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The Fate of the Superego in our Time
What the Patient pays for?
The Seduction of Therapy
The Illusion of Togetherness
Are the Kleinians really psychoanalysts at all?
Psychoanalysis and the Night
The Proximity of the Other. Psychoanalysis and Levinas.
Even the Universe is Therapeutic

A Reading of Death of a Salesman
The Psychical Realities of Modern Culture

The collapse of parental authority has led to the collapse of the old paternal superego. The superego as a psychical agency persists, but without the modifying influence of parental control, the child or the adolescent can sometimes feel overwhelmed by feelings and impulses that threaten to destroy the self. In order to control such feelings, in the absence of external support, the ego is thrown back onto more primitive control mechanisms in which more archaic and aggressive elements predominate.

In the past one could speak of the parental internalisations which occurred during adolescence as acting as a modifying influence on the more primitive and ruthless superego of early childhood. The provision of external support and control removed the need for the harsh counter-measures adopted by the ego when it was in a relatively helpless state. Contact with parents and other adults whose (normal) discipline and authority was looked up to and identified with had the effect of gradually mitigating strong and irrational unconscious and conscious guilt feelings. The child or adolescent's sense of right and wrong was brought more into line with reality and the superego functioned as a conscience. The warfare between the superego and the Id became modified and reduced and the person was left relatively free to pursue a productive life. Of course there were always bad identifications, where parental pathology was internalised. In general, the more adult figures a child had to identify with the better for his mental health. So, in this respect, the break-up of the extended family, and more recently the nuclear family has been hugely detrimental.

The imbalance created by the shift in values from self-restraint in favour of self-indulgence has led to the abandoning of the old superego and the uncovering of its infantile prototype. The loss of external support brought about by the collapse of parental authority has left children exposed and threatened from within. The old inhibiting superego has been replaced by a tyrannical new one. Increasing external freedom increases internal guilt and self-punishment, making it more difficult than ever for instinctual desires to find acceptable outlets.

Let us briefly look more closely at what is meant by the 'archaic superego' which is the forerunner of the mature adult superego. Firstly, it must not be understood as a moral agency. It does oppose instinct but in an entirely irrational way. It operates on the principle of the talion, using aggression to oppose aggression. The ruthlessness of the infant in procuring its needs is matched by the ruthlessness of the superego response. Freud saw the severity in his work on melancholia and obsessional neurosis.

How is it that the superego develops such extraordinary harshness and severity towards the ego? If we turn to melancholia first, we find that the excessively strong superego which has obtained a hold upon consciousness rages against the ego with merciless violence, as if it had taken possession of the whole of the sadism available in the person concerned. Following our view of sadism we should say that the destructive component had entrenched itself in the superego and turned against the ego. What is now holding sway in the superego is a pure culture of the death instinct.
In obsessional neurosis the instinct of destruction has been set free and it seeks to destroy the object. The superego behaves as if the ego were responsible for this by the seriousness with which it chastises these destructive intentions. (Freud 1923, p.53).

Melanie Klein in her work with young children greatly increased our understanding of the early formation of the superego. She points out that the early superego is 'immeasurably harsher and more cruel than that of the older child or adult and that it literally crushed down the feeble Ego of the small child. In the small child we come across a superego of the most incredible and phantastic proportions (Klein, 1933 pp. 248, 249) The younger the child the more severe is the superego. 'We get to look upon the child's fear of being devoured, or cut-up, or torn to pieces, or its terror of being surrounded and pursued by menacing figures'. (ibid p249)

Klein's analyses of children pointed-up the importance of aggression in early development. When aggression is at its height they never tire of, 'tearing and cutting-up, breaking and wetting and burning all sorts of things like paper, matches, boxes, small toys, all of which represent (unconsciously) parents, brothers, sisters and bodies and breasts, and this rage for destruction alternates with attacks of anxiety and guilt'. (ibid p. 255) These frustrated and destructive rages within the child cause him great anxiety, 'for he perceives his anxiety arising from his aggressive instincts as fear of an external object [person], both because he had made that object their outward goal, and because he has projected them onto it, so that they seem to be initiated against himself from that quarter'. (ibid p. 250) He cannot own up to his rage; instead he will create terrifying images of his parents who are now felt to rage against him. This is a desperate attempt at control by turning sadism against the self.

In the archaic superego, we clearly do not have a conscience. Instead we have a brutal instrument of self-punishment which is as impulsive and dangerous as the drives of the Id that it is trying to control. This is part of our early development. It remains mostly unconscious and we only become aware of it during nightmares, certain drug states, during horror movies and certain paranoid states as well as depressive ones. But with the loss of the more mature and benign superego and suitable identification figures, children are increasingly exposed to this frightening internal world.

It is not just the loss of the old paternal superego which is at issue, but the simultaneous systematic exploitation of Id-cravings (through the sexualisation of all entertainment) targeted at younger and younger age-groups in the face of increasingly helpless and demoralised parents who use a mixture of threats and bribery to get by from day to day. Here is an escalation on two fronts resulting in signs of psychological distress seen increasingly in the pre-teen age group.

Freud, S. (1923) The Ego and the Id. S.E. 19: 1-66.
Klein, M. (1933) 'The early development of the conscience in the child', in Love, Guilt and Reparation and Other Works, 1946-63. The Writing of Melanie Klein, vol 3 Hogarth/Institute of Psycho-Analysis.



What is the analyst paid for by the patient? The patient has to pay, but what is he actually paying for? Is it for the analyst's interpretations, or the insights that be might offered into the patient's life? Or, is it for the analyst's care and concern? It cannot really be for these alone, for the analyst may make only a few interpretations, and after all, the care and concern offered is not unconditional. This care and concern is limited and circumscribed in time. In fact, to be specific, the analyst inflicts a number of deprivations on the patient. The patient is mainly restricted to fixed sessions. He is denied knowing about the analyst's own life to any degree. He has to pay, including paying for missed sessions. He has to refrain from physical contact with the analyst, restricting himself largely to words while lying on a couch, although this is not always the case. He has to avoid talking about his sessions in the outside world. It is a peculiarly human, fallible and necessarily incomplete form of care to say the least. The fees that the patient pays must be sufficient to safeguard the analyst's countertransference from contamination by his own resentment. For the patient to pay too little would inevitably arouse hostile and resentful feelings in the analyst, which would inevitably spill over into the analytic space. From the patient's point of view, paying an appropriate fee is often burdensome, but it does leave the person free of a sense of indebtedness or obligation to the analyst. The person is then enabled to use the analytic space without guilt - at least, without guilt arising from this source. The fees, therefore, clearly and correctly benefit the analyst and enable him to do his work. And from the patient's point of view, the sessions are free from a sense of debt.

Still the question insists: 'what is the payment for?' The analyst cannot answer this question directly because it is impossible. Would it be true to say that the patient is paying for the genuine professional help that the analyst gives, for the reliable support that the patient experiences in living and being able to continue to live amidst considerable suffering? Yes, this is definitely true, and it often not appreciated just how valuable this long term support really is, and just how genuinely cost-effective it is, in terms of keeping people out of hospital and enabling them to continue functioning at home and at work. But this support is ambiguous, because the analyst is not especially helpful in the ordinary sense, and he is only supportive again in quite an unobvious way. Generally speaking, he does not respond to direct demands for help and support. Nor to the patient's immediate needs for affirmation, for answers to his questions, for advice, for help, for relief from suffering. Such is the enigmatic role of the analyst. He is a shadowy figure. He is human without many of the conventional expressions of humanness. It is easier to say more clearly what he should not do, rather than being able to say what he actually does.

However, we might formulate an answer to this question of what the patient pays for in this way: the patient pays for the presence of the analyst. He pays for the bodily and human presence of an other. The analyst is very much present, and his largely silent presence is highly evocative.

Freud , in his work, Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926), details the sources of anxiety which are experienced as specific losses, as separations that we negotiate with great difficulty, as we are maturing. There is birth and the primary experience of helplessness - the loss of being contained by the mother. Then there is the loss of the breast - the giving up of some exquisite experience of total satisfaction. Then there is the feared loss of the penis, which represents the loss, among other things, of a precocious sense of power and completeness. Then there is the feared loss of parental love and support, and it corollary, the fear of loss of love of the superego.

What is evoked in a very poignant way by the space, the silence presence of the analyst, are all these losses, with which the patient must come to terms at least in some sort of way, must work though, to have access to her own desire. A gulf, a mystery is opened up, a potential space, and the question is: what does this presence of the analyst mean? The whole viability, the creativity of the analytic process, it is argued, hinges on the quality of this absent presence of the analyst. And this presence of the analyst, his continual and reliable presence participates in a religious symbolism. As the french analyst, Le Gaufey (in an unpublished lecture, 1991) indicated:

'Beyond the word in the prayer: presence. In the quiet silence of love, as well as in the harping on of hate: presence. This word is the classical naming to signify that something has to be taken into account without any hope of equating it to any quantity of words'.

The patient is then left on her own in the presence of another, who is both remote and absent in nearly every ordinary sense and yet very much present and available. In Lacanian psychoanalysis, which represents perhaps an extreme of inscrutable remoteness, the analyst occupies the position of the Other, with a capital 'O', to designate his ungraspable and unnameable role. He is just beyond all the patient's expectations from ordinary others, ordinary egos, and represents that radical Otherness, that essential separation, which the patient must confront continually if she is to begin to live a life, her own life, as distinct from a life compulsively compliant with the desire of others. Lacan states clearly that the analyst must not accede to the patient's seductive demands for love and attention. Otherwise, both analyst and patient will become locked into an illusory struggle repeating an incestuous relation in which the child's desire was to be the exclusive object of its mother's desire. Yet desire we must, but the Lacanian point is we can only approach desire through speech, through formulating our needs always in an incomplete way in language. 'It is precisely because we cannot approach it [desire] except by way of some demand, that once the patient approaches us and comes to us, it is to ask something of us, and we already go an enormously long way in terms of engaging with, of clarifying the situation by saying to him simply: " FONT in unpublished 25, p. 16.4.58 of seminar (Lacan: listening??

In another, yet related sense, the analysts of the British Independent tradition would appear less inscrutable, being at times prepared to close the gap, where the pain of the loss feels so great that a maternal management may be temporally necessary to save the person from disintegration. But here also the analysis proper depends on maintaining the 'transitional space', the 'period of hesitation' elegantly described by Winnicott (1941) in which desire is born. Here the presence of the analyst is construed primarily as a waiting presence.

Slightly different again is the Kleinian emphasis on the interpretation of unconscious phantasies - particularly those directed against the maternal object, the vengeful attacks on the mother's body, the destructiveness aimed at destroying what is good yet unattainable. Klein postulated that the human infant makes violent imaginary attacks on the mother's body because it is anxiously driven by enormous instinctual needs for food, attention, warmth and so on. It is the analyst's toleration and interpretation of derivatives of these envious and greedy attacks, his survival, his non-engagement in hostile countertransference reactions, which are part and parcel of his role as a 'container' for the patient's so-called evacuative communications via projective identification (Bion 1962). The notion of container which has been so widely accepted and helpful for analysts in understanding what they are trying to do, is the Kleinian version of the presence of the analyst. This is another version of the analyst's representation of agape.

In one sense, and very practically, the analyst's role can be adequately defined in broadly humanistic terms, as Greenson (1967) has adequately done. Why try to go beyond his reasonable and all inclusive explanation for what the analyst should be trying to do from day to day? However, in another important sense, by defining so clearly and precisely our analytic work, we are led to a premature closure of all the important questions. Technique, yes, we need good technique, but there must be a 'beyond', a going beyond at every point if the analytic project is to have life and be evocative.

Bion, W. (1962) 'A theory of thinking', in Second Thoughts: Selected Papers on Psychoanalysis. Heinemann; Maresfield 1984

Winnicott, D. (1941) 'The observation of infants in a set situation', in Through Paediatrics to Psychoanalysis. Hogarth.

Greenson, R. (1967) The Technique and Practice of Psychoanalysis. Hogarth, 1981.


THE SEDUCTION OF THERAPY. in British Journal of Psychotherapy. 
By Rob Weatherill. (Spring 2000, Vol 16. No.3: pp263-273). 

Abstract: This paper claims that the psychotherapeutic situation is haunted by the erotic transference which arises from the artificial setting of the analysis itself, which, with its care, attention and listening, reinvokes the primal seduction (Laplanche) or transformation (Bollas) of the infant by the mother. Freud wanted to distance himself from seduction, coming to prefer instead the productive work of analysis in a state of deprivation. I argue that modern practitioners and trainings (ironically, seductive in themselves!), responding to consumer demand and fearful of litigation, attempt to remove all risk from the "professional" setting of the therapy. Here, the great danger is the loss of the radical anarchic otherness of the unconscious, indeed the endless play of seduction itself, which alone animates the heart of the analytic process. Finally, psychosis is equated with the loss of seduction, as is our current cultural fascination with IT - cool seduction (Baudrillard). 

Twenty years ago when I had been considering tentatively starting work as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, a senior colleague made it clear in an interview with me that, "analysis was not to be thought of as a way of getting women, you know...gratification leads to repression". I was a little put out by this implied criticism, this insinuation, indeed projective identification1. 

The hidden erotic
However, my colleague's comments were right on both counts. Firstly, psychoanalysis2 occurs in a state of deprivation for both participants, abstinence on many levels. Secondly, gratification of demand, sexual or otherwise, leads to closure. The silence on the part of the analyst, the gap, the lack must remain. The rule in analysis is "no touching", because touching can signify many things. On one level it may be supportive, one another, infantile comfort, yet on another, sexual or erotic, and so on. It is not necessarily what we say it is. Analysis is haunted by the erotic3. The carefully crafted theory and practice that comes down to us from Freud (in a number of different forms) both provokes and bars the erotic. Free Association, saying whatever comes into your mind without censorship, tilts towards the erotic, towards chaos, the anarchic. While, on the other hand, the emphasis on words and language, the "talking cure", the formalities of the sessions, the couch, the payments, tend in the direction of reason and the secondary processes. 

Above all, the quality of the attention that the analyst gives over an extended period of time to the patient is attention like no other. No one has ever listened to us as carefully and as freely as an analyst does. Perhaps, only the Winnicottian mother comes close. This analytic listening re-creates in the patient a transferential longing, which may be a repetition of an early experience which happened, or didn't happen but should have done, and has been unconsciously longed for ever since. The patient falls in love with the analyst. 

But Freud, in his paper on the erotic transference (Freud 1915), was quick to point out that this love is produced by the artificial setting of the analysis itself, by the position that the analyst has within the structure. To Freud's great credit, he pointed out that when his women patients fell in love with him, they fell in love with an illusion, not with his alleged real charms. He also pointed out that this love for the analyst, archaic in origin, acts as a resistance to the analytic process. The patient would rather fall in love with the analyst than do the work of analysis, which in the end would free the patient from his incestuous fixations and enable him to love others. He also noted the countertransference temptation of the analyst to exploit the situation. However, instead of responding sexually, Freud advocates the stoical work of analysis to uncover the infantile prototypes of this love, driven by the persistent transference repetition.

Primal seduction
To put things another way, following Laplanche (1987), the infant, in a mythical inaugural moment, is seduced by the mother. As the mother is feeding, changing, rocking her infant, she is also deriving erotic pleasure (mostly unconsciously) from her play with the infant. The infant is then haunted by what Laplanche designates as an "enigmatic signifier" coming from the erotic mother, which it cannot decipher, some hidden pleasurable/dangerous, seductive quality in that relationship, which means, from that point on, it will be prone to other seductions in an effort to understand this primal seduction. We must emphasise here that the mother is not acting in any consciously perverse way towards her infant. This seduction is in the nature of life itself. As Baudrillard is fond of claiming, the universe was seduced before it was produced (Baudrillard, 1979). Later in life, the subject (of seduction) will be vulnerable to a multitude of further seductions, key among these, will be counselling and therapies of all kinds, in an effort to make sense of the primal secret.

To put Laplanche's point in more general terms, the infant is born into a world of language and feelings which far exceeds it. There is all this talk and excitement going on around it that it has no way of processing and understanding. Add to this the extreme prematurity of its birth and it absolute dependence on the those who care for it, and we can see how the infant is drawn into, led into, enticed into, diciphering this world of secret messages. With the accession to language and therefore the means to knowledge, the impassioned search for understanding begins. The question can be formulated in more Lacanian terms: what does the Other want from me? What is the desire of the Other? I want what the Other desires. 

At the beginning, the infant is the erotic "plaything" of the mother. Breast feeding is an intensely erotic activity. How many mothers will say that they want to "eat" their babies in the sensual love they have for the bodies of their babies, the smell, the touch, the sounds, etc. These erotic games, although intensely enjoyed by mother and infant, must fail to be translated by the infant, who is also infans - without words. Later, post-Oedipally, armed with language, the child will try to make sense of what is now called "sex", only to discover the impossibility of doing so. Well meaning education and enlightenment may follow, but the erotic remains outside any educational process. Something is profoundly missing in his life. And this missing thing poses itself as also the most potentially exciting thing. It has the power to divert him off the course, the "official" course, his life should be taking in developmental terms. The child, for instance, may become vulnerable to paedophiles who know all about the secret longing of the erotic need. Later still, the adolescent will enjoy the erotic seductions of others. Or, addictions or gambling may offer themselves as an immediate return to the longed for enjoyment. The world is seduction. Each lure poses itself as the answer, but there is no answer, because the question arose at a time when we had no way of understanding, and at every subsequent moment we repeat this aporia. This is one way of seeing Freud's repetition compulsion.

But our chief concern here will be (the return of) the seduction in analysis, which with its mystery, its ceremonials of payment, the couch, the privacy, the secrecy, the confidentiality, the seclusion, all activate the repressed archaic longings to be a plaything again, to give up the onerous work of analysis, to destroy the analysis, in the acting-out of the oldest gratifications. Patients will say, coming to the analyst is not unlike coming to a prostitute. The analyst for her part has also experienced the primal seduction by her mother which leaves an unanswered question for her also about the enigmatic desire of the first big other. The analyst had better be aware of this possibility, primarily through her own analysis, lest she act out also. In fact her choice of profession may be unconsciously fuelled by such desire.

Against seduction
As is well known, Freud wanted to distance himself from seduction4, preferring analysis to hypnosis and the pressure technique, and often refuting the accusation that analysis proceeded from suggestion. Analysis was to be productive not seductive, productive of interpretations, making the unconscious conscious, strengthening the ego. And in our time, the drive is on for the professionalisation and absolute clarity about the nature of the therapeutic relationship. All risks to the patient must be minimised. Everything is currently being done to exorcise desire beyond language. However, in the present climate of litigation, what has been exorcised (we think!) returns on all sides. This makes current therapy trainings, cautious, efficient and repressive. Both therapists and students have to be carefully screened. The pressure has come from the consumer lobbyists of the EU. Consumers want to know what they are buying irrespective of whether the purchase is coffee or therapy. It all makes very good sense. The therapist is protected, by insurance, registration, the good name of the training institute or the professional association. The client knows that her therapist is sound.

However, all of this transparency leaves out the radical otherness of the unconscious. The freedom of the patient is compromised before the analysis gets started, hedged around as it now is with all these safeguards. Freud was clear that the dangerous erotic aspects of the transference must not be acted upon, but at the same time they must not be avoided or ruled out. In the current climate of fear, this us just what seems to be happening. The patient is now not allowed to approach her question, the question which is evoked by the analysis itself! The love that she has missed (irrespective of how well cared for in childhood), the excitement left behind, the return of the yearning for the One. Is there not a danger that intimations of this lost past are now deemed pathological by both patient and analyst alike?

What are we to be protected from, we might ask? The answer to many is obvious: bad, exploitative practitioners (and patients). This is clear. The public must be protected. But if analysis is to be more than just a simulation of itself, indeed if it is to be ethical, there must be complete freedom to speak and to fantasise5. The analytic encounter must remain open. It stops short of many things including even touch, but freedom of expression including erotic longings must not be elided. There is a real danger now that the analytic process will be invaded by a professional growth promoting countertransference which defends against risk, the erotic, the perverse, the addictive, indeed life itself. Its practitioners are warm, supportive but focused.

I was moved, when I heard Christopher Bollas speak in Dublin, to analytic practitioners, many years ago (the lecture was not published), about the need to respect and pay careful attention to the positive transference in its various manifestations. The negative transference is relatively easy to endure and interpret! The positive transference (at its deepest level) on the other hand is bound up with the core of subjectivity. To interpret that endangers the very soul of the person, what Winnicott called the incommunicardo element that if exposed, according to Winnicott, is worse than rape. The love that the patient offers is to be heard, but not interpreted or acted upon. 

The danger with the over-professionalisation of psychoanalysis, however necessary it might be politically, is the loss of human solidarity essential to the project. Patients, clients (these are both the wrong words) are in danger of returning to the status of objects, to be interpreted, to be worked on, to be cured, in short to be eclipsed of their very subjectivity. Patients may willingly collude in this objectification, anxious to find out more about themselves (gaining insight) losing the ability to be themselves in the rush to sort out their "baggage". Patients and analysts become embroiled in this new puritan superego which demands emotional clarity and health promotion on all fronts.

The institutionalisation of psychoanalysis suffers from the same problematic as the institutionalisation of Christianity. Institutionalisation may be necessary to pass on and safeguard the message, but in so doing, it creates a lie that leads to the inquisition, the murder of the secret, the reversal of all the values that were the original inspiration.

Transference resolution or transformation
In psychoanalytic terms, all will be done when the transference is resolved. But Lacan has insisted that the transference is never resolved. In his seminar on transference (1960-61), unpublished in English, Lacan puts it thus: 

And as regards this hand which stretches towards the fruit, towards the rose, towards the log which suddenly bursts into flames, first of all to tell you that its gesture of reaching, of poking, is closely linked to the maturation of the fruit, to the beauty of the flower, to the flaming of the log, but that when this movement of reaching, of drawing, of poking, the hand has gone far enough towards the object, if from the fruit, from the flower, from the log, a hand emerges which stretches out to encounter your hand, and that at that moment it is your hand which is fixed in the closed fullness of the flower, in the explosion of a hand that bursts into flames, what is produced at that point is love!6

Nothing is resolved in psychoanalysis, because the question of the erotic (transference) can never be resolved, it can only be explored by the seduction of psychoanalysis itself. On the other side of work, technique, interpretation, the production of meaning, lies nothing other than seduction. That is to allow oneself to be seduced, to be lead along the pathways of free association, eschewing judgement, mastery, cure, and the whole labour of work on the self, which is itself a defence against seduction. 

The state of mind that allows seduction to occur is termed by Bion, "reverie". Prototypically, it is child in the presence of the mother whose erotic enjoyment of the child initiates the seduction of the child by the world. Just as the mother stops short of actual sexual contact with the child, which, as we know closes down the quest for life, so too must the analyst not engage in actual sexual seduction of the patient, which as my colleague pointed out, leads to repression. It is simply enough for the analyst to be present, relatively quiet, and fully attentive for the seductive process to have a chance of coming to life. 

It seems to be that psychoanalysis faces two ways. Firstly, towards the production of meanings via interpretations, reconstructions, insights, working through, strengthening the ego, and so on. Secondly, towards seductions and deconstruction of stable realities and meanings, where both participants allow themselves to be caught by the flow of signifiers and affects which lead not to the reality-principle but to the uncertainty principle and the edge of the unknown. Modern psychoanalysis, post-Lacan and post-Bion, seems to privilege the second strategy, which is really an anti-strategy, a negative capability, opposed to production, self-mastery and knowing. One can be seduced by anything, including psychotherapeutic ideologies themselves, and the whole professionalisation of the process. However, developmentally, seduction always precedes production. Production is fragile, seduction is strong. The idealisation of production, growth and capital in the psychical economy as well as the real economy turns out to be just one more seduction, one more illusion, to trap and charm us. 

Bollas had something similar in mind to seduction when he spoke of the "transformational object". Here, he envisages the mother functioning as a source of transformation of the infant's self experience prior to any representational knowing. For Bollas the mother's caring activities acts as our first aesthetic experience, the first experience of beauty (of seduction), the trace of which will inform our search for aesthetic experiences during the course of our lives. His very interesting point is that Freud, by eliding the importance of the mother infant relation during the pre-Oedipal period, unconsciously acts out this elision in the establishment of the analytic situation, which, as we noted above, repeats dedicated maternal attentiveness. The subject enters analysis with the hope of transformation. Bollas says: 

Thus, in the adult life, the quest is not to possess the object; it is sought in order to surrender to it as a process that alters the self, where the subject-as-supplicant now feels himself to be the recipient of enviro-somatic caring, identified with metamorphoses of the self...I will argue, the analytic ecology enacts what Freud excluded: the early object relation of mother and child' (Bollas 1979, p84-85, my italics). 

He suggests that, 'What Freud could not analyse in himself - his relation to his own mother - was acted out in his choice of the ecology of psychoanalytic technique' (p97). Against the purely productive analyst, he warns present day analysts: '[If] we insist, at least in more classical formulations, on proceeding to analytic "work". Such work cannot take place, I maintain, until the analyst has a full understanding of his own profession as a countertransference enactment of an early object setting and relation' (p100). Bollas notes that the primordial experience of transformation remains a memory which will be re-enacted in the search for transformative cultural experiences 'that promise total change' (p99). As well as new cars, new jobs, new relationships, and so in, Bollas acknowledges that this relation can become fanatical as in revolutionary ideologies which promise total transformation.

Bollas emphasises the mother's caring activities, he allies himself with the British Independent tradition (see Rayner 1991). Added to caring is also the darker side of the mother, namely seduction (Winnicott's "Id-mother"). With seduction there is no knowing how things will go. The Independents down play the seductive erotic favouring the nurturing mother, the object-relation is primary. Care is primary7. 

The play of language
Classical psychoanalysis privileges the extension of reason and meaning in psychical life in an attempt to exorcise the primordial seductive power of the mother with the dead Law of the father. The feminine becomes identified, as always, with the diabolical. Seduction operates in disregard for truth and meaning, preferring instead, the secret, the enigma, the opacity and illusion of appearance. Seduction secretly circulates in the analytic process displacing subjectivity, meaning and putting everything into play. Words and ideas seduce each other, in the joke, the flash of wit, the word play, the pun, the delirious polysemy of language. The son of alcoholic parents talks about "bottling-up" his feelings; the man whose father is a womaniser dreams of "raking" the autumn leaves. A French analyst reports that his patent dreams of giving him "six roses". The patient's father died of cirrhosis of the liver. In Freud's case of the Ratman (see Freud, 1909), ratten equals rats, from there to raten (instalments), spielratte, (the father's gambling debt), heiraten, (to marry), Ibsen's Rat-Wife in Little Eyolf derived from the Pied Piper of Hamelin who enticed the rats into the water and lured the children out of the town. His magic word for his lady was Glejisamen, which it turns out was a mixture of Gisela (her name) samen (semen) and amen (said at the end of the prayers he said to ward off evil). 

Language seduces itself in an endless play of meaning and non-meaning, of revelation and seclusion, appearance and disappearance, indeed humour. Consider the chief of the Irish Rugby Football Union being hard-pressed by a reporter about the Republic's involvement with the all white South African rugby team. He says "I've talked about this problem until I'm black in the face". A woman is commanded home by an inner voice after working successfully abroad for ten years. She says she was "homesick". The therapist says: yes you were coming back to a sick home. Consider some of Freud's (1900) brief dream interpretations. A kiss in a car equals autoerotic; a broken limb is a broken marriage; overflowing water is superfluous; a deformed skull is a childhood impression; lustre equals lustful. All this play of the primary process is what we prefer, as Freud indicates in the joke book: 'It must not be forgotten that the nonsense in a joke is an end itself since the intention of recovering the old pleasure in nonsense is among the joke work's activities' (Freud 1905, p234). This makes the so-called joke work, and its corollary, the dream work the ultimate seducers, dissemblers and distorters of meaning, beyond anything much we can do to put a stop to it. 

The paradoxical play of the world
According to Baudrillard, only those who lie outside seduction are ill. Psychoanalysis believes that it treats disorders of the sexual drives, when the real disenchantment comes from the disappearance of seduction. What else can castration mean, asks Baudrillard? 'To be deprived of seduction is the only true form of castration' (Baudrillard, 1979, p121). To not want to search for the One, or to not even realise the possibility of the One, is illness. This search, though ironically ultimately doomed, may take us from one sexual partner to another, from one psychotherapist to another, in search of perfection. Although we encounter very many abortive variations on the way, not to be moved in this way, not to dream in this way is to be ill. It is entirely possible, and common enough that the so-called normal subject has lost sight of the One. That is, to be content with the world as it is, as it is presented. The task of psychoanalysis will be to return the subject to seduction, to the play of the world and the potential for beauty. 

Seduction returns us to the sovereignty of the world, to the domain of the Rule rather than the Law. Here the stakes are higher, in the order of cruelly, tragedy, the erotic, the challenge, the duel, the encounter... 'something necessary and rigorous...Death remains the ultimate risk in every symbolic pact' (ibid. p124). His point is, there is nothing necessarily tender about seduction. It conveys a trans-human sense, a risk.

Therefore, at the heart of the erotic transference lies not love, but seduction. A seduction which is related to life itself and its origin in the seduction by the mother. When an analysis is entered into, both participants, however minimally, enter into a scene of seduction. There is no knowing how things will go. Seduction exceeds both participants. Both are subjected to it without knowing. True, the analyst is there to maintain the structure, but there is something nameless that always exceeds it. The structure (related to psychoanalytic technique and ultimately the dead law of the father) is inert, lifeless, unless enlivened by the effects of seduction. The attempt to rigorously exclude seduction and all risks (insurance policies), deadens the process and becomes seductive in itself. All the complex ideological battles within psychoanalysis, as well as its recent professionalisation, can be seen as systematic attempts to stop the play of seduction, and end up becoming immensely seductive in themselves. Suggestion, hypnosis, all seductive effects have not gone away, but surround the whole theoretical edifice in spite of its reasonable and scientific pretensions. Even with "codes of ethics", the possibilities for seduction are legion. A patient at the first interview with a therapist says: should I go to a man or a woman? The woman analyst answers: as your problems seem to be with your mother, it would be better to work these out with a woman analyst. Similarly, a patient asks: will this form of therapy relieve my depression? Yes you will definitely see improvements, it may take time. Yes, you need to do some work on yourself and your past. And so on, right the way up to the gross seductive claims of the global therapy movement. 

The discovery of psychoanalysis is that the unconscious seduces, lures us away from stable meanings and certainties, pulling us towards the archaic traces lost in what Freud referred to as infantile amnesia and primal repression. Psychoanalysis rests on this boundary between production and seduction with the stakes heavily weighted towards the latter. But to designate seduction as pathological, to call it resistance to the work of analysis is to only see things in a very limited perspective. One might just as well assert that the work of analysis is resistance to seduction, a joke not lost on some critics of analysis: you mean you analyse your life...the meaning of your life!

We will take one analogy. One form of seduction is the improvisation of contemporary jazz. Here the artist is trained in and has given herself to the language and feel of music, just as the human subject has given herself to the affectively resonant language of words. The best musicians can be seduced by musical ideas so that these can play with each other in endless combinations, deviations, subversions, interruptions, involutions, that might enchant us with its strange dreamlike beauty or its rhythmic vitality if we similarly will give ourselves to the process. What we call psychosis, is (1) where this process of improvisation is seriously impaired, stopped or turned into humourless selective repetitions though fear of the aleatory potential of seduction: we may be lead off into an infinity of signifiers, a free-form atonality where the subject ceases to exist, Or (2), where the instrument plays itself in a dissonant jungle without the presence of a subject, who pre-empts the of fear of breakdown, not by stopping seduction, but by disappearance from the scene of seduction which thereby becomes a wasteland of abandoned lifeless signifiers with minimal habitation8. Unable to inhabit that broad middle zone of abundant seductive movement with its themes and improvisations, the psychotic, without sufficient ballast, either grinds things to a halt or allows them to spin frictionless into infinity - all because the psychotic subject was failed in his initial seduction into the musical nature of language and the symbolic. In short, his primal seduction by the mother was not transformative, binding him to the world, but in some significant way became a terrifying encounter with unbound excess, unmediated reality, and therefore strange and dangerous. This all goes to show the sovereignty of seduction. The psychotic designates the immediate brutality of seduction, called by psychoanalysis the death drive, that remains outside and unwoven into the domain of human subjectivity. 

Here, in Roustang's terms, words, phrases, ideas do not so much seduce the subject, lead him astray, but "expropriate" him: 'The mother - or father - speaks in place of and in the name of the child' (Roustang, 1976, p134). 'The him, separated from the thoughts that become remote, vague and confused, is now a destitute force, adrift, and ineffective in organising the thoughts into a coherent discourse - thoughts that then become ideas from which all investment has been withdrawn' (ibid, p137). These thoughts far from being seductive and alluring become unlinked signifiers, sharp and powerful, that hit the subject from the Real. One patient spoke of waking in alarm on hearing her name called. What was terrifying was that her name came from a disembodied voice.

The psychotic is an oddball a misfit because he has not been caught by the fluid play seduction in the symbolic universe. It is as if he does not have a genealogy: 'It appears that what has happened to him cannot be connected to the sequence of generations; he is isolated' (ibid, p149). His failure to be represented in the symbolic system destines him to fall out of the scene, to fall off the stage. Roustang claims that the psychotic child is treated like an object. Here, far from being on the outside, he may be: 'used by his parent to settle a score' in an inter-generational conflict in which the child becomes merely a pawn to pay off a debt, to make up for an intolerable lack in the family, a death, or an abandonment. Here it is the fixity of position (or non-position) that is fatal. It creates in the psychotic child such a position of power that it seems as if the whole family stability rests on him playing his part as object. Here, so the delusion goes, everything proceeds from him. He, not the world, becomes the sole source of seduction! Either way, seduction for the psychotic is impregnated with death. Here, more than ever, seduction reveals its inhuman face.

Cool seduction
Taking the larger picture, there is a growing sense that not only the psychotic but also culture itself is entering a phase of superfluidity or of superconductivity, in which fluids can flow magically, as it were, without friction or viscosity, or electric currents can flow in cold metals without resistance. The speed of flow of materials begins to resemble the centrifugal anxieties of the psychotic. Baudrillard refers to this as the phase of cool seduction (Baudrillard 1979). The new aesthetic of Information Technology (well named as IT), and the electronic media in general, spearhead this generalised cooling (see Weatherill 1998). We will take just one example relevant to psychotherapy. 

With the media's intense coverage and outing of abuse of all kinds and the generalised break down of trust and confidence in human relationships, it is not surprising to come across the following on the Internet:

Therapy Abuse Support List.
The Therapy Abuse List is an Electronic Peer Support Discussion List open to men and women alike. It provides a place where therapy abuse survivors can share their stories, and give/receive support to/from one another.

Who participates on the list? Anyone, male or female, who has been abused in psychotherapy or counselling - whether it be by a pastor, doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, lay counsellor, or other such therapist. 

Not surprisingly, the same search turns up pages on child abuse, diametrically opposed positions on False Memory Syndrome as well as abuse by therapists. There is a direct line, so it is believed, between the abuse of the child by a trusted adult and the abuse of a patient by a trusted therapist, now designated "the-rapist". A logic of suspicion and paranoia now surrounds therapy of all kinds. A splitting has occurred that deems all helpers as potential abusers and all patients as innocent potential victims. Here the play of seduction, in the transitional space, has been closed by the seductive power of the alleged real of seduction. The erotic which should remain hidden has been forced into the open. This splitting is as always unstable with opposites coexisting as no judgement can be made about either. In the confusion, all seductions run into each other: illusion, delusion and truth co-mingle in an impossible indifference.

Meantime, the real pain of loss during childhood, so clearly outlined by Melanie Klein, has been converted and collapsed wholesale into the pain of being the victim; the erotically tinged enigmatic yearning for the lost other transformed into revenge against the other. The outing of risk, in the guise of protecting patients, has the ironic effect of repressing the real pain of loss which psychoanalysis designates as inherent in the ambivalence of life itself. 

If it is true that seduction has always secretly had the upper hand, we have been able up until recently to live with the strong illusion, the last illusion, that repression works. There was seduction but simultaneously some barrier against being seduced and against erotic excess. Now, the sheer multiplications of signs, their visibility and the vertigo created, is our current phase: cool seduction (Baudrillard, 1979). Cool seduction collapses this last frontier, swept away while no one noticed by a gathering electronic storm of imagery in cyberspace, which is expanding faster than the real universe, against which there may be no resistance. 


1. Here one is forced to carry someone else's phantasy and for a time you feel controlled by the other's thoughts. For some time, you cannot get them out of your mind. What was being attributed to me, a young potential analyst, perhaps through envy, may have been part of this analyst's fantasy life.

2. I shall be confining my remarks generally to psychoanalytic therapy. 

3. The word erotic here is used in the sense that Bataille (1957) uses it. Bataille understands eroticism as our primordial desire in (separated) life to return to a lost continuum through excess, transgression, celebration, sexual licence, sacrifice, violence, the potlatch. Compare this with the later Freud, who, in his final theory of the instincts, posits a life and death drive. The life drive is referred to as Eros, which creates larger and larger unities. The erotic, in the sense that it is being used in this paper, is closer to Freud's conception of the death drive, or to his original conception of the erotic as anarchic and dangerous.

4. We do not want to fall into the trap of Masson (1984) who attacked Freud for allegedly denying the "truth" of the seduction of children, what we now call sexual abuse. The early analysts did not ignore the abuse of children, but crucially included the child's fantasy. (see, for instance, Stanton, 1990, p104ff.)

5. The real difficulty here is with so-called training analyses. I myself have questioned analytic training bodies as to why they so limit the range of so-called training analysts who are deemed suitable to analyse their trainees. Very often these analysts are also teachers on the courses. So what freedom does the analysand have when their analyst also teaches them each week and whose colleagues will be in on the final assessments? How can she reveal her perverse imaginings, her deepest longings if in the end she may be deemed "unsuitable" or a "risk", and her large investment in the course and a possible future career put in jeopardy? Immediately, the analysand is locked into false incestuous double-binds, which make true free association highly unlikely. 

6. I am indebted to Cormac Gallagher of St Vincents Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin, for this translation of Lacan's seminar.

7. Here, I would claim the object relations and the concept of care are being used as a defence against the erotic and its aleatory and seductive effect, thus keeping going the long tradition of psychoanalysis of downplaying seduction, as the next paragraph exemplifies.

8. I will give just one example from modern jazz to illustrate this transition from the seductive play of the neurotic/normal to the end of musical meaning in the psychotic. John Coletrain, a legendary figure in post-bebop jazz produced his most critically acclaimed lyrical improvisations with Miles Davis in the late 50s. Later, however, his work shifted from chord sequences to repetitive scales and so-called "free" improvisations which were so emotionally intense and wild that one critic joked about Ascension (1965), 'you could use this record to heat up the apartment on those cold winter days'. This later work bore names with increasingly religious themes, Resurrection, Meditations, A Love Supreme, as if to move to the pinnacle or the centre of the symbolic universe, a move favoured by psychotics. The question of the seductive meaning of the music, always an elastic term in contemporary music, or the "Law" that gives music its exciting yet minimal internal coherence, is arguably completely lost in this final phase before his early death in 1967. 


Bataille, G. (1957) Eroticism Paris: Editions de Minuit. Trans. Mary Dalwood. London: Marion Boyars Ltd., 1962, paperback 1987.
Baudrillard, J. (1979) Seduction. Paris: Editions Galilee, Trans. Singer, B. London: Culture Texts.
Bollas, C. (1979) 'The transformational object', In Int. J. Psycho-Anal 60: 97-107, reprinted in Kohon, G. Ed. (1986) The British School of Psychoanalysis, pp83-100. London: Free Association Books.
Freud, S. (1900) The Interpretation of Dreams. Pelican Freud Library No.4, 1976. 
Freud, S. (1905) Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. Pelican Freud library No. 6., 1976
Freud, S. (1909) 'Notes upon a case of obsessional Neurosis. (The "rat man")' in, Case Histories II 'Rat Man, Schreber, 'Wolf Man', Female Homosexuality. In Pelican Freud Library, No. 9. 
Freud, S. (1915) 'Further recommendations in the technique of psycho-analysis. Observations on transference-love'. In Collected Papers. Vol II. pp377-391. London: Hogarth.
Lacan, J. (1960-61) 
Laplanche, J. (1987) New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, trans. Macey, D. Oxford: Blackwell.
Masson, J. (1984) The Assault on Truth. London: Faber. 
Rayner, E. (1991) The Independent Mind in British Psychoanalysis. London: Free Association Books.
Roustang, F. (1976) Dire Mastery: Discipleship from Freud to Lacan. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. The John Hopkins University Press, 1982. Trans. Ned Lukacher.
Stanton, M. (1990) Sandor Ferenczi: Reconsidering Active Interpretation. London: Free Association Books. 
Weatherill, R. (1998) The Sovereignty of Death. London: Rebus Press.



The Illusion of Togetherness
Article for Inside Out, 1997. Winter issue. No 31, pp12-16

Winnicott's famous phrase, ‘there is no such thing as a baby’, builds on the work of Melanie Klein and her repeated insistence that mental health depends on of what she calls, in the jargon of Object Relation theory, the internalisation of a primary good object (1).  The human infant, in its utterly helpless state, demands the care and protection of another, a more or less devoted caretaker, or in the words of one American popularizer of psychology: we have need of someone in early life who will love us to bits. Unfortunate use of words, but the logic is that the infant will eventually comes to internalize this caretaking which will be the basis for its emotional security in the world. 

In his book Playing and Reality, Winnicott talks about the provision for the infant of a primary illusion, where at first what the baby urgently wants and hallucinates is at that very moment of hallucination provided by the real mother!  The breast is present at precisely the same time that the baby hallucinates a feed. Winnicott understood that this exact adaptation to the baby's needs is part of the almost telepathic communication that the mother develops towards the end of her pregnancy with the infant she carries.  This magical provision creates a initial confidence (2) in desiring.  The world is indeed a good place! 

Then must come a progressive disillusionment, classically associated with weaning and in Klein's terms, the "depressive position". But the disillusionment, the inevitable sense of loss and separation, can only be born by an infant already secure in the goodness of the world through primary illusionment.  In the absence of this security, loss becomes catastrophe.  Instead of the installation of a primary good object, the vacancy is filled with bad objects which create a sense of danger, menace, persecution and anxiety.  Later in life, other people in the subject's world become imbued with strangeness and the subject withdraws into himself for safety and security.  In Fairbairn's terms, this is the "schizoid" personality.  More generally and widely the subject becomes depressed by her bad objects, who silently attack her and put her down.  The whole emotional climate will tend to be inhabited by absence which through projection into the outside world becomes loneliness, estrangement and dislocation.

Winnicott, in a paper in 1958 entitled, "The Capacity to be Alone" foresaw an optimal situation in which, 'the ability to be truly alone has as its basis the early experience of being alone in the presence of someone'.  He goes on to take up the sentence, I am alone, in detail. The use of the word "I" implies much emotional growth, a unit status separate from the world; the words "I am" indicate that there is not only a subject but a subject who is alive and has being; and finally "I am alone" can only be conceived by an infant who has been guaranteed the reliable presence of another during the prior stage of absolute dependency.  He goes on to say that this situation, 'makes it possible for the infant to be alone and the enjoy being alone, for a limited period'.  This enables the infant to gain a foothold in the world.

Melanie Klein is generally regarded as being the originator of the Object-Relations movement within psychoanalysis.  The primary focus of the Object Relations approach concerns the  security of the self.    Do I have a viable self?  Can I form healthy relationships?  How real do I feel?  Do I belong?  Am I in or out of touch with reality?  Fundamentally can I trust others? 

Object Relations theory has been foremost in pointing out that the self is not a pre-given.  The self is not a biological or psychological substrate that can be taken for granted (3).  Crucially, the self is built up through relations and deep engagements with other people, especially the mother at first before opening out to wider identifications.  However, the modern world is alienating, dislocating and violent, making deep relationships upon which the self is built much more problematic.  Hence the more recent clinical preoccupation with so-called narcissistic, borderline and schizoid phenomena.  The therapeutic task is to provide a situation where real, true, spontaneous relating can maybe re-start.

However Klein, in a paper in 1963, entitled, “On the sense of loneliness”, always the most pessimistic of the Object Relations theorists, speaks of an inevitable loneliness.  She says: 'I am referring not to the objective situation of being deprived of external companionship', but, she suggests that this essential state of loneliness, 'derives from the depressive feeling of an irretrievable loss'. Klein was well placed to speak about loss, with the early losses in her own family of origin, Sidonie and Emanuel, the disaffection of her daughter Melitta Schmideberg, and the death of her son, Hans.  However, she is hinting in this late paper to an absolute loss which lies at the heart of life.

Winnicott's suggestion that the infant is cared for with the initial provision of the primary illusion of having created its world, must nevertheless be seen as just that -  illusion.  This illusory provision enables us to play in the world on our own and with others.  Indeed it enables us to be, to exist and to live, to bear solitude without being lonely.  No one should doubt the absolute necessity of this illusion, for, as T.S. Eliot famously said, human beings can bear very little reality.  However, this ludere, this "playing" is proof against the horror of the real.  The dimension of loneliness, its persecutory and deadening quality, belongs to this dimension of the real which is ever-present beyond illusion.

Today, it is not cool to be alone, or to admit to being lonely.  Now, it is as if the whole word conspires to ensure that we are not and can never be alone.  Muzac accompanies us everywhere, in all public spaces, in supermarkets, shopping malls, even in the labour wards of our maternity hospitals.  My younger son was born to Chariot's of Fire, and when I asked those in attendance if the music could be turned down or even off, I was told in no uncertain terms that the music helps the progress of the labour.  And if there is no external music, when we are out for a walk by the sea, along the pier, or in the country, we tune in to our walkmans to heighten the pleasure of the event.  The birdsong and the waves are never loud enough.  The radio, the television, the computer or a video are always switched on in most of our homes.  There are more and more talklines, chatlines, helplines, hotlines, commentlines to enable us to speak to each other and console each other.  There is clearly a conspiracy abroad that we must never be alone.  Never before in human history have we been surrounded by so many human voices and activities, so much opinion, so much entertainment, so much discussion.  We are more in touch than ever before!  Take the hugely unifying effect of sport, particularly soccer, which crosses all boundaries of intellect, class, race and gender, all the things that traditionally have separated us.  In this cultural space, we can all be together, we can share the same language and emotional excitement and disappointment.  With the advent of global capitalism, we can now be "at home" anywhere in the world. Tune in to the local FM station and there is the identical transcultural music.   When I phone a large corporation or multinational, I am immediately on first name terms with my friend in the "customer care" department.  All this creates a mass feeling of togetherness of community.

If this is a conspiracy with which we all collude, what is it a conspiracy against, what is being hidden from us?  Why such a need to makes us feel so not alone, so much not an outsider, not in anyway excluded or discriminated against.  Why such a need for inclusiveness?  And for our part, why such a demand to be included?  Perhaps, the subliminal answer is that people have never been so lonely. Everyone is alone. Not only this, but worse, the depth and degree of loneliness is increasing at a dangerous rate creating an ever more manic need to disavow and negate. 

Not so long ago loneliness, could co-exist with belongingness and indeed loneliness and solitude could be differentiated.  Solitude was part of living with others, a necessary part of the rhythm of the social, at one time going out to others and at another withdrawing for recuperation and recreation in solitude - our capacity to be and to enjoy being alone.  Now this rhythm is occluded, pre-empted by the intrusion of mass global entertainment that holds the thin line of illusion between us and the void.   The response to the void, when it catastrophically opens up, is ever more violent denial leading to addictions and abuse. Ill-prepared to tolerate being alone, we demand ever more entertainment and gratification in order to stay cool. Being alone today is more than just bearing the absence of others, it is experienced personally as a radical failure of the postmodern moral imperative, namely, to succeed, but more especially, to enjoy widely and to enjoy continuously.  The lonely person feels a sad failure, feels persecuted by the manically smiling, laughing, joking simulations that people the media. 

Psychotherapy plays its part in this denial.  For those who can afford it, the availability of a therapist may stave off the brutality of the real.  This, it will be argued, is all for the good, for we all need our illusions.  On the other hand, opponents of psychotherapy and counselling have argued against the unreal hopes raised by the "therapy culture", hopes for personal autonomy, empowerment, healing and integration.  They would argue that the claims made are overblown and not scientifically verifiable.  Be that as it may, but there is another objection coming from a different source, namely from a philosophical position that has influenced psychoanalysis in particular (4).  The legendary silence of the psychoanalyst bears witness to the inevitable and ineluctable encounter, not so much with the other person, the client or analysand, but with what is referred to as Otherness (with a capital 'O') itself.  Otherness refers to what lies beyond the play of illusion, what is essentially ungraspable and never able to be incorporated into lived life, whether that of the analyst or the analysand.  It is in face of this estranging Otherness that both participants in the analytic encounter are situated.  Neither can know this Otherness, and by implication neither can know the Other in herself.  There can be no suggestion that this Other can somehow be resolved or integrated into life or relationships.  The illusion that it might be integrated or resolved is what makes modern relationships so painful and fractured.  Whatever is resolved and integrated during the progress of a therapy, which is all to the good, is definitely not Otherness.  There can be no question of "getting in touch with your Otherness", for this getting in touch, in so far as we think it happens, must be nothing more than a further play of illusion. Otherness remains permanently and irrevocably outside. It is radical un-familiarity which poses itself  potentially within everything that is familiar, a questioning of every assumption.  Otherness, which can never be assumed or assimilated, questions us

Our current fascination with the paranormal, with the unfamiliar at the heart of the familiar is connected to Otherness, as alien, as horror, as danger, as radical impossibility.  As the normal becomes so banal and pervasive, the paranormal beckons as an alternative world, an extra-terrestrial world much more appealing.  The lonely person stands exposed, abandoned, lost, yet still in life with "no exit".  Suicide becomes a real possibility.  The lonely person stands face to face with the real of what Martin Buber referred to as "cosmic homelessness".  The lonely person is like the psychotic is without friends.   Psychoanalysis should stand with this loneliness at the heart of human subjectivity.   Loneliness haunts what postmodern theorists term the "hyperreal" (5), the more real than real, the forcing of a mediated and artificial reality on us at every moment.  The noise of the hyperreal, its violence (6), its invasion of privacy, its exorcism of loneliness, condemns us all to isolation.  Baudrillard refers to the system's cool indifference to us, which paradoxically estranges us in its constant seduction. 

In his paper in 1963, "Communicating and not Communicating Leading to a Study of Certain Opposites", Winnicott sums up his work: 'This is my main point, the point of thought which is the centre of an intellectual world and of my paper.  Although healthy persons communicate and enjoy communicating, the other fact is equally true, that each individual is an isolate, permanently non-communicating, permanently unknown, in fact unfound'.         


1.  It is accurate to use the term "object", and more generally, Object Relations, because the mother for the infant is not human in the whole separate individuated person adult sense of the term.  The mother is an object of the infant's imperious drives.  The sense of the mother as a person belongs to a later phase of development, and only then if all has gone well in the intervening period. Hence, we retain the term Object Relations and resist the temptation to rename the movement Human-Relations. 

2. Confidence in the literal sense of faith with oneself.  Without this faith, the drives are felt to assault us from the outside, persecute us, and primitive defences will need to be resorted to for protection.

3. Or as Saul Bellow says, in a different context, there is no guarantee that a child will automatically become a human being.

4. I am thinking of the work of Jacques Lacan, but what follows also owes a great deal to Emanuel Levinas.

5. See, for instance, Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality,  Picador, 1987, Trans. Harcourt Bruce Jovanovich Inc.  See also Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil. Paris, Editions Galilee. London, Verso 1993. Translated by James Benedict.

6. I have enlarged upon this theme and others in a recent book, The Sovereignty of Death, published by Rebus books, London.

M. Klein, Envy and Gratitude & Other Works 1946-63.  Delta 1975.
D.W. Winnicott, The Maturation Processes and the Facilitating Environment.  Hogarth Press 1972.

------------------ Playing and Reality.  Tavistock 1971.


Paper in the Journal of the Irish Forum for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 1992, Vol 2, No 2. pp1-12.


Juliet Mitchell (1986), in her introduction to the writings of Melanie Klein, suggests that Klein's psychoanalytic orientation is fundamentally different to Freud's. 'I would argue,’ she says, ’that the Kleinian concept of phantasy describes the human being's vast elaboration through perceptions and experience of this animal, biological instinct' (p22). Whereas, Freud's notion of 'psychical reality', she argues following Lacan,is not innate,but is produced by the peculiar conditions of being human, that is, living in a human world. Klein's notion of unconscious phantasy, she suggests, comes from within, only linking secondarily with objects in the external world, which can then modify these phantastic constructions of  the inner world. Mitchell says: 'I would suggest that the centrepoint of Klein's therapy is her understanding of anxiety: the key concept of her theory is not the system of the unconscious (the key concept of Freud's psychoanalysis) but phantasy' (p23). For Klein, she suggests the unconscious is the biological and affectual condition of being human - basically the life and death drives and their affects.

She is not concerned as Freud was with the unconscious as a system in its own right, with its own distinct laws of operation. To be sure, Klein was interested in unconscious mechanisms, but these are not the mechanisms of the primary process as against the secondary process. There is little distinction in Klein between these two, or between the unconscious and the preconscious/conscious. For Klein, Mitchell asserts, 'There is symbolism, but not symbolism as a basic manifestation of the unconscious. The ego displaces and condenses but, though done unconsciously, these are not defining characteristics of "an unconscius"' (p24). She suggests that Klein's concept of the unconscious is descriptive rather than dynamic. Consciousness and unconsciousness blurr into one another. 'Klein's unconscious phantasy and Freud's unconscious, as a mental area utterly distinct in its laws of operation from consciousness, are different concepts' (p24). All Klein's theoretical and therapeutic endeavours are directed towards finding the unconscious content of phantasies. Whereas Freud asserted that the Oedipus complex and its dissolution initiated a subject into historical time, with the repressed infantile ideas remaining unchanged in the unconscious, the Kleinian investigation of pre-Oedipal and psychotic anxieties eliminate time - the past anxieties being perpetually and potentially present, in the here and now. Mitchell comments: 'By definition, the pre-Oedipal child, but also the psychotic, whether child or adult, has not negotiated the Oedipus complex, has not acquired a history. Klein's contribution is to chart an area where present and past are one and time is spatial, not historical. This has all the characteristics of a descriptive unconsciousness, of an unconscious that has not been constructed by repression' (p28).

The  here-and-now-ness of Kleinian  therapeutic work with  the constant intepretation of the transference and countertransference all testify to the de-emphasizing of the subject's history, according to Mitchell. Similarly, the Kleinian's term 'position' evokes constant and potential presentness to which we are bound to return. Even her earlier positioning of the Oedipus Complex and the superego, do not, in Mitchell's view, connect with Freud's theorizations of these concepts. She says, 'In Klein these situations are all products of the ego's phantasized relations with Its external world, they are not in any dynamic sense triangular structures; neither the 'combined parents' nor the 'father-inside-the-mother' that she proposes, constitute a different third term' (p29). Freud was always intent on working in a rigorous scientific way, sorting, classifying, differentiating, seeing the present in terms of the past. Klein on the other hand, staying close to the clinical material, developed a descriptive phenomenology of psychotic processes, of the non-verbal, of the imaginary, of being in touch, as a mother who knows her infant's anxieties.

These are two complementary ways of working psychoanalytically. Mitchell is correct to point up the distinction. Lacan would point out that the unconscious (as system) is created by the necessity of our having to speak and therefore having to repress the other meaning of what we are saying. The unconscious according to him is created by language, and therefore has nothing to do with biology, except in so far as the instinctual drives are marked (created by) by language. So for Lacan, as always, the unconscious is structured like a language. But more importantly, it is utterly Other and non-negotiable. It (the unconscious, the Id) cannot be seduced into a rational discourse. It escapes insight, and any version of 'a coming to terms'. This is Lacan's absolute position. But we must now examine Mitchell's claims, and the implication that Kleinian psychoanalysis may be somehow less than Freudian psychoanalysis. This debate has a long history within the British Society following the 'Controversial Discussions' of 1943-4. 

Freud was not at all consistent. For instance, in his paper on 'The Unconscious' (1915b), he sets aside a place for a phylogenetic 'nucleus of the unconscious' (p195). Laplanche and Pontalis (1973) underline Freud's interest in pre-subjective structures - primal phantasies that, a) structure our origins (primal scene), b) sponsor the emergence of sexuality (seduction), and, c) order the difference between the sexes (castration). At the end of their article, they state 'In conclusion, it should be noted that the notion of primal phantasy is of central importance for psychoanalytic theory and practice....There is no reason in our view to reject as....invalid the idea that structures exist in the phantasy dimension which are irreducible to the contingencies of the individual's lived experience' (p333).

Unconscious phantasy

Hinshelwood (1989) similarly, is not as restrictive a commentator as Mitchell, when he concludes that: 'Klein and her followers respected these [Freudian] concepts by adding to and elaborating them. In particular, ‘Kleinians have developed the notion of unconscious phantasy’ (p451). Whereas Freud, as we have indicated above, proposed that phantasy comes into play only when instinctual satisfaction is barred, Klein suggested that unconscious phantasy underlies all mental activity, as a mental correlate of the life and death instincts. The difference is indeed radical. Freud's notion of phantasy is frustration driven - from the outside, as it were. The implication is, you either choose phantasy or reality. Klein's notion is instinct driven, from the inside, and the phantasies derived therefrom, colour our view of reality. But when Freud in 1897 replaced his traumatic seduction theory, by one that envisaged the trauma to be caused by the phantasy of seduction, he was already introducing the notion of unconscious phantasy. The child's idea of seduction was not created by external events, necessarily, but by an internal pressure.

Isaacs (1948) in a long, detailed paper,on the nature and function of phantasy, clearly believes that the Kleinian elaboration of the term phantasy is in line with Freud, because it exemplifies the primacy of psychical reality. Freud 'showed that the inner world of the mind has a continuous living reality of its own, with its own dynamic laws and characteristics, different from those of the external world' (p81). Unconscious phantasy is part of the primary process: 'The earliest and most rudimentary phantasies, bound up with sensory experience, and being affective interpretations of bodily sensations are naturally characterised by those qualities which Freud described as belonging to the "primary process": lack of coordination of impulse, lack of sense of time, of contradiction, and of negation...no discrimination of external reality...all or none responses' (p88). In Klein, the Freudian notion of the hallucinated satisfaction, to which we have already referred, is simply extended. Now, according to Isaacs, 'there is no impulse, no instinctual urge or response which is not experienced as unconscious phantasy' (p81). Many of these urges conflict, but, as we would expect in the primary process, they can 'exist together, side by side in the mind, even though they be contradictory; just as in a dream, mutually exclusive wishes may exist and be expressed together' (p82). These phantasies in their most archaic forms have an omnipotent character.

The infant, 'not only feels: "I want to", but implicitly phantasies "I am doing" this and that to his mother: "I have her inside me", and when he wants to. The wish or the impulse, whether it be love or hate, libidinal or destructive, tends to be felt as actually fulfilling itself, whether with an external or internal object... This omnipotent character of early wishes and feelings links with Freud's views about hallucinatory satisfaction in the infant' (p82-3). Furthermore, she points out that what Freud refers to as a primary introjection in 'Instincts and their Vicissitudes' (1915a), the taking in of the object of pleasure into the ego, would now come under the rubric of unconscious phantasy.

It will be clear so far, that Isaacs believes (contrary to Mitchell) that unconscious phantasies are part of the primary process and the system unconscius. They are dynamically repressed and part of the subject's history. Archaic phantasies persist in the unconscious and reappear in the transference. The past becomes re-lived in the present. So from this we cannot deduce, as Mitchell seems to, that the Kleinian subject has no history. Unconscious phantasies are clearly structures in the unconscious, which,'from the beginning',according to Isaacs,'are bound up with an actual, however limited and narrow experience of objective reality' (p86) (italics mine).

We could emphasise, following early Freud and Lacan, that these phantasies are "inscriptions" arranged in mnemic systems. However biological and close to the fundamental drives they may be. these phantasies are biographical and registered in some way, so that they do indeed persist as structures in the unconscious. Isaacs states, 'The first bodily experiences begin to build up the first memories, and external realities are progressively woven into the texture of phantasy. Before long the child's phantasies are able to draw upon plastic images as well as sensations - visceral, auditory, kinaesthetic, touch, taste, smell images, etc. And these plastic images and dramatic representations of phantasy are progressively elaborated along with articulated perceptions of the external world' (p86) (Italics mine). Here, we can safely say, the unconscious is structured like a language. Although, Isaacs does point up the different emphasis when she says 'Phantasies do not, however, take origin in articulated knowledge of the external world; their source is internal, in the instinctual impulses' (p87).

Therefore Mitchell's, claim that the Kleinian conception of psychosis is like Freud's early notion of the actual neuroses, that 'For Klein, the past and the present are one' (p27), seems spurious and exaggerated. She is right in so far as the raw instinctual impulses have not been subjected to alpha-function, and therefore have not been structured in the unconscious. In theory, at least, they remain on the border of the psyche - immensely troublesome split-off beta-elements, fit only for evacuation because they cannot be contained. But when does a structure not become a structure? How far back do we go? Or how much splitting has to occur before we decide that we have so little structure left that we might as well give up the notion?

A proper Oedipus?

Mitchell appeals to the Oedipus complex as being the structuring moment in the history of the individual. But the Name-of-the-father begins to structure the infant at an early stage, in so far as the mother is the first representative of the big Other, and as she changes from being the symbiotic mother of fusion, to being the symbolic mother of separation.

But there is, let us agree with Mitchell, an unstructured, inchoate, more or less biological, affectively laden residue - a psychotic core - as Bion would have it, which is pre-subjective, and which is at the heart of the Kleinian approach. However, we are always on this borderline. And a Kleinian analysis always takes place on this border - trying to bring order or structure into this chaos, trying to articulate what heretofore has never been articulated, trying to field the beta-elements. It is incorrect and misleading to denigrate the Kleinian approach as being preoccupied with the subjects Imaginary, as simply, 'a two-way process from inner to outer and back again' (Mitchell, p29). For the analysis takes place in the domain of the Symbolic. Speech is the 'third term', and for Kleinians it is linked with the arrival of the 'depressive position'. The analysis constantly historicizes or alpha-betizes the here and now immediacy of the transference/counter-transference dialectic. A Kleinian analysis does reconstruct a hypothetical past, in the same way as a Freudian analysis does, except that because of the discoveries and elaborations developed by Klein and others, it has more data with which to work - pre-Oedipal structures to uncover, as well as the as-yet-to-be-structured raw sense data of the unrepressed of presubjective unconscious.

Lacan, indeed, acknowledged that the Kleinian approach does fulfill this structuring function. Felman (1987) highlights this, referring to Melanie Klein's analysis of the autistic little boy called Dick. Klein creates Dick's unconscious and thus enables him to speak. Felman notes that 'for Dick, then the unconscious is the discourse of the Other since it is quite literally, constituted by Klein's discourse...because she is herself inhabited by the discourse of the Other...The practitioner speaks out of her own unconscious, out of her own inscription into language' (p124-5). This last point is crucial. The Kleinian restructuring, like the Lacanian restructuring, during the analytic process is unconscious, in so far as the analyst speaks from the position of the big Other. But the Kleinian approach could also include a conscious restructuring as the patient achieves conscious insights. Alpha-function is not solely an unconscious process. So the Kleinian approach supports the Imaginary, while at the same time, having an unconscious effect. It is true that Klein's discoveries have, emphasised the pre-Oedipal, and that this appears like a marginalizing of the pivotal role that Freud always maintained for the Oedipus complex. But it could equally well be stated that Klein has highlighted the necessity of Oedipus without it is true, emphasizing the importance of the Name-of-the-Father. Accession to the depressive position, which begins in the first year, is the introduction of the third term.

To be sure, as Mitchell has commented, the early superego and the 'combined parent figure', remain in the Imaginary and are too intensely aggressively coloured to act as third term, but they nevertheless remain the precursors of the symbolic father of Oedipus. The coming together of the intensely loved and hated imaginary figures, the integration of these during the depressive position, amounts to the acceptance of separation and an accession to the Symbolic. The giving up of these incestuous cathexes amounts to a fundamental structuring of the psyche and a relegation of them to a repressed unconscious domain, as Freud envisaged. But the structuring is not set in concrete, as it were, and is always more or less open to renewed attack, a denaturing by the unsymbolized and split-off beta elements derived from the death instinct. Hence Bion's (1963) positioning of a potential, at least, oscillation between the paranoid/schizoid and the depressive position (Ps-D).

Regression to the present? 

As I have made clear, Kleinians emphasise the repressed unconscious, but also they have recognised the psychotic core as it continuously manifests itself in the clinical setting. This core is ever-present, at least potentially, as the unsymbolized Real. It is therefore not correct here to speak of regression, except in so far as we are dealing with an archaic structure like, say, an oral fixation inscribed in the unconscious. This is part of a genuine past, and as such we can 'go back to it' in the transference. It is therefore not psychosis proper, because there is a subject. But when we witness, in the session, the evacuation of these beta-particles which at the very least threaten to disrupt the analyst's normal functioning, we are closer to the psychotic process, which, in some degree at least, escapes the subject. It is the inchoate, and excessively split-up nature of the psychotic core, which demands containment, that gives the Kleinian approach, with its emphasis on the totality of the transference, its immediacy and efficacy. Yes, in a Kleinian analysis, we are in the presence of this mad infant/patient, which is always, at least potentially present. In this sense therefore we cannot speak meaningfully in terms of a regression to the past. But in so far as we are dealing with an archiac structure, and this is a moot point as I have illustrated, we can speak of regression. So, to conclude, we should take Mitchell's points seriously, but agree with Hinshelwood that Klein extends and elaborates Freud's formulations. Klein takes us further back into the structured past, to a point where structure almost ceases to be a meaningful concept, and where we witness the often extreme anxieties involved in the birth of a subject.


Bion, W. (1963) Elements of Psychoanalysis.Heinemann. Maresfield, 1989.
Felman, S (1987) Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight.  Harvard University Press.
S. Freud. S. (1915a) 'Instincts and their Vicissitudes' SE.14.109-140.
S. Freud. S. (1915b) 'The Unconscious' SE 14, 159-215.
Hinchelwood. R.(1989) A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought. Free Association Books.
Isaacs, S. (1948) 'The Nature and Function of Phantasy'. IJPA 29. 73-97.
Laplanche, J. and Pontalis J.  (1973) The Language of Psychoanalysis.Hogarth.
J-B Mitchell. J. (1986) The Selected Melanie Klein. Penguin. pp9-34.



Psychoanalysis and the Night. 2002 in The Letter. No 24:99-110.

‘If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it...A book must be an ice-axe to break the sea frozen inside us’ (1)

The contract binding the word and the world, the Covenent between logos and cosmos, held until the late nineteenth century in Europe and Russia.  The break-up of this linkage virtually defines Modernity itself.  Psychoanalysis was central in this endgame.   Freud, after all, was called the “demoraliser” by Karl Kraus, the influential Viennese satirist of the time.  We have entered what Steiner ominously calls the “after-word”. 

There are two key quotations around which I want to situate some developing thoughts: 

1) ‘If thought is not measured by the extremity that eludes the concept, it is from the outset in the nature of the musical accompaniment with which the SS like to drown out the screams of its victims.’(2)

2) ‘[J]ust as terror, and abjection that is its doublet, must be excluded from the regime of the community, so it must be sustained and assumed, singularly, in writing as its condition.’(3) 

Later we will take up where this extreme that must measure our thinking, or this horror that must be a condition of our writing, can be located in our enclave, so to speak, of psychoanalysis. Fundamentally, this thinking or writing the extreme is an ethical question for us.

But firstly, Bill Richardson asked two critical questions about the ethics of psychoanalysis4 that have not been taken up.  (A) While the analyst’s desire is necessarily constrained, ‘If the measure of the analysand’s desire is desire itself as metonymied through language, how are other essential ingredients in the analysand’s life (for example, the needs, demands, desires, legitimate rights of other subjects - like spouse, children - dependants of any kind) to be factored in as limits to the analysand’s desire?’(5) (B) Given the fact that the subject is so often described as fleeting, fading or vanishing, he asks, ‘How can so fleeting a subject abide long enough to accept responsibility for anything, that is, be an ethical subject at all?’(6)  

Richardson’s last word: ‘Without an accountable subject, there is no ethics, and an ethics of psychoanalysis no more than chimera.  The whole enterprise would have to be rethought, then - or call itself something else’(7)

The current emphasis on the signifier in psychoanalysis and cultural theory generally, while being correct and irrufutable, in the context of “there is no outside of language”,  involves  an inescapable moral relativity and in-difference which excludes “the extreme” in advance.  The extreme is clearly a value judgement, therefore part of a Master discourse, which needs to be deconstructed. Who authorises themselves to say such and such is extreme?  Like, who says this fighter is a “terrorist”?

The marginalisation of  affectivity, by the pre-eminence given to the signifier, narrows our field by leaving aside all the great ethical dilemmas to do with affect - namely, hate, narcissism, conflict, ambivalence, apathy, separation, unbinding, anxiety and suffering. 

Has psychoanalysis retreated into the University and the Institute, whose well planned courses buy its (text)books, whose loyal analysts conduct that marvellous contradiction in terms, the so-called “training analysis”?  A deeply transferential  atmosphere is created where independent or even different thinking is discouraged, parodied or ridiculed and where an academic elite vie for control and interpretation of the sacred texts. This has been the history of psychoanalysis.  Needless to say, I am not advocating any dumbing down, any less academic rigour, but more in the way of  “free association” (of ideas and people), more tolerance of what Heidegger in his work on language refers to as a “wandering”, a “gathering”, a “lighting”, a “being on the way”.

We are within language before all else.  The unity of language is referred to by Heidegger as “design”.  The “sign” in design relates to secare to cut.  To design is to cut a trace, like cutting a furrow in the soil to open it to seed and growth8.   This  metaphor of opening, a clearing in the forest, so that something can be presented or shown, recurs in Heidegger’s writings.  A Way is made across a snow covered field, i.e. transitively, way-making, being the way (Ereignis appropriating).  Language is the flower of the mouth in which the World is made to appear.  And it is the “Saying” rather than the Said that is the lighting-concealing-releasing offer of the world.   The world appears and at the same time hold itself in reserve.

the Differend
Set against this Heideggerian free engagement with the openness of Being, our descent into poststructualist language games, splits, dissensus and the so-called Differend. Threat is in the air.  Loyalty and tribe are what counts on the ground. We suffer this in Ireland as elsewhere. 

There is said to be a Differend when a conflict between two parties cannot be resolved or judged fairly due to the lack of a rule of judgement which applies equally to both parties.  The victim is one who has suffered a wrong yet lacks any means with which to prove his case.  Lyotard’s example is with marxist theory itself, which ‘thus presented itself not as one party in a suit, but as judge, as the science in possession of objectivity, thereby placing the other in the position of stupor or stupidity...incapable of making itself understood, unless it borrowed the dominant idiom - that is, unless it betrayed itself’(9)

What emerges here for us at the extreme is that a failure to think or write the extreme, returns as the acting out of  extremism, the same old icy intolerance and hatreds.

lost ethos
There are problems for the humanities in general, as well as psychoanalysis in particular.  A) The emphasis on the “text” has lead to a gulf opening between the text and historical reality, however problematic such a “reality” now is.  B) The deconstruction of authorship, of the “I”, has led to a  de-coupling of aesthetics and ethics with a devasting losses to both.  C) A somewhat idealized notion of Western civilisation still persists, derived from the nineteenth century - high levels of literacy, freedom, the rule of Law, the advancement of science, the bourgeois excessively consumerist life-style, should be seen against the real of structural poverty, suffering and violence.  For these reasons, the humanities may have become inhumane and are failing before the Night of the extreme and the horror. 

Heidegger, in his well known “Letter on Humanism”, wants thinking, freed from technique, from technical application, to be thinking as the engagement of Being, where the “of” goes both ways: thinking is of Being; thinking belongs to Being.  Heidegger indicates that our thinking has become stranded on dry land: ‘Thinking is judged by a standard that does not measure up to it.  Such judgement may be compared to the procedure of trying to evaluate the essence and powers of a fish by seeing how long it can live on dry land’(10)   Such dessicated thinking gives rise to various competing “-isms” and what Heidegger refers to as the devastation of language and its instrumental use for domination over human beings which he says undermines aesthetic and moral responsibility and is a threat to the essense of humanity because it does not realise the proper dignity of man.  Heidegger regards man as the “shepherd” and “good neighbour” who guards the truth of Being. This forgetting of the truth is termed “ensnarement” [Verfallen], which lead to homelessness and the oblivion of Being.  For Heidegger, we have lost our home, our ethos, which means our dwelling place, our habitat, our natural abode.

Yet what troubles Steiner and indeed all of us is Heidegger’s 1933 and 1934 pronouncements and his complete silence on the Holocaust after 1945.   In Steiner’s 1989 Armistice Day sermon in King’s College Chapel, Steiner speaks of the Death Camps and the appalling aporia that opens when, ‘men and women, apparently sane, could flog and incinerate guiltless victims during their working day and recite Rilke and play Schubert...in the evening’(11) ‘One of the principal works that we have in the philosophy of language...was composed almost within earshot of a death camp’(12).

Responding to Richardson’s questions on the ethics of psychoanalysis, Freud uniquely created a special form of cultural space in which one is listened to with what Nina Coltart calls ‘bare attention’. However, with this special emphasis on listening to the other, which as Antony Giddens has suggested forms the protypical nucleus of our liberal democratic forms, the absolute freedom implied has it become indifferent to the wider culture.  Does it have a responsibility to the wider culture in terms of supporting its institutions.

Does our preoccupation with language, for instance, serve as a disengagement from the being of the other and with what Klauber calls a loss of dramatic tension necessary in the process?  Is what Levinas calls our “pre-originary suceptibility” allowed to radically and anarchically energize the discourse?  Or is this potentially explosive immediacy of the other blocked completely by the mediating effects of speech and technique?

Ethics in this radical sense is not a question of analytic style.  For Levinas, the ethical is not an attitude one assumes or adopts, or leaves out.  It undercuts all assumptions. Ethics like language is something we undergo. We are in  Ethics just as we are in language.   So, with Richardson, does the whole psychoanalytic project need to be rethought?  Without some ethical struggle towards right and wrong, truth and honesty, the genuine and the sincere, however problematic and shifting these values now are, psychoanalysis is just a game or indeed a cult, perhaps a smart career move, but not a serious activity.

Here is a narrative demonstration of this ethical undergoing, in which a young man comes to a certain realisation:-  

One by one they come knocking at your door.  They cry out, they beg you for help and you say: get them away from me...these people who come with these ridiculous stories.....I've always loved people who enjoy good meals, who look forward to watching good performances....  I've struggled hard to get what I have, but my struggle has always been against others.  In fact I have been struggling against the ones who are poor...I'm not on their side, and that too is a choice I am making. What will be home?  My own bed, my night table, then on the table, what?, then on the table, what?  blood, death, a fragment of bone, a piece of a human brain, a severed hand.  Let everything filthy, everything vile, sit by my bed, where once I had my lamp and clock, books, letters, presents for my birthday, left-over from the presents, bright coloured ribbons.  Forgive me. Forgive me.  I know you'll forgive me.  I'm still falling. I’m still falling......’(13).
three ethical levels
There are three incompatible ethical levels.  The first, the level of the autonomous subject, the Aristotelian or Kantian level of the “Ought”, which informs codes of ethics for psychological practitioners, for instance. It also informs the values that underpin our liberal democracies.  Secondly, at the level of desire itself, the ethics of the extreme. My not giving ground to my desire in an otherwise glacial universe of the impersonal Other -  the narcissistic imperative?  My answer, my response.  But where are the needs of the larger community?

Finally, there is a third level, the level of  an a priori openness to the other, face to face, prior to any possible signification.  Thus a radical ex-posure which faces the impossible, the world as evil.  For Levinas,  the power of ethics is entirely other to the power of identity, the power of the first two levels above.  It escapes and explodes any synthesising, centralising forces of the ego.  This third level of ethics unseats all essences and totalities.  Ethics is anarchic and violent, it cuts through any provisional codes. It stares at us accusingly though the naked destitution of face of the other against which there is no defence and no escape only an illusory well being.  It shatters any sense of ethical complacency.  For Levinas, ethics is the first philosophy.

Therefore, what is ethical is violent.  This accusation which leaves me devastated by its violating effraction requires the protective intervention of the third that comes between that face and me.  The third is the Law which mediates what is im-mediate and forbids the latent violence bound up with this excessive presence of Being.  However, the Law creates a cover which the ethical will repeatedly blow open in its infinite negativity.  The Law is secondary, distilled from the infinite proximity of the primary relation, and by its birth perjures (parjure)(14) itself.  Calculations, comparisons, codes, language, (psychoanalytic) technique cut across, violate the absolutely unique encounter of the face to face.  The other, therefore, is marginalised, he ceases to exist.

How can psychoanalysis retain some trace of this effraction, this infinite response-ability for the other, or this absolute proximity of Being?    Not by being more caring, empathetic or sympathetic.  Not by making any assumptions about what the other needs.  There is no new skill we must develop or position we must adopt.  This ethics is never something we can be.

Levinas’ ethics parallels the primary repression of the erotic for psychoanalysis that founds the subject, desire and the Law.  Just as the foreclosed erotic will haunt the subject, so, therefore, will the ethical.   Freud’s myth of the murder of the Father of prehistory is an ever present crime.  This primordial trauma that grounds history and the Law, creating an illusion of peace and stability, comes at a cost of a permanent sense of accusation and discontent.  Just as the law is the inverse of desire, so it is also the inverse of the ethical.  

The account of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac illustrate at the most extreme point this paradox of the ethical.  Abraham is willing to sacrifice Isaac in absolute obedience to God, but in a secret betrayal of all reason, law and morality.  A father is ready to put to death his loving son because the Other asks or orders him without any explanation.   Abraham is faithful to God only via his absolute treachery to his family and to all human values.  As Derrida says, ‘I offer a gift of death’ everytime duty or responsibility bind me specifically to an other in his or her singularity.  Consequently, I am bound to betray others, an infinite number of them.  ‘As soon as I enter into a relation with the other, with the gaze, look, request, love, command, or call of the other, I know I can respond only by sacrificing ethics, that is, by sacrificing whatever obliges me to also respond, in the same way, in the same instant, to all the others’(15).   Furthermore, I can never justify or excuse my sacrifice:  why I respond here and not there, to this other and not that other.  I have nothing to say about it.  Nothing can be said about it.

At the last moment, when Abraham has said to God, “Here I am”, and with the knife poised over Isaac, God reprieves Abraham: “Lay not thine hand upon the lad...for now I know that thou fearest God.” (Genesis 22:12).  Abraham is both absolutely responsible and irresponsible at the same time.  As Derrida comments, ‘[He] speaks to us of the paradoxical truth of our responsibility and of our relation to the gift of death of each instant’(16).  Furthermore, it exemplifies its own status as essentially secretive, beyond words.

Psychoanalysts can never be complacent about their work as if it is something well done productive and complete, or, on the other hand, nihilistic and distant about an impossible real of suffering.  And against the tendency to fetishize theory, the analyst is caught on every boundary: of responsibility and irresponsibility; of being in the Clearing on the Way and in the Night; haunted by the ethical, by an unacknowledged yet irrufutable guilt about the other and ourselves. 

If we turn to the wider contemporary context of atomisation and decadence. The Czech philosopher, Jan Patocka, defines decadence: ‘A life can be said to be decadent when it loses its grasp on the innermost nerve of its functioning process, when it is disrupted at its innermost core so that while thinking itself full it is actually draining and laming itself with every step and act.  A society can be said to be decadent if it so functions as to encourage a decadent life, a life addicted to what is inhuman by its very nature’(17).  And Patocka was a victim of this same inhumanity when he was tortured and murdered by the Stasi.  Is psychoanalysis itself decadent as it encourages just this loosening of the grasp, a paradoxical “liberation”, the subversion of the Master discourse, the movement from symbolic consistency to its excremental remainder?    

the death drive
Nowhere is this question more critical than with Freud’s elaboration of his speculative theory of the death drive.  When Freud posited the death drive as a defining principle, he re-set the agenda for the psychoanalysis beyond humanism (and left most of his followers behind). He was implicitly taking account of the extreme, terror and abjection. Freud, potentially at least, was becoming the “fist hammering” or the “ice-axe breaking”.  The good, the rational, the linear is always to be subverted, indeed is predicated upon, the hidden entropic principle, that is mute, silent, does not reveal itself.   Behind discourse, death. Behind the lament, death. There is no signifier for death in the unconscious, so death and its drive will always be Other.  Always outside representation and therefore more present than anything else. As the Isreali writer Amos Oz declares, life is pregnant with death.   The death drive is a singularity, pure and irredeemable, a radical evil that potentialy ends all regenerative cycles.  Here there is no duplicity, no simulation, no chimera, everything is resolved and transparently clear.  To be alive, on the other hand, is to be eccentric, ek-isting, off centre, where the epicentre is the death drive itself, the inhumane.  All life is distorted by this singularity and spins haphazardly into movement, into activity at all costs because if it. Here is Freud the heretic at the extreme, where the screams of the victims are not drowned out.  The death drive is the Night.

For Zizek, though, this reading of the death drive hypothesis is too extreme and essentialist.  ‘My contention is that the Freudian death drive, which has nothing whatsoever to do with some “instinct” that pushes us towards (self-)destruction’(18) is he will suggest a “derangement” linked to the so-called fundamental fantasy and the primarily repressed, or in Heideggerian terms, the concealment (lethe) in the very heart of truth (aletheia).

From this point of view the death drive is like the yeast in the dough of the suffocatingly good lawful life. The death drive is a necessary ‘radical evil’ that supports the stability of a gentrified Eros grown predictable and deathlike.  For Zizek, evil itself comes in the shape of religious and ethnic fundamentalists, where the obscene Father of prehistory re-emerges from behind the (increasingly PC) Law, with his superego command to Enjoy!  Rape, murder, incest.  Enjoy!

Has psychoanalysis become indifferent in its coldness (or its softness) and the radical ethical position an impossible complication along the road to the fetishisation of desire, of das Es, the inhuman.   Yet, beyond psychoanalysis, beyond the unconscious, desire and freedom and the transvaluation of values, looms the ultimate metadiscourse, the base sequence of the genetic code, and a new base molecular ethics. All ethical codes will be replaced by the genetic code.  The psychoanalytic insistence on the subject and its recent and paradoxical self-immolation (the death of the subject), has ironically prepared the way for  psycho-therapy to be swept away by geno-therapy.  No more, the metaphorical translation of the unconscious, but instead,  the metonymical transcription of the genome;  no longer the guilt of  having given ground relative to one’s desire, but the bio-ethical paramilitary imperative: to act in conformity with your genes.  The ineluctable and the smart move, will be away from the approximation and inefficiency of  “psychic cleansing” and “emotional intelligence” towards the pure eugenic and final form: “genetic cleansing” and “artificial intelligence”.

1. Kafka: quoted in Scott. N and Sharp. R, Reading George Steiner, 1994. The John Hopkins University Press, London and Baltimore p159.
2. Adorno, T.  Negative Dialectics, trans. E.B. Ashton. New York: Continuum 1973:365. 
3. Lyotard. J-F, Postmodern Fables. Editions Galilee. Paris. 1993, trans George Van Den Abbeele, University of Minnesota Press, 1997, p210, italics mine.
4. In this paper, Richardson takes as his starting point the ethical dilemmas posed by Kierkegaard’s consideration of Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter, Iphegenia, and Abraham’s offering up of Isaac as a sacrifice.  He then moves to the Socratic notion of ‘living honourably’, and then  following Lacan in his seminar, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1959-60), he turns to Aristotle and Kant. For Aristotle it is eudaimonia - to be blessed with a guiding spirit towards the supreme good, accepting that this involves finitude, choice, reason and accountability.  For Kant, in The Critique of Pure Reason, duty is the key, the “categorical imperative” of conscience which is rigorous and unconditional in its demand for obedience to the universal law and reason.  According to Richardson, the nub of Kantian ethics is: ‘Act in such a way as to respect humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never only as a means’(p20).   He goes on to ask if the ethics of psychoanalysis is anything more than a general ethics applied to the psychoanalytic situation.   For psychologists the emphasis is on responsibility for professional expertise towards the community but especially the dignity, rights, autonomy, confidentiality of the client.  The American Psychoanalytic Association has a similar code of practice.  Freud, himself does not refer to an ethics of psychoanalysis.  Lacan alone claims that Freud’s project was fundamentally an ethical one, namely, a radical ethics of (unconscious) desire: ‘Have you acted in conformity with the desire that is in you?’ (Lacan 1959-60, p311).  The ethical tradition has always considered the human subject as autonomous.  No ethics, however, has taken on board the unconscious as Freud conceived it, or, the subject as barred (by the signifier) as Lacan elaborated. Here, psychoanalysis is based on a basic respect for the patient’s right to resist domination.
5. The Letter no 14, 1998, p25.  
6. Ibid, p26
7. Ibid. p26
8. Heidegger, On The Way to Language. Trans. Peter Hertz.  New York: HarperCollins 1971 see pp70 and 121 
9. Lyotard, J-F.  The Differend: Phrases in Dispute.  Trans. Georges van de  Abbeele.  Manchester University Press,   1988, p61.  Italics mine.
10. Basic Writings: Martin Heidegger Ed. David Farrell Krell, London. Routledge 1993, p219.
11. Cambridge Review 111, March 1990,  p37
12. Steiner quoted in Reading George Steiner, p188.   
13. Extract from the end of  "Fever",a prose poem, written and performed by Wallace Shaun, directed by Owen O'Callaghan,  BBC. Radio 4. 1996. 
14. The English word, “perjury”, carries with it an almost wilful intent to lie or mislead, whereas the French, parjure, implies the breaking of any oath, obligation, faith or trust whether intentional or not.  In this sense the Law deceives not accidentally or intentionally, but intrinsically.
15. Derrida, J.  The Gift of Death. Transition. Paris 1992. Trans. David Wills. University of Chicago Press. Chicago and London. 1995, p68.  
16.  Ibid. p79.
17. Patocka, J.  Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History. Czech Academy of Science 1990. Trans Erazim Kohak. Open Court. Illinois. 1996, p97, italics mine. 
18. Zizek, S.  The Fragile Absolute.  2000. Verso. London and New York. p82.


The proximity of the other. Psychoanalysis and Levinas(1).

Paper given at the Dublin Lacanian conference.  November 25th   2000.

Abstract: This paper attempts to demonstrate the importance of  the work of Levinas for an ethics of psychoanalysis that transcends ideological difference.  Firstly, the role of  language in psychoanalysis and the construction of subjectivity is stressed. Secondly, the work of Bion and the containment of anxiety.  However, beyond these “positions”, there remains the impossible proximity of the other as singularity, for whom, according to Levinas, I am responsible without limit.   For Levinas, as for Freud, the subject is not one, but instead, open, gaping, exposed between being and nothingness, a diachrony, which language, the Law and philosophical systems in general, dissimulate and betray.  Technique saves the analyst from this proximity of the “client” but at once becomes cynical  and complacent, unless it remains haunted by its own resistance to the other, indeed its own failure.
Post-Lacan, no one could dispute the central place that language holds in the practice of psychoanalysis.  The son of alcoholic parents talks about “bottling-up” his feelings; the man whose father is a womaniser dreams of “raking” the autumn leaves.  A French analyst reports that his patent dreams of giving him “six roses”.  The patient’s father had died of “cirrhosis” of the liver.  A woman who has troublingly missed her period dreams of a newspaper “being read all over”.  The significance of the word “rat” for the Ratman is multiple (Freud 1909).  The rat, the biting dirty little animal, the rat/children lured away by the Pied Piper of Hamelin, heiraten meaning to marry, raten meaning instalments, or the payments to Freud for sessions ‘so many florins, so many rats’, spielratte (a play-rat, a gambler, as his father was), rat equals penis the carrier of infections and diseases, rats burrow into the anus, anal erotism and the pleasurable itching of worms in his childhood, the rat that runs over his father grave, the biting rat (as a child he had bitten someone), and so on.  More condensation is at work in the description of the “May-beetle dream” (Freud 1900: 289-92), where a may-beetle was crushed by the closing of a window.  The dreamers associations were: a moth had drowned in a tumbler of water the night before, her daughter’s cruelty to insects, the plague of may-beetles, her birthday was in May, as was her wedding.  At the time of her dream, her husband was away and she had the involuntary thought aimed at her husband: “Go hang yourself”.  Earlier she had read that a man who is hanged gets an erection. Get an erection at any price. The dreamer was aware that the most powerful aphrodisiac is prepared from crushed beetles. And so on as we trace out the weaving, the inter-weaving, the cross hatching, the multiple determinations that surround any utterance.

We read from the book (Whelan, 2000), that was launched recently here in Dublin, about Ella Sharpe’s encounter with an adolescent girl, who was threatened with expulsion from her school because of a very sexually explicit letter she had written.  Ella Sharpe took her into treatment and reported she spoke only about ‘superficialities’ during the early sessions, but was observed constantly playing with her hands.  Sharpe risked an interpretation concerning masturbation, to which the girl objected strongly, telling her at the next session the next day, in no uncertain terms,  that her mother would be seeking a meeting with the analyst very soon.  Feeling uncomfortable, increasingly threatened by this attack, Sharpe does a piece of self-analysis (something we know that all analysts have to be able to do), whereby she comes to understand that the threat comes not so much from reality as from her own infantile superego, part of her countertransference.  What is not said either by her or the commentator on her work, is that such interpretations, reductive interpretations, take no account of the context, the language, even the sexual language that the patient uses.  Instead, they end up objectifying or even humiliating the patient who becomes oppressed by the alleged authority of the psychoanalytic “truth” with no right of appeal.

Ludovic Kennedy reported his first session with an analyst who apparently summed up everything by commenting that Kennedy was a repressed homosexual. Kennedy left never to return.

Another illustrative example (of the importance of language) comes from the Klein-Lacan Dialogues (2) during a discussion on the unconscious.  Joanna Swift talks about a young patient of hers, with whom she has a rather intense relationship, who wants to take grapes from the front of her house.  She reported stealing a bunch and putting one in her mouth, saying, ‘it was a sacrament’.  Swift replies, ‘My body, my blood’(Burgoyne and Sullivan, 1997, p170-171), playing on the language of the communion service.  Now, Swift is in supervision with a Kleinian supervisor. The supervisor asserted that the grapes were the nipple.  The patient’s story, narrative, was translated into the language of primal phantasy, whereas, what Swift already had was a chain of associations connecting the grapes with the girl’s father’s alcoholism, the past and a whole chain which was closed off by this emphasis on the breast/nipple.
This brings to mind the well known cliché, that the problem of arriving late for a session with your Kleinian analyst, is that you have already missed the first few interpretations!  But this is no joke, for in a certain sense there is no need for the patient to speak at all, as we are not interested in the signifiers which represent the subject, but in the biological/psychological mechanisms - splittings, projections, sub-selves, objects, etc., that are allegedly operative in the individual and her analyst, who allegedly has the expertise to pick them up.  This is the well known discourse of the master.  Here, lip service is paid to the “material”, sure enough, but its significance is down played in favour of psychological processes.

However, my long contemplation of Kleinian research has taught me not to be dismissive here. To me Bion’s work on psychotic anxieties and their containment rates as highly as any other analytic work or writing.  An analyst who does not have a theoretical and practical understanding of notions such as “containment” and  PS and D and their interaction, does not really encounter a patient or the gross deformities of his or her subjectivity shot through with rage or resentment.  It is only by permitting this “proximity” of the other in speech and, and this is a critical point, at the level of anxiety can an analytic encounter occur. 

But it can get worse, if this is the right word.  I have been in touch with a Dr Raine Krause who is one of the leading experts on affects.  His research has been involved in studying the micro-affective interaction of healthy subjects with patients classified as schizophrenic, psychosomatic and neurotic.  He sets about classifying the affective responses that occur during the interviews. This work has particular relevance for transference-countertransference affective scenarios.  I cannot do justice to this work here, but his overall aim has been to produce a “taxonomy of affects” that a psychotherapist might find very valuable.  The “lead affect” of contempt in the schizophrenic, for instance, together with her apparent lack of affect and cognitive content, fills the naive partner with anger and rage.   I asked him if he paid any attention to the content of the communications, already clear in my mind that “affective signals” are what are significant here, particularly those we have in common with our primate ancestors and our evolutionary past.

Clearly much is at stake here.  Nothing less than the subjectivity of the subject.  Who will listen to the subject, armed as we will soon be with the CD of our own personal genome, not so much the letter of the unconscious or the unconscious as structured like a language, but the translation and transcription of our DNA, nonetheless, and then there will be no need for anyone to listen.  It is widely predicted that biology and with it a new psycho-pharmacology will triumph in the new century.

The trouble with psychoanalysis (whether coming from Bion or from Lacan) is that it is caught up with systems - systems of language, signifiers, that merely re-present the subject, or, systems of interpretation which objectify her.  The radical otherness of the other becomes subordinated to the generality and totality of a system.  The other as other is excluded in advance.  This was perhaps not so for Freud for whom each patient was an exception, a singularity, hence his meticulous attention to all aspects of the patient’s  history and the patient’s suffering.  And it is this suffering, at once, unmediated and without meaning, that calls forth an ethical responsibility beyond any “code of ethics” (this is the main point of my paper).  Codes of ethics do nothing more than protect us from each other, they are protection rackets.  The ethical relation that Levinas refers to, is , as he says,  the first philosophy.  Levinas’s point is that ethics becomes subordinated to philosophical systems.  Here we should include psychoanalysis, with its schools, its institutes, its conservatism, which preclude, exclude this radical alterity of the other, in advance. 

Steven Gans, in a recent article, argues for a renewed ethical sensibility in Freudian practice.  ‘This would mean the analyst turning away from conceptual constructions and artificial groupings, and returning to the between of relatedness, in order to attend to the suffering of the other’ (Gans 1999, p214). This other, it must be clear, is neither the other of the specular relation, nor the impersonal Other of language, nor any eternal essence, but who, for Levinas, appeals or calls to me before I can assume any position.  I am caught by the absolute proximity of the other, before I can decide to give or withhold.  I am responsible for the other: both of us are open before we close off into the world.  This “for-the-other” is, according to Levinas, our originary condition of fraternity or solidarity from which all ethical systems and the Law arise.

the ego comes to be

But let us look at this “before” of subjectivity.  This is none other than the de-centred subject that preoccupied Freud.  The ego is constituted by “deferred action” (Nachtraglichkeit). First, there is the scene of seduction (by an adult) which at the time has no significance for the child.  The second event, superficially resembling the first, occurring during sexual awareness of puberty, has a traumatic effect retrospectively, drawing as it does on memory as well as current perceptions.  In the Wolf Man case, it was the wolf dream at the age of four that precipitated the phobia when his sexual excitations and researches reactivated, or as Freud makes clear, brought into deferred operation his observations of intercourse, the primal scene at the age of one and a half.

In Draft K to Fleiss, Freud states that ‘Hysteria necessarily presupposes a primary experience of unpleasure...of a passive nature....This first stage may be described as “fright hysteria”; its primary symptom is the manifestation of fright accompanied by a gap in the psyche’.   Freud goes on to state that repression and defensive measures only occur subsequently, ‘by the intensification of a boundary idea’.  Later, he says: ‘Should the traumatic event find an outlet for itself in a motor manifestation, it will be this that becomes the boundary idea and the first symbol of the repressed material.  There is thus no need to assume that some idea is being suppressed at each repetition of the primary attack; it is a question in the first instance of a gap in the psyche’ (Freud in Masson, 1985, p169).  In a letter nearly a year later, Freud wrote to Fleiss, ‘As you know I am working on the assumption that our psychic mechanism has come into being by a process of stratification: the.... memory traces being subjected from time to time to a rearrangement in accordance with fresh circumstances - to a retranscription. Freud speaks here of a number of registrations, perhaps three, corresponding to successive epochs of life.  at the boundary between two such epochs a translation of the psychic material must take place.  Repression is a failure of translation, in which case the primitive conditions persist, and so he says: ‘Thus an anachronism persists: in a particular province, fueros are still in force; we are in the presence of “survivals”. (ibid. p208).  These retranscriptions, retracings, regroupings of traces, and so on, make us think of memory as being the very opposite of a video library.

Similarly, the notion of screen memories implies also that memory is fictional, secondary and derivative. That is that every presentation of an alleged original memory is always already a re-presentation, indeed a screen.  ‘Memories relating to our childhood may be all we possess’. (Freud, 1899:321).

The ego itself is secondary.  For it to be constituted a ‘new psychical action’ (Freud 1914, SE. 14: 77) has to take place, the well known mirror stage.  The ego appears as a unity as compared to the anarchy of the sexual instincts, on the basis of an identification with another.

What is clear throughout Freud’s work is that the ego is there to inhibit the release of unpleasure.  Its secondary nature, as it were, is there to play for time, to regroup, to take stock, to create a credible story, to render an account, to get a life.  This is where the ethical sensibility of an analyst enters.  What the ego avoids, attempts to limit to a signal, defends itself against, is Freud’s mechanistic terms, unbearable quantities of excitation, automatic anxiety, or in more phenomenological terms, suffering.


Levinas makes clear that suffering, especially physical suffering, ‘entails the impossibility of detaching oneself from the instant of existence.  It is the very irremissibility of being...there is an absence of all refuge’ (Quoted in Hand, 1989, p39-40).  With no possibility of retreat, we are back up against being.  In one of his major works, Totality and Infinity, Levenas states that, ‘The whole acuity of suffering lies in the impossibility of fleeing it...being cut off from every living spring’ (Levinas, 1961, p238).  Although Levinas is talking about physical suffering and pain and the absolute proximity of it to the sufferer, Freud, in his Adenda C to Inhibition, Symptoms and Anxiety, links physical and mental pain.  He says, ‘Yet it cannot be for nothing that the common usage of speech should have created the notion of internal, mental pain and have treated the feeling of loss of object as equivalent to physical pain’ (p85).  Physical pain is marked by a narcissistic cathexis, whereas mental pain is marked by an intense object cathexis.  Freud goes on, ‘The continuous nature of the cathectic process and the impossibility of inhibiting it [its proximity in Levenas’ terms] produce the same state of mental helplessness’ (p86).

This radical helplessness means that ultimately suffering remains outside and beyond any integrating process or theory.  It cannot be assimilated, appropriated or grasped because it is a suffering for nothing, to no purpose, to no meaning.   For Levinas, ‘Suffering is pure undergoing’ (Levinas, 1991, p92), more passive than any free choice of receptivity, prior to any openness of being, any assumed passivity, suffering is pure submission.   The meaninglessness, this malignancy, waste and absurdity at the heart of suffering, explodes the whole notion of redemptive suffering, much beloved by the therapy industry and soft religions, which everywhere assert that suffering has meaning, may be obscure and deep, but meaning nevertheless, as part of some “grand design”.  This is what Terry Eagleton asserts is an “angelic discourse”, where everything connects, everything is good and harmonious (it only may appear not to be  so).   Milan Kundera will refer to this kind of rhetoric, as  “shitless discourse”, where, in our terms here, the shit which therapy must clean up is just this irreducible and unspeakable excess of nonsense over sense, gratuitous suffering, designated by Freud as the death drive. 

Suffering is exposure, openness, without holding back. Freud, as we have noted, refers to the gap in being.  Levinas refers to “diachrony”, which prevents the ego from joining with itself in the same.  Instead, the non-recovery, the continuous opening of the subject to outrage, wounding, sickness and ageing.  This pre-original passivity is the obscure source of our sense of being exploited or victimised (at work, in relationships, etc). I feel victimised by the other, therefore I blame the other out there - racism, sexism, violence, rape, etc.  But the other as radical unknown is always already too close, chaos, disturbance, the active abyss, the unreality and insubstantiality of a me, who therefore will take on any uniform, any strong ideology, simply to be, simply to be hard and firm. Like the slogan of a men’s magazine: ‘Works hard; plays hard; stays hard’.   

In his recent meditation on time, Updike comments on the self: ‘All this superfine scaffolding for what?  The erection for a few shaky decades of a desperately greedy ego that tramples through the microcosmic underbrush like a blinding lamenting giant’ (Updike, 1997, pp189-190).  And against the anachronism of the ego, there is time:  ‘It’s time that does it.  It turns you from eleven to sixty-six in what feels to you like a twinkling.  Once gone, time leaves no trace.  It’s out there in space, out of reach’ (ibid, p202)   Similarly, for  Levinas (he is very close to Freud here), ‘the diachronic past cannot be recuperated by representation effected by memory or history.... is, incommensurable with the present (essence that begins and ends), [becomes] an unassumable passivity.  ‘”Se passer” - to come to pass - is for us a precious expression in which the self (se) figures as in the past that bypasses itself, as in ageing without “active synthesis”’ (Levinas, 1981, p14).  Things appear in time and consciousness, manifest themselves, as it were, ‘independently of the soundless space in which they seem to unfold in a mute world’ (p35).  Being leaves the night for an inextinguishable insomnia of consciousness. We cannot sleep easy, awake in the darkness through interminable hours, disturbed, restless, unbearably awake.  Diachrony is the sadness of the flowing away of things, which pass without being able to enter.
Therefore to return to our discussion of the psychoanalytic encounter, we are presented with an ethical problem: namely, language dissimulates. The translation into a text is always a betrayal of the pre-text.  The ethical structure, the first structure according to Levinas, is completely covered over by the exhibition of the world. Language assembles the dispersion of duration into nouns and propositions, lets being and entities be heard in all their equivocations. Appearance dissimulates or betrays being in its very disclosure. As Levinas says, ‘The unnarratable other loses his face as a neighbour in narration’ (p166).  Discourse absorbs all.  The said remains an insurmountable equivocation.  Language is already scepticism. Yet discourse recuperates meaning by repression (just violences).  It does not untie knots but cuts them and ties them again.     


For Levinas, there is between Being and Nothingness, between Being, as what manifests (things, entities, essences, as what appears, as what discloses) and, nothingness (the zero point), between these two there is fraternity or solidarity. Humanity, what he calls the excluded middle, the excluded from everywhere, excluded by every discourse, humanity occupies a “null site” between being and non-being.   Before I can speak, I am affected by the other, I am accused by the other.  Before I can choose to be ethical or unethical, I am chosen, by virtue of being human, by virtue of belonging.  There is no escape! 

Levinas, is against Cain, who asks, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’, asserting that indeed: ‘I am my brother’s keeper’.   I am responsible for his responsibility, infinitely.  Levinas asserts that Cain’s answer is basically limited and ontological (like the psychoanalytic position also): I am I and he is he, like the cover I can see on a Gestalt therapy text-book.  In big letters:  ‘I am I and you are you; if by chance we meet that’s beautiful’.  Separate beings in an ontological universe. As against, the one-for-the-other, where, as Levinas says: ‘The unity of the human race is in fact posterior to fraternity’ (1981, p166).  Consciousness of responsibility (originally infinite) is quite literally “ordered”, as in the priestly notion of being “ordained” or taking holy orders.

This is not a question of technique:  will I choose to be a caring analyst or not, or, how caring should I be?  This is not a question of giving into or not giving into demand, or pacifying or comforting the distressed patient.  Such notions are ethical “positions”, self-consciously taken by the therapist under the influence of this or that school.  It is also not a question that some clients (the use of this word says it all) are fragile and vulnerable and therefore in need of my special care and wise protection, or that some clients are strong and can speak.  Nor is it a question of Rogerian “unconditional love”, because what the ethical demands can never be any part of sloganising or therapeutic cliché.  The ethical cuts into discourse, with the “gaping open”, the exposure of exposure, the absolute proximity of the other in his unicity. The burden is infinite!  You are called, the finger is pointing at you, you cannot slip away, you cannot refuse, you cannot decline. Furthermore, this is an impossible call, one for which you are totally unprepared, untrained, which you can never foresee and yet one in which you are wholly implicated.

As Derrida has noted in his Adieu to Levenas, given at his funeral in December 1995, what has been bequeathed to us is an ‘immense treatise of hospitality’, where ‘the welcome welcomes beyond itself, where it must, in truth, always welcome more than it can welcome’ (Derrida, 1997, p59).

Into this impossibly burdensome hospitality without limit, comes the third.  Between you and me and my infinite responsibility to you, to save us from our own proximity, as it were, come the third person, in the shape of the law, language, discourse,  technique. The third party introduces the limit of  limitless responsibility, namely justice.  We are saved from the unbearable proximity of the other and the violence we might do him, by the Law.   The Law must come to be in the midst of proximity.  It is nothing, Levinas will say,  unless its is founded on this ethical sensibility which must always tear into the law, disrupt discourse, the synthetic, the unified and the satisfied, with the failure of re-covery.  Technique in psychoanalysis is our representation of the limit of the Law.  However, technique, without this unstated, unthematised possibility, without this accusatory haunting by the proximity of the other in her muted singularity, becomes both cynical and ideological. Psychoanalysis has indeed become “professional” with its clients, its trainings, its institutes, its promotional strategies, where the persecutory proximity of the other is put at a safe distance, domesticated within his containment or his representations. The other is the same.   Here the analyst can sleep easy in her resistance, untroubled by that insomnia of consciousness, that nameless dread of the ethical. 

1.  Levinas was contemporaneous with Lacan, but the two never met.  Levinas was suspicious of psychoanalysis, regarding it as unethical.  Levinas was born in Lithuania to Jewish parents, travelled to Strasbourg in 1923 to study the philosophy of Bergson, then in 1928 travelled to Freiburg to study with Husserl and Heidegger.  He was struck by the ontological analyses of guilt and anxiety in Heidegger and went on to develop a critique of Western philosophy (including phenomenology which he introduced into France) in its aspiration towards universal synthesis, preferring instead a thought that is open to the proximity of face of the other, which, in its unicity, cannot be subsumed into a totality.  The face becomes an ethical command which precedes any idea we might have about the other. Privileging the ‘saying’ over the ‘said’, Levinas strains to develop language forms which enable an ethical exchange with the other.
2. A series of meetings was held by THERIP during the academic year 1994-5 to debate the key issues in the theory and practice of Psychoanalysis within the Lacanian and Kleinian schools. The lectures took the form of panel discussions and were well attended by leading figures from both sides of the debate.


Derrida, J.  (1997) Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. Trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Stanford University Press
Freud, S. (1899) ‘Screen Memories’ S.E. III.301-322, London: Hogarth.
--------   (1900) The Interpretation of Dreams, SE IV-V.
--------   (1909) ‘Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis’, S.E. X. 151-249, London Hogarth
--------  (1914) ‘On Narcissism: an Introduction’ S.E. XIV. 67-102.
--------  (1918) ‘From a history of  an infantile Neurosis’ S.E. XVII.1-122.
--------  (1926) Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety. S.E. XX.77-175
Hand, S  ed. (1989) The Levinas Reader.  Oxford: Blackwell. 
Levinas, E (1961) Totality and Infinity.  Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittburgh: Duquesne University Press
----------  (1981) Otherwise than Being. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittburgh: Duquesne University Press
----------  (1991)  Entre Nous. Thinking-of-the-Other. Trans. Michael Smith and Barbara Harshaw.  London: Athlone press.
Whelan, M. ed. (2000) Mistress of Her Own Thoughts.  London: Rebus press.
Burgoyne, B and Sullivan, M. (1997)  The Klein-Lacan Dialogues. London: Rebus Press.
Gans, S. (1999) ‘Levinas and the question of the group’, in What is a Group? Ed. Chris Oakley, London: Rebus Press. pp204-221.
Masson, J  ed. (1985) The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess 1887-1904. The Belknap Pressof Harvard University Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England.
Updike, J (1997) Towards the End of Time.  London: Hamish Hamilton



THE UNIVERSE IS THERAPEUTIC.  (1)  Article in The Letter. Summer 2003, No. 28. pp23-37

Life in-sists before it ex-ists in signs

One no longer just goes for help. Instead, one enters a whole ideology of caring.

Therapy for every possible condition.  Soft, warm seduction - supportive, suggestive, hypnotic, congenial, client centred: we can heal your inner child - poetry and painting for the inner child.  Get in touch with your true feelings.  Co-dependent?  Co-dependent no more. This course will identify and clarify co-dependent behaviours and enable you to let go unhealthy and stressful behaviours.  Share things with us. The postmodern is therapeutic: a vast Americanisation of life and a commercialisation of human aspirations - all the signs of health.

Been abused as a child?  The group will offer you an opportunity to explore your own issues -  in relation to self, your body and to others.  Or, looking at issues affecting how women see themselves, the aim will be to empower women, to increase our self-worth, and to overcome shyness about our own bodies.  Remember: your body is beautiful. Focus on your own healing process.  The group offers a safe place to explore memories.  Use your power to improve relationships.  Experiment with new and more satisfying ways of relating.  Learn to befriend fear and learn what it has to teach us about ourselves. 
There is no aspect of modern life not catered for by some therapy.  Several hundred types of therapy, perhaps more.  All are now becoming accredited, professionally organised, professionally skilled, marketed, niche marketed. Undoubtedly, therapy has come to fill the place vacated by traditional religions, but, much more importantly, the place left by the end of the social.  Just as genuine commitment to friendship, fellowship and conviviality was being lost, there came an explosion of  “Public Relations”, agencies for the commercial promotion, management and exploitation of relationships at every level in every cultural sphere.  On all fronts, the destruction of personal ties and direct conversation with the other, in favour of the aggressive promotion of these through publications, glossy literature and videos, to “demonstrate our commitment...sincerity”.  In short, the therapeutic relationship was born.

With the growth and promotion of public relations, there was a parallel growth of its sister pathology: paranoid relations.  Mutual antagonism, suspicion and litigation haunt the devastated sites of the social: harassment, victimisation, abuse, bullying, unfair dismissal, miscarriages of all sorts(2).  With that, precautions, safeguards, security systems, documentation of intimate detail, recording, minitoring, under the imminent threat from the other who can turn from a friend and colleague to an enemy, according to the instantaneous logic of imaginary relations. Screens to watch over us, at work, at leisure, in the precinct, in the car, the caring gaze. 

Same games
There is no tradition, religious or secular that cannot be stripped of its contextual gravity, that is its absolute otherness to modernity, and exploited by the ruthless eclectic imperialism of modern therapy.  Myth, music, dance, painting,  Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity all purloined, and made to work in the service of self-expression and true communication.  These traditions, radically Other, are melted down, rendered, so that they can be marketed for a weekend workshop to ‘free creativity’ or ‘to get more in harmony with yourself’.

Consider holotropism (whole growth), for example, it boasts various shamanistic procedures, aboriginal healing ceremonies, the healing trance dance of the King bushman and other groups, rites of passage, psychedelic therapy, certain forms of hypnosis, other experiential psychotherapies, different spiritual practices including controlled breathing, music and other forms of sound technology, and focused bodywork.

One prestigious psychotherapy institute advertises its training.  The glossy pages of its prospectus are interspersed with “sayings” in ancient script format from, for instance, Kierkegaard, St Augustine, C.G. Jung, The Talmud, Kahil Gibran, Kant, Nietzsche, Emerson - all of whose thinking (in many cases profound) is reduced to the same vapid spiritual slogans. The trainees must absorb this spiritual kitsch: ‘One must have chaos within one to give birth to a dancing star’ (Nietzsche).  ‘The greatest loss, that of oneself, may pass unnoticed’ (Kierkegaard).  Language is manipulated to address the alleged narcissistic wounds of the consumers - beauty will grow inside us, we will flower, what is asleep will awaken within us, the majesty of the soul, the dreamer of dreams, the little child will sing, you will become a Radiant Warrior, soar to electrifying heights, Ascension, Chanting, Universal Consciousness.

Our course director is a business management consultant specialising in change and innovation.  He also uses myth, ritual, dance and storytelling in his work with the world's largest multinationals, in a new way of using complexity and transition.  Business, therapy, myth, complexity, chaos - all these terms have become equivalent in some vast anamorphosis.  However, the terms in this mix, even now, are not equal.  The multinational ethos has absorbed the others, has absorbed any difference, leaving no trace.  At one time business and therapy may have been different, radically opposed.  That seems long ago.  With hardly time for metamorphosis, therapy has been bought off and reborn to become part of the global soft-speak of info-technology itself.  Therapy has become a multinational and  corporations have become therapeutic (always - caring for you and caring for the environment). To set therapy today against corporate business might be cause some hilarity.  However, the irony remains lost on these serious practitioners.   These innovators, these global therapists need to create the illusion that they are still breaking down barriers, still heroically fighting old boundaries of repression, vertical hierarchies and ignorance.  We must believe they are “on our side,” the side of the people and human aspiration. Well before the wall came down, the barriers of time (across centuries) and space (between continents) were already down, creating infinite cultural dilution.  However, it is necessary for these entrepreneurs to continue to create the appearance of opposition, radicality, difference and newness, to be seen to be fighting shadows where now there is universal light, brought about by the success of the therapeutic herself.   The old Marxist radicals have been effortlessly reabsorbed without so much as a backward glance, as therapy meanders through the soft tissues of the social like some invisible antioxidant picking off all those potentially toxic loose electrons which are part of the ageing process of democracy. 

Therapeutic systems continually re-invent themselves: copies become copies, and so on. Yet each mutant form proposes itself as an avant-garde.  But with each new gloss comes an incremental  rise in entropy, as in all forms of copying the later images become degraded.  Therapy has faded to the point where it becomes indistinguishable from the general background noise which, in its turn, has become generally but weakly therapeutic.

Thence, the inexorable logic of therapeutic mastery.  Not content with dominating the natural world, therapy post- Freud, has turned its attention inwards and aims at mastery of self, mastery of signifiers, mastery of affect, the identity of the Same.  ‘You can control your thoughts; you can control your feelings’.   Work, work, work on the self:  from steam power to electrical power, to post-industrial “self-power.”  Human relations training, human resources and communication skills are instrumental notions that would have sent a chill through an earlier generation enchanted by the real of imperfection.  But now, after mass production comes mass seduction, all the way as far as cold seduction - seduction not by people, but by chilled therapeutic systems.  The singularity which is the human subject is generalised potentially to all objective levels of complexity and cybernetic control   Training and regulation will bring about  “healthy functioning.”   This mastery is the deft mastery of the light touch and soft-speak of what poses and promotes itself as the most natural, fluid and cyclical; the therapeutic end point to which history is moving. Visible, clumsy, phallic mastery has changed into its invisible digital seductive form, against which there can be no resistance. Far from resistance, there is insistence: we insist on the therapeutic controls lovingly bestowed upon us.   Here the natural willingly yields itself, opens itself, to the caress of  therapeutic transparency.

Explosive imagery
Such lucid transparency involves the globalised mediation of the Real which in turn has lead  to an explosion in the imaginary.  Its violent promotion has led to a sucking in, a liquidation of the formerly differentiated registers of the Symbolic, Imaginary and Real, into an all-embracing term - the hyperreal.  This is the aggravated real, the media’s pre-emptive strike on the world. In short, the reality principle has been replaced by the certainty principle.

At a stroke, the complex interweaving of history is eliminated. Currently, hypnotherapists and the primal analysts, manipulators of the so-called “true/false memory syndrome,”  (your problem was your parents abused you), have eclipsed, cut across, and finally laid to rest that whole problematic of origins that Freud wrestled with, namely Nachtraglichkeit (deferred action), failure of translation and of infantile amnesia. The notion of screen memories implies that memory is fictional, secondary and derivative. Every presentation of an alleged original memory is always already a re-presentation, indeed a screen version that veils the void that creates us.  Freud concludes, ‘Memories relating to our childhood may be all we possess.’(3)     

The screen is all there is. The lived life across time (diachrony) is radically dissimulated in a synchrony, a now, a theme, a homogeny, a totality.  As Levinas states: ‘[T]hings turn into time and consciousness, independently of the soundless space in which they seem to unfold in a mute world.’(4)  ‘[B]eing leaves the night for an inextinguishable insomnia of consciousness.’(5)   The way that Levinas theorises the gap, the lapse, the aporia, “before” the re-call, the echo which is the ego hearing itself for the first time, can only be contrasted with the current violence of  spectacular hyperreality.  

With no “quilting-points” (point-de-capitons), the real, for its part, remains easy, cool, indifferent and accidental, like a floating currency or an exchange mechanism.  Consequently, for its criminal lack of regard for us, the real must be forced to signify.  The real must speak.  Increasingly, it can only speak its pain.

Listen to everyone and everyone (women, children, survivors all) must be believed (the illusion of therapy and democracy).   The listening imperative: everyone will listen to everyone; this will heal all our divisions.  At the same time: no one will listen to anyone; no one will believe anything any longer.  In the nightmare we try to shout out in terror but no sound comes out of our mouths. Paralysis grips us.

The universe is therapeutic.

Transparent, serious and global clients
Therapy has created a culture where clients take themselves and their needs very seriously. We  have to take responsibility for our lives, for every decision, not only personally, but globally.  Personally: no smoking, low cholesterol, stress management programmes and soon the whole gamut of personal feedback controls, via implanted computer chips, down to the level of sexual and genetic expression.   Globally: you are responsible for waste, pollution, for deforestation, global warming, for racism, for sexism, inequality and so on. 

Remembering THE EARTH:  A workshop of ancestral, evolutionary, and ecological rituals and practices, designed to restore our awareness and our memory of our interrelations with the sacred earth.  Drawing on Shamanistic traditions from different parts of the world, on ancient European animistic mythology, and on insights from ecology and evolution, we will focus on reconnecting  with the spiritual intelligences inherent in the natural world.(6) 

Try to remember yourself.  Be good to yourself and the earth.

Radically individualised, each atom is not only answerable to itself, but the whole environment.  One is expected to be ethically pure in a cosmic dimension, and at the other extreme, need-oriented and emotionally pure and gratified in the subjective dimension. 

What is invoked is a new infantilism - a dramatisation and escalation of demand which must be satisfied, increasingly at the level of the body itself.  Self-esteem is the key measure.  The over-exposed  simulated self is also hyper-vulnerable to slights.  Constantly accessing the self, simulated childhoods, previous incarnations, personal gods and angels, the collective unconscious, altered states of consciousness, vigilantly and militantly mindful of  needs and  human rights to happiness, suffering becomes intolerable.  The elimination of suffering world-wide is demanded through therapeutic agencies, down to animal and plant liberation.

In the absence of children in areas of affluence, adults are making up for this sudden and alarming disappearance by becoming children themselves, with childish demands. New life styles, built with new money means that increasingly, we separate when a real child (i.e. not perfect, not the imaginary child) enters our mutually gratifying exotic relationships.  Unable to bear this much reality, either children are forced into hothoused simulations of ideal children, or we disband, leaving the children to be the grown-ups and endure the real suffering, we are forever unable to face.  Therapy demands that we all become children and be gratified and healed.  What it didn't bargain for was a new lethal and incurable form of childhood - the new infantilism - screaming for their Rights to be heard and respected.

The care of ruin
Modern counselling and therapy came of age in the 1960s.  It has gradually sharpened up into a growth industry which has expanded beyond all expectations and projections.(7) Therapy has no natural predators.  It has its critics, but they are no match for the whole sentimental ideology that devours all values, all difference, as it joins hands and sends hugs across every former frontier, every former domain of otherness.  People are queuing to get in on the act.  Just as it is said everyone has a book in them, so, everyone has a therapeutic self.

At every major disaster, the counsellors compete with the media, getting in the way of the para-medics trying to help victims.  In March 1994, a 12 year-old schoolgirl was murdered in her classroom by a crazed gunman, in Middlesborough.  Immediately a hotline was set up for counselling. It was announced that the next day there would be counsellors for every class in the school, together with educational psychologists and social workers.

There will be a free helpline after the show.  Our lines will be open, and there will be trained counsellors on hand to listen to your problems.  Do call.  Help is always at hand. A massive health industry feeds off the decay and waste created by the system itself.  The economic benefits, the vast new opportunities for saprophytic consumption and growth created by the breakdown of the social, dislocation, crime,  addiction,  violence and so on, are enormous.  Distress creates economic activity.  Huge investments are being made in new training programmes, with government bodies setting targets, educational strategies,  health packages, counselling courses, web-sites, and new  electronic products for stress management.  Mass mobilisation by the caring society, which above all, likes to see the spectacle everywhere promoted of its caring ethos.  It is about perception, the screen presentation, the screen aspiration, which succeeds because it succeeds. Every screen, every commentator creates images of care which is the culture’s symbolic debt to the destruction of the social. 

The death of therapy
Therapy is hyperventilating to enter the real of emotional life.  Intoxicated with power, therapy proliferates with new forms, new mutants strains to meet the explosive demands in hyperreality. What will be the life cycle of this caring phenomenon?  Will its universe expand further and then implode into a mass death, destroyed by overheating - sexual indiscretions, abuses of power, abuse of  every tradition, religion, art form, ecology, abuse of every secret.  Will the Real rise up and avenge itself on such loving omnipotence, perfection, knowing and working out and over of everything?  Or, will it die in its own trivialisations, clichés, promises, its white-washing of the real.  Will it dissolve in its own sweetness - already two hundred times sweeter than natural sugar, itself a refined product from the real, now overtaken by a whole culture of artificial sweeteners and artificial lighteners. 

However, lest this account plays into the hands of the numerous critics of psychotherapy, all the way from Eynsenck who claimed that recovery rates in psychotherapy are no better than chance, to Crews, who claimed that Freud was a charlatan, let there be no mistake, therapy and counselling do work.  They work well, and many patients are the better for undergoing them.  On the level of the image, or the ‘borrowed mask of being’, therapy is bound to work, linked as it is to some distant humanity, however debased, generalised and sentimentalised this has become.

Therapy never leaves us alone, but psychiatry, psychopharmacology and neuroscience occlude our very existence.  Here, therapy is fine-tuned at the level of molecular and biochemical modulation.  For psychiatry, both personal history and subjectivity never existed. Science forecloses the subject. The mental  or the biological machine is nothing more or less than a complex biochemical production of the code.   Intervention at the level of the mind in psychotherapy is one thing, but intervention at the level of the synapse and mood regulation, in spite of the whole anti-psychiatry movement,  leads the financial struggle for the normal simulations of mental health, with no questions asked and no answers sought. This is objectification, reification at the highest level. 

Psychoanalysis and the symbolic
In so far as psychoanalysis is still obscurely and secretly connected to a religious domain (a secular religion-Nina Coltart), a symbolic domain, it may escape some of this opprobrium of success accorded to therapy.  To the extent that psychoanalysis remains a vocation, not a profession, it might still have the freedom to do its work, i.e. to contemplate loss, begin the burden of mourning and suffering. In this sense, psychoanalysis is the opposite of therapy.  It renounces force and empowerment.

Religions have been professionalised as well and have to take their place in the market (tele-evangelists), and in liberal democracy (the ordination of women), but the symbolic ritual gravity of religion, in as much as it still exists here and there, creates a difference.(8)  In general, religions have gone the way of psychotherapies.  As there is no other logic, religion must become therapeutic and therapies must become religious.  Therapies are the trend setters for religions, by their multiplicity, their endless joviality and triviality.  Religion and psychotherapy must be fun - the games people play!

The symbolic is the domain of  the pact, the gift, of sacrifice, of obligation, of ceremony and ritual, of  secret brutality (The wrath of God) and formalised and significant marking (castration).(9)  The symbolic haunts modern social institutions in the form of their own deferred death.

The archaic was brutal and sacred, whereas the postmodern is soft and therapeutic.  The archaic has been exorcised by the progressive extension of scientific reason to eliminate disease via “magic bullets” and smart drugs, discontent via hyper-consumerism, creating perfect scenarios which fail to have written into them their own death.  Death and suffering, therefore, systematically (even holistically) forced out of the picture, will accumulate on the Other side, in the anarchic domain of the Baudrillardian symbolic. Freud developed his death drive theory at that moment when, following the carnage of the Somme, the radical illusion that death might finally be eliminated by scientific reason and human perfectibility, was exploded.  The symbolic demands that life cannot survive unilaterally, accumulate all goodness to itself.  The symbolic demands that death circulates in a  system of total reversibility and exchange which is both excessive, orgiastic and sacrificial.  The symbolic puts an end to the games of repression, differentiation, rationality and semiocrasy. 

Consequently, the (therapeutic) exorcism of terror becomes the system’s own death drive. In the guise continuously improving reality, of exposing all illusions, of being therapeutic in everything (“We care; we care that you care; we are caring for you!), an abyss has opened up of radical disenchantment and disaffection, which in turn explodes into violent imagery as the absolute screen against death. This subtle therapeutically controlled freedom becomes terroristic.  True to the symbolic rule, the therapeutic becomes its own pathology: the disease for which it itself is the only cure.

Against the spectral presence of symbolic exchange, the forcing of everything: of the erotic in pornography; of communication in therapy; of value through the commercial code; of history through heritage; of the event through the spectacle; of the sport of politics and the politics of sport, scoring every time.  Everywhere, life enforcement and life enhancement. Suffering has been lovingly forced into the vast  recycling system called therapy.

From this perspective, therapy is better understood as ‘a dialogue of the deaf’, to use Lyotard’s phrase. Therapy is deaf to this tearing through or the breaking presence.  We should be thankful for that failure to hear, the inaudibility of the real, against the frenetic protestations of care coming from our customer care departments, whose every utterance, whose promotional urge is minutely researched and tested, monitored and packaged to create and enforce the only and the last illusion - that we care for YOU.  If the real so much as makes the  briefest  appearance, makes the slightest sound, its sublime secret, its presentness to itself, its absolute Otherness will be taken, betrayed and above all made to work - not the work of mourning but of selling.

What is always faced down is the ego’s primary exposedness to Being, without prehension or comprehension.  In Draft K to Fliess, Freud states that ‘Hysteria necessarily presupposes a primary [my italics] experience of unpleasure...of a passive nature....This first stage may be described as “fright hysteria”; its primary symptom is the manifestation of fright.’(10)   The notion of an “overwhelming” (Uberwaltigung) of the ego is present throughout Freud’s writings,(11) where it forms the basis for all neurosis.  When referring to paranoia also in Draft K, Freud speaks of the so-called “assimilatory delusions” as ‘the beginnings of an alteration in the ego, an expression of its having been overwhelmed.’(12)  In Section V of The Ego and the Id, Freud states that, ‘What it is that the ego fears from the external world and from the libidinal danger cannot be specified; we know that the fear is of being overwhelmed or annihilated, but it cannot grasped analytically’(13)  That is it cannot be represented.  In Inhibitions Symptoms and Anxiety, Freud refers to “traumatic situation,”  which entails helplessness in the face of an accumulation of excitation. This is the “quantitative factor.” 

In phenomenological terms, unable (and even less inclined) to grasp what life is, the subject is affected without the source of affection ever becoming the theme of representation, meaning or analysis, accused or condemned in face of the real before being able to assume an identity.  To use a Levinas’s metaphor, we are too tight in our skins, burst open by an excess, thrown into life, placed in a perilous and inescapable position, without any consolation, orphaned and exiled before belonging, familiarity and recognition, already irradiated and expelled from the world before we are in it. 

Therapy stands accused of two elisions:  1) the failure  to avow  traumatic passivity in face of the total proximity of being that overflows itself beyond every container - our being at the mercy of Being,  prior to all memory, freedom and representation.  2) Promoting the desecration of all the bars (the law, repression, etc.) that would shield us from the full glare of the light, from which there is now no protection except the pathetic illusion of more and more therapy.

Once therapy ceased to be a vocation it lost everything.  A vocation is a calling, a call from the Other.  As Levinas will say, we are called before we have any freedom to respond. The call precedes any identity or capacity of the “I”.  It holds us hostage in a black universe.  A vocation implies a receptivity to the Other beyond any limit.  A vocation is the possibility of a hospitality and a welcome that exceeds itself, becomes a hostage, in its radical passivity towards Being.       

1. This is part of Chapter one of Our Last Great Illusion (See biography page).
2. The list of abuses seems endless.  The Oxford Dictionary of New Words documents the various forms involving potentially every relationship.  Into the infinite space, distance and freedom that has opened up in what we still quaintly refer to as “the community,” comes a poisonous intimacy, a negative erotics of hate and antipathy.  All former relations of trust and reciprocity must now be “outted”  and scrutinised to rate their abusive potential, to make victim impact assessments.  Only professional  relationships are safe enough, therapeutic enough to engage in.  All others are traumatic and therefore should be avoided.
3. S. Freud.  “Screen Memories” SE. III. London: Hogarth 1899.321).
4. E. Levinas, Otherwise than Being.  U.S: Kluwer Academic Publishers 1981, trans, A. Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press 1998,  p35. 
5.  ibid, p30.

6. From: “Towards Earth Community International Conference in Ireland 1994.”
7. Britain now has more counsellors than soldiers!  30,000 work as counsellors on a full-time basis, 270,000 are volunteer counsellors and 2.5m using counselling in their workplace.  Membership of the BACP stands at 16,000 comparend to 1,300 in 1077.  Apparently, 9,000 therapists offered their services to New Yorkers post the WTC disaster. George Bonanno, from New York’s Columbia University said the counselling of the victims was ‘an enormous waste of money.....there is more data supporting the view that talking about how unhappy you are just makes it worse.’ (See, The Sunday Times 2nd March 2003)
8. January 20th 2002,  BBC Radio Four broadcast an Eastern Orthodox service. The service came from the Northernmost monastery in Russia, Solovki, which the Soviet regime turned into a death camp for Orthodox priests. This place has seen not only generations of pilgrims: after the Revolution of 1917, tragedy struck. There was already a wall, built in the Middle Ages to keep marauders out. Lenin’s henchmen threw out the monks and the monastery was ready made to become a prison camp. The first, it became also one of the worst. Unlike Auschwitz, it was intended primarily for labour rather than extermination, but the effect was not so different. Tens of thousands, the flower of a whole generation of believers, died here, ravaged by disease, starvation and the execution of anyone who stepped out of line. Bishops, clergy, political leaders, the intelligentsia perished here almost anonymously.

Here is a poem written by one of the inmates, during the Soviet times. 

                We are left to bloom where the King of Souls has sown us. If he has sown us in the field of sorrow, let us bloom in sorrow. If he has sown us in solitude, let us be in solitude, for the Creator sows even the most beautiful of flowers on inaccessible tracks between mountain paths. They have their value, even though nobody sees them. The anguish of the soul is unseen, but like blossoms it can be plucked and offered to the Saviour.

8. Psychoanalysis, almost alone, amongst therapies and popular religions, emphasises an existential guilt that is inescapable.  Psychoanalysis designates the distinctly un-therapeutic notion of a guilt stemming from Oedipal wishes (the phylogenetic trace of the murder of the primal father), prior to any actions that might arouse and justify guilt.

9. Here is a link with the widespread practice of ritualised circumcision, subincision, excision and infibulation, where the cut marks the passage of the initiate from non-existence to being within the tribe. The individual needs to be marked by the Symbolic domain.  The cut is the mark of “recognition”, the passage from non-being to being, by which initially, at least, The subject is spoken for.  The ritual cut is celebrated as the entry point into the world.    However to a modern sensibility, such practices are barbaric as we have no need and even less understanding of symbolic obligation, the covenant - ‘The uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that he shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant’ (Genesis xvii: v14).
10.Freud in Masson Op. cit., p169.
11. See also, Studies in Hysteria, SE 2, 263.  Moses and Monotheism, SE 23:78.  “Analysis Terminable and Interminable” SE 23: 234ff.
12. S. Freud. “Draft K - The Neuroses of Defence”  SE I, 227.  Although Masson has it slightly differently as ‘the beginning of the alteration of the ego, as a statement of defeat’   Freud in Masson. J. The Assault on Truth. p168. 
13. S. Freud. The Ego and the Id  SE 19: 57?


A Reading of  Death of a Salesman. Arthur Miller (1948).   

in the Journal of the Irish Forum for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Vol 5, Nos 1 and 2, pp57-70. (April 1995)

This is the story of a typical, normal man.  He is a good man, but a man who is dying.  He is a man with whom we can all identify, because he represents for us the problems of living in a world that greatly exceeds us.  He is also a father, who works immensely hard for his wife and two sons.  But a terrible family tension has arisen, an irreconcilable tension.  And the question is, why should such a man who had such dreams for himself and his family be dying, and why is no one able to help him.

In his autobiography, Arthur Miller (1987) was amazed how so many men and women called him to say that Willie Loman was their father.   At the end of the first performance of the play, there was no applause.  People began to put on their coats.  Others were bent forward and  hiding their faces.  Others, especially men, he notes, were openly weeping.  And then after a while, someone began to applaud, and then the applause was endless. 

The play opens as Willie arrives back early and exhausted from a selling trip.  He has nearly crashed the car again as his mind has wandered and he has lost concentration.  He is still working for the Wagner company selling women's stockings, although Wagner is dead and his son Howard has taken over.  His wife Linda, we are told, 'more than loves him, she admires him, his massive dreams, his temper, his little cruelties, served her only as sharp reminders of the turbulent longings within him, longings which she shares but lacks the temperament to utter and follow to their end' (p8).  She is, as Willie says, his foundation and his support.

The two sons, Biff and Happy, are together again in the house after more than ten years.  Biff is the older by two years and the more lost of the two.  Both have dreams and plans which never come to fruition.  There is tension in the house.  Neither of the boys have been in anyway successful.  Happy is in a job which bores him, and Biff has had twenty or more different jobs, and now at 34 feels rootless and groundless, and that he is wasting his life. 

The play is interspersed with Willie's reliving of the past, when the boys were younger, when they loved and idealized their father and he them.  They are all part of a wildly exuberant dream, the American dream, of an abundant life of success and recognition without end.  Willie says: 'I thank almighty God you're both built like Adonises.  Because the man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead.  Be liked and you will never want.  You take me for instance.  I have never had to wait in line to see a buyer.  "Willie Loman is here!"  That's all they have to know, and I go right through' (pp25-6).  

Willie's older brother Ben represents the epitome of the dream.  Willie worships him.  Ben boasts, 'when I was seventeen, I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. (he laughs) And by God I was rich' (p37).  But Ben is unreachable, and Willie is always trying to find out what the answer is.  And how did he do it?  He pleads with Ben, implores him to help, tries to impress him, and grovels before him, but Ben remains infinitely superior, unreachable and enigmatic.  As he parts, he says to Willie, to an inferior--good luck...with, ...er,  whatever it is you do?  And when Willie tells him that it is selling, he just says, -- oh yes...

But since those early days of fun and of promise, the atmosphere between Biff and his father has turned sour.  Willie is working only on straight commission and he is soon to lose his job altogether.  In a humiliating scene, Willie implores Howard to free him from the travelling, but Howard, worried that Willie is 'cracking-up again' takes the opportunity to fire him altogether.  Willie is reduced to borrowing money from Charlie his next-door neighbour, who offers Willie a job with him, but Willie refuses it.

Something happened after the high point of the Ebbets Field football game.  That summer Biff failed his Maths examination, and he travelled to Boston on the spur of the moment to get his dad to talk to the teacher, so that the result might be changed.  He is certain his powerful dad will be able to right the situation.  But when he reaches the hotel room where his father is staying, he discovers him with a woman.  Here is the catastrophic turning point.  It is from this moment on that Biff collapses, and comes to regard his loved father with a terrible spite and contempt. 

Linda begs the boys to help their father. She can't understand why they're fighting.  'When you write you're coming, he's all smiles, and talks about the future, and he's just wonderful, and then the closer you seem to come, the more shaky he gets...he's arguing...he can't bring himself to--open up to you.  Why are you so hateful of eachother?' (p42).  She pleads for their support.  'He drives seven hundred miles, and when he gets there no one knows him anymore, no one welcomes him.  And what goes through a man's mind driving seven hundred miles home without having earned a cent?...And you tell me he has no character?  The man who never worked a day but for your benefit?...Is this his reward--to turn around at the age of sixty-three and find his sons, who loved him better than his life, one a philandering bum...[they interrupt her].  I don't say he's a great man.  His name will never be in the paper.  He's not the finest character that ever lived.  But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him.  So attention must be paid.  He is not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog.  Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person' (p44).   She tells them of Willie's failed suicide attempts.  He is a man who is suffering and they must know it.

Biff agrees very reluctantly to try and get a job with Bill Oliver, and both the boys will take Willie out for a meal, and for a time spirits are high again.  Willie says,  'You got greatness in you Biff, remember that.  You got all kinds of greatness in you (p53).  But remember start big and you'll end big.  Ask for fifteen.  How much are you gonna ask for?' (p51).  But Biff has to wait a full six hours to see Bill Oliver, and then only sees him for a minute.  In frustration, he steals his fountain pen and rushes out.  In the restaurant that evening with two women that Happy has picked up, Biff tries to tell his father what happened with Oliver and in the confusion the sons end up leaving Willie in the toilet, denying that he is their father  (that's just some old man), and going off with the two women.

Later that evening there is a terrible scene with Linda finally telling the two boys to get out for good.  But Biff wants to speak to his father to try to get through to him and tell him the truth.  But Linda insists he get out of the house.  Biff tells Willie that he is indeed leaving for good.  He is not coming back, and Biff blames himself for all that has gone wrong.  Willie accuses Biff of ruining himself to spite his father.  'You're trying to put a knife in me -- don't think I don't know what you're doing!' (p103).  Then Biff exposes Willie's suicide plan (the gas hose found in the cellar).  'You're going to hear the truth -- what you are and what I am...We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house...I stole a suit in Kanzas city and I was in jail...I stole myself out of every good job since high school...I never got anywhere because you blew me so full of hot air I could never stand taking orders from anybody...I ran down eleven flights of stairs with a pen in my hand today, and suddenly I stopped...I looked at the pen...Why am I trying to become what I don't want to be...I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you.  Willie screams back: I'm not a dime a dozen!  I'm Willie Loman and you are Biff Loman!'  Biff is on the verge of attacking his father.  'Pop, I'm nothing! I'm nothing, pop.  Can't you understand that?  Can't you understand that?  There's no spite in it anymore.  I'm just what I am that's all' (p105).  Biff breaks down.  He and his father are holding onto eachother.  'Will you let me go for Christ's sake?  Will you take that phoney dream and burn it before something happens?' (p106).  Biff pulls away, all spent, and moves slowly away up the stairs.  

After a long pause, Willie seems elated.  'Isn't that remarkable?  Biff -- he likes me!  He cried! He cried to me.  (He is choking with his love).  That boy -- that boy is going to be magnificent!' (p106).  And Ben echoes from behind that he will be outstanding -- with twenty thousand behind him (...from the insurance policy after Willie's suicide).  Willie muses.  He is all on his own now.  'Always loved me.  Ben, he'll worship me for it...with twenty thousand dollars in his pocket...Did you see how he cried to me?  Oh I could kiss him, Ben...I always knew one way or another, we were gonna make it,  Biff and I!' (p107).   And then, amidst desperate cries for him to stop, Willie drives out and kills himself.


Willie was a victim of the American dream, but it is a mistake to confine him to a particular time and place, for as Miller says after the play has been performed throughout the world:  'Willie was representative everywhere, in every kind of system, of ourselves in this time.  [He wanted] to excel, to win out over anonymity and meaninglessness, to love and be loved, and above all, perhaps, to count' (p184).

In a film version of the play, Willie was portrayed as simply psychotic who was all but completely out of control.  Miller comments that this 'misconception melted the tension between man and his society, drawing the teeth of the play's social contemporaneity, obliterating its very context.  If he was nuts he could hardly stand for a comment on anything.  It was as though Lear had never had real political power but had really imagined he was a king'. (p315).

The question posed in this play is, how does a man assume his being.  In what form should be assume it, and in what degree?  I think we can say that Willie, being a small man (low-man) in stature and in a mass atomised society, wanted to take on a hugeness of being.  Herein lies the plays universality and contemporaneity.  For anybody in the modern period, who wants anything wants a lot, wants to dream, wants an ecstatic vision of the future.  We will identify with Willie in his enthusiasm for the American dream.  We get carried along by his enormous longings, and because he is a good man,  we feel all his vulnerability.  All the more so as he is, in reality, a small man in an overcrowded apartment block, with a small job, when he would like to have been a large man running a ranch out west, in a vast open space.  We feel for this man.  We know his hopes and his disappointments, and we admire his tragic persistence even until the last moment.

The power of this play turns around the the fact that Willie was caught by the narcissistic lure of an imaginary completeness for himself and his sons. He doesn't want them to be ordinary, dull and anaemic like he thinks Bernard is, the next-door neighbour's son.   He wants them to be magnificent. Willie wants his boys to be vital and alive, full of life, famous.  But the problem is this, and it is always the same problem: how to limit such a dream, how to stop desire running out of control into oblivion.  Indeed, Willie's desire is  to be desired, to be seen, to be adored, to live in the image, always receding before him, of the total entrepreneur, the ideal ego, represented in the play by Ben.  Willie could not face the fact that he lacked anything.  Any lack was always to be filled in immediately, by stealing (in the case of Biff) or by borrowing.  He resisted forever seeing himself as a subject, as a failure, as just a salesman, a limited being with a predictable job, in an alienating environment.  We admire him for trying to go beyond that, for fighting against mass anonymity.  This is his greatness.     But here also lies the tragedy of his life, for he was never able to situate himself securely because he could not face the intolerable cut, the cutting down to size which the Other demands.  He was therefore destined for the final and total cut in the Real.  Unable to take on a symbolic death, unable in some way to think about his limitation, he is driven to find limitation elsewhere, in death. 

Nobody can speak about reality to Willie, he will not hear of it.  So he will simply have to find the Real outside of language, outside what can be expressed in words and thought about, that is, what can be symbolised.  His refusal to in some way encounter this Real, was the agonising point for the family, and in particular for Linda.  He simply would not listen.  And we can see in Linda that urgency and desperation about his not hearing and not listening and what it means.  It means that he really is dying.  He will have to kill himself because he cannot limit himself in any other way.   Of course, in his life as depicted, he was being brutally cut down all the time.  His loss of concentration and 'accidents' on the road, his being fired by Howard, Biff's discovery of the other woman and his subsequent bitter and spiteful attacks, the failure of his sons to work and to marry, being left by his sons in the restaurant  -- all these point to a limit, a restriction that Willie cannot bear.  He cannot think about any lack within himself, even though his lack of a lack is being screamed in his face.  Charlie tries to make him see sense, and even offers him a job, but Willie refuses.  There is a tragic inevitability about Willie.  Nobody can help him read his experience, and we all know this.  Nothing must come between him and his dream.  There can be no mediation or moderation of his desire.

We get some clue as to why this might be so when we consider the power contained in the figure of  Ben, beside whom Willie appears as a desperate child.  Ben represents himself as  lacking nothing.  He is complete in himself.  Willie desperately wants what Ben has, this phallic power, the man with the stick who knocks Biff to the ground when they are playing, to teach him a lesson about life, 'Never fight fair with a stranger, boy' (p38).  Ben, here, was clearly trying to demonstrate that we can only live a life if we accept and can tolerate being cut down, being castrated.  Desire has to be pinned down in some way, or be for ever adrift and powerless.

The floating and inordinate nature of Willie's desire is partly explained when Ben speaks of the history of  the family and its origins.  It transpires that Willie's dad was a great and a wild-hearted man, an itinerant flute maker who left when Willie was very young, and he has no memory of him.  Ben then has become Willie's imaginary all powerful father.  He wants Ben around, because as Willie says about his father, 'I never had a chance to talk to him and I still feel -- kind of temporary about myself' (p40) (italics mine).  Willie knows nothing of his origins.  He has no baseline from which to work.  He is not properly situated.  As a consequence, it becomes a matter of the greatest urgency for Willie to be recognised, for him to get a huge reflection back from the world, because his start went so unrecognised and appeared inconsequential.  Linda is the only person to know this, when she says: attention, attention  must finally be paid to such a man. It is an impossible attention, because we know it will never be enough to fill in the gaping hole of Willie's origins.  Was Willie even noticed as a child, did anybody see him, did anybody want him?  This was the question that Willie was unable to formulate.  Where is my father?  He was never able to approach the possibility, which has fundamentally marked him, that he wasn't wanted. 

Here is the gulf that came to haunt him and us with a painful irony all through the play.  For instance, as we noted above, he goes to Howard to ask for a position in the firm nearer to his home, which will involves less driving.  Howard ignores him, and instead shows off  his new tape-recorder with his little son's voice on it and other recorded fragments, which Willie dutifully admires.  Howard then tells him he has no time to speak to him, and then tells him he isn't wanted anymore anyway.  He's fired.  Here is the negation by the other, the other who is a winner, against which Willie has been fighting hopelessly all his life.  Willie, as Biff reminds him, is clearly a loser - all the more humiliated because he has lost fighting by the same rules.  In this imaginary game, we too feel bound to join Willie in his assertion that he is not a dime a dozen. Some rapidly fading higher order morality, destroyed by the capitalist dream, compels us to defend Willie, not out of sentiment, or fear, but because what Howard (and behind him Ben) represents is shit - the excremental world vision. 

There is a questionmark over Willie's existence.  There is a hole at the origin, which to some extent should have been filled in by a father, the spokesman, who tells about desire.  However, to say that Willie would have been well if he had had a father is to completely miss the point.  For subjectivity itself is radically threatened. Our origin becomes written out.  This is not just Willie's problem.  To see Willie as just another psychotic or loser (with a bad family background) is, as Miller points out, to evade the play's contemporaneity and to obscure the whole question of the precariousness of subjectivity in our time.  The play has lost none of it power over nearly 50 years.  Indeed, Post Thatcher-Reagan, Willie, Linda, Biff and Happy would slip effortlessly into the underclass. Even Howard, against all former expectations, might soon be following.  

Willie jumps over this hole in a frantic scramble for recognition using fantastic stories of conquest and control as illusory guides.  Unwanted, he has to continually sell himself as image.  But what happens when this fight for life, fails?  He encourages his sons to do the same, and they, and in particular Biff, point to this hole, this vacuum into which they are all about to fall.  Willie's suicide is inevitable throughout the play; it is the only response that he can give to his own unasked question.

For Biff the real-ization comes after he fails his exam.  He believes firstly that his all powerful idealized father will get him out of the difficulty with the maths teacher.  He is at the hotel room in Boston, and Willie's woman, as yet unseen by Biff has been hurriedly dispatched to the bathroom.  'You gotta talk to him [the maths teacher]...Because if he saw the kind of man you are, and you just talked to him in your way, I'm sure he'd come through for me' (p93).  But then Biff hears the woman, and realises in a moment of traumatic disillusion, the patheticness of his father's position.  He is with this woman, and he gives her stockings, that he won't even give to his own wife.  His father has fallen.  His father died. 

Biff's imaginary support for his world collapses catastrophically, at that moment.  From now on, he will call his father a fake, a phoney and a liar.  The image is shattered, and he seems fated, as we have seen, to lead a minimal existence.  Like his father before him and by identification with him, Biff was never properly situated in the Symbolic order.  The blow that he did receive in that hotel bedroom precipitated him into the Real.    He is the one who learns in the play.  Unlike Willie, he knows that he is nothing.   And so he might become something.  To this extent, he becomes a subject and a bearer of the truth.  'We never told the truth for ten minutes in this house...I never got anywhere because you [Willie] blew me so full of hot air that I could never stand taking orders from anybody' (p104).   At Willie's funeral, Biff says that Willie had all the wrong dreams, he never knew who he was.  There is a hint that Biff might be able to take things from there.  Biff, at least, is trying to think things through. 


Miller, A. (1948)  Death of a Salesman.   Penguin Plays (1961).
---------- (1987)  Timebends.  Methuen.





The Psychical Realities of Modern Culture
Paper in the British Journal of Psychotherapy (1991) Vol.7 No.3: 268-274.

The question posed here is a simple one: what contribution does the unconscious make to any given cultural manifestation and how does culture impinge on the stability of the inner world? So much cultural discussion even involving psychological and social issues ignores the impact of the dynamically repressed unconscious. Yet unconscious meanings and significations are always present and operative alongside our conscious and rational thoughts and actions. The avoidance of the intimate relationship between culture and the unconscious makes much public discussion seem bland and sometimes totally misleading. A culture dominated by a scientific logical positivist point of view throws up its hands in horror and disbelief in face of human atrocities. And yet the media are filled daily with news of those insanities.

Another question arises: how can the psychoanalytically oriented observer make an adequate interpretation, observation, comment on any cultural trend without it sounding too predictable, stereotyped or reductionist? This is a familiar problem, and one that psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapists come up against every day with their patients: how to make an interpretation in response to the patient's productions that is both empathic and objective, precise but also open-ended, intelligent but not omniscient, and above all how to reach out to and support that relatively healthy aspect of self in an attempt to expose and dislodge psychopathology. One can only begin to be effective in this respect by allowing oneself to become immersed in the patient's psychical reality, by being a container for his/her projections, and consequently by becoming affected and at the same time or shortly afterwards trying to think about the experience, to grasp some fragments and articulate them. It is only from this sort of perspective that comment can be made on cultural phenomena. My book The Denial of the Psyche [later the name was changed to Cultural Collapse]is written from a practitioner's point of view. It will therefore be of interest to a wide range of people who are concerned about modern culture, the fate and stability of the self in that culture, and to those who are psychologically minded. But the book does not represent - and this cannot be overstressed - an attempt to reduce modern cultural trends to a handful of prepackaged psychoanalytic interpretations. Neither is it intended to be an academic and theoretical psychocultural critique at one remove from lived reality. Since Freud (1927, 1930) there have been many of these,for instance Norman Brown (1959), Erich Fromm (1942, 1956), Herbert Marcuse (1955, 1964), Christopher Lasch (1979, 1984) and Badcock (1980) to name but a few. These approaches invoke amongst their critics a clash of textual interpretations of reality: psychoanalytic texts versus feminist, Marxist or ecological texts and so on. A fight develops as to where one's loyalties lie. Dogmatic positions are taken and there are winners and losers in an essentially intellectual battle about theories which can become far removed from the meanings, concerns and truths of experience that psychoanalysis attempts to probe.

From the viewpoint of the unconscious, all conscious certainties become undermined, superficial adjustments rendered untenable, decisions made and loyalties struck can be subverted and overturned. Political and ideological convictions can move towards the daemonic and the moral stance invaded by its opposite. It is to explore these disquieting and often tragic paradoxes that this book has been written. The central conundrum explored relates to the amazing contrast between a life-style - in the richest parts of the world - which enjoys greater freedom, prosperity and abundance than ever before, and yet a corresponding inner weakness, loss of structure, sense of psychical depletion that leaves us prey to powerful and primitive unconscious forces which work themselves out in various forms of social pathology. Carried away by the pursuit of economic growth and the removal of constraints, we have squandered our psychological resources in much the same way as we have plundered the natural environment. The task therefore is to understand and explain the damage that is being wrought on the internal world. Psychoanalysis and the psychoanalytic method offer us the model with which to approach our predicament.

Narcissistic Pathology
This internal damage is described in terms of narcissistic or borderline conditions, which are believed to have become much more common in recent decades. This is in part due to our increased focus on early development. But we do see more people who would show schizoid aloofness, suffer great variations of self-esteem, feel empty and alienated, fail to make lasting relationships, suffer great mood swings and have had bad family relationships all through childhood.

Freud (1914) pointed out that narcissistic personalities are so self-preoccupied that they cannot form meaningful relationships. Others have modified this view by saying that intense relations are formed but are very fragile. One patient describes herself as a large cut glass bowl which is beautiful but liable to shatter at any moment. Klein (1946) describes this tendency to fragment as a return to the paranoid/schizoid position. At this stage good and bad aspects of self and others have to be kept apart. The excessive concern of one patient with her image, her dress, her beauty, contrasted strongly with her conviction of her inner worthlessness.

Winnicott (1935) describes the manic defence as a flight from this internal reality into a shallow extrovert existence which lacks affective depth.
Kohut (1977) argues in terms of the cohesiveness of the self, and the narcissistic self is one that is enfeebled or depleted in a fundamental sense. He has in mind, for instance, 'the frequent instances of self pathology in men where the primary defect - the diseased unmirrored self - is covered by sadistic and promiscuous behaviour towards women and the equally frequent instances in which the defensive cover consists of phantasies' (p. 193). Failures in those early selfobject relationships which have to do with mirroring and idealisation lead to narcissistic disorders of the self.

Central to narcissism in the illusion of omnipotent control. One patient dominates his analytic sessions with images of the beautiful relationships he will have when he is well. When the analyst attempts to intervene, he is cut short by the patient's self-analysis. When the omnipotence becomes more destructive as Rosenfeld (1971,1987) has described, an envious, spoiling, violent self is identified with, to destroy any affective links with self and others.

Lacan (1948) suggests that destructiveness and narcissism are linked by the way in which the ego of the subject comes into being: 'aggressivity is the co-relative tendency of a mode of identification that we call narcissistic, and which determines the formal structure of man's ego and the register of entities characteristic of his world' (p. 16). By identifying himself with his mirror image, the subject becomes forever alienated in a form. He is captivated by his image of perfection which is perpetually insulted by reality.

Grunberger (1980) links narcissistic shame and humiliation with aggression. The child is faced with two narcissistic set-backs: his own underlying sense of biological immaturity and weakness; and the defeat by his father in the Oedipal struggle. Grunberger gives a telling example of a drunkard in a pub who behaved badly. The publican asked him to leave and he was 'treated like dirt'. Afterwards the man came back and blew the place up with a Molotov cocktail. There were no survivors. Grunberger comments that this action 'can be explained as his desire to make null and void his narcissistic injury by causing all those who were witnesses to disappear' (p. 617). The narcissistic humiliation has been witnessed, and the witness can be dealt with in many ways including elimination. One tries to cloud the mirror by preventing the image being reflected. But as Grunberger points out, this reflection can go very far indeed and the whole world can take on the aspect of a mirror to be eliminated.

Having examined some key narcissistic themes, I now want to examine how they become amplified in a societal context. My argument is that certain modern and postmodern trends sponsor the deterioration of psychic structure. What is seen as pathological at the level of the individual becomes in society a disturbing social pathology. All the more so as it is often not recognised as such. I will examine just four cultural themes in the following section.

Significant Cultural Themes.

All themes discussed are linked, but perhaps the overriding theme centres around the notion of regression to more primitive levels of functioning. We have already cited the prevalence of narcissistic pathologies. We can think in terms of a drift back from the psychoanalytic ideal of the 'genital personality' towards more pregenital manifestations, towards narcissism, and a world view dominated increasingly by paranoid/schizoid phenomen.
The Polish historian Leszek Kolakowski (1986) spoke of the changes that occurred in the late Middle Ages when:'the old order began to crumble. Religion, philosophy, art and politics which were somehow part of a unified order created by divine wisdom . . . gradually began to break up. This is precisely what modernity is about, the crumbling of this order, the separation und automization of various sides of human activity, (p. 18)

Here we have the origins of the splitting which was to become pathological this century. The old social structure with its sense of cohesiveness, its mutual obligations, its human solidarity and human scale, its subordination of economic needs to human needs, was gradually to fall apart. This was conceived as an immense liberation from the old feudal order but brought with it a quantum leap in levels of anxiety and a sense of what Martin Buber called 'cosmic homelessness'. By the twentieth century we could say that the bubble had burst. In Yeats's words, 'things fall apart, the centre cannot hold ... the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity'. We have the intimation of the schizoid fragmented nature of modernity. Not only has this paranoid anxiety been responsible for the mass conflagrations of this century, but it affects each one of us on the more mundane daily level. We increasingly see our lives in terms of raw survival. Our concern with private security increases. Private security firms in Britain now exceed the total size of the police force. Women are encouraged to learn self-defence techniques as the threat of attacks from men increases. Children must be alerted to the possibilities of violent and sexual abuse. We do not feel safe with each other. The element of'basic trust', the first of Erikson's (1950) eight stages of man, has been radically undermined.

The breaking of social bonds
Since the end of the 1950s, and especially dramatically in the last years, we have witnessed the collapse of working class movements and their fragmentation into varieties of special interest groups which no longer define their political objectives in terms of a better society but rather in terms of narrow self interest. But our political sense tells us that we need a sense of communal loyalty and commitment outside of ourselves. Educated whites have concerned themselves with feminism, anti-racism and green issues, but no new political structures have emerged that speak for the new marginalised proletariat.

Alongside the break-up of the body politic is the break-up of the family and the fracturing of affectional bonds. One marriage in every three ends in divorce with many fathers losing contact with their children after a few years. Research shows the children of these break-ups to be traumatised. Long-term studies carried out in Britain on a group of children born in March 1946 (Sunday Observer report, 3.9.89) whose parents later became divorced have shown higher rates of psychosocial problems than their peers whose families remained intact. The worst effects occurred when the parents separated before the children reached five years old.

If we think of the family as a container into which children can project destructive impulses to be metabolised, when the container breaks in reality, it is the fulfilment of a very frightening phantasy. The ensuing unconscious punishment results in under-achievement at school, loss of confidence, more addictive and promiscuous behaviours and less satisfactory relationships later in life.

Delinquency is higher in children of divorced parents. The loss of the father according to many studies reported in Anderson and Dawson (1986) leads to violent and hypermasculine behaviour: 'assault and homicide are significantly higher in father distant cultures' (p. 47). Seligman (1985) describes the 'absent father syndrome as cncoiiriiKinx u mutually collusive embrace with the mother . . . from which the child cannot extricate himself (p. 81). Malan (1979) echoes the experience of many working with sons of weak or absent fathers. He points to the excessive guilt of the son who has his mother all to himself and the corresponding extreme severity of the father imago.

Psychoanalysis therefore would point to the fact that breakdown in our social relationships and family life deeply marks children who come to feel that they are the remainders of their parent's mistakes. Furthermore the loss of human solidarity makes us all feel more isolated and estranged. It is estimated that in London now more than a million people live on their own.

There has been a seven-fold increase in violent crime in a generation and a massive 40% increase in the last decade. This represents a major instinctual de-fusion: the death instinct has become relatively unbound from the life instinct. The liberated destructiveness is either turned inwards against the self or outwards against others. The loss of the old paternal superego has exposed an archaic sadistic superego described by Melanie Klein (1934) which rages against the 'liberated' instinctual impulses. Formerly, we were protected from its ravages by the controls imposed by parents, school and church. The loss of their authority combined with the exploitation of youth by consumer capitalism has led to unprecedented gratification and a corresponding massive counter-cathexis in the form of Bion's (1967) 'Super'-ego. In the absence of benign controls there is a kind of inevitability of a regression to ruthless destructive longings, which in certain vulnerable personalities under harsh external conditions will be acted out. Such violence leads (via persecutory attacks from the archaic superego) to further violence which can become a malign cycle. Given that there are secondary gains to be had by the status such acts confer in delinquent sub-cultures, the problem becomes virtually insoluble.
However, what must be emphasised here is that the loss of that containing framework of early dependent relations, and the loss of the old paternal superego, leave those children at risk no choice but to form a hard compensatory omnipotence which will not only attack the archaic superego but will also destroy anything that reminds them of their human need. By projecting those split-off dependency needs into others, such as women, children and old people, they can destroy those in the external world who come to represent their denied vulnerability. They can proclaim to the world that they are strong, potent and invincible.

The liberated destructiveness can also turn inwards. A recent report by the Social Affairs Unit in Britain has shown a 35% increase in suicides in the last ten years. Observers suggest that this figure is a conservative estimate as coroners do not always return the correct verdict.

The growth of the human potential movement has given rise to a huge market in self-improving psychological literature. Important figures in the numerous branches of psychotherapy have become charismatic and their methods popularised and advertised almost as panaceas. Consider Janov's (1970) assertion that 'primal therapy is like neurosis in reverse. . . once the major defense system is broken, the patient has no choice but to get well' (p. 103). For Perls (1973) the solution is living totally in the 'here and now'. For Maslow (1971) it is the 'peak experience' and' self-actualisation'. For Reich (1927) and the neo-Reichians (Boardella 1976) it is the release of bio-energy. Rogers (1961) indicates how the therapist cares for the client 'in a non-possessive way . . . in a total rather than a conditional way . . . The term we have come to use for this is unconditional positive regard' (p. 62).

Incorporation of some aspects of Eastern mysticism in Western therapeutic strategies offered the possibility of overcoming the narrow egoistic view of the world. Zen and Taoism offered a philosophy which contradicted dominant Western values in favour of 'making this so-called mystical consciousness the normal everyday consciousness' (Watts 1961, p. 46).

Clearly psychoanalysis has been upstaged by the enormous popularity of these new eclectic psychotherapies. They have been incorporated into life skills programmes in schools (Hopson & Scally 1981). Such methods it is claimed will help children adapt to the post-industrial world. It is clear that such methods do blend in well with thinking on the New Right, with its emphasis on the individual, personal sovereignty, entrepreneurial skills, self realisation and self-empowerment.

However successful and appropriate these new therapies are for our particular time, psychoanalysis can sound a note of much needed caution. For a time in the 1950s psychoanalysis was also popular as a method of personal liberation, until it was realised that Freud and others were only offering relief from neurotic suffering. It was left to Reich to take up the torch of liberation.

The notion of self-empowerment encourages a grandiose defence which is a denial of vulnerability and pain. It inflates and gratifies the ego which is always threatened by intimidating unconscious imagos. It creates illusions of personal freedom when in reality desire is always circumscribed. Psychoanalysis is unique amongst psychotherapies in asserting the essential castratedness of the human subject. Psychic reality is rooted in our earliest experiences of prematurity, helplessness and frustrated cravings. So painful and traumatic were these protracted experiences that we live a life trying to avoid their return. We want to deny these basic anxieties and reach for a total satisfaction. Conflict, tension and ambivalence are inherent in the human condition, prior to any environmental failure, while clearly being exacerbated by the latter. Psychoanalysis asserts that growth and creativity are only possible within limits and because of those limits. There must always be a gap between desire and satisfaction. In the absence of the gap there is psychosis.

Conclusion and Summary
The book on which this paper is based arose out of my experience as a teacher and psychotherapist with a desire to make connections between psychoanalytic formulations and culture. Cultural analysis rarely includes a psycho-analysis even when it is considering such issues as family breakdown, violence, pornography and so on which can be understood in psychoanalytic terms. We have a century of investigation of mental phenomena, a more or less cohesive model of the mind, 'the most elaborately developed and complex form of introspection developed in Western culture' (Steven Marcus in a recent Channel 4 programme on psychoanalysis), and yet it remains marginalised - confined to the consulting room and academic journals.
The task is to understand culture from the perspective of a psychoanalytic practitioner. Each of us is a container of culture. Culture, just like the patient in the consulting room, does something to us. The psychoanalytic psychotherapist attempts to interpret what is being done, especially at the level of unconscious phantasy. In part, he uses his own experience (as the container) in his formulations. What does it feel like to be a subject in this culture?

This paper discusses some aspects of the narcissistic pathology of our time, and attempts to show how these are correlated with and exacerbated by cultural trends that foster regression, violence, the breaking of social bonds, and illusory freedom and omnipotence.

The book itself deals with a wider variety of cultural themes: progressive methods in education; the democratic family and permissive child rearing; sexual ideologies; religious fundamentalism as well as the authentic religious position; the resurgence of the Right; included also are extremes of disaffection such as addictions and delinquency. The book is therefore for all those who concern themselves with the cultural process and its effect upon the subject.

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