My Neighbour, that Thing
Freud was famously critical of the biblical command ‘love thy neighbour as you love thyself’, a central pillar of Judeo-Christian ethics. Undermining this injunction from various angles he concludes, with Hobbes, homo homini lupus. Our neighbour does not reliably comply with our wishes for harmonious exchanges conducted in the spirit of the mirror image. The danger is always that we might fall prey to the excessive desires of our fellow human being. But if our neighbour’s jouissance constitutes a threat for us, we must not forget that we are our neighbour’s neighbour. When Freud first tackled the problem of the other person he did so in terms of the Nebenmensch (the proximate human-being) as Ding (thing). It is the incommensurability of this thingness of the other which for Lacan places the neighbour – always potentially at least – in the register of the Real; and an encounter with the Real threatens us with trauma. Flusser’s work bears witness to his attempts to recognise himself in that which appears to lie furthest from the human, ‘monsters who dream of Nothing in their own interiority.’ Another glimpse across this abyss is afforded us by the 1926 expressionist silent film ‘The Student of Prague’, a still from which constitutes the visual object for this exploration.
Werner Prall is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Psychoanalysis, Middlesex University