What is Psychoanalysis?

What is Psychoanalysis?

Psychoanalysis Los Angeles California Extension

The Question of Psychoanalysis

When people seek to inform themselves on psychoanalysis, they are not so much asking about what psychoanalysis is, or for general theoretical knowledge on the subject, but more urgent questions primarily guided by a need to address their suffering. The typical inquirer, therefore, just supposes that the doctor is the one who knows, while they only bear the burden of their unhappiness. This common comprehension is so often infiltrated with preconceived ideas about psychotherapeutic ‘talking-cures’, psychological counseling, and psychiatric prescription drugs, that it becomes clear that not only does the question of psychoanalysis lack an answer, but the question itself has been so obscured and misdirected that it has left many indifferent to the practice. If the question of what psychoanalysis is, is to be revived — not merely as a scholarly transmission or an advertisement, but as a preliminary to its cure — one must first work out an adequate way of formulating it.

1 — What is Psychoanalysis?

Can Anything Be Said About Psychoanalysis?

If there is one thing all the literature has in common, it is that there seems to be no real reason to say that psychoanalysis can be defined as one thing rather than another. Yet, to verify this all one has to do is to read the latest academic commentaries or the Los Angeles Times, or further still, put a diverse group of psychoanalysts to the test by asking them what psychoanalysis is. The beauty of a psychoanalytic discourse consists in the fact that — up to a cliché – the responses will be found to be a highly conflicting and heterogeneous mass. To be serious one must respond to this arbitrariness in a manner that would go beyond trying to standardize it in schools of psychoanalytic thought or reject it as the vagaries of an immature science.

Establishing a Place for the ‘Free-Associations’

Divided between codes of professional standing and academic fantasy, a response to the question of psychoanalysis poses enough difficulty to be discouraging to anyone seeking information. Our aim here is to introduce the question otherwise, in the tradition of Freud, by showing how there is a fundamental rule of its discourse that situates its instability, not as a mere error or nonsense, but as ‘free associations’ necessary to its field. For those who are not aware of just why contemporary psychoanalysis has, since Lacan, achieved a progress in psychoanalysis through a construction of the topos - place – of its discourse, this essay aims to inform simply, without vulgarization.  For contemporary Lacanian psychoanalysis stabilizes the heterogeneous nature of analytic discourse not by homogenizing it through conventional rules – the establishment of schools, approaches, codebooks, etc. – but through laws that are not only necessary, but supportable in the construction of a topology (topos - greek = place, and logos = logic/word/reason).To those who have heard of this achievement of psychoanalysis in extension through topology, but who have had little experience in its actual practice, this essay will have served its purpose if it succeeds in introducing the problem and showing how topology can be presented not as an abstract branch of mathematics, but as what the psychoanalyst and analysand are doing concretely — perhaps without recognizing it — in their practice and clinic ( follow up articles on this site are: La Topologie Perdu The Dénouement of the Cure ),  Finally, it should be recognized that Lacan was neither the first analyst to have alerted us to the difficulties of an analytic transmission nor the only one to have proposed a structural ‘ressemblance’ between mathematical and psychoanalytic problems of transmission. To this end we find W. Bion stating:The mathematical problem ressembles the psychoanalytic problem in that it is necessary that the solution should have a wide degree of applicability and acceptance and so avoid the need to apply different arguments to different cases when the different cases appear to have essentially the same configuration.  Any analyst will recognize the confusion that is caused, or at best the sense of dissatisfaction that prevails, when a discusssion by members makes it quite clear that the configuration of the case is apprehended by all, but the arguments formulated in its elucidation vary from member to member and from case to case.  It is essential that such a state of affairs should be made unnecessary if progress is to take place. The search must be for formulations that represent the essential similarity of the configurations, recognized by all who deal with them, and thus to make unnecessary the ad hoc nature of so many psychoanalytic theories.    (W. Bion, Transformations, 1965,  p.85)If this is so, then it would not be untrue to say that Lacan is the first to realize Bion’s search by achieving psychoanalysis in a topology whose relation to mathematics is no longer a question of ressemblance, but a structural problem inherent to a theory of the signifier and letter.

Not Defining, but Determining the Conditions for Psychoanalysis to Take Place: the Clinic

We will begin here then, not by trying to define psychoanalysis — surely a thankless endeavor that inevitably falls back on merely descriptive and normative features — but by determining its conditions. What has been historically called the Freudian Cause is nothing other than a methodological concern that such conditions be articulated from the outset. To found psychoanalysis in this way means that beyond the evidence provided by institutions and usage, and despite the tremendous contemporary acceptance of its jargon, there is no need to take for granted that psychoanalysis exists rather than nothing at all. Of course, one can always lie on a couch and remain under transference for years, but this does not constitute an analysis. On the contrary, it is on the basis of putting the knowledge of the psychoanalyst into question, that is to say, by requiring psychoanalysts to assume the consequences of their own theory by applying it to themselves (the rule of free-association, for example), that one begins to establish not a mere critique, but a clinic and a practice of one’s own proper theory.  Further still, it is precisely this didactic dimension of assuming responsibility for the theory itself, that begins to distinguish a psychoanalytic entry from the revolving door of psychotherapy and a ‘consumer of the cure.  Lacan formulates the problem as follows:”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 (in Ornicar, text established by Jacques-Alain Miller, Paris, 1977) translated by R. Groome]As such, the conditions for the modern rationality peculiar to the invention of psychoanalysis and the discovery of the unconscious can only be established in regards to the formation of its clinic. We aim to proceed here, therefore, in two steps, by establishing the necessary and sufficient conditions for psychoanalysis to take place, that it would have a practice and a theory of its own distinguishable from that of psychology, psychotherapy, or psychiatry.

Necessary Conditions

In order to recognize what psychoanalysis is, it comes perhaps as no surprise to state that it is necessary to do it, as many other theories insist on the fact that learning is doing, and that to some extent one cannot merely understand what psychoanalysis is before doing it. This is the necessary condition for the formation of the clinic, whose basis has been described by Lacan:”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 what I call for this evening the saying [dire: infinite verb] to get into the ‘analytic wind’.” [Jacques Lacan, Ouverature de la Section Clinique(in Ornicar, text established by Jacques-Alain Miller, Paris, 1977) translated by R. Groome]

Sufficient Conditions

Yet, this ‘doing’, once confined to ‘talk-therapy’, has never been sufficient to found the psychoanalytic act or a training analysis. Without going into the historical obstacles posed to psychoanalysis by the treatment of psychosis and perversion, it is enough today to observe that the usual client-based cure is divided between a talk-therapy reducing the power of language to suggestive speech, and a dominant psychiatry aiming to medicalize a real of the body that does not respond to such speech. Without denying the ability of such techniques to calm, monitor, and eventually police the symptom, the place of the psychoanalytic clinic lies elsewhere.Here, then, in order to bridge this divide between talk therapy and psychiatry, between a culturalist or naturalist approach to the cure, it suffices to construct clinically what such normative procedures keep apart: the voice and the gaze. The medical doctor, for instance, only considers your language as a symptom: that is to say, as an index of the silent cause, and not as intrinsic to the actual illness, which she eventually hopes to observe in a brain-scan or microscope. Of course, if this medical doctor is a psychiatrist, then it is not sufficient to consider just the biological causes of an illness, for she or someone else – a therapist – must also consider the symbolic causes of the patient’s suffering by listening to a voice, which the doctor only gives a place to in cultural and environmental explanations.Lacanian psychoanalysis, on the contrary, begins by giving language a primary place in its clinical observations, thereby not reducing the symbolic to therapeutic speech or a mere linguistic analysis. In so doing, psychoanalysis clinically isolates the symptom, that is, isolates what is silent or ‘unsayable’ in speech as such, not by trying to go beyond speech and discoverying the causality of the symptom in a silent natural disease or cultural environment, but in isolating its trait and writing. A clinic, in the psychoanalytic sense, as a consequence begins by giving a place to what is ‘unspeakable’ as such – that which is not merely repressed, but what is repressing: the subjection to writing and the signifier.  One can very well begin in the analysis of today to go beyond the “talking cure” where the symptom is left at the level of a series of missed events, lapsus, word plays, etc., and begin to address those acts which are not merely missed, but missed absolutely : a certain rejection, hole, ‘out of placeness’, or ignorance, intrinsic to the modern analytic Sinthome (see Common Questions for an introduction to this term).  For a contemporary orientation of  psychoanalytic practice proceeds not merely – or at all – by helping a patient/client to try to voice what is repressed (the stereotypical psychotherapeutic move) but to construct repression itself as a certain flatis vocis.  Indeed, if the unconscious is by definition what remains unsayable and symptomatic in the expression of individual suffering, if one can never say it all, then this does not mean one must suffer in silence at this place or resort to passing secrets just in the imperative ‘to do something’.  On the contrary, itsuffices to construct psychoanalysis as a “discourse without speech” , where neither the voice nor the gaze is to be confused with mere speech or vision.  As such, once isolated as fundamental objects of the psychoanalytic clinic, the construction of the voice and the gaze does not take place through the use of technological hardware – a tape-recorder, microscope, encephalogram, etc. – but through the aid of a logical instrument or topology. The conjunction of the gaze and topology, not with vision, but with the voice, should really come as no surprise once it is recognized that there have been many celebrated blind geometers and topologists – though none without a voice.Lacan draws out the implications of this conjunction for a progress in psychoanalytic theory and practice as follows:”A psychoanalyst cannot not render account of linguistics and the ex-istence of the signifier. But linguistics misses how the truth is maintained in what it is very well necessary for its saying to be in place, its topological place — this is the reason I once permitted myself to speak of tori (topological figures resembling donuts). Suppose that the psychoanalytic clinic is this, let us indicate a direction to those who are engaged in this work.” [Jacques Lacan, Ornicar, text established by Jacques-Alain Miller, Paris, 1977]

or again:

“It is not for nothing that the psychoanalysts would have more of an adversion for the unconscious [than Freud and his contemporaries] for they do not know where to put it. This is understandable, it does not belong to ‘euclidean space’. It is necessary to construct its proper space, and that is what I am doing today. The psychoanalysts who have not touched my teaching do not know about this. They prefer to have recourse to notions like the ego, superego, etc. …which are found in Freud, but which are equally homonyms with notions which have been used for a very long time, such that to use them permits an implicit return to their ancient acceptations.” [Interview with Jacques Lacan, by Pierre Daix, Paris 26, Nov. 1966]

Consequently, one is never further from assuming a psychoanalysis, than when one attempts to act out the significations and stereotypes of spoken language. Far from denying anyone a use of a ‘free-association’ or fantasy as an initial means to get into the ‘analytic wind’, one must eventually ask if any progress can be made in remaining there. To begin to respond to this question, Lacan called for a ’traversing of the fantasy’ of analysis in the construction of ‘adequate topology ‘: a manner of constructing the situation of psychoanalysis that does not continually fall back into a fantasist reading of an analytic practice and the theory of Freud and Lacan,

                                                                                                                           (Santa Monica, CA/2004)

The Questions of Psychoanalysis