Patricia Gherovici: Attack of the Difficult Ecrits – Class 2 – The Situation of Psychoanalysis

This class was based on a collaborative annotated reading by Patricia Gherovici and Manya Steinkoler of Lacan’s “The Situation of Psychoanalysis and the Training of Psychoanalysts in 1956,” to be published in the forthcoming Reading the Écrits – A Guide to Lacan’s Works, edited by Derek Hook, Calum Neill, and Stijn Vanheule. The following is an excerpt from this forthcoming volume, posted here with permission from the editors:

Psychoanalytic Fable

In the essay, fittingly vituperative, Lacan will now adopt an absurdist tone in what will take the form of an extended fable emulating moralist philosopher Jean de la Bruyere (1645-1696)’s satires inspired by Theophrastus (371-287 BC). Both authors are dear to Lacan, and the French comic tradition. Lacan describes the pitfalls of the bureaucratic structure of the IPA inventing a parable with a cast of allegorical characters designed to show that these analytic institutions are engaged in a type of training that will never produce analysts and will only produce more training, trapping its participants in a structure of power and subordination. Lacan does not miss the opportunity to denounce the “sufficiency” (397, 31) granted by the IPA structure, that is, the vanity and presumption created by it, and sustained and hallowed by the psychoanalytic institutional hierarchies. Obviously, such imaginary trappings impede proper psychoanalytic training. Busying themselves with the production of imaginary prestige–granting titles, memberships, and diplomas–they have lost the ethos of the analytic endeavor. It is thus not for aught that in such an imaginary pursuit, the theory of identification with the analyst (398, 7-8) became popular preventing the very transmission it was supposed to guarantee. Lacan wittily pokes fun at the possibility that there could be a “sufficiency” (397, 31) for guaranteeing the analyst that would bestow what he calls a state of “beatitude” (400, 9). Lacan shows thereby, and with quite a bit of humor, that the goal of the training is doomed, by way of the training itself.  Analytic institutes are, as Beckett says, “waiting for Godot” — expecting the analyst’s eventually attained “sufficiency,” a state that true to the Beckettian absurd, can only be attained by having already attained it: “Sufficiency thus is in itself beyond all proof. It need not suffice for anything since it suffices unto itself” (397, 37-38). Lacan’s cast of characters, aptly named, only thinly veils the real protagonists of his terse political moment. These include the “Sufficiencies,” (398, 9) those aiming to achieve the imaginary prestige and arrogant smugness of senior analysts, the “Little Shoes,” (398, 20) the timid candidates, the “Truly Necessaries,” (398, 40) those who wish they would have what it takes to assume the coveted and pompous role of the “Sufficients,” and the “Beatitudes,” ( 400, 9) those blissfully waiting for the attainment of sufficiency, the spokespersons for the “Sufficients.”
The “Little Shoes,” true to their milquetoast position, do not ask questions because they want to be good analysands, and as Lacan observes with sarcasm, “a good analysand does not ask questions” (399, 10). Their reticence to ask questions is due to the spell of transference as intimated by Lacan’s reference to the proverb “a penny saved is a penny earned” (399, 12). Lacan will return to this aside in his 1960-1961 Seminar: On Transference. On May 10, 1961, Lacan quotes A la manière de,  a pastiche by Paul Reboux and Charles Muller (Paris, Grasset: 1925) of Claudel’s Le Pain Dur , and refers to a passage in which an evil character who asks for money that he has already stolen, adds “il n’y a pas de petites économies” (“a penny saved is a penny earned”). Lacan find this highly amusing. The “Little Shoes” will not spare any opportunity to please their analysts– a question saved, is a question earned.
The “Little Shoes” also don’t speak for themselves for the simple reason that it is impossible to formulate a question in the flawed language “that has currency in this community” (399, 16), the language of the pervading theories (399, 15-18). Lacan adds that he will only reveal the third reason they do not speak at the conclusion of his essay, making his pithy parable into a kind of cliffhanger. The diffidence of the “Little Shoes” makes the “Truly Necessaries” necessarily even more loquacious, since they fill the silence of the “Little Shoes” with precisely these very hackneyed theories: “Of what use could it be to the Sufficiencies to speak? Sufficing unto themselves, they have nothing to say to each other, and faced with the silence of the Little Shoes, they have no one to answer” (399, 22-24).  Lacan shows the foolishness of the “Truly Necessaries” with their “tricks,” comparing them to magicians able to pull a rabbit out of a hat (399, 39), but who find themselves utterly bewildered to have actually found the rabbit there, and flounder to come up with an explanation for this unexpected event, while being equally delighted by each and every explanation given to them, unable to exercise any critical acumen at all: “the Truly Necessary discourse does not suffice to render questions superfluous, but proves to be superfluous in being sufficient for the task” (400, 3-4). Lacan scoffs that the “Sufficiencies” have nothing to say to one another, because they are sufficient, of course! (400, 14-15). In this manner Lacan highlights the narcissistic identifications present in group-formations and the ideals they sustain, dynamics that make groups “function” but stifle critical thinking. His biting sarcasm remains painfully current and still offers an accurate representation of the malaise in extant psychoanalytic organizations.
Lacan reminds us that in psychoanalytic groups, the other side of the narcissistic ideal can be gleaned in the Schadenfreude (400, 27) that solders any group together, which he calls by its name — hatred: “…the feeling that most solidly ties the troop together: this feeling is knowledge in a pathetic form; people commune in it without communicating, and it is called hatred” (400, 30-32).  The self-congratulatory humanistic ideals of tolerance and goodness, summed up in the so-called ”good object,” (400, 32) may effectively domesticate dogs (400, 33), but make humans smiling tyrants (400, 34). Lacan tells us that Plato showed this to be the true face of Eros (400, 34) — a winged flight of the soul above a destroyed, demolished polis (400, 35). Lacan refers to the soul (400, 35), after all, psyche means soul, and bemoans that psychoanalysts in the Mephistotelean pact with the devil of a psychoanalytic institute may have lost theirs in the institutional training. Lacan then refers to Paul Valéry’s “delirious professions,” (400, 37). Such workers are “sleepless” due to their infinite insignificance and Valéry describes such professions as “those trades whose main tool is one’s opinion of oneself, and whose raw material, the opinion others have of you. Those who follow these trades, doomed to be perpetual candidates, are necessarily forever afflicted with a kind of delusion of grandeur which is ceaselessly crossed and tormented by a kind of delusion of persecution…” (Paul Valéry, Selected Writings, New York: New Directions, 1950 , p. 244) Lacan paraphrases Valéry’s delirious professionals as though they were yelling out, “There’s only me, me, me!”  (400, 40) and jokes that there are so many “number ones” going around, that inevitably, the number twos abound (401, 3- 4) and who is to mention the threes, fours, fives and sixes.
Ironically, Lacan comments that only a Deus ex machina could introduce the missing third into this enchanted theater of two (401, 13-14). Unmasking its presumption, Lacan embarks on a baroque description of many versions of the number two: “One Extra,” (401, 26) “Just a One,” (401, 27), “One More” (401, 27) “One Too Many,” (400, 28) to reiterate that the number two already implies the number three (400, 32). This explains why the “Beatitudes,” being “Just a One” are doomed to a monologue and thus do not speak to each other (401, 37). They are trapped in the narcissism of small differences that denies the very existence of the other, the “One Extra.” That’s why they are called “Beatitudes”: they believe they are united to the “one and only.” This situation renders oracle into verdict (402, 4), and transforms contingency into determinism, making the transmission and teaching of the analytic experience futile and even a form of folly. Lacan likens this to Kant’s absurd spectacle of a man holding a sieve while another milks a he-goat (402, 12-13).  Lacan exposes how this mad narrative works: the “Sufficiencies” regulate the admission of the “Little Shoes” (402, 22), and the “Beatitudes” tell them that one day they will become the “Truly Necessaries” (402, 23) . By addressing the “Beatitudes,” the “Truly Necessaries” will arrive at the promised Sufficiency, and the “Sufficiencies” will respond by drawing in the newly accepted “Beatitudes” (402, 25-26). Lacan’s spoof of analytic training and transmission is nevertheless, he tells us, plagued by a flaw (402, 31). Speech may find its way between high walls of silence, but it collides with an impassable barrier of confusion and arbitrariness. In this regard, the muzzle (402, 32) that is imposed on the speech of the “Little Shoes” produces several effects. Lacan mentions two (402, 33): a useless doubling of medical training (402, 37), and a tenacious policy of silence (403, 1) towards the “Beatitudes,” which risks maintaining what Lacan very cheekily calls a “congenital” illiteracy (403, 2).  Lacan’s sarcastic parable not only attacks the IPA system of accreditation and training, it is also a veiled way to refer to the people in the very real situation he encountered in his own experience in France at the time, and to the tensions between the IPA and the French Freudians.
It is noteworthy that already in the 1950s, Lacan is aware of the anti-intellectualism pervading classical psychoanalysis, a tendency that is still present today. Lacan is not preoccupied with proper manners, or with expecting analysts to be educated in a specific way as a means to an end. Rather, he asks analysts to not “remain completely illiterate” (404, 32).  Indeed, the very style of this écrit with its plethora of poetic and philosophical allusions and comic manner, and even detective-like literary pretentions, underlines the very exigency Lacan requires of analysts, namely that they read closely. The deciphering of symptoms requires honing this skill (404, 29). If psychoanalysts ignore the importance of language (404, 31), focusing solely on success defined by the number of members in their societies, the result would be a useless mediocrity.
This is not a secret. “I heard it,” Lacan writes, “and everyone could have heard it, from the lips of a Sufficiency at a fertile moment of the psychoanalytic institution in France: ‘We want there to be,’ this mouth declared, ‘a hundred mediocre psychoanalysts’.” (404, 37-40)  This more is not the merrier.

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