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.

Urgency, History & the Totalitarian Vocation

The following is taken from a presentation at a conference by the Lacan Circle of Australia in Melbourne, 16/2/19. The conference was organised in response to this edition of The Lacanian Review, featuring a new translation of Lacan’s Preface to Seminar XI, and Jacques-Alain Miller’s extensive commentary thereof.

Continue reading

On “Borderline” Diagnoses

In retrospect, it is ironic, perhaps, that it was within psychoanalysis that the category of the ‘borderline’ was invented. More specifically, it derived from the ego psychology of the US, which situated the borderline as a category of exclusion between neurosis and psychosis. There are strong grounds for concern about the aims, ethical underpinnings and conceptual rigour of ego psychology (see here for a brief summary). As I’ve tried to point out elsewhere, the blunders of ego psychology did not prevent it from having a formative influence on many other forms of North American psychotherapy, including those that prevail in the Anglophone world today. In general, for an idea to have emerged from ego psychology constitutes a serious objection to it; if it is also taken up by bureaucrats and panel-beaters of the psyche, this amounts to a refutation. Continue reading

The problem with diagnosis is not diagnosis, but discourse


In the UK and elsewhere, there is a growing movement to abolish diagnosis in psychiatry and clinical psychiatry. Leading the movement are a group of clinical psychologists and a range of critics of mental health practice. I would like, once more, to revisit the question of diagnosis from a psychoanalytic perspective, in the hope that it may shed some light to those without an analytic approach. Continue reading

More on psychosis: Subjective structure and incompleteness



I am not going to be exhaustive here. The aim is to present a little exegesis and a little analogy.The above chart – taken from Lacan’s Seminar X, on anxiety – may help to illustrate a couple of things at the very least, concerning the entry into subjecthood, and the separation of neurosis and psychosis. Continue reading

Ordinary Psychosis

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There are no shortage of psychoanalytic theories of psychosis. The Lacanian account of psychosis that derives from the 1950s – and which we may think of as ‘classical’, in Lacanian psychoanalysis – can be found best expressed in Seminar 3, and the paper entitled ‘On a question prior to any possible treatment of psychosis’ in the Écrits. To put it very simply, psychosis is conceived of as a structure, not a checklist of symptoms, or a particular phenomenological condition. Where neurosis is characterised by the fundamental operation of repression, and perversion by disavowal, in psychosis, foreclosure is paramount. To illustrate: in repression, signifiers and thoughts become unconscious. It is as if they were swept under a carpet; out of sight, but leaving a lump, nonetheless. In foreclosure, not only is the same material not swept under the carpet, but it is never admitted entry in the first place. This has ramifications for a subject’s entire place and function within the symbolic order (i.e. the order of discourse and law). It is as if a set of organising principles are lacking, at least, relative to those found in neurosis under repression. Continue reading

Understanding Psychosis

The British Psychological Society has released a major report on psychosis, which pushes the debate on this topic further than anywhere else in mainstream psychology in the Anglophone world. The report calls for, among other things, listening to psychotics themselves; seeing psychotic experiences as ‘understandable’ responses to distress, on a continuum with ‘normal’ phenomena; a rethink of bioreductionism and the medical model more generally; advocacy of ‘formulation’ rather than diagnosis, and advocacy of patient rights more generally; and finally, the provision of psychotherapeutic treatments alongside pharmaceutical approaches. There are numerous online responses to this report already, some supportive, some hostile. I would like to offer a few words from a critical, psychoanalytic perspective. 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