Issue 12 (Spring 1998)


Has Psychiatry no shame? This week an eminent British Journal of psychiatry published its finding on the subject of ‘false memory syndrome’ and ’recovered memory’ of sexual abuse during ‘talking cures’. While the level of naivete of the ensuing discussion in newspapers and on radio is to be expected, the way in which prominent psychiatrists here have used the finding to undermine confidence in psychotherapy, suggesting that while therapy was previously seen as quite probably useless but at least no harm for the suffering subject, that now this new study proves it positively dangerous! Such comments have succeeded in almost completely overshadowing the more obvious questions which psychiatry itself must answer, following on its research. Why, for example, has it taken one hundred years longer for psychiatry to cast doubt on the ‘seduction theory’ than it has for psychoanalysis? How can the bastions of psychiatry claim without embarrassment to have ‘discovered’ something which Freud was writing about a century ago? What explanation is it going to give for its findings? If it is going to rely on the old favourite – ‘suggesting’ suggestion on the part of the therapist – how is it going to explain the intricacies of this phenomenon? Will it be able to come up with something which would be equal in weight to the psychoanalytic concept of Transference? What theory of human subjectivity… Continue reading

Click here to order hard copy


THE LETTER 12 (Spring 1998) pages 1-13


On June 21 1922, as the Irish War of Independence was tipping over into the Civil War, – two months later Harry Boland, Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins would all be dead – on the longest day of 1922 then, Ernest Jones read a paper to the British Psychoanalytical Society entitled: The island of Ireland: a psychoanalytical contribution to political psychology’.

In it, he argued that the geographic fact that Ireland is an island has played an important and underestimated part in the idea that the Irish have formed of their own country. The signifier ‘Ireland’ has become particularly associated with the unconscious maternal complex to which all kinds of powerful affects are attached and this in turn has played a part in the formation of Irish character and in the age-old refusal of the Irish to follow the Scots and the Welsh along a path of peaceful and beneficial co-operation with England.

The 1922 paper applied to Anglo-Irish relations, which then as now were at a crucial turning point, the theses of Jones’ classic 1916 article on The Theory of Symbolism which is known to contemporary psychoanalysts mainly through a long and detailed study of it by Jacques Lacan. Lacan argued that far from being of merely historical or even pre-historical interest this paper articulated issues that are still at the heart of the debate concerning the proper object of psychoanalysis and the clinical impasses that result from a failure to articulate correctly the status of this object. …


THE LETTER 12 (Spring 1998) pages 14-24


It is interesting that it was toward the end of his seminar for 1960-61 on the transference that Lacan first introduced the (o) object. This seminar on Transference had been largely devoted to Socrates address to and about Alcibiades’ quest for the agalma. It would appear that from then on Lacan turned away from any further ‘mythification’ about the (o) object which was what the agalma represented. From then on he seriously began to describe a science of the (o) object as material cause of truth for the subject. This necessitated an engagement with arid and peculiar looking shapes from the world of topology, a branch of mathematics. These included the moebius strip, the torus, the Klein bottle and the cross-cap which he claimed held the key to understanding what is unrepresentable about analysis.

It is at the level of the (o) object qua object which falls from the apprehension of knowledge that we are, as men of science, rejoined by the question of truth.

Through looking at the sphere and the cross-cap in particular, this presentation attempts to examine the limits of our apprehension of knowledge when it comes to the question of the truth of the subject in analysis.


I want to begin this presentation by talking to you about the sphere and the cross-cap. For Lacan these had become essential spatial references in his theorisation about the (o) object from 1961, from the end of the Seminar on Transference on. I expect that most of you know what a sphere is. I also…


THE LETTER 12 (Spring 1998) pages 25-40

Psychoanalysis is the science of the particular.

J. Lacan


The Telescope, Microscope and the Scopic Drive

This paper summarises some of Lacan’s thinking on Velasquez’s Las Meninas, a painting that art experts voted the greatest ever painted in 1985. For Lacan, the particularity of this painting is that it incarnates one of his four fundamental objects of psychoanalysis, that of the look. For me, it also embodies the psychoanalytic method, a method grounded in a conception of the human subject that is new, that is ‘Copernican’.

This summary, (not a report), is an effort to evoke something of why Lacan took an interest in this painting, which of course was not the first time he spoke about the visual arts, in order to teach the structure of phantasy, the scopic drive, the lost object, the look, the cause of desire, (that which we refuse to relinquish). Desire, constituted by lack, implies divided subjects, where ‘desire is the metonomy of Being in the subject’.

The work under consideration at this Congress is a continuation of Lacan’s Seminar XI, What is a Painting?, where he spoke about Holbein’s The Ambassadors, in the context of the gap between the look and the gaze. We will…

THE LETTER 12 (Spring 1998) pages 41-47

Bruce Fink opens his latest book with the old joke:

How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Only one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change!

He goes on to tell us that many psychologists do believe that the patient must genuinely want to change for therapy to be effective. Lacan’s approach, however, is different. Fink reminds us of Freud’s insight that symptoms provide satisfaction, however obscure; at some level the individual enjoys his or her symptoms. There is consequently no such thing as a genuine desire to change. In the absence of this desire to change, it is often up to the analyst to express his desire that the analysis continue, otherwise the patient is likely to break off therapy. Fink says that the patient’s desire to continue therapy must, at certain times, wane or disappear. This is a problem that we have all experienced. But there is an even greater difficulty, which is encountered in varying degrees, although I believe it is a challenge for psychoanalysis in general: how do we get people into analysis in the first place? If what they want is a patch repair kit which will at least temporarily restore satisfaction to previous levels, and there are plenty of those kits on offer, who needs psychoanalysis? What are the actual considerations here?

A preliminary question is, should people be going into analysis at all? This is an ethical question. The dictionary tells us that ethics involves acting morally, is the science of morals, that branch of philosophy which is concerned with human character and conduct. It comes from the Greek, ethos, custom, character. Morals comes from the Latin, mos, manner or custom. So we have to consider the manner and custom, and the character and conduct of…

THE LETTER 12 (Spring 1998) pages 48-50

Indeed, in times like these, who needs Psychoanalysis? As we approach the close of the twentieth century, the human subject with a discourse of his own is in grave danger of extinction. We are indeed witnessing the death throes of ‘The Century of the Individual’: perhaps Marx will have the last laugh yet. Swept along on the wave of the ‘Information Age’, saturated by the mass media and made redundant by technology, we are becoming more hysterical and narcissistic. Entranced by the lure of the image, our lives are becoming increasingly externalised in the ‘Society of the Spectacle’, played out in passive vicarious experiences and virtual realities. This has led to a depletion of inner psychic reality, and what Anna O so aptly named, ‘our private theatre’. We know too much and understand too little. A creeping emptiness lies at the heart of modern life as we live much of our emotional lives by proxy.

For Kristeva, modern man is losing his soul, but he does not know it, for the psychical apparatus is what registers representations and their meaningful representations for the subject. But of course, the society that shapes modern individuals does not leave them stranded; neurochemistry and a panoply of therapies are readily available to repair the wounds of our amputated subjectivity.

In an attempt to mask the real of anxiety they operate and keep the subject stuck on the infantile level of demand to the m(other) to ‘Feed me! Understand me! Comfort me!’. To answer the demand is to act as a surrogate mother, which is unethical, because it denies the reality of separation and loss, which each human subject must negotiate in taking responsibility for one’s body and facing mortality. For Lacan, symptoms are derived from the basic propensity for narcissistic self-deception. The analytic ethical act consists in…

THE LETTER 12 (Spring 1998) pages 51-65

This paper is about sex. And if it is about sex, it is about number.

In the final weeks of the Seminar entitled Crucial Problems for Psychoanalysis Lacan identifies what has been a theme, perhaps the major one, of that year: they have been exploring what he terms the subjective positions of being.. He sets up this triadic schema to help orientate his listeners:


SUBJECT                                         SEX

What we have here is a very simple version of a schema that Lacan goes on to develop over the course of seven or eight weeks. He relates this triadic formulation to his other triad, the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary. He refers it to his topographical tool, the Moebius strip. He brings in his reading of Descartes’s cogito; he unravels a theory of game he finds in Pascal; he refers to the biology of uni-cellular organisms which inhabit a twilight zone between plant and animal life. However, during these weeks the most repeated reference is to Plato. It is with one reference to Plato that this paper will concern itself. What use, what good is it for Lacan’s endeavour? …

THE LETTER 12 (Spring 1998) pages 66-85


I have three questions but maybe no answer:

Firstly: What do we mean when we speak about the end of an analysis’? Without a doubt, there is a world of difference whether an analysis is brought to an end or not. Secondly: What kind of institution best accommodates psychoanalysis and which one takes into account its specificity?

These two questions are in fact one and the same and are very closely related to a third one: What has psychoanalysis to say about law? What doespsychoanalysis, as a practice and theory, teach us about law? What would be a typical psychoanalytic reading, an interpretation, of law? Law, in this context, is considered insofar as a subject is concerned, and so the question becomes: What is a subjective relation to law? Or, what are the subjective effects of law?

This is, I think, the kernel of any ethical questioning and investigation and this, not only from a psychoanalytic perspective- In fact, is there, or could there be, any difference between a psychoanalytic and a general approach to ethics? It is on this very point precisely that an opening of psychoanalysis onto the other principle, fundamental discourses can take place. These discourses can thereby be articulated in a way which is not necessarily the same as Lacan has defined it in his seminar on the so-called ‘four-discourses’.

The three questions mentioned above are closely linked together and need to be formulated in a different way. They rely on one major and far- reaching issue, which contributes to founding the psychoanalytic field and which, at the same time, goes beyond its own boundaries, its specific limitations. This issue is the question of transmission, which permits a different…


THE LETTER 12 Spring 1998, pages 87-93


For centuries, woman’s menstruation has been viewed negatively. Anthropology confirms that there is an almost universal taboo concerning menses. This suggests that there must be a more broadly based explanation than the merely religio-cultural one.

Psychoanalysis might be expected to provide a deeper understanding. Freud, its founder, fails to deal with it adequately, despite its obvious potential role in castration anxiety and the Oedipus Complex. This failure may result from conflicts in his relationship with Fliess, especially surrounding the case of Emma Eckstein.

My own experience as a mother has led me to the belief that knowledge and visual evidence of the mother’s cyclical bleeding can lead to deep seated anxieties in a male child. Regarding the literature, one psychoanalyst has addressed this taboo subject. Claude Dagmar Daly, describes this influence of the mother’s menstruation on the child and warned that though its actuality was one of the simplest and most obvious truths in psychoanalysis, it was ‘the simplest truths that are often the last to be believed’.


Taking its precedent in Freud’s reporting of his observation of his grandson’s now famous ‘fort! da!’ game and his account of his daughter Anna’s dream of ‘stwawbewwies, omblet, pudden’, this paper began as I was watching my three and a half year old son playing on the floor with his father. The game involved my son chasing an imaginary and frightening hippopotamus. When he succeeded in capturing the animal he turned to his father and declared in an intense voice ‘I will eat his eyes’. With this task completed he then apparently changed tack. He seized on a female doll, one…

THE LETTER 12 (Spring 1998) pages 94-98

Desire represents one of the more elusive terms in Lacanian theory. In his paper on Subversion of the Subject and Dialectic of Desire, Lacan far from cedes ‘to a logicizing reduction where it is a question of desire’. According to Bowie, the only positive characteristic Lacan ascribes to desire is that it propels all acts of speech or refusals to speak, and all conscious and unconscious psychic representations. It is desire that maintains the movement of the chain of signifiers ‘sustaining the endless play of condensation and displacement among ideas, or of metaphor and metonymy among signifiers. Such mobility and adaptability enables Lacan to present a truer and more authentic portrayal of love in sexual relationships, which inevitably resists the cold, logical, robotic descriptions presented by other theorists on the subject of eros.

According to Lacan, his colleagues erred, not in refusing to speak about the ‘paradoxical, deviant, erratic, eccentric, even scandalous character’ of desire, which distinguishes it from need, but rather in their readiness to reduce desire to need. Desire is not a bodily appetite which can be easily satisfied. Nor does it consist in the relief of unpleasurable tension. Furthermore, no individual possesses the power to provide complete satisfaction for another. There is always something else at work in the relationship between the need-driven subject and the person who is in a position to provide satisfaction, namely, a demand for love, for recognition. The divided subject, divided as a result of his entry into the symbolic order, looks to the Other, not simply to meet his needs, but to answer him with an unconditional yes. If it were merely a need to be satisfied, then, as Bowie…

THE LETTER 12 Spring (1998) pages 99-105

Working psychoanalytically with non fee-paying patients in the public health sector presents certain problems. Many subjects have been patients of the psychiatric services for years, even decades, and as an analyst one is regarded: i) invariably, as yet another in a long line of medical practitioners, and ii) always, as a member of a support ‘team’. Very few patients would be familiar with or interested in the distinction between counselling, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, being principally interested in alleviation of anxiety. However, despite these and other problems, results can be achieved, and perhaps the non-payment of fees is not such an insurmountable problem. I would suggest that it is the transference that provides the opportunities; and within the context of a public health setting, the absence of payment doesn’t seem to become an impossible obstacle in the development of the transference.

For just over three years I have been working with medical card patients, seeing each patient twice a week, at a public health ‘community mental health day centre’, a unit ancillary to one of Dublin’s Psychiatric hospitals. A consultant psychiatrist refers patients from amongst those who attend his nearby clinic. He selects those for referral on the basis of patients who are articulate and, in his judgement, have the desire and the potential to live without medication and the support of the mental health services. When patients are referred, they would generally be taking either anti-depressant or anti-psychotic medication. In most cases, by the time they are referred, patients are eager to end what they speak of as an unwelcome dependence on medication.

Patients are not ‘referred’ in the usual medical sense of the word; the psychiatrist would introduce the possibility of psychotherapy to the patient, leaving it to the patient to respond then or later with a request for a referral. Emphasis in this discussion is placed on how difficult it is to obtain psychotherapy in the public health sector. Patients often have to wait weeks…

Comments are closed.