Common Questions of Psychoanalysis

The Contents Box below contains an outline of all the current questions that have been compiled and responded to through this website. If you have a question that you feel merits a response and is not being addressed, please send it to the secretary at:  We respond to all inquiries.

The site is still under-construction.


Is there a difference between psychoanalysis and psychology ?

Institutionally, psychologists graduate from university graduate schools of psychology rather than medical schools and receive a Ph.D. rather than a M.D. After graduate school a psychologist can choose to get a supplementary degree in psychoanalysis, which if pursued rigorously conflicts with his/her university degree, for contrary to popular belief, psychoanalysis is not psychological. The reasons for the assimilation of psychoanalysis to psychology are as instructive as they are complex, and go a long way in revealing what it is in psychoanalysis that is currently being avoided. They explain why modern psychology textbooks represent psychoanalysis in a chapter of ‘ab-normal psychology’, as this is one means, among others, to trivialize problems of desire and the unconscious to that which deviates from the norm.

But rather than take our word for it, why not read Freud himself?

Actually, Individual Psychology has very little to do with psychoanalysis but, as a result of certain historical circumstances, leads a kind of parasitic existence at its expense. 

[S. Freud, New Introductory Lectures On Psychoanalysis, XXII,1933 p.140]

J. Lacan proposed the following observation:

To enclose the Freudian interrogation within the field of psychology is to lead it to what I call a psychogenetic delirium. This psychogenesis can always be seen in its development each day, in the way such psychoanalysts envisage the facts and objects that they have an affair with.
[J. Lacan, L'relation d'object, Sem. IV, p.412]


In his now classic critique, G. Politzer sums up the contemporary situation as follows:


In fact, [...] psychoanalysis, far from being an enrichment of classical psychology, is actually the demonstration of its defeat. It constitutes the first phase of breaking away from the traditional ideal of psychology;
[G.Politzer, Critique of the Foundations of Psychology, p.17]
trans Common Questions of Psychoanalysis
trans Common Questions of Psychoanalysis


For further reading, see the article on the PLACE website: What is Psychoanalysis?


What is the difference between psychoanalysis and psychiatry?

Contrary to what many believe, Freud is not the father of modern psychiatry. Indeed, one can find him making statements that imply the opposite: “Psychoanalysis is not against psychiatry, but psychiatrists” . Without claiming to resolve the confusions in this format, it will be enough if we simply clarify the problem.

Psychiatry, born in the asylums of the 19th century, is a late cousin of psychology (the former is to body as the latter is to the soul). Its aim is to construct a normative view of madness around a scientific plan for society. Although its modalities have been many (biological psychiatry, neuropsychiatry, organic psychiatry, behavioral neurology, etc.) they all can be grounded on three main characteristics: (1) mental disorders are brain disorders (2) causes cannot be symbolic or effected by language and speech (3) psychiatry is based on scientific evidence.

Psychoanalysis emerges in the 19th century when Freud puts all three criteria into question by introducing a ‘talking cure’ that begins to speak to forms of psychic suffering that had formerly been reduced to silence and classified by psychiatrists as organic illness. Today, most post-Freudian psychoanalysts, especially Lacanian, would continue in this direction in spite of the recent return towards physical and biological explications.

In the United States psychoanalysis is most often assimilated to a possible therapy for neurosis; it is not usually extended to the treatment of more serious mental illnesses such as psychosis and schizophrenia, which are thought to be the sole province of the psychiatrists.

This much said, modern psychoanalysis has found certain inroads into such resistant cases through two antithetical approaches: one, following the schools of American Ego-psychology and British Object Relations, has sought to reinterpret and extend psychoanalysis into the medical clinic (or asylum) and the psychiatric classifications; the other, following the work of R.D. Laing, David Cooper, etc., have sought to establish an anti-psychiatry basing the reality of mental illness on social and cultural factors, thus, either dismissing Freud altogether, or largely reading him as a cultural theorist.

Counter the pros and cons of the existentialist Anglo-American schools, Jacques Lacan’s structural ‘return to Freud’ had the effect of deconstructing psychoanalysis in a way that neither assimilated its theory and practice to psychiatry nor rejected it in the name of anti-psychiatry. Instead, contemporary Lacanian analysis achieved the work of Freud in a different way: in a purely psychoanalytic theory that constructs its practice and clinic in spite of the current sociological assimilations and rejections. (see Clinic) Although Lacanian psychoanalysis has had a grand influence on the psychiatric and anti-psychiatric milieu in France, it has just begun to make inroads into the United States.

Today, psychiatrists in the U.S. graduate from medical schools and are fully qualified physicians. Many psychiatrists have no training in psychoanalysis or psychotherapy and do not aim to interrogate the symptom as something to be listened to or constructed (as in psychoanalysis), but only as something to be suppressed. As physicians, psychiatrists have the right to prescribe drugs, electroshock therapy, or treat people against their will. In recent years some groups have sought to make psychotropes (drugs for the treatment of mental symptoms) more available to the public by allowing psychologists as well as medical doctors to prescribe them. Currently, however, the law only allows a psychiatrist, or indeed, a general practitioner, to administer them.

So why would Freud claim to go against psychiatrists, but not psychiatry ?  One may well find reason to state that Freud was not against psychiatry, just as he was not against any field of investigative research, but was calling attention to the ill effects psychiatry can produce on society, especially in the generalization of its theories to the whole of humanity and the investment in a society of psy-experts.

The authors and literature treating the derivations of Psychiatry and Society are not only numerous (see Michel Foucault’sHistoire de la Folie; abridged English trans. History of Madness; Marcel Gauchet and Gladys Swain’s Madness and Democracy: The Modern Psychiatric Universe), but have been responsible, mostly in the non-English speaking countries, for sweeping changes in government mental health programs, such as the closure of mental institutions in Italy and the creation of alternative mental spaces in France (la Borde).

For examples of the total disregard of the differences between psychoanalysis and psychiatry witness most of the journalistic writing coming out of the L.A. Times.


What is the difference between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy?

Because the crucial distinction between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy is more difficult to explain than its differences with psychology or psychiatry, it is all the more necessary to take the time to disentangle the threads.

1) Psychotherapy includes a very broad spectrum of people who, in one way or another, not necessarily psychoanalytically, talk to people about their problems. At the minimum, this ‘talk-therapy’ reduces to counseling or a type of care that can be provided by a social worker or a qualified nurse; at the maximum, it becomes a type of psychoanalytic therapy –Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, Kleinian, Neo-Lacanian, etc. – once the care relation between the doctor and patient is formulated in terms of a subjective transfer — a relation imitating the passion of love — and practiced as a ‘talking-cure’.

Contrary to the fashionable accounts, Freud is not the founder of psychotherapy or psychodynamic psychotherapy: on the contary, one often finds Freud not only admonishing the various ‘off-shoots’ of psychodynamic psychotherapy as only a partial picture, but he shows quite clearly how psychotherapy systematically results in an ‘interminable analysis’ or a ‘negative therapeutic reaction’.

In a more modern presentation by J. Laplanche and J.B. Pontalis, the authors have defined psychotherapy “under the name of  ’psychoanalytic therapy’, as a form of psychotherapy that is applied to the theoretical principles and techniques of psychoanalysis, without realizing the conditions of a rigorous psychoanalytic cure” (Vocabularie de la Psychanalyse; PUF, 1967 p.359).  After reading the responses to the questions on this site, it is hoped that the reader will have found sufficient material to allow him or her to begin to make the distinction. The more experienced reader will perhaps foregive us in such a forum, if we only state the essentials without a detailled argument.  In regards to the field of Lacanian analysis, it must be asked further: Do the current Neo-Lacanian best-sellers ever truly achieve an introduction to Lacanian practice in the theory of psychoanalysis or do they repeat a therapeutic caricature of Lacan as captured by the psychotherapist Granoff some occurred 51 years ago ? (see:J. Lacan, W. Granoff, Perversion. Psychodynamics and Therapy; Random House, 1956.)..

The position of P.L.A.C.E. is, in taking seriously not only the historical, but theoretical development, that psychoanalysis has never been a branch of psychodynamic therapy or psychotherapy.  No doubt, if the reasons for this difference were merely a question of doctrines, preferences, and schools, then there would be no need to make it.  If on the contrary, this separation is fundamental to a practice and theory of psychoanalysis, then it should be stated simply. What follows only sketches an outline of why this is so.  In an another article on this web site  entitled: The Topological Turn – Constructing the Intension of Psychoanalysis in Extension,  we have begun to show how the common distinction between psychotherapy and psychoanalysis can be reformulated more precisely in terms of analysis in intension and analysis in extension. For what concerns us in this initial probe, we will begin with Freud and the habitual distinctions made in medicine.

Firstly, a distinction between psychotherapy and psychoanalysis proper can be drawn by bringing out the significations of the word ‘therapy’ in the common medical acceptation of the term: if prognosis reads those symptoms that preceed the onset of illness, and diagnosis reads those which are concurrent to the illness, therapy reads those symptoms that follow the disease. At this common level, psychoanalytic psychotherapy becomes a medical branch of therapeutics and the transference is seen as a way of helping the patient speak about and resolve emotional problems that were supposedly caused by previous experiences (real or imagined).  Needless to say, it is this coming ‘after the fact’ and treatment of mental disorders that distinguishes psychotherapy from psychoanalysis proper, as the former is left with merely managing a symptom and not addressing mental causality in its present and structural dimensions.

Digression – The reader should be aware that in the U.S – and elsewhere – the confounding of psychoanalysis with psychodynamic therapy is the rule, not the exception. For instance, you will often find it wrongly stated that “psychoanalysis is a branch of psychotherapy”. One of the reasons we have included this common questions section on our site is to re-introduce terms that have been understood too quickly and too well by the average medias. For instance, a good example of such misunderstanding can still be found in U.S. news papers and academic journals; witness the recent article in the New York Times (Feb. 14, 2006) by Alix Spiegal: which confounds psychoanalysis with psychodynamic therapy. To be fair to the author though, each new claim of progress – whether cognitive, neuro-suggestive, behavioural. etc. – is in the embarassing situation of committing a ‘straw-man’ argument by either trying to refute or revamp something psychoanalysis is not – psychodynamic therapy.

Secondly, many contemporary therapies, liberal theologies, and self-help books make the transfer a ‘loving relationship’ on which to base the success of their practice: “Love reaches to the heart of the spiritual relation to the other and makes healing possible”; “You have to love yourself before you can love others,” etc. Nevertheless, such empathetic programs reveal an investment in the other that is a lot closer to religious charity — “Love thy neighbor as one loves thyself” — and philosophical therapies of desire (stoicism, epicureanism, skepticism, etc.) than psychoanalysis proper. Whether modern or ancient, it is precisely at this place that psychoanalysis must be carefully distinguished from charity work and an empathetic (religious) or apathetic (stoicism) therapy for desire. It is therefore all the more necessary to know not only what is psychoanalytically involved in not confusing a passion — love and hate — with emotions, but to distinguish the work of the analytic session from the dramatic problem of narrating the problems of the self and others.

A properly psychoanalytic conception of the transference begins when it is no longer simply encountered in practice as an emotion, or used as a healing relation to the other, but is constructed in a theory of passions. Yet from the beginning, the transfer in the theory of psychoanalysis could not take its ‘talking-cure’ for granted, as it has always had to ask why it is so difficult to speak of and in love in the first place. What is that ignorance which speaks of love most faithfully, not merely in expressing one’s emotions, but in the comedy and tragedy of mis-recognizing the consequences of one’s speech and acts? Freudian psychoanalysis originally defined the transfer not as an emotion, but as a pathetic ambivalence (as the reversal of love and hate) resisting, and not aiding the psychoanalytic cure:

“…it remains a mystery why in analysis the transference provides the strongest resistance to the cure, whereas in other forms of treatment we recognize it as the vehicle of the healing process, the necessary condition for its success” (Freud, Dynamics of the Transference, 1912).

2) By establishing a theory of the transfer, Freud founded its objective conception in a way that went beyond a subjective, emotive, and therapeutic use of love. As such, psychoanalysis began to propose not to therapize desire by using love as a remedy (as an AIDS support group might), whether it be through a dramatic rehearsal with a therapist or in the use of mountain retreats, but to disclose a passionate object relation which had previously been undecipherable, or at least, foundresistant to the transfers of everyday life (those relations of fidelity presupposed of the subject in the communications of the group — the family, the workplace, society, etc.). This does not mean to say that today psychoanalysis invites one to construct this object as a fetish or by becoming more creative — it neither proposes its cure as a form of perversion nor artistic sublimation. On the contrary, it seeks to open up a place for the construction of an object whose reality goes systematically unrecognized in those dominant transfers whose traditional aim is to establish a relation of fidelity to others: art, politics, science, religion, sports, etc.. If the mistakes of psychotherapy have taught the psychoanalyst anything about the cure and transfer, it is about the necessity of constructing the object of passion as a psychic reality, beyond any form of pragmatism or utility, and yet not merely as dramatic forms of literature and art. It is on this condition, in the de-dramatization of the transfer and the construction of its object, that psychoanalysis initiates a progress in the well-being of the subject. (although it is well known that an intuitive recognition of this object lies at the heart of many films and narrative – see Alfred Hitchkock’s MacGuffin Theory  – many Freudian and neo-Lacanian commentaries have been content to leave their practice at the level of such intuitions/ see: Is analysis an Art of Interpretation?).

3) In order to explain the analytic symptom and its practice one should begin with Freud:

“The theory of repression is the cornerstone on which the whole structure of psychoanalysis exists” (Freud, Standard Edition,XIV, p.16).

Most psychotherapists view the cure as a way of getting rid of a symptom which has been caused by a repression. Get rid of the repression, it is commonly held, and the symptom falls away, thereby allowing the person to experience their emotions and life in a more satisfactory manner. Once this is assumed psychoanalytic therapy becomes the reenactment of a three-part drama: firstly, an inertia of small transfers - dreams, slips of the tongue, word-plays, forgetting, flirts, etc. — furnish the material of the scene, secondly, a larger transfer supposes the patient identifies with and projects her feelings onto the analyst in discussing this material. Lastly, the climax of the drama begins with an interpretive moment (most often offered by the analyst) that presumably reveals a specific lineage of mental connections that lead back to the source of the repression. If one is still trying to suggest this dramatic method maintains a relation to Freud’s theory, then one states the cause was a trauma of a sexual nature, if not, then one suggests a myth or some real life shock. Again, the reader should be aware that nothing could be further from psychoanalysis than this psychotherapeutic misreading of its theory and practice: the question of psychoanalysis, its writing of the cure and repression lie elsewhere.

To begin to get a tighter grip, one can simply read Freud:

“Twenty-five years of intensive work have had as a consequence of assigning to psychoanalytic technique goals immediately different from those of the beginning. At the beginning, all the ambition of the medical analyst was to conjecture what was hiding in the unconscious of the sick person, and to reunite these elements in a whole and communicate them when it was proper. Psychoanalysis was above all an art of interpretation. But the psychotherapeutic task was not however resolved by this.” (Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920).

The originality of the psychoanalytic interrogation of the cure consists, contrary to the therapeutic and ‘psychodynamic’ derivations, not in lifting a repression (by speculating on a hidden cause), but in concentrating its focus on the discovery of the mechanism of repression itself: that is to say, in focusing not on bringing out what is repressed (blocked memories, emotions, pleasure) but constructing what is repressing.

Freud states: “The theory of repression became the cornerstone of our understanding of the neuroses. A different view had now to be taken as the task of therapy. Its aim was no longer to ‘abreact’ an affect which had got on to the wrong lines but to uncover repressions and replace them by acts of judgement which might result either in the assumption (annahme) or in the rejecting (verwerfung) of what had been formerly repudiated” (Freud, XX, p.30).

(to be continued:  The Lacanian notion of Repression – A Topology of Repression).


What is Lacanian Psychoanalysis?

The epitaph Lacanian Psychoanalysis began in France with the celebrated psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901-81). It is most widely recognized by a return to Freud and a linguistic axiom – “the unconscious is structured like a language“; both situating a critique and reconstruction of Freudian and post-Freudian psychoanalysis.

Habitually, contemporary psychoanalysis claims that it goes beyond Freud, that is to say, that today it is possible to read Freud in the tradition of psychoanalysis somewhat as a paleontologist reads a fossil – as a quaint object that belongs to the folklore of the past of psychology and psychotherapy.  It is easy to understand this movement, for in order to modernize psychoanalysis within the tradition, what is most important is bypassed the moment Freud gets a makeover into the human sciences (cognitive theory, neurophysiology, psycholinguistics, etc.) and humanities (hermeneutics, lit-crit theory, philosophy, etc.).

Without attempting to dis-entangle here such assimilations and trivializations of Freud’s theory, it suffices to state that Lacan’s return to Freud no longer reads Freud in the tradition, but reads the tradition with the discoveries and concepts that Freud invented.  Of course, the Lacanian return to Freud proceeds by a critique and testing of Freud’s theory, but his theory can also be used in a more extensive and primary way to critique the theories of the generation of post and neo-Freudians who, in the effort to “keep up with the times”, have understood too quickly and too well.  The effects of Lacan’s return to Freud has, therefore, produced a new generation of psychoanalysts who have slowed things down and gone back to the basics: no longer desiring to go beyond Freud in the latest fashion, as if one ever really goes beyond any great writer from Euclid to Marx, the Lacanian analyst of today goes further into what is impossible to understand in his theory, or rather how such discoveries and inventions, were systematically effaced and dissimulated not only by the post-Freudians, but Freud himself into the tradition of the  human sciences and humanities.

Although the heterogeneity of psychoanalysis is often homogenized by attempting to anchor its theory and practice down in already established academic fields and schools, Lacanian psychoanalysis establishes the stability of the theory in a more adequate manner: through the introduction of a topology.  We have introduced elsewhere the importance of such a return to Freud - . What we will do here, is comment on how the tradition of psychoanalysis, in its practical and clinical dimensions, can be read with Freud, since Lacan.

Traditionally, psychoanalysis is often reduced to psychotherapy or psychodynamic therapy: a form of medical or therapeutic advice that still carries with it a certain stigmatization of being a place where sick people go. While not denying that this domain cuts across its field, Lacanian psychoanalysis is neither concerned with a return to a norm (therapy) nor a diagnosis of an illness; it does not  address someone who is ‘ab-normal’, or who needs to be re-educated or cured, but rather it opens up a place where a problem – where something that is suffered and insists in one’s daily life – can be isolated as something ‘real’, in spite of the fact that it may be systematically misrecognized not only by the one who has the problem, but those claiming to want to cure it. Thus, a certain irony must already be posed in a psychoanalytic intervention in face of something realwhich falls neither into a biological illness, nor a cultural maladaptation imposed by the dominant paradigms of the human sciences. At which point many become resigned to thinking such problems are ‘imaginary’ or subjective and consequently have a disbelief in getting any help at all. Or oddly, in talking to some it seems only ‘others’ have such subjective problems, while it is precisely this rejection that establishes a precarious normality. For example, it can often be observed that those ‘others’ who actually go to see a therapist, whether on their own or not, may be stigmatized as having problems, whereas it would be more true to say the opposite: such persons have had the courage, perhaps in spite of themselves, to resolve a problem that is often shared, though unrecognized, by their normal family members, friends, co-workers, or society.

The unfortunate question remains, however, as to why should one have to ‘mask’ the real and its subject at the level of a therapy to discover the truth that such symptoms reveal ? Or further still, one should ask whether the person or association to which one addresses his or her questions would have a theory and practice capable of reorienting a demand for a therapy to a just theory and practice of psychoanalysis.

In responding to these questions and the difficulty of addressing the symptom, Lacanian psychoanalysis reopens a place for this ‘other’ orientation to occur – through its sessions, seminars, and work groups – without the need for the ‘mask’ of a therapeutic intervention and not in an analysis of ‘others’, but by an analysis of an Other of thought, i.e., the unconscious.

For more detailled information see: What is the difference between Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy ? above and Clinic page: Question of Psychoanalysis ]


Is it true that a mental symptom is reducible to a neurological dysfunction or chemical imbalance of the brain?

New ! May 15, 2013, The British Psychological Society called into question the commonly accepted biomedical model of mental illness used by psychiatry: “There is no scientific evidence that psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are valid or useful, according to the leading body representing Britain’s clinical psychologists“. See:

The question remains as to whether the psychologists have themselves anything more to offer. Until then, we leave here the concerned reader the means to respond to the question beyond the dallying of the experts.

There are two reponses to the question above. One simple and structural, though not necessarily easy.  The other, complex and thematic, which may give some different points of entry by reference to problems faced in everyday life.

We will begin with the simple response #1, then #2 will bring out the complexity of the situation in reference to the various rumours and technocratic aspirations.

#1 Simple Answer: No, a physical dysfunction – lesion, defective gene, chemical imbalance, etc. – is not a necessary and sufficient condition for a mental symptom.

Simple Explication: ‘if someone has a lesion or a chemical imbalance of the brain, then there is a malfunction of the body‘ is true, but this does not mean, the converse statement ‘if there is a malfunction of the body, then one has a lesion or chemical imbalance of the brain’ is true.

More simply still: if my arm is cut off, then I can not move my hand, but just because I can not move my hand, does not mean my arm is cut off.

Said otherwise, having a problem of behaviour or movement is a necessary condition of having a physiological dysfunction (at the limit, the lesion/imbalance/defective gene is itself a malfunction), but it is not sufficient: it is always possible to have a finger that will not move, and no lesion, chemical imbalance, or cut off arm.  To assume it is, commits a logical fallacy ofaffirming the consequent.  Moreover, to attempt to justify the construction of a theory of the mental symptom on the basis of mere lexical distinctions and ‘half-truths’ –whether from commonsense, neurological postulates, or a diagnositic code book – establishes the reference of a clinical intervention  ad hoc by avoiding an intrinsic interrogation of the formation of the language and semantics (logic) of a theory. Thus, confusing the technological problem of the application and exactitude of a theory to an external domain (the brain, mind, a gene, culture, the family, etc.), with the scientific problem of the interpretation and internal rigor of a theory.

It is the contention of the researchers at P.L.A.C.E. that by clarifying the logical argument above, each reader can respond in a more adequate way to the question.  Consequently, by not avoiding the logical structure of the argument, the reader can save alot of time by no longer having to read the seasonal journalistic rumours and technocratic aspirations.  Just to give the reader an indication of the time saved, they may wish to read the argument below that seeks to bring out the argument in reference to different thematic versions currently found in the United States. Though the argument is complicated by reference to numerous examples, it may be of use in fleshing out the skeletal presentation presented in #1 above.

2# Complex Response: Most psychoanalysts will say, “No”. Most psychiatrists will say, “Yes”. [see the Guardian article noted above]

Complex Explanation and Examples: A case in point: it can be asked if the sixth best selling medicine in the US, Zoloft, (3 billion dollars of sales in 2004) owes more to its ‘happy face’ advertising, than any scientific evidence that the drug corrects abnormal serotonin levels in the brain. Without examining the current literature here, it is enough to note that the hypothesis that was made in the 1960s that depression may be caused by low levels of serotonin, is today still unverified.  Does this mean, however, that anti-depressants such as Zoloft might still be proposed, if not as a potential cure for depression, then at least as an effective means to manage a symptom, and that modern medicine has just not had the time nor the means to verify its effects ? Or could it mean, on a more disturbing level, that in the market place of the psychotrope (modern drugs for the treatment of mental illness) one can actually be treated for illnesses one does not have ?

For sufficient introduction into the controversies surronding the subject, one could begin by watching the 60 Minutes Report “What Killed Katey Riley ?  Bipolar:  A Dangerous Diagnosis ? and Frontline’s Medicating Kids at:  Therein one will find a wide range of viewpoints asking relevant questions, yet none providing adequate reponses. Primarily, you will find three groups formed around the problem of treatment: 1) those believing in a natural and innate character of mental illness as a developmental disorder (in this case ADHD: Attention Deficit-Hyperactive Disorder) 2) those others believing in a cultural and acquired character of a mental disability not necessarily attributable to a medical illness, 3) those who stand somewhere in between.  Needless to say, neither the producers of the show nor it field of experts go further than a reporting of the events.  Yet, one may well ask, at what point must we not accept that all of our attention spans, whether normal or pathological, exhibit a ‘deficit’ while so many questions are left unanswered.

No doubt, group 1), largely represented by the drug companies, medical doctors, psychiatrists, and those in general who claim to be scientists, attempt to convince people why psychotropes are worth the risk of harmful side-effects and often compare the use of drugs in the treatment of subjective or mental symptoms to the common household use of aspirin to relieve headaches. In this respect, what seems to be an unexplainable mental symptom (headache pain, for example) can be removed by modifying an underlying physical cause which corresponds to its occurrence: remove the cause, and the effect is supposed to disappear. Proceeding on these assumptions, psychiatrists will draw attention to the fact that although aspirin had been prescribed as an effective pain suppressant for decades, the physiological reasons why it worked as a ‘cure’ for certain symptoms was not discovered until technology improved in the 1960s. By analogy, extending this paradigm to the field of the subjective symptom – depression or anxiety, for example -, a positive medicine can then state that if the cause of mental illness has not yet been discovered, it is not because there is none, but because, like in the case of aspirin, a technological means has yet to be found to isolate its physiological laws. In this respect. a modern medical diagnosis is not so much interested in ’causes’ — as this smacks of antiquated paradigms of empirical sciences — but has an ideal: the determination of the exact laws for an illness.

Yet, this search for an exact law of experimental science can not avoid the clinical dimension: that such procedures still speak about and refer through language in the theory of the practicioner.  Thus, opening the question as to what extent there is a fidelity of language to illness, sexuality, and death.

No doubt, this clinical dimension of the symptom is often shuttled over to group 2) posing problems of humanistic medicine claiming to treat the ‘whole’ person (through alternative therapies, homeopathy, magneticism, narratology, scientology,etc); while such approaches remain either ignorant of or actively hostile to experimental science. Our short intervention in this forum adopts neither position as an effective response to the subjective symptom. In fact, a psychoanalytic theory and practice was born precisely in challenging the necessity of a split between experimental research as natural science and the clinic as mere cultural practice or the ‘art’ of medicine.

Left in this revolving door of explications, the average reader/viewer usually falls somewhere in the middle – in an approximative response which eventually, in the urgency to do something, adopts a pragmatic stance that ‘what works for me’ is what is good; while the notion of an adequate and true theory of mental illness and health is left out of reach.

What follows can not hope to rectify or resolve these outstanding issues in an internet forum, but we can begin to introduce a way of formulating the problem that show how and where such resolutions can be found. We begin by bringing together what is normally kept apart by adopting positions 1),2), and 3) above. We begin by asking  if procedures of experimental science as portrayed by group 1) are necessary, then what makes them sufficientsound, or true?  - without letting the response to such a question be dictated by cultural or pragmatic values of group 2).  No doubt, in the urgence “to do something” many individuals have never had the time to consider the question of the truth of a theory beyond ad hoc consensus, belief in an expert, or reducing the rigor of a theory to an experimental and approximative testing of knowledge on others.  Despite the progress that is made possible in the venerable tradition of physiologically based medicine and experimental science, there is a growing category of Other ‘illnesses’, habitually labelled as ‘mental’, that neither respond to its division of labor nor its methodology. Today, as difficult as it may be for those in a rush, it is necessary to investigate this Other that truth poses to a scientific theory as a preliminary to any  possible treatment of others, while not letting this truth digress into mere pragmatic and aesthetic values.


Who and What is crazy? (to follow)

What is the psychoanalytic cure?

(see: the current article – What is the Analytic Cure?)

What is the psychoanalytic Sinthome ?


With Lacan there is an equivocation between symptom and sinthome: the sinthome is the Latin version (1495 Rabelais, IV,63) of  the Greek  symptôme.  The reasons for this differentiation pertain to the respective difference between neurosis and psychosis: the former pertaining to the operation of primary repression (Uverdrängung); the latter to the operation of foreclosure (Verwerfung).  Beyond the rehashing of commentary, a future reasoned investigation on this site will bring out this difference within the corpus of Lacan’s works.

 Although the response to such questions began with a Lacanian analysis of the Sinthome, R. D. Laing had posed the question informally:

The patterns delineated here have not yet been classified by Linnaeus of human bondage. They are all, perhaps strangely familiar.  In these pages I have confined myself to laying out only some of those I actually have seen. Words that come to mind to name them are: knots, tangles, fankles, impasses, disjunctionis, whirligogs, binds.    
                                                                                  (Knots, R.D. Laing, 1969)

(see article: Topological Dénouement of the Cure


What are the credentials of a psychoanalyst ?

Someone in the United States who intends to practice psychoanalytic therapy, or psychotherapy, must become a doctor in a parallel field from the university (sociology, history, medicine, psychology, marketing, etc.) and then complement these studies in a higher degree program. In California, if this person is not also a medical doctor (M.D.), but has a doctorate (Ph.D.) in a parallel field, they are called a Research Analyst.  In France, in the influence of Lacan, someone can graduate directly from a masters or doctorate program (D.E.A. or Doctorate de l’Etat) with nothing but psychoanalytic courses that also extend to encompass philosophy, mathematics, linguistics, and logic (which are rarely included in a North American curriculum in psychoanalysis). Although the French university carries a more extensive curriculum in psychoanalysis than those currently in vigor in the U.S., it is equally insufficient for the production of psychoanalysis insofar as a transmission and training in psychoanalysis must proceed by means other than those commonly encountered in an ‘academy’ or ‘school’ environment. For this reason a training analysis is required to undergo an analysis sponsored by individualized analytic associations in order to be authorized as a psychoanalyst. Since Freud, psychoanalysis does not go against the university, but works in spite of it, for neither a university degree nor a therapeutic certificate suffice to guarantee the act of psychoanalysis. This is not in any way to discredit the university, but to say that it has had to adjust to Freud’s psychoanalysis in much the same way the medieval university and its scholars had to adjust to the emerging new science of Descartes. The historian of science, no doubt having already wondered why the scientific revolution was never incorporated into the 17th century university, will not be surprised to discover the exterior politics that contemporary psychoanalysis maintains with the modern university. For this reason, a Lacanian psychoanalytic association aims to establish an organizational structure that makes the choice of an analyst credible beyond an academic convention.

Who is a psychoanalyst ?

To respond to this question, it is necessary to recognize two detours:

1) on one hand, the designation of a psychoanalyst is not regulated by federal or state law (CA), even an untrained person may use the title;

2) on the other hand, psychoanalysis, can be trivialized into forms of psychodynamic therapy that is regulated and credentialized by the state.

A psychoanalyst should not be confused with either possibilty: just as one should not confuse a building inspector with an architect, one should not confuse institutional and juridicial questions with the conditions for the rigorous practice of a theory.

For the two cautionary reasons of 1) and 2) above, one must be careful to not only verify the practitioner’s theory-practice, but to not confuse such a verification with what it is to acquire a technical degree, a medical license, or psychology diploma. Without denying these possible assimilations, the session, clinic, and school of psychoanalysis is elsewhere. You are invited to the conferences, seminars, or to speak directly about any questions of disentangling these distinctions in contacting PLACE.

The good news is that it is precisely because of these derivations that one can not – or should not – enter into the field as a consumer of a cure or a diploma. That is to say, when entering into the field of analysis, whether as a student or suffering individual, it is not a question of a division of labor between potential doctors or patients. Working in psychoanalysis is not the same question of getting a broken leg fixed where the doctor has all the knowledge and the patient is only a passive recepient of the act of an expert. On the contrary, it is this divide “I do not want to know … let the expert figure it out” that is itself a part of the modern symptom.

Here, then, in prefacing a response to the question of ‘Who is a psychoanalyst?‘ by this detour through the cultural, professional, and institutional ambiance, it is most important to isolate the analytic ‘act’ within the theory of analysis itself. Lacan has proposed (Letter to the Italians) that the following two propositions are fundamental:

A) the analyst only authorizes him/herself;

B) there is no auto-analysis, it requires a collective authorization.

These seemingly contradictory statements form the basis of isolating the structure of a psychoanalytic act within the theory and practice of psychoanalysis itself. See the School-Clinic page for further info.


Does Lacanian analysis address substance abuse — alcoholism, eating disorders, drug addiction, etc.?

Yes. It is the modern tendency to search for the place of its subject in segregative groups in order to efface an anxious and subjective division: I am an alcoholic, I am an anorexic, a drug addict, nymphomaniac, etc. and I go to Alcoholics Anonymous, Eater’s Anonymous, X Anonymous, etc. Once this admission and identification with the anonymity of the group is achieved, usually by some form of empathy, then treatment habitually consists in a modification of behavior: a ‘cure’ resembling in this respect, what occurs when a hermit crab abandons his old shell and takes up the discarded shells of others. Without denying the possibility of success for such treatments, or the comfort perceived in giving the subject a sense of a home, one must examine what is lost in the process. Must a pulsional excess (a drive) be simply negated in the anonymity of a group identification — with the banality that this identity implies — or would it be more advantageous to elaborate case by case a singularity which deserves a Proper Name? Psychoanalysis responds by the latter: its intervention is non-segregative and does not rely on the mass identifications of group hypnosis (religious, scientific, peer, etc.), but permits the subject to maintain the singularity of their division and symptom in order to discover a reality of its place – a style. In this respect, the symptom is not an enemy of the subject, but something one is satisfied with (despite the complaints) which is functional (not dysfunctional) and to be listened to in spite of its seemingly nonsensical message (thus, not converted into the communicative norms of the group). menu

Does the combined treatment of psychotherapy and psychiatry cure the patient of psychic suffering?

No, but they can attempt to manage and calm a problem.  Today, in the urgency “to do something”, the consumer of the cure is left abandonned at the serene divide between nature and culture: that it to say, left divided between a psychiatric practice aiming to reduce the singularity of the suffering subject to the same biological entity as any other John Doe, and a therapeutic practice attempting to assimilate the subject to the contents of a few cultural myths and archetypes (the artists in us all, the inner-child, etc.). Consequently, the habitual attempt to treat mental causality either with a medical drug (psychiatry) or speech reduced to the power of suggestion (therapy), has left many resigned to doing nothing or in the disbelieve in any cure at all.  Lacanian psychoanalysis remains outside such imperatives to calm and the divide of nature/culture by interrogating the field of psychic reality differently.  For it not only separates the real of the subject from its biology, but the symbolic of the subject from culture, and, in this clearing, re-opens the debate on a mental causalityirreducible to mental disorder or a deviation from the norm. (see Clinic)


Do forms of spiritualism such as Yoga or Zen, or forms of adventure such as joining the Foreign Legion or Astral Projection, address the same symptom as psychoanalysis ? 

Although many disciplines, religions, paths, and adventures ask excellent questions, the responses – or nonresponses – given therein are either not psychoanalytic or are only so by ressemblance and themes.  We state this because it is obvious that what is avoided in such comparisons is the question of how one proposes to establish the identity of psychoanalysis in the first place before any correspondance can be made.  In responding more rigorously to such a question, then, it is no longer possible to merely assume the identity of psychoanalysis, while attempting to transfer contents from one field to another as an interdisciplinary research might. On the contrary, one must regulate the question of identity and difference from the beginning as a problem of structure, while determining the conditions of its semantics as a problem intrinsic to the singularity of an analysis.  In this respect, not only might a psychoanalytic discourse have a happy relation to Zen or Suffism, but perhaps more to the point, with one’s uncle Harry, a spouse, or an irrational fear of Zerox. Yet, not to distinguish a discourseof psychoanalysis from a theory is not to distinguish an amalgamation of themes from a truly structural problem of identity and difference.

(see Clinic Page: The Question of Psychoanalysis)


How does Lacanian analysis address the question of mysticism ?

Lacan himself posed the question of mysticism not only by referring to the occident – through Angelus Silesius, Meistre Eckhart, St. Theresa, etc. – but in reference to the oriental practice of Buddhism and Taoism. This much said, in recognizing that this domain cuts through the field of psychoanalysis, Lacan had taken enough precautions not to confuse the theory and practice of psychoanalysis with either. Unfortunately, it has become all too tempting for some to promote various blends of mysticism and ‘New Agism’ in the name of Lacanian scholarship and therapy. Yet, the question of the element of mysticism in analytic discourse – most notably in those schools following Jung –  cannot be explored solely in terms of its relation to the paradigm of the ‘mystic’, but must include the question of what it is to ‘step-back’ from  Western Philosophy, Religion, and Values, without adopting the spiritual attitudes or discourse of the mystic (to which Lacan attributes a hysterical structure** see below). Such was the basis of Freud’s Meta-psychology. That the ‘stepping back’ of mysticism would find elements of Lacanian discourse aspiring to its mission, is perhaps not to be denied (over facile ‘free-association’ not withstanding). But what is more important to address is the moment a mystical discourse attempts to ‘step back’ from the tradition, often in flights of experience, the ineffable,and psuedo -rationality, Lacanian analysis begins to go ‘deeper in’: with a practice of the letter that is habitually assigned to the rationality of science and techniques.  For since Freud, if psychoanalysis was able to put to rest many of those forms of spiritualism, magneticism, suggestology, crystal ballogy, etc. that had masqueraded in the 20th and 19th centuries as public therapies, it was by showing how the rationality of science, once taken down to its use of the letter, itself posed a revelation of the unconscious more bizarre – and more relevant to the cure – than the most mystical of reveries (which most often, as in the dictum of Wittgenstein, must leave what cannot be said to silence or to the ineffable, while forgetting the function of writing). Indeed, unlike various forms of spiritual belief, it becomes necessary in psychoanalysis to show precisely how it is possible that a discourse and theory functions beyond the ‘belief’ that actual participants invest in it. It is impossible to follow the development  of contemporary Lacanian psychoanalysis without this dimension of its unconscious truth, for it introduces the clinic of psychosis while engaging some of the most crucial problems facing our modern civilizations.  No doubt, this comparison deserves more attention than we can hope to achieve in this short paragraph.  But these reasons alone are enough to show that although psychoanalysis may have certain ‘associations’ to various discourses, it can not conduct its theory or practice as the religious mystic or spiritual healer might: there is a world of difference between a practice of the cure envisaged as addressing these problems, and one that does not. [** one should note that Lacan did classify himself at one time as a 'perfect hysteric': that is to say, a hysteric without a love for the father, i.e., without an identification with the sinthome. ]

Is psychoanalysis possible these days?

Yes, but in failing to respond explicitly to the question of what psychoanalysis is, the entrance to contemporary psychoanalysis often becomes a revolving door. Either one engages what one presumes to be psychoanalysis, which then becomes impossible to practice; or one engages in a possible practice — psychotherapy or psychiatric assisted psychoanalysis — whose theory is no longer psychoanalytic. To step out of this cycle psychoanalysis must not become simply possible, but effective and actual. This requires taking the time to orient oneself in responding rigorously to the question of what psychoanalysis is. (See left column of the Clinic page.)


Does psychoanalysis treat psychosomatic symptoms?

[under construction]. menu

Is psychoanalysis an art of interpretation?


“Twenty-five years of intensive work have had as a consequence of assigning to psychoanalytic technique goals immediately different from those of the beginning. At the beginning, all the ambition of the medical analyst was to conjecture what was hiding in the unconscious of the sick person, and to reunite these elements in a whole and communicate them when it was proper. Psychoanalysis was above all an art of interpretation. But the psychotherapeutic task was not however resolved by this.  A new approach has come to light that consists in obtaining from the ill person a confirmation of a construction [...]”

(S. Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, 1920)

“Psychoanalysis is not an art of interpretation, it is a construction.  Interpretation comes to bear on a material element ( missed acts, lapsus, etc.).  Construction, on the contrary, comes to bear on the entire course of an existence, most notably on the initial and determining phases.”

(S. Freud, Constructions in Analysis, 1932) menu

What is the Lacanian psychoanalytic clinic?

What is the psychoanalytic clinic? It is not complicated. It has a base — it is what one says in psychoanalysis. In principle one proposes to say no matter what, but not no matter where [pas de n'importe où — Lacan has also stated elsewhere 'not no matter how'] — in order for the saying [dire: infinite verb] to get into the ‘analytic wind‘.”

I propose that the section entitled at Vincennes ‘the psychoanalytic clinic’ be a way of interrogating the psychoanalyst and to make him or her declare their reasons. [...] The psychoanalytic clinic must consist not only in interrogating analysis, but in interrogating the analysts, so that they render account themselves of the hazards of their practice, which justifies Freud having existed.

(Jacques Lacan, Ouverature de la Section Clinique)

How does PLACE propose to establish such a clinic ?

In following the theory of Lacan and his topology, P.L.A.C.E. promotes neither a psychoanalysis of others nor a hospitable notion of the mental health clinic as a place to go when one has a mental disorder.  On the contrary, at P.L.A.C.E. we construct the Lacanian psychoanalytic clinic otherwise:

1) firstly, as a place where one can not not have a mental order.  That is to say, a mental symptom, far from being a disorder can be shown to exhibit a structure that is not necessarily a ‘good’ order, but just ordered.

2) secondly, there is no Lacanian clinic of others in the sense that the ‘other’ would be reduced to a sociological group of ‘alter-egos’ – the abnormal, disabled, or disenfranchised . No doubt, this sector cuts through the proper field of psychoanalysis, but the analytic act and the Lacanian notion of difference as Other is not there.

In regards to the current situation in Lacanian analysis, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, we also advise a certain caution in reading the current best-sellers on Lacanian analysis. For today many neo-Lacanians, in the ‘urgence to do something’, have attempted to reintroduce a treatment of disorders and a clinic of others while adopting the very therapeutic values that render a practice of Lacanian psychoanalysis and its topology inoperable.

An introduction to a more precise reading can be already be found  by noticing that in the quotation above Lacan had pointed towards the necessity of introducing a clinic of the analyst – and not at the place of patients or analysands. Is this an indication that a  formation in the Lacanian psychoanalytic clinic merely affirms the old sayings: “Physician heal thyself!” or “Psychoanalysis is the illness that it tries to cure“.  Not quite, but they do provide a certain folkloric insight.  This is because psychoanalysis is the one theory coming out of modern medicine whose practicioners have had the courage, at least among the nontherapists, to include the  psychoanalyst as a symptom – more precisely a ‘sinthome’– of his/her own clinic.  Said otherwise, the impostures, immaturity, unscientificity, etc. usually attributed to the discourse of psychoanalysis by its detractors is not at all an epistemological problem of critiquing an illusion, but on a closer look is a clinical problem of constructing the psychoanalytic sinthome. As brief as this indication may be, it goes further than most to help to orient a reading of the Lacanian clinic beyond the current sociological and psychotherapeutic assimilations. For the fundamental problem of contemporary Lacanian psychoanalysis, is not whether psychoanalysis is scientific or not, or if it really does heal ‘others’, but how can psychoanalysis stabilize such a volatile field – how can it be judged, transmitted, etc. – so that it becomes a practice and theory that one does with an other, and not to another ? What does it mean that the psychoanalytic clinic would not be systematically assimilated to a sub-profession of social work, psychiatry, psychotherapy, psychology, or nursing? What does it mean when the problem of the Lacanian clinic is not one of isolating the place of other persons, but establishing a place of the Subject ? What is a theory of the clinic and the cure that would go beyond the therapeutic ‘ball and mask’ of the person ?

Lacan’s response to these questions was decisive:

The ideology of contemporary psychoanalysis is a result of the failure to introduce an adequate topology.  (D’un autre a’ l’Autre, Seminar XVI)

Without a topology the psychoanalyst can not begin to even isolate the symptom.

At PLACE  we have worked with others to stabilize a practice of a psychoanalytic place in a way that is closer to the psychoanalytic practice of Freud and Lacan.  In so doing, we have replaced the interminable epistemological and pendantic arguments between psychotherapeutic analysts and their detractors for a clinical argument on the topological construction of the sinthome. Today. the task of future and training analysts at PLACE is not merely to talk about Lacan’s topology or claim it has no clinical use, but to show, on the contrary, just how it founds the psychoanalytic interpretation of the analytic sinthome.


What is Topology?

In classical euclidean geometry, two figures are equivalent when one can pass from one to the other by an isometry, or if you want, when the signification of the two representations is preserved (a triangle is still called a triangle in superimposing one on the other). In topology – a theory of place or topos – the relation of equivalency is more general, as it is interested in figures that in passing from one to the other vary quite a bit and often loose their everyday signification. For example, it is often said that a topologist is someone who can not distinguish between a doughnut and a coffee cup.

More precisely, Topology, can be defined in two ways, externally or internally, i.e., as a theory of continuity or a theory of thecontinuum.  It is crucial not to confuse the two, just as it is important to distinguish Cantor’s inaugural 1878 definition of Continuity (resulting in the Dimension/Homeomorphism Problem) from Cantor’s 1879 definition of the Continuum (resulting in The Diagonal Method and The Continuum Hypothesis).

The former, leads to a definition of place as an object external to a point-set, algebraic, or general topological theory that investigates continuous transformations (homeomorphisms), while a topology, is defined as the invariant properties of such a transformations (neighborhoods, closures, etc.). For example, in blowing up a balloon, a topologist is interested in the deformation of the balloon — its topology — which is defined just until it bursts.

The latter leads to a definition of place as a subject internal to a theory of topoi or topological algebra (in the manner of Tarski) that investigates the logical frame of a place – its intuitionist, bi-intuitionist, or psychoanalytic logic. Oddly, a construction of the continuum occurs precisely at a point of discontinuity by asking: what is this “balloon” at the moment of its ‘forcing’ or bursting?

Contrary to the current glosses in the contemporary psychoanalytic literature that remain within an external topology, it is this internal topo-logic of the subject and the problem of discontinuity that constitutes the Lacanian entry.

(to be continued/rg)



How is topology used in psychoanalysis and what problems does it respond to ?


Within the folklore, psychology has often been compared to “trying to put round pegs in square holes“.  In spite of the naivety of such an illustration, it does provide an example of the difficulties experienced the moment the particularities of the speaking being are unified in a theory of the ‘soul’, ‘mind’, ‘personality’, ‘human nature’, etc. Lacanian Psychoanalysis brackets this geometry of the ego, by defining unity not in terms of unification, but in terms of REPETITION – thus, the problem of the countable becomes more important than unification: what is One, then Two – ?  In this way, the problem of the countable provides the structural basis of a psychoanalytic conception of a psychic reality that would not be reducible to a unification of souls, human nature, minds, personality, etc.. As brief as such an indication is, it does provide a nonpsychological entry into the einziger Zug of Freud, which became with Lacan the Unary Trait: a mark determining the difference of identity.  Though this entry is rarely presented well in public, it is the determination of numbering on the basis of Freud’s einziger Zug that provides  the basis of the Lacanian clinic through mathematics and topology. Thus, instead of trying to unify a field of research with something like a rigid object of geometry, Lacanian psychoanalysis requires a moresupple object of topology capable of determining a paradoxical difference of identity. It is well known that in order to present this paradox – how can one be two ? – Lacan first introduces the mobius band, then proceeds to topologize the clinical structures of neurosis, psychosis, perversion, and psychoanalysis. In which case,  in the Lacanian clinic it has become an abuse of language to speak of individuals as neurotics or psychotics, rather one speaks of neurotic and psychotic structures, thereby not reducing the psychoanalytic clinic to measuring or classifying people according to deviations from the norm.  (to be continued/xr)

Is topology used as a model in psychoanalysis ?

Yes … but No.

A fundamental principle guiding psychoanalysis is that the notion of a clinical structure does not refer directly to an empirical or social reality, but to a sort of  model – or Double – constructed of it. Consequently, it is always necessary to distinguish the observation and statistical classification of ‘facts’ from the construction and experimentation on the models themselves.

One of the first obstacles put before anyone working in psychoanalysis has been the seemingly irreconcilable difference between concrete and individualized observation and the so-called abstract and generalized character of a structure.  Yet, such a difference disappears the moment it is recognized that this corresponds to bringing together two different levels of explaining the ‘facts’: that it to say, the construction of theory has to be taken responsibility for not solely on the side of the doctor, but on the side of the patient. In fact, the common medical opposition made between the doctor/patient actually impeeds such an investigation and is to be abandonned for a more supple one of analysand/analyst.

Another important consequence ensues: the mode of existence of the clinical ‘facts’ has to be studied for itself which means how the ‘facts’ are inherently modelled has to be investigated: why and how does a child use a blanket in order to make up for a certain loss of reality ? What is the relation between model making and fantasy ? Does the model function similiarly in art and science?  Does not the notion of the person – as Mask or Double – already imply a theory of models ?

No doubt, the response to such questions require an investigation into the details of a reality that can only be trivialized by an empirical research into the facts. For what such methods systematically avoid in remaining at the level of a classification of factual sydromes, is the loss of reality such syndromes imply and the formal evellope – or models – that concretize them.  Once this is recognized the question remains as to how to construct a space of the subject – a topology – that would not confuse a structure, with that of a model or fantasy.

(To be continued) menu

Is it necessary to learn topology to practice psychoanalysis?

We will simply leave the response of Lacan as a guide:

“Whoever poses it [such a question], is always in measure to give the response. Topology is not something that must be learned in addition to, in someway as if the formation of the psychoanalyst consists in knowing what color to use in painting; it is not a question of knowing if one must or not learn something concerning topology, for topology is the stuff (etoffe: surface) itself in which psychoanalysis cuts (taille: carves out). That one would know this or not is not important, that one open or not a book of topology, for from the moment that one does psychoanalysis, it is the stuff in which one works, in which one carves out the subject of the psychoanalytic operation.”

-Jacques Lacan, The Object of Psychoanalysis, Vol. III, p.695

Is psychoanalysis a science?

Psychoanalysis has the same subject as science, but a different object.  For this reason, they are neither equivalent nor can science include psychoanalysis within its field.  Said otherwise, if psychoanalysis recognizes the existence of science as the basis of its theory of the subject, it does not recognize it as an ideal. Thus, instead of asking what must psychoanalysis do in order to become a science, it would be more coherent to ask what kind of object must science address in order to become psychoanalysis ?
In either case, if you hear it flatly stated that either psychoanalysis is or is not science without the proper qualifications as to this object, then you are at best being subjected to the passion of another.


Is Freudian psychoanalysis a scientific theory of sexuality?

No. Freudian psychoanalysis is not a scientific theory of sex, as a sexology might want to be. It would be more coherent to say, it is a Sexed Theory of Science, insofar as it neither supports nor goes against a conception of the world which is true for all (a unified theory or theory of everything). Rather it is the first theory of medicine to introduce the sexuation of the individual — with its fantasies and delusions — into the discourse of science and against the prohibition that there can be no science of the individual. The question is not, What does psychoanalysis have to become to be a science? but, What must a science become in order to rationally render account of this introduction of the individual ? Levi-Strauss has suggested an accounting of this in his text, A Science of the Concrete and Savage Mind. menu

Does psychoanalysis, at least in its Freudian versions, reduce everything to sex?

It depends on what one means by ‘sex’. After going through a series of definitions: the difference between male and female; the reproductive act; the pleasure obtained in the conjoining of genitals; Freud rejects them all as the essence of sexuality and instead begins to formulate sex in terms of topological properties of place: “We may suspect that in the course of the development of the concept ‘sexual’ something has happened which has resulted in what Silberer has aptly called an ‘error’ of superimposition” (Freud, XVI, p.304). Journalistically, if Freud has been read as saying sexuality is everywhere, then oddly he constantly denies that he knows what it is: thereby claiming to know nothing about Feminine sexuality or the possibility of speaking about sexuality in general: “One would certainly suppose that there could be no doubt as to what is to be understood by ‘sexual’. First and foremost, what is sexual is something improper, something one ought not to talk about” (ibid., p.303).  menu

Is psychoanalysis anti-gay?

No. The myth is that Freud, being a Viennese family man, was a Victorian and equated his case studies of homosexuality with that of perversion. Although Freud’s early theories lead him to examine perversion and homosexuality side by side, the conclusion of his research contradicts this popular misconception. Freud’s psychoanalysis became the first theory coming out of modern medicine to effectively combat the classification of homosexuality as abnormal and a form of perversion. “Psychoanalysis absolutely refuses to admit that homosexuality constitutes a group having particular characteristics that could seperate them from other individuals [...]. It has been able to establish that any individual is capable of choosing an object of the same sex, and that in fact, they have done so in their unconscious” S.E.VII,144n.1

What is a psychoanalytic position on  current DNA research and homosexuality ?

Needless to say, the current debate which attempts to link homosexuality to a genetic determination through DNA gums over the problem by trivializing human sexuality to a sexed being : a biological entity that is the same for everyone – people areeither male or female, then they ‘naturally’ choose to have a sexual relation to the same or opposite sex. No doubt, if this were true, it would seem to make life easier in the desire to fit in with a scientific or cultural norm. But what is the risk in assimilating questions of sexuality to such norms? Are questions of desire and sexuality really reducible to that identity counted by a census taker or taking sides as if entering into a high school dance?

In psychoanalysis one begins in a more singular manner. Firstly, it can be established that if there is a division between the two sexes from the start, it is not merely a question of identifying with the sex one is, but determining a relation to the sex one has. Consequently, the primary division is not between intrinsically being female or male, then having sexual relations with the same or other sex; but the problem posed between being and having a sexuality from the start. Said otherwise, there is a more subtle intrinsic border where a man or woman is divided in relation to his or her own sexuality. Freud initially brought this divisive dimension out in hypothesizing an intrinsic bisexuality as the basis of the sexual relation. Later, he would reformulate this theory into a more absolute sexual non-relation that he thematically termed ‘castration’. Contemporary Lacanian psychoanalysis has confirmed this hypothesis in the recognition that there may very well be two sexes, but there is no direct sexual relation between them whether it be male-male, male-female, or female-female. Of course, there is the obvious frictional encounter, but the reader who has passed through a serious encounter with the other sex will perhaps regard such a nonrelation as being too obvious to repeat. Yet, the difficultly of addressing its seriousness and reality in a public discourse in a way that would go beyond silent suffering and a wound to one’s self-image is legend, as it was not only encountered in Freud’s initial psychoanalysis of neurosis, but extends to many of the social and economic problems expressed in contemporary film: from Brokeback Mountain to Totsie. For today, rather than analyze and work with this territory of asexual nonrelation (a map of jouissance), it is more or less avoided in the attempt to cover it over with a discourse on sexual relations: from theories of adaptation to biological and cultural norms to those behaviours seeking to avoid sexual difference through forms of repulsion (homophobia, sexual impotency, moral vigilantism, etc.) and fascination (peep shows, masturbation, pornography, etc.), to rejecting it all together in violence (psychotic passages to the act, gang-bangers,etc.).

Although this subject merits more time than we have here, it suffices to call attention to the impasse of the nurture or naturedebates when attempting to account for homosexuality and heterosexuality. To get out of this revolving door Lacanian psychoanalysis proceeds otherwise: by making room for a more primary subjective division that does not confound its map with a caricature – the others of biological and cultural norms.  


What does psychoanalysis have to do with literature?

Outside of psychoanalysis, it has been literature that most often addresses itself to the public in attempting to establish a  discourse of passion, death, and sexuality in the voice of the individual — and often in a language which goes counter to the norms of any particular society in which it is found. Freudian psychoanalysis reintroduced an interrogation of this discourse of the individual into science by taking seriously its fantasies and showing how they revealed something real irreducible to a work of fiction or myth.

This much said, Lacanian psychoanalysis shows that there is a radical cut with the mode of literary and poetic writing after Joyce (of which Freud was only able to catch a glimpse of in his investigations into the text of Schreber). The question is not merely if writing always has the propensity to bring out the dimension of passion, death, and sexuality in literature, but what does writing aim at, what is it to read, and where is its real ?

In landmarking this cut, Lacan has proposed to change the word literature to lituraterre in order to indicate a responsibility of the letter towards the place (terre) it occupies regardless of its sense. In this respect, the emergence of an avant-gardeliterature reveals a correspondance with the lituraterre of modern physics: just as the former requires a critique ‘after the fact’ in order to render comprehensible its senseless writing, the latter must consider the symptom of nature ‘after the fact’ in so far as it requires something like the work of an ecologist to listen, read, and speak  not only of the success of  science, but the senseless disasters and pollutions (litters) that such writings have made possible.
Yet, for those analysts who are admittedly ‘post-joycean’, the lituraterre of analysis opens up a place where writing is considered in a more productive manner; where considerations of the letter and the individual are one and the same; where the ruptures and nonsense peculiar to an individual can begin to be read and spoken of directly, neither as literature nor ‘after the fact’ in a critique or ecology, but in a writing of a real, that is, however, irreducible to the biological body of modern science or the collective body of politics. For those others, the symptom will always be treated ‘after the fact‘ and out of place: as a fiction to be literatured, a nonsense to be critiqued, a litter to be ecologized and politicized.


What does psychoanalysis have to do with literary theory?

The psychoanalytic relation to literary analysis is maintained in the modern Structuralist movement of the 1960s when literature, using Saussure and Jakobson, developed a theory within a linguistic meta-language. Although the development of this literary relation to psychoanalysis, largely due to Lacan, never found a home in the French university (as there was already a Lacaninan psychoanalytic department in the university), it received a welcome in America, and to a lesser extent in Germany and England (the authors of this page are unfamiliar with other countries). Today, Lacanian psychoanalysis in the American university is mainly found either in comparative literature departments in relation with critical studies, cultural studies, interdisciplinary studies, continental philosophy, or marketing communications; or sometimes taught in psychology departments along with Freud in the History of Psychology. Most would agree, however — at least the most honest professors among us — that psychoanalysis is not only preserved there, but held hostage: “like a fly in amber, perfect in its form, but forgetting its act” (J. Lacan, Quoted in Preface to A. Lemaire’s University Thesis, Jacques Lacan). menu

Is Lacan readable?

To some, this question may seem odd, but we have thought to include it here in order to call attention to what is crucially at stake and often avoided. Lacan claimed, that he, unlike James Joyce, was un-readable and had no desire to be studied in a university program or institutional setting.  Rather to read a psychoanalytic text seriously would not be to try to merely comprehend, but to explain what Freud discovered – the unconscious - and what Lacan isolated with the petite a’ in a clinical setting. If this is true, and the archives and theory suffice to show it, then one would have to ask if a ‘reading’ of Lacan always remains “fashionable nonsense” (to use Sokal and Bricmont’s phrase) to the extent the unreadability of his texts is left at the level of comprehension and the knowledge of schools. For instance, it becomes necessary to ask if Lacan is systematically misunderstood and unread in the same manner a mathematical text can be: both, in the lack of a construction, reduce to nothing more than forms of scholarly paraphrase and nonreading.

Yet, once incorporated with Lacan’s topology, the obvious benefits for his strategy of unreadable publication are too numerous to list here – it puts the opponents and the proponents of a psychoanalytic discourse on the same side of the wall; it becomes readily apparent that anyone who merely attempts to use Lacan for a reading, is ultimately used by Lacan in the production of a nonreading (the communication of opinions, commentary, erudition, glee and grief, etc.); contrary to the texts of Freud and other psychoanalysts who may be more or less read and understood – and often are for this very reason on the verge of being propagated into questionable public practices –  the unreadability of Lacan, has at least the effect of providing an obstacle to an overly facile assimilation and abuse. Further still, problematizing the reading of Lacan makes it possible to distinguish those contemporary forms of nonreading posed as “Reading Lacan II and III“, “A Dictionary of Lacan“,  ”Introduction to the Reading of Lacan“, “Reading Lacan through Popular Culture … through Heideggerthrough the Clinic, Zen, … “  etc. from the progress made in those few contemporary works in which the unreadable is explained and not passed off as journalistic charm and the esoteric comprehension of schools.

Yet, with the marketing of nonreading so far advanced that one can no longer ignore it, we must raise the unavoidable question whether it is compatible with the constructions of psychoanalysis that make such fantasy possible in the first place. For is there not a way to un-dotraverse, or more precisely, un-read Lacan in a manner that would be closer to the practice and theory of psychoanalysis itself ?  How and where can one begin to explain what they do not understand in a reading of the unconscious ? (see above questions on topology).


Uncommon Responses To Simple Questions (with Experiments)

What is an Experimental Science?

What is the difference between Experimental science in the sense of psychology and psychoanalysis?

How to think hard things.

Go to any psychological journal or popular magazine such as Psychology Today and you will find not only articles addressing the reactions of the individual to society and the family, but a group of technicians who do not feel the need to provide information or demonstrate their knowledge in a public forum, but who advertize themselves in order to find ‘clients’. Here is just a sample of people claiming to, in their words: ” calm your anxiety”, “empower you and your children”,  “understand YOU so well”, “heal inner conflicts”, “develop your innate desire to grow”, “build self confidence and awareness”, “build solid relations”, etc. etc.  In each instance, a person attempting to inform themselves on suffering or ignorance is put into the position of a victim – a patient or client – who is so pitiful that it is assumed that they could be helped by an anonymous ‘shrink’ with a diploma from a 4 year professional school.  There is not enough space to describe how psychology has been democratized from the bottom: it is a field that cuts through psychoanalysis, but has no more to do with its theory and practice than pollution does to a river.

In order to test these waters, we begin with a ‘thought-experiment’ in the manner of the French Philosopher Bachelard and ask: What is it to have the patience to think and work with something simple like a stone? When does  simplicity and the elaboration of an object become science or, in the lack of patience, turn into sufferance?  No doubt, some of the New Age therapists have recommended that people play with animals – swimming with dolphins, petting horses, etc. – as a relief to their suffering. Though this confuses simplicity and the cause of suffering with calming it. What is it, then, when Nietzsche’s superman, in order to travel to a higher mountain, abandoned not only his eagle and serpent, but went to live among the stones?

Bachelard writes:
In effect, classical psychoanalysis was preoccupied above all with inter-psychology, that is to say individual psychological reactions determined by social and familial life. It did not direct its attention towards objective knowledge.  [...] These days when all of culture is “psychologized”, where the interests for the human is brought out by the press and novels with little more exigency than being new and original, sure to find assiduous everyday readers, we can still find souls who think of sulfate. This return to the thought of stone is, without a doubt in the eyes of the psychologist a regression to mineral life. For them what is important is being and becoming, a humanity that is blown out of proportion in the promise of the future and mystery. But there needs to be a long study on this de-valorization of this objective and rational life, that from the outside de-valorizes without ever participating in scientific thought”. [The Formation of the Scientific Spirit; p.184]

Beyond the claims of the technicians of Psychology Today, can we not find the truth of their effects here?  Is the desire to relieve stress, to empower, build strong relations, and confidence, nothing other than the search for the philosopher’s stone? Are these therapists of stone hearts anything more than modern day alchemists ? What is important to recognize is that in the lack of patience and an explicit elaboration of an object, what is truly hard, thought,  is avoided: an experimental science is bypassed and replaced by an alchemy of commerce and victimization.

Why is everyone in the domain of the ‘Psy’ – psychology, psychotherapy, and psychiatry – saying the same thing, but nobody knows what it is?



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