12 January 2007

Empty Speech

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 3:51 pm

All speech calls for a reply, says Lacan. I shall show that there is no speech without a reply, even if it is met only with silence, provided that it has an auditor.

What happens when the subject of psychoanalysis opens his mouth? The first thing to make itself heard is the void. The subject perhaps is hiding something or is unaware of something; what comes out is empty speech. So you start analyzing the subject’s behavior looking for clues to what is not being said. But then the analyst has to talk about it, and the subject becomes the listener, and now who’s the analyst? But if in response to the subject’s empty speech the analyst remains silent, doesn’t it inevitably trigger frustration, aggression, regression? Maybe not, says Lacan:

Shall we ask instead where the subject’s frustration comes from? Does it come from the silence of the analyst? A reply to the subject’s empty speech, even – or especially – an approving one, often shows by its effects that it is much more frustrating than silence. Is it not rather a matter of a frustration inherent in the very discourse of the subject?

Empty speech isn’t inauthentic; rather, it’s the authentic expression of a self that is itself empty. In trying but failing to speak, the subject arrives at the frustrating realization of the profound silence that lies behind his words. The aggression that ensues is directed not at the analyst but at the self that can communicate only its own emptiness.

Mallarmé says that we typically use language as if it was a coin worn smooth which we pass back and forth in silence. That’s okay with Lacan:

Even if it communicates nothing, the discourse represents the existence of communication; even if it denies the evidence, it affirms that speech constitutes truth; even if it is intended to deceive, the discourse speculates on faith in testimony.

The analyst’s job is to understand the emptiness, to figure out where the meaning lies:

He takes the description of an everyday event for a fable addressed to whoever hath ears to hear, a long tirade for a direct interjection, or on the other hand a simple lapsus for a highly complex statement, or even the sigh of a momentary silence for the whole lyrical development it replaces.

Psychoanalysis isn’t popular in America, especially the kind that begins with a silent response to the empty speech of a hollow self. Even Woody Allen seems to have gotten up off the couch. As Lacan observed more than fifty years ago:

It appears incontestable that the conception of psychoanalysis in the United States has inclined towards the adaptation of the individual to the social environment, towards the quest for behavior patterns, and towards all the objectification implied in the notion of “human relations.”

I wonder if postmodernism will lead to an American revival of psychoanalysis. Or will psychopharmacology render both speech and silence equally obsolete?



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