Issue 10 (Summer 1997)


In the field of psychoanalysis, more so than in any other discipline, the tension between ‘instituting’ analysis and ‘institutionalising’ analysis is palpable and never more so than when the ethics of its praxis rear up to counter the demand that it conform to a format which is acceptable to the prevailing cultural structure in which it finds itself. To meet with the demand that it take unto itself the identifying features, – the uniform-ity, – of a profession like any other so that it would be ‘at ease’ in society, would certainly miss the rendezvous with the dis-ease inherent to civilisation itself and the effect of socialisation. This risks sounding like the usual (and not terribly imaginative) platitude drawn upon when psychoanalysis finds itself with its back against the wall of ‘others’ forcing it to account for itself in their terms. The debate becomes more interesting however if we remind ourselves that when Lacan was applying himself to Freud a lettre the dis-ease with his theory and praxis provoked an outraged response not from society but from the psychoanalytic society. Here it seems less a question of whether psychoanalysis can be tolerated by society than it is a question of whether those who practice the discipline can tolerate their relation with psychoanalysis itself.

A more elaborate reply is evidently necessitated when the societal demand comes not from outside but from within the field itself. What then are the possible responses when in particular there is a demand from within a more or less loose psychoanalytic grouping, (and if the irony of the situation is missed then we have lost our sense of humour), for a … ‘Society’! In short, given the ethics of psychoanalysis, is a society of psychoanalysis possible? This is not an entirely new question for us here in Ireland, – a number of years ago right here in Dublin we were witness to a heated and truly passionate debate by analysts from all over the world on the psychoanalyst’s position with relation to the dictates of the State. If at the time, while finding the debate ’intellectually stimulating’, we were slightly bewildered by the emotional altitudes reached by the protagonists, it is not the case here now. Contour lines on our landscape are changing and we too are beginning to scale new heights! …Continue reading

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THE LETTER 10 (Summer 1997) pages 1-13

The word ‘Institute’ can be understood to refer to a society or organisation for the promotion of scientific or educational aims or objects. The process of creating structures through and within which these objects can be fostered on a continuing basis could be considered to be what is referred to as ‘institutionalising’ something. It has to do with making it permanent and fixed and looks to the lasting establishment of whatever desirable aim is in question. In this sense then the word ‘institute’ – (and the derived ‘institutional’ and ‘institutionalise’) – has clearly positive associations and sounds like a thoroughly worthwhile enterprise – depending of course on the particular aims in question.

There is also the verb, ‘to institute’, which can mean to establish, found, or initiate and sometimes to appoint. The word is usable legitimately in a wide variety of contexts and with a wider variety of meanings fairly generally carrying the notion of initiating some procedure or system. To ‘institutionalise’ carries something like the same meaning, with the additional sense of putting what has been initiated on a longer-term basis.

However, in contemporary usage the word ‘institutionalise’ more easily carries a negative connotation. For an individual subject to be institutionalised is indeed a fairly dire fate and only something to be done as a last resort, if at all, in these enlightened days. But to institutionalise a set of procedures or a way of doing things is not in any sense so ominous, though carrying with it indeed some risks of killing off the spontaneity and charisma of the original set of ideas. To avoid the negative aura here, one might prefer to speak of the structuring of an activity or set of procedures. This structuring of a set of activities will give rise to a patterned way of proceeding that…

THE LETTER 10 (Summer 1997) pages 14-25

I should like to begin this presentation by describing a little of my own state of mind prior to receiving the phone call in which the patient I shall be discussing was referred to me. I had just returned from a three week summer vacation trip and spent an additional week vacationing at home. My plan was to resume work with my private patients in a few days’ time and to return to my job the following week. Like most of us, I was anxious about the gaps that had lately appeared in my private practice schedule and wondered whether and when my next referral would come.

It was with considerable excitement then, that I responded to a phone message from a former patient from whom I had not heard for about eighteen months since he terminated his treatment. In the interim, I had learned that his father, who had been chronically ill for years, had died. At the time we had stopped working together, I felt that, though there was still much we could have done, the timing of the termination made sense in the light of his life’s circumstances and the significance of what we had, in fact, achieved over a period of many years. My wishful thought was that he was calling now to resume treatment.

When I phoned him, he was cordial, told me of his father’s death and briefly of some advances in his career before indicating that he wished to refer a patient to me. He said that he had met the prospective patient socially, that he, like my former patient, was a gay man, that he was troubled about his homosexuality, depressed and had expressed suicidal ideas. My ex-patient thought that I would be a good therapist for this man. Here, I must clarify that my ex-patient is also a psychotherapist. He added that, within the next few weeks, he too would like to come in for a session. …

THE LETTER 10 (Summer 1997) pages 26-39

The case presented raises many questions. I should like to raise only a few of these here.

To begin with, the context is not without significance. William Fried has supplied us with some very important information that allows us to advance a couple of hypotheses about this.


You returned from your holidays and were somewhat anxious ‘about the gaps that had lately appeared in [your] private practice schedule’ and you asked yourself ‘whether and when [your] next referral would come’.

For this reason, you were very happy to receive a call from a former patient and your ‘wishful thought was that he was calling now to resume treatment’. When it turned out that he wanted to introduce a new patient to you, at first you were happy about this but you had a few doubts and scruples as to whether you should be accepting him at all from an ex-patient, especially since the latter wanted to visit and eventually to resume treatment.

The reasons that you give (as you yourself observe) sound like rationalisations. The interesting thing about your description is that you are conscious of this but that this does not influence your conduct or your decision. The doubts which arise are quickly eliminated. But perhaps the most important thing is that you have the courage to mention them and that, by describing the inner process of what is agitating you, you open yourself up in such a way that this present discussion is rendered possible. …

THE LETTER 10 (Summer 1997) pages 40-72


Lacan decided that an analysis of the Symposium of Plato in his Seminar of 1960 – 1961 would be an illuminating detour by which to investigate the transference relation in psychoanalysis. This investigation centred on the question of the desire of the analyst and the ethical implication of where the analyst ought to situate himself in order to respond to the transference.

Central to the discussion is the concept of identification and the role of the ego ideal. There is a danger in analysis that the analyst is offered the place of the ego ideal for the analysand and that he assumes this position by abandoning his role as subject-who-is-supposed-to-know (sujet-suppose-savoir) and erroneously taking the position of the one who knows (master of knowledge). In this case the desire of the analyst is the desire to ‘understand’ the analysand and falling for this lure is a sign of the incompetence of the analyst. The challenge facing the analyst is much more difficult than reaching an understanding and communicating that understanding to the analysand. It requires the ability to know how and when not to know, to be able to be desiring in the full sense that Lacan gives to this term, and to do this in a way that makes possible the realisation of the desire of the analysand by the analysand. It is primarily by a certain refusal on the part of the analyst that the dynamic of the transference should work. This refusal, this Versagung or…


THE LETTER 10 (Summer 1997) pages 73-85

In 1971, while a student at the Central School of Art and Design, Bryan was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. In 1982, he began to use what he called his ‘inner upheavals’ as a source of inspiration. ‘My work’ he wrote, ‘springs out of the necessity to make something positive out of the impossible situation I find myself in’. Bryan’s ultimate creative act was a series of seventeen self-portraits, painted between April and July 1991. They represent a deliberate attempt at self-investigation. There is a commentary to accompany each painting except the last two. Ten days after their completion, he committed suicide. Bryan says in the commentary to one of his works, that his hope was to ‘state with depth what it is to be human and schizophrenic’.

Freud said in a letter to Marie Bonaparte:

Mediocre spirits demand of science a kind of certitude which it cannot give, a sort of religious satisfaction. Only the real, rare, true scientific minds, can endure doubt, which is attached to all our knowledge. I always envy the physicists and mathematicians who can stand on firm ground. I hover, so to soeak, in the air. Mental events seem to be immeasurable and J. probably always will be so.

In art too, there are no such verified certitudes. My aim is in no way to interpret these works, although I will most likely end up doing so. In this case the artist was committed to exposing his inner self, expressing what it is to be schizophrenic and human at the end of the twentieth century. The link between the feeling of the artist and the forms of his art is not in question. I…

THE LETTER 10 (Summer 1997) pages 86-97


One of the chapters of Herbert Strean’s Behind the Couch. Revelations of a Psychoanalyst invokes the story of Mr. X, a man who entered analysis with the statement that he would tell everything to the analyst, except his name: ‘Just put me down on your list as Mr. X’. This could be a pure Freudian case-history, if it were not for the observation that Strean, despite his overwhelming curiosity and eagerness to know, does not force his analysand to unveil the secret of his name. Instead, he relies on the reactions that this analysand conjures up in him – his so-called counter-transference – to direct the analytic process to the point where Mr. X acknowledges his own identity and the fantasy enclosed in his name, Reginald – ‘My friends call me Reggie’. In the aftermath of lifting the secret of his name, Reginald reveals other secrets, that is, other elements he had until then willingly hidden from the analyst.

Reginald entered analysis with the conviction that analysts are very persistent people, in that thev force their analvsands to tell them everything that comes to mind. Moreover, as Mr. X, he explicitly challenged the Freudian ground-rule in forcing the analyst to accept him on this one condition that he could keep his name secret. The case-study perfectly matches Freud’s experiences with the analytic ground-rule of free association, namely that every patient, in his or her own way, tries to…

THE LETTER 10 (Summer 1997) pages 98-110

This paper sets out to examine the obsessional and his desire through an exploration of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Remain’s of the Day. It focuses on the protagonist of the novel Stevens, butler of Darlington Hall and his struggle with his desire. In The Ethics of Psychoanalysis Lacan says of the obsessional:

(What the) behaviour of the obsessional reveals and signifies is that he regulates his behaviour so as to avoid what the subject often sees quite clearly as the goal and end of his desire.

In other words what the obsessional (in this case Stevens) fears is an encounter with his desire and he engages in compulsions and rituals in order to protect himself from such an encounter. Stevens uses the institution of the butler and its in-built ritualistic nature as a socially approved medium through which he can engage in the ritual and control inherent in obsessional behaviour. It provides for him an established set of rules and rituals, which are shared and understood by others in the profession and those who act within the institution. In his role as butler Stevens seeks to attain a perfect ‘dignity’ and within this context is able to justifiably avoid the risk of realising his desire.

Throughout the novel Stevens engages in an intense internal dialogue, to the extent that the act of thinking itself comes to constitute his obsessional neurosis. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that his need to mask his desire dictates his actions in relation to both Miss Kenton (a former housekeeper) and his father. The narrative begins as Stevens undertakes a trip to meet Miss Kenton in order to persuade her to return to employment in…

THE LETTER 10 (Summer 1997) pages 111-120

Writing this article was stimulated by the argumentation put forward by Sean Homer in Issue 7 of The Letter1 concerning the political implications of Lacanian theory. As I understand it Homer’s argument presupposes the distinction between political theory and political praxis or politics, a distinction which I will not question but instead will take as granted. What I will also take as granted, and here I am in full agreement with Homer, is that the interventions in political theory that are inspired by Lacanian psychoanalysis – and, together with Homer, I am mainly referring to Zizek and Laclau – have introduced a series of innovative and extremely productive, if not groundbreaking, insights that are beginning to change the nature of our theoretical terrain. This is particularly true for the field of the theory of ideology since ‘if psychoanalysis has anything to offer political theory in general or the politics of representation in particular it is [mainly but not solely] in the field of ideology’.2 Here two points are crucial: first of all the Lacanian idea of a constitutive Real impossibility located at the heart of the socio-symbolic world – of a lack in the Other – which in Laclau’s work assumes the form of the ‘impossibility of society’, that is to say of the irreducibility of social antagonism and the ultimate dislocation of all social constructions -discourses, ideologies, etc; secondly, the Lacanian conception of fantasy (as a screen that attempts to suture this constitutive lack in the Other) which in Zizek becomes the nodal point for the analysis of ideology as a fantasy construction that attempts to make the impossible society possible, to articulate the Utopian dream of bringing us back the part of ourselves (jouissance) which is sacrificed upon entering the socio-symbolic field. Home…

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