The episode of Saint Martin and the cloak is one of those paradigmatic parables of charity. Martin, coming across a naked beggar, cuts his own cloak in two to clothe the man.
Here’s Lacan’s interpretation, from The Ethics of Psychoanalysis:
"Saint Martin shares his cloak, and a great deal is made of it. Yet it is after all a simple question of training; material is by its very nature made to be disposed of — it belongs to the other as much as it belongs to me. We are no doubt touching a primitive requirement in the need to be satisfied there, for the beggar is naked. But perhaps over and above that need to be clothed, he was begging for something else, namely, that Saint Martin either kill him or fuck him."
Ethics indeed! Of course, Lacan admits, the beggar does have basic needs to be satisfied. But “perhaps” — this word does a lot of work — what the beggar really needs — no, wants — is for the benefactor to, well, it’s (uncharacteristically) pretty clear from what Lacan wrote.
Let me pre-empt any Lacan acolytes out there, who are always ready to jump to their master’s defense. Lacan is drawing a distinction between philanthropy and love, love being for Lacan a violent rupture that at bottom is the desire “to kill him or fuck him.” So he’s saying that if Saint Martin truly loved the beggar as his neighbor, he wouldn’t give him his coat, he would ram his dick down the poor man’s throat. That’s love. None of this pussy-ass charity when you have the guts to stare into the void of the Real! Of course, Lacan was a bit of a trickster, so he could be playing up his language, dropping an f-bomb to make his genteel-but-prurient audience titter while he makes an opaque joke about love. You can go through any number of interpretive backflips to justify what Lacan says; this suppleness, this studied indeterminacy of his work is no doubt one reason why Lacan is so attractive to people who spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about words and trying to outsmart one another.
But let’s pause with the image Lacan has given us. He wants his audience, bourgeois in an older sense, like Lacan himself, to imagine a hand grasping for help, the epitome of abjection begging for a simple need to be met, as secretly wishing for the superior owner of property to exploit, hurt, use, and dispose of him. The poor want to be used by the rich, and the rich in turn love the poor by exploiting them. This is not even saying that the poor deserve their abjection, as is so common in the West today. This is saying they desire it.
And this is one reason why I can’t understand why any left-leaning person would waste their time with this crap.
this… is giving me a lot to think about