Lacan's Legacy

Nobody interprets psychoanalysis today according to the canons that prevailed previously. Course of J.-A. Miller, 26 March 2008

It's now thirty years since the death of Lacan. 9 September 1981. And, as J.-A. Miller predicted more than 20 years ago, today everybody is a Lacanian.

Lacan and the Lacanians
In the United States Lacan is read by the IPA, the association that once maintained him at a distance after having expelled him; Lacan is read in the universities, and he is read as a contemporary French author, as a philosopher, maybe even as a psychoanalyst. But is he read as the psychoanalyst that he was, one inspired by his practice? Lacanians are everywhere, but is the true spirit of psychoanalysis still here?

There exists a large number of groups, self proclaimed inheritors of Lacan, others who think that his work can be interpreted carelessly and that anyone can select and extract out of context whatever they like, giving him the same treatment the post-Freudians gave Freud before Lacan went back over his traces.

Unlike Freud, Lacan paid scant attention to institutional matters. He once uttered the fatal words: "A psychoanalyst authorizes himself only by himself". He knew that the immense fame he had acquired in such a short time was more important – at least in the short term – for the future of psychoanalysis than the clans of those who claimed to be his successors. As a consequence, he dissolved his School, the one he had founded. He made one gesture that counterbalanced all the rest, however: skipping one, even two generations of his colleagues, to designate a young man to whom, notably, he entrusted the task of editing his seminars, appointing him co-author.

With the assistance of only a handful at the outset, Jacques-Alain Miller, in whom Lacan had placed his trust above all others as someone to grasp the logic of his teaching, created in France the Ecole de la Cause Freudienne. Then, under the necessity to protect psychoanalysis against various menaces coming especially from bureaucratic health agencies in Europe, he worked at bringing to fruition the establishment of the World Association of Psychoanalysis which today counts 1,500 psychoanalysts and which is the only association to have been able to keep open the pathways opened up by Lacan.

This association for Psychoanalysis follows an orientation based on the rigorous study of Lacan's texts, which Miller has been pursuing for the last 30 years at his weekly course, which he calls "The Lacanian Orientation", in the Department of Psychoanalysis created by Lacan at the University of Paris 8 (St Denis). It is a delegation of this Department that Barnard College will be hosting in New York in October 2011.

A Legacy
What is it that makes this work unique, when it might appear from the United States as just another reading of Lacan's teaching? We consider it to be quite a specific and coherent orientation, one that makes us different within the nebulous world of "Lacanians".

There is, first, Lacan's own clear choice of Miller, as the one who would edit his Seminar; and he has done so during thirty years together with a weekly series of lectures dedicated to the logic of Lacan's teaching with respect to psychoanalysis both as a praxis and as a theory. His reading has not been simply a chronological one, even though chronology is never ignored, but it is a precise and systematic commentary that is critical, not in the sense of issuing from a superior point of view that would dominate Lacan and select out this or that component for retention, but in the sense of deciphering.

Lacan, certainly "worked against himself" and Miller stresses the internal dialectics of his teaching. He follows the movement of his thought, his efforts at theorization, his steps backwards, his breakthroughs, his often veiled self-criticisms.

His reading is innovative, as a result, and it has produced a number of concepts (such as "ordinary psychosis", for instance) of its own. Several volumes of Miller's lecturing have been published in Spanish so far, such as: "The Experience of the Real in the Psychoanalytic Treatment" or "The Banquet of the Analysts" or "The True Nature of Semblants" among others.

He never puts the emphasis on "explaining" Lacan but on making use of him by reading him closely so as always to rediscover the cutting edge of his operation as a psychoanalyst. One of the guiding principles of this reading is never to lose sight of the fact that Lacan's written work, like his oral teaching, is always tightly bound up with his practice as a psychoanalyst (the "clinic") and with the place that psychoanalysis occupies in society. As Lacan used to say, psychoanalysis is a discourse. It is also a praxis and for each given subject, it happens to be a unique experience in which the therapeutic objective is additional.

Finally, Miller's reading has always stressed what at any given moment Lacan was able to contribute to the most accurate interpretations of the state of our culture, thereby bringing alive and making contemporary beyond his death a body of work which, like Freud's, continues to produce polemics in a world in which traditional kinship structures, as Lacan had predicted in 1938, have collapsed. This Paris-USA Lacan Seminar in New York will build on the clinical reflections already undertaken by the Schools of the WAP for their next Congress on "Changes in the symbolic order". And we have chosen themes in which American society has taken an interest from moral, philosophical and political points of view. We thus aim to debate reconfigurations of the symbolic order and modes of enjoyment specific to American society in the light of psychoanalysis of a Lacanian orientation.

Psychoanalysis and norms: a psychoanalysis beyond the Oedipus complex
Psychoanalysis is often considered to be normative by nature. This is one of the most frequently formulated reproaches against it, especially by many Foucaldians or Deleuzians, as if the aims of psychoanalysis were moralist and adaptive. It is not untrue to say that Freud's descendants have turned psychoanalysis in the direction of morality. For his part, however, Lacan always insisted upon its ethical dimension. The aim of an ethics is not to prescribe a universal law; it is on the contrary to allow analysands to know what to do with themselves, with their enjoyment and with their desires, and to do so as a function of what each has that is unique, incomparable, the most particular.

The Schools of the WAP have worked with psychoanalysis beyond the Oedipus complex. This is an original position that can be deduced from the Lacanian paradigms of jouissance and is completely different from that of Deleuze or Foucault, for instance. Psychoanalysis beyond the Oedipus complex should also be distinguished from the point of view of social constructivism that the most recent generations of students of gender studies have found so seductive.

Turning one's back upon the vessel of meaning that always returns to religion, it is a question of knowing how to make use of the Father, the central figure in coming to grips with the reconfigurations of the symbolic, while also knowing how to do without him. A different figure of the Father from that of the prohibitor is at work, that of the Father who says yes or who says nothing, and not, in any case, the figure of the father of the Law.

There is, however, even at the heart of those who call themselves Lacanians, conservatives who are nostalgic for the old order. As Jacques-Alain Miller has had occasion to say, "Psychoanalysts do not have to join in the chorus of criers who sob with regret over the old days. Each of them is free to be a humanist, if that appeals to them, even Christian, why not? But as analysts, they cannot be traditionalists, for this reactive, reactionary, conservative position goes against the grain of their act."

Psychoanalysis and sexuation: no sexual relation
In the USA the relationships between sexes are often part of the political stage. Some believe they have gone beyond psychoanalysis by forcing themselves, as in the queer movement, to make the vanishing of sexed identifications a factor of modernity, even a measure of "progress". Alternatively, one may attempt to turn sexual orientation into a feature of being and a mode of enjoyment, as many integrationists of the gay and lesbian movement have done. The Lacanians of the WAP, following Lacan and Miller, have clear positions on these points. We adopt first of all Lacan's point of view according to which jouissance is neither transgressive nor forbidden. It must just never become a duty since then it is the voice of the cruel superego whose commandment is, "Enjoy!" As Lacan also indicated, we recognize that we have no other being than our bodies. The choice of partner is never a characteristic of being but it can be neither prescribed nor condemned, provided it is consensual. It conforms to the destiny that the unconscious gives each of us.

There are, however, two quite different modalities of jouissance: there is the man's and there is the woman's. But, as Lacan indicated, it is not anatomy that obliges us to be counted as a man or a woman. Nor is it a conscious choice by the ego, but a choice determined by the unconscious of each subject, that is, by the words that have marked it and fashioned its jouissance by their grip on his or her body, and whose consequences he or she has to assume. But between the sexes there is no relationship, in the sense that these two forms of jouissance could ever become a single one, even if couples might dream of some kind of fusion through love. The partner, whoever he or she is, is invariably a symptom. This is therefore not the realm where "everything is permitted", to which an analysis would give access – far from it, if one thinks that a symptom is what one has that is most real.

The subject and his partners: the hypermodern family
The family as society's basic institution is a very strong value in this country, still we have to pay attention to the dislocation of this ideal in contemporary society. Divorce, single parents, composite families, broken families, family violence, and so on – the ideal of the family has its share of failures but on the other hand, the very dislocation of the ideals of the traditional family that may also give way to innovative solutions that modern psychoanalysis has to take into account.

Moreover tendencies that are either progressive or reactionary contribute to focusing the evolution of society around various phenomena of segregation. Lacanian Psychoanalysis stands strongly against any form of segregative process.

Concerning abortion, gay marriage and parenthood for example,our psychoanalytic orientation has taken account of progressive tendencies and has spoken in favor of a lifting of taboos that impact upon jouissance and against any form of prejudices. Still it is not an open road to a jouissance without limits.

In agreement with Freud and Lacan, we consider that it is the task of psychoanalysis to contribute to the alleviation of the weight of superego prohibitions. It is a psychoanalytic point of view, not a moral one, that has led us to adopt these positions, which PULSE will more extensively develop.

Psychoanalysis and science: the real is lawless
Freud was the first to recognize that psychoanalysis and science are linked but irreducible to one another. Miller demonstrated this on one occasion by indicating that psychoanalysis occurs in the wake of science, but that it is not a science and cannot in any way be reduced to one. Whereas, effectively, psychoanalysis seeks to isolate what is singular for each subject, the aim of science is to uncover universal laws. Psychoanalysis, precisely, turns out to be an experience directed at the real, at what for each person responds as being lawless, as Lacan indicated towards the end of his teaching. From this point of view, it is quite particularly concerning the link between psychoanalysis and the neurosciences that the problem currently arises as a continuation of the philosophical debate around the mind-body problem. Whereas the IPA, has taken a position that sees a continuity between psychoanalysis and the neurosciences, our own orientation (particularly with reference to the work of Eric Laurent) has taken a position on the irreducible differences between the two discourses. We consider that by giving ground over this mistaken alliance, the IPA thereby buries the possibility of any operativity on the part of psychoanalysis, dulling the power of Freud's discovery. Neurosciences have their own place but the paradigms of psychoanalysis and science do not overlap.

Besides, in the field of human sciences it is bureaucratic management that our psychoanalytic orientation has risen up against. The very notion of "human resources", and scientific government and its evaluative methods based on the use of statistics and whose aim, or so it is claimed, is to ensure everyone's happiness brings out the death of the subject. Our orientation claims to be able to explain these positions. PULSE presents us with the opportunity.