Psychoanalysis Outside the Clinic - On Psychoanalysis and with Lacan

Psy-Complex in Question: Critical Review In Psychology, Psychoanalysis And Social Theory - Ian Parker 2018

Psychoanalysis Outside the Clinic
On Psychoanalysis and with Lacan

Frosh, S. (2010) Psychoanalysis Outside the Clinic: Interventions in Psychosocial Studies. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Stephen Frosh has over the years almost single-handedly rescued a psychoanalytic vision of subjectivity from psychology, from inside psychology itself. He has enabled a new generation of radical psychologists to appreciate that authentic psychoanalysis is not only radically different from psychiatry, but also that we need not buy into the standard disciplinary image of a ’psychoanalytic psychology’ that replicates reductive and essentialising models of individuals. He has emphasised that the arguments of a range of psychoanalytic theorists must be engaged with if we are to find a way of connecting alternative accounts of subjectivity with politics. The reference points here range from feminism and Marxism to postcolonial and queer theory. Frosh (2010) has always offered an inclusive open approach to psychoanalytic debate, even if, as he admits in his most recent book, he has a ’predilection for Lacanian obscurity’ (p. 224), and perhaps such obscurity is actually a necessary counterweight to the pretence of commonsensical transparent redescription of the self offered by mainstream psychologists.

His style is at one and the same moment explanatory and musing, so psychologists and colleagues outside the discipline have an opportunity to learn and reflect on the contributions of Jacques Lacan (of course) and Melanie Klein, of ’object relations theory’ in the British tradition and ’relational psychoanalysis’ from the United States. The emergence of ’psychosocial studies’, which provides a broader multidisciplinary forum for psychoanalytic debate that brings together psychologists, sociologists and cultural theorists, is therefore now a perfect setting for Frosh to explore what psychoanalysis has to offer ’outside’ the clinic. He is concerned in this book with ’what happens when psychoanalysis is used in this way, what are its benefits for the domains in which it is applied, what are the dangers, what insights are gained, and what distortions are introduced?’ (p. 5).

In some respects, psychoanalysis has long been a potent force outside the clinic, functioning as a theoretical frame for case discussion in the training institutes (which often brought together clinicians and non-clinicians), serving as a conceptual resource for social research into the state of civilization, and then very rapidly circulating as an explanatory framework in cultures in which it took root. Now psychoanalysis faces a problem which paradoxically arises from its very success. Psychoanalysis has succeeded in implanting itself in contemporary culture, to the point now that it is no longer true to refer to it as a peculiarly European or even Western mode of thought. It has taken root and flourished in US American culture, and in a manner that Lacan was already concerned with half a century ago, but it has then operated as part of the globalisation of psychology. Neoliberal incitement to modes of individual self-governance around the world now requires ’adaptation’ of some kind, and the kinds of problems that Lacan (1991/2007) pointed to are still very evident, but now there is a twist. Adaptation today calls upon a flexible reflexive engagement with conditions of production which include the production of subjectivity itself, and psychoanalysis of the kind we Lacanians value is unfortunately eminently suited to such modes of responsibility and accountability.

The problem which flows from this success of psychoanalysis — the opportunities opened up for psychoanalysis to prove itself useful to neoliberal subjects searching for deeper resources to manage change and searching for ways of harnessing those resources to forge productive relationships — is that many analysands are already ahead of the game in terms of what is required of them in the clinic. This means that one of the names of the problem we need to take seriously today is ’psychoanalysis’ as such. It becomes a problem if we take psychoanalysis for granted as a form of knowledge, complete knowledge or ’worldview’. Here Frosh’s analysis of conceptions of the ’psychosocial subject’ is apposite, arguing that even though much work in the emerging field of ’psychosocial studies’ draws upon psychoanalysis, and looks to Kleinian psychoanalysis as a template for interpreting material and guide for how ’reflexivity’ in research should be handled, there are some important distinctions often obscured.

Psychosocial studies aims to embed the subjectivity of the researcher in the analysis that is made of interviews, for example, by attending to what is called ’countertransference’ (which in the clinic refers to the relational emotional response evoked in the analyst to particular personal distinguishing features, topics of speech or the transference of the analysand): ’What the researchers do is notice how a participant made them feel (protective, critical) without the necessary limitations of the analytic session and contract which would allow one to understand the validity of this response’ (p. 214). More than this, the feelings and responses are actually driven by the desire of the researcher, and so, if anything, by transference. Now this slippage, from what is called in psychoanalytic forms of psychosocial studies ’countertransference’ to what Frosh calls ’transference’, begs a number of questions.

One question is why so many ’psychosocial’ researchers today should believe that psychoanalysis is the touchstone for thinking about subjectivity when there are other non-psychoanalytic resources for approaching the phenomenon, with the ’turn to affect’ offering some valuable alternative perspectives (e.g., Clough with Halley, 2007). Another is why these psychosocial researchers should imagine that attending to their own subjectivity should guide them, with studies of psychologisation in contemporary neoliberal capitalism providing some clues as to why that should be so (Gordo and De Vos, 2010). An adequate answer to these questions would surely need to mark a conceptual distinction between a ’therapeutic’ mode of engagement in which there is an assumption that underlying meaning is to be divined by way of intuitive response (one of the lures of the ’relational psychoanalytic’ school), and a ’psychoanalytic’ approach which refused such comforting commonsensical nostrums. It is the ’therapeutic’ aspect that informs much contemporary psychoanalytic discourse that flows through popular self-help psychology forums in the West (and increasingly so globalised to the rest of the world). This ’therapeutic’ mutation of psychoanalysis rendered safe for mass consumption then functions as a worldview for those enthused by it and those who are compelled to evangelise about it.

Freud took pains to explain psychoanalysis to a wider audience, and we are reaping the benefits of that work and the problems it poses today. Freud (1933, pp. 181—182) did not see psychoanalysis as providing its own distinct ’Weltanschauung’ or view of the world. There are important lessons here for those who treat psychoanalysis as an overall covering explanation for every aspect of human experience and then try to apply the approach to explain in psychoanalytic terms every other domain. Freud argues that rather than psychoanalysis developing as a worldview itself, the closest it will come to a worldview is when it operates within a general scientific worldview. However, even this ’worldview’ is carefully defined by him in ’negative’ terms, for instead of providing a positive vision of how things are or how things should be, this ’worldview’, such as it is, is concerned with ’truth’ and ’rejection of illusions’ (ibid.).

There is another problem with the notion of ’worldview’ that Freud notes here, another reason why psychoanalysis should be wary of turning itself into a worldview or even participating in a kind of worldview that pretended to provide a complete and inclusive system of knowledge. The problem is that psychoanalysis is ’incomplete’, Freud (ibid.) says, and it makes no claim to provide a ’self-contained’ system. We can read this note of caution as also expressing something of the nature of psychoanalytic exploration of contradiction and division. Psychoanalysis does not aim at complete explanation, of a totalising system of knowledge, but at a relation between the subject and knowledge in which both sides of the equation are defined by their incompleteness.

Well, regardless whether or not he followed his own good advice here, it turns out that Freud was badly wrong, for psychoanalysis has been turned into a worldview by many of his followers. Psychoanalysis has taken form in Western culture as a series of overlapping systems of thought that are used to interpret cultural artefacts. Frosh helps us take a step back and think about the role of psychoanalysis in our work, to think about exactly what it is we are supposing of psychoanalysis so that it would appear to provide the key to unlock what is happening in economic or organisational life. Perhaps we feel a little beleaguered sometimes, it seems like we are not taken seriously and psychoanalysis is mocked for being out of date or obsessed with sex or whatever, but surely that sense of being marginal is more a function of the enclosure of our particular theoretical understandings of fantasy located into specific competing kinds of jargon, a function of the sectarianism of psychoanalysis, rather than the marginality of psychoanalytic ideas as such. In one form or another, explicitly or implicitly, even if in versions of it we disapprove of, psychoanalysis is all around us, and precisely in the images of what fantasy is, what it might mean, why it should be contained or how it should be channelled.

Frosh encourages us to shift focus, from thinking of psychoanalysis as the ’key’ which unlocks fantasy to thinking about how psychoanalysis is itself the lock which then has the key to open it and to confirm itself as a form of knowledge. Something of this problem has been noted by Lacanian psychoanalysts. Jacques-Alain Miller has pointed out that psychoanalytic interpretation has been turned into its reverse through the insidious accumulation of what I term ’psychotherapeutic capital’, the expansion of a discourse about therapy which incorporates psychoanalysis as if it is a form of therapeutic knowledge. This psychotherapeutic capital feeds what therapists imagine the unconscious to be, which is why Lacanians now do need to ’cut’ into rather than endorse this kind of interpretation (Miller, 1999).

The unconscious for us is the discourse of the Other, not some hidden material to be divined or excavated from under the surface. Lacan (1991/2007), in Seminar XVII, emphasises this in his argument that ’latent’ content is not what is dug out from the analysand but is produced by the analyst; an ’interpretation’ in psychological mode, the giving of meaning to the client, is a construction. Interpretation as Lacan described it opens the unconscious as an authentically psychoanalytic phenomenon, a phenomenon that is distinctive to the clinic; interpretation as ’cut’, as ’interpretation in reverse’ also opens this unconscious (Miller, 1999). It thereby cuts against a psychological redescription of the unconscious that has become a pervasive ideological motif under capitalism. In order to open the unconscious when we interpret, we need to cut against the psychologising of the unconscious. As Frosh (2010) points out at the outset, psychoanalytic knowledge is in key respects ’artificial’, for ’it arises from, and refers back to, a very particular situation specially created to be different from the normal environment of everyday life’ (p. 1).

Frosh’s argument here is congruent with a materialist account of psychoanalysis, and with the argument developing from inside the Lacanian tradition that the analyst ’does not interpret the analysand’s unconscious from the “outside”; on the contrary, the patient’s unconscious is produced in the analytic relation’ (Voruz, 2007: 177). The symptom itself is, as Jacques-Alain Miller points out, produced, ’constituted by its capture in the analyst’s discourse, whereby, having become demand, it finds itself hooked onto the Other’ (Miller, 2008: 11). Analytic speech requires address to, and response from, another that is mediated by the terms of a defined social space.

While Lacanian psychoanalysis requires a disjunction between the clinic and the outside world, psychotherapy attempts to run the two worlds together. One way of conceptualising this difference between analysis and therapy is to say that the Lacanian clinic is in capitalism but operates as a space extimate to it while the therapeutic clinic is a space of capitalism infused by its contemporary forms of subjectification. The therapeutic clinic is enmeshed not only in a moral-political context, one in which there is a duty to reflexively work upon oneself and make all others do the same, but also in a political-economic context in which the labour of the analyst and the analysand gives rise to a surplus — surplus labour which is the source of the therapist’s livelihood — labour which structures the therapeutic relation as a class relation. To grasp the effects of class on psychoanalysis as a clinical practice and as a form of knowledge, however, we need to attend to what Frosh (2010) calls ’the autonomy of the social, the way features of the social world have causal properties and impact’ (p. 67).

Our theoretical and clinical work must therefore also attend to a disjunction between the clinic and politics so that therapeutic reasoning does not operate in a closed ideological loop to confirm a particular model of the subject. And it will insist upon a disjunction between views of the world so that psychotherapy cannot posit itself as an all-encompassing worldview, as a metalanguage which heals the divisions between different accounts of the world and the subject. The problem lies in the way that psychotherapeutic approaches attempt to dissolve the barrier between the clinic and the outside world, and this then also has a number of consequences for clinical work, including, for example, the attempt to dissolve the power relation between analyst and analysand by the analyst disclosing something of themselves to the analysand; this is supposed to express a more authentically relational mode of being. This is not be confused with the ’relational psychoanalytic’ approaches which threaten to make ’the political and social sphere subsidiary to the psychological’ (Frosh, 2010, p. 177).

The very best efforts of sceptics to put a stop to the forms of psychoanalytic interpretation that circulate outside the clinic brings us to an irresolvable paradox. The more we speak about psychoanalysis in social theory and now in psychosocial research, even when we do so in ways that reflect upon its production and circulation as if it were a worldview, the more we keep those forms of interpretation in play. So, as Frosh (2010) points out, ’the issue of whether psychoanalysis “belongs” outside the clinic or not is of less significance than questions about the effect of this migration’ (p. 5).

It is sometimes easy to forget that the psychoanalysis we use as the root metaphor, or competing systems of root metaphors, to apply to written texts outside the clinic is actually concerned with speech. More than that, psychoanalytic phenomena are a function of speech, a particular kind of representation which is itself a function of the clinic as a particular kind of social space, a particular form of organisation.

There are certain kinds of conditions that make ’fantasy’ and ’affect’ possible and meaningful. The ’unconscious’ is not like the contents of a pot bubbling away inside each individual’s head, but it appears in quite specific and peculiar conditions, conditions of speech, and that unconscious, unconscious in a psychoanalytic meaning of the term, is the site of fantasy and affect. It is not something that is dragged out from under the surface and shown to the analyst, but appears in the quite strange attempt and failure to ’free associate’. And our free association does not express unconscious contents; rather the attempt and failure to free associate, which is given a peculiar affective charge by the presence of another to whom one speaks, stumbles at certain points, runs up against certain kinds of blockage. Not all can be said, and it is what it is not said in speech that is what the analysis revolves around.

This is what psychoanalysis is concerned with, and this is also why psychoanalytic training is one that proceeds through a crafting of speech in transmission of technique as part of an oral tradition. There is plenty of writing in psychoanalysis, the writing is one vehicle for conceptualising psychoanalysis, but it also turns the psychoanalysis into a certain kind of discourse, scholarly perhaps, academic even, a certain kind of representation that misrepresents the practice. As Dunker (2010) points out, ’there are more or less formalized structures of the course of psychoanalytic treatment and even of the clinical practice in which treatment is included. But the ethics that regulates its strategies does not guarantee the necessary passage to politics’ (p. 370).

This brings us back to a crucial contribution of Frosh’s work, which is to force the question as to what extent a psychoanalytic account of subjectivity is politically progressive or regressive. If it is the case that, as Frosh (2010) puts it, ’in theory and in clinical work it has rarely supplied convincing recruits to the radicalisation of gender politics or to the ranks of sexual revolution’ (p. 28) — and one must add, to the radicalisation of those working in the domains of anti-racist or socialist struggle — then we must examine very closely what is happening today when academic researchers are bewitched by psychoanalysis, by what they think is psychoanalysis. Frosh shows us that psychoanalysis is not what we think it is (it concerns a radically-divided subject, so how could it be what we think it is) and he shows us some of the perils that psychosocial studies drawing on psychoanalysis as a conceptual resource need to confront.