Lacanian Psychoanalysis and Ego Psychology: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

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At the end of my post on trauma and the discourse of bio-power, I argued that if we want a form of psychoanalysis which will allow the subject to choose trauma over fantasy, then we must address the problem of authorization i.e. asking ourselves what authorizes the analysand to say “yes, that is what happened”. It is worth restating here that the reasonwhy we want to achieve this is that it is precisely such a form of psychoanalysis which will meet the challenge of the decline of the discourse of the analyst created by the rise of the universe of capitalism. And, as we saw, the historical reality of the traumatic primal scene undergoes a shift in the trajectory of psychoanalytic theory when traced from Freud to Lacan. Although Freud knew that simply stating the blunt reality of the primal scene was problematic, he desperately tried to secure a place for trauma in the analysand’s biographical reality in the face of Jung’s relativistic thesis of retrospective fantasies. Subsequently, Lacan resolved some of the more symptomatic errors in Freud’s thinking on this question by introducing his theory of logical time and his ideas about a so-called “logic of fantasy”.

If an analysis really did take the form of a detective story, then the analysand would take the “yes, that’s what happened” moment as the conclusion of the analysis. But in Lacanian psychoanalysis, for reasons which we have already explored here, there is no such moment. So what represents the end of an analysis for Lacan? The end of analysis entails a shift in the analysand’s transference, from the figure of the analyst, via the real, onto the cause of psychoanalysis itself – meaning that every analysis is, retroactively, a training analysis. (The detour “via the real” will be explored in a future post.) The fact that the issue ofpsychoanalysis as a cause should come up in a discussion about the relationship between fantasy and trauma should come as no surprise at all. As we saw in my first ever post, it was in his case study of the Wolf Man that Freud most fully explored the tensions between fantasy and trauma. That same case study is also one of two places where Freud made a historically significant attempt to salvage his theory of psychoanalysis from the divergent ideas of both Adler and Jung. In his introductory remarks to the Wolf Man case, Freud tells us:

This case history was written down shortly after the termination of the treatment, in the winter of 1914-15. At that time I was still under the impression of the twisted re-interpretations which C.G. Jung and Alfred Adler were endeavouring to give to the findings of psycho-analysis. This paper is therefore connected with my essay ‘On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement’… It supplements the polemic contained in that essay. (“An Infantile Neurosis”, SE 17: 7)

In his ‘On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement’, Freud essentially expels Adler and Jung from psychoanalysis, literally casting their re-interpretations as an intrusive form of theft.

It may… be said that the theory of psycho-analysis is an attempt to account for two striking and unexpected facts of observation which emerge whenever an attempt is made to trace the symptoms of a neurotic back to their sources in his past life: the facts of transference and of resistance. Any line of investigation which recognizes these two facts and takes them as the starting point of its work has a right to call itself psycho-analysis, even though it arrives at results other than my own. But anyone who takes up other sides of the problem while avoiding these two hypotheses will hardly escape a charge of misappropriation of property by attempted impersonation, if he persists in calling himself a psycho-analyst. (“On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement”, SE 14: 16)

Of course, Freud could not have had anything other than a wry smile on his face when he wrote the above words; for he knows that adversaries, such as Adler and Jung, could just as easily write their own Histories of the Psycho-Analytic Movement and put the facts of transference and resistance centre stage. In fact, Freud’s implication is that, because theories (in their development and acceptance) can be stained by repression and transference, then we can imagine that sectarian splits in psychoanalysis are caused by significant individuals (such as Adler and Jung) who have been unable to get beyond a particular transference or overcome a particular repression. This, then, introduces the question of not only who can practice psychoanalysis, but also who can write about it and who can theorise about it. The implication is that what drives sectarian splits in psychoanalysis are the un-analysed remainders of individuals. Basically, we are to believe that Jung abandoned psychoanalysis, not because he genuinely came to believe something else, but because he was not as fully analysed as he could have been and that un-analysed remainder sought expression in his analytical psychology which is merely symptomatic dogma rather than a legitimate difference of opinion with psychoanalysis. Of course, Freud is not oblivious to the potential comedy of different psychoanalytic factions accusing each other of simply being repressed:

Analysis is not suited… for polemical use; it presupposes the consent of the person who is being analysed and a situation in which there is a superior and a subordinate. Anyone, therefore, who undertakes an analysis for polemical purposes must expect the person analysed to use analysis against him in turn, so that the discussion will reach a state which entirely excludes the possibility of convincing any impartial third person. (SE 14: 49)

A Lacanian take on the above two sentences would note that it is not possible to gain a person’s consent to analysis – by virtue of what Lacan calls the analysand’s “extraterritoriality” to psychoanalysis (i.e. the fact that she has not fully experienced psychoanalysis), the analysand cannot be said to meaningfully consent to psychoanalysis because she does not yet fully know what psychoanalysis is… And so then watch how swiftly the cult of Lacan swoops in on its prey: the only way the analysand can complete the analysis is to come to know what psychoanalysis is – and that, by default, makes one a psychoanalyst. Thus, every successful analysis for Lacan is retrospectively a training analysis.

In fact, we can cause even more trouble for Lacan by arguing that Lacanian psychoanalysis is really an inverse mirror-image of the ego psychology school which he despises so much. Take for instance the following from Freud’s paper “Analysis Terminable and Interminable”:

[T]he special conditions of analytic work do actually cause the analyst’s own defects to interfere with his making a correct assessment of the state of things in his patient and reacting to them in a useful way. It is therefore reasonable to expect of an analyst, as part of his qualifications, a considerable degree of mental normality and correctness. In addition, he must possess some kind of superiority, so that in certain analytic situations he can act as a model for his patient and in others as a teacher. (“Analysis Terminable and Interminable”, SE 23: 248)

Of course, to the Lacanian, this sort of statement by Freud anticipates the worst tendencies of ego psychology to attempt to ‘normalise’ analysands; and, to that end, most Lacanians probably write off this sort of passage by noting that Anna Freud’s book, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, had been published a year before Freud’s paper. We thereby dismiss these ideas as little more than the attempt of a proud father to push forward his daughter’s career. (In fact, Anna’s book is actually referred to in the paper.) But what if we were to push the Lacanian interpretation of Freud to its extremes and claim that what Freud is really saying here is that “model” and “teacher” are dialectically-related in such a way that all successful analyses are, retrospectively, training analyses? Of course, Freud believed no such thing explicitly, but the implications are there in his writings, waiting to be constructed in the name of theoretical consistency. The result of such a reflection, however, is that Lacanian psychoanalysis and ego psychology are revealed to be two sides of the same coin. And instead of confidently declaring their knowledge and understanding of the repressed traumas which have been haunting them, Lacanian analysts confidently produce contributions to psychoanalytic theory. This is precisely the point at which speculative materialism should intervene: something has gone wrong here if psychoanalysis begins with the promise of finding the trauma in the analysand’s personal history and ends up abandoning that search and replacing it with contributions to psychoanalytic theory. In its Lacanian incarnation, this is a practice marked by finitude.

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