. Maternity leave shows that society feels a duty to respect this period and this special state. We could also imagine that if Christianity had, and continues to have, such an impact on millions of people, it is because it reveals, among other things, a side of the unconscious, the moment so specific of pregnancy. But we must also take into account the historic environment in which this moving gaze is made, within the circumstances of Christianity.
For my part, I am struck by the differences between the paintings in this room. The Madonna of the Small Trees which owes its title to the two trees placed in the background, show a baby standing upright. His sex clearly visible, the hands of his mother, with long fine fingers, are supporting him. The baby also is not looking at us. Although his feet rest one on top of the other, as will be the case on the cross, and the signature and date of the painting – 1487 – are written, the painting as a whole gives off a feeling of serenity. Madonna Enthroned Adoring the Sleeping Child is something else entirely. The look is ‘pathetic’ but moreover the young woman has a sort of pout of suffering, the hands are joined in prayer while the baby who is supposedly sleeping is already in the position of the future crucifixion.
It appears he is not really resting on his mother’s lap. If he does not fall it is because he is weightless. Behind this Virgin, a very young woman in suffering, there is the opening of the black hole of a fireplace. Maybe she knew ‘the marvel of childbirth’ to use the expression of Bernard Golse and Monique Bydlowski but from all appearances the unhappiness is there.
She will have been happy for a moment; but the weight of the past and the future are already present for her. And the baby is in the position of the body of Christ on the cross, placed lengthwise on the lap of his mother. On the same theme, then, Giovanni Bellini distinguishes two very different situations in which the psyches of these two young women are captured. One obeys the decentring which Christian discourse demands, forbidding desire and pushing the look towards an invisible point which reflects on the psyche of the mother. But the mood in the Madonna of the Small Trees is happy, while the tragic destiny of Christ is already fully present in the psyche of the other Madonna, already on a throne to accept the death of her son. Can we conclude from this that the painter also cast a clinical regard on the psyche of these two young women? That he observed that certain young mothers are happy and others suffering? To this question I will reply yes; but the range and the finesse of Bellini’s observations go much further.
The look refound
Facing these two Virgins with Child that we have just admired, another painting is waiting for us – ‘Madonna and Child with Saint Paul and Saint George’. The eyes of these two saints are slightly turned away, but the Virgin is no longer alone with the infant. Two men are present: Saint George is holding his famous lance, the one he used to fell the dragon and Saint Paul holds the pommel of a sword. Naturally the Virgin is not looking at the onlooker but her look is ????, she is looking to the front and the child also has a look which is not lost in limbo. The active phallicism of the men allows the young woman to find her regard. The importance, wrote Bernard Golse and Monique Bydlowski is « that the father looking at the mother pulls her out of her dream of pregnancy ».
The new room at the Academia exhibits another ‘Madonna col Bambino’, the Virgin know as ‘Contarini’. Clearly Bellini is a great clinician because this Madonna is completely different to the other three, except for the colours of the clothes ; always the same, coded to be those of the Virgin – red dress and blue silk coat ; her own colours, just like the colours of a flag are always the same. One element of this painting is particularly striking – the hands of the Virgin are huge, of a disproportionate size compared to the standing baby. The left hand of the Virgin covers, without hiding, the genitals of the little boy, in no way embarrassed by this gesture and the right hand is making a blessing with three raised fingers, her eyes raised to heaven. The look of the Virgin is present. Let’s say it: this woman gives off certain masculinity. Why wouldn’t she be homosexual? At the heart of the story of this is a woman, a Virgin, who will be able to give birth after the Visitation of another woman and whose only penetration is by an angel’s ray of light, is this not the dream of today’s homosexual woman? We will say no more to avoid shocking the believers. At the time of the Italian Renaissance, didn’t the popes have the utmost trust in Leonardo de Vinci and Michael-Angelo? Today, didn’t Pope Francis say himself “Who am I to judge homosexuals?” Why should a story that is by definition asexual be any more heterosexual than homosexual? Wouldn’t Joseph be the best of godfathers?
Bellini turns his eyes away from the desire aspect
And Giovanni, where is he?
Another museum in Venice, the Querini Stampalia Foundation, exhibits the Presentation of the Infant at the Temple. In the centre there is a standing baby, completely covered by strips of cloth of course, as was the habit of the time – the swaddling clothes. (But which makes him strangely resemble Lazarus dead, shown upright before being brought back to life.) This painting is the response to another – The Presentation at the Temple by Andrea Mantegna who married Bellini’s sister. He has rather faithfully reinterpreted the work of his brother-in-law, but in a less tragic fashion. He has added his self-portrait to the right of the painting as one looks at it, with his own eyes turned outwards. He is looking elsewhere. The painter is showing above all that he is not, as a subject, completely captured in this scene. He also, eminently masculine, is turning his look. Lacan taught us to see in this look one of the manifestations of the cause of desire – the ball – this round shape is, as I have already written, one of the first manifestations. Yet Christianity, let’s say it again, is a refusal of the first Jewish alliance between the tissue of love and the cause of desire. In the beginning, only the tissue of love exists for God himself, who is a metaphor of this, due to the incarnation and the death of the son, incarnation of the word ‘BEING’. No supporting look of desire, at the starting point of Christianity is therefore possible when one approaches the Christian mystery of this infant born to die before becoming ‘One’ with the dead father, due to the virtues of the sole tissue of love, called ‘The Holy Spirit’
Certainly Christ will give his body to be eaten by his followers, making himself also a cause of desire, but his being is not there. Must Bellini avert his eyes in front of this absolute mystery of the dead baby who must be revived to die in becoming a father ????. He will tell us where he is looking. Let’s dare to return to Academia, and look again at the central painting consisting of several small scenes. There, we see an Allegory, also by Bellini who, incidentally, signed his paintings Johannes Bellinus, with a forename that he wrote in German, a language alien to his strong Italian descent – son, brother and brother-in-law of illustrious Italian painters. Mantegna, his brother-in-law had learned Latin in the school of Francesco Squarcione in Padua, where the painters of the start of the fascinating Italian Renaissance were to be found. Bellini too, probably. This explains this signature of his name in Latin, language of the church but also of lay culture. The holy is not present here and one of the small allegories shows a woman in a cart standing in front of an enormous balloon and full of small boys who play around her. A year before his death, Bellini dared to paint ‘A Young Woman at her Toilet’. Partially undressed, she observes herself in a small mirror and as she is in front of the mirror both she and we see the back of her hair. The look is again captured by herself. We must wait until 1538, nearly 20 years, before Titian’s Venus dares a look more frankly erotic, offered to Another, as it happens the husband who ordered this painting in honour of conjugal love. Nudes had become the promise of fertility at the start of the 16th century.
The cause of desire will arrive in the field of representation. It will need another half-century for Orazio Gentileschi to dare to represent the Madonna, currently in Bucharest, offering a breast swollen like a balloon to suckle a little, hungry Jesus. The counter-reformation had converted the preceding tradition. Perhaps the new way of taking the cause of desire into account by this painter had an influence on the transmission of the art of painting to his daughter Artemesia Gentileschi, who also painted a ‘Madonna Breast-feeding’, with a breast clearly visible.
The cause of desire, and its support - the breast, whose importance has been so obvious since the beginning of humanity in the mother/child relationship, made its appearance at the start of the 17th century in the western pictorial discourse, temporarily freed from the weight of the church. It is now possible to see the erotic side of this relationship? The young mother has, in fact, always had a double work to assume for her baby: to ensure the base of his being by her own mental division but also to offer the cause of desire, starting point for erotic life, which marks the psyche of every baby. And most often, she manages this very well.
What is moving is that the Renaissance painters had already been so close to modern clinical ideas. Monique Bydlowski worked for 30 years at INSERM. Bernard Golse, professor of paedo-psychiatry at the Hospital for Sick Children, has spent his life listening to ‘baby beings’ and their mothers. That their research, and more modestly my own, is already contained in the knowledge of five paintings by a Venetian painter gives us the happy feeling of being part of the great flow of human civilisation. Letting oneself be carried, without sinking to the bottom; there is a goal, there is a happiness.