The Other Side of Psychoanalysis - On Psychoanalysis and with Lacan

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

The Other Side of Psychoanalysis
On Psychoanalysis and with Lacan

Lacan, J. (1991/2007) The Other Side of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XVII (translated with notes by R. Grigg). New York: WW Norton and Co.

Lacan’s Seminar XVII, published at last in English translation in 2007 and in paperback edition in 2008, is well known for being about ’four discourses’ (master, analyst, hysteric and university). However, the apparent accessibility and popularity of the four-discourse framework to interpret a wide variety of phenomena may have led to the seminar becoming a victim of its own success. As far as teaching and learning about Lacan is concerned, this seminar itself risks being as much of a problem as the many other problems that Lacan warns about. So, the availability of the complete seminar now alerts us to more interesting matters that Lacan addresses and unravels, what we might call ’temptations of pedagogery’. These temptations can be clustered into three different aspects of psychoanalysis as a form of idealised complete knowledge. The aspects are mastery, individuality and truth, and each aspect is organised around a series of lures.

First, knowledge is factored as an instrument and warrant for mastery, and Lacan tackles (i) the lure of psychoanalytic knowledge as something applicable, something to be employed to open the locks of both historical and personal development. Here Lacan is clear about the limits of his diagrams of the four discourses, and the dangers of using them as some kind of code through which to unlock systems of social bonds or the course of history: ’My little quadrupedal schemes … are not the Ouija boards of history. It is not necessarily the case that things always happen this way, and that things rotate in the same direction.’ (p. 188). There are connections here with long-standing discussions in psychoanalysis over whether or not it constitutes a distinctive ’worldview’. To treat it as a worldview does make it ripe to be turned into academic knowledge. Then the mastery is not simply an exercise of power, but is itself a system of power within which all those who use the knowledge are embedded and subject. There is here (ii) the lure of institutional-spatial positions from which to speak and give descriptions that become intermeshed with moral judgements. Lacan takes pains to point out that the problem is not only a problem of language: ’… because I am stating this from high up here on a podium there is in effect a risk of error, an element of refraction …’ (p. 41). He offers a characterisation of training courses in psychoanalysis that are run like driving schools, and this brings him to (iii) the lure of complete understanding, in which there is a presumed totality and unity of a correct account. Here Lacan uses a formulation that is repeated in many other places in his writing: ’… truth can only be said by halves …’ (p. 36).

Opposition to what Lacan describes as a ’spherical’ conception of the world becomes the basis for the connection he makes between mastery and unity. When Lacan refers to Hegel in this seminar it is often to make the point that the problem is that there is a conception in that work of total unified knowledge, as if the whole world has become one gigantic university. Here we are brought face-to-face with (iv) the lure of correct speech that ties psychoanalysis into a conceptual apparatus that will enable a form of mastery and fantasy of harmonious totality. The attempt of the speaking subject to assume a position of complete mastery, as if they have a God’s-eye view of the world, is questioned here, but also questioned is the idea that there could be a ’metalanguage’ that could be purified so as to give a correct account: ’man’ as ’spokesman of God’ forming some kind of ’union with a woman’ (p. 162). Here is one of the many links that Lacan makes between mastery, unified consciousness and masculinity. Now Lacan turns (v) to the lure of academic language and the way this language distorts psychoanalysis. Now there is a focus on the language as such, and the warning that this will afflict those who are sympathetic to Lacan and try to make him more accessible: ’… the difficulty endemic to translating me into academic language will … blight anyone who, for whatever reason, tries their hand at it …’ (p. 41).

The particular example Lacan gives entails a ’reversal’ of his statements about the relationship between language and the unconscious. The problem is not only his old foe ’psychology’ (which is thoroughly embedded in the university) but the attempt to discover things outside language, and then to insist that the unconscious must be the condition for language, as if there is something outside language that it is possible for knowledge elaborated in language to master.

Let us turn to the second aspect of psychoanalysis that Lacan tackles in the Seminar — knowledge condensed into an individual subject who then enjoys their mastery — and this brings us now to a series of further lures. For example, (vi) there is the lure of a privileged personal point of view, the fantasy of vantage point tied to agency: ’… the claim to situate oneself at a point that would all of a sudden be particularly illuminated, illuminable … must not … be elevated to the point to which things were pushed by a person …’ (p. 178). There is also (vii) the lure of the position of individual mastery from which to use psychoanalytic knowledge: ’The myth of the ideal I, of the I that masters, of the I whereby at least something is identical to itself, namely the speaker.’ (p. 63). Lacan explicitly includes his own work as a kind of philosophy, here characterised as an anti-philosophy, in the problem. There are no guarantees that any form of knowledge could not be incorporated into certain forms of individualised mastery.

This brings us to (viii) the lure of identification with one who knows in which a student becomes tied to the idea that they too could and should be like the one who is teaching them. This, says Lacan, is also what Freud’s ’myth of Oedipus’ (p. 101) obscures, ’is there to conceal’, for the story of Oedipus in psychoanalysis could make it seem as if there was and must be a powerful father figure who enjoyed the mother, or all the women in the primal horde before he was deposed. This then operates as a fantasy that such mastery could be attained by the subject who obediently subordinates themselves to a master and waits long enough to succeed them, to take their place. The lure (ix) of psychoanalytic knowledge as enabling the student to become more independent addresses the fantasy that it would be possible to disentangle oneself from the relationship with a teacher as master and then have access to all of the knowledge at some point: ’… knowledge is the Other’s jouissance …’ (p. 15).

There is then (x) the lure of understanding psychoanalytic concepts through the intuitive resonance they have. This is relevant to some educational practices that do attempt to bring about understanding by making them personally meaningful to the student. In contrast to this, Lacan argues that: ’… the subjective configuration has a perfectly mappable objectivity …’ (p. 88). This ’perfectly mappable objectivity’ needs to be conceptualised in relation to his other warnings about complete knowledge. In addition, he tackles (xi) the lure of finding satisfaction in understanding psychoanalysis which brings together the points about the always already castrated father, master, and the fantasy of access to a knowledge that will give mastery to any particular individual: ’ … what constitutes the essence of the master’s position is to be castrated … [and so] … here we find, veiled to be sure, but indicated, that what is properly called succession proceeds from castration also.’ (p. 121). The fantasy of satisfaction, of jouissance that is accessible to those who have knowledge is also something that is important in current academic representations of psychoanalysis as able to get outside language and get to the real stuff beneath.

This brings us to the third aspect of idealised knowledge, truth. So, now let us examine the role of knowledge treated as a claim to be true and thus to provide a moral vantage point from which to evaluate others. Lacan shows us how (xii) the lure of finding something under the surface operates. Here he turns around the conventional understanding of the relationship between latent and manifest content: ’… [for the psychoanalyst] the latent content is the interpretation that he is going to give, insofar as it is, not this knowledge that we discover in the subject, but what is added on to it to give it a sense.’ (p. 113). This serves to question the idea that psychoanalysis is able to strip away the manifest content and get to the meanings under the surface. Then we are in a better position to resist (xiii) the lure that we can get beneath the language to uncover the affect beneath it. This complements the previous point, but focuses on a particular conceptual problem in psychoanalysis. Lacan notes that he is sometimes accused of neglecting affect, and points out that this is quite untrue: … it’s not affect that is repressed … It’s not that the affect is suppressed, it’s that it is displaced and unrecognizable.’ (p. 144). This is linked to a reading of Freud, or at least to certain key passages in Freud, where it is argued that repression bears upon representation, not upon affect.

Lacan spends some time in the Seminar on (xiv) the lure of treating Oedipus as historical content excavated from the past to explain individual experience. Here Lacan runs together a number of elements of Freud’s writing on cultural anthropology in order to oppose prevalent psychoanalytic readings of the Oedipus complex and events in the primal horde: ’… seeing how Freud articulates this fundamental myth, it is clear that it is truly incorrect to put everything in the same basket as Oedipus.’ (p. 117). This point is complemented by analysis of (xv) the lure of treating psychoanalytic forms of knowledge as historically more advanced. Here there are some interesting observations about the role of psychoanalysis as a historically situated form of knowledge: those who have an unconscious ’that had been sold to them along with the rules of colonization’, those whose ’childhood was retroactively lived out in our famil-ial categories …’ (p. 92). It is necessary to differentiate between historicism — in which subjectivity at different points in history is relativised — and the historicity of the subject borne by the past. The second perspective is classically psychoanalytic, and it also enables us to locate psychoanalytic knowledge as emerging, not as given.

Lacan then extends that critique with one focused on (xvi) the lure of treating psychoanalysis as part of the progressive unfolding of understanding. Here the political implications of psychoanalytic knowledge are addressed, first in general terms: ’… there is not the slightest idea of progress, in the sense in which this term might imply a happy outcome’ (p. 106). And, uncomfortably for leftists hoping to find something necessarily radical in Lacan’s account, we are taken to (xv) the lure of seeing psychoanalytic knowledge as a progressive political framework to introduce students to leftist ideas. Lacan knocks these assumptions on the head: ’I am not a man of the left … everything that exists, and brotherhood first and foremost, is founded on segregation.’ (p. 114). This point is rubbed home in his refusal of (xvi) the lure of seeing psychoanalytic knowledge as a progressive political framework to introduce students to revolution. Here we have the notorious comment Lacan makes about the Paris students: ’… the revolutionary aspiration has only a single possible outcome … What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will get one.’ (p. 207).

Finally, there is a questioning of psychoanalytic knowledge as offering something that could be sold to academic authorities who want to put on courses that contribute to such things as wellbeing; that is, (xvii) the lure of seeing the truth that psychoanalysis discloses or facilitates as necessarily good: ’What truth, when it emerges, has that is resolvent can from time to time be fortunate — and then disastrous in other cases. One fails to see why truth would always necessarily be beneficial.’ (p. 106). These arguments are all, to some degree or another, ’negative’, but perhaps it is the transformation of critique into something that is marketable and useful that is the problem we face in teaching and learning about subjectivity today. Reclaiming something of the negativity of psychoanalysis is a necessary part of a challenge to idealised forms of knowledge of whatever kind.