Ten years ago, the first issue of THE LETTER was published. As you begin to read this, the thirtieth issue of the journal, perhaps you will share some of the excitement and enthusiasm which I feel about this truly wonderful journal that we have here. As a reader of THE LETTER during the last five years I have always been struck by the high standard of the contributions as well as its consistently sophisticated packaging and appearance. THE LETTER has functioned as a hugely valuable resource for me over the years and I know that for my fellow students during my time as a student at the School of Psychotherapy, this experience was shared by them. Moreover, in speaking to our colleagues both at home and abroad who wait eagerly for the next issue to appear, what comes across is a real sense of appreciation and respect for the journal.
THE LETTER needs hardly any introduction, it is known and (unlike a great many other psychoanalytic journals) it is enjoyed. In terms of enjoyment, as a contributor to the journal, I have experienced a real delight in seeing my own work published therein. It is indeed a privilege for me to take up this position as editor of THE LETTER, and I feel honoured to be involved with this project. I intend to do my best to ensure that the high standard and quality to which you have become accustomed, continues. Speaking of high standards: there is no adequate way to speak highly enough of the talent, skill, scholarship, and passion of the ten-year editorship of Helena Texier. So perhaps in this, the tenth anniversary issue of THE LETTER, you might accept our gratitude to you, Helena, for bringing your passion and commitment, your scholarship and skillful editorship to the production of this excellent journal. …Continue Reading
THE LETTER 30 Spring 2004, pages 1-18
In a recent review of an exhaustive study on The Smiths – a 1970’s band – the writer remarks: “This is not a book for anoraks – it’s a book for anoraks with furry trims”.
Something similar might be said about the texts I am going to discuss in this paper – the seminar with the curious title of …ou -pire, and the series of talks called The knowledge of the psychoanalyst. Many Lacanians have gone to their graves, and many more will, without ever having opened them. They have not been officially edited or published in French and so one has to search around to find unattributed pirate editions or those that have been put together for private use by different associations.
Our group at St Vincent’s spent the academic year 2002-2003 translating and reading them following out a long-term project of making available at least a basic version of the Lacan seminars that have not been officially translated into English – so far our tally stands at thirteen.
…ou pire – the three dots at the beginning are important and they are followed by a conjunction and an adverb ‘or worse’ – is the 19th in Lacan’s series of annual seminars and he will eventually make it to number twenty six. He talks more and more of the fact that he is reaching the end of his teaching career if not of his life and this is what pushes him all the more towards what Roudinesco calls ‘the search for the absolute’. This seminar follows Semblance and anticipates Encore – which is…
THE LETTER 30 (Spring 2004) pages 19-30
When Lacan introduced the notion of the not-all into psychoanalytic knowledge, at the beginning of the seventies – more than thirty years ago then – his goal was ‘to draw out (faire sortir) something new about feminine sexuality’. He says it explicitly in the seminar Encore: ‘We have to pave the way by means of an elaboration of the not-all. This is my real topic this year, behind this ‘Encore’, and it is one of the meanings of my title. Hopefully I will manage to draw out something new about feminine sexuality.’
‘Faire sortir’ (literally, to make exit) is a strange expression in French when it is a question of theory. It evokes the idea of a concrete skill like, for instance, that of the magician who is able to extract an unexpected object from an unlikely place. Here, however, it is going to be a question of logic, about a skill with logic, and this is the reason why this expression evokes especially the idea of forcing. It is the structure itself which Lacan is going to attempt to force. Indeed, The woman, the one that Lacan tells us does not exist, can only exist paradoxically, by making a hole at the very heart of the structure. That being so, one can say that Lacan gives a place to the feminine as such, in the structure; the feminine as such, or in other words as the Other sex, as what is radically Other to the signifier, but also as what comes to ask the question of the heteros at the very heart of the world of the One, phallically ordered.
The first consequence, therefore, is that it divests the question of the feminine of all its Imaginary associations. Up to this it had been posed in…
THE LETTER 30 (Spring 2004) pages 31-43
…I recommend to those who want to hold the position of the analyst with what that involves in terms of knowledge not to run away from it, to bring themselves up to date with what of course for them can only be read by working on Parmenides.
I am going to talk to you about a dialogue by Plato called Parmenides because both in Seminar XIX, …ou pire, and in the series of lectures entitled The knowledge of the psychoanalyst, Lacan indicates it as a text which will inform our attempts to grasp what he means by the Real. In particular, he suggests that the Platonic dialogue’s account of the One is crucial to an understanding of the term: the Real. At this time in his work Lacan was emphasising the importance of the notion of the Real for our approach to the condition of the speaking subject, the subject constituted in a relation to language.
The Real is a very difficult and challenging term. Therefore, before speaking about Plato’s text, itself a perplexity to centuries of readers, I will read a few of the statements Lacan makes about the Real in his Seminar to provide some kind of orientation. In the third week of the Seminar Lacan tells us that this Real ‘ought to be privileged by us.. .because it shows in an exemplary way that it is the paradigm of what puts in question what can…
THE LETTER 30 (Spring 2004) pages 44-61
First question: In the post-Lacanian literature, how many times have you come across the aphorism The Woman does not exist?
Answer: Often enough.
Second question: Hand on heart, do you understand what that aphorism means?
Answer: If the answer is ‘Yes’, you do not need to read any further. If the answer is ‘No’ – as I assure you mine was before I studied the current seminar …Ou pire and the accompanying series of seven talks entitled The Knowledge of the Psychoanalyst -I suggest you read on, because the question about the existence of The Woman has its origins in these works, delivered by Lacan in the academic year 1971 – ’72. In this seminar as ever, he cast his net of inquiry across the span of the centuries, from Plato and Aristotle to Pascal and Frege. You will admit that sources such as these seem far removed from our catchy phrase The Woman does not exist and yet if questions about existence are linked to castration and sexual enjoyment for men and women, surely we need to examine them and not take them at face value? Beginning with Plato, it is through his Parmenides that Lacan encourages us to examine existence and thereby ground something of substance about ‘the sexual business’. In his talk to us at the congress this year on Parmenides, Barry O’Donnell introduced us to this ancient discourse and so set the stage for further examination.
In this dialogue of Plato’s, Parmenides is directing a philosophical discussion on the nature of reality. Let’s briefly try to capture the style of the debate and outline the approach, wherein he is asking, what hypotheses need to be satisfied if we are to posit that a thing exists? The thing in question he calls ‘the one’ (in …Ou pire, this ‘one’ of Parmenides is written as ‘the One’; it also forms the kernel of Lacan’s neologism Yad’lun -il y a de l’un or there is something of the one). One such hypothesis would be ‘if one exists where would it be located in space?’ This is how he elaborates the question: …
THE LETTER 30 (Spring 2004) pages 62-76
Troubled children who are unable to speak about their suffering because it is too painful will unconsciously express their trauma by impulsive acting-out behaviour. The ‘acting-out’ is a message to another who is refusing to listen or who is unable to decipher the message conveyed in their actions. It is crucial that we provide children with the opportunity to speak their truth to an Other who listens or they may continue to live in confusion and repeat the cycles of violence that have been part of their early history and socialization.
When an eight-year-old child jumps through a window smashing his life away in a last attempt to escape from a situation of ongoing abuse, the crisis for children at risk becomes blatantly poignant. At the inquest into this “accidental death” the deceased child’s ten-year-old brother, who witnessed the tragedy, spoke about how they had been subjected to years of abuse from infancy. This was not the deceased child’s only suicidal attempt. Both children had been involved in dangerous behaviours and juvenile offences on several occasions. Their actions were their only way of being able to communicate their distress which, tragically, had always gone unheard.
This is only one of many instances of children living in distress today. We are constantly confronted with a world which neglects children by allowing child slaves, child soldiers, child labourers, starving children, abused children, children left orphaned by or dying from AIDS, children uncared for in overcrowded institutions… and so it continues. …
THE LETTER 30 (Spring 2004) pages 77-86
Earlier on the week I noticed that in the course of Seminar II Lacan says the following: You can disprove Hegel but not the Song of Sixpence. And I was delighted because I knew my presentation today would derive much more from what I owe to the likes of Sing-a-Song-of-Sixpence than to what the field of philosophy had to offer.
My contribution to today’s proceedings certainly – undeniably -owes a great deal to my memory of the many revolutions in our field in the mid-60’s. This field – Our field – is not that of psychoanalysis. It is rather the Our-field-that-was-opposite-our-house, and which was the venue for childsplay, a staging of all of the local children’s productions. The revolutions then are not those of the streets of Paris May ’68, nor are they those revolutions in thinking attributed to Lacan’s seminars. Rather, the revolutions refer to the endless circuits of our field (the one opposite our house) executed by myself and my childhood comrades; revolutions in the field of enjoyment then.
In this field of enjoyment there was played, amongst many others, one children’s game, which is probably well known to you all, and which I think well represents the processes at play in and the triumph of the neuroses. In addition, the game manages to cover both the strategy of hysteria and that of obsessional neurosis. Remarkably, the game at one…
THE LETTER 30 (Spring 2004) pages 87-100
When Freud himself admitted that he had underestimated the negative – ‘I can no longer understand how we have overlooked the ubiquity of non-erotic aggressivity and destructiveness… in our interpretation of life’ – he was also underestimating the force that was to be Kleinianism within psychoanalysis. Half a century later a whole cluster of modern maladies associated with atomistic culture, that might have once been registered as hysteria, had been described. Kleinianism visits the wordless place of the inhibited, the schizoid, the psychotic, the borderline, the autistic, the psychopathic. Klein explores the negative and the obscene, analyzing there at the mute limits of the human. Here, in this domain, violence operates independently, as it were, beyond the pleasure principle. Always beyond. Today, this might be the Kleinian argument: everything hangs on this beyond, beyond subjectivity. Clearly, Klein did not envisage the paranoid-schizoid or the depressive positions as epigenetic stages of development, like Anna Freud and developmental psychology. No, these are not stages of growth. As we enter into, or are inserted into language, some translation of this mute world occurs, but much must be left “outside.” As George Steiner says, translation does violence to the translated. It is to these mute violent remnants that attention must be paid. Klein therefore implicitly challenges the hegemony of language. If the world is structured by language and we cannot think or speak otherwise, then the Kleinians want to oppose this with their own pre-biographic demonology. The violence of language and its autocracy invites, let us imagine for a moment, a mute counterviolence…
THE LETTER 30 (Spring 2004) pages 101-110
In Seminar II Lacan identifies Kierkegaard as a ‘humorist’. Why did Lacan describe Kierkegaard as a humorist and not as a Christian or a melancholic? Humour played a crucial role in Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel: rather than simply express outrage at Hegel’s project, Kierkegaard used humour to indirectly challenge him. In this paper I suggest that Kierkegaard’s indirect critique illuminates a role for humour in Lacanian analysis; and in turn, Lacanian analysis illuminates a role for humour in theology. This paper consists of four parts. First, I consider Freud and Lacan’s views of humour. Second, I look at Kierkegaard’s view of humour. Third, I compare the two in the light of analysis. Fourth, I reflect on analysis, humour, and theology.
Freud and Lacan’s views of humour
Lacan often makes the association between analysis and humour. For example Lacan says:
The closer we get to psychoanalysis being funny the more it is real psychoanalysis. Later on, it will get run in, it will be done by cutting corners and by pulling tricks. No one will understand any longer what’s being done, just as there is…
THE LETTER 30 (Spring 2004) pages 111-121
When I, as a wife, a mother, a psychoanalyst question myself about the difficulties encountered in the course of my life, I find that they are all located in or round the mother; in or round that part of psychoanalytic theory that bears on women and the structure of their unconscious. For the business of motherhood is unbearable, buttressed as it is by a theory that is indefensible, in which Freud decides that I as a woman shall want a child as replacement for the penis I never had.
Did you know that if you were to look up ‘mothering’ in Laplanche and Pontalis’ ‘The Language of Psychoanalysis”, you would find that mothering is a psychoanalytic technique? Nowhere in this entry is there any mention of women who are mothers and if you want to find out anything about mothers you have to look up ‘penis-envy’. And there it is: in the Oedipal complex, penis envy takes two forms, first the wish to acquire the penis within oneself (principally in the desire to have a child) and, secondly, the wish to enjoy the penis in coitus. That’s it, and that’s all. In Evans’ dictionary of Lacanian psychoanalysis, we find that ‘the mother which interests psychoanalytic theory is above all the symbolic mother, the mother in her role as the primordial Other’. I don’t know…
THE LETTER 30 (Spring 2004) pages 122-129
Lacan in his seminar on Anxiety refers to ‘the most massive, unreconstituted, ancestral experience, rejected onto the obscurity of ancient times from which we are supposed to have escaped, of a necessity which unites us with these ages, which is still current and which very curiously we speak about only very rarely… it is that of the nightmare’. He asks: ‘Why do analysts interest themselves so little in the nightmare?’.
Lacan goes on to say that if there is already an established and very remarkable literature, to which we should refer, it is – however forgotten it may be at this point – Ernest Jones’ book on the nightmare, a book of incomparable riches. Lacan recalls for us the fundamental phenomenology: the anxiety of the nightmare is experienced properly speaking as that of the puissance of the Other. The correlative of the nightmare is the Incubus or the Succubus, it is this being who weighs with his whole opaque weight of alien puissance on your chest, who crushes you under his jouissance.
About five years ago a man who has been in prison for many years began therapy with me. Two years into the work he haltingly and with great difficulty spoke about terrifying nightmares that he had been experiencing since he was a teenager. He has just fallen asleep and then it is as if he is awake. This thing is on his back. It is ‘pure evil’. He can hardly breathe. He knows that if he could just move he could get rid of it. But he is paralysed. Eventually, with great difficulty, he moves and the thing is gone from his back. He wakes and there is a sense of the cell being full of evil. He is covered in perspiration and his heart is pounding. There is no going back to sleep for the rest of the night. At the next session…