Let’s play a game. You give me a number and I’ll give you another in response. We start. You say 7, I respond with 9. You say 132, and I respond with 134. You say 3, and I say 5. Now I give you a number. I say 23, and you respond 25. We’re now beginning to get bored, for we’ve deciphered to rule behind the game. We can even formalize it mathematically:
f(x) = x + 2
“For any number x, add 2.” Of course, we could come up with other mathematical descriptions or theories of this game, but regardless, it’s a simple game. It’s a peculiar game, for it really isn’t so much a game that you might win. While it is indeed played with someone, it is not played against someone. If this game has any allure at all, it consists in discovering the law, rule, essence, or pattern behind the game. That is, the object of this game consists of the theory of the game. The theory of the game is the discovery of the rule or law behind the game.
We have, on the one hand, the “diversity of appearances” or the sequences of numbers that successively appear. In philosophical parlance we could call these “particulars” or “events” or “individuals”. In psychoanalysis we would call them parapraxes or symptoms: slips of the tongue, bungled actions, acts of forgetting, dreams, repetitions.
7 = 9
132 = 134
3 = 5
23 = 5
We begin with a series of disparate or diverse individuals or events that seem unrelated. Each is connected to another event or individual, but between the events there seems to be no connection or relation. We’re not even sure how the two events in each set are related to each other. Yet in playing the game we come to discover the theory of the game– f(x) = x + 2 –or the rule, the unity, behind this manifold of diversity. You “win” the game by discovering the theory of the game or the rule that generates the manifold. At this point, there’s no longer a reason to continue playing.
And isn’t this how it is with a psychoanalysis? An analysand enters analysis with a complaint and the demand for a cure. Something repeats painfully in his life. He’s drinking too much. He’s constantly messing up at work. She’s fearful of flying. He’s unhappy in his relationship. She can’t write. There’s a complaint. “Cure it!” While the complaint often evaporates like so much morning mist with time, something quite different takes place. Things that appear disparate and insignificant become fractal. First there is a mapping of individuals or events: a slip of the tongue here (“I went to grab my bottle.” when the person meant to say “I went to grab my bag”), a forgetting or lapses there (“who was it who starred in that film?”), a bungled action (“I confused sugar with salt while baking!”), a dream, a fantasy, a curious feeling or emotion that fills one with dread on certain spring days. And then there are the associations, the webs that emerge in the intervals of these things. An analysand dreams,
“I was riding an octopus to 7-11 to buy some cashews.”
“What do you make of that”, the analyst asks?
“Octopi have 9 brains. If I had 9 brains I’d be really smart. Strange. 7-11 is a convenient store, but when I think of 7-11 I immediately think of my high school girlfriend. That was the prefix to her phone number. She graduated valedictorian. She dumped me because I was a poor student and could only get into the local community college. Cashew University is a first rate school.”
The dream-thought behind the dream has very little to do with the manifest or surface content of the dream. I could have never guessed (Jung was wrong) that these were the thoughts behind the dream. Of course, we’d have to ask why the dreamwork of his dream chose images like those of an octopus and a convenient store to satisfy the wish of being worthy of his lost love. Why those images and no others? Diacritics. Gradually it begins to dawn on him that his troubles in his marriage don’t arise because his wife annoys him, because they share nothing in common, because she pushes from the top of the toothpaste, or the other trivial things that characterize every relationship. Gradually he begins to realize that he still has this attachment. A theory of the symptom begins to emerge and strangely the affects that would have normally haunted him with the toothpaste and the discussions begin to shift and become mobile. A fractal pattern emerges behind these events; a sort of rule or regularity, where the disparate finds a unity. What was before a frustration becomes a symptom rather than a mute jouissance; which is to say that it takes on a significance or a meaning: a message to the Other lodged in the body, speech, and action like the apple in Gregor Samsa’s back.
We say “you are reading too much into things! Certainly all of that isn’t there!” Yet these were his associations, they were what came to his mind and gradually there is a shifting of relations to other symptoms that takes place as these things are spoken. Something takes place, even if it is at first subtle and hard to discern. There is movement and becoming. Like the weatherman Phil Conners in Groundhog Day, time resumes and starts again. It is not that time lost is regained, but rather that time frozen in the museum of the symptom, of all of those diverse ticks that differ while repeating, resumes. Time commences again and the endless repetition of the same, frozen time, unfreezes and a new day finally arrives.