January 2007


The brilliant Foucaultisdead and I have been having an interesting conversation surrounding asperger’s syndrom and my recent remarks on the symptom that reminded me of this piece I wrote a number of years ago surrounding concerns about how diagnosis functions in contemporary American clinical contexts. In response to his call take opportunities to make Lacanian psychoanalysis more available to the mainstream media and lay public, I wrote a rant worthy of my recent mood, that reminded me of this piece:

I tend to be a bit more pessimistic about what is easy from the standpoint of the mainstream media and lay people, as it seems to me that a good deal of the contemporary constellation in the United States where therapy is concerned is premised on the complete eradication of the subject from discourse. From the side of the various therapeutic orientations, not only do we have the vested economic interests of insurance companies that would like to see the minimization of lengthy costly treatment through medication and a set number of consultations (usually around twelve, sometimes more though at a frequency of every two weeks to every month), but also the rise of the predominance of the discourse of the university where every patient must be neatly subsumable in a diagnostic category in advance such that there are no surprises (hence the DSM-IV, which is largely for the benefit of insurance companies, not practitioners).

On the side of those seeking treatment, the growing collapse of various identities due to globalization in economics and media technologies and the continued crumbling of the big Other, has led to a corresponding increase in symptoms of hysteria such as anxiety disorders, as well as omnipresent depression (what’s being mourned here?). As a result, rather than a discovery of oneself as a subject as in analysis, therapy– which I always distinguish from analysis –has precipitated the search for a master capable of naming the subject, thereby guaranteeing a minimal ontological substantiality. The new names of the subject are strange indeed: Borderline, depressive, schizoid, dissociative, panic, etc. In being given these names– the name of the symptom here always comes from the guru therapist, and is not an act of self-naming with respect to the symptom as in the case of analysis… One wonders why the therapist feels compelled to diagnose at all –the patient assumes a minimal identity.

Or to put it a bit differently, one wonders why it isn’t more widely recognized and thought about that nomination or diagnosis is not simply descriptive of a pathology, but also is performatively formative of identity for the patient that then identifies with the nomination and takes it as a descriptor of his being. Addiction becomes all the more powerful in *nominating* myself as an addict, for instance; and, of course, we can recognize the performative and ritual aspects of this performativity in 12 Step programs where the first step is “admitting you have a problem”, i.e., agreeing to nominate yourself and bring a certain identity into being, thereby positing the Other or making it exist at one and the same time (it’s not a mistake that one of the steps consists in placing oneself in the hands of a higher power).

Although they have no idea what they are in their day to day interpersonal relations (how could they in a world where there are layoffs every couple of years, where family relations continously crumble, where relationships are virtual, and where ethnic and national identities progressively recede) their new name as “depressive”, “anxious”, “dissociative”, “borderline”, etc gives them an identity, a *knowledge* (in the imaginary), of who they are that then serves both as a self-reinforcing feedback loop (the patient must enact the identity and begins to read up on their “disorder” in the self-help section to play the role and disover who they are), and a new set of rights and protocols surrounding victimhood in their interpersonal relations. These are unheard of nominations that have come to replace the older and failing nominations like family names, national names (American, German, French, English, etc), and ethnic names (Jew, Catholic, and so on…), and therefore provide the new ideal ego (for the ego ideal of the therapist’s gaze) of a very peculiar sort.

All of this functions as a massive defense formation against the void and singularity of their unconscious and the way in which life in contemporary capital calls for us to give way on our desire. The focus on the subject has always been what has guaranteed psychoanalysis the status of a “ghetto science” and has always invited a sense of defensive horror. “What, no master to name me or university to categorize me? What, an auto-elective nomination? Gasp!” As Kurtz says at the end of Apocalypse Now, “The Horror! The Horror!”

Although I’m not entirely sure that my argument fully holds up in terms of more recent developments in my thinking about psychoanalysis, I think much of it remains solid. I believe this post also converges with some of N.Pepperell’s thoughts on self-reflexivity and critique. Hopefully others will find it of some interest. I’m really rather shocked that no one has written a Foucaultian style analysis of the history of the DSM-IV and how it’s used in Anglo-American clinical contexts. Without further ado:

Social Sciences and Apres Coup

There can be little doubt that the division between hard and soft sciences functions as an unbridgeable chasm defining the division between objectivity and subjectivity for conventional wisdom. The standard rap seems to be that hard sciences are able to present an impartial view of the phenomena they seek to describe, whereas soft sciences (the human sciences) are unable to objectively represent their phenomena due to the inherent complexity of what they seek to describe. In other words, the human science are thought to contain too many variables, to be too complex, to be properly described.

No doubt there is a measure of truth in this evaluation, but, as is so often the case with conventional wisdom, this point is true for the wrong reasons. The standard fantasy underlying the opposition between hard and soft sciences is the thesis that these sciences (psychology, anthropology, sociology, economics, history, etc.) are themselves ultimately reducible to the principles of the hard sciences, but have not yet been reduced by virtue of our inability to pierce the complex set of variables involved in these phenomena. Thus we look to fields like neuroscience and the field of genetics as possibly offering us the bridge through which social phenomena will finally be reducible to physical phenomena.

The dream is that someday all psychic phenomena will be reducible to brain events and interpretable in terms of electro-chemical reactions. This has already had a tremendous impact on both psychological theory and practice, where mental disorders are regularly reduced to certain electro-chemical profiles in the brain and treated through various chemical cocktails. This approach is regularly supported through observations of the brains of people suffering from these disorders, coupled with studies of families in which these disorders appear.

Two points should be made at this juncture: First, patients suffering from disorders such as obsessional neurosis, psychosis, depression and whatever other illness we might like to cite will show certain electro-chemical profiles in their brain. The person influenced by psychoanalysis should not be ashamed of admitting this point. Though, as we shall see, it should be admitted with reservations. Second, it is likely that in many of these cases certain mental disorders will appear consistently in the families of those suffering from these disorders. Psychoanalysis should unabashedly admit both of these points.

However, as is so often the case, the problems with the physicalist approach to the study of human phenomena are to be found at the level of certain fundamental theoretical assumptions that are not philosophically or theoretically sound. In short, physicalist psychology and the therapeutic practice that accompanies it is based on a fundamental confusion surrounding the notion of causality and how it functions in the field of social phenomena.

Here– deviating a bit from Lacan’s analysis of causality as it functions in psychoanalysis (“Science and Truth”), though not disagreeing with him –we might say that physicalist psychology confuses what Aristotle called “material causality” with what he called “efficient causality”. For Aristotle, the material cause of something consists of the substance that thing is made of. Thus, for instance, the material cause of a statue might be the bronze of which it is fashioned. By contrast, the efficient cause of something is that by which the thing comes to be. In the case of the statue, the efficient cause would be the artist who fashioned the statue.

The problem with physicalist psychology is that it treats the material cause (the brain, genetics) as if it were the efficient cause of mental disorders and then proceeds to treat the material cause rather than the psychic structure itself. If this approach is mistaken, it is mistaken first because the simple presence of an electro-chemical profile in the brain is not enough to establish that the brain is the cause of the mental disorder. All we have established here is that all psychic phenomena require an inscription of some sort. This does not establish the origin of the inscription. Assuming that we adopt some sort of materialist ontology (in other words, that we reject any mind/body dualism), it should come as no surprise that any psychic phenomena will express itself as a trace in the brain. But this is not enough to establish that the brain is the cause of the mental disorder, only that the mental disorder is inscribed, as it were, in the brain.

The case is similar with respect to genetics. The fact that a certain mental disorder can be found to repeat in a family is not sufficient to establish that the disorder is genetically grounded or caused. The very mark of the social is to be located at the level of language or the transmission of “codes” that, like DNA, replicate themselves and proliferate through the field of those upon whom they supervene. In fact, such structures are a necessary condition for something being a family at all. As Lacan has shown us, these symbolic structures inform the nature of self-identity and interpersonal relationships in a way that cannot be underestimated, and thus can produce the repetition of disorders (in much the same way that a curse repeats throughout the family of Oedipus) through a family. This is true even in the case of adoptive children that display mental disorders found in their biological parents. The simple fact of being the adopted child, of being the child without a parent or the abandoned child, can produce far reaching effects in the psychic economy of the child. There is no reason to suppose that these mental disorders could just as easily be explained from a social or environmental perspective (a symbolic, rather than genetic perspective).

It seems to me that these variables tend to go unexplored in the field of US psychology. No doubt this is for the reasons that Derrida has cited regarding the nature of the signifier… Namely, that the very fact that in speech I hear myself speak tends to produce the illusion of a relation of immediacy between the act of speaking and hearing myself speak such that I overlook the constitutive role the signifier plays in structuring my thought and self-identity. I efface my alienation in the act of speaking, but in such a way as to further alienate myself.

The problem with contemporary psychology is that it is founded on what might be called the medical gaze. This has profound consequences for how therapy is actually practiced in the United States. The medical gaze is that gaze in which the doctor treats himself as being independent of the illness from which is patient suffers. Thus, for instance, when a doctor diagnoses his patient with cancer it is clear that the doctor cannot be thought of as a part of the patients cancer or that his diagnosis has any causal effect on the patient’s cancer.

The medical gaze is uncritically extended to the practice of therapy in the US as well. Thus, for instance, when the therapist (not the analyst) diagnoses someone with a particular mental disorder they do so on the assumption that they are not a part of the disorder and that their diagnosis has no effect on the disorder. In other words, the therapist thinks of him or herself as being independent of the person that they diagnose… As being numerically or ontologically unrelated to that person. This is equivalent to saying that the relation between the suffering patient and the therapist is conceptualized as an external relation such that the patient would be what they are regardless of whether or not she entered the therapist’s office.

The therapist/psychologist is thus the one who subtracts herself from the equation. In doing so she adopts an observational view of the patient, in which the patient is conceived as being something simply looked upon such that the looking does not effect that which is looked at. While I am certainly simplifying things here, there can be little doubt that there’s more than a little truth in this evaluation of how therapy is today organized. This is immediately evident the moment you walk into a therapists office and are given a five hundred question test to take in which your disorder is neatly categorized according to the prevailing wisdom of the then current university discourse.

Here, then, in this final point, we at last reach Lacan. For it is with respect to 1) the material causation of psychic phenomena, and 2) the belief that diagnosis has no effect on the person diagnosed, that we find the difference between psychoanalysis and psychology. As the sociological theorist Niklas Luhmann has pointed out, social systems differ from classical physical systems in that they 1) have the ability to represent themselves, and 2) the manner in which they represent themselves can have an effect on how the system itself is organized. Zizek makes a similar point in his amusing discussion of what he calls “the subject supposed to believe.” From the perspective of the functioning of social systems, what is at issue is not what I myself believe, but what I believe my neighbor believes. Thus, for instance, at the beginning of Bush’s term I, being a savvy, intelligent person, might very well believe that Bush’s rhetoric about the waning economy is really a lot of hot air, but I think that my friend Larry and a lot of his friends are complete morons who will take this rhetoric seriously (i.e., believe it) and start selling their stocks madly. For this reason, if I am prudent, I too will sell my stocks lest I become the victim of the ignorant belief of my fellows. Here the description of the system (Bush’s description of the economy) comes to have an effect on the economy even if I think descriptively that it is nonsense.

The therapist, as opposed to the analyst, is someone who believes that the normative and descriptive use of concepts can be clearly kept apart. In other words, they fail to take account of the self-referentiality of social systems or the manner in which descriptions of social systems are themselves causal variables of these systems. In their use of diagnostic categories drawn from the DSM-IV, the therapist believes that their act of naming or diagnosing their patient is a purely descriptive act, with no normative dimension (Here U.S. psychological practices scream for a Foucault-style genealogical analysis that examines the relations of power implicit in these categorizations. An academia myopically fixated on the continent as if it were the only place where history takes place, has not yet taken on such an important task… At least, not to my knowledge). Why else would the therapist reveal her diagnosis to the patient? The only rationale for revealing a diagnosis is the belief that the diagnosis is a purely descriptive affair that has no effect on the patient and how the patient comports herself.

Unfortunately, social and psychic systems, unlike physical systems such as those found in two billiard balls hitting one another, are such that it is impossible to clearly separate the normative and descriptive functioning of categories. The minute that a descriptive category is applied to a patient, it already begins to function as a normative category.

For instance, when a patient is diagnosed as suffering from borderline bi polar depressive disorder, that diagnosis comes to function as a norm for the patient in which all actions are evaluated. Suddenly the patient finds a way to comprehend and understand all their past actions, as well as a way of determining their future actions. For instance, we can imagine a patient that begins to let herself run loose a little bit more simply because she is a borderline bi polar manic depressed person.

Moreover, these diagnoses have great importance in interpersonal relations as well, given that they allow the patient to change their social status, getting benefits for their disorder and sympathy for their suffering. In other words, diagnosis proves to be a path to jouissance or enjoyment. For this reason, mental illness might today be one of the real forms of protest against the system of capital and the way in which it shackles us to interminable labor. Through mental illness we are able to recoup some of our stolen jouissance by forcing business and state to afford us special privileges. Could the person suffering from mental illness be one example of the modern proletariat or subject of revolution? How might the plethora of multiplying symptoms be transformed from mute inscriptions of alienation to revolutionary subjectivity? In other words, how might this proletariat be brought to consciousness about the true meaning of their symptom… Or how might they move from “enjoying their symptom” in an unconscious way, to becoming the agent of their symptom?

Regardless of whether or not this is the case, the category thus begins to function as an imperative of how I act and behave and thus effects the psychic system that it originally set out merely to describe. This is an example of the strange logic of apres coup or the manner in which the signifier functions in terms of “what it will have been”. The odd thing about social and psychic systems as opposed to physical systems is that they do not obey the ordinary temporal logic of cause and effect. In physical systems (at least those at the Newtonian scale) we are accustomed to the notion that the effect follows the cause. However, strangely, in social and psychic systems what is taking place in the present can have effects on what is taking place in the past such that the manner in which the past functions with respect to the present is itself transformed. This, for instance, is what occurs when we arrive at a new picture of what happened in the past such that we transform how we behave in the present. Reinterpretations of the colonization as they’ve functioned in the struggles of American-Indians here come to mind. On the one hand we have pre-critical theories of colonization in which matters were framed in terms of the famed meeting of the Pilgrims and the Indians, on the other we have the pictures of brutal colonialist exploitation that have served as a catalyst for rethinking the status of existing American Indians today. The signifier thus does not simply describe past events– it is not merely descriptive or referential –but has an entirely different temporal structure than the sort of structure we find in ordinary physical phenomena such that it can actually PRESCRIBE certain phenomena. It is precisely this dimension that is overlooked in the contemporary field of therapy, where words are thought to function in a way that is only referential, for the sake of communication. The simple act of naming something, already transforms the way in which that thing behaves.

Closely connected with this phenomenon of apres coup, is that of imaginary transference. The issue here would be that the patient already approaches the therapist as the one who has knowledge of their symptom and, who’s favor, they would like to win. In other words, they look at the therapist as a potential friend or figure of authority who’s favour could be beneficial and serve as a source of pleasure. A failure to take account of this intersubjective dimension of the relationship between patient and analyst leads to further complications with diagnosis in that we can imagine all sorts of scenarios in which the patient imagines themselves into the symptomology of the disorder as a way of filling what she believes the therapist desires her to be. A great deal more should be said on this. What is here important is that the therapist subtracts herself from the therapeutic setting at both her and her patients peril.

It is very simple to see what follows from ignorance to the interrelated phenomena of apres coup and transference in the therapeutic setting: A failure to be aware of how these things function and effect psychic and social systems cannot but lead to alienation. The first alienation would be at the level of the university discourse, in which the patient is alienated in an abstract system of significations (S2, the system of medical knowledge) that prevents him from discovering the concrete way in which his own psychic system is structured or even discovering that his symptoms are in fact meaningful (physicalist psychology is distinct from psychoanalysis is that it is based on the premise that symptoms do not mean or signify anything, but are just accidents of electro-chemical and genetic malfunctions). Second, it is alienation incarnate in that the relation between therapist and patient is asymmetrical in that the therapist is held to have knowledge of the patients symptom while the patient is ignorant. In short, it does not lead the patient (now analysand) to that point in which they discover that the only real authority or subject supposed to know is the unconscious itself. For this reason, the patient never reaches that moment of separating from the big Other or discovering that the big Other does not exist. Their very attempts to heal themselves, thus further lead to alienation such that their actions themselves come to reinforce the power of the very forces against which they were originally fighting. This is what Judith Butler, following Foucault, has referred to as the danger that arises should it be true that subjects are themselves produced by the juridical systems of power in which they seek representation. This suggests that the very attempt to seek representation produces further subordination to power and domination in that the categories of psychological knowledge are themselves discursive constructions that produce particular subjectivities. The value of psychoanalysis, in this context, is that the silence of the analyst with regard to diagnosis and the emphasis on the speech of the analyst allows the analysand to separate from the big Other (as represented by analyst) and discover those hollows or spaces where the Other lacks as those places where it, the analysand, might come to be. Analysis provides the possibility of a leap out of these infantalizing power relations.

It is for these reasons that psychology can be nothing but alienation incarnated. So long as these things are not taken into account, psychology cannot but maintain us in an infantile state in which autonomy and singularity are never reached. No wonder that the only solution currently offered to us is that found in chemical cocktails, in which one is prescribed the life of a waking dream, rather than knowledge of the real of their desire and the separation from the big Other that comes with it… No wonder the only thing offered to us is further alienation in the big Other or the set of diagnostic categories prescribed by the DSM-IV in which our sole consolation is that our psychic structure comes to be normalized by being medicalized and thereby socially acceptable. This is not nothing, but it also cannot compare to discovering the real of one’s desire.

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One of the great joys of blogging is that you open yourself to a public that can then descend upon your comment boxes and email account with their pet obsessions and concerns, furious about some imagined slight that you can hardly comprehend and which is, at any rate, quite unrelated to your project. In the last couple of days I’ve been fortunate to become acquainted with this pleasure, having my blog obsessively visited by a particular blogger and my email account filled with endless rantings about Slavoj Zizek. Proceeding on the basis of quotes such as the following, the offended interlocutor informs me that Zizek is inherently racist and that dialectics necessarily leads one to advocate positions such as Zizeks:

Because the Balkans are part of Europe, they can be spoken of in racist clichés which nobody would dare to apply to Africa or Asia. Political struggles in the Balkans are compared to ridiculous operetta plots; Ceausescu was presented as a contemporary reincarnation of Count Dracula. Slovenia is most exposed to this displaced racism, since it is closest to Western Europe: when Kusturica, talking about his film Underground, dismissed the Slovenes as a nation of Austrian grooms, nobody reacted: an ‘authentic’ artist from the less developed part of former Yugoslavia was attacking the most developed part of it. When discussing the Balkans, the tolerant multiculturalist is allowed to act out his repressed racism.)

The disgruntled interlocutor then goes on to say,

I have to elaborate a bit more because you may not be aware of the cultural context (Yugoslavia) – where I come from. Zizek had a stormy fight with the Serbian director Emir Kusturica, who made the film ”Underground” about the break-up of Yugoslavia. IRRESPECTIVE of the politics I would like you to notice how Zizek’s dialectics puts him into an incredible absurdist loop that I find not only irresponsible but downright shocking for an intellectual of his stature (or of the stature he enjoys at the Western academia). Zizek is here blaming Kusturica for acting out his repressed racism on Slovenia. (And as I said let’s not discuss this politically). Then, he calls Kusturica ”an authentic artist” (a derisive notion referring to so-called ethnic culture and Kusturica’s love of anarchism and the Gypsy culture) who attacked the ”most developed part of Yugoslavia” (Zizek puts Slovenia in the position of cultural superiority here). In effect, Zizek is the one who is projecting his repressed racism towards the ”less civilized” Balkan ”tribes” on Kusturica’s film. He slams his own thesis here right into his own face.

If this sounds like a promising dialectic to you, I wish you luck with Zizek! I gave up on him a long time ago.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg with respect to the 12 comments and emails I’ve received within the last 24 hours, which, I fear, are actually causing me to become more stupid than I already am. I confess that I am completely baffled by this correspondent or what his aims might be. In the first place, I fail to see the racism that the author is referring to. Rather, Zizek makes the simple point that talk of the Balkans is somehow exempted from the prohibition against using crass stereotypes that are forbidden in discussions of other groups such as blacks, Jews, women, Asians, etc. Zizek may be right, he may be wrong. Zizek does seem right about this much: That during the war it was considered permissible to talk about those in the Balkans employing the most crass stereotypes. Those from the Balkans were described as being primative and tribalistic, as riddled with ancient conflicts, subject to emotional outbursts and innate brutality, etc., etc. In the States there was even a best selling book that based itself on this very thesis: Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts. If my unsolicited interlocutor is bothered by what Zizek has to say, he ought to read this book. Perhaps he might gain a little perspective as to what Zizek is trying to say. Nor am I quite clear as to what, precisely, is dialectical about the above cited quote from Zizek.

But more basically, I’m simply not deeply invested in any of the various cultural analyses Zizek presents in his writings. Rather, I’m interested in Zizek because of his rather unique understanding of Hegelian dialectic and because of the various insights he gives me about Lacan which I sometimes agree with and sometimes disagree with. What is it that this correspondent hopes to accomplish with his interventions? Does he wish to convince me that Zizek is worthless? Well that certainly won’t happen as I’ve already found too much of value in Zizek. Is he trying to convince me that Zizek is racist? Is he just looking for someone to listen to him as others won’t? All of it is quite tiresome. If you want to level critique, by all means do so, but please proceed in a philosophical fashion, informed by actual psychoanalytic theory and by the philosophers being discussed… A link to an article by someone who only has rudimentary background with Lacan and Hegel certainly doesn’t cut it, nor does it resolve the question of alternative interpretations. But above all, leave your pet obsessions at home. I’m just not interested.

The author seems to believe that somehow dialectics inherently leads to claims such as that quoted above. This is a bit like suggesting that because some use formal logic incorrectly, formal logic inherently leads to these unsound conclusions, or that because Heidegger became a Nazi, anyone who talks about “being-in-the-world” is destined to become a Nazi. Or, drawing on another example, Freud has some pretty unkind things to say about Eastern Europeans, going so far as to say that they cannot be analyzed due to their lack of morality. Does this suggest that Freud, in toto, should be consigned to flames, or that this particular thesis should be rejected as a prejudice among truths? Or what of Nietzsche’s attitude towards women? At any rate, what baffles me most of all, is why these claims are being addressed to me or how they have anything to do with issues I’ve been discussing here on this blog. Somehow I feel as if I’ve been caught in the cross-fire of a rightwing nationalistic ideologue whose ire was raised by some interpretation or other of Zizek’s that hit the mark. Take it elsewhere please! Somehow I’ve become a surrogate for Zizek, becoming the object of this person’s hostility towards the Slovenian.

There are days when others and their immersion in conflicts of jouissance deeply try my patience and sense of charity, when I find myself clearly understanding the motivation for unfolding intellectual projects in the serene space of journals and presses with limited run prints. Whatever. Yeah, Zizek says some pretty stupid things sometimes. He also says some pretty illuminating things. Get yourself a threshing machine please and leave me alone!

UPDATE: My interlocutor has kindly clarified his aims here and in my email with regard to Zizek. I suspect that Zizek’s take on Balkan politics isn’t even on the radar for most readers of his work, but it would be interesting to hear more from others who know a bit more about Zizek and the history of the Balkan political constellation. An important point here is that Zizek’s analysis of the role that jouissance plays in ideology certainly does not exempt him from being caught up in those same mechanisms of jouissance and fantasy. As Lacan liked to say, there is no metalanguage. On the other hand, the fact that an analyst is herself caught up in transference and the unconscious does not delegitimate analysis either. It would be interesting to hear Dejan to give a more complex analysis of what he believes to be going on in Zizek’s observations of The Sound of Music. What does he believe Zizek is claiming and how does he think Zizek is relating it to racism?

In my previous post I spoke of how Lacan’s Borromean knot can be mapped on to Adorno’s sorting of concepts, remainders, and the whole in terms of the symbolic, the real, and the imaginary, yet I strangely said nothing of the fourth loop in Lacan’s Borromean knot. Compare Lacan’s original version of the Borromean knot, with the one I presented yesterday… A knot that Lacan somewhere refers to as the “Lacanian knot”. If we examine the original version of the Borromean knot depicted on the right, we notice that the three orders are linked together in such a way that if any one of the rings are cut, the other two fall away. This, then, would be a model for psychosis. The cutting of one of the rings leads the structural relations among the orders to fall apart. In yet another poorly drawn depiction of this version of the knot– I call it poor as it fails to show how the knots are tied together –we see how the Borromean knot can be used to locate the various forms of jouissance that we encounter in the clinic– JA or the jouissance of the Other, a or surplus-jouissance, and J-phi or phallic jouissance –which allows us to localize the various forms of jouissance involved in the symptom and allows us to devise techniques for properly handling these forms of jouissance.

With the so-called “Lacanian knot”, everything changes. As Colette Soler puts it,

[The]… Borromean clinic not only involves a reformulation of traditional clinical issues, but also introduces new categories of symptomatology… These diagnoses relied no only on the three categories of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real that he already had at his disposal, but also crucially dependend on the three modes of jouissance: the Jouissance of the letter as One [JA], the jouissance in the chain of meaning, and the jouissance which can be said to be Real because it exists as a subtraction from the two preceding ones. In light of these distinctions, it is not enough to say that the symptom is a mode of jouissance; one must define which mode, and thus produce a new declension of grammar of symptoms according to the jouissance that gives them consistency. Then one will be able to speak of Borromean symptoms in the case where the three consistencies and the three jouissances are bound (neurosis and perversion), of symptoms that are not Borromean (psychosis) and others still that simply repair a flaw of the knot. For this last type of symptom, using the example of Joyce, Lacan produced the new category of the sinthome, which he used afterwards in a more general way. (The Cambridge Companion to Lacan, “The Paradoxes of the Symptom in Psychoanalysis”, 94)

With the Lacanian knot the first thing we observe is that a new ring has appeared, labelled Sigma, the matheme for the sinthome, and that the three rings of the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real are no longer tied to one another as in the case of the original Borromean knot. Rather, Sigma, the sinthome, supplements the three rings, binding them together despite the fact that they aren’t tied, repairing the flaw in original knotting. As Soler notes, an entirely new symptomology opens up as a result of this new knot, for now we can imagine scenerios in which not only the three orders are untied from one another, but where one order is tied to another– such as the symbolic to the imaginary or the imaginary to the real –while neither are tied to the third. Sigma then intervenes to make up for this deficit, this lack of a tie, and can repair the lack of a relation in a variety of ways. As J.A. Miller notes, the shift from the Borromean knot to the Lacanian knot marks a fundamental shift in Lacan’s thought about the symptom, for now we have a generalized theory of the symptom– A theory where everything, as it were, becomes a symptom, including the name(s)-of-the-father. As a prelude to this development in Seminar 23, The Sinthome, Lacan will declare in Seminar 22, RSI, that “there is no subject without a symptom”. This new symptomology is largely unexplored to date and is fertile ground for productive clinical and theoretical work.

Unlike traditional psychotherapeutic approaches, Lacan, like Freud, begins with the thesis that the symptom is a solution and a form of satisfaction. The symptom is not a alien invader preventing the subject from attaining normality, nor is it a disease to be cured through medication. In this regard, there is no “normal” or “healthy” subject, and it is a mistake to believe that the aim of psychoanalysis is to cure someone from their neurosis, perversion, or psychosis. These are fundamental stances of subjectivity defining the relationship of the subject to the Other and jouissance, not diseases.

The question that thus begs to be asked is what leads the analysand to enter analysis at all? If the symptom is a form of satisfaction, if it is a solution, why does the analysand enter analysis? In Negative Dialectics, Adorno remarks that,

If a stroke of undeserved luck has kept the mental composition of some individuals not quite adjusted to the prevailing norms– a stroke of luck they have often enough to pay for in their relations with their environment –it is up to these individuals to make the moral and, as it were, representative effort to say what most of those for whom they say it cannot see or, to do justice to reality, will not allow themselves to see. Direct communicability to everyone is not a criterion of truth. We must resist the all but universal compulsion to confuse the communication of knowledge with knowledge itself, and to rate it higher, if possible– whereas at present each communicative step is falsifying truth and selling out. (41)

Here Adorno seems to speak of a sort of privileged experience, a sort of person embodying a failure in the social order, as the place from which critique can emerge. In my brief gloss on the Borromean knot, I did not discuss the forth loop represented by the greek letter “Sigma”, which denotes the symptom holding together the other three strings. In psychoanalysis the symptom is that form of sense-laden enjoyment that holds the psychic-system together, compensating for the frustrations that occur as a result of socialization and is a way of attaining satisfaction by other means. For instance, drawing on a favorite example of obsessional jouissance from Freud, rather than masturbating, I wash my hands hundreds of times a day (a form of phallic jouissance, insofar as it’s not dependent on the Other). Handwashing comes to serve a dual function– On the one hand, it functions as a substitute for my masturbatory desire. However, on the other hand, it bows to the punishing demands of the super-ego, by marking the “uncleanliness” of my desire and punishing me for my transgression (my hands become painfully raw and cracked). “But you haven’t transgressed if you don’t actually masturbate.” Recall that the unconscious makes no such distinction, that the primary process knows no difference between reality and fantasy– I am every bit as guilty of my fantasized acts as I am of my actual acts.

Similarly we can speak of social-symptoms as serving a like role, such as the Jew in anti-Semitism serving the function of marking the place of failed utopian aspirations and the overcoming of antagonism, while allowing the social order to maintain itself and reproduce its identity by maintaining extant social relations through persecuting the Jew rather than directly targeting the social system itself. My social space is riddled with contradictions and conflicts. An ideology or community never delivers exactly what it promises, but always brings with it disappointment and requires sacrifice on my part. I cannot live among others and act directly on my jouissance, but must either defer jouissance as can be seen in the crass example of toilet training where I no longer go immediately, or sacrifice certain forms of jouissance altogether. Of course, jouissance itself is indestructable, which means that sacrifice is impossible and the sacrificed jouissance will always return in some other form. The point is that even though I experience frustration and antagonism with regard to whatever social field I identify, my very identity, my very being, is nonetheless dependent on this identification. Consequently, there is little choice to surrender these identifications. The figure of the Jew thus functions as the supplement that allows me to exercise (in both the literal sense of “act” and the figurative religious sense of an exorcism) my antagonism to the social order. I simultaneously punish myself for the jouissance I possess through my persecution of the Jew (I covertly identify with the Jew as with myself, attributing my own disavowed jouissance to him), fantasize that somewhere someone enjoys (the Jew is seen as enjoying what I have sacrificed), fantasize that my social order that I resent is persecuted by this foreign invader thereby providing myself with the enjoyment I would like to possess in attacking that order, and treat the Jew as a figure that would allow my social order complete enjoyment were I to destroy him. The symptom is an overdetermined supplement that renders my relation to this order tolerable.

Another glaring example would be Mel Gibson’s pornographic film The Passion. It is not difficult to notice that Gibson is just a bit too fascinated with the suffering of the Christ, that the focus on Christ’s torture has the status of a snuff film, as if compensating for the overly repressive dimension of Pauline Christianity, and covertly taking revenge on this body of doxa and these attitudes towards sexuality nowhere genuinely present in the Gospels themselves or the “red script” of Jesus, by imagining the worst possible suffering descending upon He who is responsible for this. Perhaps proof of this is the fact that the content of the Gospels, Christ’s actual words and teachings, strangely fall under the bar of repression and are notably absent, as if Christ’s death, not his life, were all that mattered. Such a fantasy simultaneously allows one to exact their pound of flesh or revenge for their sacrifice in entering the Catholic church or the Pauline community, while also reaffirming their commitment to the very community that is the source of their dissatisfaction, through the guilt they seek to overcome in enjoying the spectacle of this suffering.

When an analysis begins it is always of vital importance to determine what precipitated the person’s entrance into analysis. From a normal psycho-therapeutic perspective this is paradoxical, as we normally think of therapy as aiming at “curing the symptoms”. Under this view, one seeks treatment for their symptom. However, from the analytic perspective, a person enters analysis precisely at that point where their symptom fails, where it no longer provides the “satisfaction” it once provided (even if a painful satisfaction), when the person encounters the real that the symptom was designed to clothe and “metabolize”. Adorno here seems to speak of something similar at the social level… The critic, as maladjusted individual, is that one who has had an encounter beyond the social symptom, where the symptom allowing individuals to maintain their relations has collapsed and something other has peaked through, revealing that the social system is “not-all”, pas-tout, riddled by underlying antagonisms that ideology and symptoms struggle to hide from view and gentrify. Analysis begins where the symptom fails. This too would be the case with social and philosophical analysis. Is it a mistake that social theorists and philosophers have so often come from the interstices, the gaps, and the non-places of various empires? In this case, the thinker would be the real of the symptom embodied.

The last few days have left me feeling despondant and without a thought in the world, though I’m dreaming a good deal, which must, from an analytic point of view, mean that I’m doing some serious thinking. I feel as if my brain has fallen out of my ear. Last night’s dream involved an old friend Dan, who first introduced me to philosophy in highschool, holding a German luger pistol to my head and laughing as I squirmed. I wonder what that’s all about. In the dream it turns out that after all these years he still works at Long John Silver’s as a fry cook. My father has such a gun… Hmmm.

At any rate, in my quest to better understand the series of critical questions that N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has been posing vis a vis the conditions for the possibility of critique, I’ve returned to Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, a text that always, for some reason, fills me with guilt… The guilt of a missed encounter. Just in traversing the first few pages, I can see why N.Pepperell has been intrigued by a good deal of the work I’ve been doing here, as much of Adorno resonates closely with Lacan and Zizek. The following remarks are more placeholders than anything else, designed to forge a sort of translation device or lexicon, rather than to propose an argument. Of course, any translation is already an interpretation, so perhaps I should bear that in mind.

In a striking remark that cannot fail to ring significantly to the Lacanian ear, Adorno claims that,

The name of dialectics says no more, to begin with, than that objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder, that they come to contradict the traditional norm of adequacy… It indicates the untruth of identity, the fact that the concept does not exhaust the thing conceived.

Yet the appearance of identity is inherent in thought itself, in its pure form. To think is to identify. Conceptual order is content to screen what thinking seeks to comprehend. The semblance and the truth of thought entwine. The semblance cannot be decreed away, as by avowal of a being-in-itself outside the totality of cogitative definitions… Aware that the conceptual totality is mere appearance, I have no way but to break immanently, in its own measure, through the appearance of total identity. Since that totality is structured to accord with logic, however, whose core is the principle of the excluded middle, whatever will not fit this principle, whatever differs in quality, comes to be designated as a contradiction. Contradiction is nonidentity under the aspect of identity; the dialectical primary of the principle of contradiction makes the thought of unity the measure of heterogeneity. (5)

This is perhaps the pithiest expression of the Lacanian borromean knot between the symbolic, the real, and the imaginary I have ever encountered. I have never been particularly fond of the term “imaginary” in Lacanian psychoanalysis, as it too readily lends itself to common usages suggesting what is false or imagined, whereas for Lacan the imaginary pertains to the dimension of the image, of our identification with our bodily image that always differs from the lived body of movement, that we can never fully assume or be identical with. Of course, this is part of the point in Lacan’s use of language: It is a pedagogy that teaches the difference between signifier and signified, of their radical discontinuity, and that enjoins us not to assume the signified as inherently attached to the signifier, but to look for it among those signifiers immanently attached to it in a text or the speech of an analysand. The imaginary is the domain of identification, and marks our yearning for completeness, wholeness, totality, and identity. Dylan Evans puts it nicely in his Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis,

The basis of the imaginary order continues to be the formation of the ego in the mirror stage. Since the ego is formed by identifying with the counterpart or specular image, identification is an important aspect of the imaginary order. The ego and the counterpart form the protypical dual relationship, and are interchangeable. This relationship whereby the ego is constituted by identification with the little other [the mirror image or image of another person] means that the ego, and the imaginary order itself, are both sites of a radical alienation; ‘aleination is constitutive of the imaginary order’ (S3, 146) [we are alienated insofar as we are never identical to the image, hence the identification generates rivalry and aggressivity as can often be witnessed in the blogosphere when various bloggers go to war with one another in thinly veiled struggles for prestige and recognition]. The dual relationship between the ego and the counterpart is fundamentally narcissistic, and narcissism is another characteristic of the imaginary order. Narcissism is always accompanied by a certain aggressivity. The imaginary is the realm of image and imagination, deception and lure [deception insofar as I confuse myself with what I am not, my frozen image]. The principle illusions of the imaginary are those of wholeness, synthesis, autonomy, duality and above all, similarity [images appear whole, whereas language and movement are not]. The imaginary is thus the order of surface appearances which are deceptive, observable phenomena which hide underlying structure; the affects are such phenomena. (82)

Returning then to Adorno, then, the concept can loosely be translated into the domain of the symbolic, while the totality or whole can be translated into the domain of the Lacanian imaginary. As Adorno will say a few pages later, “No object is wholly known; knowledge is not supposed to prepare the phantasm of the whole” (14). Those philosophical systems that present the whole such as, for instance, Whitehead, can be situated as the symbolic under the dominion of the imaginary. They fantasize an image without remainder, without blindspot or tain, without gaze before which they dance. And it is remarkable that variants of holism so often paradoxically generate aggressivity.

The real then, of course, would be the remainder that resists conceptualization. This remainder seems to function in a two-fold way. When Adorno suggests that to think is to identify, he immediately seems to back up, expressing hesitation, treating this remainder as the motor that propels the imaginary yearning for identification. It is precisely because the object differs from itself, that thought strives to identify. A perfect identity would leave no space, no gap, calling for the thing to be thought. The thing would reside purely within itself, never producing the distance that calls for it to be thought. It is only insofar as identity already is minimally indifferent that we’re driven to try to identify. As Hegel puts it in an important passage in the Logic (and I think Adorno is pretty far off the mark in his interpretation of Hegel),

This proposition in its positive expression A = A is, in the first instance, nothing more than the expression of an empty tautology. It has therefore been rightly remarked that this law of thought has no content and leads no further. It is thus the empty identity that is rigidly adhered to by those who take it, as such, to be something true and are given to saying that identity is not difference, but that identity and difference are different. They do not see that in this very assertion they are themselves saying that identity is different; for they are saying that identity is different from difference; since this must at the same time be admitted to be the nature of identity, their assertion implies that identity, not externally, but in its own self, in its very nature, is this, to be different. (413)

Hegel goes on to argue that the contradiction embodied in the principle of identity is not simply that identity is different from difference– though this is true as well –but immanent to identity itself as a contradiction or difference between form and content. At the level of form, any proposition of the form “x is…” calls for a predicate that enriches the subject with some new content. For instance, I say a “pen is a utensil”. However, at the level of content, all we get is “A is A”, such that the predicate gives us no additional content, but merely repeats, tautologously, the initial subject. What we thus get is a marking of the difference betwen form and content. It is precisely because the content fails that we are able to become aware of the form of this species of propositions. Thus, even in the most formal presentation of identity already contains the elusive remainder within it or its own resistance to complete conceptualizations or symbolization.

We might begin from an epistemic stance, arguing that this remainder is a deficiency in thought, a deficiency in knowledge, that could perhaps be surmounted by gaining more information and understanding. Here the world, in-itself, would be free of such remainders and would be complete. It would simply be a matter of a disadequation between thought and being. However, in a vein very similar to Zizek’s, Adorno goes on to claim that in fact it is the world itself that is antagonistic, that doesn’t have the smooth functioning of the signifier (when conceived under the dominion of the imaginary):

However, varied, the anticipation of moving in contradictions throughout seems to teach a mental totality– the very identity thesis we have just rendered inoperative. The mind which ceaselessly reflects on contradiction in the thing itself, we hear, must be the thing itself it is to be organized in the form of contradiction; the truth which in idealistic dialectics drives beyond every particular, as onesided and wrong, is the truth of the whole, and if that were not preconcieved, the dialectical step would lack motivation and direction. We have to answer that the object of a mental experience is an antagnoistic system in itself– antagonistic in reality, not just in conveance to the knowing subject that rediscovers itself therein…

…Regarding the concrete utopian possibility, dialectics is the ontology of the wrong state of things. The right state of things would be free of it: neither a system nor a contradiction. (10-11)

The obvious target here is Hegel, who Adorno portrays as the thinker of a complete and whole system where everything has its place. However, when Hegel speaks of absolute knowledge, it is precisely this antagonism, this remainder, reflected back into the thing itself (rather than the knowing subject) that he is speaking of. Put a bit differently, reality is already dialectical in itself, or just is this tension between the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. The real is the undoing of any totality, but is also the motor that drives towards totality. Therefore it has an ambiguous status.

I realize here that I am only repeating points that I’ve already made to N.Pepperell: That the non-identity of identity is the necessary but not sufficient condition for critique, that it is what accounts for how critique is possible in the first place. However, it is a first step, I think, in unfolding the question of self-reflexivity, or accounting for the conditions for the possibility of a critical subject. What is needed in addition to this is a socio-historical account of the conceptual web such a subject swims in at a particular juncture… A conceptual web that must already be non-identical to itself to be recognized as such. Additionally, my interest in all of this, revolves around questions of how it is possible to philosophically appropriate psychoanalysis and various other forms of social theory drawing on some explicit or implicit notion of the unconscious. These forms of thought remain dogmatic so long as they are baldly or empirically asserted as is so often the case. Moreover, it is clear that philosophical stances based on the primacy of the classical subject such as those found in Descartes or Husserl, are inadequate in dealing with anything resembling the unconscious or social systems. Finally, embedded approaches such as Heidegger’s or Merleau-Ponty’s seem to inevitably lead to mystical obscurantism. What a dialectical approach provides is precisely the means of thinking the identity of identity and difference… And what is the unconscious but that “Other scene” that differs from identity but which I nonetheless am?

Apologies for the scattered and random remarks.

Those interested in Lacan, Zizek, and psychoanalysis will not want to miss Foucaultisdead:

Now why are these two controversies interesting when viewed together? They are interesting because they reveal how “Big Brother” – the impersonal voice of the show’s producers, which effectively functions as a site of negotation between the contestants and the desires of the outside world (usually for humiliation and entertainment but, in these rare instances, rectification of some sort of perceived injustice) – situates himself in relation to the housemates and the outside world. These controversies effectively reveal why Big Brother is not the Lacanian big Other.

The standard example employed to explain Lacan’s concept of the big Other (which is capital ‘A’ on Lacan’s graph of desire) is that of a judge who declares judgement on a case before him. Through this judge, the impersonal big Other utters its judgement – in other words, the judge effectively makes no judgement at all. He is merely an instrument of the big Other. This is not the only way to think about the big Other. Zizek often equates it to the analytic philosopher Donald Davidson’s “charity principle”, the assumption (without which, all human communication is impossible) that we all share a set of mutual understandings. Of course, the big Other is a functional illusion (as Lacan said: ‘the big Other does not exist’), a communal fiction – judges frequently make perverse judgements due to quirks of personality and there certainly is no stable set of mutual understandings. So the big Other provides the necessary communal fiction for social interaction to function. In other words, we voluntarily submit to it because the benefits it provides are immense. (Of course, there are some people – psychotics – who do not submit to the big Other, and who sadly struggle to function well in society.)

Read the rest here.

Dejan over at Cultural Parody Center has an interesting take on the ubiquity of apocalyptic narratives in contemporary culture:

Here I have to think about the devastating effects of virtualization. When the barebacking trend started on the sex scene, it appeared a form of ”the nostalgia for the Real”, where the barebacking subject evokes the bliss of ”authentic contact” through the skin. (I think this also happens in the apocalyptic fantasies of Sinthome’s clients. In their nitty-gritty imaginings of urban dystopia, they are trying to ”get back in touch” with some authentic life substance; a lot like the young brutalists’ idea of the ”concreteness” in ”really-existing” socialism of yore… )

For Lacan, of course, the real must not be confused with reality. Where reality is understood as a combination of the symbolic and the imaginary characterizing the familiarity of our everyday lifeworld, the real is to be properly understood as the impossible or those formal deadlocks that haunt the symbolic and prevent its closure. I am not, of course, suggesting that Dejan misses this. Dejan’s point seems to be that reality is always already virtualized, such that this “nostalgia for the real” is always beset by the return of the real in the formal Lacan sense: The return of inherent impossibilities and antagonistic deadlocks.

N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has written a very nice response to my musings on the ubiquity of apocalyptic fantasies in contemporary culture, drawing on Adorno. Expressing hesitation over certain elements of my claims, N.P. writes:

Sinthome thus expresses the hope that apocalyptic fantasies manifest a desire for something other than their explicit content – something more than the desire for destruction and death. I raise this point, not to hold up Freud’s text against Sinthome’s appropriation – for we have no obligation for interpretive fidelity to Freud’s work and, in any event, even Freud’s “typical” examples contain permutations that might be amenable to Sinthome’s appropriation (Freud suggests that “typical” dreams can manifest historical content, for example – ephemeral wishes once felt, but long since rejected, etc.) – but because I think it provides a good frame for understanding Adorno’s very different attempt to merge psychoanalytic theory with sociology in the service of critique. If Freud offers two interpretive paths, one of which Sinthome has followed in the hopes that apocalyptic fantasy might signify a nonmanifest content – a longing for transcendence – we can understand Adorno’s work as an attempt to reflect seriously on the second path – on the possibility that certain mass movements might genuinely desire to achieve what their fantasies express: destruction and death.

I do not have much to add to N.P.’s excellent analysis, except to point out that I do not believe there’s any substantial disagreement here between my claims and what she’s drawing from Adorno. This point comes into greater clarity with regard to other fantasmatic structures. An acquaintance of mine suffers from an overwhelming sense of guilt that pervades nearly every aspect of his daily life. For instance, his wife will ask him to do something innocuous and straightforward and he’ll be paralyzed by anxiety feelings of guilt, encountering her request not as a simple request, but as an accusation claiming that he failed to do something that he should have done. Similarly, whenever faced with some form that he must fill out for the government or his job, he encounters this form as implying that he’s done something wrong in much the same way that Joseph K’s engagements with the castle and the court all imply some ambiguous and unfathomable guilt in The Castle and The Trial. Finally, his dream life is pervaded by dreams where he commits some horrible act of crime and is to be punished.

The point not to be missed here is that the manifest content of this frame with respect to how he organizes his intersubjective relations and relations to the world– the frame through which he views and interprets the address of others to him –is taken as a genuine and true reading of what is actually going on. He genuinely, for instance, experiences his wife as accusing him, and this leads him to act in response to these accusations, demonstrating that he is in fact innocent, that she is the guilty one (for not telling him before), etc., thereby generating conflict between himself and his spouse.

Over the course of our discussions– which have largely been of a theoretical and impersonal nature, often about the structure of the moebius strip and rhetoric –he has increasingly come to believe that, in fact, these guilt affects have little or nothing to do with anything unfolding in the present. Rather, when he was very young his mother died of cancer and underwent a long and very painful treatment. During this there were times when he would wish for her to die. At present, then, his working hypothesis is that this ubiquitous guilt is a sort of return of the repressed wherein he seeks punishment for these wishes. Indeed, for Freud one of the central marks of obessessional neurosis, the mechanism of repression operative in repression, is a splitting that occurs between affect and signifier, such that the affect is displaced and appears elsewhere in our intersubjective relations. Freud points out that the obsessional, unlike the hysteric, is often quite aware of particular events, but recollects these events without their proper affective content. Instead, the affect becomes connected to signifiers that appear completely unrelated to the originary signifying content. My friend’s repetition of this guilt in relation to events unrelated to his wish for his mother’s death can thus be seen as serving two functions: On the one hand, it provides him with the punishment he believes himself to deserve. On the other hand, it gives him the opportunity to prove, again and again, his innocence by acting in the present with regard to whatever manifest content happens his way, demonstrating that he has been unjustly accused.

The point, then, that I am trying to make is that the manifest content can very well be treated as the “real McCoy”, as the real problem, and we perpetually take up action in relation to this manifest content. The case is similar with regard to apocalyptic fantasies. It is both possible for apocalyptic fantasies to be expressive of frustration with social relations, yearnings for a different type of social order, and repressed wishes for all of society to collapse so that this social order might become possible, and for the subjects inhabited by these fantasies to misrecognize their desire and treat the manifest content as something to be promoted or fought against exactly as Adorno suggests. Zizek makes a similar point apropos the Jew and anti-Semitism. For Zizek, the anti-Semite’s animosity towards the Jew is expressive of a series of social antagonisms that have nothing to do with Jews themselves. They are representative of the anti-Semite’s own disavowed desire (for a more detailed discussion of Zizek’s analysis of anti-semitism see here). However, none of this prevents the anti-Semite from targeting the Jew as a source of violence and unjust legislation, by treating the manifest content of the symptom as a genuine reality. For me, then, the question is that of how fetishistic fascination with the manifest content can be shifted so as to focus on both these disavowed desires and latent content pertaining to social antagonisms.

As a final caveat I would like to add that my basic position is that psychoanalysis is not a psychology but a theory of intersubjectivity. As Freud puts it in the very first paragraph of Group Psychology and the Analysis of Ego,

The contrast between individual psychology and social or group psychology, which at a first glance may seem to be full of significance, loses a great deal of its sharpness when it is examined more closely. It is true that individual psychology is concerned with the individual man and explores the paths by which he seeks to find satisfaction for his instictual impulses; but only rarely and under certain exceptional conditions is individual psychology in a position to disregard the relations of this individual to others. In the individual’s mental life someone else is invariably involved, as a model, as an object, as a helper, as an opponenet; and so from the very first individual psychology, in the extended by entirely justifiable sense of the words, is at the same time social psychology as well. (SE 18, 69)

Lacan pushes this thesis to its logical conclusion, treating psychoanalysis not as a psychology, but rather as a transcendental theory of the analytic setting… Or more properly, transference. As such, all questions of psychoanalysis are already questions of the social field, not of individual minds. This is one reason that Lacan was led to investigate topology for forms of relation not premised on outside/inside binaries, but rather continuous relations between self, Other, and world.

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