Dublin, Ireland October 2012
The evolution of psychoanalysis under Freud, then Lacan, reveals that although psychoanalysis was originally a therapy, that is no longer the case. Today, the true function of psychoanalysis is to bring mankind into a state of desire.
Let us begin with a brief historical reminder. If we go all the way back to the origin of psychoanalysis, back to the time when it was first invented by Freud, the first objective of psychoanalysis was to try to resolve the symptom, particularly the hysteric's symptom. Little by little, this approach ended up having a great influence on the first theoretical writings of psychoanalysis, as well as on defining the structure and essential conditions of the cure. So, in its early stages, psychoanalysis was more like a form of therapy. But, as most of you are probably aware, over the past hundred-plus years, the word "therapy" has significantly evolved, to the point where it no longer means quite the same thing as it did before. I would also like to point out, and this is true for any new patient who walks through the door seeking analysis, that a patient can only seek analysis for something that they themselves identify as being a recurring problem, or in other words, something that they consider to be a symptom based entirely on their own judgment and not on any sort of social ideal or norm. So, we can say that the symptom always lies at the root of the analysis; both at the historical beginning of psychoanalysis as well as at the beginning of each new analysis. The question then is: if the original objective of psychoanalysis was to resolve the symptom, how has that objective changed over time and what is its objective today?
Since the birth of psychoanalysis, both the nature of the symptom and the maner in which we interpret the symptom have changed considerably. As analysts, our goal is to figure out the symptom's true meaning within the structure as well as its meaning for the subject. Although in the medical world the term symptom designates an anomaly, a wound, something that doesn't function properly, this is not the case for the symptoms that we deal with as psychoanalysts. In our field, the symptom is not at all an error, mistake, or defect in the subject that needs to be corrected with therapy. The symptom is the effect of the physiology of the chain of signifiers that command the subject, which means that the expression of the symptom is a part of the structure. The fact that the symptom is part of the structure, however, does not mean that the symptom, or symptoms, that originally drove the patient to seek analysis cannot be resolved; it just means that another symptom, one that is easier to tolerate, must be substituted in its place. But to deny that the symptom is part of the structure, and to simply treat it as a parasite that must be completely eliminated is utter nonsense. Doing so is at best buying into a dangerous utopian way of thinking, and at worst sheer robbery, as evidenced by the explosion of businesses nowadays trying to sell you happiness that are invading fields such as religion, politics, medicine, and psychotherapy.
What sets human beings apart from the rest of the natural world is the fact that we have a language that functions in an eminently symbolic plane. What do I mean by that? Well, unlike symbolism attached to concrete objects, the symbolic order, as defined by psychoanalysis, is an unconscious structure, and implies that of amongst all the elements that it is made up of, there has to be one element that is missing. This element may be dysfunctional, or it may be lost, but in either case, it is missing. Freud gave this fundamental initial hole a name very early on. He called it: Urverdrängung, primary repression. Because even before a child is born, he is immersed in a pool of language that we call the discourse of the grand Autre (big Other), where desires and demands circulate, situating the child at first in the position of an object. The child's physiological immaturity leads to feelings of distress and vulnerability and causes the child to call out to the petit autre (little other) who can assist him, says Freud in "Entwurf einer Psychologie". Faced with this initial real (or impossibility), the petit autre (little other) can respond in two different ways: the first way is to try to satisfy the need, and the drive that comes out of the need. But that is impossible, because drives always function in opposing pairs, and it is only possible to satisfy one of the two drives at a time. In short, this type of response will never be satisfactory. The second way is to try to respond to this lack of being through an act of love, which then frustrates the dimension of need and drive, and so this type of response also leads to dissatisfaction. The drive can therefore never lead to satisfaction, because there is always a signifier that remains inaccessible around which every demand revolves, or more specifically, because there is always a letter that is impossible to define. And so, the demand divides the subject between a conscious statement, centred on the need and the drive, and an unconscious enunciation. This gap produced by language comes back to the subject in the form of a question from the grand Autre (big Other): "You ask again and again, and no matter what the answer is, you keep asking. What is it that you really want? Che vuoi?". This initial question directed at the subject leads the subject in turn to ask himself what this grand Autre (big Other) wants. "Sometimes the grand Autre (big Other) responds to satisfy my need, sometimes to give me a sign of love, but either way his answers never satisfy me, so what is it that he wants? What does this grand Autre (big Other) want for himself? What is his desire?" This inevitably leads the subject to think about his own desire. So, starting with the demand, the subject is then divided, which leads to the emergence of desire. Starting with something that could not be articulated in the demand, a letter x, the hole of primary repression as Freud would say, the absence left by accepting the loss of Das Ding (The Thing), bejahung of this irreversible loss, the grand Autre (big Other) is established as the absolute Grand Autre (big Other), primordial, all-powerful, because he is believed to have the answer to the riddle of the subject, as well as the keys to all of the inaccessible meanings attached to an indefinable letter. The lack is also established in the grand Autre (big Other), which means that the grand Autre (big Other) is barred, that the grand Autre (big Other) is no longer all-powerful, but rather made up of language and implied in sexuality. This lack in the grand Autre (big Other) creates a hole where the phallus is inserted as the supreme symbol of lack. Once this lack is established and accepted by the subject, the phallus becomes the mediator between the subject and the petit autre (little other). These operations definitively set us apart from all other animal species.
In "Entwurf einer Psychologie", "letter 52" to Fliess, and chapter 7 of "Traumdeutung", the hysteric's symptom has a metaphoric structure. And this metaphoric structure is the first figure of speech. If the symptom is a metaphor, the endless free exchange of signifiers in the chain becomes blocked, because one signifier, typically one having a sexual connotation, has either been repressed or was already unconscious. This initial signifier that appears to be missing is the cause of the frozen metaphor, the blocked substitution, the default in translation. This blockage in the flow of the infinite possibility of metaphoric constructions therefore produces insistent, repetitive, and constant effects. The immobile organization of signifiers that results from all of this is the symptom, appearing in the subject like a foreign object, a strange sign that the subject is not able to interpret. An anachronism, an enclave of the past, expressed in the subject's present-day life. In this symptom, there is an excess of knowledge that, in a way, hampers the structure's normal flexibility and sounds the return of the subject's repressed truth, the truth that is the very expression of his desire. This metaphoric property of the symptom is not found exclusively in hysteria; it is at work in all cases of neurosis. With his second topography, Freud added the function of the ego to this model, as an element that fosters the blockage in the chain of signifiers. Indeed, the Imaginary has many characteristics that promote inhibition and that do not help to resolve the symptom, but rather sustain it.
What Lacan adds to this already extremely comprehensive mechanism is the aspect of the unconscious paternal metaphor, which situates the phallus in the grand Autre (big Other) and establishes the true symptom, the one that we all share through phallic jouissance that enables the differentiation of the sexes and sustains the subject's desire. The phallus should no longer be characterized as a substantial imaginary phallus, but rather as a lack. This symbolic phallus is the only one capable of allowing for the emergence of the single trait (Einziger Zug), which is the only element necessary in order for the subject to be able to identify himself. Imaginary identification is the mecanism by which the ego is created in Mirror stage, that gives birth to the ideal ego. Symbolic identification gives rise to the formation of the ego ideal. It is an identification with the signifier, in such case, identification is extremely limited and borrows a single trait that Lacan links with the first signifier, S1. The metaphor of the Name-of-the-Father is at the origin of the phallic symptom that asymmetrically differentiates men from women, attributing radically different responsibilities and privileges to each sex.
The second model of the symptom is a bit harder to understand and often goes unrecognized by the subject. It is based on the second law of language, metonymy. Freud starts to hint at it when he talks about the interchangeability of equivalences in terms of the object in his article, "On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism", where he traces the connection between faeces, a gift, money, a penis, a baby, etc. This more discreet expression of the symptom is of particular interest to analysts because it paves the way for exploring the metonymy of the phallus, the cause of the subject's desire. The phallus is a metaphor and represents the unattainable goal of desire, and the objet petit a (object little a) is the metonymy of the phallus that evokes or hints at certain aspects of the phallus and produces desire. While the metaphor induces blockage because of the Symbolic order, metonymy on the other hand leads to a quickly-spreading contamination of the entire chain of signifiers, and therefore produces infinite jouissance. So, the symptom as a blocked metaphor creates a problem for the subject, while the metonymic symptom, on the other hand, makes the subject feel extremely normal, perfectly adapted to the world, as if everything were totally fine. The capitalist economy functions in this way, what with its endless production of new, higher-performance gadgets to lure us into social madness and perversion. It's difficult to resolve this metonymic symptom for the subject because he doesn't complain about it, in fact in many cases he even demands it.
And so, from the very beginning, psychoanalysis has been preoccupied with the symptom, not as something that needs to be immediately eliminated, but rather as something that needs to be listened to, to discover what it is telling us. And as I explained earlier, the symptom can be either metaphoric or metonymic, but in both cases, it is linked to desire. The goal of psychoanalysis has therefore shifted over the past hundred-plus years from resolving the symptom to properly establishing desire and the ethics that go with it for the subject. And so, all of the recent criticism leveled at psychoanalysis based only on its therapeutic dimension, is evidence of a great misunderstanding of the true goal of psychoanalysis. Of course analysis can make the initial symptoms linked to secondary sexual repression disappear, but it cannot deliver mankind from the hardships of life, nor can it relieve the subject of his division and his responsibility in the world. The subject is barred from the world of representation, he is not a part of it, he can only be represented by a signifier and for another signifier. He is just a cut. The bar over the letter S means that the subject is structurally masochistic. To illustrate, one of the main reasons why Marguerite Duras' work, has met with such immense success, is the fact that each of her texts seeks to bring out and underline that fundamental link that lies between pain and existence for the subject. It is as though the very absence of pain, that source of comfort so highly prized by our contemporaries, were totally incompatible with the subject's existence. The subject only exists because he was struck by a signifier, a true act of birth that he tries to repeat by recreating painful experiences that he can complain about.
Where there is complaint and pain, there lies the little bit of life that drives each of us is found, that makes us feel like we are awake, upright, and alert. To unrelentingly pay attention solely to eliminating the symptom is the same thing as trying to eliminate the subject himself. Therapies are able to eliminate the symptom by strengthening the transference and by positive reinforcement, or in other words by increasing the patient's dependence on the therapist, which is the opposite approach of psychoanalysis, which guides the subject to one day resolve his transference by revealing the signifiers that command him. In the words of Freud, the objective of analysis is: to enable us to live, to work, or to love. Jouissance depends on objet petit a (objet little a) because that objet petit a (object little a) is going to fall from the locus of the grand Autre (big Other) during analysis and more specificaly at the end of the analysis. This relativizes everything for the subject, even his jouissance, and this is the only condition which opens the door to desire, for the subject. So, the subject is able to realize that his destiny is not really that exceptional, because, as a being of language, his destiny is simply a part of the human condition. And nothing else.
It is for these reasons that I have briefly touched upon today, that psychoanalysis can never be considered a pragmatic or utilitarian therapeutic process, just a quick-fix to allow the patient to return, often without any scruples, to the world of jouissance. Psychoanalysis, if we recall Spinoza's lesson stating that desire is a distinctive feature of mankind, offers the chance to those who are willing, to transfer from the world of jouissance to the world of desire, a process in which we become truly man or woman. The rivalry between these two ways of thinking is not a contemporary phenomenon. Ever since Greek antiquity these two ways of thinking have been vying for predominance, but until now desire has always prevailed over jouissance, and this is a fundamental condition of our civilization. In today's world, where different types of therapy have become prevalent, are we witnessing a radical change in this way of thinking? Perhaps the future will tell...
Basically, what I'm trying to say is that no matter how many years the patient spends on the analyst's couch, no matter what therapeutic effects are produced, no matter how profound the patient's understanding of psychoanalytic theory, if there is no conversion to desire, then it is tantamount to analysis having never taken place. Entering into the world of desire requires a radical ethical change. The cultural and intellectual aspects of psychoanalysis are therefore of little importance. What really matters is a willingness to become truly engaged in the analysis, the ability to accept that which is out of the ordinary, that which forces us out of our comfort zone, that which is new and different. Freud's famous pleasure principle and that which goes beyond the pleasure principle both reveal that we are built to preserve our comfort, our little jouissance, and to refuse the change that disrupts our routine habits. And yet life is all about accepting this change. Once this radical ethical change takes place, it's impossible to go back to our old ways as if nothing had ever happened. That's the true act of psychoanalysis.
And if such a change were never to arise, then it would be impossible to tell that even the slightest ounce of psychoanalysis had ever been performed. It is utterly beyond dispute ! And with that I rest my case !!!