Issue 25 & 26 (Summer/Autumn 2002)


The present publication brings you both issue 25 and issue 26 of THE LETTER, offering the reader a selection of work from twelve authors, many of whom will be already familiar names to regular followers of the journal’s progress. We also present the work of authors writing here for the first time and look forward to a continuing relation with their works as these evolve. We have as always aimed to bring you a selection of articles which constantly challenge the theory as it impacts on and is drawn from clinical practice; each of the contributors deserves due credit for the inimitable style each brings to the task.
None of them will object if we leave it to the reader to discover in those articles the individual applications to the psychoanalytic field, to focus instead for a moment on just one contribution in particular. The work with which we open is based on a publication and is an extract from a book which really deserves to be noted since it marks the arrival of the first major work (and again hopefully the first of many more) in the English language by someone who has contributed in no small measure to Lacanian psychoanalysis in Ireland. It represents a session in the 1994-95 teaching seminar of Charles Melman, which went by the overall title Returning to Schreber. This one session reproduced here, of the 15th December 1994, was devoted to following up on the consequences of the development of Lacans formulae according to which ‘the unconscious is the social and ‘ the subject $ is what is supported between two signifiers’. One of the immediate consequences of taking seriously these statements is to undermine the position whereby psychoanalysts remain within the field circumscribed by the family, consider ‘that the field of their responsibility comes to a halt at the boundary of family organisation’ and act as though they do not have to make any pronouncement, to become engaged, when they are challenged by the social field’. …Continue reading

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THE LETTER 25 (Summer 2002) pages 1-16

Giving a commentary on this formula of Lacan according to which ‘the unconscious is the social1, implies accepting at first a curious decentering, since to postulate that the Oedipus complex is the organiser of subjectivity, and therefore of desire, is equivalent to privileging the family stage as being where the destiny of the subject is played out, is determined. It is no doubt one of the reasons why the psychoanalysts, in a more or less, intuitive way, consider that the field of their responsibility comes to a halt at the boundary of family organization and that they do not have to make any pronouncement, to become engaged, when they are challenged by the social field. This is also what one sees on the part of neurotics who make of the family scene this permanent and ineradicable locus of passions, of complaints, of grievances, of unpardonable sins, which obviously give to our family lives a very curious tint. You have to chose: either family life is really very good and, in that case, the results are not very good, precisely as regards the determination for a subject of his desire since the aforesaid desire is only supported by shocks, by accidents, even traumas; or indeed – and it is much more frequent – family life is bad and it gives rise to this type of historicizing and consequences which is scarcely any more satisfying.

No doubt Freud should be singularly thanked for having put the accent on this prevalence of family organization in subjective determination even though he, for his part, because of his history, because…

THE LETTER 25 (Summer 2002) pages 17-20

Addiction, like prostitution, is a phenomenon as old as the human race. Evidently they have something in common – their relationship to desire and enjoyment – and both pose a problem for the society in which they occur. It is not too difficult to find a reason for this. A society is a perfect example of an institution consisting of a collection of people held together by a number of commonly shared rules and conventions. This applies to every institution, be this a family, a school, an association, or a psychiatric institution. The rules and conventions that we find in these institutions, no matter how private they may be, always have the same aim: the regulation of enjoyment on the basis of a number of collectively developed and often legally binding agreements. Hence, every institution also presents an ideal, precisely through which that regulation is articulated.

Like prostitution, addiction has escaped these conventions, and this is exactly why each poses a problem for society as an institution. This does not detract from the fact that they are fundamentally different. Prostitution evades conventional solutions concerning the sexual relationship (and its impossibility), but in doing so it manages to maintain the convention. Both ordinary regulation – the one subject to the norm -and prostitution, emphasize phallic enjoyment and the exchange between partners. This is not the case with addiction. Lacan’s reflections on this…


THE LETTER 25 (Summer 2002) pages 21-38

Who will ever relate the

whole history of narcotica?

It is almost the history of

‘culture’, of our so-called

high culture

The earliest evidence of psychoactive drug use and knowledge of hallucinogenic plants dates back some 13,000 years.2 Most early forms of religion used drugs in an attempt to gain divine knowledge. Drugs and drug use are an integral part of human culture. Yet, we hardly know anything about drugs, at least not the kind of knowledge that would help us to understand how drugs affect people and how people become addicted to drugs. This is most surprising in light of the vast amount of knowledge that has been accumulated in the sciences.

So, what should we expect from science concerning the effect of drugs and the pathology of addiction? Whilst science has devoted considerable time and resources to the question (for instance, the American National Institute of Drug Abuse [NIDA] allocates $600 million a year to research into drug abuse), we still do not have a satisfactory scientific basis for addiction. On the other hand, although psychoanalysis has yet to seriously and systematically address the problem of addiction, it is my contention that psychoanalysis has an unique contribution to make.

Little work has been done in psychoanalysis on addiction compared to what has been done in the sciences. Indeed, within psychoanalysis itself little has been done in comparison to the work that…

THE LETTER 25 (Summer 2002) pages 39-75

Despite the formidable size of his oeuvre, spanning a period from 1932 to 1980, Lacan is frequently summarized with reference to a single statement: ‘The unconscious is structured like a language.’ Both critics and disciples of Lacanian thought usually assert that Lacan’s primary theoretical contribution consists of a linguistic turn wherein the energetic, libidinal unconscious of Freud is transformed into a formalizable, symbolic structure. To some, this ‘linguistification’ of the unconscious represents a necessary overcoming of Freud’s inappropriate reliance upon nineteenth century biology and physics. To others who are less sympathetic, Lacan’s claim to be the sole initiator of an orthodox ‘return to Freud’ is refuted by his misguided effort to reformulate Freudian metapsychology within the parameters of Saussurian structural linguistics, an effort supposedly foreign to Freud’s own vision of the psyche.

When Lacan invokes linguistics, he almost always utilizes Saussure’s terminology. In particular, the Lacanian unconscious is composed of (or, is ‘structured like’) ‘signifiers’. Opponents of Lacan claim that his position is incompatible with Freudian theory; in distinguishing between word-presentations (Wortvorstellungen) and thing-presentations (Sachvorstellungen), the unconscious consisting of the latter alone, Freud denies the notion that the unconscious contains linguistic units of any sort. Resolving the debates between the defenders and detractors of Lacanian theory’s references to structural linguistics requires answering two central questions. First, are the terms ‘signifier’ and ‘word-presentation’ synonymous? Second, is the structure revealed by linguistics itself entirely linguistic, that is to say, is…

THE LETTER 25 (Summer 2002) pages 76-92

What happens to the subject when confronted by speech or text whose origins or purpose are deliberately disguised? Irony, for example, is central to the clinical situation. The analyst is the one supposed to know, – at least that is why the analysand is drawn to him, when in fact the opposite is the case. The analyst poses as the one who knows, by promoting their knowledge in order draw the client, but refuses to impart it. A vacuum is created which draws the truth from the analysand. The analysand tells his story, but it is not, at least initially the true story. Why is this subterfuge necessary? What is in this counterfeit situation that provokes true speech? We know that the manifest content of the dream is a parable: Is the unconscious then the arch-ironist?

Although parallel speech and writing is confined to the symbolic order of language, there is a strong case for comparing this to the effectiveness of schemata, topology, algebraic formulae etc. as parallel modes of representation and symbolisation for psychoanalytic knowledge. If it is found that what is included under the title of parallel speech enhances and advances the meaning of the parent topic, then it may follow that symbolic representation (schemata, topology, algebraic formulae etc.) can enhance and progress psychoanalytic thinking. If it is seen that both of these parallel modes of communication are more than analogous, that they in fact add, develop, progress and enhance what we refer to as the parent topic, then there must be some reason, some connecting factor that overrides the apparently simplistic application of these (so-called) analogous techniques.

Is it the anteriority of the symbolic order of language that takes over and delivers more than is anticipated? Or is it the overlord of the unconscious reaping his harvest despite the conscious efforts of the…

THE LETTER 25 (Summer 2002) pages 93-108

Freud made hardly any reference to the topic of supervision. When he did, as for example in his paper The Question of Lay Analysis (1928), he merely acknowledges its existence as a component of psychoanalytic training and, moreover, defines it loosely in terms of inexperienced practitioners having the opportunity to discuss their cases with more experienced practitioners. Indeed he states that the movement from beginner to Master ‘must be acquired by practice and an exchange of ideas in the psychoanalytic societies in which young and old members meet together’, which, if anything, de-emphasises supervision, and with it the supervisor as knowledge holder, in favour of a more open and group based research agenda which has, at its core, the experience of analytic practice.

Today, however, things are different and in general great weight is placed on the importance of supervision not only in psychoanalysis but in psychotherapy generally. More and more one sees publications on this topic alongside increasingly specified guidelines by professional bodies. To take one recent example one can note how the UK Association for Family Therapy has recently made a recommendation that in effect advises that supervision should continue throughout the working life of the systemic psychotherapist. …

THE LETTER 26 (Autumn 2002) pages 109-119

At the beginning of his teaching, what motivates Lacan is, according to his own saying, ‘to clear away the imaginary, which was too prevalent in technique’1. Since post-Freudian theory and technique revolve around the axis of the ego and its resistance, Lacan seeks to define the respective domains of the symbolic and the imaginary within analytic practice. One of the crucial topics underlying Lacan’s elaboration of the agencies of the ego and the subject of the unconscious throughout his first seminars concerns the question of the way to deal with the ego-defences within clinical practice. To put it bluntly: can one interpret the ego-defences? Following Freud, Lacan demonstrates that the interpretation of the ego defences is a technique that just doesn’t work.

The agency of the ego: Freud and Lacan

Picking up and radicalising Freud’s work, Lacan splits Freud’s concept of the ego in two, into the subject and the ego. Lacan calls the ego the ‘mental illness of man,’ for it is synonymous with resistance in psychoanalysis.2 More precisely, the ego functions like a resistance operating against the analysis of the subject of the unconscious. As for the…

THE LETTER 26 (Autumn 2002) pages 120-132


Over the past decade, our society has had to confront the so-called ‘new illnesses of the soul’. More and more, clinicians are confronted with pathologies that do not seem to fit into the three major Freudo-Lacanian diagnostic categories of neurosis, psychosis and perversion. These pathologies are borderline personality disorders, posttraumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, self-mutilation, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, psychosomatic phenomena, etc. Since psychoanalytic treatment is worked out only for the three categories mentioned earlier, especially neurosis, any attempt to treat the new patients in the same way is doomed to fail.

Based on literature studies on these new pathologies, it can be hypothesised that they can be classified under the nosographic label Freud called actual neurosis. In order to confirm this hypothesis, we’ll start with a discussion of actual neurosis as it was described by Freud. Next we will shed light on this theory from a Lacanian point of view, with special reference to Lacan’s view on the emergence of the subject. Then, we will compare the findings of the literature with our theoretical notions. Finally we’ll discuss some implications for treatment.

The return of the repressed

At the beginning of his career as a psychiatrist, Freud introduced a…

THE LETTER 26 (Autumn 2002) pages 133-161

You know that what we are trying to do here, namely in the difficulties, in the impasses, in the contradictions which are the fabric of your -practice – it is the most elementary supposition of our work that you should be aware of it – is to try to bring you back always to the point where these impasses and difficulties can also show themselves to you with their full significance… 

One is aware here of the terrible temptation that must face the analyst to respond, however little, to demand.

Since I have been struck in my own practice with the difficulties of dealing with demand in its various guises, and since this management of demand and its function within the analysis strikes me as being a core element of Lacanian analysis, I wish, in this paper, to go some way toward a technical and clinical exegesis of the difficulties and problems which the concept of demand poses in an analytic treatment. Meriting a mere page of…

THE LETTER 26 (Autumn 2002) pages 162-186

This paper is a structural account of a clinical case. The analysand, whom I will call by the pseudonym Simon, is thirty-five years old and a full-time student. I will start with a presentation of Simon’s psychosexual history, which centres around questions of the drive, fantasy and puissance. This will be followed by a discussion of his presenting complaint, its signifying history and puissance value. I will then trace the development of the analytic work with Simon and raise issues of diagnosis, transference and the direction of treatment.

Psychosexual history

Although elements of Simon’s psychosexual history were produced from the very beginning of the work, it took about a year for a more detailed picture to emerge, mainly because of Simon’s inhibitions around talking about his sexuality to his important others.

As far back as Simon can remember he wanted to be a girl, he fancied girls and was turned on by wearing his sister’s clothes. This intensified during early adolescence, when he systematically cross-dressed and wanted a sex change. During adolescence he had a series of S&M relations with much older women partners and actively participated in the S&M scene. He was a heroin addict and in order to get money for drugs he was involved in drug dealing and he also prostituted himself with men. He came out of this period as a physical wreck. His closest friends died of AIDS, he lost his support networks and realised that if he continued with this way of life he would end up either in prison, or in a psychiatric institution, or he would die. At the end of this period he went through a detoxification treatment. He decided that since he could not have a sex-change operation to become a woman, he should accept that he is a man. …

THE LETTER 26 (Autumn 2002) pages 187-211

Anal-ysing Homosexuality

The first time I went to see a therapist, a psychiatrist, at twenty years of age I was told to pray to cure myself of my homosexual affliction, though it had not been an issue presented in that our one and only session. Granted this was ten years ago and homosexuality was illegal in Ireland, but through my trainings from counsellor to psychoanalyst the issues and instruction around homosexuality have always presented a blind spot. Not merely the over simplified and cliched generalisations reducing male homosexuality to anal sex, but more significantly the ignorance around our ignorance. No matter how politically correct the times and people may have become, having a gay friend or neighbour or even a gay client, never makes you an authority.

A little bit of knowledge is always a dangerous thing, especially when projected from one human subject to another. The central value and strength of psychoanalysis has always been that it recognises each human subject as individual and in theory avoids generalisations. Only the client can know what is wrong with him, can know what will ‘cure1 him, and ultimately knows whether or not he wants to be cured. The analyst is more a witness than a healer or specialist, witnessing the analysand’s speech, his narrative and by his very presence in the transference, his ‘with-ness’ facilitating deeper awareness within the analysand’s own psyche.

However, the countertransference from the analyst can too often contain ‘the sum total of the prejudices, passions and difficulties of the…

THE LETTER 26 (Autumn 2002) pages 212-224


Depression is omnipresent in contemporary clinical praxis. With statistics showing an enormous increase in the number of depressions in the last decades, depression is diagnosed as a sign of the times, inextricably bound up with the fate of the post-modern subject. Simultaneously, another change or shift is taking place: the so-called classical symptoms, with a psychosexual aetiology, seem to have disappeared (the disappearance of classical hysteria being a well-known example); instead, ‘new symptoms’ are emerging, with borderline, self-mutilation, eating disorders, aggressive and sexual acting out, etc… operating as new labels. It is as if the real is gaining ground on the symbolic in present-day psychopathology.

In this paper, I discuss whether these two parallel trends are linked through a common cause, meaning that there is an underlying structural reason. My central thesis is that what we are seeing today in the high prevalence of depression is an anxiety-neurotic depression. By this I mean a form of depression functioning as a limit of the psychosexual or symbolic efficacy, situated at the border between the Real of puissance (the Other of the body) and the symbolic play of signifiers (the Other of language). I will argue, firstly, that depression can be phenomenologically present in the different clinical structures (that there’s the possibility of a psychotic, perverse and neurotic way of being depressive), and secondly, that different modalities of depression in one and the same structure can occur, by opposing the anxiety-neurotic depression to the ‘classical depression’ (as can appear in the transference situation). Here, I will confine myself explicitly to the neurotic structure. …

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