Issue 7 (Summer 1996)


Psychoanalytic theory, and in particular the innovations which the Lacanian corpus has leant to that body of work, has been taken up by a multitude of other disciplines in their attempts to better describe the dynamics inherent to their respective fields of enquiry. Although the progeny of this copulation of psychoanalysis with other disciplines has been variously assessed and not always in a favourable light, the least that can be said is that the meeting of the one with the other always produces something more, the new (w)hole being greater than the sum of its parts. This issue of our journal bears witness to some of the many rendezvous which psychoanalysis has kept with these other fields and, at the same time, attests to the impossibility of any cosy rapport of the one with the other.

It is this thread of impossibility which winds its way through the present issue, beginning with Paul Verhaeghe’s article. He addresses the double impossibility inherent in the combination of two professions, that is, the impossibility of combining in any unproblematic way the teaching and the practice of psychoanalysis. Taken singly each presents with its own hopeless kernel, but the conjunction of the teacher’s position of mastery in respect of knowledge with the analytical position, in which ‘the analyst is the actual incarnation of the buffoon’, poses an impossibility of a higher order.

Aisling Campbell’s paper reflects on whether, where psychoanalysis is concerned, it is ever possible to be a representative. As she tells us, this question…Continue reading

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THE LETTER 07 (Summer 1996) pages 1-11

There is a well-known saying that informs us about the two great tragedies in human life. The first one is not getting what you want. The second one is getting what you want. During my student days, I longed to become a psychoanalyst and I marvelled at the wisdom of some of my teachers. Twenty years later, I find myself back in the position of a psychoanalyst, and, to complete the disaster, I have been nominated professor at the state university of Ghent. Hence, not only do I practise psychoanalysis, I even have to teach it. In Freudian terms, this means that I have to face the combination of two impossible professions, and it is about this double impossibility that I would like to talk today.

The central question concerns the status of this impossibility. For example, for Clement, it comes down to a question of exhaustion, and she expresses this loud and clear in the title of her book: Les fils de Freud sont Fatigues, The weary sons of Freud. She describes a scene in which she herself, being a psychoanalyst and a teacher, stands at the blackboard trying to explain to her students some freudo-lacanian subtlety, when she is suddenly caught by the utter impossibility, even absurdity of her effort. The way in which she describes her feelings of exhaustion and burn-out, together with the typical Parisian scenery, lends the whole thing a certain tragic ring.

So much for the tragic part, which in the Greek tradition is always followed by a comedy. In the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, we have a long-standing tradition of comic-strips; one of its oldest heroes is called Nero, and one of his numerous adventures furnishes us with a perfect illustration of our problem. Nero has found a magic Viking helmet that gives the one who wears it total power over his entourage. You only have…

THE LETTER 07 (Summer 1996) pages 12-20

It is a common practice among psychoanalysts in Ireland – and no doubt in other countries also – to bemoan the lack of awareness of psychoanalysis among the general population. To this is added – sotto voce, for fear of appearing too mercenary – the complaint that it is impossible to make a living from analytic practice; a half-serious fourth to be added to the three impossibilities that make up the topic of the conference. Mindful of these complaints, some time ago I agreed to participate in a radio discussion on psychoanalysis. The show consisted of an half-hour discussion between myself and an interviewer who might be described as naive to psychoanalysis. It was typical of the difficulty in locating analysis in the field of generally accepted knowledge about humanity, that the programme was the final one in a series investigating the various forms of counselling and psychotherapy. The interview was not entirely traumatic in that the interviewer allowed the discussion to develop without the outraged objections that generally result at some stage from any attempt to transmit psychoanalytic theory. There is always some point beyond which it is impossible to teach psychoanalysis – like analysis itself, there is a rock on which it always founders. Thirty minutes was perhaps insufficient to reach this point. Such a discussion in the public realm, however, is not only a form of teaching but also of representation -in the sense that he who teaches in the public domain is assumed to be some kind of representative of the totality. There is an inherent impossibility in the representation of psychoanalysis, as borne out by my experiences following the broadcast.

Some days later I was contacted by a man who had heard the programme and wished to see me. I assumed that he wished to have an analysis; that this was not the case shows very well the disjunction…

THE LETTER 07 (Summer 1996) pages 40-57

The radical heteronomy that Freud’s discovery shows gaping within man, can never again be covered over without whatever is used to hide it being profoundly dishonest.

When we speak … of a divided subject, it is never to acknowledge his simple contradictions … it is a diffraction which is intended, a dispersion of energy in which there remains neither a central core nor a structure of meaning: I am not contradictory, I am dispersed.

Over twenty years separate Jacques Lacan’s Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis and Roland Barthes’ anti-autobiography Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes. The conditions of production of the Lacanian and the Barthesian texts are quite different. Function and Field had been delivered to the Rome Congress in September 1953 at a moment of significant political import for psychoanalysis. In his Discours de Rome Lacan attempts to return psychoanalysis to its true parameters, that is, to speech and language. The Discours immediately assumed the status of a manifesto for the new movement in psychoanalysis. Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes was published in 1975 as a kind of serious joke, when Barthes was asked to do his par lui-même for the Ecrivains de toujours series. Its credibility was further called into question following Barthes’ own review of his autobiography in the Quinzaine litteraire, entitled Barthes puissance trois – Barthes par Barthes, by Barthes.

Autobiography and psychoanalysis have an important factor in common: each issues a warrant to the subject to tell his or her story. How does a subject who is aware of himself or herself as pluralised, as la…

THE LETTER 07 (Summer 1996) pages 58-66

Any coffee break conversation with Irish Lacanian students will confirm Lacan’s own assertion that the concept of lack is not in itself anxiogenic. ‘Ah yes’, people breezily say, lighting up a cigarette, ‘sure it’s all about lack you know’. It is tempting to surmise that when Lacan describes subjectivity as resulting from ‘the organization of a hole’ or represents the subject as ‘the existence of a hole and his supplementary two sutures’1 that Irish analysts feel a degree of satisfaction in being not just scatologically but psychoanalytically correct when referring to a colleague as ‘a pain in the hole’.

The term anxiety is an exceptionally inclusive one. It can be used to refer to the sudden falling away of the ground of one’s being in which time is abruptly suspended, or alternatively to the ongoing uneasy undertow which in itself constitutes the temporal dimension of human existence. Paradoxically Lacan locates it not as the opening up of a chasm but as the total filling in of a void which should be preserved. It is when there is nothing to keep this lack in place that anxiety appears.

In the year which precedes his seminar on anxiety, Lacan had set out, via the difficult conceptual model of the Moebius strip, to demonstrate that this lack which is radical for the constitution of subjectivity is an included lack, a structural flaw, a very particular absence which conditions all presence, notably the presence of the signifying chain, but which remains itself, properly speaking, unnameable. It is this included lack which I would like to look at today, leaning on narrative theory rather than on the topology of the Moebius strip. …


THE LETTER 07 (Summer 1996) pages 67-96

The system of language at whichever point you take hold of it never results in an index finger directly indicating a point of reality, it’s the whole of reality that is covered by the entire network of language.

It has become common among psychoanalytic writers both critical and sympathetic to Lacan who are not themselves Lacanians to criticise Lacan for ignoring the role and place of affect in his theorising. Thus Kennedy in a co-authored work on Lacan states that ‘unlike many other post-Freudian analysts, he (Lacan) gave little place to any theory of the affects, or feelings, and the importance of pre-verbal structures. These omissions may seem to represent a denial of much analytic experience’2 and he adds ‘it is for this reason his work can seem over-intellectual’.3 Similarly, Green makes the point that ‘with the exception of Lacan no modern psychoanalytic theory underestimates the importance of affects’4 while Smith in his epilogue to Interpreting Lacan writes ‘Green’s formulations … like the Kristeva and Vergote chapters goes toward correcting the inattention to affect in Lacan’.5 Indeed, it could well be argued that Lacanians themselves have by and large not taken up Lacan’s…

THE LETTER 07 (Summer 1996) pages 97-109

The definition of ‘government’ has been re-interpreted by the conference organisers to include issues of representation in general. I should like to stretch this interpretation a little further, if I may, to include questions of politics. Politics, that is, in its broadest sense, and not specifically cultural politics, in other words, the politics of representation, of identity and of subjectivity, or, more locally the politics of psychoanalysis. What I want to address, therefore, will encompass questions of cultural and social theory as well as issues specific to psychoanalytic studies. I am also aware mat to insist on such a distinction between, let us say, politics proper and cultural politics will be an anathema to many people here today and indeed it is not a distinction that I would myself usually wish to defend. But for the purposes of this presentation it is a distinction I will make and will hope to prise open in order to pose certain questions; firstly, what has become of the politics in the politics of representation? Secondly, what has psychoanalysis got to offer both political theory in general and cultural politics in particular? Is it simply the case, as the critic Elizabeth Bellamy has observed of Laclau and Mouffe’s influential work Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, that one can remove the psychoanalytic terminology from the discourse of cultural politics with no discernible lose to the overall theory,1 or, as I want to argue here, that there is a specific and irreducible dimension that psychoanalysis can add to current cultural and political debates? What I would like to do, therefore, is to reflect initially upon the historical…

THE LETTER 07 (Summer 1996) pages 110-111

The conference theme, Ethics and the Desire of the Analyst, was addressed by speakers from England, France and Ireland under the four topics of ethics, transmission, technique and the cure.

Concerning ethics, Lindsay Watson (London) wondered if the resistance to analysis in England was due to confusion between ethics and statistics. Helen Sheehan (Dublin) raised the question of the possibility of ethics, when the first appreciation of reality by the human subject is the Real, Das Ding, the ‘hostile one? Hara Pepeli (London) developed the ethics of Roger Money-Kyrle, and noted the lack of ethics in Kleinian theory. Andrew Hodgkiss (London) compared Nietzche’s Ubermensch and the desire of the analyst.

Concerning the cure, Fabien Appel (Paris) argued that the logic of the cure, however minimal, allows the emergence of the subject. Robert Levy (Paris), commenting on Freud’s text, The Future of an Illusion, showed how structure is designed by the name-of-the-father, which is beyond the analogy of signifiers, and which determines positions assumed by human subjects. Michael Lehmann (Paris) asked how a common signifier between analyst and patient opens out the analytic process at the beginning of the cure. …

THE LETTER 07 (Summer 1996) pages 112-113

Charlton, in South London, is now no longer known only for its soccer team; it was also the venue for the first of the one-day conferences run by the Greenwich Consortium of Psychotherapists on topics of interest to anyone involved in psychotherapy or related disciplines. The topic of the first conference, held in October 1995 was Trauma’ and the convenor was Dr. Martin Stanton, who will already be familiar to Irish readers through his work on Ferenczi and Laplanche. Three speakers, of whom I was lucky enough to be one, were invited to speak on particular areas related to trauma to a small but most attentive and interested audience.

Dr. Ian Palmer, a military psychiatrist working in Woolwich, presented an overview of the concept and history of post-traumatic stress disorder in the context of the military. In the story of Ricky, a soldier whose unbearable experiences of mutilation and destruction in Northern Ireland made ‘normal* life seem a mere sham, Dr. Palmer presented us with a man struggling to reinstate for himself a relation to the symbolic that would allow him to have a meaningful existence outside of war. Dr. Palmer’s very personal and detailed presentation of this tragicomic history illustrated that trauma, in essence, is what makes the phantasy that orientates our existence no longer tenable. Then we are faced with the real in all its inescapable horror. …

THE LETTER 07 (Summer 1996) pages 114-116

This book has a wonderful cover. A creamy-skinned young woman opulently overflows the confines of a strapless evening gown. Her head is thrown back and her tongue arched in anticipation against her red upper lip as she gazes at an oozing cream bun held aloft by her black-gloved hand. Unfortunately, like the cream bun, it is a book which promises more than it delivers.

Possibly this is due to its rather odd agenda. Not only do the authors wish to claim fetishism as an active female practice in the face of what they not inaccurately term its Freudian phallicization, but they explicitly set out to create a space for it at the forefront of radical sexual politics. This double agenda creates problems which are considerably more serious than those acknowledged by the authors on page eighty-three: To make the case for female agency on the pathologised subject of perversity could be understood as the assertion of women’s rights to be constructed as sexually active. But it could also be politically compromising, to associate sexual activity by women with ‘perversion’. For a start, fetishism is an extraordinarily private phenomenon, and to attempt a kind of sociological survey of ‘the international fetish scene’ is peculiarly unrewarding. For instance, the news that leather and rubber have almost entirely replaced fur, velvet and silk as preferred fetishistic textures reveals nothing of the singular intensities of the rituals and fantasies which require the support of these substances. Similarly the idea that because unprotected penetrative sex is risky in an Aids shadowed world, fetishism could become ‘a way of expressing your sexuality without putting your health at risk’ is a bleakly banalizing approach to these strange and secret specificities. The psychiatrist/psychoanalyst Robert Stroller once offered the view that the fetish, with its accrued and partly unconscious meanings…

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