Thursday, October 26, 2006

This is Not Lacania

"An analysis terminates only when the patient realises it could go on forever. Perhaps the reader of Lacan's work should be prepared for an unending struggle rather like the analytic's patient" (Madan Sarup)

To be honest, I do not know why - probably Lacan would have quite a complicated explanation for that why too - I feel, time and time again, compelled to find out what Jacques Lacan and his followers are really talking about. The more I read about him, the more I must conclude that he in fact was a charlatan. The reasons and arguments by which his followers defend his thinking are most of the time completely, sometimes utterly, absurd. They would probably, on reading the above, state that "I am not yet ready for Lacan". I know one thing: they are absolutely right.

The problem is that his name and his theorizing on and concepts of the function of language and the unconscious keep popping up in almost every text by philosophers and cultural critics that come after him. This poses a problem because some of the people who claim to have been influenced by Lacan really seem to have some useful and relevant things to contribute. But the second problem is then that you ask yourself the following: if Lacan was a charlatan, how can anything that his followers have to say be relevant and useful at all? Again, defenders of Lacan would probably say that there is in fact no contradiction between those two points of view. More to the point they would even dare to state that the contradiction itself is a constitutive element of the understanding of Lacan. Sorry, but this is something that I can not agree on. It is in fact totally unacceptable.

An example: I am currently initiating myself into Derrida's thinking. I think I can say that I understand where he is going to, although, as is the case with Lacan, he is sometimes very arcane and esoteric. Nonetheless, I can attribute worth to some of his concepts and way of thinking. But then again - Derrida being a great admirer of Lacan and also having sat through some of his seminars - what if Lacan is, as many have said in the past and say in the present, really and truly complete bullshit? This would have enormous consequences for post-Lacanian thought. It would actually mean that the greater part of that thought (Derrida, Foucault, Zizek, Badiou) is also bullshit. I am not saying this is the case, but the sole possibility of it frightens me, because a lot of these people are considered important thinkers and literally tens of thousands of students have since been exposed to ways of thinking that could have no basis whatsoever in scientific fact. On the other hand, it would almost make you glad that philosophy is no longer considered relevant by political decision-makers these days.

But the most important objection against Lacan's train of thought is that there are people who call themselves analytics who use his obscurantisms to treat people (to cure people, as you can conclude from Sarup's above citation, seems not in the least to be the goal of a Lacanian analysis). I mean - come on: this is basic! - every psychoanalysis should at the very least lead to a bettering of the patient's mental and/or psychological state. Instead, as in Freud's approach, all it comes to is talk, talk, talk. But as far as I know solutions do not come from talk, they come from deeds.

Look at it from a political point of view. To cite one example: Israelis and Palestinians have signed quite a few treaties in the past, but nothing comes from it, because words and promises do not materialise into actual change. Some may think this a crude comparison, but is it really?

Just as politics is based on the need to understand society and the conflicting values therein that need to be reconciled to lead to solutions, just as all of philosophy is built on a need to explain and must do so by offering a possible truth, psychology should, if it wants to retain any value, offer solutions. Talking one hour a week with your analytic will not solve any problem, it will only cost you a lot of money. Problems can only be solved if eventually you walk away from the analytic and start putting possible solutions, that have hopefully been handed to you through the reading of your analytic, into practice. I am not saying here that life as such is only practice, but solving its problems certainly is. It is really as simple as that. Words are cheap and the more there are, the cheaper they get.

As such, for me there is not really any need to refute seperate theories or concepts of Lacan's thought. The basis of the whole is just unsound. Why then waste whole libraries, tons of paper and terrabytes of server space on its refutation?

5 comments:

Martijn said...

On the other hand, it would almost make you glad that philosophy is no longer considered relevant by political decision-makers these days.

But it is. Just think of Leo Strauss and the neo-conservatives. Sayyid Qutb and the islamist. Etzioni's communitarism which was a source of inspiration for Balkenende en Blair. But mainly the liberals with their Popper, Berlin and Rawls. They utterly dominate the current political thinking.

Fire in the Mind said...

I don't know, isn't this more a case of taking only the politically viable pieces of someone's writings and forgetting about the rest?

OMC said...

I feel, time and time again, compelled to find out what Jacques Lacan and his followers are really talking about.

Ha, I know the feeling. And I always back off. This coming from an admirer of Freud (although one who thinks The Interpretation of Dreams is a gloriously avant-garde autobiograhpy ;).

Thing is, you should satisfy your curiosity with the very handy and non-obscure Introducing Lacan. In a way it's all you need. It makes the case that Lacan is really to be understood purely as a psychoanalyst not a philosopher.

I certainly distrust this lastest batch of post-Lancanian thinking. The thing I like about Barthes is that he just took some cool bits from Lacan and made them his own. And I don't think his influence was all that big on Foucault.

Now Wilhelm Reich, that's the guy I'm getting intrigued by.

OMC said...

Oh yeah, I can also recommend the Introducing Derrida, apparently he liked it himself.

Dejan said...

the goal of a Lacanian analysis). I mean - come on: this is basic! - every psychoanalysis should at the very least lead to a bettering of the patient's mental and/or psychological state. Instead, as in Freud's approach, all it comes to is talk, talk, talk. But as far as I know solutions do not come from talk, they come from deeds.

As someone who actually experienced benefits from Lacanian therapy, I can recount an anecdote which explained the whole Lacan thing to me.

I was once frustrated by the fact that all we did in therapy was TALK, TALK and TALK. I told my therapist that I had seen a psychodrama session where people acted their problems on stage. And I said: why aren't we doing that here?

My therapist answered:

And who is NOT LETTING YOU DANCE?
You can dance if you want to!

I realized there and then that I was not complaining about Lacan's supposed restrictions on the use of body and overprivileging language, but the numerous prohibitions my PARENTS and the SOCIETY have set on my freedom of expression.

And of course, it was proven again that language infuses everything with a double meaning, which comes before the body, before the act - much as Derrida and others would disagree.

Another thing you should be wary of is that cultural theorists and philosophers discuss Lacan outside of clinical practice - a fatal error in this case, as in the case of Sigmund Freud. Lacan's findings are based on experience in the clinic, and not in cultural production.

The books of Bruce Fink might explain a lot to you without Lacan's customarily cryptic language.

About that cryptic language, don't you find it kind of symptomatic that our American-based global culture continuously underprivileges language at the expense of the Image? While also being curiously scornful of academic education - not entirely the case in France, even today!

Your political comment is strange. Isn't the problem of America in Iraq, and anywhere else it goes, the fact that things are being DONE without taking the time to THINK and TALK about them?

I would even go so far as to suggest that America has ALWAYS been neurotic that way, acting out problems which should have been resolved by psychoanalysis!