Thoughts about the current forms of the impossible to teach
Éric Laurent

Author’s Bio

1. To say that it is impossible to teach is to say that we continually have to put into question what, at a given moment, seemed to be the answer to this aporia. The difficulty that we perceive in the current teachings in the Clinical sections today is the sign that something has come to an end. We have encountered one of the forms of the impossible to teach. It is by starting from this encounter, from this failure, that we can put our methods into action again. We are limited by the wall of language, we have to start to re-learn again.

2. With the emphasis placed on teaching in the Lacanian orientation, it is necessary to distinguish between two separate registers. On the one hand, there is the transmission of the disciplines necessary to the knowledge of the psychoanalyst. On the other hand, there is the transmission of the way in which the unconscious has to be read, not as a dead thing, or a given signification, or a handbook of psychology, but as a living thing that has the need for the contribution of each one of its practitioners to find its proper place in the world.

At the same time as Lacan defined, in a very precise way, the necessary knowledge for the psychoanalyst in the continent of the logo-sciences, he also showed his interest in the oriental traditions of the master, in the Hindu-Buddhist tradition as well as in the transmission of the exacting Zen sect which originated in Japan and also in the Chinese Taoist tradition.

Lacan not only disturbed the contents that had been agreed upon to teach psychoanalysts but its method of teaching as well. Let us start then from this observation, the psychoanalyst, when trying to “teach what psychoanalysis teaches,” disturbs the accepted teaching methods, and in doing so the psychoanalyst disturbs the re-grouping of the established knowledge of the university, and this also disturbs the method by which this knowledge is transmitted.

Nowadays the question is twice as much a red-hot issue. We have to awaken the University and its teachers from the error of the perspective that groups together psychology, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, when they think that the justification for such regrouping is the existence of the neurosciences outside the University.

3. The University pushes to conformism, to a certain death of thought, of which we have the best testimonies. One example is that given by Nietzsche in 1872, two years after the victory of Germany over France, that would produce a trauma in our University from which it has never recovered. This victory set the German University as the model to copy from, never attained, judging from the reality of the results. Nietzsche saw in this University triumph of the time, as the triumph of “the anatomic” point of view. “The historic way,” he said, “has become at this point habitual to our times, to the extent that the living body of language has been sacrificed for the anatomical studies, but culture commences exactly when we endeavor to treat the living as the living”[1]

4. Effectively, he detected the great harm of the German University in the fact that it was a Prussian university and, as Hegel, he could notice that behind the academic freedom there was the presence of the State. He would refer to this in a very funny way: “How do you think that a student is linked to the university?” And we answer: “By the ear, he is a listener.” The foreigner is surprised, “Just by the ear?” he asks once again. “Just by the ear,” we answer again. “The student listens” […] “Very often the student writes while he listens, this is when the student is hanging on the umbilical cord of the university.”[2] There are some who can nearly say what they want, that is the freedom of teaching, and others who nearly understand what they want, “only that close behind those two groups, and at a regulated distance, there is the State which holds on to them with the same sweetness for both of them, with the tight expression of a warder, to remind them that the State is the aim, the end and the unity of those strange procedures of speech and listening.”[3]

What Nietzche said is written with the formulas of Lacan [4]:

S2 a

S1 $

What is at play in teaching consists in articulating S2 and a with the good arrow.

5. All kinds of consequences can be deduced out of the modalities of the teachings of psychoanalysis itself. The first forms that were adopted in the experience at Vincennes in France turned out to be disastrous. The stake was enormous. It was the opportunity, for the first time in France, to teach psychoanalysis at the University under the light of psychoanalysis. The Department of Psychoanalysis did not want to occupy a minor position in a Department of Psychology. This meant putting into action a new regrouping of knowledge, of drawing on the consequences of the teachings of Lacan about the subject matters which are appropriate to the knowledge of the psychoanalyst.

6. To demonstrate what was the other side of the discourse of the master, most analysts adopted the position of indolence. They became silent, to show that they were the ones who enjoyed (jouissaient) in silence.

It was necessary for Jacques-Alain Miller to provide a solution, to act. It took six years to provide the result of this initial mode of experience and to remind us that to put “antiphilosophy” on the right track, as Lacan said, was to teach these knowledges in a lively way. To prove this, it was essential to work, and from then on we have continued on that path. J.-A. Miller carried out the counter-experience of the reform of the Department of Psychoanalysis at Paris VIII in 1974, and the creation of the Clinical Section followed it, to demonstrate that we effectively wish to teach and also, that we ourselves, are subjected to the division between the teachings of a dead knowledge and of a live one.

To awaken the interest of the students of psychoanalysis is also to make the demand of psychology appear as a social symptom. It is a social symptom linked to the ideology of the cult of science. If there are so many young people who want to have a “psyche,” who want to have a mental functioning, as everybody does, and want to be ensured about it, it is because of the anxiety which the ideology of the suppression of the subject engenders.

The demand for clinical knowledge can also be reduced to a technical variant. The craving for clinical knowledge can be flattened by the know-how (savoir faire). For that reason, the success of the Clinical Sections is dangerous. It can dissolve us as we found ourselves dissolved in the success of the ACF.

To what master signifier are “the procedures of speech and listening” linked to? Now, they are linked to the work market and the anxiety of exclusion which it conveys. To go on answering to the demand of authorization on technique, right alongside it, implies keeping the desire, in what we teach, alive. Let us give a concrete shape to the “living desire.”

7. To find again the chances where lively and demanding debates can take place, is to find the right relation to face the demand for technique that assails us. We cannot simply say “No!” and get lost in splendid isolation.

We have to be able to say “Yes!” and “No!” at the same time. Heidegger spoke of “serenity,” Gelassenheit, to refer to what he imagined as a solution to face a technical world. He proposed to keep ” the spirit open to the secret”. It is something of the same order as that which Lacan indicated when he proposed to us to teach by starting from non-knowledge (non-savoir). That is not a gift that comes from Heaven. We have, from time to time, to touch that non-knowledge, to regain strength, like the giant Anteo who had to touch the earth.

Let us describe two of the paths that are possible to achieve this purpose. One is the study in depth of a text or of a question that can open a structured conversation. It is the path of an encounter like the first Clinical conversations or like the one that gathered us together around “Aimee’s case.”

The other path is that of a critique of an important book in a related discipline. Something like the presentation of J. Searle’s book by J-A. Miller in his 1997 course.

The critical reviews of the journals of our field measuring up with “connected” debates, in the field of science or philosophy could also contribute to the “aggiornamento” of the references.

The essential thing is to make one’s way towards learned ignorance (docte ignorance). It is crucial in the times of the diffusion, of “anything goes.”

21 September 2000


[1] Ecce Homo cited Derrida (J.), in Otobiographies, Paris, Éditions Galilée, 1984, p. 79.
[2] Derrida (J.), op. cit., pp. 108-109.
[3] Ibid., p. 112.
[4] Lacan (J.), Radiophonie, in Scilicet, n¡ 2, p. 99.

Translated by Susana Tillet

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