CLINICAL STUDY DAYS 5
Reading the Unconscious
President, World Association of Psychoanalysis
(delivered via video-conference, Buenos Aires-Miami Beach, January 15th, 2011)
It is a great pleasure to share with Alicia Arenas and with all of you, even at distance and thanks to technology, the opening of these 5th Clinical Study Days, this encounter presented by the Lacanian Compass, which will gather you today and tomorrow around a subject that is very well illustrated in the image chosen for the official web site of these Clinical Study Days.
You know it, it’s the image of some letters written over the sand. Letters ready to be erased. Letters, marks in the sand, that in their instability are an allusion in itself to the evanescent status of the unconscious.
As it is well pointed out in the subject’s presentation, "Reading the Unconscious," it is a formulation that can easily produce a misunderstanding, or, a precipitated understanding. Lacan’s classic formula: "the unconscious is structured like a language," might be construed to mean that reading the unconscious is deciphering its meaning, its hidden and permanent signification.
However, as you know, Jacques Lacan, situating the psychoanalytic practice beyond any hermeneutics, teach us that while the unconscious may be understood from the perspective of the semblant, of the Subject Supposed to Know, provoking the illusion that it would be a hidden knowledge waiting to be deciphered, it may also be approached from another side, its Real side, the unconscious is but a discontinuity, a hesitation, a trip, namely, the cut itself.
That is why – Lacan will say it at the end of his teaching – there, in this trip, it’s enough to look for its meaning, to no longer be in the unconscious.
It’s because of it that Lacan, in his Seminar XI, a seminar that preceded the foundation of his School, proposed the image, the metaphor, of Eurydice that is two times lost. To make tangible what he called "the relationship of the Orpheus analyst with the unconscious."
You know the myth. Orpheus loses his deeply loved Eurydice, who dies after being bitten by a poisoned snake. Orpheus’ sadness for this loss is so great that he decides to descend to the underworld of Hades to search for her. So, with his wonderful singing – as he was a great poet and musician – Orpheus manages to move Hades and Persephone, the masters of the underworld, who grant him the return of Eurydice. But there is a condition: On her way back, she must walk behind Orpheus, so, he won’t be able to look at her until they are back in the living world. Orpheus cannot resist, and forgetting the restriction, he looks back to be sure she is there. And in the precise moment he looks at her, Eurydice, once more, disappears. Orpheus jumps up to embrace and retain her, but what he is able to grasp in his arms is only air.
Thus, if the unconscious is this to the analyst, a Eurydice that vanishes once he pays attention to it, then, many questions emerge. Who is the one that should do the reading of the unconscious, "to pay attention to it"?, the psychoanalyst?, the analysand?, both?
And in this case, what difference is there between the reading of the analyst and that of the analysand?
What do we understand by "reading the unconscious?" Doesn’t the notion of the reading of the unconscious change while throughout Lacan’s teaching the status itself of the unconscious transforms itself? Moreover, isn’t the reader the unconscious itself, the interpreter of what is of the order of the uninterpretable? In Freud's terms, the Urverdragnt, the primary repression, is that not what is at the limit of all possible reading?
It is clear I am not going to answer all these questions in these opening remarks, questions you will probably return to during these two days of intense work, from different angles.
As an introduction to the subject, I would like to situate a perspective about the particularity of how we understand the "reading of the unconscious" in the Lacanian Orientation. This term – Lacanian Orientation – we should not take it in a vague or ambiguous sense, but in a strong and precise one.
Because it is also a reading operation that Jacques Alain Miller develops with Lacan’s teaching, during the last thirty years, in his course with this same name: The Lacanian Orientation. It is a reading operation with a precise characteristic. Away from any dogmatism, the Lacanian Orientation implies the ensemble reading of Lacan’s sayings, without repeating them in a fixed manner. Dogmatism would be: Lacan said……and that’s it, period. While the Lacanian Orientation, on the contrary, implies a reconstruction and the continuous work of transformation of the concepts used by Lacan throughout his teaching, in order to situate to what problematic this transformations responds. As it all comes from his practice as a psychoanalyst.
Because psychoanalytic concepts, similar to the traces in the sand I mentioned before, are themselves unstable and refer to the unconscious’ own evanescence.
Therefore…how to understand "Reading the unconscious" from this perspective?
In part, it is supposed the analyst would be the "good reader" of the unconscious. Precisely, it is what the analysand supposes, that the analyst knows to read the unconscious, or, at least, he supposes that the analyst is able to help him to read his unconscious, to decipher it. This is the proper condition of the transference. For instance, it’s the Rat’s Man going to Freud after reading his Psychopathology of Everyday Life and supposing in Freud the ability to decipher his senseless ideations.
But the analyst, strictly speaking, shouldn’t be confused, shouldn’t identify himself with that supposition. Because the analyst doesn’t know anything about the supposed signifiers in the analysand unconscious, as they can only be found in a contingent encounter.
So, it is not a casual thing that Lacan’s explicitly mentioned this paradoxical relationship of the psychoanalyst with the unconscious knowledge in the proposition of the Pass. The never-before-seen proposition for a psychoanalytic institution of each one being able to give account of what it has been for him to be in the position of the psychoanalyst.
Because it is precisely when he has taken his own experience as an analysand to the very end that the psychoanalyst can be warned of the risk psychoanalytic practice carries: the risk to be infatuated with the belief of being the reader of the analysand’s unconscious. Far from it, as it would be of the order of an imposture, the psychoanalyst must be warned that he actually is the remainder of the operation of the reading the analysand himself does. It is, he should incarnate, in some way, the senseless remainder, which is resistant to a meaningful translation.
It will actually be the analysand who, as Oedipus, will decipher the enigmas, so the analyst, as the sphinx or the quimera, falls as the remainder of the reading operation.
Then, the analysand will be the reader, that is, the interpreter, of the oracular analyst. So, in order to be aware of it – because it is not a question of good faith, or modesty, even less of a technical know how – there is no other way for the future psychoanalyst but through making his own analytic experience.
Because it is necessary for the one that decides to occupy the psychoanalyst position, to have done the necessary turns (more than one, says Lacan) that allow him – or her – to watch the limits of the reading of the unconscious as a meaning. This is what will allow him to watch how the one he supposes to know to read his unconscious, that partner – the Subject Supposed to Know, to whom his own analyst provided the body – that partner finally vanishes because it is nothing but "vane knowledge of a being slipping away."
This said, It is only matter of wishing you, in the name of the Council of the World Association of Psychoanalysis, productive work during these two days. You know about the interest the WAP has in the development of psychoanalysis in the US, in the development of a psychoanalysis which is congruent with the axis of the Lacanian Orientation. I hope these fifth Clinical Study Days will present a further step in that development. The presence of two members of the Council of the WAP, Vicente Palomera, as the special Guest Speaker, and Pierre-Gilles Gueguen, as the Delegate of the Council, before the Lacanian Compass will surely contribute to it.
To each one of you, and particularly to them, I send my warmest regards…Good Work!, see you soon!