In a lecture given on the Function of the Field of Speech and Language, Jacques Lacan discusses, what we will call, our stage-fright complex. According to Lacan, the mere act of revealing something is such a powerful, psychological one that it scares us. Frightening us enough to make us turn away from the very act itself. [i]

Does this explain why there is so much small talk between human beings, because the normal psychological state is to be too frightened to go too far with what our language can reveal? In society we see it over and over again, a constant avoidance of the thorny issues, or a repression of the filthy ones. But our repression of reality is not just confined to psychological issues, we do it on all levels of communication, and it exists on all planes of society and in all fields: families, companies, parliaments; in economics, in history and in science; when we are working, when studying, when playing, when loving or shopping… humanity is locked in a continual process of minimising or even avoiding what Lacan calls the true face of our power. And in that power of speech also lies the true face of human responsibility – our capacity to uncover and reveal.

Of course common sense tells us that this stage-fright in a real life context has a practical function. By mitigating its importance aren’t we avoiding the stress that the seriousness of constant revealing would imply? If we were to illustrate a society in which all communication is deep and meaningful, we would have to draw a culture devoid of fun and relaxation. Might it not be that it is precisely our ability to reveal that our language has empowered us with that has, at the same time, engendered our need for escape and for having fun. This don for discovery, this gift of revelation, this all-too-human ability, creates a responsibility, that creates a stress, that we find ourselves running away from. Until we even stop believing in the don itself. Until we stop using language for what it should be used for and participate in its degeneration and degradation.

The dialectic between revealing and escape creates its own vicious circle. With time, small talk, rather than acting as a relief from too much depth, has turned into a dogma that prohibits depth. Our stage-fright is no longer brought on because of the truth we might uncover is too tremendous. No, now our fear is that we will be booed off the stage for even trying.

[i] Jacques Lacan, Écrits, p. 242


3 thoughts on “OUR STAGE-FRIGHT

  1. Interesting thoughts. On a similar note, here’s a favorite passage from Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, in which Mrs. Ramsay ponders the endless dialectic of revealing and concealing ourselves in intersubjective space. (I also think this passage captures in miniature the quality of the prose and the spirit of the novel as a whole.)

    “It could not last, she knew, but at the moment her eyes were so clear that they seemed to go round the table unveiling each of these people, and their thoughts and their feelings, without effort like a light stealing under water so that its ripples and the reeds in it and the minnows balancing themselves, and the sudden silent trout are all lit up hanging, trembling.”

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