Returning to my meditations on examples

Psychoanalysis, at least in its Lacanian formulation, promises a form of theory that aims not at the reduction of the patient to a particular of a universal, an instance of a kind, but rather that strives to reach the singularity of the patient or that which is without equivalent.  The degree to which it is successful in this endeavor is another question.  In this regard, psychoanalysis is—at its best –the opposite of a university (universal) discourse.  In the university discourse, the anomalous (a) is subordinated to a classificatory scheme (a system of S2’s).  Everything must find its place within that classificatory scheme.  In pre-Einsteinian astronomy, the irregularity of Mercury’s orbit (an a) must be made to fit with Newtonian theory (S2).  The irregularity is a secret regularity.  There must be a moon or other astronomical object that we haven’t observed that accounts for its irregular orbit.  Perhaps we can even calculate the missing mass that would be required to explain Mercury’s orbit.  In the case of psychology, we have the DSM-V, a bestiary of symptoms that function as signs for an underlying pathology and its etiology.  Symptoms for this or that disorder are this and have this or that causation.  The very idea of disorders is itself a university discourse.  Symptoms are conceived on a medical model indicating a specific underlying pathology.  Fever, vomiting, weakness, etc., are signs that stand for the flu.  This is the model in psychology as well.  We are told that we can read the underlying pathology off from the symptoms.

read on!

If university discourses produce an $– a barred or alienated subject –then this is because the truth of the singular is prevented from speaking itself.  It is assimilated to the general category or model.  What escapes the model is erased or effaced.  It cannot appear.  Lacanian psychoanalysis, by contrast, strives to be a theory without models.  To be sure, there is a theory of how symptoms are produced.  However, we are unable to read the underlying desire embodied in the symptom from the symptom.  Where a sign is something that stands for something to someone (e.g., an index like smoke is a sign of fire), a signifier represents the subject for another signifier.  The symptom is a signifier; somewhere or other, Lacan says the symptom is a signifier in a crypt.  We do not know in advance what the signifier signifies, because it is different for each individual.  All individuals connect signifiers together differently.  There is no series of primordial archetypes that would allow us to decipher the images in a dream in advance.  There’s no replacement for the work of free association on the part of the analysand to find the sense behind the dream.  The analysand says, “I had a dream that all my teeth fell out.  What does that mean?”  The analyst responds with a joke:  “what do you get when you mate an elephant with a rhino?  Elifino!”  Such a dream will signify one thing for this analysand, another for that analysand, and yet another for another analysand.  Signifiers will be put together differently in each case.

Like Socrates, the aim of a Lacanian analyst is to function as a sort of midwife for the analysand to discover the acephalous knowledge—the unconscious knowledge –that resides in the symptoms that haunt their life.  The analyst does not have this knowledge.  This is why, in the analyst’s discourse, S2—the signifier for knowledge or the battery of signifiers –appears in the position of truth or the unconscious.  The analyst sets aside her presumption of knowledge, instead creating a space where speech is possible so that the analysand might discover her truth.  As Lacan will say at the end of S11, the desire of the analyst is a desire for singularity and absolute difference.  She doesn’t assimilate the analysand to a set of pre-existing categories, treating the analysand as a particular of a universal, an instance of a kind.  Rather, the analysand is approached as that which is without equivalent, for which there is no kind.

We can therefore see that there is no difference greater than the function of S1—the master-signifier –in the analyst’s discourse and the university discourse.  In the university discourse, S1 appears in the position of truth:  the university (universal) discourse secretly searches for mastery.  If we turn to the master discourse—what Lacan, in S17, calls the opposite side of psychoanalysis –we find that in the position of truth or the unconscious, the master’s discourse strives to repress or veil $; the divided subject that is not complete.  The master’s discourse is a discourse that strives for totality without remainder (of course, something always escapes, which is why we get a, both remainder and surplus) as the product of the master’s discourse.  The university discourse—what I called before, imperial theory –strives to assimilate the anomalous like the Borg.  Since something is always lost in this process of assimilation, we get the production of $.  What is different and singular in a is lost, so we get a divided or alienated subject.  In the analyst’s discourse, by contrast, the product of the discourse is S1, the master-signifier.  The subject discovers or produces that signifier that is the cypher of their existence that is without equivalent, that is inexchangeable, or that is singular.  The subject ($) discovers themselves not as an instance of a kind (a diagnostic category) of which the therapist—distinct from the analyst –has a secret knowledge.  Instead, the subject discovers that signifier or constellation of signifiers that animate their existence in a way that differs from any other being that exist.  Difference speaks and shows itself in a way that is erased in the universal or imperial discourse.  Here, then, in Lacanian psychoanalysis we find an example of examples that treats cases, examples, or instances not as instances of a kind, of a set of diagnostic categories, but rather as that which articulates singularity and what is incomparable.

What if we were to treat this form of theory and practice as the model of all theory:  not assimilation, but rather difference.  Not what can be exchanged, but what is inexchangeable?  Here I cannot fail to think of Deleuze’s distinction between the orders of generality and repetition in Difference and Repetition.  Generality, he says, is the order of equivalences, exchanges, substitutions, and symbols.  Repetition, by contrast, is conduct in relation to that which is inexchangeable and without substitute.  It is conduct with respect to that which is singular.  Generality is the order of money—recall that Marx said that money is the commodity that allows all other commodities to be treated as equivalent –cycles, substitutes.  Repetition he says, by contrast, is the order of theft and gift.  The gift is never an instance of the equivalent or the substitutable, but is always a singularity that—no matter how mundane it is –is inexchangeable.  There’s always something more in it than the thing itself.