Over the last week I’ve been intensively reading case studies on psychosis, obsession, and hysteria and it occurs to me that Freud really does change everything. After Freud, it is no longer possible to be an Epicurean or a Spinozist because of the dimension of the unconscious, desire, and jouissance. Epicurus and Spinoza are essentially ethicists of the pleasure principle, of need, of homeostasis for the sake of the organism continuing in its being. Appropriate object choice as in the case of Epicurus with his “natural” desires and “adequate knowledge” are sufficient to set the person on the right path and achieve satisfaction. With Freud, by contrast, we get jouissance which is a sort of ineradicable excess within the speaking being that it is condemned to pursue and that is often experienced as deeply painful and which also is often bad for the speaking being.
The symptom from which the subject suffers, the repetition that marks and punctuates the subject’s life, is also a form of enjoyment. Lacan will later say in Seminar 22, there is no subject without a symptom. It is the symptom that gives the subject ontological consistency. To make matters worse, there is a knowledge within the subject– “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other” –but it is an acephalous knowledge, an unconscious knowledge, that repeats itself like a glitch throughout the life of the subject. All of this is right there on the surface, right there in plain view, yet the conscious subject isn’t even aware they’re doing it, that these repeated actions are an apparatus of jouissance, a repetition of that primordial fault.
To be sure, symptoms shift over the course of analysis, some of them disappear, and often the pain of jouissance is eased. The talking cure does change something, speech has effects, and our relationship to jouissance shifts. Yet the symptom as a function and apparatus of jouissance does not itself disappear, for it is the being of the subject in its non-being. All of this begs the question of what the good life, what eudaemonia, might look like in a psychoanalytic universe where we are not masters in our own home. Freud was not optimistic. He said that psychoanalysis seeks to transform unbearable neurotic misery into ordinary human misery.