Lacan’s Seminar 1. Freud’s Papers on Technique: The Moment of Resistance 4
I’m giving you the Freudian perspective, the Freudian conception. There are alternative conceptions of the analytic experience, and I could give you those.
Some athors think that analysis is the subject homeopathically discharging her fantasized understanding of the world. They think that discharing these fantastic understandings 4-5 days a week over a long period of time will result in a gradual, balanced relation to the real. In clear contrast to Freud, these authors emphasize transforming the subject’s fantasied relations to a real relation.
We could talk about this more openly, and we would need to be more nuanced if our task was to concern ourselves with the specifics of the many alternative conceptions, as some of those who write on technique have done. Some peculiar repercussions result, and we’ll have the ability to point to these repurcussions when we come to our commentary on the Freudian texts.
How did the practice that Freud initiated get transformed into a manipuation of the analyst-analysand relationship in the sense that I have just outlined? That’s the fundamental question that we will be encountering in the course of the study we are undertaking.
Just after publishing these Papers on Technique, Freud introduced the idea of the three agencies, the id, ego, and super-ego. The transformation happened as a result of the way these three agencies were greeted, employed, and dealt with. The Ego received the most attention and was made most important. All subsequent technical developments have revolved around the concept of the ego. This priviliging of the ego is the source, the location of all the difficulties and confusion that have resulted in trying to think clinical technique in reference to the ego.
There is no question that there is a world of difference between what we actually do in an analytic session (the patient talks and we listen, and sometimes we respond), and the theoretical account we give of what we actually do in a session. We get the impression that even for Freud, whose theory and practice were not separated by such a large gap as ours is, some distance remained
I’m certainly not the only one who has wondered, What was Freud really doing during the session? Bergler asked this question in plain black and white, and answers that we don’t really know much except what Freud allowed us to see in plain black and white – namely, the fruits of his experience: the five great case histories. Those five case histories are the best introduction we have regarding how Freud behaved when in session. But, it seems to me that the character of those experiences can’t really be reproduced in concrete reality, and that’s because, as I’ve already said, Freud insisted on the singularity of the analytic experience.
It was really Freud who opened up this way of working, this path of experience. And as his dialogue with his patients attests, approaching each case singularily gave him his absolutely unique perspective. One really gets the sense that the patient is merely a prop for Freud, or a question, or sometimes even a check, along the path that Freud was embarking on alone. Hence the drama of his quest, a drama that in each of the cases he gives us ends in failure.
Throughout his own life, Freud followed the paths he opened up in the course of this experience, eventually attaining what one might call a promised land. But it’s incorrect to say Freud entered that promised land. Merely read his own testimony in Analysis Terminable and Interminable and you’ll see that if Freud was aware of anything, it was that he never entered the promised land. This essay isn’t easy reading, and it’s certainly not for everyone. It’s a difficult essay for analysts to read; and if you aren’t an analyst, just leave it alone.
Those following Freud have to honestly and critically consider how the paths we’ve inherited were adopted, reapprehended, and rethought through. And so whatever we contribute will at some level be a critique, a critique of analytic technique.
Technique is only valuable insofar as we understand the fundamental question asked by the analyst who adopts the technique. So notice how analysts talk about the ego as an ally to their work, more than an ally: the only source of knowledge. Anna Freud, Fenichel and almost every analyst writing since 1920 repeatedly say all we know is the ego: we speak only to the ego, we are in communication with the ego alone, everything is channelled through the ego.
And yet, in contrast, every advance made by ego psychology concludes that the ego is structured exactly like a symptom. The heart of the subject is a symptom, a privileged symptom- the ego, the human symptom par excellance, the mental illness of humanity.
I’m really just summarizing Anna Freud’s The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense here, where to our amazement she constructs the ego as a symptom and locates it within the subject as a whole. On her terms there really isn’t any difference between the ego and a symptom. And it’s difficult to disagree. And yet even more amazing is her catalogue of defense mechanisms that make up this ego. Her catalogue is so confused that it’s nearly impossible to differentiate between repression and turning against the object, when by no means are these the same.
Given where we are, perhaps we can’t do better. But we can still point out how so many analysts entertain a notion of the ego that is profoundly ambiguous- this ego that is the only theing they have access too despite it also being a symptom, a hindrance, a failure [parapraxis], a slip.
Fenichel begins his chapters on the ego as everyone else does, and yet for some reason he feels the need to say the ego plays an essential role. What role? The ego’s essential role, he says, is being the function by which the subject learns the meaning of words. So, in a way, Fenichel gets us right to the heart of the matter, right to the point, everything is there. The issue, though, is whether the meaning of ego exceeds the self [moi].
Unfortunately for Fenichel, if he’s correct that the ego’s function is the subject’s acquiring the meaning of words, then everything he writes thereafter is incomprehensible. So, we’ll consider it a slip of the pen since everything he writes after basically says the exact opposite, and even leads him to the collapse the distinction between the ego and the id, which, I’m sure doesn’t help clarify anything for us. But hear this point: either what Fenichel writes subsequently is unthinkable, or the ego is not the function through which the subject learns the meaning of words. Either one or the other is true, but not both.
So what is the ego? The subject is caught up in something very much beyond the meaning of words; the subject is caught up in language, and language is as formative as it is fundamental in history. We’re going to have to ask these questions with respect to Freud’s Papers on Technique, which will take us a long way.
Let’s also not forget that as we take the state of theory and technique as the starting point for our discussion, we also have to ask what was implicit in Freud’s framework that he may not have been aware of… What motivated him to formulate what he did, and led to what we now consider technique? What might be constraining or limiting our perceptions? Or, in what ways have subsequent developments really been developments that amount to more rigorous systematizations better fit to reality? This is the register within which our commentary will take on its meaning.