Being Irrational - On Psychoanalysis and with Lacan

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

Being Irrational
On Psychoanalysis and with Lacan

Shingu, K. (2004) Being Irrational: Lacan, the Objet a, and the Golden Mean (translated and edited by Michael Radich). Tokyo: Gakuju Shoin.

Freud rarely referred to Japan. There is a brief discussion, in Totem and Taboo, of the prohibition against touching the Mikado as an example of the ’taboo upon rulers’ (Freud, 1913, pp. 44—45), and some examples of animism, magic and dramatic representation of intercourse to guarantee the fertility of the earth among the ’Aino’ people (ibid., p. 80); these people, the Ainu, confined to the northernmost island of Hokkaido, also figure later on in Freud’s mention of totemic bear feasts (ibid., p. 139). Japan here is the exotic site of pre-religious tribal relics and pre-scientific feudal traditions, a place that will serve to exemplify the prehistory of psychoanalysis but in which one might not expect psychoanalysis as such to thrive. However, even as Freud was writing this work, papers on psychoanalysis by various Japanese authors were starting to appear; ’The psychology of forgetfulness’ and ’How to detect the secrets of the mind and to discover repression’, for example, were published in 1912 (Okonogi, 1995).

Despite a burgeoning interest in psychoanalysis in Japan in the 1920s, visits to Freud by Japanese students in the 1930s and the formation of different societies seeking IPA affiliation through the 1940s, there was some suspicion among Western analysts that what was being developed there could not possibly really be psychoanalysis. One US-American report in the early 1950s drew upon prevailing wisdoms about the nature of oriental peoples to conclude that ’the Japanese psycho-analysts preach one doctrine [individual freedom] and follow quite another [subordination to the collective]’; while the goal of ’occidental’ psychoanalysis is the ’freeing of the individual’, ’Japanese psycho-analysts (as opposed to psychiatrists) do not try to free the individual, but, like Western psychiatrists, endeavour to adjust him to his environment — to make him coeval with heaven and earth’ (Moloney, 1953, p. 302). The proclaimed opposition to adjustment of the individual to society by a US-American IPA analyst is quite stunning here, as is the assumed opposition between psychoanalysis and psychiatry (an opposition that does still have some relevance to the fate of psychoanalysis in Japan).

Lacan’s comments on psychoanalysis in Japan, particularly in his preface to the Japanese edition of the Écrits published in 1972, can be read as making of Japan once again a limit-case in which psychoanalysis breaks down, in which it is as if (in a dictum attributed to Lacan) psychoanalysis in Japan is ’neither possible nor necessary’ (Endo, 2000). Here it seems that Lacan’s interest is in the ’materialist dimension’ of the Japanese language, in which the Chinese kanji characters (which are both ideograms and phonograms as components of the Japanese writing system) are read both phonetically (with sounds imitating the original Chinese) and semantically (with Japanese sounds layered into the character). One consequence of this double inscription is that the unconscious, if it is treated as a system of hieroglyphs, is also viewed as inscribed in consciousness; the element of signification that should be repressed at the very moment the subject starts to speak is exposed, public, present to consciousness, and if this is so then we might expect that what is the case for psychotics would also be the case for the Japanese, that psychoanalysis as such is impossible; that ’Japanese écriture could thus be seen as a historical product of the Lacanian “foreclosure” of primal repression’ (Endo, 2002).

Lacan did, around the same time as the preface, describe Japanese as ’the perpetual translation of the events of language’, and he contrasted this view of the ’empire of semblances’ with Barthes’ (1982) account of Japan as an ’empire of signs’, arguing that for the Japanese ’there is nothing to defend against the repressed, because the repressed finds itself lodged in this reference to the letter’ (Lacan, 1971, 12 May). Perhaps this proposition does then indeed provide warrant for the claim that ’their writing system does not make room for the installation of primordial identification’ (Nobus, 2002, p. 35). But whether psychoanalysis in Japan is impossible and unnecessary or not is another matter. On this point Lacan, in the preface, tentatively makes a more nuanced claim that for those who inhabit the Japanese language there may not be a need for psychoanalysis save to regularise relations with the machinery of their enjoyment (’c’est pourquoi personne qui habite cette langue, n’a besoin d’être psychanalysé, sinon pour régulariser ses relations avec les machines-à-sous’) (Lacan, 2001, p. 498). It is possible to read this statement as a reiteration of that US-American claim twenty years earlier that psychoanalysis in Japan must actually necessarily be concerned primarily with adjustment to be possible as a culturally-appropriate clinical practice. At the very least, the question of translation of psychoanalytic concepts from the West (whether from German or English, or now from French) is intimately bound up with the internal process of translation from script to script, and within the forms of script used for speaking and writing.

Rival collections of Freud’s writings appeared in Japan from 1929 to 1933, and the different editions reflected not only the struggle between certain individuals vying for Freud’s attention and between groups with vested interests in particular interpretations of psychoanalysis as literary or clinical domains of knowledge, but also between disciplinary traditions (Okonogi, 1995). We can see this played out most clearly in the two translations of Beyond the Pleasure Principle that appeared in 1930. One version was translated from the 1920 German edition — Jenseits des Lustprinzips — and it rendered ’Geist’ (a noun) as shinteki (an adjective), for which one literal rendition might be ’of the heart-mind’ (Blowers and Yang, 1997, p. 123). The other version, translated from the 1922 edition, took the supposed equivalent term ’mental’ and translated it as seishin (or ’spirit’). Another Japanese translation ten years later rendered ’mental’ as shinri, but this term, chosen by the leading lay-analyst and translator Ohtsuki Kenji (Blowers and Yang, 2001), has since been used to designate ’psychology’ rather than psychoanalysis (Oyama et al., 2001). So, ’psychology’ is nowadays referred to in Japan as shinrigaku, while seishin signifies a range of practices, from the spiritual, seishinteki, to the medical, as in seishin-byōin for ’mental hospital’ and seishinbyō-igaku for ’psychiatry’ (Brannen, 1991). Now, after the marginalisation of the lay analysts during the formation of the Japan Psychoanalytic Association in 1955, psychoanalysis tends to be treated as a sub-discipline of psychiatry (Blowers and Yang, 2001).

Psychoanalysis in Japan (with ’analysis’ rendered as bunseki) is now stamped with this history as seishin-bunseki, and although the quantity of practising psychoanalysts is still quite small (with the roster of full members on the Japanese IPA group, the Japan Psychoanalytic Society, still numbering less than twenty), there is a good deal of activity and debate. There are Japanese IPA groups, which include adherents of versions of ego psychology, object relations theory and Kleinian analysis, and proponents of now well-known concepts such as amae, or ’dependency’, that are sometimes and sometimes not treated as distinctively Japanese emotions pertaining to the relationship between the individual and society (Doi, 1973). And there are Lacanian groups, including the Lacan Society of Japan and the Groupe franco-japonais of the Champ freudien, of which Shingu Kazushige has been secretary.

Being Irrational, originally published as Rakan no seishin-bunseki in 1995, is the most widely-read introduction to Lacan in Japan. The English translation now makes available some windows on to the state of Lacanian psychoanalysis there for the Western reader; windows not thrown wide open so that it all becomes clear, but through which a number of different aspects of the unconscious in Japan are refracted so that we may once again catch sight of what is most strange about Lacan’s work. Shingu is not concerned with peculiarities of the Japanese character nor with the peculiar things psychoanalysts in the West have said about the Japanese language, for his sights are set on the explication of ’Lacan’s psychoanalysis’ and insofar as there is any explicit attention to the relationship between psychoanalysis and culture it is directed to Lacan’s struggle to disengage from Anglo-American assumptions about the subject and return to Freud. Nevertheless, there are also some intriguing signs of cultural difference that mark the reception of Lacanian psychoanalysis in Japan.

The first two chapters of this beautifully-written book set the scene, with an engaging account of Lacan’s route through psychiatry and surrealism and then his fraught encounters with Anna Freud and Melanie Klein before excommunication from the IPA. The narrative is picked up later in the book; with chapter six tracing the formation of the EFP, chapter seven taking us back to what we may learn about the object of psychoanalysis from Irma’s dream, and chapter eight focusing on the question of what authorizes an analyst (through an account of the four discourses and the pass). In these last chapters we also return to Lacan’s own mortal struggle (at which point there is some musing about Freud in relation to an early injury to his mouth and the cigars which perhaps hastened his death from cancer of the palate, and about Lacan in relation to the anal quality of money for him and death from bowel cancer). The lengthy theoretical excursus in chapters three, four and five takes us from the Rome discourse to the Schema L, from the mirror stage to repetition and, through the ’fort-da’ game, to the process of symbolization in which we ’become Other’ to others and to ourselves.

It is through this process of becoming Other that we meet the objet a, and it is this object around which the book revolves; ’object a is the support that is necessitated when I comes to see itself from a transcendental perspective’ (p. 56). But there is a specific quality of the relation of the I to the objet a that is also the relation of the Other to the I, and this relation is something that is reiterated time and again through the course of the book: ’the objet a thus expresses the value of the I that thinks it is human, seen from the viewpoint of the One’ (p. 128). The relation is expressed through the ’golden mean’, or what Lacan fleetingly refers to as ’a basis for this little a’, ’the irrational number known as the golden number’ (Lacan, 1975/1998, p. 49). For Shingu, then, the equation that is used to calculate the golden mean is ’also the equation of the symbolization process’ (p. 98), and ’the Symbolic includes within itself the golden mean, as the logical end-point of the extension ad infinitum of reflexive selfhood’ (p. 119). It is the golden mean that provides the compass for the book, and which allows the author to place each of the elements into a rather neat relationship with each other, to the point, for example, where he can say that ’in relation to Fliess, Freud is the golden mean’ (p. 149).

The European context for the development of Lacan’s psychoanalysis is carefully elaborated, but there are times when the distance between the reader and what they are told about the Japanese context — the location for some other key examples — is almost erased, and there is then a temptation for us to use cultural reference points to understand what is going on that are actually a little too familiar to us, so familiar that we may be misled into imagining that we understand what is going on. In the very first pages, for example, we are introduced to one of Shingu’s patients (and through this device, to Shingu himself). The patient speaks of a delusion she had that she was Red Riding Hood who has eaten ’the poison apple’; this after she listened to a music tape her doctor had given her mother to take home with her, of a Mozart string quartet. (Shingu is a psychiatrist, and the clinical examples in the book are all located in this psychiatric context.) An author’s footnote to this English translation suggests that confusion between daughter and mother is expressed in the elision in her account between being Red Riding Hood and being Snow White (the character who ate the apple provided by her wicked stepmother). Even so, all of this material (and the transferential relationship between the patient who is at that time studying French literature and the doctor who is then more interested in Klein) is already saturated with Western imagery. And while European fairy tales and classical music could be regarded as having no deep impact on the unconscious material (or transference), the architecture of this rendition of psychoanalysis is also constructed out of European material; we are reminded, for example, that the ratio of height to breadth of the Parthenon in Greece is very close to that of the golden mean (p. 55).

At other moments the distance is made very apparent, and we are jolted out of our comfortable recognition of what it is to speak in Japan. And, paradoxically, the most startling example of this comes when we are being told about the speaking subject and the Other as if that relationship were a universal feature of the human being’s relation to language. The translator, Michael Radich, points out in his forward that verbs in Japanese do not conjugate for the person and that there are no articles, and this means that the use of watashi, or ’I’, would be such that ’I am an other’ and ’the “I” is an other’ is expressed in exactly the same way. So, a discussion of the ’Liar’s Paradox’ tracks through the trajectory ’I’ might take if ’some circumstances forces I to lie’, at how regret at the lie may mean that ’I repents, and goes to church to confess’, but then how ’If I is truly an inveterate liar, then that truth, itself, becomes untrue the moment I enunciates it’ (p. 66). The necessarily clumsy and disturbing grammatical form of the exposition here (in stark contrast to the lucid flow of the text in the rest of the book) cleverly draws attention to the way that ’I hopes somehow to verify its own ideas about what goes on within it’ and is thus brought to the point where it realises that this ’I’ ’cannot exist’ (ibid.).

But is the suspicion that the I is dependent on the Other something that is factored into different language systems — here, Japanese — in culturally-specific ways? In his account of the mirror stage and in connection with the case of Aimée, Shingu explains that a paranoiac mode of being is a necessary part of what it is to be human ’because society is predicated on the inviolability of the individual’s personal integrity on the one hand and the equality of individuals on the other’ (p. 103). Precisely because the site from which this book is written is so different from the world of most Western readers we are compelled to ask what kind of society is being evoked here. This issue is not so much to do with the contents of this or that symbolic system, and at odd moments we notice claims about what things mean that may not travel so well to our world — as in the comment that ’we frequently encounter the use of vegetables as a symbol for lost vitality and life’ (p. 62) — but the issue concerns the conditions of possibility for intersubjectivity that are structured like a language, and distinctively so in different languages.

Take the case of Lacan’s sophism concerning logical time in which Shingu sees the ’full set of structural prerequisites to paranoia’; that is, ’the deep-hidden sense of frustration and impotence; the group awareness that exists solely that we might not be left on the outer; the sense of righteousness that logically justifies the self by rationalizing one’s actions’ (p. 47). Lacan’s (1988) threefold temporal sequence — of the instant of the glance, time for comprehending and the moment of concluding — is organised in this account around the Japanese term sekitate, ’race against time’, configured as if it were a race against the group. A footnote added for the English translation draws attention to the importance of rentai (’solidarity’) to ’the famous group imperative of Japanese culture, especially in the context of the modern labor movement’ as the second step of the sophism, and then ’Betraying the group cause to save your own skin, or to advance your own interests (Step 3), is called nukegake, “to run out on” (your fellows)’ (p. 47). The term kirisute survives from the prerogative of the samurai to literally cut down social inferiors, now to mean ’any social policy that demands some sector (usually the weak or disadvantaged) to be neglected (i.e., in Lacan’s terms, relegated to the “inhuman”) for the sake of the “greater common good”’(ibid.), but it is the role the concept plays in the image of a ’a team player, loyal to the group cause’ (p. 47) that is surely most decisive in the required loyalty of workers to the group and to management in contemporary Japanese corporate capitalism (Ichiyo, 1987).

There are a number of allusions to Buddhism in the book, and to terms that are used in a way that are distinctive to that religion rather than being generically Japanese. Of the desire of the Other, for example, we are told that of itself, ’the desire means literally “nothing” ()’ (p. 74). Some of the allusions are spelled out in the text, and sometimes in the helpful but never intrusive footnotes added by the translator. Here Radich notes that ’As opposed to other words for “empty, nothing, nothingness” which exist in Japanese, is strongly associated with the śūnyatā of Buddhism, particularly as it is found in Zen’ (p. 74). So, for Shingu, against ’modern freedom’ which consists in saying ’no’ to the desire of the Other, for psychoanalysis ’freedom of desire consists in becoming the desire of the Other’; ’Surely, then, there is indeed freedom in psychoanalysis, if only in the Zen sense of freedom’ (p. 78). This then leads him to counterpose the notion of shizen — something close to ’nature’, but perhaps something equally as close to the Other — and science; this nature ’is not “nature” as the object of science, but the Eastern “nature” as that to which self returns, and with which it becomes one’ (p. 79).

At the same time there is also another spiritual resource ready to hand at a number of points in the text that complements this appeal to Eastern nature, that of Christianity. This appears in some of the examples (one instance being that of confession after I has been forced to lie), and also in the way the relation to the Other is conceptualised. The ’ordeal of language’ (p. 69), as one case in point, translates junan of the ’helpless suffering being’ which is also the ’passion’ of Christ. There is an evocative and alluring quality to this book as it slides smoothly between the realms of spirituality, psychiatry and science, and as we are shown the different ways in which the objet a reveals itself to be at work in these different domains we are drawn more deeply into the idea that there is perhaps a golden mean in which they will find some ratio between each other.

Perhaps there is a mathematical logic to the symbolic order and to the subject’s relation to language and for the objet a underpinned by the formula for the golden mean, but then, as Shingu points out, the nature of this logic, and this subject, is predicated on the existence of science; he writes that ’at a certain point in the history of science, then, the human subject thus conceived of an apparatus known as psychoanalysis in order that it might find itself, in the form of the objet a’ (p. 140). We can go further than this, to say that if there was no history of science there would be no history of psychoanalysis, that ’psychoanalysis was not possible before the advent of the discourse of science’ (Miller, 2002, p. 155). There are consequences of this view for the way we use logic and the way we understand the golden mean; if ’science assumes that there exists in the world the signifier which means nothing — and for nobody’ — which is why psychoanalysis is the only practice that could truly be called atheist — then this takes us well away from the search for any intuitively-right harmonic unity of things, particularly of knowledge that ’sings indefinitely the imaginary wedding of the male and the female principles’ (ibid., p. 149).

Now, although Shingu does not go so far as to see the golden mean in the relation between the sexes (and we will return to his account of this relation in a moment), he does use it to describe religious experience: ’at the moment when I perceives the objet a in its neighbour, I itself is seeing its I with the eyes of God’ (p. 55); and he uses it with reference to our suffering and the suffering of Christ suffering with us: ’By realizing the odd fact that we are a whole, despite our bodies being comprised of various parts, we can feel the presence of Christ (again as a formula for the golden mean)’ (p. 99). Another way of playing this would be to treat the golden mean as the intuitively-felt underside of the mathematical logic of modern science: ’Mathematics cuts a deep cleft between a context of thought and human action, establishing an unambiguous division of head and hand in the production process’ (Sohn-Rethel, 1978, pp. 112—113), and then exact science is ’objective’ because the abstracted elements of exchange relations under capitalism provide the conditions of possibility for the Kantian ’transcendental subject’ (with which we may, in one of the ideologically-reflexive responses to our alienation, identify, as if in a relation to God or Christ).

There is, however, a deeper and more potent disjunction that structures our relation to this text that we need to attend to. In the final chapter, Lacan’s statement that ’there’s no such thing as a sexual relationship’ (Lacan, 1975/1998, p. 12) is cited to lay bare ’an ontology lodged at the heart of the Oedipal subject’ (p. 176), and a translator’s footnote points out that the ’relation’ or ’rapport’ that Lacan is referring to also evokes the ’ratio’ or ’mathematical constant’ that we might suppose to exist in nature (p. 176). There is, of course, a close connection between the discussions of the ’ratio’ of sex and that of nature in Lacan’s work; in Seminar XVII (Lacan, 1991/2007), for example, he anticipates the argument he will elaborate in Encore, with the statement that ’there is no place possible in a mythical union defined as sexual between man and woman’, and shortly afterwards, in the same session, he points out apropos the ’proportional mean’ that appears in such mathematical forms as the Fibonacci series that there is ’some kind of intuitive harmony’, and then ’a romanticism that still continues to call it the golden number and wears itself out finding it on the surface of everything’ (ibid.). If there is some powerful mathematical attraction to this ratio, then, it needs to be treated not as the site of harmonic resolution of difference but as the ideal point which will be impossible to attain. Something of this tension is well said in Shingu’s comment that ’the symbolization process also holds out the sweet promise that one day the self will be expressed as one, fixed, beautiful number — the golden mean — somewhere on the far side of infinity’ (p. 119).

One of the most striking things about Shingu’s account is that while the ’sweet promise’ of the ’golden mean’ is repeatedly evoked and then characterised as something impossible to attain — as lying ’somewhere on the far side of infinity’ — it is not indexed to the impossibility of the sexual relation. Although there is a claim toward the end of the book that we will look at the consequences of Lacan’s reworking of Oedipus for ’relations between the genders it constructs’ (p. 175), there is actually only the briefest reference to the problematic of sexuation. Throughout his account of neurotic suffering — junan (ordeal, suffering, passion) — there is no differentiation made between hysteria and obsessional neurosis in relation to gender, no suggestion that there may be a difference between the suffering of men and women, or of the relation of women and men to passion. That is, a quite particular relationship between men and women is elided. Even, in a footnote, when the fates of the ’male child’ and ’female child’ at the time of the Oedipus complex are ’handled as two independent variables’, this is followed by the comment that ’we are surely required to think in terms of a more fundamental Oedipus complex held in common by both genders’ (p. 171).

This poses a puzzle at the very least for how this book should be read from outside the Japanese language, for within the gaze of the West Japan is often depicted as a place where relations of gender and sexual difference are of the utmost importance (e.g., Buruma, 1995). What we are not being told about the internal texture of Japanese life cannot fail not to appear as a question about the translation of Japanese psychoanalysis into the English language, so that it is as if it is something that ’doesn’t stop not being written’ (Lacan, 1975/1998, p. 59). Perhaps it is not so much that Japan is the limit-case where psychoanalysis breaks down (as if it will not function there because of the nature of its society, character or language) but that it is a limit-case because the relation between the West and Japan is itself impossible. There may very well be psychoanalysis in Japan (though we cannot be more sure about that than we are sure that there is actually really psychoanalysis now in the West), but what we can make of it does not lie in the realms of imaginary understanding or symbolic mapping but is in the real. What we are faced with is a new question about the way that cultural difference is of the real. Being Irrational thus serves as an excellent provocative introduction to and subversion of what we think Lacan’s psychoanalysis is about.