Lacan: Seminar 1: Freud’s Papers on Technique – the Moment of Resistance, Introduction to the commentaries…


Reading summary of Lacan’s Seminar 1: Freud’s Paper’s on Technique, “The Moment of Resistance,” Introduction to the commentaries on Freud’s Papers on Technique.

What becomes obvious in the title Moment of Resistance is that Lacan certainly is resisting something, and it appears to be the psychoanalytic establishment on the one hand, and possibly even Freud on the other. But the resistance is in the name of Freud, in Freud’s name, in fidelity to Freud, in fidelity to psychoanalysis. And such fidelity is always also an infidelity. So it seems as if this seminar is about two resistances: Lacan is creating oan organization that resists the dominant psychoanalytic schools of thought, and also attending to and explicating how the defense of resistance functions to organize the subject’s ego. In both ways, resistance plays an organizing role.

Lacanian technique must be under criticism at the time of this writing, because Lacan seems to be trying to make room for his own technique; he’s trying to create space for the techniques he is developing. He is clearly going at length to show that his proposals are thoroughly Freudian, that what he is proposing is indeed in line with what Freud taught.

But what Lacan is bringing is also new. And it will require participation from the students. The tradition and law of the seminar is that students will need to participate actively rather than passively. Lacan seems to be playing on the word seminar: seminal, semen – something is being generated something is being created, and its roots are sexual. He is talking to those who are part of the group he represents, something not yet organized and legitimized, something not yet constituted – a very important word, constitution, for Lacan’s point – an autonomous group that is to bring the future – the future of what? Of psychoanalysis? “If you are not coming to put into question everything you do, I don’t see why you are here. Why would those who do not sense the meaning of this task remained tied to us, rather than joining up with some sort of bureaucracy or other?” (7). Lacan  is clearly drawing lines between what he is doing and the so-called bureaucratic psychoanalytic establishment.

1.  Lacan wants to look at Freud’s papers on technique. They’ve been called the papers on technique in order to distinguish psychoanalytic method from the essence of psychoanalysis. Freud’s papers are crucial: they explicate notions fundamental to the mode of operation and analytic therapy, the notion of resistance and of transference, the mode of operation and of intervention in the transference, and even, up to a certain point, the essential role of the transference neuroses. The interpretation of Ego psychology and of the psychoanalytic establishment, it seems, will come directly from Lacan’s reading of Freud’s papers. That is, Lacan will be in demonstrating Freud’s point, and he can do so because he is the Freudian master.

Lacan suggests that what gives these papers their unity, isn’t their attention to methods. Rather, the whole of these papers, “attests to a stage in the development of Freud’s thought.” These papers follow Freud’s “seminal experience,” the discovery of the structural model. After the papers, we find Freud’s theory of the agencies, the structural, or again the meta-psychological. The papers of technique spread between these two advances. It’s not correct to think that what makes these papers special or unique, or what unites them is that they discuss technique and that is because Freud never stops discussing technique. Freud is always concerned with technique. Case studies, interpretation of dreams, and analysis terminable and interminable are clear evidence that throughout his entire career Freud was preoccupied with technique, always discussing it.

2.  We could stand back and simply admire these texts. But we should notice Freud’s personality, and the frankness of tone that exist in these papers. Lacan claims that Freud seems to be against the institution of “practical rules to be observed” – Freud says he carries a hammer as his tool, and other tools might be more fitting for others. Lacan seems to indicate that here, Freud gives legitimization to breaking the codification of rules of technique. That Freud goes around smashing institutionalized rules and techniques. Freud seems free of the codification of rules and technique. Lacan indicates that since this point is so obvious in these papers, you would have to be an idiot to think that technique and the need to subscribe to the techniques are the point of these papers. Clearly, their point lies elsewhere. I get the impression that Lacan is now reading Freud’s papers on technique and the analytic institutions as an analyst would read or listen to a patient. Lacan says if we look more closely we will see Freud’s long-suffering personality. Freud does not like the way his techniques are made use of an understood. He has contempt for them. Freud disparaged and thought his followers were pathetic. This is why, obviously, Freud worked so hard to mobilize and assure a close knit group of persons to carry on psychoanalysis. Freud discouraged and hated doctrinal dissensions – and the psychoanalytic institution certainly has dissented from Freud, according to Lacan – and was not pleased with the organization that formed around him to carry on his teaching.

But beyond these quarrels, Lacan asks what do we do when we do analysis? Lacan takes as his starting point the current state of technique – what is said, written and done concerning analytic technique at the time of this seminar. Here Lacan begins to diagnose and critique his contemporaries. They are all terribly confused, no one can agree with another, they all use the same words but no one understands what the other means. None of his contemporaries understand Freud or what is going on in analysis. They pontificate on therapeutic results, their forms, their procedures, and the means by which they obtain them – and to me his descriptions sound so close to evidence-based research and evidence-based practice. Lacan says his contemporaries have each learned the language, the jargon, of Freud’s theoretical system and they use this jargon to communicate with each other. It protects them, it keeps them in the fold, gives them some sense that they know what they’re doing, but they don’t.

Psychoanalysis is an inter-human relation, they say. And Lacan is against thinking of the analytic experience as a relation between two persons because there is a third element that his contemporaries are not accounting for, namely, language. Those who are not attending to the important role of language includes all those concerned with object relations, transference and countertransference, attachment theories, etc. Lacan is crystal clear: the notion that the relationship between the analyst and the patient is two-dimensional, that it is an inter-reaction, and that language is not a problematic factor, is imaginary- perhaps a fantasy even. And here Lacan no doubt means imaginary in his particular way. In a sense, the reason there is such an impasse among analysts, so much confusion, is that no one is paying attention to this third element: speech, language. “If, as we must, we take speech as the central feature of our perspective, then it is within a three – rather than a two – term relationship that we have to formulate the analytic experience in its totality.”

3.  What was Freud’s seminal experience? It is the “complete reconstitution of the subjects history.” This is the essential element for analytic progress, says Lacan. Freud’s great discovery is the “singularity of the individual’s case.” The interest, the essence, the dimension proper to analysis is the reintegration by the subject of his history right up to the further most perceptible limits, that is to say into a dimension that goes well beyond the limits of the individual. One’s history always is composed of what’s beyond the individual – their family and their friends, schooling experiences, cultural experiences, and language of course. In every case that Freud writes, his attention is always on those points in the individuals history that need to be rewritten. The point is not to make restitution of the past, it is to reconstruct the subject’s history. History is not the same as past. Past is just all the things that happened in the past, phenomena. etc. History is what the patient historicizes in the present. The essence, the absolute final insistence, and pivotal theme of Freud’s work, says Lacan, is not that the subject relives, comes to remember, in the intuitive sense of the word, the formative events of his existence – this is not what’s important in analysis. “What matters is that he reconstruct it.”

I think it is quite clear that here Lacan is not just talking about what happens in the consulting room. He is talking about reconstructing Freud and psychoanalysis itself! The goal with the patient and with psychoanalysis is not simply to relive the past as it happened, but rather to reconstruct it. The point is not restitution, or returning to the rightful owner something which is theirs, but reconstruction. “When all is said and done, it is less a matter of remembering then of rewriting history” (14).

4.  Everything that Lacan is proposing is in conflict and in contrast with ego psychology. He does not want normalization through analysis, where the subjects defenses and illusions over time begin to square more and more with what we might call reality. When we do that, we are manipulating the patient and our relationship with him or her. He says that everything went wrong when the ego became the primary focus. The attention to the ego is the reason for all the radical confusion that he mentioned above. The ego is what gives us an answer. It is what allows us as analysts to make sense of psychoanalysis, of the patient’s world, of our world, of what we are doing – the ego appears to give us the promised land. But, in contrast to the clarity that the ego psychologist seeks and claims to have, Lacan says that Freud doesn’t give us such clarity. We really don’t know what transpired in the cases or how Freud actually worked with clients and that is because of his commitment to the singularity of the analytic experience. In many ways, Lacan goes on, the patient was a kind of prop or window, a question even that sustained Freud’s quest for the promised land. But in the end Freud gives us a failure. He never entered into the promised land, and analysis terminable and interminable certainly proves as much.

Technique, method, procedure, practices, systems – all of these reveal the fundamental questions that organize us. Techniques etc. only help us answer our questions. By adopting the ego and the attention to the ego as a technique and focus of analysis, we reveal our deep discomfort and desire to move beyond the ambivalence that the ego is. The ego promises logic, reason, security, stability, clarity, and so on. And yet, Lacan points out, “The only thing we know of is the ego, that’s the way it is usually put. We speak only to the ego, we are in communication with the ego alone, everything is channeled via the ego. On the other hand, in contrast, every advance made by this ego psychology can be summed up as follows – the ego is structured exactly like a symptom. At the heart of the subject, it is only a privilege symptom, the human symptom par excellence, the mental illness of man.” So, the ego is our only point of contact, and it is one giant symptom, one giant slip. Instead of clarity, the ego is itself an ambivalent symptom. And this is because attending only to the ego misses the crucial point that the ego functions only by means of language, it is structured by language, it exists only in and through language, and not only is language irreducibly ambivalent, but it is also by definition that which exceeds the self, the subject, the ego. Along these lines, the ego psychology perspective ends up collapsing the difference between the ego and the id, and in this way, ego psychology is a radical departure from Freud’s structural model. Lacan has now turned the tables: he is not the one resisting Freud. Rather the ego psychologists are resisting Freud… they have departed from his most obvious discovery: the structural model.

5. Lacan seems to say, Look, technique and methods are all conscious and what we are after is the unconscious. “The human ego, namely that set of defenses, of denials, of negations, of dams, of inhibitions, of fundamental fantasies which orient and direct the subject… Well then, the theoretical conception we have of our technique, even if it doesn’t coincide exactly with what we are doing, doesn’t structure any the less, or motivate any the less, the least of our interventions with the said patients. In that is precisely what is so serious. Because we have effectively allowed ourselves – in the sense, revealed to us by analysis, in which we allow ourselves things, without knowing it – to bring our ego into play in the analysis. Since it is argued that one is trying to bring about the patient’s re-adaption to the real, one really ought to find out if it is the analyst ego which offers the measure of the real.” Conceiving of the ego as the ego psychologists do is not helpful for analysis. In short, it may be a way of resisting the very work that needs to take place in analysis.

I take it that the point seems to be the need to resist the ego – that which is established, the established order, order altogether – both in the consulting room and in society at large, particularly in psychoanalytic institutions. Lacan is not only discussing here the ego defense of resistance, but is analogously showing that the focus on the ego is itself symptomatic – it is a way of resisting the inner kernel of Freud’s insights, which, Lacan believes he understands, and is developing in resistance to the reigning, hegemonic analytic institutions of his day. Resistance thus functions in both these ways…


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