The London Society
From LQ 200
A very outdated view on psychoanalysis
In response to the Nouvel Observateur of April 19th 2012
While the next Congress of the World Association of Psychoanalysis will try to draw the consequences of the transformations of the symbolic order in the twenty-first century -which is no longer what it was-, asking about the changes today's world induces in the cure, the Nouvel Observateur of April 19th 2012 produces a dossier entitled "Must psychoanalysis be burnt?" presenting, with a bit of a medieval title, a very fifties-like vision of psychoanalysis.
Reading this issue, one would believe that psychoanalysis in France has remained what it was in the post-war society: a society in which feminism did not exist; where claims for equality between sexes and sexual liberty whose messenger was the movement of '68 did not exist; a society where everyone was given their place, father, mother, the children and the uncles and the aunties; a society where the unconscious remained governed by the Oedipus complex, and where subjects suffered from too authoritarian fathers; where children had no right to speak at school; where one was hit on the fingers the moment one violated the rules; and where, against this world order certain of its foundations, psychoanalysis could represent a form of liberation.
So dear friends, journalists of the Nouvel Observateur, know that the twenty-first century psychoanalysts did not remain there. Psychoanalysis did not cut itself off from society; on the contrary, it has not ceased to confront the new impasses produced by the hypermodern Western civilization.
Primo: Analysands and analysts are more than anyone aware of the reality of the changes in the symbolic order. It is even the title of a book just published, The unconscious of daddy and ours, by the psychoanalyst Serge Cottet. What is implied, for those who had not noticed it yet, is: our unconscious, and thereby our malaise and our existential impasses, are not the same as those of our fathers and mothers, even less of our grandfathers and grandmothers. Psychoanalysis of the twenty-first century does not operate in the atmosphere of Freud's time, or in that of Lacan's. And we, analysands and analysts of this new era, are here to bear witness to this.
Secundo: Where did you see that according to today's psychoanalysts homosexuality would be a disease? Wake up! Homosexuals, when they wish, undertake an analysis, as heterosexuals do. And their symptoms are not necessarily related to their sexual orientation. Moreover, we really do not see how the fact of being homosexual would offer a guarantee against anxiety and existential difficulties. Like everyone else, they may suffer difficulties in their love and sex life, at work or within the family, and they may want to speak about it with an analyst. One should rather ask whether it is not the neuroscientists looking for the gay gene who consider that being gay could be the result of a genetic defect…
Tertio: What makes you say that in the United States, the analytic discourse seems to be outdated? Judith Butler, the main representative of Gender Studies, does not deprive herself of resorting to Jacques Lacan's contribution, when she reinterprets his aphorism The Woman does not exist (La Femme n'existe pas) in order to question gender disorder. And even if the deconstruction of gender follows quite a different logic from that of the Lacanian approach in the questioning of femininity and the impossibility of defining the universal feminine, it nevertheless owes him something and is inspired by him to a certain degree. Lacan did not miss this appointment with his time and he even anticipated one in the future, in an era where the question of what women want has become a major issue of civilization.
Finally, "a missed appointment with science", according to you… Why? Because "the fundamentalists of the unconscious continue to refuse any form of evaluation". The fact that psychoanalysis grapples with current scientist demands, such as quantitative evaluation, which incidentally seems to cause much damage in the corporate world (of which you as journalists are well aware), does not however mean that it ignores the issues of its time. To resist dehumanization and the dissolution of the subject by refusing to become an object of statistics is not to ignore progress, but rather to defend a different idea of humanity than the neuronal man or the man living like the others who will have nothing to say any more about his own destiny. It is not to naively believe that a pill or a conditioning may change as if by magic our compulsion to repeat in our lives, which makes us suffer as well. It is to believe in the fact that we are in some respects ethically responsible for our existence and that we can do something about it. As for the issues currently posed by so-called techno-maternity, or all the new possibilities that science offers to women in order to meet their desire for children, they are at the heart of the concerns of psychoanalysts, who do not believe that scientific advances allow us to economize the psychical and ethical consequences that result from them.
If science enjoins treating anxiety, phobias, depression, inhibitions, by means of behavioral reeducation, psychoanalysis continues to give value to speech. Although the way of speaking about intimacy has radically changed, this has not made the treatment easier since the commodification of intimacy in our civilization has led at the same time to a devaluation of speech itself. The effects of interpretation can no longer be produced according to the modalities of Freud's time. That is why the cures of the twenty-first century only distantly resemble those of Dora, the rat man or the young homosexual. And perhaps one should say that they also differ as much from the cures practiced by Lacan and his contemporaries.
Thus, to confront the current modalities of suffering by continuing to believe in the power of speech, at a time where it is devalued, does not necessarily mean to have remained at the point of daddy's unconscious, the Oedipus complex and penis envy. During his teaching Lacan went beyond this first version of psychoanalysis, showing how the difficulties that Freud himself had encountered around the question of anxiety or femininity should indicate the points from which psychoanalysis could move forward.
So, who would dare to say that our voyeuristic and exhibitionist civilization does not give rise to more and more anxiety and malaise?
Is it really proven by so-called scientific assessment that speech no longer has any value since you can get a picture of the brain of he who complains of a symptom?
Is it true that, because it is for them possible to be equipped with a camera to film their actions, subjects in the twenty-first century are healthier and happier?
Do we not want to see that the answers given by technology to the malaise of contemporary subjects are also a form of abandonment and letting down?
The aversion towards the functions of speech, which Lacan had diagnosed within the analytic movement itself, has spread to all spheres of civilization. To be educated, you'd rather be placed in front of screens than having to listen to an Other; for the treatment of depression, it would be better to view images on a computer checking boxes for the types of emotions that we feel than to speak to an Other. In short, every form of speech has become suspect in relation to the accuracy of science and machinery.
So to conclude, psychoanalysis, which certainly does not have an answer to everything, which has always worked on its failures, reflected on its difficulties and limitations, does not sell its results as industrial products seeking a share on the market. Psychoanalysis questions itself on the suffering of the subjects in this new symbolic order that is no longer what it was and will never be again. The new forms of addiction, the difficulty of wrenching a subject away from his jouissance, which leads him to hate the other and to self-destruction, the fragility of being and of desire in a world where we ought to believe that it is enough to simply seek pleasure, without limits and without ever encountering the Other, in order to be happy; the loneliness of individuals subject to assessment of their daily performances… These new coordinates of the human condition are the ones which psychoanalysts of the twenty-first century deal with. So yes, psychoanalysis is necessary for those who want it, because it does not abandon people to their impulses and their follies. It still believes that speech has value and that a human being can succeed in resisting the dizzying whirlwind of calls for jouissance, finding through language the possibility to exist as a subject.
It is a strange accusation -that of fundamentalism- against psychoanalysis, coming from those who wonder whether psychoanalysis should be "burnt". To see here an assumed reference to the regime that burned the books by Freud is not an option. Maybe it should rather be seen as a reference to the Middle Ages that burned its witches? Is it then the significant presence of women in the world of psychoanalysis that inspired the Nouvel Observateur to this too rigid title? What do you want to burn? The books, the analysands, the analysts? This is only an image, of course, but it says maybe better than the articles of the dossier what the symptom is of an era that no longer believes in speech and prefers to silence those who still dare to defend it.
Translated by Francine Danniau