October 24, 2017, by criticalmoment
Lacan Study Group – Discussion Board
So it was decided in the Lacan Study Group that we would benefit from some sort of rolling blog or discussion forum to help us in engaging with Lacan’s third seminar on the psychoses. To that end, we are going to hijack this blog! It is hoped that everyone involved can post questions and comments but also share relevant links, whether to secondary literature or indeed cultural ‘texts’ (novels, films, art-works – whatever) that help to illuminate the concepts we’re engaging with. To get the ball rolling however, here are some notes on the three sessions we’ve had so far, compiled by myself and mainly Max (thanks Max for that). Apologies for the length of this – a no no in the blogosphere generally – but we can work in more manageable chunks once we settle into a rhythm.
All the best,
SESSION 1 – 09/10/17
An opening discussion of the complex relationship between psychoanalysis and psychiatry.
DSM categories into the 100s [265 in DSM V]; Lacanian psychoanalysis *simple* by comparison, but not descriptive of behaviour – it’s a structural diagnostic approach.
Lacan’s main differential diagnostic approach developed in the 1950s:
1.NEUROSIS (<<< repression)
- hysteria (a ‘dialect of obsession’, according to Lacan)
2. PERVERSION (<<< disavowal)
[Freud on sexuality – we begin as polymorphous, then something happens *socially* that produces ‘heterosexuality’ etc. Perverts not commonly in analysis – why bother? (maybe to unnerve analyst!) See Colin’s book with Diana Caine]
3. PSYCHOSIS (<<< foreclosure)
Only three diagnostic categories/structures, although perhaps ‘autism’ is another [See Jean-Claude Maleval’s book, if you read French]
Repression – there is registration at some point, which is then repressed. Foreclosure – more radical: no registration.
‘Ideogenesis of symptoms’: symptoms not just biological in origin, but ‘psychological/subjective’ – leads to key question: what is a subject? Fundamentally a biological being, or is there something about human experience that’s not reducible to that?
So then, onto Seminar III on psychosis… The Schreber case: a first-person account of a psychotic break and the construction of a delusion which Freud used for his analysis of the issue.
Bleuler credited with concept of ‘schizophrenia’.
‘Psychotic certainty’ = “like lead caught in the net” (Lacan). This refers to the rigidity of delusional convictions which do not lend themselves to dialecticization (so lead in the net means something heavy and unmoving in the net of signifiers).
SESSION 2 – 16/10/17
Because of the way Lacan opens the session, we went over again some of the things I said last week, namely, the idea that psychoanalytic treatment (rather than theorisation) of the psychoses is not a given. He makes a distinction between ‘question’ and ‘treatment’, suggesting that over the course of the seminar he will move towards the issue of treatment through an opening up of the question. In other words, don’t begin by thinking you know what it is! I also pointed out that ‘nosography’ is the detailed description of the presentation of illnesses which are then organised into diagnostic categories. This has very Victorian roots in a kind of positivist empiricism but also a taxonomic zeal. Lacan appreciates the close observation and the resulting rich phenomenology, but of course departs from most of the taxonomies.
We then followed his first diagnostic distinction internal to the psychoses: the schizophrenias on the one hand, the paranoias on the other. The former were getting a lot more attention, partly through Eugen Bleuler and his protégé, Carl Gustav Jung, at the Burgholzli clinic in Zurich, but Lacan notes Freud’s distance from these developments, and greater interest in the paranoias. I suggested this was because the paranoias are more obviously ‘symbolic’ in the sense that a delusional metaphor is made from a signifying scaffolding whereas in schizophrenia the more pressing issue is the integrity of the body and often very ‘real’ ways of regulating that. We then had a quick chat around Lacan’s claim that the unconscious is structured like a language.
We talked about Lacan’s reference to the signifier ‘madness’. I related this to contemporary reappropriations of the term madness within the so-called ‘survivor movement’, which deliberately counters the medical model behind psychiatric diagnoses to say something about the complexity of the experience.
We then followed Lacan’s brief sketch of the status of paranoia in Germany and particularly France. In Germany, almost all forms of insanity were referred to as paranoias. In France however, paranoia was interpreted in terms of characterology and was thus essentially a description of a personality type. We then had a discussion about the danger of diagnosing on the basis of behaviour (the temptation to label people we simply don’t like is lurking here of course). For Lacan, this approach is essentially psychologizing, since psychology often likes to deal with types. We then had a discussion about all the ways in which psychology has tended to offer its services to the state as a tool for the management of populations. Becky pointed out that its methods often boil down to surveys and Likert scale questions which produce a statisticalised version of subjectivity. Here, I confessed my own involvement with DSM and ICD 10 categories as an addiction therapist, pointing out that the numbers very often do lie! John pointed out how these numbers are linked to justifying funding so exert a real power. We also touched on CBT, as an approach the tends to peremptorily establish the criteria for ‘efficacy’ which will justify its legitimacy (e.g., ‘evidence-based practice’).
I said a few things about Lacan’s surprising admiration of de Clerambault who, on the face of it, looks like a paradigm of biological psychiatry. I briefly explained de Clerambault’s idea of ‘mental automatism’ as physiological motor phenomena generated by the body but manifesting as thoughts/speech completely outside the subject’s conscious intention. This has been one way to explain the supposedly erratic speech of psychotics or ‘hearing voices’. Lacan will re-read this idea as a linguistic phenomena, having to do with the insistence of the logic of the signifier, and thus a certain distance from the measure provided by the signified, or meaning. So mental automatism is useful in that it demonstrates that what de Clerambault calls ‘elementary phenomena’ do constitute a breach in intelligibility but the mistake would be to think that psychoanalysis aims to restore this meaning. On this point, we talked about the very widespread misinterpretation of psychoanalysis as a kind of hermeneutics which explains everything through sex or the Oedipus Complex (e.g., very bad versions of psychoanalytic lit. crit.). Psychoanalysis might ‘restore a sense’ but Lacan’s point is that it is not one that is given to understanding (this would always be imaginary). To give a far-too quick example: isolating a signifier that has been repressed isolates it precisely as a signifier, often with a kind of dumb jouissance lodged in it, rather than a signified that seems to mean something.
We ended, then, on the example Lacan gives of the child who wants to know whether the blow he has received is a pat or a slap (bottom of page 6). I suggested this was Lacan’s way of introducing the role of the signifier into a seemingly direct, physiological phenomenon (if pat, delight; if slap, tears). The signified is dependent on the signifier, not the other way around. This is Lacan’s way of taking his distance form the paper by Karl Jaspers on ‘Meaningful Connections’ and also by implication the distinction between explaining and understanding that Jaspers develops in his General Psychology. Jaspers thinks a kind of intuitive empathic understanding needs to be utilised in psychiatric work, especially with psychotic subjects. For Lacan, while admirable in some sort of humanist moralistic sense, this is ultimately a ‘pure mirage’ because understanding is imaginary, veiling the logic of the signifier behind that of the signified. As we said when we worked on the Direction of the Treatment, if you think you understand it’s probably because you aren’t listening anymore …
SESSION 3 – 23/10/17
Brief discussion around setting up some kind of online correlate of the study group, with the group agreeing that a blogroll, open to contributions from all, would be best (rather than a fully ‘interactive’ social media page).
Picking up from the bottom of page 6, Jasper’s concept of ‘understanding’ is critiqued via the key Lacanian concept of the symbolic (order), which disrupts any simple, linear account of ‘meaning transmission’; e.g., the blow issued to a child by the parent is not a simple/closed a—>b exchange, but a symbolic gesture, rooted in the symbolic order, and so provokes a question in/for the infant: what was meant by the blow? Was it a pat, slap, or something else? Even with something as apparently direct and biological as pain, there are myriad possible responses, because our responses as speaking beings are mediated through signifiers. Lacan is opposing the stimulus-response model at the heart of behavioural psychology. E.g., the child that falls but waits to see the expression on a parent’s face to determine how badly they are hurt.
This symbolic space, with all of its slippages, subtleties, ambiguities and questions, is the space of the subject. This opened up a discussion about trauma, and whether it resembles the stimulus-response model of behaviourism. The DSM implies it does, effectively producing lists of traumatic stimuli, but thanks to the role of the signifier (as in the pat/slap example) this can’t be done. Trauma has an unknowable core: Lacan has a neologism for this .. toumatisme (trou meaningly ‘hole’ in French).
Jasper’s concept of ‘understanding’, meanwhile, is the unattainable (‘ungraspable’) hoped-for product of a well-meaning but – for Lacan – useless idealism. If we think we understand psychotic patients, we cease to listen, assuming a consensus on what reality is. Jasper’s ‘general psychology’ is only illuminating insofar as it represents precisely what psychoanalysis is not; scientific ‘psychology’, for Lacan, is imaginary, insofar as it is profoundly disrupted by the ‘anomalies and paradoxes’ of human behaviour (as explored in analysis). The statistical subject of psychology emerges from averages, but no one is average …Lacan also takes his distance from the idea of ‘psychogenesis’ which has been very influential on other orientations in psychoanalysis (e.g., Kleinianism), where there are supposed overlaps with developmental psychology.
Such psychology presupposes certain universal features/truths about the human individual which, in Lacan’s view, stem from an inherited, Kantian-ish conception of the ‘unified personality’, transcendental cognition, the synthesised ego, etc. dating from the 18th Century; but Lacan doesn’t then go too far in the other direction, towards notions of supposedly ‘immediate experience’. Some aspects of existential psychology/psychoanalysis do this in appeals to authentic experience (Jasper’s was influential on Heidegger). For those involved in the group last year, the potential pitfalls of this approach were explored through the clinical case by Irvin Yalom. Lacan claims that Freudian analysis is more akin to sciences like physics in seeking to ‘get behind’ the immediate data of perception etc. E.g., Quantum physics or the findings of the Hadron collider at CERN. At this point in Lacan’s thinking, this would be common to structuralism too: there is an all-too knowable or understandable phenomenon which is ‘meaning’ and the apparent communication of that meaning, but underlying the very possibility of such meaningful communication is langue, a structure of differences that in itself means absolutely nothing. Josh made the links to the notion of entropy and how important that was in the information and communications revolution (Lacan, relatedly, drew a great deal on developments in cybernetics).
Psychoanalytic relation is artificial; analysis a ‘construction’ (Freud’s paper on ‘Constructions in Analysis), structured by this artificiality, rooted in speech/signifiers, not an assumed ‘pre-conceptual’ or ‘pre-linguistic’ experience/reality.
Finally, we had a brief discussion about Lacan’s remarks on the links between ethology (the study of animals, essentially) and psychology. A pertinent example here, of course, would be the famous dogs of Pavlov. In the paragraph at the top of page 9, which was where we stopped, Lacan is interested in the fact that there is indeed a role for the image and thus the imaginary in the animal kingdom, but for humans (and actually some other higher primates he doesn’t mention), this role is taken up in a symbolic order. E.g., there is lots of mimicry in nature, but not the ‘double-bluff’ which requires a symbolic system. This has a clinical relevance connected to Lacan’s assertion that ‘truth has the structure of fiction’.
Session 5 – 06/11/17
I said a few things about Freud’s 1925 paper ‘On Negation’, linking it also to the later paper ‘On Constructions in Analysis’, both of which deal with the already common criticism of psychoanalysis that it is a disempowering imposition of an often Oedipal interpretation that can’t be wrong (as in, because you deny that it’s about your mother, that only goes to show that it is about your mother).
Freud makes two important points: in this kind of situation, it is always the analysand that introduces the new element not the analyst, precisely in the form of a negation. So the more usual situation is the one in which the analysand says ‘I know you are going to say it’s about my mother, but it’s not’. Under conditions of free association, the question would always be, why mention the mother at all? Freud speculates that a repression can be partially addressed in the form of a negation. However, he also notes that there must be an initial ‘yes’ for this to then receive a ‘no’: in other words, it is because the mother is already present in the unconscious that she can appear under the sign of negation.
But what is Lacan doing with this short paper by Freud? He’s using it to unpack his differential diagnosis between psychosis and neurosis. So there are two types of Verneinung (negation):
- repression (verdrängung) where an initial bejahung or inscription is present, in which case we are dealing with neurosis and in symptoms, dreams and slips of the tongue we can see that “what is repressed returns in the symbolic”
- foreclosure (verwerfung) where that symbolic bejahung seems to be absent, in which case we are dealing with psychosis, and in elementary phenomena such as hallucinations we can see that “what is foreclosed from the symbolic returns in the real”
He then turns to one of Freud’s case studies to illustrate this point, the famous Wolf Man case. I pointed out that although Freud, in his haste to prove his theory of infantile neurosis, treated the Wolf Man as if he were a neurotic, the subsequent history of the patient suggests otherwise, not least because he spent the rest of his life seeking out psychoanalysts to complain about the way he had been used by psychoanalysis (a kind of solution in itself, I suggested). Lacan, then, presents him as a psychotic subject insofar as “any assumption of castration by an I has become impossible for him”.
For this reason, he focuses not on evidence of an infantile neurosis as Freud does, but rather on evidence of something like elementary phenomena, and he finds that in the hallucination the Wolf Man experienced of his almost severed finger. As a hallucination, this feels very real for him and he has precious few words about it, suggesting it is not symbolizable. Lacan then points out the similarities, especially at the level of content, between the neurotic return of the repressed, say in the form of intrusive obsessional thoughts on the one hand, and these hallucinatory experience which can take auditory form (i.e., ‘hearing voices’). This is a reminder that we should not diagnose on the basis on ‘semantic content’ along the lines of ‘what he is saying sounds a bit mad, not connected to ‘reality’’ etc. A more rigorous structural approach would want to locate these phenomena in their relation to the symbolic, the imaginary and the real orders. Lacan then begins to do with with his famous L-Schema which demonstrates the difference between the imaginary axis of ‘empty’ speech and the ‘full’ speech of the unconscious in the symbolic.
Further notes since we got on to session 2 of SIII
Lacan’s opening move is to suggest that paranoia once suffered from the same woolly imprecision as the vague term ‘madness’. Psychiatry approached it descriptively as an observable pattern of behaviours that could somehow be set apart as ‘abnormal’ when compared to a putatively knowable ‘normality’. In such an approach, one cannot help but judge people from the perspective of one’s own idea of normal.
Even when some conceptual precision was aimed at with the German psychiatrist Emil Kraeplin in 1899, Lacan disagrees with the resulting definition (“There isn’t a word of truth in it” he insists!). Because Kraeplin’s framework was essentially one biological psychiatry (his over-arching term ‘dementia praecox’ identifies psychosis as a brain-based cognitive decline), he defines paranoia in terms of 1) the ‘gradual development of internal [i.e., organic] causes’; 2) the production of ‘a stable delusional system it is impossible to disturb’; and yet 3) the preservation of ‘clarity and order in thought, will and action’.
Lacan contradicts Kraeplin point by point. To 1) he counters with his own idea of ‘fertile moments’ which can be sudden rather than progressive, and which also seem to be triggered by life circumstances rather than internal organic developments. I gave an example from my own practice, to show that when the real irrupts the signifier on the basis of which a delusion is then constructed is rarely accidental, having to do with the subject’s own history. To 2) he opposes the malleability of delusional systems which respond, often very creatively, to shifting contexts and circumstances (this is one of the reasons why the handling of the transference, especially with persecutory paranoias, can be extremely difficult: one can quickly switch position into that of the malevolent Other). In a rather obvious sense, a delusion that wasn’t flexible enough to make ‘sense’ of varied and variable phenomena would not be of much service. His response to 3) is more complex, precisely because he recognises it as the more entrenched problem within mainstream psychiatry.
Kraeplin’s reference to the preservation of ‘clarity and order in thought’ is another way of saying that psychotic subjects with developed delusional systems make a lot of ‘sense’ in a certain way. Their systems are internally consistent and indeed extremely logical. We believe we understand what they are saying, but we also (think we) know that it doesn’t correspond to reality (whatever that is? I think I called it our communal delusion at one point), and it’s mainly for this last reason that we are pretty sure they are ‘mad’. This position of judgement often parading as a benevolent ‘understanding’ for Lacan is simply not ethical. Lacan acknowledges that efforts have been made to subdivide the paranoias, such as those of his ‘master’ de Clérambault, who makes some distinctions between delusions of interpretation and litigious delusions etc. However, he is of the opinion that a proliferation of descriptive differences at the level of phenomenology are not the answer. Rather, he is advocating a structural approach to diagnosing paranoid psychosis: elementary phenomena should be taken as elementary not in the sense of first or originating, but as elements within a structure with its own logic.
To do this, the analyst has to move away from the trap of believing she ‘understands’ the patient’s intended ‘meaning’. Lacan points out that there may well be a perfectly ‘understandable’ kernel to a delusion (for example, that ‘the CIA are watching my house’) but this is not what is important (i.e., it would be a big mistake to get too involved in trying to disprove this idea that the CIA are watching my house, since I will probably decide very quickly that you are working for the CIA etc. – also, it may indeed be true, which from a Lacanian perspective wouldn’t stop it being delusional). What is crucial to notice in a delusion, then, is that this albeit sometimes ‘understandable’ kernel is “inaccessible, inert, and stagnant with respect to any dialectic”. What Lacan means here is simply that nothing anyone says will shift it, as if it is an S1 to which no S2 can be linked.
We spent some time going over the strange status of Schreber’s Mémoire, as, for him personally, a tool in the elaboration of his delusion, a testament to an experience he believes is of scientific but also theological value, and part of his legal challenge to his incarceration in an asylum; and, for many others after him, a psychiatric and then a psychoanalytic ‘case’.
We noted Lacan’s strong thesis that if Schreber’s delusion about nerves resembles so closely Freud’s own theory of libido it is not simply an analogy supported by common cultural reference points that were ‘in the air’. Rather, it is for structural reasons that Freud already appeals to in justifying his approach to Schreber’s memoire, rather than Schreber himself: unlike a neurotic in whom repression results in symbolic encryption and thus the need for de-coding interpretation, a psychotic can be taken at his word, to the letter. Everything is spelt out. This led me to speak of an ‘inside-out unconscious’, and Lacan’s reference to an unconscious ‘open to the sky’ in psychosis. But this is also why paranoia lays the trap of ‘understanding’.
Notes since we got to session 3 of SIII
Lacan’s reference to the analyst as rubbish dump who listens to his patient’s often empty, repetitive complaints is introduced as a way into the same feeling he has on reading the post-Freudian analytic literature, where, he implies, there are a lot of words but not much is really said. There is a kind of monotonous orthodoxy. In the case of paranoia, this involves the thesis of delusions as a defence against the irruption of homosexual desire.
It is important to go back to Freud’s actual case to see what a provisional and speculative status that thesis has there. It also stems from Freud’s own theoretical agenda, which at that time centred on the Oedipus Complex (and is developed a year later when he writes on Leonardo Da Vinci). No doubt, the absence of the clinical encounter enabled Freud to be more ‘theoretical’ than if he’d actually worked with Schreber. He interprets Schreber’s experience of ‘unmanning’ through this Oedipal lens, which is much more suited to the neurotic than the psychotic. Lacan laments the ossification of this idea into a dogma among post-Freudians (though see Hunter and Macalpine’s own refutation of it in their introduction to the Mémoire).
Lacan also questions its clinical value, showing the ways in which the triggers behind Schreber’s first two illnesses are rendered equivalent by it, as if failing (to be elected to the Reichstag) and succeeding (in his promotion to Presiding Judge) were ‘bad’ in the same way, or as if either failing to become a father or speculating about what would have happened if he had succeeded, could be treated in the same way. For Lacan, this stems from a very ‘psychological’ approach to biography which fails to engage with the causality specific to the signifier, which should be sought in the text of the delusion itself, where the subject, as distinct from the biographical individual, emerges.
Lacan presents the centrality of male figures like Dr Flechsig in Schreber’s delusion as stemming not from homosexual libidinal attachment but from a psychotic form of transference, distinct from the neurotic kind. One way to distinguish these would be the location of knowledge: the neurotic presupposes its presence in the analyst (the famous subject supposed to know), the psychotic is in possession of it themselves (hence Schreber’s desire to share his knowledge of God with the world).
He then steps back from the Schreber case to speak of one of his monthly présentation du malade. For him, the diagnostic indicator in the interview with this woman is the emergence of the ‘neologism’ galopiner. I write this in scare-quotes because the footnote points out that galopiner exists, albeit in an obscure way, in Zola. However, it’s useful to clarify that the psychotic neologism is not necessarily the same as a grammatical neologism (the invention of a word not previously present in the lexicon). Rather, it is the utterly eccentric signification the word has for that subject, even when it coincides with a grammatically extant word. I also distinguished the psychotic neologism from a classic Freudian ‘slip’, even though these often involve linguistic distortions that produce novelties too. The difference would probably include surprise in the latter case, and a sense that something that shouldn’t have been said has been exposed, that there is some knowledge encoded in the slip. The psychotic neologism often has a kind of obviousness about it for the subject, and the surprise is more that other people don’t understand it.
Lacan then equates these ‘neologisms’ to Schreber’s ‘fundamental words’ which are also like ‘lead in the net’, which is to say, they arrest the chain of signification. He attributes two poles to this arresting effect, which he calls intuition and formula. Intuition refers to the psychotic phenomena of certainty whereby a person or thing or event is absolutely saturated with a meaning about which it is very difficult to say anything, but which the subject is certain is directed at them. Intuition then refers to an invasive fullness of meaning which is at the same time ineffable (a signifier of meaning as such, as Lacan puts it). The formula, by contrast, refers to a semantically empty phrase that repeats itself, that insists, imposing itself in a way that is experienced as meaningless. Lacan calls it a motif (ritournelle in his original French), more in the musical than the literary sense. We could perhaps think of this opposition simply in terms of the signified and the signifier respectively, but taken out of the signifying chain. The signified of meaning as such (not the meaning ‘of’ any particular thing) on the one hand, and the utterly meaningless signifier dumbly repeating on the other. It is because this is the very ‘stuff’ of common discourse for all of us that we can both sense that meaning is at stake in a delusion, and be duped into thinking we know what that meaning is.
Lacan is very critical of the supposed benevolence of trying to ‘speak the same language’ as the psychotic. His preferred model is akin to linguists who approach long-dead languages, unburdened therefore by assumptions about meanings or usage, freed thereby to focus on its purely formal, structural laws. In a way, the analyst should approach psychotic speech as Champollion did ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. This is one of the reasons he makes a distinction between the content of a delusion, and its speech (understood as the articulation of signifiers within a structure of differences).
Notes on the Second Half of Session 3
When Lacan asks ‘what is speech?’ (p.36) he is concerned to distinguish speech as conceived psychoanalytically from speech as conceived in communication theory (as the transmission of information). In referring to the message, he is invoking recent advances in information theory and cybernetics which approach messages as signals organised into repeated patterns. With his ‘logic of the signifier’ Lacan is partially indebted to such cybernetic models (see his ‘On Logical Time’ for a clear example of this, or the logic tables at the end of ‘The Purloined Letter’). Yet he always adds a dimension of subjectivity that is missing from non-psychoanalytic perspectives. Thus, for speaking beings rather than for information processors, ‘to speak is first of all to speak to others’. Obviously, speaking can involve the exchange of information, but this ‘content’ is much less important than the fact that it is part of a discourse involving an other. Why speak at all? It is not solely to transmit information. A baby’s cry is often less about particular demands (change my nappy, feed me etc.) and more about inducing from the other a sign of its continued presence – its love. For Lacan, any demand addressed to an other always contains this excess beyond what is represented in the demand itself. I mentioned as an example the disappointment someone feels when their partner buys exactly the birthday present they asked for … Their demand has been treated like the transmission of information (buy me x) rather than as a request for a sign of love (surprise me with your thoughtfulness). Sometimes, we don’t actually want what we ask for at the level of content because the very form of asking involves something much more elusive.
Unlike information travelling from point A to point B (and back again) in the communication model, it is always structurally possible that in speech ‘the subject receives his message from the other in an inverted form’. This is an important clinical point: it is one of the reasons subjects under transference can hear in what they are saying something beyond the explicit content of their speech. The analytic setting is a discourse (a distribution of subject positions) rather than a communication circuit where information is exchanged. Hence the extent to which silence can ‘speak’ in ways the communication model would dismiss as the absence of information. Lacan then gives two forms of speech that follow from this structural inclusion of the other: fides and feint. These are useful clinical concepts, particularly in the field of the psychoses. Fides indicates the frequent role of imaginary doubles for psychotic subjects while feint explains their tendency to flip into the persecutory or deceptive others common in paranoia.
We could explore this distinction through the simple phrase ‘I love you’. Being extremely unromantic, we could think of this as a bit of information but everyone knows that it calls for a response along the lines of ‘I love you too’. It’s a good example of fides because it invites a validation of the imaginary relation between self and other. The other is already included in ‘I love you’ as a point of address, making its subtext the somewhat anxious ‘please confirm I am the one you love!’. As Lacan puts it ‘this comes from you to find the certainty of what I pledge’ (i.e., I offer myself as loveable but wait for your response to be reassured that that is what I am). However, such declarations are always prone to be taken as ‘feints’ for the same reason that a truth is only worth something because it is possible to lie. Why do we say I love you at all? Because it is not a given, a fact, a bit of information. So the feint would be something like Han Solo’s response to Princess Leia’s ‘I love you’ in Star Wars (thanks for this reference Simon!): ‘I know …’. Solo jams the expected circuit, introducing not so much contradiction (‘I don’t love you Princess Leia’) as irresolvable uncertainty (Does he love me or not? Is he mocking me?). The point about this proximity between fides and feint is that especially for the psychotic subject, a deceptive other can easily replace the other that would guarantee a truth.
For these reasons, Lacan introduces the all-important distinction between the little other and the big Other (although we have already encountered it in the L-Schema). The little other would be imaginary, while the big Other would be symbolic. Under neurotic transference, it is sometimes possible for the analysand to hear the Other they invoke when addressing the other of the analyst. One of the reasons why Lacan is critical of the ‘interpretation of the transference’ in other orientations of psychoanalysis is that while it recognises the role of the other in speech, the interpretations often substitute one imaginary other for another: e.g., ‘You got angry with me because I reminded you of your father’. This could conceivably have some value but it falls short of making the symbolic father function resonate. Avoiding the imaginary plane is especially tricky because speech claims to represent these little others, including the other that is the egoic self. This is what Lacan is getting at with his distinction between speaking to the other and speaking of the other: to would be the structural point of address better written as Other, whereas of would be the imaginary others supposedly ‘represented’ by and in language. Without this distinction, as subjects we would coincide with what we describe when we refer to our egoic selves. In which case, there would be no unconscious …
Hi All. Following up from last week’s session, I remember suggesting we might want to take a look at Freud’s very short 1925 paper ‘On Negation’ since Lacan makes a lot of it in his distinction between neurosis and psychosis, with the former using the type of negation (verneinung) known as ‘repression’ (verdrangung) while the latter utilises the more absolute negation usually translated as ‘foreclosure’ (verwerfung). If you do want to look it over, you can get it here (and it is very short): http://heavysideindustries.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Freud_Negation.pdf
See you on Monday!
Thanks for this, Colin (and for compiling and posting the above notes!). Sticking with Freud, I’ve been listening a series of lectures uploaded to Warwick Uni’s Arts/Literature pages which shed some interesting light on the development of psychoanalytic theory and practice, in the context of Freud’s formative work on trauma. While not focusing directly on psychosis, they overlap productively with some of the things we’ve been discussing so far, and offer plenty by way of commentary on key psychoanalytic concepts and the evolution of the discourse. Anyone interested can find (and download) the material here:
Excellent Max, thanks for sharing. Sounds like a useful resource, especially as some of us are coming from backgrounds in literary theory as well. Happy listening all!
That reminds me, Chris asked that I share this thought-provoking piece by Jacques-Alain Miller. It shows him, as ever, thinking about how psychoanalysis has to change along with changes in the social link without ever losing its capacity of subversion.
Today’s reference to The Rolling Stones’ neurotic anthem, ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, has left me with Devo’s altogether more psychotic, anti-anthemic cover version stuck in my head. As such, it seems necessary to share it here:
I won’t, however, share 2 Unlimited’s ‘No Limit’ (illustrative of the neurotic’s fantasy of perverse abandon as it might be), as it really is so bad, it’s best left to the imagination…
Colin, thanks for this! What an excellent idea to have notes from the sessions online. I’m sad not to be able to make it in person this year, but I’ll do my best to keep up to speed via the blog and post anything in the comments that seems useful. Have a good session!
Thanks, Colin, for screening what was a powerful and highly resonant film on Monday. It’ll stick with us, I’m sure.
In terms of what we touched on in our brief discussion afterwards (and not for the first time), around psychotic phenomenology, the subject, state intervention and the signifiers of the ‘mental health’ milieu, I thought I’d share some links that may be of interest. The first is a striking piece of ‘outsider’ writing from the ‘inside’ of psychiatric space (interestingly, one happy to adopt a crude neuroreductionist perspective on psychic life); the other three are C4 documentaries that, although (far) more mainstream than what we’ve just watched, cover similar ground:
And a question: if, as Lacan claims, “whatever is refused in the symbolic order reappears in the real”, how does ‘tagging’ psychotic phenomena – with names, a la what was suggested in our film, or similar – relate to this prior moment of foreclosure? What is at stake here, both ‘immediately’ (for the subject, in the act of tagging) and ‘structurally’ (in the context of Lacan’s formal theorisation of psychosis)?
Thanks Max, for tracking down all those links/clips! Fascinating stuff. The Sophie Reilly piece raises very interesting questions which I suppose we have touched on in our sessions before, when we spoke about the gains and losses of the Survivor movement’s reclamation of the word ‘madness’. Ironically, I think there’s a way in which the respect-my-difference logic (rather typical of nullifying liberal inclusivity of course) can be deadly for the kind of singularity Lacan stresses again and again. As you know, something similar plays out in the discourse of Neurodiversity mobilised by aspects of the autistic community: saying we are a distinct identity because our brains are different might provide a point of group identification but I’m not sure what it does for the rather deeper question of subjectivity which is always singular.
On your question about ‘tagging’, let’s explore it on Monday if you can make it. I’m not quite sure what is implied by your reference to a moment ‘prior’ to foreclosure since with Lacan I think that would be a structural fact with a kind of always-already quality. In any case, my quick reply would be that giving a name to the voices potentially offers a kind of imaginary treatment of the real (you heard Errol in the documentary beginning to flesh out the characters one could imagine around those names). I mentioned the difficult question of ‘who speaks’ in relation to all linguistic phenomena. I suppose part of the experience of psychosis is being spoken rather than having a place, in language, from which to speak to locatable others: perhaps an imaginary intersubjective space in which voices are experienced as some kind of communication gives more of a sense of subjectivity than being invaded by disembodied voices and imposed words … Needless to say, in clinical practice we can’t imagine universalising this as a one-size-fits-all solution.