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c h a p t e r 9 On Risk-Taking in the Psychoanalytic Text: The Reality-Test Avital Ronell I stand on light feet now, Catching breath before I speak For there are songs in every style, But to put a new one to the touchstone [basanôi] For testing [es elegkhon] is all danger. pindar, Nemean 8 (19–20)1 For once In visible form the Sphinx Came on him and all of us Saw his wisdom and in that test [basanôi] He saved the city. sophokles, Oedipus Rex (498–510)2 Sometimes they have to prove their mettle or demonstrate a hypothesis; at other times, they audition for the part, make a demo, try another way, or determine paternity; there are the endless admissions tests, the existential breathalyzers, the proven and tried version of things, the loyalty tests and medical scanners, Kafka’s trials, the sprawl of lab culture, and weapons testing: whether you roll back to the time of the persecution of witches— testing nature, testing the body, pressing forward to push out the truth in the medium of torture and pain—or draw blood in the clinic, it seems as though everything has needed to be tested. From the moment Francis Bacon started his experimental wager, torture became linked to the test. The drama of one’s love has not been excluded from this scene. Everything was put to the test, torturing the body, flaying the certitudes of knowledge. What is the provenance of this need? What has allowed testing to top out as an essential and widening interest, a nearly unavoidable drive? A kind of questioning, a structure of incessant research, perhaps even a modality of being, testing scans the walls of experience, measuring, probing, determining the ‘‘what is’’ of the lived world. At the same time, but more fundamental still, the very structure of testing tends to overtake PAGE 209 209 ................. 16645$ $CH9 10-10-07 15:01:42 PS 210 Avital Ronell the certainty that it establishes when obeying the call of open finitude. A new fold in metaphysics, testing—that is, the types and systems of relatedness that fall under this term—asserts another logic of truth, one that subjects itself to incessant questioning while reserving a frame, a trace, a disclosive moment to which it refers. There is nothing as such new about the desire bound up in the test; yet the expansive field of the hegemony of testing poses novel problems and complicates the itinerary of claims we make about the world and its contractions , the shards of immanence and transcendence that it still bears. Our contract with Yahweh, whether piously observed or abominated, involves the multiplication of test sites. Shortly after completing his Third Critique, Kant, in response to a public questionnaire, examined the problem of testing the faith of theology students.3 Can faith be tested or is it not the essence of faith to refuse the test—to go along, precisely on blind faith, without ground or grade? Or again, perhaps the Almighty Himself has proven time and again to be addicted to the exigencies of testing. If God can be said to have a taste for anything, then it may well be in the incontrovertible necessity of the test. No one is not tested by God, at least by the God of the Old Testament, who showed a will to perpetual pursuit, perpetual rupture. Even the Satanic beloved, who got away or was kicked out (depending on whether you are reading the Satanic version of Goethe or God), became a subsidiary testing device for the paradisiacal admissions policy. In German, Versuch unites test with temptation—a semantic merger of which Nietzsche makes good use. The devil is the visible mark of a permanent testing apparatus. It is one name for an operation that engages the subject in a radical way. For Nietzsche, our modernity is fatefully determined by what he calls in The Gay Science our ‘‘experimental disposition.’’ In Institution and Interpretation, Samuel Weber organizes an aspect of his reflections on psychoanalysis around the concept of experimentation. Lacan’s laboratory is linked to ‘‘the laboratories of experimental science’’ and is shown to be, in comparison, ‘‘as unstable as the margins of a text: not entirely inchoate, to be sure, but also never completely under his control’’ (xiii). While no scientific lab can be said to be fully under control , the rhetorical ploy is apt. Psychoanalysis belongs to the ‘‘epistemic thing’’ subsumed under...

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