I recently read a newly-translated text by Jacques-Alain Miller, entitled ‘Action of the Structure’, a translation of which can be found here. The essay has been translated as part of the Concept and Form project, which undertakes to publish seminal papers from the 1960s French journal, Cahiers Pour L’Analyse. (For those interested, the website is a great resource on this obscure chapter of French philosophy).
France has been the center of lively debate on the topic of same-sex marriage (SSM), and many prominent psychoanalysts (Jacques-Alain Miller and Eric Laurent among them) there have contributed to the discussion. What can psychoanalysis contribute to this debate?
As early as Seminar XIV (The Logic of Phantasy), Lacan repudiates the notion of men and women possessing any ‘natural’ complementarity, as if they constituted something like a lock-and-key, or nut-and-bolt pairing. Indeed, such a pairing makes no sense unless one is operating from a position of some kind of transcendental teleogy. The notion of having an ‘other half’ – a typical expression in English to describe one’s partner – is itself an Aristophanic myth, as found in Plato’s Symposium. What is mythic, however, is by no means ‘natural’. (Incidentally, Aristophanes’ myth allowed for homosexual as well as heterosexual unions).
Indeed, opponents of SSM sometimes conflate the ‘normal’ with the ‘natural’. Heterosexual, genital sexuality may have once been a norm, but even so, a norm is a flimsy (and in this case, outdated and arbitrary) basis for legislating human sexual relations. As Pierre-Gilles Guéguen put it in a talk earlier this year, human sexuality is ‘deranged’. There is nothing ‘natural about it, which is to say, like all of the other ‘natural’, ‘biological’ functions (eating, sleep, excretion, etc), it is subject to rigorous socialisation, regimentation and codification from the earliest hours of life. There can be nothing natural about human sexuality, as, popular reifications notwithstanding, it doesn’t wander about unencumbered by historical context, unmediated by language.
For this reason, Lacan made the provocative argument in Seminar XX that ‘Il n’y a pas de rapport sexuel’, which is to say, there is no intrinsic rapport or sexual relation between the sexes, Aristophanic fantasies aside. Each couple must construct it, anew, and on an ongoing, partial, and provisional basis. And from this, it follows that, whatever one’s objections to marriage per se, there are no legitimate objections against SSM in particular, at least, not from a psychoanalytic perspective.
One of the biggest questions for Lacanian psychoanalysis in the 21st Century – perhaps the biggest – is the question of psychosis. The classical formulation of clinical structures largely divides them into two (and then to subsequent sub-types). These two structures are, of course, neurosis, and psychosis, which correspond to the operations of repression (Verdrängung) and foreclosure (Verwerfung) respectively. One question is whether these two categories are adequate to capture contemporary clinical phenomena and, if not, what alternative formulations may look like, especially with respect to ‘borderline’ symptoms. (It is not the patient, but only ever the clinician who is on the ‘borderline’, hovering between a diagnosis of neurosis or psychosis). The later work of Lacan points to this (the theory of the Sinthome), as does Jacques-Alain Miller’s notion of ‘ordinary psychosis’, and Paul Verhaege’s theory of ‘actualpathology’. These are still early and contested formulations; I’m yet to see much of Verhaege’s work applied in the Anglophone world (though happy to stand corrected if such work exists), and much of what is said or ordinary psychosis could, on closer inspection, apply equally to regular, extraordinary psychosis.