Lacan has remarked that modesty is the most important virtue. Lacan thinks modesty as an affect that keeps one’s desire or symptom protected behind a veil. Yet when the veil is lifted through the gaze of the other, the subject undergoes shame. Where there is shame, the extimate part of one’s being, precisely their desire is exposed to the other. Shame thus awakens the subject to being riveted to oneself, to a foreign self inside oneself.
Lacan points to a historical shift in the function of shame in his seminar The Other Side of Psychoanalysis wherein he notes that university discourse has accelerated a distinct “shame at being alive.” Shame, Lacan argues in this seminar, is a social affect that has intensified in our time due to the decline of the master signifier. Modesty re-appears in the face of shame, not only as a cover for shame, but also now as an ethics of interpretation of the symptom.
In this talk, I want to examine modesty; the adjunct to shame, by looking at the important role modesty plays in Lacan’s teaching. In addition to the idea of modesty in relation to the shame produced by university and capitalist discourse in The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, we also see the crucial role of modesty in masochism in Lacan’s text Kant Avec Sade, and we also see that modesty is discussed in Lacan’s theory of the analytic act.
Readings (provided in PDF at links below):
Collette Soler, Lacanian Affects Routledge Press, 2016. 89 – 99
Jacques Lacan, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, “The power of the impossibles” W. W. Norton & Company. 2007