What is it that distinguishes Lacanian psychoanalysis?
Auteur : Gérard Amiel 01/02/2010
It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul !
Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars,
It is the cause…
Othello, by William Shakespeare.
The first glimmer of intelligence on the part of the speaking being can be gauged in terms of how swiftly he displays primary understanding (a step which sometimes never occurs at all), which, through the common experience often identified before any psychoanalysis, accepts that within each signified of the demand, and within every concrete object sought out, there exists beneath it, underlying though unavailable, the signifier of primary repression. And on the basis of this structure, whatever the reply to the demand may be, it will always by definition be inadequate. And such being the case, if the reply to the demand accentuates the attempts on the part of the satisfaction drive, using as excuse the fact that it is providing the necessary reply to the need (albeit at the expense of sacrificing from the outset all possibility of love, and paradoxically at the same time sanctifying the dissatisfaction drive, because the drive will never find its valid counterpart in this world, which is the reason why it is characterized as forever orbiting an object without ever actually reaching it). Or put another way, as a result of this refusal blocking entry to the drive reply from the outset, the immense dissatisfaction incurred is joined by the dimension of the expectation of love and the search for proof of its existence, which in itself is an equally impossible demand to satisfy (since no object could ever come up to such expectations). Therefore, however you approach the question, the domain of the demand (in other words the drive) remains fundamentally hapless and disappointing, not due to any notorious failure on the part of the protagonists involved, but by virtue of the key physiology of the language. In effect, Freud’s primary repression belongs to the sacrosanct realm of language.
So what then becomes of the signifier, set apart, lying out of reach of all demand? At very best, it eventually finds itself metamorphosed into the desire of the subject. But how ? It is only through the unconscious metaphor of the Name-of-the-Father that this signifier, which bores holes in the demand, and which marks the starting point of the desire, is able to change assignments, in other words change
aim, whereby having initially found itself at the very start of the demand, it later finds itself as the aim of the desire, the final purpose – the very object that is being sought by the desire. Therefore each surge of desire has the effect of catalyzing this mutation by placing the signifier within the sights of the desire – that is, the signifier that was originally missing from the demand, and which later reveals itself to be within the desire, the phallic signifier. In this way, the phallus proves to be irrepressible as the object of all desire, since it is primarily repressed, and within the formula of the unconscious metaphor it lies in the locus of the Other (with a capital O) beneath the bar. Therefore, the subject has no other choice but to evoke it, in the place of the Other (with a capital O) through the metaphor. Consequently, the phallus constitutes the final aim of both the desire of the subject, and of the desire of the Other (with a capital O). During psychoanalysis the subject is urged to admit that this fundamental condition of desire is in place of the Other (with a capital O), as it simply represents the missing element within the Other (with a capital O), since for the Other (with a capital O) it also constitutes a permanently repressed signifier.
At the start of any psychoanalytical treatment, if the initial opening sessions fail to prompt this vital ‘operation’ that will result in reactivating the analysand’s demand, then the treatment will never have the slightest chance of leading the patient gradually towards that point where his desire finally ‘becomes’, but rather it will confine him to a baseline breed of therapy that will only treat his symptoms, and nothing else! And thus the psychoanalysis aims to achieve more than simply relieve the symptoms, a question of mere comfort which is a very short-sighted objective. Instead, it strives to attain the possible link between the subject and the elements needed to be able to perform this fundamental conversion that would transform him into a sexuated being in terms of language and speech, and be capable at last of accepting this path towards the surge of desire.
Therefore, as a prerequisite for the unconscious subject to rise to the surface, a signifier must firstly have disappeared from the chain of signifiers. And this signifier, based on its absence, will go on to occupy an eminent position, taking on the function of S1 (the master signifier). This initial loss that is required, namely a primary repressed signifier, is what triggers off an upheaval across the entire network of signifiers, such that a new signifier is ushered in to replace the one that is missing. This operation, in which one signifier disappears only to be replaced by another, is the very essence of the metaphor. However, every time this type of substitution operation from which a subject emerges takes place, the element that is lost as a result of sending one signifier to another (the chain of S2, knowledge) is what Lacan specifies as being the object little a. As a result, the original gap is also what constitutes the founding basis for the subject, due to the effects of the reorganization that is carried out by the initial loss of the signifier. The subject strikes gold by finding its very first signifier, located in the place of the Other (with a capital O), and at the same time, takes on a symbolic value. But given that no signifier can escape this state of being valued solely on account of the difference between itself and another signifier, the process of setting up a second signifier follows automatically. And here, as in the first case, the subject can only comprehend himself in terms of this second signifier, and as a result, he finds himself eradicated in relation to the signifier. Therefore, the subject forges itself in a thrust of desire that takes place in the gap between the signifier that has been ousted from its position of primary repression, and the signifier that has came along to eclipse it, thus filling that gap with the object a, the metonymy of the phallus. Freud, in his text ‘Project for a Scientific Psychology’ refers to The Thing, Das Ding, which builds itself from the initial satisfaction experienced with the incestuous maternal object and linked to the famous lost predicate, in other words, something that can neither be recalled nor perceived - a sort of skyline for the chain of signifiers with the desire drawn towards it. Object a comes along to replace the Thing that has suddenly disappeared. The important element here hinges on the fact that this object a is accessible solely at the locus of the Other (with a capital O). The interpretation and following on from that, the distribution of the sexes can only then take place once this initial gap has been set up within the structure, a gap which has gone through the process of being fully and completely accepted, otherwise known as bejahung. Placed in the sexuated role of man can be anyone who considers that what causes the gap in the chain of the subject, and what constitutes the missing element (the phallus) is placed tucked away, hidden within the Other (with a capital O), and thanks to which the Other (with a capital O) is able to guide the subject like a puppet. Meanwhile, on the woman’s side of the spectrum, the missing element in the chain of the subject is considered to be the same as the missing element within the Other (with a capital O), not by way of anomaly, but rather as a recognised characteristic, and known as the signifier of lack within the Other (with a capital O).
In Freud’s article on denial, he points us towards exactly the same rationale when alluding to the dynamic of bejahung-verneinung. A lost signifier bores an immense hole, a fundamental gap, which is the signifier without signified of the Urverdrangt. This loss, which is then refashioned into a state of lack, is what constitutes the connecting nodal point between the Real order and the Symbolic order. This intersection is never more than just a point of language, which is what characterizes the speaking being in its condition. It is within this hole that the ‘Name-of-the-Father’ is invoked, coming along to make the connection between forbidden territory and castration. And here the castration proves itself to be nothing more than an effect, linked to a construction of language. There is a missing signifier, and there is a signifier without a signified. Within the structure, there is a gaping hole, hemmed in by the different discourses circling around it. And this gap is the primary repression, made up of discourses and language. And psychoanalysis is the only discourse to have yet dared place this gap in the role of agent, and thus drawing a line under two thousands years of history.
Therefore, there is a fundamental difference between the two types of repression that Freud refers to (primary repression and secondary repression). The total impossibility of endorsing the trigger that will enable the subject to emerge is a pointer towards this dimension of primary repression, and alongside it, the symbolic debt. What the subject learns from psychoanalysis is that he must make sure never to close up this gap, which is what makes desire permanent. This delicate seam, which by means of reaching a state of fulfilled enjoyment manages to make all demands collapse, and consequently destroy any lack capable of bearing the desire, is the equivalent to an incestuous act. This is all in complete contrast to the notion of the sexualized object. In this case, the fact of being unable to assume its role as subject – in other words divided into two - in relation with the cause of desire, namely object little a, is here an issue of repression in its secondary acceptance. In secondary repression, it is no longer a question of being an inherent factor in the physiology of language as was the case with primary repression. No, this time it involves refusing for the subject to become fully operational with a view to preventing his desire from finally emerging. In some ways, the mechanism of secondary repression strives to put the subject off its track of reaching possible fulfilment. It states to what degree desire in general, and more especially sexual desire, are both simply the banal sources of modalities that are essentially symptoms. What the patient must do is accept that he must override this mechanism so as to remove the secondary repression from the source of his desire.
The primary repression will break up the attraction of the other signifiers, namely those of the secondary repression, because instead of finding a gap opened up in the language by the primary repression, there lies object a, which is linked to the secondary repression. The Name-of-the-Father enters into the equation at this point on becoming aware of this gap, and of the consequences that it entails: which means that S1 is primary repressed and that S1 takes a firm hold of this Real gap in the Symbolic order. But how? Thanks to the ensuing symptom which intervenes – the symptom that at its roots is usually male, or rather, which could be said to contain phallic symptoms. Unfortunately, it is also the founding element of the neurosis and its religious impasse, irretrievably bound up with the figure of the dead father.
This last point urges us to make a clear distinction between the two resulting types of acceptance of the symptom. The symptom that objects to the desire emerging, which tries to disrupt the process, to steer it towards failure, to eliminate it, this is the symptom which fills the pages of the earliest published psychoanalytical texts. Obviously, these symptoms must be fully treated and resolved at some stage in the psychoanalysis, as we know analysis to be endowed with therapeutic effects that can arise on top of that. And the resolutions to these symptoms may very well be the most spectacular and visible elements, as well as being the subject of the most research since they are basically the only ones that the mainstream public ever gets to hear about. However, they make up only a tiny proportion of what psychoanalysis can resolve, and moreover can turn out to have a much more decisive impact.
By contrast, the symptom that most typically indicates that the desire is being activated, in the sense where all recognized desire is still a symptom, even if simply due to the fact that it derives from a certain style being imposed by the object cause, namely the phallic metonymy – this symptom which is connected to the desire is unable to disappear for fear of wreaking havoc along the way, including even the destruction of the subject and its roots. Therefore, desire only hinges on a symptomatic formula (and this inscription is the phantasy), the normal symptom, or rather belonging to the male norm, in other words the result of being inscribed by the phallic signification. And the Real order that we find at this juncture must on no account be meddled with, because it brings out the phallic dimension shown up in the background and gives priority of choice to one of its metonymies little a. Bringing any phallic signifier into play with the desire - and here we are referring to a signifier without a signified, and therefore by definition simply an inaccessible Real order, since it is lodged in the Other (with a capital O) – implies that the metonymic chain of object a has been triggered off. And in such a way that the only true bearing becomes the Real order of the subject, the object cause, and all this by means of the symptom which here constitutes merely the equivalent of the subject.
By putting the emphasis on the Oedipus complex (which is assumed to resolve itself by means of a secondary repression that triggers off virulence), Freud infers that psychoanalysis offers a solution, when in actual fact it preserves the dimension of the symbolic father in the unconscious, in other words the dead father. Yet on the subject of the foundations of monotheism, Freud had written in explicit detail about the reference to the dead father (cf. Moses and Monotheism). On the other hand, the fact that he repeatedly makes a point of giving greater importance to the path of identifying with the father when it comes to establishing the framework of the structure, this reinforces the idea of the debt that is owed him. There is a duty to love on the part of the neurotic towards this symbolic father, and this constitutes the keystone of the entire subjective structure. The primary identification is sealed by this love, which is the debt of the subject. Owing to this two-pronged reasoning, (repression of the dead father, and identifying with the father) the neurosis becomes the equivalent of religion, and religion becomes the equivalent of neurosis. But if the psychoanalysis is more demanding on the chain of links to preserve the dead father, which is a classic tendency that neurosis often follows, then even what is uttered on the couch would find itself bound to this main reason to talk. In this respect, even the eventual cure that one hopes to be the final result of psychoanalysis turns out to be a duty owed to the father. But what exactly does it boil down to, this cure on account of the symbolic father? Where is it headed, if not precisely towards preserving the symptom, since the symptom is merely a form of veneration and homage paid towards the dead father? It therefore constitutes a major impasse situated at the very heart of the therapeutic process. Freud called it the rock of castration and penis neid (penis envy). In effect, the dead father implies that whatever is thought, wanted, imagined, wished for, undertaken, desired, prevented or suppressed, is all aimed towards attaining the pleasure of this unconscious recipient role - that is the dead father. Every joy and misfortune in life is merely destined for ensuring the pleasure of this dead father, who is presumed to both revel in and feed off these offerings. The only possible outcome is therefore to pivot the direction, and swing the emphasis from the symbolic father of the neurosis towards the function of the Other Real order (with a capital O). If Lacan managed to force the issue by using a mathematical equation to explain the fundamental structure of speaking being, it was undoubtedly an attempt to break away from the piercing idea of an organizing God standing behind the controls of the neurotic world, and to render the concept nul and void, and also a means of accepting the fact that what determines us at our very roots is purely and simply the result of combinatory logical formulas.
The switch from Freudian analysis to Lacanian analysis, which is possibly in fact what identifies us as true Lacanians, hinges on putting the emphasis on the Real dimension of unconscious knowledge rather than the Symbolic dimension: what is certain is that unconscious knowledge remains loaded with ambiguity between the Real dimension and the Symbolic dimension. When Lacan suggests object a as a basis, and no longer simply the phallus, he manages to go beyond the concept of it being impossible for psychoanalysis to reach a concluding point. Within the structure the letter is a primary experience, and it is missing from the outset in all language experiences, in other words in any relationship with the Other (with a capital O). Moreover, the physiological distress that is caused here only goes to dramatizes the demand, pushing it to the forefront, stuck in the undecidable problem of not knowing whether it is the structure of the demand that sets up the loss, or whether it is the loss that establishes the demand - the important point here therefore being this unfailing link between demand and loss. We are all the product of this lost letter, at very best as metaphors, in other words inscribed as an invention, as a possible creation, in a relationship with the letter which from that point onwards is marked by the cut. Or in the worst case scenario, we are metonymies of this letter, as a pure and lethal continuity of the letter, whereby the letter and the being are catastrophically confused for being one and the same entity. Then, to replace the pain and laments that result from the letter being initially missing from the demand, there comes along the other letter, letter little a of the desire, that is firstly meant to be concealed within the Other (with a capital O).
Therefore, Lacanian psychoanalysis reduces the object a down to its value of pure cause, and as such it orchestrates the radical decline of the demand. And sprouting from this real letter that is missing from the structure of the demand there emerges a symbolic writing, in which the subject reaches the point where it builds a relationship with the world. Yet it is a relationship which is directed entirely by object little a, in other words, finally accepted and expressed outside the realm of repression.
Even though it was Spinoza who originally showed the way, the credit nevertheless goes to Freud for being the first to establish the primacy of desire within the speaking being, if only in the manner in which the therapy was set in motion, even at these early stage in its historic beginnings. Effectively, by stressing the fact that this desire of the subject cannot exist in isolation, it could be inferred to what extent this desire of the subject is intimately related to the desire of the Other (with a capital O). Yet the fundamental guarantee that this dynamic is set up from the outset hinges firstly on the demand and the tear that it inscribes, marked out as the initial basic starting point. Then to this is injected the impossibility of the Real order in the realm of the subject. The analysand is urged to go through the steps of rediscovering this path. For the past several thousands of years, our culture has stipulated that supreme Goodness in man was an indication of repressed desire, that was always placed out of reach, remaining on an inaccessible plane, and part and parcel with that desire came the obligation of keeping its cause scrupulously hidden under the carpet. Religion has strictly conformed to this notion, passing off the cause into the hands of God, undoubtedly so as to relieve His creation from all responsibility. By contrast, psychoanalysis functions within a very different ethical framework, laying down that the patient must stay true to his desires, without fail, at all times. As a result, it presents desire in a wholly new light, namely as man’s only Goodness, which as such should no longer be repressed. And likewise, man should therefore eventually accept to take on that heavy responsibility that is desire in order to unearth its cause.
Therefore, the aim of psychoanalysis proves that this milestone of the Real order which is inherent in the condition of speaking being, must be accepted without fail, since it is the agent that ensures that the desire remains forever indestructible, and which also protects the stability of its cause. And all of this is held in the context of a system which is diametrically opposed to that of enjoyment, which seeks to close that gap, stitching it up at the seams. Obviously, this operation can’t be carried out to a certain degree without the psychoanalysis firstly setting up the structure in proper order.
Little a represents the subject within the Other (with a capital O). And this little a which is presumed to be lodged within the Other (with a capital O) is the cause of the desire of the Other (with a capital O) mixed up with the cause of the desire of the subject. Therefore, at the beginning, little a is considered to be the product of what is missing from the Other (with a capital O). Psychoanalysis ensures that each determining factor with a functional role is restored to its rightful place within the structure, provided that beforehand each of these factors has been outlined at the very least. And this establishes the cut-off point (separation) between big Other and little a, and in doing so dislodges the partial substitute from its initial dwelling place, and hits big Other with a bar (thus toppling the hegemony of the absolute, primordial and initial big Other, and introducing the subject to the new logic of the divided Other (with a capital O)) Simultaneously, this manages to extract little a from the big Other (which leads to the immediate total demise of little a – another way of saying that the grovelling adoration for whatever remains is reeled in, or if not elevated to the heights of pure divine dignity – a demise which occurs with the transfer spontaneously resolving itself through its own extinction) and this then opens up the permanent likelihood of confusion between:
- little a as the sole cause of desire (rendering nul and void the detour via the mirror-like envelope that is the body of the fellow being, who violated the object little a – i(a) and in doing so leads to its eroticization. And at this point a possible bar is drawn over the initial homosexual and paranoid knowledge connected to the mirror ;
- big Other simply as the place which demands no representation, (although it will always be the structural seedbed for instigating the slightest movement, intention, speech or desire …) the Other (with a capital O) no longer being loved and feared in the role of the dead father’s grave, but rather as the location from which the subject receives its inverted message;
- and the signifier of a lack in the Other, representing the severe lack affecting the big Other (which in its final representation shows up the active gap in the knowledge, which the subject of the unconscious is so intrinsically attached to), bringing with it a certain phallic hegemonic destitution.
In short, the driving force which sets up a particular discourse whereby little a takes on the role of an agent that doesn’t command the unfathomable issues of substance, therapy nor wellbeing, but rather uses this semblance as a basis for finally providing speech (and the act of saying) which is characterized in the way these three dimensions of the Real, Symbolic and Imaginary order are linked together in a Boromean ring. This denotes a vitally significant turning point in life which moreover proves to be a milestone of unrivalled importance.
Added to all these considerations surrounding the question of object little a, and also as a means of avoiding at all costs that monstrosity which is a subject identified solely with his phantasy, it goes without saying that psychoanalysis provides an excellent introduction to the relationship with the phallus, as a signifier without signified (or rather as a signifier that all other signifieds relate to). All of this goes to split the world in terms of the logic of being, and of having, the logic for all, or the logic for not all (diagram of sexual difference) etc. This is a decisive factor that must not be forgotten, since our social link is made up of this vital double valence concerning both the phallus as metaphor and object little a as its metonymy.
Therefore to conclude, have we to some extent managed to bring home those elements that distinguish Lacanian psychoanalysis, which as we have seen, is very specifically linked to resolving certain Freudian impasses? Have we been able to save this incisive point from the fate of being buried in the legacy of Lacan’s teaching? And moreover from another perspective, are we also now capable of ensuring that this teaching will be accurately passed on, since analysis by nature fails to be taught? These are the fundamental questions that should permanently occupy our minds, and rightfully so, since they are inherently bound up with the future of what is the unique identity of Lacanian psychoanalysis. And all of this would appear to suggest that substantial doses of atheism are the only possible solution for treating religious neurosis.
By definition, desire contains within it a part of its structure that is always incomplete. This incapacity to reach a state of fullest expression (to reach its goal once and for all) is derived from its own nature. And as such, it keeps returning time and again back to the same endless task that will never be completed, whatever happens (the eternalizing of desire as metonymy.) This is certainly not the same as the idea of falling short of the mark, as in the case where the neurotic process avoids all contact with the real dimension attached to the desire, making sure it does short circuit itself, and confining it to a pleasure (jouissance) from castration. This broad statement hopes to qualify the different aims that have been previously explained in terms of the conclusive nature of therapy, and we should perceive these aims as targets that we should strive to reach as closely as possible, as opposed to seeing them collectively as an inherently desirable accomplishment. As if it were so, it would be tantamount to suggesting that ‘replacement paranoia’ be put in place by way of solution. Now given that man finds his origins in an initial state of paranoia that is linked to his primordial identification with the object in the mirror, then the very idea of returning to that starting point as a form of conclusion to the therapy would be utterly absurd. Indeed, Freud during his time underlined this very point, since even at that period he was already emphasizing how psychoanalysis managed to succeed where paranoia failed ….