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The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis

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From its peculiar birth in Freud's self-analysis to its current state of deep crisis, psychoanalysis has always been a practice that questions its own existence. Like the patients that risk themselves in this act of questioning - it is somehow upon this threatened ground that the very life of psychoanalysis depends. Perhaps psychoanalysis must always remain in a precarious, indeed ghostly, position at the limit of life and death?In this book, Jamieson Webster argues that the life and death of psychoanalysis hinges on the question of desire itself, and attempts to bring this question back to the center of psychoanalytic thought and practice. The problem of desire is pursued through Webster's own relation to psychoanalysis, as she recounts the story of her training through the interpretation of three significant dreams, as well as her encounter with three thinkers for whom the problem of psychoanalysis remains central: Adorno, Lacan, and Badiou. In blurring the line between the personal and the theoretical, this book not only offers a novel interpretation of the philosophical and psychoanalytic meaning of desire, but also explores how one, through the difficult work of transference and reading, can live out the life of desire that tests the limits of what it means to be human.

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CHAPTER ONE: Fatigue and haste

ePub

Iam tired. Psychoanalysis makes me incredibly tired. I have spent a greater part of my time hating psychoanalysis. I can’t read another paper. I want the whole thing to collapse. I see it teetering on the edge of its abyss, and think I’m done, it is done. And yet somehow I know that it could do nothing else—it is precarious, it has been from the beginning. What have I been hoping for? What did I expect? Apparently a whole lot. It is an understatement to say that I am betrayed both by disappointment and this constancy of hope. I have never allowed this the label of pathology. Better yet, I will never allow this. Label implies stasis. So does my never.

I hear the voice of Rapaport (1967), a member of Lacan’s enemy camp, cautioning the psychoanalysts that structure is that only amenable to a very slow rate of change. Never get ahead of yourself. Know your limits as a psychoanalyst. I want to tell him psychoanalysis is in too much jeopardy for this slow rate of change. Never say never then also. Nothing is without its pathos. But I am myself too slow for this structural pathos that catches up on you faster than you can imagine. Hope what you will. Psychoanalysis will remain precarious.

 

ADORNO

ePub

After all of this talk about psychoanalysis it seems strange to turn to someone so distant from its practice as the philosopher Theodor Adorno. He is, to my mind, the great synthesizer of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, marking the juncture between Freud’s time and ours. He takes Freud and translates his work into a critical theory that lives up to its name. Adorno is not only critical in the dynamic sense, he is so by nature— cranky, authoritarian, and discontent. Perhaps he lives out a discontent, a malaise stemming from civilization, that Freud only begins to point to.

Adorno’s thought exists on a terrain such that he always knows what is good, bad, tasteful, degraded, the right questions to ask, the ways of rigor, what is necessary, what is impossible, and never, ever, for a moment positing what is. The possible is an offense after the events of World War II. He is one of those philosophers who pointedly absorbed the trauma of the two world wars, wars that were also of major consequences for the birth of the psychoanalytic institution. We must put into perspective a modernity that Adorno sees as culminating in the events of the holocaust.

 

CHAPTER TWO: Angels of disenchantment

ePub

Ihave only had three dreams which center around an object that comes under the scrutiny of my dreaming self. These objects are rare in the case of dreams and almost immediately forced me into the sudden paradox of not knowing if what I was seeing was found or created. The quality of the object as object evoked the fine line implicit in the distinction. Certainly Winnicott’s (1971) transitional object is at play, an iteration of Freud’s lost object refound.

Lacan will say that what designates what is most me in myself is this interior emptiness and one doesn’t know if it belongs to oneself or to nobody. What is most me in myself is always something both overwhelmingly public and utterly private, problematizing the simple opposition between inside and outside. Lacan (1986/1992) creates the neologism, extimité, combining exterior and intimacy. Depth is continuous with surface, and as Freud (1919b) shows, what is most strange, uncanny (unheimlich), is what is revealed to be closest to home (heim). Adorno, I imagine, would be happy with this. Here it seems, even if only for a second, that we can overcome the division of labor. As I said, I am grateful for these dreams.

 

LACAN

ePub

Beginning with Lacan is one of the hardest things to do. That his discourse even brings into question what it might truly mean to begin, which means that a whole lot of us never do, makes it all the more difficult because one starts to question themselves which is to go in the wrong direction entirely because in questioning oneself one is caught in an act of reflection that will never be an act in the proper sense of carving out a beginning. It is, in effect, just one more inhibition. In fact it may be inhibition par excellence. And if I’m already involving you in a dizzying set of logistics it is hopefully not for no reason; but certainly if one follows Lacan, the not for no reason is already quite suspect. With the double negation, perhaps all we can do is hope that we arrive at something a little bit more than not.

So it is with Lacan that one is trapped between a something that always amounts to nothing, his definition of the object, and a nothing that nevertheless must be made something, his hopes for the subject. About this, what does one say? Well, Lacan did that for the twenty-eight years of his seminar. And maybe then ask, what does one write? Well, Lacan surely did not do that, but, if I am not to be just one more contribution to the secondary elaboration of discourse, one that he never meant to be, then I don’t see anything other than the necessity for some extraordinary sacrifice. Those who take up the position of knowledge do so with an eye for the one who is vanishing—to reassure themselves that they are, not them, not there, with their gaze fixed on the horizon.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Instructions on how to fell a tree

ePub

If whatever was so oppressive and tormenting in loving a thinker like Adorno was repeated for the love of Lacan, it seems to me that an adherence to a debt, rather than a denial of it, were the stakes of this affair. I think his work is different from Adorno’s. For Lacan, this impossibility rendered affirmatively gives you your only bearings as a subject, no less a psychoanalyst. Through him one is permitted to attempt with passion an act that always involves in some way a renunciation (of narcissism, of knowledge), and he for one never assumes that such a sacrifice is easily made. For Lacan there is no erotic thrill or moralism attached to this act, always only offered as a possibility. If he focuses on it, it is because in his return to Freud these were the consequences, drawn out to their most extreme edge, of his discovery of unconscious desire.

Lacan tries to set up the conditions for what it might mean for any one of us to find a way beyond our own neurosis. He does this throughout his twenty-eight years of teaching, tracing the dilemma in a multitude of differing ways: from his re-reading of Freud, to his use of mathemes, philosophy, clinical forays, and his parables of art and literature. It is stunning to think of the ground one person was able to traverse, and even further, that he always did so in the company of others.

 

BADIOU

ePub

As Badiou says in “What Is Love?” (2000), thought depends on the impossibility of angels. I see Badiou, angel like, in all white— with his mysterious smile and self-avowed dignity. He knows the place that he holds in a long line of important French philosophers in whose path he has followed. Badiou is in the impossible position of the master. It cannot really be any other way. He bears the burden more or less well. The axiomatic nature of his work means, following Lacan, that it is only necessary that he authorize himself—and yet, he is authorized. He stands between the two impossible poles of desire and mastery.

His work is attracted to a realm just beyond that which desire inhabits and this attraction is both Badiou’s virtue and his potential failing. Being the master, he cannot entirely dissociate himself from a mastery that is detrimental to this life of desire and whatever possibility it affords—a possibility that Badiou has carefully conceptualized. Fidelity to truth, the immortal of a resistance, militant subjectivity, the ethics of universality, and so many of his other terms, are always directed to what lies beyond the confines of mastery. Such is the revolutionary agenda of his thought.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Last remarks

ePub

Leclaire’s notion that there is no truth beyond or before unconscious desire, which supports truth as much as it veils it, is the premise on which this work has been written. Like Alain’s three second book, likened to the three second session, it both supports his truth, that of the formalization of philosophy, along with his desire for the absolute formula to be synonymous with himself. It also veils his desire that this formula eclipse desire which cannot but extend itself, in particular, to the sacrifice of psychoanalysis. He would like to eradicate psychoanalysis from his knowledge. Perhaps it means he breaks free of his debt to Lacan, just as Freud’s book of dreams was the beginning of the dissolution of his tie to Fliess, which ended, as we might remember, in his failing to give him credit for the theory of bisexuality.

In any case, this fact about unconscious desire, in the end, has nothing to do with me or with Badiou. I can only offer the semblance of an instruction, which is the closest I have gotten to any formula. As for psychoanalysis I learned from Badiou what I have come to see as our only fighting chance—to remain in complete fidelity to desire, to the unconscious—the militant maintenance of a strength to stand there when “nothing is promised to us but the power to remain true to what comes to us” (Badiou, 1998/2006a, p. 23), even if that is nothing.

 

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