Thoughts – June 2015: Psychoanalysis, Psychology, Mindfulness, Sexuation…

Contrary to popular belief, psychoanalysis is least accessible to the very rich man, to the man who goes through life throwing money at his problems. It is precisely he who has no way to pay.


When a child is subjected to ‘behaviour management’, this is always principally a treatment for the problems of the adults, and not those of the child. Likewise, as somebody recently pointed out, when the courts compel somebody to undertake ‘anger management’, this is not so much to assist a person with his or her affect as it is to solve a problem of ‘management’ for somebody else.


It is true that, now, more than ever, the psy-disciplines deploy the rhetoric of ‘collaboration’, ‘client-centeredness’, etc. This is an unmistakable sign of ‘progress’ in the sense of coercive techniques having achieved ever-greater refinement. For this, the subject is called upon to internalise subordination, to become the principle of his or her own subjection. Whether a prisoner ‘collaborates’ with his or her warden ought not to deceive us into assuming that each of these participants are in symmetrical positions, whatever the rhetorical niceties of the wardens.


Anybody can object to involuntary treatment, but some think that ethics begins and ends with voluntarism. It is not surprising that people who are suffering demand a cure, but merely acceding to demands is not of itself ethical. Notwithstanding the dubious nature of such consent, a ‘voluntary’ demand for lobotomy, sedation, ‘conversion’ from homosexuality, or indeed, for the techniques of CBT and mindfulness cannot alter the fact the such ‘treatments’- oriented around demand – are projects in normalisation. In psychoanalysis there is a clear distinction between demand and desire, and the more you have of the one, the less you tend to have of the other.


Everybody now knows about the decline of the Symbolic order, of paternal authority, and so forth. What is spoken of less is that this decline corresponds with an impoverishment of the Imaginary, which diminishes any possibility of a way through.

On mindfulness – I have never objected to mindfulness as a spiritual practice or, for that matter, as a form of enjoyment. Let a thousand flowers bloom – dance the waltz in the nude if you like, or recite the Upanishads whilst waiting in line at the supermarket.

When this practice is brought into the realm of the clinic, however, (or the corporation, or the prison, or the welfare office) it becomes something other than a spiritual practice. (Or, more precisely, it’s about as spiritual as social workers handing out unconsecrated communion wafers to the poor). It enters the realm of technique and technology, and it is as a technology that it should be interrogated. (Naturally, the Orientalism of the West makes mindfulness a more fashionable technological and touristic choice than the wafers, but that is another story).

Perhaps, in an era of alleged hyper-stimulation, some impulse to bracketing and delimiting the ‘present’ is understandable. We should recall, however, Nietzsche’s maxim that ‘Existence really is an imperfect tense that never becomes a present’. To become ‘mindful’ is to cultivate a hyper-awareness of a present which is merely fictitious. It is to privilege what is visible, at the expense of the conditions of visibility (history, subjective structure). It is an approach that would have been considered laughably naïve even by the time of Aristotle, and cannot now resemble anything other than a passion for ignorance. When the technique of mindfulness is applied by the agents of power, in the public service, corporate world, psy-disciplines, and so forth, it cannot be anything other than straight-up hucksterism, an imperative not to think too much. It’s a way to avoid your subjectivity by focusing on an incredibly narrow part of it, and then dressing up this trivial and artificial ‘present’ part as a kind of transcendental fetish. Like benzodiazepenes, such pacification measures will perpetuate the structural problems of life, irrespective of their short-term effects.

Besides, ‘spiritualism’ for private, instrumental gain was the very thing derided by 19th Century figures such as Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, who rightly disparaged believers wanting a god to cure head colds. In the end, mindfulness is not merely a dubious technique, but a debauched spirituality also.

Psychoanalysis has a theory of sexuation quite distinct from gender studies, where the emphasis is ultimately on identification, at least as far as I can discern. Identification can be quite important, but it isn’t everything. A subject is irreducible to the sum of his or her identifications, for instance. Sexual difference is Real, but this Real is not biological, since sexuation not only fails to correspond to the cultural markers of sex (say, high heels of the woman, the pants on the man) but also cannot be reduced to the biological markers either (i.e. one’s identification of one sex or another can be independent of anatomy, which is now amenable to medical intervention in any case). In short, the biological and cultural markers, which are piled onto the subject from a reasonably early point in childhood, end up becoming Imaginary identifications.

The Symbolic order is founded upon a differential system of signifiers, which produces its own real (rather than just being imposed upon it). Pure difference as such is the basis for sexual difference, which is a privileged and particular element of the signifying system, to the extent that without a clear mark of sexual difference, the subject is likely to collapse into psychosis. One can ‘play’ with or subvert an ‘identity’ that is differentially marked, but not with one that is foreclosed, which is why it is futile to try to raise children as genderless, with sexual difference foreclosed.

Psychology works with statistical norms, and psychiatry with disorders; psychoanalysis addresses itself to orders. A psychotic (for instance) is not half a person, nor a ‘disordered’ person, but a differently-ordered subject. This categorisation is not borne of some political correctness, but of over a century of clinical practice and epistemological reflection.


3 thoughts on “Thoughts – June 2015: Psychoanalysis, Psychology, Mindfulness, Sexuation…

  1. I agree with you almost entirely about mindfulness (just not the last paragraph I don’t think), your point is very exact. I am very much ‘into’ mindfulness, as it was taught to me by an independent and entirely non-public, non-corporate teacher. However, something starts to get really screwy when I come into contact with discourses about “The Here and Now”. I guess the problem is there isn’t ONE here and now, apart from something very narrow, like you say. Everyone experiences a very different inner world, moment to moment, and the outer world is also so very heavily edited and coloured by subjectivity. Genuine mindfulness has more to it than just “getting in touch with the present”… there is a whole aspect of non-judgment and non-control which is massively warped by psy-power. The point of it is to get in touch with your subjectivity and accept it, regardless of externals.

    • Thanks, Francesca. Once mindfulness and related practices become throwaway ‘techniques’, they become transformed into something quite different.
      Still, it may be a step up from CBT, since a model which encourages acceptance of thoughts is less brutal (and stupid) than one which compels people to banish ‘distorted’ cognitions.

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