Brief notes after a conference on general madness and our times

Read more: Brief notes after a conference on general madness and our times

If one were to critique the wild sociopolitical diagnoses of certain Lacanians, it sounds as if one is critiquing a straw man: We are leaving the age of the father. The efficacy of the entire symbolic order is in question, including metaphor and metonymy. Subjects now are without lineage, and there are only ‘parents-all-alone, children-all-alone’. The problem is that these are all either direct quotes, or accurate paraphrases. The social theories of the analysts are themselves made of straw, before one even gets to the critique of such theories.


The Name-of-the-Father is only operative if installed via ‘tradition’, according to Lacan, and since all that is solid melts, etc, the Name-of-the-Father is conceptually defunct. Except that this understanding of ‘tradition’ is temporal rather than structural, and suggests that any change in a society would produce foreclosure. Instead, in structural terms, ‘tradition’ can be defined as that which has a place in the symbolic order, that which can be registered in the field of the Other. At the level of institutions (but not necessarily bodies) it’s the accretion of signifiers, not just a chronology.


The idiotic, ‘structuralist’ Lacan who is used as a foil to the clever, ‘late’ Lacan is another example of a straw man. The former paradigm, whatever its faults and limitations, never claimed that one could endlessly signify away one’s jouissance, or that matters of the body were matters of indifference. Lacan did imagine, briefly, that structuralism might furnish psychoanalysis with scientific foundations, but he changed his mind.


The ‘late’ teaching of Lacan is ambivalent in its tone toward psychoanalysis, and many-sided in its themes and positions. To give an exegesis of it is then to either stitch together an ill-fitting assemblage that somehow totalises everything – which nobody, to my knowledge, has ever done – or to subtract elements from the teaching in order to produce a consistency. If one is left with the latter, then we are in the realm of curatorial choices, which necessarily reflect the priorities and prejudices of the curator. The hyper-individualistic Lacan, the Lacan who wants to excavate meaning, are curatorial constructions as much, if not more than they are definitive summaries of the late seminars and writings. Yes, there are gestures to the limits of sense, but there are also gestures to the overdetermination of art and poetry. Poetry does not only evacuate meaning; it is also meaning squared.


In these decadent times, it is the fathers more than the children who suffer from Oedipal anxieties. This isn’t to say that the children are doing well.


It is true that one can make an analogy between (neurotic) fantasy and (psychotic) delusion and conclude that everyone is mad. Why not?

As a hypothesis, however, what the analytic procedure does with the fantasy is different to the delusion.

In fantasy, one begins with:

Contingency/Trauma → Fantasy

In analytic procedure, this eventually becomes:

Contingency/Trauma → Interpretation/Construction 1→ Interpretation/Construction 2  → etc → Fantasy

See Freud’s paper, ‘A child is being beaten’, for more specific examples of this. 

In delusion, at least, in my opinion, the links between elements will resist construction. In the place of each construction, there will instead be an ellipsis:

Contingency/Trauma → … → Delusion

There are different views on what can be done with this ellipsis, but it remains an ellipsis all the same. Maybe some will find this distinction a little too cute.


We  can probably abandon any hope of finding harmony, stability, compatibility in a partner, etc, and, at most, aim for relatively liveable forms of disharmony, instability, incompatiblity. Making friends with one’s madness, if one can find a friendly version of it.


This is not my idea, but Ivan Karamazov’s maxim that if there is no god, then everything is permitted is, in essence a Christian (rather than atheist) slogan. By the same taken, the teenager who says that ‘When my parents are out of town, everything is permitted’ is not exactly demonstrating proof of independence. This is worth keeping in mind whenever listening to claims about a ‘mad’ society that is supposedly beyond the Law, lineage, paternity, metaphor, etc. 


It is obvious that psychoanalytic theory and praxis requires, urgently, an analysis of its own social conditions, and equally obvious that it lacks the means for any such analysis. Hence, the wild sociological generalisations found above when analysts attempt to make proclamations about the ‘subjectivity of the times’. Moreover, the same analysts who I’m sure are perfectly adept at acknowledging their own subjective positions in the clinic seem blithely unaware that, in social matters, there is no view from nowhere, no omniscient third-person perspective. Get rid of this disavowal and one would also get rid of a good deal of bad theorising, boomerism and pearl-clutching. Then there is the question of the material conditions of psychoanalysis itself. If the analyst qua theorist is geriatric, wealthy, largely treats less established analysts, and never children or patients in and out of psychitric hospitals, they are likely no more qualified to opine on psychosis and society than any layperson.


In one sense, the presentation of clinical cases and testimonies of the pass provide endless research, because each always deals with singularity, endlessly. In another sense, however, if the cases and testimonies that are presented never call existing theory into question – not by direct critique necessarily, but merely by pointing to a lack here or there – then the presentations start to look like an ideological exercise, mimesis of a house style. Or, at the very least, they constitute a very limited mode of ‘research’, at best something like Kuhn’s ‘normal science’; at worst, a discourse of the university with a disavowal of the transferential relations at stake therein. Beyond all of the expansive readings of the university discourse, it comes down to a relation of discipline through discipleship.


‘In Seminar VII, the real is far from the symbolic’. At the level of the heterogeneity of the respective registers, yes. But in their structural relations, doesn’t everything in Seminar VII point to their intimacy?

As Nestor Braunstein puts it in his book on jouissance, one does not need to establish an order of primacy between jouissance and the word. Each implies the other. The point of inaccessibility, das Ding, is called into being by the symbolic order.

CBT is Aristotle with Facebook brain – A note on paranoia as an epistemic ideal

In Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) discourse is reduced to data, and this data is further submitted to the Aristotlesque requirement of non-contradiction, albeit, without any Aristotelian depth of intellect.

Consequently, cognitivism and CBT affirm the existence of an unconscious, but this unconscious is entirely continuous with the conscious. It’s more of the same, more or less. Contrast this with the Freudo-Lacanian unconscious, which is disruptive, punctual, discontinuous, and structurally incapable of completion.

It’s no coincidence that CBT first arose when cognitivism was displacing the increasingly-discredited behaviourism from the laboratory (though not yet the clinic, in the Anglosphere at least). This was the age of Festinger’s cognitive dissonance, in which, like good Aristotelians, the subject abhors contradiction. Since contemporary CBT reaffirms a data-based, continuous unconscious, Festinger’s ideas fester still. Show the subject that his suffering arises from the faulty conviction that he always bungles his relationships/work/studies – show him the contrary evidence, the errors in his logic – and he will be obliged, by way of contradiction, to renounce his conviction, and thereby eliminate his suffering.

It was not until the era of neoliberalism that these Aristotelian outtakes reigned supreme over the clinic, for reasons that I have attempted to explicate elsewhere, but which are largely economic and biopolitical in character.

At the heart of the adventures of Freud and Lacan is the proposition that, in at least a thousand different ways, human subjects, divided as they are, exist in permanent, structural contradiction. There are so many examples of this in the centuries that preceded them that I would say that Freud and Lacan merely articulated and formalised, rather than discovered this fact. My experience is that it is common knowledge amongst the uneducated, and that perhaps the educated have some catching-up to do.

The clinical work of psychoanalysis cannot, on this basis, be oriented toward either completeness or consistency, if one means by this the overcoming of contradiction. Repression, disavowal, denial, foreclosure, the law of the exception, the law of the not-all are but some of the psychoanalytically-articulated responses to contradiction. After Gödel,he who trades consistency for completeness deserves neither.

But let us suppose that the psychoanalytic premises are wrong, and that the cognitivists are really as evidence-based as they say. In principle, the latter would be able to work with a subject to produce an image of perfect consistency, with the offending data eliminated. The outcome would resemble nothing so much as the most brittle paranoid delusion. The subject attains an image of coherence with all that is unassimilated sent packing, much line a refugee ship at Australia’s borders. This is the best case scenario for treatment by CBT principles, and we need only look at the outcome of excessive Facebook consumption to see what befalls those who cannot live in contradiction.

Once more on ‘neuroenhancement’ and love

Back in 2014, I wrote a critique of the work of Brian Earp and others, who were advocating for the use of oxytocin and other chemicals to be incorporated into a program for the ‘neuroenhancement’ of love. Earp et alia have written a reply to their critics, of whom there are several. Continue reading

The Ethics of Psychoanalysis


The following is taken from one session in a series of introductory seminars as part of the Lacan Circle of Melbourne’s activities.


There is an interesting remark by Miller, in a paper from 2012 on the aims of psychoanalysis. ‘The psychoanalyst’s routine is therapeutic. His business is with the symptom that has to be cured.’ Psychoanalysts can put on airs, and ascribe lofty goals to their practice, but people come to consult with an analyst because something is causing them suffering. As Miller says, ‘If somebody goes to see a psychoanalyst for the sake of knowledge and not to get rid of a symptom it is not very certain that his demand can be received’.  So, whatever one may learn of oneself in the course of analysis, analytic praxis is not reducible to a quest for knowledge. Continue reading

Notes on ethics and psychoanalysis

The degree to which psychology trumpets its scientificity is precisely the correlate of the extent to which it evades the question of its ethics. It is entirely unnecessary for a body of knowledge to be ‘scientific’ in order to be valuable. The scientist-practitioner of psychology needs the ‘science’ to serve as a fig leaf for the praxis. Continue reading

Of ‘Psychopathic’ Children & Interventionist Clinicians


Researchers in New South Wales are on the hunt for ‘psychopathic’ pre-schoolers. Apparently, they have created a ‘diagnostic tool’ in which young children are shown images, either ‘distressing’ or ‘neutral’, in order to classify the child as either ‘healthy’ or ‘callous’ on the basis of their responses. The 10% of children who were found to be ‘unemotional’ can be targeted for early intervention. Continue reading

The Other, clinical and empirical: A review of Fonagy et al. on Affect regulation, mentalisation, and the development of the self

The following is taken from a presentation delivered late in 2011. Despite the age of the piece, I thought it worth sharing, as it touches on issues from more recent debates such as the nature of psychosis, the meaning of neuroscientific data, and the ethics of treatment. My views on certain matters below, such as phobia, or the nature of signification, have changed since then, but my views on Fonagy are more or less the same.

Anglophone psychology has long objected to the alleged individualism of Freud and
psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic theory, they say, focuses on the intrapsychic, not the
intersubjective. Adler was one of the first to add a “social‟ element to psychodynamic
theory, positing a lack of “social interest‟ as the cause of every neurotic illness (Adler,
1928/1998). Later, a number of largely US-based psychoanalysts, led by Heinz Kohut,
championed an “intersubjective‟ or “relational‟ psychoanalysis. Continue reading