position of the analyst


Joseph Kugelmass has written an interesting post (and here) criticizing N.Pepperell’s focus on self-reflexivity over at Rough Theory. I would like to offer a few remarks as to how I understand these issues, without, hopefully mutilating N.Pepperell’s own views too much (i.e., my views are creative appropriations and translations into my own theoretical universe). Hopefully I’ll be forgiven the lack of grace with which I develop these themes as I’m really falling over from exhaustion today.

Joseph writes:

The production of knowledge without any specific expectation of change also happens intersubjectively. N. Pepperell takes a strong stand against theories that emphasize intersubjectivity. In a comment to this post, she writes:

I am specifically critical of attempts to centre critical theory on analyses of intersubjectivity – and of the tendency to equate “the social” with “the intersubjective”. Realising that this won’t mean much at this point, my position would be that central dimensions of contemporary society – dimensions that are important for understanding shapes of consciousness, patterns of social reproduction, and potentials for transformations – simply won’t be captured adequately by the attempt to transcend the limitations of theories of the “subject” via theories of the intersubjective constitution of meaning.

If I had to venture a guess, I would guess that NP’s problem with theories of intersubjectivity, that they don’t provide a consistent methodological framework, and don’t take into account the phenomenology (and relevant ideological structures) of our encounters with objects. I can’t be sure because I don’t know exactly what she means by the “central dimensions of contemporary society.”

In the sciences, the scientific method is certainly intersubjective, but also consistent: it is an agreed-upon method for producing uniform and objective results. It is true that scientists do not always peer closely into the motivating forces behind the scientific method, and it is also true that psychological and historical analyses of the scientific method have not altered it. If a scientist were to write not only a description of her method, but also a full account of the historical, cultural, and personal factors condensed in an experiment, the analytic question would still not disappear. It would merely become different: “Why these details? Why this confession?” Anthropologists who live amongst their subjects, rather than surveilling or interviewing them, are not necessarily more knowledgeable anthropologists. They are simply creating a different, and possibly less hostile, “clearing” (Martin Heidegger’s term, from the Greek aletheia) in the name of knowledge.

I cannot speak for N.Pepperell, but if I had to hazard a guess as to what she’s getting at in her concerns about intersubjectivity, it is not their lack of objectivity (she’s worked diligently to critique the role such ahistorical notions play in a good deal of sociology and the social science), nor that these accounts fail to give us a consistent methodology, but rather I would say that talk of intersubjectivity is still talk of a subject to subject relation, and as such fails to get properly at the domain of the social embodied in social structures, forces, history, etc., which can’t properly be uncovered in the phenomenological experience of the subjects involved. It was a similar line of reasoning that led Lacan to systematically abjure any and all talk of “intersubjectivity” following Seminar V. In Seminar V and prior to this, Lacan had often used the term “intersubjectivity” to describe what he was up to with his graphs and so-on. Lacan very quickly found that his students took this to be referring to an ego-to-ego relation or a relation between dual subjects constituting meaning with one another (i.e., a primacy of phenomenological subjects of lived experience and their reciprocal impressions). As a result of this assimilation of intersubjectivity to a relation between two phenomenological subjects, the domain of the social or the symbolic and its autonomous functioning was effectively lost (something like Levi-Strauss’s autonomous functioning of structures). Thus, when Lacan writes the summary of Seminars 4 – 6 in the Ecrits article, “Subversion of the Subject”, all references to “intersubjectivity” disappear so as to emphasize that the Other is not another subject, but the functioning of the signifying chain according to its own immanent principles. This should have been clear already in Seminar V. As Lacan there says at one point, “the subject is cuckold by language”. This should be taken to mean that the subject is enmeshed in a logic of language that exceeds his phenomenological intentions, his direct social experience of other persons, and that functions as a determinant of his relation to self, world, and others. As Lacan will say in Seminar 20, “the universe is the flower of rhetoric”. Certainly this is not something one grasps or discerns in their phenomenological experience.

Read on


Courtesy of Thomas Svolos:

Report of the 12th International Seminar of the Freudian Field
New York

“What has changed in the Analytic Treatment of Psychosis”
Guest Speaker: Alexandre Stevens

February 23 and 24, 2007

Sponsored by The Freudian Field, Fordham University and The New York Freud-Lacan Analytic Group (NYFLAG) .

On a cold and sunny winter weekend, we gathered at the prestigious site of Fordham University for the 12th International Seminar of the Freudian Field in New York with Alexandre Stevens who joined us for the third time; he has given two International Seminars and one Lecture in New York .

On Friday, February 23 was the Lecture “Psychosis and the paternal function: Can one choose one’s Father?” Alexandre Stevens retraced the connection between the paternal function and psychosis since Freud. It was first linked to Narcissism, later to a fusion between mother and child, which lead to the question of guilt. Lacan proposed that psychosis is not due to a maternal default but to the lack of inscription of a signifier: the Name-of-the- Father. When the imaginary couple is ruptured by the irruption of a third element the psychotic subject has to seek the signification of his being elsewhere than in the foreclosed Name-of-the- Father giving way to the psychotic phenomena. Alexandre Stevens reviewed the three moments of the Oedipus complex: the first is the dependence of the child and mother, the second moment is the father as interdictor and the third moment, the lacanian moment is the father who says yes. Stevens referred to Lacan’s Seminar IV to illustrate with the clinical example of Little Hans. He also insisted in the fact pointed by Lacan that the Paternal Function is multiple. At the end he considered the different ways in which we choose a master, an analyst, a Rabbi, and how we always choose a Father.

Every semester I begin my introductory courses with Plato’s Euthyphro. There are a number of reasons for this. On the one hand, the Euthyphro is exemplary as a model of philosophical analysis, argumentation, and critique. On the other hand, this dialogue stages the manner in which action and belief interpenetrate, such that actions are based on beliefs and false belief leads to false action. Additionally, there are geographical reasons as well. Teaching in the Dallas Texas area– home of the megachurch and the central hub of apocalyptic variants of Evangelical Christianity –teaching the Euthyphro exposes students to questions of religion and faith that perhaps they have never before encountered. Finally, the Euthyphro inaugurates some basic and fundamental distinctions as to how all subsequent ethical and political philosophy will be conducted. However, it is also possible to see the Euthyphro as a criticism of ideology and as a sort of therapy strategically designed to both reveal Euthyphro’s attachments and precipitate a separation from those attachments. Socrates aims at nothing less than producing a sort of void in Euthyphro… A void, perhaps, that would have the effect of producing the possibility of freedom.

I received the following email from a fellow analyst in Argentina and thought it might be productive in generating some discussion here on the blog. X writes:

Dear Levi: I have been reading the lacan yahoo groups since long. Also I have been practicing Lacan theory as much as clinical practice since the seventies. You remark very accurately that since Millerian politics has taken over the majority of the lacanian groups all over the world we have seen the expansion of millerian psychoanalytical point of view..are you sure they follow Lacan’s theories on its foundation? Any way My concern (the reason I write to you) is that I have seen Lacan APPLIED to anything on the market from Sufism to cinema, to fashion to Japanese to….cuisine??. I would like to know your view since in my country (Argentina), the country of the thousand analysts, so to speak has not developed such an over explanatory religion as I can imagine in the Us. Is it my perception wrong? it has to do with Zizek simplifying ideas, fashionable impronta?Is the Universitary discourse predominance?. As a practitioner, I see this direction as been very dangerous to psychoanalysis worries me.As Freud warned us. Psy. is not a religion. We must be aware of that. Sorry for my english syntax and grammar. I hope you find my question interesting enough to answer me.

I’m not sure I have a whole lot to add to your observations and hope that you don’t find my writings on psychoanalysis to exemplify these characteristics. First, I do not at all disagree with your observation that there is a sort of Lacanian religion emerging in the United States. I think the way in which you pose the question already suggests an answer. You point out that Argentina is the country of a thousand analysts. In the United States we have nothing comparable to this omnipresence of practicing analysts. What passes for therapy in the States is usually some “guru” or master that purports to have knowledge of the brain and how to live one’s life successfully if only the proper behavioral activities are followed and the proper drugs are taken. I exaggerate, but not much. In short, we have no living practice of analysis.

I think the absence of a living practice of analysis has profound consequences as to how Freud and Lacan are received in the United States. I cannot speak for you, but in my experience practicing as an analyst one of the most striking things is the manner in which you never completely know what is going on with your analysands. As analysts we listen, we ask questions, we make enigmatic remarks that can be taken in a number of different ways, and we’re continuously surprised by what our analysands have to teach us. As I see it, the role of the analyst, the position of the analyst, is an extremely humble position. Or, rather, it is a position that quickly leads one to humility. The analysand might place us in the position of the subject supposed to know, but we are certainly not subjects that do know. Over the course of analysis we do gain a bit of knowledge from our analysands, we do learn, but that knowledge is never complete for as Lacan says “the truth can only be half-said”… It reveals to the same degree that it conceals.

We take our bearings from Freud and Lacan. Their experience orients us. But, in his ecrits “The Position of the Unconscious”, Lacan is careful to point out that the unconscious changes with discourse about the unconscious, such that we are forever encountering new symptoms in the clinic and such that we find that interpretations or interventions that might have been successful ten years ago no longer seem to produce effects today. As such, I cannot help but feel that the analyst is very much a Socratic figure who relates to others with an awareness of his or her own ignorance. This, I take it, is one of the central distinctions between an analyst and a therapist. A therapist is not ignorant, but knows… Yet the knowledge of the therapist is a knowledge in the imaginary. It is an imaginary mastery of the patient.

Returning then to the theme of Lacanian theology in the United States, I think one of the central issues is that the vast majority of Lacanian theorists work with “analysands” that do not talk back. Those of us in the States who have not undergone analysis or who do not practice analysis work primarily with non-responsive texts such as novels, social phenomena, films, and television shows. Freud, of course, thought that such cultural analysis was of vital importance for building psychoanalytic knowledge. Both Freud and Lacan gave masterful analyses of various cultural artifacts such as Oedipus Rex and Plato’s Symposium, and helped to advance our understanding of the symptom by these means (my view is that psychoanalysis is a transcendental theory of the conditions under which the symptom is possible). However, they were also practicing analysts, and one of the central things we quickly learn in the analytic setting is that just when we think we have an understanding of what is going on the analysand throws us a curve ball that violates all our expectations. That is, there’s a dialogical dimension to analysis such that the analysand responds back and this is lacking in the interpretation of cultural artifacts. Absent this dit-mension of response, psychoanalysis easily becomes a discourse of imaginary mastery, generating the attitude of a university discourse that is confident it is able to interpret all formations of the unconscious and culture.

While I have a great deal of admiration for Zizek’s work and the manner in which he’s rendered the Millerian interpretation of Lacan accessible to a wider audience– someone on the list recently suggested that perhaps this was written by Zizek, revealing their ignorance of the secondary literature on Lacan and Miller’s appropriation in particular, indicating just how much Zizek has come to hegemonize the name Lacan and obscure a vast field of very talented clinical work done by analysts that have their feet on the ground (or bottoms on the couch) working daily with analysands –I do believe that Zizek’s work lends itself to this imaginary illusion of mastery and that Zizek himself often succumbs to this lure of mastery. From a clinical point of view this is very counter-productive as it closes off the unconscious by leading us to believe too readily that we know what it is speaking, rather than opening the unconscious by provoking desire through enigma as in the case of Lacan’s poetic use of speech in his late seminars which functions to evoke desire by rendering meaning (always a feature of the imaginary) enigmatic and elusive.

I thus find myself torn. As you know, Lacan left us with 27 years of teachings and experience. This material is extremely difficult and much of it is uneven as to its quality. Further, a good deal of it remains unpublished and the translations of these unpublished works are often inaccurate. Few save the most devoted will take the time to trudge through Lacan’s difficult work and engage in the intellectual labor of developing his thought. At present, Lacanian psychoanalysis in the United States only exists as a theory, and has a very low degree of intensity as a practice. For the academic laboring under conditions that demand publication, there are diminishing returns when it comes to working directly with Lacan. Moreover, what is the American Lacanian to do? It’s nearly impossible to work solely as a clinician in the United States due to how therapy has here been structured via the mediation of insurance companies, government, and a particular ideology of medical science. Moreover, with the exception of a handful of institutions such as Duquesne (and increasingly Emory), psychology departments tend to see psychoanalysis and Lacan as a form of arcane quackery that has been thoroughly disproven or discredited. The only other option is for the defender of Lacan to shack up in social sciences (rarely) or humanities departments and to transform psychoanalysis into a form of cultural and political analysis. Thus, while I have a number of reservations about the predominance of the discourse of the master and university in many of our best and brightest Lacanian theorists in the United States, I feel that at present there is little alternative. However, I do feel that this work– while scarcely resembling a genuine analytic stance –is nonetheless laying the groundwork for a day in which genuine psychoanalytic practice might here be possible by introducing elements into the symbolic that create the potential for psychoanalysis to be received. It is for this reason that I am grateful for the work of figures such as Zizek and Miller. Zizek popularizes, while Miller codifies Lacan’s teachings so that they might become transmissible as a teaching. This, of course, also entails simplifications that lead to omissions and an erasure of other possible interpretations and readings. But it does seem as if progress is being made. Already an entire generation of analysts are emerging who would not have been able to practice at all a decade ago. There is Bruce Fink and students of his practice such as myself, Dan Collins, Yael Baldwin, Kate Briggs, Ed Pluth, and yet others such as Christina Laurita, and Tom Svolos, all of whom are practicing, making contributions to psychoanalytic theory, forming academic departments and conferences, and training other analysts. Right now the work of creating an infrastructure and space of the symbolic is underway, and this is a slow moving task that takes time.

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