Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sometimes a cigar is just a good cigar

There is a famous quote attributed to Sigmund Freud who, of course, was an avid cigar smoker. When he was reminded by a disciple that smoking cigars was clearly a phallic activity suggesting some form of neurosis, Freud, cigar in hand, is said to have responded, "Manchmal ist eine Zigarre eben nur eine Zigarre." "Sometimes a good cigar is just a good cigar." It is alas, an undocumented attribution, but it states a truth. Si non è vero, è ben trovato as the Italians say. If it is not true, it may as well be.

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar"

What truth is that?

We might let Françoise Meltzer, professor of religion at the University of Chicago, tell us what that truth is:
The anecdote demonstrates, it seems to me, a problematic central to psychoanalysis: the discipline which insists on transference and, perhaps even more significantly, on displacement as fundamental principles, ultimately must insist in turn on seeing everything as being "really" something else. Such an ideology or metamorphosis is so much taken for granted that unlike the rest of the world, which generally has difficulty in being convinced that a pipe, for example, is not necessarily a pipe at all, psychoanalysis needs at times to remind itself, in a type of return to an adaequatio,* that it is possible for a cigar really to be a cigar.

Ceci n'est pas un cigare
"This is not a cigar"

In other words, sometimes things really are as they seem. Sometimes common sense wins out. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. So, pace Freud, and pace Magritte, who both suffer from the epistemological "turn" ushered in by René Descartes and which brought us to modernity and its denial of reality or of the ability to understand it (e.g., Kant), perhaps we ought to maintain our sanity and, with St. Thomas return to a moderate realism. Things are, and they are true, and through our senses and our minds we are able to participate in that truth of that which is. It behooves us, for example, to read Josef Pieper or James Schall.

So it's not just that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It is the fact that always, a cigar is a cigar, nothing more, nothing less.
*A reference to the scholastic axiom of the link between reality and the mind: the concept in the mind corresponds to reality outside of it: adaequatio rei et intellectus.

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