Wrapping up…

8 August 2009

I’m not quite sure where to begin…Great thanks to G. & E. for coming up with the crazy scheme, and to E. for all our coffeeshop talk, for giving my brain something to do this summer.

I’ve been talking for quite a while about writing something on my issues with Freud (because one of the most significant things that’s come, for me, from this exercise, is a greater understanding, if not appreciation, of Freud). Issues E. keeps oversimplifying as “hate.” :p So here we go.

It started for me, with reading “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (“Dora”)” in a third year class. Personal history made me equal parts offended and scared by Freud’s analysis—any time I voiced an objection, I could hear him sneering at me, “Well, of course you would want to think I’m wrong.”  But there was something, particularly about lines like, “…a fact which I did not fail to use against her” (Gay 203), that troubled me very deeply. Then another lecture covered an essay not in our Gay anthology: “On Hypnotherapy and Marriage”. Our professor asked, what sort of person compares hypnotherapy and marriage? And, the answer is, one who understands people very well in some ways, and in other ways, not at all.

As a matter of fact, the piece we read together, “The Theme of the Three Caskets”, seems the most, well, human of anything I’ve read by Freud (admittedly, not a lot, but still).  And yet it still is written in this odd way in which Freud separates himself from the rest of us as much as he is included. How can a man understand so much about humanity, and have so little of it?

Lacan seems to feel this tension when he writes about Freud’s work, as well. E. and I noted last week that, as we’ve been noting all along, Lacan is incredibly concerned with style, how the person is revealed through his language, and seems incredibly careful with his. And yet in various essays we’ve read throughout our time together, he refers to what Freud does in very strange ways – both “discovering” and “inventing” (which as E. pointed out, has both its common meaning and also, literally, means “to come upon” – which Lacan means, or both/and, we don’t know).

There was a phrase in “Beyond the Reality Principle” that struck me as describing my issue with Freud, to a lesser extent with Lacan, and with the whole bunch of lit. crits. and philosophers we read in theory classes. I was troubled by the fact that their views were always expressed in such absolute terms. I appreciate the birth of the reader, but why must it be at the expense of the death of the author? And no, I don’t think my devotion to my religious beliefs numbs my desire for social justice. On p. 64 (right before the section “Freud’s Revolutionary Methods”), Lacan writes: “This is the mutilation committed…because they are only interested in the act of knowing, that is, in their own activity as scientists; the fact that it is speculative does not make it have any the less cruel consequences for living beings and for human beings.”

And that’s an oversight I’m not sure I can forgive, no matter how pleasant present company.

Freud and Macbeth

22 July 2009

Thread for tonight…what time?

Schedule reminder…

21 June 2009

For those not present at the last discussion, we will not be meeting this week to discuss Freud/Lacan, but next week (1st July).

Though writing that date makes me wonder if everyone will be available…

Week two aftermath.

17 June 2009

Two questions we discussed at length regarding “The Freudian Thing” (and most of the little we know about Lacan thus far) were “what is truth?” and “what’s the difference, theoretically, between deconstruction and psychoanalysis (see also, what use is reading Lacan)?”

Lacan’s introduction and conclusion to the essay take up the problem of truth.  Faith and I considered at some length Lacan’s discussion of the difference between Europe and “The United States of North America.”  Lacan seems to critique the latter’s emphasis of cultural differences between individuals following the Diaspora after the war.  We played with Lacan’s phrasing of the two sentences at 403:

But to reduce one’s function to one’s difference in this case is to give in to a mirage that is internal to the function itself, a mirage that grounds the function in this difference.  It is to return to the reactionary principle that covers over the duality of he who suffers and he who heals with the opposition between he who knows and he who does not. (335.403)

Emphasising the differences between individuals (and Lacan is talking at least partly in metaphor here, as he does throughout the essay) erects that illusory binary between those who possess knowledge, and those who do not.  But what is the relationship between that binary and the suffering-healing one preceding it (which — in Lacan’s metaphor — characterises Europeans)?  Faith suggested, given Lacan’s description of psychoanalysts (on 362) as those who recognise the importance of constantly recognising what they do not know, that the binary of suffering-healing can be interpreted as patient (who falsely thinks he knows)-analyst (who knows he does not possess knowledge).  The parallel seems to make sense, except of course, that Lacan suggests the knowing-not knowing parallel is a false or bad one…

The “he who heals” part of the sentence is troublesome, too, given the essay’s emphasis on psychoanalysis as a kind of discourse: Lacan invokes Saussure, he demonstrates the interminable jouissance of language when he plays with Frence translations of Freud’s Das Ich und das Es and in the constant jokes and metaphors that make up the essay.  He also makes fun of the Hegelian “beautiful soul” (345.415).  The essay seems, at these moments, to emphasise the endlessness of the psychoanalytic discourse (and he reminds us of the endless process of dream interpretation in his invocation of Freud’s rebus).

Healing, however, suggests an endpoint.  How does one reach this endpoint using a discourse that is inherently without end? (Again, why is the parallel of “he who heals” and “he who does not know” false, or bad?)

Freud’s comment to Jung, “They don’t realize we’re bringing them the plague” (336.403), recalls what Freud theorises in other works: that we are all suffering from neurosis (psychoanalysis makes us admit that fact?).  In this sense,  Lacan’s assessment that there is some sort of underlying unifying quality beneath cultural difference makes sense  (after all, isn’t North America a collection of scattered and equally traumatised Europeans?)  That unifying quality is, I suppose, embodied by (and I’m not certain about my choice of words at this point) the “Freudian thing”: the transcendental phallus that is the “source” of all desire/cultural neurosis/fragmentation/lack. (And we’re always already born into that desire, just as we’re born into language, or our relationship with the Other.)

Andrew suggested (via Kierkegaard) that Hegel is often critiqued for assuming that it is possible for a philosopher/philosophy (he can correct me here) to encompass the beautiful soul (in Lacanian terms: the Other?) in its entirety.  Perhaps this critique of Hegel suggests how Lacan differs from Hegel as well as Saussure and Derrida.  Lacan, too, posits a unifying concept, but does not suggest that we can ever fully understand or encompass in language that concept (Other/Phallus).  What we are left with is discourse, or an endless process of healing (and psychoanalysts are no less engaged in the process of healing than anyone else).

I still am not certain that we’ve managed to address the problem of how psychoanalysis differs, as a literary critical approach, from deconstruction.  Also, I like Andrew’s question about how our relationship with the text should differ from an analyst’s relationship with a patient.   As literary/philosophical critics, we aren’t, as he observed, attempting to “heal” the text, though we are engaging in discourse with it (keeping it talking, as Fink suggests the analyst is supposed to do).

I know Faith had more thoughts on the Freud-Lacan relationship discussion from last week, if she cares to post.  I think that part of the discussion will probably be increasingly relevant with the next readings.  As for me, I’m not yet satisfied about the answer to “why read Lacan?”  Lacan would probably think that’s a good thing…

17 June 2009 ~ St. Catharines


10 June 2009

As a final linguistic tidbit, I must have been having a slow day, and realized only later how cool it is to use the title “Mirror Stage”…because it’s both a step in the developmental process and has an element of performance. – Faith

This element of performance is something that I too picked up on Faith. Lacan emphasizes theatre and spectacle throughout the Mirror Stage essay.

This development is expierenced as a temporal dialectic that decisively projects the individual’s formation into history: the mirror stage is a drama whose internal pressure pushes precipitously from insufficiency to anticipation- (pg. 78)


This moment at which the mirror stage comes to an end inaugurates, through identification with the imago of one’s semblable and the drama of primordial jealousy (so well brought out by the Charoltte Buhler school in cases of transitivism in children), the dialectic that will henceforth link the I to socially elaborated situations. (pg. 79)

When Lacan first introduces the act of the child perceiving her/himself before a mirror he states that it causes him to

reflect upon the striking spectacle of a nursling in front of a mirror who has not yet mastered walking, or even standing, but who- though held tightly by some prop, human or artificial (what, in France, we call a trotte-bebe [ a sort of walker ]) (pg. 76-77)

The language is ripe with examples of subjects related to drama: props, drama, spectacle.

I am not sure I have anywhere to really go with this subject other than the fact that Lacan makes use of theatre and spectacle as a part of this process of the formation of the I and how dependant it is on the spectacle of the self. Lacan could be positing that the theatre provides a safe space to explore the anxiety that is felt when confronting the self as the child confronts her/his mirror reflection.

Please share some of your own thoughts on this subject. Comments?

this week

5 June 2009

Hi everybody,

Just a quick note to say I can’t make it this week. Rescheduling would be great, or I can just read and post here, whichever is best for everybody (rescheduling would probably be complicated…)


Last week

31 May 2009

Hi all (ie, Erin, those who couldn’t make it last week, and people planning on joining us),

I just thought I’d give a little overview of what we talked about…sorry it’s taken so long.

I was really fascinated by Lacan’s language, overall and in a few particular instances. First, that it’s purposefully difficult. I read the translator’s note, where he says that “the first few pages of many of the texts are far more difficult than what follows, and that the persistent reader is usually well rewarded” (xii), so I was prepared. But still, when I got to the Overture and “a knot whose trajectory closes on the basis of its inverted redoubling” (4), I found myself asking why this stuff (philosophy, literary criticism) has to be written this way. Till Lacan explains: “I want to lead the reader to a consequence in which he must pay the price with elbow grease” (5). Then I was convinced. As someone interested in the public/not-for-profit sectors, believe me that I know that people don’t think something has value unless it costs them something. And, as implied, I did find a pretty big pay-off, here. At least in getting the cogs in my brain turning again. I was also interested, in this sense, in his opening statements about “the style is the man himself”, and the ways in which that might or might not be true.

I was also intrigued by the combination, in his language, of the clinical and the, well, almost mystical.  “Prefigures its alienating destination” (76), “the signifiable appears to succumb to its mark” (578), “destined to designate meaning” (579), and “destined” again on 581, were all surprising to me considering that he begins one of the arguments by saying that “It is only on the basis of clinical facts that the discussion can be fruitful.”

And I particularly liked some of the ways he talked about Freud, so I’m excited to read for next week and also maybe am thinking of making my own week 5 of “Agressiveness in Psychoanalysis”, because this is something that interests me. This was especially brought up by p. 577, where he writes about “the example it sets of doctrinal passion”, and Freud’s “recognition of the order of unconscious phenomena, of which he was the inventor”. Inventor was very very interesting to me. To make a very long story (that Erin heard) short, as much as I think Freud understood people in a lot of important ways, I think he had a fatal shortcoming, and that was being unable to relate properly. There’s an essay comparing hypnotherapy (I think) and marriage, and in one of the studies (Dora, I think), he says, and I remember this vividly, “I did not hesitate to use this against her in our next session”.  I understand that the analyst / subject relationship has to be somewhat…well, to use Lacan’s word, agressive. Because the goal is to make someone talk about stuff they really don’t want to or think they can talk about. But agressive is different from adversarial, in the sense that Freud’s language betrays. Anyway…

We also talked about gender in Lacan’s language (and ours!). The times when it’s purposefully gender-neutral, the times when it’s not. Passages on 583 were particularly interesting when he uses “frigidity” and “impotence” to describe the same condition in the female and the male, and it got me thinking about why and how we use these.

As a final linguistic tidbit, I must have been having a slow day, and realized only later how cool it is to use the title “Mirror Stage”…because it’s both a step in the developmental process and has an element of performance.

And finally, re: Mirror Stage, I did a wee bit of homework and asked my early childhood educator friends about stages in the development of the very young. So, evidently, a child knows of its own existence (ie, recognizes that it moves its limbs, etc.) by 6 months at the latest; recognizes others within weeks of birth (especially, say, the mother and father, where some say hours or days); recognizes itself in a mirror around 15-20 months; and, finally, empathizes with others…this one takes a long time, but I thought it was important to ask because of Lacan’s discussion of how much of our expression is mediated by our audience…after a few years. “Still quite egocentric through preschool”, was the way one person put it. So there ‘t’is.

Lots more came up in discussion, but those were the things that stuck for me. Comments?

Lacan this week?

27 May 2009

I’ve been dutifully reading Lacan.  Well, mostly a book on Lacan, but I’ve nothing much to do today except RA work, so I’ll be done the first week’s readings by this afternoon.  Are we meeting today, or shall we attempt to meet Thursday or Friday?

Posting a couple of discussion questions soon.


21 May 2009

1. I’m assuming we’ll all sort of unofficially decide not to include the diacritics.

2. I have the 4 volume “Essential Zizek” on my cart right now. I think it’s a sign.


13 May 2009

The syllabus has been updated.  It covers four weeks, and goes to July 8 (if we remain faithful to the regular meetings).  We can probably fit two more weeks in, but these might be readings we choose in a few weeks, depending on where discussion takes us.  We might seriously consider, along another Lacan selection, a piece by Zizek: I think Andrew has the Sublime Object of Ideology, and I have Violence, so we could photocopy a selection from there. Alternatively, we could watch the Zizek film online.

Or, there’s always Luce Irigaray, or some other post-Lacanians.

I’m excited.