Ktismatics

4 November 2009

Is Psychoanalysis Empirically Supported?

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 12:34 am

In a recent discussion at Perverse Egalitarianism regarding the relationship between ontology and politics, Asher Kay went off-topic to question the empirical validity of psychoanalysis. Asher had a book in hand casting strong doubt on the empirical basis for analysis. Bryan Klausmeyer countered by saying that clearly the unconscious exists, just as analysis asserts. Levi Bryant contended that the empirical support for psychoanalysis comes from clinical practice. Here’s my view of the situation, which I previously relayed to a few people via email.

There’s strong empirical support for the existence of the unconscious. This evidence isn’t generated only by analysts either. Social psychologists devise all sort of ingenious experiments for exploring ways in which our minds play tricks on us, where what people consciously say and believe are at odds with what they do and decide. Cognitive psychologists design problems intended to expose cognitive processes and intermediate results that happen in brains beneath the threshold of conscious awareness. Neuroscientists look at brain structures and functions that operate far beneath consciousness. Consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg of brain/mind activity, which is evident to all of us. E.g., what will I write in my next sentence? I don’t know yet: I’ll assemble it from components of knowledge and language that’s distributed in my brain but that I’m not consciously rehearsing. What was the name of my next door neighbor’s dog while I was growing up? I know it, but I have to retrieve it from unconscious memory in order to answer the question. As I wrote in a post a couple of months ago:

“Based on a count of receptor cells and their neural connections, neuroscientists estimate that the human sensory system takes in more than 11 million pieces of information per second. Based on studies of processing speed on tasks like reading and detecting different flashes of light, cognitive psychologists estimate that people can process consciously about 40 pieces of information per second. What happens to the other 10,999,960? It’s processed unconsciously.”

Is there empirical support for the metapsychology of psychoanalysis? Here I’m referring to things like the id/ego/superego distinction, the Oedipus complex, the oral/anal/genital/phallic stages of development, the divided self centered around lack, the imaginary/symbolic/real, the unsatisfiability of desire, and so on? I’ve not read A Final Accounting, the book Asher cited, but I’d agree with the author’s general conclusion that the evidence is either weak or nonexistent. For what it’s worth, psychoanalytic theory plays virtually no role in contemporary empirical psychology and its investigations of cognition, memory, the unconscious, personality, and even psychopathology. Awhile back I wrote a post critiquing Lacan’s supposed empirical support for a “mirror stage” preceding language acquisition leading to the development of the “specular image” of the self. This situation follows what seems to be the typical pattern: despite claims to evidentiary support for the theories, the evidence typically doesn’t hold up to closer scrutiny.

Regarding the therapeutic outcomes of psychoanalysis… I know, I know, analysis isn’t therapy. However, people tend to be motivated to come for analysis because they’re suffering from symptoms, and I daresay that they expect analysis to alleviate their suffering. Many empirical studies point to the same conclusion: pretty much any therapeutic intervention is far better than no intervention, but no particular technique seems to work any better than the rest. Also, the amount of experience on the therapist’s part seems to have no impact on outcome.

One implication of this finding of similar results across modalities is that all modalities achieve their effects pretty much the same same way. So even though psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy espouse different praxes and theoretical rationales, they might be wrong regarding the cause-effect connection. It seems likely that establishing and maintaining a supportive relationship between therapist and client is the most important criterion for obtaining good symptom relief.

It should be noted that cognitive behavioral therapy gains no greater empirical support for therapeutic outcomes than does psychoanalysis. The constructs of CBT seem fairly common-sensical, even managerial, which suits some people better than does the quasi-mystical language of analytic theory. And there is some empirical evidence that people who believe in the particular treatment praxis they receive are more likely to benefit from therapy.

*   *   *

Though I’m not persuaded by the empirical evidence supporting psychoanalysis, I find it more fascinating than ever. Empiricism in psychological research is mostly a matter of averages. But it’s a pretty squishy field of research, with even strong correlations between variables typically overwhelmed by the statistical variation. Clinical practice opens up the exploration of the variations, the individual differences that get lost in empirical averaging. Two people scoring the same on a depression inventory can have very different subjective experiences of their depression, different causal trajectories, different ways in which their symptom affects their lives, and so on.

I found as a therapist that the empirical evidence had very little to do with the way I engaged with clients, because for the individual it’s the unique trajectory through life that’s important. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that after seeing multiple clients I found them all blurring together into something like an average client. Some therapists probably find that comforting: I know what to do with this case. My reaction was that I began losing interest, feeling unengaged and mechanical and distant in dealing with the clients. That’s why I quit doing therapy.

To illustrate the value of psychoanalysis, Levi Bryant described on Larval Subjects his experience of repeatedly breaking the chalk on the blackboard when he was a new teacher. His analyst’s intervention was to repeat a phrase that Levi spoke during a session, something about “pressure on the board.” The analyst’s restating of Levi’s remark triggered a cascade of insights, and shortly thereafter the chalk-breaking stopped.

What’s the common-sense response to this example? You’re tense. It’s natural to be nervous when you start out doing anything; most people fear public speaking; give it some time and you’ll start relaxing. And in most instances the common-sense response would be accurate: the nervousness would abate in time, the new teacher would stop pressing (literally and figuratively) so hard and relax into a comfort zone. One could imagine different sorts of interventions for accelerating the process. Relaxation exercises. Systematic desensitization — think about the chalk, pick it up and set it back down, pick it up and press it on the board and set it down, etc. CBT — it’s irrational to think that you’re less competent than your students, or that they care more about your performance than about their own grade in the class; become aware of your bodily and mental sensations leading up to the chalk-breaking and try to short-circuit the event by taking a deep breath and relaxing the hand holding the chalk; etc. We could even imagine a Freudian drawing analogies between the piece of chalk and the penis, handling the chalk and masturbation, breaking the chalk and self-castration for trying to take the place of the father in the classroom, and so on. Every one of these specific interventions might be useless in causing new teachers to stop breaking chalk, but the chalk-breaking would probably stop anyway over time. In all likelihood, though, Levi would attribute his lighter touch with the chalk to whatever sort of intervention technique he happened to undergo. And empirically speaking, just having someone there to support him would likely have reduced Levi’s anxiety more quickly than if he’d just dealt with it on his own.

But Levi’s analyst encouraged him to deal with the chalk-breaking symptom not just as something to overcome but as a sort of exploratory window. Looking through the window, Levi was able to see various ways in which this chalk-breaking symptom might relate to other experiences in his life, other symptoms, past experiences that caused similar reactions. The loosening of rational consciousness thought encouraged by the psychoanalytic context opened up the window even wider, bringing in less obvious, less well-rehearsed interconnections in memory and affect. The analyst’s interventions serve not to foreclose further exploration through expert judgment but to loosen the strictures even further, to deterritorialize the neural net with little schizzy interruptions in the usual flow of associations. Levi might have stopped breaking chalks at about the same time if he’d gone for CBT instead, but almost certainly he wouldn’t have had as rich and unique an experience along the way.

To me this is the great thing about psychoanalytic praxis: it regards symptoms as opportunities to open up windows rather than as cracks in the walls that have to be patched up. The kinds of discoveries a client might make are liable to be some combination of the ordinary and the idiosyncratic, just like all human experience tends to be. But for that particular client the discoveries add depth and texture and meaning to life. In this sense analysis is more like watching a great movie, or perhaps like writing a novel, than like going to a repair shop. What are the measurable outcomes of reading Crime and Punishment? You might pass a knowledge test, you might write a good interpretive essay, but ultimately it’s some sort of (trans)formative experience that contributes something intangible and distinct to who you are and how you experience the world.

*   *   *

Is psychoanalysis worth the money? I suppose the question is: compared to what? It seems self-indulgent, but so is buying a new car every few years or remodeling the kitchen. Those shopping-cart comparisons point to something fairly obvious: it’s hard not to think of analysis as a bourgeois luxury good. And yet, even in the go-go borrow-and-spend years leading up to the latest meltdown, those who could afford analysis rarely made that purchase. Is it because of the lack of empirical support? Doubtful. After all, consumers know that a new car loses a few thousand dollars in value the minute you drive it off the lot. There’s just something sort of decadently impractical about analysis. Besides, who intentionally wants to pick at the scabs of old wounds and open up cans of worms?

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145 Comments »

  1. Eloise, if this post doesn’t lure the Narcissistic Cat I don’t know WHAT WILL. Who knows maybe one day she will love you as you deserve to be loved, fully, passionately.

    You speak a lot about repression, lifting repression, opening a can of worms, old wounds and the like, but psychoanalysis has never been more present than before, in a world which now DIRECTLY SPEAKS THE DOUBLE-BIND MOEBIUS LANGUAGE OF THE UNCONSCIOUS. In this world where the Market calls itself Happiness, and capitalist schizophrenia rules supreme, there’s nothing to bring to surface, because it’s already THERE ELOISE, sneering at you in yer face.But saying that just because most people don’t like to think about this and hence analysis isn’t useful would be like telling a diabetes patient that ultimately inserting insuline in timely fashion doesn’t matter because you can always do a quick fix. The disorders that pile up after many short-term cockups with insuline injection end up creating heart disease, neuropathy, amputation and death.

    Comment by VOPR — 4 November 2009 @ 8:19 am

    • Who knows maybe one day she will love you as you deserve to be loved, fully, passionately.

      I frankly think this kind of talk is uncivil. It’s all a kind of caricature of what real love and passion are, just turning everything into cartoons. We are not all cartoon-heads.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 4 November 2009 @ 9:11 am

  2. To follow the insulin analogy, the long-term consequences of inconsistent blood-sugar regulation in people with diabetes are measurable, and empirical results support the hypothesized connection between process and outcome. What’s the measurable outcome we could look at? Do people who have undergone analysis experience fewer symptom flare-ups? That would be comparable to what you’re talking about: does analysis provide an ongoing buffer against recurrent bouts of depression, anxiety, obsession, etc.? I don’t know if there are findings on this proposed “tertiary prevention” effect of analysis on recurrence. Maybe Asher’s book can inform us?

    Is this sort of talk about the Cat coming to love Eloise via the post uncivil, as Ray suggests? Sure, to an extent, but a least it’s not nastily uncivil. I suspect that there are agreements and disagreements between Levi and me on this matter, as on others. As you know, I tend not to engage in full frontal argumentation, looking for common ground and a few sturdy planks from which to erect a firmer, broader, taller scaffold.

    Comment by john doyle — 4 November 2009 @ 9:44 am

    • Not really so much ‘uncivil’ even, just the ‘cartoon aspect’ that people are constantly reducing each other to. ‘Nasty’ is the part that bothers YOU, that’s cool, but ‘nasty’ is not what the most insidious part is about. The most insidious part is that a lot of this stuff is about deceit and turning people into characters, not because one needs to practice writing ‘fictions’, but because it’s a cheap alternative way of life, and pretending that internet personas are interacting in a meaningful way, only to drop them which immediately attests to how worthless most of them really are, is far more destructive in the long run than a little nastiness. Which doesn’t mean I care that you mind nastiness, understandable. But nastiness has its place, at least for me. I consider being deceived over and over to be ample justification for EXTREME nastiness, and I do practice it whenever i need to, and have been doing a fine job of it all morning. I wasn’t trying to tell you what to do, I just find that talk of ‘passionately’ is such bullshit, as if you and Levi (or me and Levi, for that matter, it’s no different) have anything that approaches ‘passionate’ is insulting to passion. Okay, we disagree on one thing–I DO think talking about such things as ‘passionate love’ are forms of nastiness. You don’t, in your blog Terms & Conditions, which is fine, that is like the owner of the real estate, but I hadn’t realized that I think all this cartoonery of life–nbot the satire, even if it’s vicious, but rather the reduction of people into 2-dimensional objects is a form of nastiness, BECAUSE it presupposed that it’s the same thing as real, mature, worked-at devotion, etc. (no response necessary, I just wanted to spell it out better, although respond if you want. I do understand that what you mean by ‘not nasty uncivil’ is a part of the TOS of the blog, nothing more nor less.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 4 November 2009 @ 11:09 am

    • That makes sense, Ray; I recognize and respect your position here. Perhaps I’m being too flippant, which does happen sometimes.

      Comment by john doyle — 4 November 2009 @ 11:57 am

  3. John, just to clarify: I’m not entirely sure how accurate I would describe my position as a kind of naive, a priori defense of the “existence” of the unconscious (and here we would have to be careful to distinguish precisely the meaning of the term “exists,” whether it refers to the empirical, the ontological, or the epistemological, and so on…). My exact quote regarding the “existence of the unconscious” can be found in the original Perverse Egalitarianism thread, where I write:

    “I think Freud’s position is much more subtle: the unconscious is not something actual, but only a structure about which we can say that it exists: it exists only as a certain *function.* So, if we talk about something like the ego, superego, and the id [and this goes for Lacan’s Borromean Knot of the Real, Symbolic, and Imaginary as well], we’re not talking about three empirically existing spheres of human consciousness, but only a kind of map or topology that can explain the conditions of empirically manifested phenomenon.”

    So my point is this: I don’t think anything called “the unconscious” exists empirically anymore than something like Ernst Cassirer’s “symbolic form” or Lévi-Strauss’s “structures” do. This might be ambiguous, so perhaps a further clarification is needed: I would say that the precise status of the unconscious approaches something more along the lines of that which is a priori and universal, but which can only exist insofar as there is an empirical manifold of symptoms (just as, in kinship structures, on needs real people and real transactions for the structure to be abstracted in the space between observer and observered, or in the case of psychoanalysis, analyst and analysand—to this extent, the unconscious, I would say, is not personal and mental, though I would also hesitate identifying it with “intersubjectivity,” which has too much phenomenological baggage for my tastes).

    Comment by Bryan Klausmeyer — 4 November 2009 @ 10:46 am

    • The question for me, then, is what makes a topological type of description better than an empirical one.

      Comment by Asher Kay — 5 November 2009 @ 5:41 am

      • Well, for one, a topological model goes beyond the empirical. It is not *independent* of the empirical mind you, just as Lacan’s mirror-stage theory was originally based on clinical experience, but empiricism will not tell you very much about the Symbolic, or let alone the Real. I would say the same goes for the ego-superego-id triad: there is only so much here that is empirical, so to stop at empirics, we lose much of the structure itself.

        Comment by Bryan Klausmeyer — 5 November 2009 @ 9:59 am

      • Bryan, I’m curious if you looked at my earlier post about the accuracy of Lacan’s supposed clinical observation supporting the mirror stage — there’s a link up in the body of this post if you’re interested. Now I suppose it’s possible that Lacan observed that his adult clients tend to maintain an imaginary self-image, an image that tends to mirror how others see them. Perhaps he then decided on theoretical grounds that the imaginary self-image preceded developmentally the symbolic order that tends to fragment the image. And then perhaps Lacan allowed himself to be persuaded by then-current psychological theory that infants recognize themselves in the mirror before they learn to talk. Perhaps he even persuaded himself that he’d witnessed this behavior in the clinic (among his infant clients?). But it turned out he was wrong empirically about the developmental sequence, as I discuss in that prior post. What makes the empiricist suspicious is that the Lacanian, instead of rethinking the theory in light of the data, reformulates the kind of empirical support needed to justify the theory. Empirical findings tend to take a form similar to the “proof text” in Biblical studies, as a demonstration of an a priori truth rather than as the basis for building knowledge from the ground up.

        Comment by john doyle — 5 November 2009 @ 10:39 am

  4. Hi Bryan. Thanks for stopping by.

    I’d say that there’s plenty of empirical support for brain activity that’s not conscious. Of course defining “consciousne” is a problem, but for pragmatic purposes let’s say it refers to thinking, judging, evaluating, problem-solving, attending to, or otherwise engaging in intentional and focused mental activities. People who don’t like psychoanalysis are concerned that regarding “the unconscious” as a specific region or entity in mental topology is to reify it inappropriately. Still, most brain activity takes place beneath the threshold of conscious awareness, so calling it “unconscious” seems reasonable to me. You contend that for Freud, the unconscious “exists only as a certain *function.*” That’s reasonable, but cognitive psychology and neuroscience can and have probed into the unconscious function in ways that expose its workings and structures in more precisely empirical terms.

    I also think it’s unnecessary to regard the unconscious as structurally separate from consciousness, as if the mind were split into two compartments that for the most part are sealed off from each other, communicating with each other only indirectly through dreams, slips of the tongue, symptoms, and so on. There are plenty of neural connections between the autonomic and sensory functions, which take place unconsciously, and those parts of the brain where conscious processing takes place. I think it’s more accurate, if also more mundane, to acknowledge that most of what the brain does happens unconsciously, and that consciousness is a sort of flexible and mostly intentional interface mediating between what’s in the brain and what’s in the world. The unconscious contents of the brain are pretty readily accessible to consciousness when needed. Repression, where certain brain contents are blocked off from consciousness, is only a minor activity of unconscious activity.

    “I would say that the precise status of the unconscious approaches something more along the lines of that which is a priori and universal, but which can only exist insofar as there is an empirical manifold of symptoms”

    If we regard the ability to walk or to recognize a familiar face without consciously thinking about it as a “symptom,” then I agree that much of what can be known about unconscious processes must be inferred from symptoms. This is true also of processes like gravity, which we infer from the symptom of dropped objects falling to the ground. It’s how science works generally speaking, I think you’d agree. I don’t think it’s necessary to regard brain activity that’s not being made available to consciousness as any more an a priori universal than is the functioning of a leg or an eyeball or a water molecule. They’re available to investigation. On the other hand, calling something “gravity” or “the mind” or “the unconscious” is to get these concepts mixed in with the realities toward which they point. I tend to subscribe to a form of “weak correlation” in this regard, acknowledging that humans gain access to the real things only through human means of apprehending and understanding them. I don’t think these human means impose an artificial barrier between us and the real; in my view it’s quite the opposite.

    I doubt that humans have always had the idea of “the unconscious,” so I’m not sure whether the concept could be regarded as a priori and universal at least in my understanding of those terms. But surely now there’s some at least tacit agreement about what “the unconscious” means. Again, in my view the concept is subject to operational definition and empirical investigation, rather than just leaving it as is.

    Comment by john doyle — 4 November 2009 @ 11:55 am

  5. Hello,

    The unconscious mind is certainly a fact. Though most scientists would probably use the term “subconscious” because unconscious suggests never available to the conscious mind whereas our subconscious minds are constantly processing information for conscious use.

    The Unconscious is never a definite article. It is not even an indefinite article. It is a phenomenon. Therefore it is not apriori or universal. It is actually distinctly aposteriori and subjective. Hence the early emphasis on family history in psychoanalysis.

    You may come to know it. So it feels like it’s been there all the time, like finding your car keys under your nose. This does not make it existent. “Of course, it was there all the time.” No. It came into being when you found it. The car keys were always there. Lacan’s realigniment of the unconscious into the apriori through the fundamental of the acquisition of language is his theory’s foundation stone, and his most grievous mistake. The word made flesh. “Of course it’s like that. I believe!” The emphasis on lack, even in the sinthome, is evidence of this. Lack implies a totality, even if lost, missing, cut or imagined. That totality has to be an apriori, an ideal, even if it is to be destituted later on. But one’s reaction to the “apriori” – now that is real. I saw a coffee maker. It made sense later on. Maybe I should write that novel. Yes, I should write that novel. (And so you should.)

    The Unconscious is a reinterpretation of events. As very useful it can be too. The interpretation is the phenomenon. But we mistake the interpretation for the article. The Real is the phenomenon. It is not reality. It is reality interpreted as symptom. Where I fight against psychoanalysis is in that they are very concerned to interpret everything as a symptom. “Ah, ah, the introjection of the Real!” I ask: a symptom of what? Life is a symptom of … what? Unlike in medicine, in psychoanalysis only the subject can answer. Therefore its metapsychology is worse than useless.

    On the other hand, the methodologies of psychoanalysis – which have always been learned in the clinic – now that is “something”, precisely because it has effects. It demands endless reinterpretation of experience (which, in itself, should be a warning to all those who wish to formalise) because it proposes the fiction of an other who is never satisfied with your answers/excuses. The methodologies are not learnt from the metapsychology. I think they follow the same lines as the slip, the parapraxes. They are accidents.

    Psychoanalysis is important because it does not underestimate the importance of metaphor. Metaphor is central to understanding. It is the construction on the field of reality. It brings the world into 3D, like the chiaroscuro of the vase/faces. It makes a decision on reality, creates and understanding. It creates the phenomenon, such as the zeitgeist. I think we often mistake the phenomenon, the metaphor, for reality. But so much of language isn’t simply metaphor. Is your name a metaphor? For what?

    Ah, that’s enough portentousness…

    Ta-ra!

    Comment by NB — 4 November 2009 @ 2:53 pm

  6. This is some intriguing, nearly surreal prosody, nb. I must let it percolate through my unconscious for awhile, see what decants as a conscious response.

    Comment by john doyle — 4 November 2009 @ 7:04 pm

  7. “The Unconscious is never a definite article. It is not even an indefinite article. It is a phenomenon. Therefore it is not apriori or universal. It is actually distinctly aposteriori and subjective. Hence the early emphasis on family history in psychoanalysis.”

    This is a coherent point, unless you ignore the entirety of Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex and his attempt to ground it in the origins of civilization and religion (cf. Moses & Monotheism, Totem & Taboo, and all of Freud’s later work). Even though he was anti-psychoanalysis for the most part, I think the best evidence that has been provided for the a priori and universal structure of the unconscious was Claude Lévi-Strauss’s *The Elementary Structures of Kinship*.

    Comment by Bryan Klausmeyer — 4 November 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  8. I’ve reconsidered: the unconscious is universal and a priori, not in human conscious awareness nor in cultural manifestations, but in the sense that the primitive animal brain is unconscious. Consciousness is a tip of the iceberg in humans; in nonhuman species even the tip is underwater. The unconscious was there before consciousness, but (I speculate) humans consciously thought about consciousness before they consciously thought about the unconscious.

    Levi-Strauss: dead at one hundred. I once left my copy of The Savage Mind at a grocery store, didn’t realize it until two days later, and when I went back to see if they still had it THEY DID, and gave it back to me. I remember when first reading Nietzsche having the sense that Freud had systematized what Nietzsche had already written, not that long before him actually.

    Regarding Oedipus as universal taboo, there’s some empirical evidence that boys are least attracted sexually to those who breast-fed them and to younger siblings who were also breast-fed by this same woman. If that’s the case, then the incest taboo just formalizes what most people already find repulsive. In Freud’s time and place the bourgeois kids were raised by nursemaids more than by mothers, which might well have short-circuited the natural sexual repulsion of sons for mothers. The bottle feeding phase would also have added some confusion. One could well imagine an evolutionary trajectory that would result in boys’ natural sexual repulsion for their mothers; namely that their fathers would kill them out of jealousy, thereby eliminating the “I think mom is hot” gene from the gene pool. So it’s a sort of back-door support for Oedipus after all, isn’t it?

    Comment by john doyle — 4 November 2009 @ 10:19 pm

  9. I don’t doubt that many of the things we, individually and collectively, do and feel are motivated by desires, fears, and habits of which we’re not consciously aware. I also don’t doubt that we project or transfer our earliest social experiences, especially with our parents, onto our relations with other people. I believe that it’s possible to trigger, and to manipulate, unconscious desires and motivations in other people. I think that prohibitions can create the desire to violate them, but I also think that prohibitions can block the free expression of desires that already exist. People do settle into suboptimal or even self-destructive ways of being in the world, sometimes because these patterns stimulate or fulfill some sort of irrational desire, but also sometimes because paths to actual fulfillment are blocked by forces beyond one’s control. Often as not people are unaware of their unconscious motivations and desires and blocks not because they repress them but because these forces have always operated beneath the threshold of conscious awareness. To explore the non-rational, non-conscious motivations behind individual and collective actions is a worthy undertaking.

    It’s also clear that empirical research methods for exploring the unconscious aren’t very powerful. Partly this is because the researchers themselves are gripped by unconscious motivations keeping them from looking in the right places, as social theorists have pointed out. But it’s also damned hard to invent techniques for evaluating unconscious mental processes. And even the most robust empirical findings in psychology are overwhelmed statistically by sources of variance unexplained by the theories and variables being measured. So just because psychoanalytic ideas haven’t yet been validated empirically doesn’t mean they won’t in the future.

    For the most part, analysts these days don’t really analyze in the sense of interpreting to clients their “real” unconscious motivations and desires. Instead the client is encouraged to explore freely what comes to mind, freed from constraints imposed by what one “ought” to say or think, loosened from constraints imposed by habit and social expectations. Invoking the language of Deleuze & Guattari, the client is encouraged to deterritorialize the unconscious from these habitual constraints, and also to territorialize material that’s remained unstructured and uninvestigated by consciousness. Opening things up in this way enables clients to come up with some sort of story or framework by which they can make sense of their lives. Whether this story is true or fictional is almost beside the point: if it works for you, you go with it. There’s a temptation to lock down on a single self-narrative, rehearsing it until it becomes habit, reterritorializing in a rigid way that alleviates anxiety and enhances the ability to move forward. But of course there are always limits to the explanatory power of any self-narrative. And people really do change, and the world changes around them, calling for further re-exploration and re-territorialization. A case could be made for undergoing continual psychoanalysis for decades.

    Comment by john doyle — 5 November 2009 @ 5:56 am

  10. “… unless you ignore the entirety of Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex and his attempt to ground it in the origins of civilization and religion (cf. Moses & Monotheism, Totem & Taboo, and all of Freud’s later work).”

    Bryan, I asuming you mean “if” for “unless”.

    Well, that’s why I like Freud. He made a myth of the function, the function a myth, how myth functions. A bit like this from the Alpha 60 computer: “Sometimes … reality is too complex for oral communication. But legend embodies it in a form which enables it to spread all over the world.”

    Myth, a metaphor, remains a phenomenon that can be accounted for, pro or contra, empirically.

    Lacan put Oedipus into the phoneme. It is pre-myth, pre-metaphor, it is the word made flesh. It is inescapable. It is above dispute because it is a “function”. It does not need or care for empirical evidence, which it often denigrates, often comparing itself instead rather sweetly to theoretical physics. This accounts for its persuasiveness, and its dangers. I do not think that this conceptualisation, unlike the Oedipus myth and unlike theoretical physics, could be validated by empirical evidence in the future. It is consciously beyond that. This is why I think that Anti-Oedipus is an anti-Lacanian tract, among other things. There can be no schizzes when all speech, all pre-speech even, carries this mommy-daddy baggage.

    That’s why I feel that The Unconscious, when spoken about as this “something”, especially in the clinic, is a creation, a phenomenon. You are consciously working against yourself. A good thing.

    As to the reality of unconscious motivations, conflicts or desires, I certainly believe in them. We’re all human animals. And I think there is plenty of empirical evidence to support that. I just do not believe in “The Unconscious” outlined as phonemic structures – there is not and cannot be any empirical evidence for this.

    CBT, despite the scaremongering that has been put about by its opponents (hilariously echoing the scaremongering against psychoanalysis put about formerly CBT’s proponents) can be summed up thus like a cockney: “Cheer up, mate, it might never ‘appen!”

    Psychoanalysis believes that ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is, has already happened. It believes that the I is always in conflict (something else that could never be empirically verified). There are pros and cons about both approaches. The latter allows for a productive ambiguity. The former may act as a check on narcissism. I don’t think everybody needs psychoanalysis. Nor do I think that psychoanalysis is pre-eminent is explaining psychical and consequently sociological structures. However, I do think that “a case could be made for undergoing continual psychoanalysis for decades.” I should know, I’m doing it.

    Comment by NB — 5 November 2009 @ 10:11 am

    • However, I do think that “a case could be made for undergoing continual psychoanalysis for decades.” I should know, I’m doing it.

      A case doesn’t need to be made for it, since people are doing it, and that you’re doing it by no means indicates that ‘you should know’. If there is any doubt, your ‘doing it’ probably means ‘you don’t know’, unless it’s giving you the life-style you most like. Because that’s what decades of psychoanalysis is about as much as any of the other more high-minded things you would certainly be looking for in it. I DO know–because I don’t do it, but do have and ex-girlfriend who has done it and lived it for 45 years, ostensibly to help her get over her writer’s block for her dissertation, which she has still not finished after 40 years. It has brought with it an angry attitude, that strange ‘deep anger’ mask-look, which is plastically attractive in its artificea, a surety that I should have been analyzed because I disliked aspects of her wimmernism (of course, she differs from you in this respect, you know I may well not need it at all, in any case, it wouldn’t ‘work’ because I haven’t the slightest interest in allowing it to ‘work’), an ability to tell her shrinks to give her literally any controlled substance she wants and at any time, an ability to get discount or free sessions, a newly developed esthetic in which she ‘gets a kick’ out of visiting Dr. K. because ‘as you get older, you appreciate these less spectacular things’. and so on.

      I can’t see what is the use of psychoanalysis unless you are yourself convinced that your life is not working. As far as using it to ‘make your life better’ even if it seems to be working well, this seems for the hobbyists, and psychoanalysis seems to be a hobby for many people in the blogosphere left and theoretical. You can have it. I’ve done time with 2 shrinks for 5 sessions each, and they were BOTH unattractive, one was a male eunuch, the other Jewish-phallic but with that oily psychiatrist’s voice–the first was even stupid, the second one was intelligent because recommended that I play The Monster fag bar at Sheridan Square, only to realize that 24 years later I would hardly need to bother with a piano, but to conclude in the interests of symmetry, I must say as well that The Monster Bar is not worthy of me in any way, and he himself ended up in the basement of my local library branch sputtering lunacies out loud among the homeless after years of crazy patients on Madison Avenue. Both men’s attempts to get me to continue–which really for me only amounted to grief counsesllng in 1985 after my mother’s death–failed dismally. The first one had absolutely no charm, the second was mostly of interest because his office was a kind of expensive caricature of a psychoanalyst’s office–to wit, greyish/tannish, solid furniture, dark and funereal, not a whiff of anything joyous, even his Phallicism was mediocre in slightly fat jeans (which he shouldn’t have been wearing.) He did at least have a slow cliched soothing shrink’s voice unlike the eunuch one, who was also a Presbyterian minister, who was a malicious little shithead who made me pay his $10 fee when I accidentally bounced a check, and mocked me for what I went there for (I was jobless at the time, and couldn’t figure out what to do, so he said, in his faggot way ‘Didja get yaself a job?’ after his moaning at my leaving him (he spent the entire time cruising my crotch), saying ‘was it something I said?’ as if I’d have an affair with some ugly creep with a head like a pole bean.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 5 November 2009 @ 10:44 am

  11. Psychoanalysis believes that ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is, has already happened. It believes that the I is always in conflict (something else that could never be empirically verified)

    May I remind the debatants present that since the Lacanian linguistic reform the ”It” is not ”repressed” as you’d have it in the hydraulic system but running parallel to the ”I”; their relationship is like a Moebius strip, that is to say ”sutured” instead of ”connected”. This is a crucial difference which simultaneously explains why psychoanalysis can never be not-actual and why it can last for such a long time. It’s a process, not an event. While Eloise has a LOT of point about the duration of analysis, it’s also true that various applied analyses exist within other therapy methods, all of which is better than the cognitive-behavioral variant.

    Today at my work a teacher in her fifties was saying that she used to have analysis at her university, while nowadays it’s all but vanished from the kids’ lives, I remarked that analysis isn’t needed on the Market; to that she said, in a way which I liked, that people will pay for this when they get older and it starts to HURT, but there will be no remedy in ”therapies”.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 5 November 2009 @ 10:58 am

  12. I’ve done time with 2 shrinks for 5 sessions each, and they were BOTH unattractive, one was a male eunuch, the other Jewish-phallic but with that oily psychiatrist’s voice–

    Darling I think the conversation started from the premise that one is not supposed to fuck, but talk with one’s analyst, but you have a point, most analysts I’ve known were ‘s ugly as HELL.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 5 November 2009 @ 11:00 am

  13. For the most part, analysts these days don’t really analyze in the sense of interpreting to clients their “real” unconscious motivations and desires.

    But when did analysis ever actually do this? Maybe in its wrong American interpretation. This is precisely what analysis, according to Freud’s writings in ”The Technique of Analysis”, is never supposed to do, for to paraphrase, if he does that, the analyst is repeating the mistakes of the parents which led to the neurosis in the first place! For all neuroses stem from the parents’ attempt to impose his or her own desire, discours, on that of the client.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 5 November 2009 @ 11:04 am

  14. I’m curious about your experience in analysis, nb. You seem both supportive of and denigrating toward analytical theories, yet you keep at it. What’s the appeal? Your staying with it suggests either that it’s working or, per Ray, that it’s not. To what extent do the theories propel or interfere with the actual experience of being in analysis? Come on, you know you can trust us, nb: we won’t tell a soul.

    Comment by john doyle — 5 November 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    • Upon further reflection, nb, this probably isn’t the best venue for discussing one’s personal experiences in analysis. So I’ll let my curiosity remain unassuaged, which of course means that it will inevitably grow and grow…

      Comment by john doyle — 6 November 2009 @ 4:51 am

  15. I can’t remember where I read this (and being more than 10 years since I’ve ‘read’ it, I may now be confabulating), but someone conducted a small sample study (less than 1,000 people), who were suffering from mild forms of anxiety and depression. One group underwent psychoanalysis (I can’t remember which stripe), another group got a pet (a dog if I remember correctly), and the ‘control group’ didn’t do either. after 2 years, the control group didn’t experience any significant change. The other two groups, however, ‘improved’ at roughly the same rate, and scored roughly the same on the mood tests of the time.

    The ultimate conclusion, of the study was something we all know: a routine, a little exercise and a ‘non-judgmental’ someone to hang out with will do wonders — whether that be a dog or an analyst make little difference.

    I wish I could remember the citation for this, but I’m happy to have it stand as pure fiction…..

    Comment by Alexei — 5 November 2009 @ 5:18 pm

  16. Yes, but you must understand, Alexei: these were fully licensed and accredited therapy dogs.

    Comment by john doyle — 5 November 2009 @ 5:26 pm

    • HA!

      there probably were. And there’s probably a very fancy theory of drive reduction involved too.

      Comment by Alexei — 5 November 2009 @ 8:44 pm

  17. “A case doesn’t need to be made for it, since people are doing it, and that you’re doing it by no means indicates that ‘you should know’.”

    I can’t fault your logic, Ray.

    “If there is any doubt, your ‘doing it’ probably means ‘you don’t know’, unless it’s giving you the life-style you most like. Because that’s what decades of psychoanalysis is about as much as any of the other more high-minded things you would certainly be looking for in it.”

    You’re right.

    “I’ve done time with 2 shrinks for 5 sessions each”

    They sound like a couple of cunts.

    “May I remind the debatants present that since the Lacanian linguistic reform the ”It” is not ”repressed” as you’d have it in the hydraulic system but running parallel to the ”I”; their relationship is like a Moebius strip, that is to say ‘’sutured” instead of ”connected”.”

    I know, PC. The other side of the tongue. That’s why Lacanians, more than any other kind of analyst, interpret all and sundry as symptom (rather than sublimation), particularly if they follow the mid to later Lacan. And who’s the most grotesque, hypocritical proponent of this? I don’t need to tell you. What did Freud say about sometimes a cigar is just a…? As for being never not-actual, an intellectual non-actual phenomenon can have real effects, on the body, as any psychoanalyst knows. Doesn’t mean its never not-actual. I don’t believe in God, but I believe in the God effect. Does an effect prove that something exists? No, jouissance is not gravity. Psychoanalysis is supposed to dispel ruinous illusions, not add to them.

    “It’s a process, not an event.” You’re right. Some things last a long time. It is the process that is so important, particularly because it allows for all kinds of “accidents”. But I also know plenty of analysts who disdain the “therapy” suffix. What is interesting is that they do not quite give up on the cure. So, this seems like a case of narcissism. Call it what you like, but don’t pretend that it doesn’t involve some therapeutic strands. I take it, PC, that the HURT wouldn’t be so bad for today’s kids 40 years from now if they underwent the therapeutic process of analysis now to achieve general human unhappiness from the abyss of neurotic despair.

    “‘For the most part, analysts these days don’t really analyze in the sense of interpreting to clients their “real” unconscious motivations and desires.’

    But when did analysis ever actually do this? Maybe in its wrong American interpretation. This is precisely what analysis, according to Freud’s writings in ”The Technique of Analysis”, is never supposed to do, for to paraphrase, if he does that, the analyst is repeating the mistakes of the parents which led to the neurosis in the first place! For all neuroses stem from the parents’ attempt to impose his or her own desire, discours, on that of the client.”

    I agree. It’s essential. But where you and I disagree is that it is my contention that, by putting Freud’s concepts through a particular linguistic reform, Lacan did not reduce this danger. The analyst’s desire can come out just the same, more so if they think their understanding of Lacan makes them better analysts. I’ve met Lacanians who have told me excitedly that “I think two of my patients are psychotic”, like some kind of fucking trophy. Have you ever met a Lacanian who, given the least excuse, doesn’t apply that linguistic reform to everything? Analysts of all stripes should question their theories, their practice, their caprices.

    “I’m curious about your experience in analysis, nb. You seem both supportive of and denigrating toward analytical theories, yet you keep at it. What’s the appeal? Your staying with it suggests either that it’s working or, per Ray, that it’s not. To what extent do the theories propel or interfere with the actual experience of being in analysis?”

    Because what Ray says is correct, more or less. And because I do think that psychoanalysis is important because it allows for ambiguity, frustration and space. The theories interfere if they are constantly applied to, squeezing that ambiguity and space.

    I’ve briefly been in CBT too. Contrary to what the hobbyists might say, it does not turn people into Huxleyian robots (even if the politicians or some of its more stupid proponents would wish it that way). It does not promise “happiness” or “normality”. It merely asks, why are you ALWAYS thinking in these terms? This does not necessarily submerge the symptom (only for the hydra to reappear with more heads – although I understand that this can happen, as it can accidentally in the direction of the treatment in analysis). It says, if you want to explore deeper as to why you’re thinking like that – fine. In the meantime, here are some strategies to stop thinking about killing yourself.

    OK, that’s enough about me…

    Comment by NB — 6 November 2009 @ 11:36 am

    • “I’ve done time with 2 shrinks for 5 sessions each”

      They sound like a couple of cunts.

      Thank you, NB. This, on the other hand, is something you WOULD know about, one may safely assume.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 6 November 2009 @ 7:20 pm

    • that the HURT wouldn’t be so bad for today’s kids 40 years from now if they underwent the therapeutic process of analysis now to achieve general human unhappiness from the abyss of neurotic despair.

      I’ve always thought such things were expedient. I once told my parents when in junior high or high school that I should veddy much like to go ahead and have ‘an operation in a hospital’ so I would not fear them later in life. As it happens, I had an auto accident, in which for 24 hours an incredibly painful chest bruise could not have a painkiller administered until test results came in; I was in such pain, that I did, in fact, experience what it would be like to ‘desire to die’, and I am actually grateful for that. Your prescription is much less admirable, of course, since it is delivered with the customary irony from which psychotherapy has not delivered you–and it never will, I fear, no matter how great the determination to prepare yourself for easing yourself into the worst as painlessly as possible.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 6 November 2009 @ 7:26 pm

  18. That’s why Lacanians, more than any other kind of analyst, interpret all and sundry as symptom (rather than sublimation), particularly if they follow the mid to later Lacan

    Well NB I don’t know which analysis you went to, but the Lacanian one I attended was careful to always stress that not all is interpretable, and more importantly, that the interpretation never comes from the analyst, because it’s YOUR STORY. And I wonder why people have such a problem with this when it’s as simple as it is! There were some interpretations… but very few, and my analyst always reminded me they actually mean nothing.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 6 November 2009 @ 12:16 pm

    • Whatever happened in your analysis, the results are not convincing except that they have made you a walking Lacanian lexicon without a license. People who are well-adjusted, or at least reasonably well-functioning, are often not schooled in Lacanianisms, Freudianisms, or Jungianisms, and they are much better exemplars of how a life should be lived than many who have.

      As for NB’s ‘thinking about killing himself’, this is normal. I do it from time to time, but realize that for some people who do it all the time, they probably might as well go ahead, or find pills that will keep this tendency down. Because ‘talking out suicide drive’ is about as likely as convincing one that good sex is by far the worst kind to have; you must have ‘bad sex’, because with ‘bad sex’, you can always intone ‘tomorrow is another day’, and when tomorrow comes, you may have yet more bad sex. When this is repeated too many times, suicide is indisputably advisable, unless you have dependents, and that never stopped much of anybody. It would stop John, of course, but then I don’t think he’s got any more suicidal tendencies than I do.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 6 November 2009 @ 7:34 pm

  19. I can’t be sure, Ray, but I think that nb’s prescription for preventive analysis to keep kids from the 40-year Hurt is a sarcastic endorsement of this strategy. Your proposal is intriguing, a sort of Nietzschean immunization via administering a non-lethal dose of pain in the formative years. Maybe that’s what parents and teachers are for.

    People often go in for analysis to open up the channel between unconscious and consciousness, to get freer access to their desires and fears and creative juices. I’d say that you, Ray, have already throttled the channel wide open, in your blog writing and probably in other aspects of your life as well. Would an analyst regard you as an exemplar, a poster boy, a this-could-be-you-after-twenty-years-in-analysis?

    Comment by john doyle — 7 November 2009 @ 7:33 am

    • “I can’t be sure, Ray, but I think that nb’s prescription for preventive analysis to keep kids from the 40-year Hurt is a sarcastic endorsement of this strategy.”

      Yes, of course it is that. Sarcasm of this smart sort is very frequent among long-term analysands, I’ve found, the ones like my ex-g.f., Diane, who use it as a parallel or even substitute lifestyle, not unlike what many internet nerds to with this medium, with the cartoonery, the fictional relationships that talk about ‘marriage’ among blog participants, etc., this is all PURE SHIT. Meeting on the internet is a ‘dating service’ and maybe some foreplay or, as I’ve been using it till very recently, a ‘writing duo exercise’. but the suicidal partner has shot his load, it seems, and he’s been bequeathed the Parody Center if he wants it, because I am not going to continue writing in the form of a lie (a lie is fine up to a point, then it’s not, you’re not interested in kindergarten anymore)

      But what traxus and I were discussing a while back with the Tarantino about the ‘affirumative irony’ is still important. It is still not a viable alternative for sometning else, and sarcasm and irony usually prove impotence if they are too all-pervasive. It is as if a patient goes to a shrink so he won’t have to adopt his ‘ironic pose’ anymore, only to find out that he just has to get used to the fact that he’s only got the ironic pose to hold onto, so the best the treatment can offer him, in lieu of the desired suicide, is to accept that he has already completely emptied himself of anything useful except this ironic posturing, which is innately dishonest. But his asking PC if this is the case does have some validity, because there are people who think analysis is an end in itself, as I’ve mentioned, and it’s not the only substitute for actually living they use; not that that’s not understandable, given the endless march of time PLUS the need to observe ‘class struggle’ and defeat the ruling classes (lol, thank god for me they haven’t, traxus’s attempt to put me in my place notwithstanding).

      ‘And because I do think that psychoanalysis is important because it allows for ambiguity, frustration and space.’

      Yeah, well, I guess it CAN do that, but so can a helluva lot of other things. I’ve never been the least concerned that people sometimes thought ‘I needed it’, because it was so fucking dull and unaesthetic. As for ‘allowing for frustration’, you have to admit that’s a fucking howler. I don’t think frustration is one of the things one needs to be given license for, but if you’re really ‘pent-up’, maybe you can’t even realize you’re frustrated. In the few sessions I went to analysts (and NB called them ‘cunts’ just as a kind of ‘revenge’, the second one, despite his own lunacy, was intelligent–yes, I know, I can’t assume what you’re thinking, but I’m going to anyway, aren’t I?), there was a sense of peculiar release after each session accompanied by a sense of stupid waste and indebtedness based on relatively small sums of money, even though the 2nd one was one of the most highly paid in NYC at the time, 1985)

      I’d say that you, Ray, have already throttled the channel wide open, in your blog writing and probably in other aspects of your life as well. Would an analyst regard you as an exemplar, a poster boy, a this-could-be-you-after-twenty-years-in-analysis?

      Hee hee, from almost any other of the blog crows I wouldn’t take that so good-naturedly, but sure, not only in my blog writing, that’s only a bit of foreplay as mentioned. Of course, an analyst would think that, but would never say it, because what I do is socially unacceptable, I actually DO what they say you need to do about getting out of the strictures, but then the usual thing to do once you’ve done that is say ‘hey, we didn’t REALLY mean you should throw off those strictures’. So why psychoanlysts think is the point, not what you’ve just said. And the point about that is that what THEY think is of no importance, you’re free of analysis when you realize what unimportant and impotent people they really are, for the most part. They can be interesting in their violence, like Lacan, which PC seems to demonstrate in his ‘therapies’, or dull like Freud. Jung is the only one of the famous ones that has been of any real use to me at all. The Jungian Sylvia Brinton Pereira’s book ‘The Scapegoat Complex’ is stunningly good. I’ve read other Jungians on ‘the Adonis Complex’, on homosexuality, other subjects, these were all more convincing with this emphasis on the archetypes, things like the ‘witch arehetypc’, useful but has to be eventually rejected as the filth that it is. Pereira was a practising therapist in New York for many years, I don’t know what has happened to her.

      But so, therefore, no, they would not think of me as in any way exemplary except secretly, because it does not go with the bourgeois context in which they operate. But the important point again is I don’t care what they think. When you’ve ‘throttled the channel wide open’, you care what your family and friends think, what your lovers think, your collaborators on artworks (in my case, except for one, who’s got talent but has conflated recklessness with freedom, so is currently self-destructing, but say, as with Christian, yes, I care what he thinks even to the point of holding back some of what might normally give me a rush of pleasure because he doesn’t want to hear that form of expression–as it is, he’s opened himself enormously as we’ve worked through this process over the years, by the way, a former psychologist, but he doesn’t determine me anymore, he was once more powerful)….you care what the cops think, what the landlord thinks, what some neighbors think, those people, then you’re not living in that second-hand world of therapist’s office which are PURPOSELY divorced from Real Life, so that you wlll decide that all the Expensive License to, say ‘hate your parents’ and ‘you were right, your parents were wrong’ that is so ‘liberating’, despite the financial indebtedness and enslavement it immediately causes.

      A further question would be ‘how did I ESCAPE analysis’ in any serious way? Because I figured out other ways to solve my problems or live life or live with problems till I could solve them, because analysis is not to me living directly, any more that these stupid blog relationships are not like real relationships until you can bring them to some real kind of fruition. In the case of the writer with whom I’ve been working on Dejan’s blog, most of what I’ve gained is purely due to my insistence that the blog-therapy or blog-relationship was always insufficient, and more in several areas was going to be necessary, and so these began all to be realized. This did not happen to the other party, the ‘partner’. As such I am no longer going to even give him the ‘probably is —- —- of sucn and such a place’, but rather will re-name him a combination of three writers (last name initials M, V, and L) and simply make up a totally fictional biography. This should therapize him well, because threats of ‘being pitiful’ and suicide don’t work with me. A friend of mine once said ‘Ray, you really ARE a sadist, aren’t you? You give people what they WANT!’ Yes. Better than the fool dark inertia of masochism. If people don’t want recognition, I am perfectly happy to take it for them.

      I’m not a shrink’s ‘poster boy’, they could never have imagined someone my age actually becoming a ‘real poster boy’, which is not so much literal, as that I have generated all the 4 contributions to the book, which Christian finally delivered his own this week (this was the hardest in some ways to get, although the Anonymous one RDL, was the big surprise), so I get to have used all this Phallic energy to have brought this project together somehow. I know that I did, because not only did I bring out my own very long textual contribution (this was the chief labour, and I made no mistake to let any chapter out after the first one was trashed by the English fiends, et alia, so they don’t know how different the other chapters were, although it did take me a long time to realize they were also DEAD WRONG about the first chapter that they trashed and then expected me to let them manipulate me beyond just the obvious pleasurable, well, forget it), I also was able to exact the ‘Desiree’ writing on CPC, but even more Jack’s cityscapes and portraits (about 18, which he wouldn’t have done otherwise), and Christian’s ‘ex libris drawings’ from pieces of my text in BOOK II, which were far more developed and elaborate than I would have ever expected. But my own arrogance or pushiness or whatever you want to call it pulled these other contributors out, and that was my reward for going through the very unpleasurable part of writing the primary text completely alone.

      So, to answer you, of course not, I’m WAY BEYOND the ‘exemplar’ of the shrink’s dreams. I’ve ignored what has been said about arrogance, pride and all the rest, and don’t even remember in my goings about life what a psychiatrist would even think was ‘ideal’. It always seems to me that they’re talking about eating little rat droppings, and expecting a ‘quiet excitement’ about ‘hey, we made a little progress’, didn’t we? No guts, that stuff.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 7 November 2009 @ 8:58 am

  20. Have you ever met a Lacanian who, given the least excuse, doesn’t apply that linguistic reform to everything?

    NB the problem of course is that many clients (not only of psychoanalysis) tend to use language as a defense mechanism, and since Lacanian analysis is so much about listening most of the time I would say it is from THEM that the linguistic complaint usually comes; they construe some kind of a talky Woody Allen film of this. I gave much thought to this contention that ”linguisticizing” everything is a problem; I always remember that my analyst told me once, when I complained that we just talk, told me that I can also dance, paint or sing – who’s stopping me, he asked me. After all, body language is also language. And when I thought about it, I realized that indeed I had this prefabricated notion that I may NOT (dance or sing), which came not from analysis, but from my parents’ prohibition.

    Lots of notions tend to get so abstract through philosophizing, but people have to remember that Lacanian analysis is a clinical practice, it’s a living organism, you cannot separate it from the clinic.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 7 November 2009 @ 5:13 pm

  21. There’s some agreement that the metapsychological theory of psychoanalysis isn’t really necessary in practice — sort of like physicians’ knowledge of biochemistry and so on. Also, the analyst’s interpretations aren’t meant to shine understanding on the client, but to keep the possibilities open, to forestall foreclosure on the client’s own lockdown into one specific interpretation or set of meanings. So why do analysts supposedly need all that training? What distinguishes a good analyst from a bad one?

    I don’t think it’s necessary that the analysand’s own interpretations tap into some deep understanding or truth that’s been there all along, hidden beneath repressions and other defenses. The interpretations can create a reality that embeds the analysand’s experiences inside a livable framework or context. So it seems there’s a significant creative component to undergoing analysis that’s as important as self-discovery.

    This business of analysis getting stuck in language, in talking rather than doing — it’s an argument that CBT or — even more directly — personal coaching makes against talk therapies and analysis. Dance, paint, sing; fuck, fight, go it alone; succeed, quit, revolt — lots of options for doing. Analysis that loosens up the unconscious in ways that overcome repressions and defenses against doing — what does such a praxis look like? How is it different from a positivistic managerial approach: make a plan, discipline yourself, take concrete steps toward your goal, etc.? There must be some way of freeing yourself to do rather than making yourself do.

    Comment by john doyle — 7 November 2009 @ 11:34 pm

  22. he interpretations can create a reality that embeds the analysand’s experiences inside a livable framework or context. So it seems there’s a significant creative component to undergoing analysis that’s as important as self-discovery.

    Eloise I’m not sure I understand this adumbration, but what I meant is that ”interpretation” if you can call it that takes into consideration 1) that the Unconscious is present in the now, hence the account of a dream for example is more important than the dream itself; language constantly shifts, changes, etc; 2) it can ASSIST, never enable, the client’s insight into his own processes. And then this insight is never just language, but an experience involving emotions and the body as well. Analysis sees language as an enemy, not an ally, not an end in itself. The subject is existentially trapped in language, etc.

    I just saw that the autophagic fox has become a MEME popping up in odd places like an Obama speech on youtube being interrupted by ”chaos reigns”. Well no wonder I couldn’t get the image out of my mind!

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 8 November 2009 @ 1:44 am

    • I understand what you say here except for the “language as an enemy.” The subject is in language, but there is some access possible to the real that’s arrived at through language, no? And in this I would agree: there are real experiences, we have to make some sense of them, language helps by trying out possible connections with other experiences that might make sense of them. This can only be effective if language actually refers to real things and events, and isn’t just a self-contained “language game.”

      Comment by john doyle — 8 November 2009 @ 3:17 am

  23. As for the psychoanalytic cure and how quantifiable it is, I just thought that I feel its most important contribution in my life is that I forever have my analyst’s voice (and face to a much lesser degree) which keeps returning whenever I bump into situations that cause unhealthy behavioral patterns; this in itself is already enough as a help. When I think of the behaviorists I met in my life I just want to forget them as soon as possible.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 8 November 2009 @ 1:46 am

    • that I forever have my analyst’s voice (and face to a much lesser degree) which keeps returning whenever I bump into situations that cause unhealthy behavioral patterns; this in itself is already enough as a help. When I think of the behaviorists I met in my life I just want to forget them as soon as possible.

      When I think of you with your analysit'[s voice and face, I want to forget them as soon as possible. You have proved by your example that they do not prevnt nearly enough unhelahyt behavrioual patterns. That is not what a therapist is supposed to do, and yet that is what yuu demonstrate.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 8 November 2009 @ 2:35 am

    • But what did your analyst do or say that’s helpful for avoiding unhealthy behavior patterns, if the analyst’s interpretations are meant to trigger your own understandings rather than to impose the analyst’s?

      Comment by john doyle — 8 November 2009 @ 3:19 am

  24. But what did your analyst do or say that’s helpful for avoiding unhealthy behavior patterns, if the analyst’s interpretations are meant to trigger your own understandings rather than to impose the analyst’s?

    So I think his comment or interpretation, which isn’t always even related to the concrete experience but I bring it in connection, is more valuable than say if a behaviorist tried to concretely turn me off to such and such behavior, which I invariably experience as bullying and or patronization. His voice lives on in a manner of speaking, outside of the analysis, much like you introject your parents’ voice. This doesn’t sound like something you can easily measure empirically, but I think it’s a very strong remedy.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 8 November 2009 @ 4:28 am

    • Yes I understand and agree with that. Not the words themselves but the way of speaking: exploratory rather than prescriptive.

      Comment by john doyle — 8 November 2009 @ 8:39 am

  25. language is the enemy in the sense that it puts you into an ontologically fucked-up position, and it can’t be trusted either. i think the ”cure” happens at that point where language breaks down, and the analysand is no longer fixated on attributing one and only meaning. he learns in a way to deal with the treacherousness of language, and in seeing through its instability, overcomes it a little.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 8 November 2009 @ 5:24 am

  26. the message of analysis is ” you can’t believe what you see”, this can be translated as you can’t believe everything you hear.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 8 November 2009 @ 5:24 am

  27. “I can’t be sure, Ray, but I think that nb’s prescription for preventive analysis to keep kids from the 40-year Hurt is a sarcastic endorsement of this strategy. Your proposal is intriguing, a sort of Nietzschean immunization via administering a non-lethal dose of pain in the formative years. Maybe that’s what parents and teachers are for.”

    Well, John, that wasn’t really my point – but I agree anyway. My point was that psychoanalysts (and Lacanians are particularly at pains to distinguish themselves this way) who continually disparage the term or suffix “therapy” suffer from what Freud called the narcissism of minor differences because they disavow any therapeutic process within psychoanalysis. Lacan himself disdained what he called “the Hippocratic pong”.

    “Sarcasm of this smart sort is very frequent among long-term analysands”

    I agree. But also – see above. For me, it is not about “affirmative irony”, but articulating what could be beneficial and dangerous about the structures of psychoanalysis, particularly one so reformative as Lacan and his Return to Freud, so-called. If this turns me into a Chekovian cliché of “I can’t go on, I’ll go on”, so be it. There’s the rub, the frustration. Howllll!

    Ray, maybe I was calling your two analysts cunts out of revenge, but it also seemed like the natural reaction on the information you gave.

    “Your prescription is much less admirable, of course, since it is delivered with the customary irony from which psychotherapy has not delivered you–and it never will, I fear, no matter how great the determination to prepare yourself for easing yourself into the worst as painlessly as possible.”

    I don’t believe that there is anything to be delivered from. Unless you want to kill yourself. Here, I am in agreement with the Lacanians.

    “the fool dark inertia of masochism”

    I love this phrase.

    “Lots of notions tend to get so abstract through philosophizing, but people have to remember that Lacanian analysis is a clinical practice, it’s a living organism, you cannot separate it from the clinic.”

    I’m with you on this one, PC. Sadly, a lot of Lacanians and their disciples do not remember. And the man himself was loath to bring cases to his seminars, preferring to extend those (in my judgment) philosophically incoherent abstractions.

    “As for the psychoanalytic cure and how quantifiable it is, I just thought that I feel its most important contribution in my life is that I forever have my analyst’s voice (and face to a much lesser degree) which keeps returning whenever I bump into situations that cause unhealthy behavioral patterns”

    There is of course a benign mode of behaviourism here. But I am pleased for you, PC. No sarcasm meant.

    “His voice lives on in a manner of speaking, outside of the analysis, much like you introject your parents’ voice. This doesn’t sound like something you can easily measure empirically, but I think it’s a very strong remedy”

    “Not the words themselves but the way of speaking: exploratory rather than prescriptive.”

    I agree with John here about what you say, PC. Er, how you say.

    “And then this insight is never just language, but an experience involving emotions and the body as well.”

    Yes, I agree with this too. And here is where any empirical test will be useless, or worse than useless.

    “Analysis sees language as an enemy, not an ally, not an end in itself. The subject is existentially trapped in language, etc.”

    But this is where we part company. Language is certainly not an end in itself. Unless you are God: “Fiat Lux!”

    But maybe here’s the problem: if the subject was existentially trapped by the enemy known through language as language then language would be indeed an end in itself. Language may not be an ally, but it is surely absurd to say it is an enemy, even and especially if we often feel that words fail.

    God is an immovable point in the seemingly treacherous morphology of words: the Word was God and the Word was with God. Words mutate but God is the Word, if you believe the Bible, unchanging. To fix language as a subjective trap is to maintain that horizon, to demand that a psychoanalytical cure be enacted, if only to glimpse the Promised Land. This is way beyond Heidegger’s House of Being. And what’s left of the Real? Just irruptions in the bad sci-fi of language, diagnosed by the analyst – not the analysand.

    What’s in a name? Virtually everything, actually nothing. “Hitler” isn’t evil, Hitler was.

    Comment by NB — 9 November 2009 @ 11:33 am

    • Good fucking show, man. Best to you.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 9 November 2009 @ 3:45 pm

      • who continually disparage the term or suffix “therapy” suffer from what Freud called the narcissism of minor differences because they disavow any therapeutic process within psychoanalysis.

        What process, then, do they not ‘disavow within psychoanalysis?’ Is it by then so abstruse as to be overrefined to the point of effective ineffectuality, such that it must even be celebrated as such? Really such disavowal into those rare ethers makes it seem just so useful, and quite easy to just choose another brand of recreation.

        Comment by Ray Fuller — 9 November 2009 @ 8:18 pm

  28. I don’t believe that there is anything to be delivered from. Unless you want to kill yourself. Here, I am in agreement with the Lacanians.

    This again, in reflecting on it just ever so slightly, sounds strange. What use therapy if you don’t want to be delivered (unless you’re just talking about the use of that word) from some sort of suffering, including suicidal tendencies. Also, if someone wants to kill himself, does he want to be delivered from the need to kill himself, or do you mean that killing oneself would be the sure thing to deliver one from life quite thoroughly into death (we can probably agree that that might happen.) In other, are you not talking ABOUT suicidal tendencies? Otherwise, the ‘not therapy’ doesn’t make any sense to a normal neurotic sex maniac like me–I want relief from suffering, and if I went to a psychiatrist, I’d want that, not the joy of going to a doctor’s office. I think some people like doctor’s offices, and get some kind of ‘healing’ and ‘cure’ just be being in those wretched places.

    I don’t believe a word of going to a psychiatrist without extreme need to escape from misery and quit suffering. Why the fuck do something as dull as go talk to some boring scholar of Freud or Lacan just for the hell of it? I can’t think of anything duller. Even talking about it here is less dull than having to make a trip when you could just go to the theater instead. I know, because I went last night, and these Chinese were MUCH better than the psychiatrists I went to in 1985, and MUCH more therapeutic as well. i don’t know, I’ve read some old Lacan stories, not by him, but I think they were in books about him, there was one girl who really wanted to commit suicide and was joking about it one night after being in ‘therapy’ or whatever you call it for a long time, and she was being convivial that night, and just like I’d turn off the computer, she committed suicide. Are suicidal tendencies like that the ones that are the most scary? that you might just all of a sudden do it almost as though, as Capote would say, ‘death would at least be something different?’ I don’t mean you personally, I don’t know whether you are talking about wanting to kill yourself or not, but it occurred to me that you might mean that. I’ve sometimes thought of it briefly, when I’ve been sure something perfectly impossible to live with was about to happen again–although when they’ve happened before I still have not been able to bring myself to do it. It could be, though, that I’ve thought about it more than others have. Right before I went to Switzerland in 1997, when I thought I was about to have a nervous breakdown (I never quite have), I bought four bottles of aspirin in case I decided it would be convenient to kill myself; but I’ve never done that again. But I have very fleeting suicidal thoughts once in a while. As you get older, minor inconveniences seem quite major.

    Comment by Ray Fuller — 9 November 2009 @ 9:56 pm

  29. Thanks for your kind words, Ray.

    “What use therapy if you don’t want to be delivered (unless you’re just talking about the use of that word) from some sort of suffering, including suicidal tendencies. Also, if someone wants to kill himself, does he want to be delivered from the need to kill himself, or do you mean that killing oneself would be the sure thing to deliver one from life quite thoroughly into death (we can probably agree that that might happen.)”

    Obviously people go and see someone because they are suffering, or something is breaking down etc and want some sort of way of being able to cope with that. But I sort of meant that some people want deliverance from the human condition* per se, which does involve conflict and suffering. The only way to be delivered from that is to commit suicide. It’s not a route I recommend. I suspect that thinking about or attempting suicide is often perversely partially driven by the desire to be delivered from the need to kill oneself.

    I have thought about it – but not recently.

    “Are suicidal tendencies like that the ones that are the most scary? that you might just all of a sudden do it almost as though, as Capote would say, ‘death would at least be something different?’”

    I think that people may kill themselves almost matter-of-factly because they have an idee fixe in their head. They may have been very depressed but the actual attempt, successful or not, suddenly makes sense: “Oh, of course, this has to be.” Then they sometimes do it out of passion. Hurl themselves out of a window during an argument, say. A moment before they would never have thought of doing it, but the situation presents an impossibility that cannot be faced etc.

    Comment by NB — 10 November 2009 @ 11:15 am

    • Yeah, I like almost all that thinking. I don’t know why you’re doing psychoanalysis and I’m not, though, but so what. I’m not going to until forced, it has zero appeal. But very good on the ‘impulsive nature’ of some suicides, unlike that girl who had been prone for a long time, went through much talking through, was very cheerful with friends one night, and said more or less to herself ‘well this REALLY sounds like fun’.

      Delighted to hear you don’t recommend, although I have no idea why you wouldn’t. If you wouldn’t recommend it, then it follows that surely could recommend it (though without having experienced the outcome yet, so you don’t know whether it’s desirable or not. Who are you to say that it’s not better than ‘the human condition?’ :) I know if I hadn’t seen the Chinese the other night I might think it was better than the human condition.

      ‘I suspect that thinking about or attempting suicide is often perversely partially driven by the desire to be delivered from the need to kill oneself.’

      Yeah, I was just taking a long walk and thinking, as I often have, that suicide definitely is good for getting rid of the fear of death. Not that LACANIANS would see that that might be even tangentially related to ‘the need to kill oneself’. But I’ve got other refinements to attent to.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 10 November 2009 @ 12:39 pm

      • ‘I don’t know why you’re doing psychoanalysis and I’m not,’

        I take that back. I see perfectly well why you’re in it and I’m not. It doesn’t ‘work’, does it?

        Comment by Ray Fuller — 10 November 2009 @ 8:54 pm

  30. But maybe here’s the problem: if the subject was existentially trapped by the enemy known through language as language then language would be indeed an end in itself. Language may not be an ally, but it is surely absurd to say it is an enemy, even and especially if we often feel that words fail.

    I was talking about the fact that at the core of Lacanian theory is the subject split by language, forever divorced from the Real. In this sense language is the devil, the great deceiver, and can’t be trusted. A large part of analysis is coming to grips with this, and in this way slightly releiving yourself (though not entirely, because only in death are you really free from language). For my money most other therapies try to sort of ”walk around” this fact and in this commit the kind of an error that makes their intervention detrimental to the client.

    Evidence for the uselessness of cognitive-behavior modification: the death of neo-liberal capitalism!

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 10 November 2009 @ 1:37 pm

  31. Very interesting thread. I’m sad that I’m just now discovered it. A few points, and hopefully I’ll make some sense. First, I think John makes terrific points about the “squishy-ness” of psychological research in general. This is a point well worth keeping in mind when we start pitting these different theories against one another. Second, in deference to the empiricists amongst us, I don’t find John’s arguments about the empirical verification of the unconscious very convincing. This is not because I disagree with John’s thesis that we have discovered all sorts of processes in the mind that take place beneath the threshold of awareness, but because the psychoanalytic concept of the unconscious is a very specific thing that isn’t equivalent to the idea of mental processes that take place beneath the threshold of consciousness. The key element of the psychoanalytic unconscious is two-fold: On the hand, as someone noted in this thread, it is not an entity but an event. The unconscious is something that happens. It happens in bungled actions, slips of the tongue, dreams, jokes, and symptoms. More on this in a moment. The second crucial feature of the unconscious is that it is intentional or displays intentionality. The key point is that these bungled actions, slips of the tongue, jokes, dreams, and symptoms say something without the person who says them knowing that they display intentions or meanings.

    Here’s a couple of examples. When my partner and I moved from Chicago to Texas we had a terrific dinner at two very dear friends of ours where we had a wonderful time. Half way to Texas in our cars the next day she suddenly remembered that she had left her favorite jacket at our friends’ pad. This is a simple example of a bungled action. The reason or intention behind this bungled action is pretty evident. She didn’t want to leave our good friends. Leaving the jacket was the expression of a desire either to return, to hear back from them when they sent the jacket, to be remembered, or not to leave. Lacan liked to say that bungled actions are the only successful actions as they fulfill our unconscious wishes.

    Another more complex example would be a dream my wife had when I was writing my dissertation or Difference and Givenness. During this time I was working nonstop. I wrote the final text in a couple of months. I would wake up every afternoon around four or five (she worked nights at the hospital at the time so I my sleep schedule was inverted) and I would write all night, between fifteen and twenty pages, polish off a bottle of wine, and fall asleep during the day. A weird thing happens to you, I’ve found, when you’re really writing intensively. Blanchot describes it in his literature and theoretical work. The world somehow disappears. You become completely absorbed in your project, unable to talk about anything else, a bit autistic, and pre-occupied with all the problems you’re working through. During this time my partner had a very simple dream. She dreamt that a faceless man with cerebral palsy was chasing her, trying to rape her. When the man finally caught up with her they began to fight and she broke his left hand. At that point she woke up. Later when she free associated a number of associations came to the fore. First, I am left handed. What we get here is a sort of “if-then” proposition: “If I break his hand, then he will not be able to write, then he will pay attention to me.” But what about cerebral palsy? Why did I appear in her dream in this way? My birth name and legal name is “Paul”. When she met me I was still going by the name of Paul and she called me by the pet name “Pauly”. It takes no leap to see “cerebral palsy” as a sort of pseudo-anagram or homonym for “Cerebral Pauly” or “Brainy Pauly”. But why did her mind turn me into this diseased creature? She saw my intellectual work as a disease because I wasn’t paying attention to her. I was faceless for a two-fold reason. On the one hand, I was literally absent or not there despite being there. On the other hand, this reduced her guilt at having aggressive feelings towards me. Similarly the rape scenario both satisfied the wish to be desired while also giving her a guilt free alibi to take out her aggressions on me. I emphasize that these were her associations. The dream simultaneously satisfied the wish or desire to be desired and to beat the shit out of me for ignoring her.

    A third point is that the key point of my broken chalk examples is that I gained no special insight about what was behind my chalk breaking when my analyst made his intervention. I didn’t make the connection between his repetition of my phrase and me no longer breaking chalk until two weeks later. A lot of folks think that analysis is about gaining insight or understanding. That happens, but it’s not really what takes place in analysis and is really the least of it. From a psychoanalytic point of view, when my analyst repeated my phrase “pressure at the board” he was communicating not with “me” but with my unconscious. By speaking my symptom or bungled action he dislodged that symptoms and shifted it elsewhere. It wasn’t any special insight that led me to stop breaking chalk– I didn’t think twice about what he’d said after I left that session –rather the transference of the symptom from the domain of the body (breaking the chalk) to speech reconfigured the network of the symptom rendering the bodily manifestation (conversion symptoms) of the symptom unnecessary. Generally patients have very little recollection of what takes place in their analysis. You don’t remember much of it or where the shifts were. Things just change. Here it’s worthwhile to remember that over the course of analysis according to Lacanian theory, the analyst literally becomes the cause of the symptom. This means three things: The analyst takes on the power of transferentially evoking ones symptoms, ones symptoms increasingly become attached to the figure of the analyst, and the analyst acquires the power (he doesn’t have it initially) to act on a patient’s symptoms through his interventions. This is exactly what happened in this early instance in my analysis. There were much bigger things that went on, many of which had to do with my name and the fact that I didn’t know my true name until I was nine or ten, but I’ll keep those to myself.

    Fourth, I am not surprised by Alexei’s discussion of therapeutic treatments of depression and anxiety disorders and getting a pet. Nowhere and never does analysis claim that only one road leads to Rome. Depressive and anxiety disorders are narcissistic disorders pertaining to the dimension of the imaginary or specular relations with others and how we experience ourselves as reflected by others. I hasten to add that for psychoanalysis “narcissism” is not a normative or judgmental category. All of us have an imaginary or narcissistic dimension and this dimension is a necessary aspect of being a person and having fruitful self-other relations. Given that relations with a pet are narcissistic relations or relations primarily driven by the imaginary (how we experience ourselves reflected by an other in their gaze) it comes as no great surprise that getting a pet can have all sorts of therapeutic benefits for someone suffering from depression or anxiety. The difference between getting a pet and going through analysis for treatment is that in the former case we gain no insight into the symbolic dimension of just why this depression and anxiety plagues us. Freud, humorously enough, advised his patients against falling in love while in analysis. The principle is the same. Love can have all sorts of profound therapeutic effects but it has a tendency to swallow up the unconscious without the patient coming to occupy or avow the place of their symptom– wo ich war, soll ich werden— where it was, there I should be. In love the beloved becomes the symptom and we don’t come to be agents of our symptoms.

    Somewhere in this thread John asks what the benefit or value of psychoanalytic training is. I think there are a couple of answers to this question. First, the psychoanalyst knows why his particular technique works. This is what differentiates a psychoanalyst from a shaman or a witch doctor. In a famous article in his Structural Anthropology, “The Sorcerer and his Magic”, Levi-Strauss talks about how shamanistic magic is able to have all sorts of therapeutic effects. No psychoanalyst would deny this. Exorcisms can treat alcoholism for the proper sort of object that has the right sort of transference. The difference between a psychoanalyst and an exorcist is that the psychoanalyst understands the transferential psychodynamics that produce these sorts of effects. More importantly, however, the importance of psychoanalytic training is ethical in character. The true psychoanalyst practices an ethics of desire. She is the advocate of the analysand’s desire, striving, like Plato’s midwifery, to give voice to that desire. The problem with so many therapeutic techniques is that they believe they already know what is good for the patient and try to fashion their patients in the image of what they believe a “healthy” person should be. Rather than knowing how to listen to the patient’s desire and give voice to that desire they place the patient in fixed categories and aims that can be extremely detrimental to the patient. These therapists (I won’t call them analysts because they are not) substitute their fantasies and desires for those of their patients and try to force their patients into these holes. This is the essence of suggestion. All sorts of psychic anguish occurs as the result of this.

    Apologies for the lengthy post.

    Comment by larvalsubjects — 10 November 2009 @ 11:04 pm

  32. I’m up in the middle of the night, so perhaps these responses to recent comments ought to be consigned to partial conscious thought, partial dream logic.

    The two alternative views of discussing suicide are intriguing, the ones from nb and Ray. One, talking about it is an alternative to doing it, a way of expressing that you don’t really want to do it. Two, doing it is a way to stop talking about it; the fear is gone when one actually confronts the fear. This conversation continued would construct a short story reminiscent of Calvino perhaps, whose sublime Invisible Cities I’m currently reading.

    Next, most dreams never come into conscious waking awareness. Whatever reorganization these dreams perform in the unconscious organization of stored material is thus happening without conscious intention. Perhaps this unconscious reorg work will push consciousness across some threshold or tipping point, so that when the dreamer wakes up he finds himself entertaining certain new thoughts thinking that he’s had a breakthrough, whereas in fact the breakthrough happened while he was sleeping and he’s only now become aware of it.

    Next, when our daughter was little there were discussions among parents and other so-called experts about disciplinary tactics. One of the favorite was the “time out,” in which the kid manifesting inappropriate behaviors was sent away to be alone for awhile. The rationale was explicit: this is not punishment; the social setting is too overwhelming for the kid to sort out the best way to act in the situation; temporary isolation is an opportunity for the kid to think through what she’s done that’s “not okay” and to come up with another, more appropriate alternative. This rationale is explicit, and maybe it’s actually right. Maybe. I wrote a weekly comic strip called “Time Out!” and distributed it to the parents in my kid’s class. In each episode, the kid in time out is reflecting on the experience and coming up with another theory of how she wound up in that predicament and how she might be able to get out. I.e., there are plenty of possible explanations for why A leads to B leads to C.

    …which triggers another memory. Once, when our daughter Kenzie was about six years old, she did something “not okay” and (unusual for me) I put her in time out. She had a pal over at the time, so while Kenzie was in time out I found myself chatting with this other kid. My parents don’t believe in time out, she informed me. Oh really? So I got Kenzie out of time out so we could have a three-way discussion of the pros and cons of time out as a disciplinary tactic. I learned more that day than I did talking to parents. And I pretty much gave up on time out and started writing the cartoon.

    More later, but of course please feel free to carry on or to respond. Maybe all will be clear when I awaken in the true morning.

    Comment by john doyle — 11 November 2009 @ 3:57 am

    • One, talking about it is an alternative to doing it, a way of expressing that you don’t really want to do it. Two, doing it is a way to stop talking about it; the fear is gone when one actually confronts the fear.

      I rarely catch you missing the point so severely. In the first case, talking about it was to talk about THAT, I am fairly sure, because it was unnecessarily brought up at other times by the protagonist when something else would have done as well, and which he has ‘not thought of recently’. He’s got his agendas for talking about that as the ‘thing one is always thinking about’ from . I know what these are, but cannot say.

      The only interesting part of the exchange was the idea of the impulsive nature that suicide sometimes (but not nearly always) is–at least consciously. In that I laid out the basic idea of how it could happen and he made a rather pedestrian riff on exactly the same thing as if he was saying something different (he wasn’t, and I’m sure he knew it), that was more than purely collegial, or it would appear. I don’t really care that much, because he could always say he brought that particular ‘thing to think of’ just off the top of his head. In fact, he might have, that doesn’t interest me either, because it is not possible to find out for sure what he meant, because I have no reason to believe anything he says on here. His weird review of that book I pointed out to you sounds both as if he had read it and hadn’t read it, therefore is interested in your review and both wishes to pronounce upon it, since one finds out he knows the book backwards and forwards. So there was only investigation on my part, not real discussion. I don’t believe a word he says, unless I somehow think it was true by accident.

      What I added was just that I’d already thought more or less the same thing that ‘suicide cures the fear of death’. And even in this you are not quite right. You say: “the fear is gone when one actually confronts the fear.” I couldn’t say you are NOT ‘confronting the fear’ by committing suicide, but that’s still not the main thing, because that may not be what you are doing at the moment you are ‘confronting the fear of life’ so strongly that you decide to put an end to it. I don’t think most suicides are afraid of death nearly as much as they are afraid of life, or they certainly wouldn’t do it as an expedient ‘so they could stop thinking about death and the fear of it’. Nor do I buy a word of ‘perversely partially driven by the desire to be delivered from the need to kill oneself’ which is a mere tautology, because only the suicidally prone (this is a matter of degree, maybe the rest of us are like Nietzsche, didn’t he say he gotten through many a sleepless night because of the reality of suicide, which he describes as some sort of ‘handy palliative’ almost) have a need to kill themselves to begin with, so it’s perfectly superfluous to say that thus executing the act will thus deliver them from ‘the need to do so’. That’s a bit like saying depositing money in an account delivers from the need to do so at another time.

      The point is, I think suicide was brought up on purpose, but I’ll not be able to prove it. It was enough to just state it. I then did continue because suicide really DOES get rid of the fear of death, far more than just ‘confronting the fear of death’, as you said, which it doesn’t even really do since it equates LIFE with what most people think DEATH is (that’s why death is chosen over life, which has come to seem like hell), but it simply gets rid of the fear of death because you cannot fear it when you’re DEAD.

      I have been able to see that, at the bottom of it, most of this discussion of analysis in this thread proves that analysis always has as one of its tenets to complicate things unnecessarily, to make itself abstruse and special, so it can exist as a kind of discipline which has more than a little snake oil in it, in the hands of all practitioners. That’s fine, snake oil is just as effective in the short run. and all analysands die after their lengthy stays in the shrink’s office, especially those who are analyzed into their 80s and 90s. These live a life of analysis, and people like me avoid it like the plague, because it’s not living.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 11 November 2009 @ 9:06 am

      • To clarify my middle-of-the-night shorthand: one way of confronting the fear of death is actually to die. And once you’re dead you never again experience that fear. So confronting the fear via suicide is one way of overcoming the fear.

        Comment by john doyle — 11 November 2009 @ 1:56 pm

  33. Eloise I think one good example of the workings of the Unconscious as per dr. Sinthome’s account would be that the question your Unconscious seems to be asking is, why oh why did I take the cognitive path in life? You’re a little like the protagonist of the Antichrist, who having a good intuition spontaneously comes in touch with the Unconscious throughout all of his uncanny encounters, but persistently bases his faith in the Word of the Science. And you keep looking for the key, for the translation, right where it’s staring at your face. CHAOS REIGNS!, as the Fox said.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 11 November 2009 @ 1:15 pm

    • It’s quite a contrast: when I saw the fox eating itself I was appalled, but when it started talking I had to laugh. I have forsaken realist empiricism as a career, paradoxically finding it simultaneously sterile and corrupted. Whenever I encounter people who want to reduce life to measurables and multiple-choice lists, I want to smack them. Still, I find myself awkwardly positioned, and the return to a subjective and fictional Eden already presents itself as corrupted. Empiricism becomes an odd source of cold comfort, a return to something I once could rely on. Perhaps Dr. Sinthome too finds some difficulty committing himself resolutely to a rational, desubjectivised pathway that paradoxically results in the world disappearing and in becoming somehow perverted, palsied, regressed to an earlier identity. And so in analysis he is able to return to the world of dreams and the unconscious and the captivating uncertainty of human interpretation, a world in which he became truly himself…

      Comment by john doyle — 11 November 2009 @ 9:21 pm

  34. Levi, I admit that I find puzzling what an intentional event might mean, let alone how it might be demonstrated empirically. There are events that happen which can be identified: snowstorms, trips to the zoo, conversations among friends. And there may or may not be intentional agents causing or participating in or using these events. But an event that is itself intentional? The best I can envision is something like panpsychism, where intentionality itself is evental. Or perhaps something like Badiou’s scheme, where as I understand it the event erupts out of nowhere as a discontinuity, but I don’t think he speaks of events as intentional. Besides, the unconscious event seems to recur. This is different from snowstorms or conversations, each of which is a different event, but rather an event that comes and goes. I can picture unconsciousness as an intentional entity, or as a sort of fundamental process from which all individual human intentionality emerges. Then the events constitute eruptions of the unconscious into consciousness or into behavior. Perhaps if the concept of intentional event could be stated more precisely we might make some further headway.

    Regardless of what the unconscious IS, it should be possible to focus on what it DOES. It’s an event, so it should be more observable than a subterranean entity that makes itself known only through its effects. It’s intentional, so we ought to be able to explore the nature of the intention and whether it succeeds. Would you say that the unconscious’s intention is to draw the person’s attention to some truth that’s been hidden or ignored or suppressed? Or is the intention to stimulate the person to creative thinking and acting? Or is the unconscious event’s intention simply to draw attention to itself? I.e., construing the unconscious as an event should make it more rather than less amenable to empirical investigation. Can the event be identified observationally and described? I think so: the slip of the tongue, the contents of the dream, the breaking of the chalk. Can the intentionality be specified? Can it be determined if the intentionality hits its mark; i.e., does the unconscious achieve its desired ends? If so, we might be able to make some progress.

    Comment by john doyle — 11 November 2009 @ 1:53 pm

  35. And once you’re dead you never again experience that fear.

    I wonder if you experience fear of life (lol)….calling Shirley MacLaine and the reincarnationists…

    Comment by Ray Fuller — 11 November 2009 @ 2:04 pm

  36. But vopr, I’m not pursuing a cognitive path. As I said in the post, I don’t see any evidence that CBT works any better than other therapeutic methods, but there’s also no evidence that it works any worse either. If the theories and the distinct benefits of analysis can’t be validated empirically, so be it.

    Regarding the value of psychoanalytic training, Levi present two arguments. First, analysts purportedly know why their interventions work. I’ve expressed skepticism regarding this point throughout this post. CBT therapists claim to know why their techniques work too; so do shamans for that matter. There’s evidence THAT various interventions do work in reducing symptoms, but there’s no clear evidence WHY they work. There is evidence that therapeutic results are better if both the treater and the client BELIEVE IN the technique being used. So far we’ve not successfully distinguished analysis from shamanism from CBT from therapy dogs.

    Levi’s second contention is that psychoanalytic training inculcates an ethic of desire that emphasizes listening to the client rather than shaping the client. Again, it’s not clear that either the listening or the shaping is having the good or bad effect. And with respect to the supposed detrimental effects or anguish induced in the client by the shaping acts of the therapist: again, where is the evidence to support these claims, which sound empirically evaluable in the way they’re stated? As far as I know there is no such evidence, regardless of what our ethical preferences might be about how a practitioner ought to engage with a client.

    Comment by john doyle — 11 November 2009 @ 3:50 pm

  37. Regarding the value of psychoanalytic training, Levi present two arguments. First, analysts purportedly know why their interventions work. I’ve expressed skepticism regarding this point throughout this post. CBT therapists claim to know why their techniques work too; so do shamans for that matter. There’s evidence THAT various interventions do work in reducing symptoms, but there’s no clear evidence WHY they work. There is evidence that therapeutic results are better if both the treater and the client BELIEVE IN the technique being used. So far we’ve not successfully distinguished analysis from shamanism from CBT from therapy dogs.

    But Eloise, you know as well as I do that accordin’ to Lacanian theory ”the symptom” is client’s desire, therefore ”removal of symptoms” is not the ambition of psychoanalysis; I think the narcissistic cat explained this as well when she told you what the doctor did with her Chalk Complex, so there’s no need to repeat. And I don’t even wanna T think about chalks because the kids nearly GUTTED me today when I attempted to explain something at the whiteboard; at one point they seemed like pure hormonal drive, absolutely remorseless, and the school is understaffed as well so I had to tackle 3 goddamn groups.

    Again, it’s not clear that either the listening or the shaping is having the good or bad effect.

    Again, psychoanalysis doesn’t operate with notions like ”good” or ”bad effect”; analysis provides relief, not deliverance. It is those OTHER proselytising therapies with which you coquet, Eloise, despite yourself, that want to guide you to the Light. This is not to diminish the fact that in the absence of the kind of bourgeois funding that Lacain possessed throughout his career, it may sometimes be needed to administer therapeutic placebo in order to calm the patient” so that later more sophisticated techniques may be applied.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 11 November 2009 @ 4:06 pm

  38. John,

    I think you’ve misunderstood me a bit here. An event is something that happens. There are natural events and also human events. Thus, for example, when you sign a contract that is an event. There’s no need for panpsychism here. When I say that the unconscious is an event all I’m saying is that it shouldn’t be thought of as an agency or another mind within your mind, but that it is something that happens. It happens in slips of the tongue, bungled actions, jokes, dreams, and symptoms. These are all events. Now what is proper to these events is that they display elements of intentionality or meaning. They are propositional or say something. My breaking of chalk at the board was a proposition or statement addressed to others. That symptom wasn’t simply “breaking chalk” but it was the statement “I am experiencing pressure in teaching”. I was not aware that this was what the action was saying, but the action was speaking in this way nonetheless. No doubt the reason this proposition came out in the form of a conversion symptom (speech in the body) was that it had fallen under repression. Were I to acknowledge my pressure at the board I would undergo a wound to my pride. Therefore the thought had been repressed. However, with repression there is always a return of the repressed in another form. The thought still expresses itself somehow and this is exactly what happened with the chalk breaking. When my analyst articulated this thought the symptom had been spoken and could thus dissipate.

    I should have said a bit more about why the analyst knowing what his practice is doing is significant. It is, of course, true that every practice has a theory of what it is doing behind it. The shaman has a theory of his interventions, the CBT a theory of his engagement, and so on. This isn’t really the point. What distinguishes psychoanalytic theories of practice from a number of other theories of practice is that it is a self-reflexive theory. Other therapeutic orientations tend to think of the therapist as something separate from the patient. They think of the problem as in the patient and their role in the treatment as separate from that problem. This is basically the medical model of psychological disorders. When a doctor treats someone for the flu, the flu is strictly inside the patient and the doctor is independent of that disorder. Psychoanalysis, by contrast, takes into account the transferential relationship between the patient and analyst and how transference structures the dynamic of treatment. Compare a Jungian with a Lacanian. The Jungian is delighted to discover that his patient begins having all sorts of dreams that are filled with classic Jungian archetypes. “Ah!” he says, “confirmation of my theory of the unconscious!” What the Jungian fails to recognize is how the patient’s transference to him leads the unconscious to produce dreams tailored to his particular theory of the unconscious (i.e., that the patient begins to model himself in his analyst’s image). Lacanian theory, by contrast, is aware of how these dynamics of transference work and maneuver themselves in such a way as to evade these dynamics so that the patient’s own desire might speak (the molding in the image of the analyst being a further alienation of desire). This is why the end of a good analysis is the “death” of the analyst. The analyst falls away or separation takes place such that the analysand’s difference is affirmed.

    I think you miss the point somewhat with the ethical dimension of analytic training. The point was that if a therapist does not know how to properly listen they end up making the patient’s symptom worse. When analysts attempt to mold their patient’s in the image of what they believe is good for the patient they further alienate the patient’s symptoms or desire, intensifying the lethal nature of the symptom. This is why the only real training in analysis is going through analysis yourself and then going through a supervision. The reason your own analysis is so crucial is that you have to become aware of how your own desire is structured so you can set it aside in treating others so that you can begin affirming their desire. You might not agree with your patient’s desire, approve of it, or like it. You might not like it that they leave their husband, give up a great job to pursue some fools errand, end up abandoning their kids, etc., etc., etc.. However the point is that the alternative is worse. If the patient does not come to occupy the place of their desire it always comes back in the form of a symptom. That woman might find all sorts of ways to sabotage her relationship, abuse and fuck up her kids, put other people’s lives in jeopardy by neglecting her job, and so on. This is what happens when you don’t come to terms with how your desire is structured. You end up beating the daylights out of yourself and others like the proverbial closeted homosexual who has serious substance abuse problems and goes from one broken and abusive heterosexual relationship to another trying to convince himself he’s straight. Finding other heterosexual partners that will abuse him and make him miserable is here, perhaps, a strategy to both punish himself for his unconscious desires and for insuring that the heterosexual relationship will not work. The substance abuse, of course, is a way of beating the daylights out of himself. The choice is really a forced disjunction: will I choose bad or worse? In my view far too many therapists want what is “good” for their patient’s, i.e., they harbor a set of unconscious normative beliefs as to what people should be. This causes tremendous damage to their patients and is also, I believe, reflective of not having gone through analysis themselves and come to terms with how their own desire is structured (they project their desires on to others).

    Comment by larvalsubjects — 11 November 2009 @ 4:35 pm

  39. Thanks for the clarifications and elaborations, Levi. I think we’re generally understanding one another, though of course your knowledge of analysis far surpasses mine.

    “when you sign a contract it’s an event”

    Right. In this situation I and the other party to which the contract applies are the intentional agents; we are the ones who cause the event to take place; the signing event isn’t an end in itself, but is rather a means for us to achieve whatever the contract is intended to ratify. The contract displays intentionality of meaning: the words mean something with respect to the obligations of the intentional agents entering into the contract. The words of the contract are underwritten by the signing parties, as if the signatories themselves had written down those words themselves. One could contend that the state is an implicit third party to the contract, via the contract law through which the document will be interpreted and enforced. The contract document is an entity: its terms and conditions are explicit and can be enforced by reference directly to the document’s wording. The contract-signing event can be and is treated empirically as well: is this your signature, is this the notary’s signature and seal, did you understand what you were agreeing to by signing, etc. So: the slip of the tongue is an event, an apparently botched attempt by the speaker of saying what he intended to say. Psychoanalysis contends that the slip conveys intentionality of meaning. Whose intention is it? What is the intended meaning? Is it possible to verify or to falsify these attributions of meaning and intention? It does not matter whether the person experiencing the slippage of the tongue is aware of the meaning and intentionality; it does matter that the empiricist investigating the event be able to arrive at this sort of awareness. If the empiricist cannot achieve this awareness of the party that is intending to communicate meaning as well as the content of that conveyed meaning, then it seems to me that the event is excluded from empirical investigation.

    “What distinguishes psychoanalytic theories of practice from a number of other theories of practice is that it is a self-reflexive theory.”

    The question is whether and in what ways this is a difference that makes a difference. Certainly the analyst thinks about praxis differently from the CBT or shamanistic practitioner. But does the praxis make a difference to the client in the ways that the analyst believes to be the case? I mentioned in the post that a new teacher’s chalk-breaking spree might well have extiguished itself through any number of praxes: analysis, CBT intervention, systematic desensitization, maybe even exorcism. Each practitioner could assert why his or her technique works, why it’s better than the alternatives, etc. But the results might turn out the same anyway. Not only that, but the chalk-breaker, if asked to explain how he or she was “cured,” might offer a rationale having nothing to do with what the practitioner thought. This was the point also of my example regarding kids being disciplined by “time out.” The parent may say that the intervention isn’t a punishment, but the kid might very well say that that’s how she interpreted the intervention. The empirical question remains: is it possible to subject to systematic and replicable scrutiny the proposed mechanisms by which Lacanian analysis — or any of these other modalities for that matter — achieves change in the client? So far not so good. This is the case even for CBT, which breaks down its interventions into very discrete steps and sequences which seems tailor-made for empirical investigation.

    Regarding the idea that Lacanian analysis is interpersonal rather than intrapsychic, I think that too is something which could be addressed empirically. Certainly the client-analyst relationship is interactive, but so are all therapeutic modalities. The client is an individual, it’s the individual who’s experiencing symptoms, it’s mostly the client who talks. So it seems that some of the processes and outcomes occur in the client. But to accept the interpersonal point more directly, it is the case that most contemporary empirical psychology acknowledges that the individual psyche is not an isolated entity. E.g., consider the so-called “Big Five” model of personality theory has received the most empirical support. It consists of these five central personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Certainly the first four traits directly address interactions of the person with the world and with other people. And there are empirical methods for having someone else evaluate another person’s personality, or for inferring personality from the ways in which the person interacts with others. The empirical methods should fit the theory; if the theory is interpersonal, so should the measures. So in short, I don’t see why the interpersonal nature of Lacanian theory should rule out empirical investigation.

    Comment by john doyle — 11 November 2009 @ 5:45 pm

  40. There is some compelling empirical evidence for the exchangeabiity of symptoms, which is a psychoanalytic position. It’s argued that trying to push down one symptom often as not results in that symptom popping up elsewhere, and I believe this theory can be supported by evidence.

    Contemporary psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy are addicted to diagnostic subcategorization, with each disorder manifesting itself as a particular syndrome = cluster of symptoms. It turns out, though, that most garden-variety psychological problems tend to show up with various “comorbidities” = secondary diagnoses. So someone with moderate depression might also be diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety and road rage and restless leg syndrome. Part of this is motivated by money: the more diagnoses, the longer the treatment, the more third-party payment to treaters, the more drugs get prescribed, etc. But I think a more elegant interpretation of the data is that a given cause of psychological distress can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Beating down the symptom doesn’t address the distress producing the symptom — it just pops up elsewhere, as you describe, Levi.

    Comment by john doyle — 11 November 2009 @ 6:22 pm

  41. Levi writes: “Compare a Jungian with a Lacanian. The Jungian is delighted to discover that his patient begins having all sorts of dreams that are filled with classic Jungian archetypes. “Ah!” he says, “confirmation of my theory of the unconscious!” What the Jungian fails to recognize is how the patient’s transference to him leads the unconscious to produce dreams tailored to his particular theory of the unconscious (i.e., that the patient begins to model himself in his analyst’s image). Lacanian theory, by contrast, is aware of how these dynamics of transference work and maneuver themselves in such a way as to evade these dynamics so that the patient’s own desire might speak (the molding in the image of the analyst being a further alienation of desire). This is why the end of a good analysis is the “death” of the analyst. The analyst falls away or separation takes place such that the analysand’s difference is affirmed.”

    This.

    Comment by bryank — 12 November 2009 @ 12:55 am

  42. In retrospect, that was kind of a shallow comment. If I had to elaborate further, I think Levi points out exactly what is fundamentally at stake here, and in a way it makes the debate about empirical validation, or what have you, totally pointless. Because no other “method,” if you could call it that, of treatment besides Lacanian psychoanalysis, so far as I am aware, understands the practical implications of the inherent reflexivity of technique: people come to believe that they have been “cured” not because their symptoms have been resolved, but rather because their symptoms quickly take a new form after the patient or analysand begins to identify with the theories of treatment themselves, so you end up in a situation where, as Zizek argues, you move from symptoms with theories to explain them (Jungian, Kleinian, Anna Freudian, Lacanian, etc.) to symptoms that are themselves Jungian, Kleinian, Anna Freudian, Lacanian. In other words, the symptoms take on the very character or shape of the theory being used to identify and resolve them. Lacanian technique reminds us that psychoanalytic theory is just as much an engine as it is a camera, to use Donald MacKenzie’s phrase.

    Comment by bryank — 12 November 2009 @ 1:09 am

  43. In fact, before Zizek, it was precisely Lévi-Strauss who pointed out the reflexive nature of psychoanalytic treatment in his *Structural Anthropology*, where he compares the latter to shamanism (see the chapter “The Sorcerer and his Magic,” p. 183):

    >A considerable danger thus arises: the treatment (unbeknown to the therapist, naturally), far from leading to the resolution of a specific disturbance within its own context, is reduced to the reorganization of the patient’s universe in terms of psychoanalytic interpretations.

    What I take Lévi-Strauss to be saying here is that if a cure is arrived at through psychoanalysis, then its efficacy is predominantly symbolic because of the structural reorganization brought about by the collective adoption of the myth (the existence of the unconscious). Of course, Lacan kind of ended up one-upping him here, in my opinion, when he (dialectically) identified Lévi-Strauss’s notion of symbolic structure with none other than the unconscious! And not without a fairly strong argument either.

    Comment by bryank — 12 November 2009 @ 1:17 am

  44. (Apologies for all of these disaggregated comments, but I want to clarify one thing in that last post, which is that the exact myth referred to by Lévi-Strauss is the Oedipus complex, which is more or less what Lacan came to deduce from Lévi-Strauss’s own conception of symbolic Law, though it’s all a bit more complexly tied to empirical anthropological research during the ’30s and ’40s by Geza Roheim and Bronislaw Malinowski that questioned the universality of the Oedipus complex and its phylogenetic character, etc., etc., but you get the point…)

    Comment by bryank — 12 November 2009 @ 1:23 am

  45. Oh, ha, I just scrolled up and noticed that Levi, in his first post, actually mentioned pretty much everything I just said, including the exact passage from Lévi-Strauss that I quoted. Damn.

    Comment by bryank — 12 November 2009 @ 1:28 am

  46. See Eloise, I told you the cat is cuddly, you just need to know how to lure her! (One good way is giving her a lot of attention)

    Eloise let it be said that with all the good things said about analysis, I just remembered that an hour with a good analyst in Holland costs never less than 80 euro, so with 2-time per week sessions that’s a minimum of 160 per week, times 4… well you need to have a really good job in the vicinity of 4-5000 euro p/m to afford this without pain! Which makes a lot of the analysis, well, a little pointless.

    On the other hand, analysis was free in socialism. Maybe we’ll get that back some day.

    Comment by parody center — 12 November 2009 @ 2:15 am

  47. My goodness, what a lot happens when you turn your back. Ho, ho.

    “the core of Lacanian theory is the subject split by language, forever divorced from the Real. In this sense language is the devil, the great deceiver”

    The Great Shaitan! America! Yes, PC, I know this. But it doesn’t address my point that if the subject was existentially trapped by the enemy known through language as language then language would be indeed an end in itself. We would end with language. There would be no split because we wouldn’t know if we were split. And you know what? We don’t know that. We come to know that we are sometimes, or often, conflicted, and other people might point it out to us – but it does not follow that this is an essential ontological splitting through the acquisition of language. So, again, what’s left? The holy trinity of the Real, Symbolic and Imaginary. Lacanians suffer from RSI.

    “Evidence for the uselessness of cognitive-behavior modification: the death of neo-liberal capitalism!”

    Um, when did this happen? All I know is that the banks owe me money and are still charging me interest. Neo-liberal equals same old, same old. Yes, yes, CBT is the ideology of the enemy. While psychoanalysis is radical – and you don’t even have to leave your chair.

    “the psychoanalytic concept of the unconscious is a very specific thing that isn’t equivalent to the idea of mental processes that take place beneath the threshold of consciousness.”

    I agree with your description of the unconscious in psychoanalysis, Levi.

    “The key element of the psychoanalytic unconscious is two-fold.”
    1.”The unconscious is something that happens.”

    There has to be some sort of event that appears to manifest the unconscious or we would never come to know it. Or rather, we would never come to conceptualise the unconscious. We wouldn’t be talking at this at all.

    2. “The second crucial feature of the unconscious is that it is intentional or displays intentionality.”

    I hold that this intentionality is an aposteriori interpretation. That is, the event of the unconscious is this reinterpretation of an event, whether in the clinic or in the car. I feel this is borne out by your examples, Levi.

    The analysis of your wife’s recounting of her dream is very convincing. I wouldn’t ask for another analysis myself (also because you could go on forever, as Ray points out). I think you mean to suggest that the unconscious was happening right then, as she was relating the dream. Quite right. But did she come up with the analysis? Did you both? Did you? If it was you, I suggest that the unconscious happening was exactly at the point where you were constructing the analysis. Or even if she was constructing the analysis. It was a reinterpretation of her recounting of her dream. Which is fair enough. But it does not mean that the unconscious is intentionally happening at that moment. It says nothing about the unconscious. Only what you or your wife wish to say about it. There is the intentionality. And it is conscious. “Market forces” is a simple way of talking about what might or might not be happening in the “economy”. Fair enough. But, being a leftie, I’m a little suspicious of those who want to characterise market forces merely as an event, like a windy day.

    “Lacan liked to say that bungled actions are the only successful actions as they fulfill our unconscious wishes.”

    Well, he liked to say that because he wanted to foreground his interpretation of the unconscious. This links up with the idea that language is the enemy. Why successful? Because they are what we really want? Who’s to say? I would say not Lacan, if he wanted to be ethical.

    “Here it’s worthwhile to remember that over the course of analysis according to Lacanian theory, the analyst literally becomes the cause of the symptom.”

    I agree, but not in the way you mean. Could it be that the words “Pressure at the board” stayed with you so you didn’t apply so much pressure at the board? Perhaps it was sound advice. So where did the symptom go? …Lacanians and their symptoms.

    “An event is something that happens.”

    Couldn’t agree more.

    “Now what is proper to these events is that they display elements of intentionality or meaning. They are propositional or say something.”

    No they don’t. You are the one who says them. Otherwise it wouldn’t even be your symptom. This shows that the dynamics of the unconscious, transferential structures outlined by Lacanian theory are equivalent to the archetypes of the Jungian. The analyst believes that he knows (another reason why he disdains to call himself a therapist). He believes he is aware that the event is constituted from certain reflexive dynamics. What is more, these events are conformed to the mythic role of function (one, because it lies in language, cannot be empirically tested). This is what the symptom is saying – this is how I should direct the treatment. The function here has the appearance of neutrality. As I said earlier, jouissance is not like gravity. It is not a neutral, functional leveller, particularly if those who perceive a function have previously ascribed a devilish role to language, thereby giving a privileged role for that function: the unconscious in psychoanalysis. Oh, the unconscious is simply doing its work. Work is a four letter word. No wonder the unconscious Real in 2009 is everywhere for PC to see. Fuck!

    Bryan says, following Zizek: “In other words, the symptoms take on the very character or shape of the theory being used to identify and resolve them.”

    This is why the analyst, or therapist, Lacanian or otherwise, is not the advocate of the analysand. Zizek likes this because it accords with his desire which, following Lenin, sees intention to intend to flatten everything else. It is self-reflexive. In my opinion, the analysand should be aware of this. It is also my contention that Lacanians believe that they know more than any other kind of analyst or therapist. They are no more the analysand’s advocate than a CBT practitioner. I do not believe that the analyst is my advocate any more than I believe that my bank manager is my friend or, following what PC says about “the kind of bourgeois funding that Lacan possessed throughout his career”, in the unfee’d breath of a lawyer, even if he is nominally my advocate. Stop kidding yourself about it.

    “The empirical question remains: is it possible to subject to systematic and replicable scrutiny the proposed mechanisms by which Lacanian analysis — or any of these other modalities for that matter — achieves change in the client? So far not so good. This is the case even for CBT, which breaks down its interventions into very discrete steps and sequences which seems tailor-made for empirical investigation.”

    John is absolutely right here. Unlike Zizek, the symptom is created in the explanation. It has to be for pyschoanalysis to work at all.

    Comment by NB — 12 November 2009 @ 2:40 am

    • 47.My goodness, what a lot happens when you turn your back. Ho, ho.

      Ah, how times have changed… Years ago “making love” meant whispering sweet nothings to your loved one in the arbour. Now it means getting fucked.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 12 November 2009 @ 8:55 am

      • “Market forces” is a simple way of talking about what might or might not be happening in the “economy”. Fair enough. But, being a leftie, I’m a little suspicious of those who want to characterise market forces merely as an event, like a windy day.

        Yeah, well I’m not. And ‘market forces’ determine who goes into psychotherapy a lot too. The problem with most lefties and righties is that they don’t see that money and markets are EXACTLY like wind and days and cocks. It is this artificial division that accounts for all the falseness in Marx and why the analyst’s fee always is a nagging irritant, because you always know you’d rather be doing something else that didn’t seem like such an ‘expression of ineffectuality’. No matter how you figure how to coldly determine that your analyst is no different from your ‘non-friend banker’ or your ‘lawyer’ and ‘don’t kid yourself’. You may not have an advocate in your analyst, nor a friend in your banker, but you also well have no friends at all. It sounds like that’s at least possible, because there is always a smoldering anger that accompanies the erudition when you present such hostile things. It is NOT impossible that the banker be one’s friend, although yours is clearly not.

        ‘It is also my contention that Lacanians believe that they know more than any other kind of analyst or therapist.’

        But we all do think we know more than anyone else, even if we pretend we are ‘less specialized’ in some areas, taking it outside of the arena of purely famous analysis proponents–which is a closed world just because I say so unless they can force me to think otherwise (I cannot be forced to be reverential toward it, although I have noticed that the world of analysis thinks it can force and govern, in fact, in solemn, ghoulish tones, most of which we find here. In this regard, your knowledge of the superior attitude of lacanians to other therapists is itself superior. Analysands always assume a superior attitude, don’t they? That’s how they get through the thoroughly unattractive process they’ve bought.

        ‘As I said earlier, jouissance is not like gravity. It is not a neutral, functional leveller, particularly if those who perceive a function have previously ascribed a devilish role to language, thereby giving a privileged role for that function: the unconscious in psychoanalysis. Oh, the unconscious is simply doing its work. Work is a four letter word. No wonder the unconscious Real in 2009 is everywhere for PC to see. Fuck!’

        One would be interested to know what your own ‘work’ that you are swamped with for the next two days is. I assume you’re not a writer? But you might be. It is interesting to read you, I’ve found recently, because it’s very heavy, determinedly unesthetic (unlike John’s and some others), and even disgusting. It is like lead. Is your symptom something that could be termed ‘friendly hostility?’ Just curious. And you hate yourself for it? Admittedly, these aren’t very academic questions, but unless I’ll go into unwanted therapies which I cannot need because they would neither satisfy on a non-flattaning jouissance level, nor would they ‘work’.

        The fact that you write such things as how ‘someone’s children should send her to a beautification of the countryside program. The iron discipline might do her good’ says a lot, one finds you do have a style, and it is like a kind of jovial hatefulness.

        Comment by Ray Fuller — 12 November 2009 @ 9:31 am

  48. But it doesn’t address my point that if the subject was existentially trapped by the enemy known through language as language then language would be indeed an end in itself. We would end with language

    But I feel that analysis is sort of… heroic, in its claim that there is a way to at least alleviate this existential condition, which for me, absolutely stands, and it would be ridiculous to argument otherwise because at the moment there is no replacement for language in the human world; I mean it’s great what all these people like Deleuze have been saying about the beyond of the language-world, but it’s still a little science fiction and we need solutions for the language world.

    Comment by parody center — 12 November 2009 @ 3:39 am

  49. Re the Jungian thing, I just noticed that the Narcissistic cat’s favorite animal is the octopus, and wondered howcome (without knowing it) I put the octopus in the cartoon satire. There is a possibility that the association came from Carpenter’s THE THING, which in many ways is related to the objectologists’ discussions, there is also a possibility that I’m a bit of a witch (because it happened before that I can just pick things up just like that), but there is also the possibility that Jung was partially right about the archetypes and there is a pool of them in some parallel dimension which some people can access.

    However I think the point with psychoanalysis is that in principle it would ALLOW for this possibility, because of course the Unconscious has its own strange ways and mannerisms, without trying to totalize it and claim that everyone’s favorite animal should be the octopus… and so on…as other system tend to do. I think this suspicion of analysis is much better as a standpoint in this regard.

    Comment by parody center — 12 November 2009 @ 3:51 am

    • I don’t blame him for trying, I blame him for saying “It is this”. Where it was (in the unavoidably political clinic), there I shall come to be. How many analysands do you know who went on to become analysts?’

      But you do this, and in enormous amounts. YOur writing has a definite tone to it that is quite identifiable. It sounds like a heavy, thick analyst’s voice, and makes one wonder if one of the reasons people go into psychotherapy for such long periods of time is that it is a home for the loathsome and odious. It is divorced from nature in the generally understood sense and is always meant to sound anti-natural without being artificial; at least the way you write about it is within that style. I don’t think I’ve noticed it elsehwere.

      ‘I won’t be able to comment for a while because I’ve got a ton of work today and tomorrow.’

      But what will happen as a result of this absence? Will someone whisper sweet nothings up your back?

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 12 November 2009 @ 9:07 am

  50. “But I feel that analysis is sort of… heroic, in its claim that there is a way to at least alleviate this existential condition, which for me, absolutely stands, and it would be ridiculous to argument otherwise because at the moment there is no replacement for language in the human world; I mean it’s great what all these people like Deleuze have been saying about the beyond of the language-world, but it’s still a little science fiction and we need solutions for the language world.”

    PC, I agree with you. It’s all we have. Whether it’s the best, well that’s a moot point… I agree that it’s heroic and, despite my attacks on Lacan, that is why I am, like John, broadly supportive of psychoanalysis. That’s why I do it (my analyst bills it as psychotherapy, by the way, because he doesn’t seem to give a shit what anyone calls it. And he has written favourable books on Lacan.) But Oedipus was a hero too.

    “However I think the point with psychoanalysis is that in principle it would ALLOW for this possibility, because of course the Unconscious has its own strange ways and mannerisms”

    Hopefully that will happen. But I do not think that the archetypal structures of Lacan make that any easier. I don’t blame him for trying, I blame him for saying “It is this”. Where it was (in the unavoidably political clinic), there I shall come to be. How many analysands do you know who went on to become analysts?

    I won’t be able to comment for a while because I’ve got a ton of work today and tomorrow.

    Comment by NB — 12 November 2009 @ 4:46 am

  51. Interesting discussions and points of view — this has been a learning experience for me.

    I’m not so boorishly empiricist as to insist that everything in life be reduced to data. It is a sort of fun yet frustrating exercise to translate from analytical to empirical ways of talking about things. The empiricist insists on framing every concept precisely, concretely, and observably, but in doing so there’s always a loss of nuance and complexity that makes the work seem futile and empty. At the same time, certain claims are made about effectiveness that already sound like empirically testable propositions, but even then there’s a kind of slipperiness that make even seemingly straightforward claims hard to pin down.

    This problem isn’t unique to analysis of course; e.g., complaints from professors that measuring educational outcomes is both misleading and managerially manipulative. For a long time psychology was divided between the analytical types who talked about inner mental states, and the empiricists who restricted themselves to studying observable behaviors. Certainly there’s more willingness on the part of the empirical researchers to study cognition and emotion. The method is to build up knowledge and theory from the ground up, one little study at a time, with overarching theories playing relatively little role in the process. In contrast, psychoanalytic concepts have historically been framed together as total philosophical systems. Pulling those systems apart in order to look at each component separately seems to do a kind of intolerable violence to the totality. Empiricism seems destructive in its piecemeal fussiness. As Graham Harman said in one of his posts, it’s surprising that science makes any progress going about things in this plodding sort of way. It’s just another way of going about things.

    On to more practical concerns… I understand the argument that analysts require specialized training, especially by undergoing analysis themselves, in order both to understand the praxis and to avoid imposing their own will and desire on the analysand. At the same time, I began by observing that therapeutic technique and years of experience seem to have no measurable impact on treatment effectiveness. As Alexei pointed out, even dogs can do it. In our discussions of analysis, it seems that the main essential is to let the analysand talk without offering advice or cures or definitive interpretations. It makes me wonder whether a fairly narrow and shallow training in listening might not achieve results comparable to the full-blown M.D. psychiatrist.

    This approach might make analysis more widely available at lower costs than the current situation. On the other hand, I don’t think the demand for analysis is particularly strong, at least in the USA, even among people who can afford it. Do people really want to pursue this level of self-awareness, which seems to take forever and is still never complete? Aren’t there quicker, more direct ways of getting results? At the same time, people seem perfectly willing to spend many years and lots of money undergoing formal education, even though they forget most of what they learn in school and can achieve adequate levels of performance in most kinds of paying jobs after maybe half a year of training.

    Comment by john doyle — 12 November 2009 @ 10:32 pm

  52. even though they forget most of what they learn in school and can achieve adequate levels of performance in most kinds of paying jobs after maybe half a year of training.

    Eloise I don’t wanna sound like a backward, grumpy old European aristocrat, but I think the application of American ”short and effective” ways already damaged the world significantly, it damaged culture for example, and this of course extends to psychoanalysis. In France as you know analysis still functions fairly well, as it does in Argentina, where the lifestyle isn’t all quick and effective. We could do without a lot of American things, but most of all we could do without America. It is the task of AMERICANS primarily to get their shit together and ask themselves why their lifestyle is so unhealthy it doesn´t take to a great thing like analysis.

    Comment by parody center — 13 November 2009 @ 6:43 am

    • ‘We could do without a lot of American things, but most of all we could do without America. ‘

      How Susan Sontag of you. But you’ve got down a lot of the Lesb’an style. You’ll love her old ‘white race is the curse of history’, or whatever the fuck it was. The rest of the post is beneath contempt, if you insist upon writing so irresponsibly. I KNOW we could do without Serbia, and we certainly DO. By the way, it’s not that I specifically dislike Serbia, it’s just that it’s in about the same category as, say, Costa Rica or the Canary Islands. I suppose what we really need is a campaign run by you proclaiming that ‘SERBIA, NOT ATHENS, IS THE CRADLE OF CIVILIZATION’. Utrice Leid, the angry black feminist, has already proven that all Greek culture was stolen from Egypt, and I’m sure that you could prove that Hungary also was superior among Central European nations purely because it stole from Belgrade.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 13 November 2009 @ 10:03 am

      • Off-topic, Jack’s genius is always surprising. He not only figured out something very profound about ‘RPG’s’ that somebody likes way too much and is currently correcting himself at a Labour Reeducation Camp for, and it took me a long time, an hour or so to figure out exactly what the subtlety was, since he doesn’t even have a computer nor want one. PLUS, he was able to finally explain, without having read it, the peculiar paragraph Joan Didion wrote in defense of Susan Sontag in ‘Fixed Ideas After September 11’, which made me write Didion a furious letter, since she was better than that. It needed at least a little of her usual salt, but she wrote it as a kind of ‘corporate paragraph’, because the New York Review of Books’ members DO have a kind of ‘blood oath’. But he STILL was able to recognize that Didion knew her superiority to Sontag as a writer (as any idiot would know if he read both of them), even while writing a total sell-out ‘clubbish’ and ‘cronyish’ paragraph, which she ordinarily will never stoop to no matter who it is (and god knows she’s god no ‘leab’an sisterhood’ issues.

        Comment by Ray Fuller — 13 November 2009 @ 10:09 am

  53. I don’t disagree radically, parodycenter, although I hope you’ll understand if I’m not ready to blow the whole place up. I’m just describing the situation on the ground. Analysis in America has historically occupied a place of privilege among urban sophisticates of privilege. As you pointed out earlier, analysis is an expensive proposition if you have to pay out of your own pocket. Sidestepping issues of measurable therapeutic effectiveness, is it possible to position analysis as something more closely resembling education/enlightenment, in which Americans are still willing to invest a lot of time and money? If unwillingness to embrace analysis is itself a societal symptom, then we’ve got a Catch-22 situation on our hands.

    Comment by john doyle — 13 November 2009 @ 8:21 am

  54. “Empiricism seems destructive in its piecemeal fussiness. As Graham Harman said in one of his posts, it’s surprising that science makes any progress going about things in this plodding sort of way. It’s just another way of going about things.”

    It is just another way of going about things. But I’m surprised that Harman is surprised at its success. Most breakthroughs in science or elsewhere are the result of plodding, no? Maybe we often plod our way epiphanies are

    “But what will happen as a result of this absence? Will someone whisper sweet nothings up your back?”

    I knew I could count on you, Ray.

    “But we all do think we know more than anyone else … your knowledge of the superior attitude of lacanians to other therapists is itself superior. Analysands always assume a superior attitude, don’t they?

    True. Ain’t it ironic?

    “It is divorced from nature in the generally understood sense and is always meant to sound anti-natural without being artificial; at least the way you write about it is within that style. I don’t think I’ve noticed it elsehwere”

    That’s the idea.

    “The fact that you write such things as how ’someone’s children should send her to a beautification of the countryside program. The iron discipline might do her good’ says a lot, one finds you do have a style, and it is like a kind of jovial hatefulness.”

    Yeah, maybe. I don’t mind that label. I wrote that because I get annoyed at people getting rosy-tints in their eyes about brutal regimes. Just because capitalism is a shite-arse doesn’t mean that Soviet communism wasn’t. PC is right every time to call them on this bullshit.

    Comment by NB — 13 November 2009 @ 8:22 am

    • ‘I knew I could count on you, Ray.’

      Yes, well, the feeling is not mutual, you know. I had counted on you not to comment so claustrophobically–I mean, where’s the beef if you don’t practice more reserve when you threaten such deprivation?

      ‘“It is divorced from nature in the generally understood sense and is always meant to sound anti-natural without being artificial; at least the way you write about it is within that style. I don’t think I’ve noticed it elsehwere”

      That’s the idea.’

      By ‘elsewhere’, I meant outside psychiatric inner sancta you don’t hear it. So this tone, this sound, this atmosphere has to be thought of as somehow comforting to those who frequent such haunts. Others of us who’ve been in them — with or without cunts — find them very similar to funeral homes. It is interesting that the consciously ‘anti-natural’ attracts people. Your remarks on Nick Land’s ‘Thirst for Annihilation’ were especially twisted into a glum black humour. I have noticed that those ‘endless years of psychiatry’ do tend to turn people into Frowning Mask-Faces who love to talk about Helene Deutsch for an hour or two, for example. Or they shout “Oh yeah, you bet. Not only are we pornographically drawn to the ugly end from the safety of our armchairs (emphasis on the safety) but – to be the bringer of such fantasies: ahhhh, heaven.”

      ‘I wrote that because I get annoyed at people getting rosy-tints in their eyes about brutal regimes.’

      Yes, of course, I’d agree that she does do endless stupid bullshit about those regimes, which just seeing ‘Est-Ouest’ would cure anybody of.

      ‘Yeah, maybe. I don’t mind that label.’

      Well, I guess that’s also what attracts you to a life-style of psychotherapist’s office. Since you have mastered the art of non-friending your therapist (my ex-girlfriend always wants to befriend her therapists, does so, and they just become her girdle-loosening pals, including the wimmernz), you can even enjoy the non-functioning aspect and possibly even the object-oriented aspect of your therapist, while you hate him in his presence–and I can assure you you DO hate him if you want to make a point of how he cannot be ‘your advocate’.

      What you seem to be designing or outlining in most of your tales and discussions here and in other less prestigious venues, is a kind of desire to use a superior attitude that gives you a meager and bitter pleasure. I can assure you that a narcissism that gets a wider acclaim is much to be preferred. So do you go to your therapist to keep this hardened, determinedly uncured ego in place at all costs? Because surely he can telepathically read that you are hostile to him, can’t he?

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 13 November 2009 @ 10:37 am

    • Let’s keep a lid on it, shall we?

      Comment by john doyle — 13 November 2009 @ 10:51 am

      • You clearly did already. But this kind of censorship is always just going to be a personal arbitrariness, because you choose who can say what to whom. I’m sure that is all right. He always reads Dejan’s for anything you delete, and I already emailed him the part you deleted this time, so sure…in his case, I’ll just put the deleted materials (or all of them) at Dejan’s if I think he needs to see them. That truly does make sense, so that your blog is one that is a little less repressive than some of the other bloggers but not quite as strict as the ballet board.

        However, I do sympathize with your critics on this, John, because one of the things you ‘edited out’ of my post here, you had left in one of NB’s, when he said that my two therapists ‘sound like a couple of cunts’. The other deletion makes more sense even if I don’t like it, but your deleting my use of ‘cunts’ will make me now put my answers to NB at Dejan’s, which he always reads anyway, of course.

        Comment by Ray Fuller — 13 November 2009 @ 11:17 am

      • You’re right: I’ll reinsert the cunts immediately, but feel free to carry on the critique of nb’s style and personality elsewhere rather than here.

        Comment by john doyle — 13 November 2009 @ 11:18 am

  55. “Most breakthroughs in science or elsewhere are the result of plodding, no?”

    Yes. “Theoretical” physicists are attractive even if they’re not geniuses like Einstein, but the fact is that most working physicists spend a lot of time messing with machines and data trying to answer specific problems and filling small knowledge gaps. Big thinkers tend to be frustrated by the rather clerklike fussiness of actually doing science one little piece at a time, a procedure which tends to slow down the elaboration of grand designs. As I understand it, critical philosophy often meets with disdain for similar reasons from philosophers who would rather construct entire systems. It strikes me as a status hierarchy of sorts. Perhaps that’s one reason why continental philosophers are irritated with science: the plodding clerks are getting more attention, and maybe getting more done, than the intellectual aristocrats.

    Comment by john doyle — 13 November 2009 @ 9:11 am

  56. You’re right: I’ll reinsert the cunts immediately

    LOL, love it!

    Comment by Ray Fuller — 13 November 2009 @ 11:22 am

  57. is it possible to position analysis as something more closely resembling education/enlightenment, in which Americans are still willing to invest a lot of time and money?

    well the Unconscious has been externalized through mediation technology, our dreams are now on screen, and the screen is our dreams, but as always with technology, this doesn’t really work; the cracks are already showing, and the crisis’s only begun. I think this was one of Antichrist’s many relevant statements.
    ‘mericans will have to wise up if they want to survive the coming Eden.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 13 November 2009 @ 2:10 pm

  58. vopr, I know you’ve been critical of Zizek’s attempts at playing analyst to society. Like other cultural theorists, he presents himself as the expert interpreter of the culture. A true cultural analyst would somehow let the culture speak, pointing toward eruptions of the unconscious and letting society provide its own interpretations. I wonder, vopr, whether you would regard filmmakers, crazy people, refugees and other cultural outliers as portals through which the societal unconscious speaks.

    Comment by john doyle — 14 November 2009 @ 4:27 am

  59. What I’m really critical of is that throughout the slovenly Zizek’s opus, there is a clearly distinguishable thread attempting to TOTALIZE and UNIVERSALIZE ideas that, even as I may agree with them personally as a fan of analysis and dr. Sinthome’s personal sex analyst trainer, are not meant to be either totalized, or universalized; dr. Sinthome explained this succintly on the thread. Zizek’s brand of movie criticism is, for example, unapplicable to many modern avant garde films, which operate on a logic other than the psychoanalytic one. This is why I’m such a devout fan of Shaviro, whose writing is more geared towards showing how films have their own body.

    Yes I think it’s very nicely put that the queer ones provide a ”portal”, but I was aiming more at taking this discussion further so that we may come closer to answering WHY psychoanalysis has been marginalised so successfully and what role technology has played in this. So I launched the thesis that the Unconscious is now outside, in the screens, and this is why we are indifferent to the notion that it has to be somehow deciphered, analyzed, translated. Then I thought maybe there’s a way to quit lamenting this fact, but think of an analysis that plays on this fact and adapts its methodology to meet the changed circumstance.

    Yesterday I met an anthropologist who does some kind of body therapy, and got into a very interesting Deleuzian-Reichian discussion with her. I think I’m going to visit her and discuss this further.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 14 November 2009 @ 5:44 am

  60. Yes I understand your question. But we’ve been talking about psychoanalysis as a praxis that doesn’t provide definitive interpretations, let alone cures, to the analysand. Regardless of the content of Zizek’s interpretations, the fact that he presents them from the position of professor/master already rules him out as analyst. The analyst doesn’t analyze; he listens, points, repeats, draws attention. Zizek talks talks talks, writes writes writes: this is not an analyst in the Freudian/Lacanian sense.

    “Then I thought maybe there’s a way to quit lamenting this fact, but think of an analysis that plays on this fact and adapts its methodology to meet the changed circumstance.”

    I agree. So how would an analytic praxis deal with an externalized unconscious? It wouldn’t seek to answer the WHY questions, or even to ask them. Rather, it would be more concerned with pointing to eruptions of the WHAT of the unconscious. You observe that the unconscious is externalized from individual psyches, but couldn’t you also say that it remains internal to the collective psyche? This is not a new idea I grant, and one of which I’m a skeptical, but let’s go on with it. Presume that the social unconscious operates on a Mobius loop with the collective consciousness, to use your image, vopr. The collective social consciousness is rational, instrumental, non-reflexive, not just individually but as distributed throughout the socius in the form of marketplace, politics, architecture, traffic patterns, and so on. Often as not the movie and television screens operate as part of the collective consciousness, providing it with advertisements and spectacular entertainments and so on.

    So what does a socioanalyst do? He looks for eruptions of the social unconscious in the midst of social consciousness. Some are awful, some are exhilarating. Does the analyst try to explain them? No: he watches and listens to them, he calls attention to them, he repeats them back to the social consciousness. Then it’s up to the social consciousness self-reflexively to ask the why questions about what its own unconscious is saying or intending to say.

    I’m curious about Reid at Planomenology, who wants to build a version of Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis that operates collectively, with groups and organizations rather than with individual analysands. And he’s insistent on the idea that the analysand is always an analyst in training. I’ve started commenting on his posts on this topic; perhaps he’ll feel stimulated to elaborate further.

    Comment by john doyle — 14 November 2009 @ 8:33 am

    • So how would an analytic praxis deal with an externalized unconscious? It wouldn’t seek to answer the WHY questions, or even to ask them. Rather, it would be more concerned with pointing to eruptions of the WHAT of the unconscious.

      Isn’t that to some degree, but without expertise and professionalism, what anybody does to such eruptions? Because it’s URGENT. That’s like the first step, is it? These are specific ‘WHATs’, because there are other ‘WHATS’ too, but only the ones that have some sort of disturbing quality need be pulled up. The rest are, you know, like, okay, not to have to go through all this ordeal.

      Thus, this:

      ‘No: he watches and listens to them, he calls attention to them, he repeats them back to the social consciousness. Then it’s up to the social consciousness self-reflexively to ask the why questions about what its own unconscious is saying or intending to say.’

      But he PICKS OUT things to draw attention to, doesn’t he? And that’s because of the need to do something with them. Most ‘bourgeois’ would say that something might need to be changed or corrected, or a lot of people would, or there is not going into analysis without troubling symptoms (you can stay out of analysis with troubling symptoms, of course, but you don’t go to analysis, unless you’re yourself a practitionaer, or maybe I think Jodi talked about doing lacanian therapy in a way I thought she meant she was doing it because she wanted to ‘find out more’ about Lacan, I guess this sort of thing is allowed, without having a terrifying dysfunction or fear or something. But you could also say that ‘these chosen pieces of the social consciousness’ that the analyst points out are ones that are most striking in really almost any way; at the most unbounded, you might even say that ‘these are the ones that can best be played with’, which would leave the bourgeois strictures behind, i.e., you could say that these are some that, even if criminal, could be acted out and you could end up in jail for doing them, but hey, life’s an adventure, so some rugged individualist might decide that was just the ticket. There is some reason why an analyst would be rifling through a too-numerous selection of dresses, as it were, before choosing twenty of them–whether ‘awful’ or ‘exhilirating’.

      ‘And he’s insistent on the idea that the analysand is always an analyst in training. ‘

      Well, that’s surely rudimentary, isn’t it? The other things you say aren’t, like how Zizek isn’t an analyst because he talks, talks, talks, but that one is good because you don’t need to admire Zizek to see that it definitely puts ‘the analyst’ into a nice relief; which is to say, that my impression is that ‘the analyst’ has an ‘aura of omnipotence’ (not ‘omniscience’, mind you) that is always argued against, almost like celebs who talk how their privacy is not respected (most went into celebhood to escape the sense of too much privacy). But getting back to the ‘analysand always being an analyst in training’, yes, that accounts for the superior attitude analysands almost always have toward people who ‘haven’t been analyzed’, this pointing to at very least the ‘omnipotence of analysis’, even if not the ‘omnipotence of the analyst’, and always carries with it the extremely tedious insistence on the ‘enlightenment of analysis’, which is just so fucking boring–because it is always meant to be somehow ‘more enlightened’ than something else. This is also true of philosophers, of course, although I would say that artists want to see themselves as superior, just like athletes, but they do not give off this ‘enlightenment superiority’. The psychotherapy community is very Establishment, but it’s a cult. That ‘safe Enlightenment’ is not very different from the junkfood programs like EST or Scientology, who all think they now are in possession of something so priceless it will improve everything (they never discuss how it doesn’t prevent death at all, and as EST ‘graduates’ died, I was vaguely amused, wondering what their attitudes to death might be. They never talk about death as a physical reality in those old and continuing New Age junkfood things, and so that psychotherapy, since very intellectual and often intelligent, doesn’t often enough get identified as a cult. This is important to do, and somehow just mentioning that Zizek ‘could not even seem to be an analyst’ made me realize the ‘closed world’ and cultishness of psychoanalysis, as well as its extreme pushiness (interestingly, it’s purely coincidental and a littel amusing that it was Zizek, here he is a stand-in for almost anybody that wouldn’t be an analyst, oh dear, he wouldn’t like that kind of ‘pure utility’, I bet).

      The ‘analyst being an analyst in training’, though, I fail to see why you think much of it, since that’s obvious, and many act like it, whether aping the analyst or proselytizing endlessly. One of the New Age things I used to read up on in the 80s said ‘all symptoms are healings in progress’, well, apprentices are also professionals in training, what wouldn’t fit that little formula?

      Too much rambling, I know, I’ve already had to write too much today.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 14 November 2009 @ 11:24 am

  61. “he PICKS OUT things to draw attention to”

    Yes, that’s what psychoanalysts are supposed to do: try to pick out from the stream those particulars that might point to something beyond the obvious. Writers and photographers do this as well, to the extent that they’re not trying to prove a point or sell something. I could picture going through analysis as an aesthetic experience rather than as a therapeutic one.

    “Well, that’s surely rudimentary, isn’t it?”

    Of course an “official” analyst must go through his own analysis, but that’s only one of the hoops on the way to getting the official seal of approval. I think that Reid is suggesting that going through analysis would be the only criterion for becoming an analyst oneself — an apprenticeship model, as you suggest. Maybe the aura of specialness would dissipate, or at least shift toward craft and artistry rather than sagacity, which always seems repulsive. To me the cultic aspect seems highbrow rather than religious — more like knowing opera than knowing Jesus. But you live in NYC, the psychoanalytic AND highbrow capital of America, so probably the perceptions are different there.

    Comment by john doyle — 14 November 2009 @ 6:46 pm

    • Oh, no, I agree that the cultic status of psychoanalysis is highbrow, which is also true of philosophy. That is why talking about opera and ballet by people involved in analysis and philosophy has always seemed absurd to me, but Arpege explained this superbly. It really has more to do with location and access, as you’ll find just as many fine thoughts on ‘antichrist’ in boulder or many another college town, but just the fact of live performance means those same intellectuals may have seen only the occasional first-rate opera performance, just because it’s physically hard to get to. Stage the same way, although things like Shakespeare at least, are always put on in some form everywhere. There are also college productions of operas like ‘Marriage of figaro’, which can work well and enjoyably even when not at the highest level, whereas you have to have total professionals to do a real Wagner–if there are no stars and no budget, then best not to try anything but the sopranos working on single pieces, etc., for their auditions. Live theater possible usually only for big commercial hits such as musicals, and the National Company is sometimes as good as what you’ll see on Broadway, though not usually quite. But in something like ‘Hairspray’ or ‘Rent’, which I saw in L.A. and Boston, respectively, it doesn’t matter much, since these are not sterling properties.

      I like seeing all of the conventional religions as cults just like the little creepy ones–I like a very broad definition of cult, including the Catholic Church, the CIA, the FBI, just as much as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Wiccan Chapters. Yes, ballet is a cult too.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 14 November 2009 @ 7:42 pm

      • That is why talking about opera and ballet by people involved in analysis and philosophy has always seemed absurd to me,

        meant to say ‘talking about opera and ballet as ELITIST’ seems absurd to me. There’s another aspect to location there, too, insofar as in Italy, opera is for everybody, and much classical music in Germany. In Russia alone, ballet is so much a part of the culture, that even in Soviet times, all the commoners went too. I was told this by a NYCBallet dancer on the ballet board, who hadn’t even thought about it herself until the company toured there. She said that the Russians went to ballet in a way that Americans would have gone to movie houses in the 30s and 40s, as a special but routine sort of thing, by now the Russian balletgoing would still be like the old moviegoing, not the multiplex stuff.

        Arpege also very good on how I confused why philosophers and theorists were more involved with the POPULAR ARTS, and this perhaps does get involved in the elitist aspect, except in those native countries of the art, as I mentioned, because these people who know the whole rock and pop scene will also know all of philosophy and literature, because books are affordable, and in most countries, live performance is not affordable to nearly all these people.

        Comment by Ray Fuller — 14 November 2009 @ 7:48 pm

  62. This discussion unfolded while I was otherwise occupied, but I wanted to register a few thoughts.

    First, I agree with LS that the Freudian (or Lacanian, I guess) unconscious really doesn’t seem to have much to do with the unconscious talked about in cognitive science. In cogsci unconscious is just a set of mental processes that happen without our awareness, and which are often inaccessible to awareness. We demonstrably interpret situations and even make decisions without being aware of it. We are totally incapable of figuring out our own mental processes through introspection. That’s about all there is to it. Nothing fancy, like talking about events as if they were parts of the mind.

    Second, if empirical validation isn’t appropriate to psychoanalytic theory, what sort of validation is? As far as I can tell, there are causal claims being made. My wife left her jacket because blah blah blah. What justifies the causal relationship? I have no problem with entities in a theory being weird, or not corresponding to some reductive physical reality, but you have to justify the claims somehow.

    Third, the effectiveness of any given therapy is simply not a good enough justification for its claims. We can say that psychoanalysis is just as effective as CBT, but that isn’t really saying much, because none of our methods are effective. Part of that is because the mind is difficult to understand, and part of it is because we hang on to crap theories that don’t explain anything and can’t justify themselves. We don’t understand the placebo effect, and no-one is really able to talk about it meaningfully without using the word “belief”, which is something we also don’t understand at anything but the level of folk psychology. We tout things like DBT as being more effective than TAU for borderline personality disorder, when even “way more effective” is not very effective at all. We totally suck at helping people with substance abuse problems. Etc., etc., etc.

    Comment by Asher Kay — 15 November 2009 @ 12:16 am

  63. Welcome back Asher. At times in this thread it’s been asserted that psychoanalysis prevents subsequent returns of symptoms whereas other therapeutic techniques might actually increase recurrence rates. I said I knew of no studies but that it’s framed as an empirically-evaluable proposition. Does your book shed any light on evidence regarding whether analysis prevents recurrence?

    Now, on to your points. I agree that some sort of empirical verification/refutation of psychoanalysis should be achievable if the terms and claims and constructs can be agreed upon. Claims to distinct therapeutic value remain unverified, but then the analysts contend that analysis isn’t therapy anyhow so it doesn’t matter. At the same time, analysis advocates continue to claim that analysts know why their techniques work on symptoms while other techniques do more harm than good. These are implicit empirical claims that can be tested through observation. I’m aware of no empirical support for such claims, though I might have missed something.

    It’s also difficult if not impossible to validate the supposed truth claims revealed by probing the unconscious. We’ve witnessed the recent resurgence and subsequent debunking of techniques tracing adult psychological problems to repressed childhood memories, especially of sexual abuse, retrieved through hypnosis. Even Freud didn’t believe that these retrieved memories were “true” objectively; rather, he thought they constituted projections and wishes. People are subject to suggestion, and it’s hard to distinguish real memories from those grown and cultivated on the analyst’s couch.

    “the effectiveness of any given therapy is simply not a good enough justification for its claims.”

    I agree, but demonstrated effectiveness is certainly worth something, wouldn’t you agree? Gravity was effective long before anyone knew how it worked. Theories abounded, but for the most part they turned out to be wrong. If something is shown to work, then it’s worthwhile to figure out how and why. But to act as if it doesn’t work at all would be like ignoring the fact that apples dislodged from trees fall down to the ground until such time as we can explain why they do so. You say that “none of our methods are effective,” but empirically that’s not so: they’re all demonstrably more effective than no treatment. You can contend that it’s just the placebo effect, but if placebo includes regularly scheduled conversations with people who seem interested in what the client has to say, then the placebo itself incorporates significant features of the therapeutic encounter. It’s true that therapy isn’t as effective as we’d like, but it is demonstrably effective at least in part and for some.

    Regarding the unconscious versus THE Unconscious, I’ll either write a separate comment or another post.

    Comment by john doyle — 15 November 2009 @ 7:36 am

  64. John – Maybe my language is too strong. I’m not trying to say that therapies aren’t effective at all, or that we should abandon them — just that they’re not effective enough for us to say that we have solid theories. I’m also not attributing the effectiveness of any therapy to the placebo effect. I’m just using that as an example of something that none of our theories explain very well.

    So if a theory’s associated praxis is more effective than some other approach, I’d call that a point in its favor. But it’s not enough to call it a good theory unless it is really, really effective — objectively, and not just as compared to something else that only helps a small percentage of people. Honestly, I don’t think we’re at the point where we can judge effectiveness very well. If I do a study about how effective ADWT (Asher’s Dialectical Wombat Therapy) is versus TAU for people suffering from bipolar disorder, I am presuming in some sense that I know what bipolar disorder is, and that all of the people in the study have the same basic etiology. In reality, bipolar symptoms might have several distinct etiologies, some of which are amenable to ADWT, and some of which aren’t. If ADWT isn’t based on a solid theory that distinguishes etiology, then my study of effectiveness is, at least to some extent, compromised as a way to judge how good my theory is.

    To me, the major point is that we need to acknowledge that our results are not good enough, and that this is to some extent a consequence of our theories not being good enough. We need to be able to look at a theory and say: This is not going anywhere — it’s at the point where we are twisting evidence to support the theory, or defending the theory by proscribing whole lines of criticism, or weakening the theory by reinterpreting it so that it doesn’t make strong claims about causality, etc., etc. I think psychoanalytic theory is going nowhere in this sense.

    Comment by Asher Kay — 15 November 2009 @ 12:53 pm

  65. I forgot to mention the book. It’s something that I brought up as a discussion point. I’ve only read parts of it online, and I don’t mean to claim that it’s a refutation of psychoanalytic theory. It seems like a good book to have a discussion around, though, and I think that when we say we have reason to doubt or support a theory, we need to bring information like that to the table. When I originally mentioned the book, it was in the spirit of getting Levi to call in some citations that supported his viewpoint.

    Comment by Asher Kay — 15 November 2009 @ 12:57 pm

  66. I agree with your position, Asher. The empirical evidence supporting therapy is atheoretical, or at least it makes no connection with psychoanalytic theory or even cognitive-behavioral theory. The evidence is more like Consumer Reports: does this dishwasher work better than that one; do they both work better than not washing the dishes at all, etc. From an empirical-inductive standpoint the path forward would be to see what works and then try to account for it, rather than starting with the theory and then seeing if evidence can be marshaled that supports it.

    Comment by john doyle — 15 November 2009 @ 5:05 pm

  67. Since the conversation’s come back around to this, I’ll drop my two cents that I did a fair amount of reading on comparative therapeutic strategies while my ex-wife was going ka-blammo and didn’t get much practical comfort. Claims of effectiveness were in the ‘slightly more likely to function at a minimal level’ range. Bigger cures did occur but couldn’t be accounted for and were associated with each type of therapy. Nor did my reading support your claim, John, that doing something is better than doing nothing. One metastudy I looked at found that drugs, CBT, analysis and doing nothing each had long-term ‘success’ rates of about 33%. No way to tell if different things work for different people or if a third are going to get better no matter what. A Beautiful Mind may be an outlier but they tried pretty much everything on him without durable success; his ‘cure’ came spontaneously after a period of no treatment.

    I’m strongly inclined to think that supportive attention is a common element in successful outcomes. Of course there are some disorders, like bpd or paranoid delusion, in which that’s exactly what the affliction makes nearly impossible. Anyway, I don’t think we disagree that we’ve got a way to go in sorting out the noggin.

    Comment by Carl — 16 November 2009 @ 1:09 am

  68. “Long-term success” is the operative word here, Carl. People tend to have a fairly stable set-points for personal happiness, fluctuating within fairly predictable bands across decades. “Neuroticism” is one of the “big five” stable personality factors most strongly supported by empirical research. The premise that psychoanalysis or any other therapeutic modality prevents subsequent symptomaticity is a claim that receives no evidentiary support that either you or I know of. Mental-emotional problems with a strong endemic component like bipolar do seem to respond well to drugs that alter brain chemistry, but for garden-variety depression, anxiety, and so on not so much. And there are societal factors that no doubt change thresholds for becoming symptomatic, cultures that are schizogenic or anxiety-producing or depressing.

    Within those broad parameters, all of us tend to have our ups and downs. Most of us eventually re-equilibrate, or else the symptomatic situation in the world resolves itself. Then maybe something else comes along a few months or years or decades later, and you’re back in the dumper again. It’s hard to see the bumps and dips coming, and when they’re upon you it’s hard to navigate your way out. Eventually most people do find their way out somehow. But it’s during those down intervals that some sort of therapy, any sort of therapy, has shown itself to be significantly better than nothing. Maybe not curatively better, and certainly not better for everyone, but still better than nothing. Maybe the lows don’t get quite so low; maybe it doesn’t take quite so long to find your way out of the Slough of Despond if someone goes along the trail with you. If supportive attention — and I agree that that’s the common denominator — helps significant numbers of people get over the hump, and if you can make yourself actually talk with someone when you just don’t have the energy or inclination to do so, then it seems worth a shot.

    I don’t see any evidence that training or theory or experience has much to do with the likelihood of effectiveness. The sense of belief in the method and the process, shared by therapist and client, does contribute to effectiveness. No doubt it injects that sense of hope which helps people feel that change is possible. Knowing those findings one could become even more pessimistic, acknowledging that the hope isn’t based on anything, that it’s just belief in belief itself. On the other hand, believing that supportive attention works regardless of technique is a tangible basis on which to hang some kind of hope. To hope for a permanent cure from therapy is perhaps ill-founded anyway: it’s an expectation that the individual can become fully autonomous and independent of the supportive attention of others. Maybe symptoms are a message from the Unconscious that it’s time to solicit some supportive attention from new sources, even if you have to pay for it.

    Comment by john doyle — 16 November 2009 @ 5:34 am

  69. Yeah, agreed. I like this modest model of situational therapeutic tune-ups or tiding overs. I certainly thought it might do my ex good to get on some anti-psychotics (major tranquilizers, as they’re more accurately called in Britain) just to get her off the paranoid-delusional boil and have a better shot at wiggling toward a more affirming interpretive frame for her perceptions. Of course those drugs have some pretty nasty cumulative side effects with unpredictable thresholds of acuteness, so they’re really only a desperation move for long-term management. And I gather that the ideal with ECT, insulin shock and so on is something like hitting the reset button, to get the operating system back into a state where the more interactive stuff has a chance to stick.

    What really horrified me was the NAMI folks, who were fatalistically committed to the view that you had to zonk ’em out and then micromanage them for the rest of their lives. Of course I’m talking about major afflictions here, not the occasional depression or anxiety spike which seem even more suited to the gentle situated responses you’re talking about, which in those cases really can do a world of good.

    Then there are the ‘anti-psychiatry’ types who are convinced that the whole therapeutic business is just a domineering infliction of conformity on the psychologically diverse.

    Comment by Carl — 16 November 2009 @ 12:40 pm

  70. Yes, I’m talking about garden-variety ups and downs that periodically afflict most of us. There’s an acronym among therapists for the ideal client, the one most “amenable to treatment”: it’s YAVIS — young, affluent, verbal, intelligent, successful. That must have been incredibly difficult for you Carl, though I’m sure in calmer moments you recognized that it was even more difficult for her.

    Comment by john doyle — 16 November 2009 @ 2:07 pm

  71. […] I want to note that Levi’s defense of the self-reflexive nature of psychoanalytic theory in this Ktismatics thread belies his argument in favor of ontological realism, at least of the object-oriented […]

    Pingback by Velvet Howler › Blog Archive › Ontological, But Not Realist — 16 November 2009 @ 11:59 pm

  72. Regarding paranoid delusions, in my limited experience I’ve found it quite easy to engage in ordinary conversation with people who are convinced that the CIA and the Mafia and the ex-spouse are colluding in a secret but all-pervasive effort of spying and brainwashing. Even on these topics the person can describe the supposed evidence quite coherently, can explain the reasons for ripping great holes in specific walls, can describe the messages emitted by the hidden speakers, and so on.

    In discussions of object-oriented philosophy we’ve repeatedly confronted the confusion between ontology and epistemology, between what something is and our knowledge about it. The delusional person seems radically to lose the ability to distinguish between what’s out there in the world and what’s in the head. All of us have this problem to some degree, but we do recognized the distinction. We might not know exactly what’s going on out there, but we can piece it together by observing and reflecting on the phenomena that present themselves to us. Call it naive empiricism.

    About 12 years ago I was convinced that some sort of machine was operating inside our house or perhaps on the roof, making intermittent humming noises. I noticed it especially while lying quietly in bed before falling sleep. I explored the house in the daylight hours, thoroughly but fruitlessly. Eventually I got my wife to listen: there, now it’s on; now it stopped; on again — can’t you hear it? She couldn’t. At first she thought maybe she wasn’t paying attention closely enough. Eventually, though, she proposed an experiment: early in the morning, before the ordinary hum of civilization revs up, go take a walk a couple of blocks away from the house, stop, and listen for the noise. I did: I heard that same intermittent machine-like hum. At that point I decided that the noise, which seemed so obviously generated by an outside source, was actually coming from inside my ear. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with tinnitus: nothing to be done about it; just learn to get used to it.

    Now what kept me from thinking that the machine was perhaps underground, its noise pervading the entire neighborhood? Or what kept me from thinking that my wife heard the noise but wouldn’t admit it? Or maybe that someone had implanted a transmitter inside my inner ear? Or that the intermittent pulse of the noise was transmitting a coded message? These things could have happened, but they didn’t. I can see how, in the early stages of paranoid delusion, before the neural pathways have gotten firmly locked in and resistant to deterritorialization, that some sort of appeal to phenomenological realism might keep the person from getting thoroughly and pervasively delusional. On the other hand, that assumes that the person’s processes of assembling neural connections is still working properly. This seems plausible to the observer, especially since the person seems sane enough in other ways. One assumes that things will straighten themselves out eventually like they usually do, like they always have before, but somehow something goes gradually haywire this time and before you know it the situation becomes apparently irreversible. Why this time, why in this particular way? As we’ve said, the functioning of the brain remains mostly a black-box operation. But progress is being made; maybe in another hundred years or so… Fat lot of good that does us here and now.

    Comment by john doyle — 17 November 2009 @ 6:13 am

    • Really good remark there, John. Yeah, I like that description of how you might not ‘catch’ what the actual thing is, and that leads to how you really don’t catch anything when your things wear out and Alzheimer’s and dementia set in. There are all sorts of variations on these themes. I remember in Mexico City I always was sure there was some sort of sound underneath my bed that i couldn’t discover when I looked, but even though I usually freak out at such things, I always never objected to its presence as sound, although I definitely thought it was abnormal. Fascinating story, though sorry about the tinnitus. There’s one thing about delusion I’ve recently found out, though: People can determine that you are paranoid-delusional and you WEREN’T. It’s just you had to figure it all out by yourself, and you might not have been able to. Once you do, you know you’re not delusional or paranoid, because you don’t even care when the accusers tell you you are anymore, except that you think they’re fucking rude for keeping such shit up when the proof is right there.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 17 November 2009 @ 7:43 pm

    • This is great stuff, John. I would add that one key variable seems to be self-reflection or ‘insight’ as it’s called in some of the lit I’ve seen, that is, some kind of basic ability to split off a cognitive function to assess from inside/outside one’s own perceptions, ‘raw feels’, emotions and interpretations. This is the same cognitive ability that enables self-irony (as distinct from self-judgment, which is just the mechanical application of negative memory traces to current analogies). In my experience the people who have paranoia trouble have all their eggs in one cognitive basket, and thus no or inadequate internal buffers against feedbacky negative interpretation loops. As I put it in a conversation with my psychologist colleague at Dead Voles a while back, “in the impaired self-awareness I’ve seen there’s been a common developmental history of high stress, abusive environment in which cognition is trained outwards to detect signs of threat, while feelings are sealed in against external attack and self-nurtured (perhaps as the one true and reliable thing).”

      This all relates to what’s called ‘resilience’ as well, which is often the product of an ability to see things differently.

      Comment by Carl — 18 November 2009 @ 1:51 pm

  73. That sounds right, Carl. Self-awareness can be sort of paralyzing in a Hamlet-like sense, but without it we might find it impossible to distinguish inner from outer realities, likely resulting in overbalance in one direction or the other. People who lack self-awareness often seem particularly adept at sticking with a project, but they also seem easy to fool.

    “a common developmental history of high stress, abusive environment in which cognition is trained outwards to detect signs of threat, while feelings are sealed in against external attack”

    This was what I saw consistently in Vietnam vets. For them this toxic developmental history kicked in pretty late in life, but combat was such an overwhelmingly intense and meaningful environment that it tended to override more tranquil earlier lives. These guys really did have someone out to get them all the time, and it’s hard to set that hypervigilance and mistrust aside once you get back in the civilian life.

    Comment by john doyle — 18 November 2009 @ 10:08 pm

  74. Eloise it’s good that you mention the Vietnam vets because I was all of a sudden reminded that I wanted to tell you one very good, experiential evidence for the psychoanalytic theory of Oedipus and later the Phallic order is that people who engage in conversations on the bisexual dating site all look for a BIG DICK: bisexual men look for it in the women, and gay men, who are themselves bisexual women, look for it in another man. But ALSO straight people advertise their big dick as if it were their best asset in the hunt for women. Then there are also men with inferiority complexes who feels that their dick is too small on this very competitive market. Certainly there is a phantasmagoric Phallus, or at least a very clear (yet Unconscious) idea of the Omnipotent, Hard Phallus, and organizing principle although it doesn’t have anything to do with reason or rhyme, or is maybe even illogical. I am almost certain that this can be empirically tested as the Perception of the Big Phallus in its real absence. Where would this be perception coming from, other than the Unconscious?

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 21 November 2009 @ 9:13 am

  75. And although we can as philosophers fantasize about alternative systems, and alternative societies, the situation on the ground is still like that, PHALLUS REIGNS as I would say in supplement to the CHAOS REIGNS meme. So again I underline that psychoanalysis only gains any meaning in practice, in lived experience, and is far from something abstract or prone to hyposthezing for hypothesis’s sake.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 21 November 2009 @ 9:15 am

    • PHALLUS REIGNS

      Ay-men, sistah. It is awl ah identifies with anymoh. and all I evah intends to identify with. In Phallus identification totalitarianism, all problems izz solved and you don’t have to go’t the psychic and pay the bitch.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 21 November 2009 @ 10:12 am

  76. Big phallus isn’t just unconscious — I wonder how many cock-lengthening ads my spamcatcher has nabbed since I started this blog? Big tits are just as heavily marketed to women.

    Comment by john doyle — 21 November 2009 @ 12:15 pm

  77. Big tits are just as heavily marketed to women.

    Yeah and now if all the Lacanian critics would just realize that BIG TITS are also also BIG PHALLUS, for the Phallus is not the same as COCK.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 21 November 2009 @ 12:28 pm

    • just realize that BIG TITS are also also BIG PHALLUS, for the Phallus is not the same as COCK.

      Too true, that’s why you don’t talk about Tits as Phallus except when COCK is engaged in Titfucking.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 21 November 2009 @ 2:10 pm

  78. Of course you can always put on a crab tranny suit like Lady Gaga in BAD ROMANCE and pretend that you’re a crab with tits, but that in itself doesn’t mean anything special because they will still want you to have a big Phallus.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 21 November 2009 @ 12:30 pm

  79. What are the empirical tests for confirming or phallusifying these important assertions?

    Comment by john doyle — 21 November 2009 @ 3:12 pm

  80. What are the empirical tests for confirming or phallusifying these important assertions?

    Darling I am now going to explain this to Eloise using Jodi and Jordan’s advice technique:

    You put middle-class citizens of Boulder, Colorado in front of a woman with small tits and a woman with big tits. Then you ask them which woman they
    would prefer to SHAG. Later you put the ones who said ”small breasted woman” in a lie detector system, for an extra checkup you test the
    correlation between effeteness in the male subject and female lesbianism. I am sure the results will be overwhelmingly in favor of the BIG TITS.

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 21 November 2009 @ 4:07 pm

  81. or better still you put Spoonerized Assliterations in front of a big-breasted woman and you tell him that if he tries to suck on the tits, an electro-shock will be delivered up his arsehole

    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 21 November 2009 @ 4:15 pm

    • He wouldn’t be attempted, I daresay, or is my assessment incorrect? I figured, from reading his poesie, that he would prefer the small-breasts. NOT ME! As a goddam fag-git, I like BIG PHALLIC TITS, you cain’t titfuck little ones. (oh, joh-dannnn….stop tuh-ning me ohhhhnnnn….)

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 21 November 2009 @ 5:09 pm

  82. I believe we’ve reached the end-stage of this particular malignancy, doctors.

    Comment by john doyle — 21 November 2009 @ 5:49 pm

  83. Here’s a study demonstrating that $1,300 worth of psychotherapy boosts happiness as much as a $41,000 pay raise. Here again we see that both therapy and money tend to be effective happiness boosters. If the results interpolate downward, then an employer could, say, offer $130 worth of therapy to a worker instead of a $4K raise and the happiness increment would be equivalent.

    Comment by john doyle — 28 November 2009 @ 6:18 pm

  84. Yes, but think of how much therapy I could buy with $4K.

    Comment by Carl — 29 November 2009 @ 10:23 am

  85. Good point Carl — multiplier effect. Now if we could just establish empirically that increased happiness leads to higher income, then we could generate an out-of-control inflationary happiness spiral…

    Comment by john doyle — 29 November 2009 @ 10:35 am

    • You don’t have to ’empirically establish’ it. It’s so obvious that it does. But then if you don’t think so, then Limited, Inc., has been analyzing ‘happiness’ as some sort of separate phenomena for probably as much as two years now. I don’t tend to think that concepts of happiness, histories of happiness have anything to do with happiness. I think they have to do with unhappiness. But a lot people are into it.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 29 November 2009 @ 6:29 pm

      • On second thought, it’s only obvious that happiness leads to sound financial management, because without it you can’t be happy. I don’t mean huge, wild schemes, but rather just that the reverse–sound financial management, like income, wouldn’t lead necessarily to happiness. But increased income will often be the result of greater happiness, but has to come under the higher category of just sound finances. If you won’t tend to them, or hate to tend to them because it isn’t very exciting, then you’re still stuck in the reverse. But happiness itself makes you find sound finances natural–well, I don’t mean that there couldn’t be disasters anyway, but rather that you take care of it like anything else within a general happiness. I do find that people separate money from everything else way too often, at the smallest levels to the largest. Marxists think that it really IS different from all other realms of life, and I naturally think that is total bullshit; it’s just as organic as anything else. I used to separate money from other things much more than I do now, worrying about it, etc., but it doesn’t work at all that way, even if it seems you have no choice but to think that way. And it’s not just Marxists that promote this separation of money off into this special domain.

        Comment by Ray Fuller — 29 November 2009 @ 8:31 pm

  86. I can’t cite the studies, but I think there’s ample empirical evidence supporting the contention that money can buy happiness. I’m less confident about the other direction: does more happiness bring more money? Your contention, Ray, is that happier people are more prudent money managers. I wonder if that’s the case. Happiness is associated with optimism, and optimists tend to believe that the rainy day will never come. Are happy people more productive on the job and so more likely to earn more pay? Are happy people more willing to pursue interests that don’t earn much money? I don’t know.

    I do agree, though, with your general point that money isn’t a special domain, that money and happiness are intimately linked. “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor — and believe me, rich is better.” Quote presumably originated with Beatrice Kaufman, wife of playwright and theater director George S. Kaufman.

    Comment by john doyle — 29 November 2009 @ 9:25 pm

    • Is it? Then some old boss of mine wrongly attributed it to Pearl Bailey.

      But financial management might sometimes BE better done by the optimist who thinks the rainy day will never come. I didn’t mean always tending to it carefully UNLESS that is what is needed, say, in a period in which it would be disastrous not to. You seemed to imply that those optimists might not be savers, say, maybe they wouldn’t–and maybe they would be right for themselves in the long run.

      Money does buy certain aspects of happiness, but the old saw is just not true, despite that I’d like as part of love of ‘cool’ to say it did. It can prevent forms of unhappiness, of course, but it never can buy an all-encompassing happiness, at least not by itself. But wait–maybe again, it DOES by happiness, but not in the amounts of it, again by the balancing of finances against the rest of the elements that are intertwined with it.

      ‘Are happy people more productive on the job and so more likely to earn more pay?’

      If the job is part of their happiness, yes. If it isn’t, then they may decide that they are not afraid to look elsewhere, since their happiness is at stake. If they like the job, then they aren’t going to use it just to mark time.

      ‘Are happy people more willing to pursue interests that don’t earn much money?’

      Yes to that too. I certainly do it, and I’ve always put happiness first, even when it meant going through periods that were miserable as well. I’ve never really wanted huge amounts of money until now, and so even now, I don’t know for sure if i want big bucks all that much–I mean, since I’m used to not having them. Except when I’ve had real luxury money, that was the same as big bucks, even though people would not agree that was the ‘real big bucks’. Veblen used to talk about ‘conspicuous consumption’ being more the social thing to do than ‘conspicuous leisure’, which is frowned upon. But I just do it anyway, and flaunt it only where it’s relatively safe. I don’t care what Veblen or anybody else thought.

      Also, just to add that ‘prudent money managers’, if that means very fastidious, careful ones, might not always be the BEST money managers. Sometimes the better for oneself is taking the risk. If one is by nature a risk-taker, you can only be happy by taking the risk, or at least some risks. So I guess I think that the happiness would automatically make you choose the kind of money management that suited you best; after all, even happy people have catastrophes and disasters, and they perish just like everybody goddam else. Well, maybe they live long enough to be ‘happy about it’.

      The problem with studies that say ‘money can indeed buy happiness’ is that they can’t go into enough depth to make a definitive statement. Because when I’ve had the most money I’ve had, I’ve thought I’ve had the ‘most happiness’, except when I’ve then found even ‘more happiness’ when I didn’t have as much to spend and was forced to concentrate on other matters than just spending freely. But when I’ve had to do things I’ve hated while also having little money, then that is the worst one.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 29 November 2009 @ 9:55 pm

      • I recall thinking the phrase ‘qualitative money’ and then finding it in some late Wm. Burroughs book, of all places and people. He was talking about it. And that gets to the separation: money is the one thing that almost always is thought to be better only ‘quantitatively’, not ‘qualitatively’, and it usually is better that way–but not, say, if you’re sick and are just miserable to begin with and inherited a big chunk of it: I’ve seen this happen, and the suicidal person, who had done nothing but lust after the money for years, had thought and worked toward nothing else, all of a sudden really GOT big money, with almost no overhead and no need to work. He did not know how to spend it except on clothes, and killed himself after a year and a half, because he missed ‘the dead’ from whom he had inherited the money too much to go on living.

        Comment by Ray Fuller — 29 November 2009 @ 9:59 pm

  87. “But when I’ve had to do things I’ve hated while also having little money, then that is the worst one.”

    One of the more irritating ideas of neoliberal economic theory is that one does the greatest amount of social good by doing whatever pays the most money, inasmuch as society’s willingness to pay is the best measure of the perceived value of one’s work to society. I recall Hayek issuing a warning in one of his books that high-income people shouldn’t think they’re better than everyone else: they just happen to be good at what’s socially most valuable, and perhaps they also made some lucky career choices along the way. Subscribers to neoliberal ideology get to believe that their wealth is also a direct measure of their social worth, which surely enhances their self-esteem and happiness beyond just what the money can buy.

    Comment by john doyle — 29 November 2009 @ 10:12 pm

    • Subscribers to neoliberal ideology get to believe that their wealth is also a direct measure of their social worth, which surely enhances their self-esteem and happiness beyond just what the money can buy.

      Good point, is like something I left out. And that’s something I’ve never been able to understand terribly well, because it’s not especially distinguished to have a lot of money–desirable yes, distinguished, no, not in itself alone. So I know people who are extremely rich and miserly, and just the other day I thought to myself, ‘well, I think my friend T. just likes to sit around and think of all her money in the bank!. I’m almost sure of it, and I have an aunt like that as well. I don’t think they’re very conscious of this, but it’s a kind of ‘buzz’ they always have that they’d miss without the sleeping money that just lies there till they’re dead.

      Comment by Ray Fuller — 29 November 2009 @ 10:19 pm

      • Finally found the thread where we were talking about how money buys happiness or doesn’t, but probably does.

        You may bave seen this, Nic Kristoff, his usual affable good-willed self, writes this today, talks about other surveys. I don’t believe a word of it or the things he cites necessarily, because happiness would need to have a clinical version like depresion that was measurable more than it does. Jack and I decided we’re depressed half the time just because life is and mainly because life is so much fun some of the time, then you get the long dark one. But still not clinical depression, insofar as neither of us is ever depressed very long. This just for your over-abundance of Happiness Documents, if you like these sorts of things. I commend myself for being polite and searching out which post, and it was not easy.

        Comment by butch cazza — 16 January 2010 @ 10:49 pm

  88. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/opinion/17kristof.html?hp

    Forgot to put the link, this is no big deal, of course. Kristoff just a naturally nice guy who is hard to dislike.

    Comment by butch cazza — 16 January 2010 @ 10:51 pm

  89. Thanks for the thoughts and the link, Butch. I hope it made you happy to perform this altruistic deed. And it made me happy too, knowing that you went to so much trouble just for me.

    Comment by john doyle — 17 January 2010 @ 5:15 pm

  90. How much empirical evidence is there for the existence of mental illness?

    How much clinical empirical evidence is there for the existence of human suffering?

    Those are my two questions that would address the medical and therapeutic aspects of analysis.

    It used to be that people made sense of suffering through what we now call culture, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that analysis has a cultural aspect as well.

    I have always admired the simplicity of the very rational aspects of Buddhism as an approach to understanding. They are in some way universally applicable. Buddhists don’t start by asking what the brain is made of or how we can tell what another person’s thoughts and feelings are, but by pointing out that life is always permeated by suffering, such that people feel impelled to respond to it in some way. It’s the ubiquitousness of suffering that analysis responds to as well, and that is probably a better place to start from than clinical studies.

    As a veteran of many forms of psychotherapy, I agree with you that none of them are likely to ever be proven clinically effective. I think that has more to do with the nature of humans as social beings than it does with any medical concerns.

    There are not any medications either that are effective for most people.

    Comment by Joseph McCord — 16 April 2012 @ 12:11 pm

  91. What? It’s true.

    Comment by Joseph McCord — 16 April 2012 @ 12:54 pm

  92. Thanks for your thoughts, Joseph. What I said in the post was this: “Many empirical studies point to the same conclusion: pretty much any therapeutic intervention is far better than no intervention, but no particular technique seems to work any better than the rest.” I wasn’t saying that therapy cures an illness; I was saying that it helps allay people’s anxiety, depression, and various other ways in which they experience psychological suffering. Therapy typically involves direct interaction between a client and a therapist: in other words, a social relationship is established, which might account for much of the effectiveness compared with continued isolation. The therapeutic intervention tends to be more effective when both therapist and client believe in the effectiveness of the technique, regardless of what the technique happens to be. It’s surely the case that cultural factors influence the believability of various techniques. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and SSRI medications seem to be in the ascendancy: they are often the treatment of choice for a variety of reasons having not much specific to do with the form of suffering being treated.

    Three weeks ago we discussed the effectiveness of Eastern meditation as a kind of therapy for alleviating “monkey mind.” I don’t know Buddhism well, but I understand that the Buddha regarded human suffering as the beginning of wisdom. Maybe part of the advanced course includes finding ways of not letting that suffering bother you so much, of attaining a level of tranquility in a turbulent world. Is it possible to identify specific subjective characteristics or symptoms of monkey mind? Do the symptoms abate for meditation practitioners? Such empirical studies could be done; they probably already have been done.

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 April 2012 @ 2:11 pm

  93. I’m currently reading The Wayward Mind: An Intimate History of the Unconscious (2005). Author Guy Claxton throws some light on links between psychoanalysis and Buddhist meditation. Free association is a traditional psychoanalytic technique. Erich Fromm found that patients under hypnosis were “better” at exploring the meanings of their dreams via free association. Does meditation yield the same sort of openness to association? According to at least one study cited by Claxton:

    Different types of meditation alter the meditators’ propensity for giving fanciful responses to Rorschach blots in different ways. One form of Buddhist meditation called ‘one-pointedness’ cultivates the ability to inhibit the spontaneous ramblings of the mind, and maintain a concentrated focus on a single object or idea for extended periods of time. When presented with the ink-blots, people emerging from a three-month ‘one-pointedness’ retreat described the blobs with literal accuracy, and could not be induced to make any projected elaborations. One subject said: ‘The meditation has wiped out all the interpretive stuff on top of the raw perceptions.’

    A second group, however, had spent three months practicing ‘mindfulness,’ in which one learns to maintain a stance of disinterested observation while allowing the mind to run around as much as it likes. When confronted with the meaningless blot, these people spontaneously spewed out dozens of highly fanciful and often obscene ‘interpretations’, while protesting that they were perfectly aware that none of these was in any sense ‘real’.

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 April 2012 @ 2:30 pm

  94. Oh Lord MINDFULNESS, I had a clash with that too on that unfortunate last job. It’s, like, PRAGMATIC BUDDHISM FOR THE WESTERN BUSINESS MANAGER. Hell they’ll even embrace psychoanalysis if they can do it QUICKLY and CHEAPLY, while the whole reason analysis lasts so long is that these processes are neither short not are they cheap. You can see the Hydra of neo-liberal efficiency dangling right behind ”mindfulness”. I suppose though that it’s better than sheer reward-punishment, or one of those happiness-is-all-around-you ”humanist” therapies.

    Joseph it’s interesting what you say about Buddhism and suffering. I always had the impression that Buddhism somehow wanted to DENY suffering by its practice of withdrawal. Eastern Orthodoxy (the religion of my Serbian culture) sees this as naive and proposes that you sort of push through it, in Cathartic fashion. In other words you cannot overcome suffering without undergoing it yourself, like Christ, although it must be stressed the point is never the enjoyment of suffering, but simply healing. For me this kind of figures when I think for example how after you have suffered prolonged painful illness, you get well again and suddenly the world seems so much more lovely and interesting than before.

    Comment by nikolicdejan — 16 April 2012 @ 6:02 pm

  95. According to the footnote, the source of this meditation-Rorschach study is a book by Ken Wilber and associates. Wilber is a sort of corporate new-age mystic who runs something called the Integral Institute, headquartered here in Boulder. Per the mission statement on Integral’s home page:

    Integral theory is an all-inclusive framework that draws on the key insights of the world’s greatest knowledge traditions. The awareness gained from drawing on all truths and perspectives allows the Integral thinker to bring new depth, clarity and compassion to every level of human endeavor — from unlocking individual potential to finding new approaches to global-scale problems.

    Just a minute while I get my checkbook…

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 April 2012 @ 6:37 pm

  96. Related to this, you really should see Hirschbiegel’s THE INVASION. It’s a great satire of the ”therapy” horseshit as a vehicle of exploitation. Kidman is a very sober, dominant-minded psychiatrist whose very own kid is suffering from Oedipal nightmares having to do with her estrangement from the father. Instead of questioning her own transference issues, she gives him anti-psychotics. When a battered woman comes in for help, she fails to realize it´s a warning signal there´s something wrong with her own life.

    Comment by nikolicdejan — 16 April 2012 @ 8:15 pm

  97. I just watched Take Shelter, a 2011 movie, and recommend it highly. It’s eerily similar to Melancholia, though if anything it’s more relentlessly dark and harrowing. There’s less art-house abstraction and bombast but the more traditional storytelling is deftly and subtly handled. The acting is superb. I don’t know the director/writer Jeff Nichols; his only prior film is Shotgun Stories, which I’d never heard of but which seems to have been received highly by critics.

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 April 2012 @ 11:21 pm

  98. I’ll download the Shelter, it sounds interesting.

    I decided not to attend the cat’s show, which is on my 40th goddamn birthday. I don’t want to pay for philosophy, and besides he gave me some lame excuse about not having ”the time” due to ”jetlag”, to meet for coffee. He probably thought I would disgrace him in public, or something.

    Comment by parody center — 17 April 2012 @ 12:23 am


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