Are you referring to that “need to believe” you famously coined in an eponymous book?
When I refer to that “need to believe”, and that is what the psychoanalytical experience revealed to me: it’s a universal, anthropological need that goes through all religions, that is pre-religious and pre-political, and you find it in the ability of the human being to invest him or herself in another human being. What I mean by invest is to give oneself to another human being, to understand his or her emotions, to care for him, and to expect the same for oneself from the other. You find it in the primordial care of the mother for her child. You find it as well in what Freud calls primary identification to the father. And you know what the Sanskrit word is for invest? In German you say Besetzung or cathexis in English. The Indo-European root is “cred” which gives us credo, and words like credit. This ability to live because you invest. Because I invest, I create a link, not a link of submission or exploitation but a reciprocal link, reciprocal penetration. This is the ultimate form of freedom which is a sort of love, which is also maybe the experience that the Christian, Greek and Jewish civilization investigated the deepest, with a maximum of passion and lucidity and, for me, as a writer and a psychoanalysis, this is what is the counterweight to all dangers of technocratisation, robotisation and banalisation of the human.
How does God fit in this picture?
In the form of the rush towards religion. People are looking for that investment in the other, this very warm, affective, emotional, amorous relationship within a community. The word God is a bit opaque, a bit ambitious and sometimes empty. As humanists we tend to avoid it when referring to an unfulfilled desire for this kind of reciprocity.
But isn’t the persistence of religion a consequence of that ‘roboticised’, ‘technocraticised’ society that ignored that need?
It’s only one of the consequences of modern society. From the very time man starts talking, he’s in technology, he Facebooks, he gives himself the means to communicate a part of his experiences. But when man does only that, and economics and politics are put to the service of only that, we totally forget about depth, which is something you need to develop. We do not need to abolish the internet, but to give it meaning. And, yes indeed, when people go into religion, they try to find depth. A deeper, more emotional, more sensual contact. I wrote an article in Le Monde about mystical seduction, how the quest for the mystical shows our society, our secularisation has not been capable of elaborating a discourse of love. Kant said in The Critique of Practical Reason you can’t have a morality without a corpus mysticum of the whole of humanity but how are you going to make that corpus mysticum? Not with the internet reduced to communication through elements of language. Elements of language, this is what we call it these days. They are small signals that give me the illusion of having friends.
No, we can establish that corpus mysticum by going deeper into creative experience, by developing writing, by developing actual encounters, by deepening knowledge of other humans through the sciences, psychoanalysis, etc., but also by organizing encounters between believers and non-believers, not to try to rehabilitate religions – we don’t need that – but to try to understand the wealth they have brought to humanity and what their limits are.
You said that as Europeans we are all foreigners. What did you mean by that?
It means that this bunch of nations that we represent, that we are part of, from one nation to another, from one trip to another, we experience not just as our self, but as foreign to the other. This experience of our foreignness brings us to the idea of difference, brings us to think for ourselves about what is irreducible between beings, to cultivate not the notion that we are all the same, but the notion that we are all singular and that might be the beginning of the morality, as I conceive it, for a new humanism.
And that’s an experience you had yourself when you went to France?
That’s something that was somehow in my destiny but that’s never something that’s given to you by politics and by the chance of history. You’ve got to work a lot on yourself and investigate deeper the condition that life gave you, to try to survive those conditions.
In Meurtre à Byzance (Murder in Byzantium), your main protagonist says “I travel myself,” and that’s an experience that goes through all your work, in reference to St. Augustine’s famous words, “In via in patria.” How do you do that these days?
I continue living between languages and to see the different mentalities that inhabit me, like a Picasso portrait.
Especially the last ones that people don’t like so much, but I think that old man, who managed to make those extraordinary women with multiple facets (sides), saw so well into the depths of the feminine and the human being and I also travel myself a lot through champagne, not in the Champagne region, but in the wine, which I like a lot, because it somehow gives me the image of the multiverse, which means there is the champagne, there is a unity, that is the universe, but this universe is made of so many bubbles, those mini champagne bubbles, they are so many different worlds that are subtle, each one declines the general laws in a very singular way. For me champagne is the perfect example of “traveling myself”. I try to travel myself to taste the endless multiplicity of those champagne bubbles which are like other people’s worlds.
It’s a very gourmet metaphysics.
Totally. But sensation is a world.
I am surprised, because I heard that your favourite sense was touch.
Absolutely. Aristotle said that touch is the foundation of all the other senses. Taste is also a form of touch, using other taste buds than the skin….