Adrian Johnston – Just Say No to Cogito

THE LETTER 19 (Summer 2000) pages 50-91


The subject the Cartesian subject, is the presupposition of the unconscious …

The Other is the dimension required in order for speech to affirm itself as truth.

The unconscious is, between the two of them, their cut in act

Despite its fundamental rule of free association, psychoanalysis is notorious for preventing one particular thing from being said – ‘No’. Pinned to a sofa, much like a point de capiton, the analysand can and must say anything at all. However, caught in the matrix of the analyst’s interpretive framework, he is unable to deny the accuracy of the remarks of this grande Autre. In the context of the session, yes means yes, but no also means yes. In fact, Freud makes a fundamental clinical rule out of Shakespeare’s ‘methinks thou doth protest too much’. The more frequent and vigorous the patient’s denials are, the closer the analyst presumes to be to unconscious truth.

Critics of psychoanalysis are justifiably alarmed by this facet of its therapeutics. On the one hand, they fear the spectre of pseudo-science due to an absence of falsifiability criteria. On the other hand, they perceive the potential for harmful, authoritarian abuses of patients by analysts. If the analysand’s responses all amount to the same affirmation of the analyst’s interpretations, then how is it that one can discern the…

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