The observation that my friend Jane makes about contentious relations in psychoanalytic organizations dovetails with some issues that I’ve been thinking about for a long time as well. Since the very beginning of psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic organizations have been riddled with bitter and acrimonious conflicts and turbulent splits (Freud-Jung-Adler, Klein, Anna Freud, Lacan, etc). Lacanian organizations have been no different in this regard. There are bitter disputes and conflicts among the various Lacanian organizations as well.

So what is going on here? Are these bitter struggles a symptom of the failure of psychoanalysis? That is, do they indicate a failure to liquidate the imaginary? Are they representative of an unresolved transference or analysis? Is conflict intrinsically imaginary, territorial, and an attempt to maintain borders and distinctions as in the case of Hegel’s logic of the One in the doctrine of being portion of the Science of Logic, where the One must exclude the Other in order to constitute itself as One? Or are there non-imaginary forms of conflict such as Deleuze’s affirmation produced not out of a negation, but rather that produces negation as a consequence… An affirmative negation.

Or, quite the contrary, can we see these bitter struggles as indications of the triumph of psychoanalysis? This latter suggestion might be seen as surprising, but if we take seriously Lacan’s ethical injunction “don’t give way on your desire!” does it come as any surprise that free speech and desire produce such conflict. A friend of mine told me that Ellie Ragland used to say that analysis does not make you a better person. There seems to be something very true in this, if by “better” we’re thinking according to the standard ethics of the good advocated by Creon in Antigone. Indeed, Antigone’s actions and affirmation of desire bring a good deal of conflict and tears in their wake.

During his psychoanalytic period, Deleuze seems to express this point well with regard to the philosophy of difference. Deleuze writes: “…does the philosophy of difference not risk appearing as a new version of the beautiful soul? The beautiful soul is in effect the one who sees difference everywhere and appeals to them only as respectable, reconcilable or federative differences, while history continues to be made through bloody contradictions. The beautiful soul behaves like a justice of the peace thrown on to a field of battle, one who sees in inexpiable struggles only simple ‘differends’ or perhaps misunderstandings” (Difference and Repetition, 52). Many today seem to think difference as a synonym of tolerance. Yet tolerance seems to amount to a deferral of desire insofar as it calls for the levelling of all genuine differences or the suspension of all these differences, forbidding the pursuit of a difference that would make a difference.

At the end of Seminar 11, given a few years before the writing of Difference and Repetition, Lacan remarks that “The analyst’s desire is not a pure desire. It is a desire to obtain absolute difference, a desire which intervenes when, confronted with the primary signifier, the subject is, for the first time, in a position to subject himself to it. There only may the signification of a limitless love emerge, because it is outside the limits of the law, where alone it may live” (276). Is the absolute difference sought in analysis– the analysand’s difference –a difference that would also be that of the beautiful soul seeing only simple misunderstandings among all those in conflict? Or, rather, do all the conflicts we witness in the psychoanalytic field testify to a real love of difference and not a levelling of difference based on “tolerance” or being beyond the imaginary? If one thing takes place in analysis, it seems to be the analysand taking a stand on behalf of his/her desire.

Yet if this is the case, and if such stand-taking emerges on a bloody field of conflict– Badiou-Mao’s aphorism that “When one has an idea the One become Two” –what are we to think of psychoanalysis in the field of the political? And can we imagine a strange form of community where the community hangs together in its conflict or as its conflicts, like Laclau’s real of society that is riddled by an irreducible real in antagonism. Can we paradoxically think a form of community premised on the very Lacanian thesis that “society doesn’t exist”?