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Loving Psychoanalysis: Looking at Culture with Freud and Lacan

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Psychoanalysis was neither a product of philosophy nor of academic study. Rather, psychoanalysis was born in the clinic. Freud took his lead from hysterical women; the accounts of their pain, anxieties and physical symptoms led him to formulate his theories on the existence of the unconscious. Psychoanalysis is neither a theory nor a way of seeing life. It is a form of ethics unlike any other, it is the subjects way of relating to the world. However, there is no doubt that it owes its existence to science. It could perhaps be termed the science of the particular, because it deals with the unique truth of the subject. Lacan, in contrast to the theoreticians who aspired towards universality, similarly described psychoanalysis as the approximate science of the subject.This book is a kind of mosaic, composed of both beginning and concluding acts. It is an anthology of essays and lectures of recent years, which comprise an attempt to organize and pass on what can be learned from various psychoanalytical viewpoints from various cultural disciplines, particularly ones that reflect the discontent that is inherent within them.Through the study of the theories of Freud, Lacan and Slavoj Zizek, the author offers riveting glimpses into the works of Moshe Gershoni, Lucian Freud, Paul Celan, Primo Levi and others, who all bear witness to the existence of the Other, trauma, feminine jouissance and the Real, in twentieth-century culture.

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1. Introduction: psychoanalysis and language—getting to know Lacan

ePub

The poetess Tirza Atar, daughter of the poet Natan Alterman, who met her death by falling (or jumping) out of a window, wrote thus:

Words are never mistaken.
They themselves say:
“Error, pardon”.
Only they are shouted out:
I am mute Only they are sobbed:
I do not weep!

[Atar, 1979, p. 150; translated for this edition]

In this introduction to psychoanalysis, I intend to focus on the contrast, as expressed in the poem, between false words and what is really being said.

The title “getting to know Lacan” raises questions such as getting to know whom? And what is actually meant by “getting to know”?

Lacan claimed that he was a Freudian. He spoke of the return to Freud. A return to what had been suppressed from the initial, radical significance that Freud’s psychoanalytic revelations contained.

When Freud was first invited to the United States together with Jung, he told Jung on the deck of the ship—”They do not realize that it is the plague that we are bringing them.”

From Lacan’s point of view, Freud’s work, in its entirety, had been adulterated and tamed by the generation that followed him, in order to make it easier to digest and for society to accept.

 

2. What can we know of love?

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Can one enter the realm of love without getting hurt? The title “What Can We Know of Love?” was inspired by the section “From Love to Libido”, in Lacan’s XIth seminar, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (Lacan, 1973). Having decided on the title, I then realized that I had got myself into some sort of a trap. This title could be the inspiration for a Haiku, a Beatles song, or perhaps a weighty doctoral dissertation. But for this chapter, I attempt to approach the theory of love in various ways, to profile it, and to examine its connection with knowledge—starting with that wondrous stanza from The Song of Songs:

… Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.

[Song of Songs, 13: 6–7]

In his XIth seminar, Lacan poured cold water on the romanticism of the Song of Songs. The conundrum he used in commenting on Freud’s way of relating to love—”The drives necessitate us in the sexual order—they come from the heart. To our great surprise, he [Freud] tells us that love, on the other hand, comes from the belly, from the world of yum-yum” (Lacan, 1973, p. 189)—consti-tutes a point of reference in this essay. Can the two statements be reconciled? On the one hand, the connection between love and death, the divine fire—worth all the wealth in the world. And on the other, merely something associated with a most basic physical need—perhaps the most straightforward need of all.

 

3. Phantasy—from Freud to Lacan and from Lacan to the artist

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“The moon that is in the water.
The water does not break.
The moon does not get wet.”

Y. Raz (1995, p. 67; translated for this edition)

The short haiku above defines, accurately and concisely, I believe, everything that will be written in many words in the rest of this article. The first line defines an existential condition: the moon that is in the water. Not: the moon reflected in the water; nor: the image of the moon in the water. The moon really is in the water, but in a different manner, a different essence—an essence that does not create changes in the “real world”—and yet: the moon is in the water. Absent and present at the same time. This, as will be seen later on, is the essence of the connection between phantasy and the Real dimension in the world.

* * *

At the beginning of the last chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), Freud relates a dream of a father who lay down to rest, while in the next room lay the body of his dead son, left in the care of another man. In the dream, the son comes to the father, grabs him by the arm, and whispers to him reproachfully: “Father, don’t you see I’m burning?” The father wakes in panic and discovers that the guard had fallen asleep and, indeed, that one of the candles burning by the body had fallen and set fire to the deathbed.

 

4. Paul Celan and the question of feminine jouissance

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“So powerful was his love for her that it would have pushed open the lid of his coffin—were it not for the weight of the flower she had placed there.”

Paul Celan (1986)

Paul Celan is considered one of the most important European poets of the post–World War II period. Celan, a Romanian Jew born in Czernowitz, survived the Holocaust and settled in Paris. He wrote in German. In 1970 he committed suicide by jumping into the Seine. Celan is frequently discussed in academic and psychiatric circles, which attribute various diagnoses to him. For example, he is thought to have been a psychotic, paranoid, depressive patient who bore symptoms typical of Holocaust survivors.

What can psychoanalysis learn from Paul Celan, based on the testimony of his poems and the sparse accounts by the people who were acquainted with him?

***

Having read his poems, some thoughts occurred to me that may perhaps shed light on the Lacanian psychoanalytic approach to the concepts of jouissance and the Real, two concepts that Lacan developed out of Freud’s concept of the death drive.

 

5. One eats—the other eats “no”

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After Rachel’s grandmother passed away, the family observed the traditional week of mourning. It was during this time that Rachel’s family first noticed how thin she was becoming. Her father was the first one to notice. Rachel has a twin sister, an older brother, and an older sister. She was 15 then. Previously her family had been fully occupied in caring for her ailing grandmother, so “no one had really looked at what Rachel had been eating”.

Rachel had begun to lose weight, and she had stopped menstruating. Her mother hadn’t actually noticed, despite the fact that for several months, the one twin had not been asking her for the tampons that both twins always needed.

It is evident that in this family’s case, noticing and paying attention are important signifiers—signifiers relating to knowledge, knowledge about “something is wrong”.

Rachel was the one who used to go shopping and bake the special halla bread for the Sabbath. She used to be a “partner” to her mother in long walks and a “partner” to her father and brother in playing football.

 

6. “A woman’s voice is erva”: the feminine voice and silence—between the Talmudic sages and psychoanalysis with Admiel Kosman

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with Admiel Kosman

The subject of this chapter is a comparison of psychoanalytic theory as it was formulated by Freud, and has been interpreted by Lacan, with Jewish culture as it is expressed in the Talmudic texts concerning the unique and problematic issue of man’s relation to the female voice and speech, in particular two central sayings: “Talk not much with a woman” (Mishna, Avoth 1:5), and “A woman’s voice is erva [nakedness, sexual incitement]” (Babylonian Talmud, Ber. 24a). In this chapter we concentrate on studying and understanding the meanings and the consequences of the latter saying.

What, then, is the link between the feminine voice/speech and sexuality? Why was it often so important, even outside Jewish culture, to warn men about the dangers of the feminine voice and to try to repress it, as Sophocles concisely formulated, “Women’s glory is silence—and it is their beauty”? What can the Talmud teach contemporary psychoanalytic research concerning this issue?

The scriptures do not exclude explicitly women’s voices from the general life of the community circle and do not limit such manifestations in any way. In the few references that deal with this question in biblical literature, we find that women probably sang in the presence of men, and probably also sang along with them, as in the canticle of Miriam (Exod. 15:20) and in that of the prophetess Debora (Judg. 5:1). However, these texts appear in a wholly different light in rabbinical interpretation. Our research concentrates on the later rabbinical interpretation of these texts, from the time of the Second Temple period and afterwards.

 

7. The secret bearers—from silence to testimony, from the Real to phantasme

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Iwish to share with you parts of a journey, a journey that passes through several intersecting paths. I begin with a quotation from an interview given by Claude Lanzmann concerning his film Shoa: “It is like a black sun, and you always have to struggle against yourself in order to go on. It’s what happened during the process [of the making] of the film. I had to struggle against my own irrepressible tendency to forget what I had done” (in Felman & Laub, 1992 p. 252).

My work on the Shoa (Holocaust) is a psychoanalytic research as well as a personal journey. The struggle Lanzmann referred to is also my struggle. In this journey I was helped by a small study group as a symbolic frame of reference in order to be able to plunge into this unbearable Real and yet avoid drowning, to elude the horrible fascination that lies within this black sun or the heart of darkness, or these dark gods, as Lacan called them at the end of his seminar The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (Lacan, 1973).

 

8. The letter as place and the place of the letter

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ALacanian analyst says to his analysand who writes poetry: “The problem is that you are in love with the poems rather than with the unconscious.” After some time, the analy-sand failed to find her place and left the analysis.

What does it mean to be in love with the unconscious? It means to want to know something about it. And a poem—is it not a love letter of the unconscious? (In French and in English, “letter” is an ambiguous word denoting both the text and the character that is its building block.) Does it not set the stage for a question regarding the unconscious?

Discussing ethics and knowledge, Kierkegaard asserts that:

All knowledge has something captivating about it; but on the other hand it changes the state of the soul of the one who has it. The objectivity, the lack of interest, with which a psychologist counts a person’s pulse-beats, or studies his nerves, have no relation to ethical enthusiasm … the ethical is hostile to a body of knowledge which, after having consumed a man’s whole life, ultimately ends in his not being able to explain the most important. [Kierkegaard, 1990, p. 100]

 

9. The Act in psychoanalysis and art

ePub

When discussing Lacan, the focus is usually on language, the symbolic dimension, the chain of signifiers and the like, since French thought in the last decades—structuralist as well as post-structuralist—has often dealt with language and its importance.

It is also conventional to relate to psychoanalysis in terms of language, to use Lacan’s words. That seems to be the obvious way to relate to it since language is the tool that psychoanalysts use, and also because speech is the principal activity in psychoanalysis. In psychoanalysis, people express their suffering verbally. In speaking, they ask for something, they want something from the analyst, and thus the opportunity for change opens up.

Through speech we try to bring about change in the structure of the subject. This is possible because the subject is also an effect of language. Thus, in analysis we try to cause a change in the patient’s symptoms, to grant them meaning.

Lacan talked a lot about the signifier and the signified, metaphor and metonymy, the way patients relate to the material and to dreams, and unintentional declarations as texts to be deciphered—hence his famous saying, “The unconscious is structured like language”.

 

10. The return of Orpheus—a psychoanalytic view on realism in contemporary art

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The psychoanalytic viewpoint referred to in this chapter takes in two seemingly unrelated exhibitions. One is a retrospective exhibition, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, of Lucien Freud’s work. (Lucien Freud is Sigmund Freud’s grandson and is considered to be one of the greatest realist painters of our time.) The other is Tsibi Geva’s exhibition called Blinds, held at a venue in Tel-Aviv. Geva—one of Israel’s best-known contemporary artists—used realist objects: ordinary aluminium or plastic venetian blinds, with a thin layer of black or white paint having been laid on the closed slats. Both exhibitions, each shown on a different continent, aroused mixed feelings.

Despite the critics’ definition of the Lucien Freud exhibition as “THE exhibition of the 90s”, The Museum of Modern Art in New York refused to exhibit it, claiming that his work does not fit in with the discourse of modernist art.

Regarding the Geva exhibition, it was said among other things that

Geva has executed a conceptual turnaround here, moving from “pretty, bourgeois” paintings of tiles and Arab head-dresses— which form a kind of peep-hole into a neighbouring reality that is in the process of disappearing—to avant-garde paintings that explore blindness in a direct manner. If to some critics it has seemed that Tsibi Geva represents the kind of painting that rejects contemporary intellectual discussion, then here he has tried to execute a complete turnaround with an exhibition that is wholly environmental and conceptual… . The question is whether this successful shift can indeed “save” him from the rapid changes so characteristic of our time, which have to be acknowledged… . [Lusky, 1994, p. 14; translated for this edition]

 

11. True grace—the blood is the soul

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“Anxiety” describes a particular state of expecting the danger or preparing for it, even though it may be an unknown one. “Fear” requires a definite object of which to be afraid. “Fright”, however, is the name we give to the state a person gets into when he has run into danger without being prepared for it; it emphasizes the factor of surprise.

Sigmund Freud (1920g, p. 12)

This essay was born out of great fright. In 1995 we were surprised by four suicide bombings that occurred within the course of two weeks. The frightened eye that followed the horrifying sights on television came across the linguistic expression Hesed Shel Emet [True Grace] again and again, written on the back of the people who were busy collecting pieces of flesh into bags, in a desperate attempt to restore the parts into a whole; to turn the dismembered organism into a body, if only a dead one.

In his XXth seminar, Lacan says: “what is important is that all that hang together well enough for the body to subsist, barring any accident, as they say, whether external or internal. Which means that the body is taken for what it presents itself to be, an enclosed body” (Lacan, 1975a, p. 110).

 

12. There is no such form—Arbeit macht frei

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“… affirming that the universe resembles nothing and is only formless amounts to saying that the universe is something like a spider or spit.”

Georges Bataille (1985, p. 31)

“I can speak of the world of forms which I make as a liquid world. If I had to characterize this world I would say that it is a world of forms which are on the verge of disintegration, as if they are the last chance to hold to form in something that is falling apart, becoming threadbare, liquidizing… . And the last attempt to hold to any form is the challenge, because otherwise the painting is either ripped or liquified, and we talk of this big liquid thing from all points of view.”

The artist Moshe Gershuni, speaking about his work (in Golan & Lieber, 1996, p. 71; translated for this edition)

In 1994, the organizers of The Freudian Place in Jaffa, Israel, held a public discussion with Moshe Gershuni, who spoke of the way he works and the connection between his work and his life. Among other questions, Gershuni was asked about the meaning of the expression “There is no such form (shape)” which he had used when analysing the work of a student. Gershuni was also asked about a basic form that is a recurring feature in many of his drawings—a crude line rising up, rounding off and falling. In responding, Gershuni said, among other things:

 

13. Myth and Act on the crater’s edge

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If one stands on the cliff edge of the Ramon crater, near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, one sees, on the one hand, an astonishing landscape, reminiscent of the moon, that cannot fail to arouse within one a sense of awe and loftiness. On the other hand, the town appears miserable, graceless, and half-deserted, almost a ghost town. Between the Ramon crater (“nature”) and the town of Mitzpe Ramon (“culture”) lies an abyss almost as deep as the crater itself.

The rest of the town used to be “separated” from the cliff edge by the structure of the deserted municipal cinema, an ugly, prefabricated, asbestos-roofed building. This was the place of “cul-ture”—an intermediate place, a space for phantasy. This was where the working people who lived their lives in this isolated place could go in order to forget, if only for a short while, their hardships. Here flickered images of characters and tales from another world, images far removed from the world of the inhabitants, yet familiar—Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, all occupying the unachievable realms of the imagination, like a utopian promise of a better world.

 

14. Is interpretation possible?

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“Millions of people alone, and if already alone then let it be in motion.”

Line from a song of a famous Israeli pop group

Two essential discoveries emerged from Irma’s injection dream that Freud analyses in The Interpretation of Dreams: the formula, or the power of the word, and the Real. The Real was revealed through Irma’s open, frightful throat into which Freud looked, yet did not awake from the nightmare but, rather, kept on dreaming and found the solution, the formula. He found the meaning, the language—and founded the theory of the interpretation of dreams. One may say that Lacan’s motion is the reverse: from the formula—the meaning, the language—to the unbearable, the Real; from the signifier to the sign; from the subject in his relation to the object to the ex-time object. Lacan refers to the subject as a lack in being. The Jewish French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas (1982) reminds us of Heidegger’s reference to being: Heidegger stresses that being is not a noun but, rather, a verb. It is not an entity but, rather, an act. And if being is occurrence, then the lack must also be some kind of a flexible topological place, a place in movement. Lacan’s manque á être is not a lack in being but, rather, a lack in the actions, the occurrences of being; some kind of a black hole within the movement, yet a moving hole. Lévinas (1982) distinguishes between “said” and “say”, which is much more important (similar to Lacan’s énoncé and énonciation: the uttered words and the very act of uttering). The “say” (as in “Say to the Israelites”) is important not so much on account of its informative content, as because it addresses the interlocutor; it is related to discourse. Lévinas, like Lacan, gives precedence to the very act of utterance, which is always bound up with transference. Like “being”, “transference” too is a verb, referring to movement rather than to a fixed state.

 

15. About narrow-mindedness and the Real

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For my teacher, Andrew Cohen

“… it is made finite through its cause, which is necessarily God. Further, if it is finite through its cause, this must be so either because its cause could not give more, or because it would not give more. That he should not have been able to give more would contradict his omnipotence; that he should not have been willing to give more, when he could well do so, savours of ill-will [narrow-mindedness], which is nowise in God, who is all goodness and perfection.” [Spinoza, 1660, pp. 51–52]

Iinterpret this statement by Spinoza as meaning that the literal meaning of narrow-mindedness is vision of limited perspective. While man is afflicted by narrow vision, the vision of the Divine is absolute, and therefore the divine abundance is of an absolute nature.

In his essay “Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through” (1914g), Freud referred to treatment by analysis as broadening one’s view: “and now we can see that in drawing attention to the compulsion to repeat we have acquired no new fact but only a more comprehensive view” (p. 151). Through analysis Freud sought to broaden one’s point of view and reduce the limitations of one’s perspective.

 

16. Eppur si muove!—nevertheless, it does move

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This short essay gives an initial outline of a broader research project. The project was conducted in order to re-examine some of the conclusions reached from viewing psychoanalysis not as a form of scientific, philosophical, or even psychological research, but as research that includes the researching subject— meaning that psychoanalytic research is inseparable from clinical work.

The purpose of such research is not merely to gather information or knowledge, but to reveal elements relating to truth and cause, in a way that will influence and bring about change, transformation. This concept is valid in relation to both praxis and, in a different way, learning. Transformation is movement of the psyche—in a specific direction.

* * *

With the opening of the Clinical Section in Paris in 1977, Lacan established the couch as the clinic. He said that we have to “clini-cize”—to lay the patient down. He meant that the term “clinic” should lead us to reconsider our own clinical work: the treatment we give, our transition from the position of analysand to that of analyst, and the way we relate to transference. Lacan used the opportunity to assert that “Clinical psychoanalysis must consist not only of analytic examination but also examination of the analysts” (Lacan, 1977b).

 

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