Psychoanalysis Upside Down; Book XVII

Georges Politzer, born 3rd May 1903, executed by firing squad 23rd May 1942, published his Critique of the Foundations of Psychology in 1928. It was subsequently re-edited in 1969, as Lacan remarks in his 1969/70 Seminar on The Reverse Side of Psychoanalysis, “without, to my knowledge, anything being able to show that the author would himself have apporved of this new edition, whereas everyone knows the drama created for him by the bouquets that buried something that from the start was meant to be cry of revolt”(Lacan, 1970, p.80).

Politizer’s critique is that “the history of psychology in the past 50 years is just an epic of disillusion [] the history of a “frog pond”. He asserts that psychology requires fundamental “renovation”. For him, theories are mortal, and while the theorists recognise the mortality of all theories, even theirs, they only do so in the abstract and so are incapable of renewing it and renewing themselves.

As for psychologists, they receive mathematics third-hand: they get it from physiologists, who got it from physicians, who get it from mathematicians. Thus, at each stage, the level of the scientific spirit drops, and when, at the end, mathematics gets to psychologists, it is “a little brass and glass” that they take for “gold and diamonds.”
Georges Politizer
Georges Politzer

“This recognition”, Politizer says, “should not be a critique of the same kind as those that proliferate throughout psychological literature, and which show the failure of either subjective or objective psychology and that periodically advocate the return of the thesis to the antithesis and of the antithesis to the thesis”. Politizer is advocating to go beyond dialectical binaries.

A striking statement emerges; “it is by reflecting on psychoanalysis that we have perceived true psychology”. Furthermore, “it is not evolution that is taking place, but revolution, only a revolution a little more Copernican than we think: psychoanalysis, far from being an enrichment of classical psychology, is actually the demonstration of its defeat”. 

Is this scathing condemnation of psychology anything more than philosophical rhetoric? For Lacan, Politizer comes close in his project for a concrete psychology when he brushes with psychoanalysis, before falling back into the discourse of the University by bottling truth under the label of knowledge. Nonetheless, he finds merit in Politizer’s accentuation of language, his “faith in the narrative”(Ibid.), and commends his audience to reflect further, indeed farther than Politizer himself did, on this pro-position.

Let us trace the trajectory that Lacan is taking in the fourth and fifth week of his seventeenth seminar up to his recommendation that we read Politizer’s little book.

Lacan is, not for the first time, interrogating the four discourses, this time with the accent on the discourse of the hysteric. He refers to the Bonneval congress of 1946, where he previously made mention of Politizer in his Presentation on Psychical Causality. He highlights the structural integrity of the discourses with regard to the signifier, “since it is just a matter of a circular permutation, with the terms remaining in the same order”(Ibid. p.51). Analytic discourse completes the roundabout of the three others, but by no means resolves them, he says. Working his way through the discourse of the master, the discourse of the hysteric, the discourse of the university and the discourse of the analyst, Lacan extrapolates that “what is at stake is the effect of discourse which is in effect one that rejects”(Ibid. p.55). Furthermore, the function of this rejection is enjoyment, “enjoyment qua repetition”(Ibid. p.59). Lacan is staking out his coordinates; discourse, discard, enjoy, repeat. This is his logic of unconscious knowledge giving rise to surplus enjoyment, to a speaking being bound by the structure of discourse, who “has only to make himself ‘wordy’ through this system”(Ibid. p.65). The human condition is to be “the humus of language”(Ibid.), the decomposed by-product so to speak, as “language is the condition of the unconscious”(Ibid. p.53). Humus is sticky stuff. It is the stuff of signifiers for Lacan.

In the circulation of discourse, analytic truth remains on the Other side, as the remains of discourse. There is no sense in supposing that the truth rests with a so-called analytic discourse, precisely because it is a discourse and truth resists articulation. The discourse of the analyst will reveal nothing more than any other discourse, except that as a discourse it invites the other to speak. Lacan says; “the signifier does not concern the object, but the sense. As subject of the sentence, there is only sense. Hence this dialectic that we started from, that we call the pas-de-sens with all the ambiguity of this word pas“. I sense, he determines, is mere I-cracy. Lacan is speaking in his native tongue as he toys with the laws of language to make his play on words. He teases out the French term of pas-de-sens to produce puis sans, puissance and pas-sans.

I is in the realm of the sense and the nonsense spoken by the person presenting for psychotherapy. I is not it, but it is from nonsense that psychoanalysis launches an interrogation of the subject. Analytic discourse is not non-sense. Rather analytic discourse is not without nonsense. The stuff of nonsense is not in itself truth but it is within nonsense that the question of subject’s truth may be sought. The signifier, which represents the subject for another signifier, is not without.

Lacan poses the following riddle towards the close of week five of his 17th seminar on the 21st of January 1970;

What has a body and does not exist?

Answer - The big Other
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan

The stuff of signifiers is embodied in the word-vomit which I produce from language by which language produces I, subject. Lacan is explicit in his distinction: “we are beings born from surplus enjoying, the result of the use of language. When I say the use of language, I do not mean that we use it. It it we who are used by it. Language uses us, and that is how it enjoys itself.”(Ibid. p.83) The week prior, Lacan’s last words, borrowing as he oft did from Freud’s Wo Es war soll Ich werden, were as follows; “It is to where surplus enjoying was, the enjoying of the Other, in so far as I am producing the psychoanalytic act, that I for my part must come.”(Ibid. p.68) He is weaving the fabric and contextualising the tissue of his argument time and again, in order to place the emphasis on a faulty logic of the unconscious as defective.

To see this play out, take up Freud’s account in Mourning and Melancholia where a woman complains of being an inadequate wife to her husband. Freud recognises these complaints for plaints against her husband. Here we hear how the signifier is bound to the word. Freud wrote it thus; “Ihre Klagen sind Anklagen, gemäß dem alten Sinne des Wortes”(Freud, 1917, p.248). As Adam Phillips translates, “their laments are accusations, in the old sense of the German word”(Phillips, 2006, p.315). The movement from complaint to plaint, from klagen to anklagen, and from pas-de-sens to pas-sans, passing through the old Latin sine, speaks to the plasticity of language wherein the speaking subject of the unconscious remains not without. This moves us along only in so far as to say that the stir of signifiers is the scarlet thread to follow.

Freud’s famous forgetting of the name Signorelli from The Psychopathology of Everyday Life remains the exemplary example for the phenomenon of formations of the unconscious.

Signorelli The Psychopathology of Everyday Life

In this vignette, Freud forgets the name for the painter Signorelli and instead substitutes in the names of other painters in common parlance, Botticelli and Boltraffio. Freud deduces his unconscious intention in producing Botticelli and Boltraffio in place of Signorelli through a complicated series of associative connections. That ‘sexuality and death'(Freud, 1901, p.3) is the root cause of the process of repression in this case is not of so much interest to our inquiry as is the processing that the unconscious material undergoes in order to re-emerge as a return of the repressed.

What is expressly apparent is that only Freud is in a position to analyse the manifest and latent thoughts in train, not because he is Freud, the Founder of Psychoanalysis, but because this puzzle is his production. First point; The analysand, as opposed to the analyst, is the analyser in an analysis, and he alone makes of it what is at his disposal. Freud’s example demonstrates the tenuous and obscure interrelations at play within the seemingly innocuous occurrence of an inconsequential name escaping him. What could so easily be missed or dismissed as a case of mistaken identity becomes the specimen upon which Freud labours meticulously. This is the second point – Freud goes to work on something so trivial as the mere muddling up of household names. The complexity of linkages is mind-boggling, but comes at no surprise when we recollect Freud’s maxim that the most complicated achievements of thought are possible without the assistance of consciousness. The third point then is the indeterminacy of psychoanalytic investigation. Freud’s schema depicts his “repressed thoughts” at the bottom of the pond, but Lacan would have us hesitate before arriving at conclusions as to the bedrock of castration. The key point is that this does not necessarily equal that; complaint does not point to a singular plaint, klagen does not disguise a tangible anklagen, and the triangulation of Botticelli, Boltraffio and Signorelli is not a neat and tidy explanation for a psychopathology in everyday life that represses sexuality and death at every turn. Rather, it’s that and it’s not that. This deft manoeuvre is a turning upside down which introduces the discourse of the analyst. This is an indistinct place of perpetual inquiry, a space for questioning, or rather the sludge within which the question is residual not without reflection on the discourse of the analyst.

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