The impossible in Psychoanalysis

In psychoanalysis, we are dealing with the unforseen-whether it is on the side of the patient or the analyst. And much of what we find, and what we are, is unclassifiable – not that it has no status or context within a praxis – a conceptual and practical model, of the human subject – it does, but not in the pedantic sense that drives some other modalities.

The appellation of impossible in regard to analysis comes not only from its critics but also from its founder. Freud named as his creation one of the impossible professions. Or – he nearly did. Towards the end of his life he noted that it almost seemed as if psychoanalysis was the third of the impossible’ professions-impossible because one can be sure only of unsatisfying results. While the other two are usually cited as politics and teaching, Freud’s actual phrase for the later, is the bringing-up of children, that is, child-rearing, or parenting, a function that, as Donald Winnicott reminds us, must accept good-enough status.

Is this also the lot of psychoanalysis? Freud hoped not, and pointed to the analyst’s own analysis and re-analysis, as a means to safeguard against mistakes and mediocrity.

But he was not optimistic and identified what he saw as the analyst’s hostility and partisanship as dangers to the work. What he meant by this was the way in which some analysts learn to apply defence-mechanisms that enable them to side-step the conclusions and requirements of an analysis-that is-they divert it away from themselves and onto others. At one point Freud concludes that, “analysts in their own personalities have not invariably achieved the standard of normality to which they wish to educate their patients,”.

Lacan finds this judgement “astonishing”. But for reasons different to that of Freud’s contemporaries – for instance Ferenczi – who optimistically imagined that an analysis could change the subject’s mode of semblance.

Unlike Ferenczi, who measured analytic competence by an improvement in character, however that was to be assessed, Lacan saw the most important component of analytic formation as preparation for the analytic act.

He did not agree with Ferenczi that divisions in the subject could disappear without a mark-rather, like Freud, he maintained the subject’s responsibility for the cause of their own suffering. That is, he did not think analysis could repair childhood trauma through a ‘sort of effacement of the real’. This is critical in treatment, as many, if not most, patients, want to locate responsibility for their complaints with the other, especially with parents and their imagoes.

ON the side of the patient, Freud was worried that the strength of the drives – which he saw as both genetic and acquired – would stubbornly limit the efficacy of analysis.His question in Analysis Terminable and Interminable – was: ‘Is it possible for analysis permanently and definitely to resolve a conflict between instinct and ego, or to settle a pathogenic instinctual claim upon the ego?’ By permanent settlement of an instinctual claim he meant ‘restraining’ the drives, that is to say, bringing them into harmony with the ego so they no longer sought independent gratification.
Now, this is not the terminology we, as Lacanians, use when we think about the course and goal of analysis; our emphasis being on jouissance rather than ego and toward a different concept of resolution than Freud had in mind.

For Lacan, psychoanalysis was not a science in the way Freud thought. It was, rather, most akin to the medieval liberal arts, which prioritized a fundamental relation to human proportion—an internal relation, most notably in regard to speech. It was for this reason not objective. In fact, it implied within itself the emergence of a truth that cannot be said, since what constitutes truth is speech.

But it is interesting that the measure Freud employs to assess the success of analysis is satisfying results – satisfaction being what the instincts, or drives, drive at, and also the outcome the unconscious achieves with its symptom formation. We are satisfaction-seeking machines though, what satisfaction actually is can defy the usual sense of the word. When Lacan first employs the term jouissance, it has a resonance with Freud’s satisfaction, that is, the pleasure accompanying the satisfaction of a biological need. It is only later that he develops the opposition between jouissance and pleasure, drawing both on Hegel’s distinction between enjoyment and pleasure and the beyond of Freud’s Pleasure Principle.

It is this that founds the clinic of Lacan – with jouissance the paradoxical satisfaction the subject derives from his symptom, or, the suffering that he or she derives from his or her own satisfaction (Freud’s primary gain from illness).

Because the subject’s entry into the symbolic depends upon an initial renunciation of jouissance, it is a pivotal in finding the dividing line between psychosis and neurosis. And it bears directly on the direction of the treatment. Not just: ‘How is the subject positioned in the world’ but ‘how does he/she enjoy’? These are considerations that – along with the question of desire – ‘What do you want’? – allow the analyst to map a way forward from the first session.

The conceptual question is something like: ‘has the patient refused an initial jouissance – given up his attempt to be the imaginary phallus for the mother?’ This is relevant as it points to his subjective state. Has he taken a step so that, paradoxically, something already impossible can sustain what the world thinks of as normal-the neurotic illusion that enjoyment would be attainable if it were not forbidden?

These matters – along with the Death Drive, which is what often follows from the failure to deal with transgressive jouissance – are very real in the clinic and provide, critical ways to deal with the impossible of psychoanalysis.

Let me illustrate this by thinking of a patient who talks of being depressed; and complains of unresolved anger toward parents; eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, and a feeling of futility.

In other words, the death drive is alive and well, an aspect that pointed to melancholia, perhaps to a degree that suggested psychosis. Working with a psychotic Freud thought was impossible. Lacan, as we know, disagreed but didn’t think such a structure could be changed-rather the patient maybe helped to find how to, in an orthopaedic way, be in the world through the fashioning of a Sinthome.

Working with these such patients can feel impossible. Interpretations has little effect, speech, while articulate, falls short of being free association, and attempts to find a supporting suppleance can be resisted. In the case of one patient, a question was able to be framed: “Why am I depressed and how can I not be?’

The why part of the question was genuine; the patient, who initially revealed little insight into his condition, did want an answer to the origins of her depression. The how, however, which is the more important, as it implies action, rather than ongoing jouissance, was perhaps less so. The patient, an artist, had had suicidal thoughts as a child which was when his parents’ marriage began to fall apart. As an adolescent the eating disorder that had first appeared after he was sexually abused by a relative, took hold and he attempted suicide.

Suicide attempts imply a lack of desire such that the subject can be considered already dead. And melancholia, inasmuch as it is a suicidal sacrifice, is identified with this death. Something of this sort seemed to be going on with my patient; the death drive had narcissistically named her. Her eating disorder, which could be seen as an attempt to create desire – suggested a surrender to the jouissance of the other. It was a surrender of desire. In its place were melancholic identifications. At one level he seemed to be aware of this. But what he believed more than anything he said, was his symptom-that and the ferocious super ego reproaches he made against himself and, ultimately, others.

He described his eating disorder as a desire to diminish himself. He wanted to punish his body, which he loathed. In the past he had tested his body’s limits with drink and drugs-this was done, he said, in an attempt to obtain some sort of physical sensation. He had a terror of intimacy, as he feared it would lead to him losing himself.

Initially he didn’t like coming to treatment, as it was painful. The usual steps one would take in a beginning analysis – establishing the transference by careful listening while thinking about what it is the patient is asking, and if they are asking anything at all, was relevant in this case. Clearly, he felt unheard. I saw one of my tasks-along with moving towards subjective rectification, as, in the transference, being not a just subject supposed to know, a repository of object a, but a good father.

I encouraged him to free associate – to speak like a hysteric, but this was somewhat problematic, as he preferred to complain in rote like way, not speak, or resort to conceptual theorizing. He had a kind of Sinthome with his art, and while it did not bring him into social contact with many people, it was his own expression, one that was beginning to attract a following. But could he use this and the peculiar satisfaction that comes from becoming curious about the unconscious to, in Freud’s terms, give up a deadly libidinal satisfaction? Could he question the melancholic’s notion that there is no room for him in the world? Which would be to question himself as a victim, his hatred of the world and himself, while also attempting to forge anxiety in the other.

IN his book, The Marks of a Psychoanalysis Luis Izcovitch speaks of how a patient, disabled by the words of his mother, seeks a way out of the “maternal clutches.” Luis asks, “Is it a question of the analyst finding the words that would (90) neutralise the negative effects of what has been heard?” Izcovich’s answer is to refer to Lacan’s discourse without speech. Such a discourse requires the ordering the experience of the subject through production a void. “How,” Izcovitch asks, can analysis lead to the experience of the ordering void?” His answer is a return to the letter.

At the heart of this move is a search for a discourse that won’t be semblance. In other words: “Is it possible that something operates even if it is outside sense?”. Considering this, Lacan found inspiration in calligraphy where there is a form of writing, but also a void, what has been elided. For Lacan this demonstrated a void hollowed out by writing and his quest was to see whether analysis could do the same, that is, achieve the elision achieved by cursive script. This seems to be a sort of thought in action, one that does not involve filling in blanks but, as Izcovitch notes, introduces the mark of a detail that resonates.

The void to which Lacan refers occurs not only in Chinese painting but poetry-where the elision of words introduces “the mark of time”. It appears in some Yuan pictures as a void that is not inert but active, linking the visible with the invisible. Seen as the medium void-that is a void with substance – this correlates, Izcovitch believes, with the place of object a, which, though outside the signifying chain, organizes it.

Just as Chinese calligraphy dissolves forms and goes against semblance, so does Lacan’s Letter, which is made up from language. This is important for analysis, Izcovitch tells us, as it offers a way of approaching the real – not via naming it but via the letter-which goes against semblance.

What can’t be said, then, has to be knotted another way perhaps by knowing something of how the real influences the way how the speaking being receives the jouissance of his most embryonic speech-what Lacan calls lalangue. My patient did not mention any sort of motherese style exchanges with his mother. Not did he paint in the style of ancient Chinese calligraphers, but it was possible that his art could help knot something unravelled.

FREUD thought the difference between someone who had had an analysis, and someone who hadn’t, was perhaps not so great. Thus while analysis does sometime succeed – in Freud’s terms – counteracting the effect of the increase the drive, it does not always do so. Sometimes it simply raises the power of the resistance put up by inhibitions, so that, after analysis, these are equal or heavier than before. It could be as if it the analysis had never taken place at all.

Freud explained the uncertain results of psychoanalysis in terms of a partial, rather than complete, mastery of drives; one which left sections of what he calls “old mechanisms” – untouched. This situation, as is well known, he attributed to castration-anxiety for men and women’s alleged inability to submit without bitterness to embracing the feminine role. The masculine protest, however, wasn’t, for Freud, repudiation of passivity (as men he points out, were often passive to the point of masochism in regard to women) nor-he said-was it rejection of the social side of femininity.

It was, Freud thought, a horror of passivity in relation to other men – castration-anxiety thus became both the rock that founds subjectivity, the phallocentric symbolic order, and the rock upon which Freud’s edifice would founder.

Lacan has a different slant, orientating his position toward the advent of the symptom in its articulation with castration. In this formulation, the analysis brings the patient to the point of seeing the effect of castration behind the veil of phantasy- the fundamental phantasy here being what hides the real.

So, analysis can, according to this model, avoid collision with both Scylla and Charybdis by, grasping what the function of the fundamental phantasy actually is. This means taking responsibility for it. It also requires, as we know, a number of things – giving up of identifications and the absolute disarray accompanying subjective destitution.

In the place of what has been given up, is, Lacan explains, a different sort of identification … one with the symptom.

Still, despite the differences I’ve tried to explore between Freud and Lacan around the impossibility of analysis, affinities remain between jouissance and Freud’s libido. Lacan described jouissance as a ‘bodily substance’ and, in keeping with Freud’s idea of only one libido, it was for him a masculine libido, essentially phallic. He did however, later concede a specific feminine jouissance, one ‘beyond the phallus’. This was ineffable; women experience it but know nothing about it.

This was not the position of many patients who are closer to a melancholia-identification with the hole in the other. Freud equates the melancholy mood to that of a pathological loss that leads to painful dejection, an incapacity to love, and inhibition. He points to the radical feeling of sadness that is a sign of melancholia: “an abyss of sadness, incommunicable pain that absorbs us sometimes, and often durably, until we have lost the desire to speak”.

This in itself enables us to draw a parallel between the radical aspect of the death imagery and the description of the melancholy state. There is a difference between the melancholy position and the melancholy state, the latter being characterised by temporary mood swings; the other by the subject’s systematic relation to jouissance – one that leaves the subject with a destitution very different to what Lacan envisged for an end of analysis. It precipitates a wish to end it all by performing a real act of severing.

The melancholy subject may identify with a social norm and social expectations, because of a failure of the ego ideal. Social norms in this case function as the ideal version of the subject and because the self is fully identified with them, there is no room for a welcome deviation from the norm. The effect of the lack of this ideal can be identification with overwelhming loss, where the subject sees herself as waste that can be disposed of in the suicidal act. It this case the loss is experienced as an unbearable hole, one which threatens to engulf her. The melancholic here is attached less to the one they have lost than to loss itself. Lack now becomes the hole rather than a source of possibilities’.

How is this break or rupture to be addressed? Is amends possible through the symbolic register? For Freud, it was mourning that was crucial-its structure being the inverse of psychotic foreclosure. While a hole left in the symbolic may not be rectified, mourning is a useful mediation. If the signifier of the Name of the Father is absent, the result is a subject unable to identify with the symbolic father and therefore, a failure to integrate into the symbolic order. For Lacan, the absence of the signifier does not seem to mean that it isn’t in some way evoked. The subject is still faced with the gap or lack-which can be thought of as an abyss in the network of signifiers. The subject here is likely to try to address the gaping hole through continually re-shaping the signifier. It’s an exercise built on the chaos of the imaginary, but in a way that signifier and signified are stabilized in what Lacan calls delusional metaphor.