Did You Say Bizarre?
Sex, The Last Thirty Years
JULIET FLOWER MacCANNELL
Rorty and the Orchids
edited by Suzanne Yang
Psychoanalysis is undoubtedly responsible - at least it was a premonitory sign - for what I would call that cult of speech - a cult of speech which, after having appeared under the form of subversive allure in the days following May '68, was ever since dispersed throughout the whole of society, to the point of imposing itself as a downright pousse-à-dire, a push to speak. I believe I feel in society nowadays a push to speak.
"We've got to talk," one readily says in the face of difficulty: it's the recourse, the remedy, the panacea. "Let's talk." And listening, exchange, dialogue, are the forces that one would like to believe capable of appeasing all conflicts: social, familial, individual. [From the audience: "Could you please speak into the microphone. It's very difficult to hear you."] It is very difficult to hear me? [laughter] I'm speaking of speech and listening, so it's better to listen. So I said - Is that alright? ["Yes, it's better, perfect."] So we would like to believe that listening, exchange and dialogue can appease all conflicts: social, familial, individual. It's a use of speech as anesthesia - and this use of speech might even be the byword of democracy.
The "push to speak" is quite another thing in psychoanalysis, I believe. In psychoanalysis, it invites the one who suffers to the test of that which is not a dialogue, but rather a monologue, a monologue except for interpretation. An analytic session, I would say, is a monologue except for interpretation. Interpretation is a particular, and even bizarre, mode of speech. 2. When I wrote the above argument to know what I wanted to say, the word bizarre flew to me from the pen. Bizarre - the word itself seemed bizarre to me. "Bizarre! Did you say bizarre?" is a famous repartee. The word bizarre is itself bizarre - it is autonomous.
And bizarre doesn't mean anything but that - something is bizarre insofar as it diverges from everyday use, from the common order; someone is bizarre to the extent that his behavior is not normal. These definitions are those of the dictionary. When the word bizarre had begun to tickle me a bit, I went to the French dictionary of contemporary use, the Robert, since the dictionary is there to attest to the normal use of language, the accepted use, in a given condition of the language. The dictionary is that which is least bizarre - it's the guide to normal use of the language, the normed way.
It seemed to me that the word bizarre is entirely appropriate to characterize psychoanalytic interpretation. If one takes the antonyms of the word - that is, the words having an opposite meaning from bizarre - if we read the page of Robert, of the antonyms of bizarre, what do we find as the contrary, the semantic opposites of bizarre? clear, constant, balanced, normal, ordinary, levelheaded, orderly, and simple.
And very well! Analytic interpretation is not clear, it is not balanced, it is not simple, it's not ordinary. It is, on the contrary, willfully obscure, excessive, complex, and rather extraordinary-at the very least, so-called psychoanalytic interpretations are statements, speech acts, that escape the ordinary.
And I like that word bizarre so much that I may even adopt it, in a way that everyone can understand, to characterize the Freudian phenomena, those upon which Freud founded his practice. These were bizarre phenomena par excellence, anomalous and obscure.
One can even say, fundamentally, that the unconscious reveals itself in a manner that is bizarre, that is always bizarre.
When does one come to analysis, ask for analysis? One comes to analysis when one feels oneself to be the seat of certain bizarre phenomena-of a certain number of blunders, of bizarre incapacities, bizarre obsessions, and above all, bizarre symptoms.
Bizarreness may spread out to the entire person. There are cases in my practice where the doorman worries about knowing whether to let such a person go upstairs-it's not the common scenario, to be sure, but it can happen.
Obviously, when people are too bizarre, when bizarreness goes beyond a certain extent, they are often brought to the psychiatric hospital.
But finally, truth be told, more bizarre even than these patients, is the psychoanalyst himself.
We've gotten used to it. We have to acknowledge that we've gotten used to this bizarre character, the psychoanalyst. At the end of a century of psychoanalysis-we're getting there-analysis doesn't appear to be so bizarre. And this precisely makes for difficulty in psychoanalysis, that it no longer appears to be as bizarre as all that.
It must be said that psychoanalysts have done all that they could not to appear too bizarre, and to demonstrate that they were citizens like the others, regular guys, bons bourgeois. They succeeded only too well.
Let's not stop with these appearances. One perceives very well that it is not from the side where they are straight that psychoanalysts operate, strictly speaking. Take a look at Jacques Lacan! The bulk of anecdotes about him-and which are all true, even the false ones [laughter]-show him to be extravagant, bizarre. Very well! This bizarreness has not harmed psychoanalysis one bit-contrary to what pious spirits might believe. This bizarreness incarnate, in the second half of the twentieth century, has rather refreshed and rejuvenated psychoanalysis. It has given it a new élan that carries us still, and that carries even those people who are against it, everywhere in the world. Even those who are against it, and against this revival of psychoanalysis by Lacan-even those who are against it live off of the élan that his bizarreness has given to psychoanalysis.
Thus, a touch of the bizarre is perhaps the mark of the psychoanalyst. To the point where truly sly psychoanalysts affect the bizarre, even if they have nothing of the bizarre. For example, between the two wars, a Central European accent didn't hurt the prestige of the psychoanalyst, quite the contrary [laughter]-it was even a sort of obligatory trait for a while in France. And it mattered, it had a meaning-it showed that they came from the land of the Other, from somewhere else.
In his little tale called "The Angel of the Odd," Edgar Allan Poe, before the time of psychoanalysis, made his angel speak with a horrifying German accent, a little of the style of Nucingen in Balzac. This little story is like a sort of premonition of the unconscious. And odd-the word odd-very well designates the unconscious. Lacan made note of this somewhere.
To go back to the dictionary, it gives a sensational list of words, which constitutes the semantic halo of the word bizarre. These are terms that could be just as well applied to the unconscious, to its phenomena, as to the patient and to the analyst himself-at least, if one looks at Lacan. This list delights me. I'm going to read it.
Starting from bizarre: "See: cock-and-bull, abnormal, baroque, quirky, comical, funny, extraordinary, extravagant, farfetched, fantastical, phantasmagoric, outlandish, grotesque, unusual, monstrous, original, amusing, ridiculous, crazy, peculiar, funny. A bizarre character. See: abrupt, capricious, impossible, incomprehensible, uneven. See: horned, loony, wild, Iroquois, lunatic, goofy, maniacal, number, eccentric, weirdo, oddball, swine, bloke."
Each of these terms would deserve to be given its place by a commentary.
All those adjectives circumscribe the very space of psychoanalysis. The bizarre is the very space in which we practice.
That is perhaps what gave psychoanalysts after Freud such an immoderate love of the norm. In order to compensate for what their practice had of the oddball, the extravagant, the weird, they developed after Freud a psychoanalytic morality, going against the very grain of civilization. Anyhow, it's about to recede.
There is, in psychoanalysis, the bizarre. But also, at the same time, there are rules. And precisely because the psychoanalytic phenomenon is bizarre, rules are fundamental in psychoanalysis:
-for instance, it's necessary for the patient to come very regularly to his sessions. There are cases where you relax this obligation, but the rule is that the patient must come very regularly to his sessions. As for the psychoanalyst, it is desirable that he move as little as possible. The angel of the odd, as Edgar Allan Poe emphasizes, does not have wings: it's an angel without wings.
That which prevails moreover for all psychoanalytic practice, is one rule, that of so-called free association. What does it say, as a matter of fact?: "Have no fear of the bizarre! Speak without retreating before the bizarre! It is in the bizarre that salvation resides!"
In psychoanalysis regularity is necessary so that the bizarre can truly be discerned. The authority of the rule, the regularity, must be represented, because it is the very backdrop upon which the irregular, the bizarre may emerge.
When the analyst speaks, it is with the bizarre that he comes to terms. One can even say that interpretation harmonizes with the odd. And moreover, the most effective interpretations are often very difficult to distinguish from blunders. Psychoanalytic interpretations are a kind of blunder, a gaffe. These things psychoanalysts often keep among themselves for supervision.
One can yet again further extend the concept of the bizarre as odd.
The neurotic subject himself is fundamentally an oddity, unpaired, in the sense that he has not yet met his match: either he seeks a companion, in order not to be alone; or else this companion, if he has one, is no good he believes, and in all cases this does not prevent him from feeling unpaired, odd, outside of the common share, outside of the pairing, displaced. That's what makes it such that the subject, as we say, is always odd, always bizarre; there is always something lame in his doings.
That's what makes it such that the psychoanalyst is a kind of crutch, and one that the neurotic can come to lean on in his lameness. That's what one calls holding perhaps-the psychoanalyst serves as support, restores an equilibrium in the odd, or even gives shelter.
But in the end, it is not the analytic act, nor is it interpretation, to serve as a crutch. 3. The Bizarre State I mentioned that the subject who comes to analysis suffers. But what is discovered in analysis, when the subject bites, when analysis really takes for a subject, is that he suffers essentially from things that have been said to him. He is sick of certain statements.
A psychoanalysis consists, in large part, of refinding and isolating the statements that have made a subject sick, in order to help him render them innocuous, and even to extricate himself from these statements that have made him sick.
Let us say, even if it is to push the point a little, that one extricates him by way of other statements that are calibrated for this. Interpretation, from this perspective, consists in sending missiles, missiles of language, calibrated to pulverize the statements of which the subject suffers.
It's a matter of language. And it must be said-as was said to me by someone some time ago in analysis-that that which is most bizarre in the end is language itself.
Perhaps it is necessary, in order to move forward in the matter of interpretation, to dedicate a little attention to language, seen through the lens of the bizarre.
Of course, one can view language according to other aspects: language as a system, via structural linguistics, and even just as a system according to grammar. It is possible to see language in its aspect of regularity. Lacan stressed it a lot, the regularity of language. But one can also view it by its aspect of bizarreness.
One gets a better view of the total goofiness of language when one takes it by way of etymology. Just take the word bizarre itself. Where does this word bizarre come from?
The word comes from the Spanish, bizarro. It comes across as normal because the Spanish, in the Classical Age, always seemed bizarre to the French. And the vocabulary bears the traces of this. Except that bizarro, in Spanish,-at least in the Classical Age-signifies valiant, it is laudatory. And how then did the word come into Spanish? It came supposedly from Basque or Arabic. It could have come from the Basque bizarra, which meant beard. This was even broken down in the Littré, the other dictionary I went to see, into biz on the one hand, arra on the other, which means "that he be a man."
But the word could have come from the Arabic basharet, which means beauty, elegance, thus valiant and chivalrous, then bilious, hot-headed, and finally extravagant. There we are.
Basically it's all there, it all makes sense. But precisely it makes any sense, just any sense. Every etymology is always extraordinarily convincing, and any one of these origins would just as easily do.
The funniest thing, after having read this in the etymologies of my French dictionary, was to go to the Spanish dictionary. Thus, I checked in the Maria Moliner, which is a dictionary of current usage-I didn't use an academic dictionary of rhetoric-and this was the response: that in Spanish nowadays the word bizarro has fallen into disuse, and is no longer used except to designate military servicemen, in a comical sense-one supposes it's a post-Franco use. But watch out-it also does remain in use, with the meaning of extravagance and surprise, a meaning that, according to the dictionary, it borrowed from the French. [laughter]
So you see the trajectory of the word. Bizarro, with the meaning of valiant, came to the French from the Spanish language, and we have sent it back to them endowed with the French meaning. Poor little bizarre, who no longer knows whether it's French or Spanish! That's Europe. [laughter]
Such goofy trajectories, we find them on all the pages of the dictionary. And though the dictionary had very well been made to give the norm to language, it's always a very bizarre book, nonetheless.
Indeed, you check the dictionary of language when your language becomes a little Greek to you. When your language, the one that you speak, becomes Greek to you yourself, there are two solutions.
-either you go to the dictionary, and you learn by way of the dictionary what the word means to others.
-or you go to the psychoanalyst. [laughter] And there, you learn, or at least you have a chance of learning, what it means to you yourself. Lacan once said that the unconscious is like a dictionary that each person has in his head.
If we consider language not as a system but from the point of view of etymology it appears to be a web of misunderstandings. "Did you say bizarre?" this sums up the entire etymology in language-a web of misunderstandings.
Language is captured in a movement of tropes, as rhetoric would have it, of displacements. And etymology is the trace in language of speech as misunderstanding.
Bit by bit, by way of etymology, it's all of history that marches past, all peoples, all languages, all knowledge, which are summoned to take account of the origin of a word. And let us remember, from the 17th century, the treatise of Isidore of Seville who tried to sum up the knowledge available at that time. The treatise of Isidore of Seville was called Etymologiae-Etymologies, as all-encompassing knowledge.
Such a perspective obliges us to take a little distance concerning this memorable saying of my teacher Roland Barthes when he said, "Language is fascist." He said this in his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France in the 70s. He grasped language from the side where it imposes order, where it dictates its law, where it divides the feminine and the masculine, etc.
That was correct. That was to emphasize in language the aspect that Lacan called the master signifier.
Shortly thereafter, the idea occurred to a certain number of people, especially in the United States, to purge their language of the fascist elements. The saying of Barthes was taken very much to the letter.
All the same, the statement "Language is fascist" took me aback at the time when I had the benefit of hearing it said by Barthes in his inaugural lecture, and at least for today I'll take the approach, "Language is bizarre." It seems to me that language is a good bit more bizarre than fascist. It involves regularities, that's for sure, but it is, at least in its vocabulary, woven with profoundly eccentric, extravagant, and hurly-burlesque irregularities.
We speak of language acquisition. There is acquisition of language when you are made to learn to speak like everyone else. But if there is a need to make you learn to speak like everyone else, it's precisely because your first move, when you are a very little child, is not at all to speak the language of everyone else. It is to confect your very own language, starting out from that of others.
It's enough to follow the development of the little child to realize that he coins his very own language-his special language, sa langue spéciale-and that language lends itself to all misunderstandings. And it is precisely these misunderstandings that make for effects of meaning.
As for me, with a little girl one and a half year old, my granddaughter, I took note of a vocabulary of a hundred or so monosyllabic and disyllabic words, which were coined by truncation, using terms from normal language. That is to say, she confected a language as a function of her interests:
-for example, the word "ba," declared while raising her arms (in French bras-she said 'ba'), signifies that she wants to be taken into the arms of the other.
-the word "tete" doesn't signify the head (tête) but the tétine, the teat, which replaces the satisfaction of food at certain times.
-and language also gave her the means to coin her own name. She has a name which was given to her by her parents, but which she doesn't seem to want. She invented her own name starting from the expression "on my own" (toute seule). It was said to her repeatedly "how well you do that on your own," etc. [laughter] She kept it, and at least according to the mother and father, she modified "on my own" (toute seule) into "Tato." She evidently makes use of this "Tato" as her own name, which she declares with a triumphant air, since it is upheld by "on my own." And even though she has recently discovered the use of the word "me," she designates herself by the word Tato and doesn't at all use the name which had been given to her by the big Other for this purpose.
She's now discovering trisyllabic words with intense jubilation. And it's all the more striking because this does not involve her immediate concerns.
The first trisyllabic word that I heard her say with a profound jubilation was "dinosaur." She has only one toy that is supposedly a dinosaur. And she's very proud of saying the word because in some way she knows it's trisyllabic, and that it's longer than the words she usually says. There seems to be a second one, which is the word "minuscule." [laughter]
She knows very well that it's a tour de force to utter such words, and therein adheres a special jouissance. I'll keep the word in French as I've seen that it appears to be untranslatable. Just before this, I was at a conference in Los Angeles with people from all over the United States, and everyone said "Jouissance, jouissance, jouissance." [laughter] I suppose that it won't be translated. The difficulty is that the defeat of translation is taken in a movement of spreading outward-now people feel that "knowledge" doesn't really translate the Lacanian "savoir"-so now they say "savoir." If it continues a sufficiently long time, then English will transform itself into French. That would really be a story for Jorge Luis Borges. [laughter]
It's been explained to us now and again, that the neurosciences are going to render psychoanalysis null and void. Well, they do not render psychoanalysis null and void from the point of view of theory. On the contrary, thanks to them, we have begun to verify elementary things, for example that-if I remember well it was a headline from The New York Times, or perhaps The Washington Post-that to make a child intelligent, they say "words are the way." It's been verified, in a manner that satisfies the criteria of the neurosciences, that the impact of words is essential for the neuronal development of the brain-words coming, as they put it, from an attentive and engaged human being. The very development of the network of neurons depends on speech addressed to the child by an attentive human being. That's what gives form to the mind.
One could say, at least on this point, that the neurosciences verify in a dramatic way the relevance of the emphasis Lacan placed on the function of speech and the field of language. "Neuronal man" (J.P. Changeux) needs a bath of language to become neuronal man.
Is it really a process of acquisition, what one observes in the little girl? It's a game in language, and which renders manifest an enjoyed meaning, du sens, but which has nothing to do with good sense, or common sense. I would say in French, le sens joui, c'est le sens bizarre. Enjoyed meaning is bizarre meaning. The jouissance-meaning (joui-sens) is bizarre meaning. It is the dinosaur, which is good for absolutely nothing, if not to show that one knows how to pronounce it, that one has moved on to the third syllable.
Since the mirror stage is well known, let us say that this is the bizarre stage in the relation with language.
Well then, Freud. Let's take him along the same lines. He taught humanity to play with language in a new way. He taught his patients to speak without worrying about good sense and the received uses of language. And one observes right away regressive effects and therapeutic effects-calming and tranquilizing.
One doesn't realize that psychoanalysis is a game-one doesn't realize it for the best reasons in the world-because it's a game that one plays for the sake of symptoms that cause suffering.
But in the end, one realizes it all the same-in this, that once one has begun to play this game, one doesn't necessarily want to stop it and even-that is what Freud had noticed-one is ready to continue to suffer in order to have a good reason to continue to play psychoanalysis. [laughter] That's what Freud called the negative therapeutic reaction. When one is doing better, one does worse because there is, precisely, in the analytic game itself, a principle by which it maintains itself. And this principle-I will say it in French-c'est qu'on jouit en parlant, one enjoys by speaking. One enjoys by speaking to no end. One enjoys the dinosaur. It's what Lacan called the jouissance of the blah-blah-blah.
What does free association consist of? It consists of speaking, all the while placing good sense and decency between parentheses. It's very difficult for certain people, people of extremely good sense. But that's nevertheless what the practice tends toward: placing good sense between parentheses, to leave the initiative to words, as the poet says, or yet again to let the words make love, that is to say to let the signifiers, the material of language, the sounds, associate among themselves.
Analytic practice, from this perspective, resides in the slackening of the ties of sound and sense, of the signifier and the signified.
Saussure, who had renewed this distinction between signifier and signified taken up again from the ancients, characterized the relation between signifier and signified as arbitrary. The word has been discussed because it appears to imply that there would somehow be a master who dictates its law. And it's been said in opposition to Saussure that the relation between signifier and signified is a non-arbitrary relation, a motivated one, that there are affinities between sound and sense. I'm outlining in broad strokes the major debates.
But more profoundly, what one approaches through psychoanalysis is that signifier and signified have nothing to do with one another: these are two distinct dimensions, two distinct orders, and that the most true aspect of this relation, the most fundamental level of relation between signifier and signified, is that it is at heart an aleatory relation.
The analytic operation consists of slackening the ties established between signifier and signified, ties established by the routine at the heart of the social tie or a community of language, in which we are understood by one another. We understand each other precisely in order to quiet the clamor arising from language itself.
The analyst is there to help with that which slackens the established ties between signifier and signified. Let us say that he is there-as I am here tonight-the analyst is there to play the fool. He is there in order not to understand-which is to say, in order to put the brakes on the passage from signifier to signified, in order to slow it down, to place question marks, in order finally to say to the analysand: "that's Greek." And hence, what the analysand said is made to be reformulated.
Lacan was able to say once to someone in a private interview, one can very well be a good analyst and be silly. Silliness doesn't fundamentally hinder the psychoanalyst, at least at a certain level of his practice. If he doesn't understand, he is after all in his role. It's enough that he not talk too much so that one not realize it.
On the one hand, he can be silly. On the other hand, it's better that he not be too silly. And moreover, it's no so bad if he's from another community of language. It's an old question: "How does it come about that one can analyze people when one does not share the same native language?" One could say: "You're not getting all the nuances of language, etc." Yes, but a certain not-understanding, not understanding everything, does not necessarily hurt from the perspective of slackening the established ties between signifier and signified.
This allows, for the subject himself, for what he says, to become Greek to him-that is to say, that it makes for an enigma: it transforms what the analysand himself says into an enigma. It means something, an enigma-that is to say that it means something but one doesn't know what. Perhaps even like this talk today-it certainly means something, but one doesn't know exactly what.
The analytic operation thereby renders a certain state of perplexity. And one comes to the analyst so that he helps you to decipher it. If you don't ever encounter an enigma, there isn't any reason to go to see a psychoanalyst.
Analytic interpretation supposes that there is enigma. And in order to be able to act as a psychoanalyst, it's necessary to cultivate the enigma. Interpretation happens upon a backdrop of enigma.
So everything depends upon the disjunction between the signifier [S] and the signified [s]. From this, I distinguish three fundamental modes of interpretation:
-interpretation by punctuation;
-interpretation by nonsense;
-interpretation by equivocation.
Lacan, during his career, put the emphasis sequentially on each of these terms: in the first part of his teaching, he stressed punctuation; in the second, nonsense; and he ended with the term equivocation.
Interpretation by punctuation consists for the analyst in fixing a signifier to a signified in a flash-that is to say, in punctually reestablishing their juncture. In the general wavering of the signified in relation to the signifier, it places a stopping point, a point de capiton, as we say.
The interpretation could simply be: "That's it," which suffices for a moment to stop the general wavering of the signified in relation to the signifier.
Putnam, Freud's American disciple, was a pastor rotting with scrupulousness, and had come to expose to him his torment, all the misdemeanors that he had committed, that tormented him with moral obsessions. After having listened to him express his vileness, Freud said to him: "Basically, you are a criminal." [laughter] This was, in a word, to make the conclusion implicit in the discourse of Putnam come into view, and thereby to give a stopping point to all his blah-blah. Seeing the evaded word that organized his entire complaint, and clarifying, showing his master signifier unmasked in this way undoubtedly brought Putnam to reexamine his mental situation.
Interpretation by nonsense consists in laying bare the signifier in its separation from the signified. It makes the subject feel the weight of the signifier in his life, to the extent perhaps that he spent his time in giving it meaning.
Let's take the example given by Serge Leclaire: Poorjeli, this signifying nonsense sequence which he made out to be the coat of arms of existence for a patient which in this instance was himself. He presented it as taken from a cure; it was his own cure with Lacan which produced this sequence of nonsense signifiers. He took it as an example of a pure signifier that he had spent his time interpreting in his existence. It's a pure signifier which has a halo of meaning for sure: Poorjeli, is something like "Poor pretty (joli)." But all the same, it's blockish, like a holophrase, and he had developed it as the secret cipher of his life. Here interpretation is what allowed this kind of signifier, which the subject passed his time interpreting, to be highlighted in its nonsense.
Finally, interpretation by equivocation is that which underscores the aleatory nature of the connection of the signifier and the signified, which indicates that there is no necessary follow-through of the signifier into the signified. The equivocation opens an entire space of play and misunderstanding.
It's always very depressing when there is no play and no distance between signifier and signified, où il n'y a pas du jeu entr'eux, where jeu is a distance, and at the same time you mean game, play. For instance, some subjects show up depressed perhaps because they are overwhelmed with enormous significations of guilt and, indeed, by way of analysis, they can substitute for this weight of enormous significations, a transitional space of signifiers, to revive the expression of Winnicott.
That's what I call the "bizarre mode of speech." It's bizarre because it doesn't communicate, doesn't convey information-unlike the newspaper, the radio, TV, which convey information.
And then there's bacteria. They exchange information with each other. For example, there are luminescent bacteria, which are able to illuminate the eye of the squid. I read that in Scientific American. Well, they don't start to fling their light until they know that they are numerous enough to make a light. And in order to know it, they must address each other with pertinent information. And we call this communication. We could even call it knowledge (savoir). But the problem is, there is never any misunderstanding between bacteria, and that's the entire difference with regard to language. Maybe it will happen to them someday, given all the manipulations for which they are being readied. We are manipulating bacteria so much that in time perhaps they will begin not to understand each other, and say "Did you say bizarre?" [laughter] The day when there is misunderstanding between bacteria it will be very, very bad; all hell will break loose among the bacteria.
Interpretation is therefore not an explanation, it is not a commentary, it is not a construction, it is not knowledge-it doesn't resemble any of that. It's more like a blunder. To say to a pastor "you are a criminal" is to put your foot into it with a splash-these splashes are what we call the echoes of interpretation. Interpretation thereby functions thanks to the disjunction of the signifier and the signified, which renders the signifier enigmatic. At the same time, this imposes upon it some structural features that are very precise:
First of all, the effects of analytic interpretation cannot be calculated in advance.
When you let loose a signifier of interpretation to the patient, you have no idea what meaning, what precise meaning, this will hook onto in him. Interpretation is always more or less a shot in the dark, a dead reckoning.
So it's better not to aim as often as possible, remaining quiet is better.
Secondly, not only can the effects of an interpretation not be calculated, but they are always already out of proportion with the cause. To say it in scholarly terms, the effects of analytic interpretation are always nonlinear-not proportional to the cause.
That's why Lacan put it once, and I take it very seriously. An interpretation whose effects one understands is not an analytic interpretation. Precisely, it operates on what we call the unconscious, which is precisely non-calculable, and disproportionate.
Interpretation presupposes a slackening of ties between the signifier and the signified. And it only works with the ingredients of the bizarre. 4. It's there that psychoanalysis-which had surprised the world at its birth, the birth of psychoanalysis-was itself surprised, surprised by the effects that it itself had had in the world. That's what's been happening-it is that in which we've been immersed.
Psychoanalysis has had an impact which goes far beyond what one could have calculated according to numerical indicators such as the number of analysts, the number of patients, the number of publications, etc. Psychoanalysis seems to me to have had a major social impact which is basically on the order of misunderstanding.
I believe that psychoanalysis has modified good sense, common sense, in the following direction: it's good for you to say it all.
Basically, it is in this way that society has interpreted psychoanalysis. But now, this comes back to haunt psychoanalysis, and it suffers, psychoanalysis suffers.
Previously, there were things which one must not say under any pretext. The notion that we had of the sacred stipulated that the sacred might be offended by what was said-which gave to what was said its value. Such was the magnitude of the role that the authority of censorship held over the course of the ages. Freud consecrated it when he introduced, within psychoanalysis itself, this concept of censorship.
Thinkers have always had to deal with censorship. Their essential partner was that of censorship: how to do it so that no one will shut you up, and so on. Lacan referred to Leo Strauss and his book Persecution and the Art of Writing, where Strauss shows that it has always been that writers have had to deal with censorship, and have always had to learn to say things between the lines, therefore their work must be read as coded messages, etc.
Socrates took precisely too much liberty with the signifiers of the city. When the Athenians explained to him their Athenian values, he said to them: "It's Greek to me." And he thus obliged them to repeat it until they had had enough. It was a sort of forerunner of psychoanalysis. And it ended very badly for him, because he did not respect Athenian censorship.
It has been necessary for centuries to learn how to evade censorship. Evading censorship, learning how to evade censorship has allowed us to move forward.
There was the Reformation, which obviously gave birth to big censors, but on the whole, all the same, it worked in the direction of tolerance, rights, and the individual conscience.
And then there was the United States of America, a nation founded by refugees; they took certain precautions in the Constitution against intolerance, against the birth of a society of repression. In the American Constitution there was concern for a permissive society. Obviously, it took some time for Americans themselves to realize it, and they were for a long time in a want for interdictions. There was prohibition, which displaced interdiction onto alcohol, which gave rise to gangsterism, Al Capone, etc., and they finally stopped it. After alcohol, it was the communists. It's now a very active minority that passionately seeks to put the brakes on saying everything, on tout-dire. But on the whole the tout-dire, the saying-it-all, is triumphing.
Now the flower of this evolution is the Internet. One can't escape it. That makes for problems, and the Supreme Court has been consulted in order to know whether one can really say everything on the Internet or not. But the fundamental tendency is that we are going full speed toward the saying-it-all. That's my proposition, my hypothesis.
Freud's reference was the Victorian model of society, the last flower of a society whose fulcrum was the repression of saying, and that's what had inspired Freud: censorship, repression, the return of the repressed-in the end, he borrowed all of his conceptual paraphernalia from the society of his time.
The advancement of psychoanalysis found itself contemporary to a liberation of the signifier: Dada, Surrealism, James Joyce, etc., and this was received in the United States of America where it was implanted, acclimated.
This in-depth transformation, related to the fading of the presence of the sacred, had as a result that the notion of the benefit of saying-it-all entered into common sense.
It had been known a long time already that the fact of speaking produced a betterment, that it's a beneficial discharge. It was in 1215, on the occasion of the Council of Latran IV, that annual confession was made obligatory. Michel Foucault made use of this in order to play pranks on psychoanalysis and in order to claim that psychoanalysis was nothing but the continuation of confession. It's a joke, a Witz, of Foucault.
There is at least this difference: that the psychoanalyst doesn't give absolution, and he even cultivates the feeling of guilt. That's the condition under which a subject can analyze himself. That's what Lacan called subjective rectification: the subject comes complaining of others, he must be made to learn that it's his fault. Without that, one cannot analyze him. That means, at least at the outset, it is necessary to cultivate in him the feeling of guilt.
There are subjects for whom this doesn't ever come about, subjects for whom it is never their fault. These are those Lacan called les canailles, the rabble, and whom it is best to dispel from one's practice-because the simple fact of speaking and being heard has an automatic effect of absolution. Which otherwise poses certain technical questions, which I won't go into today. The simple fact of speaking and being heard satisfies the desire for recognition which, for a time, Lacan had thought to make the fundamental desire of the human being.
Today there are philosophers-Charles Taylor, Habermas-who attempt painstakingly to devise utopian societies where everyone's desire for recognition would be satisfied. That is to say: we can't give you everything, but we can listen to you. A society that were to lend its ear could satisfy the desire for recognition.
This diverges from the idea that it must be possible to say it, and that if it is said, it will be for the good-that if complaints, for instance, cannot be said, they grow sour, and thus they must be helped along. Today in business, there are people who are manipulators of speech, and who advise that above all one be sure to listen to everyone, because the simple fact of listening is itself calming.
Moreover, it is a fact that all peoples have wanted legislatures, parliaments. What is a Parliament? A Parliament is a place où on parle, a place where one speaks.
One could say that democracy is a form of societal psychotherapy. Everyone says his word, even if reduced to a ballot, and then ta-da!-all has been said. Afterwards, one cannot complain about the result-well, so to speak.
Democracy belongs to the common sense of the era, just like psychotherapy and freedom of expression. That's what one could call the saying-it-all complex in permissive society. And it's recently been commented on by American pundits-I read them-that the therapeutic model is invading society as the discourse of power.
Obviously, this pushes the limit. One wonders: can one really say it all? And we devise laws to point out that one cannot really say it all. Or we discuss it-the journalists discuss it among themselves-but it's always up for discussion.
When we pass laws in order to say that one can't say everything, there are always those there to say that this contradicts the fundamental impulse toward saying it all. And thus there is always also the feeling that it becomes worse if we prohibit it from being said. One feels a violation of the logic with which we are taken, based upon the right to say it all. So when you have such a multiplication of this kind of story, where is the limit to saying it all? For instance, recently just before leaving I saw on the broadcast news, that there was the problem of that guy, a neo-Nazi who wanted to join the Republican party and they didn't want to take him and they say the lawyer Alan Dershkowitz is going to defend his right to say it all. We are just on the verge of seeing a multiplication because we are in the logic of saying it all, and at the same time you see all those resistances in the face of what is felt to be the fundamental logic of our current civilization.
This is the triumph of Freud, as one might have it. Psychoanalysis and democracy: the same story!
But paradoxically, at the same time, it is the undoing of Freud. The new saying it all is the angel of the new epoch, a premonition of the response which comes to us-it has an effect, shall I say, such that the field of language is drenched, soaked, drowned, flooded.
Whereas the saying-it-all in analysis consists of putting common sense at a distance in order to seek the most particular of enjoyed-meanings, in contrast the societal saying-it-all consists in forging and consolidating common sense, which is the essence of psychotherapy.
Whereas psychoanalysis is oriented by a bizarre use of language, psychotherapy-which is always societal, for which the reference is always common sense-psychotherapy on the contrary deploys a normal and normativizing use of language.
As a result, psychoanalysis is corroded by the saying-it-all to which it itself gave birth.
At the same time, it is more and more difficult to be bizarre, due to the loosening of societal ideals and the promotion of mass individualism.
Will psychoanalysis be able to come to terms with it? To overcome catastrophe? I think so. It will pull itself out thanks to that which doesn't settle down. There is something that despite the saying-it-all doesn't settle down, never settles down. And that's something which has to do with sexuality. And, if I may say so, it's upon that that hope for psychoanalysis is established. Thank you. [applause] Question: In your paper you make remarks about how the bizarre, in a sense, defines the space of the unconscious and the space of analysis. You couple that with an etymological analysis which traces the difference between the bizarre and the acceptable, the appropriate, as one that falls in part along the lines of social norms. Now would you want to say in this case that social norms are almost entirely determinative of the content of the nature of the unconscious; or in other words would you want to reevaluate, for instance, the role that sexuality plays in the Freudian unconscious since it's partly shifted aspects of its distribution along the lines between the bizarre and the normal? Jacques-Alain Miller: What do you think about this yourself? [laughter] Since I took the bizarre as a point of departure, and one can only be bizarre in reference to a norm, if you consider that the norm is historical, my bizarre is obliged to be historical also. Clearly, an interpretation is very contextual. When Freud said to someone "You desired your mother and because of that, you wanted to kill your father." Wow! At that time, it had an impact! It was a real missile of language. Now the guy comes and says, "I have an Oedipus complex." [laughter] In psychoanalysis, the old truths no longer hold. Truth has to be new. If you repeat, you lose the proper effect of language. And it's very difficult to say something new. Thirty years ago when Lacan said the subject is represented by a signifier for another signifier, it was such an enchantment. Now you feel obliged to struggle with a massive normativization of what was bizarre at the beginning. Interpretation is historical. But language itself has a transhistorical effect on the jouissance of the living human being. Consider domestic animals. By the simple fact that you take an animal into your house, in your proximity, you take the animal into language. He doesn't subjectify the language, but he lives in a world of language, and you neuroticize your domestic animal. Now you have psychotherapists for domestic animals. [laughter] So there is a transhistorical effect: language perturbs you, makes you sick. This goofy story of the signifier and the signified is destructive of natural origins. Domestic horses are not so beautiful as savage horses, horses in nature. That's a result of civilization. [laughter] Q: Your bizarre reminds me of Freud's unheimlich and I was thinking about the relationship of the subject with the fundamental fantasy, with the symptom, and how that changes at the end of analysis with regard to a mode of jouissance that is kind of endorsed by the jouissance of the symptom itself. This is reaffirmed in a certain sense at the end of analysis. And I would ask you if you prefer to say that the operation of analysis makes the unheimlich a little more familiar, sort of take away the bizarreness and make the person come to terms with the jouissance of the symptom and the fantasy. JAM: Supposedly analysis makes you unheimlich, unfamiliar, with yourself. It is worthwhile to go to analysis when you begin to feel a bit unheimlich to yourself-when there is a rupture, a break in the continuity of your own familiarity with your own symptom. So, there's the first effect- the first effect of analysis on someone who suffers is that he gets sicker. Analysis has an effect of making you sick-that is, it symptomatizes a lot of your ordinary encounters. In the 20s, analysts began to have more people in analysis, and they had cases that were distinctive from the beginning, where they did not have to treat individual symptoms, but rather the whole of a person's behavior-the problem being that the subject himself doesn't feel sick from this. That's the distinction between symptom and character, which I've been explaining in my course this year in Paris. If you come to analysis for the sake of the symptom, because you suffer from the symptom, it is something isolated and supposedly clear-cut. The first analytic clinic was essentially a clinic of the symptom. But it grew into a clinic of character-that is to say the clinic of phenomena of which the subject doesn't declare that he suffers from them. Which raises the question of who's to say it's not alright. The problem of the analyst was to convince the patient that he was ill in his behavior. There began to be this style of suggestion that years later Lacan was to criticize. The analysts tried to convince the patient of his illness, and the patient resisted. Analysis turned into an analysis of the resistance of the patient. And the negative transference emerged as central. The patients said "No, no, no," and Wilhelm Reich said "Yes, yes, yes." That was Reich before coming to the United States and losing his head completely-not because he came to the United States [laughter]-it was a process of psychosis. In the 1920s he was responsible for the Berlin Seminar on technique, and what he taught was "character analysis." You can understand how the position of the analyst was viewed at that time: it was to convince the patient. And Reich said, you will always find negative transference. For sure, it had an enormous influence on the entire course of psychoanalysis from then on. And I would say that the second movement, a countermovement, was begun by Lacan in the 50s, reconstituting the idea that the unconscious doesn't resist-the unconscious speaks. When Lacan spoke of the unconscious as the discourse of the Other, it parted ways with the analysis of resistance. The patient's supposed resistance had merely been the counter-effect of the analyst's effort to suggest. Q: In what way would interpretation be considered to be a lapsus on the part of the analyst directed to the analysand, to the patient? In other words, you said that interpretation has the characteristic of surprise, and without knowing what effect the words will have. Would you consider it in that way to be a lapsus of the analyst? JAM: It is better not to. It is a practical question. When you are in the space of the analytic theater, you speak and listen, just as we are doing here. You don't use anything other than what we are using here. In analysis, we use speech, we listen. But libidinal investment comes into play in a very distinct way. You never know. As an analyst, you never know in advance, in what you are about to say, which words are going to be libidinally invested by the analysand. Someone explains the suffering she has been through, and you feel compassionate, you want to calm her, and you say to the woman "You are not mad." What does she grasp? That you have pronounced the word "mad," and she says "You said I am mad!" And you say "Look, lady, I just said you are not mad." [laughter] She's the one who's right-it's what Freud called Verneinung. She grasped that the problem is rather what it was in her discourse that elicited in the analyst the word "mad," even with a "not." When you produce this once or twice, you begin to realize that you have no idea what happened. For sure, at the beginning of analysis it's not the same as in the middle of analysis, which is not the same as after a few years. Little by little, you begin to see the critical zone. You can try to aim at it, but you have no mastery, no mastery of the unconscious. Furthermore, an analyst cannot really show his professional mastery. That's the suffering of the analyst. It would be fun to write a paper called "The Suffering of the Analyst." [laughter] To get more patients, to be more important, to work from morning 'til night, etc., has to do with this gap, and this solitude, which is very distinct from academic life, where you have more or less objective proofs, and you can demonstrate your ability in public, and be judged. Whereas in psychoanalysis, you have this solitude, this fragmented aspect, even when you have big bodies such as the International Psychoanalytic Association. As a matter of fact, the IPA is fragmented into various communities. It's very difficult to obtain a really large community in psychoanalysis. It's reduced to small routines, generally speaking. Q: Could you say a little more about the situation of these communities, these fragmented communities in France? JAM: Last year, I had the opportunity for the first time to attend a congress of the IPA. They spoke different languages. Inside the IPA, it was like different countries. I felt that the IPA is like the United Nations. You can't make another. You cannot compete with the United Nations. But at the same time, the IPA is internally fragmented, whereas our Lacanian network is much more integrated. The World Association of Psychoanalysis, which I created in 1992, is very small-it is 10%, less than 10%, the size of the IPA. But if you consider that the IPA is internally fragmented, this World Association may be the largest, most compact psychoanalytic group that exists. That's an interesting perspective. In the WAP, we maintain a common language. That was the original intent of Lacan. He felt very much that after Freud, psychoanalysis had grown into a Babel. And in what he created as a logified language-the Other, the subject, S1 and S2, etc.-he tried to give psychoanalysis a common language, a simplified common language. We'll see some years from now. The only unifying element that I perceived at the IPA congress was the reference to countertransference, which is a major difference from the Lacanian approach. But in general, the fundamental configuration in psychoanalysis is simply an analyst and his patients. That's the basic structure, and it's very difficult to have psychoanalytic groups that go very much further than this kind of sect, a guru and his pupils-which is favored by the very practice of psychoanalysis. If the analyst believes in the transference he elicits, if he is taken by this immediate transference, it isolates him. All the world is cold for him outside of this sphere of transferential admiration. What is respectable in the IPA is its effort to break out of this sectarian route. But the bureaucratic way is not much better. So there is certainly no easy solution. Q: In a way, you say that psychoanalysis is suffering from culture. Psychoanalysis is suffering because of the culture. JAM: Psychoanalysis is dissolving into the culture. Back in the days of a repressive culture, as a matter of fact, everyone who really wanted to, could do whatever he wanted-but in the context of a Victorian-type society, the motto "say-it-all" was subversive. Now the "say-it-all" is everywhere. When I arrived last Wednesday in Los Angeles, we had to have dinner early so that at nine o'clock we could be listening to Monica. [laughter] That logic of the say-it-all comes from the impact of psychoanalysis, but now it dissolves psychoanalysis itself. The difference between psychotherapy and psychoanalysis is somewhat blurred, not only in the United States-I feel it in Europe, in South America. Psychotherapy and psychoanalysis have totally distinct modes of interpretation. Psychotherapy conveys common values. When the guy says, "I cannot manage to do that," the psychotherapist ends up saying, "Well you can, you do, you've done it before, you're going to be OK..." [laughter] It's part of the training of the analyst to abstain from that. That's part of this training of inhumanity that you have in psychoanalysis. The question is, at what point not to be a stone. At some moment it becomes a problem for the analyst, how not to be a stone. [laughter] You can't look into the past and repeat the techniques of the past to cope with the future. As we are now in a say-it-all society, psychoanalysis has to reinvent itself. But that is a common cliché, reinventing oneself. Q: You end by indicating a question, which might really be the topic of another talk. As I understand you to be saying, the tout-dire, the injunction to say everything, is of course in some sense an illusion, because there is some thing that remains that is not said-and perhaps only psychoanalysis knows it. You said it is something having to do with sexuality-but...you didn't spell it out. [laughter] JAM: Well I believe that the hope resides in what Lacan called the inexistence of the sexual relation. The hope is that, not only is there a real disjunction between the signifier and the signified, there is also a disjunction between man and woman. And what I said about the disjunction applies also to man and woman. It was not perceived so well before because of the weight and the consistency of various ideals that permitted the disjunction to be masked. You had very powerful discourses that said to a man what he had to do to be a man, and to a woman what she had to do to be a woman. Those discourses were distinct according to the civilization and evolving in time, but they had a consistency. We are at a moment in this century of massive individualism, where you feel the decay of those discourses. With animals, in general, you don't have to teach them what they have to do-well, sometimes if you take one individual of the species apart from the rest of the species, then he doesn't know what to do. But as for humans, you have to tell them, you need a discourse. We are in a period of massive individualism when we all see the artificiality of the discourses that connect man and woman. So we are in an era of invention of various types of sexual relationship. And analysis hasn't got knowledge of what would be the correct way. On the contrary, it is part of the process which has made effective this decay of discourses. At the individual level, the artificial establishment of a relation between man and woman is always symptomatic, always dysfunctional. You can take that as a universal: [laughter] the sexual relationship between man and woman establishes itself always as a symptomatic tie. That's why I believe there's hope for psychoanalysis. [laughter, applause]
Martín Larralde, Photographs from lecture at La Maison Française, New York University, 1999.
Subscribe to Lacanian Ink click here.